Rabbi Yehoshua Ahrens Inducted into Office
by Hannah Einhaus, 20 October, 2023
Henri Mugier (l) and Rabbi Elijahu Birnbaum after the handover of the new tallit as part of the installation of Yehoshua Ahrens as community rabbi.
Yesterday, the official investiture of Bern’s Rabbi Jehoschua Ahrens, who has been the community’s rabbi since August 1, 2023, took place.
Yehoshua Ahrens’ eleven weeks as rabbi of Bern have already seen several family celebrations, a death, the High Holidays and, most recently, several commemorations and mourning events in the wake of the Hamas attack on Israel. “Rabbi Josh,” as the people of Bern now affectionately call him, mastered all of this with flying colors. “You are a good fit for Bern,” said Henri Mugier in his role as synagogue commission president at the official investiture of the new rabbi on October 19th. Mugier, who would like to see Ahrens with a yellow and black YB kippah, shows indulgence: “It’s also ok if you wear the Eintracht Frankfurt kippah.” Since the Bernese prayer books contain the reference “In Frankfurt they say…” several times, “we pray in harmony with Frankfurt.”
Since Bern’s integration in football still needs some time, government councilor Evi Allemann provided orientation in Ahrens’ new sphere of activity with a booklet about the canton of Bern – so that he can make good progress, have a panoramic view, recognize challenges and make the right decisions when the road forks. Bern’s mayor Alec von Graffenried has already seen the rabbi face challenges. In his speech he recalled the mourning and memorial events of the last few days. “Yehoshua Ahrens was up to this crisis.”
The representatives of the Bern regional churches also spoke about the “difficult time” and the “shocking situation” after the Hamas attack on Israel. Ueli Burkhalter from the Evangelical Reformed Synodal Council signaled “solidarity with the victims in Israel and unity with Jews and Muslims in their belief in the one God.” Marie-Louise Beyeler from the Roman Catholic Regional Church Council signaled her solidarity with Ahrens. “We offer you a hand for interreligious dialogue here in Bern.” Karin Mykytjuk, executive director of the House of Religions, recalled the rabbi’s words. At an interreligious memorial event two days earlier, he had emphasized that every effort was worth “seeing the sister and brother in everyone.” Mustafa Memeti, former imam in the House of Religions, also signaled this attitude. Jews and Muslims have the same God, and with constructive cooperation, hurdles can be overcome. From Sasikumar Tharmalingam, the first Hindu priest in the world to also cook kosher, Rabbi Ahrens received a prayer shawl as a blessing, which symbolizes the universe.
Rabbi Avichai Apel, Vice President of the European Rabbinical Conference, praised Rabbi Ahrens as a person of dialogue: “He accepts people as they are.” He also notes this strength in his books and activities. Finally, Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum, director of the Ohr Torah Stone Straus-Amiel Institute in Israel, which trains rabbis for the diaspora, took part in the ceremony. He compared the rabbi’s role to a ladder as a link between each Jew and tradition, “and Ahrens is a leader with vision.”
After eleven intensive weeks in Bern, including barbecue and fondue evenings, Ahrens decided: “I have the feeling that as a rabbi I fit in well with the Bern community and the Bern community fits me well.”