Tag Archives: forgiveness


by Natalie Zellat Dyen (Huntington Valley, PA)

When someone breaks your heart
Into a thousand pieces
Toss a handful
Into the night sky
To shine like stars
Counted by lovers
Whose hearts have yet to be broken.

Plant them in places
Where nothing grows.
Barren as Hannah’s womb
But pregnant with possibilities of new life.
Gifts of unexpected miracles.

Slip them into the backpacks of strangers
The shopping carts of homeless men
Battered women
And abandoned children.
Anonymous blessings
To ease their journeys.

And take the last, most precious fragments
Of your once heart
And offer them to the one who broke it
To accept or reject.
It’s out of your hands.
But offer you must.
It’s what we do
In these days of endings and beginnings.

Natalie Zellat Dyen is a freelance writer and photographer living in Huntingdon Valley, PA. Her work has appeared in Philadelphia Stories, The Willow Review, Global Woman Magazine, Intercom Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Schuylkill Valley Journal, and other newspapers and journals. She is currently working on a novel. Links to Natalie’s published work are available at www.nataliewrites.com.

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Filed under American Jewry, poetry

Breaking the Jewish Taboo on Germany

by Lev Raphael (Okemos, MI)

I never expected to travel to Germany at all, let alone five separate times.  And the idea of enjoying myself there and making German friends would have struck me as implausible–if not crazy–ten years ago.  Why?  Because I grew up the son of Holocaust survivors and Germany always seemed to me the apotheosis of evil.  I feared and loathed it.

Letting go of those feelings prompted me to write My Germany, a combination of mystery, travelogue, and memoir.  Weaving together my story with my parents’ stories, it charts my unusual journey from hatred to reconciliation.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to be invited to speak about it across the US and Canada at Jewish book fairs, colleges and universities, libraries, churches and synagogues, the Library of Congress, and German cultural institutions.  The response has been profoundly accepting and sometimes–it embarrasses me to say–even rapturous. I’ve often had crowds of over one hundred people attend my events.

I’ve also done two book tours in Germany sponsored by the American Embassy in Berlin and the American Consulate in Frankfurt.  And I’ve been interviewed by Der Spiegel International.  And, amazingly, a German TV producer has expressed interest in documenting my next tour.

But American Jewish newspapers and magazines (print and on-line), even ones I’ve published reviews in over the years, have ignored the book.  That’s despite the fact that I’ve been publishing Jewish-American fiction and creative non-fiction for over thirty years, and that the book is published by the University of Wisconsin Press, highly respected for its Judaica and memoirs.

So why the virtual blackout?

I haven’t written the book to urge anyone to like or visit Germany.  It’s a description of how I emerged from my horror of Germany as an idea and then came to terms with it as a reality.  But even that’s apparently too much for many Jewish gatekeepers, who still seem to be suffering from collective PTSD over sixty years past the Holocaust.  Or they think their audiences are.

It’s not just editors who have problems. One prominent professor of Jewish Studies who resisted a visit of mine to his school accused me of offering Germans “forgiveness,” even though my book specifically says nothing of the sort.  But he couldn’t even cope with the word “reconciliation.”  He said that was just “code.”  You’d expect a professor to be more up-to-date: recent anthologies about post-Holocaust relations between Jews and Germans specifically distinguish between the two terms.

Reconciliation doesn’t remotely mean forgetting or even ignoring the past.  It’s acknowledging the historic chasm can never be filled in, but embracing the fact that one can reach across it in compassion and strive for mutual understanding.

A Jewish student at a major university said that when he told friends at Hillel, the school’s Jewish student center, that he was going to my reading, they asked why he’d bother.  (They were already furious at him for wanting to work in the automotive industry in Germany.)  Another college student at one of my readings said her father refused to speak to her about her majoring in German.  I’ve heard many more stories like this.

Even in-laws have asked me how I could possibly go to Germany under any circumstances whatsoever, and say they would never dream of doing what I’ve done.

