Lillian Rosengarten, the only American on the Jewish boat to Gaza, lives near me in the Hudson Valley, and the other day I visited her to interview her about her experience on the British-flagged catamaran that the Israelis had intercepted on the high seas on September 28.
I hoped the activist/therapist/poet could answer a big question. How did she reconcile two important events in her life: her family had fled Nazi Germany when she was a toddler, but now, 73 years later, the state created to rescue the Jews had deported her and said she could never come back?
It was Wednesday afternoon. The door was open and Rosengarten was in her kitchen. There were three pots on the stove. She was making beans and soup for a sick friend.
We sat down in the living room near a carving from New Guinea. Rosengarten was rested and relaxed, and I thought of how fretful she had been before she left, as she waited to hear from the secretive boat organizers in Europe. Her friends and family had been afraid for her, we kept hearing rumors that she was on the list or off the list, she had nearly taken off on a trip she’d planned to Indonesia. Since then she’d had an adventure on the high seas and become a public figure. She’d been quoted in the New York Times, people were calling her from all over.
I asked her whether she’d been afraid to go.
“I was afraid from the beginning. There was some ambivalence, and on the other hand I absolutely had to go on this mission. I knew damn well this is dangerous. I knew what happened on the Mavi Marmara, I knew what happened in Dubai. I am not a martyr and I wanted to survive the trip. But if I were to die, I thought, so be it, I have to go.”
From the moment when she had first heard about the German Jewish boat (its original name) early last summer, she had felt called to be on it. “I thought, I have to be on that boat. It was completely emotional, not intellectual.”
Rosengarten was born in Frankfurt in 1935. By 1937 her father had seen the writing on the wall and arranged to get most of the extended family out. Today her relatives are scattered around the world, on several continents. Many live in Israel. Though she was never a Zionist, Rosengarten went to Israel a half dozen times, the first time in 1971, when she fell in love with the country. Read about her experience on the boat....