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Jewish Berlin Reborn

Yonoson Rosenblum

In the capital of the former Nazi regime, an Orthodox community grows from the ashes. The moral force behind much of that rebirth is Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

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“Rabbi Josh Spinner shares the joy with Dayan Ehrentreu"

D ecades before the Nazi rise to power, Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk famously wrote of contemporary German Jewry, in Meshech Chochmah (Vayikra 26:44), “They think that Berlin is Jerusalem.... [F]rom there will go forth a great storm that will uproot them.”

But no one ever predicted that more than half a century after the end of that consuming whirlwind, a vibrant Orthodox community would take root in Berlin, and that the city would become the hub of all Orthodox Jewish life in Germany.

I was in Berlin for four days just before Pesach. The original purpose of the trip was twofold. First, to observe an award ceremony in which the German government conferred its First Class Order of Merit on Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu, the rosh beis din (emeritus) of the London Beis Din. Since 2009, Dayan Ehrentreu has been the rector of the reestablished Rabbinerseminar zu Berlin, founded by Rabbi Dr. Esriel Hildensheimer in 1873. And second, to attend the official opening of a Lakewood Kollel branch in Berlin.

But I soon realized that those two events were part of a larger tapestry: the renewal of Orthodox Jewish life in Berlin in the wake of the large influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union (FSU) in the 1990s.

Closing a Circle

Prior to sitting down in our hotel lobby with Dayan Ehrentreu after his arrival in Berlin from London that morning, Rebbetzin Ehrentreu admonishes me to keep the interview short, as the Dayan needs some time to rest before the award ceremony. As soon as we begin, however, I realize that those words were more directed to her husband than to me. His mood is expansive and forthright; his blue eyes twinkle as he speaks. I immediately grasp why the mispallelim in his Hendon minyan — approximately 30 of whom and their spouses have accompanied him to Berlin — are so attached to him.

As more and more graduates of the yeshivah began to marry and settle in Berlin, they formed the core of the nascent community

Dayan Ehrentreu was six years old at the time of Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938. But the memories of what he calls “the most frightening period of my life” remain fresh: “I vividly remember my late father being taken by the Gestapo to Dachau. I can still see the flames consuming the Holy Scrolls, which had been removed from the Ark to the courtyard outside the synagogue to be burned.”

I wonder, then, whether he doesn’t feel at least ambivalent about receiving an award from the same German government that caused his family to flee from Frankfurt am Main for England in the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht.

He does not answer directly. But he tells me that the chief motivation for accepting the award is to enhance the stature of the Orthodox community in Germany with the government and to honor all of those who have “given their heart and soul to returning Torah Judaism to Germany.” It soon becomes clear to me that the Dayan is much more interested in discussing the new Lakewood kollel in Berlin than his award. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 707)

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