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Tenuous Tracks

Binyamin Rose, Berlin

Berlin, the capital of Germany, is today a city in transition. As hundreds of thousands of immigrants arrive, they carry with them their inbred hatred of Jews. For the continents’ rabbis meeting here last week, that’s just the beginning of their challenges.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Like many vestiges of World War II, Platform 17 at the Berlin-Grunewald train station is a paradox. The iron rails have long since rusted from disuse. The retaining walls protecting the tracks are still blackened with soot from the exhaust of trains that once rolled along them. This was the transit point from which 50,000 Jews were shipped to death camps like Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and Theresienstadt. Iron grates on the platform are inscribed with the dates the carriages rolled, as well as the number of Jews the trains carried. On a parallel track, 50 meters distant, Germany’s high-speed ICE train whizzes by, posing a stark contrast between the Germany of today — a global economic power that takes pride in its resurgent Jewish community — and the Germany of old, most noted for its genocidal anti-Semitism. Two buses pull up to the station, carrying more than 150 rabbanim attending a conference sponsored by the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, an organization founded in 2000 to provide support and guidance for young rabbanim in small communities across the continent. The rabbis step off the buses and walk along the old tracks silently and with heads low, recalling the past while contemplating an uncertain future on a continent where anti-Semitism is resurgent. Security is tight. Several German police stand guard, accompanied by Roni Kohls, an Israeli who moved to Berlin more than 40 years ago and who today serves as senior security coordinator for Berlin’s Jewish community. “There is a police presence and security guards 24 hours a day, seven days a week at every Jewish institution,” Kohls says. Asked if there are “hot warnings” of specific threats, Kohls chooses his words carefully. “There are threats. We live with them every day. Look at what’s happened in France and Belgium. We could be next.”

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