A Weekend of Opposites, or Was It?

Friday morning began in Berlin, Germany, at 7:00 a.m.

Stephen and I met with a young American, a son of rabbis, who is now living and working in Berlin.  At 8:30 Steve led morning worship at Geiger College with young rabbinical and cantorial students thirsty for the knowledge he was imparting, and eager for connections with other Jewish people.  I love meeting with these students and learning about their personal histories and why they have chosen to become Jewish leaders in Europe.  I left to go walking and shopping, while Stephen then conducted a three hour seminar.

The pastoral scenery on our afternoon train ride to Leipzig helped soothe our always emotional entry into that historic city.

We were greeted on the railroad platform by a wonderful German Lutheran pastor, Timotheus Arndt, who has for each of our recent visits to Leipzig, eased our way into the city.  He drove us to our destination as guests of the wonderful Pfarerin of the Thomaskirche, and then picked us up again at 6:30 to bring us to a Lutheran church social hall where the Pastorin Angela Langford-Stefan at that church had organized a Shabbat dinner for us.

Outreach and making connections are among their goals, so whereas in some parts of Germany, Catholics and Lutherans go their separate ways, members of the Catholic community were invited to participate in the dinner.  Stephen spoke about many aspects of Shabbat and explained the week’s Torah portion. Then we lit candles, sang the kiddush, and ate a most delicious challah.  Dinner was pot luck, and people brought delicious vegetarian delicacies that they had made.

One particular dish was made with grated carrots, raisins, apples, and almonds. I commented at the end that that dish reminded me of one my mother used to make when I was s child.  As we were leaving, a man who had been previously grumping  around and had smiled for no one, walked up to me, puffed out his chest, and said “I made that salad”. Full of smiles, he proceeded to tell me, in German, exactly how he had made it.

Saturday morning we went to services at the Orthodox shul, were warmly welcomed, and treated to a wonderful meal in the sukkah after services. I was thrilled to see that there were quite a number of young families there, in fact two families brought infants.  The large sukkah was full of people talking, laughing, and eating.  My heart was full of joy to see and be a part of this!

Next stop: the Thomaskirche (where J.S. Bach was organist and choirmaster). It used to be a Catholic Church but after the reformation became a Lutheran church.  There we went to a Motet service, with music provided by members of the magnificent Gevanthouse orchestra of Leipzig, the boys choir, the adult choir, and several soloists whose voices were incredible.  The church seats 1,800 people.  Every seat was full, and the standing room areas were also filled to the brim.  When the 2000 voices of congregation sang full throttle with the choir and the organ, the sound was really something to behold.

After the Motet Pastor Robert Moore and his lovely wife, Kathy, invited us for coffee and cake.  Coffee and cake in late afternoon is a German custom that I really enjoy. Robert and Kathy are from the US but are living in Leipzig for the next several years educating groups of people who come from English speaking countries about Lutheran life in Leipzig and the surrounding areas.

Later, in the brisk evening air we walked with the fabulous Pfarrarin of the Thomaskirche, Britta Taddiken, until we found a restaurant that had room for us three.  We were turned away at four, all packed to the gills (note to self, make reservations in advance next time) until we found one at last, and it was quite delicious.

After dinner, Pfarrarin Taddiken took us on a walking tour of the city, and as we toured the campus of the University of Leipzig, I realized that my grandmother must have walked these same streets 100 years ago when she was a student at this university.

On Sunday evening at the 6:00 evening service at the Thomaskirche, Stephen had the honor of delivering the sermon.  Unlike the sermon he gave there on Krystallnacht two years ago in German (for which he practiced the entire day before under the tutelage of Pastorin Ursula Sieg) he planned to give this one in English.  The text was written out, and translated into German by Ursula Sieg so that it could be given out as a handout to the congregants and they could follow along as he spoke if they needed to.

But

Although we went to sleep at a relatively normal hour Saturday night, neither Stephen nor I could sleep. In the parsonage, we had separate small bedrooms, and when I couldn’t sleep, I decided to read quietly in the living room.  When I got there at about 3:00 a.m., I noticed a light under the closed door in his room, so I knocked.  He looked at me with his huge beautiful blue eyes, and said, “You won’t believe this.  I just received this email. You have to read it!” So I sat down on his bed and read.

Soon tears were filling my eyes.  This is amazing, I agreed.  

The letter was from a young man, also originally from New Jersey, who was living in Leipzig with his wife and son.  He and his wife had met at University in England more than 20 years before.  That night, he was googling his own name to see if there were any new news reports about any of the of his upcoming art shows.

His name? Stephen Lewis! 

He came upon the article by Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs, in which he wrote about the trip he made to Leipzig to see the city of his father’s birth, and went to the river by the zoo, because that is where, he had read, that they took the Jews on Krystallnacht, November 9, 1938. That night the German government destroyed beautiful, historic synagogues all over Germany and looted and destroyed Jewish stores.  Stephen Lewis Fuchs wanted to see where they took his father.  It was a very emotional trip for him, and his writings about that trip were emotional as well.

The young man, Stephen Lewis became very emotional when he read the account, late Saturday night.

You see, when he first moved to Leipzig, he lived in an apartment below an elderly couple with whom he made friends, and for whom he carried groceries and did small jobs that would have been difficult for them.  They became close, and one evening when the wife had gone out, the old man began telling Stephen, the young artist, about an event many years before.

He told him of his best friend growing up, how he and his Jewish friend were inseparable and did so many things together.  With tears in his eyes, and visibly shaking, the old man told Stephen about the night that the Jews were rounded up and taken to the stream by the zoo.  He went there and was standing in the street in utter disbelief.  Then when he saw a Nazi soldier peeing down on the Jews, he yelled and said, “How can you do that, are you crazy? These are human beings” at which point he was struck and knocked to the ground.  Then what did he see, but his best friend, down there, standing in the stream.  They locked eyes.  And he could do nothing to help him.

For so many years this now old man had held on to his grief, his shame, and his guilt. But he told the story to the young artist, Stephen.

Stephen Lewis read about Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs’ father after midnight, on the one weekend that we were in Leipzig, in the wee hours of the morning of the day that Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs was to speak at the famous church.

Rabbi Stephen wrote back immediately and invited Stephen to attend the service.  The artist wrote back that he wouldn’t miss it for anything.  We all had chills.  Rabbi Stephen reconstructed his speech to include this in his talk.  Those who could not understand the English, read the prepared sermon in German. Those who could understand were also amazed, and touched.

At this service were new friends, as well as friends we had made last year.  Stephen invited the new and old friends to join us for a dinner in a nearby restaurant and that brought the weekend to a close.

This was quite a weekend.  One I shall always treasure, and never forget.

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