Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Wandering Jew

Following the war, my mother's parents returned to their hometown, re-settled, and married. Then, but a decade later, they had to flee from the communists.

Since, from childhood, I viewed this story with the comfort of hindsight, I have been realizing what they must have felt in that time. They experienced the upheavals of World War I as children; then the devastation of the Holocaust; and just when they managed to catch their breath and rebuild their lives, they were forced out.

Zeidy was 50 when he had to abandon the hope of revitalizing the kehillah for good, when he had to learn a new language, and establish a new means of supporting his young family. That's where his ulcer came from. 

Jews, to begin with, are already exiles. Even when we haven't been hounded out of a country, we know it isn't our true home, while simultaneously absorbing the culture through our pores. The Diaspora has disbanded us, altered us, influenced us, and then the founding of Israel has given us the means to assemble again, disparate puzzle pieces that we are. 
We have learned much in our travels. As Costica Bradatan writes in "The Wisdom of the Exile," while the negatives are obvious, there are benefits in being chased away from home. 

I once heard an Esther Wein shiur (cannot recall the title) where she explains the commandment not to return to Egypt. Every culture has their ways of approaching the world; Jews learn them, and apply them to their service of Hashem. We had taken whatever insights Mitzrayim had to offer, but once we left, do not return. Those cultures and lands aren't what is important.

America, land of immigrants: We all come from somewhere else, carrying deep, genetic programming over the many, many lands we have traveled through. But: The "Jew" identity is paramount, and unchangeable. It is merely the trappings and thought process that alter with each new locale, as we assimilate the surroundings within (as opposed to assimilating into the surroundings). 
Uprooting gives you the chance to create not only the world anew, but also your own self. Deprived of your old world, your old self is left existentially naked. It is not only worlds that can collapse and be rebuilt, but also selves. Selves can be re-made from scratch, reassembled and refurbished. For they, too, are stories to be told in different ways. 
I am aware of my European background. While I have been there to visit, it has been merely as an interested tourist, devoid of sentimentality. There is no going back. 
Israel, however . . . Israel is our past and our future. We were sent away, now we come home again, changed, yes, but truly wiser? 

I hope so.   


Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

We have learned very little from our exile.
We haven't learned how to worship God without going to unrealistic extremes.
We haven't learned how to respect one another despite our differences.
We haven't learned how to flee a country where things are going bad before they go really bad.
And we still don't see the significance of Jewish rule in Israel.

Princess Lea said...

Ach, you pessimist.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

A pessimist is an optimist whose been bitten by reality

Princess Lea said...

Oh poo. You have to like some people.