A year ago I was invited to join a group a people given an ambitious assignment with no defined boundaries or clear goals. We wanted to create ‘something’ that would connect Bar and Bat mitzvah age students from Germany and the US. Not fully understanding our direction, we let our instincts guide us, and after months of hard work Zadenu took form. The ‘something’ that we had not predicted was a solid community of well-connected parents and teenagers from across Germany.
Last year a young boy in New York decided to do a mitzvah for his Bar mitzvah. He wanted to create a project in Germany, and from his goodwill Zadenu was born. Zadenu, a projected initiated by the Beran family of NY, supported by the JDC, connects families with Bar and Bat mitzvah students from the US and Germany. Zadenu’s main goal is participants, both parents and children, share and learn through each other’s experiences. Zadenu consists of seminars, meetings, peulot, Shabbat gatherings, attending Bar and Bat mitvahs, and most recently an international Shabbaton weekend in Berlin.
Although it has been said to me many times before, since my arrival in Germany, it was the Zadenu project that physically taught me how community work is done in German. The three vital components are personal connections, meetings and contact. Many of the participants in Zadenu were just as much estranged from each other as they were from us, the leaders behind the initiative. Hard work and contact built a community from individuals, as what began as an impossible assignment became possible. As I mentioned in my last blog, FSU Jews in Germany are learning what it means to be Jewish. And as they learn they are redefining German Jewry. It is their kids and their grandchildren who will ultimately give new meaning and life to Judaism in Germany. To have a Bar/Bat mitzvah is not only a new idea in Germany Jewish communities but an essential and defining landmark on one’s Jewish life Journey. It is not just a one day event, but rather a yearlong learning experience that impacts the whole family, prior and long after the Bar/Bat mitzvah day has come and gone.
In Jewish communities in Germany people belong to synagogues and community centers, and it is through their local communities that they become involved in nationwide German Jewish organizations and/or programs. It is rare that people join a group or club that does not already have a strong foot in their community. What the Beran Family and JDC did is unheard of in Germany. Unlike in America, in Germany people do not jump at new opportunities, instead they are more inclined to the familiar. Zadenu was anything but familiar. Zadenu is successful because it fills a unique gap in Jewish communities across Germany, as it provides a pluralistic experience for the whole family to strengthen Jewish identity. To learn more about the JDC visit their website at, http://www.jdc.org/