Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Jewish Kindergarten Attacked in Berlin

Police search the crime scene. The graffiti reads "[Get] out of here." (Spiegel)

Vandals defaced a Jewish kindergarten in Berlin with swastikas and antisemitic messages last Sunday. They also threw a smoke bomb into the building and apparently tried to set it on fire. The Chabad-run "Gan Yisrael" was unoccupied at the time. As of today, there are still no leads in the police's search for suspects (Berliner Morgenpost). However, most of the press has been reporting that the attack was carried out by neo-Nazis.

There has been a revival of Jewish life in Berlin over the past 5 years. The growth in infrastructure is due largely to the activities of Rabbi Josh Spinner, backed by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, on the one hand, and Chabad on the other. Spinner established a yeshiva in the eastern part of the city (Rykestrasse in Prenzlauer Berg), while Chabad has built a new synagogue, community center, and kindergarten in the west, not too far from the city's main traditional synagogue. They have been trying to meet as well as to stimulate the increased demand for Jewish religious life that has accompanied the immigration to Germany of Jews from the former Soviet Union since the early 1990s.

Neither the members of the yeshiva nor the Chabad rabbi, Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal and his shluhim (lit., "emissaries" - basically young interns) hide their Judaism. The Israeli rabbi of the traditional Joachimsthaler shul, Rabbi Yitzhak Ehrenberg also walks around Berlin as if he were in New York or Bnei Brak. Aside from staying true to what they would do in North America or Israel, the rabbis have been trying to inspire their congregants to be public about their Judaism. There is no doubt, however, that attacks such as the one on the kindergarten will make those few religious Jews who do wear kippot in public reconsider.

Unlike the rabbis, the young hazan (cantor) of the shul, who hails from Har Nof in Jerusalem, slightly adjusted his wardrobe (at least when I last saw him several years ago), opting for a beige stetson in favor of a black Borsalino.

Many, though not all, Jewish institutions in Berlin are protected by two security details. City police officers maintain a 24-hour presence in front of the community synagogues, while Israeli security guards monitor all those who want to enter, during regular hours. I am surprised that the kindergarten was not equipped with surveillance cameras at the least.

To my knowledge, the incident has not made the pages of Ha'aretz, but the Jerusalem Post carried a wire report on it last Monday. Deidre Berger, the director of the American Jewish Committee's Berlin Office, visited the kindergarten after the attack to express the organization's solidarity with the staff, parents, and children.

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