German Jews mending fences

BERLIN, June 16 (JTA) — Following internal Jewish tensions that threatened to involve Germany’s federal government, relations seem to be warming between the main umbrella organization of German Jews and the local Reform movement. The Central Council of Jews in Germany reportedly is to discuss cooperation with the Union of Progressive Jews, as the German Reform movement is known, at the council’s board meeting June 20. According to the council’s general secretary, Stephan Kramer, the board is considering including Progressive congregations in Central Council seminars, supporting liberal youth groups, opening access to summer programs for children and helping to fund integration programs for new immigrants. If that happens, the union is likely to drop its threats to sue the German government for alleged discrimination in its contract with the Central Council. The contract, signed in January 2003, stipulates $3 million per year in federal funding for the council, but Reform officials say they haven’t been given proportionate access to council funds. The Central Council says its doors are open to diversity. Until now, however, the council has not accepted liberal congregations, saying they must first meet various legal requirements. Union representatives claim the Central Council has put up obstacles to stifle competition. But the union’s vice president, Katarina Seidler, told JTA she’s cautiously optimistic that the Central Council now will move to establish a formal relationship with the liberal congregations, who have an estimated 3,000 members. Kramer said ways will be found to include the liberal group, as well as other organizations, including Chabad-Lubavitch, under the Central Council umbrella. The council currently includes 105,000 Jews in member congregations. Seidler, who also heads the union’s only state association, in Lower Saxony, said the liberal group will file suit against the government if there’s no clear progress by mid-August. The deadline for filing suit is Aug. 16, she said. But Reform officials said they hoped things wouldn’t get to that stage. “I have received very positive indications and I am delighted to know we are moving to a constructive, hopefully mutually beneficial relation,” said Rabbi Uri Regev, director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Sources said there even may be possibilities for cooperation between the rabbinic programs of the council and the union, which until now have remained separate. The latest development follows a series of private discussions in May between representatives of the two groups. Kramer said in an interview that he has received assurances from Jan Muehlstein, president of the union, that the union does not want to establish a separate council but prefers to become part of the existing community organization. Seidler remains skeptical, however. “Maybe Sunday’s meeting will be positive,” she said, “but I’ll believe it when it’s in writing.”

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