Conflict smoulders in Berlin's Jewish Community

19th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

20 April 2007, Berlin (dpa) - A smouldering conflict among Berlin's 12,000- member-strong Jewish community has escalated in recent months, with prominent former officials speaking openly about the possible creation of a "breakaway" organisation in the city. Albert Meyer, who resigned as the community's chairman in 2005, citing "irreconcilable differences" among the leadership, now talks of the organization being "dominated by Russian-born Jewish immigrants." A lawyer by profession, Meyer believes that if a

20 April 2007

Berlin (dpa) - A smouldering conflict among Berlin's 12,000- member-strong Jewish community has escalated in recent months, with prominent former officials speaking openly about the possible creation of a "breakaway" organisation in the city.

Albert Meyer, who resigned as the community's chairman in 2005, citing "irreconcilable differences" among the leadership, now talks of the organization being "dominated by Russian-born Jewish immigrants."

A lawyer by profession, Meyer believes that if a new Jewish organisation was created in Berlin, it would draw "at least 300 members away from the existing Jewish community, possibly more," and hints that discussions regarding the location of a new synagogue have already started.

Berlin's Jewish community is the biggest in Germany, and rumours of splits worry the Berlin government, which has resolutely backed the community ever since 1959, when a new community centre was opened on the site of the former Fasanenstrasse synagogue.

Equipped with a diversified infrastructure, the community today operates a kindergarten, elementary school and Jewish high school. There are also cultural programmes and social support for the integration of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Shabbat services get held in six community synagogues of different style - from orthodox to liberal.

But, already three years ago tensions began to flare within the community. Berlin's governing mayor Klaus Wowereit and then foreign minister Joschka Fischer stepped in to reassure its leaders of the government's continued willingness to promote and protect the city's Jewish tradition.

Meyer and historian Julius Schoeps, director of the Moses Mendelssohn Centre in Potsdam, had warned that "internal wrangling and disputes" between the community's long-settled Berlin members and immigrant refugee arrivals from eastern Europe was making "constructive work virtually impossible."

Gideon Joffe, for his part, has since rejected Meyer's claims that members from the former Soviet Union play too dominant a role in Jewish community affairs, or that many of them had failed to integrate in Berlin.

Most have "integrated wonderfully in Berlin," he said recently. (Eighty per cent of Jewish community membership is made up of eastern immigrants who flooded into Berlin after the Wall fell and Germany was reunified.)

Meyer, however, insists Berlin's Jewish Community must not be allowed to become a "Russian speaking culture organization" by the present leadership.

Since 1993, the Jewish community's 9.3-million-euro annual subsidy from the city authorities has been contractually regulated. The subsidy enables it to fund its schools, cultural and social programmes etc.

Jewish refugees from Russia and parts of Eastern Europe were enthusiastically welcomed when they began arriving in Berlin in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Jewish community membership, which had been stagnant at around five to six thousand for decades, doubled within a few years. But eventually the flow of arrivals became so great the authorities had to slow down procedures.

Professor Schoeps once called the eastern European immigrants the "next generation of Jews in Berlin," who could help create a "new German Jewry" - albeit different from the city's Jewish population in pre-Hitler 1933 when more than 170,000 Jews lived in the German capital.

But problems of integration, due to some having no formal "Jewish education," and others being from "totally different cultural backgrounds to Jews of German origin" had complicated matters.

DPA

Subject: German news

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