As a girl I longed to visit Europe. Heidi’s Alps, Hans Christian Anderson’s Denmark, Gigi’s Paris, and Holland of The Winged Watchman had all captured my imagination. How I wanted to see them with my own eyes! Then I learned more and more Jewish history. My desire waned. There was just one place I hadn’t given up on and that was Jesberg, Germany.
A small village, about an hour’s drive from Frankfort, it wasn’t a tourist spot. My sole desire to go there was because it was the birthplace of my father and his home until 1937 when he fled the Nazis at age seventeen. Pictures and stories of his life there only whetted my appetite to see Jesberg.
|The Synagogue in Jesberg with my father and his cousin, Jack, circa 1944|
Although I knew in my heart that one day I would visit the place that had been my family’s home for generations I wasn’t sure how my dream could come to fruition. It all came together after I married. Three months following our wedding my husband and I had our so-called honeymoon. We sold our car, bought tickets to Israel, worked on a kibbutz for two-and-a-half months, toured for a fortnight, and then flew home by way of Frankfort, Germany.
My husband hadn’t been overly enthusiastic about visiting the country. In fact, he was only going along with the adventure to please me, his young wife. I’d planned the stop carefully. Before even leaving the United States I’d checked and double-checked that we didn’t need any special vaccinations. Borrowing a tour guide for kosher travelers I’d discovered there was a restaurant we could eat at in Frankfort. And the competent German transportation system had a train leaving regularly from the airport and arriving in Jesberg. I was sure that everything would work out perfectly. At Ben Gurion Airport, without any misgivings, I had us check our suitcases on to our final American destination. We boarded the plane with only two carry-on bags.
Disembarking from our flight we joined the stream of passengers to passport control. Taking giant steps, eager to be out of the airport and on our way to Jesberg, I dragged my husband along and we were among the first to be serviced.
“Where are your shots?” the clerk demanded.
“What shots?” I stammered. “We don’t need any shots.”
“Yes, you need a smallpox vaccination if you’re coming from the Middle East.”
My face fell but before I could get too upset the clerk had a solution.
“We can take you to our clinic here at the airport and you can get the shot there.”
I looked at my husband with pleading eyes. The thought of being in a German clinic made him flinch but he reluctantly agreed.
“Stand over there,” we were told. “When I finish with everyone in line I’ll take you to the clinic.”
With German efficiency the line moved unbelievably quickly and the clerk escorted us to customs where our bags would be examined. They took my husband’s first. On the very top of his carry-on were his tefillin. The custom official drew them out of their velvet bag and pulled the covers off the boxes my husband used every morning to bind upon his arms and place between his eyes when he prayed.
“For camera?” the official was baffled by the strange objects.
“No,” my husband faltered emotionally. “Please, please don’t touch them.”
At that moment I was struck by the memory of a picture I’d seen in one of the Holocaust museums we’d visited. Two Nazis with sadistic grins had used their rifles to prod a bearded Jew wearing his tefillin. How could this official not know what tefillin were? He really didn’t know and I couldn’t handle his ignorance. I knew my husband’s support for my adventure was wearing thinner with each second. Ignoring the tears running down my face I made a suggestion.
“Maybe we shouldn’t go in,” I said to my husband.
“It’s up to you,” he answered bravely.
“Let’s go back,” I decided resolutely and we did.
We were able to get on an earlier flight and I never returned to Germany. Ten years later I exchanged my dream of visiting Jesberg for a better one, settling the land of Israel. Now thirty years later I have an additional dream, helping rebuild the Holy Temple. That is a dream I will never abandon.