Worried in Berlin

As Anti-Semitism Flares Across Europe, Jews in Germany Increasingly Concerned

A police officer stands in front of pro-Israel supporters in Berlin on July 25, 2014. Photo: Reuiters
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Several German cities have seen anti-Semitic demonstrations in recent weeks, sparking widespread concern in the country responsible for the Holocaust.

  • Facts


    • There are 20,000 Israelis living in Berlin alone.
    • Many of Germany’s Jews come from the former Soviet Union.
    • German law allows Israelis whose original citizenship was revoked from them, their parents or their grandparents under Nazi laws to receive a German passport.
    • The descendants of German Jewish victims of the Nazis are eligible to apply for German citizenship.
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As Ze’ev Avrahami talked with customers about the perfect consistency of hummus in his restaurant in central Berlin, a police car stopped across the street. After a short check to see if everything was fine, the police drove away way.

“They’re passing by more often these days,” said the 44-year-old Israeli, seemingly resigned to the fact that the conflict in the Gaza Strip had reached central Europe.

Police in Berlin have stepped up their patrols at Jewish businesses and institutions following several recent anti-Jewish incidents in the German capital.

Last month, Arab youths chanted offensive slogans in front of a synagogue in the German capital, including, “Jew, Jew, cowardly swine, come out here and fight by yourself!” Pro-Palestinian demonstrators attempted to attack a Jewish couple from Jerusalem. In recent weeks, other German cities have seen similarly troubling cases, sparking widespread concern in the country responsible for the Holocaust.

Though the anti-Semitic outbreak has scandalized Germans, images of the Star of David crossed out and blatant acts of aggression have thoroughly shaken Germany’s Jewish community.

“We’re experiencing an explosion of evil and violent hatred of Jews here, leaving us all shocked and dismayed,” said Dieter Graumann, the president of the German Jewish Council. “We never would have thought it possible that such vile and primitive anti-Semitism could be chanted in Germany’s streets.”

About 20,000 Israelis live in Berlin alone, many of them young students and artists from Israel.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Mr. Avraham, that people can shout “Jewish pig” at a demonstration and not be arrested.

Still, he refuses to be intimidated.

Not only does Mr. Avraham wear his kippah, the Jewish skullcap, when going to synagogue; he also refuses to ask for special police protection for his restaurant, protection his  wife has requested.

Claiming that too many Jewish businesses were “barricaded” in Germany, he balked at the idea of police officers loitering out front or setting up security barriers. Mr. Avrahami said his shop would remain open to everyone. A patrol car swings by his restaurant each day, nevertheless.

“I’m an Israeli, I’m not afraid,” he said defiantly.

Ze'ev Avrahami in his Berlin restaurant. Photo: Reuters
Ze'ev Avrahami in his Berlin restaurant. Photo: Reuters
Ze’ev Avrahami owns  a restaurant in central Berlin. Source: Reuters


In his small restaurant hang large, framed photos of daily life in Israel: A pious Jew leaning on the Wailing Wall, sun-ripened olives in a stone bowl. There are no images of soldiers at war. The shaven-headed and burly Mr. Avrahami stood in the kitchen slicing vegetables as Israeli rap blared from a radio. He was preparing a classic Middle Eastern dish – tomato and cucumber salad.

“Palestinians and Israelis always argue about the name of this salad,” he said. “I’ve dubbed it ‘Peace Salad.’”

Mr. Avrahami came up with the concept of selling “peace food” three years ago. His restaurant mixes traditional Israeli dishes with recipes brought by immigrant Jews from the Arab world. He buys his olive oil from a Palestinian living in Berlin. Another Arab supplier brings fresh pita bread each morning.

“That way, I’m forced to look people in the eye and shake their hands,” Mr. Avrahami.

He has forged friendships with some of his business partners, but that doesn’t mean everything is just fine.  Arab youths frequently shout insults as they walk by the restaurant.

Fear and Loathing in Berlin

By contrast, Yoav Sapir, a 34-year-old Israeli who has lived in Berlin for nine years and works as a tour guide, is full of fear.

“The mood in Germany is very depressing right now,. I believe Israel supporters are most definitely in the minority here.”

Yoav Sapir

After he and his wife recently moved into a new apartment, they put their picture and a mezuzah, a traditional Jewish prayer ornament, on the door. A few days later, Mr. Sapir found the image ripped into shreds on the ground. At first, he thought he wasn’t allowed to decorate outside doorways, but their neighbors’ pictures, affixed to doorways without mezuzahs, were still hanging.

“The mood in Germany is very depressing right now,” he said. “I believe Israel supporters are most definitely in the minority here.”

As he shows tourists the German capital’s Jewish heritage, many visiting Israelis often ask him how anti-Semitic Germany is. Mr. Sapir doesn’t have a good answer. He isn’t religious and is glad no one knows he’s Jewish.

“I’d be afraid at the moment to wear a kippah on the street,” he said. But his wife, who isn’t even Jewish, wears a necklace with the Star of David.

“I find that rather bold,” said Mr. Sapir, adding that he regularly hears of Israelis being accosted in Berlin. “If those are just isolated incidents, it’s strangely frequent. It’s been going on for years.”

Signs of life

Mr. Avrahami tries not to think of war. But the conflict has seeped into his daily life. For weeks, his mobile phone wakes him up early as messages from his parents and sister beep. Living in the heart of Israeli, they often simply write two words: “We’re alive.”

The war has started to cause him to question his convictions. Nowadays he’s circumspect of any Israeli utterly convinced of anything.

While Israel bombards Gaza indiscriminately, Hamas fires rockets at innocents. “How can I take sides?” Mr. Avrahami asked.

By comparison, Mr. Sapir unconditionally supports Israel. “I don’t think the Israeli government really wants to beat Hamas,” he said, pointing out that he left Israel in 2005 out of protest the Israeli army’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

“I fought against the withdrawal,” Mr. Sapir said. “I got really sick – nausea, headache, fever – when the army left. I just wanted to run away.”

He sees a bleak future for the Middle East. “I believe,” he said, “there will be no political resolution – just a military one, unfortunately.”


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