From Geiger to the Thomaskirche with Joy

Crowd lined up outside Leipzig’s Thomaskirche to hear the St. Thomas Boys Choir sing the Motet service Friday afternoon. I had the honor of delivering the sermonic message at that service.

Last Friday** was one of those days I dream about but rarely experience.

In the morning, I had the joy of teaching a two and a half hour seminar on Repentance and Our Ability to Change in Jewish thought to rabbinical and Cantorial students at the Abraham Geiger College in Berlin.

Then Vickie and I traveled by train to Leipzig, the city where my father grew up and was arrested on Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938. There in the famed Thomaskirche, packed to the rafters because the famed St Thomas Boys Choir was singing the afternoon Motet service, I accepted the invitation of Pastorin Britta Taddiken and Pastor Martin Hunderdmark to be the main speaker in the service..

My theme was one I have touched on in many of the speeches I have given in synagogues, schools and churches during our stays the last four years in Germany:

Wir können die Vergangenheit nicht ungeschehen Machen aber wir können gemeinsam an einer besseren Zukunft arbeiten.

We cannot undo the past, but the future is ours to shape.

I spoke of the Torah potion read in synagogues that very Shabbat in synagogues around the world, a portion which contains the words inscribed on the Liberty bell in Philadelphia: 
“Proclaim Liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof.” (Leviticus 25:10).”

I noted that no country yet has achieved the type of world the Liberty Bell and the Bible urge us to create. God’s desire is for humanity to create a world of Freedom for all:

  • Freedom from hunger
  • Freedom from sexual abuse or harassment
  • Freedom from homelessness
  • Freedom from fear

And freedom from so many other things that testify to our failure to create the just, caring and compassionate society God has yearned for since the time of creation.

How grateful I am for the invitations to do these things that uplifted my spirit so.

But the next day was more sobering. I walked to the Zoo where the Nazis rounded up the 500 Jewish men they arrested that night known to the world as Kristallnachtbut in Germany as Reichspogromnacht.

There I stood at the monument where on Kristallnacht in 2014 I read a letter to the memory of my father (search for “A Letter to the Memory of My Father as I Stand at the Leipzig Zoo” on the blog). I also visited the site of Leipzig’s main synagogue, burned to the ground that fateful night. There a monument consisting of rows of empty chairs honors the memory of the 14,000 of Leipzig’s 18,000 Jews whom the Nazis murdered. I spoke there on Kristallnacht of 2014 as well (Search for “Synagogue Site Speech”) but on that night, I focused on my presentation. Today I slowly absorbed each and every word on the commemorative plaques, and I realized once again how blessed I am that my dad was rescued by political means from Dachau by his uncle and brother in the USA, which still had diplomatic relations with Germany at the time.

I also spoke at the Thomaskirche (search for “Thomaskirche Kristallnacht Speech – English Version”) that night to a much smaller crowd than attended last Friday. But that was a sorrowful commemoration. This year’s message was of aspiration and hope.

From the standpoint of emotion, speaking at these three places in 2014 exceeded the feelings of this past Friday, but the difference which made this years’ visit more exhilarating and joyful was the morning seminar at Geiger.

There I had the privilege of interacting with future rabbis and Cantors from five different countries who are there not to lament the fate of Europe’s Jews but to build the future of European Jewry.

At Geiger College last Friday, I also had the privilege of conducting the daily worship service. In it I asked the students and faculty present not just to recite the prayers but to look at just a few and ponder their meaning.

In particular I lingered over the Mah Tovu prayer at the beginning of the service (See blog post, “Before You Sing Mah Tovu Again, Please Read This.)

That prayer sits at the beginning of our service to remind us that try as they have over the centuries, no outside force can destroy us. Only we —through apathy and ignorance of our Jewish heritage – can destroy ourselves.

For me teaching at Geiger College and speaking as a rabbi in the city where the Nazis arrested my father is my pledge that I shall do what little I can to keep the flame of Jewish learning and practice aglow wherever and whenever I can.

