It’s 7:30 a.m. in (East) Berlin and I am the only one awake in my room of seven other travelers from Taiwan, Canada and England. This will be my third day here, and I am finally acclimated to the time, but the technology needed to write this blog, well not so much. My ‘Luddite abroad’ adventure began at the airport with my first attempt to write and post this. As you can see my first three attempts were unsuccessful. My pen and paper are working quite nicely thank you very much.
Traveling is the adventure that has left me all a twitter. I’m referring to the old-fashioned twitter meaning filled with the emotion of excitement. Remember when in the old days twitter was internal and only transmitted from your body cells through nonverbal such as facial expressions or shouting yippee. Now a phone cell can suck that emotion out through fingertips and into cyberspace with the click of a button. Can 140 characters do justice to the depth of an old-fashioned twitter? You tell me!
Engaging in conversation about identity has been easier than getting my netbook to cooperate in sharing them. Starting with the young Israeli man I met on the subway to the airport who felt his identity was unknown to him. He hadn’t yet asked himself the question of who he was, though he knew his time would come to look for the answer. His parents had moved to Israel so he and his siblings would have a strong sense of Jewish identity. Not that he thought much about being Jewish. I said it is like oxygen – if the air is filled with it, you don’t have to think about it.
Last night I went to the New Synagogue for Sukkot services. This large grand synagogue was consecrated in 1866 to 3,200 Jews and all but the facade burned in November 1938 (Kristallnacht) . Now the synagogue serves as both a museum and a ‘living’ egalitarian, conservative synagogue. There were about 40 people in attendance (about 5 of us out-of-towners). A rabbi mentioned that the attendance was not impressive considering that Berlin was the NYC of Germany. He said there were about 12,000 ‘registered’ Jews but that the number was probably closer to 100,000 with immigrants from the former Soviet Union. I also heard many Israeli musicians now call Berlin home.
There are simple stories and then there are complex stories at the heart of identity. The latter are not so easy to be uncovered. I was approached by one man from Czechoslovakia whose family had moved to Germany. He had moved to California for a few years but came back to Berlin when he couldn’t make it’ in California. As far as the deeper explanation of why he came back, that he wouldn’t share, couldn’t share. It was too complicated and he wasn’t in the mood to discuss it.
Complications. Stories are complicated and not easy to uncover. Everything in its time and place. Perceptions and discrimination still exist and play out over and over and around the globe. A Taiwanese woman told me that men she met in her travels had expectations of her based on the movie “Hangover: Part 2” which takes place in Taiwan. I left the synagogue last night with a Japanese woman discussing the reasons for genocide/discrimination (in Japan also). She felt the main reason was loneliness, I believe fear is the main culprit. We agreed that we are probably both right. As quickly as technology can send a message and connect us, what prevents connection and real communication stays the same.