Monthly Archives: July 2012

CA Mission Sermon: Understanding the Magnitude of the Moment

In this week’s torah portion we learn about inheritance- the daughter’s Zelophechad wanting to inherit land, and Joshua inheriting the leadership of the Jewish people.  These inheritances are new and out of the ordinary. They remind us that there is more than one shade of inheritance. Inheritance is something we receive from both family AND community. What are the kinds of things we inherit from family AND community? It’s not just inherited land or leadership, as we find in this week’s parsha- there are inherited traits, inherited traditions.  Focusing on inherited traditions from family and community, what is OUR responsibility to preserve THESE inheritances.

I have distinct memories of my childhood: Friday night, guests visiting our home for Shabbat dinner. There’s awkward point in the midst of our introductory blessings, during the Kiddush, when I place my hand on my forehead and pray that my father does not embarrass us with his “family” version of the Friday night Kiddush.  He insisted that this was in fact the right way to chant, and the Jewish masses had it all wrong.

Fast-forward to Cantorial School, year one.  The following piece of sheet music is placed in front of me during a Nusah practicum class. The setting for Kiddush was composed by mid to late 19th century German composer Louis Lewandowski.  Father to many familiar melodies from our Shabbat and Holiday services, Lewandowski was given the title “royal musical director” and was later appointed choirmaster in the Neue Synagogue of Berlin, for which he composed the entire musical service.

Following class, I frantically called my dad to let him know that the way he chanted Friday night Kiddush was in fact same way the composer has it written down in front me. What a great “you were right” moment for a father and son! But the message of this piece goes much much deeper. For this isn’t a Holzer family tradition, this is a set composition, each word given specific notation by its composer because those words needed to come alive in a particular way.

There are two words that stick out as being variants to what we might call our “standard” Friday night Kiddush melody.  Even for those who don’t read music, it’s easy to pick out that the words: “zikaron”, reminder, and “zecher”, remember. For Shabbat reminds us of both creation (zikaron l’maaseh v’reishit) and the exodus (zecher l’tziat mitzrayim)- so that we remember both the awesomeness of creation AND the difficult journey to freedom.

The musical irony is that time has simplified these two phrases, as if they were forgotten to the masses. But the music has the power to drive the meaning of the text. Lewandowski wanted us to focus on remembrance.  My father chanting that second phrase, “zecher l’tziat mitzrayim” sticks out for me because we should remember the entirety of the exodus- the struggles and hardships, to better acknowledge and appreciate the journey to freedom.

Lewandowski- great Jewish composer from Germany; Zikaron, Remembrance: These were some of the thoughts and questions going through my mind as I prepared a few weeks ago for our Cantors Mission to Germany.

How do we remember, and how much do we choose to remember? To give proper kavod to those who were lost, its important to view the entirety of German Jewish life- past, present and future.  While there are many lessons and experiences to share in the coming months, there are two stories in particular I’d like to share with you all this morning, to give you a sense of the importance of both personal and collective memory for us as a people.

We journey back to 1938, to the Neue Synagogue. This is Lewandowski’s home from 50 years earlier, a place where his choral works inspired the melodies that are the cornerstone of our musical liturgy. It was one of the most notable centers of Reform Judaism in the world.  On Nov 9, 1938, “Kristallnacht”, the Neue Synagogue was set ablaze, Torah scrolls desecrated, f

urniture smashed and other combustible furnishings piled up and set on fire. The main sanctuary that once seated 3,000 people will not be restored.

Today, services are held at the Neue Synagogue, though most of the restored areas are used for a museum. Members of the Cantors Assembly Mission visited on the Jewish tour of Berlin. The museum includes ritual artifacts and photographs from the German Jewish community.  The group finally entered a cavernous entryway into what used to be the main sanctuary.  In the far corner there is a glass case with a book open to the title page “Kol Rina Utefillah”, Bote and Bock Publishing. Published in 1882, this is one of two volumes of Louis Lewandowski.  To the right is a picture of a young Lewandowski.  In this holy space are the composer, his brilliant work, and the spot where it all first came together.  This alone is a spiritual experience- how often do we get to see an artist, their canvas, their inspiration, and their studio.

