Chag Shavuot Same’ach!

Chag Shavuot Same’ach!

The Jewish People are heading into another festival this weekend, with Shavuot running straight on from Shabbat and beginning on Saturday night (so I will be offline until Sunday night at the very earliest).

The festival of Shavuot (“Feast of Weeks” or Pentecost) is the culmination of the 7 weeks (hence the name) of counting the Omer – Sefirat Ha’Omer. We are instructed by G-d (ויקרא כ”ג:ט”ו – Lev. 23:15) to count, from the 2nd day of Pesach, 7 weeks, at the end of these 7 weeks, a measurement (Omer) of first fruits (bikurim) were brought as a sacrifice to the Temple in a joyous parade.

The one-day festival also commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish People at Mt. Sinai, and we mark this by learning Torah throughout the night (or at least for part of the night), including a special text that is customarily read – the Tikun Leil Shavuot. Synagogues have all-night study sessions, as do schools, youth groups and social groups (including my own women’s group). It is a wonderful feeling to be outdoors in the middle of the night and still see groups of people going to and from their study sessions.

On Shavuot we eat dairy foods, for various reasons, including the following possible explanations:

Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jews. Included in the Torah are the laws of kashrut (kosher dietary laws), which tell Jews what can and cannot be eaten and in which combination. For instance, dairy and meat cannot be mixed in the same meal and animals must be killed in a certain way in order to be considered kosher. Before the Torah was given the concept of kashrut did not exist. Hence, one explanation for the eating of dairy on Shavuot is that when the Jews received the Torah they did not have the tools they would need to prepare kosher meat. As a result their first meal after receiving the Torah was a dairy meal. (Mishnah Berurah 494:12; Talmud – Bechorot 6b.)

Another possible explanation has to do with Shir HaShirim (the Song of Songs). Verse 4:11 says “milk and honey are under your tongue” and some have said that the Torah is like the milk in this verse. Like milk, the Torah sustains us. Hence, a dairy meal on Shavuot celebrates the nourishing quality of the Torah.

The Revelation at Sinai (when the Torah was given to the Jews) occurs directly after their Exodus from slavery in Egypt. This journey is described as one “from the misery of Egypt to a country flowing with milk and honey…” (Exodus 3:8-17). Thus, eating dairy on Shavuot commemorates the sweetness of freedom and the new life that lay before the Jewish people.

I have to admit the cheesecake is one of my favourite parts of the festival! :-)

We also decorate our synagogues and homes with flowers and greenery to commemorate Mt. Sinai burst into flower in honour of the Torah.

In the morning we read Megillat Ruth (the Book of Ruth) in the synagogue for a couple of reasons: the story takes place at harvest time; and more importantly, Ruth, an ancestor of King David, was a Moabite convert who voluntarily became a member of the Jewish nation.

If you would like to learn more about Shavuot, here are some more resources: Judaism 101 and Aish.com.

Wishing my family, friends and all of Am Yisrael Chag Same’ach!

חג שמח!

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Guest Post: Our Roots trip to Germany – How the Stolpersteine project was born

This is a guest post by Heinz-Otto Haag, who together with his wife Heidi was our host in the town of Michelstadt during our recent roots trip to Germany.

Heinz-Otto and Heidi Haag and Klaus Schimmel

 The Haags also did extensive research on our behalf to help us locate sites of family interest in Frankfurt. Below he explains how the Stolpersteine project – those “stumbling blocks” placed on the pavements – began and was carried out by Heidi and himself, and many of their friends and town officials.


The Stolpersteine, “stumbling blocks”, commemorating my mother’s 3 brothers David, Herbert and Uri in Michelstadt

The idea was first proposed by a Cologne artist about 20 years ago and has since then spread to all the countries and territories which the Wehrmacht had occupied during WW II. Stolpersteine are 10 x 10 cm brass plates inserted in the pavement in front of the houses in which Shoah victims had once lived. Each such plate bears the name of the victim, his year of birth, and the date of deportation and/or death in the camps. More than 50.000 Stolpersteine have meanwhile been installed in more than 750 towns and cities throughout Europe.

The purpose behind this idea is threefold:

Firstly, Stolpersteine shall keep the memory alive of the victims and remind passers-by of this part of German history.

Secondly, they give the victims their names back. Every deported person who was not killed right away without any registration had his name taken away and replaced by a number. He had lost his identity. Stolpersteine are thus also a means of restoring the victims’ identity.

