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How Jewish Identity Turned From Liability to Asset

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Last week, the German weekly Der Spiegel published an investigative report about Wolfgang Seibert, head of a small Reform congregation in northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. Seibert, 71, is recognized as one of the most articulate spokesmen in Germany for liberal Judaism and for his promotion of interfaith dialogue. For years he was known as the son of a Holocaust survivor. However, documents from a church archive in Frankfurt proved that he is an impostor.

Seibert, it turns out, was baptized shortly after his birth; his parents and grandparents were all Protestants. Moreover, unlike quite a number of Germans, he apparently has no Jewish roots at all. Otherwise, it’s hard to explain how his grandfather managed to serve as an officer in the Wehrmacht in World War II.

Seibert’s is an extreme case, but also typical of the cultural atmosphere in philo-Semitic Germany, where Jewish roots are a political, and sometimes also an economic asset. Germany is making desperate efforts to reconstruct something of the Jewish life that existed in the country before the Holocaust. But because the Jewish community was effectively eradicated, many German Christians are converting to Judaism and quickly becoming rabbis and heads of communities. Seibert is an exception only in not having converted. Confronted with the findings, he explained to Der Spiegel, “I think I wanted to have a Jewish history that would connect with the Jewish identity that I feel I have.”

The Germans’ guilt complex is admittedly singular, but similar episodes have been occurring lately in other parts of the world, too. Last month, a scandal erupted in the Democratic Party in the United States when the governor of New York State, Andrew Cuomo, hinted that the candidate running against him in the party primary, Cynthia Nixon,........

© Haaretz