Former Community Rabbi of Berlin and an incumbent Member of the Executive Board of the IRWF, Rabbi Ernst Stein, will be awarded a Doctor Honoris Causa degree by the oldest Berlin’s academic institution, the world-prestigious Humboldt University.
This well merited award is in recognition to Rabbi’s Stein life-long dedication to instilling the values of Judaism to Jews and Gentiles alike, and for his invaluable contribution to the dialogue between all the faiths.
Rabbi Stein was born on May 10, 1929, in Elberfeld, Germany, moving then to Mannheim with his typical upper middle class intellectual Jewish-German family. In November 1938, while his father was away on a business trip in the USA, Rabbi Stein, together with his mother and brother, witnessed the destruction of their home, including its furniture and the precious books they had. This tragic memory lives on with him to this very day. His older brother managed to join the Youth Aliyah movement and escaped to Palestine. Rabbi Stein and his mother fled to Shanghai with the last available train.
Life in Shanghai was harsh. Hunger, cold and starvation were present all the time. Rabbi Stein and his mother survived thanks to a daily bowl of soup from the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Without any money left, he had to give-up school and learned to become a blacksmith. In Shanghai, due to the precarious conditions in which he lived, he contracted meningitis. The sequels of this serious illness are still impacting his health.
In the wake of the war, the whole family (including his father) reunited in Jerusalem, where he worked as a blacksmith, but feeling that he was missing his real vocation, he went back to Mannheim and tried to embrace the enlightened Jewish tradition he knew from home. His years in post-war Germany were extremely difficult, as the Germans did not try to compensate or help him and he lacked the necessary documentation to prove his skills.
Soon after, he and his wife moved to the USA where he worked in a metal factory and at the same time studied on his own Jewish philological, philosophical and humanistic tradition. Rabbi Stein is an accomplished autodidact.
Since he could not abandon his German-Jewish roots and intellectual heritage, he felt compelled to travel often to Germany and during his visits there he grieved the fragile state of the Jewish congregations there. On one occasion, back in 1972, he met Rabbi Nathan Peter Levinson, who encouraged him to attend the Leo Baeck College in London, where he eventually got his ”smicha” (confirmation as Rabbi). Coincidentally, the 23rd of November is the birthday of Rabbiner Levinson, who – whenever his state of health will allow – will join the event as a special birthday present for him: a fruit of his efforts. From 1980 till 1997, Rabbi Stein served as the Community Rabbi of Berlin.
After his retirement, Rabbi Stein continues working for Jewish congregations around Berlin, Mannheim and Brighton. He is also dedicated to teaching Jews and non-Jews about Judaism and human universal values.
For those who have learned with him, Rabbi Stein has become a role model: A unique teacher and an open minded partner in dialogue.
Rabbi Ernst Stein, symbolizes the story of Germany in the last 80 years, including the most tragic era known by mankind – the Holocaust, and the revival of the Jewish people, from its ashes. He still carries the scars of his tragic past.
Founded in 1810, the Humboldt University is recognized as one of the 100 finest academic institutions of the world. In many senses, it has forged the story of modern Germany, being the home to many German thinkers and scientists, such as the philosophers Johann Gottlieb Fichte, G.W.F. Hegel and Arthur Schopenhauer, and physicists of the caliber of Albert Einstein and Max Planck. Among its alumni, there are 29 Nobel Prize winners.
At the same time, during the Nazi reign, the Humboldt University mirrored the horrors of Germany, becoming a Nazi educational institution where 20,000 books from its libraries were taken to be burned in the Bebelplatz and some 250 Jewish professors and employees were sacked and deported.
It is therefore a highly symbolic gesture of apology and reconciliation that the Humboldt University extends this honorary degree to Rabbi Stein, who embodies so vividly the tragic relationship between Germany and Judaism. Moreover, bearing in mind Rabbi Stein’s awe-inspiring professional and spiritual achievements, every prestigious academic institution in the world would be honored by awarding the Doctor Honoris Causa degree to such an accomplished person. It would be therefore appropriate to state that it is Rabbi Stein who distinguishes the Humboldt University by accepting this honorary degree.
On November 23, 2009, on this happy occasion, Rabbi Stein will not stand alone. With him will be the spirit of the six million Jews who were massacred by the Nazis and their collaborators. With him will also be the numerous women and men who, like Raoul Wallenberg, risked their own lives in order to save the persecuted ones.
The voices of all these sacred souls are still lingering in the infinite Universe. Rabbi Ernst Stein’s mission is to carry their word. On November 23, he will stand at the podium of the Humboldt University as their worthy representative.