To celebrate the High Jewish Holidays during times of COVID-19, we had to be imaginative.
Of course health is of supreme importance for our congregation. Nonetheless we wanted to celebrate the important Jewish holidays Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur together as far as possible – and also to remind the City of Wiesbaden and our region, which in the past have been home to many progressive Jews, of these holidays. Therefore we have worked out a very safe hygiene and infection protection concept for these days.
We have decided to commemorate Rosh Hashanah outdoors in the Taunus mountains, this allowing us to comply with the social distancing rules and not endangering each other in a closed room. The Municipality of Hohenstein has extensively supported us during the organisation phase.
We have celebrated the Jewish New Year with a festive community dinner. One of the most famous progressive Rabbis in Germany, Dr Walter Rothschild from Berlin has shaped our event. 75 members of the congregation and guests have been celebrating the beginning of the Jewish year 5781. Many political guests have welcomed the rebirth of our Progressive Jewish Congregation with impressive and warm addresses.
Our most important guest this evening came from Israel. Batja Schutz (née Berti Bukspan) was born 1929 in Frankfurt (Main) and has been deported by the Nazis in 1938 directly from her Frankfurt primary school to the Polish border. From there, she together with her family fled to Israel. Batja and her family became members of a Progressive Jewish Congregation in Israel. For the first time in 82 years, Batja has celebrated Rosh Hashanah in a Jewish Congregation in Germany. Batja’s story has deeply moved all of us. We are very honoured that she confided in us and marked this event together with us.
Batja has been our most important guest
Rabbi Dr Rothschild made short Havdalah (a ceremony at the end of Shabbat) and then blessed bread and wine. The bread made for the Jewish New Year is not longish like during the rest of the year, instead it is custom to use round white bread to symbolise the cycle of the year. Additionally, all guests had apples and honey as well as pomegranates at their places, the traditional symbols for a sweet and fruitful new year.
The young and very talented violinist Alina Gelfond, who is a member of our congregation, played very soulfully Jewish songs. Seeing her in front of the painting of our reform synagogue on Michelsberg, which has been created by our sustaining member, the artist Anna Conrad from Wiesbaden, and listening to the moving music has brought tears into the eyes of many senior members of our congregation. These have been tears of remembrance, but also of joy that progressive Judaism in this region again experiences happy times.
The highlight of the evening has been the cabaret program of Rabbi Rothschild, in which he spoke and sang about his life as a Jew in England and as a Rabbi in Germany. There was a whole lot of laughter. Even though we always had to remember the COVID-19 danger and appropriate social distancing, we all had much fun together and enjoyed the party.
That has been one of the most important aims of our Progressive Jewish Congregation: To celebrate our holidays and traditions joyfully and openly, to laugh about ourselves and the world (something that is very Jewish), to create good times and to move away from being the victim. This is the biggest victory over time, to restart where unfortunately it ended in 1933. We Jews don’t use the term “Holocaust” (meaning “completely burned” in translation), instead we call this time Shoah (translated as “catastrophe”). Yes, it has been a catastrophe made by humans, but we are back! Until today we beweep our family members that have been murdered back then, but we also can laugh again (for them and in their name, too).
We live in Germany and this is good. Our children are German Jews. It is a huge success what this country and us Jews, who have returned to Germany full of confidence, have accomplished together. We are very positive about the future! We enjoy celebrating our holidays with all who are interested in joining in!
One of our guests has sent us the following feedback about the event: “On this evening, for the first time I could get an idea of the atmosphere of how a Jewish community celebrates a festive day. I had not experienced that before. This is the family spirit that I never got to know personally myself.”