My dear Jewish friend 6: Shalom and Shared Roots of Faith

When entering our apartment, my hand softly touched the Hebrew letters of שלום. Shalom. Peace. Frieden. I sighed deeply as the well-known words of the Shema Israel came over my lips. Protected by a beautiful bright blue outside the small parchment scroll of the Mezuzah contained important parts of the Holy Scriptures (1) and was a precious memory of seven years in New York.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

Deut 6,4-5

Shalom. Peace. Frieden.

Our world is struggling heavily to find peace. Despite a raging pandemic, a large portion of our world is still engulfed in different conflicts and wars. (2) What a terrible fact as Christianity is celebrating Christmastide and all nations are heading for the New Year!

Year after year I am hoping for peace to come. Even though you and I live in peaceful nations, many are not as fortunate. My own nation has not lived up to the basic religious principal engrained into Judaism and Christianity. During the Nazi dictatorship most Germans were official members of the Roman Catholic or Protestant Churches, but didn’t live up to the concept of shalom. Instead, they were eagerly part of a murderous, diabolical system. Large numbers did not simply forget the connections between Judaism and Christianity, but some very actively tried to destroy every trace of shared values.

When on a very cold night of November 9 the local Rabbi Dr. Salomon Almekias-Siegl came to our Christian home, it felt as if a tide of personal family history was turning in healing ways. It could have not been a more touching date for installing our Mezuzah at the apartment door of our German Christian family. On what is today known as „Kristallnacht“ (3), from November 9 to 10, 1938 when synagogues and Jewish property were burned and destroyed on a large scale, and hundreds Jews were killed or driven to commit suicide, it was this gesture of שלום that deeply moved us.

After checking that the small scroll was kosher, the Rabbi spoke the blessing hanging the mezuzah slanted on the right side of the door, facing inwards towards our apartment. My thoughts went to the biblical story of the Rabbi Jesus discussing religious matters with scribes where he referred to the Shema Israel and the commandment to love neighbour and self as the highest commandments of faith (Marc 12:28-31). If only the perpetrators of the Nazi dictatorship large and small would have lived up to this commandment instead of killing millions of Jews!

Now, day after day, as I pass through our door, the bright blue Mezuzah and its silver letters remind me that the way to שלום is adhering to these fundamental commandments, which bind Judaism and Christianity together. I am so thankful for this reminder, which was installed on one a night that reminds us of one of the darkest night in German history.

Shalom. Peace. Frieden.

With every new day rising and every passing through our doorway my hope grows that God´s kingdom will grow in our broken world by love we show God and our neighbour.


(1) Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21.

(2) Statista:

(3) The Night of Broken Glass

My dear Jewish friend 5: United against hunger

It took me months, my dear Jewish friend, to have the courage to look for a new commitment to fight against hunger. My heart and hands were dreaming about our shared fight against hunger. You have taken me in as a Christian into your beautiful Jewish pantry – and you have changed my life forever. Your leadership has showed one German pastor and her family how reconciliation makes its way into hearts and lives through the shared care for those less fortunate.

As I missed you and the community of Kohl Ami week after week it was a Jewish story about the Lithuanian Rabbi Haim Romshishker that became important to me. It emphasises how important compassion for the poor is. A value we as Christians and Jews share. This compassion may be the decisive moment one feels like being in heaven or hell:

„Once, I went up into the sky and also entered hell. I looked around and saw: old and young men sitting rows upon rows in front of tables that were full of all the best things, each holding a long spoon in hand. And when one reached for his mouth, he wouldn’t be able to because of the spoon’s length. And so they all sat row against row with their souls dry and a great sorrow rested on their faces. I went over to one of them and said to him: „A fool in the world! Rather your eyes seeing all this goodness and craving, send the spoon that is attached to your hand and support your friend who sits opposite you. And he will, in turn, support you with the spoon attached to his hand.“

The man looked at me with meager eyes and replied:

„It would better for my eyes to see and crave all day long than for me to see him enjoy and be satiated.“ I was alarmed to hear this, so I opened my mouth to scream a loud scream and woke up.

(Alter Druyanov (1870-1938): Sefer habedichah vehachidud 1935, 2. Buch, Abschnitt betitelt mit „bein adam l’chavero“)

Dear Jewish friend, I was so blessed that we shared what we had in these dense pandemic months in New York and fed those, who were less fortunate than we were. We rejoiced in having fed some of the poor. It took me weeks to let go of what we had and make these moments precious memories. I will forever carry them in my heart.

A few weeks ago I took my courage together to seek a pantry in my new German home town. Even though Germany has a robust social system there are so many, there is plenty of hunger and need. So I am now honouring our friendship by giving out bakery on Saturday noon to those less fortunate.

Here are a few images from the pantry – I am sure you’ll recognise the tichel, I often wore at your pantry.

My dear Jewish friend 3: Pretzels like Manna from Heaven

Everyone gathered around our large dining table. I glanced over the table to check if something was missing. Saturday mornings are my favorite days when our family is able to gather for a longer breakfast. These days usually start early for me with a bicycle ride to our baker, who has such delicious bakery products reaching from numerous kinds of rolls, which just have come out of the oven, to cheesecake on a stick covered in luxurious chocolate.

As I placed six different kinds of pretzels on the white serving plate I sighed. It would be so nice to share one of these breakfasts in Germany with you and your husband. The serving plate is a precious reminder of you and I am sure, you would love trying all these different freshly baked pretzels with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, salt and pepper, or even in a sweet version.

