Encountering Peace: From Berlin to Jerusalem

Berlin has a rapidly growing Israeli population, mostly young people who are here studying, working or just enjoying the freedom that this multifaceted city has to offer.

German Reichstag Parliament_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
German Reichstag Parliament_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
My El Al frequent flyer points had to be used or I would lose them, the agent on the phone at the frequent flyer club said. Spontaneously, I decided to see Berlin as a tourist. It is one of the most interesting cities in Europe today, culturally and physically one of the most rapidly developing, and also one of the cheaper places in Europe to visit.
Berlin has a rapidly growing Israeli population, mostly young people who are here studying, working or just enjoying the freedom that this multifaceted city has to offer.
A couple of young Israeli entrepreneurs have linked up with an enterprise of local walking tours, “Insider Tours,” which offer daily tours in Hebrew.
The three tours I took were fantastic – our guides were Israeli students living in Berlin – an opera singer, a film maker and a student doing an MA in the history of the Nazi period enlightened with their rich insights, overwhelming knowledge and depth and their ability to know what an Israeli audience would be most interested in.
The other Israelis who joined the tours were all interesting people themselves, who were not mainly interested in a European shopping experience but rather in the people, culture and complex history of this amazing city. Berlin is a magnet that draws our young people to become part of the multicultural, diverse world that has emerged here.
As a Jerusalemite it is quite easy to start making comparisons. It goes far beyond the “east” and the “west” (although almost every time I said “east Berlin” it seemed to come out first as “east Jerusalem.” One could also easily speak about the “wall,” the one that fell here in Berlin, and that one that was erected in Jerusalem, but of course there is no real comparison and the two walls exist/ed in completely different contexts.
Nonetheless, both walls interefere/d with urban realities, separate/d families and relatives, separate/d economies, prevent/ed contact, embody/ied different governments. Both cities – Jerusalem and Berlin – were/are the heart of their nations (in Germany the heart of one nation, in Jerusalem the heart of two).
Both cities greatly suffer/ed because of being divided. Berlin is now united, Jerusalem is called united, but it is not. Berlin is a city that now symbolizes the peace of Europe, Jerusalem is the city that symbolizes the continuous conflict between Israel and Palestine, Jews and Arabs, Jews and Muslims.
The removal of the wall in Berlin let loose a creative energy whose surge is felt in the passion for life and freedom in this city. The erection of the wall in Jerusalem, made necessary because of suicide bombings, stifles understanding and eliminates tolerance and drains the potential creative energy out of our great city.
Berlin is a city with the darkest and ugliest past that humankind has known and fostered.
The stain on the soul of Berlin will never be removed and will always remain as an indelible mark, a signpost that all Germans must see and which must guide them since those dark times. Berlin lives in the shadows of its past and we as Jews touring its streets are constantly aware of what happened to our people in this place.
The Shoah cannot be compared to any other reality at any other time. It is in a class of its own and I am in no way drawing comparisons.
Being in Berlin made me think about the potential of Jerusalem. Our city’s name is “the city of peace” yet it is anything but. I love Jerusalem and when friends and people I know leave for Tel Aviv or other parts of Israel I feel angry that they are deserting, that they are giving in to the pressures one feels in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is the city of conflicts. Every conflict that exists in Israel exists in Jerusalem. As if under a magnifying glass, Jerusalem’s conflicts and tensions demonstrate the lack of tolerance that exists in our country. We really are not taught to appreciate and to celebrate the diversity that we are blessed with. We are encouraged to live in our small and individuals enclaves and not to wander to experience the life of “others” within our boundaries.
When people unlike us move into our neighborhoods we feel as if an invasion is under way, we feel in jeopardy and endangered, that our way of life will be threatened.
We are all fighting to protect our small piece of turf, drawing as many defined border lines as possible because we are well aware that while the motto “live and let live” may apply for places like Berlin, it certainly does not apply to Jerusalem.
I remember a field study I conducted when on the Young Judaea Year Course in Jerusalem in 1974. We had to walk through different neighborhoods in Jerusalem. We had to knock on doors, speak to people, find out where they came from, identify smells, styles of dress, accents, languages, lifestyles, etc. We did it in west Jerusalem and some of us ventured into east Jerusalem as well. It was the best research project I ever did. I came to understand that Jerusalem was a mosaic of civilizations that composed a complex and mystifying picture. Like a mosaic, removing any single piece makes a hole and destroys the whole.
I love Jerusalem, the whole of Jerusalem – that is what makes me understand and appreciate the value of every single piece.
That is why I can understand that in order to be whole, Jerusalem’s unity cannot be forced upon those who don’t want it, because then it is a false unity. Jerusalem will only be really unified when the Palestinians are also free in Jerusalem and when their part of Jerusalem is part of their state. When that happens Jerusalem will be unified in spirit and in reality – with a border on the map, but not on the ground, dividing and separating like an eight-meter-high wall.
When that happens we will be able to apply our creative energies to build the new Jerusalem which can then become the center of tolerance and understanding between peoples. Like the mosaic floor map of Jerusalem in Madaba, Jerusalem will be the center of the world, where people come to celebrate the diversity we are blessed with. Jerusalem will then invite artists, architects, builders, musicians, writers, teachers, spiritual leaders, scientists, inventors, creators – people of all cultures and civilizations, and they will come and be part of the light that Jerusalem could shed on the world.
The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, a radio host on All for Peace Radio and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.