“A year to forget”
Rabbi Jeremy Borovitz survived the attack on the synagogue in Halle. What has changed for him since then.

Illustration by Jens Bonnke

Jeremy Borovitz grew up in the US and moved with his family to Germany only a few months ago. There, he and his wife Rebecca co-founded Base Berlin. The initiative aims to create new spiritual and cultural opportunities for Jews in Germany

5780 sucked. I’m ready to throw 5780 into the water. (Editorial note: The numbers refer to the past year according to the Jewish calendar).

There’s a ceremony, usually done on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah (although this year, because of Shabbat, will be on the second day) where Jews go to a body of water (preferably one with fish) and say a series of penitential prayers as they ‘cast away’ their sins.

As a child, Tashlich was a big event. After services the whole community would walk to a stream and throw bread into the water---it was only much later in life that I learned that there might be an issue with feeding bread for ducks to eat, both in general as well as a possible violation of the Halacha (Jewish law)---but I digress.


From the Yiddish word "to shake", shuckling references the ritual swaying back and forth of worshippers during Jewish prayer.

Expand Expand Collapse Collapse

From the Yiddish word "to shake", shuckling references the ritual swaying back and forth of worshippers during Jewish prayer.

My father used to take a whole loaf to throw in the water, a way, I think, to humanize him, the Rabbi of the congregation, in front of the people. He had so many sins to cast away! And I remember as a teenager standing and shuckling1 at the river, trying to think of specific things I had done wrong and specific people I had wronged during the past year. In the tradition of the “Al Chet” prayer, I would pound my chest and cast into the water all the things about myself I wanted to throw away, to leave behind. Rosh Hashanah was a day of intense personal reflection, and inward looking moment that would go on for ten days and would culminate in the blowing of the Shofar at the end of Yom Kippur.

But this year, if I look too deeply inward, I just want to cry.

I want to throw away the explosion I heard during the Torah reading on Yom Kippur and the anxiety of running to the back of the synagogue and the acceptance of my own fate and death in the endless minutes of the 9th of October. I want to cast into the sea the pain of looking for our friends and trying to reconnect with our daughter. (Editorial note: Jeremy’s daughter was being looked after by a babysitter outside oft he synagogue). I want the fish to devour the shame of being mistreated by police and being exposed to the world. I want to wash away my anger at journalists and judges and German society. I just want it all to go away.

And on top of that, we have a global pandemic that means I haven’t seen my family in nearly a year, restrictions that have forced us to redefine our work and do the thing that we promised we would never do: Turn people away because there wasn’t any room.

Of course, lest I forget to mention a madman in the White House, racism and police violence abound, protestors being killed in the streets from Milwaukee to Minsk, and the rising micro-aggressions against this Rabbi as he wanders the streets of Berlin and testifies in the courts of Magdeburg.

We’re preparing like mad for these High Holy Days, and I don’t feel the normal rush and anxious anticipation, the normal questions (Do we have enough food? Do we have enough chairs? Do we have enough wine?) absent from my brain. Instead, I feel filled with an emptiness, and I stand at the water not knowing how to cast any of it away.

This is real, and I am beyond unprepared. I stare at the bags of groceries, at the apples and honey and dates and leeks and carrots, and I want to give it a meaning, I want to make it symbolic, but I also want to crawl into a hole and emerge at the call of the Shofar after Yom Kippur.

And at the same time, I’m not the only one hurting. I used to get one to two calls per month from people in our community who were having a tough time. Now, I get 5-6 calls per week. People are hurting---either from Yom Kippur or from the trial in Magdeburg or from sickness or from the death of a loved one or from the dissolution of a relationship. A year ago, the future for German Jewry seemed to me untouchably bright. But the veil has been lifted, and so many of us feel like ‘Others’ feel alone, feel that we are being showcased for the benefit of something or someone else. My pain is not comforted, rather it is made useful.

I want to leave this at the water, but I’m not sure if I can. Perhaps I’ll print out a copy of this and cast it into the Landwehr canal, but it wouldn’t be too good for the ducks. Or perhaps I’ll aimlessly go through the motions, beat my chest and bow my head as we shorten the prayers to fit into the legally allotted time slot. I want to hear the call of the Shofar, but my ears are blocked with the fear of what tomorrow might bring.

On the day I went to testify at the trial for the Nazi who tried to kill me, I spent some time speaking with Ismet Tekin, the owner of the Kebab shop, where this gunman continued his murderous spree after he was unable to penetrate the synagogue. A young man, Kevin S., was killed inside the restaurant.

Ismet Tekin survived when the attacker from Halle shot and killed a customer in his Kebab restaurant. The Nazi went there after he had failed to enter the synagogue

After my testimony, Ismet walked beside me as we went outside for some air. We shared a cigarette (sorry, Mom, it was a stressful day) and he told me that right now, his wife was at the doctor, finding out if they would be having a boy or a girl. I told him my wife was due in November. And for a brief moment, there were tears of joy in both of our eyes.

I want to throw 5780 into the water, but I can’t, because without 5780 we could never have 5781. And I pray that a year from now, I can stand by a lake with my wife and two children, Ismet’s wife and child there as well, and we can complain about lack of sleep and bad spousal communication and childcare and all of the normal things that we should complain about. I want to be able to think again of all the areas I want to grow and improve. I want to be able to dive deep again into my psyche, and try and figure out what makes me tick.

But there is no Rip Van Winkle or Honi the circle maker who can transport me into the future without pushing me through the present. 5780 sucked----but it’s the only year we had. But two future babies were conceived in 5780, and they will, inshallah, come into this world in 5781. Sometimes we plant seeds, and it is painful and dirty and difficult, and I just hope that when the flowers bloom the sun is shining and the sky is blue and that there is plenty of water to sustain it and, if necessary, to give it a fresh start.

The wooden door to the synagogue in Halle after an extremist failed to enter. The Nazi had intended to kill members of the Jewish community who whorshipped on Jom Kippur together


Jeremy Borovitz

Director for Jewish Learning for Base Berlin

Jeremy Borovitz was raised in New Jersey, USA. He is the son of a Reform rabbi and he has a BA in Public Policy. He is an ordained rabbi and currently works as the Director for Jewish Learning for Base Berlin - an initiative he has co-founded with his wife Rebecca Blady.

Explore what we do

Confront the past

Combat antisemitism

Protect minorities

Strengthen democracy

Reinforce critical thinking

Share on Twitter
Share on Facebook
Share by email
Copy link
Link Copied
Copy link
back arrow