HER STORY #66 - dina
I was born in Munich, in Germany in 1966, and I am a converted Jew. My parents converted, when we were children, and they also converted us. They were both born in 1939, during the war, of German families, and I think that the [conversion] process began with my father, and then my mother joined him for her own reasons.
This process of conversion is very deep and complicated. I assume that I understand and know just a part of it, from my point of view, in a subjective way. I think that the process of my father was a form of intellectual and emotional reaction to what had happened in the war, what the generation of their parents hid from them. My parents were students a few years before the revolution of 1968, and there was anger towards their parents’ generation. My parents’ parents, on both sides, were not active Nazis. They also didn’t protest against the war.
At the end of the day, my mother made peace with her family until this day.
My mother’s father died, when she was 18 years old, so he didn’t get to see her whole [conversion] process.
My mother’s mother of course didn’t like the idea [of converting] and thought that it was a crazy idea to convert and to move to Israel , and it is understandable that she was sad and worried , but she maintained the connection and accept her daughter’s way of living.
They were together despite their parents being against it, especially my father’s family, who also disconnected from them afterwards. They were against it because, first of all, he [father] got married very early, in the middle of his studies and without money and did things against their expectations. He was a rebel and an artist.
We had no connection with my father’s parents. I never met my paternal grandparents. I do have close and warm relationship with my mother's family, but not the family on my father’s side.
Everyone talks about this background a little differently, but on my father’s side it is clear how the subject of the Holocaust became his life’s topic. It began bothering him at a young age. He began asking questions but didn’t get answers, and there are all sorts of unanswered question within the family.
In Judaism it is frequently stated that conversion is like a return, meaning that those who convert are people who once belonged to Judaism and following a couple of generations, they came back. It’s a sort of mystical question. I don’t know, if it’s correct or not.
There are some stories within the family with question marks about the past and about the connection to Judaism, whose answers we still don’t know to this day.
There is a particular story about my father’s grandfather, who had committed suicide during the war, and it was apparently because he was dying of cancer. Then a friend of his once came and told my father that he hadn’t committed suicide because of cancer, but because he had Jewish blood and had converted to Christianity because he wanted to study law at the university, and that was forbidden then to the Jews in Germany.
According to his friend, he apparently had been scared of the Gestapo founding out, if they looked three generations back. If they found out that he had a Jewish background, he would be in danger, so he committed suicide in order to protect the family.
It’s a very emotional and interesting story, but there is no clear evidence. It’s a friend of the grandfather, who said it.
Another story, which I also think is connected to the process of my father's conversion is that my father grew up in Krefeld, and his mother would always place a small note in his wallet or in his pocket. In case he would suffer from stomach pain and would be driven to a hospital, the note said that he had had his appendix removed through an operation.
She said that when he was three years old, an appendectomy had been done on him, so the note would prevent people from operating on him without knowing about this, in case he had a stomach pain.
When he asked her, how come he didn’t have a scar, she said there wasn’t, because the operation had been conducted through his navel, which is a procedure that today is called laparoscopy, but it’s new, and they didn’t have it during the time of the Second World War, and my father must have been operated in 1941-42.
She told him that it was a doctor calledHirschfelder, who was a Jewish pediatrician, who had developed the method and did it.
First of all, this was not a known method, and second of all, why would a German Aryan woman, who could have had her son operated at a hospital, go to the Jewish ghetto in Krefeld and let a Jewish doctor, who operated in an illegal way in the basement in his house, let him operate her son?
When my father grew up, he didn’t speak to his mother for years, and then when he eventually wanted to find out about this, she had passed away, but he did go to the archives in Krefeld, and there had indeed been a doctor by the name of Hirschfelder. He had committed suicide just a couple of days after he seemingly had operated him, because he had been summoned to join a transport to Auschwitz.
My parents became a young couple with children, who got closer to the [Jewish] community in Munich, and they did an Orthodox conversion process, and then in 1970 they immigrated to Israel with three children – my brother, who is five years older than me, with me and my sister. And they [parents] lived here for 25 years.
In the beginning they really lived as an Orthodox religious family – for more than ten years, but little by little it changed, and it was because of all kinds of things.
First of all, my father was an artist, and it was very difficult for him in Israel, where everything is divided into categories, in terms of how a religious person is automatically supposed to be right-wing and conservative. In Europe it was more open in terms of all these things. You could go to the synagogue on Shabbat and eat kosher, but you could continue being friend with non-Jews.
In Israel there are a lot more labels. Your children go to religious schools, and you are affiliated to a particular political party.
It was difficult for him [father], and also many other things happened in Israel, such as the Lebanon War, the Yom Kippur war, and so little by little, my parents began a process of not being religious. My mother is a believer and a deep person. She is faithful and knows how to make roots where she lives. I am not sure, but maybe in different conditions and with another partner she would have remained religious.
Israel / Germany
Then, at some point they separated after almost 25 years of marriage, and after the separation my father went back to Germany, and he lives there with a partner, and he has an art studio. He came back to Israel many times to visit, but he lives there [in Germany].
My mother lives here. My sister is an actress at Cameri Theater [in Tel Aviv], and she lives here. After having served in the army and after he studied architecture at Bezalel [Academy of Arts and Design] in Jerusalem, my brother wanted to do a second degree in Berlin in architecture. He stayed there, met his partner, and together with her he raised their two sons, and now he has lived there for 25 years.
So today my father is in Munich, my brother in Berlin, and my sister, my mother and I are in Israel.
When my family stopped, little by little, conducting a religious daily life, I continued to practice a religious life. I was religious for many years, but I also served in the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces]. I studied in a high school for boys and girls, but I kept Shabbat and mitzvoth [plural of “mitzvah,” a Jewish commandment or precept]. I always felt that Judaism was a very deep thing within myself. I studied a lot about it, and I kept a religious lifestyle for many years, and to this day I keep a somewhat traditional lifestyle. We eat kosher at home. I still study about Judaism, and it’s a very important part of my life.
Sleeping With The Enemy
For many years I was preoccupied with being a good Jew and Israeli, because of my background as a converted Jew from Germany. It’s like sleeping with the enemy – to move to Israel in the 70’s and to speak German.
I was called “Nazi” in school twice.
We didn’t want to talk German outside, only at home. My parents talked German between themselves.
In our neighborhood in North Tel Aviv, you would meet Holocaust survivors almost everywhere – in the supermarket, at the shoemakers, so the Holocaust wasn’t so far away. It was much more dramatic than today, where everyone is going to Berlin, and people like Berlin a lot now.
But back then it [Holocaust] was closer, and so I was preoccupied with being a "good" Israeli, and therefore I didn’t want to have a strong connection to Germany. It was only after I got married and I studied and had children that I had enough roots, I managed to go back, not just to visit for a few days to be with my relatives, but really "going back" into the language, into the childhood memories, into the German literature and history. I understood that there was another part in me that was missing and I found it again.
And when my husband studied chemistry at Weizmann Institute, he did a doctorate there, and he could choose where he wanted to do his post-doc. He took that decision with me, and we decided to go to Berlin, which was kind of a present for me.
We lived there for three years, and my youngest daughter was born in Berlin.
It was a way to be connected with the language and to be with the family, especially my brother, in close relationship. .
I always miss it [Germany], but I’m also sure that I don’t really want to live here. There is always a side of you that is missing, but someone who lives between two different homelands is always dual. I am first of all Jewish, then Israeli and then German, and it’s a triangle. I can’t separate it. Yes, Germany is my also a home, but it’s my second home, not my first one.
The most significant part of me is Judaism, which is beyond Israel, meaning it’s also connected to Jews, who live all over the world – spiritually. Judaism is the deepest part of my identity, and Israel is my home, my roots and represents a strong commitment. Germany is the missing part, the longing, the part that is apart. They offered my husband the position of professor with a lot of money. My son was going to a Jewish school, and we were part of the Jewish community in Berlin. I’m sure that it would have been easier for us there economically. I have a German passport, and so do the children. I have all the social rights, but we knew that we had to come back. We chose to live here.
Land / Find Myself Again
For a person to feel complete he/she needs space, to be connected to land and spaces that he/she feels are home: Earthly smells and blossom, sunsets and sunrises, light and views.
The Jewish nation didn’t have their own land for hundreds of years. It was a very significant part that was missing. It became evident in the renewal of the land [of Israel] after years of living in the Diaspora. There was an attempt to create a harmony between the human being to the land, a complicated attempt, which wasn’t always at its best.
We didn’t know enough about how to take care of a place, about how to take care of the earth and we hurt it for years through massive construction, through pollution and by the lack of listening, consumption, perhaps done in fear of it being taken from us again.
I love the views, the land [of Israel]. Since I was born, I have loved to explore by foot. I travelled miles with youth movements and my family. After my army service I worked as a tour guide for a couple of years.
The views here touch me. For such a small country the views here are so diverse, from the green, cool North all the way to the desert. There is nothing like the desert, a lunar view that gives me peace and enables me to find myself again.
My first language is German, but I didn’t learn it in school because I came to Israel at the age of four. In Israel I refused to continue to talk German with my parents. I was ashamed. It was a cursed language. So for many years I almost did not speak German, but I understood everything. My parents continue to talk German between themselves. In our living room there were so many books, most of them in German. I only began to talk German again, when I grew up.
Since we came back from Germany, I have worked intensively with translations of poems written by Jewish German poets, who continued to write in German after the Holocaust. They were Jewish poets from Germany, and when the Holocaust finished they continued writing in German in spite of the Holocaust, so they did a kind of process of being at peace with the language, but their works still haven’t been translated to Hebrew, so that’s what I help with.
For example, I translated a book by Hilde Domin, who is much known in Germany. She fled to Italy with her husband during the 30’s, before the war. Then they fled to England and then to the Dominican Republic living in the diaspora, and then she came back to Heidelberg in the late 50’s.
This last month I have finished translating the poems of Hannah Arendt, who is a German Jewish philosopher, who was the lover of Heidegger, when she was a young student, in the twenties.
The whole topic of Jews, whose culture was German, but because of the Holocaust had to break with it in some ways but then still used the language as their working tool interests me – the duality of it. It interests me because of my story, and because I like poetry.
Through the translations my German has really improved.
My mother is also a translator. She translated for the German embassy in Israel, and she translates prose, so, she helps me a lot with it. She actually taught me the art of translation and helped me to connect between parts inside me.
It’s a kind of process of learning the language from anew and improving it. It’s completing me as a person.
I can’t be racist, even if I wanted to, because genetically I am from another place.
It was always clear in my house. Anyone coming to our house would be welcomed. There were no borders.
Someone who goes through the process that I went through can’t grow up in a racist system. We didn't just move from one place to another. We changed our identity, our narrative, so how could we possibly be centered on one single identity? I think it’s something that I got from home. We all learnt to see the other and not only your side.
I am open-minded, even though I have a clear identity. People who made a religious conversion will always see what’s on the other side. They cannot ignore the other, the stranger. There’s nothing to do about that. It’s a place that has a lot of advantages and disadvantages, but someone who is on the border between identities and cultures cannot only see himself or the group that defines him. It’s impossible, because you always touch upon another circle.
There are many people, however, who live within one truth and one group, and anything that is beyond that is foreign and dangerous to them. Of course this attitude exists a lot in the religious environment, although when I was a child, it wasn’t as extreme as it is today.
It [extremism] began, after the Six Day War.
They [Arab countries] attacked us [Israel], and we [Israel] won. Then people went and built houses [in the West Bank], and in the beginning it all looked very pretty. I even remember a march in Samaria that my father took part in, and he was enthusiastic about it, because it was the Holy Land. It was very naïve at the time.
After that, it became a massive right-wing political act, and suddenly we understood what it meant – to control another population. In the beginning people didn’t understand that. It was euphoria, and we thought to ourselves: All kinds of Arab countries attacked us. We won, we conquered, so let’s make it nice. Let’s plant flowers. We will build. It was a sort of dream. I think that no one really understood, what it meant.
