Evan Kaufmann: A Cultural Hat Trick
Walter Rathenau, Foreign Minister of Germany during the Weimar period, once referred to Berlin as “Chicago on the Spree”; I guess that makes Chicago “Berlin on Lake Michigan.” Given that, one would think moving from one city to the other would not be a huge deal, besides all the bureaucratic red tape that goes along with any international move.
As a Jewish-American, my new address is downright controversial. Fellow Jews usually look at me like I just told them about my baptism plans. “You’re moving WHERE?!” Non-Jews look less horrified and more concerned for my safety, lest I end up in a time machine. “You’re sure you want to go THERE?!”
Constantly defending my interest in German culture and language is tedious, so I decided to enlist a buddy to take some of the pressure off of me. His name is Evan Kaufmann, a fellow Jewish Midwesterner (born in Minnesota), making a life in Germany. That life being one of a professional hockey player: first for the DEG Metro Stars, and now as part of the Nuremberg Ice Tigers. While he’s been playing for Germany since 2008, his story hit the US media this year, creating a fresh round of debate about his decision.
Evan’s story is complex; Kaufmann became a German citizen so he could play on the team. The reason he was able to attain citizenship so quickly is because his family was stripped of their birthright during the Third Reich. His great-grandparents were murdered in concentration camps; his grandfather survived and moved to the US after the War. Ironically, the DEG Metro Stars, also known as the Düsseldorfer Eislauf-Gemeinschaft, were founded in 1935, the same year that the Nuremberg Laws stripped Kaufmann’s family of their citizenship.
Given his family background, and the fact that he’s one of the first Jews to play for a German national team, he has attracted lots of attention — good and bad. Everyone has an opinion about his choices. In an interview with Jason Miller of JWeekly, Kaufmann explained that it hasn’t just been his family’s reactions he’s had to deal with:
“It’s an issue not just for them but for a lot of American Jews in general. Germany is so different today than it was back then. I wish more people could come over here today so they wouldn’t have to carry that stereotype forever.”
I think it’s important that young Jews meet young Germans and vice versa. Kaufmann and his wife, Danielle, have built a cultural bridge with his German teammates. As was described in a New York Times article last February, the other players are curious about his background, and his wife is known to bring Hanukkah cookies and Purim treats to the team holiday parties.
The image of young Germans eating Hanukkah cookies at a holiday hockey party should settle any person’s doubts about Kaufmann’s move. Even more awesome than his career goal statistics is the chance he’s giving the new generation of Germans and American Jews (and every combination thereof) to work and play together, striving for a common goal — understanding and friendship.
To quote Mr. Elmar Jakobs of the German Consulate, honoring Evan with the title “Goodwill Ambassador for the Transatlantic Relationship” this year in Pittsburgh, “Speaking in a synogogue tonight — being German — reminds me that we, American Jews and Germans are separated by the past. But what matters today is not what separates us, but what unites us.”
Hockey may seem trivial to some, but after watching the video below of German crowds cheering for Kaufmann, it sure doesn’t seem too trivial to me.