Four answers on a Jewish lifestyle in Europe  
The four questions were put by the European Jewish Magazine ' 'GOLEM' and published with the answers in their november 1999 issue.
1   Which Jewish symbols would you like to take into the next century?  
  A menorah stands on the windowsill at my flat in Berlin. It was a present from a non-Jewish girl friend many years ago. As I happen to live on the first floor of our apartment house, the menorah can be clearly seen from the street below. In some way or other I feel that this menorah is my 'outer' identification with being Jewish. It's the oldest and at the same time most important symbol of the tribe of Israel, which I feel part of.
A Mesusa is on the right-hand side of the doorframe leading to my room. It was a present from an Israeli friend as he wound up his flat and prepared to leave Germany. I was happy about this present as it still today brings back memories of the time we spent together in Berlin. I consider this Mesusa to be my 'inner' identification with being Jewish.
A Star of David hangs on a chain around my neck. It's the 'wedding ring' my non-Jewish wife gave me on our wedding day. I carry it as a symbol of my love and affection for her, but I do have problems accepting it as a symbol of my Jewishness.
My first problem with the Star of David lies in the fact that its introduction, some three hundred years ago, arose from a Jewish desire to have some sort of antipode to the Christian Cross. It found quick acceptance in Jewish communities and quickly spread throughout Europe. This is why it later became the symbol of the Zionist movement, which represents my second problem. I, furthermore, resent the fact that the Star of David was used as a 'Yellow Star' to stigmatise, isolate and murder the Jews of Europe by the Nazis. The fact that the Star of David became the national symbol of the new state of Israel in 1948 also makes me feel uncomfortable with this symbol. Israel is without a doubt a Jewish but not a European state. I, however, am a Jewish European and that brings me to the next question.
2   What could the difference between a European and an Israeli or American Jewish identity be?  
  No matter what or how a European Jewish identity should be or become, one thing must always be remembered after Auschwitz: to live as a Jew in Germany will for a long, long time bear very specific problems within a developing European Jewish identity. I, who decided to live in this country, must again and again defend and explain this decision not only towards Jews from Israel and the United States but also towards Jews from other European countries. Living in Berlin, the former centre in which the genocide of the Jews was planned and implemented, continually confronts me and the visitor with this past. But to give the problem a positive direction: living in Germany should not just be an assertion of Jewish life after Auschwitz, it should rather show other Jews in Europe and abroad that even though Auschwitz is unforgotten, it's still worth living in this country.
Our situation as Jews in Europe has utterly different starting conditions and realities than in Israel or America. Israel is in the middle of a search for cultural identity between its European and Oriental roots. Israel makes very many important contributions to the Jewish debate, but they are definitely not from a European Jewish vantage point. In addition, it must be remembered, that Israel is in a day-to-day fight for survival and self-determination.
The vast majority of American Jews, who neither experienced Auschwitz nor participate in today's fight for Israel's right to exist, basically have the best starting point to develop their cultural, social and religious identity: i.e. they are not weighed down by Jewish sufferings of the past or present. Owing to the roots of American Jewry, their contributions to Jewish debate are often defined from a European background. This is why many of their contributions are followed with great interest in European Jewish circles. There is, however, an important difference: the lack of the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic character of today's European Jewry from Moscow to Dublin and from Oslo to Seville. Furthermore, there's a larger difference of Jewish experiences between the Urals and the Atlantic than between Boston and Los Angeles.
Let's take a look at our situation in Germany. Germany was the heartland and heimat of the Ashkenazim. The German language was and is the cornerstone of Yiddish and Yiddish Culture in Eastern Europe. Germany was home to Moses Mendelssohn and the Jewish Reform Movement. Jewish Germany has brought forth outstanding personalities in the fields of science, culture and politics, who have contributed to European cultural history. Jewish modernism has its roots in Europe. I am convinced that the Jews of Europe have made an outstanding contribution to Jewish cultural identity in today's world.
Even today, after Auschwitz, we don't need to hide our contributions behind the achievements of Jews in Israel and America.