And the religious Zionist movement became more right-wing. The national religious party had kibbutzim and had socialist elements. It wasn’t like it is today. It was much more moderate. They were pro-settling, and they perceived Judea and Samaria as the holy land, but their whole method was influenced by socialism.
There were religious kibbutzim that worked very similarly to secular kibbutzim, but the whole settler movement in Judea and Samaria is something that was created after 1967.
I grew up in Bnei Akiva [religious Zionist youth movement], which today is considered to be a movement that supports the settlements, but it wasn’t that extreme back then. At the time, Rabbi Kook [Abraham Isaac Kook] in Jerusalem raised a generation who praised the state of Israel, but he himself was a very special man, and I think that his students exaggerated his thoughts.
His intention was to connect the religious community in the world to the land of Israel, something that hadn’t happened for 2000 years of diaspora, because the Jews didn't have their own land. They had been forced to live in ghettos and to deal with money, not out of choice. They didn’t work on lands or raise animals, because they weren’t allowed to do so, and then suddenly a new generation of Jews had to be raised and had to work the land.
Rabbi Kook talked a lot about the connection between the country and the individual, but if he lived today, I don’t think that he had meant what came out of it, because he was an admirable person. His followers though took it to a place, where the land has become more precious than life, and that’s not right.
It’s not right in Judaism either, but that’s how it’s interpreted today, and there is a generation of religious Zionists today, who are very right-wing in their opinions. They fight about the holiness of the land, not of life. When I was young, there were a few who believed in this, but it was not this exaggerated.
I think that in Judaism, if you learn about it, there is something very deep about the respect for others. Maybe you can find parallel ideas in other religions, but I say: Why should I go and learn about Buddhism and search for other spiritual ways, when I still have so much to learn from my own book shelf?
If I want to not only live a concrete life but one with depth, spirituality and thought, I can find that in the religion that I belong to.
Maybe my perspective on this is mixed with the fact that I’m a psychologist, but I think that the biggest disease of the modern person, which brings him to a depression, is that his God "has been killed", so it has removed from him the possibility of believing in something bigger than himself.
Today he is being taught that there is no God. Everything is technology, science and everything comes from you. First of all, I don’t think it’s true, but let’s say that it is. You can’t live like this, emotionally. Everything that gave the human being confidence was believing in something bigger and more powerful than himself, and for the modern person that has been destroyed. The modern man is not happier than the person, who lived before – perhaps he is even less happy.
I think that people need rituals and belief in their lives.
I began working at the Community Mental Health Center before the age of 23, when I was a young mother and a graduate student in clinical psychology. My first degree was in biology and psychology.
I chose to study biology, because I liked the research involved, and then I chose psychology in order to work with people.
Prior to my studies I had been a counselor in the youth movement, but I also think that my army experience influenced this. In the army I was a commander in the Raful program, based on the nickname of Rafael Eitan, the founder of the program.
He is dead today, but he said that in order to be part of Israeli society, you need to serve in the army, as it’s a kind of maturing experience. Everyone finishes high school and then goes to the army, and then you start life. But there were many soldiers, who weren’t recruited (also today by the way), because their skills and background are not viewed as fit. For example, some of them might not have finished high schools, others are on drugs, they got bad grades, and they may have problems with the police. So they were viewed as only being able to cause trouble in the army.
And Raful basically said that it’s wrong to give up on them, and that the army is their last possibility, that we are not only a combat army but also an educating and that’s right. There is an educating part in the army, which doesn’t exist in any other army in the world. Raful said that our role is to recruit them, and to give them a possibility to recover their lives and to try and teach them in the process, to give them opportunities to join courses in anything – just anything to get them out of their neighborhood, drugs and other problems. If the school didn’t succeed for them, their last chance of fitting into society as productive human beings is the army.
He [Raful] was politically right-wing, but socially he did a lot of good things. The program still exists today.
The participants in the program came to us for a 4-5 months-long process. They got out of their houses for the first time. Some of them were on drugs. Most of them didn’t know how to read well. They barely knew the alphabet, and we would be their commanders along with male commanders. They were also taught how to use weapons, as what all soldiers learn, but the weapons were obviously without bullets, because they were frustrated and angry.
