German Protestant church becomes a Jewish synagogue

By Ecumenical News International
September 30, 2008

For the first time in Germany, a Protestant church has been turned into a Jewish synagogue - writes Andreas Havinga.

The consecration of the synagogue, called "Beit Tikwa" (House of Hope), in the town of Bielefeld, took place on 21 September. The Rev Alfred Buss of the Evangelical Church of Westphalia, where Bielefeld is located, said the new place of worship is also a "house of hope" for Protestant Christians.

Buss recalled "with sorrow and deep shame" the destruction of Bielefeld's former synagogue on 9 November 1938, known as Kristallnacht or Night of Broken Glass, when Nazis attacked synagogues and other Jewish property throughout Germany.

The Evangelical Church of Westphalia had failed in the face of the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews were killed, said Buss, the president of the Westphalian church.

He said it was therefore all the more important that a former Protestant church had been transformed into a synagogue. This made tangible, he added, the reference in the Westphalian church constitution to the abiding bonds between Christians and Jews.

Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said the new synagogue marked a "revival of Jewish life in Bielefeld".

The Jewish congregation in Bielefeld tallies about 300 members, and is one of 19 Jewish congregations in North Rhine-Westphalia, who have a combined total of 32 000 members.

The synagogue was needed because the previous location, dating from the 1950s, had become too small.

The Jewish community in the region has grown in recent years because of the arrival of immigrants from eastern Europe, the European Jewish Press news service noted.

The local Bielefeld congregation bought the former Paul Gerhardt Church in 2007, and says the cost of buying the building and its reconstruction was around 2.8 million euros (US$4.1 million).

The regional state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the municipality of Bielefeld both financially supported the building work.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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