As a Fishel fellow, I was placed in India with JDC Entwine Multi-Week Global Jewish Service Corps with Gabriel Project Mumbai, and I am now working in Berlin as a JDC Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps fellow.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Refugees, Neo-Nazis, and Jews

This weekend, I was fortunate enough to help with a project for Mitzvah Day, a day of volunteer service organized by Jewish communities around the world.  For our project, we decided to team up with a synagogue community to open up a children’s room in a newly established refugee center in Berlin.
This refugee center (formerly a school building) opened a few months ago in Hellersdorf, an area notorious for right-wing extremist, neo-Nazi activity.  Not surprisingly, these refugees who from Syria, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Serbia, and Bosnia were met by weeks of protests.  Clearly, it hasn't been easy for the residents of the refugee center.

Photo from protest a few months ago:

I organized a havdalah program for yesterday evening so that families from our Bambinim center could come and enjoy a social, Jewish event while baking challah for the refugee families as a way for our community to welcome them to Berlin.  We baked 60 challot, which we brought over to the refugee center early this morning.


Preparing the challah dough

Making challah for the refugees

Challah baking!

About 50 children live at the refugee center, and there was nowhere for them to play and no toys even to play with, so we collected toys and monetary donations from families over the past month at Bambinim.  The money went towards more materials for the children’s room, which volunteers painted and set up this morning. 

When I arrived at the center, I was immediately greeted by the kids, who wanted any attention I was willing to give them.  One boy ran up to me and gave me a hug out of nowhere.  Another boy wanted to show off his English and kept finding me throughout the day to ask, “How are you?”  A girl from Bosnia handed me a ping-pong paddle and tried to speak to me in every language she knew (of which I knew none) while we played ping-pong. 

We brought along supplies for face painting and glitter tattoos, which the kids loved.  They kept coming back for more and more until their arms were covered in glittery butterfly and lizard tattoos, and they proudly showed them off to everybody. 

Spider-man was obviously very popular 

He likes my challah!

It was amazing to see the kids playing in their new room at the center.  Politics aside, these people came here for the chance at a better life and to escape violence and atrocities in their home countries, and they deserve that chance.  They didn’t receive the warmest welcome to Berlin, so I'm glad we were able to change that.