Jewish family open their Berlin home to Muslim refugee
An unlikely guest from Syria joins the Jellineks’ weekly Shabbat dinner, and now introduces himself as a Berliner.
BERLIN, Germany – Every Friday evening, the Jellinek family gather for a Shabbat dinner at their home in central Berlin. Chaim, his wife Kyra and three of their four children sit around a candlelit table to recite blessings over wine and good food.
This year, their weekly tradition has included an unlikely guest. Twenty-eight-year-old Kinan, a Syrian Muslim, has been living with the Jellineks since November 2015. He joins them for Shabbat most Fridays and often cooks Syrian meals that he has learned to make by watching videos on YouTube.
Kinan, who prefers to be known only by his first name, used to work in marketing and pharmaceuticals in Damascus. He left Syria in July 2015 to avoid military service because, he said, he did not want to take up arms against his own people.
He went first to Turkey and then Greece. After arriving in Germany in August 2015, he initially stayed in motels and an accommodation centre for asylum-seekers. Then he met Chaim through an organization called Freedomus, co-founded by Chaim, 59, a general practitioner with his own clinic.
The organization publishes an informational handbook and offers some basic services for people seeking asylum, such as accompanying them to the immigration office or helping with translations.
“Integration is not something that we should only ask from people coming into our country. We should ask this of ourselves too.”
The two met just as the Jellineks’ 20-year-old son, Béla, moved out to pursue a career in acting. They offered his room to Kinan.
Kyra, 51, said their family set-up had hardly changed since Kinan moved in. “Everyone does what they feel like doing. Hosting a refugee is a win-win situation. Integration is much easier.”
The experience has been smooth so far. Kinan studies German every day. Daughters Rosa, 18, and Lilli, 8, help him with his homework. Kinan’s only frustration is that he wishes he was learning the language more quickly so he can start working.
“Integration is not one-sided work,” Chaim said. “Integration is not something that we should only ask from people coming into our country. We should ask this of ourselves too. We must accept different food, different culture, behaviour. It’s a process from both sides.”
Kinan now introduces himself as a Berliner. He said he loves Germany and believes his fellow Syrians need to look forward more.
“People I meet are always comparing life in Germany to life in Syria. You cannot compare,” he said. “If people just forget the past a bit and only look forward, I think integration will be faster and better.”