After Miraculously Escaping Nazi Destruction, Munich Synagogue Is Saved Again

Munich's new Ohel Jacob synagogue
Munich's new Ohel Jacob synagogue
Eva-Elisabeth Fischer

MUNICH - Our meeting takes place at Munich’s old Jewish synagogue on Reichenbachstrasse. Rachel Salamander and her Synagogue Reichenbachstrasse charity co-chair, attorney Ron Jakubowicz, are telling us about their plans for the synagogue’s future.

The mission of the charity, which was launched in November 2011, is to save and restore the pre-war synagogue that was turned into a wood and metal workshop after the infamous November 9, 1938 Kristallnacht, “Night of Broken Glass,” when Nazis smashed windows, looted and burned Jewish synagogues, shops and homes.

Both the German state of Bavaria and its capital city Munich, represented personally at the gathering by German Minister of Culture Wolfgang Heubisch and Mayor Christian Ude, not only support these goals but have now budgeted substantial funds to see them realized. The project will receive additional funding from sponsors, and Heubisch presented 200,000 euros from federal heritage conservation funds.

The money from the state of Bavaria will also be drawn from its heritage conservation budget, since the Reichenbachstrasse synagogue is considered a jewel of Neue Sachlichkeit architecture (the modern architecture movement that emerged in the 1920s and 1930s). Architect Christoph Sattler, a founding member of the association, believes that it will take 6 million euros to restore the building following architect Gustav Meyerstein’s original 1930 designs. Ideally, Sattler says, the restored synagogue could be re-opened in the first half of 2015.

The exterior of the synagogue is inconspicuous, and although the inside was never as ornamentally extravagant as was the style in eastern European synagogues at the time it was built, it was colorful -- with turquoise walls providing contrast for yellow marble and a soft beige glass ceiling. The area around the raised platform known as the bimah was painted in Pompeian red.

Out of the "backyard" and into the city center

The fact that the building does not stand out from the row of houses surrounding it, is not only due to its style – a style that lies somewhere between Bauhaus and Art Deco. In 1931, when the synagogue was consecrated, economic depression in Germany had helped fuel virulent anti-Semitism. Later, the synagogue’s bland exterior was also reassuring to the handful of Jews who after the holocaust, understandably eager to keep their heads down, got together in 1947 and with very modest resources reconverted the building back into a place of worship.

Well before Munich’s new Ohel Jacob synagogue was inaugurated in November 2006, Charlotte Knobloch, the long-time president of the Jewish Community in Munich – the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde (IKG) – and president of the Jewish Council in Germany, had started to campaign against the low profile, “backyard existence” of Jews in Munich.

As luck would have it, Munich’s new main synagogue and new Jewish cultural center was able to be financed without having to sell the Reichenbachstrasse synagogue.

During our meeting, Rachel Salamander made compelling arguments for the old synagogue, saying that it was the duty of second-generation holocaust survivors – Jews and non-Jews alike – to bring new life to the synagogue that was in Munich’s Jewish neighborhood.

With the exception of memorial plaques, there are hardly any traces of Jewish life in the city, she said. She called it "the presence of absence.” She added that it makes no sense to lament the loss of Jewish life and culture and yet allow the historic Reichenbachstrasse synagogue to slide into decay.

Like Rachel Salamander, many who came to the synagogue on this grey January morning were overcome by emotion. Along with other women, she located her nameplate in the women’s section, where she attended services until Nov. 9, 2006, when the Ohel Jacob Synagogue was consecrated.

Ellen Presser, head of Munich’s new Youth and Cultural Centre, remembered attending this synagogue as a child. To this day, she said, she could hear the terrible cries of survivors during Yizkor memorial services for the deceased on Yom Kippur.

Rachel Salamander says that in the future, not only Jewish but also inter-confessional religious services will be held at the Reichenbachstrasse synagogue.

The intention, she says, is for the building to become a place of meetings and discussions for all Munich citizens.

