It was a new synagogue, a Rabbi from Brooklyn and people who spoke in various languages that I can remember. It’s friendly faces, foreign tongues, and seats in a separate section high above those below that flash through my memory on this holiday. The challah tasted just as delicious, the greetings were the same and the kindness palpable when we all entered into the New Year together…in Berlin.
Five years ago, Mathew and I spent Rosh Hashanah in Berlin. It was my first high holiday experience ever spent away from home and the expectations were uncertain. We knew we’d find a way to celebrate, but the outcome was unknown. What transpired is a holiday that won’t soon be forgotten and the feelings of a community with outstretched arms welcoming in weary travelers and locals alike. What we thought would be a ‘Rosh Hashanah in a bag’ travel style celebration became one centered around holiday, a challah hand delivered by a Chabad Rabbi and services in a beautiful temple surrounded by people doing exactly the same thing.
With the help of friends, we found all of the trimmings necessary to put in our small refrigerator in the hotel. Apples, honey and even gefilte fish from a nearby shop filled the kitchen along with cream cheese and our newly attained challah. Where did this come from? On a visit to the Chabad House, we met the Brooklyn rabbi who had studied in Melbourne and moved to Berlin to help the community-talk about ‘being bageled’! With a smile and a nod this kind soul gave us a challah and invited us both back to services this evening to celebrate with his community.
Since I’ve sat in the same temple for over twenty-five years, a new one would be a little out of my comfort zone-or so I thought. Through friendly faces and kind eyes gesturing to the open seats, I found my spot. Amidst Hebrew, German and English speakers there was an unspoken kinship. There were those who seemed to know everyone around them, people who brought snacks for hungry children and travelers who made sure to plan their journeys around this holiday just to spend it here, in this synagogue. Sound familiar? The people were warm and the vibe infectious. After services, there was a huge spread set up all around the lobby of fish, salads, breads, wine, and soft drink all arranged beautifully while people milled around everywhere to eat and enjoy. The Rabbi came up to me during the Kiddush and said ‘Stacey, you MADE the Kiddush’! Seriously, he remembered my name amidst everything that he had going on in his day. This place and these people are very special.
We had dinner that night in our tiny kitchen in our hotel apartment. It wasn’t the same dinner I’d had for years, but it might have been even more special. Our ‘Rosh Hashanah on the road’ dinner consisted of challah, apples, cream cheese, tomatoes, honey and gefilte fish and I couldn’t have been happier. So much for being worried!
This city has always been special to me. My family members escaped the Nazis and fled to the United States for safety. This rabbi has been here in Berlin for thirteen years and my great aunt was thirteen when she left her home. There has to be something to that symbolism, right? It’s almost as if she led me right here and was with me the entire time. Rosh Hashanah, the travel version surpassed my expectations. Celebrating at home or abroad-this holiday holds meaning and very special gifts. No matter where you are in the world or how you choose to recognize this holiday-may it be a year of good health, happiness, love, and laughter and of course a bit of adventure. L’shana tova.