Berlin Jews cancel culture festival, cite state’s fiscal woes


BERLIN (JTA) — For the first time in 29 years, Berlin’s Jewish community will not hold its popular Jewish Culture Days festival, the community’s board of directors announced.

In a statement issued Monday, the board said it decided not to ask for an annual state subsidy of 255,000 euros, or $282,000, to cover the 10-day festival out of sympathy for the “difficult financial situation of the state of Berlin.”

But representatives of the Berlin State Senate, which assigns the funding and had promoted this year’s festival on its website, said they were surprised and sorry to hear the news.

“We regret the Jewish community’s decision very much,” a spokesman told the daily Tagesspiegel. “The Senate has always been happy to support the festival and would have done it this year, too.”

Last year, some 35,000 people attended the festival, about 70 percent of them non-Jews, according to Martin Kranz, the event organizer hired by successive administrations of the Jewish community to run the festival since 2004.

Kranz told JTA that his four-year contract ran out after last year’s festival, and that he did not hear from the Jewish community’s president, Gideon Joffe, or his board about future plans.

According to some reports, the community leadership was unhappy with Kranz and had someone else in mind for the position.

“Nothing negative was said, nothing at all was said,” Kranz told JTA. Last December he announced that he was “no longer available.”

Kranz, who is not Jewish, is organizing a new multicultural festival “with a Jewish core” in Erfurt. His Achava, or Brotherhood, festival opening Aug. 27 will be the first festival of its kind in the former East German city.

Some members of Berlin’s Jewish community are discussing possible alternatives — perhaps a pop-up Jewish cultural festival or a joint effort of several independent groups.

Jewish council member Sergey Lagodinsky formally stepped down as head of the culture committee in part due to the “rash cancellation” of the festival and failure to find a successor to Kranz, all without informing the culture committee. The community’s statement “has become the joke of the summer” in the capital, he said in a statement.

Lagodinsky told the Tagesspiegel that the festival is a “cultural highlight for the Jewish community and the city. If it dies, this is further proof that the Jewish community is becoming irrelevant.”

The Jewish board’s stated sympathy for the state’s financial situation follows several years of contentious relations.

The cultural festival was launched in 1987 as part of celebrations marking the 750th anniversary of Berlin’s founding. It has since become a popular event through which non-Jews learn about Jewish culture and Jewish life in Germany.

Recommended from JTA