Home > Uncategorized > Reflection from Johanna Ehrmann, Alto Section Leader

Reflection from Johanna Ehrmann, Alto Section Leader

2014-12-20 15.52.50Friday evening, December 19.

Shabbat dinner had ended and I was ready to call it a night, but just outside the dining room, members of the Amakim choir from Israel were gathered in a circle, singing a folk song. I decided to stay and listen for a bit. We Zamirniks had sung during dinner but most choirs hadn’t, so besides wanting to hear another choir’s music, I wanted to repay their attention at dinner. When the song ended, someone began to speak. My Hebrew is pretty basic, and at first I thought the person was talking about the next song. I began to grow impatient. Didn’t they know I had stopped to listen to singing, not speaking? A few minutes later, though, a woman I’d sat with on a bus earlier spoke the words “Bergen-Belsen” and everything shifted for me. These weren’t anecdotes about songs; they were family stories of surviving the Shoah (Holocaust).

After every speaker or two, the assembled singers, maybe 25 in all, sang a soulful song in unison. I later learned that these were not the songs they would perform at the festival; they were songs that might be sung after Shabbat dinner at home.

Though I didn’t understand much, I listened on. Something profound was taking place, and I wanted to be a witness. I would like to have understood more, but it wasn’t necessary. What mattered was that people were telling their stories and others were listening.

I have to confess that the stereotype of Israelis as noisy and impatient is one I have internalized. On this night they were silent, attentive, respectful, and, except for a gentle nudge to one meanderer, content to let each narrative take as long as it needed.

I hadn’t meant to stay long (or even sit down), but a man (whose name was Ariel, I later learned) brought me a chair. I admitted to him that I didn’t know much Hebrew. I saw him a couple of days later and asked whether this sharing was something the choir had planned. The answer was no; it had arisen from the unique circumstance of being at a Jewish choral festival in Germany.

Eventually my lack of understanding made listening too hard, and I left. A few other Zamirniks who had also been present gathered in the lobby, all of us touched by this remarkable experience. One woman of our group asked whether she might share her own family’s story of survival. Telling us then, and the rest of Zamir a couple of days later, clearly meant a great deal to her.

Earlier that day, at the rededication of the Pestalozzistrasse Synagogue, Rabbi Tovia Ben-Chorin had called Berlin a city of wounds and wonders. How touched and privileged I felt to be present as wounds and wonders converged.

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