Two Jewish Groups in Germany Vying for Soviet Immigrants

The established Jewish community in Berlin is competing with a small but well-connected rival for the allegiance of Soviet Jewish emigres arriving in the newly united city.

The mainstream Jewish community, led by Heinz Galinski, is being challenged in its authority by Adass Jisroel, a congregation now located in what was formerly East Berlin which claims to be the legitimate successor to the Adass Jisroel that was destroyed by the Nazis before World War II.

The Orthodox group, formed in 1869, seceded from the main wing of the Jewish community in 1885.

In today’s Jewish community in Germany, both the main body and Adass Jisroel hope to increase their numbers and influence by co-opting Soviet Jews who arrive in Berlin at a rate of about 20 a day.

Galinski’s organization, which represents the merged East and West German Jewish communities, has expanded its Jewish education programs and social assistance.

Adass Israel, led by members of the Offenberg family, is offering Hebrew courses at its headquarters in former East Berlin.

The premises were made available to Adass Jisroel by Lothar de Maiziere, the last prime minister of East Germany before unification last month with West Germany.

De Maiziere, a Christian Democrat and an attorney, used to represent the Offenbergs at the time the Communists were in place.

When he was chosen to be East Germany’s first non-Communist leader, de Maiziere enabled large sums of money to be made available to start a revived Adass Jisroel community and accorded the group official government recognition.

He did this despite bitter opposition from the East and West German Jewish communities, which were still separate entities when de Maiziere took office in April.

GROUPS DON’T SPEAK TO EACH OTHER

The leaders of the mainstream and Adass Jisroel communities do not speak to each other, much less coordinate activities aimed at absorbing Soviet Jews.

Galinski has complained repeatedly about the preferential treatment the Offenbergs get from de Maiziere.

Legitimacy is the root of the conflict. The Offenbergs and the small group they lead insist they are the rightful successors to the separate Orthodox community that once existed in Berlin. They have held several memorial meetings to emphasize that fact.

Leaders of the national Jewish community say Adass Israel’s real aim was to gain control over the land and buildings once owned by the pre-war congregation.

They argue that the division of Berlin Jewry more than 100 years ago between a mainstream liberal and a smaller Orthodox group is not relevant today.

The Offenbergs and their supporters say they are not motivated by religious arguments, as there is little or no difference in the religious practices of the two groups.

They frankly admit they are striving for control.

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