Zsolt Balla, a combat rabbi for the German army

By Anne Vidalie

Posted today at 00:47, updated at 04:17

Funny place to meet. Rabbi Zsolt Balla, Jewish chaplain in the German army, meets at the Café du Becycle, a fitness club in Berlin-Mitte, the center of the German capital. He apologizes: he only took office in June, his office is still under construction, his future team of ten rabbis being recruited. Whatever. In this trendy and bright place, women who come and go in leggings and sneakers pay no attention to this bearded man in a suit and tie and kippah.

Aquamarine eyes and a disarming smile, Mordechai Eliezer Balla, known as “Zsolt”, feels at home here, in Germany, in the country which made him the first rabbi of the Bundeswehr for a century. However, it was in Budapest, Hungary, that he was born in 1979. Until the age of 9, he knew nothing about his Jewishness. There is no exception, he assures, in the former Eastern countries: “Bringing oneself up as a Jew was not seen as very good for promoting one’s career or developing social relationships. “ At the time, he did not know anything about Auschwitz, where his aunt was close to death; nothing either of the labor camps which claimed the life of his great-uncle Eliezer. He has never heard of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, that Righteous who saved the lives of his mother and grandmother – and 20,000 other Jews – by providing them with false papers and lodging them in one of the buildings in the Hungarian capital rented by him and placed under diplomatic immunity.

Education and reading

In the 1980s, little Zsolt grew up in this Hungarian Democratic Republic so dear to his maternal grandparents, who preferred communism to their religion, Marx to their God. Her father, who had three sons from a previous union, is not Jewish. Lieutenant-colonel, he joined the ranks of the people’s army to flee his village on the Ukrainian border and thus escape poverty.

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Among the Balla, we cherish education and reading. That’s good, Zsolt loves books above all else, especially the Bible. In 1988, as the Iron Curtain began to tear in Hungary, places of worship gradually opened their doors. The boy then announces his decision: he wants to study Bible reading at the nearby Catholic church. ” I need to talk to you “, then lets go of his mother. “When I discovered that I was Jewish, I understood that I had a personal connection to the Scriptures, remembers the rabbi. Suddenly the Bible looked like an old family journal to me that I had found in the attic. “

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Zsolt Balla, a combat rabbi for the German army

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