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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Germans, Jews and the Shoa - A Strange Night in Efrat

Last night I met with a group of German Pastors who were staying at the Efrat guest house. They are here in Israel to show support and to learn more about Israel – and to lay the groundwork for bringing church groups from Germany to visit Israel.

Since my dimly remembered college level German limits me to being able to wish people a good evening and asking them to open and close the window, and since only some of the pastors speak English, we communicated through an interpreter.

They were eager to learn and to better understand our connection and commitment to living in Israel. They were interested in the role that faith in God plays in our lives, whether we feel secure in Israel in general and in Efrat in particular, what motivated us to make Aliyah and more. We spoke about the Tanach, about Zionism and Judaism and about the right of the Jewish people to freedom and independence.

I think that when most contemporary Jews meet Germans, there is at least part of our brain that is wondering about Nazi connections. (What did you or your father or grandfather do during the war? etc). Given the language barrier and the short time that we had together, we did not have a chance to speak about the Shoah and explore the role that it plays in Jewish – German and in Jewish - Christian relationships. Yet that consciousness is always there on some level.

It was a strange evening for me, full of juxtapositions and contradictions. I spent about 45 minutes with the pastors and then drove around the corner to our son Ari’s high school for a very different kind of gathering. Back in September, Ari traveled to Poland with his school to learn about and remember the life – and the murder – of the Jews of Poland at the hands of the Germans and their allies during the Shoa (Holocaust). In many Israeli schools, this is a rite of passage for 11th and 12th graders. (Our oldest son Rafi went 2 years ago).

The students have been working for the past few months to summarize and express their feelings about their pilgrimage to Poland. Last night they invited all of us parents to share with them. It was a multi media program including singing, film, music and readings which touched our hearts and minds. Joining with over a hundred other parents in watching the faces of Ari, his school mates and teachers, listening to their words, singing and weeping together with them, was a powerful experience.

There are many legitimate questions and objections that can be raised about the wisdom and propriety of taking groups to Poland and using the memory of the Shoa as a Jewish identity builder. But there is no question in my mind that these trips are incredibly effective. Seeing first hand the ruins and pitiful remnants of what had been the most significant and vibrant Jewish community in the world until the Germans invaded and murdered over 90% of the Jews of Poland between 1939 – 1945 engenders in our kids feelings of pride, anger, determination, sadness, frustration, inspiration etc.

Sometimes our kids, growing up here in Israel, take our freedom for granted and forget why it is so important to have an independent Jewish state. The Poland experience reminds them of the consequences of Jewish powerlessness. It reminds them of what it means to be at the mercy of others. It reminds them of the horrible price of being a people without a land. It strengthens their determination to fight for the rights of the Jewish people in our land.

As I was sitting at the Shoa memorial program at the school, I couldn’t help but think of the German pastors just around the corner. Part of me wished that they could have accompanied me and experienced this with me. Part of me struggled not to hate or resent them. But mostly I had a sense of wonder and amazement that 65 years after the Shoa, there are Germans who are amongst Israel’s strongest supporters. That 65 years after the Shoah Germans and Jews can sit together in dialogue and find common ground. And that 65 years after the Shoah some of our strongest allies in the fight against the new anti-Semitism are Christians….and Germans.

What a strange world….

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