Kristallnacht: November 9-10, 1938

Crystal night. The irony of the name slivered through open wounds. Yes, the streets were glittery under the streetlights, but opera didn’t break that glass. Neither did the screaming. The police had been warned that there would be violence, and their orders were to let it run its course. The firemen stood by as fire crackled through the synagogues. Jewish boys and men were rounded up and arrested, even though it was their storefronts, homes, and families that had been smashed. And, when morning came, many of the shadows that had wielded hammers, crowbars, and other, too-solid tools turned out to be their neighbors.

The fall of the Berlin Wall: November 9, 1989

That’s how we refer to it, at least, with a gentle euphemism. As dainty as crystal. But, really, when that German official announced—perhaps mistakenly—that the borders would be opened, people flooded to the hateful barricade with hammers, crowbars, and their own bare hands. My mother’s hairdresser flew to Berlin precisely for that occasion. Amidst shouting and champagne, people tore down the concrete and flooded the once bloody no man’s land, uniting the two halves of the severed city.

An evening of solidarity: November 8, 2014

In late October, a man vandalized a synagogue not too far from my house. He broke windows and graffitied the front door with “Jews go to Hell.” Armed with a hatchet, a machete, and an ax, he meant to do more. Thankfully, no one was hurt. The police were called. They arrived within two minutes. They arrested the perpetrator.

A few weeks later, on a cold Saturday night, when, for some reason I didn’t have to work, my parents and I joined our Jewish—and Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim—neighbors at Congregation Etz Chaim. Probably half of us in that synagogue had no idea how to pronounce those throat-clearing words. On the edges of the sanctuary, volunteers kept setting up as many folding chairs as they could find, jumbling together padded office chairs, metal folding chairs, and small couches. Small wonder we had had trouble parking. After being welcomed, we stumbled through Hinei mah tov uma nayim shevet achim gam yachad.[1] Then we were blessed in Arabic; we were greeted from Rome—“Shalom from Rome” was the subject of a bishop’s email that was read. As I looked through the yarmulke and hijab dotted crowd, the rabbi told us that this was the largest ecumenical gathering in the history of DuPage County: believers from over forty congregations had shown up.

We came because of those nasty words, the broken glass, and our neighbors’ shattered sense of security. We—Jew, Muslim, Christian—came to condemn the hate that riddles even this relatively calm corner of the world. We came to stand together under the twelve lamps that lit the sanctuary. We—that glorious, plural pronoun.

At the end of the service, we sang “Oseh Shalom,” a Jewish blessing, but the chorus was John Lennon’s “Imagine,” a song we dreamers all knew. Afterwards, we were invited for cookies, which turned out to be mini éclairs, cream puffs, and other swirly, buttery goodies, trumping any Protestant donut hole. There were tours for those of us who had never set foot in a synagogue before, so my parents and I meandered up to the front where there was a huge, wooden chest—a representative Ark. Inside, were four, giant, velvet-sleeved scrolls, copies of the Torah, complete with mini metal hand pointers to help readers follow the script—the script that held the starry-skied beginnings of all of our faiths. After we took one last look at the Eternal Lamp, which had quietly glowed during the whole service, we left, less alone than when we had arrived.

A few hours later, Germany let fly thousands of balloons to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. They floated freely over the glittering city.


[1] How good and pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together. (Psalm 133:1)


  1. Geneva Langeland

    Love this. Thank you.

    • Avatar

      Thanks, Geneva!

  2. Avatar

    To your last sentence, and the whole piece: Indeed.
    Thanks for this, Sabrina.


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