The European Center of Jewish Scholarship with rabbinical training and synagogue was opened at the German University of Potsdam on Wednesday. It is the first university synagogue in Germany. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier praised the new facility as a “gift for our country.”
For the full speech of the German President, click here.
It is an “educational institution that radiates far beyond the borders” and “as a wide-open house of Jewish life” also attracts people of other faiths and makes them curious to meet, Steinmeier emphasized at the opening in front of about 250 guests from politics, religion and society, according to the Catholic News Agency (KNA).
At the same time, the German head of state called for more social commitment and civil courage against anti-Semitism. “It pains me and makes me angry that anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic hatred and agitation in Germany, of all places, have been openly manifesting themselves again, for years now,” Steinmeier said. “There can only be one response for us Germans. We, every individual and we as a whole society, will not tolerate anti-Semitism of any kind.”
The new educational institution includes the School of Jewish Theology at the University of Potsdam and the Abraham Geiger College and Zacharias Frankel College rabbinical seminaries. About 80 students are currently enrolled; of these, 31 are pursuing a rabbinate or cantorship. A synagogue was also built, the first new Jewish place of worship in Potsdam after the Holocaust. The project cost about 13.5 million euros, according to the university.
The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, said, “We are rightly proud of the traditions of Jewish scholarship in our country.” He added that the cooperation between academic and rabbinic education at the Potsdam center is a win-win for everyone. With the opening, “we are setting an important sign of faith in the future of Jewish life in Germany.”
“Powerful sign” for Jewish life
Brandenburg’s Prime Minister Dietmar Woidke (SPD) said Brandenburg was proud of the opening: “It’s a powerful sign of self-confident Jewish life in our state.” University of Potsdam President Oliver Günther said, “Today’s ceremony marks the provisional conclusion of a wonderful development: the establishment of the subject of Jewish theology at the University of Potsdam.” It is the right location for academic theology, he said, which can come here into “physical and intellectual coexistence” with other disciplines.
The opening of the new center also met with a positive response from the churches. The chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, wrote in a greeting: “We need a strong public visibility of Judaism in Germany, also at the levels of academic theology.” A public theology of Judaism, he said, promises an “important and indispensable contribution” to social life in Germany.
“Spiritual renaissance” after the Shoah
The EKD Council president expressed his conviction that “the theology of Judaism will make important contributions to our social debates, whether in questions of bioethics, peace ethics or the ethics of a good life that overcomes the destruction of extra-human nature.”
In his written greeting, the president of the Catholic EU bishops’ commission COMECE, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, said the center is networked far beyond the EU and is a “central place in Europe for the spiritual renaissance of Jewish life after the Shoah.” Further, the Archbishop of Luxembourg wrote: “In our pluralistic society, future clergy need to encounter other religions.” The Abraham Geiger College and the School of Jewish Theology, he said, have developed into “an outstanding place as a place of conversation with other religions and with the humanities,” but also for exchange with the secular world.
Click on the image below to watch the Tagesschau24 news on the opening of the European Center for Jewish Learning:
The new premises of Abraham Geiger College have benefitted much from the generosity from within the WUPJ so far: by Jim, Steve and Ben Breslauer, Leslie and Dee as well as Stanley and Marion Bergman, Alexander and Kati Dembitz as well as Jay and Carole Sterling, Fuad and Inna Aleskerov, the Women of Reform Judaism, the Union of progressive Jews in Germany as well as the progressive Jewish communities of Bielefeld, Hannover and Munich. Our utmost thanks for these gifts and those to come.
Read more about this event:
- JTA, “Potsdam’s Stylish New Synagogue is the City’s First Since WWII,” Aug 27,2021.
- The Algemeiner, “A Sign of Faith in German-Jewish Life: University of Potsdam Opens City’s First Synagogue Since the Holocaust,” August 18, 2021.
- dpa (Deutsche Presse-Agentur), “New Synagogue opens for first time since World War II,” August 18, 2021.