by KRISTEN ALLEN
The Associated Press
The German capital's new $8.2 million Jewish community center will feature a replica of Jerusalem's Western Wall accurate down to the plants sprouting from its cracks, the center's leaders said.
The 1,000 sq. foot replica will be part of Szloma Albam House. The center's Sept. 2 opening will symbolize the growth and vitality of Berlin's 12,000-member Jewish community. Germany's Jewish community is the world's fastest growing, fed by immigrants from the former Soviet Union, according to the World Jewish Congress.
"This is a symbolic part of making Berlin a central hub of Jewish life again," the center's executive director, Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal told the Associated Press on Wednesday.
The project began when a team from the Chabad-Lubavitch organization traveled to Jerusalem to photograph a section of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, famous for the tradition of inserting tiny prayers on paper into its many cracks.
Almost 19 tons of "Jerusalem Gold" sandstone quarried in the region arrived in Berlin on July 11, and has since been chiseled and installed to match the photographs. The complete replica, located in the center's entryway, will also include identical plants sprouting from the cracks.
The Western Wall replica is not meant to be used for worship, but as a symbol and reminder of the center's mission.
Teichtal told the AP that the center's architecture directly reflects center's philosophy. A large cobalt and light blue glass window greets visitors as a symbol of transparency. The sleek, contemporary design by Russian architect Sergei Tchoban, shows that Szloma Albam House focuses on the future.
"Within the transparency is tradition, and that's why we're building the wall," he told The Associated Press. "It's the strongest symbol of the survival of the Jewish people."
Rabbi Chaim Rozwaski, an orthodox rabbi from New York who serves at Berlin's Pestalozzistrasse Synagogue, said the replica has "no more meaning than a picture."
"But the wall itself has a tremendous attraction and obviously a deep-felt meaning for many people, so it's still nice to have a replica."
The Szloma Albam House, located on Muenstersche Strasse in Berlin's Charlottenburg neighborhood, has been under construction for three years. But its synagogue is already open for worship.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany says the Jewish community has some 110,000 registered members.