Auf Wiedersehen to Selfhelp German Intern Julia Boecker

Since 1998, The Selfhelp Home has partnered with the Berlin-based Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ARSP), which works to bridge the gap between the lost older Jewish German generation and the youth in Germany while building trusting relationships and healing painful, historic wounds.

For more than 50 years, ARSP has been committed to fighting racism, discrimination, and social exclusion through reconciliation and peace. ASRP creates global partnerships around the world to offer long-term international peace service programs. Every year, about 180 young adults between 19 and 25 years old participate around the world in 13 countries on a variety of educational, historical, political, and social projects. As the ASRP volunteers engage in understanding the history and other cultures, they strive passionately to make a positive contribution toward a more peaceful, just, and tolerant world.

Each year, Selfhelp is host to a young German intern who becomes an integral part of the Selfhelp family, helping residents and warming hearts. (Selfhelp did not have an intern in 2021 due to the pandemic).

Selfhelp welcomed Julia Boecker, our 23rd intern, to join The Selfhelp Home family through our partnership with ARSP in September 2022 from Dortmund, Germany for a one-year internship. As an intern, Julia has been totally immersed in our community and has lived at Selfhelp in a studio apartment while assisting with resident activities. As she ends her year with us, The Selfhelp Home family wishes Julia success, love, and many return trips to Chicago in her future!

As we bid a reluctant and deeply grateful auf wiedersehen (goodbye) to Julia, we asked her to reflect on her year with us.

What did you expect from your year at Selfhelp, and what actually did happen during your experience?

As soon as I got accepted to my program, I was incredibly happy and excited. Even though I had been waiting for two years to start due to COVID, I never wanted to give up the idea of coming here. I was a little bit nervous about interrupting my studies at college and starting in a different semester as soon as I was back in Germany, but no matter what is to come, my time here was so worth it. It was one of the best years of my life and offered me so much practical experience–not only work experience, but also life experience. In German, we have a saying which translates to “welcoming someone with open arms.” That is how I felt here as soon as I started. Everybody here is friendly, kind, and caring, and that made everything very easy for me here. I am very grateful and lucky to have called Selfhelp my home during the past year.

What were the top five moments of your year here?

I had a lot of different favorite moments here—one of them included celebrating Sukkot right in the beginning of my year here because that was one of the first Jewish holidays I got to know. I loved crafting decorations with the residents for the sukkah, decorating it, listening to the prayers and seeing people dance and sing inside the sukkah. I loved seeing all the residents happy and celebrating.

Another great moment for me was performing at the talent show with Grace, the former art intern. It was a lot of fun practicing different songs and making music together because that’s one of my favorite hobbies. I loved all the outings we did—from going to the beach to the orchid show to the orchestra.

Something very special for me was when my mother and my brother got to visit in December and when my boyfriend Marcel was here. They felt very welcomed here, and it felt like the residents got to know a big part of me. I always talk with them so much about Selfhelp, and having them finally meeting everybody was a wonderful experience.

And, of course, one of my highlights was talking to the residents each day, before and after the morning exercise, during summer days on the patio or while visiting them in their apartments. I am incredibly grateful for having worked with Benna and Rey—the best team ever! They are absolutely wonderful people and made me feel like being a true team member from the start.

What have you learned about Judaism, aging and Chicago?

I learned so much about Judaism, its traditions, festivities, and history. I got to know the importance of Shabbat, which I celebrated at Selfhelp and sometimes also outside of Selfhelp, due to my new Jewish friends! Despite not speaking Hebrew, I feel like I now know a lot of Shabbat songs by heart. I went to a Shabbat service at Mishkan synagogue with Benna and had a lot of wonderful Shabbat dinners with Jessica, Maya, and Benna. That is something I will miss a lot as soon as I am back home.

I got to know all the different holidays—Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, Pesach, Chanukah, and many more. I also got to know some phrases in Yiddish and Hebrew. I learned that Judaism is a wonderful religion with many layers—some people are orthodox and others are more secular. Some people see it as a nationality, whereas others believe that it is more like a religion. I got to know a lot of World War II history and how it still affects the Jewish community today. That really enlarged my interest in history and politics. Hearing the stories of Holocaust survivors here was the most emotional and sad part for me, and it is something I will take with me for the rest of my life. I would like to share their stories with my children or grandchildren as soon as I’m the age of the residents here.

I also learned that aging doesn’t define your personality. You can be a super fun person when you are 100 years old or when you are 20 years old, it doesn’t matter at all. The only difference is that an older person has experienced much more than you in life. I learned a lot from the residents, too. It was amazing spending so much time with them. I love all of them and appreciated every talk I had with them. Also, some of the residents always gave me a heads up about what was going on in the city. I tried to do as much as possible during my year here, including visiting all the museums, seeing all the different sports teams of Chicago, going to concerts, farmers markets, or the lake almost every day. I tried to learn about the different buildings downtown and their architecture and the history of Chicago. Every time friends visited me here, they joked about me being their city guide. Chicago has truly become a home for me, and I think it will always feel like a second home to me. I wish I could take Selfhelp and the city back home with me!

What advice would you give for future interns of this program?

I want all the future interns to know that they should come here with a lot of anticipation and excitement. There is no need to feel overly nervous—you will be welcomed and will settle in very quickly. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice because everyone here is very helpful and caring. Try to always say “hi” to everyone, and you will make good friends. Just enjoy your year!