To develop a strong and independent European Jewish identity, we first of all need to study and evaluate the specific Jewish contribution to European cultural history since the founding of the first European Jewish community in Rome. The next step is to spread and root this knowledge throughout European Jewry. However, a European Jewish identity cannot only be scientific or theoretical. We have to actively participate in, and contribute to, world Jewish debate with a specific European voice. Part of this should be the explicit development of a European style of Jewish religious life. Through trans-European conferences, meetings and get-togethers about cultural, religious, scientific and political topics, European Jewry could contribute new aspects to the debate about Jewishness in the 21st century. The European Jewish identity should also develop a forum in the media: i.e. through a multi-lingual European Jewish magazine. Throughout Europe today, films are being produced with a Jewish content or context for screening on TV or in the cinema. This contributes and furthers Jewish exchange and debate throughout Europe and the rest of the world.
The existence of anti-Semitism throughout Europe is a further defining reason for developing a European Jewish identity as a means of solidarity between us. To develop a new European Jewish identity is a balancing act between assimilation on the one hand and religious narrow-mindedness, i.e. intolerance on the other.
Historic and present day anti-Semitism also makes one a Jew. Jewish identity because of fate and destiny has always played an important role, even before Auschwitz. History has shown that any minority group under social pressure tends, more or less, to be welded together. Social oppression leads to minority opposition like: 'Now-for-sure- I'm-going-to-stand-up-to-being Jewish'
3   Who or what is a Jew?  
  My father's name was Goldlust and his family came from Galicia. His mother was a Bernstein and came from Beuthen in Upper Silesia. My mother was a member of the Reiss family who can trace back their Jewish roots in southern Moravia for centuries. Both parents have mile-long 'reinrassig' (pure race) Jewish roots. There's no doubt about it: I'm a 'Volljude' (Pure Jew) in terms of the Halacha and as far as Adolph Hitler is concerned! However, what use is such a definition, if
- I neither live, think or act in a Jewish context?
- If I don't identify with being Jewish and
- If I don't hand down either Jewish experience or knowledge to my children?
It appears obvious that there's a lot more to being Jewish than just a Jewish mother! (And I don't even need her, by orthodox understanding, if I've converted to Judaism). Throughout the world, except in Israel, children who 'only' have a Jewish father are being accepted by Jewish communities, as long as they more or less partake in the religious and cultural activities of the community and celebrate Bat / Bar Mitzwa.
The crux of the problem lies in the fact that an 'I-don't-care-or-give-a-dam-Jew' with his or her mother's Jewish birth certificate, finds immediate access to a Jewish community no matter what its religious leaning is. To call this 'unsatisfactory' is more than an understatement!
So let's take a positive approach. My opinion is that anybody can be a 'Jew' if he or she identifies his- or herself with religious and/or cultural Judaism and feels that these contents relate to his or her identity. This would result in a much more interesting procedure of joining a Jewish community than at present. Such an approach would probably lead to the end of the specifically German 'Einheitsgemeinde' (Jewish communities incorporating different religious directions), which is a European Jewish exception to the rule anyway. I would sacrifice this 'honourable' institution any time in exchange for a community of involved Jews!
I cannot deny the fact that their would still be 'differences' within such a 'dream' community: people, like myself, who have lost part of their family in Auschwitz, or Jews who have grown up in a religious family context will have a decisively different background and approach to their Jewishness than somebody who has converted to Judaism. But then, this is already the case in today's existing communities.
Historic and present day anti-Semitism also makes one a Jew. Jewish identity because of fate and destiny has always played an important role, even before Auschwitz. History has shown that any minority group under social pressure tends, more or less, to be welded together. Social oppression leads to minority opposition like: 'Now-for-sure- I'm-going-to-stand-up-to-being Jewish'
4   What could Jewish Art be?  
  Anything and everything that in content deals with Jewish life throughout the world. Jewish artists do not automatically create Jewish art on merit of their descent. Contents are what count. That means that non-Jews can, of course, contribute to Jewish art ­ even if some people don't like this notion. Maybe the critics would like the artist to convert before his art becomes Jewish?
- I'd like Jewish art to strengthen my Jewish identity ­ even through critical analysis.
- I'd like Jewish art to inform me about Jewish life elsewhere in the world.
- I'd like Jewish art to amuse and entertain me while facing the day-to-day battle over Jewish identity!
- I'd like Jewish art to arouse and / or create interest, curiosity and joy within the non-Jewish world.