ACCESS: AJC's new generation

...engaging today’s critical domestic and international issues. Working at the nexus between the Jewish community and the world, ACCESS reaches out to diplomats, policy makers and young leaders of diverse religious and ethnic communities.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Day 3 in Berlin (from Meredith)

Our first evening here, Dr. Dagmar Pruin, the director of Germany Close Up, told us that at the end of our ten day visit in Germany, we would feel as though we had been here for just 48 hours and all of 7 weeks at the same time.

Only three days in, I would already say that is the case.
Our trip of 16 hails from Texas to Montreal, Denver to New York, and, over a few dinners, we are proving ourselves an engaged and engaging group.  We've already met with with a member of the German Parliament at the Federal Foreign Office, the director of AJC in Berlin; toured the city via bus and on foot; attended services at the Neue Synagogue and elsewhere; visited the Jewish Museum, the Holocaust Memorial, and, today, the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, just north of Berlin.  Though the tagline of Germany Close Up is 'American Jews Meet Modern Germany,' thus far we've spent more time with the Germany of the 19th and early 20th centuries, as we review the narratives of pre-war antisemitism and the Holocaust and visit the memorials (apparently an inadequate translation of the more laden German words, Mahnmal and Denkmal) dotting the Berlin cityscape.

The two most fascinating aspects for me so far have been 1.) our encounters with the Germans who have chosen to work with Jewish history in Germany and 2.) the reactions elicited when we mention our upcoming visit to Oberammergau's Passion Play in Southern Germany.  Each German, from Hans-Ulrich Klose, the coordinator of German-American Coooperation and Member of Parliament for 20 years, to our guide at the Holocaust Memorial yesterday, brings a different perspective and reason for dedicating their professional life to preserving and spreading German Jewish history.  Our guide at Sachsenhausen came into the work through her studies of German history and museum curation, but on a more personal level feels, as a devout Christian, compelled to heal the world through her work; the young woman who led us on a tour of the fomer historic Jewish spaces in Berlin is the daughter of a West German psychiatrist with many Jewish friends and the great-granddaugther of a Jewish woman who converted to Christianity before WWII; our guide at the Jewish Museum, a young Israeli man, did not share his personal history -- which is interesting in and of itself.  I suppose this is where we are best glimpsing 'Modern Germany,' if it is only a slice of life here -- it is illuminating (and humbling? relieving?) to encounter these committed and knowledgible people.

And then there's the infamous Oberammergau.  Most Germans, when informed of our destination, ask, "why?"  Briefly, the Passion Play, a six-hour account of Jesus’s life that stretches from early afternoon into evening, has been performed by the Oberammergau residents once a decade since 1634, when it was first staged out of gratitude that the bubonic plague spared the town.  The rub is, as with many passion plays, it traditionally contains extremely anti-Semitic portrayals of the Jews calling for the crucifixion of Christ.  Jewish and Christian scholars have been working together since the second half of the 20th century to find a way to erradicate the anti-Semitism from the performance while still honoring 1.) the Christian scripture and 2.) historical tradition (fellow bloggers, please correct me if I am wrong).  We will be the first group of American Jews to attend and discuss the play with the Oberammergau residents.  A worthy task, it seems, but most Berliners appear surprised, either laughing with dismay or expressing downrate disapproval for the play.  I, for one, remain excited at this unusual opportunity, and am perhaps all the more curious for the reaction in northern Germany.

Enough for now.  I hope fellow participants will add to these words (perhaps in dissent to what I've written), though I know we're all still getting over jet lag and treasure the rather rare moments of unscheduled time -- especially as today provides the first sunlight of the trip!

cheers, Meredith

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