“There’s always this joke that half of Tel Aviv is actually here,” Liad Hussein Kantorowicz told me when I interviewed her in her Berlin apartment.
The numbers back her up: According to the latest estimates, 15,000 to 20,000 people have left Israel in recent years to forge a new life in Berlin. Most of these new migrants come from Tel Aviv and are relatively young. Many are trying to make it professionally in a creative field.
But why Berlin, of all places? The idea of “historical irony” sounds like an understatement when you ask yourself: Why are so many descendants of Holocaust survivors deciding to move to the exact same city in which the Nazis planned the Final Solution 70 years ago?
Maybe it’s fair to assume that we are talking about a very different Berlin. Today, Germany’s gritty capital offers a lot more than just affordable rent. It’s a fertile ground for longing and transgression, especially for artists.
Keren Manor / Activestills.
We often think of migration as a major rupture in one’s life. But Hussein-Kantorowicz’s biography shows significant continuities. In Israel, she co-founded Anarchists Against the Wall. In Germany, she presents lectures on pinkwashing, arguing that Israel promotes its gay-friendly policies in an attempt to downplay its alleged human rights violations. In Israel, she was one of the first spokespeople for the rights of sex workers. In Germany, she’s deeply invested in a peer education project run for and by sex workers. But the most important continuity is the fact that she’s always creating performance work, which blurs the boundaries between life, art, and politics.
Hussein-Kantorowicz’s story may not be representative of the vast number of Israelis in Berlin. But it’s worthwhile to listen closely to her if you want to understand why the city feels so welcoming to people who felt marginalized in Israel:
“When you object to state apartheid, which is what is done in Israel at the moment, and on top of that you look strange and you conduct a lifestyle that is different, you’re not only seen as an outsider, you’re potentially seen as a terrorist. And Berlin is definitely a place that has very wide margins of society where all the “others” can find their place.”
Will the new Israeli community settle permanently in Berlin? Or will thousands of Israelis soon look back on these years abroad as exciting but temporary life experiments? It’s hard to predict the future of this nomadic generation, which often questions the concept of national loyalty in favor of ambitious art and an ongoing commitment to social justice.
Martyna Starosta is a former digital media producer of the Forward.