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In a twist, German rabbi at scandal’s center cedes rabbinical school ownership to Berlin Jews



(JTA) — In a shocking development, the embattled founder of Germany’s non-Orthodox rabbinical schools has relinquished his ownership stake in them to the Jewish Community of Berlin.

The 25,000 euro transaction means that Rabbi Walter Homolka is no longer in control of the Reform Abraham Geiger College and the Conservative Zacharias Frankel College at the University of Potsdam.

The sale achieves a result that the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the seminaries’ main funder, has been trying to reach openly since late last year, after two investigations confirmed that Homolka had abused his power at the seminaries.

The Jewish Community of Berlin had not publicly been part of the efforts to overhaul the schools launched after allegations against Homolka broke into public view last May. The allegations initially related to a sexual harassment scandal involving his husband, who was also his employee, but widened to implicate other aspects of Homolka’s leadership.

The group’s announcement late Wednesday of the purchase, executed the day before, initially alarmed some who have been advocating for changes at the seminaries, because the plan did not clearly rule out a role for Homolka. The Central Council of Jews in Germany issued a statement lambasting the fact that the deal “took place without consultation with the students, employees, or the donors” and said the new arrangement would not improve rabbinical education in Germany.

But in a hastily arranged meeting Thursday, Berlin Jewish Community President Gideon Joffe assured Josef Schuster, the council’s head, that Homolka would not be part of the seminaries going forward. The meeting left Schuster prepared to collaborate with Joffe’s group, a spokesperson for the council confirmed.

Now, the path is clear for the official Jewish community to seize authority over non-Orthodox rabbinical training in the country where Reform Judaism was born in the 19th century.

“This may not be the ideal situation, but it is a compromise that allows almost everyone to live with the results,” Cantor Itamar Cohen, the graduate whose complaint kicked off the scandal, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. He said he would fully embrace the offer “if it is accepted by Klal Israel, the majority of the Jewish community as encapsulated in the main representing bodies.”

Concerns about the surprise announcement largely reflected worries that Homolka could have structured the deal in a way that benefits him.

Rabbi Walter Homolka, then rector of the Abraham Geiger College, in the Liberal Jewish community’s synagogue in Hanover, Germany in December 2016. (Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Two separate investigations — one by the university and the other by lawyers commissioned  by the Central Council — recently determined that Homolka had created an “atmosphere of fear” among students and staff in the very institutions he launched more than 20 years ago. The final report from the Central Council investigation is expected to be released in the coming weeks. Homolka has steadfastly maintained his innocence.

In the wake of those findings, there was an increasing appearance of desperation on the part of the old guard to hold on to control of the two seminaries. In December, days after the damning Central Council interim report was issued, the Union of Progressive Judaism in Germany — with a newly elected board friendly to Homolka — announced it had replaced the interim director of the Geiger College with its own appointee. The Central Council promptly nixed that plan, calling the Union of Progressive Judaism a puppet of Homolka and announcing its appointment of the scholar Gerhard Robbers to work on restructuring the two colleges.

Skeptics of the latest development said they were sure Homolka’s influence would emerge somewhere, for example in appointments to the reconstituted institutions.

“I don’t find this reassuring,” said Nick Hoermann, a current student at Frankel College. “It has been clear for a while now that Homolka’s only way to act in the future would be through back doors.”

But for now at least, the Central Council — which initially called the sale announcement “astonishing” — says it is ready to work with the Jewish Community of Berlin.

Though the official community’s move came as a surprise to many, Joffe and his team had been considering some kind of rescue maneuver since the scandal broke last May, Ilan Kiesling, a spokesperson for the community, said in an email to JTA. The concrete plan emerged only after the damning preliminary expert opinion came out in December.

Joffe approached Homolka directly at that point and convinced him “that a completely fresh start at [Abraham Geiger College] was indispensable – together with a complete renunciation of all his leadership positions. Rabbi Homolka agreed to this renunciation and transferred all shares of the non-profit limited company to the community,” Kiesling wrote.

The legally binding takeover took place this week, and did not cost the community anything beyond “the capital contribution of the limited company in the amount of 25,000 euros,” Kiesling said.

He added that the community “guarantees a complete and transparent new start” for the Geiger seminary. “There will no longer be an accumulation of offices” under one person, one of the habits for which Homolka has been criticized. There was no specific reference to the Frankel College, which until now has appointed its own academic leadership.

The community plans to establish an international advisory board and an external contact point for students to report any problems. Early on in the scandal, it emerged that Cohen’s complaint had been investigated internally, by parties beholden to Homolka.

Kiesling also told the JTA that the community had engaged a former community president, Rabbi Andreas Nachama, chair of Germany’s liberal rabbinical conference, known as ARK, to advise them from a rabbinical perspective. Nachama was ordained by the U.S.-based Alliance for Jewish Renewal movement and leads an egalitarian Reform congregation in Berlin.

In his statement Wednesday, Joffe said, “The top priority for us at the moment is to bring the Abraham Geiger College into calm waters and pave the way for the students to continue their education in a stable structure.”

The post In a twist, German rabbi at scandal’s center cedes rabbinical school ownership to Berlin Jews appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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