I’m currently in Montana spending some time with my mother. It’s funny how when I come back to the U.S. my mom has a better appreciation for why I am so drawn to Germany. She’s happy to have me home. Yet on our first dinner outing she bristled when I got a little too enthusiastic about being a new German and EU citizen. It still doesn’t sit well with her. I can understand….not only is she among the generation that fled the Shoah, but she was stunned when her own parents returned to Germany in the 1970s. Now her daughter and grandchildren are there as well.
I’m still disturbed by the hostile attitude of some American Jews toward my claim on the country of my heritage. “Go back home where you can be truly yourself,” said one reader of my recent Tablet article. The Holocaust still has such a firm grip on American Jewish identity that some refuse to acknowledge the renewal of Jewish life and culture in Germany. How do the naysayers reconcile their blanket rejection of a nation with the choice that many have made to once again be Jewish on German soil? There must be a Judaic principle about having respect and compassion for finding our own path to a Jewish life.
In a March 2005 publication for the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Rolf Schuette wrote that “…Germany, in the eyes of the average American Jew, is the least popular European country—with the notable exception of France.” Schuette based this statement on AJC’s 2005 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion. Haven’t American Jewish attitudes towards Germany improved in recent years, especially given the fact that Germany has the fastest growing Jewish population in Europe? Do American Jews recognize that Germany is a thriving democracy with deep and enduring ties to Israel? I contacted the AJC and learned that they have not surveyed American Jewish attitudes towards Germany since 2005 and have no current plans for additional surveys. That’s too bad.
A pillar of American Jewish identity since WWII has been rejection of the land where the genocide occurred. But what about our own need for reconciliation and a more affirmative Jewish identity? Schuette and other observers have noted that the identity of Israelis is less deeply tied to the Holocaust than that of American Jews. I wrote a previous post about the need for American Jews to update their image of Germany (see Time for an Image Update). Perhaps it’s time for an identity update as well.