Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Ger toshav: a stranger or an inhabitant?

Israel is a young, dynamic, modern forward State and it seems that as such it attracts a lot of people from over the world with various backgrounds and cultural and religious connections. Singapore is rather the same, but in other ways. There, everything is strict, clean-cut, laws are inspired from the British right, but Indians, Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese (77% of the inhabitants), together with Tamil, Burmese, some Europeans and North Americans combined with Australians, make it one of the most boiling and futurist areas of the planet. No time for personal life, gays and lesbians meet for hidden/known parties on Tuesdays, baseball or still some cricket on green lawns. The Chinese ideograms prevail as the Esperanto visual tongue while the Japanese make their way with Koreans and Russians. It is a typical example of compressed time for the small multicultural nation constantly under stress.

This socio-cultural tendency of stress has been widely used, seemingly as a parallel extension of hedonism over the decades that followed World War II. As the conscience of an existing “ego” develops in Asia, there, in Singapore, it is not neglected; it is simply not relevant economically, financially, for the collectivity and its resources, growth.

From North America till most modern states, hedonism that would underscore the need to develop personal satisfactions and life paths tends to adopt a similar view: stress is a good thing because it obliges the workers (sorry: employees, executives, managers, heads, leaders) to personal pressure. This can lead to blows, i.e. strokes, heavy diseases, mal-etre.

When Singapore tightens its economic and brainstorming abilities, contracts its strength into international business agreements, stress acts as the major agent that goes beyond any human, traditional values. Singapore views only one thing: the thin compact state aims at maximizing the results. All Buddhist and Jewish, Christian, Muslim institutions are present there, with Hinduism and Jainism (Gandhi’s non-violence faith). The inhabitants are S’inpore because of their physical, mental spiritual involvement in this constant enhancement. And, provided that we do not look too much at the rate of local suicides or “self-offering on a voluntarily basis for the development of the State.”

The creation of the German Democratic Republic (October 1949) was a consequence of the agreement passed by the Allies in 1945, dividing Germany into four blocs under control of the then-American, British, French and Soviet “superpowers”. At present, “East-German socialism” may appear a weird political rip-off. A remake of Charlie Chaplin’s “Dictator” that would have turned to narrow-minded twisted gregarious communism. Before the German reunification, the highways crossed outstretched agricultural farm collectivities whose inmates were mainly considered as slaves, brainless, uneducated or spies.

The Leader was Erich Honecker, who would exhort the “brothers/brotheresses – Brueder/Bruederinnen = comrades” to oppose with courage the rest of the world. None of the citizens had ever participated in any sort of murder during World War II. Mass killings, genocide (Jews, Gypsies, mentally disabled), deportation of pink triangle gays and black lesbians were perpetrated by the “others”, i.e. the Western Germans and their allies.

On the other hand, the communists and “comrades of all the proletarian nations, especially the Slavs (communists)” were among the first victims of the Nazis blurred into some odd all-German capitalistic entity.

There are two famous writers, two brothers – not necessarily political “comrades”. Thomas and Heinrich Mann. They were born in Lubeck, the famous Hanseatic town in North Germany. Thomas Mann envisioned the drama of Nazism for Germany, received the Nobel Prize and after a lecture given on the 50th anniversary of the death of Richard Wagner (1933), he left Germany for good and vehemently protested against the Nazi system in the Neue Zuercher Zeitung (1936).

Interestingly, Thomas and Heinrich Mann’s mother was from Brazil and was of Brazilian Creole and German origin. Thomas and Heinrich Mann spent the war in America, rescuing the victims and lecturing against Nazism. After the war, Thomas Mann refused to come back to Germany and lived in Switzerland. Heinrich Mann strongly condemned Nazism and wrote various essays about Zola and the French socialist movements. In 1943, his novel, Lidice, showed the atrocities committed in Czechoslovakia. After the war, he tried to find a way for a new German spirit in East Germany and was appointed as chairman of the Academy of Arts in 1949.

