The urgent telegram arrived at my grandparents’ Manhattan home just before Pearl Harbor Day (December 7, 1941) from Brummel relatives in Czechoslovakia. It stated: “GRAVE DANGER SEND MONEY”. As explained to me when I was very young by my grandmother, whether or not the telegram was actually sent by our Czech cousins, it was not meant to benefit them. It was probably sent by the Aryan administrator, masquerading as them.
The Syrian refugee family sang “When The Saints Go Marching In” after scrambling onto our S-Bahn carriage on a very cold and snowy morning as I rode from central Berlin to Wannsee station. My destination was the House of the Wannsee Conference in a large 1915 villa built by a German Industrialist on the shores of a lake on the outskirts of Berlin.
One evening in Venice this summer, sitting in the middle of the Jewish Ghetto’s central square, I watched the first night outdoor performance of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”. Never before had this play been performed in Venice, let alone in the Ghetto. The play and its cross-current of themes reverberated more deeply in such a setting.
I got the news December 7th: great Aunt Ruth had died in New York, almost 105. The matriarch of my family, she was my very own Auntie Mame. When my boys were little, I kept reminding them that she had been born just before the Titanic sank in 1912. She witnessed more than a century of often drastic developments and at times interacted with its major players.
The headlines are disquieting. A wave of populism has spread through the Western world attacking the political establishment at home and globalization abroad. Populist parties in Europe attack the EU and one member, the UK, votes on June 23rd whether to leave the EU. These movements express deep anger and fear, often ignore facts and seem attracted to irrational promises.
If you are living in Belgium, you are not far from Utopia. Reading this might cause you to scratch your head - partly because we are in a season of discontent, uncertainty and flux. The past two years have been particularly unsettling in Belgium.
Last Friday, the First Night of Pesach, the IJC held a beautiful Community Seder led by Rabbi Ira. We did what Jews around the world were doing that night – retelling the story of the Exodus from Egypt more than 3,400 years ago. Jews do this because they are commanded by God to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt, were liberated at the hand of God and then made the Exodus.