Suzanne Fields

BERLIN -- Three Jewish women, each the wife of a German Christian, celebrated Passover together this year and invited me to the feast.

One of the wives is a classical pianist from England, who brought dark brown eggs boiled with onion skins, prepared from a recipe her Sephardic mother taught her. An American woman, a translator, brought eggs with glistening white shells. She joked that they could have been colored for an Easter egg hunt for her little girls. The third wife, a German who grew up in Dresden in the communist east and who now organizes cultural events for the Jewish community of Berlin, conducted the Seder. She explained to the children how the Jews escaped slavery in Egypt in ancient times and traveled through the desert to a life of freedom in Israel.

This particularly eclectic Seder, borrowing from different traditions, was organized by these mothers determined that their children learn their religious origins in a European city diminished of Jews by the Holocaust. If it was hardly orthodox, it reflected the tenacious Jewish spirit of renewal in the heart of the nation that once tried to destroy the Jews. Germany is now home to the fastest-growing Jewish community in the world, a mix of the religious and secular, orthodox and liberal.

More than two and half centuries have passed since Moses Mendelsson, then 14, in 1743 walked through the Rosenthaler tor, the only gate to Berlin that Jews and cattle were allowed to pass. He became the great Jewish philosopher who taught that our ability to reason was a gift from God. His scholarship helped write an end to a history of isolation for Jews and opened up new possibilities of culture and assimilation. But in our own time, Jews would be treated again like cattle, herded into cattle trains and slaughtered in death camps.

The lessons of history are strange and rarely predictable, and Jews have returned to Germany for many different reasons. The sad generation of survivors who lost so much have given way to younger immigrants eager to build new lives from roots they know little about.

The Jewish Voice from Germany, a new English-language publication, celebrates what German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle calls "the new blossoming of Jewish life in Germany." Many Jews I've met here say that "springtime for Jews in Germany" is an exaggeration, but Rafael Seligmann, the founder of the new publication, promises that his quarterly will reflect the "rebirth of German-Jewish life," showing the creative work of Jewish artists, writers, scientists, journalists and businessmen: "I don't want Hitler to have the last word."

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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