Rabbi Rebecca Blady was born and raised on Long Island, New York, USA. Together with her husband and Rabbi Jeremy Borovitz, she moved to Berlin in 2019 as a co-founder of Hillel Germany: Base Berlin, which aims to strengthen Germany’s young and vibrant Jewish community. As part of their Base Berlin programme, Blady and Borovitz organised a trip to Halle with a group of around 20 young people from across Germany to experience a meaningful Yom Kippur service.
The following conversation is part of an interview series with some of the co-plaintiffs in the trial. Rachel Spicker spoke with them about their experience of the attack, why they have decided to become a co-plaintiff and what they expect from the trial.
Belltower News: What was your experience of the attack?
Rebecca Blady: When we heard that an attack was taking place and someone had been shot in front of the synagogue, we were hiding upstairs in the flat in which Jeremy, my daughter and I were staying at – right above the synagogue. There was a lot of confusion as to what was actually happening. Everyone in our group that had travelled to Halle from Berlin for Yom Kippur bar two people were in the synagogue at the time. So the first thing we did was to turn on our phones, which we would never ever normally do on Yom Kippur, in order to see if everyone was safe. After we had reached everyone, we went back downstairs and continued prayer, which took on an even more powerful and meaningful significance.
Our daughter also wasn’t in the synagogue. She was with a babysitter while we went to pray. That for me was the worst part. When I thought of her, I would just break down and couldn’t think clearly. My daughter and her babysitter walked out of the same door that was shot at 45 minutes later. After we were evacuated by the police, we were supposed to get on a bus that would bring us to a hospital. The police wouldn’t let my daughter on the bus because they claimed the bus was only for people that had been in the synagogue. At this point, I really lost trust in the police. My husband Jeremy had to insist that he wouldn’t get on the bus until we had our daughter with us. I was terrified of also being separated from him, but that was the only way we could put pressure on the authorities to get our daughter from behind the police cordon onto the bus. When we arrived at the hospital, the staff there were amazing. They were so kind and so generous, they brought us everything we needed, and did anything they could to be there for our group. There was a huge contrast between the behaviour of the police and those taking care of us at the hospital.
How do you feel about the attack today?
It took me some time to figure out how the shooting affected me exactly. I haven’t been as present as I usually am with others, my friends or my community. I have done a lot of work to integrate this memory into my own life. A particular turning point came within the last couple of months. I now feel energised and motivated to tell the story right – and to make sure everyone who was there feels able and safe to do so as well. I want us to be allies to one another in the process. Over time I also realized, that his attack has deeply affected our Jewish community in Berlin, too. It’s important that the story of this attack includes the Jewish perspective and that this perspective isn’t edited out in any way. Going to trial and being represented as a co-plaintiff for me means entering the next phase of healing.
Why did you choose to become a co-plaintiff?
At first, I wasn’t really interested in the process but over time I’ve realised what a gift it is. It means taking ownership of a very difficult memory. The opportunity of testifying as a co-plaintiff also means a lot to me personally. Not only because of the attack and because of what I experienced, but also concerning my greater family story. All of my grandparents are survivors of the Holocaust. Before they came to the US, they lived in Poland and what was then Czechoslovakia. The fact that I live here in Germany is very complicated for my family, and part of the reason I chose to do so is to address my own past. You know, it is really hard to have Halle as one of the first encounters while living in Germany. And I think a huge part of the reason I was so frozen on that day and in the following months is that it really touched something deep inside me. As the granddaughter of survivors, I have experienced a tiny bit of what my grandparents had experienced. I see that the trauma they have survived is something I inherited. What I have experienced is of course a different incident at a different time, but it still happened to the same family. When I go to this trial, of course it’s about what happened to us in Halle, but it’s also about what happened to my grandparents. They never had any sort of opportunity to have their specific stories heard as evidence of a crime. So to me, being a co-plaintiff and having the opportunity to testify in a court of law in Germany in 2020 and to see justice done, is something very powerful.
What do you expect from the trial?
As Base Berlin, we are working with the young Jewish community here in Germany to empower them so that they can positively contribute to this society. Changing society for the better is a core value in Judaism. As a co-plaintiff in the trial, we have an outsized microphone to tell the court and the public what happened. To tell them how it felt and feels now. To voice our concerns about how and why it happened, about our experiences after the attack. I think that our perspectives and voices can contribute to the systemic changes that need to take place in order to make this society better for us all. And I hope that our voices will be heard and listened to.
Further information on the trial: Together with NSU-Watch, the VBRG is documenting the trial in German, English and Russian. On the blog halle-prozess-report.de, you can find information, reports and perspectives on the trial from co-plaintiffs and their lawyers, with support from activists and supporters.
At the beginning of the trial, a group of co-plaintiffs published a joint declaration in which they have called on the media not to mention the attacker’s name to deny him a platform. We have respected this wish in this interview.