As I reflect on my recent trip to Germany at the invitation of the German Foreign Ministry (detailed daily at https://www.facebook.com/RadbamfromUAEtoTXL/), the journey fulfilled both my aspirations for the experience and the intention of the Germans. I hoped to broaden my perspective, to push the boundaries of my collective aversion to the people, land and their products (“Jews don’t buy Mercedes, Krupp or Braun”) toward a more contemporary, accurate and authentic view of 21st Century Mitteleuropa. My hosts sought to demonstrate that “this isn’t your grandparent’s Germany,” that confrontation of sin, repentance for evil and devotion to a very different national path now characterized this infamous culture. Both endeavors succeeded.
Well beyond renowned trials, reparations and national mea culpas, today’s Germans strive to overcompensate like the ex-smoker, addict or philanderer: To be not only better than most, but to lead the world in significant, impactful ways. Germany’s vow to memorialize, to glean and to impart lessons from such remembrance, rivals that of its victims, particularly Jews. It’s growing role as regional sanctuary for refugees, migrants and asylum seekers is the gold standard toward which all nations should aspire, and for which less willing nations should feel inadequacy if not shame. And in an era in which the New Global Authoritarianism, with its toxic blend of historic amnesia, base populism, delusional mythology and denial of reality besots the Continent as it threatens our very own Land of the Free, Germany strives to provide a cautionary example resounding with the echoes of Santayana’s plea.
As with any sponsored trip, I am wary of the propagandizing and agenda-peddling that often accompany such hospitality. My skepticism melted away as effortlessly as my preconceived discomfort. Yet I am left with a sense of pained irony as an American Jew, seeing in the contemporary convictions of this prior perpetrator a genuine, moral evolution that leaves our current State of the Union wanting, yet hopeful. Perhaps an apt reflection of my experience lies in my recent acquisition of a Volkswagen for my newly-minted-college-graduated daughter. The pervasive power of purchase, indeed!
Rabbi Daniel Weiner