New Impulses for the German-Israeli Youth Exchange in Migration Societies

30 educators from the field of youth and educational work met in the frame of the project “Living Diversity – Challenges and Perspectives for Education and Youth Exchange” and set new impulses for youth exchange in Germany and Israel as migration societies.

The seminar “German-Israeli Youth Exchange: Encounters of Young People in Migration Societies”, which took place from 28 to 30 May 2018 in Berlin, dealt in particular with the question of how to raise awareness in the field of youth exchanges for the great diversity of migration stories of young people in Germany and Israel.

How can we expand and develop the goals of German-Israeli youth exchange in order to further strengthen the German-Israeli ties in a young generation with diverse stories of migration?

The individual stories and unique life contexts of young people in Germany and Israel consist of a great variety and at the same time they share a number of similarities – this can be seen for instance in the experiences of post-soviet Jews in both countries. At the same time the processes and different streams of migration are accompanied by similar discrimination experiences as well as power structures. There is a great treasure of knowledge and experience from which both sides can learn from each other. The knowledge of the history of migration in both societies raises awareness of the topic.

The lectures given by Maria Radinski (Brit Olam – Enhancing Civil Society) and Filiz Keküllüoğlu made a valuable contribution to this. The two lecturers shed light to the topic not only through a historical view of the two migration societies, but also using a critical look at current discourses. It is interesting on the german side to observe how the terms and the wording regarding the history of migration in the country shaped the perception of migration in the last decades – from the “guest workers” of the ’50s till the “people with migration background” and “integration” of today. At the same time the discourse has been overpowered in the last years by strong resentments towards the Muslim population of the country, despite their long-lasting presence in Germany. On the israeli side the history of migration has been shaped by the concept of “Aliya” – the return of Jewish people to Israel – which for the local population has a strong, positive and empowering feeling to it. Nevertheless, the Aliya of the Jews to Israel consisted itself of different waves, populations and power structures that accompanied the process. At the same time the country includes a significant arabic minority which shapes the multicultural landscape by bringing diverse narratives and biographies to it.

In the last years, the Israeli society observes an interesting process of rerouting to the past, hich observes an interesting process of rerouting to the past, with more and more people seeking to connect to their forgotten countries of origin, explore them and reconnect with them in a more open and publicly accepted way. This can be observed also in national celebrations. Integration of rituals and customs from populations which do not belong to the hegemonic parts of the society, such as the North African Jewish celebration of Mimouna, are being more and more present in the public life.

How can we include this great variety of personal and collective narratives with respect to the historically strong connection to the time of National Socialism and the Shoah?

While discussing the relevance of these issues with adolescents, it quickly becomes clear that a direct family biographical reference to this story is far from being a sufficient condition for an interest in the topic. Dr. Elke Gryglewski from the Haus der Wannseekonferenz mentioned the fact that only a handful of countries did not get affected by World War II. Therefore it would be historically inaccurate to talk about lack of biographical connection to the history of National Socialism. “It is important to raise awareness on the linkages and on the relationship stories which include the biggest part of the world map. A thorough historical knowledge in global level is necessary when we talk about issues of commemoration,” mentioned Dr. Gryglewski. At the same time she stated the fact that the culture of commemoration is a hard work in progress. There are already dangerous political discourses which try to put a question mark on the importance of commemoration of the atrocities of the war and suggest that the country needs to focus more on positive pictures and less on the responsibility related to the past.

The discussion with Hanoch Katsir (Metukenet – Human Rights Education Through the Lessons of History) provided interesting insights into the diversity of positions in which the Shoah is addressed in the different populations of Israel. The identification with the Shoah is also a mosaic, comprised of Ashkenazi Jews, Mizrachi Jews, secular, traditional, religious, ultra-orthodox, Arabs, Beduines and more. The identification with the Shoah seems to shape thoroughly the feeling of belonging to the country even for parts of the population who have not been biographically affected by it. At the same time, traditional ways of commemoration  such as annual state ceremonies and organized trips to former concentration camps for schools  have been complemented by alternative formats nowadays. These new formats  such as the Zikaron BaSalon aim to make the history of the Shoah accessible and approachable for the younger generations and invite everyone to actively get engaged in events of commemoration. Without questioning its singularity, an engagement with the Shoah can also be linked to the discussion of current human rights issues, as various participants noted – not least against the background of the topic of fleeing and migration, which is a relevant issue for their own work field as well.

The seminar which including lectures, workshops, educational methods as well as a visit to the Anne Frank Center in Berlin created a platform for intensive exchange on the mentioned questions. Participants from the different areas of youth and educational work brought in a variety of experiential knowledge and also used the seminar to discuss concrete ideas for future projects. The goal of making the migration stories more visible in the German-Israeli youth exchange has made a step further due to these new impulses.

The project “Living Diversity in Germany and Israel – Challenges and Perspectives for Education and Youth Exchange” was developed by ConAct – Coordination Center German-Israeli Youth Exchange and the Israel Youth Exchange Authority in close cooperation with the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. It is conceptualized as a supportive project in the German federal program “Live Democracy!”

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