Germany opens first reform synagogue since WW2

BERLIN Mon Feb 21, 2011 11:01am EST

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BERLIN (Reuters Life!) - Germany opened its first new reform synagogue since the Holocaust on Sunday, marking a major step in the revival of Reform Judaism, which traces its roots to the country.

The synagogue in the northern city of Hameln was built on the foundation of its predecessor, which was destroyed by the Nazis during the "Kristallnacht" pogrom in 1938.

The congregation received financial backing for the synagogue primarily from local and state government.

"It's incredible that, after the Shoah, in Germany a synagogue could be built with money that came from German political organizations," the congregation's president Rachel Dohme told Reuters.

The city's reform congregation was founded in 1997 and has some 200 members, the majority of which are from the former Soviet Union.

Reform, or liberal, Judaism was pioneered in Germany by Israel Jacobson two centuries ago. It holds the equality of sexes for rights and responsibilities and allows for sermons in local languages.

About 20 percent of Jews in Germany currently follow Reform Judaism, a figure Dohme said highlights a growing pluralism in the German-Jewish community in the past decade.

"People are moving away from Orthodox Judaism and looking for a modern Judaism," Dohme said. "In the next couple of decades there will be a major switch."

Germany's Jewish population has grown quickly since the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago brought an influx of Jews from Eastern Europe.

The country's Jewish population is around 200,000 -- most of which are émigrés from the former Soviet Union. There were more than a half-million Jews in Germany before Adolf Hitler took power in 1933.

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