1700 Years of Jewish Life in Germany - Ceremony at the University of Bayreuth
University of Bayreuth, Press Release No 102/2021 vom 20. July 2021
The City, the University and the Jewish Community of Bayreuth have jointly enriched the commemorative year "1700 years of Jewish life in Germany" with numerous events and activities. The highlight of the initiatives organised by the University of Bayreuth was the main ceremony on 19 July 2021 at the University. Guests included Dr Ludwig Spaenle, former Minister of State, Member of the Bavarian State Parliament, and Commissioner of the Bavarian State Government for Jewish Life and Against Anti-Semitism, the Consul General of the State of Israel, Sandra Simovich, as well as Bayreuth's Head Mayor Thomas Ebersberger, and Felix Gothart, Chairman of the Jewish Community of Bayreuth. Prof. Dr. Fania Oz-Salzberger from the University of Haifa gave the keynote speech.
"Mitten im Leben - jüdisch-deutsche Vielfalt damals und heute" war das Thema einer Podiumsdiskussion beim Festakt "1700 Jahre jüdisches Leben in Deutschland".
Jewish people have been living on the territory of present-day Germany for 1700 years. "In our region we can build on a rich and lively tradition," University President Prof. Dr. Stefan Leible emphasised. "As the University of Bayreuth, we see it as our task to make academically sound offerings to citizens to engage with this tradition." To this end, the University of Bayreuth is hosting a series of public lectures and other mediation events to mark the commemorative year "1700 Years of Jewish Life in Germany". The highlight was the main ceremony at the University on 19 July 2021.
An example of the contemporary living culture of remembrance in Bayreuth is the app on Jewish life in the City developed together with students from the University of Bayreuth. As part of the main ceremony, the public was offered an exclusive preview of its initial content.
(The Picture shows from left: Dr. Ludwig Spaenle, Felix Gothart, Chairman of the Jewish Community of Bayreuth, Prof. Dr. Fania Oz-Salzberger, Sandra Simovich, the Consul General of the State of Israel, Prof. Dr. Alice Pinheiro Walla, Chair of Political Philosophy, and Prof. Dr. Kristin Skottki, Junior Professor of Medieval History, both University of Bayreuth)
"The anniversary of 1700 years of Jewish life in Germany, which we can celebrate in 2021, offers a unique opportunity to take a new look at the Jewish people in the past and present. I am all the more pleased that the University of Bayreuth is devoting itself so intensively to this issue. Especially in Franconia, Jews played an important role for centuries, until the National Socialists, in their racial mania, marginalised, deported, and murdered people of the Jewish faith on an industrial scale. Today, Bayreuth once again has a very lively Jewish religious community boasting a fine reputation both in Bavaria and all over Germany", says Dr Ludwig Spaenle, former Minister of State, Member of the State Parliament, and Commissioner of the Bavarian State Government for Jewish Life and Against Anti-Semitism, for Remembrance Work and Historical Heritage. An example of the contemporary "Remembrance Work" in Bayreuth is the app on Jewish life in the City developed together with students from the University of Bayreuth. As part of the main ceremony, the public was offered a preview of its initial content.
"In the midst of life - Jewish-German diversity then and now" was the topic of a panel discussion at the ceremony. Lively discussions took place between Dr. Ludwig Spaenle, former Minister of State, Member of the Bavarian State Parliament, and Commissioner of the Bavarian State Government for Jewish Life and Against Anti-Semitism, for Remembrance Work and Historical Heritage, the Consul General of the State of Israel, Sandra Simovich, Felix Gothart, Chairman of the Jewish Community of Bayreuth, Prof. Dr. Fania Oz-Salzberger, University of Haifa, Prof. Dr. Alice Pinheiro Walla, Chair of Political Philosophy, and Prof. Dr. Kristin Skottki, Junior Professor of Medieval History (both University of Bayreuth).
Prof. Dr. Fania Oz-Salzberger from the University of Haifa offered what she called a "fresh and unorthodox view" of cultural memory and a "duty to remember" under the title "Putting Life Before Death: The Moral Art of Imagining Living People, Past and Present ").
An Interview with the keynote speaker:
UBT: You just visited the University of Bayreuth. How do you experience young people in Germany from the perspective of an Israeli historian?
Prof. Dr. Fania Oz-Salzberger: I was fortunate enough to visit Bayreuth for the second time now. It is a very poignant place for me. During the last thirty years I have visited many parts of Germany, given numerous visiting lectures and classes in about a dozen universities, and spent longer times in both Berlin and Munich. My German students and other young people I met have been, almost without exception, well informed about the Jewish-German past. I was impressed by their cultural and personal sensitivity. On the other hand, I am keenly aware that many other young Germans, of various backgrounds, have not received the humanistic Bildung so apparent in the young academics I met. I fear that the gap between humanists and non-humanists, non-liberals in your country is growing, and I am familiar of this gap all too well in Israel too. To put it a bit sharply, street-level racism and anti-Semitism is a tangible danger to the excellent moral task to which the Bundesrepublik is committed. And, even more bluntly, speaking from my parallel Israeli experience: the academic world is too remote from society, too aloof in its own noble worldview.
You spoke of "moral art" in memory. How is that to be understood? Also as a "moral duty"?
