My Soul Has Found its Home

A young Shirley Gindler-Price’s German passport.

Out of the 95,000 U.S. Occupation babies born in Germany in the 1950s-60s, there were approximately 3,000 of us, so-called Negro mulatto babies, better known as Germany’s “Brown Babies.” The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) deemed that we formed a special group, presenting a human and racial problem of a special nature that gave great cause for concern. Our national and cultural heritage (perhaps even our religious birthright) were seen to be in direct contrast to our skin color. In 1951, The Brown Baby Plan was implemented in order to facilitate our adoptions by African American military families.

I was born in Nürnberg, Germany. My mutti and I eventually moved to Ansbach where at the age of three I would be given up for adoption. As with so many other German Brown Babies, I was adopted by an African American military couple stationed in Germany.

My loving parents, Baptist Christians, were not religious and we rarely went to church. In between tours of duty we would visit with my mother’s family. That is when going to church became an issue. “That baby needs church” my grandmother would fuss and eventually my mother gave in.

Dressed in Sunday’s finest courtesy of my grandmother, off to church she and I went. Having never been in a church before, I didn’t know what to expect. When I walked through the doors I felt frightened. There was something about the energy in the church that made me feel uneasy. I began to cry. My grandmother laid my head in her lap and as I softly wept, I felt lonelier than I had ever felt in my life. I began to wail. Not being able to console me, my grandmother took left church early and took me home. Needless to say, she never made an issue about my going to church again.

In my 40s I finally arrived at the point where I was prepared to deal with my adoption. No more denial. No more feeling guilty for needing know who or where I came from. I began to search for my birth family. Although no indication was given on my birth certificate that I was Jewish, I knew my surname was considered to be an “ethnically” Jewish name. It was also time to explore my Jewish heritage.

The very first book I read on Judaism I knew I had found what I’d been spiritually searching for. Judaism expressed my sense of spirituality like nothing I had ever studied before, and the rituals and customs seemed oddly familiar to me. When I finished reading the book I knew my soul had found what it had been longing for.

I immediately began an Intro to Judaism class. During the same time I also found my birth mother. She and a male sibling had emigrated from Germany and had been living in Brooklyn for 38 years. Described as a holocaust survivor by my Rabbi, my birth mother hadn’t been in a concentration camp, she survived by doing whatever she needed to do in order to live, and that included denying her Jewishness.

When I told her that I had embraced Judaism she exclaimed, “Vhy vould you vant to be a Jew?!” However when we were alone, sitting at her dining room table, she whispered to me that the candles on her dining room table were for Shabbat. I told that I had noticed them. She smiled. She then whispered to me that she had menorah and asked me if I wanted to see it. Of course, I told her. She then scampered over to a closet, dug deep in the back and pulled out a beautiful sterling silver heirloom menorah. She held it up proudly and seemed genuinely thrilled to share her secret with me. As we, mother and daughter looked into each others eyes, there was an unspoken understanding; not only were we mother and daughter, we were Jews. And I sensed, at least for a moment, that my mutti was proud. She was proud of me and proud to be Jewish.

I finished my Intro class, found a wonderful Rabbi to sponsor my conversion and eventually became a member of his synagogue. However navigating through the Jewish community was not easy. I was so happy to have found my way back to my spiritual roots that it had never occurred to me that some people wouldn’t be happy to see me. That some wouldn’t welcome me because of my brown skin.

Throughout the years I’ve developed wonderful friendships with Jews of all colors and I will cherish them forever. I’ve also been subjected to prejudice, rude and insensitive behavior in the Jewish community. Some Jews assume that I’m not Jewish because I’m not white. Some, after hearing my story still insist that I’m half Jewish, even though I’ve converted as well. And some dismiss me altogether. Treat me as if I’m invisible.

I smiled, realizing that after sharing the personal details of my life, this person still didn’t get it. She didn’t understand that I could no more turn my back on being Jewish than she could. That unlike my mutti, who out of fear and perhaps even shame, felt the need to hide her true self, I cherish my Jewish heritage. When I walk into my synagogue and the service begins, a sense of peace comes over me. And when my voice blends with my choir members and the entire congregation sways and sings Avinu Malkenu and we are all moved to tears, a sense of belonging overwhelms me. I finally know who I am and where I belong. I told the person, “Leaving is not an option; my soul has found its home.”

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