MAINZ, Germany — Do you wish you knew a Jew? If so, you can now rent one.
That is the attention-grabbing idea behind a project that aims to promote cultural understanding and dialogue by offering face-to-face encounters with Jews living in Germany.
“We wanted to loosen things up a bit and remove reservations right from the start,” said 32-year old Alexander Rasumny, one of the initiative’s organizers.
Amid the rise of far-right political parties and anti-Semitism across Europe, organizers believe the seminars provide an important chance to overcome prejudice and could serve “as a long-term prevention project.”
The “rented” Jews are not professional speakers but volunteers of different ages and backgrounds who visit schools, universities and churches free of charge.
“With the direct encounters between Jews and non-Jewish citizens in Germany, far beyond the clichés and stereotypes, we are allowing people to speak with each other rather than about each other,” Rasumny said.
Germany is home to more than 200,000 Jews but most people in the country “have never met a Jew,” Rasumny said.
While the Holocaust and anti-Semitism are “important discussion points,” they are not at the center of the the project, Rasumny told NBC News.
“We want to talk about modern Jewish life in Germany in a relaxed atmosphere,” he explained.
In Germany alone, reports of anti-Semitic crimes have risen threefold in one year.
A spokeswoman for Germany’s Justice Ministry said the department registered 2,083 cases of attacks on Jews or Jewish property and hate speech against Jews in 2015 — compared with 691 the previous year.
The number of violent offences motivated by right-wing extremism also rose significantly in 2015, with more than 1,400 registered crimes.
According to Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, BfV, this “clearly illustrates the threat posed by this spectrum.”
The “Rent-a-Jew” initiative was launched last year by a group of volunteers and now hosts sessions every two-to-three weeks across the country.
More than 50 people have signed up as contributors, most of them aged between 20 and 40.
“We have had nothing but positive feedback from our sessions,” Rasumny added.