**May 17, 2019

In Leipzig Once Again — 2019



This Friday, my emotions will be high, as I climb the steep stairs of the preacher’s pulpit to speak once again in the famed Thomaskirche in Leipzig. To come as a welcome guest to speak in the city where the Nazis arrested my father on Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938 is a great privilege. But being there evokes many mixed feelings.  Here is what I shall say:

Standing before you in this magnificent cathedral, I recall the Psalmists words, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:6)

I recall with sadness the weeping of Reichspogromnacht when my father Leo Fuchs was one of 500 Jewish men arrested in this city. But I savor the joy of the morning as Pfararin Taddiken welcomes me once again to this place as a gesture of friendship and hope for the future.

We cannot undo the past, but the future is ours to shape.

As I listen to the holy sounds of the beautiful Motets this afternoon, my heart turns to magnificent words on the Liberty Bell, the national symbol of American freedom, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

In July 1974 the late Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin addressed a joint session of the American Congress and eloquently described learning the words on the Liberty Bell in their original Hebrew as a small child: U’kratem dror ba-aretz l’chol yoshveha– Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all of its inhabitants (Leviticus 25:10).”

Rabin pointed out that this cardinal foundation of democracy comes form the portion of the Torah Jews around the world will read this Shabbat.

דרור (Dror) Freedom, Freiheit (?) is a very special word in Hebrew, English or German. Freedom is what God wants for everyone:

  • Freedom from poverty
  • Freedom from War
  • Freedom from violence
  • Freedom from hunger
  • Freedom from homelessness
  • Freedom from excessive cold or heat
  • Freedom from sexual abuse
  • Freedom from forced labor and exploitation
  • And the freedom to choose how we use the abilities with which God has blessed us to make a better world.

It is not God’s job to create that world of freedom. It is ours.

One of the most famous stories in the Christian Bible is how Jesus fed 5000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish.

The pastor of the Church, which houses our Jewish congregation in Sanibel, Dr. John Danner, suggests a different reading of the story. Perhaps, says Dr. Danner, Jesus encouraged everyone in the crowd to share just a little of what he or she had with others around them, and in that way there was enough food for all.

Each person could give only a little, but their collective contributions accomplished much.

Today, no country, not the United States not Israel and not Germany has yet achieved the freedom God wants all of us to enjoy. But we must never cease to try. As Rabbi Tarfon taught in the second century CE: “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it. (Pirke Avot 2:21)

From the time of creation, God has wished for us to create a just, caring and compassionate society on earth. It is easy to state that goal but difficult to achieve it.

It is easy to give in to despair and anguish when we look at the world around us. Many do.

But isn’t it a better choice for each of us to do something—however small–to move the world closer to the day of which Isaiah dreamed when, “They shall not hurt or destroy in all God’s holy mountain (Isaiah 11:9).”

Can we not all make some effort to bring closer the time of which the Prophet Micah dreamed when:

“Each person will sit under his or her vine and fig tree with no one to make them afraid?” (Micah 4:4)

We cannot do everything, but we each can do something.

We might not cure cancer but we can give food or serve a meal to the hungry. We might not make peace in the world, but we can make peace in our homes.

We might not transform the quality of education around the world, but we can help a child learn to read. Possibilities abound.

Not being able to do everything is no excuse for doing nothing.

As we listen with awe and delight to the sounds of holiness and peace in this famed Cathedral, and as Jews prepare to welcome a Shabbat of peace and joy into our lives, let us all – each in our own way — think of how we might bring peace and joy into the lives of others.



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.

Cover of my new book reflecting on our work over the past four years and n Germany

German of Thomaskirche Kristallnacht Speech: A Trip I had to Make

Eine unumgängliche Reise
Rabbiner Stephen Fuchs

Ich wusste nicht, was in dieser Nacht 1938 passiert war, bis ich im Alter von 22 Jahren mein Graduiertenstudium am Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles begann, um Rabbiner zu werden. Bei der Semestereröffnung berichtete der Dekan und spätere Präsident des Kollegs, Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk, wie er als achtjähriges Kind in der kleinen Stadt Oberwesel seinen Großvater in den Rhein waten sah, um verkohlte Fetzen der Tora-Rolle zu retten, die Nazis aus der brennenden Synagoge geworfen hatte.

