post

Oy: The Music of a Sigh

Tonight is the 11th anniversary of the death of my father, Yehuda Elberg.  He was a renowned author and essayist in the Yiddish-speaking world.  This is one of his English essays, a discussion of the importance of the word “oy” to the Jewish soul.

 

Oy: The Music of a Sigh- by Yehuda Elberg, © 1993

All the instruments in a brass band are made of the same material, but each of the various horns gives forth a different sound, because it is moulded in a different shape. Music written for a trumpet will not sound right on a tuba, and certainly not on a trombone.

The music of the Yiddish soul can be played best on the instrument that is called “Yiddish language.” Jewish parents who Yehuda Elberg bookwant their child to grow up in spiritual equanimity and with the maximum potential for creativity must give that child the proper instrument — the language that grew out of a thousand years of Jewish culture, the language that is soaked through with Jewish tears and which vibrates with Jewish song, the language of Jewish hope and faith, the language in which Jewish mothers rocked their children to sleep and in which our heroes roused us to bravery and kiddush ha-shem.

Yiddish is a musical language, and the meaning of a word depends on the tune in which it is expressed.

Jewish Humour

Jewish humour tells us of a Jew in Tsarist Russia who got an entry permit to the U.S. He needed a birth certificate, passport, an exit permit, he ran from office to office and every clerk held out his hand for bribe. “Funie gannef“, “Russian thief,” the Jew cried out with disgust. He finally got all his documents and left for N.Y. A relative picked him up on Ellis Island and on the way home he took him to a cafeteria where he put in a nickel and out came a hot cup of coffee. “Americhka gannef!” the newcomer exclaimed in admiration, and the word gannef here had an entirely different meaning.

Jewish folklore tells of a Jewish beggar who lived in the poorhouse. He sustained himself from begging door to door. One day it was discovered that he has a bundle of money and they brought him to the rabbi. The rabbi told him that he has no right to go around begging when he is not poor.

“But this is my livelihood,” the beggar protested.

“Unless you give your money for charity you will not be permitted to beg,” the rabbi insisted.

The beggar asked for three days to think it over. When he came back, he gave away his money and explained: Money is a feeble thing, it can be lost or stolen, it can lose its value, but with a livelihood one feels secure.

Prayers for womenyoung Yehuda Elberg

I have a little old book of Tehinot, Yiddish prayers for women, written by women (it is about one hundred and fifty years old).  I found there a prayer before lighting the Shabbat candles, which moved me to tears.  The woman asks for affluence, she asks the Creator to bless her with gold and riches so that she would be able to feed the students of the holy Torah, and support widows and orphans.  But she asks for this with the condition that the Creator, blessed be He, should together with the hard golden coins, give her a soft golden heart, the virtue of humility, and bless her with the talent to distribute charity with loving kindness, so that the beneficiary should feel that the benefactor is only a messenger who delivers the livelihood due to him.

But if the Creator does not agree to protect her from vanity and arrogance, which might cause the recipients humiliation, then please God protect me from becoming rich and sinning against you and against people.  May the poor and the Torah students find support with someone who is more worthy of it.

The woman who composed this prayer surely knew the deeper meaning of the word Tzedaka.  Jews are known to be charitable, AND Jews and their language influenced one another.  Yiddish words are soaked with Jewish tears, and vibrate with Jewish song.  By preserving Yiddish we preserve an important part of our culture, and we fortify Jewish virtues.

Heimish- homely

The English word for one’s residence is “home,” from which come the word “homely,” which can mean plain, common, ugly. The good times were spent in the street, in the pub, in the club. The home was humble, banal. But you can feel the warmth, the festiveness, of the love-guarded Jewish home in the expressions that grew out of the Yiddish word “heym.” Heymlich (cheerful, jolly), and heymish (intimate, snug, cosy). A heymisher mentch is a warm, affable person who doesn’t brag and whom you can count on in time of trouble.

And what of the ethical and aesthetic values of a Jewish home, the Shabbos and the holiday tables? The table in a Jewish home is like an altar of God, say our holy books. When God is in the home it is a holy place. Afflictions would have smothered the Jewish home under a heavy mountain of sorrow if that home had not hatched a mood in which such lovely Yiddish words as heymish and heymlich were born, bringing warmth and cosiness, heymishkeit and heymlichkeit into Jewish life.

A deathly fear of “sin”

The Talmud moderated many apparent harsh concepts in the Torah. Yiddish achieved the same in the way-of-life of our people. Heschel wrote: “Just as Rashi democratised Jewish education, Rabbi Judah the-Hasid and his circle, in the 12th and 13th centuries, democratised the ideals of mystical piety… The main thing is faith, heart, and inwardness. Righteousness is more important than wisdom; innocence is higher than analytical study; he who fears heaven is more distinguished than the scholar. Through their apotheosis of simplicity, of heartfelt faith, of humanity and all sorts of good habits they prepared the way for a simple mortal to reach God.”

We also know, however, that Rabbi Judah the-Hasid and the Hasidim of Ashkenaz of his time could not remove themselves from the times in which they lived. The medieval Christian ascetics influenced the Jews who lived among them. The Jewish mussar (ethics)-books of that time did disseminate ethics and they educated Jews to practice good habits, but they also filled them with a deathly fear of “sin” and its punishment, a fear that robbed people of their rest by day and ruined their sleep at night. A great deal that was earthy and human was regarded as “sin.” Even if one managed to keep oneself from doing sinful things he could not always drive out sinful thoughts — which lead straight to hell. The graphic horror stories of the pain and punishment meted out in gehennim induced nightmares and threw people into despondency.

This is alien to Jewish thought; it is against the Jewish spirit of enjoying life. It is written that when God created the world he saw that “it was good.” Our sages asked: “What is so good about it?” And they replied that God was pleased that the human being was born with a yetser hora — a capacity to sin. Without desire and passion the human being would lack initiative; he would not plow, he would not sow, he would not even bring children into the world.

So, in the Ukraine and Poland, a new Hasidism was born. Yiddish language and Yiddish fervor influenced the way of the Hasidim. To the specific laws that say that tormenting one’s own body is a sin, the Hasidim added that despondency and sadness is also a sin. Gloom is a trap set by Satan.

In Ethics of the Fathers there is an adage: “Know whence you come, where you are going, and before whom you will have to give an accounting.” Man comes from a malodorous drop, he returns to the dust of the earth, where the worms eat him — and that’s not the end of it. He will also have to account to the King of Kings for his deeds.

The Maggidim, itinerant preachers who used to travel from town to town in Eastern Europe, used to scare the life out of their listeners with that verse from the Mishna: “How can such a nothing, such a vile drop as the human being is, dare to disobey God’s commandments? Nothing is forgiven or forgotten, the gates of hell are always open, the fearsome angels of gehennim are waiting for their victims with red-hot pitchforks!” These threats of the Maggidim cast a pall of terror over the Jews who heard them.

Well, along came the Hasidic Rebbe of Ger and interpreted that Mishna in precisely the opposite way: The yetser hora, the evil inclination wants to lead you off the straight and narrow path, so he comes and says to you, with a sanctimonious look on his face, “Do you know where you come from and where you’re destined to go?” He wants to make you sad. You should answer him: “But do you know to whom I will have to account? To the King of Kings himself! Have a little respect for someone in whom the King of Kings takes such an interest!”

It is said that on Purim, Simchas Torah and other festive occasions when whiskey is imbibed in the shtible, the Hasidic prayer house, and the Jews dance there, Reb Lazer the Nose used to sing the verse, odom yesoydoy m’ofer, man comes from the dust. Someone asked him why he was singing and what’s so great about man coming from the dust and returning to the dust. Reb Lazer smiled and replied: “If Man came from gold and ended up as dust, then the loss would be great indeed. But he comes from the earth, returns to the earth, and in between he can have a couple of drinks besides — what’s so bad about that?”

Oy, Jews have survived even worse

In English, nebech has nebish, and means almost the same as shlemazl. The word nebech comes from the Polish nieboga or Czech nieboha — “God’s mercy has been removed from him.” In English it has become a word of ridicule. According to the psychoanalysts the nebish is a masochist who prepares his own downfall. And really, why should people feel sorry for him when he himself is to blame for his own failures? When a Jew, however, says “Oy, iz er nebech af tsores,” he says it with an undertone of pain. The listener feels that the other person’s trouble is also his trouble — he is unhappy over someone else’s unhappiness.

