Sehr geehrter Herr Schuster
Excellency, Ambassador Issacharoff
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Talmud says: One man’s candle is light for many.
We are gathered here today to honour a man who has brought light into the lives of so many people. This man is not only one of the most eminent rabbis in the United Kingdom, he is also the undisputed senior authority on Jewish law in Europe.
Already in 1960, as a young man at the age of 28, you founded the first institute for advanced Talmud studies and became a renowned teacher and scholar. Later, you concentrated on Jewish law and served as head of various Jewish Courts of Law – culminating in your current position as head of the European Jewish Court of Law of the Conference of European Rabbis.
I am convinced that most of our guests today would testify as to how bright the light you have brought into their lives has been.
It is my privilege to have been given the opportunity to speak to you today here at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin. Berlin, Germany.
I emphasise this place – because it must not be taken for granted that we are gathered here, given the history – the history of Germany, of Berlin, and of this building. But I was told that it was your wish to be honoured in Germany, and not in your home town London.
But thinking about it, this makes sense – considering the bright light that you have brought back to the place you left in very dark times.
You were born in 1932 in Frankfurt am Main, as the son and grandson of famous Rabbis. You were destined to continue this family tradition. But history seemed to prevent that.
As a young boy, you witnessed the harassment of fellow citizens, the plundering of Jewish-owned shops, and the destruction of synagogues. The events of the Pogrom Night in November 1938 forced you and your family to flee Germany. After the National Socialist atrocities, the German atrocities, it would have been only too understandable if you had never set foot in the country of the perpetrators of the Shoah again.
It took you quite a while – but you did return. And what is more, for nearly twenty years now you have actively contributed to revitalising Jewish life in Germany.
Today, the Jewish community in Germany officially numbers around 100,000, and it is blossoming again. In the 1950s, the Jewish population in Germany was estimated at a mere 20,000.
In the shadow of the Holocaust, Jewish life in Germany was anything but self-evident. Many preferred to think of their stay in Germany as temporary. “We will move to Israel soon,” was the mantra of the day.
Only gradually, with the birth of children and economic and democratic development in Germany, did the stay become permanent – and did the suitcases get unpacked. It is an unwarranted gift that Jews have chosen to live in Germany after the Shoah.
We are deeply grateful for this vote of confidence, confidence in our democratic state and the security and freedom it guarantees.
For the German Government, this vote of confidence is an obligation:
It is an obligation to do our utmost to keep Jewish life flourishing.
It is an obligation to ensure the safety of our fellow Jewish citizens.
And it is an obligation to combat anti-Semitism is all its forms.
We can only fulfil this obligation if we work hand in hand with Jewish institutions and civil society, in Germany and abroad.
You are one of our eminent partners in this endeavour.
When you recognised the challenges that the growing Jewish Orthodox community faced here, you decided to reach out to Germany.
You did not only light a candle, but you became a beacon of Jewish education in this country.
As founding father and director of the “Hildesheimer-Rabbinerseminar”, you reopened doors that had been closed since 1938, the very year your family had to flee Germany. This Rabbinerseminar had been established in 1873 and trained rabbis for the Jewish communities of Germany and Western Europe. After it was closed down on 10 November 1938, there was no place in Germany where Orthodox rabbis could be trained for more than 70 years.
It was not until 2009 that the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Ronald Lauder Foundation re-established the Rabbinerseminar zu Berlin. Since then, it has developed into one of the leading institutions for the training of Orthodox rabbis in Europe.
Jewish life in Germany would not be the same without you. Jewish education would not be the same without you.
Education for you does not stop with the training of men. It also empowers women – which should be underlined especially today, on International Women’s Day.
One example for this empowerment of women is the Programme for Rebbetzins that was introduced five years ago at the “Rabbinerseminar”. This programme is tailored to the special role of the wives of Rabbis and enables them to actively engage in the life of Jewish communities.
A fellow educator, Rebbetzin Dena Weinberg, once said: “Torah is not education, it’s transformation.”
Your life embodies this statement. You have dedicated yourself to transforming lives through education. With your devotion to Jewish Orthodox education, you have transformed Jewish life in Germany.
You have lit countless candles in a country that had shown its darkest side to you and your family.
Therefore, it is a now great pleasure for me to bestow upon you the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.