‘Rent-a-Jew’ project introduces Germans to Jews
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‘Rent-a-Jew’ project introduces Germans to Jews

New initiative aims to promote dialogue through seminars in which participants can talk with Jews, learn about community

Yacob Yanai, an Israeli living in Berlin, volunteers with refugee children at the Spandau refugee shelter. November 13, 2016. (Courtesy)
Yacob Yanai, an Israeli living in Berlin, volunteers with refugee children at the Spandau refugee shelter. November 13, 2016. (Courtesy)

Never met a Jew? If you’re in Germany, here’s your chance.

The European Janusz Korczak Academy, a Jewish educational institution in Germany, recently launched its “Rent-a-Jew” initiative, which is aimed at combating negative perceptions of Jews by exposing non-Jews in Germany to the local Jewish community.

Rent-a-Jew holds seminars and other events in which participants have the opportunity to socialize with Jews and ask them any questions they may have about the community and its traditions.

Mascha Schmerling, a Moscow-born Jew and part of the Rent-a-Jew team, told German broadcaster DW that the purpose of the program is to “to give people the chance to talk to the Jewish community. We want them to see that we’re completely normal people.”

Schmerling added that “we don’t want to be defined purely by history and we don’t want to always be seen through this Holocaust lens.”

Germany, home to over 200,000 Jews, the majority of them from the former Soviet Union, has seen a recent uptick in anti-Semitism, with 34 percent more cases of anti-Jewish attacks reported in 2015 than the year before, according to German broadcaster DW.

Justin, who recently attended a Rent-a-Jew seminar, told DW that he attended the event because “it’s important to know how others live,” as Jews “live alongside us, although you don’t always know it.”

Mohamed, who was also at the Rent-a-Jew seminar, said to DW that “not only have I learnt about day-to-day life in Judaism, but I’ve also learnt that many things I’ve heard about Jews aren’t actually true.”

At another recent event, participants were asked what they have heard about Jews, with answers such as “educated” and “money” being the most frequent replies, DW reported.

Schmerling said that the seminars provide an opportunity “to break down these prejudices,” as “dialogue is key to any problem. Instead of talking about one another, we need to be talking with one another.”

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