Jewish Restoration vs Sanctifying the Past

Bornplatz Synagogue restoration feud exposes serious rift in how Jews see themselves in the world today

Local Jews remember the Bornplatz Synagogue and advocate for its restoration
EPA/CHRISTIAN CHARISIUS

Miriam Rürup, the new Israeli-born director of the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European Jewish studies in Potsdam, doesn’t like the idea of restoring the Bornplatz Synagogue that was destroyed on Kristallnacht, 1938.

Reconstructing this large and beautiful synagogue, reasons Rürup, erases the memory of the Kristallnacht, and the Holocaust. Bringing this synagogue to its full pre-1938 glory, she told the Catholic media outlet Domradio on February 28, “almost seems as if the purified society wants to pick up where it left off in 1933; as if you could undo what your grandparents and great-grandparents did, at least architecturally. But history cannot be corrected.”

Rürup is a leading voice behind the leftist opposition to the restoration of the synagogue, a suggestion first raised in November 2019 by Shlomo Bistritzky, the regional chief rabbi in Hamburg, and later in February 2020 unanimously approved by the Hamburg Parliament. The rationale of Rürup and others opposed to the synagogue’s restoration, like historian Moshe Zimmermann, seems reasonable. As Zimmermann argued, restoration is an “absurd idea of ​​covering the traces of the crime by building a new synagogue at the scene of the crime.”

No sound-minded person would argue that Jews should participate in any effort to whitewash the sins of the past. But when Rürup says she prefers a museum over a synagogue, then the true nature of her criticism comes to light.

A rebuilt synagogue is a sign of restored Jewish life. A museum is only a memorial of Jewish life.

A museum is a horrific idea that suggests Jews should remain dead if they wish for the world to never forget “the scene of the crime.”

A museum means that Jews are doing a service to the world by sanctifying their ruins.

A museum means that a good Jew is a dead Jew.

What a terrible idea, and it explains why progressives like Rürup and Zimmermann are so critical of Israel, which is after all a tower that overshadows the scene of the crime; a restoration project of Jewish life; an effort to correct history.

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