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A torch carried from the past

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg's reflections on past and present in a walk from Frankfurt to Finchley

Walking with the Light, Jonathan Wittenberg, Quartet, £20

    For three weeks Jonathan Wittenberg and his dog Mitzpah walked through Germany and Holland with a torch lit from the ner tamid of the Westend Synagogue in Frankfurt, the synagogue of his grandfather Georg Salzburger, in order to light the ner tamid in the new building of his own synagogue.

    Symbolically, he sought to bring the challenging past to live alongside a vibrant present and hopeful future, and at the same time to heal some of the many dislocations he lives with. This is a book about bridging divides — historical, religious and geographical — and also about living with the double vision and dual identity imposed on us through our family histories and experiences. The veil between past and present is sometimes opaque and sometimes translucent, as he walks and talks with people on the journey and reflects on his second-generation German-Jewish identity

    While focusing on light, this book is more influenced by shadows, as he faithfully documents his anxieties and fears, his engagement with the fate of his German family, his examination of his own losses and the shallowness of his newer roots in comparison with those of earlier generations.

    Meanwhile Mitzpah provides a sometimes painfully insightful counter-narrative, wondering about the value of interfaith dialogue when there is a great deal of talk but nobody ever does anything afterwards.
    Ultimately, Wittenberg sees darkness as a necessary adjunct to light, reminds us that seeing the light of humanity in each other is critical for history not to repeat and reflects on what encourages or obscures enlightenment.

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