The Central Council of Jews in Germany has doubts about the consequences of the rabbinical school Abraham Geiger Kolleg in response to allegations. “It is questionable whether the reorganization that has now been initiated at the Abraham Geiger College is suitable and expedient,” said President Josef Schuster of the German Press Agency.
“The previous rector is merely letting his offices rest and the people in responsible positions are the same as before. Under these circumstances, a realignment hardly seems possible.” The allegations against the college in Potsdam are about sexual harassment and abuse of power.
On Friday there was a first meeting between the interim director of the Abraham Geiger College (AGK), Gabriele Thöne, and the President of the Central Council. She is pleased that the Central Council wants to help to secure the future of the AGK, Thöne said in a statement on Sunday.
Both sides are concerned about maintaining the college as an institution of liberal Judaism. The close cooperation with the Central Council, the institutions of liberal Judaism, students and alumni, the university and the friends and sponsors of the college is essential, it said.
Rabbis for Jewish communities have been trained at the Abraham Geiger College since 1999. The renowned liberal institution is part of the University of Potsdam. The newspaper “Welt” reported in early May about allegations of sexual harassment of a student by a college employee.
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Management subsequently admitted that allegations of sexual harassment had been made against an employee in December 2020 and again in February 2022. The employment relationship ended at the end of February. There are also allegations of abuse of power. The university set up a commission of inquiry in the spring.
The founder and previous rector of the college, Walter Homolka, had all offices rested after the allegations became known, including as vice director of the School of Jewish Theology and as chairman of the Leo Baeck Foundation. More than a week ago, Homolka also withdrew as a shareholder of the foundation, which now holds all shares in the Abraham Geiger College.
A new management team led by Rabbi Edward van Voolen and Chancellor Anne-Margarete Brenker, who is also the acting chairwoman of the Leo Baeck Foundation, has now appointed Berlin’s ex-Finance Secretary Thöne as interim director.
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“The allegations about what happened at the Abraham Geiger College have already caused great damage and a loss of reputation for liberal rabbi training,” said Schuster. The Central Council of Jews in Germany described the allegations as profound and commissioned a law firm to draw up an expert opinion including recommendations for action.
“The commissioned external and independent investigation (…) has the purpose that nothing can be swept under the carpet or covered up. All the facts have to be on the table,” said Schuster. The Central Council assured that the statements would remain anonymous.