Sunday, The Central Council of Jews in Germany, the country’s leading Jewish organization, elected Josef Schuster to replace, Dieter Graumann as its president.
“From the perspective of Germany’s frum community, his election is an unbelievable thing,” said Joshua Spinner, CEO of the Ronald Lauder Foundation, and founder of the Berlin-based Rabbiner Seminar. “He is himself very traditional and very pro-Torah Judaism”
The Central Council is an umbrella organization that governs all Jewish communities throughout Germany. The organization oversees the distribution in upwards of 10 million Euros of government funds to various Jewish communities and causes throughout the country. It also serves as the main representation of Jewish interests to the German government.
“The present German government has been wonderful on Jewish issues,” said Spinner. “Merkel stood up for the rights to make bris milah and there is not push to recognize a Palestinian state as in France, but it takes work from the community to keep it that way.”
Schuster was born in 1954 in Haifa, where his parents had settled after fleeing Nazi Germany in 1938. The family returned to their native town of Wurzburg when he was two years old. He is the second president, after his predecessor, to have been born after the Holocaust. A doctor by profession, Schuster has served as the head of the Wurzburg Jewish community since 1998 and since 2010 has served as one of the Central Council’s two vice-presidents. His election also makes him a vice-president of the World Jewish Congress.
In a nation where much of the Jewish community’s prominence is connected to the legacy of the Holocaust, Schuster expressed a desire to focus on the present. However, in an interview with a Cologne-based daily, he did admit the the obvious cause for sensitivity to German anti-Semitism, with an analogy from his profession saying that; “Anyone who has had pneumonia once, gives each cough greater importance.”
In addition, the Council held elections for all nine seats of its governing presidium. Abraham Leher of Cologne and Mark Dainow of Offenbach were elected as co-vice presidents. Both are also members of traditional Orthodox communities.
Germany’s Jewish population has grown multi-fold in the past twenty-five years as a result of immigration from the Former Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries and now numbers well over 100,000. The Council oversees 100 communities, most of which are under Orthodox auspices, even though in most cases few of the members are completely Torah-observant.
“He is definitely going to work hard, and will need to use a lot of diplomacy to work with the different camps in Jewish communal life, said Rabbi Spinner. “He is very pro-education and I believe is going to put a lot of effort into trying to reach out to students.”