Germany ordains first female rabbi since Holocaust

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany ordained its first female rabbi since the Holocaust on Thursday, marking a major step in the reintegration of Jews into modern German life.

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In the glare of international media, Alina Treiger followed in the footsteps of Regina Jonas, who in 1935 was the first female to be appointed a rabbi in Germany.

Jonas, from Berlin, was murdered by the Nazis in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland in 1944.

The Ukrainian-born Treiger said she was thrilled to be ordained, at a ceremony at a synagogue in Berlin, with President Christian Wulff and hundreds of people in attendance, two centuries after the birth of Liberal Judaism in Germany.

“It’s a really exciting day for me. It’s not normal for a woman to be a rabbi and I didn’t know it was even possible when I was younger,” she told German television ZDF. “I’m just happy to be able to share this day with so many people.”

Germany’s Jewish community has grown quickly since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, which prompted an influx of Jews to the country, fuelling a need for more rabbis.

Only a handful of Jews remained in Germany after the war, but today the population is believed to be around 200,000. Before Hitler took power in 1933, there were as many as 570,000.

President Wulff said Treiger’s historic achievement was a further step toward reconciliation in a country where the Nazis had masterminded the murder of some 6 million European Jews.

“This doesn’t just fill the Jewish community with joy, it also shows that Jewish life -- of all kinds, from orthodox to liberal -- has put down stronger roots again,” he said.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called the ordination “a particularly poignant expression of the fact that Jewish life self-evidently has a place in Germany again.”

Treiger will minister to Jewish congregations containing many native Russian speakers in the northwestern city of Oldenburg and nearby town of Delmenhorst.

She said it was important to have Judaism explained in their own language -- a tradition associated with Liberal Judaism, which started 200 years ago when Israel Jacobsen opened the first synagogue in Germany with services in the local idiom.

“You can imagine how difficult it is for them if the service is conducted in Hebrew and German, that is in two languages they can’t understand very well,” Treiger said.

The World Union for Progressive Judaism in a statement thanked the German people and government for “their commitment to the renewal of Jewish life in Germany.”

Editing by Michael Roddy