Berlins Jewish chief decides not to quit

BERLIN — Jerzy Kanal, the head of Germany's largest Jewish community, unexpectedly withdrew his plans to resign and said he is staying on as head of Berlin's some 12,000-strong community.

His surprise announcement last week came after he spent at least 90 minutes outlining his accomplishments and detailing letters of support he received, including one from Ignatz Bubis, chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

"Against my previous announcement, I will not resign," Kanal told an audience of more than 200 at the Jewish Community Center in west Berlin.

In numerous interviews since December, Kanal said he would resign at the community board's meeting Jan. 17 because of what he called an intolerable climate created by opposition to his Liberal Jewish Bloc, the conservative faction on the board.

Moishe Waks, the leader of the opposition Democratic List and the man seen as most likely to succeed Kanal, was visibly disappointed by the decision.

But he said he would work with the rest of the board. He added that he hoped to be elected in the next vote, scheduled for 1997.

"We are not interested in torpedoing the community," Waks said.

Waks and his group apparently attempted to get Kanal to resign by not approving the $7 million budget for 1996.

But Kanal produced a letter written by the president of the Berlin Constitutional Court that said under the Jewish community's rules, the board did not have to resign if the budget was not approved.

Kanal's sudden change of plans was a blow to the growing number of progressive Jews in the Berlin community who were hoping for a change at the top.

While Kanal, 74, is supported by older members, many young people believe that he has been ineffective and often silent on issues such as racism and radical right activities.

"Nothing is going to happen now for a year," said one woman who is active in one of the two progressive Jewish groups here.

In defending his decision, Kanal also said the community's reputation in the public at large is at stake.

Jewish issues receive massive media coverage in Berlin — much more so than in any other German city.

Kanal's resignation threat and his subsequent withdrawal made the front page of at least one newspaper. And all major papers carried extensive coverage of the Jan. 17 board meeting.