Yesterday as we changed into our dance clothes for class with the Golden Oldies/Goldies, I was asked if I’d experienced any ‘unpleasantness” (Unannehmlichkeiten). It took me a minute to understand what was meant. Ah, because I’m Jewish, it finally occurred to me. Why would they ask that? Do they doubt what they read (and I don’t) in the Berlin newspapers? Disbelieve the television reports? Am I the figure in the cuckoo clock that only comes out of its house when it’s really antisemitic outside?
What kind of an indicator am I, who stays as far away as possible from the Jewish communities in Berlin – all of them, Chabad, liberal or other? I do not go to demonstrations. I do not write letters to any editor or politician. I read and subscribe to the NY Times, the Guardian and the New Yorker Magazine. I read only the articles from German media which are sent to me by my husband or friends.
I am convinced Antisemitism has always existed. It just cannot be allowed to become institutionalized in the courts, or the police, or the legislature. This was my answer to my dancer friends: I have a limit – when I am mistreated by a policeman, I will leave. A ridiculous statement. Mistreated how? In what circumstances? But in my head, unspoken and always, are all the images from 1933-1945, broken windows, riots, beatings. The feeling that there is no higher judgment to appeal to, that the system and its institutions are rigged. There is no way but out, out of the situation, the city, the country.
I grew up in the Forties, when housing was still ‘restricted’ in many neighborhoods in America. I believe Antisemitism is always present in varying degrees. I do not look for it. I do not suspect it but I know it’s there somewhere and always will be.
I find myself today, after over sixty years living in Germany, feeling ill-at-ease, homesick again, out of place. Would I be more at home in New York with Columbia campus up the block, faculty and students seething with aggression, rage, self-righteousness.? Or in Brooklyn – more intellects, writers and artists in foment? Hardly.
All those years ago when I left the States and moved to Germany, my friends in New York asked, “How can you?” I couldn’t answer then and I can’t now. I would like to think it’s because I have a skeptical brain and an audacious heart, but now I am not so sure.