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First of a series from The Global Jewish Pen Pal Program

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The bright interior of the synagogue in Cottbus, in northeast Germany. (Photo: Justyna Michniuk)

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I’m Justyna, 34, and live in the former East Germany in Brandenburg. I am working as a journalist and free author as well as in an institution bringing German and Polish people together by use of INTERREG – European Union Funds for border cooperation.

Madison Jackson from Jewish Pen Pal Program told me, your newspaper is looking for stories of Jewish life around the world. So here I am — As for now I have 2 Pen Pals, one in the USA and one in Canada. The one from the USA has not been very active, that’s why I asked for another Pen Pal. My second Pen Pal from Canada, Syd, is a very kind person, with whom I have many things in common. We are writing mails (email and post) a few times a week. I can imagine that we could speak for hours, once we met in real life.

Before 1933 more than 9,000 Jews in 20 communities used to live in the whole of Brandenburg. But this splendid Jewish life has been vanquished by Nazis. After WW2 it was hard to rebuild the synagogues and organize new communities.

In many cities, where the Jewish life existed until 1933, today there is not even one Jew (an example is Guben/Gubin, a city on German-Polish border, which has been divided after 1945).

But the history of Jews in Brandenburg has not ended with the Nazis. New Jews came here, like to the city where I am Cottbus/Chóśebuz. The city is located about 1.5 hours by car from Berlin. It has two names because there are two official languages in the city: German and Sorbian, NOT Serbian.

The “new Jews” came from the former Soviet Union and tried to live their faith here. The synagogue of Cottbus/Chóśebuz is an old Protestant church which was given to the new Jewish community in January 2015. Since that time the Jewish community can pray there. The synagogue is Orthodox.

The Jewish community of Cottbus/Chóśebuz has about 1500 people today, mostly people above the age of 50, all speaking Russian as their mother tongue. There is unfortunately absolutely no program offerings for younger people from the Jewish community in Cottbus.

Another problem is the language of the community, Russian, which I cannot speak and the Orthodox course. This is why I’m not a part of the community.

But because Jewish culture and traditions as well as tolerant cohabitation are important for me, I am a part of MEET A JEW (www.meetajew.de/en/ ). It is a project to learn non-Jews about contemporary Jewish life in Germany.

MEET A JEW is a really great initiative and voluntary work we do. One of our coordinators, Wiebke Rasumny developed the idea. It used to be called RENT A JEW, which was more provocative in a positive way in my humble opinion because more people were curious about WHO WE ARE.

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Now, Meet a Jew is a project of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, supported by the “Living Democracy!” program of the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. The most important for us is: we are not disqualifying anyone just because for instance his or her father is a JEW, but NOT the mother. We are very liberal! For us it is important to show us: living examples how colourful and different modern Jewish life in Germany is.

We are not the same, but we respect each other and have a common aim. But we want to show that JEWS ARE NORMAL PEOPLE, with the same problems as non-Jews. We fight with stereotypes showing Jews like old men in a black coat with a long beard and the hat.

Berlin is one of the cities, where we meet to talk with each other and develop new ideas as well as to take part in further education and training. We are organizing meetings for instance with schools, teachers, Catholic or Protestant communities and so on. We are discussing with them and answering their questions, following the premise: “There are no bad questions/Ask us anything”.

We are a colourful mix of for instance orthodox and liberal Jews or religious and non-religious Jews. We are active in the whole of Germany! Being a part of MaJ is giving me strength and showing me that education matters.

Justyna Michniuk is an experienced journalist, originally from the former Yugoslavia. She was previously published in the Polish Jewish magazine MIDRASZ, and is now writing for the German/Israeli Website hagalil.com and for anyone asking for ‘Jewish topics’. 

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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