As ordinary shul attendees, we don’t think much about synagogue security in the States. In the post-9/11 world, depending on the location of our synagogues, we have grown accustomed to seeing an increased police or security presence during the High Holidays. However, synagogues are buildings that we can walk in to and out of freely.
Michael and I just returned from a weekend in Germany. He had a conference in Cologne, so I tagged along. We also saw some of Dusseldorf. I was in food heaven there. I am not used to such good ethnic food and yummy street food, such as soft pretzels and french fries with your choice of dipping sauce.
The synagogue in Cologne was destroyed on Kristallnacht, but has since been rebuilt to look the same as it did 80 years ago. The building is in a Gothic style and we wanted to visit it on Sunday. I have been to many synagogues in Eastern Europe and usually the guards in front ask for your passport and if you are Jewish. Then you are allowed to enter. However, as we learned, that is not the case in Germany. It is required that you make an appointment at least 7 days in advance and then you are allowed in only on a guided tour. One of the guards spoke English, and we tried to talk our way in, listing our Jewish credentials and explaining that we were leaving the city that afternoon. We were unsuccessful. The German Jewish community is growing and most of that is due to the immigration of Russian Jews. Michael heard the other guard greet someone walking out of the synagogue in Russian. Michael switched to Russian and was able to get us in. The guard accompanied us on a tour as we saw the sanctuary and a museum that held very few relics that survived the destruction and looting by the Nazis. We saw a shofar and parts of a Torah.
On the one hand I appreciate the security measures, on the other hand it is uncomfortable to think about why the security measures are in place. In a certain sense, I have gotten used to very high security measures at synagogues. All the synagogues in Moscow have guards and metal detectors. Outside one of the synagogues there is even a police officer with a machine gun. I was buying challahs this morning at the main Orthodox synagogue and the front of the building was blocked off and there was an increased police presence. In this day and age, at least the police, whether German or Russian, are protecting the Jews who are going to pray.
This year, Michael and I are hitting all three religious denominations that have a presence in Moscow. Tonight we are doing dinner with English speaking expats at Chabad; tomorrow we are going to services at the Progressive synagogue; and Friday morning we are going to the Orthodox synagogue. It will be a very pluralistic holiday.
Although I miss all my friends and family that I have always celebrated with, there is something interesting about celebrating the holidays in a completely different setting where 30 years ago it would have been prohibited. And I have the smell of brisket and broccoli kugel that brings back memories of past holidays.
Wishing you a happy and healthy new year. May this year be a year of peace and security in our homes, places of worship and in Israel.
From Russia with Love,