October 27, 2013

A Bedtime Story for Grace

Note: I promised Grace a story or two about our hiking trip to Israel. Here is one.
This is an Israeli goat named Jacob.We met him at an organic farm called Yarok Oz ("Green Goat"), where his girlfriends make goat cheese for sale and where tired hikers or other travellers can sleep in cozy geodesic domes, modelled here by my lovely assistant E.
Probably because the noonday sun interfered with our judgment, we decided to tack on a side trip to Yarok Oz, thereby expanding our 10-mile day (which just that morning had already been expanded by an episode of getting seriously lost looking for a trail marker that turned out to be under a rock). Ok, it was another few miles, but who could resist their organic goat cheese?

No one.

Which is why there was none left by the time we got there.

The owners graciously revived us with water and shade (the true currency of desert hospitality).  And a young Israeli volunteer swinging some mighty dreadlocks and his German girlfriend took us on yet another side hike to see some pretty cool antiquities.

This young Israeli and German couple brings me to the story from our trip that I really want to share. I just didn't have the right pictures to go with it and figured Grace would get hooked by any story that starts with a goat.

The story is about the two German women who were hiking The Jesus Trail when we did. (The trail is self-guided, but the outfitters book everyone into the same guesthouses, where you dine together. And the 12 of us frequently walked together, particularly in those moments when maintaining independence seemed far less important than, say, finding someone who could figure out where the hell the trail went.)

Helga is 72 and lives on a little island between Germany and Denmark. Her friend Adelhaid is 74 and lives in what used to be East Germany. These ladies could hike the bejesus (insert groan here) out of almost any one of us. Helga spoke perfect English, because she escaped East Germany with her family when she was a young girl. She left behind her little friend Adelhaid, who spoke only German,thanks to the black hole of her Communist schooling.  When the Wall came down, the friendship between the little girls grew up.

I have never been to Germany but shared with Helga that my mom had fun travelling through Germany in the 1970s using just her Yiddish.  The next day, she saddled up to me on a winding trail through a eucalyptus forest.

"Can I ask you something, Julie?" she asked. "Was it very hard for your mother and your father to go to Germany?"


Now, my parents were not like some in their immediate postwar generation of American Jews, where the very word "German" turned a heart into stone. They never bought a Mercedes or a BMW, but that was because they were definitely Fords in their lack of materialism. Still, there was a stiffness in their shoulders, a flare in their otherwise gentle eyes...an unspoken fury that I bet every one of my demographic (spoiled white Jewish baby boomer female raised in the "Wonder Years" suburbs) can recognize. 

A fury that we, the next generation, understand, but try to extinguish in ourselves and especially in our children.

A fury that I desperately wanted to hide from this beautiful woman with crinkly pink smile lines around her clear blue eyes. But, hey, if you are going to tell the truth anywhere on this planet, it ought to be on the Jesus Trail. And so I did.

"Yes, it was. They enjoyed so much, but there was ...um...well, there was Dachau."

Helga nodded.  I didn't want to add that there was also time after time where they scanned elderly faces around them and asked themselves the Unaskable. Behavior no one is proud of but that no one of that generation can easily avoid.  Then, she told me about going through the U.S. Holocaust Museum with her college-age son, who was studying in Wash DC. He signed the guest book at the end with words that made Helga well up even as she relayed them to me.

"I am so ashamed to be German."

Through her tears, she shared the agony of witnessing her child's agony. Three generations later. "And yet," she met me eye for eye, "the German people, we were guilty."

Helga? Who remembers meals with no food for the first five years of her life? Adelhaid?  Who had Helga translate stories about American GIs dropping food packages into her sector from the air? There's so much to be said about holocausts and guilt and innocence and fury and forgiveness. Especially in Israel, a country born from the ravages, a country torn by its own injustices. But right then and there, on a eucalyptus trail overlooking an olive farm,there didn't seem to be much else to say but this: 

"No, " I said. "The Nazis were guilty."

And we squeezed hands.

Which brings me back to the Dreadlocked Israeli Boy, who is moving to Germany with his Girl of Long Blonde Braids, to start an organic farm together.

Now, Grace, turn out the light and go to sleep. 


  1. well, reading this Monday morning, i can't turn out the Light...so will carry the story
    with me today when i leave.
    and i am GLAD for this story because it speaks to so many things, one...
    what happens AROUND us.
    and unless we are that handsome Jacob, we all share responsibility, i think.
    and maybe her asking you the Question was a way for her to do that? and enough
    in that moment?
    Thank you for this story. now i only want More. but it's not bedtime, is it.

    1. I have so much respect for her for asking the question..I come from a long line of Folks Avoiding Difficult Conversations. Part of the lesson for me was that just the talking defuses the difficulty. More stories (perhaps sans preaching) to come....

  2. Replies
    1. Golly, Mo! Maybe there is still smoke in your air? (How is it now, by the way?)

  3. That is a very moving story. Thank you. Jan, England.

    1. Oh thank you, Jan, and I am so glad you stopped by!

  4. i, too, am very touched. it is hard to reconcile it all.
    thanks for telling it.