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Germany’s First Jewish School Since Holocaust Opens in Berlin

August 10, 1993
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Maxim Medovoj turned his tiny head toward the fifth camera team closing in on him.

The diminutive 13-year-old Russian immigrant looked lost amid the flood of lights, cameras and microphones that hovered around him. But after four interviews, with another half-dozen to go, the seventh-grader was fielding the sometimes ridiculous questions like a pro.

The first day of school at Germany’s first postwar Jewish high school turned out to be a major media event, with no less than 11 camera teams and 70 reporters covering the opening last Friday.

“This is an absurd abnormality,” said Roman Sklobo, a member of the Berlin Jewish community’s board of directors in charge of youth and education. “You have journalists hunting down students.”

Staring into three radio microphones, the leader of Berlin’s Jewish community, Jerzy Kanal, described the school’s opening as “a historic and important” event.

The school, in eastern Berlin, is in the city’s old Jewish neighborhood, the Scheunenviertel. It is located in a building that had been a Jewish school since 1906.

Hitler closed it in 1942 and turned it into a deportation center.

Kanal said the establishment of the high school is a natural extension of the Jewish community’s educational facilities. In 1986, the community opened an elementary school in then-West Berlin. Students who were part of the initial first-grade class then are now ready for high school.

But opening day was anything but natural, with journalists outnumbering the 24 seventh-graders by three to one.

As much as community leaders here try to fit in, Germany’s history gives things Jewish here an odd form of popularity, especially among the local media and some left-leaning intellectuals.


In certain circles, things Jewish are simply chic.

A kosher-style restaurant located next to the Oranienburgerstrasse Synagogue, a majestic dome-topped structure that is being renovated, is constantly full.

Most of its clientele could not tell the difference between matzoh balls and kreplach. A strictly kosher restaurant is around the corner, next to eastern Berlin’s Jewish Community Center.

Diagonally across the street from that is a kosher food store where you can buy Manischewitz gefilte fish and frozen Empire chickens imported from the United States. This in a city of 3.6 million, of whom 9,500 belong to the Jewish community.

The tiny Jewish minority has affected enrollment at the school. About one-third of the students are not Jewish and another third are like Maxim, immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Of the 11 teachers, only three are Jewish. They teach Hebrew, religion and music. The school’s director, Uwe Mull, is also not Jewish.

“We tried to find Jewish teachers, but it is very difficult,” said Sklobo from the community’s board of directors. Additionally, German laws don’t readily grant teaching certification for teachers trained abroad, and that has made it difficult to import teachers from Israel.

Other Jewish communities in Germany operate nursery and elementary schools and there is a college for Hebrew studies in Heidelberg.

The schools, like the Jewish high school in Berlin, are supported by the Jewish communities and local governments, but they still run deficits.

Like the Jewish high school in Berlin, these institutions are obliged to take non-Jewish students to fill their ranks.

“We had a bad experience with the east Berlin schools and so we decided to come here,” said Richard Vosz, whose son Richard, 12, is one of the non-Jewish students at the school. “We wanted a school where the teachers are not as concerned with losing their jobs as they are with instruction,” said the eastern Berlin union leader.

Vosz, who works for the civil servants union, has been to Israel twice, and that was a factor in deciding to send his son to the Jewish high school.

“We don’t expect any problems here. On the contrary, I imagine that the atmosphere here will be much more exciting than in a regular public school,” he said.

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