Two weeks into our trip and we have yet to meet a German Jew…
The Russian takeover didn't call for any gunshots, as over two hundred thousand Russians have moved westward, and been placed throughout Germany. Under the Right to Return Policy, finding Jews isn't too difficult; it's the German Jew who is hard to find!
As Yankel and I make our way around Schleswig-Holstein (one of the sixteen German states), visiting many townlets and the Jewish Gemeindes (community centers) therein, we have been amazed at the strong Jewish spirit amongst the Russian Jews, who, with none or very little Jewish education, are still strong in their faith and ardent believers. Many of the people we have met are intermarried, yet they show such love and joy when they have the chance to tell us about their religious grandparents, or when they do Mitzvot, many for their first time.
With great difficulty we manage to talk to them in a mix of Russian, German, Yiddish and English. But the cocktail has its affect and the stories come out! They tell us of life in Russia, of their parents' and Grandparents' lives in the Shtetel (hamlets), of Rebbes and Chassidim, of Chadorim (schools) and M'lamdim (teachers), of Mishpocha (family) and of pogroms.
Even though the communists drained as much practical Yiddishkeit as they could out of the Jews, they couldn't take the Neshoma – the soul of our people – away. And from one generation to the next, the heart of our fellow Jews in Russia was kept alive and pumping through the stories and traditions, through the nourishing knowledge that we are all really a part of something much, much bigger. And so, even though many of the people we meet didn't have the opportunity to keep the law, they definitely have kept the lore. And with a little prodding, the many people we have met begin to recount their memories, their stories, their songs and their traditions.
Oh, do I hear you say Shalom? Yes, of course there are Israelis here – that goes without saying! Only a handful I must say, but Israelis after all. There is Itai, the owner of a successful coffee store chain who came to Germany to study music. Then there is Yaniv, who fell in love with the charming town of Lubeck. Zahava and her son Rahit, the only Jews in their tiny little Mülln, have been here for seventeen years already. Another Israeli woman, Sara, heard about them from an Arab taxi driver in Jerusalem and passed the contact onto us! Talk about G‑d taking care of his people!