Vibrant Jewish life in Germany is buzzing with the help of German partnerships according to Deidre Berger, director of American Jewish Committee Berlin’s Ramer Institute.
“There’s a feeling that Jewish life in Germany is again an anchor and it can’t be eradicated at this point,” said Berger, a member of Oranienburger Str. Synagogue in Berlin. “For us in the Jewish world, having Germany as a strong partner is essential in trying to secure democracy and protect ourselves against rising forces of nationalism and populism.”
During her U.S. visit, where she stopped at the Cleveland Jewish News before her appearance at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood as part of AJC Cleveland’s “A View From Berlin,” Berger explained Germany is “very much in the DNA of AJC” as the organization was founded by Jews of German decent in 1906.
“Germany plays a very special role in Jewish memory for obvious reasons,” Berger said. “It also opens up special avenues of partnership that are very intensive. We have strong bilateral relations with the German government that go beyond simply the level of context but that have become friendships and partnerships over the decades.”
AJC Berlin’s partnerships even reach the Christian Democratic Union of Germany party, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel currently leads. However, that partnership will be changing. According to reports from The Associated Press Oct. 29, Merkel announced she will leave the leadership of the CDU in December and will not seek a fifth term as chancellor.
“(Merkel’s resignation) could mean that there can be erosion of support on Jewish issues depending on who’s chosen – we hope not – but it’s creating uncertainty at the moment as to how the issues of importance to the Jewish world will develop,” Berger said. “I think there is also uncertainty about where Germany is heading in terms of leadership in the European Union. As Brexit nears its end date, Germany’s role is thrust into an ever more important role in the European Union and as the Jewish community in the United States, we’re concerned about where Europe is heading.”
Berger has served as director for 18 of the 20 years since the Berlin office opened. As the only global Jewish organization with a Jewish presence on the ground in Germany, she said AJC’s partnerships stretch through all aspects of society including police, education and government. For instance, she said a large number of Muslim refugees have come to Germany and with them come anti-Semitic stereotypes.
“We worked with partners who help raise awareness about the stereotypes they were bringing in with them and about the need of the German government to address the problem, and help them understand better basic information about Jews, about Israel, about contemporary society,” she said.
Anti-Semitic incidents have remained stable for the last few years but at a high level, Berger said. With 100,000 active Jews in Germany plus an estimated 100,000 Jews who are not associated with the community, AJC Berlin needs established partnerships so if disaster strikes, it can be prepared.
“AJC is not just on the ground to observe what’s going on and report about it,” she said. “We’re on the ground to chart the course of history. This is a very important moment for our lives where we see democracy eroding on both sides of the Atlantic and it’s never been more important to take a stand and raise our voices in defense of the liberal values that keep us safe as Jews and keep all of us safe in a democracy. That’s what AJC can do.”