Als ich Rabbiner Gottschalks Kindheitsbericht von der Kristallnacht hörte, wusste ich noch nicht, dass mein eigener Vater hier in Leipzig genau in der Nacht verhaftet wurde. Als ich das erfuhr, beschloss ich, diesen Ort eines Tages aufzusuchen. Die Möglichkeit eröffnete sich im Sommer 1982.

Als mein Zug in Leipzig’s riesigen Bahnhof einrollte, wurde mir bewusst, dass mein erster Blick auf die Stadt der letzte meines Vaters gewesen sein könnte, als er in einem ganz anderen Zug als Häftling nach Dachau fuhr.

Mit einem genauen Stadtplan von der Tourist Information versuchte ich Straße und Wohnung zu finden, wo mein Vater aufwuchs. Auch den Zoo suchte ich. Warum den Zoo? Der Augenzeuge der Kristallnacht David H. Buffum, damals amerikanischer Konsul in Leipzig, berichtet: ” Jüdische Wohnungen wurden gestürmt und geplündert… Ein achtzehnjähriger Junge wurde vom dritten Stock aus dem Fenster geschmissen. Er brach sich beide Beine… Drei Synagogen gleichzeitig wurden mit Brandbomben beworfen und viele Juden wurden im Zoo zusammengetrieben und dort in den Bach gestoßen. SS-Männer befahlen den schockierten Zuschauern sie zu bespucken, zu verspotten und mit Schlamm zu bewerfen.“

Als ich am Eingang zum Zoo ankam, war es viertel vor sieben. Die Ticketverkäuferin sagte, ich wäre zu spät: „Der Zoo schließt um sieben.“ „Das ist in Ordnung“, antwortete ich und reichte das Eintrittsgeld hinüber, „ich brauche nur ein paar Minuten.“
Sie protestierte, doch ich blieb hartnäckig, bis sie mich schließlich passieren ließ. Nach wenigen Minuten stand ich an dem Bach. Tränen stiegen mir in die Augen und ich hörte mich selbst laut sagen: „Ist dies der Ort? Haben sie dich hier hergebracht haben, Papa? Haben diese Bastarde dich bespuckt… haben sie dich mit Dreck beworfen?“ Dann, wie als Vergeltung, spuckte ich von einer Brücke aus in den Bach.
Am nächsten Morgen fand ich das Büro der Jüdischen Gemeinde Leipzig. Eine ältere Dame öffnete die Tür und erklärte mir, dass der Gemeindeleiter nicht da sei, aber bald wiederkommen würde. Ich erzählte ihr, dass mein Vater in Leipzig aufgewachsen sei. Sie zog ein staubiges Familienregister aus dem Regal und öffnete es bei „f“. Sehr schnell fand ich die Eintragungen über meine Familie. Währenddessen kam der Gemeindeleiter herein. Ich sagte ihm wer ich sei und was ich wollte. Er war herzlich, freundlich und offensichtlich erfreut, dass ich da war.
Ich fragte ihn: „Wie viele Juden gibt es in Leipzig?“ „67“, antwortete er. „Und wann gab es hier die größte Zahl jüdischer Einwohner?“ „1935“ , antwortete er, „18000 Juden lebten damals in Leipzig.“ „Und wie viele sind im Holocaust umgekommen?“ fragte ich. „14000“, antwortete er.

