On Feeling Jewish
During the Yom Kippur prayers which I did in Jerusalem this year I had some thoughts which I would like to share with you.
These thoughts are contained in three separate insights and are to be read in sequence. I have provided links at the bottom of the first two insights that take you to each succeeding insight. This is insight 1 out of 3.
Frankfurt, Passport Control: A man in a police uniform sitting at a height above me is checking my passport. I tense up. I wonder: Why am I tense? My passport is legitimate. No visa is necessary. I am not carrying anything illegal. Why am I tense?
I realize: It is a German policeman.
It has been sixty years since I was in a camp. But somehow my body remembers, and reacts.
I am on my way to Tel Aviv, Israel. Boarding is announced. We are taken to a bus and driven away from the gates to a desolate place where the plane is parked, surrounded by policemen with machine guns drawn. Our bus is accompanied by a police car.
I tense up. I realize: There is a threat to my life. There might be a terrorist attack.
I feel persecuted. I feel tense and on guard all the time.
I received my thirteenth honorary doctorate from the university there. The next day I took the afternoon off to see the city, and visited the synagogue. Above the Holy Ark is written, in Hebrew: “Blessed are you, our Lord, for not giving us as prey to their jaws.”
This is unusual. I’ve never seen this quote in a synagogue. Ever. I ask the shamash, the synagogue attendant, why this particular line from the Old Testament was quoted.
He tells me that of the 70,000 Jews who lived in Riga before the war, only a few remained alive afterward. Those survivors built this synagogue, and are thanking God for surviving.
“Were the others gassed [like my grandparents were]?” I ask. “They did not have to be,” says the shamash. “Latvia is 50 percent forest. They took them there, men, women, and children, all families, murdered them, and put them in mass graves. About forty women and their children hid in the synagogue, hoping that the sacred place would give them refuge. The Nazis poured gasoline on the synagogue walls and burned them all alive.”
I can’t hold back my tears. I feel embarrassed in front of my hosts: Just the day before they had honored me in a ceremony with an honorary doctorate, and here, I am not in control of my body’s reaction.
In Kiev, there is a large sculpture of Bogdan Hmelnitsky, a leader of the Ukrainian independence movement, but at the same time oher Israel (an enemy of the Jews), who led many pogroms. Again I tense up.
My wife’s family owns a piece of a Torah parchment that has been passed down from one generation to the next. In the middle of the parchment is a large red blot – the blood of Jews who were murdered during the Kishinev pogroms.
I am reading a book about the Jewish people during the Spanish Inquisition. Since I am a Sephardic Jew, it was my ancestors who were tortured at that time. As I read the book, I notice that I am sweating.
It seems that our genes do not transfer only physical characteristics and personality traits. It seems to me that they also transfer traumatic memories.
A friend of mine was questioning whether it was worth remaining Jewish. “Why the suffering? Enough is enough,” he said.
It seems to me that he can change whom he serves, how he prays, where he prays, and if he prays at all, but he cannot escape being Jewish as long as the cells in his body remember what it means to be Jewish.
In the Israeli newspapers, I read of an American professor whose field of research is post-traumatic stress disorder, who reports longitudinal research indicating that Israeli society is exhibiting post-traumatic behavior. Not strange. The Holocaust experience is with me, in my cells, in my sweat. …
I am watching the Animal Planet Channel on television. The program is about a rare breed of sea lions that is becoming extinct. They have been given a sanctuary, an island off the coast of Mexico, and no one is allowed to disturb them or hunt them. Other animals that used to be on that island have been transferred to give those sea lions a chance to survive.
Oh God, I say to myself. Why whales and sea lions, yes, but the Jews, no? We have been hunted, burned, gassed, maimed for generations. There is no one in Israel who cannot name at least one member of his/her family who was murdered only because s/he was a Jew. In my extended family alone, I count 103 members who were gassed in Treblinka.
Why can’t the United Nations proclaim that the Jews are a nation in danger of becoming extinct (we are only 12 million worldwide), and let us live in peace in Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, a tiny piece of land 63 percent of which is desert. Why can they not prosecute anyone who tries to murder us, such as Ahmadinejad, who claims the Holocaust did not happen and frequently announces that he intends to wipe the Jewish homeland, and everyone in it, “off the map.” And his threat is not an empty one. He is working diligently on developing a nuclear bomb.
“But Jews are strong. They rule the world. They don’t need protection. We need protection from them. They are too strong and rich and smart, etc. …”
You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? You know what it reminds me of? Some animal hunters justify hunting by claiming that the population of the breed they want to hunt is too big and needs culling.
And they do “cull” us, every thirty years or so.
If we are so strong and smart, why do we get attacked and murdered in every generation?
When will this persecution end? When will my body stop being tense? Will my children always be tense, too? And my grandchildren?
Will we Jews ever find peace? When will the world finally recognize our right to have peace, the right to survive?
Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes
To read the next post in the series, titled “Is Israel a Sanctuary,” please click here: http://www.adizes.com/blog/?p=367