Home > Emotional, History, Random Thoughts, Tachlis > The Politics of Travel

The Politics of Travel

Hinda: “Did I tell you I’m traveling to Germany with the Zamir Chorale of Boston?”

Response #1: “Wow! That sounds amazing!”
Response #2: “I love Berlin. It’s a beautiful city — We were just there a couple years ago.”
Response #3: “I don’t know if I could ever go to Germany. Too much bad history.”

Yes, people — particularly Jewish people — have mixed feelings about traveling to Germany, or any other part of Eastern Europe. Are these mixed feelings well-rooted? Or are they understandable? How do we, Zamirniks, feel about our impending journey next week?

Let me be clear: the three responses above are as heard from many different people, and none is relegated to any particular demographic or age group. I do not ascribe the ambivalence toward traveling to Germany to only descendants of Jews, nor the excitement to those divorced from the memory of the Holocaust.

We as Zamirniks are proud to be traveling to Berlin. We are proud to be traveling as representatives not only of the Zamir Chorale of Boston, but also as representatives of the United States, of American Jewry, and of the present and future of Judaism (but no pressure, of course!). We look forward to congregating with our contemporaries — other Jewish singers from around the globe — for a common purpose and love of our German musical heritage.

All of this is not to say that we are not burdened under the heavy historical baggage embedded in Response #3. For many of us, despite our excitement about traveling to Berlin, we also embrace the notion, aloud or privately, that our presence in Berlin for this kind of event rubs the continuation of Jewish culture in the face of the historical Nazi oppressor. To modify a beloved Jewish tale, as we travel we hold the words “Am Yisrael Chai” (“The Nation of Israel Lives”) in one pocket, while clutching the phrase, “Kol d’mei ‘echai tzo’akim elai min ha-adamah” (“the blood of my siblings cries out to me from the ground” – adapted from Genesis 4:10), in the other. Let us bring with us the only tool that can express both of these ideas at the same time: music. Let us realize the magnitude of the fact that we, as Jews, can sing Louis Lewandowski’s Enosh and really feel how fleeting life can be.

Let us also remember that the first sponsor listed on the Lewandowski Festival’s website is the Mayor of the city of Berlin. Let us acknowledge that these Germans are not the Germans of 1933-1945. They have tried the best they can in re-education initiatives, and reparation initiatives. They support the State of Israel more vigorously than most other countries in our world. What the Nazis did was unforgivable – but let us remember that “German” and “Nazi” are not synonymous. Not today. Our Torah protects the children of criminals so no harm can come to them because of the sins of their ancestors. Let us deal with creating new relations, positive relations, with our contemporaries. And, as one person noted to me, let us remember that while we will be confronted with the ghosts in the streets for the days we are in Berlin, those who live there are confronted with those memories every day, lurking around every corner.

To reiterate: We, musicians in and members of the Zamir Chorale of Boston, are proud to be traveling to Berlin on December 14th, 2011, to pay tribute to one of the greatest composers of all time. We look forward to interacting with the people there, guests and locals. We look forward to sharing ideas and experiences. We look forward to joining our voices together, and sharing our music.

  1. Phyllis
    December 9, 2011 at 4:27 am

    I have heard all 3 comments as well. I got #3 tonight from a woman who lives at the Assisted Living where I work. She lost family in the Holocaust. I do not have any family history related to Germany, but it was still not in my top 10 or even top 20 list of countries to visit. However most people I’ve told have given me responses 1 and 2.

  2. December 9, 2011 at 9:19 pm


    Your post inspired this one on my blog, excerpted below: http://ebsteinsanomalies.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/my-trip-to-germany/

    Germany makes many Jews uncomfortable. Germany was one of the first places where Jews could participate fully and excel in the culture of a Western nation state. Before World War II, there were many prominent Jewish musicians, philosophers, scientists and other professionals. Then came the Nazis and the Holocaust, something with personal resonance.

    My father was born in Germany and left in October, 1939. For years, he spurned everything German and would not think of supporting their economy by buying anything German made. His only exception was when he picked up his childhood instrument again in his 40s. His instrument was the bassoon, and the only good bassons were German.

    I was with him for a couple days on his only return trip, so far. The state of Württemberg and city of Stuttgart flew in and hosted a group Jews originally from that region, along with some family members. They were euphemistically called ehemalige Bewohner, or former residents. The group was received by the mayor of Stuttgart in city hall and welcomed with dignity and with formal speeches. I saw this act of bringing back the Jews who were forced to leave as a way for Germans to do Teshuvah, or repentance. In a strange quirk, the musical entertainment for the ceremony was a classical piece for Fagott-Trio, a bassoon trio !

    I am inclined to consider modern Germany and its inhabitants as having a clean slate. After the war, modern Germany has been a better friend and support to the state of Israel than many other European nations. I do not have negative associations with present-day Germany due to the Holocaust, so I am looking forward to this trip. In fact, this trip gives me a chance to continue some family legacy. Until 1939, my grandfather sang in and conducted a synagogue choir. In Germany.

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