On Aug. 28, Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church) in the heart of Berlin was one of many Protestant churches across Germany to celebrate Israel Sunday, with a service focusing on Christianity’s shared history with Judaism.
Lala Suesskind, chairperson of The Jewish Community of Berlin, an organization with more than 11,000 members, spoke at the service of the importance of forgiveness between Christians and Jews and the need for dialog to overcome prejudices among all faiths.
“Here in Germany, we should consolidate our existing relationships and unite,” said Suesskind. “Despite our differences, we all wish to come together in friendship, respect and recognition.”
Four years ago, Pastor Johannes Krug invited the first Jewish speaker to address the congregation at Marienkirche; it is now a regular annual event.
“Israel Sunday is rooted in the Middle Ages,” said Krug in an interview. It originally commemorated the destruction in A.D. 70 of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. “It has a very long history but the themes that we have focused on have changed over the centuries. After the Second World War and the Holocaust, more and more churches have used Israel Sunday to remember the Jewish roots of Christianity.”
About six million Jews were killed during the Nazi Holocaust in the 1930s and 40s.
Pastor Johanna Friese, who studied the Talmud in Israel, led the service for the first time this year. Friese said that the tradition promoting understanding between the two faiths on Israel Sunday has been gaining popularity in Germany in recent years.
In 1980, the Synod of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland (in West Germany) adopted a policy of working toward renewal and regeneration of the relationship between Christians and Jews. The Synod acknowledged the Evangelical Church in Germany’s share of responsibility for the Holocaust, saying that there had been few instances of the Church speaking out against the persecution of the Jews.
Friese said this event led to a surge in the number of Protestant churches marking the date, which falls on the tenth Sunday after the Feast of the Trinity.
The 150-member congregation was also treated to the uplifting sounds of Berlin’s Shalom Choir. The 13th century building resonated with songs rarely heard in a Christian place of worship, such as Eli, Eli, written by Hannah Senesh, a Hungarian Jewish hero of World War II who was killed by a German firing squad in 1944.
“It was very special to have the Jewish choir here,” said Stephanie Artz, a management consultant and regular worshipper at Marienkirche. “It was also very interesting to hear Lala Suesskind speak. It is important that we do not only hear the perspective of our own community.”
Sabine Sontopski, who works for an electricity company in Berlin, said she didn’t usually come to services at Marienkirche, but wanted to hear Friese’s Israel Sunday service.
“With the background of 20th century history in Germany, I think it’s very important to have a chance to move on together ― without forgetting the past ― and to find a common understanding.” she said.