Hardly any other religion places so much importance on learning as Judaism does. Jews had embraced the concept of lifelong learning long before the rest of the world began to take it seriously.
For them, learning does not only begin at school. And it doesn’t come to an end once they have obtained their degree. The importance of learning in Judaism is reflected in the tradition that it is the youngest child who is allowed to pose the four questions about the rituals during the Passover Seder.
A German aphorism says: “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit sweet.” You would probably disagree about the roots being bitter. But today we all want to join together in harvesting the sweet fruits of learning.
As future rabbis, you will have a very special responsibility as teachers. You are called to place your focus on the students in your communities and to instruct them in such a way that they experience and indeed learn something through critical questioning.
I am sure that the Berlin Rabbinical Seminary has provided you with excellent preparation for this important and responsible task.
All three rabbis we are privileged to send out today share two things in common in their biographies: they show that all three were born in Ukraine and have spent long periods teaching in Israel.
An international mindset, understanding for different cultures, the ability to adopt new perspectives - these are all qualities you bring with you in your work. And if you were not so urgently needed in your future places of work, I would be sorely tempted to talk you into coming to the Federal Foreign Office.
But of course you will also be able to employ these skills in your communities - after all, there, too, people with very different origins and backgrounds co-exist.
Many people are unaware of the wealth of experience we have in the area of migration and integration - right at the heart of our Jewish communities!
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be celebrating today the sixth ordination ceremony for rabbis from the Berlin Rabbinical Seminary following its re-opening, and the first of its kind in Berlin.
At the same time, we are also privileged to be sending out three graduates from the Institute for Traditional Jewish Liturgy in Leipzig to commence their work. Their voices will undoubtedly ring out beyond the boundaries of their future communities.
Today we have the opportunity to listen to them here in one of the last remaining private courtyard synagogues in Berlin. It has been transformed into a wonderful place.
The pogroms in November 1938 marked a transition from the exclusion and disenfranchisement of Jews to their systematic persecution and extermination. They were a foretaste of the Shoah, the most unfathomable crime against humanity in the entire course of history.
The fact that Berlin, the place where deportations and extermination were planned and decided, is now home to the largest Jewish community in Germany once again is a gift for us Germans – an undeserved gift.
But it is also a sign of trust in our system based on the rule of law and in our democracy.
We need to do everything in our power to protect this gift. We need to do everything in our power to defend this trust.
Eighty years after the pogroms, this is unfortunately more necessary than it has been for a long time. It horrifies me to see that the Hitler greeting and hate speech are once again infiltrating themselves into our society. And intellectual arsonists are denying the human dignity of people of different origins or different faiths. That is and remains intolerable!
We cannot, must not and will not accept that here in our country. Together we need to defend our freedom and our open society. Politics and civil society are called to take a joint stand against anti-Semitism, hate and all forms of racism, decisively, visibly and audibly even for those who act differently, and to promote human rights, tolerance and understanding.
For our responsibility here in Germany to protect Jewish life will never end.
The rabbis and cantors ordained today do not have an easy task. They will work within their communities to help ensure that Germany is and remains an appealing place for Jewish people to live. Let us not abandon them but do what we can to support them.
I wish you all the very best and every blessing for the tasks ahead of you.
Thank you very much.