The following article appeared on May 3, 2007 in the »Jüdische Allgemeine Zeitung« (Jewish Public Newspaper, produced by the Central Committee of Jews in Germany), issue 18/07, page 17. Reproduced here with the kind permission of the author, Detlef David Kauschke.
By Detlef David Kauschke
A Cuban woman from New York has donated a Sefer Torah to the Jewish Congregation Adass Yisroel, Berlin.
Question: What is Klal Israel (Israel as an entirety)?
Answer: When, for instance, a Jewish woman born in Havana, who lives in New York, donates a Sefer Torah from an American synagogue, which was founded by German immigrants, to a German congregation, so that Russian-speaking immigrants there can use the scroll during services with their Yemeni rabbi.
That's exactly what happened last Friday in Berlin: the Jewish congregation Adass Yisroel received the precious gift from Esther Rodriguez. The 52 year-old works as a journalist for a Cuban exile radio station and is from time to time in Berlin on business. As a religious woman, she had been looking for a synagogue in Mitte for the Shabbat during her visits, and found one on Tucholskystrasse. There at Adass Yisroel, orthodox rites are practiced daily.
I really enjoyed the service and the atmosphere in this small congregation
Adass Yisroel is an orthodox, independent congregation, which was established in 1869. It once possessed an orthodox rabbinical seminary and a synagogue with over 800 seats – until it was annihilated in 1939 by the National Socialists. In 1989, Adass Yisroel was formally re-established; in 1997 it became recognised as a public corporation, and placed on the same legal level as the Jewish Congregation of Berlin.
Esther Rodriguez is occasionally a guest at Adass Yisroel, and in New York she is a member of the orthodox congregation Lincoln Park Jewish Center. When her mother Aida died four months ago, she decided to donate a Torah scroll in her memory – and thought immediately of Berlin.
My parents sent me away from Havana at the age of six. I was a refugee, fleeing a dictatorship. The Russian-speaking immigrants here in Berlin are also refugees who have fled a dictatorship. And I wanted to dedicate this Sefer Torah to them.
A suitable scroll was found in a synagogue in Washington Heights which has since been closed down, explains Cantor Eric S. Freeman. The prayer leader from Esther's congregation brought the scroll from New York to Berlin. On this sunny Friday morning, Freeman is in the Leo-Baeck building with the Sefer Torah under his arm, waiting to be collected by a procession. After the morning prayer, Adass Yisroel's executive director Offenberg set off for the office of the Central Committee of Jews, along with his new Rabbi Avraham Daus and dozens of praying people. From there they withdraw back to the back to the Adass Yisroel community center with the Torah under the chuppa.
On this journey of several hundred metres, they are joined by some pupils of the Heinz-Galinski school and the Jewish High School. One of these pupils is 11 year-old Dennis Ginzburg. This morning the year-seven pupil is missing English and mathematics lessons. »It's not so bad«, he laughs. He adds that today's Torah celebration is »a really special experience«. His classmates nod.
Meanwhile, their music teacher, Boris Rosenthal, plays »Am Israel Chai« and »David Melech Israel« on the accordion. The people in the march sing and clap along. Not an everyday sight in Berlin-Mitte. Many pedestrians and people in cars watch this event with amazement. The Berlin rabbis Yitshak Ehrenberg, Chaim Rozwaski and Yoshua Spinner are taking part in the ceremony, as is Shlomo Nagar, Head Rabbi of the Israeli city Ariel. He says, »I hope that this day is the beginning of the re-blossoming of the congregation«. Mario Offenberg points out that the congregation now possesses four Torah scrolls. »But we used to have 35 here.« It is symbolic for him that the approximately 100 year-old scroll comes from German-Jewish emigrants. »It is now back in Germany – it has come full circle«.
Cantor Eric S. Freeman refers once again to the Cuban origin of the donator:
It is indeed the best proof that Judaism is a religion which is not restricted by nationality, ancestry or skin colour. It unites people all around the world. We are all Jews; we practice the same religion and read the same Torah.