(November 26, 2019 / JNS) Inside the Center for Creativity at the historic Francke Foundation in Halle, founded as a Pietist education center for orphans in 1698, a couple of kids sitting in a cozy nook stared at a picture of the Halle synagogue. The German teacher said nothing about the Yom Kippur assault on it that took place a month earlier and focused instead on synagogue life, pulling out a mock Torah scroll to captivate the audience of children and parents.
In fact, this family day dedicated to aspects of Jewish tradition was planned long before the attack ever happened as part of seventh annual “Halle Days of Jewish Culture” organized by the Leopold Zunz Center, a society affiliated with Halle’s Martin Luther University dedicated to research and dissemination of Jewish tradition in central Germany.
Prior to the attack on Oct. 9, most Jews had never heard of Halle. And, as a small city of 250,000 people in former East Germany, most Halle residents likely had few encounters with Jews and Judaism. In fact, Germans often dismiss Halle—about a two-hour train ride from Berlin—as that “city near Leipzig.” Given the surge of right-wing votes in former East Germany, some even stereotype East German cities as dens of right-wing extremists, like the one who tried to break down the synagogue’s door to kill as many Jews as possible.
“Most German non-Jews hear about Judaism through the Holocaust, and the expulsions in Middle Ages and the Crusades, if they even hear about that. It’s victimhood,” said Anton Hieke, a lecturer of Jewish studies at Halle’s Martin Luther University and one of the organizers of the “Halle Days of Jewish Culture” meant to counter stereotypes and prejudices. “If all you know about a tradition is victimhood, you can’t relate and grasp that it’s part of your own culture.”
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