The Limited Times

Now you can see non-English news...

Allegations of harassment at the rabbinical college: what the new boss is up to

2022-06-23T10:36:07.370Z

Serious allegations shake Germany's training center for liberal rabbis. Here interim director Gabriele Thöne explains why the college did not make any mistakes - and what she wants to change.



Enlarge image

Transitional boss Gabriele Thöne: "I'm experiencing increasing openness"

Photo: Soeren Stache / picture alliance / dpa

SPIEGEL:

Ms. Thöne, SPIEGEL and other media have reported on alleged abuses at the Abraham Geiger College: sexualized harassment by a former employee, abuse of power, a culture of fear.

How far have you gotten with the revision?

Thöne:

The processing takes place on different levels.

The University of Potsdam has set up an investigative commission, and the Central Council of Jews has commissioned a law firm to conduct an investigation.

Nevertheless, we are an independent institute and it is therefore important that we gain our own insights.

This applies in particular to restructuring: in order to be successful and sustainable, it must come from within.

MIRROR:

How do you go about it?

Thöne:

I want these questions from the past to be dealt with before the end of this year, and I've already spoken to 80 to 100 people.

Including the two people who have been accused of sexualized harassment.

Beyond that, I am not aware of any such cases.

But it's a process, my door is open.

SPIEGEL:

Who else did you talk to?

Thöne:

With sponsors, teachers, employees, alumni and students of the college and also with other institutions to see: What could have been the abuse of power?

What do you imagine that means?

"Is the structure suitable for spreading fear?"

SPIEGEL:

In these many conversations, did you also talk about a culture of fear?

Thöne:

One focus of my job is restructuring.

When the word fear comes up, I prick up my ears and ask myself: Is the structure suitable for spreading fear?

I have to say, however, that there were many statements to the contrary.

Many students say: We studied wonderfully here.

SPIEGEL:

Several people have told us that grievances at the college were overlooked or ignored, also because the dependency on the former director Walter Homolka was so great.

A professor has accused the college of covering up because a case of alleged sexualized harassment by the director's life partner had not been properly processed internally.

The partner denies the allegations.

Did the college make mistakes?

Thöne:

In this case, there was an internal investigation committee in 2020, which was made up of internal employees due to existing compliance rules;

that was factually correct.

But we will make an effort in these questions and look internationally at best practice examples.

SPIEGEL:

Could it be that those who are allegedly affected now distrust the college and therefore do not speak to you?

Thöne:

As a conversation partner, I experience increasing openness – and that I am taken seriously.

SPIEGEL:

Students wrote in a statement that the situation would only improve "when the entire management team at the college has been replaced."

Thöne:

With 21 signatures, a number of students have now denied having signed such a statement, six of them in writing.

The letter is not authentic.

We have no evidence that any signature is genuine.

SPIEGEL:

And that means that your call for further personal consequences is no longer valid?

Thöne:

I'm not shelving the issue, I'm taking it seriously.

But we also have to see that very many people have a different or more differentiated position.

MIRROR:

Walter

Homolka is still managing director of the Abraham Geiger College.

According to our research, he is at the center of what has been described as a toxic culture at the college.

How do you want to deal with it when you restructure the college?

Thöne:

I always have to go back to the definition of my task.

It reads: Preservation of the institution, regardless of any influences.

I can't tear everything up and disregard the rule of law.

It is also not legally possible that he is no longer the managing director.

SPIEGEL:

You mean you don't want to be influenced by the Central Council of Jews?

Its President Josef Schuster recently said that under the current personnel circumstances, a reorganization of the college hardly seems possible.

And this week the Central Council is apparently inviting students from the college to an interview.

Thöne:

I don't want to be influenced by anyone.

SPIEGEL:

The question again: In view of the allegations against the former director, is it conceivable that the college could have a future with him as managing director?

Thöne:

I will answer this question after the examination.

SPIEGEL:

What should your restructuring look like?

Thöne:

It is important to me to uphold the liberal tradition of the college and to let this process emerge stronger.

There are ideas from the USA that flow in through talks with international alumni, such as flatter hierarchies.

I also look: where can we incorporate participatory elements without violating the right of self-determination of the religious communities?

»No one can accuse me of being partial«

SPIEGEL:

What does that mean?

Thöne:

For example: What about advisory boards?

There could be alumni who know what practice needs and what training brings.

For example, we receive various indications from younger students that aspects of rabbi training are antiquated.

SPIEGEL:

You are not Jewish and have no theological training.

Are you right for the job?

Thöne:

My commitment to interreligious dialogue has been with me for many years.

I always try to find ways that we can talk to each other and learn from each other.

What is required here: first, listen, second, organize, third, find a new structure.

This can take place independently of religious questions, so nobody can accuse me of being partisan.

However, it is important to me that the content and structure of the AGK remain independent of other Jewish organizations during the reorganization.

And just as important to me is working in partnership with all committed Jewish and non-Jewish institutions.

Source: spiegel

All life articles on 2022-06-23

You may like

Trends 24h

Life/Entertain 2022-06-22T12:23:45.323Z

Latest

© Communities 2019 - Privacy