My dear Jewish friend 7: Shabbat Shira, the New Year of the Trees and songs of praise

After riding with my bicycle through a cold starry January evening to the local synagogue in Bamberg, I thankfully entered the warm and cozy building. Rabbi Dr. Almekias-Siegl had invited me for the Shabbat service and the following festive evening of Tu B´Shvat. As I sat down in a pew, my cold and stiff limbs started to thaw with every word spoken and every song rising.

When Rabbi Dr. Almekias-Siegl explained in his sermon that this evening was Shabbat Shira, my thoughts immediately traveled across the miles to your synagogue and Rabbi Shira Milgrom. My heart silently began to sing as I was reminded of you. What a coincidence to be invited on Shabbat Shira to this synagogue. I suddenly understood why the Rabbi had pointed out to others that my first name was Miriam (as you know in Germany you usually call each other by the surname). It never occurred to me that the names „Shira“ and „Miriam“ are closely intertwined in such significant ways. This special Shabbat not only flabbergasted me, but helped me to understand more about our shared commitment. Shabbat Shira emphasises the Song of the Sea and the Miriams song, which has always has been near to my heart. It is one of the greatest songs of the Torah:

I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;

horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.

The LORD is my strength and my might,

and he has become my salvation;

this is my God, and I will praise him,

my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

The LORD is a warrior;

the LORD is his name.

“Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea;

his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea.

The floods covered them;

they went down into the depths like a stone.

Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power—

your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy.

In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries;

you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble.

At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up,

the floods stood up in a heap;

the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.

The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,

I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.

I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’

You blew with your wind, the sea covered them;

they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?

Who is like you, majestic in holiness,

awesome in splendor, doing wonders?

You stretched out your right hand,

the earth swallowed them.

In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed;

you guided them by your strength to your holy abode.

The peoples heard, they trembled;

pangs seized the inhabitants of Philistia.

Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed;

trembling seized the leaders of Moab;

all the inhabitants of Canaan melted away.

Terror and dread fell upon them;

by the might of your arm, they became still as a stone

until your people, O LORD, passed by,

until the people whom you acquired passed by.

You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession,

the place, O LORD, that you made your abode,

the sanctuary, O LORD, that your hands have established.

The LORD willI will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;

horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.

The LORD is my strength and my might,

and he has become my salvation;

this is my God, and I will praise him,

my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

The LORD is a warrior;

the LORD is his name.

“Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea;

his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea.

The floods covered them;

they went down into the depths like a stone.

Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power—

your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy.

In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries;

you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble.

At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up,

the floods stood up in a heap;

the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.

The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,

I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.

I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’

You blew with your wind, the sea covered them;

they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?

Who is like you, majestic in holiness,

awesome in splendor, doing wonders?

You stretched out your right hand,

the earth swallowed them.

In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed;

you guided them by your strength to your holy abode.

The peoples heard, they trembled;

pangs seized the inhabitants of Philistia.

Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed;

trembling seized the leaders of Moab;

all the inhabitants of Canaan melted away.

Terror and dread fell upon them;

by the might of your arm, they became still as a stone

until your people, O LORD, passed by,

until the people whom you acquired passed by.

You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession,

the place, O LORD, that you made your abode,

the sanctuary, O LORD, that your hands have established.

The LORD will reign forever and ever. reign forever and ever.

Exodus 15:1-18

It is the song of the people of Israel at the Red Sea, when your people were saved from the pharaoh through G´d. Being named after biblical Miriam, I was always drawn to the story of the exodus. Many a times I shivered about the pressure, toil and hardship Israel had to bear in Egypt, the plagues, and the miracles Moses performed through G´d.

For me as a Lutheran pastor committed to seeking peace and justice, this story is a symbol of triumph after difficult times and that G´ds promise of justice and freedom can be reached. Many times it takes the struggles of numerous generations until justice becomes reality.

But how quickly do we get used to a peaceful and just surrounding? You and I, we both had the privilege to grow up in peaceful times. Through the history of our nations, which are intertwined through the murderous crimes of the Holocaust, we should remember with huge thankfulness that we are blessed with peace.

The nearness of Tu B´Shvat on this Shabbat may help us to remember that the Creator has provided us with everything we need. The New Year of the trees celebrates the fruit of the tree, the vegetables, the plants that give air to the world and so much more. As the Rabbi shared his memories of celebrating „the New Year of the Trees“ in Israel I could feel the joy spreading in the small diaspora synagogue and once more my longing to visit Israel has been awakened again. (I truly hope to be able to spend time there as soon as this pandemic is over.) As we entered the small communal space on the ground floor, a beautiful meal was prepared for us with more fruits than we could eat and we indulged in fruits, which came from your homeland Israel.

As I ate the carefully selected and beautifully presented fruits, I had to think of all the blessings laid into my life. I don’t have to worry about food or a roof over my head, and am blessed in so many ways. But how often do we forget that the basic things in life are small wonders in themselves? Working in your pantry, getting to know your synagogue, and experiencing how quickly even basic things like food can be taken from you, have changed my perspective both on the song of Miriam and the basic things in life.

I think it is our challenge, to recognise the everyday gifts received from above, and to share these blessings with those, who are less fortunate than us. For them they are wonders and free those, who are less fortunate from their bondage hunger and economical troubles. May our actions become very practical, recognisable songs of Miriam as we use our hands, hearts, and lips to give praise to the one, who has called us to pursue peace and justice.

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.

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.

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!
Miriam

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!