Financial crisis threatens German Rabbi school

Financial crisis threatens German Rabbi school

30th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

Based at the University of Potsdam, the college offers the first Rabbi teaching course in central Europe since the Holocaust.

The global financial firestorm unleashed by the meltdown in America's risky mortgage business is starting to sweep through aspects of life, which might have seemed immune to a shakeout in shares and the banking system.

But 15 months into the crisis with economic uncertainty growing and credit drying up, the effects of the financial market turmoil is beginning to impact dramatically on a range of activities, including even a new college for Rabbis in Germany.

"Without effective and rapid help we will have to close," said Walter Homolka, the rector of the Abraham Geiger College in the city of Potsdam, the historic capital of the German state of Brandenburg that surrounds Berlin.

After surviving the recent slump in the dollar, the college is now facing a collapse in donations from the US and Europe as a result of what is the world's biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Based at the University of Potsdam, the college offers the first Rabbi teaching course in central Europe since the Holocaust.

Candidates for the ordination to rabbi Daniel Alter (L) from Germany, Malcom Mattitiani (C) from South Africa and Thomas Kucera (R) from the Czech Republic pose with the director of the Abraham Geiger College Walter Homolka (2nd L) and the vice-president of Germany's Council of Jews Dieter Graumann (2nd R) 13 September 2006 at the city hall of Dresden, eastern Germany, one day before the ordination of the candidates.  AFP PHOTO DDP/NORBERT MILLAUERHomolka said the college's closure would represent a major loss to Germany and setback its drive to recreate a Jewish community in the nation more than 70 years after the Nazis conspired to wipe out Jewish life in the country.

The college, which held its first ordination in 2006, was evidence of the "renewal of Jewish life" in Germany, he said.

College graduates have taken up posts in Cape Town, Barcelona and Hanover. The next ordination is set down for June 2009.

But apart a setback to Germany's Jewish community, Homolka said shutting down the college would damage the nation's image "in a way that it was not possible to comprehend."

He went on to say that there was not an alternative location for the college, which was established about a decade ago.

The college has, however, been waiting for about two years for financial support from Germany's state governments.

Potsdam's culture ministry said Brandenburg, which provides the college with 50,000 euros a year, planned to press culture ministers from other states to piece together about 200,000 euros (273,000 dollars) to help the college survive the present crisis.

Brandenburg provides the college with 50,000 euros a year. The college is also financed by Germany's Federal Government and the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

German President Horst Koehler (C) delivers a speech during an official Holocaust ceremony in parliament (Bundestag) to commemorate the Nazi regime victims on January 27, 2009 in Berlin. The ceremony was attended by the majority of Germany's political class including Chancellor Angela Merkel but Germany's most prominent Jewish organisation, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said it would boycott the ceremony because of perceived snubs in recent years. AFP PHOTO DDP/ AXEL SCHMIDT

Homolka said that as a result of dwindling donations and the failure of money from the states to materialize, a large hole had now developed in the college's 2009 budget and that it was short about 50 percent of the funds it needed to finance its activities.

Without a dramatic turnaround in the college's financial fortunes, "an internationally recognized Rabbi training program in Germany will permanently disappear," said Homolka.

Despite the recent fall in the dollar, which resulted in the US currency hitting an all-time low against the euro earlier this year, the college has managed to raise 1.5 million euros in donations.

Germany's Jewish community

"Above all, American donors, which include immigrants from Germany, have over 10 years supported a Rabbi course with a close relationship to the University of Potsdam," said Homolka.

In 2006, the college forged a new financing concept, which would involve the costs for its operations being shared between Germany's 16 states and the nation's Central Council of Jews, he said.

But he said the states' share of the college's costs had still not been approved.

"The financial crisis and its impact on donations showed that rabbi training in Germany can not be dependent over a long period of time on financial help from private American citizens," said Homolka.


Top photo credit: President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Charlotte Knobloch © AFP PHOTO DDP/OLIVER LANG

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