A German shul boom

By Toby Axelrod, September 26, 2008

Just in time for the New Year, two Jewish communities in Germany have new synagogues.

But the buildings themselves are not new. In Bielefeld, a former church has been refitted, its steeple and church bells replaced with a dome. And in Krefeld, a former commercial building has been redesigned, using elements rescued from the synagogue destroyed in the town during the anti-Jewish Kristallnacht pogrom nearly 70 years ago.

Both new synagogues, which each hold 300 worshippers, are located in the former West German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

And in both cases, the dedications are a sign of growth in Germany's Jewish population: since the fall of the Berlin Wall, that population has grown fourfold to about 120,000. Some estimate that there are another 100,000 who have not joined Jewish communities.

The former Lutheran church in Bielefeld was formally dedicated as a synagogue on September 21. It may be the first time that a church in Germany has ever been refitted for such a purpose.

The synagogue and community centre in Krefeld was unveiled on September 14, in ceremonies also attended by Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and by state governor Juergen Ruettgers.

Each new synagogue "represents what we lost and what we want to rebuild", Ms Knobloch said during the ceremonies at Krefeld. The building includes a stained-glass window rescued from the original synagogue which stood there.

Elsewhere, in Potsdam, outside Berlin, a new synagogue is to be built for a community that has grown to 800 from practically nil before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

And a new Jewish day school opened in the city of Stuttgart - the first private Jewish grammar school in the former West German state of Baden-W├╝rttemberg, although other such schools are located in Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich.

The Stuttgart day school currently has 25 pupils.

Last updated: 1:56pm, September 24 2008