Those, who knew how to read and write would take courses in geography and other things, and those who didn’t know how to read and write were taught that, and if they survived the army boot camp, they could continue serving in the army in a normal way and finish the army service.
It’s an amazing project, and of course, financially, it’s a liability to the army, as it only costs money, because out of all these people that you invest in, only about 20-25% of them recover – or perhaps 40%, but that’s how it works with difficult populations. A lot of them will go back to their neighborhoods on their first weekend and won’t come back. Some of them run away. It’s difficult to take 20 years and to change them, but there are those who take the opportunity and do amazing jobs.
There was a soldier that I had worked with, who became an officer in the Golani Brigade. He changed his life from one edge to the other, and there are more stories like this.
Raful always said: It doesn’t matter how much they succeed in. It’s still worth it. And that’s the beauty of Israel: It’s not financially beneficial, and it for sure didn’t help the combat units of the Israeli army, but these people felt so much pride in coming home in uniforms and feeling like they are like everyone else.
So I worked on this [Raful] program for almost two years. And I did a pre-military training course for four months which means that I served in the army for two years and four months in total.
By the way, I think that many people in Israel do something in the army which makes them choose their professional path later on in life – if they like it. For example, my son was a combat medic in the army, like a paramedic. He treated wounded soldiers in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge [reference to Israel-Gaza conflict in 2014], and he felt that it was important, and now he wants to study medicine.
If you connect to what you do in the army, and it doesn’t feel like a job you just wish to finish, then it can impact your future professional choices.
So I came here as a student, and I had already had a baby. I was a mother.
It’s a place financed by the government that gives free treatment to children and youth that live in the area – in Jaffa and South Tel Aviv. It’s very special in terms of where it’s located, as both Muslim Arabs and Christian Arabs come here as well, as well as foreign workers from the Philippines and South America, asylum seeks, refugees, Eritreans, Sudanese, Israeli Jews. This whole salad that lives in South Tel Aviv and Jaffa comes here, and it’s a clinic that believes in a multicultural therapeutic approach and long-term therapy in its orientation.
The staff here is very multicultural. We have Arabs and Jews working together. The Arab workers work with Arab families that prefer to be treated in Arabic.
And we have all kinds of communal projects that help people, who don’t really understand what treatment is about and don’t really believe in the system either. We don’t sit here and wait for them to come. We do all kinds of projects in the community – part of which I have managed in the last couple of years as well.
Today I am a deputy director at the clinic. It’s a big clinic with many people working here, including about 20 students, who come here and learn how to treat patients, as well as interns.
I think that what’s special here is that all the people here really have a social, political and moral perspective of a high level, because in order to work here you, first of all, have to work with a difficult population with difficult problems and second of all, you have to work with so many different worlds, cultures and religions.
I can tell you about two projects that we have here that reaches out to the community. The first one is a project of home-based treatments that I established ten years ago. We basically noticed that many children need treatment really bad. They are in a very bad situation. Some of them may experience violence at home.
The child reaches out to the clinic, but then the family is not capable of bringing him/her for a treatment here. Sometimes they don’t have money for the bus, or they don’t wake up on time, or some of the parents work. It’s difficult. It may be far away, and then we figured: Perhaps we need to reach these families in their own homes? They are not capable of coming here. It’s difficult for them, or then perhaps a child comes here for treatment, but then they don’t manage to come with their other child.
So the project works in places, where treatment is needed, but the family has difficulties in coming here. For example a single mother with five children can’t reach us by arriving in bus, when it rains outside. So we go to them and conduct a play-treatment in their home.
A lot of beautiful work is being done within this project, and many times it also creates role-models, because perhaps the mother sees a little bit of what is being done during treatment. She doesn’t interfere with the treatment, but she will see how important it is to play with the child, to listen to him/her, and she also goes through a change in this way.
It’s a project that deals with very difficult situations, and we do it at people’s homes.
