An ironic flag: the German-Israeli connection as depicted in Berlin © Marla Showfer | Flickr
Essays

Israelis in Berlin and The Elephant in the Room

Notes on migration, pudding, an island economy, and frustrating metaphors (with cream on top)

“Fight from Tel Aviv, not from Berlin,” demanded former Minister of Immigrant Absorption Uzi Baram in Haaretz, while the New York Times  featured the infantile (or “still adolescent”) Israeli society as the center of frustration for many Israelis now clamoring to Berlin because of the impossible price of living. The coverage of Baram’s outcry in the German national and German Jewish press resisted the Holocaust metaphors only barely. …

READ MORE →
Sleepwalking
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Sleepwalking into the Future? II

Is there a European memory creating a sense of belonging and encouraging civic participation?

This is the prepared text of a contribution to a conference of the Europe for Citizens Forum in Brussels on January 28th, 2014.

The title of this discussion employs the metaphors that describe walking into the calamity of WWI, as framing both the ways Europeans remember the 20th century, and even more alarming, as reflecting a mode of uncritical observation which may lead to other calamities, wittingly or unwittingly, in the 21st.

Before we mark the “will to memory” by disasters past and present, informed by a version of a quote from Primo Levi, which one encounters upon entering the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin: “it happened, and therefore it can happen again. This is the core of what we have to say”; before this, I say, we ought to take a step back, to the division between remembrance as a form of thinking, and remembrance as warning (In German: gedenken, mahnen). …

READ MORE →
Ariel Sharon, pictured during a defense meeting held at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, 2002. © Helene C. Stikkel | Dept. of Defense
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Ariel Sharon (1928 – 2014)

Reflecting on the myth of a Zionist martyr and the reportage in Israel and beyond

Ariel Sharon was perhaps the last Israeli soldier-statesman whose life was framed with the Zionist myth of martyrology. Although there surely is no shortage of commanders who are mythical figures and became politicians in contemporary Israel, Sharon joins an exclusive club of those mythic figures of men in the history of Zionism whose lives ended mysteriously, untimely, not in war, and/or whose death stories were contested and ambiguous. Theodore Herzl, who died young, and is rumored to have suffered from syphilis. Joseph Trumpeldor who died protecting Tel Chai in 1920 and, as the myth holds (Yael Zerubavel provides a detailed account), said before dying “never mind, it is good to die for our country.” Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a national-religious law student. Yasser Arafat, whom Israel tried and in the end probably succeeded to poison or otherwise kill during his long career (2004). Rafael Eitan, a former chief of staff and politician: a wave pulled him into the sea in the Ashdod harbor in which he was a project manager (2004), and Sharon, who was in coma for eight years starting in January 2006. His social death was blurred, extended even beyond the span of “the king’s two bodies.” Shortly after his stroke, streets and institutions were already named after him. …

READ MORE →
Stolperstein G. Rothschild © Pfarrei St. Bonifatius Berlin | Flickr
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

A Post on Laughter and Remembering in Berlin

Diversity, tension, relief, and the Stolpersteine

“…and this woman in the chic coat: is she going to clean also?”

Responding to advertisements calling for people to “actively remember,” on November 9 and 10, 2013, in Berlin and other German cities, the commemorative Stolpersteine (or “the stumbling blocks”) were physically cleaned. The Stolpersteine are little brass plaques placed at the entrances of houses whose inhabitants, most often Jews, were deported and murdered in the Nazi period. This form of commemoration was initiated in 1993.

The cleaning of the plaques was itself commemorative, marking the events of the once-named “Reichskristallnacht” of 1938. Though taking place on November 10 and 11, and often in broad daylight, the infamous attacks on Jews in Germany and Austria are officially remembered in Germany on November 9 and commonly thought to have been only nocturnal. The attacks have since been renamed, in both state and popular language, as the “Reichspogromnacht,” or the November Pogrom, foregrounding the anti-Semitism at their core…

READ MORE →