Race and Ethnicity

Are too many Germans converting to Judaism? The debate is roiling Germany’s Jewish community.

BERLIN (JTA) – Jews in Germany have been shaken this summer by a diminutive cantor with a big voice. But not in the way one might think.

True, Avitall Gerstetter has one powerful set of pipes, as anyone who has heard her lead services at Berlin’s Oranienburgerstrasse Synagogue can testify. Facing the Torah Ark, she could practically open the velvet curtain with her soprano voice alone.

But now, Gerstetter — the first German-born female cantor — is a persona non grata in that very sanctuary in former East Berlin, after she penned a column critical of conversion in Germany in Die Welt, a major German newspaper.

In the column, titled “Why the increasing number of converts is a problem for Judaism,” Gerstetter charged that too many people in Germany convert for the wrong reasons — such as to atone for their family’s Nazi past or to identify with the victims rather than perpetrators — and she criticized the fact that converts fill numerous Jewish leadership roles in Germany.


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