BERLIN – Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, joined by rabbis from across Germany, Israel and the United States, presided over the ordination of the latest class of rabbis to graduate in Berlin.

Coming barely a year since Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Uri Gamson took the reins of Berlin’s Yeshiva Gedola – literally “great seminary” – the graduation of newly-minted Rabbis Yisrael Bistritzky, Meir Edelman, Yakov Eigerman, Chaim Rivkin, Chaim Waisman and Yechiel Waitsman highlighted the continued growth that has swept across the Jewish community here. Although the students had done most of their studies abroad, they came specifically to Gamson’s institution – one of four rabbinical seminaries in Germany today and the first to ordain rabbis in the country since World War II – to complete their training.

Bistritzky’s brother, Rabbi Shlomo Bistrizky, was among the Yeshiva Gedola’s first graduating class in 1999 and currently serves as the director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Hamburg. In his speech at the graduation, Rabbi Yehuda Tiechtel, director of Berlin’s Rohr Chabad Center, pointed to this familial connection as indicative of the yeshiva’s importance in German Jewish life.

The Bistritzkys’ ordinations are “like a bridge that spans the past, the present and the future,” stated Tiechtel.

All told, more than 20 rabbis have been ordained at the Berlin yeshiva; they serve in communities throughout Germany, as well as in Estonia, Switzerland, Cyprus, Mexico and Vietnam. And according to Gamson, plans are underway to expand the yeshiva’s reach with the addition of a business management segment to the curriculum in cooperation with the local campus of U.S.-based Touro College.

In the realm of Jewish scholarship, the yeshiva marked a milestone at the June 19 ceremony by timing the release of its first academic publication with the ordination of this year’s class. Compiled by rabbis throughout Germany, including the newly-ordained rabbis, the volume includes source texts and distillations of Jewish law, as well as explanations of holiday customs and kosher dietary practices. It also contains a manuscript written by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, while he was living in Berlin in 1928.

In his remarks, Metzger lauded the students as well as the institution that graduated them. But he also cautioned them to see their ordination as the beginning, rather than the end, of a journey.

“These young men have been preparing for this day since the beginnings of their lives, bringing with them the talents they have learned from childhood onwards,” the chief rabbi told the crowd. But a good rabbi must put deeds before study, people before books, he went on. They need to “hear a baby’s cry and to help, even if it means interrupting [your] studies.”

It is “important to bring peace to the people you serve and to those who live in the communities in which you reside,” he exhorted them, “and to foster good behavior among your communities’ members.”

For Metzger, whose family originated in Germany, the trip to Berlin brought some closure.

“Before coming to Berlin for this ordination, I was very skeptical about Jewish life in Germany,” he explained. “However, after my meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel three years ago … and after having witnessed the high caliber of these yeshiva graduates, I have clearly changed my mind about Germany, and no longer have doubts about Jews having a proper place in Germany today.”

Following the ceremony, Metzger went across town with Tiechtel to place a mezuzah on the doorpost of a new Jewish center intended to cater to the several thousand Israelis who have made Berlin their home. Several of the rabbis who were ordained on Sunday are expected to manage the center in the near future.