The Jewish High School, the “Jüdisches Gymnasium Moses Mendelssohn”, is a state-recognised private school belonging to the Berlin Jewish Congregation. It has a total of 450 pupils who are taught according to the Berlin educational curriculum. Sixty per cent of the pupils are Jewish and forty per cent come from Christian families, Muslim families, or non-denominational families.
Teachers, students and parents are dedicated to the school's Jewish profile. All the students learn Hebrew and take part in Bible and Jewish History lessons. Moreover, everybody participates in organising the celebration of the Jewish festivals. Thus, the school is not only a sign of active, living Judaism in Berlin’s educational landscape, but it is also a place where pupils learn to live together under the auspices of tolerance, acceptance and integration. Our aim is to provide pupils from different cultures and religions with the opportunity to get to know, experience, respect and understand Jewish traditions. Our task is to strengthen Jewish identity within a pluralist school community, to convey Jewish values and social competences and to teach the pupils to become self reliant, democratically-minded individuals.
The school wants to enable its pupils to fully develop all their valuable gifts and talents and endow them with a high degree of judgement–making ability as well as knowledge and skill. Our students should leave the school as individuals who are able and ready to take a determined stand against the ideology of national socialism, anti-Semitism, racism and all other doctrines of political tyranny; individuals who will contribute to public, societal, social and Jewish life on the basis of democracy, peace, freedom, sexual equality and respect for their fellow human beings.
Recognition of the Jewish people and of the existence of Israel and respect for the way of life of all traditions within Judaism is part of the ideological basis and orientation of the school. For example, all the students of grade eight travel to Israel. This involves a stay in a kibbutz and a language course and also a meeting with a group of pupils from our Israeli partner school, the Leo Baeck High School in Haifa.
Our religious conduct and the teaching and interpretation of religious studies in school conform to the standards of the unified Berlin Jewish Council. The school closes for the Jewish high holidays. For religious education and religious celebrations, male participants wear the kippa. The Jewish rules regarding food are applied to the communal lunch break and the relevant “Brachot” or grace can be said at mealtimes. Pupils together with their parents and teachers attend the “Kabbalat Shabbat” services of the different synagogues in regular intervals and eat and sing together after service. All important Jewish festivals are celebrated in the school.
Often the aims of our class and field trips and our courses of study are linked to the Jewish profile of our school. Visits to Jewish sites and the analysis of Jewish history during the era of the Shoa are important themes. Year ten pupils take part in a memorial trip to Poland, where they visit a number of camps and memorials like Maidanek or Treblinka. The school sees itself as a bridge between the past, the present and the future and wants to counteract forgetting and denial with a culture of reflection and remembrance.
The history of our school is characterized by tradition and change. It began in 1778 with the establishment of the first free Jewish school in Germany, on the initiative of the philosopher, enlightened thinker and writer Moses Mendelssohn. In the 18th century, the education of children from the Jewish community was limited to writing, Talmud and Bible; only a few well-to-do families could afford private tuition. Moses Mendelssohn set out to ensure that the children of poorer families might also have an education; an education that did not consist merely of the Talmud and the Bible but also German, Mathematics, Biology, Physics and French. In the earliest years of the new school, five hundred boys were given a free education and the school was also open to non-Jewish pupils.
In 1860, the Government of Berlin approved the building of a school at number 27, Große Hamburger Straße, in Berlin-Mitte, where the Jewish High School still is today, within walking distance of the new synagogue on Oranienburger Straße und other Jewish organisations. From 1931 until its closure by the national socialists in 1942, the former Jewish Boys’ School also accepted girls. From 1942 until 1945, the building was used by the Nazis as a deportation depot for members of the Berlin Jewish community.
Located in the GDR, the building housed a technical college during the socialist regime; after the fall of the wall, the school again became the property of the Jewish Council. Initially the home of the Jewish community primary school, the building was re-configured in 1993 as a grammar school for, when it first opened, twenty-seven pupils.
Cooperations and Projects
Alongside other inter-confessional projects, the Jewish Highschool has a joint programme with the Protestant grammar school 'Zum Grauen Kloster' and the Roman Catholic 'Canisius College'. These schools take part in an annual meeting with an Israeli group from Hadera High School.
There is much public interest in the Jewish High School because of its special status. This is manifest in many visits by school groups, political organisations and church representatives; and conversely in the involvement of our pupils in workshops, roundtable discussions with inter-cultural themes and musical events.
For example, every year we are invited by the Berlin Senate to the commemoration of the Night of the Reich pogrom on 9 November and by the Parliament to a day of remembrance for the victims of National Socialism on 27 January. This year, students met Chancellor Merkel and performed a play about Moses Mendelssohn and his wife in front of parliamentarians.
We regularly take part in the intercultural competition “Quiz der Religionen”, in which a group of our year ten pupils test their knowledge on Judaism, Christianity and Islam and compete against other schools. Classes take part in projects with schools with mainly Muslim students, for example in rhetorical training sessions, in which the students try to develop verbal skills against racial attacks.