A wave of immigrants from the former Soviet Union is fueling the resurgence and breathing new life into a Jewish community that not only is thriving, but is the fastest growing in the world.
Drawn to a country that has spent five decades demonstrating it has learned from history, the newcomers feel safe to embrace their Judaism and welcome the economic opportunities not available at home.
No one foresaw this rebirth--a vibrant slap of defiance at the Nazis who plotted their extermination.
Germany was home to 500,000 Jews before World War II. Only 15,000 of those who survived the war decided to stay, defying the disapproval of other survivors who emigrated to Israel, the United States and elsewhere.
It was a cohesive community that kept Orthodox traditions to hold the core of their faith together--and they remained relatively small in number, growing to just 30,000 by 1990.
But since the fall of communism in eastern Europe, the number of Jews in Germany has exploded to 85,000--and could grow, by some forecasts, to 120,000 within five years.
``It was not imaginable 55 years ago that there would be a Jewish community in Germany. It was said this was 'burnt ground,''' said Paul Spiegel, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. ``But today it is the third-largest Jewish community in Europe (behind France and Britain). That is unbelievable.''
Yet, since a July 27 bomb attack at a Duesseldorf train station that injured 10 Soviet immigrants--six of them Jewish--the newcomers' feeling of safety has been severely shaken. Jews are talking again of fears not voiced since the end of the World War II.
``Until we can rule out that rightist extremism was behind this, then all Jews in Duesseldorf--and all Jews in Germany--are afraid,'' Spiegel said.
Leaders of the Jewish community in Germany saw their chance for new life after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The late president of the Central Council, Heinz Galinski, negotiated with Germany's then conservative-led government to create a special clause in asylum laws for Jews from the former Soviet Union. It took effect in 1991.
While many express relief at being able to express themselves as Jews, perhaps for the first time, most were motivated by economic opportunities to come to Germany. The government provides six months of language school, subsidized or temporary housing and a work permit.
But many were professionals in the former Soviet Union, and lack certification required for most professions in Germany. A disproportionate 70 percent are unemployed, and living on social benefits.
Those who do become active in the Jewish community tend to adopt a more progressive form of Judaism, a fact that has been a source of tension with the established Orthodox community.
The renewal has many forms:
A Jewish community has sprung up from nowhere in the small town of Hamelin, home to the fabled Pied Piper. Led by an American expatriate, they are struggling to make it on their own without the Central Council's support after embracing a more liberal Jewish faith.
Three-quarters of Duesseldorf's 6,300 Jews have arrived in the last 10 years. The synagogue's kindergarten has expanded from 25 children to 65, and the youth center from 170 to 800. Future plans call for building a high school. But with most of the new immigrants having trouble finding work, the community is trying to make ends meet without their new members pitching in financially.
Even in Germany's formerly communist east, Judaism is experiencing a revival. The Jewish population in eastern Thuringia state has grown from 24 in 1989 to 600. The state's main synagogue, in the city of Erfurt, was rebuilt in 1952, replacing one destroyed by the Nazis. The new synagogue was the target of a failed arson attack this year--an incident that reawakened fears of anti-Semitism among Jews.
The largest influx has been to Berlin, where the Jewish community has doubled to 12,000 members. With a 50-50 split of newcomer to native, the community is experiencing a strain over language and culture.
Recently, Rachel Dohme prepared celebrations for Tu B'Shvat, the Jewish equivalent of Arbor Day, in a room at a shopping center where the Hamelin Jewish community meets. Founded just three years ago, they now have 160 members--almost all from the former Soviet Union. Except for Dohme, an American from Pittsburgh who helped bring the community to life.
``Judaism in Germany hasn't been very normal up to now. It needs an input of some kind of new life,'' said Dohme. ``They bring, like every immigrant group, their own special taste.''
Dohme has just 20,000 marks (or about $10,000) to work with each year, money from the state culture ministry. The community follows Reform Judaism, partially in an attempt to encourage inexperienced newcomers to participate, and therefore it gets no support from the Central Council, which is more traditional.