Here they were again, our Israeli friends. Just before the group arrived by bus in front of the Melanchthon-Gymnasium, the tension and excitement grew more and more and we could hardly await them, only the buffet preparation distracted us a little bit. Then, they finally arrived and we could welcome our friends, who got off the bus one by one and squeezed into the narrowness of the Merkelsgasse. The joy was overwhelming!
After almost eight months we saw them again – all the familiar faces from Jerusalem. It was a very strange feeling to see them here in our cold Germany, which is the very opposite of a paradise at this time of the year. We gave them a short tour through the school building and had some delicious appetizers at our buffet, and then took "our Israelis" home, so that they could accustom themselves to the new environment.
Even though it was initially somewhat unfamiliar to have a bit of Israel in the person of my exchange student Jacob in my own home, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world after a few days. We truly connected and in the end we seemed to be a small, almost German family and it was actually hard to imagine not having him in the house any longer...
The program kept us on our toes from the first day on. After dinner and a little rest, we went straight back to school, from where we started an evening tour of Nuremberg. Mrs. KirchnerFeyerabend told us about Jewish life in the past, its medieval roots and the so called “stumbling blocks”, stones in the pavement which are supposed to remind us of the victims of the Shoa in our town. After that we went into the city, among us students only, to celebrate the arrival of our friends.
As in Jerusalem, the exchange had three parts: historical tours on NS history, the Holocaust and the relationship of Israelis to the Germans today; getting to know Nuremberg and the surrounding area in joint activities; and finally, as in Israel, making a visible sign of our friendship, the "Hortus conclusus", a joint hanging garden, which we laid out in the school’s reading garden under the conception and with help from Thomas May.
So we spent the first two mornings in the Documentation Center, where we were given a very interesting tour of the exterior as well as of the interior of the old Nazi Party Rally Grounds, at which even we Germans, who had thought that we knew all of it already, learned a lot about things we had not known so far.
However, it was a completely different feeling to go through these premises with our Jewish friends. When I was looking at a picture of concentration camp prisoners who were emaciated to the bones (this was especially visible because it was shot from an angle so that you had a side view on them), it suddenly became clear to me that all our Jewish friends, who were running around us and babbling, could have been in exactly the same position if they had been born here in Germany only a few decades earlier. With our Israeli friends alongside, the impact of the Holocaust, its stupefying brutality and incredible violence was very trying to see for us Germans.
This is especially true because the original sites are preserved in Germany, such as the memorial ground of the former KZ Flossenbürg, which we visited a few days later. It was so cruel to be constantly aware that we were standing on the exact grounds where nearly 100,000 Jews and political enemies of the Third Reich were humiliated, enslaved or even killed. This was the big difference to our tour in Israel. There, there were no original locations, but only later constructed memorials and the huge museum installations of Yad Vashem. I really cannot imagine how it must have been for the Israelis to see and listen to those stories and fates at the places where it had really happened! In Flossenbürg we also organized a personal ceremony in remembrance of the dead. In Hebrew and German, we recited poems, prayers and songs and set fire to a candle - just personally for our group. In Israel, each exchange pair had already prepared a small memorial stone with our hopes for a common future. We laid down these stones from the Dead Sea in the former quarry of a German concentration camp…
But our exchange was not always heavy and historical: we also had a really varied activity program - we definitely had a lot of fun with our impulsive Israelis. On a warm and sunny day we rented pedalos on the Woehrder Lake and some inflatable, head-high plastic balls in which we "walked" like hamsters. Actually it was less walking than continuous falling, but exactly that was all the fun! On another day, we went climbing in so called Franconian Switzerland. Although it rained in the beginning, we enjoyed the climbing and swinging in dizzy heights, when we swung like monkeys from tree to tree. And when we actually got a completely free afternoon on the fourth day, after we had visited the Human Rights Office in Nuernberg, our exchange partners wanted only one thing: shopping. They were looking for as many great souvenirs from Germany as possible! In addition, we went out every night among us students, because we had noted very quickly that you can party very well with our guests from Israel!
The weekend was a bit unusual for our guests from Jerusalem. We were invited to the Nuremberg synagogue for Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday night, but the German holiday was obviously not the subsequent Saturday, but only the Sunday. This family day was left for individual recreation. Some spent it in smaller groups, others spent it only with their families. But in the evening we all met again to play "laser tag". Whoever had the idea for it, it was awesome! We had a lot of fun and played Germans against Israelis - just to make it easier to keep the teams apart. (Which some of us Germans found a little macabre, but the Israelis found nothing about it and helped us to take it a little bit lighter). So "laser tag" also brought us back some of the serenity of all the heavy things that we had experienced in the museums. But in the end we realized: in reality it was US who met here and jointly made an exchange, and not our ancestors. Of course, it is important not to forget what happened, but above all, for us young people the moment counts and the present. We feel what is right now and what was going on in this single week with our friends coming from so far away. On that funny evening playing with these “ray guns”, we realized that we can live together without being crushed by the gravity of our common past at every moment!
This is what has made this exchange a very special encounter: the connection between the past, the present and the future. We have done, learned and experienced so much, and it depends on us what will remain in our memories.
Thus we have built a visible memory of this exchange, an equivalent to the hanging garden that we have hung up in Israel in February in the last two days of our friends’ stay. This “hortus conclusus” was opened in a solemn ceremony with our parents, the press and our friends. Concerning the musical contribution it must be said that the Israelis are almost insultingly musically talented! So we had a great ending. It was the day of their departure and the tearful farewell finally had to come. Just the thought of not seeing their faces again, after we have had so much experience with them is almost unreal and hurts. These two brief weeks with a break of eight month in between, the first in Israel and the second here in Germany, had something very special, something incomparable, for us and for the Israelis; and what will remain of all this is a special feeling, this little bit of Israel, which was brought into our lives to make our world a different one. Continuing the contact is now up to us alone – no teacher and no school will bring us together again – and whether we will ever meet again, alone or as a group is more than uncertain. But they will always remain in our memory and be in our hearts. This was our Israel.