BERLIN (JTA) — A new outreach center for Jews opened in the former East Berlin.
"We needed a cool place" for Jews, said Sharon Chernyak of Leipzig, who works as a student leader at the new Lauder Am Echad Center for National Outreach. And "we needed a big place for a big family." Chernyak was one of several speakers at Sunday’s opening ceremonies, at which philanthropist Ronald Lauder tapped a mezuzah into place.
Jews in Germany used to be afraid to have "too many Jews in one place," Lauder said to a roomful of rabbis, Jewish students and community leaders. "This place is the missing link."
The big white house on Kastanienallee, which sits amid cafes, bars and chic boutiques, aims to be a gathering place for young Jews, whether secular or traditional, Rabbi Josh Spinner, the vice president of The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and director of its educational projects in Germany, told JTA.
Spinner said Am Echad will host a new Youth Empowerment program for 20 handpicked participants at a time that will include the study of Jewish texts and professional leadership training.
Local Jewish philanthropists and businessmen Ariel Schiff and Samuel Czarny purchased the building for Am Echad. Program sponsors are the Lauder Foundation and the Central Council of Jews in Germany.
The new program is among several signs of growth and vitality in the German Jewish community, whose membership has grown fourfold to about 105,000 in the past two decades, in large part due to the arrival of Jews from the former Soviet Union.