“I see a land bright and clear,
and the time’s comin’ near
When we’ll live in this land, you and me…”

Pessach is approaching – the festival of exodus and freedom. This year, there is less talk of having the festive meal at large community gatherings. It is obvious, although unspoken, that smaller gatherings in the home make more sense. We are becoming alienated from our community centers through fear. Keep a low profile. Don’t speak Hebrew on the streets. Some people are removing the mezuzah from their front doorposts, a traditional object that visibly identifies a Jewish household. There is a mood of caution and nervous apprehension.

How did it get to this point?

Advertisement for the "Cycling Unites"-Critical-Mass-Tour in Berlin on 22 March 2015: Imam Ferid Heider and Rabbi Daniel Alter are cycling together

Advertisement with Imam Ferid Heider and Rabbi Daniel Alter for the “Cycling Unites”-Critical-Mass-Tour in Berlin on 22 March 2015, photo: Michal Friedlander

June, 2014
A drunken man rolls slowly off the train platform and plops onto the tracks at Friedrichstrasse station. Around sixty people witness the moment and look away, hoping that someone else will solve the stinky, awkward problem. And so it was. An Italian and an Israeli jumped down to haul the semi-conscious man to safety. The passengers walked around the startled little group, pressing forward to make the oncoming train.

July 2014
Dinner party small talk. The discussions nearest me are taking a more political turn and I am just not in the mood to talk about Israel. Too late. The young man next to me asks if I saw the recent pro-Palestinian demonstration on the Kurfürstendamm? He becomes very still and lowers his voice.  continue reading

“Remember, remember…” a date in November

The 9th of November was not a day of national commemoration in England, where I grew up. We had to

“Remember, remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot…”

A few man are standing around talking to each other

The Gunpowder Plot Conspirators, unknown engraver, ca. 1605-1606

This was the date on which Guy Fawkes, a Catholic renegade, dramatically failed to blow up London’s House of Lords. This cultural memory has been faithfully preserved for over 400 years. However, the 9th of November never went unremarked in our household. It was always referred to in German with a shudder: “Kristallnacht,” a name and concept for which no English equivalent exists.

Moving to Germany in 2001, I was surprised to discover that the 9th of November was indeed a day when the organized pogroms against Jews in Germany in 1938 were discussed in the media and commemorative events were held.  continue reading

Forgotten Women Artists

An Appeal for Recognition and Dignity

“We used to throw stones at her – we thought she was a witch.” With these words, a former resident of Rishon LeZion ruefully told me of her childhood encounters with the sculptor and doll maker, Edith Samuel. Edith wore her long, dark, European skirts under the searing Middle Eastern sun and suffered from a physical deformity. The daughter of a liberal German rabbi, Edith and her sister Eva were both artists who left their home city of Essen in the 1930s and immigrated to Palestine.

photo of a pottery wheel and other equipment

The pottery wheel belonging to Paula Ahronson, Eva Samuel’s business partner, is preserved in private hands and untouched since her death in 1998
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Michal Friedlander

The Samuel sisters worked long hours, struggled to earn a living and did not gain the recognition that they deserved, during their lifetimes. The exhibition “Tonalities” at the Jewish Museum Berlin aims to bring forgotten women artists back into the public arena. It presents Eva Samuel’s works and that of other women ceramicists who were forced to leave Germany after 1933.

My search for transplanted German, Jewish women in the applied arts began many years prior to my encounter with the Samuel sisters. It was Emmy Roth who first captured my attention. Born in 1885, Roth was an exceptionally talented and internationally successful silversmith, who worked in Berlin. She immigrated to Palestine and fell into obscurity, ultimately taking her own life in 1942. Her male refugee colleagues, Ludwig Wolpert and David Gumbel, were appointed to teach metalwork at the Jerusalem New Bezalel School of Art in the late 1930s. They are feted in Israel today, whereas Roth is still completely unknown there.  continue reading