What the Temple Mount could learn from Dresden’s Holy Temple

I recently prayed in the basement of the iconic Frauenkirche in Dresden, where original chambers, spared from the 1945 firebombing, serve as sanctuaries and prayer/meditation rooms. Aside from the three-dimensional cross in the center, the basement hall hardly advertises any creed.

Dresden Frauenkirche basement

Father in heaven forgive me, but I sat in the room dedicated to the Ten Commandments – the closest to my tradition – and prayed: for the peace of Israel, the world, and the blessings we all wish for ourselves and loved ones. Surprisingly, it was as spiritually fulfilling as some of my prayer sessions at the Kotel, the Western Wall.

The “Church of the Lady” was built as a glorious Protestant church in defiance of August the Strong, the Saxon ruler who controversially converted to Catholicism in his quest to secure the Polish crown. He died in 1733, a year before the Frauenkirche’s inauguration, but Bach broke in the state-of-the-art organ. Call its destruction measure for measure; during Kristallnacht of 1938, the beautiful Dresden synagogue built in 1840 burned to the ground.

Orit in front of the Frauenkirche

A day after the Royal Air Force firebombing on Tuesday night, February 13, 1945, survivors walked cautiously through the destroyed Old Town to see what was left of their homes, their city, and of course, their “Holy Temple,” the Frauenkirche. Only on Thursday morning did the beautiful Baroque dome buckle; the church’s sandstone had expanded during the fire but shrank upon cooling, causing the supports to loosen.

Only one facade remained; call it, the “Kotel” of Dresden. (Bear in mind, this is an artistic analogy, not a claim of moral equivalence between Jewish Jerusalem and Nazi Germany.) People would visit Dresden’s “Kotel” while the ruins, under communist East Germany, turned into a “Denkmal,” a memorial to war. Roses grew out of the rubble.

Finally, in 1994, reconstruction of Dresden’s “Holy Temple” began with private funding, much from England, the country that had bombed Dresden’s Old Town to bits. Original stones were placed in their original setting, thanks to special architecture software (apparently developed by an Israeli). The Church would be a symbol of peace and reconciliation. The cross was designed by the son of an RAF bomber pilot and donated by Her Majesty.

The “Kotel” of Dresden’s Frauenkirche

Today, the Frauenkirche is a pilgrimage site. As a Dresden tour guide, I take people of all races and creeds through the door of this miraculous house of worship representing love triumphing over hate. Today, Dresden, the “Florence of the Elbe” is a free city. Signs barring Jews from its plaza – long gone. I wish I could say the same for Jerusalem.

At the Frauenkirche, I don’t have to undergo the restrictions that the Israeli government and Islamic Waqf place upon Jews as they enter the grounds of the Temple Mount during “Jewish opening hours.” I don’t have to walk through metal detectors. I don’t have to show my ID. Once inside, no one shoves (or sells) me a scarf to cover bare arms. No clergy preaches how I should or shouldn’t behave. No Israeli or Muslim police shadows me to make sure I, as a Jew, am not praying.

This might sound like a sacrilege to some, but Dresden’s “Holy Temple” could serve as a model for the Temple Mount and whatever Third Temple, as a symbol of peace, will stand there.

True to the vision of the prophets, it would be a place where people of all creeds and races could find inspiration and say their prayers. As a historically Jewish site, Judaism should be given priority representation, but other religions (and atheists) should feel welcome.

Even today, the Temple Mount has its own “basement,” the Temple “Tunnels,” operated by Israeli authorities, but one could visit them only through booking a guide. For starters, the “Tunnels” should be turned into private prayer/meditation spaces for the general public.

Today, intolerant and violent Islam dominates the Temple Mount such that the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque stand for Islamic supremacy and the type of mouth-frothing Jew-hatred that would make Hitler proud. For Israel to reach the level of peace that Dresden now enjoys, these domed symbols of hate may have to meet the same fate as the Frauenkirche in 1945, at the hands of those who love human freedom, human rights, and real justice and peace.

Orit at the Frauenkirche Tower overlooking the rebuilt city



German PEGIDA leader resigns after Hitler pose prompts investigation

The leader of the fast-growing German anti-Muslim movement PEGIDA resigned on Wednesday after a photo of him posing as Hitler, and reports that he called refugees “scumbags,” prompted prosecutors to investigate him for inciting hatred.

Lutz Bachmann, a 41-year-old convicted burglar, had appeared on the front page of top-selling daily newspaper Bild on Wednesday sporting a Hitler moustache and haircut.

Bild and another paper said he had called asylum-seekers “animals” and “scumbags”.

The news came just as supporters of PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West), which is based in Dresden, staged a march in another east German city, Leipzig.

However, the so-called LEGIDA rally attracted only around 15,000 people – far fewer than the originally estimated 40,000 – and they were outnumbered by more than 20,000 people who joined several counter-demonstrations, officials said.

PEGIDA has forced itself onto the political agenda with its anti-immigrant slogans that have attracted tens of thousands to regular rallies in Dresden.

Bachmann, who denies he is a racist, had heard on Wednesday that he faces a criminal investigation for incitement to racial hatred. State prosecutors in Dresden said preliminary proceedings had been launched following the Bild report.


Kathrin Oertel, another PEGIDA co-founder, said Bachmann's resignation had nothing to do with the Hitler photo, but was linked to his comments on refugees posted on the internet.

“Yes, I can confirm that Lutz Bachmann has offered his resignation and it was accepted,” Oertel told Reuters.

She added: “PEGIDA will go on.”

Bild quoted Bachmann as saying the Hitler photo had been taken as a joke, prompted by a recent satirical book about the Nazi dictator called “Er ist wieder da” (“Look Who's Back”).

The Dresdner Morgenpost newspaper also quoted what it said were Facebook messages from Bachmann saying asylum seekers acted like “scumbags” at the welfare office and that extra security was needed “to protect employees from the animals”.

Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, the Social Democrat leader, said the real face of PEGIDA had been exposed: “Anyone who puts on a Hitler disguise is either an idiot or a Nazi.”

In an interview with Reuters last week, Bachmann played down a ribald comment made in 2013, seized on by the media, that “eco-terrorist” Greens, first and foremost former party leader Claudia Roth, should be “summarily executed”.

“I am an impulsive person…I regret I didn't resist my impulsiveness.”

A suit and a story from a Holocaust survivor

It had been a tough week. The more news I read about the Boston bombing, the less I understood. Who were these young men, full of grievance, using a fresh start in America to maim and kill innocents?

In the midst of the mess, I decided to finally buy myself a new suit. I have just one, which I bought 10 years ago from an elderly Jewish man downtown.

I had a vivid memory of him, but I didn’t know his name. So I called Roger Stuart Clothes on Los Angeles Street and asked if the elderly man with the accent still worked there.

“Max?” the man on the phone said. “No, I’m sorry.”

“I guess I waited too long,” I said. Charming little old men don’t live forever, I thought.

“Just come tomorrow,” the man went on. “Max only works Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.”

Before the man hung up, I just had to ask him: How old was my salesman? Where was the accent from? What’s his story? 

“Max? He’s 94. A Holocaust survivor. From the camps.”

I told him I’d be in that week — for a suit and a story.

“Should we talk, or do you want to first look at suits?” Max Leigh was just like I remembered him: maybe 5-foot-4, sturdy, with a good head of graying hair, a crisp blue dress shirt, gray slacks and a flowered tie. His face was kindly, bespectacled — like a doctor who makes house calls. A Yiddish accent.

Max looked at me: “42 long. What color? Every man should have a navy blue, a black and a gray.”

He handed me a black suit; I tried it on. Perfect. I had him pick me out a shirt, a tie — and I was good for another 10 years. I paid, then Max took me to the back, to a couple of chairs near a dressing room.

I pulled out my notebook and digital recorder.

“Oh, my story,” Max sighed. “I told it to Steven Spielberg. Can you get it from him?”

