Challenges of Jewish Life in Modern Berlin: Anti-Semitic Incidents Surge

In the heart of Berlin, the specter of rising anti-Semitism casts a shadow over the Jewish community, as incidents of violence and hostility sow fear and uncertainty among its members

by Sededin Dedovic
Challenges of Jewish Life in Modern Berlin: Anti-Semitic Incidents Surge
© Sean Gallup / Getty images

Ana Chernak Segal sticks strictly to the facts, yet she is deeply concerned. She mentions an attempt to set fire to her synagogue in mid-October last year with two Molotov cocktails, as well as an attack on a young member of the community a few weeks ago in the Berlin district of Gesundbrunnen.

The young man, she says, was "physically assaulted and subjected to anti-Semitic insults," and he suffered "a broken bone and endured immense emotional and mental harm." The two anti-Semitic attacks on the Orthodox Jewish community "Kahal Adass Jisroel" in Berlin's Brunenstrasse were reported throughout Germany.

Insults in the subway

However, Segal, the community president, notes that there have been many other incidents, all of which are causing great concern for safety. There are verbal attacks on the street or in public transport, for example, offensive shouts: "Child murderer." There are expressions of hostility on the internet, anti-Semitic symbols are written on residential buildings and entrance doors, mezuzahs - boxes containing parchment with excerpts from religious texts that Jewish believers hang on their door frames - are torn off doorposts.

"The threat to Jewish life has significantly increased," she says. "We never could have imagined this." Segal was one of those who spoke at the presentation of the annual report for 2023 of the Berlin "Center for Research and Information on Anti-Semitism" (RIAS-Berlin).

What the statistics show in sobering yet so frightening numbers, she fills with life through her testimony. In 2023, RIAS-Berlin recorded 1,270 anti-Semitic incidents in the German capital. This is the highest number since the center was founded in 2015 and represents an increase of almost 50 percent compared to the previous year, 2022.

"October 7, 2023, was a turning point," says project manager Julija Kop. Since then, anti-Semitism in Berlin has been "significantly more present" than before. From October 7, the first day of the deadly attack by the terrorist organization Hamas, until the end of the year, there were an average of about ten anti-Semitic incidents per day.

Criminal incidents and those that are not recorded were noted. Kop points out that Jewish life in the city has long since changed. Jews make sure not to be recognized by religious symbols. Some even move from parts of the city where they are particularly at risk.

Douglas Emhoff Attends International Meeting On Combating Anti-Semitism BERLIN, GERMANY - JANUARY 30© Sean Gallup / Getty Images

"Traumatized and injured"

Kop cites the example of the Jewish restaurant "DoDa's Deli," which has long operated in the Berlin district of Friedrichshain.

Soon after the Hamas terror began, the restaurant's sign was first destroyed, and then more and more threats began to arrive, as well as warnings to people not to visit the establishment. "They were forced to leave that neighborhood," Kop explains.

The owners now intend to try again to open "DoDa's Deli" restaurant in Wilmersdorf, in western Berlin. Sigmunt Kenigsberg, an official of the Jewish community in Berlin responsible for anti-Semitism, believes that the new report shows "how large parts of the Jewish community in Berlin are traumatized and injured." Moreover, the situation in Berlin - a city with the largest Muslim and Palestinian community in Germany - is by no means an exception.

This is clearly shown by the annual report of the RIAS office in the state of Hesse for 2023, which was presented on the same day. There, too, the numbers exploded after October 7: more than 60 percent of the 528 recorded incidents occurred in the last three months of last year.

The day before, experts from the "Association of Counseling Centers for Victims of Right-Wing, Racist, and Anti-Semitic Violence" (VBRG) addressed journalists in Berlin. Historian Jens-Christian Wagner, head of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorial Foundation in Thuringia, referred to incidents that occur during visits to former concentration camps.

There were, he says, anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli comments, and even intimidation of employees at the memorial center. Asked whether these perpetrators come from a pro-Palestinian or Muslim milieu, he says that they are usually "indigenous Germans" - i.e., citizens of Germany with no migrant background.

Suspicions and frustrations

Jews and Israeli citizens in all parts of Germany are concerned about their safety and integrity. Especially in Berlin. Despite this, they usually say they feel protected and well cared for by the police.

Even the experts at the RIAS Center do not criticize the behavior of security forces during anti-Israeli demonstrations. However, doubts and frustrations arise. Segal tells how the window of a Jewish family from their community was smashed with stones.

The stones were thrown by children from a Muslim family in the neighborhood. Police advised that Jewish family: "Get out of this area. We can't do anything about it." Such messages are devastating for community members, Segal says.

Authorities "plead and plead" with those affected to report such cases. But not everyone does, reports Deutsche Welle.