Martin arieh rudolph tries not to let on. The 54-year-old sits relaxed on the long wooden bench. Right next to it rises the bima, the stage on which the torah is rolled out. Pale autumn light falls into the prayer room through windows as high as a man’s head. The remaining seats of the bamberg synagogue are empty today, only on friday evening believers will receive the sabbath there. Faith. God. Religion. Strong concepts. What do jews associate with it? Hardly anyone wants to talk about it in public. Not out of ignorance, not out of false shame, not out of vanity. But out of fear. Hall reverberates.
"There are enough people who wish us the plague on the neck. For whatever reason.", says rudolph. He is chairman of the israelite religious community of bamberg. Although one does not necessarily have to fear for one’s life here. Also because one is cautious. Not just anyone can get into the community center, cameras register everything and behind the heavy entrance door the gatekeeper checks the ids of strangers.
96 incidents in six months: this is why anti-semitism is so deeply embedded in people’s minds
"I do not feel personally attacked here", says rudolph. But even if the community is not currently experiencing open and offensive aggression, the fear is always hovering with it. Especially after attacks like the one in halle. "You can’t do it without safety precautions", female rudolph. That is why church services and other events are always guarded by the police. "Halle would certainly not have happened in bamberg", says rudolph. And yet the unease remains "that you never know if someone might try to find a leak."
Time and again, his members told him that they no longer wore the kippa or jewish pendants in public. Partly out of fear of being recognized as a jew, partly also out of an increasingly sacular understanding of things. The consequence is that people do not want to show their faith openly, but on the contrary rather do it completely in silence. Anti-semitism is always traceable, even in everyday life. Even in france, even in the province. Similar sentiments confirmed by presidents of other municipalities in the region. Why is that?
"A lot of work to bring judaism closer"
"Anti-semitism and modern society go hand in hand and are closely interwoven, wrote political scientist samuel salzborn in 2010. And indeed, prejudice and the hatred that often results from it run like a long, blood-red thread through world history. "Nowadays, we no longer have to convince anyone that we don’t have a horseshoe. But it takes a lot of work to teach people about judaism." Also to the jews themselves.
Like many religious communities in the western world, jews are suffering from the increasing disaffection of their believers. The liberal bamberg congregation has 681 members today. To the quorum of religious persons pay men and women equally, the women’s share in the services is usually higher than that of men. Young people also exist, although they often have interests other than religion. Less than ten percent of all congregation members come to synagogue. On regular fridays and saturdays, rudolph puts on his prayer shawl, the tallit, and reads from the torah scroll when he himself leads the service. The rows are more densely packed on the high holidays, when the rabbi is permanently in bamberg.
For rudolph, however, that hardly matters: "even though it’s good when the community prays together in the synagogue, in many respects faith is an individual thing." Daily prayers are performed by everyone for themselves, kosher food is not affordable for everyone because of the high costs. "It is not a matter of scrupulously observing every religious rule, but of living the basic consensus of being a jew."
Martin arieh rudolph’s path to the top of the judaic community was long and unusual. Born in 1964 in freiburg, he grew up in a christian family. God was part of rudolph’s life from the beginning. Later, after his confirmation, he became a mesher in a village church in the ulm area, but he questioned the church piece by piece. After an apprenticeship as an insurance clerk in ulm and several years of work in bonn, a discontinued business administration degree in coburg and several years in an employers’ liability insurance association in nurnberg and darmstadt, he later moved to bamberg. By then he had already converted to judaism, learned hebrew diligently, and became involved in his new religious life early on. He has been a member of the bamberg jewish community since 1992 and its chairman since 2013.
Religious awareness is always there
When asked how he sees himself, rudolph says, "my religious consciousness is there from the time i get up in the morning until i go back to bed at night. Every jew is responsible for his own salvation." He would always want to call himself a liberal jew. Shopping takes a little longer for him, because he studies the ingredient lists of his kosher way of life very carefully, but even he does not come to pray every day. And the kippa? "I wear them open, although I cover them with a hat because of my few hairs on the ground." Rudolph laughs. He quickly adds that this has nothing to do with the fact that he has already received threatening letters.
Rudolph’s predecessor in office, heinrich olmer, who died in 2012, wanted to establish the jewish community center as an open house. With success: there are tours for school classes and dance evenings, people in life crises find help and religious support. And yet judaic openness seems to be trapped in a one-way street.
The concept of love of neighbor comes from a commandment in the torah, martin arieh rudolph does not ask for much: only that jews finally experience the love of their neighbors. Or at least not their hatred.