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Around the Jewish World New Book Helps Immigrants Learn German — and Some Yiddishkeit

July 8, 2004
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Why not pick up a little Judaism while learning German? For the first time, a new textbook for Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants here will offer just that combination.

“Pluspunkt Deutsch fuer juedische Einwanderer” — “Extra-Credit German for Jewish Immigrants” — will add a twist to the standard language text by the Berlin-based Cornelsen Publishing company.

The project is the brainchild of Rabbi Gesa Ederberg, leader of the Jewish congregation in Weiden, a small city in Bavaria, since 2001. It is supported by the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the School for Adult Education in Weiden.

Instead of merely introducing newcomers to life in Germany, the book opens with a welcome to the Jewish community and includes information about the synagogue and community center, kosher food and Jewish holidays.

Ederberg’s text doesn’t favor any one Jewish denomination, nor does it purport to train rabbis, Stephan Kramer, general! secretary of the Central Council, said in an interview. Rather, the goal is to help speed the integration process and step in before Christian missionary groups have a chance to gain a foothold among the immigrants.

The Central Council, Germany’s Jewish umbrella organization, will purchase part of the initial run of 6,000 books when they come out later this year. Each 96-page text will cost about $10.

In the one chapter made available at a recent press conference, kosher food and Jewish cuisine are described in a simple, direct manner.

“According to Jewish regulations of kashrut, one cannot eat milk and meat together,” begins one text, followed by an exercise in which the reader separates meat, dairy and pareve foods in a refrigerator.

“Cholent is a Sabbath meal. It can cook slowly on the stove,” begins a selection in which students are asked to pen shopping lists for Bella Nudman and her son, Jakov.

Though fictitious names are used, one photo in the ch! apter is unmistakably that of Rabbi Yehudah Teichtal, a Chabad-Lubavit ch rabbi in Berlin. Here, however, he is “Rabbi Rosen,” explaining the laws of kashrut to “Michail Kogan.”

As Germany’s Jewish population has tripled to more than 105,000 since 1989 due to the arrival of Jews from the former Soviet Union, it’s about time such a text was available, Kramer said.

“It’s the first such textbook for a language course with a focus on religious matters,” Kramer said. “It combines the important task of learning the German language with promoting Jewish basics. Language and religion are our major challenges in terms of integration.”

The project shows that the Central Council is interested in “the future of small communities,” Gabrielle Brenner, a vice president of the Weiden Jewish community, said. Brenner oversaw the Jewish content, while the adult education college oversaw the secular material.

In many ways, the Jewish community of Weiden, population 42,000, reflects general Jewish trends in Germany.

At the end of the 1980s, the J! ewish congregation had only 26 members. By 1994, the first group of Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants had arrived. Many were housed initially in former U.S. Army barracks. Most ended up leaving Weiden because of the lack of jobs.

But the congregation grew and today has 300 members. An additional 150 non-Jewish relatives have attended various classes.

Integration has proved both a challenge and a boon. Many new immigrants arrive with little feeling of connection to Judaism, but those who do pursue the Jewish connection have enriched the community, Brenner said.

The book promises to be a useful tool, she said. In a recent pilot study of the text with 18 Jewish adults, “they all became involved in the Jewish community,” she said.

When newcomers show up for help in practical matters, like jobs and language, “it’s the job of the Jewish community to make them feel welcome,” said Ederberg, who was ordained in New York by the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theologic! al Seminary.

And, she said, the Jewish community in Germany has an obligation “to offer them — even if they haven’t asked for it — an encounter with their own Jewish identity, an invitation to experience Judaism in a way that is personally relevant.”

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