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January 24, 2005
Jewish Committee’s Berger to visit as Halle Fellow
BY Lailee Mandelson, communications coordinator for the
Office of International Affairs.
Unlikely as it might sound, the question of Jews in Germany today unites an array of pressing social and political themes: the Holocaust, immigrant minorities in Europe, Germany’s future as a European and world power, transatlantic relations, anti-Semitism, and even the politics of language and historical memory.
The familiar voice of former National Public Radio Berlin correspondent Deidre Berger, now managing director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in Berlin, will address these topics on campus, Feb. 7–9, when she visits as a Halle Distinguished Fellow.
Berger has served as managing director of the AJC’s Berlin office since 2000. An international think tank and one of the oldest American Jewish advocacy organizations, AJC was established in 1906 by a group of Americans concerned about anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia. The organization promotes pluralism and democracy, combats anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, works for a secure and democratic Israel, protects rights and freedoms of Jewish communities around the world, and advances understanding between American and Israeli Jews. Headquartered in New York, the AJC operates 33 U.S. and 18 international offices.
In her role as director, Berger coordinates a wide range of activities dealing with transatlantic relations, Mideast affairs, terrorism, the promotion of pluralism and democracy, Holocaust memory, and other issues of importance to the American Jewish community. Prior to joining the AJC, she worked for 15 years as a foreign correspondent based in Germany, reporting for National Public Radio. She has also reported for Deutsche Welle, Monitor Radio, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the Christian Science Monitor.
Berger’s stint as Halle Distinguished Fellow is not her first association with Emory. Participants on the 2003 Halle Study Trip to Germany visited her Berlin offices at Potsdammer Platz. During the meeting, Berger painted a picture of Jewish life in Germany fraught with challenges, yet decidedly more vibrant than 20 years ago.
She explained that, following World War II, the vast majority of the country’s Jewish population emigrated to the United States or Israel, but about 7,000–8,000 remained in Germany. “Some were avoiding the battleground of Israel,” Berger said. “Others stayed because they spoke German. Prior to the war, Germany was the country in Europe with the largest Jewish population and the most extensive Jewish culture.”
By 1989, Berger said, the number of Jews in Germany had remained fairly steady for several years at around 30,000. But since 1989, more than 240,000 Russian Jews have emigrated. Few speak German, and most are admitted under Germany’s asylum law as victims of religious persecution. These immigrants have overwhelmed an already overstressed welfare infrastructure.
As asylum seekers, the immigrants receive certain welfare benefits, Berger explained, but they also are required to live in specified towns and cities (an attempt by Germany to distribute the welfare burden evenly across states and localities). This sometimes means Jewish immigrants have to travel as much as 40 miles to go to synagogue.
Berger also is concerned with the increase in anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe. In a June 2004 speech to the Finnish Parliament, Berger said, “The flare-up of anti-Semitism in Europe in this first decade of the 21st century is a renewed challenge to the democratic order, on a continent preoccupied with a search for common definitions and visions.
“Many European nations today face demographic and social issues that are altering the fabric of their societies and accelerating the proliferation of religious and ethnic diversity in Europe,” she continued. “The dizzying pace of change has caused some people to feel left behind. And sadly, once again, in the search for simple explanations, some are again blaming the Jews.”
During her visit at Emory, Berger will present several public lectures on a variety of topics:
12:30–2 p.m. Halle Institute Lunchtime Lecture, “Religion and Public Policy in Germany.” For an invitation, call the Halle Institute at 404-727-7504.
7–8 p.m. Lecture at Oxford, Pierce Program Lecture Series,
“The American Jewish Committee in Germany: German-
Jewish Reconciliation in Action.” Reception to follow.
4:15–5:30 p.m. Public lecture, “The Future of Jewish Life in
Germany.” Reception to follow.