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A Jewish expat mom in America
The anticipation of a posting is different for everyone. Expat mom Nadine, at home with her husband and child in Philadelphia for over a year, was enthusiastic about the prospect of being able to participate in the rich Jewish life in the USA. I talked to her about her everyday life as a Jewish family on both sides of the Atlantic and how an expat suddenly realizes what should be normal.
"Normal is unusual" - an interview
e / m: Dear Nadine, I have to admit that my year in the USA opened my eyes in one respect: that everyday Jewish life is practically invisible to ordinary consumers in Germany. In America, many foods have labels indicating whether they are kosher, and greeting cards and decorative items can be bought everywhere before the Jewish holidays. I have never come across this in any major German supermarket.
N: Yes, I really enjoy simply adding everything I need for Jewish holidays Target to get ... that is really missing in Germany. And so it also seems that there is actually no Jewish life at all. And then almost everything, or at least a great deal that one hears about Jews as a non-Jew, has to do with the Holocaust and dead Jews.
Perhaps one knows Jews after all and just doesn't know it. We don't go out and say: “Hi, I'm Nadine. I am a Jew… ”and even if many people always think that Jews can be recognized by their outward appearance: Forget it!
Here in the USA it is very strange, positively funny, when you suddenly see other customers who also buy items for Jewish holidays, or kosher meat. And nobody says a word about it, nobody looks. Not at the checkout, not the other customer next door. It's usually so normal that it seems strange.
“It is exactly what we actually want. Total normality. It's just so strange. "
e / m: Since then I have asked myself: Where do you buy Jewish holiday decorations in Germany? Do you have to go to special shops for this?
N: Mostly, unfortunately, yes, of necessity, if there are any at all. The market is just not there. As well as after the holocaust. Even in the big city of Berlin, for example. It has the largest Jewish community in Germany - and yet only around 11,000 members today compared to just under 500,000 beforeShoah.
Then there are again roughly estimated - exact numbers are not available - 10,000 Israelis who currently live in Berlin, but mostly do not belong to any community because they do not know, want or need the construct. But that's a very lively, young Jewish community.
And anyway, many Jews are not religious either. Many of my friends also eat pork or seafood.
e / m: Do you eat a kosher diet?
N: No, we don't eat kosher either. Rather, we have established our “own dietary laws” at home, which are composed of traditional Jewish dietary laws and our modern life and possibilities for the purpose of space in the kitchen and such. There are also practical reasons for this, but it is mainly an instrument for ourselves, as part of our Jewish identity and to make us aware of it on a daily basis.
So many find their own ways, which are often not religious. So the demand for kosher food, for example, is rather low. Almost all of them celebrate the holidays anyway and carry on certain traditions. Just like many Germans celebrate Christmas or Easter and then some don't even know why.
e / m: And what about decorations and other things for the Jewish holidays? Where could you go shopping in Germany?
N: As I said, there are only very few shops in Berlin where you can buy holiday items: the Jewish bookstore, which has Jewish literature as well as Jewish holiday cards or the like, comes to mind, or the Jewish Museum, or the Centrum Judaicum.
Maybe there are now a few more that I don't know about because I moved from Berlin to Düsseldorf seven years ago. There is also a kosher grocery store, for example ... and even an Edeka in the city center that has a kosher corner.
In other cities with less (lively) Jewish life, however, it is even more difficult. And in these shops you usually don't get everything anyway, or in the selection that would be nice.
e / m: How did you manage then?
N: Usually you can only order a lot online, from Israel or the USA. In this respect, we are now at the source.
Most of the time, you bring all sorts of things with you from your next Israel or New York trip or have friends bring it with you. Just like we do personalized onesKippot (Plural for Kippa, note by the editor) for our wedding from our cousin from Brooklyn.
On the other hand, as far as that is concerned, it is now simply heavenly: Are the candles for themChannukia - the candlestick for the festival of lights - everyone? Easy toACME (Supermarket in Pennsylvania)!
The crumb represents Hanukkah, the festival of lights, in the daycare and we need decorations and presents? Easy to Target!
