11.09.2006

Rede - Baroness Julia Neuberger D.B.E. (Rabbi)

Graduation Address – Akademische Abschlussfeier - Abraham Geiger College

13. September 2006, Rathaus Dresden, 16 Uhr


Meine sehr verehrten Damen und Herren

Ich fühle mich tief bewegt und geehrt bei diesem historischen Ereignis anwesend zu sein. Es ist ein durchaus historisches Ereignis. Denn bis zum heutigen Tag sind keine Rabbiner in Deutschland ordiniert worden - seit mehr als sechzig Jahren.

Heute feiern wir eine Errungenschaft die bis vor Kurzem noch unvorstellbar war: den erfolgreichen Aufbau eines neuen Rabbinerseminars in Deutschland , and die Ordination der ersten, von diesem Kolleg ausgebildeten Rabbiner in Anwesenheit wichtigster Vertreter eines neuen, liberalen Deutschland. Dies ist eine schillernde neue Stufe in der Entwicklung eines neuen, und neu fruchtbaren deutschen Judentums.

Diese Feier ist für mich um so bewegender, weil sie auch eine ganz persönliche Bedeutung hat. Hierzu verrate ich Ihnen etwas zu meiner Person: ich mag Mitglied des britischen Oberhaus sein, bin aber eigentlich von Seiten meiner beiden Eltern deutsch-jüdischer Abstammung. Meine Großeltern väterlicherseits stammten aus Frankfurt am Main – sie kennen ja alle den Spruch :Wie kann ein Jud NICHT aus Frankfurt sein -- und sie gehörten beiden Flügeln der dortigen Orthodoxie an. Der Austrittsgemeinde gegründet von Samson Raphael Hirsch, der mit seiner Touro im Derech Eretz die ganze deutsche Orthodoxie bis zur Vernichtung prägte, und andererseits der hauptsächlich orthodoxen Einheitsgemeinde.

Dass ihre Enkeltochter die zweite Liberale Rabbinerin in Europa wurde, beweist, wie unberechenbar der Umgang Gottes mit seinen menschlichen Geschöpfen ist. Diese Frankfurter Großeltern sind schon im Jahre l906, kurz nach ihrer Heirat, nach England ausgewandert, wo mein Großvater bei einem Onkel arbeitete, der eine Londoner Filiale der Bank seiner Familie gründete.

Obwohl keine Rothschilds, waren meine Vorfahren Frankfurter Bankiers. Als Kind hat mein Vater, mit Nachnamen Schwab, beinahe all seine Sommerferien bei seinen Großeltern in Frankfurt verbracht. Viele seiner Verwandten, auch seine Großmutter mütterlicherseits, sind dann während der Judenvernichtung umgekommen. Meine Mutter ist l937 aus Deutschland ausgewandert – ohne Schulabschluss - und hatte eine Einreiseerlaubnis nach England nur als Dienstmädchen.

Dennoch ist es ihr gelungen, ihren Bruder ein Jahr später nach England nachzuholen. Ein nichtjüdischer Lehrer ihres Bruders hatte sie in England angerufen, um ihr zu sagen, es wäre höchste Zeit, ihren Bruder zu retten. Nur drei Tage vor Ausbruch des Zweiten Weltkriegs sind schließlich ihre Eltern ebenfalls in England angekommen, nachdem meine Mutter mit Müh und Not das nötige Geld von Freunden und Bekannten gesammelt hatte, Geld das hinterlegt werden musste, als so genannte Garantie für ihre Eltern.

Als kleines Kind habe ich Schwäbisch mit meinen Großeltern mütterlicherseits gesprochen, und kann Ihnen das jetzt noch froh und fröhlich beweisen

Uf de schwaebische Eisebahne
Wollt a mahl a Bauerle fahre
Ging am Kass und lupft den Hut
Ein bigliettle, sei so gut.....

Ich beherrsche die deutsche Sprache leider nicht genügend, um Sie und mich, weiter damit zu quälen, und werde das, was ich heute zu sagen habe, auf Englisch vorbringen. Trotzdem fühle ich mich noch immer sehr Deutsch. Und ich betrachte Teile von Süddeutschland immer noch irgendwie als meine Heimat.

