For my project I picked the Jewish community in the city of Hameln (also known as Hamelin), Germany. During World War II this small community was destroyed. Now, after many years, Hamelns new Jewish community feels ready to rebuild what was lost.
In 851 a Benedictine monastery was founded next to the Weser River near what is now Hameln. The Town of Hameln was established around the year 1200. Hameln became known by the exodus of the children of Hameln, which grew into the legend of the Pied Piper of Hameln. Seven Jewish families settled in Hameln around 1277. The first synagogue was built around 1341.
The Jewish population was expelled from Hameln several times during the 14th through the 16th centuries, but a few families were allowed to return for economic reasons. One of two Jews allowed to return to Hameln around 1615 was Joseph Hameln, a rich merchant. His son, Chayim Hameln, married a Jewish woman named Gluckel, who wrote a diary describing Jewish life in Germany from the early 1600s through the early 1700s. She was 14 years old when they married and she lived with her in-laws in Hameln for the first year of their marriage. She described Hameln as a dull shabby hole compared with the city of Hamburg. Her father-in law described the people of Hameln as plain country folk. Gluckel claimed that since Hameln was not a trade center and her husband did not want to make a living as a moneylender to the country folk, they needed to move to the city of Hamburg.
A small Jewish community remained in Hameln. In 1743 they established a Jewish cemetery, which has survived to today. By 1877 the Jewish community had grown to 200 people. They bought land in the Buerenstrasse where a large synagogue was built in the style of the day. By the beginning of World War II several families had moved to larger cities, leaving the community with 153 members. The synagogue was destroyed by fire during Kristallnacht. Several members of the community were deported, and a total of 101 members of the community were murdered in the Holocaust. None of the survivors returned to Hameln.
In 1989 there were about 30,000 Jews living in Germany. The German government invited Jewish families living in the former Soviet Union to immigrate to Germany and to settle in towns where Jews had lived before World War II.
In 1997 Rachel Dohme founded the new Jewish Community of Hameln. Today the community has 200 members most of whom are from the former Soviet Union. The community participates in many religious and social events, including Shabbat and other holiday celebrations, religious education for children and adults, a Jewish music group and German language classes. Rabbi Irit Shillor visits the community once a month, and soon rabbinical student Alina Traiger will visit once a month. Cantor Francois Lilienfeld will return again this year to conduct High Holiday services.
As fall slowly tiptoes into Hameln the community grows and the activities begin. One of the most important recent events was the visit of Rabbi Jo David, Executive Director of the New Yorkbased Jewish Appleseed Foundation. Rabbi David led workshops and has helped with community building projects. The Jewish Appleseed Foundation works with a number of small Jewish communities around the world, including several Progressive Jewish communities in Germany. The Foundation sent Rabbi Arnold Zoref to Hameln in May 2000 to lead religious and life-cycle services. He performed the first Jewish wedding in Hameln since the Holocaust. The Foundation also supports the Hameln Jewish Cmmunitys Web site. The community belongs to the Union of Progressive Jews in Germany, the World Union for Progressive Judaism, and Women of Reform Judaism. The Jewish Community of Hameln works closely with the local government, culture and church groups, and the Society for Christian-Jewish Solidarity.
In November of 2001, the Progressive Jewish Community of Hameln bought the land in the Buerenstrasse where synagogue built in the 19th century stood until it was destroyed on Kristallnacht. The community will build a new synagogue, which will house a worship space, a school, a small museum, and incorporate the existing Holocaust memorial. This year the community built a sukkah on their land, the first one erected on that soil since 1938. When the synagogue is completed, it will be the first Reform Synagogue built in post-war Germany.
Acknowledgements: I want to thank Rachel Dohme, President of the Jewish Community of Hameln, who sent my request for information on to Rabbi Jo David, Executive Director of the Jewish Appleseed Foundation. I am grateful to Rabbi David for supplying me with much of the information for my report, including her write-up of the history of Jewish Hameln.