The Third Generation Young Israel's New Love Affair with Germany
German passports, Berlin DJs and language lessons: After decades of wariness, Israelis have discovered a new love for Germany. For a new generation of confident, young Israelis, the country has become one of their favorites.
On his first night in Germany, Tomer Heymann, an Israeli, sleeps with a German. He met him -- Andreas Josef Merk, blond and Catholic -- at Berghain, a Berlin club. Heymann -- film director, Jewish and gay -- at first takes him for a Swede. He thinks Germans must look different, perhaps more sinister, jagged or cruder.
The next morning, the camera is already rolling, and the Israeli asks the German: Are you proud to be a German? Have you ever spoken with your grandparents about the Holocaust? No, says the German, but it's very possible that they were Nazis. A long silence follows. It's the only time they broach the topic.
Shortly thereafter, the German travels to Tel Aviv with two suitcases and a one-way ticket. The two men celebrate Passover and Christmas together. The German demonstrates how to flip pancakes in the air; the Israeli shows him how to stand still on Holocaust Remembrance Day, with your arms pressed tightly against your body while you observe two minutes of silence. These and many other scenes eventually become a film: a 56-minute record of the new, unencumbered way in which many Israelis and Germans are now relating to each other.
"I Shot My Love" is a declaration of love -- that of an Israeli, whose grandparents fled Berlin in 1936, to a German dancer from Bavaria. The remarkable part: just how normal this love seems to be.
A New Stance toward Germany
Something has changed about the way Israelis and Germans interact, far removed from the endless German debates in which old men wrestle with their ghosts and politicians struggle to perform the mandatory rituals: the obligatory visit to Yad Vashem here, the obligatory visit to Dachau there. For quite some time now, there's been a new Israeli-German reality beyond the routine of shock and dismay -- primarily in Israel.
Nearly 70 years after the Holocaust, the last survivors are passing away, and this is changing how younger Israelis view Germany. Relatively free of historical taboos, they are redefining what this country means to them. This new generation no longer finds it odd that a company like Birkenstock promotes its products in Israel with "Made in Germany," and a short trip to Berlin is the most normal thing in the world. For them, Germany is not just a country like any other -- it also happens to be one of their favorites.
It mainly has to do with a feeling, a new Israeli self-assurance vis-à-vis Germany, one characterized by curiosity and a yearning for discovery. Young Israelis no longer insist on constant remembrance but, rather, on the right to be allowed to forget sometimes.
The sheer scale of this transition is perhaps best expressed in figures: Two years ago, one-quarter of all Israelis were rooting for Germany to win the soccer World Cup. In a survey conducted in 2009, 80 percent of all respondents qualified Israeli-German relations as normal, and 55 percent said that anti-Semitism was no worse in Germany than elsewhere in Europe.
City that Never Sleeps
Some 100,000 Israelis now hold German passports, and 15,000 are thought to be living in Berlin. The number of direct flights between the countries increases every year, yet the aircraft are nearly always fully booked. In the large cities, it's almost impossible to find a young Israeli who hasn't been to Germany or doesn't want to go there. They are especially drawn to Berlin. The city from which the Final Solution was once managed now lures Israelis with its cheap rents and the promise of life in an exciting city that never sleeps.
But Berlin is more than just the latest New York. It's a stage on which they can role play and explore their senses of belonging and identity -- a kind of what-if game: What if I had been born in Germany? Who would I be? What would my life be like today?
It goes without saying that this new relationship is not without its problems. Not everything is rosy, of course, and not all is forgiven and forgotten. There are still 17-year-olds with German roots who shudder with shame when the Holocaust is covered in school. There are others who swear they'll never set foot in Germany. Remembering the Holocaust is the guiding principle of their lives, said 98 percent of Jewish Israelis in a recent survey. And when the Israel Chamber Orchestra played a piece by Richard Wagner last year at the festival in Bayreuth devoted to the German composer, it sparked an uproar back in Israel. But it can actually be seen as a sign of change -- and not so much a sign of persistence: A symbolic act of resistance from the older generation, which is ill at ease with the relaxed attitude of today's youth.
Mixing History and Love
At one point in the film, Heymann, the Israeli filmmaker, asks his mother on camera: Does it bother you that your son is involved with a German? No, she says, not at all. Later, she says: You're both so different; you should look for someone more similar to you. By that, she means a Jew. Heymann didn't follow his mother's advice. Six years on, he and Andreas are still together. And the mother? She's grown to appreciate it. Indeed, the young German has given her back a part of her own German family history that had been buried for a long time.
But the question remains whether a partner from Germany is appropriate for an Israeli. It's an issue debated in many Israeli families these days. Not surprisingly, now that more Israelis are traveling to Germany, they are also meeting more Germans -- and falling in love. Hebrew courses in Tel Aviv are packed with non-Jewish foreigners, including many Germans learning their partner's language. In fact, the courses are so full that extra classes for non-Jewish immigrants have been introduced. At the same time, many Israelis are learning German, and the language courses at the Goethe Institut are more popular than ever.
- Part 1: Young Israel's New Love Affair with Germany
- Part 2: Diving into a Difficult Past