When my mother was dying, five years ago, having only been back to Heilbronn am Neckar once since the War, she kept talking about going home. “Mummy, you are home…” I said, as she lay dying in her apartment in London. “Ach, no”, she said, “I mean home, I mean Heilbronn.” She may have left it 64 years earlier, but it was still home. And as her school friends came one by one in her last years to see her from Heilbronn, and as she recalled the great kindnesses done for her parents after they had left, she felt homesick. For, quite unlike the norm, all her father’s friends who had been with him in prisoner of war camp in France in the First World War had gone into their apartment, packed everything up, and sent it to England. After my grandparents had settled in London, in temporary accommodation, they were surprised to receive package after package, large container of furniture after large container of furniture, well after the start of the war, all sent by grandfather’s old friends and drinking companions. No Nazis, these men, but old friends who were appalled by the turn of events, and remained friends of my grandparents until the end of their lives.

So I feel quite German, though born and bred in London. As someone who feels distinctly that I am, in some sense, a German Jew, there can be no greater pleasure than to see this rebirth of Jewish life, this reaffirmation of Germany as home to one of the world’s significant Jewish communities. It cannot be like it was before- of course it cannot.

But we have here a college, born out of the Enlightenment, born out of the German reform movement, strongly affected by the scientific study of Judaism, the Wissenschaft des Judentums’ movement- newly established, here with its first rabbis graduating today and being ordained tomorrow. The whole non-orthodox movement in Judaism has its origins here in Germany. Though it is at its peak in the United States, Reform, Liberal and Conservative Judaism have made great inroads in other parts of the Jewish world, Britain, France, now Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Switzerland, Denmark, and now the former Soviet Union and increasingly in Germany. It was in Germany that the great phrase “Deutsche Bürger Jüdischen Glaubens” was first invented. It was the emphasis on being German citizens of the Jewish faith that led to the idea that modern Reform congregations would use that title- the synagogue where I grew up in London is the West London Synagogue of British Jews…. Judaism, more than a faith, became equated with faith. This was the contrast, almost the counter attack, to those Jews who converted to Christianity in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries here in Germany to achieve their education and preferment in whatever field of endeavour they had chosen. The list is endless, but Heinrich Heine is always cited as the epitome of that, not to mention Felix Mendelssohn’s father, and I could carry on and on about these people….

It was, of course, Moses Mendelssohn, grandfather of the composer, who had first thought Jews should read the Bible in German and not in Hebrew. It was of course Moses Mendelssohn who began that great process of the Jewish enlightenment here in Germany, translating the Hebrew Bible into German, arguing for a new and different approach to faith. It was that thinking, that opening of closed doors, pulling back the shutters, opening the curtains, letting in the light, that led to that most creative period of all, the one which people describe as the period of German Jewish symbiosis, when scholarship, both secular and religious, met, where art, literature, music and the cultural life in general flourished, German and Jewish, the one inspiring the other- from the novels of Lion Feuchtwanger, my forebear, to the scholarship of Gerschon Scholem. From the philosophy of Walter Benjamin to the great art history of Aby Warburg, Ernst Gombrich, Fritz Saxl and Gertrude Bing. From the educational achievements of Kurt Hahn at Salem to the extraordinary art of Lyonel Feininger or Max Liebermann, Herman Struck and Ludwig Meidner, to name but a few. And the list goes on and on. There was something about the German Jewish symbiosis which allowed talent to flourish, and a certain form of scholarship to be established.

And then it ended, abruptly. But now we have a new college, with its superb faculty. We have keen students, who will serve in Germany, Central Europe and the FSU. Perhaps we will once again see that extraordinary German Jewish symbiosis. Perhaps once again, with these new rabbis, this rebirth, we will see talent spring forth and a capacity for cultural and intellectual endeavour to find a modus vivendi with a religious life that is not orthodox, but is demanding. Perhaps this time those of great talent will not simply rebel against the strictures of orthodoxy of a narrow variety, but will come to an accommodation with their Jewish tradition. The Judaism they will be offered by those trained here at Abraham Geiger College will be intellectually rigorous, scholarly, and open. Their cultural life will perhaps be influenced by their Judaism, or even, if we are fortunate, suffused with it. It is too early to say... let us only recognise that this is a new beginning, with a new generation of rabbis to serve the new Germany and the FSU. They carry a distinguished history, and they inherit that German Jewish symbiosis that flowered so amazingly in the century before the last war. Can they- in their way- reinvent it? Can they- in their turn- make Germany’s Jews great again, and can they encourage a particular kind of thought and experiment and excitement? The early signs are promising.

