Yes, another Jewish post. It’s the High Holidays. I promise I’ll get to other things soon!
I started a terrific new job at a pluralistic Jewish day school last week, and as such, my life has taken a very Jewwy turn. No longer is my ethnicity questioned relentlessly (“No, I’m not Greek. Not Iranian either. No, not Italian. Are we done?”), no longer do I need to request off for Jewish holidays (there are SO. MANY.), and no longer do I start and end the day at strange hours. I’m an adult now! And speaking of adulthood, can we talk about Yom Kippur for a second?
Last year on Yom Kippur (10 days after Rosh Hashana//10 days into the Big Germany Adventure), I was miserable enough without needing to be reminded of all the past year’s transgressions. Even though it’s the holiest day of the year, I tried to not think about the holiday and instead worked on distracting myself from total anxiety overload and visited a friend in Hameln. I didn’t fast for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the knowledge that I would be doing it alone, not with family and friends.
Since we had only been in Germany for a week or two, my friend and I decided to walk around the town and get a feel for the area. Wouldn’t you know it, in this little German city/town known for the Pied Piper fairy tale, we found ourselves in front of a tiny synagogue. Cue ALL OF THE GUILT.
I think the only reason I fasted this weekend was that a year’s worth of guilt weighed heavily on my conscience. I thought about it all year. It was one of the first things I told my friend Marcie, who I reconnected with after five or six years without seeing each other.
So this year I fasted, it was rough as it always is, and I actually got kind of hangry by the end. But I broke fast with a decidedly unkosher meal (pulled pork sandwich with swiss cheese, WHOOPS) and now it’s naught but a distant memory.
I want to take this time of year to talk about some of the places I found in Hannover that surprised me/gave me lots to think about:
The Stolpersteine project is a series of tiny memorials to Holocaust victims. The artist, Gunter Demnig, began the project in Germany, but now Stolpersteine can be found in countries all over Europe. Each steine, the size of a small tile and covered in brass, details the information of a victim who lived at the place where it is installed. In Hannover, there are Stolpersteine everywhere:
I saw so many of them. Most of the ones I saw were dedicated to Jews from Hannover, but many were also for homosexuals, political prisoners, and Romas.
Hannover was home to a massive synagogue…
…that was destroyed on Kristallnacht.
In the place where the synagogue stood, there is a beautiful memorial, but it was always closed when I went by.
I think I mentioned before that there were TWO Jewish cemeteries within a ten minute walk of my apartment. For some reason, my neighborhood fared better than others during the bombings of Hannover. I’ve heard that it was spared because many communists lived there, but I don’t really have proof of that, so who knows why. However, it is very jarring to be wandering around and suddenly stumble upon a perfectly preserved cemetery dating back to 1550.
I know that Jewish/German stuff is not the easiest, most fun topic to address. But learning about these places was super important for me, and experiencing them taught me so much about what it means to be American and Jewish. I also took a lot away from how Germans perceive Jews and how they reconcile their past with Germany’s present and future.