Notes from the (German) Galut: Politics and Synagogues

A German Synagogue. Shabbat-morning.

The Gabbai looks at me expectantly.

This is a new community and synagogue for me, so I do not know anyone. But I am up on the Bimah, in front of the worshipping masses. Worshipping masses means: Some people more than required for a minyan.

I have the strong feeling that the assembled worshipers hold their breath to hear whom I would mention in my “misheberach”. I already mentioned my closest family members but the Gabbai doesn’t look very happy.
I am not able to decide how to move on. A pity: I even can’t remember the names of the board members and the name of the local chairman. It is never bad to mention the “right” people in a synagogue! Because of my short mental blackout, I choose an easy path and say “Medinat Yisrael, the state of Israel” of course “blessed is the state of Israel” and “haKahal – the community”, what was actually quite clever, because nobody feels left out.
I created a smile in the Gabbai’s face. He looks satisfied. He nods and mumbles the text quickly. Everybody on the Bimah smiles at me. I smile. I am ready for the Kiddush! In most German synagogues a “get together” with food, drinks and an extended chat after the prayer is quite common

The hall is divided into several square tables.
There are only a few empty chairs. My choice is difficult. I should avoid the children’s table; the kids are shaking bottles with carbonated water and Cola. Next table: Almost everybody wears polyester shirts. I am not against polyester shirts, but I prefer not to sit next to some persons when the thermometer column is above 30 degrees Celsius.

But there! I scan another table: A middle-aged woman in a summer dress, an unshaved lad and a baby-faced boy. Of course, this is my table: A harmless woman, an intellectual Student and school boy.

I approach happily: “Shabbat Shalom!”. But they reply sullenly. I take my seat and the lady bends to the guy with a designer stubble, nods several times, casting a disdainful glance at me. Both take their original positions. The lady speaks to the boy “Go on. Speak to our guest.” Obviously he doesn’t feel extremely comfortable:
“We’ve been watching you, you should know that. And – uh – we would like to say that, uh, that… that…”
The woman takes back control and ends the phrase of her neighbour: “We have seen your little political demonstration. A synagogue is not a suitable place for this kind of behaviour. We don’t do politics. This is a synagogue!”
I shrug my shoulders and try to express my perplexity.
“Your pompous blessing for the State of Israel! This kind of Zionism has no place in the synagogue. Are we liable for Netanyahu’s policy? Not with us! That’s what we tell you!”
The student nods, the smaller, baby-faced boy, pours hot water into a packagage of artificial sweetener.

I quickly grab my plate. “I will have a look at the buffet, please excuse me for a moment”. Actually I fill my plate and look for an empty chair on the other side of the hall.

A few gray-haired men point to an empty chair.

“Come on, young man, sit down” a voice says and goes on:
“Good to have you here. We have been watching you. We are not naïve! Do not believe that your blessing on the state of Israel mocked us. We observed, that you did not say “Amen” after the prayer for the Israel Defense Forces. Do you really believe that pacifism can solve the problems of the state of Israel?”
I had no idea about the correct answer.

“Are you really convinced of that? In this case you better sit with my wife and my sons. They sit over there” he says and points to the woman in the summer dress.
Instead of answering I decided to eat my meal. But then the man stood up and invited the whole community to celebrate the bar mitzvah of his son next week. Well, I was not a community member and therefore not invited, but I am going anyway.

I recently bought a beautiful framed facsimile of the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

I guess this is a nice present for this lovely family. They will love it.

About the Author
Chajm is a writer, blogger, and resident of the German Ruhr district; publisher of the German Jewish website; organizer of a shiur series called Minchah-Shiur for the Ruhr district. Some of his articles are published in a German-Jewish weekly.