American Rabbi to Officiate at High Holydays Services in East Germany
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American Rabbi to Officiate at High Holydays Services in East Germany

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An American rabbi is “hopeful” about revitalization efforts toward preserving East German Jewry as he prepares for his third annual visit there.

According to an announcement by David Gordis, American Jewish Committee executive vice president, Rabbi Ernst Lorge, retired spiritual leader of Temple Israel, Skokie, Illinois, will again officiate at High Holy Days services beginning October 3, Rosh Hashanah, and concluding at sundown October 13, on Yom Kippur, in an AJC-sponsored visit to East Berlin.

Since 1982, books, religious articles, and wine have been provided for the Jews of East Berlin by the AJC. In 1983, a delegation of AJC leaders met with Dr. Peter Kirchner, president of East Berlin’s Jewish community, and learned that the group had no rabbi. The delegation, the first American communal group to meet with Jewish officials in East Berlin, consequently arranged for Lorge’s visit.

Last year’s visit had particular significance for the rabbi. He found among the youth a renewed interest in observing their tradition and acknowledging their heritage. He said: “Generally the younger element does not exist among East German Jews in number; however, the spirit of the youth transcends the age factor within the community.”

He voiced pride over two memorable moments, noting: “It was a rewarding experience to officiate both at the conversions of two young men, and at the naming ceremonies of two female infants; this is a great sign of hope for future generations.”


About 100 to 150 of the city’s 400 Jews are expected to attend the services led in German by Lorge, a native of Mainz, Germany. The 70-year-old rabbi fled as a refugee to the United States in 1936 and was ordained to the rabbinate in 1942.

From 1944 to 1946 he served as a U.S. Army chaplain with the 69th Infantry Division in England, France, Belgium and Germany. That division was the first to cross over to Russian lines from the East, and Lorge became the first Jewish chaplain to aid survivors at Auschwitz. He was directly involved with supplying survivors with proper schooling, newspapers, food distribution, clothing, and legal aid.

In 1967 he was invited to West Germany to lecture to several university educators on the Holocaust. He said: “My philosophy is that we should not award Hitler a posthumous victory by allowing Germany to be devoid of Jewish life and influence.”

Fewer than 600 Jews live in the German Democratic Republic, and are concentrated in eight cities, with the largest community in East Berlin. The majority are over age 60. The East German government provides funds to these communities for maintaining more than 100 Jewish cemeteries throughout the country. Since the end of World War II, various synagogues have been restored and new ones created.

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