Unalloyed good news is rare, so I wanted to raise my virtual glass to this. Last Thursday three rabbis were ordained in Dresden, the first in Germany since the Holocaust. (I wonder if “ordination” is the right technical term?) The rabbis trained at a Progressive rabbinical seminary attached to the University of Potsdam; another Orthodox college in Berlin will graduate its first rabbis soon.
Why did the community choose Dresden for the ceremony, as it’s 125 miles south from Berlin or Potsdam?
Maybe it just has the most televisual synagogue. Perhaps it’s because Moses Mendelssohn, the father of the German Jewish Enlightenment, came from nearby Dessau. Perhaps it because of the powerful symbolism of rebirth from the devastation of the 1945 firebombing – a war crime committed on, not by, Germans. Most likely, it was because the synagogue, destroyed in the Kristallnacht in 1938 and reopened in 2001, was the first to be rebuilt in former East Germany.
The surprising and happy rebirth of German Judaism doesn’t of course undo the past. The final couplet of Paul Celan’s great poem on the perpetrators of the Final Solution, Todesfüge (translation here):
dein goldenes Haar Margarete
dein aschenes Haar Sulamith
can be read as portraying the absolute abyss created by the Nazis between the long-intertwined German and Jewish cultures. This must have been an additional burden of grief for a German-Jewish survivor, condemned by the Muse to write in the language of his mother and of his mother’s killers. But that particular evil seems less final than Celan thought.
In Hildesheim in Lower Saxony, there’s a famous and very old rose, a white sport of the common rosa canina, growing vigorously up the outside wall of the apse of the fine Romanesque cathedral in the middle of the former cloister. (Visit also the superb eleventh-century bronze doors and chandelier). It was already ancient in 1573. The legend has the rose helpfully guiding the foundation of the church by the Carolingian emperor Louis the Pious in 872. The church could, one supposes, have been aligned on the miracle-abetting thorns. Since a rose-bush has no permanent trunk, you can’t settle its age by counting tree-rings. The rose burnt down to the ground in a bombing raid in 1945, and everyone thought it was a goner. But it indomitably sent up a fresh shoot from its own ashes.
If you think my metaphor has an inappropriate Christian or pagan baggage, hear the prophet Isaiah instead (35:1):
The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.