Joshua Hammerman
Rabbi, award winning journalist, author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi"

All Pudding Aside, Let’s Celebrate the Return to Berlin

The current brouhaha in Israel over the cost of a popular Israeli pudding snack in Berlin trivializes and distorts what should be considered a great triumph of the Zionist mission.  Contrary to what many Israelis believe – and all pudding aside – the renaissance of Jewish life in Berlin is an affirmation of Zionism, not a negation, as well as one of the most astounding stories of the post Holocaust generation.  If the return to the land of Israel was the ultimate vindication of Jewish life in the face of death, so is the return to the belly of the beast itself.

I visited Berlin for the first time this summer, and while I did not have the pleasure of purchasing a cut-rate “Milky” there, signs of Jewish rejuvenation were everywhere.  Aside from the ubiquity and unselfconscious centrality of Holocaust memorials, synagogues and restaurants, even Jewish street names herald a renewed recognition of the city’s rich Jewish heritage and strong ties to Israel.  One might have guessed that a repentant Berlin would have streets dedicated to such Jewish luminaries as Mahler, Mendelssohn, Spinoza and Heine.  But who could have imagined the city of Goebbels sprouting boulevards honoring Yitzchak Rabin and David Ben Gurion.  (Come to think of it, does any Israeli city have a Yitzhak Rabin Street?)

The return to Berlin also proves that Judaism is indeed portable, as it was intended by the ancient rabbis to be, and that Judaism can thrive – anywhere.

The ability of Jewish communities to thrive in the Diaspora, be they in the shadow of the Reichstag or of the Freedom Tower, is intrinsically tied to the very fact of Israel’s existence. Israel bolsters confidence and pride no matter where Jews live.  At the same time, a strong, vibrant Diaspora, one that includes Israelis, is precisely what the state of Israel needs most to ensure its survival in a hostile world.

As I wrote here a year ago, the same imperative that drove Israelis back to the Etzion bloc after the Six Day War is what drives Jewish life back to the streets of Poland and Germany.  And just as the blood of 240 massacred Jews crying from the Etzion earth would not allow any Israeli government to declare Efrat Judenrein in any final agreement (though compromises may need to be made elsewhere), neither should the Final Solution have the final say on the fate of Jews in Berlin.

The return to Berlin is not a threat to the Zionist mission; it is an affirmation of the Jewish revival that Zionism has engendered.  It is the ultimate celebration of the Jewish spirit that simply refuses to die.

As such, Milkys in hand, we should slurp a l’chayim to that restored Jewish community and celebrate, rather than ruminate.

About the Author
Award-winning journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and rabbi of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Author of Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi – Wisdom for Untethered Times and the upcoming book, "Embracing Auschwitz." Rabbi Hammerman was a winner of the Simon Rockower award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, for his 2008 columns on the Bernard Madoff case, which appeared first on his blog and then were discussed widely in the media. In 2018, he received an award from the Religion News Association, honorable mention, for excellence in commentary, for articles written for the Washington Post, New York Jewish Week, and JTA. Among his many published personal essays are several written for the New York Times Magazine and Washington Post. He has been featured as About.com's Conservative representative in its "Ask the Rabbi" series and as "The Jewish Ethicist," fielding questions on the New York Jewish Week's website. Rabbi Hammerman is an avid fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and all things Boston; he also loves a good, Israeli hummus. He is an active alum of Brown University, often conducting alumni interviews of prospective students. He lives in Stamford with his wife, Dr. Mara Hammerman, a psychologist. They have two grown children, Ethan and Daniel, along with Chloe, Casey and Cassidy, three standard poodles. Contact Rabbi Hammerman: rabbi@tbe.org (203) 322-6901 x 307
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