Report Delivered in Berlin, 2011
Revival in Germany
In the minds of Jewish people and those with an understanding of history, Germany remains the country where the Holocaust was initiated, then scrupulously planned and carried out, ending in the murder of six-million Jews. For a long time, no one considered the nation a candidate for Jewish outreach; no one spoke seriously about a Messianic movement there, due to its very small Jewish population. It seems, therefore, quite strange to see how the Messianic community in Germany has revived over the past 20 years.
Since 1989, about 230,000 “Russian Jews” have entered Germany as refugees. These are Jewish people with origins in the countries of the former Soviet Union, whose dominant adopted language was Russian. Together with immigrants from other countries—including Israel—they have caused a surge in the Jewish population, which has grown by ten times from 30,000 to about 300,000. Soviet Jews have not only caused a revival of their community in Germany; they have refreshed the issue of Jewish outreach and its accompanying Messianic movement.
Thousands of these refugees have become believers in Yeshua, with at least 5,000 integrated within various Messianic and Christian assemblages, and more than 40 Messianic congregations and groups being established over the past 15 years. This has put Germany back on the map of significant regions in this regard, with Russian Jewish believers composing the majority within Germany’s Messianic movement.
These two uniquely different cultures have resulted in a gap between German-speaking and Russian-Jewish believers. Russian Messianic Jews are generally separated from German Christians, and both sides have difficulties when considering fellowshipping with one another. Even today, the Messianic movement in Germany is considered to be Russian by both Christians and Jewish believers. The preconception is embedded within the minds of many Russian Messianic Jews that if it is German and not Russian, it is not Messianic.
Russians, in general, are viewed negatively within German culture. This is rooted in history, with Russians seen as “occupiers” and “Soviets.” In East Germany, this is related to the Soviet regime, while in West Germany it brings to mind memories of the Cold War. The Russian language, accent and origins are looked upon unfavorably. While Germans are very sensitive to everything Jewish, these newer neighbors are seen more as Russians than as Jews. This creates distance on the part of Germans.
At the same time, the views held by Russian Jews toward Germans is typically very “Russian,” namely, also generally negative. This is mainly due to Germans being seen as those who started the terrible war and tried to occupy Russia. Memories of the Holocaust only contribute to these feelings. Thus, the perspectives of Russian Jews and Germans as influenced by history foster the deep separation between them.
This situation, however, has begun to change in recent years. We see more German-Jewish people and German Christians starting to attend Messianic congregations that were traditionally Russian speaking. In addition, the second generation of Russian-speaking Jewish believers converse better in German than in their parent’s native tongue. This makes the Messianic congregations extraordinarily multicultural. It certainly brings new challenges for both Russian- and German-speaking participants.
For many Russian-speaking believers, their Messianic congregations were a kind of comfortable, cultural “ghetto,” in that they could fellowship with those from their own background. Naturally, such congregations were resistant to integrating German-speaking Jews and Gentiles into their midst, unconsciously trying to defend their familiar form of fellowship. However, not being able to find any reason not to allow German-speaking believers to join the congregations without compromising their Biblical mandate, the Russian-speaking Messianic congregations are pushed to include Germans in their midst.
Losing their Russian “stronghold” and being pressed to culturally adjust to the German newcomers has seldom been pleasant. It is especially frustrating for the elderly, who are people unable to fellowship easily in the German language and on its cultural terms. At the same time, the situation is also difficult for Germans who, being focused on their culture, are joining a completely foreign environment. It will take hard work to cultivate the unity needed within Messianic congregations in the future.
Beit Sar Shalom