Gift bags with "Happy Hanukkah“, Coins for thatDreidelGame (a top, the traditional game at Hanukkah) filled with candy or chocolate coins, wrapping paper, pennants, serviettes, candlesticks, candles, greeting cards, a grandma dance doll singing in Hebrew ... no problem.
And now before that Passover-Fest can be found at the discounter Trader Joe’s naturally with large displays Matzo, unleavened bread, a kind of crispbread.
e / m: You moved from Düsseldorf to Philadelphia as an expat family a good year ago. As with all expats, your everyday life has changed in many ways. Is there also a difference in how you deal with your faith in everyday life?
N: Yeah ... actually a lot was planned differently. As with most of them. The lockdown and the pandemic also have profound effects on us, beyond the already existing changes in everyday life in a new country. Everyday religious life is of course only one aspect, but it is related to all the others.
WithSocial distancing and a lot is not possible without events. The diversity in Judaism was one of the reasons why we could very well imagine spending time abroad in the USA. I used to work for the Jewish community in Berlin for four years. I met my husband while volunteering for a Jewish organization. It is therefore a fundamental part.
We wanted to look for a congregation that suited us, go to the synagogue much more regularly, maybe find a Jewish kindergarten for the crumbs or other "toddler classes“.
"We were especially looking forward to the diversity of Jewish life here in the USA."
There are so many different directions - from ultra-orthodox to super modern and reform, everything is represented much more extensively here than in Germany.
There are different directions in Germany, too, but here too: the smaller the city, the fewer offers. In Philly, even in the suburbs, within a 15-20 minute drive you have several synagogues and parishes with completely different directions and rites. You can - theoretically - take a look at everything and find the one that suits you. If there is an inter-familial agreement.
My husband and I have heated discussions about this… when one - born in Odessa - went to an orthodox boys' school for four years, which has shaped him, and the other, after careful consideration, in the traditionally conservative, but not -orthodox process converted to Judaism ... I tell you ... the synagogue search is more possible on the basis of exclusion: what do I categorically reject, what does he categorically reject. And then, after extensive negotiations, we meet somewhere in the middle. Hihi.
e / m: Did you come to an agreement and found a church?
N: Well, since the lockdown started exactly two weeks after our arrival here, we were able to visit exactly one synagogue. That's it.
Since then there have only been church services - if at all outdoor in the large event tent, and only for members. You can become a member, but you have to take out an annual membership, which costs a lot of money here. You don't even do that without knowing whether the church suits you at all and whether you feel good.
Most synagogues anyway only do everything online using zoom or something similar. But since we can't and don't want to sit in front of the computer for one and a half to three hours with the crumbs every Friday and / or Saturday, we haven't attended a church service for a year.
But we celebrate the every Friday evening Shabbat-Entrance and all holidays. We're home anyway. These are usually only celebrated in a very sociable manner in large groups with friends and family.
"So holidays alone, no church services, no congregation ... it really makes us cry."
But at least you can quickly find the right candles and cards Target buy, we try to enjoy little things.
And there is oneChabad- Parish (Chabad Lubavitch is a certain Orthodox branch of Judaism) five minutes drive from our house. This is usually not the church we would go to regularly, but this is the second time we have attended a very small, open, outdoor event for a public holiday. After all…
e / m: How do you get accepted as a Jew from Germany? Do you fight against prejudice? According to the motto: how can you live there as a Jew?
N: No, never before. But because of Corona, we didn't get to know so many people here either. But you hardly hear that.
You hear a lot more “Ah, Germany! My grandma / aunt / XY is from Germany. ”Or something. Many have friends, family and ancestors from Germany.
"Today's" Germany is seen from the outside as more worth living in.
“In view of the terrifying political developments in Germany with the AfD and the increasing number of anti-Semitic attacks, you are more likely to hear sayings from (Jewish) friends living in Germany. Something like, “USA! Good decision. Better stay there! "
e / m: The pandemic year has once again fueled terrible conspiracy theories against the supposedly world-ruling Judaism. As with the plague in the Middle Ages, one looks for a scapegoat in the Jews. And Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene publicly ranted that Jews with space lasers were responsible for the devastating fires in California. How do you experience this news?
