Sara Mason Ader
Life Member, Hadassah New England

Finding Surprising Inspiration in Germany’s Fight against Antisemitism

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.

As I packed my suitcase back in January for a trip to Germany, I found myself feeling uneasy. It had been more than 20 years since my last trip there and antisemitism was skyrocketing globally—especially since the atrocities of October 7th, , not to mention that this time of year was hardly ideal weatherwise in Northern Europe.

The impetus for my journey was an opportunity to participate in the Berlin Learning Program, sponsored by Widen the Circle (WtC), an organization which fights bigotry and antisemitism in Germany and the US by drawing lessons from the harsh realities of history.

Joel Obermayer founded WtC in 2019 to expand the legacy of the Obermayer Awards, created several decades earlier by his father to honor German citizens who sought to preserve German Jewish history and to memorialize Jewish communities destroyed in the Holocaust.

I knew we would be attending the annual Obermayer Awards ceremony at Berlin’s historic Red City Hall and, having been truly moved by the extraordinary work of previous Obermayer Award winners, I was eager to hear from this year’s awardees. So, I purchased a pair of extra warm, waterproof boots and took the heaviest clothing in my winter wardrobe “on the road.”

Before meeting my WtC tripmates in Berlin, I took  a quick detour to the northern Germany city of Bremen to visit the family who had hosted me 30 years earlier when I was an exchange student with the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX). In addition to being the destination for the musically talented animals in the Brothers Grimm’s fairytale, Bremen is known for its regal 14th-century town hall—a UNESCO World Heritage site—located in its picturesque city center. I had fond memories of Bremen and was pleased to see that nothing much there had changed.

My host parents took me to dinner at their nephew’s relatively new and elegant French restaurant, Chapeau la Vache. Though I was exhausted from the flight, I looked forward to dining at this establishment that I had heard so much about. As we entered the parking lot, in front of the stunning villa that houses the restaurant, my appetite faded at the sight and sound of protesters.

I was not surprised to see them, given all the protests against Israel and Jews in the US since October 7th. But as my host father quickly explained, these were not  pro-Hamas protestors, crying out for a Palestinian state that extended from the “river-to-the-sea.” These vigilant 10 or so souls were out on a dark, wintry Tuesday evening to protest the foie gras on the menu! Yes, I experienced a momentary spark of pity for the overfed ducks, but the subject of that protest was a relief to me. I went on to devour a spectacularly delicious meal in posh surroundings, although none of us ordered the foie gras.

After a packed two days in Bremen, I arrived in Berlin. I was amazed to see the city bore almost no remaining visible scars from the Cold War, when it had been a divided city, partitioned by cement and barbed wire. When I lived in Bremen in the early 1990s, I made three trips to Berlin and witnessed the city’s early efforts to transform itself into a modern and cohesive German capital. Three decades later, it’s as if Berlin had always been the epitome of a united and sophisticated European capital.

Our WtC week was jam-packed with visits to Holocaust sites and centers of Berlin’s Jewish life prior to WWII. We met with Germans who are now engaged in fascinating remembrance projects. We attended the premiere of a documentary movie about German students traveling to the U.S. to study racism followed by a talkback with the producers and the people whose stories the film brought to light.

Nazi symbols are illegal in modern Germany. School children learn from an early age about where virulent antisemitism has led in the past. The German government, in turn, is supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself and takes an aggressive stance on any anti-Israel protests in public. I was surprised to see Israeli flags, along with Ukrainian and NATO flags, flying in solidarity on German government buildings.

We visited the stunning Berlin “Neue” Synagogue, built in 1866. With us were two sisters whose mother had attended services there until she was forced, at age 11, to flee Berlin with her family for Shanghai in 1939. One of the sisters, Karen Levi, memorialized their mother’s story in her book, Love and Luck: A Young Woman’s Journey from Berlin to Shanghai to San Francisco.

Another memorable moment came when our group visited the House of the Wannsee Conference where, in 1942, Hitler’s functionaries met to figure out the details of “the final solution” to the problem of the Jews. One of the people in our delegation recognized a friend of hers in one of the concentration camp photos on display.

Though I am back home, my Berlin adventures have stayed with me. I continue to be amazed by the reverence that WWII history receives in Germany. War victims are honored in new ways every day. The intention is not only to remember the past but also to ensure that the Third Reich’s atrocities are never repeated. Contrasting with the growing chorus of Hamas apologists and Neo-Nazis in the US, Germany’s remembrance work is truly inspiring.

If you, like me, are searching for productive ways to combat the ignorance and antisemitism that have spread in the US and Canada since October 7th, I urge you to support groups such as WtC and Hadassah, which educate and build bridges. By doing so, not only will you find inspiration, but you will also be helping to repair our world.

One easy way to get involved right now would be to sign the petition at the center of Hadassah’s End The Silence Campaign, which protests the weaponization of sexual violence in the Hamas-Israel war and everywhere else in the world.

About the Author
Sara Mason Ader, Life Member, Hadassah New England, and a member of the Hadassah Writers' Circle, is a Boston-based freelance writer and editor, as well as co-founder and lead editor of For more about her background, visit
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