A dream comes true

A dream comes true

In a synagogue © Taliv (shutterstock)

More than a thousand synagogues and Jewish community centers were destroyed in the pogroms in Germany on 9. Destroyed in November 1938. 81 years later, there are 101 synagogues and 31 prayer halls nationwide – and the trend is upward, especially in the east.

A tallit – a Jewish prayer shawl – is used, pulled over the head and shoulders, to focus on prayer. Perhaps it also conveys the feeling of security, protects against prying eyes. In any case, the horizontal lines that will encompass the outer wall of Dessau's new synagogue deliberately recall just such stripes in the rectangular mantle. "An idea from our architect Alfred Jacoby," says Alexander Wassermann, chairman of the Dessau Jewish Community. As a visitor, you have the feeling of being enclosed in a mantle of prayer.

A house to gather in

81 years after the destruction of the Jewish house of worship in Dessau, the symbolic cornerstone for a new synagogue will be laid on Friday. This is being built on Askanische Strasse as an annex to the community center, where it stood until it was closed on 9. November 1938 was looted and set on fire. A house for praying, celebrating, learning and teaching: The word synagogue comes from the Greek "synagein" and means "to gather". The building, which will cost 1.7 million euros, is scheduled for completion by the end of 2020. 700.000 euros come from the federal government, the rest is financed by Lotto Toto, money from the city and private donations.

101 synagogues and 31 prayer halls currently exist in Germany, according to the Statistical Yearbook (as of 2018). More than 3.000 there were before 1933, a large part was destroyed in the pogroms 1938, later misused or demolished. Decades later, construction is going on vigorously – right across the republic: A new synagogue building was inaugurated in Regensburg this year, as well as in Unna, where a former Protestant church was converted.

New synagogue construction

In Berlin, plans to rebuild the old Kreuzberg synagogue on Fraenkelufer are becoming more concrete. Finally, in eastern Germany, the construction of three synagogues is taking shape: In addition to Dessau, construction is also scheduled to begin in Potsdam and Magdeburg by 2021 at the latest.

In addition, triggered by the attack in Halle, politicians are increasingly willing to support the construction of Jewish houses of worship. This week's proposal by Hamburg's Green Party to rebuild what was once the largest synagogue in northern Germany drew a positive response across all parties. The German government also increased funding for Hamburg building projects.

Buildings with "more power

A typical feature of the new synagogue buildings is that they are "community centers, not just a space for worship," says Ulrich Knufinke, who heads the nationwide research center for Jewish architecture "Bet Tfila". Because it is not parceled out into small units, the building has "more power". There has never been a uniform architectural style for synagogues. "On the outside, there are no religious rules," he says. Inside, the most important thing is that the Torah shrine faces Jerusalem, i.e. the East.

"Up to the 19. In the 19th century, synagogues were invisible in cities and existed – like today's mosques – more in backyards," says the scientist. "In Berlin, for example, there was a requirement that non-Protestant houses of worship could not appear in the cityscape – which applied equally to Catholic churches". It was only in the course of the Enlightenment that this changed. Magnificent synagogues were built, often with domes, as an "expression of civic representation" and also as a contrast to the bell towers of Christian churches.

Different needs

According to Knufinke, it is important when building a synagogue that the different currents in the Jewish communities are taken into account. Their religious needs should be taken into account in the building designs. Apart from the financing, this is also one of the reasons why Magdeburg or Potsdam have been struggling for years to realize it.

"As a rule, in a case like this, it's best to build for the needs of an Orthodox community," Knufinke explains. "The liberals can pray at the Orthodox, the other way around is more difficult." As an example, he cites the women's gallery in an Orthodox synagogue that separates the women from the men – liberal Jews can then simply use the main room for both sexes. But if, for example, the synagogue is to have its place on the third floor of the new community center, it will be impossible for Orthodox Jews to use it – they are not allowed to enter an elevator on Shabbat.

Defying anti-Semitism

There are also people who do not want Jewish life in Germany to become normal again. The parish in Dessau, for example, keeps getting "bad letters," as Wassermann recounts. "The city should be free of Jews," it says, for example. A swastika has also been smeared on the entrance door to the parish hall. For the 65-year-old, whose ancestors originally came from Germany and who emigrated from Tashkent to the Federal Republic in the 1990s, Friday will be "a dream come true," he says. "This is so important for our history. It is not our fault that the synagogue was destroyed."

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