I hadn’t comprehended that I was going to Germany with BBYO.
I hadn’t taken in that I was about to learn more about my Jewish roots, meet Jewish teens from the other side of the world, and – as always – have fun. There was no way I could have possibly predicted that I would come home with a new passion for educating others about rebuilding Jewish communities across Europe. What’s more, I did not know I would grow passionate about sharing the stories of Jewish people in oppression, ensuring they continue to grow with the support of global Jewry.
From the moment we arrived, I could tell this journey would be special, different from anything else I had done before. The atmosphere arriving in Germany was exceptional and filled with a desire to do good, learn, and give back in any way possible to the community. Each group of people we met and every memorial and museum we visited added a piece to the intricate puzzle of German Jewry identity. Only once we had all the pieces, could we truly have some insight on what it’s like to live as a Jew in Germany. It was incredible to take it all in.
The Jews in Germany are proud – much prouder and more vocal than many American Jews. They never take life or faith for granted. Each and every one of them knows they have a part to play in the community and feels a responsibility to fulfill their role to the highest degree. We had the privilege of getting to spend time with two Central Welfare Board of Jews (ZWST) staff throughout our journey, Ilja and Bella. Both gave us something irreplaceable: an understanding of Jewish community through their eyes. At every memorial and museum, we were greeted by guides we could relate to. We could take it in for ourselves, but we also had the opportunity to ask the direct opinion of German teens, so similar to us, yet so unbelievably different.
Germany is one of several countries with a Jewish community in the process of rebuilding. They are proud and passionate, but they are small. With the help of Jews around the world, each one of its 107 Jewish communities (along with the hundreds of small and large communities across Europe) will grow and prosper. We are lucky to have them and it will be a global group effort to continue to support our brothers and sisters.
In the heart of where the horrors of the Holocaust decimated a community 80 years ago, there is now an incredible Jewish presence of amazing people and vibrant culture. It is a miracle that the community has survived and it is encouraging to see how many Jews have continued to immigrate or return to Germany to rebuild a strong, prospering, and uniquely Jewish community.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Roark Baker is a former regional Aleph S'gan at BBYO Lake Ontario Region who lives in Toronto, Canada. He attends the William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute.