Rue Amelot

Thanksgiving In Paris, A Serving Of American Optimism

Statue of Liberty replica on the Île aux Cygnes in Paris
Statue of Liberty replica on the Île aux Cygnes in Paris
Tori Otten

-Essay-

When you're living abroad, Thanksgiving can sneak up on you. So when my dad sent me a message Wednesday night — "About to run my last errand for Mom (hopefully)" — I had absolutely no clue what he could be talking about.

Then, it hit me. He was out grocery shopping for the big meal.

Thanksgiving is a truly all-American holiday. It's not a religious import, pagan or Christian, like Halloween and Christmas. It comes without the political implications of July 4th, as many of us tend to gloss over the historical baggage of colonialism. Originally, Thanksgiving was a celebration that the pilgrims had survived the harsh winter. It's a time for families to gather and stuff themselves silly with turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie — foods whose main ingredients are native to North America.

Normally, I go home Tuesday night, prepare all day Wednesday, and then spend Thursday in an eating frenzy. But this year in Paris, it's a little different. You could argue that one of the perks of being abroad for Thanksgiving is that I get to miss the moment where dinner conversation shifts to politics. Thanksgiving's proximity to Election Day always makes for interesting (to say the least) political discussions. But I actually don't get to escape that. The French people and other foreigners around me have plenty to say about the current state of politics in the United States. Conversations inevitably shift that way, and I'm usually the only American present. When that happens, I always find myself torn.

Thanksgiving is a national reset button.

There is no denying that America is in crisis. The country is divided, at times seemingly beyond repair. White supremacists have taken to the streets. Women and LGBT rights are under attack. The new tax plan will cripple everyone but the top echelons of society. We might lose net neutrality. And the content on a certain high-profile Twitter account makes my country harder and harder to defend.

And yet, I find myself strangely optimistic about my native country. One look at my house on Thanksgiving might explain why. My mother, a Korean immigrant, makes the best cornbread stuffing I've ever had. I make broccoli casserole, a decidedly Southern dish. My cousins and I, all biracial kids, organize dessert: pumpkin pie (classic) and then something experimental and chocolate. My dad puts on the Charlie BrownThanksgiving special, while my Jewish uncle talks about the latest bonsai he's been cultivating.

Yes, we talk about politics, and I lecture the one teenage boy in the family about feminism. But the point is not to shut out the world in a tryptophan-induced coma.

Thanksgiving is a national reset button. It's a moment to embrace, rather than critique, the weird traditions, the differences, the chaos that make up my country. From over here, I can see that more clearly than ever — and I haven't given up on America just yet.



This is Worldcrunch"s international collection of essays, both original pieces written in English and others translated from the world's best writers in any language. The name for this collection, Rue Amelot, is a nod to the humble address in eastern Paris we call home. Send ideas and suggestions at info@worldcrunch.com.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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