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Germany to ordain first rabbis since Holocaust

Written by: Staff

DRESDEN, Germany, Sep 14 (Reuters) A trio of students will be confirmed as rabbis this week, the first such ordination in Germany since the Nazi regime began the slaughter of six million European Jews more than 60 years ago.

The first graduating class of the Abraham Geiger College at the University of Potsdam is made up of just three men. But Dieter Graumann, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said he hoped this number would rise exponentially.

''We need many, many more rabbis in Germany. We have a great hunger for rabbis,'' he told a news conference to introduce the rabbinical candidates who will be ordained at a ceremony at the New Synagogue in the eastern city of Dresden today.

There are now an estimated 100,000 Jews in Germany, compared with 600,000 before the war. Most of those fled or were killed, leaving Germany with only 12,000 Jews after the war.

The flood of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s led to a rebirth of Germany's Jewish community, but has highlighted the dearth of rabbis. There are presently only around 25 rabbis serving 100 congregations.

''Things have changed over the last 17 years. The community has gotten bigger and we have to do something to maintain unity,'' Graumann told reporters.

ONLY ONE GERMAN The Potsdam seminary, established in 1999, was named after Abraham Geiger, who was a rabbi in Berlin from 1870 to 1875 and pioneered liberal Jewish thought in Germany.

The choice of Dresden for the ordination is also significant. It is the capital of Saxony, the German state with the strongest neo-Nazi movement.

Only one of the three graduates -- 47-year-old Daniel Alter -- is German born. Alter will soon lead congregations in Oldenburg and Delmenhorst in northwestern Germany.

The other two graduates are Czech-born Tomas Kucera, who will become a rabbi in the Bavarian capital Munich, and Malcom Matitiani, who will head back to his synagogue in Cape Town, South Africa.

The trio will be the first rabbis ordained here since the College of Jewish Studies in Berlin was destroyed by the Gestapo, the feared Nazi secret police, in 1942, the seminary's director Walter Homolka said.

Due to the destruction of records, the precise date of the last rabbinical ordination in Germany is unclear. But Homolka said it was possible the last one was as far back as 1940.

Homolka, Alter and Graumann said that while today's ordination was positive, it did not mean Jewish life was back to normal in the country responsible for the Holocaust.

''It would be premature to speak of a normalisation,'' said Graumann. ''We are far from any kind of normalcy here, but we are getting a fresh perspective.'' REUTERS DKA PM1030

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