My dear Jewish friend 13: Shining lights of hope beyond Chanukah and Christmas

I sighed as I looked at the Chanukah decorations on our Christian Christmas tree. A few days earlier I had carefully placed a porcelain dreidel and festive window with a brightly lit Chanukiah in the center of our Christmas tree.

It was the eve of Christmas day and our two holiday seasons, Chanukah and Christmas, share one festive day, my thoughts had you on my mind. I vividly remember one Chanukah evening I was invited to speak about my family´s history, which represents like so many that of broken German history and more so the responsibility for present and future.

But now it was time to dim the light on this beautiful small window and our electric Chanukiah, which has accompanied us through your beautiful festival of lights. The lights of your beautiful festival might have been dimmed and those of Christmas will seize in a few days as well, but there is a light beyond that shines through us into this world.

A beautiful poem of Philip M. Raskin reminds us that the light will continue to shine:

The Rabbi tells his old, old tale,
     The pupils seated round.
“…And thus, my boys, no holy oil
     In the Temple could be found.

The heathens left no oil to light
     The Lord’s eternal lamp;
At last one jar, one single jar,
     Was found with the high priest’s stamp.

Its oil could only last one day—
     But God hath wondrous ways;
For lo! a miracle occurred:
     It burned for eight whole days.”

The tale was ended, but the boys,
     All open-eyed and dumb,
Sat listening still, as though aware
     Of stranger things to come.

Just wait, my boys, permit me, pray,
     The liberty to take;
Your Rabbi—may he pardon me—
     Has made a slight mistake.

Not eight days, but two thousand years
     That jar of oil did last,
To quell its wondrous flames availed
     No storm, no flood, no blast.

But this is not yet all, my boys:
     The miracle just starts.
This flame is kindling light and hope
     In countless gloomy hearts.

And in our long and starless night,
     Lest we should go astray,
It beacon-like sheds floods of light,
     And eastwards points the way,

Where light will shine on Zion’s hill,
     As in the days of old.
The miracle is greater, boys,
     Than what your Rabbi told

Philip M. Raskin – 1880-1944

As we as a Christian family are emerging ourselves into twelve days of the Christian festive season I know from our friendship that there is a light shining in both of us. A light of joy for the better, which we try to bring into our broken world large or small. May it kindle light and hope in countless gloomy hearts, which struggle.

Love from Bamberg on Christmas to my Jewish friend.

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.

My dear Jewish friend 1

A few weeks ago we sat on the steps to our kitchen. As you presented me with a flat package containing my farewell gift, I could feel my throat go dry. Over the last months we grew together in ways our ancestors would have never even envisaged. I, the descendant of perpetrators during World War II, and you, carrying the weight of Jewish people murdered during the Holocaust, have been bound together by caring for those, who have been hit hardest by the economic implication the pandemic. You welcomed me in your pantry in such loving ways seeing the person and not the historic background I carry on my shoulders.
As I opened the gift, tears poured down my face in streams. The white plate lying in my hands had the most beloved verses of Jesus Christ imprinted: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” What a gift to receive out of the hands of my Jewish friend.
You have welcomed me as a German stranger into your Jewish pantry. You empowered me to help those, who were most in need, and helped me to overcome some of the hurt of my nations broken past.
It is this commitment that drives me as I am called to serve the German Federal Police. Soon I will be teaching young police officers in ethical decision making. I will stand strong against any form of Antisemitism, Racism, and other shapes of hatred. I will hopefully be able to commit many others tho this important deed. Germany has changed. It is still a working progress, but there are many of us, who take the courage to stand strong against Antisemitism and Racism.
I miss you dearly, my Jewish friend. I miss the special times we had together. The coffees and chats. The afternoon strolls around our neighborhood. The times of serving together for those in need – every Thursday I become silent as my hands dream of placing food into bags at your lovely pantry.
I know, that what happened in Nazi-Germany to your people, was a pure evil and murderous crime. It has left deep scars on your soul and those of others. When I broke the news to you that I would need to return to Germany, I could see the fright on your face. I am dreaming of welcoming you to Germany someday. This year we are celebrating 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany. As I am waiting for this pandemic to pass, I will start writing about Jewish life in Germany, and signs of hope and glimpses of faith that connects us on a deep spiritual and personal level.

Love from Germany!