Thirdly, the victims have no graves or, as Paul Celan put it, “Sie fanden ihr Grab in den Lueften”. Remembering this, Stolpersteine are also a place where survivors and descendents can mourn and pray for their dead.

The initiative for installing Stolpersteine in a town may be taken by the town administration, by schools or other institutions , or by private groups or individuals. The activity is normally financed by private sponsors.

Photo of the “stumbling blocks” before they were implanted in the ground

In our little town of Michelstadt, we started in 2008 with a group of five or six people asking locals to contribute money to our activity. In 2010, we were thus able to have a total of 59 Stolpersteine installed in our town.

Through our Stolperstein research we found contact to many descendants of Shoah victims from Michelstadt. Most of them let us generously have whatever documents, photos etc. they still had in their possession and told us their family stories. It was only natural therefore that we collected all this material and wrote a book about the Jewish families of Michelstadt which appeared in 2013 under the title “Ich gebe ihnen einen Namen” [These words “I give them a name” come from the Hebrew, from the Prophet Isaiah 56:5: ונתתי להם בביתי ובחומותי יד ושם – Venatati lahem beveiti uvechomotai yad vashem: “And I will give to them in my house and within my walls a memorial, lit: Yad Vashem, whence the name for Israel’s Holocaust Museum. -Ed.] Thereafter, we prevailed upon our town administration to send out an official invitation for a one-week’s visit of Michelstadt to all the descendants with whom we had been able to establish contact. In order to finance this initiative, we again collected money from local sponsors and in this way have meanwhile enabled our town fathers to welcome some 20 descendants of former Michelstadt Jews.

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The people of Michelstadt at the annual commemoration at the Stolpersteine

In all our activities, our primary objective was to cooperate closely with the Christian, Jewish and Alevitic communities of Michelstadt and, above all, with our local schools. In this way, we have since 2010 each year held a ceremony on November 9th (the anniversary of Kristallnacht) during which students of our schools lay a rose and a pebble next to every Stolperstein as a Christian and a Jewish symbol to honour the dead. The ceremony ends in front of each house by the crowd taking one another by the hand and together pronouncing in Hebrew and in German the words “Shalom alejchem! Friede sei mit Euch!”


Heinz-Otto and Heidi sent us the following beautiful message after we returned from our trip:

It has been a great pleasure for our Stolperstein-Initiative to welcome Anne Klausner and her husband, as well as her brother David Prager and his wife, here in Michelstadt – the place from which their grandparents had once been expelled during the dark Nazi era.

We are fully aware that for them the decision to set foot on German soil was not an easy one and we are deeply grateful that they have come nevertheless.

For us, the days which we were able to spend together with the two couples have been a wonderful experience and we have learnt a great deal during this visit. We were able to exchange opinions in an atmosphere of frankness and openness which has greatly impressed us. All topics could be discussed between us without any political taboos on either side. We will never forget this experience which has so much enriched us. It has also given us courage to continue our work, especially in contact with our local schools, in order to ensure that the coming generations may never forget this part of our history and defend our democratic system against any resurgence of neonazism.


Anne adds:

Heinz-Otto, thank you for this very interesting explanation of the Stolpersteine project.  This wonderful initiative raises many emotions in all those who read about it. May G-d grant you and Heidi the courage and strength to continue with your blessed work.

We wish to thank you for arranging a fascinating, educational, enlightening and emotional visit to Germany. You helped us to reconnect to our family history and also to the history of the Jews in Germany, something which too many people are not fully aware of. We also thoroughly enjoyed being in your company, just being able to get to know each other as regular friends.

The meticulous planning and arrangements for all our visits and trips were greatly appreciated, and of course how can we adequately thank you for hosting us at that beautiful hotel, Zum Gruenen Baum.

Since we’ve returned, all our friends and acquaintances, and especially our family, have been very interested in hearing about our experiences and have reacted very enthusiastically to our reports.

May G-d bless you all for the good work you are doing, for your courage and persistence in the face of objections, for fighting to preserve the memory of the Jews of Michelstadt.


One final postscript to our story. We were put up at a beautiful historic hotel in Michelstadt, Zum Gruenen Baum.

Zum Gruenen Baum Hotel, Michelstadt

The hotel has been in the same family’s hands for over 350 years. Barbara, the charming owner of the hotel, showed us a very old photo of the grounds of the hotel, from around 100 years ago, which hangs in the dining room where we had our gala dinner. In that drawing one can see the back of the synagogue where my grandfather prayed, and also the house next door which became my grandparents’ and my mother’s home. That house does not exist any more. What was of even greater interest was the little shack between the synagogue and the hotel. As Barbara explained, in that shack was the Mikve, the Jewish ritual bath, which was fed by the local river.  The river and the shack were both on the hotel grounds, but the family gladly allowed the Jewish community to use the ground for their own community’s use.

Behind the hotel Zum Gruenen Baum 100 years ago, showing the synagogue and the Mikve

 

Behind the hotel today. The shack and the house are gone.

We saw this as an excellent example of the way the two communities, Jewish and Gentile, communicated and cooperated all through the ages until it was all destroyed.

Having travelled to our parents’ home-towns and spoken to many Germans, we came back to Israel with a great appreciation of the sincere efforts of so many good people to atone for the sins of the fathers, to make amends with the next generation of Jews, and most importantly to educate the next generations that such a terrible crime as the Holocaust shall never be able to happen again.

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Roots trip to Germany: Frankfurt and Fuerth visits, updated

I will repost part of what I posted in my previous post and add more information and photos.

Frankfurt

On Wednesday we travelled to Frankfurt where Otto and Heidi Haag (in particular Heidi) had arranged for us a very full and intense itinerary according to a list of places that we had asked to see, plus a couple of extras. Otto and Heidi and their friend Klaus accompanied us throughout the day.

We had a short guided tour of one of the exhibits in the Jewish Museum, the one dealing with the history of the Jews in Frankfurt, which was very educational and I felt we could have spent hours more there perusing the exhibits because of our families’ long connection to Frankfurt. It was horrifying to learn of the anti-Jewish laws which began way back in the Middle Ages and even before, and then how the age of enlightenment and emancipation eased their lot, followed by the renewal of the evil anti-Jewish laws under the Nazis.

At the museum there was a huge display board with the names of all the Jewish Frankfurt residents who had been killed in the Shoah (similar to the display of the little stones at the cemetery) where we found the names of our mother’s brothers.

Uri Strauss HY’D on the memorial board at Frankfurt Jewish Museum

After a wonderful lunch at the kosher restaurant in the Jewish community center (where, in a sad sign of the times, the security was so strict we had to present our Israeli passports in order to enter) we visited  the site of the Hirsch Realschule where my father in law and his siblings studied. There is now a modern state school standing on the site, but there is a memorial plaque both outside and inside recalling that this was once a Jewish school that was destroyed during the war.

Memorial plaque for the Hirsch Realschule which once stood on the site of a new state school in Frankfurt, and where my father-in-law’s siblings studied

We also had a short chat with one of the teachers and a couple of her students, and the teacher informed us that she was leaving that night with her class to Krakow in Poland. We were pleasantly surprised and impressed that despite these trips not being compulsory or funded by the government, most schools do go on these Holocaust education trips.

Back in our minibus we passed by the places where my grandfather and my father-in-law once lived. In both places, neither the houses nor the streets themselves exist any more.

Memorial plaque for the Bornerplatz Synagogue in Frankfurt where my father-in-law would pray on occasion

We were taken on a short visit to the Westend Synagogue which was the most fabulous and ornately decorated shul we have seen in a long time.We learned the history of the shul, how it started out as a Liberal or Reform congregation, and then after the war and its renovation was turned into an Orthodox shul. However, unlike most synagogues elsewhere, this shul still has a Liberal congregation upstairs and a haredi Kollel (yeshiva) in the side rooms. And all the congregations get on with each other! Surely a miracle!

The West End Synagogue in Frankfurt

We concluded our trip with a visit to the Old and New Jewish cemeteries.  The walls of the Old Cemetery are embedded with tiny stones with the name, birth date, and date and place of death if known, of every single Jew from Frankfurt who was killed in the war. It was the first time that I shed any tears in Germany and am still processing all that I saw and felt.  It has been said that 6 million deaths is a statistic but one person is a tragedy. Seeing those stones, and finding the names of my mother’s three brothers, was a personal emotional jolt, yet seeing the hundreds of yards of stones along all the walls of the cemetery, going round the corner and then again, emphasized the sheer numbers, the statistics, the magnitude of the Holocaust. It is a very powerful memorial.

David Strauss, eldest of my mother’s brothers killed in the Shoah

Elchanan (Herbert) Strauss, the 2nd of my mother’s brothers killed in the Shoah

Uri Michael Strauss, third of my mother’s brothers killed in the Shoah

Wall of memorial stones around the Old Cemetery of Frankfurt, with the names of all the Frankfurt Jewish citizens killed in the Shoah. The names continue around 3 walls of the cemetery, 30,000 in all

The cemetery itself looks almost empty, with large expanses of grass and trees, and strange looking monuments dotted around. It took a few minutes to realise that the “monuments” were piles of gravestones that had been found after the war (whether destroyed by the Nazis or by the Allied bombing), and since no one knew where the graves were any more, the gravestones were simply piled together in different arrangements.

Gravestones piled up together in the old Frankfurth Jewish cemetery

Kever of the Pnei Yehoshua זצוק”ל

We found the grave (at least assumed to be) of the Pnei Yehoshua, Rav Yaakov Yehoshua Falk,  a famous Rabbi from the 18th century, and recited a Psalm in his memory.

We continued to the new cemetery where we first found the grave of Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsch, who could be considered the founder of Modern Orthodox Judaism.

Grave of Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch זצ”ל

We also looked for – and eventually found – the graves of our great-grandparents, David and Miriam Strauss, the parents of our grandfather Leopold.  The gravestone on Miriam’s grave was in very good condition, but sadly the stone on our great-grandfather David’s grave was crumbling and barely legible.

A very strange thing happened during that search. The weather had been cloudy but warm, but as we progressed through the cemetery it became darker and a gentle rain began. The rain got heavier as we neared our great-grandparents’ graves, and as we got there a short sharp downpour began. We stood in the rain and recited a few prayers and psalms, and as we concluded our prayers, the rain eased off. When we left the sun came out.  Now that might have been coincidence but we have a different theory…

Grave of Miriam Strauss z”l, my great-grandmother

Grave of David Strauss z”l, my great-grandfather

We returned to Michelstadt exhausted physically and wrung out emotionally, but we were all very glad we had made the trip and accomplished so much. It left us all a taste for more.

Fuerth

On Thursday, we travelled to Fuerth, our father’s home town where we had a fascinating tour of the Jewish Museum which is situated in an old Jewish house, and viewed the ancient Mikve (ritual bath) which still existed and was still filled with water rising from an underground well situated underneath the museum.

The mikve underneath the Jewish museum, still filled with fresh water from a well

The director of the museum, a delightful young American woman named Daniela Eisenstein, served as our guide throughout our visit and she had prepared our itinerary meticulously. After seeing the museum’s exhibits (the museum is supposed to be expanding in the coming months) we saw the house where my father lived which was also in the same complex as the school where my paternal grandfather taught, and that in turn was next door to their shul.

Fuerth shul

Photo of the Fuerth shul, still in use today

We were pleased to note that the building still served as a Jewish community center, and in the courtyard outside, we looked up and saw our father’s old bedroom window! It could be identified by a fault in the wall where there once was a balcony.

My father’s old bedroom window, top floor, 3rd from the left

A plaque on the wall commemorated the Jewish soldiers who had fallen in the First World War (fighting for the Kaiser) – including our grandmother’s brother Heinrich (Chaim) Heinemann.  Another plaque commemorated Dr. Isaac Hallemann, the director of the orphanage in Fuerth who chose to accompany his 30 young charges to the concentration camps rather than use his exit visa to get himself to freedom in Palestine. His children did escape, and his daughter was a member of our shul here in Petach Tikva until she died very recently.

Plaque commemorating Dr. Hallemann, the director of the Fuerth Orphanage, who was killed with the orphans in the concentration camps

Memorial to the Jews of Fuerth murdered by the Nazis in the Shoah

Memorial plaque for the Jewish soldiers who fell in WWI fighting for the Kaiser

We also went by the house where my father’s grandparents lived. They were lucky enough to escape to Brazil with their daughter, our grandmother’s sister, and thus survived the war.

We proceeded to the town square (now an underground train station) where my father’s family was marched to on Kristallnacht, (see my family history page for Dad’s story) and then to the library, which is now a theater, where my grandfather and the other men were taken to after the initial “assembly”, to be beaten by the Nazis. Again, it was shocking to actually see the places, and to absorb how innocuous these sites seem to be today.

