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Wandering in Germany, settled in Netanya

Wandering around the small towns of Germany.

Is this a job for a nice Jewish boy?

I don’t know, but it’s definitely an honor for a grown Jewish man.

If asked where he is from, Rabbi Gad Erlanger might say, “Switzerland,” then again he might say, “Israel,” or still again, “Germany.”

The Swiss native, who moved to Israel 50 years ago, now spends one week a month in Germany; specifically, in 15 very small Jewish communities there.

Hamburg has 3,000 Jews; Kiel, a few hundred; Slensburg, 75 members; Osnabruek, 1,200 Jews; Leipzig, 3,000 Jews. These and other places are Erlanger’s haunts.

For Erlanger, the brother of Denverite Rabbi Hillel Erlanger, the fall of communism galvanized other parts of his life into a unique outreach.

The fall of communism brought a flood of Jewish immigrants from Russia to Germany. This, together with Erlanger’s fluency in German from childhood and his long experience in teaching Judaism to Israelis of little background, triggered a thought. Maybe I could wander around the small towns of Germany.

Germany now has 200,000 Jews, mostly from Russia, in 120 communities. Deeply ignorant of and equally interested in Judaism, “they want to know,” says Erlanger.

And knowledge is all he gives them. Preaching, pushing them to observe — this, he says, doesn’t work. But Jewish knowledge itself often intrigues people; on their own they seek to adopt Jewish practices.

“You have to know how to introduce Jewish holidays and practices, without any expectations. It takes a very long time. I try to define what Passover is, what Shavuos is, how to relate to it. Gradually, things happen.”

Large Jewish organizations are very active in Germany, and Erlanger has nothing but praise for them, including the Lauder Foundation. He goes to the interstices.

“I go to places where regularly no rabbi is in the community, but there is a group, a kernel.”

On occasion, he is able to encourage a young woman to study in Berlin, or a young man to study in one of the yeshivas in Germany.

Erlanger, also the author of books on the Zodiac and Jewish philosophy, brings his own kosher food from Israel. He’s a one man operation, raising the funds himself. He saw an opening to reach out to Jews — and he took it! 

“I’M the only American who works there.”

The speaker is Peshe Crystal, a native Denverite, daughter of Rabbi Laibel and Sarah Crystal, who saw her own opportunity in Netanya, Israel.

The twenty-six-year old somehow found herself on a tour of the Elazraki Children’s Home in Netanya a little over a year ago.

Music therapy.

Art therapy.

Dance therapy.

Sand therapy.

Animal therapy (trained animals, snakes, bunnies, rabbits).



Social workers.


“I was blown away by the love and care. I said, I have to work here.”

A “children’s home” has no parallel in the US, Crystal says. Here, kids from broken families are adopted or placed in foster care. In Israel, such kids are placed in something similar to an orphanage, except that the kids have parents. In the case of the Elazraki Home in Netanya, half the kids’ fathers are in prison. Other parents have abused their children or themselves (with drugs, for example).

So the home raises the kids.

“A teacher goes home at night,” says Crystal.

“And a therapist cannot be the kids’ friend. As a counselor, I’m extremely connected with the children.”

The director, Yehuda Cohen, his family and five children, live on the premises. The home is their family.

His idea, reports Crystal, is to break the cycle. Right now, some kids in the home are “second-generation” and a few even “third-generation.” Their parents or even their grandparents also couldn’t establish normal homes, and were raised at Elazraki.

Under Cohen, that’s changing.

“Everything is very supervised,” says Crystal. “The children are brought up so well. There is such attention to detail.”

Crystal was hired without knowing Hebrew.

“There’s Hebrew. There’s English. And there’s the language of the children. The children will feel it immediately if you speak their language. If you hug them, they’ll hug you back. If you give to them, they’ll take from you.”

Crystal studied Hebrew at an ulpan in Netanya, then dove into this “amazing” place.

“This home is for healing, not babysitting,” she says.

Quoting the director, she says, “What? I’ll just babysit the next generation of kids who will go to a foster home? Bet Elazraki is just a home. Don’t even call it a foster home. People assume it’s an orphanage, but it’s not. It’s a home.”

It has 208 kids, in 18 groups, dispersed throughout 32 schools.

It is supported by friends abroad, Emunah and the Israeli government.

Right now, Crystal is back in the US preparing to shepherd 27 teenage girl and boy volunteers for the home’s summer camp, July 1-22.

The volunteers pay their own fare, receive no compensation — and still the home had to turn down 15 potential volunteers.

“Parents of the volunteers are blown away by what it does for their children.”

Once a year, Elazraki holds a group Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebration. This year, 1,000 people attended, including visitors from the US.

“People fly in from America to celebrate their own Bar or Bat Mitzvah with that of the kids,” says Crystal.

All of the home’s graduates came with their spouses and children and told the kids what they were doing. Many graduated on the highest levels, or are in the army with the highest ranks.

“The kids see them as healthy, normal, giving, beautiful people without the effect of what would have happened to them had they actually gone through the childhood destined for them.

“That’s full circle. That’s the purpose of the home.”

Anything more to say?

“I have a thousand more things to say.”

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IJN Executive Editor | [email protected]

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