November 10, 2018 There’s this thing that happens after you stand up and speak. You question what you said. Was it OK?
Did I make someone else’s story all about me? (Let’s be honest, we’re all at the center of our own world. Anytime we talk about other people, we’re framing their story.)
When I scheduled my first radio interview about German Awakening: Tales from an American Life, I had no idea how closely my appearance would follow the brutal attack on worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and on the wider Jewish community.
This wasn’t the time to make that about me and my book. Neither was it an option to pretend it didn’t happen.
With this book title and topic, people’s minds were going there anyway. And it was an opportunity to show love. So I acknowledged my perspective. Felt what I felt. Asked questions of friends.
On the radio, I led with a passage about Neue Synagoge in Berlin. Kristallnacht, to honor mourners and their beloveds who suffered in Konzentrazionslager, or KZ.
Here’s a portion of my reading:
From the outside, the Neue Synagoge looked like a normal synagogue, a tall brick building with Hebrew lettering across the front and towers like blue Faberge eggs. Only a small bronze plaque explained its significance: Damaged but saved on Kristallnacht, destroyed during the allied bombings on Berlin. We had to pass through screening to enter, same as at the Reichstag… This museum didn’t focus on the KZ atrocities that the world and I knew so well. After all, the horrors didn’t begin with mass executions… These were testimonials from the everyday lives of German Jews, when the small indignities began: microaggressions, barely perceptible and easy to write off. That was how the Holocaust started. A gradual progression of disruptions and petty insults, ignored enough times by others… I suddenly remembered something Eva once said: “You know all about our history. Perhaps you should learn more about your own.”
The other text I chose spoke to my personal struggles to forgive. On this anniversary of Kristallnacht, November 9 into 10, I remember. I renew my vow to work towards healing. I’m choosing radical love.
I’m neither Jewish nor German; I can’t sit in either position. I have my own work to do. Every day of my life.
But I’m grateful to German and Jewish friends for helping me see a bit clearer my place in this picture.
Paradoxically, the more we locate our place in the story, both shadows and light, and especially our blind spots, the closer we come to grace.
It’s time to speak.