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French Community Elects New Head of Religious Body

European Jewish Congress leader Jean Kahn has been elected to serve as president of the organization that handles Jewish religious affairs in France.

The organization, the Consistoire, was created by Napoleon in 1808 to represent French Jewry. Today it serves the 700,000 members of France’s Jewish community, the largest in Western Europe and the world’s fourth largest after those in the United States, Russia and Israel.

Jean Kahn is already president of CRIF, the umbrella organization that represents the Jewish community on the political level.

Sunday’s election put a temporary end to a bitter dispute dividing the lay leaders of the community.

The former president of the Consistoire, businessman Jean-Pierre Bansard, was forced out of his office in July after a protracted battle led against him mainly by Kahn, who had attacked some of Bansard’s financial decisions.

Bansard was also criticized for releasing political statements in the name of the Jewish community, a prerogative of CRIF’s president.

“My first aim is to re-establish unity within the Consistoire,” Kahn said in an interview after his election. “The financial situation has to be stabilized, and we need all forces to work in the same direction.”

The community is experiencing a large economic deficit. At the assemble, France’s Chief Rabbi Joseph Sitruk announced that banker Edmond Safra, president of the Safra Bank and the National Republic Bank, offered some $1 million – provided the Consistoire came up with an equal sum.

Because Kahn is serving out the unfinished portion of Bansard’s current term, the next round of elections will take place in 1996.

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