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Martin Lövinson Recalls Jewish Emancipation and Enthusiasm for the German Wars of Unification (early 1870s)

Dr. Martin Lövinson (1859-1930) was a judicial counselor [Justizrat] and the son of a well-to-do Danzig merchant, Siegfried Lövinson, who had founded a factory for carved-oak furniture in Berlin in 1858. In 1865, the family moved to the city’s outlying suburb Charlottenburg, where they set up an orthodox synagogue in their home. In this excerpt from his memoirs (published in 1924), Martin Lövinson describes everyday religious observance in his boyhood and his reaction to national events from 1864 to 1871. Having joined the prosperous bourgeoisie, the family welcomed the legal emancipation of Jews in 1869 and German unification in 1871.

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My parents kept a strictly ritual Jewish household. Even if my father kept his business open on the Sabbath and did not avoid traveling, as long as I can remember he always said the prescribed prayers in the morning. It was only later that I noticed that he did not put on the tefillin (phylacteries). But he did wear the arba kanfot (small prayer shawl) beneath his undershirt, on his bare body.* That there was cooking at our home on the Sabbath and the High Holy Days I heard explained to grandmother Hirschberg as a measure undertaken in consideration of the small children. She herself, however, observed the old ritual laws in this regard. Every Friday we took her schalent** to the matzo oven on Heidereutergasse, opposite the old, so-called Great Synagogue, and picked it up again at noon on Saturday after the end of the main service, nicely baked and still warm. Even our freethinking Grandfather Lövinson did not refuse our dear grandmother’s occasional invitation to the tasty meal. I did see him, too, in the synagogue on the High Holidays, when, even at a young age, I was brought along by my parents. Otherwise, however, he had completely freed himself from the old tradition.

The present-day system of renting seats did not yet exist at that time; whoever did not own a seat, took any empty place at the service without trouble, particularly since entry into the House of God was not restricted in any way but rather was encouraged. Thus, as soon as I could walk I was very often taken along to the Old Synagogue, to which my grandmother went regularly, my mother as often as taking care of the little ones permitted, and the men of the family on the main holy days. Even today the organ is still banned from this old House of God. But the festive singing of the choir, of the celebrated cantor Lichtenstein, and of the congregation, as well as the sermons of the very popular, warmhearted rabbi, Dr. Sachs, made an indelible impression on my young spirit, even if I understood neither the German nor the Hebrew recitation; I cannot imagine my life without them. The wish to understand these beautiful customs, which elevated one above everyday life, awakened within me very early (and that was surely my father’s pedagogic aim). Of the welfare institutions of the Jewish community, on the other hand, at that time I only got to know the old-age home on Grosse Hamburgerstrasse. There, from time to time, bringing small gifts we visited an old miss, Emma Sachs, who must have been somehow related to grandmother and who, as I seem to vaguely remember, spent her last days and years there with an even older sister. So our parents placed value on awakening in us love for our ancestral religion and the thought that religion is lived and experienced, and not invented or contrived.

[ . . . ]

* Arba kanfot is a garment worn under their clothing by orthodox Jews. It has four knotted cords (tsitsit) at its corners, as prescribed in Deuteronomy 22:12. [All footnotes are from Monika Richarz, ed., Jewish Life in Germany: Memoirs from Three Centuries, trans. Stella P. Rosenfeld and Sidney Rosenfeld.]
** Schalent (schalet, cholent): a Sabbath dish, which must be prepared on the day before since cooking, as a form of work, is forbidden on the Sabbath.

"Published by Indiana University Press. Further reproduction is prohibited."

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