BERLIN (JTA) – A little bit of Israel has been moved to Berlin: A gleaming new wall modeled after the famous one in the Old City of Jerusalem now graces the new Chabad Jewish community center here.
The center opens officially Sunday with ceremonies and a street fair. Festivities will include a concert featuring singer Avraham Fried and 30 rabbis from across the world, including Meir Lau, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv. Also attending will be German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, as well as the ambassadors of the United States, Britain and Russia. A live broadcast of the ceremonies reportedly is under consideration.
The Szloma Albam House is the first privately funded Jewish community center in Germany since World War II, Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal said Monday during a private tour of the facility for journalists.
Why bring 19 tons of Jerusalem stone to Berlin?
The Western Wall in Israel is “probably the most powerful symbol of the survival of the Jewish people,” said Teichtal, 34, who conceived and directs the new center. “Of course if someone asks, they should go to Israel. But we know there are 200,000 people of the Jewish faith in Germany, and we have to make it possible for them to learn.”
About 120,000 people are registered members of Jewish communities in Germany, but estimates of the true number of Jews here run far higher, including those who are not affiliated. The official Jewish population has more than quadrupled since 1990 with the influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union.
Berlin features several active synagogues ranging from Reform to Orthodox. In addition, the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation has a yeshiva for men and a midrash for women in the eastern part of the city.
The new center, whose design by architect Sergei Tchoban was nominated for a prize, includes a synagogue, classrooms and kosher facilities. Much of the project cost of approximately $7 million was donated in small sums by many individuals, Teichtal said.
The main donors are the Szloma Albam Foundation and the Rohr Foundation.
Teichtal said approximately $1.4 million is still needed.
“We believe and hope that God will continue to help,” he said, “because the whole thing is a miracle.”