Building bridges across cultural and linguistic barriers is a complex and delicate task, yet it yields many worthwhile rewards. George Mason University Hillel, the center for Jewish life on Mason’s campus, attempted to do just that last Friday night during their weekly Shabbat dinner at the Hub, in which they invited the Federal Republic of Germany’s Embassy along with a few young German professionals to promote German-Jewish dialogue.

Hillel director Ross Diamond was aware that it was much easier for people to relate to others with a similar background and language as them, so he actively encouraged the various attendees to get to know each other.

“We’re all humans here,” Diamond said. “We all want to sit with people who we can speak the same language with or who look a little like us, but I’d like it if everyone took the intentionality to sit with people who they may have a keen interest in finding out their story.”

The evening began with an opportunity for the students to introduce themselves to each other, followed by a Shabbat service, which involved the singing of traditional Hebrew prayers, led by Mason students Marissa Arager and Erez Cramer.

“Shabbat is just the day to take a break from the rest of the week. You’re supposed to relax at home, and mingle with other people,” said Marissa Arager, Hillel’s Religious co-chair.

While there were primarily students at the event, there were also various other members of the community, such as Mason professor Thomas Stratmann, who is of German descent, and worked with the Action Reconciliation for Peace organization.

“Events like this are important because they force individuals into relationships that build understanding between different denominations,” Stratmann said.

One of the highlights of the night was a short talk given by Charlotte von Friedeberg, a representative of the German embassy. Her words intrigued many in the audience, as they gave an understanding of the flourishing state of Judaism in Germany today.

“In 1950, there were only 25,000 Jews all over Germany, and very few organized communities. Today we are proud to have over 110 Jewish communities with over 120,000 registered community members,” Von Friedberg said.

The embassy representative also addressed the demographics of the Jews in Germany saying that most Jewish communities in Germany used to be Reform or conservative, but following the influx of many Jewish immigrants, more and more Orthodox communities have been forming.

Mason students were very outspoken about the importance of beginning at the grassroots level with dialogues and dinners such as this one.

“This is a really good example to set, and not just between Jews and Germans, but any two groups of people that historically may have been at odds with each other,” said freshman Tessa Schwartz. “If enough events such as this one occur, even small dialogues on a college campus, they may begin to happen on a much larger scale.”

Diamond ended the service with a few more words on the importance of building cross-cultural relationships, which was a topic that had permeated much of the evening’s conversation.

“You may make a friend that’ll let you crash on their couch in Berlin someday,” he told the students.