I have never been to Germany before, and this is no accident. My mother, who lost extended family members in the Holocaust, raised me not to buy German products. I do not walk on the site of the Temple in Jerusalem, for it is sacred. I did not go to Germany, because it was the very opposite of sanctity. The sound of the German language made me cringe; it was the sound of the Nazis. But over the decades, I had come to be in relationship with young Germans who were profoundly remorseful about the Holocaust. I was ready to explore a new personal relationship with the German people, and to travel there when the right opportunity presented itself. This trip is that opportunity.
I landed in Berlin, thinking that I was ready. I thought I had moved beyond the conditioning that made me instinctively clench at the sound of the German. My mind was ready. But I learned that fear still lay deep in my body. When people spoke German in gentle tones, I could see the human being speaking this difficult language. But when announcements were barked overhead in the airport, or when I heard the bone-chilling siren of German police cars, I froze. The deeply conditioned response would not easily lift.
I had the good fortune to spend Shabbat at the home of Rabbi Gesa Ederberg, the rabbi of the Oranienburger Strasse synagogue and an important leader of Conservative/Masorti Judaism in Germany. Gesa and her husband Nils could not have been warmer, more hospitable hosts. Walking the streets of Berlin with them to and from synagogue on Shabbat, the city began to present itself to me as a fascinating place. At times my head ached as I learned of the many complexities, in particular, of Jewish life here: the many manifestations of Holocaust memory, varieties of traumatic experiences Jews from other parts of Europe had brought with them to post-war Berlin, and the confusing presence of large numbers of Israelis in this place that was a place of death for many of their ancestors, to name a few. Shabbat with Gesa’s community was a joyous and fascinating time, full of learning for me.
Now I await the arrival of my colleagues, the delegation of women rabbis and historians coming to this place to honor the memory of my forebear Rabbi Regina Jonas, a person who, as an eleven year-old girl in Berlin in 1913, had the extraordinary vision to imagine that she was meant to be a rabbi. I am proud to take part in recovering this lost piece of Jewish history, bringing more light to the story of pre-war German Jewry and to the self-knowledge of the Jewish women of my generation. Much learning and many emotions lie ahead.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Confronting Germany." (Viewed on December 3, 2023) <https://jwa.org/rabbis/regina-jonas-remembered/confronting-germany>.