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At the Mango Festival held in Aswan, Egypt

Nada Arafat

ISMAILIA – Every year during the month of July, crowds gather in the mango farms of Ismailia, in northeastern Egypt, to pick the delectable summer fruit during its relatively short harvest season. But this year, as a result of erratic weather patterns throughout March and April, the usual bountiful mango harvest was severely affected with farmers witnessing a precipitous drop in yield. Some 300,000 farms saw an 80% decrease in productivity, leading to a supply shortage in the market and a corresponding 40% increase in the price of mangoes.

The effects of these climate fluctuations could have been mitigated by farmers, yet according to experts who spoke to Mada Masr, the agriculture minister failed to play a role in raising awareness among farmers and in providing agricultural guidance services.

Heatwaves kill crops

Mangoes are highly sensitive to changes in temperature. For germination to occur, the ideal temperature should be between 10 °C at night and 28 °C during the day, according to agricultural consultants. In Egypt, this weather pattern usually occurs in February. Mango trees then flower and the flowers turn into fruits that take 40 days to grow and be ready for harvest, according to Karam Suleiman, an agricultural engineer.

This year, however, according to mango farmers in Ismailia who spoke to Mada Masr, the beginning of the winter farming season experienced a sudden heatwave followed by another heatwave at the end of March. In both March and April, the temperature dipped to as low as 5 °C at night and as high as 25 °C during the day. Due to these erratic weather fluctuations, the mango flowers that develop into fruit fell before they could mature.

The typical average mango yield from one feddan (approx 1.03 acres or 0.40 hectares) ranges between 6 to 8 tons. This year however, the yield per feddan averaged between just 1 to 2 tons, according to several sources.

Frozen mango suppliers multiply purchases

A farm owner in Al-Tal al-Kebir on the Ismailia Desert Road, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, said that his farm produced approximately 35 tons of mangoes last year, whereas this year his yield did not exceed 4 tons. He added that many farmers in the surrounding area, which is famous for mango cultivation, experienced the same steep declines in yield.

The limited mango yield and the subsequent hike in prices has also prompted frozen mango suppliers to multiply their purchases from farms in order to capitalize and sell them next year at an even higher price, according to Ali Saqr, an agricultural engineer in a fruit export company, along with a number of other farm owners who spoke to Mada Masr. Mangos can stay frozen for up to two years.

Khaled Eweis, who buys mangoes and stores them in rented freezers then later sells the frozen mangoes to juice and dessert shops, explained to Mada Masr that juice shops usually use the Zebdia variety of mangoes, whereas dessert shops use Keitt mangoes. The latter is expected to be priced at 25 Egyptian pounds ($1.5) this year after having been sold for half the price at the same time last year.

Last year, Eweis bought Zebdia mangoes for 10–12 Egyptian pounds ($0.6–$0.7) per kilo then resold them for 16 ($1) after freezing them. This year, the Zebdia prices ranged from 17–21 ($1–$1.30) per kilo, and Eweis expects that the price after freezing will reach as high as 25 ($1.5).

Photo of an Egyptian man shouldering a basket full of mangoes

The typical average mango yield from one feddan (approx 1.03 acres) ranges between 6 to 8 tons


Threat to water security

This is not the first time that mango production has been hit hard as a result of fluctuating weather patterns. A similar crisis in the mango harvest took place in 2018, and other crops, such as olives, potatoes, wheat, rice and cotton, have also been adversely affected over the last few years, according to Mohamed Fahem, the head of the government Climate Change Information Center. And human-induced changes to global weather patterns as a result of climate change point to increased agricultural challenges in the future.

The deadly heat waves, fires, hurricanes and other extreme weather events that have dominated headlines in recent years will only become more frequent in the coming decades, according to a United Nations report on climate change released in August. In its sixth assessment report, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called human-induced changes to global climate systems "unprecedented." While the report calls for drastic cuts to the global emission of greenhouse gases, much of the effects of climate change are already locked in for decades to come.

Among the areas most vulnerable to climate change is agriculture. A 2018 report titled Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Changes in Egypt found that climate change can have drastic effects on agriculture through changes in temperature, rainfall, CO2 levels and solar radiation. Meanwhile, a 2020 European Union report also found that climate change will pose a threat to global food production in the medium to long-term through projected changes in daily temperature, precipitation, wind, relative humidity and global radiation.

