This post is out of order chronologically but was written right after my visit.
On Friday I went to Sinsheim, a town near to Eppingen to speak to students in a variety of classes. This was set up by Jutta, another Centropa teacher, who is the Catholic Religious Education director. A short train ride away from Eppingen I was met by Jutta at the train station and whisked off to her school. She was an excellent hostess and made sure I had all I needed.
The first class I was in was a year 7 religious education class. The students did not know I was coming and so were not prepared with questions, but they warmed up as the class period passed and in the end we ran over. The school has a collection of Jewish ritual items and I was able to use these, along with my own Tallis and tefillin, to discuss Torah reading, Hanukkah candle lighting and the commandment for placing a mezuzah at your doorpost and to wear Tallis and tefillin.
One student was curious about translation of the original Hebrew into other languages and we talked about the missing Nun line in Ashrei (Ashrei is an acrostic but does not have a line for the letter Nun (n) in the Masoretic text version) that was is present in the Dead Sea Scrolls psalms scroll. This shows that copying errors can be made and then replicated for centuries. This class was also interested in the nature of sin in Judaism and I talked about personal responsibility for fixing one’s missteps and the importance of the High Holy Days in reminding one of the importance of this. They had a tiny shofar that I was only able to get a very irritating squeal out of. Fortunately I have a video of me blowing the shofar and I was able to let them listen to this so they could hear what the blasts are meant to sound like.
It was interesting to me that one of the students knew about Lilith and asked if all Jews consider Lillith to be the first woman instead of Eve. I did my best to explain the concept of midrash and its role in Judaism. Not sure if I was successful, but I assured her that the majority of Jews would consider Eve the first woman.
My second class was an English class of older students who had voted that they wanted me to come and were excited to ask me questions about my life in the US. Again the striking down of Roe v Wade came up and I was asked how I felt about the issue of abortion. I was also asked if I felt unsafe in a country with so many guns and if antisemitic violence was a big problem. I was asked what was my favorite thing about the US and I had to think hard about what I could say that they would understand. We had already talked about the loss of rights for women, about racism, about the issue with guns, and about how expensive higher education is, so I was feeling like I needed to say something a bit more positive. I said that I loved the “idea” of what the US was meant to be – a melting pot where all were welcome and could make a new life and find success. But that right now it was only an idea and working to make it a reality for all was important.
It is interesting the things that they know about the US and what is happening in our culture and society. One student asked about “pronouns” and why there was such a big deal about them. I explained that the idea of everyone sharing their pronouns was meant to normalize this so that those whose were not obvious were not singled out in having to share theirs. I talked about having trans students and how beautifully the other students accepted these classmates and that it gave me hope for our future.
The third group was a mixture of 9th grade religious education students and were quite quiet. It took some prompting to get them to ask questions, but we ended up having a very meaningful conversation. One boy was clearly from a very religious family and thought deeply about his own practice. I was going to show them tefillin and wanted to have them think about what how they would interpret the verses that resulted in Jews wearing Tefillin – “bind them as a sign upon your arm, and they shall be as a reminder between your eyes.” This young man gave the most beautiful answer “that you should use the strength of your arms to do God’s work and should keep God in your mind and in how you look at the world.” WOW! I then showed them tefillin and said that it was certainly the goal that wearing this very literal interpretation of this commandment was that you would do those things, but that his more active interpretation was lovely.
This same boy asked me “What do you think of Jesus?” I answered that he was a teacher who had his own take on how to be Jewish and had many teachings, which came from Judaism, about being a good person. I said that I did not think he meant to start a new religion, that it was Paul who took it that direction. He then said “So, not the son of God?” I smiled and said “If I thought Jesus was the son of God, I would be a Christian, not a Jew. Belief in this is what is required to be a Christian.” He smiled and agreed with this.
After we were done with the classes, Jutta, my hostess, took me to see the small old synagogue in the nearby village of Steinsfurt – this was where I was supposed to go on Sunday when I was on the wrong platform and missed my train – twice. I was so glad she was able to take me to it now. It is a small building and the interior is still much like it would have been when it was a synagogue. The courtyard outside has stones in honor of each of the populations targeted by the Nazis. Jutta shared that there is a mikveh under the courtyard. They do not have the money to excavate and preserve it currently and so having it covered is the safest for now. She also shared how the building survived Kristallnacht Pogrom because it had been sold to a German neighbor who came out and stopped those who would have destroyed it. “This is a German building now. It is my property. Leave it alone.” That this had to happen in a very small village here shows how widespread this “spontaneous” expression of outrage was.
It was again a lovely thing to see the people who live here working to preserve the heritage and property of a community that is no longer here. Jutta is Catholic and very involved in her own church and community, but is also involved in preserving and restoring Jewish sites. She also works with refugees and has a young man that has lived with her family for seven years who is a refugee. Jutta has also been trying to get Stolpersteine – “stumbling stone” – memorials placed outside the former homes of Jewish families in Sinsheim. She has met some resistance and is planning to have her students work on this project as it will be more acceptable to the community if it comes from the young people rather than adults. I wish her luck on this undertaking. It was lovely getting to know her and see the good work that is being done in this community.