Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
All Pudding Aside, Let’s Celebrate the Return to Berlin (Times of Israel)
All Pudding Aside, Let’s Celebrate the Return to Berlin
The current brouhaha in Israel over the cost of a popular Israeli pudding snack in Berlin trivializes and distorts what should be considered a great triumph of the Zionist mission. Contrary to what many Israelis believe – and all pudding aside – the renaissance of Jewish life in Berlin is an affirmation of Zionism, not a negation, as well as one of the most astounding stories of the post Holocaust generation. If the return to the land of Israel was the ultimate vindication of Jewish life in the face of death, so is the return to the belly of the beast itself.
I visited Berlin for the first time this summer, and while I did not have the pleasure of purchasing a cut-rate “Milky” there, signs of Jewish rejuvenation were everywhere. Aside from the ubiquity and unselfconscious centrality of Holocaust memorials, synagogues and restaurants, even Jewish street names herald a renewed recognition of the city’s rich Jewish heritage and strong ties to Israel. One might have guessed that a repentant Berlin would have streets dedicated to such Jewish luminaries as Mahler, Mendelssohn, Spinoza and Heine. But who could have imagined the city of Goebbels sprouting boulevards honoring Yitzchak Rabin and David Ben Gurion. (Come to think of it, does any Israeli city have a Yitzhak Rabin Street?)
The return to Berlin also proves that Judaism is indeed portable, as it was intended by the ancient rabbis to be, and that Judaism can thrive – anywhere.
The ability of Jewish communities to thrive in the Diaspora, be they in the shadow of the Reichstag or of the Freedom Tower, is intrinsically tied to the very fact of Israel’s existence. Israel bolsters confidence and pride no matter where Jews live. At the same time, a strong, vibrant Diaspora, one that includes Israelis, is precisely what the state of Israel needs most to ensure its survival in a hostile world.
As I wrote here a year ago, the same imperative that drove Israelis back to the Etzion bloc after the Six Day War is what drives Jewish life back to the streets of Poland and Germany. And just as the blood of 240 massacred Jews crying from the Etzion earth would not allow any Israeli government to declare Efrat Judenrein in any final agreement (though compromises may need to be made elsewhere), neither should the Final Solution have the final say on the fate of Jews in Berlin.
The return to Berlin is not a threat to the Zionist mission; it is an affirmation of the Jewish revival that Zionism has engendered. It is the ultimate celebration of the Jewish spirit that simply refuses to die.
As such, Milkys in hand, we should slurp a l’chayim to that restored Jewish community and celebrate, rather than ruminate.