As I look to the center of the room, there is a black and white picture of the old sanctuary plastered on the wall.  One can only imagine what was once there but no longer.  It’s within this context that a few cantors begin an impromptu chanting of Lewandowski’s “Tzadik Katamar”, which you all know from Friday night. More and more join in his choral setting, creating a 4 part harmony, as the sound reverberates off the walls. Normally, we might hear a piece of music that takes us back to when we first heard it- where we were, what we were doing. Imagine a melody transporting us to a time and place when the melody itself was first heard, connecting us to place and people. I close my eyes, having the context of this music, this man, and this space. I picture the sanctuary alive and booming from seams because of this melody.  The group understood the magnitude of the moment and embraced it. Imagine if we could understand the context of where we are, where we’ve been, what we are doing and why? Think of where we are today- where we’ve all come from; our own personal exoduses to reach this place, this day. If we embrace those moments, we can create such powerful experiences.

To look up on the bimah and be reminded of all it took for EACH of us to be there. That’s a lot to take in, but it is a powerful message about the space we create together.

Story #2:

Having met with members of the German Jewish community as well as political and religious dignitaries, I believe that Jewish life is thriving in Germany.  I’ve debated whether or not our group did enough outreach and interactive dialogue with the local communities, but I think that our goal was not only to see German Jewish Life, but to bring Jewish life to Germany.  This was accomplished through our Shabbat morning service dubbed “Shabbos at the Ritz.”  This four hour service was led by 45 cantors- you could have called it the great cantorial duel.  Having only a page or two of liturgy to work with, each cantor found ways to weave in cantorial pieces, congregational melodies, and choral works.  Many of the melodies were unfamiliar or written just for this service, but the kehillah of over 300 embraced these new melodies. Everyone was singing and dancing.  It had to be the most energetic and musical 4 hr, Shabbat experience I’ve ever had.  It’s not every day that I get to spiritually journey to 45 different cantors’ synagogues (it would normally take years for me to physically travel to all my colleagues’ synagogues) and so I’ve returned with a number of melodies I hope to introduce in the near future.  Here’s one in particular that stood out. It’s always a thrill when a congregation can hear a melody being sung by its composer, some learning the melody for the first time.  Ofer Barnoy, the composer, led us in his L’dor Vador two weeks ago. Let’s sing!

From Generation to Generation- it is our responsibility to have what Lewandowski so emphasized: “zikaron”, reminders.   If we don’t embed these stories places and people into our personal memory, they will not find traction in our collective memory.  The charge “never forget”- often associated exclusively with the Holocaust, does in include the honoring of the memory of those individuals who were lost, but at the same time, we must recognize the and remember the culture that may still be preserved.  May the melodies we sing unlock that collective memory.  May the music on the page and in our hearts continue to be that anchor to our history and people.  Let us never forget the magnitude of being here today, the greatness of being in this community, of having the freedom to shout God’s praises each and every day. Shabbat Shalom

Cantors Assembly Mission to Germany: Final Thoughts

When I first began posting videos of our trip to Germany, YouTube required me to fill in what “category” these videos fell under.  Without hesitation, I selected not “music”, not “entertainment”, but “education.” I was struck by one of Professor Berke’s final statements of our Germany mission: “Write and recall.”

Write and recall. The goal of this blog is not to write and pack up these memories in a photo album. This is something to revisit often to remind ourselves “never again.” The photo above was taken at Dachau Concentration Camp, where barracks holding thousands of captives once stood.  I’ve heard the concept of “out of the ashes” something is reborn.  I know that flowers may bloom in dark places.  Yet I am struck that this plant grows amid the ROCKS and stones of Dachau. In Judaism, we place rocks (as the symbol of God, “Tzur”, as our rock) on the gravestones to remember loved ones and teachers.  Flowers, while beautiful, whither away over time.  But in remembering, marking these places and this moments as holy, we make sure that this sapling will grow to be “k’erez bal’vanon yisgeh”, thriving like a cedar of Lebanon.