Oy and nebech grew out of the feeling that all Jews share a common destiny and that Jews are mutually responsible for each other’s fate. If that is so, then the words are cultural values and have a therapeutic effect on our spirit.  According to Abraham Sutzkever, “Oy” is a primeval sound.

A 2000-year-old OY has become an integral part of our being. Is it a “golus krechtz, the mournful sigh of a homeless people?” Yes, but our troubles purified us. After the words “Oy, things are very bad!” came the “Oy, Jews have survived even worse times.” The OY of that particular moment called to all the other OY’s in Jewish history and it became something else altogether. The expression of pain sublimated in a magical incantation to help us endure.

Our OY helped us to preserve the Tselem Elokim, the image of God, in times of humiliation, our restraint in time of trial, our courage in time of need. OY is perhaps the only word in our rich mamme-loshn that characterizes the entire language. The cry of pain has become the watchword of endurance. The Yiddish language has the warmth and the strength of spiritual therapy, perhaps because it contains the music of the Jewish sigh, the simplicity of Jewish faith and the psalm-like melody that sings straight from the heart.

To sum up: Yiddish drew from tradition and Yiddish enriched tradition. A people can produce great artists only when those artists know to recognize and stand at the spring from which the thirst of their souls was slaked.  Poets build on folksongs, epics are based on folk legends, great musical works are inspired by and include folk motifs. An artist is in tune with the soul of his people when the people’s language sings out of him. The ecstasy of the Eastern European Jews found its expression in Yiddish. Yiddish words are the keys to our soul, the keyboard on which one can best play the melody of the last thousand years of Jewish life and creativity. The language of innocence and of wisdom, of the synagogue bench and the cobbler’s bench, of the Yiddish bible and of the revolutionary who fought for a better world.

post

Are You A Man or a Mouse?

SmartMouse

A More Human Mouse

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently spliced the human gene associated with language into the brains of a mouse.  While the rodents didn’t say anything about the experiment, they were better able to find chocolate in a maze then regular mice.  This is perhaps another example of science mimicking science fiction.  In H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau an evil doctor attempts to humanize wild animals through surgery and psychological conditioning.  The animals rebel, overturning the pseudo society that the doctor tried to create.  The MIT mice are docile so far, lacking the drama of Dr. Moreau, or Planet of The Apes.

The joining of human and animal isn’t shocking for many aboriginal Americans; for them the animals see themselves as human,

Wari girl and friend

Wari girl and friend

just with a different form.  For example the Wari’ of Brazil know a jaguar kills its prey with tooth and claw, and eats it raw.  But for the jaguar, or rather, from the jaguar’s point of view, he kills his prey with arrows like the Wari’ do; he takes the prey home, gives it to his wife and tells her to cook it.  While jaguars look like cats to the Wari’, in the eyes of the jaguar humans look like pigs, like prey.

It’s not good to be a pig or a mouse when a jaguar is hunting.

A Mouse is Always Prey

jackal

more honorable than ISIS

There’s of course another group of people, over thirty thousand strong by current estimates, who simply erase the boundaries between human and animal behavior.  The members of ISIS, while retaining human form, are more like predatory scavengers.  According to Franz Kafka,  jackals are disgusted by Arabs.  Certainly, the jaguar bringing a meal home to his wife is more noble than the humans who chain a little girl to a fence.  Even a jackal is above that.

The blending of species through grafting of human genes into mice has the potential to advance our understanding of memory, cognitive flexibility, and the evolution of the brain.  The blending of species by the predatory behavior of ISIS scavengers has the potential to reverse centuries of human social, intellectual and moral development.  The Island of Doctor Moreau is a happy children’s tale by comparison.

under arrest

Syrian girl and foe

ISIS thus challenges the civilized world to respond: does it meekly acquiesce to the rape and enslavement of women, the torture and beheading of children?  Or does it act boldly to eradicate such savage, inhuman beings?  Will Western civilization behave as a man or a mouse?  It’s dangerous to be a mouse when jaguars, jackals, or ISIS supporters are on the prowl.

 

Your comments are welcome
post

Expulsion and the Will to Survive

Historical Wrongs: Deportations and Expulsions

Assyrian Destruction of Peoples and Nations

Assyrian EmpireIn 1300 BCE, the Assyrian Empire ensured the docility of the nations it conquered by expelling peoples from their homelands, and replacing them with other deportees.  The best way for a nation to survive was to humbly submit as an Assyrian vassal state.  The northern Kingdom of Israel resisted, and its people becoming the Ten Lost Tribes.  The southern Kingdom of Judea acquiesced, and prospered for many years.  It was an era of displacement, great suffering, and the disappearance of many peoples.

Disappearance of the Dorset Eskimo

Between 1200 and 1500 AD, the Dorset Eskimo (known to the contemporary Inuit as Tunniq) disappeared from the archaeological record.  According to stories, the Dorset were powerful but timid people, driven out by the newcomers, the contemporary Inuit.  Whether any Tunniq survived, whether they moved elsewhere, is unknown.  It was a time of displacement, suffering, and the disappearance of a people.
(the Tunniq name, though not the culture, is used in the novel Quantum Cannibals)

Expulsion of the Jews of England

edward IIn 1290, Edward I expelled England’s approximately 3,000 Jews.  Having seized their property a few years earlier, he now declared that all money owed to Jews was owed to him.  It was a time of displacement and suffering, as the Jews wandered from one country to another, searching for security and stability.

Expulsion of the Jews of France

The Jews of France suffered the depredations of the Crusades, the burning of the Talmud, the seizure of their property, and finally, in 1305, imprisonment and consequent expulsion of a hundred thousand Jews by Phillip IV.  It was another chapter in their ongoing persecution and displacement.

Incan Mass Relocations

Machupicchu_hb10As the Incan empire grew in breadth and power, the native Incan population became smaller and smaller in proportion to the subjugated population.  Beginning in about 1400, the Incan rulers instituted the mitmaqkuna, where entire communities were relocated to serve the whims of the empire.  The able-bodied men became forced laborers for the Incan, dependent on whatever role the empire assigned them.  It was a time of great social upheaval, displacement, and the disappearance of many peoples and cultures.

Expulsion of the Jews of Spain

expulsion SpainPerhaps the most infamous expulsion of Jews is when Spain expelled its Jewish population, numbering at a couple of hundred thousand.  The Catholic authorities were afraid that Jews would cause the tens of thousands of recent forced converts to Christianity to slip back towards their old religion.  By January 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella defeated the Muslim armies, and they could turn their attention to the Jews.  Fleeing to Portugal, North Africa, Italy and Turkey, they abandoned homes they had lived in for centuries.  The alternatives were conversion, the inquisition, or execution.  It was a time of displacement, suffering, torture or death.

Expulsion of the Acadians

Acadia was an area of eastern Canada ceded by France to Great Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713.  As the tensions between British and French continued to rise, the former wanted to make sure that the Acadians, descendants of French settlers, wouldn’t turn against Britain.  The Governor demanded they swear unconditional oaths of allegiance, but by the time the Acadians agreed to this, he was convinced that oaths were insufficient.  About 10,000 people were expelled in the period from 1755 to 1763, when France finally lost its last possessions in eastern North America.  It was a time of fear, suffering and displacement.

The Trail of Tears: Expulsion of the Cherokee

trail of tearsAlthough President Andrew Jackson’s military command and almost certainly his life were saved by Cherokee allies in 1814, he felt no debt of gratitude.  The Cherokee had signed treaties, but these all fell to pieces with the discovery of gold in northern Georgia.  The Cherokee turned to the courts for protection, and won a number of significant cases.  Jackson didn’t care, and proceeded to illegally force 17,000 Cherokee from their homeland.  About 4,000 died from hunger, exposure and disease.  It was a time of death, a time of tears, later known as “The Trail of Tears.”

The Long Walk:  Navajo

longwalkAnother infamous Indian removal was the Long Walk, the forced relocation of the Navajo.  Although Navajo relations with American settlers were initially peaceful, they disintegrated quickly as more settlers moved into their territory.  The U.S. Army went to war against the Navajo, destroying their fields, orchards, houses and livestock.  Some 8,500 Navajo were then marched three hundred miles in harsh conditions to what was supposed to be their new home.  Hundreds died of cold and starvation on the way; many more died at their barren destination.  It was a time of terror and privation, forever etched into the memory of the Navajo.

