By Elizaveta Zaidman, WJC Ronald S. Lauder Fellow
On 9 October 2019 – on the day of Yom Kippur - an armed right-wing extremist tried to attack a synagogue in the German town of Halle and failed due to pure coincidence. He proceeded to shoot two bystanders while livestreaming the entire attack. That day, one of the worst nightmares of German Jews came true.
Because it was Yom Kippur, the Halle Synagogue had also invited a group of Jews from Berlin to take part at the prayer. This year, Jews from Halle and from Berlin stand together once again, this time as witnesses in court.
I was at university when the news of the attack reached us, and, while no one quite knew what was happening, the only feeling I had that day was loneliness. We all felt lost, angry and discouraged. And I felt utterly alone.
In the aftermath of Halle, I attended my first demonstration in the center of Berlin. Thirteen- thousand people chanted, sang and marched against antisemitism and hatred. Together, we commemorated the innocent victims. For the first time since the attack, the feeling of crippling loneliness subsided. I decided not to let it hold me back again.
The following week, I went to Berlin’s Fraenkelufer synagogue for Sukkot. In light of the attack, the synagogue was full like never before. I could see the mark of loneliness I felt myself on everyone’s face upon their arrival, but with each hug and warm welcome, our loneliness dissipated. Our horrific shared experience bonded us in an incredibly powerful way. It was clear that together, our community would overcome this tragedy.
Times of crises have an innate ability to bring about loneliness. This is a familiar feeling in the COVID-19 era. The pandemic has disrupted our way of life and isolated us in unprecedented ways.
The entire world was overcome with this sense of destabilization in 2020, but the Jewish community, disseminated in the world and not having a true home for almost 2000 years, has known this feeling for a long time now.
And because we do, we don’t give in to it. The discouragement has no place in our hearts – but hope does. We take each other’s hand – perhaps, rather metaphorically in the current situation – and do our best to give to the world what we can, so that this feeling of unity can include our greater community. Following the attack, the Jewish Student Union of Germany (JSUD) collected over 13,000 Euros in donations for Ismet Tekin, the owner of the kebab shop in Halle where an innocent visitor was murdered. “We believe in a multicultural society in this country,” states JSUD on their Facebook page. We are committed to this principle – and we are ready to prove it.
This Erev Rosh Hashana, I was honored to attend a socially distanced, but warm service at the Berlin headquarters of Hillel Germany – “Base Berlin”, a pluralistic Jewish home, whose hosts, his rabbis Jeremy Borowitz and Rebecca Blady, make it feel like a true home for each and every guest. Rebecca and Jeremy were also part of the group of Jews who came to Halle from Berlin that day, almost a year ago. Jeremy raises glass and tells us that this was an awful year, but his voice doesn’t tremble when he says so. He looks content – mostly because 5780 has finally come to an end. Rebecca will become a mother for the second time in the new year of 5781. She says that this evening actually feels like a holiday, which, given the circumstances, she didn’t believe it would.
But it does feel like a true holiday. On this Rosh Hashana, we all share a meal yet again. We sing, we talk, and we pray. And I do not feel lonely anymore.
Elizaveta Zaidman is a WJC Ronald S. Lauder Fellow and is currently studying at the University of Potsdam in Berlin, Germany.
Watch WJC's commemoration event, remembering one year since the Yom Kippur attack at Halle.