top of page

Jewish cultural centre under discussion

Updated: Aug 2, 2022

A new Jewish institution has been under discussion in Dresden since late last summer. But the story actually begins much earlier. Many years ago, the community on the Hasenberg had the idea of founding a Jewish museum in Dresden. As is so often the case with ambitious projects, at first only verbal expressions of goodwill from the city and politicians could be generated, but a first step had been taken. A second attempt to raise the issue to the city level finally led to a city council resolution calling on the Lord Mayor to make efforts to establish such a museum. The Lord Mayor and the city administration entered into talks with possible participants and then opened an increasingly public discussion about the project "Jewish Museum in Dresden". This discussion reached a gratifyingly large number of people from the city (and the country), both from the Jewish communities and from the non-Jewish urban society.

Within the discussions (panel discussions, workshops, meetings, speeches, citizens' consultations, etc.), some new aspects kept coming up. Two of them should be highlighted here:

  1. It became clear how much commitment there already is in the area of Jewish culture and religion in Dresden and with how much knowledge, dedication and experience many volunteers work. At the same time, these groups and associations also observed that funding should be much simpler and oriented towards needs. A lot of energy is lost here.

  2. Again and again, the contributions moved towards the living, present-day Judaism in the city. An exclusive backward-looking approach was rejected again and again, and in its place an experienceable and life-affirming Judaism was desired. That, according to many discussants, would be a truly modern attitude on the part of the city.

The discussion on the Jewish Museum continues and, because of its financial scope, can neither be limited to the city community nor produce very quick results. The Lord Mayor and the city administration have thus additionally taken up the repeatedly expressed wish for a Jewish cultural and meeting centre in Dresden, and the Cultural Office has been commissioned to carry out an initial survey on this. This led to meetings with some of those who had expressed this wish and then the communities and most of the associations with Jewish themes were invited to a workshop in three parts. The aim of the workshop was to find out what the concrete wishes were, to what extent the already existing voluntary expertise in the city could be used and how a Jewish cultural and meeting centre could be designed. After initially overcoming the difficulty of considering the topics of the museum and the meeting centre separately - at least for the time of developing the first visions - the multifaceted result of the workshop is not easy for the Cultural Office to process, but it is of great value for the cause.

So much for the account of what has happened so far. In the following I would like to make or take up some ideas and suggestions for further discussion (if they have already been put forward elsewhere).

Although I am also a parishioner, I was invited to the workshop as a representative of Gefilte Fest Dresden e.V., which is dedicated to cultural mediation and international friendship through the means of cooking together and sharing customs that can be experienced by the senses. From the point of view of many associations, a cultural and meeting centre is the chance for a real change in the (realistic) perception of Judaism in the city society. Moreover, most associations or interest groups hope for the option of investing their voluntary energy much more in actual cultural and social activities than is the case now.

I would like to point out three aspects with which the establishment of a Jewish cultural and meeting centre will greatly enrich Jewish life in Dresden. On the other hand, the understanding of Judaism by non-Jewish Dresdeners will also be facilitated and promoted - a process that must be understood over a long period of time and will probably never come to an end. I call the three aspects "democratic openness", "overall city commitment" and "appreciation of honorary office".

Democratic openness

A meeting centre is not a state, but in a way it can (and should?) be a reflection of it. If we - the city of Dresden - embark on the adventure of creating a centre where Jewish life can take place and be shared, then this centre must make some things possible:

Firstly it should be open to all denominations of Judaism and not prescribe any dogmata in this regard. There must be room and respect for all kinds of jewishness, from non-religious to cultural, from habitually ultra-orthodox to strictly religiously liberal. Only in this way can the whole of Judaism be represented in Dresden and its diversity celebrated.

To achieve this goal, it is very important that the centre does not become a religious institution and is not dominated by the various Jewish communities in the city - or any one of them. At most, the communities should be given the same status in the centre as any association or other group with Jewish themes. This can ensure that it will not be about imparting religious content, but much more about encountering Jewish life in all its breadth. Under no circumstances should one of the congregations hold a leadership position in the centre.

The same goal and also the acceptance within the Jewish actors is served by what I see as an absolutely necessary, completely neutral operator. The operator must be visibly, comprehensibly and credibly treating all participating organisations equally. Its sole task should be the organisation and management of the infrastructure. There are a few options in Dresden as to who could take on this task, but those who certainly do not have a preconceived opinion are still very alien to the project and those who are already deeply involved in the matter can no longer be perceived as neutral by all those who are active. For this reason, an existing association as an operator would, in my opinion, only be a second-best solution. Better - and much more difficult - would be a specially founded association or federation for this purpose. The fact that the unifying and reconciliatory work in such an organisation will certainly not be an easy task should not make us immediately resort to the second-best solution.

Commitment of the city as a whole

As far as the second aspect is concerned, I believe that the following objective is central. It may be self-evident to some in this day and age, but in matters of faith, lifestyle, beliefs and religion, it is not necessarily so for all. Namely:

It must be open to all people - regardless of creed, nation, religion, gender and the like. Of course, this refers to the guests, but it should not stop at the active people. (The cooking workshops with the best effect on the understanding of Judaism, for example, were organised by our association with a triad of chefs - a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian).

For this goal, a financial commitment of the city not only for the foundation but also for the running of the centre is an important sign. Because if the "whole city" pays, so to speak, it is much easier for everyone to see that the "whole city" should also potentially benefit. It is also very helpful if not only Jews acknowledge the city of Dresden as their place of residence, but also the city acknowledges the Jews in it. Mutual recognition can be the basis for the development of a common and fruitful future. We all wish for the quick healing of wounds from the past, even if we know that some wounds can hardly ever heal and only with terrible scars. In reality, the steps on this path are small, difficult and of great number. This should not discourage us from continuing in the direction of unity.

Appreciation of voluntary work

A cultural and meeting centre could represent the balancing act between strengthening what already exists on the one hand and substantial innovations and changes on the other. For this to happen, the existing expertise of volunteers in the city would not only have to be recognised but used as a basis for the establishment of the centre. At the same time, it is of central importance that the activities of the volunteers in their associations and groupings are not controlled or directed from the outside in any way.

Rather, the opportunity should be given to grow organically into the new centre and thereby help shape it from within. Such an approach would also strengthen the attachment of the actors to the institution. In the best case, the resulting mood of openness and mutual respect as well as self-efficacy would also be felt by the guests and visitors.

In order to achieve this goal, it seems very helpful to me to provide the infrastructure of a meeting centre for those things that volunteers often struggle with in their work. On the one hand, these are technical solutions and space as well as legal questions, accounting necessities and the administration of subsidies. On the other hand, event spaces, possibilities for cooking courses, seminars and workshops as well as help with press work and advertising materials are methods that can massively facilitate the work of volunteers and could direct their energy more towards content-related work.

In conclusion

There are many more aspects that have already been discussed or are worthy of discussion. Nevertheless, I would like to leave it at that for now and would appreciate feedback. Everyone is called upon in this discussion to listen, to form an opinion and to share it. We should move along arguments towards a good solution. The debate and the current interest of the city are great opportunities for a change that can promote and stabilise Jewish life in Dresden for a long time. However, a lot of wisdom, cooperation and understanding is needed to make this opportunity a success. For this reason, I am very grateful that the city is taking the time and energy to discuss this topic and to bring together citizens and politicians. I look forward to further discussions, but also to seeing a Jewish cultural and meeting centre come into being as soon as possible.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page