According to various studies, climate change gradually reduces the duration of spring, autumn and winter, which in turn affects the crops that are cultivated during those seasons. In Egypt in particular, the country's agricultural crop map will likely change as a result of a prolonged summer season, according to a study by former Agriculture Minister Ayman Abou Hadid, published in 2010 when he was heading the Center for Agricultural Studies. The study predicted that grain cultivation will gradually move north from Upper Egypt due to increases in winter temperatures, though it did not give a projected timeframe.

Cold and heat waves

Climate change also increases salinity levels in soil due to rising sea levels, which in turn renders the soil only suitable for crops that can handle high salinity yet still require intensive irrigation to mitigate the salinity levels. At the same time, Egypt is currently facing a threat to its water security due to the changes in rain patterns and droughts as well as the potential effects of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

According to Fahim, the increased cold and heat waves Egypt has experienced has led to the emergence of new, mutated varieties of pests and fungal diseases that are resistant to chemicals. For example, in 2018, aphids and whiteflies spread due to the shortened winter season, and the accumulation of these pests led to huge losses in potato and cotton yields. Meanwhile, palm trees were harmed due to the appearance of red palm weevils.

How farmers counter mango losses

The severe losses in the 2021 mango yield were hard to avoid, but is there a way to counter them?

Karam Suleiman, an agricultural engineer, believes that better methods of agriculture, irrigation and fertilization, along with raising awareness among farmers about the dangers of climate change and how to monitor weather fluctuations could succeed in mitigating such outcomes.

However, Egypt appears currently incapable of providing sufficient safety networks to farmers in order to enable them to confront the effects of climate change.

An example of this is apparent in the failure to enforce mechanisms for warning farmers about potential difficulties in upcoming farming seasons. In June, a report by the Center for Agricultural Studies warned about a decline of as much as 85% in the productivity of farms in Ismailia, where mangoes are mainly cultivated, as well as farms in Sharqiya, Suez and Beheira, due to climate change. However, this report only reached about 13 farmers and owners of mango farms, according to agricultural sources who spoke to Mada Masr.

Ahmed Asal, a mango farmer in Qantara in Ismailia, told Mada Masr that there has been no guidance from authorities in helping farmers understand climate change and how to respond to it. "No one told us what to do and we never received any compensation for our losses," Asal said.

Photo of a hand picking a mango from the tree in Egypt

Mangoes are highly sensitive to changes in temperature

Ahmed Gomaa/Xinhua/ZUMA

Agriculture engineers must become climate engineers

Agricultural guidance is a service offered by the Agriculture Ministry to raise awareness and educate farmers about all aspects of farming. The service is usually provided through agricultural engineers who are based in the agricultural cooperatives that exist in every city and town.

Fahim, the head of the Climate Change Information Center, works to play a similar role through his Facebook page and, at times, on various TV channels and newspapers, by raising awareness about weather fluctuations and their effects on agriculture. However, his insights do not have a wide enough audience, particularly at a time when the agricultural guidance is dwindling despite the opening of the Agricultural Guidance Center in Qantara earlier this year under the auspices of the Agriculture Ministry.

"Agricultural guidance has been doing a good job lately, but only in the media, not on the ground," said Alaa Khairy,* an engineer at the Central Laboratory for Climate Change. "If they were really working on the ground, farmers would not have lost as much as they did."

More important crops like wheat will be next

What exacerbates the crisis is that those who are harmed the most are small farmers — those who have between 10 to 20 feddans of land — who cannot afford to take preemptive precautionary measures to mitigate erratic weather patterns nor hire experts who can help them make better decisions about how to handle sudden climate fluctuations. Those farmers also cannot afford to provide covers for their fruits during hot seasons, which is one way to prevent crop damage that is quite costly.

This year's crisis is expected to be repeated in the coming years due to the rapid consequences and effects of climate change on global food security. Aside from mangoes, the effects of climate change are projected to affect far more important crops, such as wheat, with reports showing global wheat crop losses due to heat and drought, a particularly worrisome development for Egypt — the largest importer of wheat in the world.

"In the coming period, agricultural engineers must become climate engineers as well," Suleiman said.


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