Source AP ©

Western Wall to be built in Berlin

Jewish community will spend EUR6-million (US$8.2 million) to build a replica of Jerusalem's Western Wall in Berlin -accurate down to the plants sprouting from it, the center's leaders said.

The 100-square-meter replica will be part of Szloma Albam House, whose opening Sept. 2 will provide another sign of the growth and vitality of Berlin's 12,000-member Jewish community.

"This is a symbolic part of making Berlin a central hub of Jewish life again," the center's executive director, Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

The project began when a team from the Chabad-Lubavitch organization traveled to Jerusalem to photograph a section of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, famous for the tradition of inserting tiny prayers on paper into its many cracks.

Almost 19 tons of "Jerusalem Gold" sandstone quarried in the region arrived in Berlin on July 11, and has since been chiseled and installed to match the photographs. The complete replica, located in the center's entryway, will also include identical plants sprouting from the cracks.

The Western Wall replica is not meant to be used for worship, but as a symbol and reminder of the center's mission.

Teichtal told the AP that the center's architecture directly reflects center's philosophy. A large cobalt and light blue glass window greets visitors as a symbol of transparency. The sleek, contemporary design by Russian architect Sergei Tchoban, shows that Szloma Albam House is focused on the future.

"Within the transparency is tradition, and that's why we're building the wall," he told The Associated Press. "It's the strongest symbol of the survival of the Jewish people."

Rabbi Chaim Rozwaski, an orthodox rabbi from New York who serves at Berlin's Pestalozzistrasse Synagogue, said the replica has "no more meaning than a picture."

"But the wall itself has a tremendous attraction and obviously a deep-felt meaning for many people, so it's still nice to have a replica."

The Szloma Albam House, located on Muenstersche Strasse in Berlin's Charlottenburg neighborhood, has been under construction for three years. Though opening officially on Sept. 2, its synagogue is already open for worship and classes are being held amid construction noise. More than 30 rabbis from around the world and high-ranking German officials will attend.

Teichtal, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native whose grandfather's family was killed in the Holocaust, stresses that the center is meant for everyone, including non-Jews. Along with a synagogue, Szloma Albam House will have a kosher restaurant, a tourist welcome center, library and media center, conference center, seminary, youth lounge, shop, and a top-of-the-line mikvah, or ritual bath.

Ninety percent of the center's funding was raised within Berlin's Jewish community. "This is a sign that people are putting their trust in the Jewish future of Germany," Teichtal said.

The Jewish community in Germany is the fastest growing in the world, according to the World Jewish Congress, fed by immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The Central Council of Jews in Germany says the Jewish community has some 110,000 registered members. Some 560,000 Jews lived in Germany before the Holocaust.

Berlin, with 12,000 Jews and eight synagogues, has the largest Jewish community in Germany.

One of the Szloma Albam House's primary functions, Teichtal says, is to help these Jewish immigrants integrate into German society. All services and classes will be taught in German.