Die zwölfstündige Bahnfahrt nach Amsterdam gab mir reichliche Zeit, meine Erfahrungen in Leipzig zu verdauen. Natürlich dachte ich an meinen Vater. Nach der Verhaftung in der Kristallnacht brachten die Nazis ihn nach Dachau, wo sie ihm den Kopf schoren, ihn verhörten und misshandelten.
Aber Leo Fuchs gehörte zu den glücklichen. Da er Verwandte in den USA hatte und sein Visum bereits genehmigt war, erwirkte das US-Konsulat nach wenigen Tagen seine Freilassung.
Er hat mit mir nie darüber gesprochen. Aber ich weiß, dass das Trauma ihn immer gequält hat. Im Frühjahr 1969 wurde mein Vater schwer krank. Ich flog von Los Angeles, aus meinem Rabbinatsstudium, nach Hause in New Jersey, um bei ihm zu sein. Ich werde nie das Gefühl der Hilflosigkeit vergessen, als ich das Krankenhauszimmer betrat und mein Vater mich im nur halb bewussten Zustand nicht erkannte.
Ich stand da und es schüttelte mich, als er anfing auf Deutsch – was er Zuhause nie gesprochen hatte – zu schreien. Ich fragte meinen Onkel: Was hat er gesagt? Mein Onkel antwortete: Er durchlebt die Erinnerungen an die Kristallnacht. Er schreit, die Wärter sollten aufhören ihn zu schlagen. Mein Vater hatte diese Erinnerung über dreißig Jahre unterdrückt.
Im Großen und Ganzen waren das gute Jahre gewesen. In den USA hatte er seine große Liebe gefunden und eine Familie gegründet. Ich aber – und das mag irrational sein – beschuldige die Nazis sein Leben verkürzt und mir geraubt zu haben, meine größten Freuden mit ihm zu teilen: meine Ordination zum Rabbiner, meine Heirat mit Vickie, unsere Kinder und Enkel.
Mein Vater wurde 57 Jahre alt. Seine älteren Brüder, die Deutschland vor der Kristallnacht verlassen hatten, aber lebten gesund bis in ihre achtziger Jahre hinein.
Unsere Kinder! Sie sind die Antwort unseres Volkes auf Hitlers Wahnsinn. Für uns Juden ist jedes neue Leben wie ein junger Baum – gepflanzt nicht nur zur Freude seiner Familie, sondern auch um einen einst üppigen Wald neu zu beleben, der von Feuer, Rauch und Gas verwüstet wurde.

In Europa sind von drei Juden zwei umgekommen.. In Leipzig von neun Juden, sieben.
Wir lernten den Begriff “Genozid”, mit dem wir zu definieren versuchen, was Hitlers Absicht war: Den Genpool unseres Volkes ausrotten.
Deshalb befehlen wir uns selbst: Zachor! Erinnere! Aber wenn wir uns nur erinnern, um im eigenen Leid zu baden. verschwenden wir unsere Zeit und unsere Tränen. Wir müssen uns daran erinnern, was war, damit wir schaffen können, was besser ist.

Die Leute fragen mich beständig: “Wie konnte Gott den Holocaust zulassen?” Ich antworte, dass Gott den Menschen einen freien Willen gab und uns Auftrag und Verantwortung für die Welt übertrug. Ohne freien Willen hätte das Leben keinen Sinn. Wir Menschen wären nichts als Marionetten oder Schauspieler, die nicht vom Drehbuch abweichen könnten.
Gott sehnt sich danach, dass wir eine Welt der Gerechtigkeit und des Mitgefühls schaffen. Aber Gott tut es nicht für uns. Wenn wir versagen ist es unser Versagen, nicht Gottes. Ich glaube, Gott weint mit uns und um uns, wenn wir versagen.

Ich wandte mich von dem Bach, der durch den Leipziger Zoo fließt, ab und kam an einem Bau mit Timberwölfen vorbei. Es war ein natürliches Gehege und wirklich ein schöner Anblick. Eine Wolfsmutter stand ganz still, während zwei Welpen glücklich an ihrer Brust nuckelten.
Zuerst fühlte es sich sehr unpassend an, solch einen wunderbaren Moment natürlicher Harmonie and einem Ort zu sehen, der für mich Unfrieden und Zerstörung repräsentiert. Doch auf der langen Bahnfahrt nach Amsterdam blieben meine Gedanken an diesem Bild hängen. Meine inneren Augen wanderten immer wieder vom Bild der Gewalt, des Hasses und des Leides zu der friedlichen, idyllischen Szene wie die Wolfswelpen aus ihrer Mutter Nahrung und Kraft saugten.
Welche Ironie! Ich weiß, dass Nazis und Neo Nazis den Wolf als Symbol verwenden. Das ist ein Missbrauch. Wölfe töten nicht aufgrund von Vorurteilen, Hass oder Ideologie. Sie töten um sich zu ernähren und sind damit Teil der natürlichen Balance. Wie bewegend, dass an dem Ort, wo ich meines Vaters schreckliche Erfahrung durchlebte, Wölfe mich getröstet haben als Zeichen, dass die Liebe und das Gute stärker sind als der Hass und das Böse.