Judaism is not pediatric.  This is not something we should expect our children or grandchildren to do unless we live Jewish lives, visit these memories, these places, and recall what happened there.    For me, these rocks that fill the roads of Dachau are there for a reason. They are there for Jews and non-Jews alike to pick up, mark the moment and remember what happened during the Shoah.  Lo Tishkach, you should not forget.  May this musical journey inspire others to visit places of horror AND places of hope, placing a rock on the grave of the unknown, so that while their names may not be known, their memories WILL be for a blessing.

Cantors Mission to Germany: Day 8

Our final day in Germany begins with a 2 hr drive to Salzburg, Austria, home to Mozart and the Sound of Music.  After visiting some of the locations of major events in the movie, we start our Mozart tour, viewing his hang out spots, his home, and his birthplace.  Amid the windy streets and open markets, it really feels like a quaint European city.  I really feel like I’m in Austria (whatever that means- guess you have to visit to find out!).

One of the cool, unexpected highlights of the excursion is finding our way into the Cathedral for a 1pm concert delivered by two teen choirs from Australia/New Zealand.  As a side note, while in Germany, I have seen a lot of teenage choirs traveling throughout Europe. What an experience that must be!

Prior to our last concert held at the gorgeous Hercules Hall (entitled “From Mahler to Mack the knife”), we are treated to a concluding message from Professor.  This is a unique opportunity to see how Professor Berke’s reflections align with my own over these past few days.  Before we get to that, I was thinking of some of the highlights of our trip:

  • A whirlwind musical journey to 45 synagogues (through 45 cantors) during our “Shabbos at the Ritz” Saturday morning service
  • Having congregants exposed to the inner workings of the Cantors Assembly, the fun we have, and the music we create.  On Tuesday night, for example, we had a late night promenade concert (normally we have 3 or 4 during a convention, following a regularly scheduled evening concert..these normally don’t START until midnight).  While we normally have a separate space for this, we were situated in the lobby of the hotel.  I must make note that there was a large Arab contingent here at the Sofitel (the menus/info in each room were translated first into Arabic, then French, then English).  It was awesome to have for us to lead Israeli dancing and to get the whole lobby clapping. It was amazing to see 4 or 5 Arabic women dressed in traditional clothing clapping their hands to Bashana habaa!
  • Those “you had to be there” moments- Munich Memorial & Tzaddik Katamar at the Neue Synagogue.  It’s interesting that we sang Lewandowski’s Tzaddik Katamar 4 times on our trip: Friday Night at the Concert Hall, Sunday at the Neue Synagogue, Tuesday at the Ohel Jakob Synagogue in Munich, and at our closing concert at the Hercules Hall. Nothing compared to the energy and reverberation of our experience at the Neue synagogue, in the face of where the sanctuary once stood.  It was also the most impromptu of them all.  The music of Lewandowski is important, but the words are just as important to this mission (see final post).

Now on to Berke’s lecture.  Again we begin with a discussion of why didn’t people do more to stop these atrocities: the role of the Vatican, as the Pope never uttered  a word to oppose the Nazi state; the role of FDR, or lack thereof.

Berke suggests four lessons we can learn about/from the Holocaust:

  1. Beware of racism (in any form)
  2. Evil triumphs when good men and women say nothing; it must be stopped wherever it is, even when there’s a price to pay
  3. Today we cheapen words like “hero” and “heroism”. An athlete may do something extraordinary, but they aren’t a hero.  We know what heroes are from World War II- righteous gentiles; survivors who saw things that no one should see, lost families, spit in the face of history and created new lives.
  4. History is not stagnant. It is fluid, always changing. Do not fight old battles- we are not at war with Germany or with Christianity.

I nod my head as Berke reminds us that it would be a serious mistake to think that this trip would be about the Holocaust.  This again goes back to my original “between the clouds and the earth” comment in my opening blog.  It’s important to appreciate German Jewry before the Holocaust because it reminds us of all the history that was lost, and all the potential history that could have been made- future doctors, politicians, thinkers; future mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.  On the other end of the spectrum, I had hoped to get a sense of what’s going on in Germany today. I had hoped for more dialogue and interaction with the local Jewish communities (a la Musical Outreach Initiative), but nonetheless, I feel strongly that a) Jewish life has returned and b) Germany is fully recognizing the horrors that were committed here, and feels a sense of shame and remorse.

