Most people were suspicious when Berlin Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal initially discussed his desire to construct Germany’s largest Jewish educational and cultural complex since the Holocaust.
But five years after the building’s foundation was laid, Teichtal, a Berlin rabbi and leader of the neighborhood Chabad community, beams as he climbs onto the seventh-floor balcony of the brand-new, curved, blue-tiled structure and looks out over the campus amphitheater, garden, playground, and a plot that is still covered in containers and construction materials but will eventually become a sports field.
According to Teichtal, “We’re changing the narrative about Jews in Germany,” he told The Associated Press earlier this week.
“Too often people only think about the Holocaust and antisemitism when it comes to Jews in Germany,” the 50-year-old rabbi said.
“Our Jewish campus is about the future; it’s about joy, about studying and living together.”
On Sunday, the Pears Jewish Campus, located in the Wilmersdorf district of Berlin, made its formal debut.
The 550 kindergarten, primary, and high school students who are now dispersed across the city in various buildings will all transfer to the campus at the start of the new academic year at the end of August.
The campus will also include, in addition to the schools, a movie theater, a music studio, a library, a kosher deli, a large indoor basketball court, and a gym that can be converted into a lecture hall for up to 600 people or a reception area for weddings and bar mitzvahs.
A large kitchen for catering receptions and a kitchen for the school cafeteria also exist.
The latter includes a bakery for making pastries.
The new site is surrounded by a glass fence, unlike many other Jewish organizations in Germany that are disguised behind walls out of concern about potential antisemitic assaults.
It is related to the community center and synagogue run by the Hasidic Jewish organization Chabad for many years.
“We didn’t want this to feel like a ghetto,” Teichtal added. We want this to be a joyful environment with an open door.
Teichtal, who grew up in Brooklyn, New York, had conflicting emotions when he was invited to travel to Germany 27 years ago to resurrect Jewish life there.
More than 60 other members of his family also died in the Holocaust, including his great-grandfather, who was killed in the Auschwitz death camp by the Nazis.
Berlin’s Jewish community is still quite different from what it was over 80 years ago, when the Nazis and their minions murdered 6 million European Jews.
But now that it’s robust and alive once more, with an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 Jews,
Teichtal has played a significant part in building this thriving neighborhood.
Many Jews who presently reside in Berlin, in addition to the grandchildren of the last remaining German Jews, moved from the former Soviet Union following the fall of communism in the early 1990s.
Over the past 15 years, young Israelis and American Jews have immigrated in large numbers, drawn by the city’s relaxed atmosphere, vibrant nightlife, and affordable cost of living.
Recently, many thousands of Jews from Ukraine moved to Berlin.
The 40 million euro ($43.7 million) new Jewish campus, which is 8,000 square meters (86,000 square feet), was funded by federal and state governments, private businesses, foundations, and contributions.
According to Teichtal, it is intended to serve not only Jews but also adherents of other faiths.
The rabbi declared, “This location is about fostering discourse, about dispelling ignorance and prejudice.
After pausing, he said, “With the opening of the Jewish campus, my job in Berlin is not yet over.
He smiled and looked around the campus. “I have many other plans,” he replied. “With God’s help, we will make it all come true.
The synagogue needs to be expanded, and a nursing home is needed.”