Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Germany: Rent-a-Jew project hopes to ward off anti-Semitism

Via DW:
"Have you ever been attacked?" one student asks.

Ott himself was previously targeted by three men who, on noticing his Kippah, surrounded him and began chanting Palestine.

"There are small parts of Berlin where I no longer wear my Kippah," Ott said. "Your personal safety takes priority in those situations."

"But it isn't all bad," he added. "I've have some great conversations where people have been curious enough to approach me."

"That's encouraging to see that people can be so open," he said.

According to Jewish law, men are required to cover their heads during prayer

Taking part in the Rent-a-Jew seminar gives participants the chance to learn about all manner of things that contribute to Judaism - whether it's worship, festivals, ancestry, or the particularly popular topic of food.

As the participants begin to relax, Schmerling and Ott turn the tables. "What have you heard about Jews?"

Apprehensive at first, someone answers: "Educated."

"Not always a bad thing," Schmerling replies. "But certainly not true for everyone."

"Money," says another, prompting a mixture of tiny gasps and uneasy laughs from the group.

"Well, it's certainly an old prejudice," Schmerling says. "But, unfortunately it isn't true. At least it wasn't passed on if there was any in my family," she jokes.

"Wouldn't that be nice if you were given a bag of money if you converted," Ott quips. "Where do I sign?"

Among the students at the Solingen Technical College was 17-year-old Justin. Prior to the visit from Rent-a-Jew, he had never had the chance to speak with anyone from Germany's Jewish community.

"They live alongside us, although you don't always know it," he told DW. "It's important to know how others live and not only people from your own religion."

Classmate Mohamed was also keen to learn more about the Jewish way of life.

"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," the 17-year-old said.

For Schmerling and Ott, debunking the stereotypes is half a battle won. "This is a chance to break down those prejudices," Schmerling said.

"Dialogue is key to any problem. Instead of talking about one another, we need to be talking with one another."

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