The second project is called “tal-taf,” and I think it has existed since the 80’s – so, for almost 30 years.
We saw that many children came here at the age of five, six – when they entered schools, and they had many behavioral problems, or they barely managed to concentrate, and part of them suffered from clinical and developmental symptoms.
It made us understand that we already have to begin treating children at age 0. We need to intervene early on, also in the relations with the mother, in order to prevent these problems in the future.
Now, the mothers won’t come, as they work or they will bring their children to nurseries, and today the nurseries financed by the government act as kindergartens. That’s why they are cheap. So the child is there until four or five in the afternoon, and then the parents bring them home, and then at seven, the child is in bed, and they don’t really know, if he/she develops well or not, whether he/she is calm or not, because most of the day he/she is in daycare.
Most of the daycare financed by the Israeli Ministry of Finance don’t have psychologists working there. They are caretakers with golden heart and a lot of practical knowledge. But in order to identify and diagnose we need someone professional in this area.
So we began going into those nurseries in the region, and today we work with six or seven, meaning once a week one of our psychologists will goes to his day care center. I, for example, go to a nursery once a week to observe, and I will check if particular children walk, if they communicate well, if their development is going well, and to see if there is a problem.
We also invite the mothers, if there are problems, such as telling her she needs to take her child to a hearing test, speech therapy or physiotherapy. If we see that the mother has a problem such as in separating with the child, we will sit and talk with her. If we see that the staff doesn’t really know what to do, then we sit with the staff and guide them.
We do everything that we can to help children at that age, and the impact is very quick. Sometimes you work with a very young child and the mother for two months, and there are already changes after that.
I work in a nursery that’s very special, called the "Shalom" Nursery. It’s a Jewish-Arab nursery, in Jaffa. There you have children from the age of one until 4 ½, and the whole nursery is multilingual and multicultural.
Every song and everything else is done in two languages (Hebrew and Arabic) – every story told, every name uttered. We celebrate all the holidays, the Christian, Muslim and Jewish holidays.
It has existed for 25 years already.
They also teach the parents about tolerance, and they get to know each other, to learn about each other’s holidays. They children talk in both languages. It’s really equal, but it’s too bad that it’s only until the age of four, and not until 18.
But now another bilingual school in Jaffa has been established, so it has a continuation.
This place is special, and that’s why I’ve worked here for many years, and I’ll probably be here, until I retire.
In private clinics you earn more, but for me, ideologically, the work here is very important.
I’m a psychologist and I need to earn some money, but I think that the treatment should be free and paid by the government. That’s my worldview, and I don’t think they should pay that much. It should be everywhere.
It’s like a bubble. You would want it to be like this everywhere, but people here are special, as they have been educated to listen to others, not to judge. This is the basis in terms of therapy. If you are a very judgmental person, and if you see the world in black and white, and if you think that there is only one truth, then you can’t conduct therapies.
To treat someone else, you need skills in listening, so I think that certain kinds of people come and work at this place because of that.
Within the staff we have two bereaved women.
One of them lost her son, who died in Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, in combat. He was a Golani fighter, and the other woman lost her daughter in a terrorist attack in January , when a Palestinian drove over soldiers in Jerusalem. She was an education officer. She died in the attack.
We were there at the funeral, at the shiva [week-long mourning period in Judaism], at the hospital. It was moving.
We have a team of psychologists, where one of them is Arab from Kafr Qasim. Her name is Mai, and she is Muslim. She wears a head covering, and she came to the funeral of the daughter, a military funeral, because of the fact that the daughter was a combat soldier, who had died in the attack.
There were hundreds of soldiers, some of them angry, some of them sad, and we all came together, and she came in her traditional clothes, and she came to comfort her friend, Shelly, and their hug was the most moving thing – to see a Jewish mother and an Arab mother hugging.
I was proud that no one said a word about it. At the funeral I had been scared of someone saying something and cursing her and telling her to leave. It was a big funeral with about 1000 people attending, and there were young people there, who could have extreme opinions, but no one said a word, so I thought: Okay, there is hope. There are good people here.
Interview conducted on September 10, 2017