Sachsenhausen is enormous; I do not say this out of shock, merely a statement of fact. As the Director of BBYO for the JCC of Greater Baltimore and a member of the staff for BBYO’s March of the Living delegation I have been afforded the opportunity to see a number of concentration camps. As you take in all the horrors, facts and figures, waves of emotions overcome you. But among the many thoughts and feelings that wash over me, one stands out as I walk out the gated walls. As I stare at the sign “Arbeicht Mach Frei” I find immense pride and power in my Judaism.
As I step out of the world’s worst atrocity I find myself so proud of the ability of my people to face our history and continue to move forward. As I have had the chance to learn and understand the Shoah I am constantly amazed at our ability to keep moving forward. While in the moment of walking past a gas chamber one often feels a wave of immense sadness, walking out of a camp makes you remember the triumph of the human spirit. Among the myriad of reasons that I dedicated so much time to educating myself and others about the Holocaust is this: someone fought in order for my right to exist, walk in and out of this horrible place. It is all of our collective responsibility to make sure we do not let that moment and that memory fall by the wayside.
Like most European cities, Berlin has a history and culture that dates back well before anything in the U.S. Conceptualizing much of the World War II era history is difficult as is imagining the city hundreds of years prior. Despite this, I find that predicting the future of Berlin is an even greater challenge. This evening we sat down with down with a German Statesman, a professor at Humboldt University, and a Junge Union party member discussing the relationship of Germany and Israel.
For most of this conversation I found my thoughts questioning not the present day relationship, but instead, the future of it. How will Germany maintain its relationship with Israel amongst growing animosity in Europe?
I suppose the past is the best predictor of the future, but then that also means that history repeats itself. If both of these are true, then what will ultimately be the future of Europe's relationship with Israel? Food for thought.
Twenty-five young Jewish professionals from the United States are traveling on a program subsidized by Germany Close Up, and co-sponsored by ACCESS: AJC’s new generation program, to engage in interreligious dialogue with Germans on Israel. They are meeting with German government and party representatives, academics, journalists, Jewish leaders, and other high-level officials and opinion-makers and visiting relevant cultural and historical sites during the one-week program, from November 6-13. Read more about the program here.
This week I had the honor and privilege of attending the “We have a Dream” Global Summit Against Discrimination and Persecution as a guest of Access NY, the new generation program of the American Jewish Committee.
From the opening session, which included heart-wrenching testimonials from dissidents from Iran, Syria, China, Sudan and Libya it was clear, that resistance to oppression in its many forms rest squarely on the backs of brave individuals who dare to speak truth to power.
Testimony from those who have endured torture, rape, imprisonment, discrimination and other violent acts is the most profound and impactful way to remind us all of our humanity.
I salute these individuals who refuse to be silent in the face of great peril. These noble souls will find their ultimate solace in the knowledge that they were somehow chosen to be voices for those who cannot speak for themselves. Ultimately, they have become a voice for us all. Their legacy is the consistent truth that never has their been a form of oppression that has eradicated dissent.
Following our ACCESS 20/20 Conference last May, one of the global Israel activists who had gathered in Washington, DC, asked a critical but resonant question: Is ending the delegimitization of Israel what we are working for? Is that our whole goal?
The question comes back to me often when I speak to some of the best and brightest young American Jews about their overwhelming hesitancy to engage with Israel-related political issues, even as those very issues are pushed to the center of global political debate. I’ve come to believe that it holds one of the keys for understanding the trend of alienation from Israel, which has been documented in manifold studies and living room conversations – a concern that must be heard and addressed by our Jewish leaders and role models.
(This article was originally published on together.to, a website and forum dedicated to German-Jewish diaolgue)
Did I start The Kippa Test already one week ago? It does certainly not feel that way. It’s as if I just started it yesterday.
For those that did not read last week’s post … let me give you a quick summary of what The Kippa Test is.
Will someone wearing a Kippa feel “good” in Germany – this is what I was asked. So I decided to test it … lets call it a field study. I was wearing the kippa whenever I would come in contact with strangers, with people who don’t know me. On my way to the office and back home, when doing grocery shopping (have been to three different grocery stores this week, plus the bakery). I’ve also been shopping for a “start of school present” for my little nephew. All of that while wearing the kippa.
