Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Menorah in Karlsruhe, Germany

Chanukah Menorah at the Christkindlmarkt in Karlsruhe, Germany,
December 8, 2012 - photo courtesy of Juergen Schlund

Today I am extra thrilled to host one of my best longtime and real life friends, writer and visual artist Barbara Schlund. We met many years ago as American Studies students at the University of Munich, and ours is the kind of friendship we both cherish because it has endured and supported us through all the changes in our lives and across thousands of miles.

I will let Barbara tell you in her own words what prompted this blog post (She was, by the way, shy about writing in English but I must say her post required little editing. Clearly, her English skills from many months spent living and traveling in the U.S. are alive and well):

How Close is Close Enough?

by Barbara Schlund

Last year I was surprised to see a Chanukah Menorah in the middle of Karlsruhe, the German city where I live. I had moved there only about a year before that, and I was completely surprised to see such a prominent sign of Jewish life in the city center. Instantly I felt proud, because I considered it to be a sign of respect towards Jewish traditions, a sign of normalcy in a country that about 60 years ago had first burnt the synagogues and then killed 6 million Jews in concentrations camps. And I felt hope. Hope that peace, freedom and tolerance is possible. If it is possible between Jews and Germans, it is possible all over the world.

I took a picture and mailed it to my dear friend Annette, but she was not satisfied. She felt that the Menorah was not close enough to the Christkindlmarket and the huge Christmas tree that is set up in the city centre. She asked me to check it out again this year.

So I did and interviewed Rabbi Mordechai Mendelson. He is head of the Chabad Community in Karlsruhe and responsible for the installation of the Chanukah Menorah. He told me that when he first planned to celebrate Chanukah in public, it had been the official Jewish community of Karlsruhe (Juedische Kultusgemeinde) who had been against it and not the city government. In 2006 the first public celebration of Chanukah took place right in front of the beautiful castle in Karlsruhe, about a quarter of a mile off the city centre. That, he felt, was rather picturesque but indeed was also too far from where the Christkindlmarket takes place.

Photo of 2006 Chanukah Menorah in front of the Karlsruhe Castle,
courtesy of Chabad Karlsruhe

Two years later they could install the Menorah right next to the market place, in sight of the Christmas tree and in direct neighborhood to the Christkindlmarket. With that, Rabbi Mendelson says, he is completely satisfied.

When I stopped by the Menorah last Saturday evening, the first day of Chanukah, two small groups, one consisting of women and girls, the other of men and boys, were dancing in front of the Menorah. The live music from an e-piano accompanied by a singer was extremely loud. A few pedestrians had gathered around them in a circle, following the scene with open curiosity. Some were taking pictures, and they were obviously not only tourists. Others passed by with their heads shaking in incomprehension. I instantaneously felt awkward. The scene seemed to be everything but normal. And I developed this “zoo-feeling.” I thought that even if the Menorah has now been set up right next to the Christmas tree, in the middle of the middle, Jewish living has not yet arrived in the middle of German society.

A few Jews dance in front of the Menorah in the Karlsruhe,
December 8, 2012 - photo courtesy of Juergen Schlund

So my answer to the question of how close is close enough, is: The day that we do not need to define our relationship by measuring the distance between a Menorah and a Christmas tree, that will be the day that it will be close enough. Because no matter where the Menorah is situated: It then will be just in the middle.


  1. And the day when "zoo-feeling" no longer carries meaning. When it just leaves the reader puzzling--that'll be the day.

  2. Thank you Shirley for commenting. I agree and hope,that
    one day that zoo-feeling won't occur to people because such a sight will be too familiar.

  3. It does have more of a dramatic feel to it in front of the castle, of course...

    1. I can see that as well, William. Thank you!