A glistening, curved building of blue tiles and panels in metallic hues, the Pears Jewish Campus (PJC) will be Germany’s biggest Jewish educational and cultural center when it opens its doors in Berlin on Sunday.
Hailed as symbolic for Jewish families in the country, the dream behind the PJC “was and is to guarantee a long-term future for Jewish life and tolerance in Germany,” Berlin Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, head of the local Chabad, told CNN.
Chabad is a Hasidic Jewish movement known for its outreach mission.
Located in the center of Berlin, the new campus guarantees this future as “the foundation that will enable a path of tolerance and awareness,” he said on Friday.
The €33 million (around $36 million) campus spans 8,000 square meters (more than 86,000 square feet) across seven floors, on the site of the Chabad Jewish Education Centre, according to the company that managed construction, Kondius AG, and will be a “cross-religious and cross-age meeting place.”
Built with three main principles in mind—education, sport and culture—the PJC will be open to everyone, and will include schools, a daycare center, a cinema and a gym.
Outside, there is a wall adorned with graffiti by the artist Tobo, aka Tobias Friesike, German newspaper Jewish Allgemeine reported.
“It should be a house open to everybody—whether it is a cultural event, whether someone wants to visit the music studio or the art atelier or watch a film or visit an event or hear a book reading, or come to an educational program,” Teichtal told CNN.
The entrance, like the building’s entire facade, is adorned with a color meaningful in Judaism—blue.
“The blue is supposed to be reminiscent of the sky, because in Judaism it stands for Israel,” Jewish Allgemeine quoted the building’s architect, Sergei Tchoban, as saying.
US-born Teichtal said the campus was the vision he had when he first arrived in Berlin 27 years ago.
When he met Tchoban a few years ago, he told the architect of his dream to have a Jewish educational center. Immediately, the designer pulled out a pen and started drawing, Jewish Allgemeine reported.
“It is all about coming together, it is all about seeing each other on an eye-to-eye level, understanding each other and creating a joint awareness. All of us in humanity have the responsibility for each other, we are all part of society and we all need each other. And we all have to create a better world,” Teichtal told CNN.
Like that of many Jews, Teichtal’s relationship with Germany has been tainted by history. Having grown up in Brooklyn, New York, he had mixed feelings about coming to the country after his great-grandfather was murdered in Auschwitz and more than 60 other relatives were killed during the Holocaust.
But he says Germany has “absolutely” changed, with more people wearing kippahs and more Jewish institutions emerging.
“(The PJC) is a new stage of the 1,700 (year) history of Jewish life in Germany,” he said. With the campus, he hopes to change the negative association of Jews in Germany, making the narrative one “of tolerance, awareness, and exchange, love, respect, and creation,” he added.
Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, further stressed the importance of the campus, calling it “a symbol for the future of Jewish life, of Jewish families here in Germany.”
“It stands in the tradition of the decades-long commitment of Jewish organizations and above all the Jewish communities in Germany to pave the way for Jewish families and children in this country,” he told CNN.
While there is still a fear of antisemitism in Germany, the PJC is taking a different approach to security than many other Jewish institutions. Teichtal says the center has a glass fence around it, connecting it to the Chabad-operated synagogue and community center that has been there for years.
“We have the necessary security precautions. At the same time, we wanted to do it in a manner that is transparent and open,” he told CNN.
And PJC hasn’t finished growing. Teichtal said the next project will be to expand the synagogue, which they are hoping to build at the adjacent property.