As an Olah (new immigrant to Israel) I received numerous benefits from the State of Israel. Rent subsidies, free higher-education, tax cuts and a variety of other financial incentives are available to encourage Diaspora Jews to come live in Israel. While I am very grateful for these benefits and do believe that in the long run, my living in Israel is in the interests of the country; I do sometimes ask myself why it is that, economically speaking, life in Israel is still so hard that such incentives remain necessary to encourage Aliyah? (And even with them, many return unable to achieve a “decent standard of living” in this country). As I wrote previously, the current nation-wide social protests in Israel have caused me to question why in the Israeli “Start-up Nation”, the average Israeli finds it so hard to make ends meet?
When my friends and family asked me to tell them about the Third Generation Initiative there was so much I had to say ... but I was at a loss for words. It was not easy to find the right words for something that left such a deep impression in me. It still is not easy.
I could talk about the program, whom we met, what we did. But this would not do justice to the incredible week we had.
Yes, we did meet scholars, politicians, the American Ambassador, historians, company executives, leaders of the Jewish community in Germany. We heard a lot of things, many ideas, lots of positions, opinions, statements, propaganda. Meetings from dawn till dusk - literally. But that's just a small part of what happened during this week.
Imagine being locked into a small room with a group of thirty people ... for nine days. People strange to you. People that you maybe thought would never talk to you. Imagine these people talking to each other. All day long. All night long. Until their brains refuse to function. They would get a few hours of sleep, then wake up eager to talk more. This is how I felt.
In the beginning we just exchanged views ... standpoints.
This changed. People opened up. They talked about their feelings. Their cut and dried opinions and how they started to change. About their families. Their past. Their future. Days and days of talking.
Strangers were no longer strangers ... they had become friends - within just a few days.
Then came Sachsenhausen. The visit to the former Concentration Camp. A visit filled with emotions. Neither the Jewish nor the Germans could hold back the tears. Everyone was just so overwhelmed by this experience. You could feel the pain, the shame, the guilt. And then again, you were not alone. There would always be the touch of a hand on your shoulder, an understanding word, or just someone sitting beside you in silence.
And then ... the trip was over. We had to walk separate ways again. Boy, oh boy, this was hard. It felt like someone took my family members away from me. How had I lived before this trip. I could not remember.
Luckily someone gave the advice to me to take a few days off after the trip. I was just sitting there, my brain still spinning around all that was said ... all that was felt. It took me almost a week to think about something else.
It takes a while for the brain to digest.
And now? What now?
Some of us decided to not let this ebb away. To continue the discussion. To offer this discussion to everyone who wants to participate.
This is why we started http://together.to
A platform for American Jewish German dialogue.
It is an honor and a privilege to be participating in the AJC/Allianz Third Generation Initiative. I will blog (from my iPhone) and tweet (@horowitzagency) about the trip as much as possible. The itinerary is jam packed and looks amazing. July 1-4 in Munich, and July 5-10 in Berlin.
I'm really looking forward to meeting my east coast fellows and our Allianz counterparts. I think one of the highlights of the trip will be visiting Sachsenhausen on July 7. I know that both my grandfathers fought hard in WWII to preserve my freedom, so this trip is truly meaningful."
AJC and Allianz SE, one of Germany’s leading financial services companies, in cooperation with Germany Close-Up, have embarked on a 5-year groundbreaking cooperation to bring young American Jewish professionals on an annual study trip to Germany along with German peers working at Allianz. Together, this unique group will explore German-Jewish history, including corporate history during World War II, and will meet with top-level government representatives, business leaders, scholars, and leaders of the German Jewish community. Below is a live blog from one of the participants on this trip.
Nancy, Danielle, Aviva, Adina and I arrived in Munich, waited for Joanna, and took the S-Bahn to the hotel. After 20 hours of traveling from Los Angeles, we showered, and then Christopher escorted us to the restaurant. Our east coast fellows were already eating. I had a surprisingly good Indian dish that Derek, from D.C., had just finished. The conversation was light, although it did get a bit more serious after I told Christopher, Adina and Aviva about an article on Anti-Semitism I saw in the local newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung.
Today I woke up super early because I am still getting used to the time difference. The nice hotel owner prepared a kosher buffet style breakfast. Jeff and I then took a walk to Marienplatz, and a couple of other people took walks on their own. We all then met at 12:15 at the hotel and walked to CADU restaurant, where we ate lunch. Free wifi!!! After that, we went to Ludwig Maximillian University. We had a three hour meeting discussing the issues that would come up when meeting our Allianz counterparts. Avi spoke on international banking concerns, and the group discussed other issues such as Israel and the peace process, the challenge of Iran energy and German-Jewish relations. We ate at La Valle on Sparkassenstr for dinner and then went to Hoffbrauhaus, a massive beer hall nearby. The quote of the day came from Rebecca:"These engagements are important, and they don't happen very often."
oday was the most intense day yet. Leeor, Nancy, Danielle, Amy, Dan and I got up early to go to the BMW museum, the Olympic Gardens and the English Gardens. We saw all three, although we agree that it would have been nice to spend more time at each. We hustled back to be at the hotel by our group meeting time of 11:15. Thankfully, we made it back in time. The entire group took the S-Bahn to Villa Flora, where we had a buffet style lunch. After lunch we heard from a panel of speakers, who had differing opinions on Germany's history, Germany's diversity and Israel. It was very intense and lasted three hours. We then took a two hour walking tour of Jewish Germany led by an Allianz employee. It was good to walk around and learn about the lives of Jews in Munich over the past several hundred years. We ended up at a vegetarian restaurant for dinner. I had a nice Asian salad followed by noodles with tofu and veggies. I needed caffeine because the jet lag was really setting in. I could tell that Nancy was fading too. After dinner we went to a cool little lounge where we heard Prof. Michael Brenner talk about Jewish history. He was very impressive and answered every question.
This morning, American Independence Day, I woke up an American in Germany. I am grateful for my freedom and the opportunities, such as this one, it provides. We had to be in the lobby very early. All of us walked to the Sendlinger Tor train station and made our way to the Allianz headquarters. Our first speakers were Dr. Werner Zedelius and Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger. We then heard from Morton Fischer, and Prof. Dr. Michael Wolffsohn, who addressed four themes: Never again, The state of Germany, Land as the formula for peace and Religion. Emilio Galli-Zugaro spoke as well, and he taught us an acronym, EMMA: EMPATHETIC, MENTALITY, MOTIVATION and ANALYSIS. Other issues we discussed included: 1) Jewish communities in Germany are too secluded 2) it is not clear cut for Germany to withdraw from the Iranian market 3) what is Germany's role in a new, expanded Europe? 4) where does Germany find her voice in Europe? 5) is Germany leading Europe or is she part of the European union? 6) is NATO more important to Germany than the US.?
Ambassador Ischinger left us with this "Don't underestimate the relationship between Germany and Israel." He also hopes that the Third Generation Initiative will allow us to test stereotypes.
After the long day at Allianz I took a 40 minute nap. We ended the night at a restaurant called Weisses Braeuhaus, and I ate weinershnitzel and meatballs. It was a long day, and I was eager to go to sleep.
Today was another jam packed day. We got up super early to eat breakfast at the hotel then made our way to the US Embassy. We arrived early and then listened to Ambassador Phil Murphy speak about Germany, futbol, Iran and Israel. After that we met with Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger and then heard from Staatminister Dr. Eckard Von Klaeden. We then walked to the Allianz headquarters. On the walk, Yaniv and I had a nice chat with Wolfgang Ischinger. We had lunch at Allianz, and then listened to an Israeli journalist named Eldad Beck give us his views on the Middle East and Germany. It was the most heated debate yet because Eldad was very forthright and controversial. After that, we listened to four members of parliament, Stefan Ruppert, Phillip Missfelder, Caren Lay and Jerzy Montag debate. We had some free time after the debate so we walked back to the hotel, where some of us showered while others checked email and Internet. We then went to Cum Laude at Humboldt University, where we met up with some new people and ate dinner. After that the group went to a bar for a nightcap.
Today is the day I was looking forward to the most. Another early rise as we scarfed down some food and made our way to Centrum Judaicum at Neue Synagoge, where we were welcomed by Hermann Simon. Dagmar Pruin then led us on a walking tour through Jewish Berlin. It was sweltering so we looked for shade any chance we got. We all stopped for coffee. It was nice to sit and chat before we continued the tour. After the tour we boarded the bus and ate lunch. We arrived at Sachsenhausen just after two where we met our tour guide Toby, who was very, very good. He has been studying at Sachsenhausen for seven years. Today was by far the most emotional day. It was powerful to be walking through the concentration camp as a group of Jewish Americans and Germans. I could tell that we were becoming a family. The Jews and Germans cried at the atrocities that led to the annihilation of many different types of people, not only Jews. We ended the visit with the Mourner's Kaddish and a group song in Hebrew. Many of us broke down at the thought of such devastation. We then boarded the bus back to the hotel. We arrived back at Centrum Judaicum, where we had dinner, and then we broke off into two groups to discuss the day and the lessons learned.