As we reflect on July 4th, it’s crazy to think of all of the changes here in Europe.  Europe has turned a corner- no passport checks, as people begin to think of themselves as European, not just German.  As Germany quickly re-established itself as a world leader, they realized that national power and prosperity are based on history, enlightenment and the sciences, areas that were decimated and neglected during the war.  The “east Jews” who were frowned upon in the early 20th century are now the ones rebuilding Germany, as 150,000 Russian Jews have made their way to Germany.

Note- I’ll be posting my pictures to facebook and most of the videos on YouTube and/or Facebook

Cantors Mission to Germany Day 7

Our morning begins with a trip to Dachau, not more than a 30 minute drive from downtown Munich. Dachau Concentration camp was the first to open in Germany in 1933, the only fully functioning camp for the 12 yrs of the Holocaust. While the site had a crematoria and gas chamber, the majority of those who perished in the camp (some 40,000) died of disease and malnutrition. Hundreds of individuals would be crammed in a barrack like sardines. What is interesting about the camp is the staging- two barracks were “recreated” since the original barracks were destroyed (they had been in poor condition following the war and they did not create the museum until 1965.) Having visited places like Majdanek, where barracks/gas chamber/crematoria remain intact, it’s difficult to visit a camp where it seems like there was some form of coverup (where intentional or not). The platforms remain from each barrack, stones fill the roads and the barrack platforms.

We daven Shaharit and hold a memorial service, filled with songs and texts recognizing those were lost. Following a tour of the rest of the camp, we convene again for a moving el malei rechamim, a prayer in memory of those who perished in the Shoah. As the signs say throughout the camp, “never forget.” We opened with an important reading written by reuven Hammer:

The ark of the Torah, of faith, of learning stands empty and bereft.

WE have come here to remember those who cannot be forgotten.

WE have come to speak of that which cannot be spoken; but cannot be left unsaid.

WE know how to remember the dead we have known.

WE know how to commemorate the death of one person.

But all of us are mourners; all of us recall not one but six million ones.

Not only those we have known, but those no one can know, the names that are forever lost…

Our next event takes place at the Jewish Museum/Community Center in the heart of historic Munich. The fact that this building is here, in such a central location, is a testament to the Jewish community’s revival. Hazzan Elliot Vogel conducts a moving memorial to the 11 victims of the ’72 olympics- Rabbi Laura Metzger reads a biography of each victim as a member of the Cantors Assembly holds a poster-sized photograph of each of them. It is pointed out that 20 million minutes have passed since the ’72 olympics, yet all we ask for is one minute of silence to recognize the innocence that was lost. Again, the ceremony is filled with musical renditions that enhance the moment. This is a different moment than the one we experienced at the memorial site the day before, and yet it is just as important.

Finally, we have our 2nd to last lecture by Professor Berke. Some food for thought:

1) It is estimated that there were over 20,000 concentration camps during the Holocaust, some that held 4 or 5 prisoners, others that held 500,000. While some may have been more gruesome than others, each was inhumane, each was an abomination, each destroyed innocent lives.

2) During the Euthanasia campagain from ’38 on, 300,000 handicapped were murdered.  While the Catholic church was silent when it came to the Jewish plight, they did help stop the Euthanasia campaign.

So two questions- why didn’t the German Jews pick up on the changing of the times and why did Germans do very little to stop these atrocities?

Part 1: German Jews.  If you want to understand the Jewish behavior at the beginning of the Holocaust, it is the fundamental inability to believe. As stated earlier, this was the century that was supposed to be Germany’s century.  Anti-semitism always existed…This perspective was met with a large group of German Jews who fled Germany before and during the difficult years.

Part 2: Germans. It’s difficult to see how the population can go from anti-semitic bullying to torture and unthinkable acts against other human beings.  One of the most salient aspects of the Shoah is that Hitler transforms from “settling accounts with the jews” in his pre-war rhetoric to “we must deal with jews for what they are doing to us now” (autumn of ’41).  Everything was blamed on someone else, and everyone marched towards their fuhrer.  There’s an assimtry between those who focused on destroying the Jewish population vs. focusing on the war efforts. It seems illogical when fighting a war to focus your efforts on everything but your front line.

