I have now officially joined the social networking generation with my new couch-surfing membership. In my limited couchsurfing experience, it is a peculiarly intense way to meet and bond with strangers. But amazing. I joined with the intent to find other climbers, with the secondary goal of making new friends and global acquaintances. Despite these modest purposes, I found in my inbox yesterday morning a request for my couch. Me?! Humble surfing virgin, already with appeals from road-weary travelers?
I delayed responding all day, hesitant to interrupt my weekend of drudgery and self-indulgence-through-Mad-Men, but eventually my sense of mitzvah sunk in and I called her. Of course she could stay.
A young German woman from Hamburg arrived outside my house this morning. She landed in Israel on Monday, and has spent this week walking the coastline and sleeping on the beach.
She joined us when we brunched in the early afternoon – French toast with the leftover raisin challah I made for the holiday with banana compote as a topping, a huge bowl of fruit salad, vegetable salad, falafels with tahini for dipping, and mimosas. It was heaven. It was also, I think, somewhat of an awakening for her. She’s met Israelis of all political ilk in her sandy travels. But here we were, crazy Americans, with an eager and willing audience. She drank it all in, all sides and all points of view, all of our hurt and confusion and outrage. All of our hopes for the future and our cynicism right along with it. She told me afterwards how much fun she had, how she appreciated listening to us, how it’s been so interesting to hear so many sides of this issue – and how in the end, everyone is just trying to live the best life they can.
She is also the first German I’ve ever talked to about the Holocaust. Actually, I think she’s the first German I’ve ever really met. In any case, she talked in a sort of frustrated way about the phenomenon of German guilt. Certainly there is cause to be guilty on some level. But she also acknowledged that people, especially of the older generation, need to move on. Not forget, but just move on. It is no longer a political reality. She also described the social phenomenon that occurred immediately afterwards, when all Germans immediately decided they weren’t racist and buried all those ideas deep inside. But they were, she said. And they still are (after all, everyone’s a little bit racist). German culture is so sensitive to racism now, though, that even talking about the possibility of its existence is taboo.
In a way that is incomparable to any evils visited by the US on anyone, for her the idea of the Holocaust is completely incomprehensible. When she visited a concentration camp, she broke down. She couldn’t process it. How can you? It’s a huge and horrible truth, how can you even begin to imagine it was your people, your country that perpetrated it? That it was done in your language? On your behalf, in your name?
On my behalf, in my name?