Behind the Headlines: Jewish School Principal Wonders: Where Are Berlin’s Teen-age Students?

One year after the first postwar Jewish high school in Germany opened here, school officials admit they are having a hard time attracting Jewish pupils.

Of the 27 students in the first high school class, some two-thirds were Jewish. But only one-third of the incoming class of 25 students are Jewish, and principal Uwe Mull admits that Jewish students are hesitant about coming to the new school.

A key problem, Mull said in a recent interview, is that prominent Jews in the community have chosen not to send their children to the new high school, and this has been detrimental to the school’s efforts to attract Jewish pupils.

“When a prominent board member (of Berlin’s Jewish community), a director at one of the other Jewish schools and a religious teacher decide not to send their children to the high school, it’s very difficult to work against such an advertisement,” Mull said.

Officials in the Jewish community did not return phone calls.

Jewish parents here tend to send their children to one of the community’s elementary schools, but have taken a wait-and-see approach about the 1-year-old high school.

“I did not want to send my kid to another experiment,” said one parent.

Mull acknowledged that a new school must first establish itself, but expressed disappointment with the reaction of the community.

In a recent interview, retired Rabbi Ernst Stein said the lack of interest in the Jewish high school is symptomatic of the Jewish community’s lack of interest in things religious.

“Everything that Rabbi Stein said is true,” Mull said.

Expressing optimism that in the long run the school will gain acceptance, he said that the school has garnered strong political support from the city government.

Officials at the high school have not yet decided just what its religious orientation will be. Mull favors a school that has a Jewish tradition but remains open to non-Jews.

The Jewish high school is located smack in the center of the city’s former Jewish neighborhood in what was formerly East Berlin. It is an area where Jewish culture is on the rise.

The school itself was a Knabe, or boys school, before the war. Hitler closed it in 1942 and turned it into a deportation center.

But the high school’s historic location is actually working against it. Most of the city’s Jewish population lives in the western part of the once-divided city, and many western parents are skeptical of a school in the east.

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