There’s no other option, and ever so important!

It already was a globally unique project a century ago when Henry and Emma Budge started their foundation ‒ and then again through its re-establishment in the late 1950s.

Confronted with openly rising global anti-Semitism, once more so today. It’s the only home for both Jews and Christians in Germany, where Rabbi Andrew Steiman has the unique position of Jewish Chaplain. He is one of only two Rabbis in Germany employed by an institution other than a Jewish community (the other one by a university) providing pastoral care and counselling for the needs of Jews and non-Jews alike: the residents of the mixed multitude of Budge-Stiftung.

“I knew interreligious dialogue before, when I worked for the US Army”, Andy Steiman explains when confronted with the unique position he holds at Henry and Emma Budge Foundation in Frankfurt. His own and his family’s history is a story of its own, worth telling, but too long for this context. Only that much. Andy didn’t start out as a rabbi. He had been a translator in New York when he was sent to Frankfurt to translate for the army as a civilian, among others for General Colin Powell, who at that time was stationed in Frankfurt. “The Army rabbi at the base realized that I’m Jewish”, says Steiman. And that was when his new career got started. The Army supported his studies, and in return, Steiman served the chaplaincy till US troops left the area. He explains: “The US military chaplaincy is wonderful because it serves all beliefs – that’s exactly what the soldiers defend: our wonderful way of life and all the shared values that go along”.

In that sense, Steiman is still doing the same job – but for another generation. Budge-Stiftung is home for up to 330 residents, 160 thereof in the nursing department. Already at its foundation in 1920 it was meant to be an interface between Jews and Christians. “Henry and Emma Budge had left Germany and made a fortune in the USA, where they became citizens. After World War I they wanted to return home but were considered enemy aliens. They waited in Switzerland until allowed entry to Germany. While in Switzerland in 1920, Steiman tells, they started their foundation. By 1930, the foundation began operating in Frankfurt, opening its doors in a very modern building of Bauhaus style. Of the 50 first residents, half were Christians and half were Jews. This building still exists today and continues to be used for similar purposes. The foundation was liquidated during the Nazi years, and the Jewish residents were all deported and murdered.

As US citizens, Henry and Emma Budge were somehow protected from persecution. But after their deaths (Emma Budge died in 1937) the institution was “aryanized”: “The Nazis still had to fake some tax debt to get it on the way! None of the 23 Jewish residents survived. Most of them were deported to Theresienstadt.”

After the war it was historian Paul Arnsberg who initiated the idea of re-establishing the foundation. It took years before the foundation was able to relaunch its operation, now at a new location. The city of Frankfurt granted the new generous premises on the outskirts of town located on a hill overlooking the city’s skyline. Today’s building has a restaurant with two kitchens: a kosher and a non-kosher one. Among other amenities, there is a huge hall for concerts and other events that has been named after Arnsberg and his wife, with a synagogue and a chapel on either side. Steiman is employed by the foundation, while the protestant pastor has half a position and the catholic priest must fit his work into his regular schedule at the neighborhood Catholic parish. Steiman lives in the direct neighborhood which makes him very easy to reach even in emergencies, not only for the Jewish community.

“Our synagogue is a very open house”, he says. Many non-Jewish residents attend Friday evening Shabbat services, some more or less regularly. “And we have visitors coming from outside the Stiftung adding some younger age to our group. We are an Orthodox community, and everyone is welcome. Our guests like the open and liberal spirit that the older folks live here. We are also open to family celebrations such as Bar Mizvahs. The major holidays of both religions, Jewish and Christian, are always special occasions with special dinners on which everybody, also from outside, is welcome to attend.”

There are still Holocaust survivors living at the Stiftung. Some of them continue to visit schools, universities and churches to share their memories – and prevent them from getting forgotten. Steiman tells about an old lady who was very difficult to deal with: “Everyone despised her for her ever-bad mood. After she died another survivor explained that she had a child who was killed in her own hands. We didn’t know her awful history and were all ashamed afterwards for our own feelings toward her.”

There also is opportunity for unexpected friendships. Like the 92-year-old Catholic man, arriving in the Stiftung who “adopted” his Jewish roommate, who had never recovered from a stroke. “This was a very special relationship between two men in their elder years whose fate couldn’t differ more when they were youngsters. One of them was integrated into the Nazi system as a young man and the other one was outcasted by that same system as a young man who survived only by luck when it was still possible. They were not only good roommates; they were true friends!”

However, the Stiftung is not a paradise even though it may appear so from the outside. Steiman, after his long interreligious dialogue, has a few things to criticize: “It is obvious that Christians involved in dialogue are often frowned at within their Christian environments. But more worrying to me is when I have student groups here, how uninformed they are. In one group the students told about how Frankfurt is crowded with thousands of Jews because it’s a city of banks and therefore dominated by Jews. How do they know? It’s a fact, they said, everybody knows! That shows how important dialogue between Jews and Christians is these days – and how frustrating. But there’s no other option, and ever so important!”

Dieter Brockmeyer
Photos by Ernst Stratmann