36: Sport as an antidote to fear and hate

Being Jewish is not a big part of my identity, it’s merely blended into the background of who I think I am. I’m not religious. Still, I am aware that being Jewish has shaped who I am.

I don’t advertise being Jewish here in Germany because you just don’t know what will come out of peoples’ mouths. I don’t like uncomfortable confrontations. I only tell the people I trust and who are relatively close to me. I am aware I could be a target of anti-semitism.

As I’ve written about before, there is a huge influx of Muslim immigrants. And I’m mostly happy about that. Multiculturalism is a good thing, especially for Germany. Germany could use a shake up to their homogeniety.

Sadly, I have been reading in the newspaper that a good part of the Muslim/Arab refugees wouldn’t want to have a Jewish neighbour. Or a gay neighbour for that matter. And it makes are a bit scared, a bit less eager to reach out to the refugees. 

I’m spending the summer in the middle of rural East Germany, in the Thuringia Forest. It’s not a hot bed of right wing neo-Nazism. But it’s also not a hotbed of multiculturalism. No refugee housing is being burned to the ground in this region, but there are also no initiatives to have dinner with the newcomers. In general, people here are not happy about the refugees, but outrage seems to be at a minimum.

So it was with great interest today that I witnessed two refugee young men enter the grounds of the public swimming pool. Moments before they arrived, the pool attendant had complained to me that a lot of immigrant visitors of the pool swim in deep waters even though they can only do the doggy paddle. I was relieved when the two young men jumped right in and immediately showed they could swim. The pool attendant had no choice but to leave them alone. Nevertheless, he had his eye on them the whole time.

I wanted to ask the men where they were from, get in a conversation, but I decided to just observe the situation. My very uninformed opinion is that they were Afghanis. After swimming, the young men, retreated to a corner of the grounds and listened to beautiful middle-eastern music. Heads turned when they walked by, but no one said anything.

Then, a group of young adults/older teenagers played a round of volleyball. I actually had the thought, wouldn’t it be cool if the immigrant boys/men joined the game, but dismissed it as wishful thinking.

When I glanced at them playing the second game I saw one of the refugee men was playing! In the third game, the second man also joined. After the game, the everyone went their separate ways. But during that game, I had an image of what Germany could become when these refugees are successfully integrated. And it was beautiful.

Remember, no one else wants to come to this part of East Germany. Young people are leaving at the first chance they get, and those that stay behind are often socially disadvantaged. Now that young refugees are being relocated here (they have no choice in the matter) rural East Germany is finally getting its infusion of young people.

Until I witnessed this volleyball game I despaired that there was little opportunity to bring together East Germans left behind by reunification and refugees. Now I see that sport has that potential to do just that. I never would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.

What does all this have to do with me being Jewish in Germany? Hate towards Jews and Muslims and hate between Jews and Muslims have the same origin — fear. Seeing a simple game of volleyball bring different groups together makes me hopeful that fear and hate don’t always have to win.

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