Berlin Jewry Envisions Change with Election of New Chairman

For the first time since World War II, Berlin’s Jewish community will be led by a member of the postwar generation.

German Jewish leaders hope that the generational change will revitalize the Berlin Jewish community, the largest in Germany, and accelerate the integration of Russian Jews.

This week, the Berlin Jewish community parliament elected 46-year-old Andreas Nachama to be its new director. He will replace 76-year-old Jerzy Kanal, who is retiring.

The more than 10,000 members of Berlin’s Jewish community elect a parliament every four years, which in turn elects a five-member board of directors and a chairman.

The new chairman of the parliament is Hermann Simon, director of the Centrum Judaicum, a research institute and museum in Berlin.

Nachama is the director of Berlin’s “Topography of Terror Foundation,” which sponsors a permanent exhibition on the crimes of the Gestapo.

The historian, who specializes in Jewish cultural affairs, received nationwide attention several years ago for a blockbuster exhibition he planned and organized in Berlin called “Patterns of Jewish Life.”

Ten years ago, Nachama conceived of and organized the “Jewish Cultural Days,” which has become a popular annual event in Berlin presenting films, discussions, music and theater on different aspects of Jewish life.

Nachama is the son of the Berlin Jewish community’s longtime cantor, Estrongo Nachama, one of the best-known cantors in Europe.

The new community head says the top priority for the new parliament is to improve the integration of Russian Jews, who now make up more than half the community members.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, more than 30,000 Russian Jews have moved to Germany.

In a recent newspaper interview here with the nationally distributed Franfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Nachama said it is important to attract more immigrants into community work to make the established community aware of their needs.

In the recent parliamentary elections, none of the Russian Jewish candidates who moved in the last decade to Berlin was elected.

During the campaign, some of those candidates charged that the previous parliament had displayed little or no interest in drawing the Russian Jews into the community.

But before he can focus on new tasks, Nachama will have to settle personal rivalries and restore credibility to the Jewish parliament. The previous board of directors had rejected charges of misuse of community funds and questionable dealings in real estate transactions carried out by members of the parliament and family members.

The publicity in the German press had weakened the power of the board of directors in the public perception, bringing the community’s affairs to a virtual standstill. The former parliament members involved in the charges did not run for re-election.

“Nachama is a good choice as someone who can try and bring community affairs back to normal,” according to Micha Gutmann, the former executive director of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

He said Nachama’s most immediate goal must be to quiet down the scandals that have surrounded the community and rebuild its political influence.

One area of conflict has been the community’s unclear position regarding a Jewish museum the city of Berlin plans to open next year.

City officials have tried to wrest control of the museum from the Israeli director, Amnon Barzel, to force a strong focus on local Jewish history.

In contrast, Barzel favors a more international approach that features exhibitions dealing with contemporary Jewish life.

Other pressing problems include community finances. The city of Berlin, which is in a financial crisis, is slashing numerous budget expenditures, including those to Jewish institutions.

For instance, the city recently announced it would no longer subsidize the popular Jewish adult education programs run by the community.

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