We are happy to have Filip Kusmierski with us as a volunteer in the European Voluntary Service (EVS) in the period of September 2015 until August 2016.
My name is Filip and I´m the new EVS volunteer at the Oranienburgerstrasse Synagogue (September 2015 until August 2016). Originally I come from Poland – born and bred in the lovely city of Czestochowa in central Poland, famous for its Clara Montana monastery. However, for the last few years I have lived and studied in Aberdeen in north-east Scotland pursuing a degree in politics and international relations. After graduation I have decided to do something different than simply continuing my studies and come to Berlin to expose myself to new challenges and learn more about Jewish life and traditions. So far this experience has been nothing but extremely positive, as the community made sure I find myself at home in this new, sometimes bit overwhelming city. I can wholeheartedly recommend doing this project to anyone open to new experiences and keen on learning about Jewish culture.
The European Voluntary Service EVS is funded by the EU program Erasmus + Youth in Action.
The Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue in Berlin is cooperating with a refugee shelter housed in the Catholic Hospital just behind our synagogue. A few months ago, they finished building a new wing and decided to offer it as a refugee shelter. Immediately, they sent out letters to all the other religious communities and other social institutions in the neighborhood, asking for cooperation.
Just as a side note: The hospital is located on “Grosse Hamburger Strasse”, next to the Jewish High School and the former Jewish Home for the Elderly that was used by the Nazis as a collecting point before deportation to the camps. Some people managed to escape and the nuns at the Catholic Hospital took them in, wrapped them in bandages, put them in beds, simulating intensive care and so saved their lives! And today, we are cooperating for new refugees.
Teenagers and parents from the synagogue and the Jewish High School helped setting up the rooms, assembling furniture, carrying mattresses, etc. Other volunteers help refugees deal with the bureaucracy, teach German, spend leisure time together, organize sport events and other outings. We collected clothing, bags, books to learn German and more. At another refugee center, volunteers from the synagogue renovated and furnished a playroom for children.
Last year the synagogue invited Syrian refugees as guests for our Chanukka party and went with our kids to another shelter (next to the Jewish primary school) to do arts and crafts with the children there. At our party, we had somebody from our Muslim sister congregation helping to translate my Chanukka explanations and the berakhot for candle lighting into Arabic, and later we taught them to play with dreidels and other useful German words. One of our guests asked our Muslim friend (recognizable through her head covering): “Is such a relationship as we see here normal between Muslims and Jews in Germany?” and she answered (and told me so afterwards with a smile): “Yes, that’s normal.” This is the normalcy we want to create – and it would be great if you become part of it!
Right now, we are looking for support for German language books, printing a “Welcome" brochure with useful (and sometimes unofficial) information, providing snacks and other support during the time when people are standing in lines waiting for registration, etc. It is so important to add a strong Jewish voice to the chorus of help – as you know, Germany expects 800,000 refugees this year – since it will shape the refugees’ view about how we want to live together in Europe in the future.
Some “helping numbers”:
• $18: Welcome package for one family (Welcome/Basic Information book, water & fruit)
• $36: Three visual German-Arabic dictionaries
• $180: Three hours of Meeting Time — an informal space where refugees can sit and relax, have a cup of tea/coffee, and begin to speak German informally with volunteers. Donations pay for beverage & cookies; space is provided without charge, and people volunteer their time.
• $540: Intensive German lessons — this amount supports a class that meets for five hours, three times per week, for one month, run by volunteers, with ten students per class.
The easiest way to support this work is through a donation earmarked "Masorti Germany" to Masorti Olami: https://masortiolami.org/one-time-donation. Please send us an email saying that it is to support work with the refugees. The money will reach us safely and we will put it to good use.
We would like to thank the Joint Distribution Committee for the wonderful cooperation: Yahel Matalon who is a volunteer in the “Jewish Service Corps of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee” and working with Bambinim Family Club is supporting the synagogue’s work with children:
Together with Rabbi Ederberg she has prepared several Bat Mitzvah students and she will continue to work with our Youth also in the coming months.
Yahel grew up in New York City, where she attended Jewish day school and participated regularly in her community, Congregation Bnai Jeshurun. She graduated from Barnard College in May 2010 with a B.A. in English, after which she worked at a literary agency for a year. During her time at Barnard, she worked at the Barnard Writing Center as well as as a tutor for Bnei Mitzvah at Congregation Bnai Jeshurun. For a year, she also led Shabbat morning activities for 4 - 6 year olds at the 92nd Street Y's Shababa Community.
We would like to express our thanks to Congregation Beth Israel in Munster, Indiana, who have donated to us 90 Machsorim for High Holiday, and also shipped them to Berlin! These new Machsorim, edited by Jules Harlow, will replace the old English Machsorim from the 50ies, and will enhance the prayer experience of our English speaking members and guest, by providing the traditional texts in a better layout and with a better translation. Toda Rabba!