So we need to think about what these new rabbis will need to function in the modern world, here in Germany, in Central Europe, in the FSU, or further afield.

First, they must be scholarly. Germany produced some of the greatest rabbinic scholars before the war. Amongst our own non-orthodox colleagues there were towering figures such as John Rayner, formerly Hans Rahmer, and the revered Ignaz Maybaum. Scholarship- being able to stand firm by knowing both the traditional way to read and interpret the texts and by applying modern scholarly techniques to them, as my revered teacher Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs, who passed away earlier this year, did - is essential. The modern rabbi must know what she or he is talking about, and must have one area of scholarly expertise at the very least.

But that would not be enough. They also need to have an understanding of other faiths. Here in Germany they need to be able to work with people of other faiths, with Christians of all denominations, with Muslims in a growing Muslim community. They cannot be lazy about this, or disinterested- in the new Germany, no rabbi can possibly ignore the requests for a Jewish presence, or in any way fail to explain, speak, be a representative, encourage, comfort and otherwise be a mover and shaker in the interfaith world. Like the late lamented Rabbi Dr Albert Friedlander, like Rabbis Nathan Peter Levinson and Henry Brandt, they need to make their interfaith work a key part of what they do. They need to know something of other faiths, as much as they need to talk about Judaism, and they need to be prepared to engage with other people of different faiths with a level of intensity and excitement that brings insight to all involved.

But that is not enough. The modern rabbi needs to add to that the capacity to each about Judaism more widely. Not exactly interfaith, but speaking on the radio, teaching in schools and colleges, being an exponent of Jewish teaching and Jewish values far wider than the Jewish community itself. There is a hunger ‘out there’ for a sense of values, for a sense of spirituality. In Germany particularly, where the Nazi past recedes ever more rapidly into the distance, there is a desire to hear from Jews. In Germany particularly, in large parts of which there have been no Jews for 70 years or more, these new rabbis have an enormous representative role to play. These new rabbis have to teach Judaism within their communities. But they will also need to teach beyond their communities, generalising where they can, firm in their values, and explain to the wider community who they are and what they stand for. It is not an unusual thing to ask. In the United Kingdom, Rabbi Lionel Blue has been a leading radio personality over many years, cultivating Jewish humour as a way into Jewish learning and understanding. The late lamented Rabbi Hugo Gryn was equally loved as a radio personality, and others are joining them in explaining, representing, and rejoicing in their Judaism.

But the rabbi is not usually facing outwards. Any rabbi worth his or her salt also has to build up his or her congregation. And here, in Germany, building up congregations when so many of the members are émigrés from the FSU, knowing little about their Jewish roots, is a major task. It is painstaking, tough work. Teaching, encouraging, enthusing, building communities that are vibrant and fun, where people rejoice in their Judaism and learn much. It is hard work, and my colleague and friend Rabbi Willy Wolff is carrying it out in Rostock and Schwerin in north eastern Germany, giving new communities a chance to rebuild German Jewish life, but speaking Russian, though German born, for the community are all from the FSU. Yet it is growing, it has a chance.

In the UK there are many examples, but one that stands out is Rabbi Andrew Goldstein, in Northwood & Pinner. He started there as a student rabbi. His son is now his rabbinic colleague there, and a tiny community has grown to be one of London’s largest and most significant, non-orthodox congregations. That’s the model we should look to. They are scholarly, enthusiastic, welcoming, have a key role in the wider community, and they all feel, under that inspirational rabbinic leadership, that everyone has a part to play, some work to do, some more to learn. Without that community building, there can be no community. And the modern rabbi has to learn how to do it - by charisma, of course, but also by sheer hard work. And a part of that is learning to be a real communal rabbi, the pastor, who is with his community in the bad times as well as the good. German Jewry had an extraordinary example of that in Rabbi Dr Leo Baeck, who stood by his community and went with them to the concentration camp. No-one is expecting that - but a willingness to be there, to bring comfort, to support, to enthuse, is the very minimum a modern rabbi will need.

