‘We need to build bridges, not escape hatches,’ says Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal
By Menachem Posner
In light of the recent attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, where Jewish people were murdered in a kosher market and outside of a synagogue, as well as a number of violent acts recently against Jews in Berlin, Germany, Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, rabbi of the Berlin’s Jewish community, responds to questions regarding Jewry in that Western European capital.
Q: What’s the feeling like in Berlin right now?
A: There is no doubt that there is the feeling that things are heating up. But then they are heating up all over the world, and things are much more serious in other parts of Europe. The Jewish community here is large, growing and very young. True, anti-Semitism is a serious issue; however it is not keenly felt on a day-to-day basis.
That said, anti-Semitic events have been on the rise in the past year, particularly since the summer, when some protests against Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza took on distinct anti-Jewish overtones, and we cannot take matters of security too seriously.
Q: What response has there been?
A: The government here is working hard to combat this hatred and to make sure that everyone remains safe. Their efforts are commendable and send a very strong, reassuring message.
As Jews, our response must be to remain proud of who we are and continue living life as we have all along. To suggest that Jewish people hide their identity or otherwise retreat in fear is a terrible mistake, handing a victory to terrorists and thugs. We need to devote ourselves to the study of Torah and performance of mitzvahs with confidence and pride, demonstrating through love of our fellows and acts of kindness what it truly means to be a Jew. Of course, necessary precautions need to be taken, but by and large, it is imperative that Jews continue to live as Jews inwardly and outwardly, in all neighborhoods.
Q: In your opinion, what can be done about the growing anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe?
A: We need to build bridges, not escape hatches. To mitigate hatred, we must fight ignorance, and this can only be accomplished through education and open dialogue.
Sure, when I walk openly as a Jew in the street someone may say something, but the key is for me to help him understand and respect me, not for me to stop respecting myself. On the contrary, for Jews to stop living openly as Jews would be a gift to the enemies of freedom, who wish intimidate and harm people who are not like themselves.
If the Jews cave and stop allowing themselves to live outwardly and openly as Jews, there is no telling who else in civil society it will be tomorrow.
In addition, it’s time for everyone to speak out when they see someone say or act in a hateful manner. The effort must come from all directions.
Q: Do you have any closing remarks?
A: We are a strong and resilient people. We in Germany live in a free society, which recognizes the right of every individual to live a full and enriching lifestyle. In the 19 years that I have lived in Berlin, we have seen a Jewish renaissance that is still unfolding, and I have no doubt that it will continue to flourish, openly and proudly, with complete faith in G-d.