In any event, even for those who wanted to save Jews (righteous gentiles not withstanding), it was not their first or second priority.  How can the Germans do this?

1) Ideology from 1933 changed

2) Battalion 101- An order is an order? They felt it was better to be a policeman in Poland rather than die on the eastern front.

3) Downright anti-semitism. Berke brings up two examples – one quote that Jews were the gangrene of society, and that it was important to remove the limb…The other is a story by Primo Levi: In 1945, Levi had been collecting ice from outside his barrack so he would have some water to drink.  A guard knocked the cup over, spilling all of the water on the ground.  Levi asked “Why did you do that?” The guard replied, “Here there is no why!”

With all these backdrop from Professor Berke, it makes it more and more difficult to see how this can magically disappear overnight with one or two generations.   That’s for tomorrow’s blog. Here’s a clip from the Cantor at the adjacent Ohel Jakob synagogue

Cantors Mission to Germany Day 6

After a late morning chartered flight, we arrive in Munich around 11am. Our checked luggage was driven overnight, so we are able to pick up with a panoramic view of Munich right away! We spend most of the day at Olympic Park- viewing the olympic pool, the walls recognizing all the champions of the ’72 olympics, and finally a memorial to the 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the ’72 games. While the Olympic community has yet to recognize this tragedy at any of the games (and has concluded it will not make a moment of silence recognizing the 40th anniversary), it is important to recognize that this memorial is forever linked to the Olympic park.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, sometimes we don’t have the words to properly express a moment. Music and its counterpoint, silence, serve as ambassadors, awakening the soul to a new realm of being when words don’t do the moment justice. A somewhat impromptu el malei takes place as members of two of our buses are gathered around the memorial. A todah rabah to Hazzan Bob Scherr for chanting so beautifully, and allowing that space, in that time, for a moment of silence. Having just viewed a short documentary on the bus about the Munich games, the moment was so fresh in our minds.
So where’s the video? I finally realized that if these moments were such “it” moments, I probably would forget to video them because I’d be engrossed in the moment . That’s ok- means we had an experience that cannot be recreated in video or in blog form.

We made our way to the hotel, a few blocks from the old city center. I came to Munich once- as a layover on a Pizmon Musical Outreach Mission six years ago. At the time, I found the places we visited in our short time there (mostly in the historic district) gave me the creeps. There was an eeriness to the fact that Germany recreated historic Munich for the ’72 Olympics (it had been decimated in WWII)- as if to say “lets forget what happened; we’ll rebuild and go on with our lives). Having spent a few more days in Munich, I do believe I’ve softened that sentiment to some degree. We’ll explore more of historic Munich on Tuesday.

PS- I was 1 for 1 this evening as Einstein’s (pronounced Aynshtayn) was an amazing kosher restaurant. The shnitzel/morrocan skewers/cholent/brisket clearly made up for the friday night fish dinner.








Cantors Mission to Germany Day 5

Day 5 begins with a trip outside of Berlin to two sites of major discomfort- the site of the Wannsee Conference (a gorgeous riverfront villa) and the Gleis 17 Memorial. I’m attaching a few photos for some perspective. One of the photos is a picture of a Birch tree, planted in the last year or so. The sapling was taken from Birkenau (the death camp in Poland…”birkenau” means birch). I also videoed a small section of the deportation spot to get a tiny sense of how many Jews were deported from this location.

The Wansee Papers, documenting the Nazi plan for the final solution for the “Jewish problem” are located at the villa. It’s an uncomfortable feeling reading the papers and being surrounded by hundreds of panels of information on how the Nazi regime went about their business. As I read through the panel on “who is a Jew?”(photo attached), I’m thinking of the horror that Heinrich Himler sought out- he wanted everyone and anyone affiliated with a Jew to be sent off to their death. This is a strange juxtaposition to an email I’ll receive later in the day from Rabbi Lubliner, a draft of a mission statement on Keruv for the JJC. In one case, the Nazis expanded the definition of who is a Jew in order to exterminate them. In the other, we find ways to involve more and more people in Jewish life in order to help the Jewish people grow and thrive….