How can I return to Germany?  Because of all the people I’ve met there who are deeply involved in Holocaust education, whether through teaching, writing, publishing, or community work.  Because when I met individuals agonizing over their parents’ or grandparents’ Nazi past, I realized how much better off I was to be the son of victims as opposed to perpetrators.

Of course, you could argue that My Germany wasn’t widely covered by Jewish media because it lacks worth or substance.  But you know what?  Disliking one of my books hasn’t stopped Jewish reviewers in the past from expressing their opinions in print, going all the way back to my first collection of stories in 1990, Dancing on Tisha B’Av.

That book was controversial for mixing stories about gay Jews and children of Holocaust survivors, and there were many Jewish Book Fairs where I would never be invited to speak about the book.  Attitudes among American Jews about gay issues have changed for the better. But when it comes to Germany, our community seems, for the most part, frozen in time.

Lev Raphael is a prize-winning pioneer in American-Jewish literature, and has been publishing fiction and nonfiction about the Second Generation since 1978. The author of twenty-two books which have been translated into almost a dozen languages, he has spoken about his work in hundreds of venues on three continents. His fiction and creative non-fiction are widely taught at American colleges and universities, and his work has been the subject of numerous academic articles, papers, and books. A former public radio book show host and newspaper columnist, he can be found on the web at http://www.levraphael.comHe blogs on books for The Huffington Post and reviews for the on-line literary magazine Bibliobuffet.com.

You can check out his latest book, the Jewish historical novel Rosedale in Love, at http://www.levraphael.com/rosedale.html


Filed under American Jewry, German Jewry, Jewish identity

My New Year

by Janet Ruth Falon (Elkins Park, PA)

January first doesn’t feel like my new year
even though it’s time for fresh calendars,
and melancholy after-Christmas sales,
and bracing for icy winter, and wishing beyond,
and starting from zero in Blue Cross deductibles,
and whittling-down diets after holiday fressing.

Rosh Hashanah feels like new year
when leaves dress up, then dry up, and fall,
and kids, bored with freedom, go back to school,
and the tans fade away, and the lines disappear,
and we all about-face and shift inward,
towards the refuge of home,
towards the comfort of heart,
towards the warmth of forgiving each other.

Janet Ruth Falon, the author of The Jewish Journaling Book (Jewish Lights, 2004), teaches a variety of writing classes — including journaling and creative expression — at many places, including the University of Pennsylvania. She leads a non-fiction writing group and works with individual students, and is continuing to write Jewish-themed readings for what she hopes will become a book, In the Spirit of the Holidays.


Filed under American Jewry, history, poetry

The Bridge Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

by Janet Ruth Falon (Elkins Park, PA)

It’s a long bridge, and high,
with pilings deep in the water,
dug into the foundation of earth.
It takes ten days to cross,
by foot,
(more, with baggage),
and you have to walk it yourself.
No one can carry you.
People have been known to jump off
but miraculously, survive,
as long as they’re willing to try again
the following year.
Each person decides
how many times to pay a toll
and to whom
along the way.
And you pay with words,
tokens of your repentence:
“I forgive you.”
“Please forgive me.”
But what’s most amazing
is that you’re supposed to keep turning around
as you walk,
turning around
to face four corners
and everything in between,
turning around
to make sure you’ve seen every person
and the scope of your past year
so you can pay up and start fresh
on the other side.
And instead of getting dizzy
as you cross
you feel lighter, and cleaner,
more at-one with yourself
and all the other travelers
and the earth below the water
beneath your feet.
Venice has its Bridge of Sighs;
but this is the Bridge of Awe.

Janet Ruth Falon, the author of The Jewish Journaling Book (Jewish Lights, 2004), teaches a variety of writing classes — including journaling and creative expression — at many places, including the University of Pennsylvania. She leads a non-fiction writing group and works with individual students, and is continuing to write Jewish-themed readings for what she hopes will become a book, In the Spirit of the Holidays.

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Filed under American Jewry