My dear Jewish friend 10: Roaming the streets of Bamberg with Heschel on my mind

The steps of my feet echoed on the pavement as I crossed through a smaller street in the old city center of Bamberg. My restless mind was weary and I tried to avoid the most popular streets, which were so prominent with tourists from all over the world.

Its now one and a half years since we had to abandon the life we had built in New York – and I had to leave the comfort of a special friend behind, who lived so close to me and shared my passion for those on the fringes of society. I feel alone in this German city that prouds itself of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is full of history, broken history, and millions of tourists are flocking to see how splendid Germany must have one looked before the Second World War. I feel alone – sometimes even from G*d, I must admit. I often lament, why He has called me here to teach hundreds of Federal Police cadets instead of leaving me in the close comfort of our friendship.

So, in the last weeks I dug deeper into the wisdom of those, who have inspired my research during my doctoral studies. Abraham Josua Heschel, whose daughter Susannah I had the honour to meet in New York as I organised a panel discussion about „Luther and Antisemitism“ with the Leo Baeck Institute in 2017, I found an interfaith ally. As Heschel moved to Berlin to pursue his academic career, he felt alienated as a Hasidic in the bustling German capital. He roamed the streets – and maybe he even felt alone and lost in translation from one culture to the next as I do right now. I am aware that I’m a German citizen. I speak the language. I know the culture. I have been brought up with the food. But my life´s journey has put an undeniable multicultural imprint on me. My thoughts and ideas are as diverse as the cultures and places that have had an impact on me. But in this Roman Catholic city it seems like only a streamlined person with a monocultural background is accepted (preferably Franconian having lived here all of their lives). Immediately upon arrival in this Roman Catholic context I was told straight into the face that as a Lutheran pastor I should get used to being minor and should get used to this fact. No wonder, I find it hard to feel at home.

As I lamented one evening on my way beyond the tourist paths of Bamberg, it was a poem of the Rabbi I adore for his deep connection of faith and social justice that spoke consolation to me – it was as if through time the Rabbi spoke compassionate words of G*d´s presence to a lonesome German Lutheran pastor:

God follows me everywhere— 
spins a net of glances around me, 
shines upon my sightless back like the sun.

God follows me like a forest everywhere. 
My lips, always amazed, are truly numb, dumb, 
like a child who blunders upon an ancient holy place.

God follows me like a shiver everywhere. 
The desire in me is for rest; the demand within me is: Rise up,
See how prophetic visions are scattered in the streets!

I go with my reveries as with a secret
In a long corridor through the world— 
and sometimes I see high above me, the faceless face of God.

God follows me in tramways, in cafes.
Oh, it is only with the backs of one’s eyes that one can see 
how secrets ripen, how visions come to be.

Abraham Josua Heschel, The Ineffable Name of God: Man, originally published Warsaw 1933, translated from the Yiddish by Morton M. Leifmann, New York 2007, p. 57.

These words spoke deeply to my soul and called my thoughts back into perspective. G*d has always been with me, no matter where I went throughout my life journey and the places he has led me to:

the long stretched, agricultural region of Franconia and its society being aligned to monocultural structure during my childhood and youth

the beautiful American South, its mesmerising city of Charleston and the tensions of its past and present

the industrial nation of Japan pressing forward in time and economy with its fascinating ancient culture that embraces the future

the lively city of Frankfurt, providing space for a multicultural society paving the way for Germany to become a more manifold and welcoming nation

the remote islands of Orkney with its stunning nature, which is one of the most beautiful places of G*ds creation I have ever seen

the state Bavaria dominated by its capital Munich as the industrial motor of Germanys South and its harsh cement desert

the diverse city of New York as the secret capitol of the Western world, which is one of a kind and took me in as one of its own

and the medieval city of Bamberg fascinating uncounted tourists by its beauty, but finding it difficult to embrace those who are different.

Its Heschel words of G*d´s presence are consoling as I am trying to come to terms that sometimes the paths we are led down are not the ones we maybe have wished for. And perhaps one day, if G*d provides, we will again roam down streets, neighbourhoods or islands together. Until then, may our faith and friendship be the bond that reminds us that G*d follows us everywhere.


This is the Yiddish original poem in a beautiful interpretation:

My dear Jewish friend 9: Pictures of hope and happiness

I stared at the old picture in awe. Six men and a women were gathered around an embroidered table and deliciously filled beer steins. In the center of the picture was a gentleman with a hat and beard, who clearly looked Jewish. He proudly glanced back at me. As my gaze wandered over the details of this special snap shot in time I spotted two police officers to the left and right. They were a natural part of this cheerful and positive happening.

Uffenheim in the 1890s or 1900s. A window into the life of my hometown before Hitlers murderous thoughts, his evil making and hating ideology took grip of Franconia and the place I grew up.

The picture you see on the bottom is from my friend Rick Landman. By G´d´s providence we met years ago in New York. Who would have ever dreamed that the friendship, which once flourished before the disaster of the Nazi-Regime, would be reinstated by two Uffenheimer finding each other amongst millions of people in one of the busiest cities of this world?

(Bild: Rick Landman)

The proud Jewish gentleman in the middle is Ricks great-grandfather Gabriel Oettinger (1862-1903). He was able to experience as Jewish people became full citizens in Germany 1871. To me he looks happy and proud – along with all the other people. I can fully understand, as I’ve experienced how enriching, enlightening and heart-warming diverse and welcoming societies can be, if they dare to. The New York experience of diversity has changed my heart and soul forever.

