Berlin's Jews Feud Amid Financial Chaos and Internal Strife

Fistfights and Power Struggles Divide Growing Community

All’s Not Well: Berlin’s Jewish community is thriving and it’s more diverse and accepted than ever. So why is the main community group imploding amid power struggles and fiscal strife?
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All’s Not Well: Berlin’s Jewish community is thriving and it’s more diverse and accepted than ever. So why is the main community group imploding amid power struggles and fiscal strife?

By Donald Snyder

Published June 05, 2013.
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“Both the current leadership and the opposition would do well to remember that when the china breaks, it cannot be put together again,” Spinner warned. “The damage being caused, not only to the political structure of the community but to the perception of Jews and Jewish life in the city, will not be easily reversed, if at all.”

The Jewish community also owes Berlin $7.85 million because of pension payment miscalculations that go back decades. Joffe said he agrees the debt must be paid, but he argued that the government should give the community an additional $1.3 million a year to help pay it.

As the Forward went to press, the Juedische Gemeinde board was preparing for a meeting June 6, the final gathering meeting prior to its regular summer recess. Asked why the agenda did not include a discussion of the budget crisis, Joffe replied, “Right now it is not on the agenda,” adding, “I’m sure the representatives will raise questions about it.”

Joffe went on to say that discussion of the budget situation would depend “on the aggression the opposition shows.” Joffe said he hoped the meeting would be peaceful, but he added, “If the opposition behaves the way they did in the last meeting, I am not sure we would be willing to cooperate.”

Joffe’s opponents say it was Joffe and his supporters who started the brawl May 23. Joffe’s opponents describe him as authoritarian and as divisive. “His path has been confrontation and polarization,” Lagodinsky said. “He does not want to make his work transparent, and he does not want to share power.”

Maya Zehden, who was active in the community until Joffe became chairman, in March 2012, said the leadership is not really democratic. “I feel ashamed of what’s going on there,” she said. “He operates like a monarch.”

Joffe earns $157,000 a year as the leader of the Juedische Gemeinde. His predecessor, Lala Susskind, among Joffe’s opponents, served as a volunteer and earned nothing.

Immigration, largely from Russia, has swelled the city’s Jewish population and made it more diverse.

Spinner raised questions about the future of the Juedische Gemeinde. “It was designed for a relatively small, relatively homogeneous population,” he said. “Today’s Jewish population in Berlin is no longer small, nor is it homogeneous.”

The Lauder Foundation executive vice president said that the communal structure would have to change to allow greater autonomy for the various communities now under its umbrella. Otherwise, he said, “there is little hope that the structure will hold.”

“It’s a highly unfortunate situation,” Berger said. “I don’t know what will happen now.”

Contact Donald Snyder at feedback@forward.com


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