German Minister for Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel on Friday led Berlin Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal on a special tour of his birthplace in Goslar, Germany. During the tour, the dignitaries visited several local sites of Jewish interest.
Among these sites was the city's ancient Jewish cemetery, where they recited a chapter of Psalms.
Gabriel met Rabbi Teichtal several weeks ago, during the International Conference for Religious Leaders on the topic of “Responsibility of Religions for Peace,” sponsored by the German government.
Then and there, the minister decided to invite the rabbi for a stirring tour of Goslar. The visit began with a riveting tour of the old Jewish cemetery, which was built in the early seventeenth century.
Rabbi Teichtal utilized the opportunity to share the fascinating history of Goslar’s Jewish community and describe Jewish ritual burial. In the cemetery, the two dignitaries recited Psalms Chapter 23 in Hebrew and German to elevate the souls of the deceased.
Departing the cemetery, Gabriel and Teichtal had a long discussion about the present and future of the Jewish community in Berlin and in Germany as a whole.
Rabbi Teichtal proudly described the expansion of Jewish life in Germany, its flourishing educational institutions, and about the impressive Jewish Campus that will soon be built in Berlin.
At the same time, he spoke about the growing anxiety that German Jewry is experiencing due to increasing radicalism in the country that stems from Syrian refugees, and the serious concern that many newcomers will reject Germany’s tolerant values importing instead the extremist attitude of their homeland.
Rabbi Teichtal emphasized that the Jewish community feels it is crucial for the government to invest heavily in order to ensure the cultural integration of the immigrants and require that they acknowledge Germany’s difficult past and the lessons that she has learned as a result.
Minister Gabriel and the rabbi then discussed several potential policies that would facilitate this need and enable Jewish communities to continue to flourish and expand.
Sigmar Gabriel’s family history is deeply intertwined with the tragic fate of Holocaust-era Jews.
His father Walter was an active member of the Nazi party, remaining faithful to its ideology until his death some five years ago.
Gabriel himself divulged that he only learned the truth of his father’s murky past at the age of eighteen. This knowledge effectively opened a deep, irreparable chasm between them that was never resolved, even after his father’s death.
"It’s clear to all that faith is a powerful motivating factor in all realms of life," Gabriel posted on his Facebook page after his discussion with Rabbi Teichtal. "It’s not uncommon for people to blame fanaticism and aggression, and even terror, on faith."
"Yet those who profess this fail to understand the true power of religion or its aspirations for peace. I believe in the great potential for peace among all nations."
"I was glad to escort the Foreign Minister on a tour of his birthplace and discuss with him not only the past, but also a shared future together," Rabbi Teichtal said. "Hard times have come upon Jewish communities in Europe due to the perilous security situation."
"Specifically now, there is significance in the fact that government officials are in frequent contact with the communities and have established an open, practical dialogue with them.
"We are all hopeful that, together, we shall grow past this crisis to rebuild a safe future for Jews throughout Europe. This hope is likewise expressed in the chapter of Psalms that I read together with the Minister, in which King David expresses, 'Even if I walk in the shadow of the death, I shall not fear evil for You are with me. Your staff and your stick give me comfort.'"