Israelis visiting and living in the fastest growing section of Berlin now have a synagogue to call their own. Since its doors officially opened last month, the new Chabad-Lubavitch Israeli Center has attracted more than 100 locals and tourists to Sabbath services and affiliated programs.

Located in a building at Alexander Square in the central Mitte district in the eastern part of the city, the new center also caters to those living far from the Rohr Chabad Center in western Berlin. It opened to great fanfare, with Israeli Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger on hand for the occasion.

For many, the new Hebrew-speaking center has been a blessing, such as businessman Doron Zentner. He’s been living in eastern Berlin for more than a year, driving an hour and a half round-trip to attend weekday prayer services at the Rohr Center, headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch of Berlin. But since driving is prohibited on the Sabbath, he would spend the holy day at home.

“For me, it was almost impossible to go to synagogue,” he says. Finally having a place to go is a “great relief.”

Originally from Tel Aviv, Zentner started attending synagogue regularly after one of his parents died. He was living in the Czech Republic at the time.

“I was in my year of mourning, so I looked for a place to say the traditional mourners’ prayer,” says the 54-year-old. He found the Chabad Center of Prague directed by Rabbi Manis and Nechama Dina Barash.

When he moved to Berlin, he sought out the Rohr Chabad Center, meeting its longtime directors, Rabbi Yehuda and Leah Tiechtel.

Zenter’s pleased to see the latest center becoming more popular.

“It is growing week by week,” he says.

Israeli Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger affixes a mezuzah to the new center.
Israeli Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger affixes a mezuzah to the new center.

Anticipating Growth

Meital, an Israeli journalist who is relatively new to Berlin, also was first drawn to the Rohr Chabad Center on the other side of the city.

“I felt very connected there,” she relates.

Though they live closer to the newest center, she and her husband split their time on both sides of the city. She’s hoping the Israeli center will help alleviate some of the difficulties her fellow expatriates – approximately 5,000 Israeli citizens live in Berlin – have adjusting to life in the German capital.

The new center’s directors, Rabbis Yisrael Bistritzky and Yechiel Waitsman are ready to help meet their needs.

“We plan to add Torah classes and a computer corner where people can check up on their families in Israel,” says Bistritzky, who hails from Safed in northern Israel.

For now, they bring food from the restaurant at the Rohr Chabad Center for Friday night dinners. Their first Sabbath function drew 20 people. Three weeks later, 60 people came.

“After we have more of a base, we will add more activities,” explains Bistritzky, who spent the past year with Waitsman towards their rabbinical ordinations at the Rohr Chabad Center’s affiliated yeshiva.

Zentner anxiously anticipates the new center offering daily prayer services so that he can stop his long commute.

“I believe they will succeed,” he says, “and I will help them in any way they need.”

“This is a significant step for [Jewish outreach] in Berlin,” acknowledges Rabbi Shmuel Segal, program director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Berlin, who has been involved in the new operation since the very beginning.

Back in 1990 – just a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall – the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, signaled his desire that a Chabad presence be maintained throughout the city.

“There is a verse from the Torah that says Abraham and his descendents should spread out West, East, North and South,” states Segal. “Well, now we’ve finally reached the former East Berlin, bringing this message to reality.”

Reuvena Leah Grodnitzky contributed to this article.