There is not much to tell about the succeeding years. The East Berlin AJ synagogue was destroyed during the war, and nobody from the old AJ, or from anywhere else, appeared to take an interest. In West Berlin, of course, there was a functioning Unified Jewish Community, consisting mainly of Russian Jews and a few other individuals from here and there. In East Germany, tiny Jewish congregations existed in some places, by the sufferance and/or sponsorship of the Communist regime. That is until about 1986. At that time, Ari Offenberg, a grandson of one of AJ’s founders, appeared in East Berlin together with his son Mario, to be designated by the Communist government as the rightful and legitimate resurrected Congregation Adass Jisroel. There were no other members in sight. Nevertheless the GDR government, with the personal approval of its lider maximo, Genosse Erich Honecker, proclaimed the Offenbergs as the legitimate, the continuing Adass Jisroel. Father Ari, however, remained in the background like a piece of stage prop. It was Mario, the son, who was and has remained as the star of post-war Adass Jisroel.
Once the Berlin wall fell and the city was re-united, Mario lost his GDR protection and his GDR subsidies. But he was undeterred. He launched a five-year litigation against Berlin’s Senate for the recognition of his AJ as a Jewish Community with equal status to the Unified Jewish Community, and, not coincidentally, for renewed subsidies from public sources. And after these five years, on October 15, 1997, he was given all that by the highest administrative court. Since then he has vocifirously campaigned against any and all who dare to question his bona fides, never hesitating to label his critics as anti-Semites, Stalinists, greedy Jewish oligarchs, as the case demanded. In the end, the Unified Jewish Community has declared some sort of a truce, under the theory, as one person explained it to me, that it is best to letting sleeping dogs lie. Offenberg has been sufficiently aggressive and media-savvy to intimidate all the various authorities of today’s Germany.
Mario Offenberg was born in 1946 in Tel Aviv and apparently served in the Israeli army, so of course he knows modern Hebrew (which, it goes without saying, is not the same as having had a Jewish religious education). In the late 1960’s he migrates to Berlin with his father, and studies there at the Free University. In 1975 he completes his thesis, which, as Ruth Gay explains, was an attack on Zionism. In 1977 he makes an anti-Israel movie, which receives an award from the PLO. His politics were anti-Zionist Trotskyism in those years. In 1975, he collaborates with Eike Geisel to translate into German an anti-Zionist pamphlet by the Trotskyist Nathan Weinstock. Together with Moshe Machover, he publishes an article in 1978 in the Israeli Trotskyist publication Khamsin, in which he attacked anyone on the Left who might support Israel.
What did the Jewish religion — not to mention Orthodox Judaism — mean to him in those days ? Henryk Broder interviewed a comrade of his from those days, who said that Ollenberg, at least at that time, was as much religiously Jewish as he himself was Santa Claus.
Now of course people can change. We know that Saul experienced an epiphany and became Paul. Moreover, we are also told that there is more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repenteth than over ninety-nine who have no cause to repent. Did Mario Offenberg, like Saul, have some sort of epiphany ? Did he repent of the radical Trotskyism of his youth and middle age ? Well, when Henryk Broder asked him about it, Dr. Offenberg opined that his time is much too valuable to discuss matters of that sort.
UPDATE, March 26, 2012: It now seems that a new court judgment has recognized the fraudulent nature of Offenberg’s operation, and that this so-called synagogue may well be forced to shut down.