New Jewish educational center to be built in Berlin

Marcy Oster

BERLIN (JTA) — Amid signs of growing anti-Semitism in Germany, a new Jewish educational center aimed at reaching Jews of all stripes, as well as their non-Jewish neighbors, is being built in Berlin.

“Much has been said about fighting anti-Semitism in Germany, and this is something tachles, this is something concrete,” Yehuda Teichtal, a rabbi in Berlin’s Jewish community and executive director of Chabad Lubavitch Berlin, said Tuesday announcing the June 10 groundbreaking ceremony for the Jewish center, which German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is expected to attend.

When construction is completed in about two years, the Pears Jewish Campus – adjacent to the Chabad Jewish Education Center – will house a school for up to 500 pupils ages 5 to 20; a gym, a library and event spaces. It is expected to cost about 18 million euro, or about $21 million, of which 2/3 has been secured, Teichtal said. The main donors so far are the British-based Pears Foundation, the German federal and state governments, and other private and public foundations.

The project, in the works for several years, is one of several planned expansions of Jewish infrastructure in Berlin. The Masorti (Conservative) movement will open a Jewish elementary school this fall, and Berlin’s traditional Frankeluefer Synagogue recently announced plans for a new Jewish community center on the site of its historical building, which was destroyed in the pogrom of Nov. 9, 1938.

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Berlin has some 10,000 affiliated Jews. Anecdotally, there are at least twice as many more who are not affiliated, including about 10,000 Israelis.

In all, Germany’s Jewish population is about 200,000, of whom about half are affiliated with Jewish communities. Most came from the former Soviet Union since 1990, and not all are Jewish according to halacha, or religious law; the latter are not able to join communities under the umbrella of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Teichtal said the Pears Jewish Campus is designed to serve Jews across the country, and he said it will be open to all. Boarding facilities will accommodate students from outside Berlin. There will also be adult education programs.

Architect Sergei Tchoban, of Russian-Jewish background, donated his design of a “bean-shaped” structure with a footprint of 7,000 square meters and a height of some six stories. Its partially blue surface will symbolize Jewish themes, from the Israeli flag to the colors of the tallit, or prayer shawl.

Setting a public sign of pride in Jewish identity is important to Teichtal, who has experienced anti-Semitism personally. Recently, he was cursed at by unknown perpetrators while out walking with one of his daughters.

“I am used to it, but I just wish my daughter did not have to experience that,” Teichtal told JTA, adding that he reported the incident.

With the new center “we want to set a signal: If you build, you are showing trust,” Teichtal said. “We know that trust has to be nurtured, nourished and supported… We are opening our hands and saying that there is a future here for Jewish people, too.”