ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Brexit forces European rabbinical group to decamp for Munich

Conference of European Rabbis has planned move from London for years, viewing need for its offices to be in heart of Europe; organization’s head says Germany is ideal location

Bavaria’s Minister-President Markus Söder (center) receives an award from the Conference of European Rabbis, while standing alongside CER president Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt (right) and Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, in Munich, May 9, 2023. (Marc Müller/CER)
Bavaria’s Minister-President Markus Söder (center) receives an award from the Conference of European Rabbis, while standing alongside CER president Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt (right) and Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, in Munich, May 9, 2023. (Marc Müller/CER)

JTA — One of Europe’s most prominent associations of Orthodox rabbis is moving its headquarters from London to Munich in a ripple effect from the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.

“Germany is one of the only countries in Europe where the Jewish community is growing and the political climate is conducive to build Jewish life there,” Conference of European Rabbis President Pinchas Goldschmidt told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an email on Wednesday, confirming that Brexit was a leading factor in the move.

The rabbinical group had been based in London since it was founded in 1956 and has around 1,000 member rabbis from across Europe, from Dublin to Vladivostok.

The announcement came on Tuesday, as the CER presented its Lord Jakobovits Prize to Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder for his “outstanding commitment to the protection and promotion of Jewish life in Europe.” The ceremony took place in Munich’s Residenz, a former palace.

The CER will open a new Center for Jewish Life, which will offer educational opportunities for traditional rabbis and their spouses and host international conferences. The Center is to be funded mainly by private donors, with additional funds coming from the Bavarian state government, Goldschmidt told JTA.

Rabbis from across Europe attend the 32nd General Convention in Munich, Germany, May 30, 2022. (AP /Matthias Schrader)

At Tuesday’s award ceremony, Söder reiterated his commitment to fighting antisemitism. He emphasized that the new Center was about celebrating Jewish life, which “should be able to develop free and safe in Bavaria.”

The move has been a few years in the making. After Brexit, the CER leadership “felt that the headquarters should be in the center of Europe,” Goldschmidt said. Then, the Bavarian government invited the CER to hold its 32nd congress in Munich, and Söder and Munich Jewish Community President Charlotte Knobloch invited the group to move in.

Goldschmidt said his group has been working closely with the German Jewish community, on the local and national levels, as well as with the country’s Orthodox Rabbinical Conference.

Central Council of Jews in Germany President Josef Schuster, who also hails from Bavaria, told the JTA in an email that his group was pleased with the decision by the CER, “whose goal is to promote and protect Jewish life throughout Europe.”

“The fact that it will do this from Germany in the future …will enrich and strengthen Jewish discourse in our country,” he wrote.

Knobloch, president of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, said at Tuesday’s award ceremony that she was “proud and happy to see that my hometown of Munich has become one of the most important Jewish centers in Europe today.”

Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt poses for the media while rabbis from across Europe attend the 32nd General Convention in Munich, Germany, May 30, 2022. (AP/Matthias Schrader)

Before Hitler came to power in 1933, there were about 500,000 Jews in Germany. After World War II, when most Holocaust survivors left Europe for the United States or Israel, there were some 25,000 Jews in former West Germany. Today, there are about 90,000 members of Jewish communities in Germany and as many as 100,000 more who are unaffiliated. The vast majority have roots in the former Soviet Union. In the past decade, many Israelis have also made Germany their home. More recently, a few thousand Ukrainian Jews have found refuge in Germany.

The current Jewish population of Munich is about 9,000, according to the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

Goldschmidt, the former chief rabbi of Moscow, himself fled to Israel last year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In the future, he will be shuttling between Israel and Germany. He said that he and Schuster had been “discussing how to integrate rabbis, rabbinical schools, and refugees from Russia and Ukraine in Germany.”

“To be a refugee and emigrant is never easy,” Goldschmidt said. “However, I see it as my mission to utilize these challenging times and waves of dislocated Jews and communities, to strengthen the Jewish communities of Europe. It is a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

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