02 January 2009

A Strange Place

is where my head has been recently.

Ever since my husband requested that, for security's sake, we not place our hanukiah where it could be viewed from outside, I've had my head floating a bit in this dimension that is reality. A reality that I have been safe from as an American.

As he pointed out, I should have noticed by now that all Jewish establishments have police guards and fences, that we had a security meeting at our kindergarten that discussed checking for bombs under vehicles, that I take my German class after entering through metal detectors.

How clear can it be that we are targeted as Jews when a tiny house, without a sign, in Bombay, a city with what- a 100 Jews amidst millions of non-Jews?- can be sought out so that Islamist terrorists can murder a pregnant Jewish woman and other innocent bystanders?

He is, of course, correct. It would not be safe, here in a city where Nazi signs are scrawled as grafitti and where a rabbi is chased and harassed for being noticeably Jewish, to display my religion in a publicly identifiable (and traceable) manner. Because I think that the people I meet every day are normal human beings has led me to the fallacy that resulted in so many not fleeing in time.

Last week, at a holiday party, I had a quiet political discussion with another American ex-pat, a woman who is black, a minority status not as easily concealed as my own. She said that after a recent visit to her home in Washington, DC she felt less overt racism here in Berlin than she did there.

I looked at her in disbelief. In my short time here, I have found that my friends and aquaintances of color are quite overtly discriminated against. But perhaps the fact that the minority here which it is fashionable to be openly hateful toward is the Turkish has made her feel differently?

What I do know is that Berliners in the workplace, in front of my husband who appears to be "one of them", feel quite comfortable being openly sexist and racist in a way that leaves him- a German who has spent his work life in the US- openly amazed and dismayed.

And this past week, in the comfort of the German's family home, a family friend (I was asleep upstairs with the girls and not a witness or fomentor) called him- "You American... (and then went off on an amazing diatribe about American intolerance and America's past injustices- this from a German!)..." when my husband suggested that the diversity training the friend was stating was useless (and which the German had just finished the equivalent of for his own CPEs) actually was useful. Particularly in the context of the large study just released showing that Germany has a significant gender gap! And this to a German and the son of the house which he was a guest in!

It makes me sad.


Anonymous said...

This post made me sad for you. Hopefully you had a Happy Holiday and will have a happy 2009.

Anonymous said...

My southern German city had a public menorah, and to my knowlege it was unguarded and unmolested. I wonder if there is a regional aspect to some of this (just as there would be in the States).

honeypiehorse said...

Wow - I can't believe you don't feel safe in your own home. Laws against anti-Jewish behavior are pretty strong in Bavaria and (at least in Bavaria) are taken really seriously. I don't know Berlin well however, it's a much bigger city than Munich and every big city seems to have a thug element. I hope you don't find that to be the general attitide. As for the other observations, they made me think how interesting it is that every has a different story. You see a gender gap where I feel taken care of by German men and intimidated by German women (well, some, even a few friends that I like alot). And as for calling Americans intolerant, well, I agree the Germans may not have the best leg to stand on for this accusation (although their crime is now two generations back) and what a breach of hosptiality but some Americans are pretty intolerant. Remember freedom fries?? We don't like anyone who makes our gas more expensive, we don't like foreigners, we don't like creationism in the schools (or Darwinism, for that matter), we don't like women to choose whether they have a baby, we don't like Cuba, we don't like Muslims, there are all kinds of things we don't like. Not everyone, of course (and not me :-) but some people. There are always some people. Anyway, I great post because it was very thoughtful and personal. I hope you don't really need to fear for your safety in your own home but I totally understand wanting to take precautions. God bless!

G in Berlin said...

@Juju73: Thanks for stopping by.It was an interestingg holiday and one that the children were happy with. I think that I will change how we spend the holidays next year, though.

@annonamoose: We have a great public menorah here in Berlin as well. It has been unmolested, but I am sure that you know the Monument to the murdered Jews of Europe is vandalized on a regular basis. If you have any Jewish facilities (community centers, synagogues, schools) you may have noticed the big fences around them and the police guard whenever they are in operation. I also felt a feeling of security here, until I discovered all the English language sites on German newspapers and was able to actually follow what was going on. That and having threats here, and knowing what level of security is required even at a kindergarten. Easy to ignore, if one doesn't have to see it.

@honeypiehorse: I think Berlin (as a part of the former Eastern Germany) does have a different attitude. Or at least is far more open in showing that attitude. My husband's firm is based in the West and the workers from there appear to be different. But the anti-Semitism in Germany is not my perception: studies show it to be great. Strange, considering that we are less than .01% of the population. My husband's (quite warranted)fear was that we face on a busy road, on a high floor. It would be very easy to fix our apartment and to come back later, or to target us. I actually disagree with your definition of intolerant. First, that German "intolerance wasn't two generations back- it's one. My father is a survivor, my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were not. Thankfully, the persons complicit are now old enough that I do not meet them. My German friends have discussed their own discomfort as they grew up meeting older Germans and always wondering.I guess that, in my country, a country where my parents were met by signs that said"No Jews Allowed" in their own lifetime, I have never felt in fear for my life, never been afraid to say that I was Jewish, never neededpolice protection as I worshipped. I know that it is different here and I see it and feel it and am hit with it on a regular and daily basis. And when I think I am ok with it, my rabbi is harassed and security talks about checking for bombs at a kindergarten. And a pregnant woman in Bombay is murdered, wit her husband and others, because she is Jewish. Then the world ignores that. Whew. Enough.
Oh, the gender gap I refer to is in pay and in the workplace. I feel that German tax law is fabulous for families and I am for women and children having legal rights to family friendly things, such as day care, eltern gelt, three years parental leave, etc. It's just that it sounds lovely in the abstract but it seems that in the concrete women actually do face discrimination in hiring and when attempting to return from their leaves.

heather in europe said...

I find your insight interesting G, mainly because coming from the Philadelphia area where Christian, Jewish and secular holiday decorations were easily found up and down streets, I found Germany to be extremely uniform in my corner of NRW, and slightly unnerving in its uniformity. White electric candles in the windows and white twinkle lights in the trees, nothing more.

I would be further interested in your thoughts (or your husband's), if you feel so inclined:
1. How would you feel about displaying an American flag in your Germany window? Or about a German displaying a German flag in America?

2. Do you think you'd feel as strange if it was suggested not to display your hanukiah in another European country, say Belgium or Italy?

kenju said...

It makes me sad to read this. I wish we could all celebrate the difference in people and groups!

Carol said...

I'm so sad to hear that Germany still deals with anti-semistism. You'd think that the past two generations would have learned something from the past! I definitely don't think this reflects a majority view (even in Germany), but a few bad apples (especially in Germany)...