in European Judaism
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  • 1 Leo Baeck College, UK

2018 saw the fiftieth anniversary of the spontaneous founding of an interfaith initiative involving Jews and Christians in the unlikely location of Germany. Anneliese Debray, who was the director of a Catholic women’s adult education centre in Bendorf, near Koblenz, had the imagination and courage to set about creating programmes for encounter and reconciliation in the post-war world. The centre, the Hedwig Dransfeld Haus, became a meeting place for French and German and Polish and German families; for physically and mentally handicapped people together with ‘normal’ people; for the challenging task of ecumenical encounters between Catholic and Protestant Christians; for dialogue between Christians and Muslims; and eventually between Israeli and German young people. In that latter context the editor of this journal found himself visiting the centre and then, with two fellow rabbinic students at Leo Baeck College, attending an annual Catholic Bible study conference that summer. Our presence, our willingness to be there, and the rarity of such an opportunity for the participants, led to the desire to repeat the experiment the following year. Through incremental changes, the International Jewish-Christian Bible Week became an annual reality. After the death of Anneliese Debray, who had struggled for years to keep the Haus financially afloat, it went into bankruptcy. Nevertheless, what had been built had enough recognition and influence that it led to an invitation from Dr Uta Zwingenberger, who was responsible for Bible education in the Diocese of Osnabrück, to re-establish the Week in a new home, another Catholic adult education centre, Haus Ohrbeck, in the area of Osnabrück. There it continues to grow and flourish, hosting up to 130 people each year. Part of the impact, which makes it different from other more formal interfaith encounters, is the participation of families, with special programmes for children, so that the entire atmosphere is one of a normal human community.

European Judaism

A Journal for the New Europe


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