BERLIN (JTA) — Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, was recognized with Germany’s highest medal of honor for his support of Jewish life in Germany since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Germany’s ambassador to the United States, Peter Wittig, presented Lauder with the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit at the German Embassy in Washington on Jan. 13, the WJC announced. Among those present at the ceremony was U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
Lauder has been active in supporting Jewish education across Central and Eastern Europe for more than 20 years. In Berlin, the support includes a yeshiva and rabbinical seminary.
His efforts are aimed at producing educators for a country whose official Jewish population rose more than four-fold with the influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union.
Germany’s official Jewish population stands at about 105,000. It is estimated that at least another 150,000 Germans of Jewish background are not affiliated with the Jewish community.
“We are grateful to see this new Jewish life thriving within our midst and we embrace it,” Wittig said at the ceremony.
Lauder in his remarks thanked Germany for its ongoing support of Israel.
As head of the WJC, he has strongly criticized recent attempts to erode the right to ritual circumcision for Jews and Muslims in Germany, and he slammed German art institutions for failing to identify and return works that Nazis confiscated from Jewish collectors.