BY BROOKE ROSENTHAL / AJT //
I returned last month from a European holiday, one that my husband strongly encouraged me to take without him and our four young children.
It was a terrific opportunity to reconnect with myself – relax, rejuvenate and enjoy. My husband pointed out that this would be a true sabbatical: I have either been taking non-stop care of our kids or carrying one in my belly for the past seven years!
He insisted I have a significant break.
My reluctance was huge and I made many excuses as to why I could not leave: I was still nursing our 15-month old; I was concerned about how my husband would juggle the children and his job; I felt we could not afford it.
With his persistence, I worked out the details and was on my way to Amsterdam, Netherlands to visit my very dear college roommates, Jorma and Titika.
I felt a return to a different part of myself, a return to the Brooke of years ago, when I first spent three weeks in beautiful Amsterdam as a college girl of 19. I was now once again free to be an adult, to intellectualize and experience.
I loved being in this antique city, with its picturesque canals, narrow streets, and old architecture mingling with the newer, sleeker designs of European taste. I loved going to cafes on the public squares, watching summer vacationers from all over the globe, while debating religion, politics, current events and life experiences with my friends.
I left behind the round-the-clock “restaurant” I call my kitchen, as well as the screaming and whining that accompanies the trials and tribulations of my children: one, three, five and seven-years-old.
No diaper changes, no dishes, no laundry and no cleaning. It was a return to simply taking care of me.
While I was scared about how much I would yearn for my children, I really felt good being separated from them. I had the complete security of knowing they were well cared for by their father, and that he had the support of our wonderful community and neighbors.
I learned to let go of the mother/wife control.
Four days after my arrival, my host Jorma and I took a jaunt to Berlin. I was told that Berlin is the most economically depressed city in Germany and that, I have concluded, is what is responsible for its charm.
Young people from all over the world are moving there as an affordable, European home. We saw many young parents with their children in strollers and streets lined with children’s shops.
It felt like a young, punk, progressive city pulsating with crowded cafes and clubs that never seemed to close.
I had huge reservations about visiting Berlin. I have a self-imposed soft “boycott” of German products, and harbor a vague antipathy for that country.
Despite my efforts at being a tolerant world citizen, I cannot bring myself to forgive the heinous crimes of World War II. I had never spoken to a non-Jewish German about any Jewish issues and was afraid that anti-Semitism would still be rampant.
Nevertheless, instead of choosing to visit London or Paris, when the opportunity to travel to Berlin was presented, I decided to challenge my suspicions and prejudices and see what I would find there first hand.
One of the privileges of travelling with my friend Jorma is that I was travelling with a fluent tour guide and a man of many friends. We were invited to the home of his colleague Melanie, a woman with a very successful male modeling agency.
Her English was impressive, and her hosting graceful. As we enjoyed the twilight dinner in her garden, I tossed out the questions that I felt compelled to ask: what do modern Germans think and feel about the Shoah and what do Germans now think about the Jews? Her grandparents, she said, will not admit to history; this, Melanie felt, was a product of their shame.
Melanie herself has been to visit Auschwitz. Quite frankly, I was relieved to receive this piece of news; relieved that she has made an effort not only to acknowledge, but also to understand the atrocities that her country stood for six short decades ago.
I respect and appreciate Melanie’s journey and understanding, having not experienced her grandparents or Auschwitz for myself.
I left Melanie’s home feeling connected for the first time in my life to a German individual who was caring, acknowledging, and very human. I left Germany with the sense that the government and younger generation show many signs of recognition that what happened 60 years ago should never happen again.
Before leaving Berlin, we visited the Jewish museum and a separately located Holocaust Memorial site that encompasses four square city blocks. We also passed another city block filled with an exhibition titled “Diversity Destroyed,” consisting of columns with pictures and descriptions of German actors, scientists, writers, artists, and people of all kinds, who fled, were expelled, or murdered by Nazis during the Shoah.
I am not naive to think that anti-Semitism does not exist in Germany (indeed, it sadly exists all over the world), and that other visitors may have less positive encounters than I had.
However, this trip was very important for me as a Jew and a world citizen and I am grateful for this affirmative, personal experience. My trip showed me that it is my personal duty to confront and eradicate the prejudices and ignorance that I harbor in my mind and heart.
It is imperative for me to be able to teach my children to not hate or fear any peoples. To that end I intend to open a new chapter in my life and embrace the citizens of Germany in a way I never felt I could have before.
Let’s all look to Melanie’s generation and the future generations of German citizens to be our partners in ensuring that the legacy of the Shoah is not only never forgotten, but that it never again threatens to annihilate our civilization.
About the Author
Brooke Rosenthal is the wife of Laurence Rosenthal, a rabbi at Congregation Ahavath Achim. They love to share Shabbat and holidays with members from all over the community and invite you to join them at AA and in their home. Feel free to email Brooke at firstname.lastname@example.org for an invitation. She also welcomes your comments on this article.