Nonetheless, with emancipation having blossomed in Germany within years the pendulum swung back under the Nazi regime to an even more disastrous state than ever before. My hometown Uffenheim prided itself to be „judenfrei“ before everyone else and adhering to the Nazi regime more than other places. Martin Oettinger (Ricks grandfather), who was a proud born Uffenheimer, had to flee for his life.

The old picture is a proof that a different kind of society is possible- even in Uffenheim, which has once adhered so eagerly to a murderous regime and is presently very conservative. As I am now not only carrying the weight of my ancestors doings, the guilt of my Lutheran church body, but by wearing a Police uniform as a chaplain I am responsible to embrace the complicitness of this institution during Hitler as well. I hope that the picture of friendship, joy and happiness once taken in Uffenheim will foreshadow what can be in the presence and future: By reinstating a friendship amongst those, who once shared the same table, there is hope beyond time through those embracing each other in love and commitment.

May this new picture be a hopeful beginning of what once was possible in the small Franconia town of Uffenheim.


Information about Rick Landman and his family’s story, please visit his website.

My dear Jewish friend 4: The Franconian newspaper connection

Saturday morning rush. I was standing in line for the cash register. With people only slowly moving forward, I glanced through the newspaper shelf right next to me. There were different German newspapers pilled up reaching from local papers like the „Fränkischer Tag“, „Süddeutsche Zeitung“ having an emphasis on the south of Bavaria, and even international ones. „The New York Times“ brought a smile to my face. This newspaper was of such importance to me as I lived and worked as a German pastor in New York. You, my dear Jewish friend, are a vivid newspaper reader yourself. And I remember us discussing politics, news and happenings with one another. But did you know, that The New York Times has Franconian roots? Without a courageous and visionary descendant of a Franconian Jew, who emigrated to the United States, both of us wouldn’t have had this great and fearless news source.

Adolph S. Ochs, American newspaper publisher and former owner of The New York Times, was a descendant of Franconians. His father Julius migrated from Fürth in 1844 at the age of 18 to the USA and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. Adolph Simon Ochs was the oldest of six siblings. At the age of eleven he started to earn money as a newsboy, pursued a printer apprenticeship and bought The New York Times in 1896 at the age of 38 before the paper went bankrupt. The rest is history. Up to today The New York Times sets the highest standards for investigative, critical, and independent journalism. (1)

No wonder that you and I, my dear Jewish friend, were so perfectly informed through the rough year of 2020, where a pandemic, an up cry against Racism and Antisemitism, economic difficulties, and a nation divided over elections made the ground beneath us shake. But we held on to each other and our deep hope for a better world as we were involved in תיקון עולם (Tikkun Olam). A paper diary, in which I kept the most important articles of The New York Times reminds me of this faithful year of 2020.

And so it came about many years and generations later during a year of hardship, doubts, and uncertanty that The New York Times was a lifeline for Christian pastor from Franconia living and working in New York. And this I can surely and wholeheartedly say: Adolph Ochs memory is for a blessing.


(1) Source: Verein zur Förderung des Jüdischen Museums Franken – Fürth, Schnaittach und Schwabach e.V., Vereinsmitteilungen Nr. 58, Juni 2021, S. 9.

My dear Jewish friend 2: The Star of David and the guild emblem of brewers

It was a crisp winter day with clear skies and the sun shining bright. A perfect day to stroll through my new home town Bamberg. As my eyes wandered from the old medieval buildings to the beautiful light blue sky my thoughts wandered to you, my dear Jewish friend. The color reminded me of the beautiful New York sky that accompanied us as we walked through our Westchester neighborhood and chatted about our lives, our faith communities, and our shared involvement at your lovely pantry.

As my glance wandered back from the New York colored sky I halted my steps in great astonishment. Right in front of me I could see a golden Star of David at the historic smoke beer brewery „Schlenkerla“. The brewery has a long and old tradition. It was first mentioned in 1387 and is in operation since 1405.

As a Franconias I really enjoy the name „Schlenkerla“. It roughly derives from the English verb „dangling“ or even better „swinging along“. The -la suffix is typical of the East Franconian dialect. The name reportedly comes from a brewer with a gait whose image as it can be seen on the „Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier“ bottle. This brewery is run by the Trum family since six generations. A real traditional family business, where tradition and passion for exquisite beers make it a unique place of hospitality.

The symbol displayed on the outside of the historical brewery and tavern is the guild emblem of brewers. This hexagram is the same as the Star of David, which is the most important symbol of Judaism I truly honour and cherish. How could this shared symbolism come about? Matthias Trum outlines in his final thesis at the Technical University Munich that symbol was used for the first time as explicitly Jewish sign in Prague in 1350 on the flag of the Jewish militia and then appears as brewing emblem for the first time in Nürnberg in 1425.

„… the hexagram was in those days in Franconia and northern Bavaria widely used symbol for protection and in this form used by everyone including both jews and brewers . The exiled jews of Nürnberg brought the star with them to Prague, where it became symbol of the jewish community and was then spread all over the world through letterpress. The brewing star remained however in south Germany and developed into a tapping sign.“

Matthias Trum, Historical depictions, guild signs and symbols of the brewing and malting handcraft, TU Munich, 2002.

My dear Jewish friend, what a fascinating interconnection and shared history of our forbearers! I wished my ancestors would have embraced these shared roots, and as I have discovered, shared symbols instead of committing the crimes of Hitlers Nationalism.

I dream of having a stroll like today with you while the blue Bamberg sky will guide us to the historical tavern and we will have a nice cold beer with delicious Franconian food. On the way home, I am sure we will be swinging like the gait on the „Schlenkerla“.

Love across the miles from your Christian friend.