For deepening Jewish identity, traveling in a group on an immersive Jewish experience can be life-changing. Especially when the destination is Germany.
In September 2019, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle will take a cohort of local Jewish young adults, the first from Seattle, on an eight-day Germany Close Up journey, where they will encounter the country’s past and present, and reflect on identity and remembrance. Germany Close Up is one way the Federation is fostering connections with the local community and with World Jewry.
Heather Paul, a Seattle community member who was a Germany Close Up participant in 2013 and led a Palo Alto-based group on a trip in 2014, remembers the experience as challenging and powerful. “The educators were extremely knowledgeable. It was intellectually stimulating. They were not afraid to go deep and push us to go deep. I was really impressed,” says Paul.
Germany Close Up’s vision is to give American Jewish young adults an opportunity to form their own perspectives about Germany, says Dr. Dagmar Pruin, the program director and founder. “It’s very important to leave it open for different kinds of experiences,” Pruin observes.
She adds that the goal is not to paint Germany in a favorable light but to present a full picture of its past and present — how Germany has memorialized its past, how the Holocaust is taught today, and a range of narratives on contemporary issues, including the recent growth of anti-Semitism and political extremism in Europe.
The Germany Close Up itinerary is carefully planned to introduce participants to a personal experience that can be both haunting and revealing. On the first day, trip participants go on a walking tour of Berlin to gain perspectives about the city and how its history is memorialized.
During her walk through Berlin, Paul recalls stolpersteine, “stumbling blocks,” which are stones set into walkways near the last known freely chosen homes of Holocaust victims. Each stone has a plate engraved with the victim’s name, and the days on which they were born, deported, and murdered. “Memory is literally built into the street,” Paul says.
The walk around Berlin prepares the group for the emotional challenges of the second day — a visit to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, which, as Pruin notes, is a deeply intense experience.
Germany Close Up, however, is about looking ahead as well. “The past is not ignored. But it’s not just about the past,” Paul recalls. Throughout the journey, participants reflect on Germany’s history, experience Berlin’s avant-garde culture, see modern Germany’s complexities, and engage in conversations with contemporary Germans, including members of the country’s growing Jewish community.
Trip participants come away with perspectives as varied as their family stories, life experiences, and Jewish identity.
Paul urges Jewish young adults to consider Germany Close Up. “More people should do this. It’s OK if you’re nervous. Lean into it. You’ll be surprised at what you learn.”
The community that will be formed during Germany Close Up will not end when the trip concludes. The Federation will plan follow-up activities for participants to continue engaging with each other and local Jewish life.
Says Jenna Hanauer, the Federation’s PAVE and Young Adult Leadership Program Manager, “Germany Close Up is exactly the kind of immersive, cohort-based Jewish travel experience we’ve been hoping to bring to Seattle. It’s unique, it’s inspiring, and it’s an amazing opportunity to travel abroad on a subsidized trip that is sure to be thought-provoking and create new friendships.”
Germany Today takes place September 1–10, 2019. Visit jewishinseattle.org/investments-in-jewish-life/young-adults/germany-close-up for more details.