Leader of Berlin's Jewish community resigns

3rd November 2005, Comments 0 comments

3 November 2005, BERLIN - Albert Meyer, 57, the head of Berlin's expanding Jewish community, has announced his resignation after months of smouldering conflict among members of the community's executive.

3 November 2005

BERLIN - Albert Meyer, 57, the head of Berlin's expanding Jewish community, has announced his resignation after months of smouldering conflict among members of the community's executive.

Currently, some two thirds of the city's more than 12,000 community members are made up of Russian and Eastern European Jews, most of whom settled in the city after the communist collapse in the east.

This has led to problems integrating the newcomers in the past decade, due to many only having a superficial knowledge of the German language and, for that matter, knowledge of Jewish culture.

Misunderstandings and disputes between the community's long- settled Berlin members and refugees from the east have been stoked as a result.

Meyer, a lawyer by profession who was elected Berlin's Jewish community leader in January 2004, told the Juedische Allgemeine Wochenzeitung that "irreconcilable differences in the community's leadership" had resulted in his decision to step down.

"Constructive work has been made impossible for months," he complained. "Ambitious individuals are putting their interests above those of the community as a whole."

Meyer claims he has been a target for insults and abuse from opponents who have deployed "Stalinist methods" against him, and that he has been subjected to a wave of abuse from Jewish migrant circles in recent months.

His deputy, Arkadi Schneidermann, is his most powerful opponent. Besides lodging a renewed censure motion against the chairman, he has recently filed a summons against Meyer, actively accusing him of community "wrongdoing".

The Jewreskaja Gaseta newspaper, a widely read Russian newspaper in Berlin's Jewish community, also recently lashed out at Meyer, accusing him of intrigue and being responsible for creating growing anxiety within the Jewish community, and powerfully hinting he should be replaced.

Following a series of recent committee resignations, Meyer now finds himself outnumbered by his mainly Russian and Eastern European Jewish critics.

One of those to quit is Fredy Gross, a former vice-chairman, who said on resigning, that "what is happening here is damaging to the whole community".

Historian Julius Schoeps, the director of the Moses Mendelssohn Centre, agrees.

Schoeps speaks openly about the impact of Jewish refugee arrivals in Berlin, claiming that there have been difficulties, due to some of them having no "Jewish education" and to their being from "different cultural backgrounds".

However, despite the problems of integration, he still speaks positively of the next generation of Jews in Berlin being what he calls, "German Jews with an east European background" and of them forming a "new German Jewry", albeit different from the city's Jewish population in pre-Hitler 1933 when more than 170,000 Jews lived in Berlin.

Schoeps speaks of recent discussions being akin to "open psychiatry". He feels the city's interior minister should help defuse the current crisis by activating the state's supervisory control body.

In Dusseldorf, Paul Spiegel, the president of Germany's Council of Jews, is also worried by the current scene of chaos in the Jewish community.

With some officials worried that Berlin's Jewish community could be in danger of breaking up, Spiegel, a personal friend of the Berlin-born Meyer, has been closely monitoring events.

He talks of a "sad episode" and his concern at a disturbing state of affairs in the Jewish community.

When asked if he feels the current wrangling could lead to a serious split in the community, Schoeps for one says frankly "yes".

Already some older Jewish worshippers in the city's western districts are considering establishing breakaway independent synagogue organizations, separating them in a sense from new-wave Russian and Eastern European Jews.

Alarmed by recent events, both Berlin's governing Mayor Klaus Wowereit and outgoing Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer have been in touch with the city's Jewish leaders, underlining Germany's continuing willingness to promote and protect the Jewish tradition in the country.


Subject: German news

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