Everyone who enters the corner office of Potsdam College President Abraham Geiger, Rabbi Walter Homolka, sees the man’s success on the wall: many medals from Luxembourg, France and Germany are displayed in glass cases. Two large pictures hang on the wall, where the Potsdam theologian shakes hands with the popes: Benedict XVI. As did Francis. On the desk is the national flag of Rwanda. Because Homolka is also the honorary consul of the African country.
The Rabbi of Potsdam built a wide network: without him there would be no Jewish theology at the university. Nor can anyone in Germany interested in liberal Jewish theology ignore him: Homolka is not only the most famous German rabbi, but he is also chairman of the board of directors of the Federation of Progressive Jews in Germany, Ernst-Ludwig-Ehrlich-Studienwerk and has many other honorary positions.
But the Potsdam rabbi’s winning streak appears to have been shattered on Friday: he is retiring from his post for now. The reason: The daily Die Welt published serious allegations against Homolka and Geiger College.
The rabbi’s husband, who was a college lecturer, is said to have sent a sexual harassment video to a student in 2019: allegedly showing a man’s erect penis. Homolka and his husband are said to have initially confirmed this, but after a few days a lawyer’s office is said to have tried to stop reporting.
Jonathan Schorch, a professor at the Institute of Jewish Studies and Religious Studies at the University of Potsdam, also stated that he had been notified of other cases of misconduct, including sexual harassment. It is said that there was a commission of inquiry at Abraham Geiger College, which in the end only recommended a mediation process.
The charge of abuse of power against Homolka
As reported by Welt, this is also a consequence of Homolka’s strong position: the newspaper accuses him of blatant abuse of power. It is said that a “climate of fear” prevails at Abraham Geiger College. Homolka threatens his opponents with “annihilation”.
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Through his network, Homolka can distribute funds and publications – and decide on career success as well as in the end of careers. In addition, his biography on the website of the General Rabbinical Conference is incorrect: he was ordained not at Leo Pike College, but by Rabbi Walter Jacob in Pittsburgh.
Central Council of Jews for investigation by independent experts
The Central Council of Jews in Germany expressed its outrage on Friday. “We were shocked to learn that, according to research by Felt, there were reported to be many cases of sexual harassment at Abraham Geiger College,” said Joseph Schuster, chair of the Central Council. “Such news about the Rabbis Training Center terrifies me.”
It is necessary to clarify the whole situation as quickly and comprehensively as possible. “This can only be done by experts independent of Abraham Geiger College.”
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Germany’s first female Jewish activist, Avital Gerstetter, also became apparent. “What has been revealed about Rabbi Walter Homolka and his wife and Abraham Geiger College in Potsdam is shocking and shameful,” Gerstetter said on Friday when asked by Tagesspiegel. “The behavior now revealed is a serious blow to liberal Judaism in Germany.”
It is urgently necessary to fully clarify all allegations and to heal the injuries of the people who are being harassed. “The apparent abuse of power must end,” Gerstetteer said. “There is an urgent need for a fresh start, not only in Potsdam, both structurally and in terms of personnel.”
The Minister of Research takes the allegations seriously
In the state capital of Brandenburg, people also look with concern at the previous major project, Abraham Geiger College, which state politicians once happily decorated themselves with.
A spokesman for Science Minister Mangga Chol (Social Democratic Party) said on Friday that the minister had taken the allegations seriously. Scholl assumes that the allegations will be comprehensively and independently clarified by the University of Potsdam.
However, the university appears to have been aware of the allegations for some time. University President Oliver Gunther formed a six-person investigation committee a few weeks ago, according to a statement from the university. The report should be available by August 2022. With its final report to the Chair, the committee will make specific recommendations and proposals for further action.
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Homolka himself expressed his concern in a statement sent by Ann Brinker, Chancellor of Abraham Geiger College. “In light of the allegations made in the press today, I would like to express my personal dissatisfaction,” Homolka said. “It hurts to have to read things like that.”
Homolka said his commitment also had opponents
He himself spent his entire life in the service of liberal Judaism and tried “to promote opportunities to engage with Jewish traditions creatively and without fear and to contribute in a variety of ways to the life of the Jewish community.” But every commitment also finds opponents who don’t like what you move.
“In my job, I always strive to do the right thing and I am convinced that I did the right thing here too,” Homolka said. “However, I have no influence on the behavior of people close to me and I do not want to do that either.”
He is personally disappointed if this detracts from his commitment and his work. “I have decided to refrain from actively exercising my duties in the Jewish community and at the university until the matter is clarified.”