In the lecture I admit that 'moral art" is a strange and much-debated compound. The debate whether art should be moral at all goes back to the Deutsche Aufklärung. My father, a novelist and a political activist, taught me that literature and politics should keep apart and not intervene in each other's affairs; but there is one exception. This exception is the necessity to look closely at individual people and individual stories. The ability to imagine, the talent of imagination, is a gift that literature can give political sphere. I speak about the art of imagining other people's lives - different people, alien people, and those living far away from us either geographically or historically. Yes, imagining the other is an art, and we cannot impose it as a duty, but it is a very teachable art. If men could learn how to imagine being a woman, or Jews were more able to imagine being Moslems, or Germans imagined being Jews - the political world would be a better one. This is true of the way we remember people who lived in the past, and no less true when we think of people living next to us as total strangers.
When we talk about memory culture: What role does Bayreuth have?
I could answer that Bayreuth is a dark place in Jewish memory, and it Is a true answer. I could speak about the Wagner controversy and the place of the Jews in the Wagnerian scene. But the moral art of imagining should take us further than that. I could, for example, speak of the Jewish-German refugees and survivors who quietly listened to recordings of Wagner's operas at home, in the 1950s and 1960s. He was a part of the Germany they lost. We need to imagine their feelings. You see, when you reach the stories of individuals, you encounter subtler complexities.. The culture of memory must not rely on the big names, the famous instances, the doctrinaire formulas.
And here is my own little memory: when I was a student in Oxford I had a German friend from a small village in Bavaria. He played Wagner to me on his gramophone without telling me the name of the composer, and I, brought up without Wagner, was captured by the music. On the other hand, for my German friend I was the first Jew he ever met, which was absolutely shocking. Such human stories, and a thousand others, should enter our culture of memory. Otherwise we are left with Moses Mendelssohn and Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt, but the big names alone cannot keep young people fascinated. History itself has changed, and cultural memory ought to change with it.
How can Jewish life in Germany not be narrowed down to the Holocaust? Has the commemorative year achieved this?
Jewish life in Germany past or present? When it comes to the pre-Nazi times, I have been calling for two decades to start remembering the living and how they lived, not only the dead and how they died. I recall what my father told me when we toured the building designed by Daniel Liebeskind for the Jewish Museum in Berlin. It was in 1999 and the building was almost finished, but still empty of exhibits. My father said that it is a beautiful piece of modern architecture, but it resembles an alien spacecraft from outer Space that crash-landed in Berlin. As if the German Jews had always been strangers from Mars. I agree with my father: an important point was missed. For centuries, the German Jews were Germans. Most of the time they were very low-class Germans, fragile Germans, unbeloved Germans, and they loved their homeland, Hundreds of thousands of obscure Jewish lives were lived, over the generations, in German towns and villages. Everyday lives and hopes and dreams. Only by remembering them, or at least imagining them, we can beat the Holocaust and triumph over Hitler. As for Jews in Germany in the present time, it is no longer the Holocaust that hovers over their heads but the swelling of dire anti-Semitism from left and right. Often, the anti-Semitism is disguised as anti-Israelis, and Israel is demonised, thus depriving the Jewish from everyone else's right for national self-definition.
Finally, a word about the new Israeli-Germans. In my book Israelis in Berlin, and in several follow-up articles over the years, I suggest that Israelis are now part of German life too, with their own strings of memory and unique stories. Although they are seldom part of the organised Jewish communities, they must be taken into account. As an Israeli I am not worried about this emigration; I am fascinated by the new Israeli and Hebrew fingerprints on arts and culture in Germany. And yes, this includes Israeli musicians playing in Bayreuth. This is far more than a very civilised act of revenge; it is a new chapter in the second millennium of German-Jewish creativity.
About Prof. Dr Fania Oz-Salzberger:
The keynote speaker was Prof. Dr Fania Oz-Salzberger. She was born in Israel in 1960 as the eldest daughter of Amos and Nily Oz. After studying history and philosophy at the Universities of Tel Aviv and Oxford (her D.Phil dissertation, published by Oxford University Press under the title Translating the Enlightenment, dealt with Scottish and German political thought at the age of Enlightenment. ), she was a Fellow of Wolfson College in Oxford for three years. Her doctoral thesis became as a book, published by Oxford University Press and titled Translating the Enlightenment, a pioneering study of the transition of political ideas between languages. Returning to Israel, she and her husband, Prof Eli Salzberger, who also gave a guest lecture in Bayreuth, teach at the University of Haifa. Oz-Salzberger is Professor Emerita since October 2020. Among other international posts, Oz-Salzberger was Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin in 1999-2000 (where she wrote her book Israelis in Berlin), held the Liberman Chair in Israel Studies in Monash University, Melbourne for five years, and was as Research Fellow and Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Progessor for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton University in 2009-10. Among many other visiting posts, she and her husband taught in the Jewish Studies Department at LMU in 2018. Fania Oz-Salzberger's third book, Jews and Words (Juden und Worte in the German translation) was co-authored with her father, the late Israeli writer Amos Oz. Her keynote lecture in Bayreuth offers a fresh and unorthodox view of cultural memory and the duty of remembrance. It is titled "Putting Life Before Death: The Moral Art of Imagining Living People, Past and Present".
About the App:
Over the course of the 2021 summer semester, students at the University of Bayreuth developed multimedia content on Jewish life and culture, encouraging virtual guided tours of the City of Bayreuth and thereby making Jewish life and culture more tangible. In addition to a virtual tour of the synagogue and the mikvah, and drone footage of the Jewish cemetery, short radio play sequences were created to make it easier to imagine the history of the people who lived in Bayreuth. Virtual “Stolpersteine” (“stumbling stone” cobble plaques) are also planned to commemorate Jewish personages from Bayreuth. More on this and on all formats and channels of communication in the series "Jewish Life in Bayreuth": https://www.juedisches-leben.uni-bayreuth.de/de/index.html
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