Internment of the Ukrainians
Internment camp for Ukranians

Internment camp for Ukranians

From 1914 to 1920, over eight thousand Canadians with Ukrainian ancestry were interred as enemy aliens because the western Ukraine was occupied by Austro-Hungary.  Businessmen, farmers, housewives and children were placed behind barbed wire because of a war they had nothing to do with; a war eight thousand kilometers away.  It was a sad period in the history of Canada, a time of hunger, fear and shame for the victims.

The Armenian Genocide

In 1915 the Ottoman government embarked upon the decimation of its Armenian population.  Deportations disguised as a resettlement program were really intended as death marches.  Convoys of tens of thousands of people at a time were marched into barren territory, with no armenian-genocide-02-jpgprovisions for food, water or shelter.  Up to a million and a half Armenians perished at the hands of the Ottoman/ Turkish forces, in the first attempt at genocide of the twentieth century.  Hitler viewed it as an inspirational precedent, as a license to kill mercilessly.  The Armenian genocide was the horror that paved the way for future horrors.

Stalin’s Deportations

In the 1930’s Stalin removed entire populations from their ancestral homelands.  Among the populations who were forcibly displaced were Azeris, Chechens, Ingush, Karachi, Finns, Meskhetians, Crimean Tatars, Black Sea Greeks, Kurds, Koreans, Kalmucks, Germans from the Volga region and Ukraine and others.  Many of those deportations are at the root of contemporary ethnic and national conflicts.  Stalin’s callous brutality led to decades of conflict and suffering.

Internment of the Japanese

JapaneseIn 1942, both Canada and the United States feared that their citizens with Japanese ancestry were potential security risks.  Over twenty thousand Canadians had their property confiscated, and were put into internment camps.  After the war, the government refused to let them move back to the west coast, forcing them to either war-ravaged Japan, or Canada east of the Rocky Mountains.  In the United States, over one hundred and twenty seven thousand Japanese Americans were interned.  It was a time of racism, displacement and loss.

Expulsion of the Lhotshampa

In the 1990’s over one hundred thousand Lhotshampas, ethnic Nepalese, were evicted from southern Bhutan in order to protect Bhutanese bhutan-mapcultural identity.  Living in overcrowded refugee camps in Nepal and India, their only option is to settle in a new country.  In 2008 the United States offered to take in sixty thousand Lhotshampa.  Other nations are willing to take smaller numbers.   Efforts at repatriation have been hampered by Bhutanese government resistance, and by the seizure of Lhotshampa land and property.  There is stress, there is displacement, there is suffering, but there is also hope.

Culture carries no privilege to exist.  Cultures do not have value simply because they are.  Some cultures, the world is better off without.”- Terry Goodkind

Conclusion: An Aggressive Creed

In the twenty-first century, followers of an aggressive creed are living as ordinary citizens in Europe, Australia and the Americas.  They have full rights, and not subject to any serious discrimination.  Many followers of this creed refuse to give up their aggressive ways, committing violence, while at the same time claiming victim status.  Bombing buildings and trains, marathons and airplanes, they exploit the sense of equality and justice of the societies they dwell in.  Thousands of ordinary civilians have been killed as a result.  If the followers of this creed are not expelled, or deported, it will be a time of terror, a time of tears.  Their callous brutality will lead to decades of conflict and suffering.

Palmira Silva, beheaded by Muslim convert in UK

Palmira Silva, beheaded by Muslim convert in UK

Europe, Australia and the Americas can’t reject expulsion based on what happened in the past.  It would be learning the wrong lesson from history, because it’s different this time around.  It’s not racism, it’s not nationalism.  The followers of this aggressive creed shouldn’t be expelled because of who they are, but because of what they do.  It’s the only way for western civilization to survive.

Your comments are welcome
post

Once We Were Warriors

The recent Sabbath murder of a rabbi in Miami, the sucker-punching of Jews outside a kosher restaurant in Montreal, and many similar incidents around the world do not point to a rise in Jew hatred.  Rather, they show that anti-Semites (whether neo-Nazi or Muslim) feel more comfortable expressing their contempt, whether through insults, vandalism, or physical assault.  The Miami police immediately declared there was no evidence the rabbi’s murder

vandalized synagogue in Miami

vandalized synagogue in Miami

was a hate crime, even though the nearby synagogue had recently been defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti. In Montreal, the police tried to discourage the victim from filing a police report, and then drove off.  A member of Hatzoloh, the Jewish Emergency Volunteer Service, rushed to help the injured man in their stead.

In Calgary, as reported in a previous post, the police were out of sight when Jews were assaulted by Muslim demonstrators.  In Paris, pro-Palestinian demonstrators armed with rocks, glass, axes and knives advanced on a synagogue as police lost control.  Jewish youth became warriors, defending the synagogue.  Some were injured, mostly at the hands of gendarmes supposedly keeping the peace.  And there are many places in Europe where the police fear to tread.  The authorities, to put it simply, cannot be relied upon.

Judean Warrior

Ancient Judean Warrior

An ancient Jewish teaching (Sotah 49b) asks “On whom shall we rely?  On our Father in Heaven.”  This can be interpreted as a denial of nature, of cause and effect.  For example according to this interpretation, if someone swings a baseball bat at your head, ducking is not going to make a difference.  All that matters is whether or not God wants you to get hit.  Getting a good job will not be more financially rewarding than studying Torah or playing X-Box, if God doesn’t plan for you to do well.

This is not the traditional Jewish approach, but rather a twentieth century innovation.  The Bible teaches that when Jacob was about to meet his brother Esau, he was afraid that he and his family would be killed in revenge for Jacob’s

the reunion of Jacob and Esau

the reunion of Jacob and Esau

having stolen their father’s blessings many years earlier.  Jacob did three things to protect himself.  He sent Esau gifts to appease him, to make peace.  He prayed to his Father in Heaven.  And he prepared for war.

The historic slaughters of Jews are well-known: the Holocaust, the Chmielniki pogroms, the Crusades.  Many times, Jews went silently to their deaths.  Many times, such as in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, they fought to the death.

The Judean Revolt was Crushed by a Jewish Warrior

Once Jews were warriors, from their entry into Canaan under Joshua, through the  kings of Judea, the Hasmonean rebels and the Roman military.  The Emperor Vespasian appointed an Alexandrian Jew named Tiberius Julius Alexander to spearhead his effort to crush the Judean rebellion of 69 CE (a precedent for modern assimilated Jews attacking Israel).  Jews were valued members of the Roman military for centuries before and after.

Jews should definitely rely on the “Father in Heaven.”  But Jewish teachings also specify not to rely on miracles.  The Patriarch Jacob didn’t: he prepared for war.

In Israel, the IDF must always be prepared, or the country will be wiped out. On Yom Kippur, 1973, it wasn’t prepared.   Some attribute Israel’s survival to God’s intervention.  Others credited it (at least in part) to President Richard Nixon’s insistence that Israel must be saved, no matter what it took.

And in the diaspora?  Must individual, civilian Jews be prepared for war?  They can’t rely on the police.  Sometimes the police can’t intervene, sometimes they won’t bother to.  Will hiring a few security guards protect Jewish institutions from vandalism or assault?  When a Palestinian or neo-Nazi wants to terrorize Jewish children, is the proper response to cower or hide?  To wear a baseball cap instead of a skullcap?

John-Howard-GriffinIn nineteen-sixty, John Howard Griffin wanted to understand the black experience in America, and undertook medical treatments to change his skin color.  He was shocked at the extent of prejudice, oppression and hardship he went through.

In two thousand fourteen, Ryan Bellerose, a Native American, wanted to understand the Jewish experience, and wore a kippa, a Jewish skullcap for a week.   He was shocked by the glares, by the ignorance, and outright bigotry.  He was shocked at being called “Genocider, Jew baby-killer.”  Bellerose, a physically intimidating man, considered that if he was treated this way, what happened to Jews who did not look like they could defend themselves?

Jews can’t all be a Steven Seagal or a Ryan Bellerose, but they must develop a reputation as civilized warriors,  slow to anger, but capable of defending themselves.  Cowardly attackers should not be able to assume that it’s safe to strike.  Anti-Semites should not feel it’s

Ryan Bellerose

Ryan Bellerose

safe to physically express their hatred. It’s time once again for Jews to be physically intimidating.

