Working for the congregation
I have been active as a rabbi in former East Germany states since 2012: I was a rabbi for the congregation in Dresden until 2018 and am now the state rabbi for Thuringia. The Dresden and Erfurt congregations both had well below 100 members at the time of German reunification in 1989 (Dresden 61, Erfurt 26 members). In this regard, the fact that there are well over 600 members today is a positive sign. The figures show that: over 90 percent of members originally came from the former Soviet Union. Especially in the former East Germany states, many congregations were reestablished through immigration.
You can also see this in synagogues that have been built in Dresden, Chemnitz, Cottbus, and Rostock, for example. They probably wouldn’t exist if there hadn’t been immigration. But most congregations suffer from the fact that young people in particular move to what used to be West Germany because job prospects are better there. As a result, membership has been declining for several years. Our communities need to create more incentives for young families, for example a Jewish preschool.
Congregation members have different religious backgrounds. Unfortunately, in the Soviet Union many of them were unable to practice Judaism. Still, the traditions were not lost completely. Congregation members have told me about celebrating the holidays at home, often with traditional foods associated with the specific occasion.
I regard it as a big responsibility to help community members learn more about Jewish traditions. For example, there are some who are trying, even late in life, to follow Torah principles increasingly. Therefore, I hold weekly classes and explain each week’s segment at the synagogue. My remarks are translated into Russian so everyone can follow the content easily.
I view preparing for every Shabbat and holiday as an important part of my personal development. After all, as the Torah tells us: “He who learns in order to teach will be able to learn and teach.” (Pirkei Avot, Chapter 4.6)
Alexander Nachama has been the state rabbi of Thuringia since 2018. He completed the program at the Aleph rabbinical and cantor school in 2005 and then earned a degree in Jewish studies. He was ordained as a rabbi by the Abraham Geiger College in 2013. His rabbinical practice continues a family tradition.