Danke Schon Germany

I knew I would write about my experience in Germany even before I got there. How could I not?

Trying to reflect on the single most powerful moment over the few days, became more and more complex. Every new place we visited or site we saw, had this incredible impact. Much more so than I could have imagined.

Spending Shabbat with the incredible women of WIZO Germany was profound. I knew, from the moment I had received the warm invitation, to present on StandWithUs and our work in Israel education, this would be an experience like no other. I have had the opportunity to spend time with Jewish communities across the globe, bringing empowerment and the platform of StandWithUs to many. There is no true measure in terms of importance or priority when it comes to educating others about Israel; each and every corner of the world we reach is changing hearts and minds.

And yet, I knew this time would be very different.

And there it was…singing in Shabbat with dozens of Jewish women from across Germany, that made me realize just how different.

There was a moment where I held back tears. Watching a room full of proud Jewish women, singing in Shabbat. Looking at the beautiful tables set. The blessing over the bread. The ornate candlesticks flickering a light that somehow seemed brighter than ever before. A living area filled with Judaica and Hebrew literature. Observing some of the women taking in the cool Munich air on the terrace, their hearty laughter bouncing off of the glass doors slammed shut against the white frame with the Mezuzah held tightly in place.

Shabbat in Germany.

wizo germany

My family joined me on my trip. It was important for me to have them there for a number of reasons. Not only was this my first trip to Germany, it was also the anniversary of my father’s death and my birthday all in one weekend…a roller coaster of emotions was no gambling measure at this point.

Having my family with me was what defined this experience for me.

Chasing my nearly 4-year-old daughter across the English Gardens in Munich as she sang her toddler songs in Hebrew and chased the ducks was life changing.

Watching her stick her tongue out at a mounted German policemen made me stop in my tracks.

Watching them smile and wave at her took my breath away.

“The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.” Shakespeare defines so perfectly, and ironically, in one of the most arguably anti-Semitic pieces of literature, the Merchant of Venice, the very dilemma I perceived my German experience through. Why was it that watching my daughter screaming and chasing ducks in a German garden, such a huge ordeal? Why did the click of the officer’s boots send a chill down my spine and not the brisk wind marking the end of a cold winter? Was I able to put aside my own history, both personal and collective and experience the country simply as is?

The answer was a clear no.

Perhaps it was me running my hands across the Jerusalem stone inside of the Jewish community center, as I made my way towards the lecture; allowing myself to touch each crevice as if the very site of the Holy Western Wall.

Or smiling and taking photos, posing with pride in front of the German parliament. A mental note to ourselves and others that we are here. For good. In front of the very place where our demise was planned, I stand with my Jewish children proud.

reich

Maybe it was the apple strudel. Sitting in the beautiful yard of Café Enstein. Stepping over the gold stones at the entrance to the former home, adorned with the names of Georg and Lucia Blumenfeld, the owners of the building, murdered in the Holocaust.

How could I feel comfortable eating a delicious apple strudel in their backyard?! A part of me want to shout and scream out injustice. But as I watched my daughters playing with the small pebbles on the ground, I could feel Georg and Lucia there with us. Smiling as they watched the girls; these two beautiful Jewish children playing freely in their yard once again.

It was all life-changing.

“Yahel, don’t jump on the stones! This is a memorial for the Shoah!”

“Ima, what is a Shoah?”

“One day you will know, but please don’t jump here.”

“But Ima I want to”

“Okay, so jump.”

berlin memorial

Yes. Jump. And breathe.  And look around you. And feel the presence of our relatives there. Their lives stamped out to soon. But they now watch us here, and free. There is a history filled with pain and loss.

There is a present filled with a beautiful city, uniquely in touch with its past and present in every way imaginable.

There is the reality of children living in the shadows of their father’s sin; which at this point is more accurately their grand and great grandfathers…

I will never be the same after my experience in Germany. My approach to my educational work will not be the same.

As we buckled our seat belts on the flight back to Israel and I watched my exhausted toddler struggle to keep her eyes open, she mumbled out her last ” Danke Schon”, making the group of Israeli photography students sitting near us roll in laughter. With a final yawn, my rambunctious little girl was asleep. And we were on our way home, to the Jewish state. Taking off from Germany freely and not in escape. And that was the moment I realized that with a simple thank you and a yawn, how much I had taken away from Germany and no longer what Germany had taken from me.

About the Author
Michelle Rojas-Tal is the Jewish Agency's central Shlicha to Hillel International and Director of the Israel Fellows Program. The Jewish Agency for Israel Fellows program brings nearly 80 young emissaries to campuses across North America and close to a dozen across the globe to serve on college campuses. Michelle and her family are currently on Shlichut and living in the greater D.C. area from Jerusalem. She has devoted her life's work to Israel and the Jewish people.
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