It’s time for Jews to once again pick up their warrior mantle, to learn to fight, to injure those who would hurt them.  It’s time for self-defence to become a compulsory subject at Jewish schools.  Jews can still rely on the “Father in Heaven,” but not just through prayer and supplication.  It’s not the kind of world we want to see, but it’s what’s the world’s becoming; not just for Jews, but for any non-Muslim living somewhere with a significant Muslim population.  The Jews are the prime target of Jihadis, but certainly not the only one.

As George Washington said, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”  Let’s drop our old assumptions, and preserve the peace.

post

Ghetto Notes

April 27, 2014 is Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary (according to the Hebrew Calendar) of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. My father, Yehuda Elberg, was part of that struggle. I present these notes of his in memory of my grandparents, siblings, cousins, uncles and aunts whose lives were destroyed in those horrible times. Although we say “Never Again,” there are many people today who feel it’s time to repeat the slaughter. After all, it wasn’t the first. Why should it be the last? (Ask the Rwandans). There was the Armenian genocide, the Trail of Tears (expulsion of the Cherokee), the Chmielniki pogroms (as vicious as the holocaust, but less technologically advanced), the slaughter of western European Jewish communities by the Crusaders, and so on.

Elie Wiesel, the Nobel laureate, said of my father Yehuda Elberg: “The Warsaw ghetto has finally found its novelist… This book is fashioned of material cut from the cloth of truth—of creative truth.”  The following are excerpts from my father’s notes about his experiences during the Holocaust.

All photos below are of my family.

Escape Into the Warsaw Ghetto

After the first mass deportations of Jews from Warsaw, many remained in the shrunken ghetto.  Despite encouraging rumors spread by German agents, we knew that the end was near.  We had already received eyewitness reports from the death camps.  We did not know about a firm plan for a “final solution,” but we deduced it from what we saw happening.

On January 18, 1943, SS formations surrounded the ghetto and started what was to be the final liquidation of the ghetto.  When they encountered unexpected resistance, the raids petered out, and after four days, stopped.  We knew the S.S. would come back, better prepared.  We also had to be better prepared.

At the end of March 1943, I was entrusted with a mission to build a transfer place for people leaving Warsaw to fight in the forests- a first stop after leaving the ghetto.  I found what I was looking for, and built a hideout under an isolated farmhouse surrounded by forest in Swider, where Warsaw Jews used to go during the hot summer months.  Near the farmhouse were ruins of apartments for summer guests, which had burned down when the war front passed

 

Hiding Original art by Esti Mayer

Hiding
Original art by Esti Mayer

through the area.

I went in and out of the ghetto through the Ostbahn freight terminal in Praga, a Warsaw suburb east of the Vistula River.  I joined the night shift of a work-gang taken from the ghetto by a Ukrainian guard to unload coal, and brought back in the morning after the day shift arrived.  I worked with the gang all night, but at daybreak sneaked out of the depot.  After removing the Star of David from my arm, I was free to go wherever I needed, except that I could be shot at any time for not wearing my armband or for being outside the ghetto.

I had left Warsaw this way and returned to the terminal at dawn two weeks later.  The rails of the depot stretched for miles and I knew my way around.  I dirtied my hands with coal dust, put some on my face for good measure, and proceeded to the building where we usually assembled after work.  It was a bright spring morning and I was in a cheerful mood.  I had been successful in my mission, and some of my group would be able to leave the ghetto without any delay.

I arrived early at the place where we assembled to be led back to the ghetto, but some members of the work gang were already there.  While waiting for the hot soup and a piece of bread we usually received before returning to the ghetto, I found water to wash off the coal dust.  All the workers were soon assembled and four of them went to the kitchen to fetch two kettles of soup.  They soon returned empty-handed.  The cook was sick, we were told.  A replacement had arrived late, and they would send us the soup when it’s ready.

We were willing to leave without the soup, but the group of day workers had not arrived and we were not permitted to leave before they came to take our place.  This happened often, when strict guards at the ghetto gates intensively searched everyone coming or going.  We did not mind the delay; hopefully the guard would change before we would arrive at the gates with the extra food in our knapsacks, bought outside the ghetto.  Our escort, the Ukrainian guard, had not arrived yet, and we would have to wait for him anyhow.

How did the Ukrainian escort know that the day group would be late?  I was beginning to smell a rat.  I noticed that there were more than usual Ukrainian “banschutz” guards around us, and when I saw some gendarmes in German uniforms I sneaked away to an outhouse.

Every place in the area was searched.  I was soon found, and chased to the group assembled in front of the building.

 

Rabbi Tzvi Yechezkel Michelson.  May God avenge his blood.

Rabbi Tzvi Yechezkel Michelson. May God avenge his blood.

It was guarded by two S.S. men, one to our right with a heavy automatic gun hanging on a chain on his chest, the other to the left with only a handgun, but with a police dog at his side.

One member of our group started to run; he was immediately shot in the back.  No one was allowed to check if he was dead or just wounded.  The uprising must have started in the ghetto.

I knew that I had nothing to lose by trying to escape, but decided to wait for an opportune moment.  Not moments, but hours passed.  From time to time banschutz guards brought more of our people who had tried to hide.  The day workers were finally brought in and led to our group.  Now, they would take us away.  If I wanted to escape, I had to try it right away.

I realized that all the exits from the depot would be guarded, so I could not run for an exit.  There was a rule in the underground to know the places where we operated.  I knew several escape routes and examined them with feverish thoughts.  I decided to run towards the place where a brick wall separated the depot from a private backyard of a small apartment house.  There were paths on each side of the depot building we were facing.  Both led to the road that would take me to the brick wall.  I decided to take the right side: the alertness of a police dog is more dangerous than an automatic rifle.  At the edge of the building on the right side, there was a high pole carrying electric and telephone wires.  I moved over to the SS man and asked permission to go over to the pole to take a leak.  He nodded his approval.

Rabbi Avraham Nathan Elberg.  May God avenge his blood.

Rabbi Avraham Nathan Elberg. May God avenge his blood.

I was standing facing the pole, but my eyes were turned left towards the SS man.  He took out a cigarette and was trying to light it but the wind blew out the match.  He lit another match between his cupped hands and bent down towards the flame.  This was the moment I was waiting for.  I knew that as soon as the cigarette would be lit he would lift his head, and his first glance would be towards the path.  I avoided the mistake of the one who tried to escape before.  I jumped to the back of the building where he couldn’t see me.  Not far from the building were stocks of wooden railroad ties.  I ran and hid between them, jumping from one pile to another.  When there were no more…  I pulled off my Jewish armband and headed toward a parked freight car that would shield me from the view of the German.  I was already a distance from him but the path was still in his view and there were no more rail ties.

There was no time to lose.  I turned towards the path but slowed my pace.  I was walking leisurely, not running.  It was already close to noon, so I tried to look like a Polish laborer on his break. I had known exactly were the brick wall was but I had never realized how much time it would take to reach it at a leisurely walk.  Did the SS man realize that I had disappeared?  Did he send guards to look for me? Run and arouse suspicion?  No!  Running was the greater risk.  I had to continue walking.

 

Chava Elberg.  May God avenge her blood.

Chava Elberg. May God avenge her blood.

I finally came close enough to see the wall, and stopped in my tracks.  Two freight cars were parked opposite the wall and a couple of German soldiers were guarding them.  What to do now?  The soldiers probably didn’t know what the SS were doing at the depot.

I recalled seeing some bricks and a wheelbarrow with mortar not far back.  A worker was probably doing repairs, and had gone for lunch.  I turned back, put some mortar on my clothes and a bit on my face, put some bricks on top of the mortar, to look like a busy worker.  But where was I to take it?

I decided that the brick wall needed repairs, and headed towards it with the bricks and mortar.  I would make myself busy at the wall and watch for a moment when the soldiers would look the other way.  If they’d see me escape, they would probably take me for a saboteur and shoot.

Horses, probably on the way to the Russian front, were in the freight cars, but as soon as I started to work at the wall, the soldiers’ attention turned towards me.  I realized that I would have to be on top of the wall to find a chance to jump.  It was a low wall, and I decided to make it higher.  I put all the bricks on the top of the wall, and used the trowel to bring up some mortar.  The soldiers laughed “Polnishe arbeit, the Polish way of doing work.”  I got to the top of the wall and waited for them to get bored watching me and turn back to the horses.  I prayed for a fire to break out, I hoped a horse would go crazy; anything to draw their attention away from me.  Suddenly I realized that while my jumping to the other side would arouse their suspicions, falling down to the other side would appear to them as clumsiness.  I took a “wrong” step and fell down on the other side; the Germans roared with laughter.

I too would have been inclined to laugh, but I had fallen on my right knee.  I tried to get up; the pain was excruciating.  “Don’t pamper yourself!”  I shouted at myself silently.  “You’ll get up, or give up altogether.”

The Germans were still giggling on the other side when I managed to get on my feet and limp to the street.

I was limping my way to the main street when someone grabbed my arm.  It was Leibel, a Hasidic young man who had recently joined the work gang.  It gave him the opportunity to buy food outside the ghetto, where it was much cheaper.  He had sneaked out to a store, but before he left the store, someone brought the news that the Germans had surrounded the freight depot.  “I know you have contacts,” he pleaded.  “Help me.”

This wasn’t the first time he had turned to me for help.  He had cut off his beard and his sidelocks, and was wearing modern clothes, but he still looked the Hasid that he was.  One needs to have guts to smuggle; he was cowardly and often got into trouble.  I had tried to protect him as much as I could.

Once he devised a clever way to smuggle without risk.  There was a shortage of leather: shoes were terribly expensive, boots were a small fortune, and “officer style” boots with high, stiff bootlegs were a large fortune.  Leibel would leave the ghetto in officer’s boots, carrying his slippers in his knapsack.  After he would arrive at the depot, he pulled off the boots to sell them, and put on the slippers.  I complimented him for the good idea, but later I found him crying bitterly: a Polish worker took the boots “to show” to a buyer, and refused to return them or pay for them.

I rushed to the place where the Polish workers assembled, and got the help of others to shame the culprit to return the boots.  Returning the boots, he threatened me: “I’ll get you, dirty Jew, one day I’ll get you and you will pay for this!”

I told Leibel that I would take him to a safe place, but he had to stop shouting, wipe the sweat off his face, and talk to me in Polish only.  In his panic, he mixed in Yiddish words, and sweat was pouring from every pore of his body.  “…And let go of my arm,” I hissed.

For a minute he staggered beside me quietly, but soon grabbed my arm and started to talk in agitation, again in Yiddish.

“Leibel, get hold of yourself or we will both be lost” I begged him.  There is an ironclad rule for people like us not to walk together; if either of us would be recognized as a Jew, we would both lose our lives.  “I’ll walk ahead of you and lead the way, you follow behind me.”  I rushed a few steps ahead, but he soon caught up with me.

“Are you trying to run away from me?” he asked.

“I am trying to take you out of Warsaw, walk towards the train to Otwock.  I’ll be right behind you.”

He didn’t trust me: “No, you walk ahead and I’ll be able to see you.”

He walked behind me for a while, then ran over and grabbed me again.  The inevitable happened.  A “shmaltzovnik,” a blackmailer soon joined us and demanded money.  We paid him off and managed to get away from him.  He must have been an amateur, as the professionals took whatever you had, then followed you to get your address.

Leibel stopped talking but was still holding on to my arm.  The sweat flowed from his face more profusely.

When we reached the major thoroughfare Targowa Street, Leibel became a bit more composed.  He stopped at the entrance to a large apartment complex and told me that he had a contact there.  He made me promise that I would not follow him to see the exact address, and that I would wait for him in the gateway.  If he wouldn’t return after a full hour, it would mean that his acquaintance had agreed to hide him, and I would be free to go.

I did wait for him for about half an hour, when the realization hit me that if he would come back now and behave like he did before, we would both be doomed.  I went out to the street and jumped onto the stairs of a running tramway.  I headed for Grochow, the terminal for the train back to the hiding place I had built in Swider.  Waiting for the train, I noticed that the blackmailer was arriving at the station.  Was he travelling in the same direction, or had Leibel blabbered about us going to Otwock, and I was too tense to hear it?

I played hide and seek with the pursuer, then jumped on the train when it was already moving.  I was glad that I had managed to leave the blackmailer behind.

Then it occurred to me: I had no right to leave Warsaw when all my comrades remained in the ghetto. Since they didn’t know the location of the transfer place, I was their only hope to get out.  I got off the train at the next station, and headed back to Warsaw on foot.

I had a Polish contact, the Sobotka family on Freta St.  40, not far from the ghetto walls.  I went there to wait till late afternoon, when the workers return to the ghetto.  The guards at the gate were more numerous than usual, and were heavily armed.  No groups returned; no groups left for the night shift.  I spent the night at the Sobotkas, and tried again the next day, in vain.  By the evening of April 18th, the ghetto was surrounded.  I wanted to be with my group, and decided to try entering over the wall separating the back yard of a tannery from the ghetto.  Though I had never used this route myself, I knew all about it from my colleagues who had.

I sneaked into the tannery yard, and locked myself in an outhouse to wait until it was completely dark.  In the light of

 

The Black Wall Original art by Esti Mayer

The Black Wall
Original art by Esti Mayer

the full moon, I could not see details, but I clearly saw objects and the silhouettes of people.  I waited until there was no one in the yard.  All except two of the lights in the windows of buildings were off.  I waited for the last lights to go out and headed for the wall.  Coming closer I heard motion, and whispers from the other side.  I was trying to get in; were they trying to get out?  I carefully and silently moved away from the wall.  I did not want to scare them away.  From the ghetto side a couple of heads rose over the wall, they were trying to escape.  Suddenly there was a commotion in the tannery yard.  Guards ran in.  As far as I could tell, they were Polish policemen.  Shots rang out; I didn’t know from where.  I lowered myself to the ground and tried to move on my belly towards the pond where the skins were usually soaked in water and chemicals.  I bent my knees to immerse in the slimy water to dirty my face and blond hair, and then lifted my head enough to keep my nose above the water, and breath.  I saw little, and heard less; if part of my ears were above the water, they were filled with slime.  There was shooting and two bodies were carried away; I don’t know if they were “our” or “their” casualties.  I slipped in the slimy pond, and went completely under water, not knowing if anyone heard the splash.

How long did it take?  To me an eternity passed until everything quieted down, and I was able to climb out of the pond.  I was sure that the complex was guarded from the outside, and maybe from the windows of the building.  I sneaked back to the outhouse, and locked myself inside.  I was terribly exhausted, and couldn’t think what to do next.  It was the third night that I hadn’t had any sleep, and I fell asleep or fainted.  I came to when the yard was bathed in daylight.  The outhouse door was open.  A man was shaking me and whispering to me in Polish: “Don’t be afraid of me, lock yourself inside.  I will try to help you.  I’ll be back.”

May God avenge their blood

May God avenge their blood

He did come back a little bit later, and brought me a wet rag to wash the dirt off my face and head.  The slime had started to dry on my clothes.  The man gave me a pair of pants and a sweater, and again promised “I’ll be back”.

At the end of the day when the workers left the factory, I walked between them.  They surrounded me to block anybody’s view.  I looked like dried dirt and smelled like a rotten corpse.  I went back to the Sobotka’s where I cleaned and washed myself properly.  I felt no joy at being saved, but rather despair at not being able to help my colleagues.  I don’t remember whether I thanked my benefactors properly.

The Avenger

I had to go to Warsaw.  I chose a late Sunday afternoon when there was less chance of getting snared in a German raid to catch men for slave labor.  When I arrived at Franciskanska Street, it was dusk.  With no streetlights, and the compulsory black shades on all the windows, visibility was poor.  I was only two short blocks from my destination at Freta Street, when I realized that I had walked into a trap.

On Franciskanska, at the corner of Kozhla, were heavily armed German gendarmes.  Two blocked the entrance to the intersection; two more blocked it from the other side.  In the center two more conducted body searches, and checked the all the papers of everyone who happened by.

I had passed the first pair, and was ordered to stop.  There was no way to escape: as soon as they would finish with the man near them, they would order “Hande houch,” “raise your hands.”  I didn’t have illegal papers with me.  In fact, I had no papers at all.  With no documents, I knew that I would be end up in Paviak jail, or in the hands of the Gestapo.  Either way, they would discover I’m Jewish.  They wouldn’t kill me right away.  They would first interrogate and torture me: where am I coming from, where am I going, whom am I with?  If I had had a gun with me I would have shot at them, leaving the last bullet for myself.

They finished with the man before me, and let him go.  At this moment a couple strolled in from Kozhla Street, and in the poor light of dusk, accidentally walked right into the German interrogators.  The Germans turned to them, and I walked around and kept going.  The gendarmes guarding the exit from the intersection either didn’t see me, or presumed that had already been checked, and let me pass.

I was sure that I’d be stopped at the next corner, but there were no Germans there.  The entrance to Freta 40, where

Yehuda Elberg, with rescued cousin now living in Israel

Yehuda Elberg, with rescued cousin now living in Israel

my contacts the Sobotkas lived, was open and not guarded.  I crossed the yard to the entrance leading to their apartment.  I started to calm down: three flights up and I would be with my friends.

I rang the Sobotka’s bell; I knocked on the door…  no answer.  I knocked harder, but soon realized that this could be heard by a neighbor, and might bring trouble.  Because of the fear of the neighbors’ suspicion, I decided not to wait for the Sobotkas at their door.  I went downstairs, to wait for them outside.

But now I started to panic.  If the Germans had blocked one corner off this neighborhood, they’re bound to move to the other corners.  I couldn’t stay in the courtyard, for if the janitor saw a stranger in the yard he would get suspicious; most janitors were informers.  “The fate of all Jews has caught up with me,” I thought.  “I won’t get out of this trap, I am doomed!”

I harnessed all my will power to calm down.  I decided not to leave the Freta 40 complex, but I couldn’t stay at one place.  So I walked up and down the stairs in each and every entrance, and there were many entrances.  The Warsaw apartment house complexes were built as boxes around a large yard.  There could be eight or more entrances, each with separate staircases.  I kept on walking the stairs and kept coming back to the Sobotka door.  With the wartime blackened windows, looking up to their window didn’t give me any due.  I rang their doorbell again and again.  If anything had happened to the Sobotkas, if they had left Warsaw for the weekend and would not return for the night I’d be doomed.  It was too late to leave town.  What was there to do?

When I came to the door again and heard voices from inside, I felt a surge of relief.  My strength wafted out of me like smoke up a chimney.  I leaned on the door, and when they opened it, I nearly tumbled over.

When I woke up the next morning, I was still weak and drained.  I left Warsaw, to return the following Sunday.

This time I left for Warsaw early in the morning.  I returned to Franciskanska Street, on my way to Freta 40.  Suddenly someone grabbed me by the arm.  I thought it was a blackmailer wanting money, but he soon reminded me who he was: the Polish worker at the railroad depot whom I forced to return a pair of boots he took away from a Jew.  No, he didn’t want money (I had none to give him anyhow).  He wanted revenge, and made it clear in a load shout that he was taking me to the Gestapo.

“What are you shouting about,” I asked him.  “I’m going with you, aren’t I?”  It was urgent that I quiet him down.  If a crowd would have gathered around us, it would have been hopeless for me.

“I told you I’d get you.  Leave it to Wacek, this is the end of you.”

I didn’t answer him, nor did I believe that it was the “end of me.”  I didn’t feel any panic, but was able to talk softly, and think.  Was there a way out?  I couldn’t try to run away from him; the chase would attract blackmailers and Germans.  The street bordering the burned ghetto was empty, but the commotion he would make would bring people out of their houses.  Besides, the burly, well-fed hooligan would be able to run faster than me, with ankles swollen from hunger.  But there must be a way out!

I was thinking so intensely that I felt the blood vessels straining as if they were going to burst.  Suddenly, I started to laugh.  Wacek stopped in his tracks.  “What is so funny, Zhyd parchaty,” cankerous Jew?

I laughed even louder. “Did you lose your marbles, Zhid?  The dogs will soon feed on your carcass.”

“That’s what you think,” I finally answered.  “We’ll soon see who will get the bullet.”

“You work for the Germans?” he asked with a shaky voice. “You will soon know for whom I work.” “You’re not with the underground?” he panicked.  The Jewish underground had sentenced to death and executed two shmaltsovnics a couple of weeks earlier.

“I am on a mission and I am not alone.  The two behind me are watching and will soon get you.”

I was trying to laugh again, but choked on the last word.  What had gotten into me?  Why did I say “two?”  If one or three would show up it wouldn’t be good enough.

He turned his head to look who was behind us.  I also turned around, and my knees buckled: the street was still empty.  Suddenly we heard voices, voices of men talking, and four came out of a house entrance.  I was searching for an explanation of why there were four and not two, and turned towards my tormentor.  He wasn’t there anymore; he had disappeared as if he had sunk into the ground.

 

 

Yehuda Elberg on far left, with mother Chava, father Abraham Nathan, brothers Shmuel & David (moved to Israel before Holocaust), sisters Genendel and Rayzel.

Yehuda Elberg on far left, with mother Chava, father Abraham Nathan, brothers Shmuel and David (moved to Israel before Holocaust), sisters Dina, Batia, and baby Gita.

post

The Politically Correct Megillat Esther; story of Purim

Chapter I

Achashverosh, King of Persia

Achashverosh, King of Persia

And it came to pass in the third year of the reign of Achashverosh, King of Persia, that the King threw a great party.  And it was during that party, that the King became intoxicated and called for his wife Vashti to come dance naked in front of the guests.  Now, Vashti was a liberated woman, and was not at all ashamed to display her body in public (“my body, my choice,” she used to say).  But she was certainly not going to do so at the behest of a male chauvinist like her husband.  So she refused to appear, and the following morning, in addition to a major hangover, Achashverosh had one royal-size sexual harassment suit waiting for him.  Public opinion quickly turned against the King, and he was forced to settle out of court for an undisclosed sum of money.

Chapter II

It was after those events that the King missed Vashti, and wanted to find a new wife.  He consulted his inner circle of advisors, which, in accordance with multi-cultural practices, consisted of, among others, one woman, one Indian, one Ethiopian, and one handicapped person, who was also rumored to be gay.  One of his advisors, Memoochan, suggested holding a beauty contest, attended by all the fairest maidens in the land.  But his female advisor informed him that Memoochan was a Neanderthal living in the dark ages, and that beauty contests where men gawk at women walking around in swimsuits had long ago gone out of fashion.  Instead, she suggested giving a test in such subjects as physics, literature and music, and the most intelligent woman would be made queen.  And the King, already lagging in the public opinion polls, had no choice, and he said to make it so.

Now is just so happened that in the Kingdom of Persia there lived a young Jewish girl named Esther who was very beautiful, but much more importantly, had a 195 IQ.  Having successfully sued her parents for termination of custody, she had been living with her uncle Mordechai. Esther aced the test and was chosen to be the new queen.  Only, the homosexual community objected the word “queen”, and the feminists didn’t like the whole gender-based title thing, so it was decided that she would just be called “Royal Person.”  So Esther was crowned Royal Person of Persia and was married to King Achashverosh, though she kept her own last name.   And being that Esther was an intelligent woman in her own right, and had no intention whatsoever of sitting quietly next to the King looking pretty, she was given her own staff of 15 and an office in the west wing of the palace.

Chapter III

It was after those events that King Achashverosh elevated his advisor Haman to be his chief advisor.  There were some protests by the African-Persian community because he hadn’t selected an African Persian to be his top advisor, but the appointment went through anyway.  It turned out the Haman was a big anti-Semite, and he asked the King’s permission to kill all the Jews, which he got.  So Haman sent out a proclamation to all the lands in the kingdom outlining his plan. Distressed, the Jews sought a court-issued injunction to stop Haman from sending it.  But Haman was defended by the head of the Persian Civil Liberties Union, who ironically was also Jewish, and who claimed that the injunction would violate Haman’s right to free speech.  And the injunction was not issued, so the proclamation was sent.

Chapter IV

And Mordechai knew of all that had happened, and he donned a black ribbon as a sign of morning.  And Esther

Queen Esther, former 'America's Next Top Model' contestant, now IDF soldier

The beautiful Queen Esther, former ‘America’s Next Top Model’ contestant, now IDF soldier

sent a messenger to Mordechai to console him, but he would not be consoled.  Then Mordechai sent word back to Esther that she should go the King and ask him to stop the impending killing of all the Jews.  Esther replied that other social issues, such as the environment and harassment in the workplace were more pressing, but Mordechai persuaded her as to the urgency of the matter, and she agreed.  Mordechai suggested calling all the Jews to synagogue for three days of fasting and prayers, but Esther thought that was way outdated, and instead called for a non-denominational candlelight vigil, and it was so.

Chapter V

And it came to pass on the third day that Esther put on her smartest business suit and went to see the King.  The King offered Esther up to half his assets, which he was actually required to give her anyway, based on their pre-nup.  Esther told the King that she had come to invite him and Haman to a big party she was throwing the next day.  The King was very excited, and both he and Haman showed up to Royal Person Esther’s party.  The King, for his part, was careful not to violate the out-of-court settlement he had made with Vashti, and there was none of that “dance naked” stuff that night.  The party was a big hit, with performances by Fleetwood Mac and crowd favorite Barbara Streissand.  And Esther informed the King that both he and Haman were also invited to her next party, being thrown the following day on Martha’s Vineyard.  Upon leaving the party, Haman spotted his old nemesis Mordechai, which ruined his night.  Haman’s wife advised Haman to build a gallows 50 amot tall and ask the King to have Mordechai hanged the next day.  She further advised him to quit referring to her as “Haman’s Wife.”  And he built the gallows.

Chapter VI

That night, the King had trouble sleeping.  He called for his servants to bring him a video to watch, but since having gotten rid of all his stag films as part of his sensitivity training following the Vashti debacle, all they had left were a bunch of movies filmed in Montana and produced by Robert Redford.  So they brought him the royal archives instead, and there he read that Mordechai had done him a big favor a few years back.  Just then, Haman came in, and the King asked him what to do for someone to whom he owed a favor.  Haman suggested maybe an ambassadorship to some insignificant but warm-climate country, or maybe letting him spend a night in the palace’s “Lincoln Bedroom.”  But the King decided to have Haman lead Mordechai around on a horse throughout the streets of Shushan.   However, the animal rights activists got wind of the King’s plan, and they went nuts, so it was decided that Haman would just lead Mordechai around on foot.  And it was so.  When he was done leading Mordechai around, Haman walked home, despondent.  But no sooner had he returned home than the King’s messengers arrived to bring him to Esther’s second party.  Haman’s wife realized that her husband was doomed and commented that she had always known he would never amount to anything.

Chapter VII

And the King and Haman came to drink with Royal Person Esther.  And it was during the party that Esther shocked the King by telling him that someone in that very room was plotting to kill her and all the other Jews.  “Who is that man?” yelled the King.  To which Esther replied “What makes you so sure it’s a man?  You don’t think that a women is capable of killing all the Jewish people?”  After an awkward silence, Esther told the King that is was, in fact, a man, and it was none other than his chief advisor Haman!  The King stormed out in a fit a rage and meanwhile Haman begged at Esther’s feet for her to spare his life.  He told her how he had grown up in a broken home, was raised by a crack-selling mother and had never had a normal childhood.  Esther declared Haman to be a product of society’s failure to protect its children.  So Haman’s crime of “attempted genocide” was reduced to “issuing proclamations without a license” and he was given the relatively light sentence of five-to-seven years.  After serving just two years of that sentence, he was given time off for good behavior and paroled.  And the following year, the residents of Shushan elected Haman as their mayor, his being a felon notwithstanding.  Meanwhile, Esther convinced the King to come to terms with his anger and latent feelings of hostility towards women, and the King entered a 12-step program and when he was through, his anger had subsided.

Chapter VIII

That day, the King gave Esther Haman’s house, and she told the King that Mordechai was her uncle.  And Mordechai asked the King’s permission for the Jews to rise up and kill their enemies.  But Esther would have no such thing, and instead, she arranged for a dialog being the Jewish leaders and the leaders of the people of Shushan.  And while they couldn’t overcome all their differences, they did agree to joint-author a letter of mutual acceptance and tolerance.

Chapter IX

And in the twelfth month, the month of Adar, on the day when the Jews were supposed to have been exterminated, the Jews held a three-day conference of the Leaders of Jewish Organizations.  And during that conference, they agreed that a holiday should be established-the holiday of Purim.  A holiday of charity and gift giving.  A holiday of brotherly love.  A holiday where alternate-side-of-the-street parking rules would be suspended.  A holiday where Jewish kids could dress up like Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers and not have to feel that they had missed out on something by not celebrating Halloween.  And a proclamation was sent out to all the King’s lands, in all 127 languages, plus Ebonics.  And the Jews were careful not to mention G-d’s name, lest any of the gentiles be offended.

Chapter X

And King Achashverosh-the kinder and gentler King Achashverosh–levied a tax across the land, to raise money to pay for welfare and public television.  And the great deeds of Royal Person Esther and her uncle Mordechai were duly recorded in the annals of Persia.

– author unknown

post

Down With Yankee Imperialism!

The imperialist and his victim

Let’s be friends

Right-thinking and progressive people have looked ruefully at the sordid history of western imperialism, grateful for the enlightened attitudes of contemporary societies and governments.  The former colonies are treated respectfully; indigenous people receive apologies, sometimes even financial compensation.  The relation is between equals, not conqueror and victim.

Tourists now visit exotic places that were once considered unsafe; treating the natives with respect has quenched their resentment, quenched the danger.   Relativism has made us all into brothers.

But that’s the ultimate form of imperialism. Relativism has become

…a perspective congenial in an imperial civilization convinced of its power. Every primitive or archaic culture is conceived as a human possibility that can be ‘tasted’; it is, after all, harmless. We, at our leisure, convert the experience of other cultures into a kind of sport…  Relativism is the bad faith of the conqueror, who has become secure enough to become a tourist

Earlier forms of imperialism such as military conquest stole people’s land, their resources, their independence; even their lives.  It didn’t however take away who they were by taming them, erasing their cultural identity.  The latter is the task of the modern imperialist.  In the novel Quantum Cannibals, cultural relativity is a matter of life and death.

Amanda Kijera

not his fault

Sometimes individual tourists pay the price of their society’s arrogance.  Sometimes the danger is from social unrest.  But often the social unrest is the result of false assumptions, that people are going to behave according to western social standards.  Journalists don’t always understand the dangers they face.  Press credentials are not always holy amulets, protecting the bearer.  Even aide workers (another form of tourism) are not immune.  (Right thinking, progressive victims won’t even hold their attackers responsible.  How condescending is that?)

lesson from a victim of imperialism

The Rape of Lucretia

Treat people nicely, we think, and they will be nice in return.  There must be a million different versions of this meme all over Facebook and other social media, accompanied by cute pictures or poetic homilies.

It’s a nice ideal, but it’s not true even in advanced societies such as the United States.  It’s less true on the international front.  One of President Obama’s earliest foreign relations goals was to be friends with Islam; he made a grand speech to the Muslim world in Cairo.  It may have caused some smiles, but today Egyptians consider him a donkey.

Or his “reset” of relations with Russia?  It practically brought us back to the cold war, and gave Russia confidence that it could safely invade the Ukraine.  How about his palling around with the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez?  It didn’t seem to make an impression on Chavez’ successor, who accuses the American government, i.e. Obama, of sabotaging his country.

There are others: Iran, Afghanistan, the Palestinian Authority…  The President of the United States of America is trying to make up for past American arrogance, for past American claims to moral leadership.  And in each one of these, America is being mocked, or treated as irrelevant.  America is now a foreign policy tourist, and it’s getting raped.  American imperialists refuse to acknowledge that other countries, other peoples have their own interests and beliefs.  Not everyone has been pacified.  Not everyone reciprocates friendly gestures, or wants to sit around the international campfire, singing happy songs.  Much of the world is not secure for tourists.

post

Responsibility, Guns & Drugs In A Brave New World

assault on responsibilityThe massacre of twenty-six people, mostly children, in Sandy Hook, Connecticut drew international attention to American gun culture, where it’s easy to get your hands on very dangerous weapons.  It was a repeat of the outcry from an earlier school massacre, in Columbine, Colorado, or the uproar after the Virginia Tech rampage, where a student murdered thirty-two classmates.

And yet American gun culture persists.  Some blame the National Rifle Association, some place responsibility on all conservatives.  Others attribute the persistence of American’s right to arm themselves to the Constitution, and good sense.  Who then, takes responsibility for the violence in modern America?

It’s a tradition, too.  How could American pioneers fend off hostile Indians, if not with superior firepower?  And look at the Wild West:  TV shows and movies tell us everyone was always shooting at everyone else.

But superior firepower against the Indians wasn’t always needed.  Only when the American government decided to go to war against the Plains Indians did it become necessary for colonists to take up arms to defend themselves.  Nor was a gun needed to stay alive in the frontier towns of the Wild West.  These towns were on the whole much safer than modern American cities.

Although there’s a simple logic to gun control being an effective solution to gun violence, that logic may be deceptive.  Do restrictions on concealed weapons increase or decrease crime?  Or are such restrictions irrelevant?

newly installed crack-pipe vending machine; whose responsibility?

Candy vending machines are frowned upon for contributing to obesity. Crack-pipe vending machines are praised for improving public health

Perhaps there’s another key to understanding the violence of American society.  Many of the recent mass shootings have a common thread besides the gun: antidepressants.  Many, perhaps all of the perpetrators of these killings were either on, or had just come off of mood management medications.  Perhaps we should look at the drug culture, and its part in the abdication of personal responsibility.

What is the role of drugs?  There are hard narcotics, recreational drugs, antidepressants, stimulants, mood stabilizers, tranquilizers, sleep aids.  There are pills that make you happy and others which make you into a killer zombie (really!)  Fidgety children, confused seniors, and people wanting to enhance their reality constitute a huge market.  With the legalization of marijuana in a number of states, with vending machines selling crack pipes to addicts on the streets of Vancouver, the idea of mind bending through chemistry, personal contentment through medication have become mainstream.  Well over seventy million Americans are using legal and illegal mind-altering drugs; add in the sixty million alcohol abusers, and you have one hundred and thirty million strung out Americans (close to forty percent of the population).

How can such a society survive?

“There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution.”  Aldous Huxley

non-stop distractions of the most fascinating nature are deliberately used as instruments of policy

Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World portrays a society where drugs and sex are the path to happiness:

Was and will make me ill; I take a gram and only am.”

It’s a world in which nothing is in the hands of the individual.  No responsibility the future, certainly none for the past.  And “Soma,” the mass medication of this dystopia removes concern for the present.

In contemporary western society, the individual is relieved of responsibility by social science, which blames immutable social forces for any failings.  He’s relieved by mental health professionals, who treat non-conforming character as a pathology needing treatment.  By a social welfare system that robs a person of the obligation to support himself.  By a legal system that allows people to sue for the consequences of their own stupidity.  By a social perspective that man has no obligation to his fellow man; the government will take care of it, whatever “it” may be.

It’s not a society that will survive, no matter how many pills are popped, lines snorted, or leaves smoked.

Let’s go back to the Wild West, to see if there’s anything to learn.

A life of responsibility

Riders take a break during a day of activities to mark the 1876 defeat of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer

The Dakota (Sioux) Indians felt that all personal behavior had to be responsible, because its effect always went beyond the individual.  To be, was to be responsible.   Individual autonomy came from obligation and relation rather than pride and isolation.  Responsibility derived from being a member of a family, being Dakota, being human and being a part of the universe.

And the pioneers- the folks depicted in the movies?  On the frontier they were often beyond the reach of state law.  So they organized themselves:  land clubs, cattlemen’s associations, mining camps and wagon trains.  They set up their own constitutions, legal and judicial systems.  The lack of government-enforced behavior led to self-policed behavior, which operated mostly through cooperation rather than violent coercion.

If the members of a society believe that all behavior must be responsible; if the lack of government control means one has to have self-control; if we don’t routinely deal with aberrant personalities or moods through medication, then we have a chance of avoiding the next Sandy Hook or Columbine.  We don’t have to control guns.  We don’t even have to control people.  But people have to know that they have to control themselves.  They are responsible for themselves, and like the Dakota, responsible for their effects on the universe.

post

Music: 3 Rules of Discipline & 8 Rules of Self-Promotion

 

No more oil? Ride a horse

No more oil? Ride a horse

Neil Young, the aged, iconic music star caused a stir recently with his concerts to support the fight against the Alberta Oil Sands.  He had with him David Suzuki, the iconic environmental star, famed for equating humans with maggots.  Also on the stage lending credibility was the Chief of an Indian band that earns hundreds of millions of dollars annually in oil sands contracts and employment.  Chief Alan Adam had fifty-five thousand dollars wired directly to his numbered corporation by the Tides Foundation, acting on behalf of American corporations and billionaires, such as the Rockefellers (Standard, Exxon, Mobil Oil).  Indeed, much of the opposition to the Oil Sands is sponsored by Tides’ American donors.

Young passionately recited one untruth after another, from the high rate of cancer among the Indians, to comparing marching to musicthe Oil Sands to Hiroshima.  His audience loved it.  Most of the media loved it.  His dishonesty about the corporate sponsorship of his cause, his fudging of facts, his blithe ignorance were all irrelevant to the multitude of fans and supporters.

Despite protests to the contrary, music celebrities tend not to get worked up over issues that conflict with their career.  Performers such as The Rolling Stones, Carlos Santana, Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez aren’t reticent to perform in venues such as Dubai, whose very existence is predicated on slave labor, all the while making statements such as they “…would never knowingly support any state, country, institution or regime that was associated with any form of human rights abuse.”

Paul Robeson (1898-1976), was the son of a former slave, an intellectual, singer,  actor,  All-American football player, and Columbia law school graduate.  He was passionate in his defense of the oppressed, to the point of being condemned as a communist.

It was a deserved condemnation.  Robeson was an admirer of the Soviet Union, releasing an album “Songs of Free Men” in its honor, and receiving the Stalin Prize in 1953. The horrors of Stalinist Russia were known: the purges, Stalin's artificial famine in the Ukrainegulags, artificial famine in the Ukraine…   Estimates of the numbers of Stalin’s victims range up to forty million people.  Yet Robeson remained an unrepentant Stalinist.

He wasn’t Stalin’s only musical fan.  In 1993 Pete Seeger agreed he should apologize for ignoring Stalin’s cruelty, but qualified the apology by adding that Christians should apologize for the Inquisition, the Europeans for conquest, and the Mongolians for Genghis Khan.  While Seeger was a fervent opponent of oppression in the United States, he turned a blind eye to much greater cruelty by oppressors with whom he shared an ideological affinity, such as the USSR, and the People’s Republic of China.

In 1975, in a concert with Arlo Guthrie, Seeger performed a tune The Three Rules Of Discipline And Eight Rules Of Attention.  The title comes from a code of behavior of Mao Zedong’s Red Army.  Seeger provided a running commentary during the song about the moral behavior of Mao’s troops, as they sought to establish the world’s most powerful modern dictatorship.

cultural revolution propaganda poster

Praise the leaders of the glorious revolution

China’s Cultural Revolution was nearing its end by the time of Seeger’s concert.  Its viciousness was no secret; upwards of sixty million killed.

China is still not a friendly place.  Followers of Falun Gong spirituality are jailed for their beliefs, killed, and their organs harvested for transplants.  Tibet has been occupied since 1949.  China has recently increased its military sabre-rattling in territorial disputes with the Philippines and Japan.

So where’s Seeger?  Where are Lopez or Young, speaking up for the rights of the victims?  It seems the superstar rank and file will march only when they believe it will enhance their celebrity status.

The left wing folksinger Phil Ochs mocked the industry before committing suicide:  “I go to all the Pete Seeger concerts, he sure gets me singing those songs”

Tom Lehrer, a leftist satirical song writer and mathematician, also came up with a take on musicians with a cause:

“Ready! Aim! Sing!”

Musicians are progressives insofar as their beliefs don’t conflict with their career.  That their beliefs often conflict with truth is mostly irrelevant to them.

quote

“On the contrary,” the doctor insisted, “…you can’t be intelligent about human beings unless you’re first sentimental about them. Sentimental in the good sense, of course. In the sense of caring for them. It’s the first indispensable condition of understanding them. If you don’t care for them, you can’t possibly understand them; all your acuteness will just be another form of stupidity.”

dialogue from Eyeless in Gaza, by Aldous Huxley