This morning we took a lovely boat ride on the Spree before we visited the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park.
The weather was a bit overcast. After walking around the Memorial, which is big and open, we boarded the bus and took a ride to Klippers for lunch. After lunch, we headed to the Jewish Museum to meet Victoria Maria Zimmerman von Seifart (try saying that ten times fast), who is the Ambassador-at-Large, Special Rep. for Relations with Jewish Organizations. Victoria was so impressive, and she answered all of our difficult questions, including ones from "it's 5 minutes to midnight" Avi. After the discussion, some of the group stayed behind to take a tour of the Museum. David and I chose to walk around and then head back to the hotel, where we relaxed in the hotel's sauna for about 90 minutes. We needed to decompress. The group then head to Shabbat services at Oranienburger Str. Synagogue.
David and I met up with everyone at Restaurant Oranium. Nancy and Nicola had organized a charades-type presentation, which highlighted many of the events of the week. They did a great job. I especially liked Mayaan's portrayal of the Israeli journalist. After dinner, we went to Tacheles, an underground club/bar, which blew me away.
At Tacheles, you can find unique art and artists and have a drink while enjoying performances from musical groups. It was a fun ending to a hectic day.
Conclusion of the trip
It is with a heavy heart that I write this final blog entry. Saturday, July 9, was our free day, and I ate some breakfast and then took a long nap. Lars, Nancy, Daniele, Fabio, Christian, Chris, Fati and I went to eat brunch at a cafe right by the hotel. I left immediately after eating because I wanted to go back to the hotel, write and take some time to reflect. After some quiet time, I took a shower and got ready for our final dinner at Spindler & Klatt, a really nice restaurant on the river.
It was a very nice way to end a powerful week (thanks Nicola!). Many of us danced and enjoyed every last minute of the night. It was sad to say goodbye to all my new friends. I will always remember July 1-10 as one of the most powerful 10 days of my life. The Allianz/AJC Third Generation Initiative shaped me in more ways than I can write in a short blog entry.
I was introduced, by 10 understanding Allianz employees, to a Germany that accepts responsibility for her past. I met people who, I pray, will stay in my life until the day that I die. We laughed, we cried, we loved. By the time the trip was over, we were a group of 30 human beings that had achieved togetherness rather than a group of disparate American Jews and Germans.
"Sharing an experience,
Two people from backgrounds dissimilar,
Finding common ground,
Where the river meets the road,
Flowing into, forming into
One, never before seen, because life,
While it mimics dreams, creates,
Takes on shapes
Two become one,
A new journey begins,
Like the innocent child, from parents born, Carries a collection of ideas, Searching for another To make the difference
This morning we had the opportunity to meet our ten German counterparts who will join us for the rest of the week. The day began with four hours of eating, starting with breakfast at the hotel, and immediately followed by a decadent brunch at Villa Flora, a nice restaurant in Munich. There, over white wine and an endless spread of food, including my very first true German Bratwurst, I got a chance to talk with some German peers. Though I’m a pretty observant pescatarian in California, I decided it wouldn’t be a complete German experience without trying some authentic bratwurst. I’m no expert, but I have to say the meat seemed lighter and the taste was more flavorful and nuanced than the typical large-scale breakfast sausage in the U.S. After four hours of eating and drinking, the Americans and Germans at my table were all on joking terms.
After lunch, we stayed in the room for a panel on “Diversity in Contemporary Germany.” 20% of German society comes from what is known as a “migration background.” However, this segment comprises only 2.5% of Parliament and only 2 -3% of journalists. The Iranian-German journalist Saba Farzan finds hope in the popular German TV show “Turkish for Beginners,” which features an intermarried German-Turkish family. Just as “The Cosby Show” portrayed an ideal American family as an African American family—perhaps in some way paving the way for Obama’s presidency—she hopes this show will help assimilate the large Turkish minority into mainstream society.
Quick notes from Jerusalem-
The weather is beautiful, I've caught up with the time change, spent time in the Old City, at the Western Wall, and had lunch with a good friend.
The conference starts tomorrow.
Here's what I am really looking forward to: