Berlin community troubles continue

Berlin Jewish community president Gideon Joffe (Toby Axelrod)

Berlin Jewish community president Gideon Joffe (Toby Axelrod)

The saga of Berlin’s dysfunctional, cash-strapped Jewish community continues.

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On the heels of community president Gideon Joffe being named to Tip magazine’s list of the 100 most embarrassing Berliners, a distinction derived in part from a May council meeting that erupted into a melee between opposing factions, the main opposition group finally submitted last month a petition for an early election aimed at ousting Joffe.

Now, the council appears set to undermine that effort — at least that’s how the opposition sees it.

After nearly a year of effort, the opposition barely squeaked in above the 20 percent of voting members required to sign the petition. That’s 1,833 names, even after the council subtracted those who had died or moved away.

Looks good, right? Not so fast. Council manager Michael Rosenzweig decided to check if those signatures were legit. So he had his office randomly call 60 signatories, 11 of whom denied they had signed. He simply had a “belly ache” over this discovery, Rosenzweig told reporters at a private meeting Wednesday.

Despite his tummy problems, Rosenzweig wrote to every legitimate name on the list to ask if they really had signed. Signatories have two weeks to respond by pre-stamped return envelope. If a handful fail to do so, or deny they’ve signed, the petition is out the window.

Initiative Neuwahl (New Election Initiative), as the opposition calls itself, is livid and seeking legal recourse. “It is further evidence that the [current leadership] … is only out to retain its power in the community as long as possible, in order to profit from it,” the group said in a statement on its website. “Obviously they don’t give a hoot for the democratic rules of our community.”

The latest developments may be evidence of nothing more than the continued unraveling of an already shaky community council, but even so, it suggests a possible new list for Tip magazine: Most embarrassing Berlin organizations.

Toby Axelrod is JTA’s correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week. She has won numerous awards from the New York Press Association and the American Jewish Press Association. She has published books on Holocaust history for teen-agers.