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Berlin - July 14, 2015

07/16/2014 05:38:48 PM


My trip to Israel began with a stop in Germany. I know I am not the first to travel to Israel via Germany but of course I think about the Holocaust. I think about the minor miracle of a Jew choosing to fly through Germany to Israel for convenience.
I am embarrassed by an ongoing mental tendency to disparage anything German. I know that this is not an uncommon Jewish sentiment. Watching the World Cup in the Berlin airport I quietly root for Argentina. Their colors after all are blue and white. From time to time you see an Israeli flag held up among their fans. But for emotional rather than rational reasons, it is hard to imagine myself rooting for Germany in any circumstance. I am embarrassed because every German I have ever known has been a mensch. Almost always owning and facing the misdeeds of their ancestors in ways that are remarkable.
This flight had a 14 hour layover in Berlin, but it was a great deal and I am stopping here to visit my good friend from High School, Sebastian.
When Sebastian first introduced himself to me, on our school bus in 1985 - he began almost immediately asking me if I had any problem with him because he was German. In a High School of 2,500 I was one of less than a minyan of Jews. Sebastian sought me out asking if as a Jew I was angry with him. I can't really remember the contents of this conversation except that I said I wasn't. We became great friends.
It wasn't until I visited his home in Germany for a week, that I learned that his grandfather, a Christian minister, and follower of Martin Niemoller (famous for the "When they came fore me..." Quote) had been part of the religious resistance to the Nazis. His efforts to hold secret prayer groups in peoples homes, caused him to be sent to the Eastern front at 33 where died of lung infection. I remember on that first trip, the summer of '88 after my first year in Israel looking at every adult of a certain age and wondering, what were they doing in they doing in the 1930's and 40's. The thought that they might have been resisting the Nazis rarely entered my mind. Rather, I judged and pondered their complicity.
After, some tea and catching up in Sebastian's 6th floor walk-up in former East Berlin,we went for a walk. Not far from his apartment were remnants of the wall that separated the old East and West Berlin. When Sebastian and I first met, and then a couple of years later, when I first visited him in Germany, that wall still stood. It stood and we did not imagine it falling. Seeing this little slice of it reminds me how circumstances can change in the blink of an eye. It gives me hope that perhaps, circumstances I cannot yet imagine will lead to change in Israel to a building of bridges rather than walls.
We walk a couple more blocks and land in the old Jewish quarter. His favorite restaurant, it turns out is a kind Jewish deli, in what used to be a Jewish school for girls. We visit a Jewish grave yard. We visit the New Synagogue, a once awesome cathedral like synagogue, and we stop to look at the little square markers outside many homes that tell the stories of Jews who once lived in these homes, their deportation and deaths. We stand before a wall listing the more the 50,000 Jewish Berliners who were killed in the death camps.
I was prepared for to drink a tall glass of pilsner. I was prepared for the possible dilemma of whether to eat some worst that would normally be outside my kashrut standards.  I was not prepared to face the dark history of this place that is the reason I don't cheer for Germany. Once again my good friend did not shy away but brought me right to the heart of the matter, so that I might face it. I silently said the shema. I silently said the Kaddish.
As I write this, I sit waiting to go through passport control for my final destination, Israel. In line with me are two young Israeli tourists happily wearing Deutchland World Cup jerseys. 
Tue, June 2 2020 10 Sivan 5780