N: Puhhh ... very different. Most of the time I find it so far removed from reality and ridiculous that I don't even listen or think about it.
But neither have I been confronted with it in my life, or have been attacked or insulted in an anti-Semitic way. Many are certainly very concerned about this.
“But incidents like the attack on the synagogue in Halle, where some of my Berlin friends were directly affected and we also went to the synagogue in Düsseldorf, then you realize how close everything is. Suddenly it's at your door. That wasn't easy. "
Squadrons quickly turn into real violence. And then you get scared and ask yourself: How much can you dismiss, ignore it? How often can or must you try to talk about it, to draw attention to it, to enlighten? And when do you just have to run away? And if so, where?
As you said, there are enough anti-Semites and more and more violent incidents here too. Then I painfully realize how difficult it is to decide when to leave home. And how it must have fared German Jews when Hitler came to power, why many stayed longer than one would expect. It's very complex.
But in general I can only say about the conspiracy theory of the world domination of the Jews: I have experienced both sides: non-Jewish and Jewish. And when I was accepted into Judaism, nobody gave me a space laser or world domination. Unfortunately ... haha.
e / m: What could each and every one of us do better to oppose these agitators?
N: I think there are very basic things that can be considered in everyday dealing with anti-Semitism and racism in general. This includes: thinking! And open your mouth!
First of all, everyone has to start with themselves. Often you use words, clichés, or make jokes that are offensive, racist and / or anti-Semitic. Even if you don't mean it, they are.
Now and then I hear - also from acquaintances - how “typically Jewish” it is for my husband to compare prices. Many do not understand that such statements are of anti-Semitic origin, or at least use anti-Semitic clichés. And the fact that they “don't mean it” doesn't make the statements any better.
So listen, read, and think before saying such things. And everyone can and must work on themselves. I, you, all of us. Because we all grew up with such stereotypes or have been shaped by them by our culture, which have never been questioned, but are racist or anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim ... or or ... are.
And the next step is to open your mouth. I still do that far too little.
If someone says something like that, then you have to make him aware of it, even if he thinks you are sensitive or exaggerated.
“But I admit that I often overhear it and smile at it. Exactly the wrong thing, actually. "
But I know how hard it is. It is also not easy to criticize people and induce them to change their behavior. But you have to start small.
In any case, in my opinion, it works best if we start with our children. They will do everything much better then. Because the more people create an awareness of this in their children and raise them to be open people, who are more careful with their language and their thoughts, and who are less afraid of “foreigners”, the harder it will be for agitators and racists.
e / m: What do you think your personal balance sheet will look like after your time in the USA?
N: Definitely positive. I've always wanted to go abroad, especially the USA, but so far I've never had the chance. Therefore, despite the difficult situation, I am very grateful for it.
We have learned a lot about ourselves - everyone about themselves and also as a family. We had to fight our way through, but also got a lot. The chance to live in a house outside the city.
Der Krümel is learning a third language in a very international daycare group. We have in spite ofSocial distancing made new friends.
I hope that we will soon have the opportunity to let our friends and family from Germany participate in our life here and that they can visit us. And I would have liked to save a lot of homesickness and depression. But we have to go through everywhere anyway.
And by nature I'm someone who looks back less regretfully and more forward and looking at what he has gained from everything. Even if a lot could have gone better or easier or different without a pandemic, everything has a reason and I don't want to miss this experience. And if it is "only" to serve as an exciting story that we tell our grandchildren when they ask: "Omi, what were you doing when the corona pandemic happened back then?"
e / m: Dear Nadine, thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions. I wish you all the best for your future time in the USA. Stay healthy!
If you want to read more from Nadine, you should definitely check out her blog "Village mom on tour" subscribe to.
Jonna Struwe, freelance writer, blogger and founder of Expatmamas.de, the portal for families abroad
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