Last month I was in Berlin and stood outside the housewhere my father was born. Two days later,I found where my grandmother was buriedin the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe, and saidKaddishover her grave.
In common with many British Jews,my origins lie in mainland Europe.My parents fled just before theSecond World War. My18-year-old father,having readMeinKampfsimply upped-sticks and left when Hitler came to power. Apart fromthe enormousphysical and mentaldisruptionof becoming refugees,myfamily suffered relatively lightly from theHolocaust. One uncle and one aunt were murdered.My parents never denied theirGermanness, andIhave always beenaware that withoutthe rise of NazismI would be German. Myoriginsin England are part of the same historythat accounted for the almostcomplete destruction ofthehistory, people, culture and communities ofEuropean Jewry.My assent was immediate when I wasinvitedto be a UK representative ofMasortiEurope.
MasortiEurope sits betweenMasortiOlami, the worldwide movementforMasorti/ConservativeJews,andMasortiJudaism, theUKumbrella movement representingMasorticommunities intheUK. Its aim issimple:to promote andfosterthe rebirth and growth of non-fundamental Judaism in Europe.MasortiEurope was foundednearly10years ago and has grown as the umbrella organisation for EuropeanMasorticommunitiesover all of Europe,in countries from Sweden down to Spain, from the UK across tothe Czech Republicand Hungary. The number of Jews in the communitieshas grownand now exceeds10,000.
There arenow 29communities under the umbrella ofMasortiEurope,with two new ones expected to join shortly,andwith others in the offing.MasortiEuroperesponds to theneedsof Jews who wish to be neither under the auspices ofOrthodox norReform movements,and to be part of a movementthatcombines a commitment to Jewish tradition and the best of the values of modernWesternsociety.
MasortiEurope’sactivities and sponsorship are consistent with its primary aim offosteringthe birth and encouraging the growth of newMasorticommunities,in the aftermath of the destruction by the Nazis.It is moving towatch the newcommunities emerging from the ashes.Regular meetings are held to foster the kinship between the communities, to work together, to discuss common problems and initiatives,andto ensure that no community feels alone. We are a family bonded by common ties, values and traditions.
There are,of course,awiderange of activitiespromoted and organised byMasortiEuropewhich help the communities and the movement. The EuropeanMasortiBet Din, under the auspices of Rabbi Chaim Weiner, provides all the services normally associated with a Bet Dinsuch as kashrut advice, divorce proceduresandissues of Jewish law. There is a particular emphasis on conversions, not just for those who wish to marry a Jewish partner,butfor many others whohavediscoveredtheir Jewish roots and wish to be formally accepted within the Jewish world.
Many of the communities arenotlarge enoughtobe able toafford afulltime rabbi;the European Academy for Jewish Liturgy- EAJL(run byChazanJackyChernett)-provides support to enable members to lead theircommunitiesin prayer,with trainingtobecomeaShaliachTzibbur.Many of the communities would simply founder withoutEAJL.MasortiEuropealsohelps to provide rabbis, fulltime and part time, especiallyfor communities in needat the time of theChagim.
Noam(theMasortiyouth movement)andMarom(foryoung adults)which areso successful in the UK, have over the last few years significantly grown in mainland Europe, helpingto ensure the future of our movement.In particular,where requested,we help to establish new communities, visiting them, responding to their plethora of questions, providing seed money and encouragement.
Whenever I visit aMasorticommunityin Europe or attend a meeting,I am reminded of theHaftarahwereciteon the intermediate Shabbat of Pesach:the passage from Ezekiel, where God prophesises that the bones of the dead of Israel will come together.’And the spirit came into them, and they lived andstood on their feet’.Without wishing to appear too maudlin,that is what is happening with European Jewry.
Apart from apart-timedirector,everyoneinvolvedinMasortiEurope isunpaid.Theorganisationis run on a financial shoestring.Yet thereis so much more we could dowith your help.
It is afamily anecdotethat our family was expelled from Spainin 1492.When Idavennedin Madrid I felt:’I am back’.The synagoguein Berlinwheremy father and grandfather worshipped is once again a living and breathing community. The rebirth of European Jewry isindeed remarkableand moving.
Richard Wolfe is a member ofKolNefeshMasortiSynagogue, Vice Chair ofMasortiJudaism,and treasurer ofMasortiEurope.