U.S. College Opening in Berlin Hopes to Give Degrees, Bolster Jewish Life

An American college with Jewish roots is planning to open a branch in Berlin.

The goal of Touro College Berlin will be twofold: to provide an American degree in business administration and to offer a traditional Jewish education, school founder Bernard Lander told JTA.

The first classes will be offered in the fall.

The goal is to have 30 students in the first year of a three-year program, Lander said. Students from Germany, Eastern Europe and other countries would be eligible to apply.

Touro will be the first American college in Berlin to offer an undergraduate program, according to the Berlin school’s founding director, Sara Nachama.

Though non-Jews are welcome, Lander said he is “trying to reach Jews wherever they are and to make life meaningful for them.”

“I want to establish an American business college with an American degree,” Lander, who founded Touro College in New York in 1971, told JTA.

“In every college career, there are professional courses and humanities, and for the Jewish students, their humanities courses will be in Judaism. So hopefully we will be able to help rebuild Jewish life in Germany.”

At a news conference here Wednesday, Lander signed a four-year contract with the State of Berlin.

The signing took place in the school’s future campus, a home that once belonged to Jewish owners.

When the property near the Berlin Forest was recovered after the war, the owners turned it over to the British occupying forces with the stipulation that it be used for educational purposes.

The British eventually gave the property to the city of Berlin. Touro has received the campus rent-free for the next four years, Nachama said.

The idea to found Touro in New York came in response to student riots in the late 1960s. Lander, a sociologist, wanted to open a smaller university to serve a generation revolting against large bureaucracies.

When he opened Touro College in New York 32 years ago, there were 35 students. Today, there are more than 15,000, in campuses in New York and Los Angeles. About 2,500 are pursuing Judaic studies.

In recent years, Lander, who says he is older than 80, has established both a secular and a religious institution in Moscow that offer American accredited degrees. Along with the Berlin school, he said he hopes to establish similar programs in France and Hungary.

There are some 100,000 Jews in Germany, two-thirds of them recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Jewish leaders see an urgent need to reach out to these Jews and to build a new generation of teachers and rabbis.

Several new programs of higher Jewish education have sprung up in recent years, including one at the University of Heidelberg, offered through the Central Council of Jews in Germany; the independent Abraham Geiger College at the University of Potsdam; and programs offered by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and Chabad Lubavitch.

The Touro Berlin Judaic studies program will be a nondenominational program offering everything from the basic alphabet to advanced study of the Bible and other texts.

German Jewish leaders are welcoming the school.

“For us, it is important that they don’t need our financial help,” Alexander Brenner, the leader of the Jewish community in Berlin, told JTA.

The Jewish community, like the city of Berlin, is experiencing financial problems.

Annual costs for students in the business program will be approximately $6,500, a high sum for German students who are accustomed to government-subsidized education.

But the Touro program hopes to obtain stipends for those pursuing Judaic studies — particularly for Russian- speaking and other Eastern European Jews in Germany.

The school hopes to receive help from the Foundation for Remembrance and the Future, set up by the German government and industry to pay reparations to Nazi-era slave and forced laborers. One stated aim of the foundation is to help rebuild Jewish life in Europe.

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