We continued to the Old and New cemeteries to find graves of long deceased relatives, and then finished with a visit to the Schulhof, the square where 4 synagogues once stood together.  As in the Frankfurth shul, these 4 congregations of different denominations would all meet after Shabbat services for Kiddush together. The unity of these communities is something that really should be emulated everywhere.  The synagogues were all burnt down on Kristallnacht, and all that is left now is a rather ugly monument, and a modern housing estate around the square.

Memorial to the Shoah at the Schulhof, the site of 4 synagogues, in Fuerth

My father recalls asking his mother “why is the sky red?” as they returned from their forced march to the square on Kristallnacht, and his mother saying “Quiet! Don’t say a word!”. I’m trying to imagine his trauma as a 9 year old child, and cannot fathom it.

We left Fuerth rather subdued at the depressing memories and the sight of the rather grim-looking town and went further back into history.

Schopfloch

We continued our journey to the little village of Schopfloch – which I used to think was a made-up name :-)  – an altogether happier affair, where we saw the village where our paternal grandmother grew up.

It really exists!

We had imagined a little dumpy town but it is in fact quite a pretty little village. Our great-grandparents Heinemann owned a knitting factory there, and the building still stands though it is now residential. We met a couple of locals who remembered the factory and the family name, but none of them could speak Lachoudish – the curious mixture of Hebrew and German (not Yiddish) that became the local dialect amongst both Jews and Gentiles.

A street in Schopfloch. We think the lower house was my grandmother’s school

Memorial to the Jews of Schopfloch murdered in the Shoah

Even in this tiny village of 2,000, the Holocaust did not pass over the Jews and we found the memorial plaque in the memory of those murdered.

This intense and emotional day ended at Frankfurt Airport where we stayed at a hotel overnight before boarding our plane home.

I will post one more installment about our roots trip in the coming days, with a little of the history of the hotel in Michelstadt where we stayed, and general feelings and conclusions about our trip.

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Roots trip to Germany – Days 4 and 5, Frankfurt and Fuerth

Days 4 and 5 of our trip to Germany had very full itineraries, were very intense, and very emotional. We felt quite wrung out at the end of each day.

On Wednesday we travelled to Frankfurt, visiting the Jewish Museum, the site of the Hirsch Realschule where my father in law and his siblings studied, and passed by the place where my grandfather and my father-in-law once lived. In both places, neither the houses nor the streets themselves exist any more. We concluded with a visit to the Old and New Jewish cemeteries.  The walls of the Old Cemetery are embedded with tiny stones with the name, birth date, and date and place of death if known, of every single Jew from Frankfurt who was killed in the war. It was the first time that I shed any tears in Germany and am still processing all that I saw and felt.  They say that 6 million is a statistic but one person is a tragedy. Seeing those stones, and finding the names of my mother’s three brothers, was a personal emotional jolt, yet seeing the hundreds of yards of stones along the walls of the cemetery emphasised the sheer numbers, the statistics, the magnitude of the Holocaust.

David Strauss, eldest of my mother’s brothers killed in the Shoah

Elchanan (Herbert) Strauss, the 2nd of my mother’s brothers killed in the Shoah

Uri Michael Strauss, third of my mother’s brothers killed in the Shoah

Wall of memorial stones around the Old Cemetery of Frankfurt, with the names of all the Frankfurt Jewish citizens killed in the Shoah. The names continue around 3 walls of the cemetery, 30,000 in all

Yesterday, Thursday, we travelled to Fuerth, our father’s home town where we had a fascinating tour of the Jewish Museum and viewed the ancient Mikve (ritual bath) which still existed and was filled with water rising from an underground well, which was situated underneath the museum, which had itself once been a private house.

We saw the house where my father lived, the school where my paternal grandfather taught, which I was pleased to note still served as a Jewish community center, and the house where my father’s grandparents lived.

We also saw the town square where my father’s family was marched to on Kristallnacht, and then the library, which is now a theater, where my grandfather and the other men were taken to after the initial “assembly”, to be beaten by the Nazis. Again, it was shocking to actually see the places, and to absorb how innocuous these sites seem to be today.

We continued to the Old and New cemeteries to find graves of long deceased relatives, and then finished with a visit to the Schulhof, the square where 4 synagogues once stood together. They were all burnt down on Kristallnacht, and all that is left now is a monument, and a modern housing estate around the square.

My father recalls asking his mother “why is the sky red?” as they returned from their forced march to the square on Kristallnacht, and his mother saying “Quiet! Don’t say a word!”. I’m trying to imagine his trauma as a 9 year old child, and cannot fathom it.

We continued our journey to the little village of Schopfloch, an altogether happier affair, where we saw the place where our paternal grandmother grew up. We had imagined a little dumpty town but it is in fact quite a pretty little village.

I apologize for the lack of more photos for the moment.

We are now sitting at the gate in Frankfurt Airport, waiting to board  our plane home to Israel. Since we are due to land at around 4 p.m. and don’t expect to be home much before 6 p.m., and Shabbat begins around 7, this post is going to be cut short here.

I will update with further posts including more pictures, and maybe even guest posts from my brother and Otto Haag, in the coming days.

Wishing ourselves a safe journey home and wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!

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Roots trip to Germany: Day 3

Our third day in Michelstadt centered less around the Jewish and family aspect, and more on the general history and background of the town.

Otto and Heidi took us on a lovely tour of the town, viewing the historical center and the town hall, built in 1484.

 

The wall of the “old town” of Michelstadt, from the hotel car park. Our grandparents and mother lived just next door to the tower, next to the synagogue

The historic town hall, built in 1484

We continued with a view of the “thieves’ tower” – the old prison, followed by a trip to the old “tithes office” – what would nowadays be called the Revenue or Income Tax offices. Maybe we should have seen these in the reverse order. :-)

The Thieves’ Tower in Michelstadt

The tithing house aka the Income Tax offices in ancient times of Michelstadt

Continuing our walk through town, we admired the historical church, completed in 1490, with its magnificent interior and vaulted ceiling, and followed that with a walk to the town’s castle, occupied today by the current Count’s mother, with the Count and his family living in the beautiful house opposite.

Vaulted ceiling in the interior of the historic 15th century church in Michelstadt

 

Palace of the Count of Erbach-Furstenau, situated in Michelstadt

A short while later we were given a guided tour of Einhard’s Basilica, built in the early 9th Century. Einhard was  Charlemagne’s chronicler and confidant.  This Basilica is one of the very few Carolingian buildings that have largely survived intact.

Einhard’s Basilica, built in the 9th century

This very interesting day returned full circle to recent history and the present day with a reception held in Michelstadt’s Town Hall by the Mayor, Stephan Kelbert, the vice-mayor and several other local dignitaries and citizens. Mayor Kelbert gave a very moving speech (simultaneously translated by Otto Haag) where he welcomed us as the family of survivors from Michelstadt, acknowledged the evil perpetrated by the Nazis, and explained how the town was determined to commemorate and memorialize the Jewish citizens of the town who were murdered in the Shoah. He described how the project of the “Stumbling Blocks” began and was carried out, and we then saw a short presentation of pictures of the stones being placed and their “inauguration ceremony”. (Apologies for the quality of the photos. The lighting wasn’t very bright).

Photo from the presentation of the “stumbling blocks” before they were implanted in the ground

Picture from the presentation of the implanting of the stumbling blocks in Michelstadt. The Mayor stands on the left, looking on

Picture from the presentation: townspeople of all faiths join hands in prayer after the inauguration of the stumbling blocks

Mayor Stefan Kelbert and town dignitaries welcome us at the reception in the Town Hall (Otto Haag standing on left)

The Mayor presents David with a book

David gave a short impromptu speech in reply where he thanked Otto and Heidi Haag,  Mayor Kelbert and the townspeople for their warm welcome to us and for all their courageous efforts in commemorating their Jewish citizens.  He also made an important point for us personally: the years that our grandparents, our mother and her siblings lived in Michelstadt were the good years, and they  had a perfectly normal happy childhood in the town.  The family only moved to Frankfurt after a false accusation was made against our grandfather by a local Nazi in the local newspaper, even though the accusation against our grandfather was thrown out by the courts – by a Nazi judge at that!

The reception concluded with another surprise for us: the Mayor presented us each with a beautiful book about the Odenwald region, while we surprised the Mayor in return with a book about Israel. Great minds think alike!

From the Town Hall we proceeded back to our hotel, Zum Gruenen Baum, itself a historic building (about which more in a later post), to a dinner held in our honour by the same townspeople and Mayor. This time there were no speeches, just lots of conversation, laughter and football commentary (this last courtesy of my other half who was following a match between Bayern Munich and Barcelona).

Gala Dinner in Zum Gruenen Baum hotel in Michelstadt

A word of thanks on behalf of our family was given by my husband who is fairly fluent in German. In his own family tradition he claimed the last word, expressing our gratitude to the Mayor, Church leaders, lay people and ordinary citizens of the town who made such great efforts to make us feel welcome and honoured, and who are so clearly sincere in the wish to “make good”, to correct the injustices of the past.

And of course, once again our boundless thanks to our hosts and organizers of our visit, Otto and Heidi Haag.

Our next day (Wednesday) day 4, was another extremely intense day with a visit to Frankfurt, our grandfather’s home town. More on that in the next post.

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Roots trip to Germany: Day 2 continued

Rather than update my previous post I decided to create a new post with more information about the fascinating, intense and emotional day we spent yesterday.

Michelstadt Synagogue

Going back to our visit to the shul, (which I mentioned in my previous post) it was explained to us that my grandparents, together with my mother, her brothers and her younger sister, lived in the house right next door. The stairs up to the women’s gallery of the shul led from outside the shul up to the gallery, and at the top there were two doors: one led into the women’s gallery and the other into my grandparents’ apartment, which no longer exists any more. It was a very moving moment to realise exactly where we were standing.

Entrance to the shul in Michelstadt

The plaque above the door of the Michelstadt synagogue

The shul is mainly a museum now, though as the Chazan, Roman Melamed, explained, there is a Shabbat service once a month, though usually without a full minyan, which is really very sad.

David, Rina, myself, husband, Chazan Roman Melamed in front of the Aron Hakodesh in the Michelstadt synagogue

In the Aron Hakodesh, the Holy Ark, there were 2 Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls). One was not kosher for use any more but the other one was brought by the Rabbi of Leipzig some years ago. The Chazan and caretaker agreed to take out the Torah scroll on condition it was read from, so David and my husband readily agreed.

David reads the Ten Commandments from the Torah scroll in Michelstadt Synagogue

We were all quite emotional as the Torah scroll was opened and we saw that the passage it landed on was the Ten Commandments. How appropriate! Surely this was a sign from Heaven? David duly read the piece while we looked on, and once again experienced the acute hand of history on our shoulders as we remembered that our grandfather had stood on this very spot and read the Torah right there.

Here is the video (apologies for the poor quality and sound):

We all had the strong feeling that our grandfather was watching down on us from Heaven. We hope so anyway.

The synagogue itself was not destroyed on Kristallnacht, merely damaged, but it has been lovingly restored, even though it is not in proper use any more almost at all.

Photo of the destruction caused to the interior of the Michelstadt shul on Kristallnacht, November 1938

  Visiting the grave of the Baal Shem of Michelstadt

Otto and Klaus drove us out to the Jewish cemetery of Michelstadt, a beautiful, picturesque place situated on a forested hillside. There are a small number of gravestones dotted about the hillside, but obviously these are not all the graves there.  The place was destroyed by the Nazis during the Shoah, and has been reconstructed as best as the locals could manage. Even the grave of the Baal Shem himself was damaged, and it too has been repaired.

We were extremely moved to see a flower and a stone on every gravestone in the cemetery with a message in Hebrew: “We apologize for all the evil that we did to you”. No one knows who carried out this initiative but it is clear that they wanted to apologize and show respect both according to Jewish custom – by placing a stone on the grave – and according to their custom by placing a rose.

A stone and a rose with a message of apology on every grave in the Jewish cemetery of Michelstadt

We said our prayers for refuah shlema (complete recovery) for several sick friends and relatives and hope that the Baal Shem’s miracles will continue to work from Heaven.

The Matzeva, the grave marker, of the Baal Shem of Michelstadt, Rabbi Yitzchak Aryeh (Seckl Lob) Wormser

Following that intense day, after our short visit to Erbach with Brigitte Diersch, we concluded with a very pleasant supper (with our kosher food) at Otto and Heidi Haag’s house, together with Klaus Schimmel. The atmosphere was very convivial, the conversation stimulating, and the laughter and emotions ran freely.

Today (Tuesday, day 3) was another very full day with a wonderful conclusion but that will have to wait for my next blog post.

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