Major German Jewish group seen on brink of breakdown

(JTA) — Germany’s largest Jewish communal organization, beset by crippling financial problems and internal struggles, is “at the edge of chaos,” a Jewish official said.

The Berlin Juedische Gemeinde, a public corporation, is deeply in debt to the German government, which provides 60 to 80 percent of the group’s operating budget, the Forward reported this week.

Guenter Kolodziej, a cultural affairs representative of the Berlin Senate, told the Forward that the Gemeinde owes millions of euros to the German government due to pension miscalculations going back decades.

Internally, a petition drive has been seeking to unseat president Gideon Joffe, a Russian-Jewish immigrant who has polarized the organization with his leadership.

Gemeinde funds communal resources including synagogues, schools, cemeteries and a nursing home.

Observers also say the organization has failed to accommodate the changing face of Berlin’s Jewry, which includes a substantial portion of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who began arriving in the 1990s. In addition, the estimated  18,000 Israeli Jews living in Berlin largely look elsewhere for Jewish support and communal activities.

“We are at the edge of chaos,” Rabbi Josh Spinner, CEO of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation in Berlin, told the Forward.

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