Thanks so much for tuning in. I can’t believe it has been a year since I have last written. The last time I wrote to you, I was in the midst of my studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin. That was last summer, when I participated in the Leo Baeck Summer University for Jewish Studies. It was there where I learned about the dynamic history of Jewish life in Germany and how Jews have rebuilt their community in Germany since the end of the Second World War.
I left the program feeling excited because I learned an incredible amount. I had fabulous teachers and amazing classmates, all who showed me how complex and rich the German-Jewish relationship is. I loved meeting modern day German people and becoming acquainted with their communities. Whether I was meeting German Jews whose family had lived in the country for generations, or Russian-German-Jewish people who had lived in Germany since the fall of communism; whether I was meeting young Israelis who had moved to Berlin in recent years or American expats who had served in Germany as journalists or US army officers during the Cold War years – I felt as though I met a plethora of different kinds of Jewish people. Each one of them had their own interesting story and unique Jewish identity. It reminded me of how diverse Jewish life is not only in Germany, but truly around the world.
Last summer, when I was in Paris, I had the opportunity to interview many Jewish people. All of them stated how proud they were to be French, but each of them had different destinies that I would learn about in the interviews. About half of the French people I spoke to told me that they were planning on making Aliyah to Israel. They loved France but felt like the country could no longer be there home. They felt that there was too much anti-Semitism in Paris and they very scared. They wanted to provide safe lives to their children. They didn’t want to live in France where they felt like they were living in fear.
The other half of the French people I spoke to told me that they wanted to stay in France. They said France was their home and it was there that they would stay. They recognized the danger of rising political far-right and far-left. Many felt that non-Jewish French people hardly paid attention to the rise in anti-Semitism, showing a blind eye to the issues although it was right there in front of everyone’s faces.
These Jews I spoke to, however, did not want to give up on France. Nobody did, even the ones who were planning on making Aliyah. They believed in France – in its values of liberty, equality, and fraternity. They believed in its history and its future as a democratic nation. They felt as though Jews were an important part in the fabric of French of society. As one of my interviewees quoted Prime Minister Manuel Valls – “France without Jews is not France.” They believed that and I believed it. When I left Paris last summer, I was both troubled and moved by what I had heard.
The thought came to me: Did the Jews have a future in Europe? Was Jewish life sustainable in places like Paris? Deep down, I still believed so. I will remain forever an optimist. But I remember going to Notre Dame and saying a small prayer for the Jewish people there. Although I wasn’t Christian, and I didn’t know if anyone in there was truly “listening” to me, for some reason I still felt it was the right place to make my prayer. My hope was that in time people would stand together and not give up on diversity – not give up on the right that all people have to live in the place that they consider home. I prayed that we’d fight for the right that all people have to live with dignity, safety, freedom, and respect.
I came home to the United States as a changed person after my summer in Europe. I had lived through and experienced so much and I had heard so many different stories. It took me a while to process what I had learned, and I’m still processing it all today. I never expected that those stories would bring me to where I am now.
Tomorrow, I will take off on my greatest adventure yet – a year long stay in Germany as a grantee of the United States Fulbright Scholarship. I’m going to continue the research I began last summer – studying the resurgence of Jewish life in Europe, post-World War II. This upcoming year, my research will focus solely on Jewish life in Berlin and Germany, although my experiences from past travels will surely shape the discoveries to come.
I will be arriving in Germany on August 7 in Marburg to begin a six week intensive German language program. After that, on September 22, I will land in Berlin and begin my ten month stay there. I received what is called a Fulbright “Young American Journalism Award” which will enable me to spend the year researching the Berlin Jewish population, writing my memoir, and working for different German and American media outlets. I will write about what I’ve learned from my Fulbright experience in the hope that what I say can influence people. I hope to raise awareness for Berlin’s Jewish population and help support change that will affect us for generations to come.
In Berlin, I plan to immerse myself in the city’s diverse community. I hope to become involved in both its Jewish and secular activities. I look forward to meeting people from all parts of the world – people of different religions, origins, and ethnicities. I want to learn about the multidimensionality of German culture and meet all different kinds of Berlin residents. For instance, I hope to meet refugees from the Middle East and German people who have lived there since the Second World War. The real point of the Fulbright is to help bring countries together and to promote positive cultural exchange. I feel so extraordinarily lucky to have this opportunity to represent my country abroad. This dialogue between the US and Germany is extremely important to me and vital to our future as allied nations.
I dreamed of becoming a Fulbright scholar ever since I was a sophomore in college. It was then when I decided that I wanted to start learning German in order to go Germany, meet its people, and learn about history from another angle. For most of my life, I felt as though I looked at the world and at history in one particular way. Now, after my travels, I’ve come to understand that life is meant to be seen from as many angles as possible. Deep down, I feel that I am a story teller, so as many voices as I can hear – I will listen.
I want to thank you, the reader, for reading this and for hopefully reading more of these posts as I write them. I lastly want to thank my parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers and friends who have supported me on this journey thus far. When I started writing this blog “Saving the Shtetlach” three years ago, I had no idea the adventure would continue beyond one summer – let alone beyond four years of college. But now as a post-grad, I’m looking forward to the next chapter of my life. I feel so grateful just to be here – with you – and taking the next step.
All the best,