Service held in Germany at defaced memorial

ROME, March 14 (JTA) – Dozens of North American rabbis conducted an open-air memorial service this week at a Holocaust monument in Berlin that was desecrated the night before their gathering.

“Our response to desecration is consecration; our response to destruction is construction,” Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the North American Boards of Rabbis, said at Wednesday’s service at the massive monument.

The service formed an unexpected – and emotional – part of the board’s three-day annual conference, which was held this year in the German capital.

About 50 rabbis from congregations around the United States and Canada attended the conference.

It was the first time the group, established two years ago as an umbrella organization for North American rabbis of all religious streams, met in Berlin.

The aim was to present a model of rabbinical unity and cooperation to German Jews, whose fast-growing community – estimates range up to 100,000 – is marked by conflicts among Orthodox, Reform and secular Jews.

Germany has two dozen rabbis, most of them Orthodox. The arrival of tens of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union, many of whom have little knowledge of Judaism or Jewish traditions, has swelled the German Jewish community during the past decade.

In a telephone interview, Schneier told JTA that the centerpiece of the conference took place Tuesday evening, when three board members – one Orthodox, one Conservative and one Reform – jointly conducted a Torah study session for local Jews.

During their stay in Berlin, the group met with German President Johannes Rau, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and other senior government officials.

Schneier said that the group repeatedly urged German officials to create a mechanism under which a $5 billion fund for Nazi-era slave laborers could begin making payments before full legal closure on the issue is achieved.

On Tuesday, a German industry foundation said it would finally gather its half of the fund.

But it is not clear when the payments will start. The companies first insist on what they call full legal closure – that is, the dismissal of all class-action lawsuits against them that are related to the Holocaust.

The desecration of the Holocaust monument, located on the site of a synagogue that was used during the war as a collection camp from which 37,500 Jews were deported to their deaths, was discovered Wednesday morning.

It was the latest in a worrying wave of anti-Semitic and other hate crimes to occur in Germany.

According to official statistics, the number of hate attacks in Germany rose to 13,753 between January and November 2000 – an increase of 45 percent over the same period in 1999.

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