For a new co-existence

Attacks on people perceived as different – such as Jews or Muslims – are on the rise in Germany. Enough is enough. We need more than declarations of solidarity, write Jewish rabbi Yehuda Teichtal and Muslim SPD politician Raed Saleh in their joint appeal

By Raed Saleh & Yehuda Teichtal

A couple of weeks ago I, Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, and my child were spat at in the street and abused in Arabic because we are Jews. Precisely a year ago, a neo-Nazi mob raged outside the "Schalom" restaurant in Chemnitz, throwing stones and shouting hate-filled slogans.

Shortly before Christmas 2017, a well-dressed elderly man harassed a Jewish restaurateur in Berlin-Schoneberg with the words: "What is there for you here after 1945?" Followed by the intolerable sentence: "You should all get back to your damned gas chambers." Not long ago in the Berlin district of Prenzlauerberg, a Syrian refugee used a belt to whip a Jewish man because he was wearing a kippa.

All these incidents were horrendous and elicited a public outcry. There was thorough reporting, candlelit vigils, minutes of silence, declarations of solidarity. Then nothing until the next incident occurred. We need to be wary of not falling into a predictable cycle.

In a democracy, it is of course important and absolutely essential that society takes a stand and shows its disapproval. It did a lot of good that the German President had a clear message in response to the terrible occurrence of last week. He is right when he says that any form of extremism is toxic for our open and libertarian society. But words alone are simply not enough.

In Germany at the present time, attacks are taking place daily on people because they are perceived to be different. By anti-Semites, racists, xenophobes, homo- and Islamophobes. Just like the Jews, Muslims are also being continually harassed, marginalised and abused everywhere. Kippas and headscarves are being torn from heads. Because of deep-seated prejudices. Enough is enough. We need more than declarations of solidarity reeled off regularly and left without consequence.

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We need an uprising of the upstanding

We need a strategy on how we want to deal with increasing levels of rejection of those perceived to be different and unfamiliar. We need a daily uprising of the upstanding. In workplace canteens, in soccer clubs, in conversations after church services, on the tram, in the beer garden. Whenever someone tells a crass joke about Jews, Muslims or refugees, tipping out his offensive prejudices like a bucket of manure, when the Roma boy begging on the street is threatened, or the woman sitting next to us on the bus is abused because she's wearing a headscarf, when Jewish boys are mobbed for wearing a kippa, then the only response can be to stand up and contradict such actions.

Yehuda Teuchtal is community rabbi for Berlinʹs Jewish community and chairman of the Jewish Chabad education centre  (photo: DW/C. Strack)
Die Europäische Rabbinerkonferenz sieht "das religiöse Miteinander in Deutschland" und die Religionsfreiheit bedroht. Der Rabbiner Yehuda Teichtal war vor zwei Wochen Ende Juli in Berlin in Begleitung eines seiner Kinder von zwei arabisch sprechenden Männern beschimpft und bespuckt worden. Die Attacke war bundesweit auf Entsetzen gestoßen. Die Ermittlungen beim polizeilichen Staatsschutz laufen weiterhin.

The agitators will only feel bolstered if they believe someone is following them. Should they encounter a headwind, they quickly fall silent. It is always easy to single out individuals from a group for abuse. But if an entire train carriage stands up and shows that the hatred and the attacks will not be tolerated, then this will have an effect. Yes, such actions require courage. But we must finally summon up that courage.

The spitting and the insults just a few days ago in Berlin was not an attack on the Jewish father with his child –  it was an attack on our open society. It was an attack on the gay couple, on the Muslim imam, the paraplegic in a wheelchair, on the vibrantly-coloured punk, the black female soccer player, the homeless Roma family, the little refugee boy without parents living with a foster family.Live out the values of the constitution

What unites us all is our Basic Law – our values, our morality and our responsibility before God. Finger-wagging alone will not help. And neither will harsh punishments for the repugnant agitators. We need a change of mindset. A change of mindset through a broader-based co-existence.

We need to start the process at a very early age. Those who don't want Islamists, anti-Semites, neo-Nazis and left-wing radicals must begin, in the presence of the youngest members of the community, to live out the values of our constitution and the benefits of a diverse, vibrant, open and also international society. We need to pay much more attention to education, a tolerant, democratic education. From the kindergarten right through to the college of adult education.

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One-and-a-half years ago I, Raed Saleh, proposed on this very website the historic rebuilding of a synagogue for the first time in German history. As a sign of how central Judaism once was in Germany and as an indication of where we are again today. That article has in the meantime given rise to a very concrete project reported on from Washington to Tokyo and well on the way to being realised very soon.

Chairman of the Berlin chapter of the SPD Raed Saleh gives a speech during a meeting of local SPD members of parliament (photo: dpa-Bildfunk/Daniel Bockwoldt)
A unique project in Germany: Raed Saleh, chairman of the SPD in Berlinʹs local parliament, is committed to the reconstruction of the synagogue destroyed by the Nazis in Berlin-Kreuzberg. "As a sign of how central Judaism once was in Germany, and as a sign of where we are again today"

The first two million euros have been raised. Several Berlin mosques announced they would be collecting donations for the reconstruction. From the Jewish perspective, a moving gesture. The complex will also include a kindergarten, in which Jewish children will play together with Muslim and Christian children, as well as children of no faith, and together learn the wonderful values of our constitution.

Encounter, dialogue, exchange

Just as on the Jewish Campus currently being established in the Berlin district of Wilmersdorf. Together we have both campaigned for many years to ensure that this important project can flourish and that it will soon become a reality. A figure in the tens of millions of Euros has thus been amassed, the foundations have been laid. We still need another six million euros, but the project is nevertheless growing by the day.

Very soon on the Campus, young people from different countries representing a variety of religions will come into contact with each other, study, play and pursue sports together. This is the only way coexistence can arise from difference – through encounter, dialogue and exchange.

Almost 80 years after the Holocaust, very few of those who experienced this human catastrophe are still with us. We owe it to them at least to do more than follow terrible deeds with nothing but words and gestures. Let's make a start today!

Raed Saleh & Yehuda Teichtal

© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung/ 2019

Translated from the German by Nina Coon