EWR — Newark Airport. It is a beautiful modern place, and I marvel at its opulence. It is also a place with vivid memories for me.
Newark Was the first airport to which I ever flew. As an eighteen-year-old freshman at Hamilton College, my first flight was home for Thanksgiving break, Utica NY to Newark, a one hour flight. It was such a special moment for me that I put on a suit for the occasion. Dad and Mom picked me up.
Newark Airport is also the last place I saw my father alive. I was a 24-year-old Rabbinical student off to spend my third year of graduate studies in Israel. Mom and Dad drove me to the airport.
These memories coursed through my mind as I landed at EWR from Miami en route to Tel Aviv. Pastor John Danner of Sanibel Congregational UCC and I are leading a joint Ten-day trip to Israel of Christians and Jews from our two congregations.
After the tour Vickie and I will stay on a few extra days to spend time with our son Leo, named after my father. On May 13 we shall fly to Hamburg to spend five weeks in Germany teaching about the Holocaust in schools. I will also teach in synagogues in Kiel and Friedrichstadt and at the Abraham Geiger Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin. I shall also speak and teach in several German churches.
An emotional highlight will occur when I preach at the famous Thomaskirche in Leipzig. Thomaskirche is the Church where Johann Sebastian Bach was Cantor for the last 20 years of his life until 1750. The church will be packed, not to hear me, but for the Motets, the famed choir-sung musical selections that are a major European tourist attraction. It will be the third time I have preached in the famous Cathedral, but my emotions will be like the first.
You see, Leipzig is the city where my father was born and grew up. He was a happy, popular youth, I was told, enjoying tennis and really excelling at ping pong. He won the city-wide men’s doubles championship at age fifteen.
But he stayed too long, and I’ll never know why.
He was one of 500 Jewish men in Leipzig arrested on the infamous “Night of Broken Glass,” November 9, 1938. But Dad was so fortunate to have an uncle and older brother in the United States who somehow got him out of Dachau and safely to New York. I never knew the details.
And so, when I climb the many stairs to the lofty pulpit in the Thomaskirche for the third time, the questions I would love to ask my father will swirl in my mind. Among them:
Why didn’t you leave earlier?
Did you ever have your heart broken?
What exactly happened to you on November 9, 1938 and the days following?
Are you pleased that Vickie and I do what we do in Germany?
Like the Thomaskirche in Leipzig Newark Airport brings memories and these questions to mind.
I yearn to hear my father’s voice answering my questions. But I. Do not.
Nevertheless, Vickie and I go forward. We urge Germans today to learn from the past in order to make the future better for our children, grandchildren and all those who will follow.