Der Leipziger Zoo wird für mich für immer das schreckliche Böse repräsentieren, das Menschen zu tun im Stande sind. Die Wölfe aber werden immer Harmonie symbolisieren, die wir nach Gottes willen in dieser Welt schaffen sollen.

Am Morgen des Jom Kippur lesen wir Reform Juden einen der wichtigsten Texte der Tora (Dt.: 30,15): „Siehe, ich habe dir heute vorgelegt das Leben und das Gute, den Tod und das Böse.“ Wir haben die Wahl, aber Gott ermahnt uns: Wähle das Leben, damit du am Leben bleibst, du und deine Nachkommen (Dt 30.19)
Nein, die Frage ist nicht: Wo war Gott während des Holocaust? Die Frage ist: wo war die Menschlichkeit?
Wir können die Vergangenheit nicht ändern, aber wir können davon lernen. Wir wissen all zu gut, dass wir den Tod wählen können. Doch Gott hofft, dass unsere Vergangenheit uns für die Zukunft stärkt, dass wir durch den Schmerz, den wir heute erneut durchleben mutig werden:
Die Nackten zu kleiden,
Hungernden Essen zu geben,
Ungebildete zu lehren,
gegenseitiges Verständnis unter den Menschen zu fördern.
Und die großartigen Begabungen, mit denen Gott uns gesegnet hat, zu nutzen, um das Leben zu wählen, und eine Welt der Gerechtigkeit, der Fürsorge, des Mitgefühls und des Friedens zu schaffen. Dann verwirklichen wir die Welt, von der die Propheten träumten, indem sie sagten:
“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all of My holy mountain for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the sea bed is covered by water
And all shall sit under their vines and under their fig trees and none shall make them afraid! (Isaiah 11:9, and Micah 4:4)”
Man wird nirgends Sünde tun noch freveln auf meinem ganzen heiligen Berge; denn das Land wird voll Erkenntnis des Herrn sein, wie Wasser das Meer bedeckt (Isaiah 11:9)
Ein jeder wird unter seinem Weinstock und Feigenbaum wohnen und niemand wird sie schrecken. (Micah 4:4)


Übersetzung Ursula Sieg, Oktober 2014

Why I am Going to Germany

In a recent meeting the head of Germany’s United Jewish Appeal, Nathan Norman Gelbart, said in his address that the German Jewish community is scared “because these are things that have not occurred since 1933.”

Random attacks on Jews and Jewish groups in Europe testify that anti-Semitism is on the rise again in Europe as my wife Vickie and I prepare to embark September 14 on a ten-week stay in Germany to work in synagogues, schools, and Lutheran churches to promote greater understanding and mutual respect.

The emotional highlight of the visit will doubtless come on November 9 when I speak at the annual Kristallnacht—known in Germany as Pogromnacht—commemoration at the famed Thomaskirche in Leipzig, the magnificent church where Martin Luther once preached and where Johann Sebastian Bach served as organist and choirmaster from 1723 until he died in 1750.

My father Leo Fuchs was arrested on Kristallnacht, an event that has both haunted and inspired me since I first learned about it in 1969. When my son, Leo Fuchs—a school principal named for my father–heard that I would speak there, he immediately made arrangements to fly to Leipzig from his home in San Francisco for the occasion. My cousin Irene is also coming from London.

This will be my third visit to the city where my father was born, grew up and where (as three sterling dishes that I treasure attest) he won citywide doubles championships in table tennis in 1929, 30 and 33, the year Hitler came to power.

