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Germany Ordains First Rabbis Since Holocaust

The event is seen as symbolic of Judaism's revival in the nation, whose College of Jewish Studies was destroyed by the Nazis in 1942.

September 15, 2006|From the Associated Press

DRESDEN, Germany — This nation ordained its first rabbis since World War II on Thursday, an event hailed as a milestone for the rebirth of Jewish life in the country responsible for the Holocaust.

The three men received their ordination certificates at a ceremony in Dresden's modern stone synagogue, which was rebuilt after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Daniel Alter, 47, of Germany was the first of the three to graduate from Abraham Geiger College at the University of Potsdam.

He was joined by 35-year-old Tomas Kucera of the Czech Republic and 38-year-old Malcolm Mattitiani of South Africa. All three wore black robes with white, tassel-trimmed prayer shawls draped around the shoulders.

About 250 people, many of them from Jewish communities across Europe and in Israel, attended the ceremony.

The graduates are the first rabbis to be ordained in Germany since the Nazis destroyed Berlin's College of Jewish Studies in 1942.

Just before the ceremony, Mattitiani said ordainment in Germany held a twofold significance "because of the scholarship and the symbol of reviving Judaism in Germany."

"It's the birthplace of progressive Judaism, and it has a long history of Jewish scholarship," he said of the nation.

Germany had a thriving Jewish community of more than 500,000 when the Nazis were voted into power in 1933 and began to implement their anti-Semitic policies, causing many Jews to leave the country.

About 200,000 German Jews were among the 6 million European Jews killed by the Nazis. In the first years after the war, about 10,000 to 15,000 were left in Germany.

After decades of little growth, the German Jewish community has more than tripled since the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, thanks in large part to a government program to take in Jews from the former Soviet Union.

More than 100,000 Jews now live in the country in 102 established communities.

"After the Holocaust, many people could never have imagined that Jewish life in Germany could blossom again," German President Horst Koehler said before the event. "That is why the first ordination of rabbis in Germany is a very special event indeed."

To help serve the burgeoning community, Abraham Geiger College -- named for the rabbi who is considered the founder of the Reform, or liberal, Jewish movement -- opened its doors in 1999 in conjunction with the University of Potsdam in eastern Germany.

The college is a private, nonprofit institution sponsored by the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the government and the Leo Baeck Foundation.

Alter, Kucera and Mattitiani are the first graduating class. Alter and Kucera will remain in Germany, and Mattitiani will return to South Africa.

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