The Reopening of the Joseph Carlebach School

Stephanie Kowitz-Harms

Source Description

This source is a short article of fifty-four lines that was published in the newsletter of Hamburg's Jewish congregation on the occasion of the Joseph Carlebach School's reopening in the fall of 2007. Its author is the journalist and writer Daniel Killy, who also was the Jewish congregation's spokesperson at the time.

In the article, Killy reports about the opening of the Joseph Carlebach School located at Grindelhof 30, which opened its doors to 18 children attending preschool and first grade on August 28, 2007. He describes the daily routine and the concept of “rhythmicization,” meaning the multi-methodical composition of the school day at this all-day school, which follows the ideas of pedagogue Joseph Carlebach, for whom the school is named. In addition to principal Heinz Hibbeler, Killy quotes rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky, who highlights the significance of this new school for the rebuilding of Jewish life in Hamburg.

  • Stephanie Kowitz-Harms

The Talmud Torah School, 1805-1942

In 1805 the first Jewish school in Hamburg, the Talmud Torah School, was founded in the Neustadt  New Town district. Its curriculum primarily included traditional Jewish disciplines such as the reading and writing of Hebrew texts or Torah study. In subsequent decades, secular subjects, and especially German, were also incorporated into the canon in order to open up new ways of earning a living to poor children in particular. 1911 saw the move to the new schoolhouse in the Grindel neighborhood, where the majority of Hamburg's Jews lived by then. During the National Socialist period, the Talmud Torah School was renamed “grade school and secondary school for Jews” Volks- und Höhere Schule für Juden . In 1939 students and teachers had to leave the building and attend school at the schoolhouse on Karolinenstraße instead. In June 1942 the Talmud Torah School, like all other Jewish schools in Germany, was closed for good. Hundreds of students and numerous teachers were deported. After the end of the Second World War, the building was initially used by the British occupation forces before being handed over to the Hamburg school authority. Beginning in 1966, it housed the Hamburg technical college's faculty for library sciences.

The new beginning as Joseph Carlebach School

When the building was handed over to the Jewish congregation almost forty years later, in 2004, it was in very poor condition. Extensive renovations had to be undertaken before the school could be (re)opened in the summer of 2007. It was named after the former principal and later chief rabbi, Joseph Carlebach, who had reformed the school fundamentally in the 1920s. Under his leadership the ideas of reform pedagogy were introduced into the school. These included the introduction of modern subjects and teaching methods such as independent experiments, project work, or the integration of arts and exercise into the curriculum. Class trips and performances, too, now became part of the school routine and played their part in loosening up the strictly authoritarian relationship existing between students and teachers up until then.

This tradition was to be continued at the new school at Grindelhof, as principal Heinz Hibbeler emphasizes: "We want to take up the work of the great pedagogue Joseph Carlebach – whose methods of self-directed learning and reform pedagogy serve as an example for us." At the time the article was written, Hibbeler was 62 years old and had many years of experience as a pedagogue and principal. Until he was appointed to head the Joseph Carlebach School, he had been principal of a comprehensive school  Gesamtschule in Hamburg. The city's school authority had granted him a reduction of working hours to enable him to participate in the conception and founding of the new Jewish school. According to him, Joseph Carlebach's ideas are reflected in the school routine: "A challenging period of learning is always followed by a phase of recreation through sports or playtime." Hibbeler refers to the innovations Carlebach introduced to the school routine in his day: he had drawing lessons redesigned, he introduced workshop class and strengthened musical education by establishing a school orchestra, for example. Moreover, he had a new gymnasium built in order to give students more opportunity for exercise and recreation through sports.

The Joseph Carlebach School as a Jewish School in Hamburg

The central focus of the programmatic new orientation under Joseph Carlebach was a synthesis of Jewish and general education, however. Students were supposed to receive an extensive secular education and yet be raised in a decidedly Jewish manner in order to become acquainted with Jewish religion and culture in all its facets and thus feel confirmed in their Jewish identity. For Carlebach, Jewish education was a fundamental precondition for ensuring the continued existence of Hamburg’s Jewish community.

Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky also particularly emphasizes this aspect. Bistritzky was born in Jerusalem in 1977 and studied in New York, Manchester, and Berlin before being ordained as a rabbi. In 2003 he came to Hamburg, the birthplace of his grandfather Loeb who was born in 1926, as a representative of the Jewish organization Chabad-Lubavitch. His grandfather had attended the Jewish school at Grindelhof before he and his family had to leave Germany to flee from National Socialist persecution. For Shlomo Bistritzky, the opening of the new Jewish school, of whose advisory board he is a member, was an event that touched him personally. In the article published in the congregation newsletter, he points out the special significance the Joseph Carlebach School has for the Jewish community: "With this school we want to contribute to the rebuilding of Jewish life in Hamburg and teach Jewish tradition and atmosphere." He specifically mentions the shared kosher lunch as a connecting ritual: "The children are not only supposed to learn about Jewish symbols, but especially about their meaning. The subject of Jewish religion is a central part of the curriculum."

This shows that for Shlomo Bistritzky, the Jewish school was a central element in the establishment and development of the Jewish community in Hamburg, which has about 3,500 members at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Contrary to the 1920s, when Joseph Carlebach sought to strengthen Jewish identity and secure the continued existence of the congregation, children today are supposed to learn about Jewish rituals and traditions in the first place. A large share of the community’s members hail from the territories of the former Soviet Union, where they usually could not get to know or practice their religion. For Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky, the Joseph Carlebach School therefore provides an opportunity to introduce the children of these migrants to the Jewish faith and to strengthen the congregation in the long term.

Criticism and conflicts regarding Jewish education at the school

This position is in line with the goals of the Chabad movement Shlomo Bistritzky belongs to and which is very influential in many Jewish communities in Germany, especially in the area of child rearing. It is an Orthodox movement within Judaism that is active worldwide and dispatches "emissaries" (shlichim) to communities in order to strengthen or revive Jewish community life there. Due to its organizational structure and strictly Orthodox orientation as well as its messianic tendencies, Chabad has repeatedly come under criticism especially in Germany. As the article hints at, there was conflict between Hamburg's Jewish community and the Chabad movement as well. Principal Heinz Hibbeler demands that the school must stay out of congregational disagreements. "The school must be able to develop freely, a Jewish school in Hamburg is overdue." To which Shlomo Bistritzky adds: "Once parents see that a good school exists here, they will send their children to us." This illustrates what reservations might exist against a school that is influenced by a rabbi belonging to Chabad-Lubavitch. In this context, the fact that Hamburg's Chief Rabbi at the time, Dov-Levy Barsilay, is mentioned in the article but, in contrast to Bistritzky, is not quoted, seems like a conspicuous absence. This might be an indication of the conflict between the two different orientations within Hamburg's Jewish community that escalated only a few months after the opening of the Joseph Carlebach School and eventually led to Barsilay's dismissal. Three years later, Shlomo Bistritzky was elected Hamburg's new Chief Rabbi. This article shows that as early as 2007, he had influence on the education of Jewish children and youths in Hamburg in his function as an advisory board member and that his voice was heard in the Jewish community.

Since its founding the Joseph Carlebach School has become increasingly popular. Today more than 160 students attend the school at >Grindelhof, where in the summer of 2017 it will be possible for the first time in eighty years to graduate with a general certificate of secondary education  mittlerer Schulabschluss.

Select Bibliography

Andreas Brämer, Joseph Carlebach, Hamburg 2007.
Gabriela Fenyes, Jüdische Gemeinde nach 1989, in: Institut für die Geschichte der deutschen Juden (ed.), Das Jüdische Hamburg. Ein historisches Nachschlagewerk, Göttingen 2006, pp. 139-143.
Ursula Randt, Die Talmud Tora Schule in Hamburg 1805-1942, Hamburg 2005.
Ursula Randt, Jüdische Schulen am Grindel, in: Ursula Wamser / Wilfried Weinke (eds.), Ehemals in Hamburg zu Hause. Jüdisches Leben am Grindel, Hamburg 1991, pp. 36-55.

This text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Non commercial - No Derivatives 4.0 International License. As long as the work is unedited and you give appropriate credit according to the Recommended Citation, you may reuse and redistribute the material in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes.

About the Author

Stephanie Kowitz-Harms, Dr. phil, wrote her dissertation about “Shoah im Spiegel öffentlicher Konflikte in Polen, 1985-2001” and was project manager of the particapatory school project “Geschichtomat” ( at the Institute for the History of the German Jews for three years. She works as freelance project manager for education-projects.

Recommended Citation and License Statement

Stephanie Kowitz-Harms, The Reopening of the Joseph Carlebach School (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, July 25, 2017. <> [April 17, 2024].

This text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Non commercial - No Derivatives 4.0 International License. As long as the work is unedited and you give appropriate credit according to the Recommended Citation, you may reuse and redistribute the material in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes.