I would like to share my thoughts in a fascinating meeting that we had at the Educational Center with a group of teachers from schools in Germany in the North Rhine-Westphalia region (near the city of Düsseldorf) not far from Cologne.
The group came to us through Judy and Steve Gray, members of Kibbutz Hannaton. Judy explains that in the summer of 2017, she and Steve along with other family members went to a small village called Sabile in Latvia to attend the dedication of a memorial site for the Jews murdered in the village by the Nazis in 1941. All 240 Jews who lived in Seville, including Judy’s grandmother’s sister, her husband and four children, were murdered and buried in a mass grave in the forest. They also visited the old Jewish cemetery in Sabile where they met the minister Klaus-Peter Rex with a group of young Germans who came to reconstruct and renovate the cemetery. The volunteers worked to rehabilitate the cemetery out of respect for the Jews who were buried there as their graves were destroyed during the war. The cemetery was abandoned and desolate for 76 years. Klaus told us at that time that he was planning to bring a group of teachers to visit Israel, and that was the result of the match that brought them to a two-hour meeting to Hannaton.
They were amazed to discover our willingness to know them and tell them the story of Hannaton about the special elements of our kibbutz. Imagine a group of tourists and tourists from abroad entering a small settlement (imagine a European village far from the big city) and invited to meet with residents who want to tell them why they chose to live in it. Amazing is not it?
In the Beit Midrash, we held an open discussion in which a number of interesting questions arose, such as how Israel may define itself as a Jewish democracy. With European eyes it is impossible because there can not be religious laws in a democratic government. Another question that arose was if a pluralistic conception does not try to beautify reality, after all, Israeli society is very polarized from groups that are not interested in any connection (ultra-Orthodox, Muslim citizens, etc.)
The conversation led to the conclusion that pluralism like the one we wish to promote in Hannaton is not simple or convenient, but rather stems from a struggle to reveal my credo to another person who holds different and even opposing positions, while at the same time tolerating one another’s willingness to live in good neighborliness such as lifestyle, and political positions so that the difference intensifies my identity and is not perceived by me as alienated and dangerous to me.
I was glad for the wonderful opportunity I had to instruct a German text on tolerance and resistance to oppression written by a Protestant priest who opposed the Nazi regime and was sent to a concentration camp and linked it to the approaching anniversary of Rabin’s assassination as a symbol of the importance of Israeli democracy. To tell the story of our settlement in Hannaton to moral people from a country like Germany.
The German-Jewish connection is fascinating to me, from a historical and contemporary point of view. It was there that the most terrible thing happened to our people and to our private families, but that was where pluralistic Judaism began with the Enlightenment, the cultural flourishing and modern science.
In a hallway conversation I had with one of the history teachers in the group, I asked him about the concept of German identity, because we presented Hannaton as a place of study and deepening of Jewish identity. To Europeans it sounds very strange. Imagine a group of Germans meeting in a Beit Midrash (not in an academic way at the university) to learn the origins of German identity out of a sense of pride in their “Germaness” – a bit strange?
To me, the preoccupation with our people’s sources, learning, asking questions, and dealing with the writings of historical heroes can provide wonderful sources of inspiration for a full life of wisdom and knowledge. This is also true of the German sources. After all, German Jewry was very proud of its Germaness, and even because that name in that country developed the humanistic approach, the education, the desire to learn and know and recognize the right of every person to pursue the mind. This is a sentence that is very appropriate for our scholarly Jewish heritage and in general for humanistic scholars in the world. This is the good Germany that has something to learn from it.
National pride and the study of the sources of identity need not necessarily relate to nationalistic or religious fanaticism. Identity and heritage can be a source of inspiration for a life of wisdom and knowledge. The learner is proud of his identity not because he sees it as the best (a people or a chosen race), but because it belongs to him, into which he is born and whose values he was educated and which he has the right to examine and develop. Therefore, he must understand that even after the sources of his identity, he must be respected and others can learn from him. Thus, every national, religious, traditional, humanistic group will be able to learn and benefit from one another without the need to call for the annulment of one another.
I have no interest in forgiveness or atonement for the terrible crimes committed by the German people. However, it is important to note that there is a heritage of quite a few groups that organized themselves underground and acted against the Nazi regime (such as the White Rose) because of their pride in being Germans who pursue justice and human dignity.
The combination of a group of Germans in Eastern Europe to rectify the terrible crime committed by their own people, to a group of settlers who came to realize a vision of deep integration between Jewish values and tolerance and democracy here in our Galilee home to the sites that marked the beginning of Christianity and our sub-literature led to a fascinating encounter. We hope to continue and deepen the connection between us and them. We are the new generations who want to do good in spite of the horrible shadow of the past.