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Community of the unequal

Annette Büchner-Reiche is not religious, but she is enthusiastic about Jewish culture.

It is the characters, the sound of this language, the rules for eating that fascinate Annette Büchner-Reiche. Even as a teenager, the 58-year-old from Dresden was interested in Jewish culture. "My parents had nothing to do with religion. I grew up atheist." She didn't miss anything, she says. But the experience of her parents growing old, getting sick and dying made her think more deeply, she says.

When acquaintances hear about Judaism, they immediately think of Auschwitz and the Holocaust, which she considers a reduction to the horrors of history. That is too little for her, she says. "I wish that this whole culture would come back to society as something alive. That would enrich us."

She and her husband, who is a dermatologist, first tried preparing food according to Jewish dietary laws (kashrut) about 15 years ago. "We felt comfortable doing that. It's since gotten us away from eating meat and we eat a largely vegetarian diet."

Later, they occasionally attended Friday night Shabbat services at Hasenberg Synagogue. "This community that doesn't want to create sameness appealed to me. Everyone can remain different, just as they are."

That includes not considering herself a believer. "But what Rabbi Akiva Weingarten writes about religion in his book 'Ultra-Orthodox,' I understand." Not harming animals, not tearing down flowers and plants is something her mother taught her, she said. "To respect all life, not to distinguish between useful and useless, that's religion for me."

They lent a hand during the expansion of the rooms in the Old Leipzig Station, stripping wallpaper, painting walls, hauling out debris. In the beginning, she and her husband saw themselves as "onlookers" in the Jewish Religious Community. By now, they no longer are. "The fact that we, with our other prerequisites, German and not religious, don't feel like strangers in this community, I find pleasant." She is fascinated that Judaism seems to have stories ready for almost all situations in life. She probably takes more away from the gatherings than she could bring in herself.

How living together in diversity works, despite all the conflicts, they have experienced on several trips to Israel. For that, she started learning modern Hebrew with Margarete Füßer, a freelance lecturer in Dresden. Suddenly understanding what the foreign characters mean, she says, is a wonderful experience. "I'm getting deeper and deeper into this culture and history. I would like to know more - without ever becoming Jewish."

To her four children - the youngest son is 15, the oldest daughter 39 - she would like to pass that on. That they are not surprised should they encounter someone wearing a kippah, she wishes. "For them, such contacts should be normal.

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