Just weeks ago I visited a church the a small medieval city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. As I admired the sanctuary of St. Jakob, I was astonished to see a glass window with pretzels. Angels distributed pretzels and rolls in traditional Francionian shapes from heaven to a mass of people below. From their appearance I could recognise that these might have been Jewish people. The shape of their hats and clothes were in the style of the mandated appearance of Jews in medieval Rothenburg. As I stood there in surprise it hit me: This was the story of Israel during their 40 year journey through the desert! Pretzels came down among them like manna from heaven. As folk might have found it difficult to understand what manna was, they certainly understood the picture of pretzels. Those were precious, delicate and special baking products. Like manna that saved the Jewish people from starvation. Special, necessary food.

I wish, we could someday have such a Saturday morning breakfast with delicious pretzels and go to visit these interesting windows. Until then pretzels will be on our breakfast table as a heavenly reminder of our friendship across miles and religions.

Reckoning with the Past

The meeting room filled quickly as members of the American Jewish Committee and Interfaith Partners gathered on the cold Sunday afternoon. Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC’s Director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations, had summoned this meeting of the AJC Interreligious Affairs Commission on “Christian Responses to the Antisemitism Epidemic.”

As all attending made themselves comfortable, helping themselves to some refreshments and looking through the well prepared material supplied, the room buzzed with warm welcomes and kind introductions. As Rabbi Marans began the meeting, the buzzing group transformed into a quickly concentrating diverse group of Jewish and Interfaith friends, who had gathered to discuss the unsettling rise of Antisemitism and how Christians could respond to this terrible development.

The Rev. Dr. Lee Spitzer, General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches USA, and author of the book Baptists, Jews, and the Holocaust, spoke about the topic how is own denomination had dealt with Antisemitism and Holocaust through the centuries sharing the experience of persecution in Europe. He talked about the significance of friendship, sacrificial solidarity, and how important it was to learn from missed opportunities for future actions.

Reckoning with the past is a important task we need to actively embrace. As a German citizen I am entitled to say this, because my nation’s past has led to so much death and suffering. This should never ever happen again. As Antisemitism is on the rise, it is urgently time to account for these deadly actions of Nazi Germany and to fulfill our obligations arising from them for the whole world community. In my opinion, we Germans have the holy duty to warn others about the lessons we have learned through the broken history of Nazi Germany. Any kind of slight beginning, any historical analogy needs to be outlined and first steps towards such destruction quickly hindered.

As Rabbi Marans kindly invited me to share a small statement on how Christians may respond to the rise of Antisemitism, I took a leap of faith in those present as I spoke about the broken past of my nation, family, and fears for the presence and future. I am sharing it here in my blog laying my trust in you, dear reader, that we may become partners in remembrance and reconciliation.

Reckoning with the past is the hurtful and necessary step to lead into a just future without Antisemitism, Racism, and Hate. It deeply hurt me on that Sunday afternoon and I had to hold myself together as the words poured out of my heart:

It is a great honor for me to speak today. In full disclosure: I am a German. My grandfather served under Hitler in the Nazi navy. He was half Sinti. I still can´t understand, why he supported and glorified this murderous regime. I remember countless discussions as I challenged his idealization of the Nazi era, which he painted in glorious colors over family gatherings. As I held strong against his words, my reaction was met with anger and emotional coldness as you can well imagine.

It is my holy duty as a descendant of those, who committed crimes under Hitler, and as a Christian through the Gospel to warn about the dangers of right-winged thoughts and antisemitism. Reliving the nightmares of Germany passed is one of my greatest fears…

But this passed Wednesday, Feb 5, we all held our breath as analogies to the beginning of a destructive regime resurfaced in Thuringia, Germany.
Thomas Kemmerich was elected as the new prime minister of the free state of Thuringia. His own party FDP barely made it into the state parliament. Through the help of the rightist party AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) and Merkel´s CDU he surprisingly came into this high office. It was as if a breath of Weimar was taking its grip of Germany.

In 1932, Adolf Hitler and his murderous regime came to power through the help of Hindenburg and numerous parties taking down the Weimar Republic. We do not have 1932, but the analogies are frightening: A antidemocratic party is trying to take a grip of the free state of Thuringia, with Weimar at its center. Yesterday, the newly elected prime minister stepped down due to pressure from numerous parties, protestant churches and public protests.

We need swift and courageous actions, because Weimar can be everywhere! Back then, almost unnoticeable hate crawled into everyday life through phrases and small actions of exclusion. As people got used to the dose of hate as part of the daily grind, the intensity increased numbing the human capacity to empathy and solidarity.

“Weimar can be everywhere!” is a warning we need to take seriously. The Jewish Bible calls us to love our neighbor and self. For Christians this is a fundamental principle we are called to. Wherever there are tendencies of right-winged ideology, antisemitism or racism, we have to stand strong and boldly with those, who need our help.

To combat this kind of hate, education is one of the most important keys. As a pastor teaching at the German School I educate the next generation about the holocaust. You may ask my son later, who attends my class together with eight other students. Education is the best antidote we have.

In addition, vital friendships across faiths play a important role. As a small German speaking congregation in New York resembling the larger German Protestant Churches, we reach out to other faith communities and we are blessed to have AJC as an important partner.

“Weimar can be everywhere!” might be true, but as we are setting signs of peace as the beloved community God, we are hindering history to repeat itself.

Thank you for AJC for calling us as the beloved community together that we may be a glimpse of hope for those targeted by antisemitism, racism and hate, those on the margin of our society!