He was talking, I assumed, about testimony he must have given to the USC Shoah Foundation, which the film director established. I couldn’t understand Max without listening to those testimonial tapes — which I later did — but the tapes, and their sad, brutal memories, only tell part of his story.

Max was born Max Leschgold in Dresden, Germany. When Max was a child, his parents moved with him and his two younger sisters back to their native Warsaw to be with relatives. 

Max was 19 when the Nazis came to Warsaw. He was taken to a series of camps, including Auschwitz. After the war, he learned that his parents had starved to death in the Warsaw Ghetto. One sister died fighting in the ghetto. Another was shot dead in the arms of her boyfriend after their hiding place was discovered.

Max’s Shoah testimony is a recitation of horrors — starvation, mock executions, beatings. On the tapes, he tells the story with distant matter-of-factness. The only time he chokes up is when the interviewer asks whether he ever had children.

“My wife had a child killed by the Nazis,” he finally said. “We have the picture in the other room.” 

With the help of Jewish organizations, Max came to Los Angeles after the war as a penniless refugee who spoke four languages, but not English.

They put him in a hotel in Boyle Heights. He didn’t want to be on welfare, so he took the first job he could, at a fishing line factory. His hopes of a professional education destroyed by the war, he became a machinist, working in the aerospace and computer industries. When he was downsized at the age of 52, he and a friend opened a suit store downtown. 

“I didn’t even know what size suit I wore,” he said. “But I went into business, and I started a company, and I was successful, and here I am.”

Max travelled around the world, including five visits to Israel. He said he has paid back in donations “a thousand times over” whatever money the Jewish organizations donated to help him get on his feet.

After he sold his company, he began working at Roger Stuart, in 1981 — that’s 32 years.

“I don’t need the money,” Max said. “If I wouldn’t like it, I wouldn’t work. I like people.”

Max was married to his first wife, Rosaline, for 54 years — they met just after the war, and she died not long after he made his video testimony in 1997. His second wife, Inna, is 66. Inna’s son and grandchildren are like his own, he said.

“I have family now, I didn’t have any before. I lost my whole family.”

I asked Max how he managed to deal with such terrible memories. Did faith help, I asked, a belief in God?

Max shook his head.

“I saw too much to believe in all that bulls—,” he said. “I had these discussions with rabbis, and they couldn’t give me an answer. You explain to me why 1 1/2 million children got killed without sins. I lost whatever faith I had, and I didn’t have much to start with.”

Yet, Max moved forward. He didn’t lash out. He didn’t stay bitter at having his family and his dreams destroyed. He was 19 when his life fell apart — the same age as one of those Boston bombers — and he rebuilt his life; he stitched it back together like a suit.

“Am I bitter?” Max said. “Yes, however, you can’t live that way all your life. If you’re going to live with it all your life, then you don’t have a life at all.”

There are a million stories in the naked city — and in the fully clothed city, too. 

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Dresden to get first rabbi from city in 75 years

The Jewish community of Dresden is installing its first hometown rabbi since 1938.

Alexander Nachama, 29, was to be formally inaugurated last weekend as rabbi of the new synagogue in Dresden, which is in eastern Germany. Dresden’s Semper-Synagogue was destroyed during the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938. The new synagogue was dedicated at the original site in 2001.

Previously, Dresden was served by Rabbi Salomon Almekias-Siegl, who rotated among three communities before retiring in 2011.

Nachama, who also is a cantor, was ordained earlier this month in Erfurt after completing his rabbinical studies at the Abraham Geiger College in Potsdam. He is pursuing a master’s degree in Jewish studies, history and culture at the University of Potsdam.

Nachama, who began serving the Dresden Jewish community in 2012, told the DPA press agency that he hopes to inspire members to become more involved.

Dresden’s prewar Jewish community numbered more than 5,000; there were only 41 Jews there in the immediate postwar years. With the influx of Russian-speaking Jews since 1990, the Jewish community in Dresden has grown to 720 from 61 in 1990.