An Uplifting Yom Kippur

Jewish life in Sulzburg, Germany, began in 1424 when Jews were expelled from the nearby town of Freiburg.

It took until 1544 for them to get the government’s permission to build a synagogue and a school. In 1546, Rabbi David Blum, whose writings are preserved in the Hamburg and Oxford libraries, became Sulzburg’s first rabbi.

In 1577, though, the Jews of Sulzburg were expelled and no Jews lived there for nearly 100 years, until 1664, when they were allowed to return.

They lived and prospered in Sulzburg, in the southern part of Germany at the foot of the exquisite Black Forest, until the Nazi era.

The synagogue in which we are standing, below, built in 1823, was left standing on Krystallnacht, (the night of broken glass, when the German government organized pogroms thought the country to burn and destroy Jewish shops, homes, and synagogues on November 9, 1938) because of its proximity to other houses. The inside was totally destroyed, though, and remained that way until the 1980’s when survivors of the town and others donated money and hours of work to restore it.

It was an honor to be able to pray there on the holiest day of our year with people who are dedicated to bringing Jewish life back to Germany.

One of the things that amazed me was that the fledgling community is made up of people from all over the world.  We met people from Santiago, Chile, Moscow, Russia, Mauritius (an island east of Madagascar), Belgium, France, Switzerland, and of course people living and working in nearby Freiburg.  We met business people, doctors, dentists, professors, artists, teenagers, and young children.  They lost themselves in the beautiful melodies sung by Cantor Annette Böckler and they reveled in their newfound knowledge with which Rabbi Stephen Fuchs enriched services with his explanations of both prayers and Torah readings.

The long day passed quickly, and ended joyfully.  By the end of the day, we all felt like family.  Their “break the fast” was a new experience for me: we walked across the street to a building that before World War II had been owned by Jews, part of which had been a restaurant. Part of it is again a restaurant, and as we sat with our new friends, steaming bowls of delicious pumpkin soup were served, followed by salad, pasta, and fruited sorbet for dessert.  Those with young children left right after they ate, others were in no hurry to leave, and sat around and talked.  Even after the Birkat ha Mazon (prayer after the meal) people lingered and talked.  Steve and I finally left, exhausted, and walked back to our Pension. We could still hear the talking and laughter as we walked back up that historic street.

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