A Baby In A Shul
This week, my wife and I set out on a two week journey through Europe with Cal, our 8 month old son. Many people were shocked by this plan. Traveling becomes less about leisure and more about survival when it comes to doing so with children. But that’s kind of been the name of the game since his birth for me. As someone told me using the NCAA tournament adage, survive and advance.
Travel for us has been such an essential part of our relationship. We didn’t want to give that up because of Cal. In fact, we wanted to expose him to different parts of the world, meeting new people, trying new foods, and seeing new things along the way. He may not remember this particular trip but we can already see the three trips he’s been on paying dividends in his ability to adapt to new settings.
So today, we found ourselves in Cologne, Germany, the birthplace of Lauren’s beloved Grandmother and Cal’s middle namesake, Edie. When we landed, the air felt thick with meaning: a non-Jewish namesake, a beloved grandmother, and a Jewish great-grandson, the child of a Rabbi and Jewish educator.
As we spent our first full day in Cologne, we really wanted to tour the synagogue, Roonstrasse. As mentioned above, babies, traveling, and well ordered plans don’t make the best partners. So we pivoted by walking by, taking some pictures, and being on our way to see some others stops. Then, the torrential storms hit.
We attempted to hustle back to the hotel but we weren’t going to make it without getting drenched. Lo and behold, the shul was right around the corner. We went to its covered entrance and I pressed the button where I was greeted with a strongly accented German “hallo.”
After explaining who we were, we were welcomed into the vault like security room where we had to show our passports and explain our purpose for being there. Two minutes in, the guard asked if I spoke Hebrew and we proceeded to talk for a few minutes more until he was satisfied with my answers.
We were buzzed in and we had the whole shul to ourselves. We looked at their museum artifacts that were recovered after the shul was destroyed during kristallnacht: a singed Torah parchment, a crushed shofar, and pieces of a yad. It was a portal into a deeply painful past.
Then, we were able to access the sanctuary itself which felt cavernous and somehow quite intimate. As I shared the walk with Cal up to the bimah I found myself moved by the moment.
Here we were in a shul in Cologne, destroyed by the Nazis where perhaps his great grandmother strolled by during her daily walks. There was her Jewish granddaughter and great grandson feeling at home in the grandeur of this holy room: מה נורא המקום הזה–how much awe is there in this place.
I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite verses in the Torah from parshat ha’azinu: זכור ימות עולם בינוּ שנות דור ודור. Literally meaning remember the days of the world, understand the years of generations, one of my beloved teachings on this comes from, oddly enough, a German Kabbalist named Menachem Tzioni.
Instead of reading שנות as years, he reads it as changes, a linguistically connected root, and says the following:
Binu Shnot Dor V'dor -- take the lesson of history, but keep in mind the changes from generation to generation. Times change, people change, and circumstances change. Sometimes a person has to alter and redirect and not merely go with what was.
That was, in essence, this moment. A direct line traced from Edie-Lauren-Cal. So much was the same and everything was different. We found safe passage in a shul by speaking our ancient language and in turn felt the passage of time. Then, now, and for Cal an important lesson for the future: בינוּ שנות דור ודור.
Look to your past to get ready for your future.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend