By Heinrich Stern (Lawyer), Chairman of the Liberal Jewry Association of Germany.
The German liberal Jewry, especially its organization, the Liberal Jewry Association of Germany, wishes the new Jewish-Liberal newspaper good fortune and much success! Breslau, the community with a profound Jewish sensibility, has often been the source of a positive impetus to the spiritual life of German Jews. We only need cite the name of Abraham Geiger and it is immediately clear to us why liberal Jewry can be thankful to Breslau. [Note: Abraham Geiger led the founding of Reform, i.e. “liberal,” Judiasm.]
It was time that liberal Jewry created a platform by which it can present itself to the public. The liberal newspapers that are still available are not sufficient to keep pace with the publications of other Jewish religious groups.
What do we expect from this new publication with a Jewish liberal perpsective? We expect that it will bear witness to the great changes that were initiated in the last several years to which opponents sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously close their eyes. Even supporters do not want to see them, or cannot see them. Whoever means to do right by something about which one cares greatly, must deal with it honestly; and so it must be said here that German liberal Judaism is in great danger of losing its Jewishness because of so much liberalism. When does one ever hear of liberal Judaism? Every three years when we have elections for representatives. After that all is quiet again. After the reform movement had made its way into the community’s parlors in the first decades of the nineteenth century with the power of a storm which every people’s movement has, Liberalism thought it could give itself up to feeling that it had achieved peacefulness. The attempts that the great leaders of the Reform had made to instill the foundation of liberal Judaism throughout broader circles of the German Jewish public failed as the rabbinical conferences did not have the courage to take decisive steps. Liberal Judaism, having been inadequately grounded spiritually, was watched over and fostered by men, who although they were sincere and loyal Jews with significant achievements in the community’s administration, eventually lost the connection with the great universal Jewish questions and instead engaged in fruitless battles about narrow questions.
The Anti-Semitism of the eighties and the nationalism of the nineties brought forth a new type of people, people who did not take being Jewish at face value, but who took up once again Israel’s ancient wrestling with the angel, that is, the struggle with the self about the meaning of Jewish existence.
The answer that the nationalist Jewry gave to this question was clear and unequivocal, yet it met with significant opposition not only for reasons of the German national consciousness, no, ever more strongly the Jewish youth struggled to reach the awareness that a Jewish movement can only be understood, fought against, and rejected from its Jewish motivation. We young liberal Jews—and this youth has nothing to do with physical age—know today that liberal Judaism is first and foremost Judaism. The ancient holy bond that connects us to our forefathers, unites us also with Jews around the world. That is why there is no Jewish issue that the liberal Jewry should fail to participate in; all Jews are warrantors for each other. This strong feeling of standing for each other must also echo from the columns of this newspaper; all things Jewish must find a place here. When German Jews build their organization, when the currents of migration chase our Eastern Jewish brothers throughout the world, when in Palestine Jews are struggling to regain their ancient, holy mother earth so that it becomes a free homeland for their children, then we have the duty and the right to advise and to act in solidarity.
If one is to find German liberal Jews alongside of their Jewish brothers of other pursuasions, we should not forget the questions of Judaism because of the questions about Jewishness. One has long tried to explain and interpret the concept of liberal Judaism. Today we believe that these attempts started at the wrong end. One always demonstrated what liberal Judaism was not, had revealed the differences, widened divisions, opened cracks, and in the end the many negatives made us liberal Jews forget to unlock and proclaim the greatest truth of our Judaism. Just recent years have brought about a fundamental change in this matter. One has felt that there is more to liberal Judaism than the issue of organ music at services, the necessity of following the dietary laws, and whether one should drive on the Sabbath. A youthful generation is growing up and reaching into storerooms of our mind, a generation that is aware of the everlasting honor that lies in being bearers of the greatest spiritual and cultural movement that the world has ever known. Developing these spiritual and cultural forces within Judaism, actualizing them in the life of the individual and in that of the whole, satisfies it and has become its life goal and purpose. No mockery or derisive doubt will deter this generation from turning the great ethos that lies in Judaism into a lasting treasure in one’s life. And only in this will they emphasize the liberal character of their Judaism, that the forms in which the eternal concepts of Juidaism are expressed are unimportant. They will not repudiate anyone who holds the forms dear; they will not reject anyone who thinks the idea is everything and the form is an irrelevant accessory.
If we are to be once again recognized as Jews by the world, not only in name, but also in attitude and by our actions, we must be allowed to construe our Judaism as our hearts desire, so that it be a Judaism that not only stands strong before our forefathers, but that can be something to our children, that anchors their hearts, strengthens their minds, and raises their spirit. Religious ceremony, knowledge, and Jewish action in the life of the individual and the life of the whole will flourish in the soil of the newly-recognized and newly-fulfilled eternal ancient truth. There will be no lack of opposition, not amongst ourselves nor amongst those who arrive at their Jewish ideal from other perspectives. Even if battles do arise, Israel was always united in things that are near to the heart, though much divided in the matters of the spirit!
