By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe
BERLIN, Germany — Germany’s most recent attempt to combat anti-Semitism comes in the form of a program titled “Rent a Jew.” Through the outreach program, those interested in learning more about the everyday lives of Jewish people are able to book a Jewish person for an informational session. The program sends Jewish volunteers into German schools to speak about their experiences and to dispel commonly-held myths about the group. The goal of the program is to draw light to the “ordinariness” of the Jewish community, and away from the view of the Jewish community as victims through the “Holocaust lens.”
Mascha Schmerling, one of the program’s leaders, tells reporters that the group’s aim is to “give people the chance to talk to the Jewish community.” The group wants others to see that they are “completely normal people.” Program organizer Alexander Rasumny explains that “[a] lot of people want to be more than just the regular Jewish stereotypes in Germany, reduced to victims. A lot of people want to be seen in their own right.”
As for the odd name of the program, Shmerling recognizes that they made the title “deliberately provocative” so that it would promote conversation. According to Schmerling, the Jewish community is tired of hearing the anti-Semitic view that Jewish people are less valuable than other people. The title of the program mixes humor and “chutzpah” as a step towards refuting such stereotypes.
On one recent trip to a German college, Shmerling and fellow speaker Monty Aviel Zeev Ott asked the students about rumors they have heard about Jewish people, and encouraged them to speak to any rumor even if it was unflattering. On the trip, the Rent a Jew speakers also spoke to their holiday traditions, worship practices, and family recipes.
The Jewish speakers volunteer the time and do not get paid for their services, although the organization’s website suggests that hosts are welcome to pitch in for travel expenses of the volunteers if they are willing. Students who have participated in the program thus far have described their experiences as “enlightening.”
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