Saturday, January 7, 2012

Germans in haredi Society

Seen in Jerusalem

Photo: Miriam Woelke

Hatred towards Haredim got much worse due to the anti - haredi media reports from Israel: The vast majority of today's German population doesn't know any Jew. Not personally but from TV reports. There aren't any Haredim in the country except for Chabad (Lubavitch) and a couple of Litvaks. Do Germans see or know any Haredim in their country ? No. Even German Jewry hardly knows any Haredim beyond some Chabadnikim walking around but many of them think that this is haredi society. Whoever wants to learn about the real haredi society has to move to New York, New Jersey, London, Manchester, to Zurich or Vienna oder simply to Israel. And in those places, it is not enough to walk through haredi neighbourhoods (Example: Golders Green in London) but one has actually to become part of haredi society. 

For almost two years I went to a litvishe Yeshiva. The correct Hebrew expression would be “Michlalah”. I had already left the Yeshiva and, due to very personal reasons, distanced myself a bit from haredi society, when I got to know a young German woman living in Jerusalem. It happened, more or less, by accident that I met her. Although many of you will now tell me that there is nothing like "by accident" in this world, as everything is "Hashgacha Pratit". However, the young woman was German and had converted to Judaism. In Germany and not in Israel. 

After her conversion she moved to Israel and started studying in a certain women's Yeshiva in order to learn more about Judaism. I don't want to mention the name of the institute but I can say that it was Litvish. I myself went there for a few days but decided that it wasn't for me. Not the mentality and my desire was getting into higher Jewish studies such as Gemara. That particular Yeshiva didn't offer any talmudic studies and eventually I ended up in a different institute but also run by Litvaks. 

Israel's haredi world doesn't only consist of ultra - Orthodox Jews being born in the country. On the contratry, as many Haredim have moved to Israel from abroad. Many have officially made Aliyah with "Nefesh be’Nefesh”. Haredim from the United States, Canada (especially from Toronto), South Africa, Britain or Australia. Generally speaking, there is a difference between those Haredim being born and raised in Israel and those coming from the Diaspora. Some may get the idea that Diaspora Jews moving to Israel are more modern and haredi "light". Even Israeli Haredim consider Diaspora Haredim not as strict and traditional as them. Example: The Israeli girl's school Beit Yaakov differs a lot from those in London or New York. 

The differences between those two haredi groups also influence the Shidduch business, as you can surely imagine and, many times, it is an issue. On the other hand, I have faced plenty of situations where Diaspora Haredim where less tolerant than their Israeli counterparts. Not to forget mentioning the difference between "born Haredim" and the "newly religious Ba'alei Teshuva". But I am going to write about those conflicts later on. 

Coming back to the young woman: I was quite amazed when I realized that she had turned into an American copy. Usually Jews moving to Israel turn into Israelis. At least those who make an effort of being part of Israeli society including speaking Hebrew. This young woman, however, became American in Israel. Not a US citizen but her mentality, way of living and expressing herself. Of course, her Yeshiva was the main reason for the transformation. The institute offers programmes in English, Hebrew and, as far as I know, also in French and Spanish. The young woman participated in the English programme and lived with Americans in the dorm rooms. 

As life goes on, a member of haredi society needs a spouse and thus, the Shidduch process is taking place. The young woman is looking for a marriage partner and, as I assume, it should be an American Litvak living in Israel. However, as a German convert joining haredi society, it isn't that easy finding a American Haredi Shidduch. Why ? Because haredi society as a whole has neither forgiven nor forgotten the Holocaust. Meaning that the grandparents of the German convert may have voted for Hitler or somehoe interacted in with the Nazi regime. Let alone of being an SS - member. By the way, I heard that a descendant of Heinrich Himmler married an American Jew. The son on Holocaust survivors. 

The Germans have murdered several 100,000 Jews during the Holocaust and after the War was over, many Eastern European and German Jews not only moved to Palestine (Israel) but to the United States. Especially to New York. They escaped the Nazi terror and gas chambers and suddenly their grandchild is walking in with a German Shidduch ? 

Actually there are other ways of getting to know Haredim and people don't only marry because a Shadchan or Shadchanit is introducing them. Other ways may not be so accepted but they do exist. For instance: A couple may meet on a bus or at a family celebration with friends. Or may be introduced by friends. Furthermore, Haredim of Sephardi origin don't necessarily have the Holocaust history in their family although many Sephardic Jews got killed when the German General Erwin Rommel invaded the northern countries of Africa.


  1. Just a small correction: The Haredi area in London is not Golders Green, but rather, Stamford Hill. (Golders Green has traditionally been a Jewish neighborhood, but today, it is very mixed)

  2. Katrin Himmler, the granddaughter of the brother of Heinrich Himmler (yimakh shemo), is married to an Israeli Jew. I don't know if she converted or not.

  3. B"H

    I have looked on German sites but it doesn't say anything about Katrin Himmler converting to Judaism. My own guess is that she did not convert.

    However, it says that she lives in Berlin and works as a freelance journalist and author.

    Is she still married to the Jew, as even her website doesn't mention anything.

  4. B"H

    @ Benjamin

    Now I realized for how long I haven't been to Golders Green.:-))) When I was there in 1999, it still was a Jewish neighbourhood. Also Hampstead was quite Jewish.