Dedications of schools in Europe seen as part of fragile Jewish revival

VIENNA, Oct. 18 (JTA) – Three new Jewish education facilities operated by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation have been inaugurated in Central Europe, marking further milestones on the road to a Jewish revival in the region. Prime ministers, mayors and other senior politicians joined schoolchildren, parents and teachers, Jewish community members and representatives of world Jewry at the ceremonies Oct. 10 to 12 in Berlin, Vienna and Warsaw. Lauder himself, who established his foundation 12 years ago, attended events in all three cities. The foundation started with one school in Vienna with only about 100 pupils and has grown to serve 7,800 schoolchildren in 15 countries. “This is the realization of a dream that I had over a decade ago,” Lauder said at the Oct. 12 ceremony in Warsaw that dedicated a new, expanded campus for the Lauder-Morasha school. The school opened in 1995 with 18 pupils and now has a student body of 165 children, who study a dual curriculum of secular and Jewish subjects. “I saw that the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe needed support if they were to survive as Jews,” Lauder said. “The key to this is education.” Warsaw, where sixth-graders thanked him in Polish, English and Hebrew for their new campus – a renovated four-story building that served as a center for elderly Jews before World War II – was the last stop on the marathon series of events. The ceremonies kicked off Oct. 10 with the opening of a new teacher-training and resource center in eastern Berlin. On Oct. 11, a dedication ceremony took place for a state-of-the-art campus for the Lauder-Chabad school in Vienna, which will serve some 400 students, many of them recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In addition, Lauder was presented with high state awards honoring his work both in strengthening Jewish life as well as fostering local relations with Jews in Austria and Poland. In Warsaw, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski presented him with Poland’s Medal of Merit, in recognition of his contribution to the strengthening of Polish-Jewish relations. In Berlin, he received the Raoul Wallenberg Prize from the local B’nai B’rith chapter, which was presented by fashion designer Wolfgang Joop. At a ceremony in Vienna’s Hofburg Palace, Austrian President Thomas Klestil presented him with the Great Golden Medal of Distinction for Outstanding Service to the Republic of Austria. Local Jews were effusive in their appreciation of Lauder’s work and the foundation’s importance in fostering the still-fragile efforts at the revival in post-Holocaust, post-Communist Central Europe. In Berlin, Paul Spiegel, a member of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, hailed the new Lauder school as “a gift to future generations.” Jerzy Kichler, president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland told JTA, “The Lauder-Morasha school is the main center for the revival of Jewish education in Warsaw.” He said the fact that the ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek and Warsaw Mayor Pawel Piskorski as well as parents and local Jews indicated the importance Poland’s political establishment places on Jewish renewal. In a speech during the ceremony, Buzek quoted a passage from the Talmud about the world being “sustained by children” and called the new campus “magnificent proof” of Poland’s Jewish revival “after the Shoah.” In Vienna, where the dedication of the striking new school campus took place just a week after the anti-foreigner Freedom Party came in second in national elections, political leaders and Jewish leaders both stressed the importance of the Jewish revival. Ariel Musikant, the president of the Austrian Jewish community, said the $8 million new school facility, funded by the Lauder Foundation but built on land donated by the city of Vienna, represents an answer to xenophobes and extremists. “To build a school secures Jewish life in the future,” he said.
(JTA Executive Editor and Publisher Mark Joffe in Warsaw and correspondent Toby Axelrod in Berlin contributed to this report).

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