During these days, Israel is preparing for the festival of light. For us, Chanukah is a holy memorial to the greatest of things–the victory of the idea over the might of the many. May the heroic battle of the Maccabees serve as a lasting admonition to us liberal Jews that only passion, a spirit of sacrifice, and untiring action can lead an ideal to victory. And so for us today the prophetic words of the Chanukah celebration are more meaningful than ever: “Not through the might of armies, not through strength, but through my spirit speaks the Lord of hosts!”
We can in good conscience assert: the Jews of Upper Silesia are liberal. Only a small minority of the older generation and very few of the younger are orthodox. But here it’s like almost everywhere else: the small group of religious, intensely engaged Jews was often able to suppress the liberal majority in the recent generations, because this majority was often apathetic and lukewarm; and compared to how the orthodox represented their claims with confidence and knowledge, did not show enough liberal spine. So the conservatives were able to achieve that orthodox rabbis became leaders of most of the Upper-Silesian congregations and services took on an orthodox form or kept it. Only eventually were these policies broken here and there such as in Ratibor, Leobschütz, Lublinitz, Rybnik. Oppeln has been liberal for a long time; extraordinary leaders of Liberalism served there as rabbis. Beuthen, long orthodox, now has services accompanied by organ music, but is still rather far from being able to be counted as liberal.
The freedom and the growing penchant for criticizing the status quo that came into the whole of our public lives because of the political upheaval could have also helped religious liberalism in Upper Silesia to an energetic upswing. But especially in Upper Silesia, two things stood in the way. One the one hand there is an exceptionally intensive participation by Jews in the especially vibrant economic life, which leaves them too little time to concern themselves with purely spiritual values, that is those things whose importance the people of today, who are focused on acquisition, too easily misjudge. And the other is the uncertainty over the future of the country which burdens and numbs the mind. One sees the example of the mass emigration of the Jews from the eastern provinces. As confidently as one hopes that Upper Silesia will stay with Germany, the remote possibility of a different outcome paralyzes initiative, and one postpones any decisions on Jewish matters until “afterwards.” Meanwhile however, besides the conscientious conservatives, the Zionists are everywhere on the ball and, often enough successfully, try to draw in those that have a desire for positive Jewish values but cannot be orthodox.
This contrast shows how wrong the notion is to attribute liberalism’s reserve to the fear of destroying the much-acclaimed “united front” of the Upper Silesian Jews. It is certainly understandable that we must oppose the enemies of Judaism as a closed phalanx, and that this is ten times as necessary in a region as threatened as Upper Silesia. But that doesn’t mean that the battle of ideas within Judaism must stop or be constrained. Judaism can use only those who know and profess where their place is on the Jewish frontlines, those who march individually, but know to which side they belong, a side that unites in battle.
What we have just said is only valid for the past. Because the time of the plebiscite is now nearing. Everyone that is Upper-Silesian or that has a connection to Upper Silesia, connections of blood, of the soul, of economic existence, in short, all of Germany is looking at the Upper-Silesian corner, where not only its fate will be decided but that of the whole Fatherland. We know that the German Jews of Upper Silesia and all that live in the Reich, have been called to participate in the plebiscite by the peace treaty, and whose well-earned right the Allies are striving—hopefully unsuccessfully—to limit or nullify, are ready and will do their duty. Those who are abroad are getting ready to return to their homeland, to the places that witnessed their happy childhood games, of their blessed youth and which they will now see with such different eyes, with a heavy seriousness and a completely new, deepened tenderness, with the same attitude with which one approaches the sickbed of a dear relative…
That now in these last, holy, and serious weeks every, but truly every, division between the Jewish parties of Upper Silesia must be erased, [p2] no word need be said. May every free thought serve only one goal–the vote and its fortunate execution.
When the battle has been fought, when Germany greets the returning vote-fighters as jubilantly as months ago it greeted those who came streaming back from East- and West-Prussia; then it will be the right time, with fresh and free energy to deal with the internal matters of the Upper-Silesian Jewry. Then, then finally must Jewish liberalism wake from its paralysis, and the Upper-Silesian Jew, whose vitality and economic proficiency is beyond every doubt and every praise, will show that he who also leads in religious progress is willing and determined to march at the forefront of German Jewry.
In this spirit we greet you with the old miner’s greeting: “Glückauf!” my Upper-Silesian brothers and sisters who are twice as dear and important to us today.