In the afternoon, we travel back to the center of town to visit the Holocaust memorial. Well over 2,000 cement structures cover this enormous park in the heart of Berlin. To think how awkward/interesting this would have been had Germany won their semifinal (the final took place sunday evening, viva espana)! Unfortunately, we don’t have the time to run downstairs to the museum, where a serene place is where 6million names are read (taking years to read).

Prior to our interfaith concert at the Berliner Dom (some tracks made it to facebook), we make our way to the Neue Synagogue, whose sanctuary was destroyed in the Holocaust. As we gazed upon a photo of where the sanctuary once stood, in a hall with amazing acoustics, understanding the immense sensitivity of the moment, a group begins to sing Lewandowski’s Tzaddik Katamar (I happened to be standing in front of a picture of a young Lewandowski as well as his collection of sheet music) After getting a bit choked up, I did manage to record a few measures.

This is the power of our mission- music can transform place, time, and person. It was a special moment more than any to date on this special trip.

The site of our Interfaith Concert, the Berliner Dom, is massive.  The Dome itself is literally centimeters wider than St. Peters at the Vatican.  This magnificent concert (a link to the choir to follow) in a Lutheran church, with a public embrace of the German President and the Chair of our mission, Cantor Nate Lam, cannot be appreciated enough! While some of the dignitaries spoke in German, one leader of the Evangelical church did speak in English.  I became somewhat frustrated when he said that Germany is “good at remembering the dead, but how good are we in sharing and celebrating life?” I agree with the question to some degree, but feel that you should never assume people will remember, especially if, as he described it, people feel “forced into public routine of guilt.” This is the climax that Germany is at- to need to remember, but the yearning to move on.

Following our interfaith concert,  we make our way to the Topography of Terror Museum (there happens to be one in both Prague and Munich). It was a bit much for me to re-read many of the panels describing the rise of anti-semitism. There were even interactive exhibits where one could hear Adolf Hitler’s speeches. The thought of hearing that man’s voice in this place, gave me the creeps. I was comforted to some degree in watching the hundreds of non-Jewish visitors to this and other site who literally read every panel as if they were learning and grappling with this information for the first time. To some degree, I wanted to rush back to the Holocaust memorial to sit in a room, close my eyes and listen to the names of those lost. I’m happy to say that when I’ve become frustrated or emotional from some of what we’ve seen or discussed, I’ve found moments where i can reflect, moments when I can remember…
























Cantors Mission to Germany Day 4

A Shabbat full of music, meaning and ruach!

I had the privilege of participating in our morning Shabbat service that we entitled “Shabbos at the Ritz”. You can guess which hotel we were at! This was an opportunity for FOURTY FIVE cantors to participate in our minyan. Each cantor, as you can imagine, made their section of the liturgy uniquely theirs while bringing in new and innovative melodies. It was a chance to see what melodies and styles our own congregants responded to. The kahal was also privy to a wonderful d’rash/interactive dialgoue with the wife of one of our CA officers, Rabbi Laura Metzger. Many commented on how well the red heifer story was explained. To really understand these stories, we have to live them; we have to experience them. This had to be the most musical, most inspiring 4 hour shabbat service I’ve ever attended.

In the evening we walked to the Jewish Museum of Berlin, which happens to be the most visited museum in the entire city (and there are hundreds of museums here). Since Shabbat didn’t end until almost 10:30, we get another talk by Professor Berke plus a private tour of the museum followed by a latin flavored Melava Malka concert. Shavua tov indeed!! A few points to ponder from Professor Berke:

1) One must understand the appeal AND the the fear of communism
2) In WWI, German soldiers were convinced they could have won the war without the depression (finding both a political and economic scapegoat)
3) From WWI to 1920 to 1928, the rate of mark to dollar went from 4 to 1 to 8 to 1 to 12 to 1 to, eventually, one BILLION to one dollar. Germany’s unemployment rate was hovering around 25% (for context, spain, winner of this year’s Euro cup, suffers a similar unemployment rate).
4) Anti Semitism in the bar is one thing, but in the hands of the elites is another (fyi we’ll travel to Munich where Hitler famously used the beer halls to spread his rhetoric)

Cantors Mission to Germany Day 3

What a whirlwind of experiences and emotions these past 3 days. I’ll be posting each day’s activities and reflections in separate blog posts.

