Berlin Jewish community squabble gets physical

BERLIN (JTA) – News that the state of Berlin is withholding a multimillion-dollar subsidy to the German capital’s Jewish community has exacerbated a schism in the communal leadership.

The Berlin Senate announced on May 12 that it would withhold the funding because the community’s president, Gideon Joffe, had failed to submit a legally required list of community employees and their salaries. Last year, the state provided approximately $16 million in funding to the community.

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Without the state’s funds, Joffe proposed to borrow against communal property to pay the salaries of approximately 300 employees. He also said he would provide the Berlin Senate with the required documents.

The passage of his proposal led to arguments at a May 23 meeting of the community’s board that degenerated quickly into a fight captured on a cell phone and posted on YouTube, providing enough evidence for police to press charges. Authorities also reportedly charged Joffe with stealing a cellphone from a representative who did not want to press the charges himself.

“We had no opportunity to ask which building, to ask who gives the money, to ask how long the loan would be for,” board member Tuvia Schlesinger told JTA.

Meanwhile, a petition launched in January calling for new community elections reportedly has gained momentum since the fight.

Divisions in the Berlin Jewish community have become more pronounced since the 2011 election of Joffe, who had previously served as president. The vote had to be repeated because of alleged irregularities.

The community has fewer than 11,000 members.

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