My paternal grandparents, Max and Hilda Guttmann, grew up Sudaetenland, a German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia. German was just of one of many languages they spoke. They learned Czech because it allowed them to communicate in a beautiful language with the majority population. They learned Hebrew after they fled to Palestine in 1939. They learned English after immigrating to the United States in 1956. But German was the family language everywhere they made a home.
I grew up hearing German and the language became part of my deep connection to my grandmother. Passing on the family language was important to me, and Gary and I raised our kids, Mia and Sage, bilingually.
Nine years ago we moved to Hamburg for a semester. Mia and Sage attended German public schools and we had some great adventures.
During the high holidays, we went to services at the one synagogue in Hamburg. Passing the machine-gun wielding guards and high gates protecting the synagogue was a bit daunting. But even more bewildering was the scene inside. As women, we sat upstairs, behind banisters too high to see over when seated. Downstairs, black-clad orthodox men huddled, davening in prayer. There was no rabbi on the bimah. Around us, the women kvetched in German, Russian, or Hebrew – mostly oblivious to whatever service was going on. This was a Jewish community reduced by history to its lowest common denominator.
I tried to explain the experience to my non-Jewish friends this way: Imagine that there was just one church in all of Seattle – a city half the size of Hamburg. Mennonites, Coptic Christians, 7th Day Adventists, Catholics, Southern Baptists, Mormons, and Quakers all praying together. It’s a nice vision of unity, but it doesn’t leave much room for pluralism.
It’s a lovely thing to come together under one big tent, but I also value being part of a community that gets to define itself, a community that represents my way of being Jewish.
When we moved back to Seattle, one of the first things we did was join Kol HaNeshamah. We had been interlopers for a year or so prior to leaving for Germany and no one had ever pressured us to become members. But suddenly I felt compelled. It became clear having the critical mass to be in a community that embraces my kind of Jewishness is a luxury – and one I’m willing to pay for. Over the last decade, I’ve chosen to support KHN with my time and energy- as a board member and as a volunteer at holidays and simchas. We also chose to support KHN financially to the extent that we are able. Because everyone – of every faith deserves to have a community that feels like home – not just a community reduced to its lowest common denomination.
Looking around, I see so many faces I have come to know and love. Whether you are here as a member or a guest, I hope you feel at home here. If you do, support your right to denomination. I have three asks of you:
- Bring yourself, your time, and your energy to KHN. Find something that interests you – a holiday, an event, or a project and help make it happen. We need you.
- Contribute what you can. Every home needs a strong foundation and constant maintenance. Give often, give as generously as you can.
- Tell people about KHN. If you know people who are looking for a Jewish home, let them know about us help them feel as welcome here as you do.
Please do your part to support Kol HaNeshamah in any way you can. Contribute your time, your money, and your presence so that we all – and every other denomination – have a community that feels like home.