Angela Merkel accepts German Reform movement’s top honor

Marcy Oster

BERLIN (JTA) — Refugees in Germany must unlearn the anti-Semitism fed to them in their home countries, Chancellor Angela

Merkel said in accepting the German Reform movement’s top annual award.

Merkel on Wednesday was presented with the Abraham Geiger Prize, worth more than $10,000, for her commitment as “guarantor of basic democratic values and freedom of religion,” according to the award jury.

The German chancellor is donating the funds to the “Dialog Perspectives” program of the Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich Studienwerk, a foundation for talented Jewish students.

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During Wednesday’s ceremony at Berlin’s Jewish Museum, Merkel, 61, said she shared the Jewish community’s humanitarian concerns and realistic worries – wanting to help refugees fleeing ISIS, but also wanting to protect the values of democracy at home. An estimated 800,000 refugees, most of them Muslim, will have sought asylum in Germany by the end of this year.

In order to be integrated, the asylum seekers “must respect our culture and learn our language,” Merkel said. They also must adhere to

laws that protect equal rights for women and gays, and that reject anti-Semitism, she emphasized.

Admitting that there might be differences on how best to achieve integration, Merkel told her hosts that “If you express concerns about

anti-Semitism, I will always be listening.”

Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany,  thanked Merkel for her “open ear to the concerns of the Jewish

population, who fear possible anti-Semitism within the refugee population.”

He stressed that Jews in Germany have a special empathy for refugees – having accepted and integrated more than 140,000 former Soviet Jews over the past quarter century.

Keynote speaker at the event was José Casanova, a leading intellectual in the sociology of religion from the U.S. and Spain. Other speakers were Jewish Museum Director Peter Schaefer and Josef Joffre,  publisher-editor of the German weekly Die Zeit. Presenting the award were Rabbi Walter Jacob of Pittsburgh, co-founder of the Abraham Geiger College rabbinical seminary in Potsdam, and the seminary’s rector, Rabbi Walter Homolka.

Three students supported by the Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich Studienwerk also addressed Merkel briefly, thanking her for supporting Israel and

backing the growth of Jewish life in Germany.

“We want to help shape the future of Germany,” said Olga Osadtschy,  who immigrated to Germany from Kiev and studies in Basel, Switzerland.

Cantorial students and graduates from the Abraham Geiger College Jewish Institute of Cantorial Arts performed for the chancellor, who

personally shook their hands, said a beaming Svetlana Kundish of Ukraine afterwards.

Geiger College was founded in 1999 and has been training rabbis since 2002. It established the prize in the year 2000, and opened its

cantorial program seven years later.

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