My name is Ariella Wolf and I’m pleased that you have stumbled upon my new column here on Minzgespinst. I’m a Jewish musician and writer from San Francisco, currently living in Berlin. I’m still thinking of a name for this column, something that encapsulates the existence of “I”, “Myself,” “Me,” “It,” “Her”, and “Us” — you get the point.
I enjoy the idea of Minzgespinst very much so, and I can only imagine that those of you coming to this blog share a mind similar to mine. I think about the word “activism” frequently and am still wondering what it means. Am I one of these “activists“? And if so, how does that change your perception of me, and how I thus view myself? Am I a worthy spokesperson for the Jews? Maybe that’s the wrong way to look at it. Maybe I can be a (singular) spokesperson for the Jews. Perhaps I can be one truth of many.
And speaking of truth, I just want to breathe free, be free, and exist in a world where others share that same luxury.
However, freedom has a cost, and is never truly free, something us Jew’s learn from an early age. It’s something we talk about at nearly every holiday celebration, every Shabbas dinner, every night when we recite the Sh’ma before sleep. We, the children of Israel, pray to return to the Holy Land. I don’t mean the modern day state of Israel, but more the idea of a holy land. As Jews we always have something to strive for, something better. You know, we are the ones who’s prophet never came.. we’re still waiting.
I’m proud to write this column because I know most Germans surprisingly have never met or interacted with a Jew before. I’m proud to write this column as a jewish trans woman. A woman who has found herself through her Jewish culture and religion, contrary to what most people might think. So I hope that you can read my words and, perhaps you will be upset, and I think that’s okay. There is something beyond being upset, a truth beyond anger, when you find out that the way things “are”… Actually aren’t the way things should be.
We always have something to fix, Tikkun Olam, repairing the world – we always have truth to seek, Tzedek, Justice. These are values that I wish to share with you in this column. And it’s by no means an easy task.
Ever since I moved to Germany and started a life here, I’ve had to hold my breath. I’ve had to live in a fear that I didn’t know so well in California. As Jews we were always a little cautious. I remember the kid drawing swastikas on my desk in middle school, another kid telling me he “hates Jews”. Being chased in downtown San Francisco while wearing my Magen David by a group protesting against the state of Israel. I was very much aware of what being a Jew meant. But I had other Jews to relate to, I had my synagogue, I had my family. I had other minorities in my surrounding who I didn’t have to explain myself to. Other minorities that I never thought were any less American, just as I, the great-granddaughter of immigrants, was American too.
But here in Germany, I learned that most people think that we, and I are dead. I am speechless the minute a German tells me how they visited Auschwitz and asks for forgiveness. Please, don’t mention the Holocaust to a Jew, and don’t tell us if you’ve been to a concentration camp.
I learned that my voice as a Jew only matters when I say what Germans want me to say. For example, when I speak about the Holocaust in a compassionate way that relieves them of their guilt; how Germany has changed and learned from the past. But the minute I speak about antisemitism or philosemitism here in Germany, my voice is squashed with denial: “No no, that isn’t what happens in this country!”. Germans go so far as to blame us for their guilt. There’s nothing worse than dealing with a Jew that’s still living, and that’s how I feel every time I enter a white-German space. I am the problem.
In the Halle Synagogue attack of 2019, many of my friends were almost massacred. After that, I thought, Germans would wake up. Not just to the injustice towards the Jewish community, but towards all marginalized groups. I thought the same after Hanau. After our trans sibling Malte was murdered just last year I thought that people would have to wake up. But to close your eyes is easier than to face reality: this country does not provide the same security for everyone. As Jews, we rely on German police to protect our Synagogues and schools, but, where were they in 2019? We hire our own security and protect our own spaces. All because it has become clear that Germans will not help us when we are being attacked.
I wait for the day when Jews don’t have only each other to turn to in times of crisis. Wait to see Germans speaking up for us when we need help. I wait to see activist spaces including us when they discuss all forms of discrimination. Wait to not feel isolated to turning only to my Jewish community for help.
Last year I immersed myself in a Mikveh (a ritual bath used to cleanse oneself during transitional phases) to mark the beginning of my gender transition in San Francisco, in front of my mom, my wife, my baby, and my childhood rabbi. The rabbi said a blessing from the Torah, and changed the words from the Torah to thank G!d “for making me a woman.”
I live here in Berlin with my wife and one year old, and we, a Jewish, German, Trans, Queer, family just want you to know: we exist.
It’s not my goal to educate you on this column, and maybe this introduction sounds a bit too preachy. I want you to feel with me, because I believe that empathy is stronger than any form of ‘understanding.’ You will never know what it feels like to be a Jew in Germany. But maybe you can empathize and see the reality of what is means for us to exist here. Maybe you’re not trans, but maybe you can empathize with our daily struggle just to exist, to be acknowledged.
See you soon,