Almost seventy years ago, it was nearly impossible to find a Jew in Germany. But in a sign of how times have truly changed for world Jewry since the Holocaust, the first Orthodox rabbinical ordination of German-trained rabbinical students in Munich took place recently, bringing together Jews from all over the world. Rabbi Steven Burg, International Director of NCSY, was one of them; he traveled from New York with Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky, of Yeshiva University and NCSY Kollel, to witness this history-making event.
The two new rabbis are Zsolt Balla, 30 and Avraham Radbill, 25 both of the first graduating class of the newly-established Orthodox rabbinical seminary, “Rabbinerseminar zu Berlin.” The seminary was founded by the Central Council of Jews in Germany and The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, and grew naturally out of the programs of Yeshivas Beis Zion, the premier Torah study institution in Berlin and Germany today. All nine students of the rabbinical seminary, including the two ordainees, are graduates of Yeshivas Beis Zion.
Rabbi Burg has a personal relationship with Rabbi Balla; the two had met on his previous trip to Germany last year, where he traveled to work with the Lauder Foundation to develop effective strategies to inspire Jewish teens. Additionally, both Rabbi Balla and Rabbi Radbill had visited OU headquarters in New York last August to participate in OU Kosher’s Ask OU9 program (sponsored by the Harry H. Beren Foundation of Lakewood, NJ), a three-week intensive seminar on kashrut laws. Zsolt also collaborated on the Hungarian and German editions of the NCSY Bencher edited by David Olivestone, OU National Director of Communications and Planning.
Rabbi Burg declared, “The rabbinical ordination that recently took place in Germany was a truly significant and momentous occasion. This extraordinary ceremony was televised throughout Germany and left everyone in attendance inspired, our eyes brimming with tears and shining with pride. The fact that the German Minister of the Interior was there to witness the event is unbelievable when one considers that the same position was once in charge of the Gestapo during the Holocaust.”
Rabbi Joshua Spinner, Vice President of the Lauder Foundation, stated, “We intended for the day to be a statement that Torah Judaism is alive in Germany, and impressively so. Responses to the day indicate we were successful in our goal.”
After the ordination and a celebratory dinner for the German Jewish community, Rabbis Burg and Sobolofsky led 20 students of Yeshivas Beis Zion, including the two new rabbis, on a mission touring Poland. “We wanted to show the young men who had just finished a yeshiva program their Jewish roots,” explained Rabbi Burg. “The tour created a real bond between the young men and myself and Rabbi Sobolofksy.”
Rabbi Burg and Rabbi Sobolofsky both visited Auschwitz before leading the young men on to Cracow, where they visited the Ramah synagogue and Rabbi Sobolofsky gave a shiur (Torah lecture) on the Torah of Rabbi Moshe Isserlis, known more commonly as the Ramah. From there, the group went on to the city of Ger, visiting the Bais Medrash (house of Torah study) and the cemetery in the city.
From Cracow, the tour participants continued to Warsaw, where Rabbi Sobolofsky spoke movingly on the concept of mesorah, or Jewish tradition, by the gravesides of Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (the Netziv) and Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, which lie next to each other. Finally, the group returned to Germany where they took part in a Shabbaton with Am Echad, the youth and national outreach department of the Lauder foundation, at the Yeshivas Beis Zion in Berlin. Rabbi Burg spoke about doing what’s right, even if outside influences attempt to sway you towards the opposite goal, and about Jewish leadership.
Rabbi Spinner declared, “The Foundation’s growing relationship with NCSY and the OU cannot be underestimated in its importance, for the experience and might of the OU make it a natural resource for any effort like ours, including Am Echad."
The next planned cooperation between the two youth groups will be on NCSY’s JOLT Central Europe, which will attend the Lauder Foundation’s Am Echad Summer Camp in the Swiss Alps in August. Rabbi Spinner mentioned that besides the OU and NCSY, the Am Echad Camp is supported by the students of SAR Academy in Riverdale, NY, “just another example of how American Jewry is helping us grow and realize our mission to reach out to Jewish youth.”
Rabbi Burg explained, “The recent rabbinical ordination; the fact that Am Echad is flourishing; and the day school in Germany that is growing rapidly, all signify the growth in building b’nei Torah (children who follow a Torah way of life) in Germany. The purpose of this trip was to advance the cause of passionate Judaism, and give strength and moral support to those all over the world who are in the trenches of that cause.”