Day 3: We begin our day with the 2nd lecture by our scholar Stephen Berke. Professor Berke beautifully illustrates the timeline leading up to World War I, and will eventually tie in the years of the Nazi regime. The holocaust was not a moment without context, and German Jewry’s response to the rise of fascism must be viewed without the context of Germany’s history.

A few major points brought up by Berke:
1) Moses Mendelssohn, father of the Enlightenment and affiliated Jew, had only 4 of 56 descendants who identified as Jews by 1850 (most notably, his son Felix converted).
2) Similarly, Henirich Heiner converted to get a university position (non were offered to Jews at the time), to which he remarked “God will forgive me, it’s his job.”
3) So what was Germany like before WWI? To give context, we again think about the National Liberal Party- was it more “liberal” or more “national”? “National” meant the people wanted a constitution. Bismarck, the “blood and iron” chancellor, was the 1st conservative to play the national card by creating the 2nd Reich. For Jews, they had their bumps in the road in the late 19th century. It’s important not to romanticize, for while there were no legal restrictions for Jews in the 2nd Reich, they still had their limitations. Jews felt that anti-semitism was a vestige of the medieval period. Even in 1873, when a depression cripples the economy in large part to a Jewish financier’s ponzi scheme (sound familiar), there is no violent act against the Jewish population. They feel more German than Jewish. In 1890, they may have classified themselves as “Germans of the Mosaic personality- ours happens to be Jewish.”

4) Again, personalities- they are just as important to the historical narrative as any other factor. Often we minimize the role of the individual- saying that if Person A didn’t invent blank, Person B would have figured it out. This point, reiterated during Saturday night’s lecture, is a difficult one when we consider that if there was no Hitler, there would have been no Holocaust. To think if Hitler had been accepted into art school or had received a harsher punishment for his treasonous actions, he may not have been in a position to become Fuhrer of Germany. As Berke summed up, history is not mathematics, chemistry or physics. For as much as Germany was the pinnacle of a civilization at the turn of the 20th century, for Germans AND German Jews, as much as the 20th century may have appeared to be the century of the Germans (and not the Americans), history weaves its way in many directions because of unknown or alien forces.

This point is reiterated by our next presenter, Ms. Emily Haber, German State Secretary. Her first few minutes were heartfelt and emotional, as she put everything out on the table- no “one story for this group, another for another group”. As Germany looks to repair its image in the Jewish world, Ms. Haber pointed to individuals in government as forces of friendship. While she toed the party (or often the EU) line, Ms. Haber appeared a genuine friend of both the US and Israel (little known fact- her 50th birthday present was a trip to Israel).

Our next presenter, US Ambassador to Germany, spoke again of the friendship with Germany and its support of Israel. His ironic factoid of the morning is the fact that the Israeli Ambassador’s residence in Berlin is the former Nazi Affairs Clubhouse.

After a morning of politics we head to our day tour of the neighboring city of Potsdam. We cross the Glienicke Bridge, a famous exchange point for Soviet spies during the days of the Cold War. We visit the Cecilienhof Manor, site of the famous 1945 meeting between Truman, Churchill, and Stalin. We learn a little more about Federick the Great as we travel to the Sanssouci Palace and Gardens.

In the evening, we take over the Berlin Concert hall (a little factoid- since many of these halls/institutions were created during the Cold War, Berlin now has 3 opera houses, 2 concert halls, 2 national museums and 2 zoos- with each receiving 30% support by the government). This is chance to sing with a wonderful local choir, as well as utilize the wonderful organ. Cantors received many of the pieces beforehand to help bring the choral singing to the pews. We sang many pieces whose composers wrote specifically for the German population or were of German descent themselves. What a venue!

Services conclude close to midnight. A Shabbat Shalom- a peaceful shabbat, and what will become a Shabbat Shaleim, a complete day of rest and meaning.