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What Works: Ideas & Initiatives

Solidarity in Atlanta
Last August, seven of Atlanta’s eight Reform congregations joined in the city’s first-ever joint Shabbat weekend of prayer and friendship. On Friday night, 700 congregants prayed together at The Temple in Atlanta (the other sanctuaries were “dark”), and 200 people (capacity) stayed for Shabbat dinner and singing. On Saturday, 150 congregants selected one of 10–12 tables at Temple Beth Tikveh in Rosewell to study with the rabbi of their choice. Then they attended services and enjoyed a kiddush lunch sponsored by the local rabbis.

“This shows what a Jewish community can do together when walls are removed and holy connections are allowed to take root,” says Rabbi Brian Zimmerman of the URJ’s Congregational Support Center, South District.

The temples are now planning to join together three or four times a year for social action initiatives, a choir concert, and the Shabbat weekend—which will hopefully become an annual event.

To learn more, including how best to plan a solidarity program in your community, contact Jane Aronoff, aronoffjc@earthlink.net, 678-277-9835.

Netzwerking with Bünde
Werner “Red” Spanier, a member of Temple Sinai in Denver, had never wanted to return to Bünde, his hometown in Germany. But in 1999, when his grandson Dan wished to see where his grandpa had come from, Red and his wife Elaine decided to make the trip. Coincidentally, several weeks later, Red received a letter from Christina Whitelaw, an English teacher at the Gymnasium in Bünde, describing an after-school club called Netzwerk Gruppe (Network Group) that was researching the former Jewish families of Bünde.

And thus began a life-altering relationship between Netzwerk Gruppe and the Temple Sinai Youth Group.

When the train pulled into Bünde station, 60 years after Red had fled with his parents for Berlin, then Amsterdam, England, and finally the U.S., 10 high school students and their teachers excitedly waved and held up a huge welcome banner!

In honor of the Spaniers’ visit, the Netzwerk students had created an exhibition on the Jews of Bünde featuring the Spanier family. Intense conversations ensued with students and teachers determined to uncover and memorialize the sad history of their town. Soon, Elaine and Red became known as Grandma and Grandpa. And upon their departure, they invited the group to come to Denver and stay at their house.

In the summer of 2001, 11 Netzwerk students and two teachers stayed for three weeks in the Spanier’s Denver home. They met with Holocaust survivors, camp liberators, rabbis, youth groups, and local dignitaries. And they described their work of remembrance and education before 300 people at Temple Sinai, resulting in the first standing ovation during a worship service in the temple’s history.

Three years later, 10 Temple Sinai students, led by Rabbi Raymond Zwerin and chaperones (including Elaine Spanier), stayed in the homes of Netz­werk families. Attending a joint prayer service with town residents, playing basketball and volleyball, singing German and Jewish songs, folk dancing, and sightseeing in Berlin as guests of the German government, the teens from both groups forged lasting friendships. The Netzwerk students are planning another trip to the States later this year.

Netzwerk has now documented the history of nearly all the former Bünde Jews. Eyewitnesses who’d been initially reluctant to tell their stories started talking with the students. And descendants of Bünde Jewish families from all over the U.S. have joined Red Spanier in visiting the homes of their forebears.
Each year, to commemorate Kristallnacht, the Netzwerk group visits the site of the old Jewish cemetery and reads the names of the 54 Bünde Jews who perished. They have also raised funds and commissioned brass blocks displaying the name, date, and place of death of each Jew murdered by the Nazis, now embedded in the pavement in front of his/her last residence.

All but two blocks have been installed thus far.

Other Reform temple groups interested in organizing exchange programs to promote friendship and understanding between the descendants of victims and the descendents of perpetrators can contact Audrey Friedman Marcus, 303-770-2020, audreyedits@yahoo.com.





 


Union for Reform Judaism.