And then there is the rabbi as politician, playing a variety of roles. Here in Germany it lies partly in talking about Jews, Judaism, and sometimes Israel in the wider community. Israel and the Middle East has led many rabbis to a form of politics they perhaps did not want to get into. In my own country, Rabbi David Goldberg is a known critic- though by no means always- of Israeli attitudes and politics. He speaks and writes publicly, against what many Jews in the community want him to say. But that is the other rabbinic political role- to be true to oneself and one’s principles, often Jewish principles. And the politics can also be about other matters- racism, for instance, or discrimination against any particular group. Rabbis for Human Rights have stood up for the Roma as well as for the Palestinians. Political rabbis fight the cause of the oppressed wherever they are, citing the Exodus from Egypt, from oppression to freedom, as their reason for campaigning as they do. And no modern rabbi can neglect those skills, or the need – sometimes - to be seen to be publicly involved in such a campaign.

And then there’s the tough, often dull business of being the manager, running, organising, the congregation. Often the only full time employee, the young rabbi finds he has to do everything- from painting the walls to running the religion school, from choosing the music to representing the Jews of his town at some interfaith service. The rabbi has to be a manager - of people, of time, of energy. He has to work out how to make a congregation work, and how much help he or she needs. It is no easy task, and rabbinic training rarely prepares you for it. The rabbi has to make everything work, and enthuse others to help, and then manage what they do. It’s a key skill, poorly recognised, because it seems such a small part of a rabbi’s life.

And then lastly there is the role that everyone expects a rabbi to play, the role of spiritual leader. In an increasingly secular world, for most of us, the rabbi is seen as someone who holds timeless values, whose insight into the life of the soul is profound, whose understanding of the spiritual life is great. And yet many young rabbis will not really have an understanding of what is meant by all this. It is the years of experience working with the sick and the dying, the years of experience managing a difficult congregation and suddenly getting an insight into something above and beyond, that really gives one the spiritual awareness. You cannot teach spirituality. You can only learn to feel it. And in everything else our young rabbis are going to have to do, with that long list of what they will need to be, spiritual leader is the hardest. For that spirituality is hard to define and even harder to pass on. It comes by example, by moments of insight. Those who knew Rabbi Dr Leo Baeck always say that one had a sense of the spiritual in being near him. Those who have been in the same room as Nelson Mandela say the same. You feel touched, as if a hand has stroked you and made you come alive. Most of our young rabbis cannot do that. But they can give their communities the chance to think like that and experience the spiritual. They can give people times of quiet, of meditation. They can show them the spirituality that comes of doing good deeds for others in the community. They can show the insights they acquire in their pastoral work. And that is the most we can ask of them. For our new rabbis are to be spiritual leaders, scholars, managers, politicians, teachers, enthusers, interfaith activists, pastors, and community builders. We ask an enormous amount. The amazing thing is that we will get most of it, and we will grow to be proud of a new generation of German rabbis, scholarly, committed, building the new German Jewry, the new Russian Jewry, the new eastern European Jewry. Multi tasking, multi talented, and very very committed.

What a great privilege it is for us to see them take on this role here in Dresden. That role is greater, more challenging, and more demanding of their personal resources in intellect and character than it has ever been in Jewish history. We ask of them that from today they pioneer a new chapter in German Jewish history, a chapter that will enrich the entire world Jewish community, and also strengthen and enrich the already vibrant liberal, integrated multicultural society that is the new Germany. It is an awesome task, and for it we humbly ask God’s blessing upon them and upon all of us who are pledged to support them. May they have the strength and courage to face what they are taking on, and may they, and we, be blessed in the work they will undoubted carry out for all of us.


Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren, Ich bedanke mich sehr herzlich für ihre gütige Aufmerksamkeit.