My first two visits could not have been more different. In 1982 I was turned away at the East German border crossing, Oebisfelde, when I naively told the passport inspector that I was a rabbi on my way to Leipzig to visit the city of my father’s youth. Only after a day long detour Berlin where I reinvented myself as an art teacher eager to visit Leipzig’s famous museums did I receive a visa.

At that time the Jewish communal headquarters in Leipzig was a tiny dusty, hard to find cramped suite of offices that I reached by climbing a creaky, narrow staircase. The head of the community informed me at the time 67 Jews lived in Leipzig. In 1935 there were 18,000, 14,000 of whom perished in the Shoah.

When Vickie and I visited in 20ll, by contrast, we found the spacious Jewish community offices in a lovely refurbished synagogue. The young rabbi of Leipzig’s Jewish community–revitalized by the arrival of hundreds of Russian immigrants—personally guided us to the places where my relatives lived.

Ursula Sieg, regional Pastor for Church-School Relations of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of North Germany, is painstakingly coordinating our upcoming pilgrimage with a packed schedule of sermons, lectures and dialogues. Her motivation is to have Germans learn about Judaism and further Germany’s yeoman efforts to promote mutual understanding and respect. She has enlisted and received moral and financial support from the  Förderverein Judentum in Schleswig-Holstein (Society for Support of Judaism in Schleswig-Holstein), the Progressive Jewish Community of Kiel and the Abraham Geiger College in Berlin and Potsdam for these efforts. We are very grateful to Pastor Sieg and all of those who are contributing to making our visit a reality.

Last winter when Pastor Sieg first proposed the idea to me, it seemed a natural step in the remarkable progress Germany has made to atone for the horrors of the Hitler era. For example in 20ll and 2012 as president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, I signed papers that helped lead to the establishment of the School of Jewish Theology at the University of Potsdam. The agreements paved the way for the formal arrangements for the German government to fully fund the new institute, which offers B.A. and M.A. programs to students from Germany and beyond, including those studying to be rabbis and cantors. I Iook forward eagerly to returning to Potsdam to lecture and interact with students and faculty at the school.

With recent developments, though, the entire timbre of my visit has changed. Now my joyful anticipation is tempered by the reality that anti-Semitism in Europe –and even in Germany where anti-Jewish demonstrations are barred by law—is surfacing once again.

“Why are you going there,” people have asked? “You will do as much good as one bailing water from a rising river with a teaspoon.” Their challenge makes me toss and turn at night. I certainly do not believe I can cure the world, Europe or specific Germans of anti-Semitism. But I am also heartened by the way the German government—beginning with Chancellor Angela Merkel–and most of the German people officially and forcefully condemn anti-Semitism.

Still I am wary. The current war in Israel and Gaza—and the world’s reaction to Israel’s efforts to protect its citizens from the terror of Hamas whose very existence is predicated on Israel’s destruction—gives credence once again to the notion that we Jews are, as the Moabite seer Balaam proclaimed long ago, “a people that dwells alone.” (Numbers 23:9)

But still I will go. I will go with joy and gratitude for the people that invited me. I will go with the knowledge that many in Germany are eager to learn about the faith and way of life that gave birth to Christianity.

On my first visit to Leipzig, I had to visit the city zoo because on Kristallnacht the Jews of the city were rounded up and made to stand in the stream that flows through it. There, former neighbors and friends spat on them, jeered them and threw mud on them. In 1982 I stood on a bridge that straddles that stream weeping inside as I imagined my father standing in the water on that horrible night in 1938.

But as I was leaving the zoo I walked past a den of timber wolves where a cub was nursing in peaceful bliss at his mother’s breast. That scene etched itself into my heart as a symbol of the harmony that God wants us to strive for in this world.

I don’t expect anti-Semitism to disappear because I will spend ten weeks in Germany, but I feel that destiny is calling me to do my best. If enough people pick up their teaspoons and join the effort we can stop the rising waters of anti-Semitism from overflowing.