This past weekend was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. In over four decades, this is only the second time I’ve been away from home at this time of year. The first was six years ago. We’d gotten married in late August and took off for an around the world honeymoon, only to find ourselves celebrating the New Year in Berlin, Germany. This time, we’d taken off to escape winter in New York last December, and haven’t yet left San Diego. We found ourselves in this southern California city to ring in the New Year. Although short in length, these two experiences taught me endless lessons. Read the rest of this entry
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights, it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of the living.” –Miriam Beard
Stepping off the plane onto German soil, I feel an instant connection to my past. My father’s family is from here. My Great Aunt was born and spent her youth here before she fled from the Nazis. This wouldn’t be another tick in a box or quick city visit. This is a bond seventy years later.
Mathew and I were lucky enough to take the year after we got married and travel around the world. We married in August of 2009 and left New York that September. We knew each location would affect us differently but being in Germany’s largest city was surreal. My Great Aunt Ruthie grew up just outside of Berlin and loved where she lived. She loved every part of living in Germany. She told me how hard it was for her when at thirteen and knowing no English at all she had to leave her friends and move to America. In 1939 her family had to flee, since the Germany they knew wasn’t safe any longer.
Aunt Ruthie (my mom’s aunt) passed away just prior to our wedding but Uncle Al came to show his love and support. Every 25th of December that I can remember was spent at their house in the presence of the tallest Christmas tree I’d ever seen. Not the norm for a Jewish household, but it made perfect sense to Aunt Ruthie. The tree reminded her of the life she loved and cherished before it was ripped away. She, who knew she was Jewish from birth, remembered the German culture, language and people and chose to honor the good every December 25th with a huge spruce in her house. Her stories of life in Berlin and the image of her father, Grandpa Wally, an umbrella factory worker, riding the trains each night to avoid the SS soldiers were engrained in my memory. Now we were to embark on our journey to walk in the footsteps of my family and so many others we knew. Read the rest of this entry
Day 11: Copenhagen-Berlin
The ringing of an alarm clock woke us up with a start this morning at the lovely hour of 3am and then came the wake up call a few minutes later; now I thought that waking up for school at 5am was not normal but this is just ridiculous! Well, I can promise you there were no smiles on our face but we woke up, got dressed and headed for the train station in the dead of night. After a short walk, a bunch of steps, being half awake on the station platform and making sure we stayed awake on the train with can you imagine (other people at that hour) we finally got to the airport super early. After an encounter with a rude Air Berlin employee who made us remove ½ of our stuff from our luggage, change some bags and still charged us overage for 2 kilos (can you believe it!) we were on our way. Just a reminder to anyone using Air Berlin and flying out of Berlin…sticklers for the 20 kilo rule as opposed to everywhere else that has been 23 kilos, just to let you know in advance. Anyway…we arrived in Germany, took the 109 bus and walked a block to our new home for one night, the Citadines. Now this is the way to go…apartment style living! We had accidentally booked for the night before too (okay, one mix up when you’re booking things at 4 in the morning just after a wedding is not so bad, right?) so when we arrived at 9am we were actually able to get our room which was great! The service was wonderful and the room had a great bathroom, kitchen facilities, free wi-fi and a couch that turned into a double bed and was really easy to put together.
I had a quick nap (as seems to become usual after we fly) and as Rosh Hashanah was approaching Mathew went for a wander and came back with challah, apples, honey and the location of the Chabad House (orthodox services for anyone who doesn’t know) which was just a few blocks away. I got up from my 2 hour nap and we went for some gefilte fish at the Judaica shop that Naomi had suggested and to the Chabad House where we met the rabbi who invited us for free services and the Kiddush afterwards. He, of course, was from Brooklyn and had lived in Melbourne, Australia for two years and said that 13 years ago he and his wife had come to Berlin on a one-way ticket to try to improve Judaism in Berlin. Well, after talking with him and some of the other patrons for the holidays it seems he’s doing really well as the Jewish community is growing and the beautiful shul is a 5 million dollar establishment that he raised most of the money with the help of others to open. He was so welcoming and I was so happy to have found them. We found a deli around the corner and had a lovely lunch of schnitzel, lox and salads and then headed back to the hotel, did some laundry at the facility downstairs and I got ready for services.
Mathew walked me to services and I went upstairs as it was separate seating and the women’s section was upstairs. While it wasn’t the same as sitting in Plainview Jewish Center with family and friends as I’ve done for just about the last 30 something years, it was still a synagogue with fellow observers around and it felt warm. Regardless of the language they spoke, all were there for the same reason. There were all types of people there, many speaking Hebrew and German and some Americans as well. There was one woman who seemed to be known in the community who brought bags of candy and chocolates and snacks and handed them out to any kid who came upstairs regardless of their age. There was a German girl with two young children who were playing and standing on the backs of the seats, a woman who was there with her husband who was from California and had just flown in from two weeks in Israel and a young girl whose mom is from Chicago and dad was German. Services finished and the Kiddush started. A huge spread set up all around the lobby of fish, salads, breads, wine, soft drink all arranged beautifully and people milling around everywhere and eating and enjoying. Apparently there was also a dinner in the restaurant but you had to have prearranged seating for that. Anyway, the rabbi came up to me during the Kiddush and said ‘Stacey, you MADE the Kiddush’ which made me smile! The service was awesome, the Kiddush great and I talked to the lady and her husband for a bit outside before Mathew came to pick me up and walk me home.
I thanked the rabbi and we went home back to the Citadines for dinner of challah, apples, cream cheese, tomato, honey and gefilte fish…it was great! Rosh Hashanah the travel version! We attempted to watch an episode of the Iron Chef and fell asleep. Tomorrow is another day of services in the morning and then we switch to the Contiki Hotel for the start of our tour. L’shana tova! Thank you Chabad!