Jewish Students Aid Owners of Kebab Shop Hit in Synagogue Attack

Jewish Students Aid Owners of Kebab Shop Hit in Synagogue Attack

2020-09-16 18:50:43

BERLIN — When a heavily armed, far-right extremist tried to storm a synagogue in eastern Germany a year ago, the failed attack revived the worst fears of anti-Semitism. But for clumsily built explosives and a locked door, the congregation inside narrowly escaped a massacre.

The thwarted gunman then trained his weapons on other targets of his hatred in the city of Halle, killing a young man having lunch at a nearby kebab shop, where he presumed he would find Muslims.

Since then, that kebab shop and the Turkish brothers who own it have fallen on hard times. But their plight recently drew the attention of several young Jews who also survived the Oct. 9 attack, and they decided to try to help, launching a GoFundMe campaign that immediately surpassed their expectations.

“We wanted to do something that would draw attention” to the owners’ struggles, “but would also provide concrete financial support,” said Ruben Gerczikow, vice president of the Jewish Student Union in Germany, which opened the drive last week.

“We were surprised by the positive reaction,” Mr. Gerczikow said. “We never dreamed that we could raise so much so quickly.” They passed their goal of collecting 5,000 euros, or $5,940, within days, and decided to extend the campaign until Yom Kippur, which falls on Sept. 28 this year.

That show of solidarity provides a hopeful counterpoint to a building trend of hate crimes in Germany, even as a far-right political fringe does its best to revive old demons. The fund-raiser has quietly demonstrated that many Germans still prize the country’s widening diversity and the postwar ethos of generosity that has long been part of Germany’s broader atonement for the Nazi crimes of last century.

This week Chancellor Angela Merkel decried the rise in anti-Semitism in Germany, warning in a speech to the Central Council of Jews that it is a reality “that many Jews don’t feel safe and respected in our country.”

“Racism and anti-Semitism never disappeared, but for some time now they have become more visible and uninhibited,” the chancellor said.

In particular, she cited the attack in Halle — the most severe of 2,032 anti-Semitic crimes recorded in Germany last year — as an example of “how quickly words can become deeds.”

A month after the Halle attack, the original owner of the kebab shop gave it to Ismet and Rifat Tekin, brothers who had worked for him. At a public ceremony he described it as a gesture of support for the men, who were working at the shop the day of the attack. The event drew widespread support from the community and beyond, with regional politicians pledging that they would not let the place founder.

“It is very important that the kebab shop reopens, because it is part of Halle,” Reiner Haseloff, governor of Saxony Anhalt state said at the reopening. “It is part of the cultural identity.”

But the months since have been marked by hardship and pain for the brothers and their business as the stigma of the attack lingered over the shop.

“Since it happened, everything is difficult and these difficulties make it even harder for us to process what happened on that day,” Ismet Tekin, a Turkish citizen who has lived in Germany for 12 years, said in an interview with Radio Corax before the trial began in July. “It is not something simple that we can just say, ‘It’s over.’”

Then, in March, the measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus forced residents to remain largely at home and reduced all restaurants to offering only pickup or delivery service, forcing the brothers to close their doors for weeks. After they reopened, many customers stayed away.

Running the business also left them little time to process the trauma of the attack. In particular, Rifat Tekin, who witnessed the fatal shooting inside the shop, has suffered psychologically, said Onur Ozata, an attorney who is representing Ismet Tekin in court.


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