Rent-a-Jew is a reach-out program. Launched by the Munich-headquartered European academy Janusz Korczak, it aspires to prevent anti-Semitism by providing people with the opportunity to socialize with members of the Jewish community, breaking down and dispelling any prejudices in the process.
Moscow-born Mascha Schmerling , one of the program’s 50 members who lead seminars with private groups and educational establishments across Germany, says, “We want to give people the chance to talk to the Jewish community. We want them to see that we’re completely normal people. We don’t want to be defined purely by history and we don’t want to always be seen through this Holocaust lens,” she added.
“But we also want to show an open and colorful Judaism,” another program member, Hanoverian Monty Aviel Zeev Ott, told DW.
And in view of anti-Semitism’s rise in Western Europe, with 34% more anti-Semitic incidents reported in 2015 than in 2014, Ott believes it is more important than ever to establish dialogue and encourage conversation with the Jewish community.
One 17-year-old student who attended a Rent-a-Jew seminar at Solingen Technical College, Mohamed, said: “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.”
For Schmerling and Ott, debunking 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.”