Hate and anti-Semitism more visible online
Rabbi Andreas Nachama turns 70 on November 27. Being a son of Jewish Holocaust survivors in West-Berlin, he came early in contact with interreligious dialogue, thanks to the friendship of his father, cantor Estrongo Nachama, with pacifist and Protestant theologian Heinrich Grüber. His first steps in Jewish-Christian-Muslim exchange he took as a student already almost 50 years ago. To this day, Nachama, as a presidium member in the House of One, also as chairman of the General Rabbinical Conference in Germany, is committed in bringing religions peacefully together. A conversation about the development of interreligious dialogue in Germany since 1945.
There are probably only a few people in Germany who have been active in religious trialogue as long as you have. How long ago was your first Jewish-Christian-Muslim encounter?
It was in Bendorf, a little town on the river Rhine in 1973. A Protestant pastor, Rudi Stamm, had invited lecturers from Leo Baeck College in London. I can't remember the names exactly. That was one of the weakness of these events. There was no core group that met again and again. There were always different people. At every meeting you started from the beginning, you had to make sure where you were and where the others were. That was the weakness in the tri-religious dialogue - until the House of One.
Who took part on behalf of the Muslims?
Those were German Muslims, a Mr. Herzog, if I remember correctly. At that time, the Muslim world in Germany looked different to the one today and was very small. At least I knew a little about Islam from my studies.
But you studied Jewish Studies...
Yes, but there was a joint basic course of Islamic Studies, Jewish Studies, Religious Studies and Protestant Theology at the Free University in Berlin. One course was about basic features of the Koran. I was somewhat familiar with that.
Why familiar, had you studied the Koran before?
At school. It was called Friedrich Rückert Oberschule and Rückert was the translator of the Koran. Every year we students had to learn something about Rückert, and at least every two years his translation of the Koran was a topic. However, this was without the participation of Muslims. There were none at my school, back in the 1960s.
You spoke of a weakness in multi-religious dialogue that, for you, only the House of One has remedied. What has changed?
There is a core of people in the House of One. Over the years friendship and trust have grown. It was different in the Christian-Jewish dialogue, where there has long been more continuity through the existing societies and working groups. With Muslim believers, there was no such thing yet. At least I didn't know them. In the House of One we have a common task. At the moment, in addition to interreligious meetings, lectures and school visits, our core task is to create a mosque, a church, a synagogue and a communal space.
What is so special about it?
On the one hand, the building part. That is not like a gymnasium, which has clearly defined requirements. The three sacred buildings are not standard buildings. In the dialog with the architects, with the technicians, questions arise that we always answered together - even if it is clear that Imam Kadir Sanci has the first word for the mosque or Pastor Gregor Hohberg for the church. This exchange, and that is the special thing, alters oneself and it also changes the view on others, when you successfully pursue a task together over such a long time, consider how common prayers can look and to invite other religions to join in again and again. Not only has a certain professionalism developed, but trust and friendship have grown. That is something completely different from a meeting over a weekend.
What das the House of One mean to you?
It is tridialogue built in stone. In the House of One we try to figure out where there are parallels, where there is dissent, where there are things that are different and can stand side by side at the same time. It is crucial to advance the trialogue for the next generation, so that we do not have to start again and again with Adam and Eve. Passing on what has been learned is an extremely important task. Especially against the background that there is a certain religious and political distance between the religions. It's about achieving a broad social consensus by bringing people together and thus helping to overcome prejudices.
You once said that this dialogue process is a never-ending task, as new people keep coming along.
But there is progress. Today, we take it for granted that there is a Christian-Jewish dialogue. But that only came about after the Second World War. Before that, there was only scratching, spitting, biting and kicking. We have made a millennial step forward since then. In the last two or three decades, this dialogue is also developing with Muslims. The point is, we are moving forward. The Christian-Jewish dialogue shows how to move forward with mutual respect and by accepting that the other is different.
If you look at the past two years with the attack on the Synagogue in Halle or concentration camp convict suits on anti-Corona demonstrations, you don't get the impression that society is moving forward.
I observe this with disapproval and concern. But you have to deal with it. And that is what our society is doing. Comparisons like those with the Jewish stars or concentration camp suits are wrong, but the reaction to them is great.
At the same time, anti-Semitism is on the rise, according to statistics.
Ever since the Federal Republic has existed - I don't know any figures for the GDR - between 20 and 25 percent of the population have been potentially anti-Semitic. Not much has changed there. In 1970, for example, there was the arson attack on a Jewish retirement home in Munich, in which seven people died, or in 1969 the bomb attack - fortunately unsuccessful - on the Jewish community center in Berlin's Fasanenstrasse on the anniversary of the November pogrom by the extreme left-wing Tupamaros.
What has changed then?
People don't hide anymore. In the past, defamatory letters were anonymous. Now the name and sender are on them. In addition, hatred is often spread and more visible through the Internet. This is evident not only in anti-Semitism, but also in attacks against Muslim people, mosques, cemeteries. We all have to be very vigilant. At the same time, there are places today where those who are affected can turn to. There are anti-Semitism officers not only in the federal government, but also in the federal states.
Do you get to feel that hate?
I live in an environment where people do not let others feel who is a Jew and who is not. Also, I don't do people who threaten Jews the favor of changing my lifestyle because of their threats.
To what extent did your childhood home, the history of your parents, Estrongo and Lilli Nachama, both Holocaust survivors, influenced you on your path?
My parental home was characterized by Christian-Jewish dialogue. Estrongo was friends with Provost Grüber of the Lutheran parish of St. Marien in Berlin, who, like my father, had served time in the concentration camp Sachsenhausen, but not together. They got to know each other after the war in the association of former Sachsenhausen residents. When Grüber visited us several times a year, it was of course also a form of interreligious dialogue. That left its mark on me as a youngster.
How can we imagine this?
Grüber always asked me which Torah sections my father had read with me. Then he explained to me the Christian view of the same matter. And? The world did not collapse! The same text with two different approaches. That left its mark on me. We are talking here about the 1960s, 15 years after the end of World War II. Estrongo was invited to churches as a cantor on occasions like November 9 or Israel Sunday, performing Hebrew prayer songs with the church choir. That was interesting, how people approached. But before my father went into a church, he always called Grüber and asked whether the pastor there had belonged to the Hitler-loyal German Christians or to the resistant Confessing Church.
You will be 70 years old this November 27. What do you wish for?
I wish that we live in a society where violence is no longer an issue. A pious wish, I know.
And what would you wish for thinking about the House of One?
If you want to give something, you can participate in the fundraising for a Torah scroll for the synagogue in the House of One (details below). Each Torah is written by hand. This is an expensive process that takes years and hopefully will be ready for the opening of the House of One.
Interview by Kerstin Krupp.
For the fundraising campaign "A Torah for the House of One", Rabbi Nachama's congregation, Sukkat Shalom in Berlin-Charlottenburg, has set up a special donation account: DE88 3706 0193 6004 3610 06
Donation receipts are available through the Sukkat Shalom congregation.