Dresden shul is a symbol of interfaith cooperation

Here I was walking down a street in Dresden, and there it was — a golden Magen David hanging from a very modern building. What's that? I asked the guide. Oh, she said, that's the rebuilt synagogue. Rebuilt when? And what happened to the original?

The story goes back to 1938, Kristallnacht. On that night, as happened all over Germany, the synagogue, which had been built in 1837, was torched. The two Stars of David that hung from the building fell, as did the whole structure. The Dresden firefighters were forbidden to extinguish the fire. One fireman, however, Alfred Neigebauer, took one Star of David and hid it in his attic. After the war he returned it to a decimated Jewish community, and when the synagogue was rebuilt in 1998, the star was given a new coat of gold and now hangs above the front door.

But that is not the end of the story. As the custodian of the synagogue told me of its history, he also told me of the campaign to raise the money to rebuild Semper Synagogue. A Circle of Sponsors was formed in 1996 and included the president of Saxony, the bishop of the Protestant-Lutheran Church of Saxony, the Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Desden-Meissen and the Lord Mayor Dresden.

The call for support said in part: The construction of a synagogue for our Jewish citizens expresses our determination, now and in the future, to act for the welfare of our city and our citizens without consideration of religious differences.

Does this make up for what happened to the Jews of Dresden, a Jewish community that dates back to the 12th century? Of course not. But it does say that perhaps — just perhaps — a lesson has been learned.

Another lesson perhaps is exemplified in the new Jewish Museum in Berlin, the architectural achievement of Daniel Liebeskind, which commemorates two millennia of German Jewish history and pulls no punches about what happened in 1933 and the years that followed. The Holocaust in all its horror is revealed for those who wish to see. And the museum is thronged with visitors, particularly with school children.

And that's a lesson to be learned over and over again. Bigotry has not vanished from the earth. Even here in the Bay Area, racial and religious intolerance crop up too often to allow us to be complacent. But we are working to do something about it. We are fortunate to have a number of organizations that work day in and day out to bring diverse communities together. It is a major focus of the Jewish Community Relations Council. And others of us are active in the San Francisco Interfaith Council, the United Religious Initiative and the Interfaith Center at the Presidio, to name just a few.

In Berlin, I met with Taufiq Mempel, a member of one of United Religious Initiative's 200 Cooperation Circles around the world. Taufiq and his colleagues represent several different religious traditions — Christian, Muslim, Baha'i — and so far have been unable to find anyone in the Berlin Jewish community to meet with them. Their interests are in learning about each other's traditions and then hopefully finding one or more projects that could be of service in making Berlin a better place for all to live. I am trying to help them make contacts with the Berlin Jewish community, but if any of the Jewish Bulletin readers can help, I'd be most grateful.

Another example of how URI works around the world is happening in Israel. Yehuda Stolov is the director of the Israel Interfaith Encounter, and Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze continue to meet and work together despite all odds. Yehuda has reached out beyond Israel's borders: He and Mohamed Asaad in Cairo are working together to bring people of good will from both countries and Palestinians from the territories to meet together, learn more about each other and in small ways create shalom.

All of this reminds me of a quote from Hillel in Pirke Aboth, Sayings of the Fathers: "It is not for you to finish the task, neither are you free from beginning it." Isn't this what tikkun olam is all about?

One last note. When I told a San Francisco Lutheran clergy friend the story of the Dresden synagogue, he said with a sigh, "It's about time."