by Philip Egube
Thuringia, located in the central part of Germany, is home to a Jewish community of 800 people while nearby Nordhausen is home to 110 members of the Jewish community, 30 of whom are official members of the community, while the rest are either not recognized as halachic Jews or are non-Jewish relatives of Jews.
We [Nordhausen] have a small Beit Knesset with a library, a Torah and a kosher kitchen. We offer possibilities of finding out more about what it means to be Jewish (culturally, religiously and otherwise). We help solve social disputes, we get together in times of loss and happiness. In short, we try to be a second home for the Jews of the city and to give them the possibility to find and feel abisele jidischkeit (a bit of Yiddishkeit).
To be a Jew in Germany awakens different feelings in everyone. On one hand, once one starts officially becoming part of the mischpoche you really feel Jewish. On the other hand, it can be hard to take on so many new and foreign experiences, such as eating kosher and becoming accepted into the Jewish and German society, and with it all of its many connotations. It is also not easy to connect to Jewish life in one’s city and sometimes we even had to build our own community, the way we did in Nordhausen. It’s like pioneer work, respectful work in honoring those that lived here before us and it is challenging. There are also challenges when it comes to the Jewish communities established here a while ago and the influx of Jews coming in mostly from Russian-speaking countries. In the end, though, we all have a responsibility to ourselves and our children to do what is possible to enhance, develop and secure Jewish identity in a German society.
The questions of how Israel is viewed is just as complex and varied as are our views on our home country, the former Soviet Union. The fact that there are so many Israelis living in Germany just adds to the hodgepodge of different feelings and reactions.
Living in Germany, we are bombarded with information about the Shoah. There are always Holocaust documentaries playing on the television, and there are memorials all around, reminding us of the atrocities committed here. At the same time, there is always a constant plea for forgiveness, both directly and indirectly, from good Germans who do not understand that they do not need to ask our forgiveness since they personally didn’t take part in the WWII.
Being Jewish here one can always pull either the foreigner card or the Jewish card. In other words, you can easily cry “anti-Semitism” or racially based discrimination. This is certainly unnecessary and sometimes abused. To be fair, Germany does a lot to come clean about its horrific role in history. How many other nations do the same? But in so doing, one reaches the stage where too much is simply too much and that is not healthy. It destroys more than it contributes to heal and learn. Too much focus on the Holocaust, for example, has led to some German youth just blocking out the whole thing. They simply can’t and won’t be connected to the flaws and crimes of those who lived before their time. Even we Jews living here feel it’s sometimes too much. It is time for us both as Germans and as Jews to try to start the healing process. This needs time, patience and also dedication. The ultimate goal is to look to the future without ever forgetting the past.
Philip Egube was born in Nigeria, the child of a Russian mother and Nigerian father. Growing up in both Nigeria and Kiev, Ukraine, he emigrated to Germany in 1996. Philip established the Jewish community in Nordhausen and is a member of the board of the Jewish community of Thuringia and the board of the German Federal Immigration and Integration Council. Philip also serves as vice chairman of the DIG Nordhausen (German-Israeli Friendship Association). Philip participated in the recent Jewish Agency Student Conference held in Weimar, Germany.
Philip’s story, and his connection to the Jewish world, is just one of several we are bringing to you this year.