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Europe's rabbis move their headquarters to Munich

September 19, 2023

The Conference of European Rabbis (CER) has moved its headquarters from London to Munich in Germany. This is seen as confirmation that Jewish life in Germany is taking on a new dimension.

A row of rabbis wearing black, felt hats and black suits sit in a row
Orthodox rabbis listen to speeches at the opening of the new headquarters of the Conference of European Rabbis in Munich, Germany Image: Christoph Strack/DW

Some 67 years after the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) was founded in London, the organization has moved its headquarters to the Bavarian capital, Munich, on September 19, 2023. There, it has opened a Center for Jewish Life with educational programs catering mainly to Europe's 1,000 rabbis.

The move was announced on May 9, when CER leaders awarded Bavarian Premier Markus Söder the Harav Lord Jakobovits Prize for his "outstanding commitment to the protection and promotion of Jewish life in Europe."

At the end of May 2022, some 500 CER rabbis from more than 40 countries convened in Munich for the first time for their plenary assembly.

Munich is, notoriously, the city where Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler began his rise to power in the 1920s. The Nazis later hailed the city as the "capital of the movement."

Türkenstraße 7 view from outside of the headquarters of the Conference of European Rabbis
The Conference of European Rabbis now operates out of the Bavarian capital from this buildingImage: Christoph Strack /DW

Germany's third-largest city is also the place where 11 Israeli athletes were killed in a hostage-taking attack by the militant group Black September at the 1972 Olympics.

CER President Pinchas Goldschmidt, the chief rabbi of Moscow until the beginning of Russia's full-scale war against Ukraine, said when he first heard of the idea to move the headquarters to Munich, it struck him as "really meshuga" (Yiddish for "crazy"). He said for him, Munich was first and foremost "the city where the Reichspogromnacht was planned," referring to the days around November 9, 1938, when across the German Reich synagogues were desecrated, Jews saw their property destroyed, and many were killed.

Now, Goldschmidt speaks of the "courage of a new beginning," as Munich has "one of the largest and most important Jewish communities in Germany."

Söder a 'faithful ally of Bavaria's Jewish communities'

Charlotte Knobloch, 90, the former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, spoke at the award ceremony for Söder, recalling the attack on the synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle on October 9, 2019, on the Yom Kippur holiday. She spoke of the shock and the fear felt by all Jews in Germany in those hours, including those convening in the Munich synagogue for prayer.

Knobloch said Söder was quick to call her soon after the attack; he then paid a visit to Munich's Jewish community, promising financial help for better protection.

Charlotte Knobloch, Markus Söder, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt
Bavaria's Premier Markus Söder (center) received an award for outstanding commitment to the protection and promotion of Jewish life in EuropeImage: Marc Müller/CER

"Your worries are also our worries," he said. To this day, Söder will frequently stop by the Munich synagogue, Knobloch said, calling Söder a "faithful ally of Bavaria's Jewish communities" and their "patron saint."

It was in this context that the announcement was made to move the Conference of European Rabbis from London to Munich back in May 2023. Rabbi Goldschmidt stressed the importance of security concerns, adding that he senses openness and receptiveness to Jewish life in Munich.

New dimension of Jewish life in Germany

The move comes at a time when Jewish life in Germany is becoming more visible and more diverse despite the persistently high number of antisemitic incidents. Liberal, conservative, and Orthodox rabbis are trained and ordained in Germany and then serve in numerous European countries. Jewish voices can more often be heard in public debate and the media.

And there are significant architectural projects completed or underway in several cities across Germany. In Frankfurt, construction is progressing on the Jewish Academy, which, according to its director Doron Kiesel, is scheduled for completion in late 2024 and is due to open in early 2025. And in Cologne, the construction of a new Jewish Museum in the center of the old town has been underway for years.

The building site of the Jewish Museum MIQUA in the archaeological quarter from the second floor of the Wallraf Richartz Museum is taken In the background on the right the historical town hall can be seen Cologne North Rhine-Westphalia Germany
The construction of a new Jewish Museum, MIQUA, is underway in the heart of CologneImage: Klaus W. Schmidt/imago images

Berlin historian and Rabbi Andreas Nachama sees these projects as a manifestation of a new dimension of Jewish life in Germany. "Seventy years ago, there were provisional arrangements," he told DW, citing as an example the synagogue on Berlin's Fraenkelufer, which is housed in a wing of the former house of worship that was severely damaged during the November pogroms of 1938 and in World War II. "Now it's very different," he said, pointing out that the new buildings are planned to be permanent and representative.

But Nachama also stressed that he sees new buildings as only "the exterior" and that rabbinical schools, Jewish theater, Jewish sports clubs and restaurants are also important.

Andrei Kovacs, the managing director of the 1700 Years of Jewish Life in Germany association, described the new Jewish Center in Munich as "a great sign and a historic moment for Jewish life in Germany."

In his acceptance speech, Söder affirmed that Jewish life should be able to develop freely and without fear. "Anyone who threatens Jewish life and freedom must expect our resistance. We have zero tolerance for intolerance," he said.

This article was originally written in German. A version of the article was written when the move was announced in May 2023, and later updated to reflect the completion.

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Deutsche Welle Strack Christoph Portrait
Christoph Strack Christoph Strack is a senior author writing about religious affairs.@Strack_C