Berlin State Senate forced to turn over withheld funds to Jewish community


BERLIN (JTA) — The Berlin State Senate must hand over some $1.3 million in funds it withheld from Berlin’s cash-strapped Jewish community, a Berlin court ruled.

The Administrative Court of Berlin said in Monday’s ruling that the money withheld in May must be paid immediately, helping the community to cover salaries, pensions and other costs.

Critics of the community’s president said the money was not enough to pay the bills, according to reports.

The State Senate said it was freezing its subsidy to the community after the community’s president, Gideon Joffe, reportedly failed to provide the required list of community employees and their salaries. Joffe said he would comply with the request.

The court said the missing report was not grounds for the state to withhold its annual subsidy, which reportedly is about $23 million.

Its ruling came less than a week after a Berlin administrative court refused to intervene in a dispute within the Jewish community stemming from its financial situation. The court claimed the law prevented it from interfering in the affairs of autonomous religious organizations.

Board members opposing Joffe had asked for the intervention after Joffe’s faction voted to take out a mortgage of an unstated amount on unidentified communal property in order to pay bills. Opponents cried foul due to lack of transparency.

The decision triggered a physical fight at the board meeting on May 23, leading to charges and counter charges.

The official number of Jewish community members has nearly tripled, to about 11,000, with the influx of former Soviet Jews since 1990. Many of the newcomers were poor and unable to contribute to the costs of services provided by the community, from schools to senior housing.

In addition, the community reportedly pays out far more in pensions than it can afford. The state subsidy helps meet the gap, but the community still reportedly has to pay back nearly $8 million to the state in pension overpayments.

The faction opposing Joffe is gathering signatures to prompt a new election. They reportedly are only 250 names away from meeting the required minimum of about 2,000.

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