An Unforgettable Ten Weeks in Germany

Speaking at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig
Speaking at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig
Semester Opening lecture at University of Potsdam School of Jewish Theology
Semester Opening lecture at University of Potsdam School of Jewish Theology

Vickie and I with Pastorin Ursula Sieg in the Sukkah that she and her husband Pastor Martin Pommerening built for us in their backyard in Bad Segeberg
Vickie and I with Pastorin Ursula Sieg in the Sukkah that she and her husband Pastor Martin Pommerening built for us in their backyard in Bad Segeberg

Vickie and I are still processing the ten amazing and productive weeks we spent in Germany. There were so many highlights.

We owe the trip to the ingenuity and hard work of Pastorin Ursula Sieg of Bad Segeberg. Somehow, after a few meetings with us, Ursula got the idea that we could be useful in a number of different ways in northern Germany this fall. She put together an amazing program and connected all the many dots to make it a reality. In addition, she and her husband Pastor Martin Pommerening hosted us in their home and saw to all the logistics of the trip with warmth and love.

In her role as Director of School Church interaction in her region, Ursula put together a wonderful exhibit for public school children in Neumünster. Its title is, “Coming Home,” and it details the life and journey of Vickie’s 93-year-old still active artist mother, Stefanie Steinberg. She was born in Breslau, had to flee with her family to Spain from the Nazis when still a child. From there her journey took her to Switzerland, New York, Los Angeles and eventually to San Francisco. Ursula’s creativity and passion for interfaith understanding helped hundreds of students learn about Judaism (for some we were the first live Jews they had ever seen) and the Holocaust in an original and interesting way. We made about ten visits to the school and really felt close to the students and teachers who were involved.

An unexpected surprise came when the Probst of the Lutheran Church of the Bad Segeberg region, Dr. Daniel Havemann, with whom I developed a meaningful friendship, invited me (in his words) to become “the first rabbi to deliver the sermon at the worship service of their annual Synod.” It was an honor to do so. In all I spoke at ten different Lutheran Churches, sometimes on very problematic (for Jews) NT texts.

In one of the churches, the one time pastor was an ardent Nazi who was convicted of atrocities and sentenced to death (later commuted) at Nuremberg. My visit was part of the church’s ongoing atonement for Ernst Biberstein’s crimes. In the reception room of the church, where there were questions and answers following the service, there hangs a painting of an uprooted cross to symbolize a church gone astray. On my web site blog, you might be interested to read more about it in, “The Church of the Broken Cross.” It was a very special day.

On Kristallnacht, I was privileged to give three speeches (two in German thanks to Ursula’s translation and pronunciation drilling) in Leipzig, the city where my late father was born, grew up, and was arrested on that horrible night, November 9, 1938. My three Kristallnacht addresses in English are also on my web page blog.

We also visited Breslau, and there is interest in bringing the exhibit about Vickie’s mother there as well. It was a thrill for me to watch Vickie’s eye’s as she took in and processed the many sights form her mother’s home city. In Breslau we also received an offer from Jewish community leaders Jan Kirschenbaum and Aleksandra Wilczura to translate and publish What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives in Polish.

Speaking of the book, it was wonderful to visit the huge international book fair in Frankfurt. I was thrilled to see What’s in It for Me? among the thousands and thousands of volumes on display. It was also a unique opportunity to learn a bit from the inside about the publishing industry.

Another honor that I treasure is delivering the semester opening lecture based on the book at the University of Potsdam School of Jewish Theology outside of Berlin. The reception my presentation received makes me confident that a similar talk would form the basis of a very meaningful evening or extended program for seminaries, synagogues, churches, mosques or other type of meeting or convention. I would also be excited to offer a mini-mester or similar course course on ”Genesis-Exodus Stories for Practical Preaching” to seminarians or clergy of all non-fundamentalist denominations.

Of course all of these activities were based around my role as visiting rabbi during the ten weeks, including the High Holy Day season, at the Jüdische Gemeinde in Kiel. There I preached, helped lead services, and led adult study sessions. Thanks to the kindness and flexibility of the community’s spiritual leader, Walter Joshua Pannebacker and the wonderful people who comprise the congregation, we felt so very comfortable and at home there.

All in all it was an amazing time. But now we are home, and I look forward to sharing the experiences I have had and the approach to Torah reflected in What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives with many different groups.

The official launch for the book will be at Charter Oak Cultural Center) this coming Thursday, December 4, at 7:00 PM.

In the weeks that follow I will be speaking in several other places (listed on the calendar on my page, I hope those who attend these and future programs will gain meaningful perspectives for their lives from the presentations and discussions.

One thought on “An Unforgettable Ten Weeks in Germany

  1. It seems like we were just chatting about your going. And now, there you are, installed once again in the comfort and warmth of your home–Germany, speeches and connections behind you.

    I’m sure this trip was something which will stay with you forever, a gift which you will undoubtedly unwrap time after time, gleaning new insights and revealing heart dialogue that, perhaps, went unnoticed in various heightened moments.

    I wish I could have been there, Stephen. But know I thought of you and the priceless work you are doing to bring Sight to the masses.

    May you be blessed, friend.

    With heart, health and hope,


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