Page 83 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

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LEO B A E C K : THE C E NT EN A R Y
AND THE MAN
B y A
lbert
H.
F
riedlander
L
eo Baeck was born on May 23, 1873, in Lissa, located in Posen
on the border between Poland and Germany. It was a border
city in many ways, with cross currents and intermingling cultures.
As the city of Amos Comenius and of Rabbi Akiba Eger, it was
representative of much that was noble and unique in the Jewish
and non-Jewish world in the last years of the 19th century. Eugen
Taeubler, the great Jewish historian whose life story came to
be interwoven with that of Leo Baeck in the early, middle and
final years of their existence, once wrote an appreciation of
Lissa:
“Nothing was as important for the awakening and develop­
ment of my historical and political sense as this: that in my
early youth, within a small town that had largely remained
Polish, and in which my father was a confidant to both parties,
I could not only observe these strained relationships but would
also be forced into them myself. . . I have never lost the feel­
ing and conscious knowledge that basically I am a Jew from
Posen."
And so was Leo Baeck. His father was the rabbi of the city. He
was its child. The ambiance of its cultural conflicts, of its time-
boundness and its timelessness shaped Baeck's character. There
were so many claims upon him from the beginning that none
could enslave him. His loyalty ultimately asserted the moment
of his birth when he entered the covenant of Jewish existence.
Baeck was a Jew who became a rabbi because for him the cove­
nant could best be fulfilled in this way. At the old imperial Court
or in the twilight days of German Jewry; in the concentration
camp; addressing a joint session of the Congress; teaching rab­
binic students in Cincinnati or sitting down to a
seder
in Jeru­
salem—he was no more and no less than a
rav
from Posen rep­
resenting his people.
The Jewish cities of Europe are a thing of the past. Prague,
Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Cracow—let alone Lissa—no longer
sparkle with the wit and humor, the febrile intellectual excite-
men which was the leaven of European culture. The teachers
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