Germany’s largest Jewish communal organization faces chaos, discord

(JTA) — The Berlin Juedische Gemeinde, Germany’s largest communal organization, is facing intractable problems, from internal discord to crippling debt.

The organization, which became a public corporation in 1847, funds a variety of Jewish communal resources, including synagogues, schools, cemeteries and a nursing home. But the organization is deeply in debt to the German government, whose subsidies provide 60 to 80 percent of the Gemeinde’s operating budget, the Forward reported this week.  Guenter Kolodziej, a cultural affairs representative of the Berlin Senate, told the Forward that the Gemeinde owes millions of euros to the German government due to pension miscalculations going back decades.

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The organization also faces controversy surrounding its president, Gideon Joffe, a Russian-Jewish immigrant to Germany whose polarizing leadership has led to a petition drive to unseat him.

Moreover, the organization faces accusations of irrelevance, in that it has failed to accommodate the changing face of Berlin’s Jewry. A substantial portion of Germany’s Jews today are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who began arriving in the 1990s; in addition, the estimated  18,000 Israeli Jews living in Berlin today largely look elsewhere for Jewish support and communal activities.

“We are at the edge of chaos,” Rabbi Josh Spinner, CEO of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation in Berlin, told the Forward.