Will the Danube Release its Wartime Secrets?

Jet-lagged, I imagine the inverse of Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Levi’s poetic reflection: I am in the east, but my heart is in the west. Specifically, Brooklyn. It’s nearly 2:00 am here and I am wide awake after a brief but exceptionally deep sleep in my Budapest hotel room.

On the right bank of the Danube, with the magnificent Hungarian riverside in the background.

I can’t stop thinking about the remarkable adventure in Jewish History that awaits me tomorrow. It was great to rejoin the team of Kosher River Cruises yesterday–David Lawrence and Malcolm Green ably managing the complexities of accommodating 140 Jewish history enthusiasts, Rabbi Stuart Weiss organizing our minyan, and Howie Kahn providing late-evening musical entertainment. My colleague David Kraus has been particularly busy planning our ground expeditions, thrown into disarray with the unprecedented drop in the water levels of our conduit.

People here are saying this is the worst it’s been in a century, and many are wondering what it means for the region. Fifteen years ago, in a less extreme drought, the Danube dropped so low that Nazi trucks, driven in the river as the Germans retreated, were discovered by children playing in the newly expanded shallows. Will the current climactic crisis reveal similar archaeological artifacts?

Last night’s introductory lecture went well. Despite our collective exhaustion from travel and some minor difficulty with the a/v equipment, we had a productive meeting , reviewing the medieval settlement of Jews in the region and the basic economic foundations of the villages and cities that punctuated the river’s course from the Black Forest region of Germany to its outlet in the Black Sea. Passage along the River is constrained by a number of locks that normally regulate the water levels for larger craft–what kind of a Jewish tour doesn’t have locks (sorry couldn’t help myself)–but with the drought our ship is stranded upriver in Vienna, so we will have take the first leg of the journey by coach.

The introductory lecture. Amazingly, most of us stayed awake.

Meanwhile, I look forward to sharing the research from this trip with live audiences in Brooklyn beginning November 5, planning to record for everyone as well. Maybe I should try to get some sleep, tomorrow is going to be a busy day.

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