An American-Israeli’s reflections from Germany: I am indigenous-dispossessed here (Haaretz)

[This piece was originally published in Haaretz on July 23rd, 2015]

AUGSBURG, Germany — I am indigenous here.

I am indigenous-dispossessed here.

I was born in West Jerusalem and raised mostly in Southwest Ohio, and now I live in Jerusalem again. This is my second time in Augsburg, and my third time in Germany, and maybe my fifth or sixth time in Western Europe, but those were the words that poured into my head as I went for a run this morning: I am indigenous here. I am indigenous-dispossessed here.

Here, where there are signs for schuls everywhere, and the name of the forrest where I went running – siebentischwald – invokes Shabbat songs and Torah study. Here, where I know that schul is just “school” and the woods’ name simply refers to seven tables.

Here, where the street signs could have been copy-pasted from the roll call at any Solomon Schechter Jewish Day School: Freidberger, Singer, Kappeneck, Hochfeld.

Here, where the two young blond teenagers sitting next to us in the main plaza greeted their friend with “Shalom!” Perhaps they were members of Augsburg’s tiny Jewish community, but more likely, they were saying “Shalom” (spelled “Schalom” in their heads) the same way my friends and I, as kids in Ohio, raised our palms and said “How” to each other, sometimes sticking feathers into our hair to increase the Indian chief effect.

Here, in the plaza, where my German hosts tell me, “These stores used to be owned by Jewish families, before.”

Here, where at least they talk about it – my hosts are leftists, after all – and I have to decide how often to to bring it up – it might be uncomfortable for all of us, after all.

Here, where passing a road sign for “Dachau” feels like it might as well say “Exit for Genocide on your left,” where I can’t help but wonder who hid in the Seven Table Woods, where my heart jumps, just for a moment, as I pass a burly bald man with a German Shepherd in the woods now. Schalom.

I am indigenous here, but I am not from here.

I am from elementary school field trips to the “Indian Mound” in Southern Ohio. I am from a recent camping trip with friends near Har Eitan, just outside of Jerusalem, not far from the ruins of Khirbet al-Lawz.

I am from Ohio. From Miami, Ohio. From Shawnee, Ohio. From Chillicothe, Ohio.

I am from Jerusalem. From Baqa, Talbiyeh, Qatamon, Musrara.

I am from the Cleveland Indians baseball team, whose mascot is even more odious than its name.

I am from the Israeli obsession with the TV series Fouda, whose plot centers around the auto-Palestinianization of Israeli Jews (for the purpose of assassinating Palestinians).

I am from there and there. And here, I am the indigenous-dispossessed.

But I am not writing this because I want to move to Europe. I am writing this because I am grateful.

I am grateful to my hosts — who invited me to come talk about art and politics in Israel-Palestine, and about my involvement in activism against my government’s plans to forcibly dispossess Palestinians, not in 1948 but today, in 2015, in villages like Sussia — for being open enough to tell me that part of their city was once Jewish-owned, for being brave enough to acknowledge that their grandparents weren’t “partisans,” for being decent enough to make space for me to recall that I am indigenous-dispossessed here.

I am grateful that I could speak Hebrew with one of my hosts in downtown Augsburg without wincing. I would not feel as comfortable doing so in many other European countries. I am grateful that I have been asked, a number of times, what it is like for me to be here, that the horrific past is not ignored or hummed away, but present and palpable.

I am grateful to experience what it feels like to be in a country that has struggled and is still struggling to reckon with its past; I am grateful for what I can learn as an American and an Israeli about doing the same.