‘Jewrovision’ celebrates being young and Jewish in Germany
It’s that time of year. Time for loud music, expressionist dance and an explosion of good taste, bad taste and every taste in between.
No, it’s not Eurovision: welcome to the Jewrovision.
On Saturday some 1,200 young people from 60 Jewish communities around Germany go head to head in Mannheim in a competition whose tongue- in-cheek name says it all.
Yes, Germany is the land of the Shoah. The murderous Nazi genocide that decimated European Jewry will never be forgotten.
But, seven decades on, Germany is also now home to thriving, colourful Jewish communities.
And since 2002 the Jewrovision has celebrated being young and Jewish in modern Germany.
Think Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland’s “Let’s put on a show” formula updated for the X Factor and Glee generation – with a kosher twist.
Eighteen acts will take to the stage, hoping to catch the jury’s eye and audience ears with acts built around this year’s theme of “Next Generation”.
“It’s a show by young people, staged by people not much older, and is one big mix of songs and styles,” says Susanne Beinzri, head of the Jewish Youth Centre in Mannheim, near Frankfurt.
Mannheim’s act won last year, and Beinzri says it’s an honour to be participant and host this year.
Mannheim has joined forces with Jujuba, a group uniting youths from smaller Jewish communities in cities from Heidelberg to Karlsruhe.
They held their first brain-storming sessions and rehearsals last October.
Perform to win
This is no amateur hour: in the past 15 years the Jewrovision has become more professional with each passing year, and every team is in it to win it.
Beinzri’s team held a three-day bootcamp over the Christmas holidays.
The group, with participants aged from 10 to 18, have met every Sunday since then to work on an act that merges dance, rap and The Black Eyed Peas.
The youths write their own lyrics, work out their staging, and make their own video on the given theme.
For the Central Committee of Jews in Germany, organiser of the Jewrovision, the competition is about creating a sense of community among the far-flung next generation, whatever their secular, liberal or orthodox Jewish backgrounds.
“It’s not just about music and dance – it’s also about passing on our Jewish values and traditions,” says Dr Josef Schuster, chairman of the committee.
And it’s not the only such event. Last year Berlin gave a warm welcome to the European Maccabi Games, a sports tournament for Jewish athletes around the world.
Organisers of Maccabi and Jewrovision say they are regularly asked about the exclusive nature of their competitions, but say such concerns misunderstand their events’ purpose.
For Beinzri, a religion teacher, Jewrovision is a once-a-year corrective to daily life that, even in secular Germany, is coloured by Christian traditions.
“Many of my kids are as secular as any other, yet they know Easter and Christmas but not the Jewish traditions,” she says.
“This competition is a small island, an attempt to help them preserve and develop a bit of Jewish identity.”
The question of modern Jewish identity is a loaded one in Germany today. Since 1990, large-scale immigration from the east, in particular from the former Soviet Union, has boosted Jewish communities but changed them as well.
While their parents still grapple with the tensions, such changes and growth bring young Jewrovision participants to see the competition as a creative way to embrace being Jewish in Germany, wherever your roots lie.
The competition has its own YouTube channel and receives big media coverage in Germany, where the Shoah devastation means general knowledge of Judaism is often more theoretical than practical.
Judaism in Germany is still, sadly, most often linked to news reports of attacks on Jews.
Beinzri says religion books still illustrate sections on Judaism with predictable pictures of Anne Frank, Albert Einstein and Orthodox Jews in New York.
The Jewrovision puts another, diverse spin on Jewish life.
“Some of us are from Columbia, Russia, Israel or, like me, have a parent from Morocco,” she says.
“But our different paths have taken us here. We have one tradition and this chance to build up our Jewish house.”