It happens that, in the vicinity of Dresden (East Germany), on the Polish/not far from the Czech border, there is a remainder of a Slavic tongue that, in ancient times, was spoken till the south of Hamburg. “Serpski = Sorbisch/Wendisch = “Serbian” has two dialects close to Polish and Serbian spoken in Budyshyn (Bautzen) and along the border. During the time of the communists all through Eastern Europe, this allowed special contacts with various areas. More recently, during the war in Sarajevo, refugees could be rescued in that area of Germany. Thus, who were the inhabitants? A national mass without soul that was basically known for their athletic champions wiped-out with shots and needles as they appeared, or the liberation movement initiated by the Lutheran Church in the 80s?

It has always seemed bizarre and tragic, amazing and amusing but the Jews have another homeland in the world. I often met and meet with Soviet people who came to Israel or other parts of the world from Birobidzhan, Siberian Far-East, the Jewish Autonomous Region (Oblast) located on the Chinese border. Flowing from the Amur (not really “love” but “Black river”), the Bira and Bidzhan rivers join in the “Yiddish-speaking” green capital Birobidzhanshtot.

Ignoring the Byelorussian pilot kibbutzim of the West, Stalin had nonetheless that “spiritual” care that each nation, Jews as well, should have their home and thus decided to create the autonomous region in 1927-28. It is sometimes fantastic to discuss in Jerusalem or Europe with Polish ghettos’ convicted communist pioneers. Here, some youths studied at Khabarovsk and can stutter some words in Yiddish. The language had been reviewed, the Hebrew Semitic spelling was abandoned by force. Still, the Birobidzhaner Shtern is the national gazette. In September 1972, I read there that “Palestinians were savagely geharg’nt gevorn, murdered in Munich athletic meeting.”

The incredible thing is that there has always been a desire to create a communist-minded region for the Jews inside the Soviet Union. The kind of Jewish State where Jews would be very few, not totally Jewish, not truly speak their own denatured/distorted language.

Birobidzhan appears sometimes as an alternative for some anti-Zionists. On the other hand, its location is strategically unique for the Jews… who, along with the Nestorians writing Manchu in Syrian script, reached the region on their way to Japan till the 12th century. The close Mongolian Buddhist monasteries returned the Nestorian and Syrian-Orthodox prayer books to the faithful after the fall of communism. Anyway, still Israel is somehow present in the Far East.

Now, faith requires and implies full freedom and sense of delivery, which is or was not present in the above social contexts. In Israel, there are Jews and non-Jews. How to define who is a Jew and who is not is a real quiz. No problem. But the problem may turn a bit different. I often mentioned the importance of the Noahide laws, which are a part of the 613 Mitzvot that are incumbent for every Jew. In the different Diasporas, the Jews have not been free to have a free and natural Jewish educational system. It is true that forced conversions to various Christian denominations have been applied systematically. One of the most striking methods, which does seem to be a kind of “forced conversion,” was the idea that – during World War II – Jews could be saved by being really baptized or given a certificate of baptism.

This is stunning and it remains a pending question. It is true that the State of Israel encompasses people who cannot show any evidence of their real link with the Jewish identity. The question has really tormented a lot of individuals and sometimes groups that would claim their appertaining to Jewishness. In Deut./Devarim chapters 29 and 30, the problem is connected with idolatry and any “ger toshav – an inhabitant who lives with the Jews” would supposedly be able to reject any kind of idolatry and accept the realm of the Commandments. This is evident as regards the observance of the Shabbat for any person who shares the life of the Jewish community. Then, the problem is to know if the Israeli state is not wider than the state of the Jews and if this can be considered as a positive object of reflection about the development of our society.

Let’s say that, if things were clear and connected with the full observance of the mitzvot and the existence of a functioning Temple in our midst, the rule decreed by Ezra that the Jews who went up to Zion must repudiate their foreign wives should be applied at the present (Ezra 10:2). Today, this would sound unthinkable and not human. On the other hand, many modern Chassidic movements (Chabad) insist on the importance of the Noahide laws. There are indeed hundreds of thousands of gerey toshav – inhabitants and/or ezrachey Israel (citizens of Israel) who have been directly in contact with (usually) Christianity and need a very specific and adapted spiritual assistance. This is evident but in a context of historic mutual suspicion and ignorance, it should be convenient to show how Judaism has shown to be a school of tolerance and does live of the Divine Presence. The Israeli civil law includes a very meaningful article: “Law 140/1977: assures that yesh chofesh dibbur vedat be Medinat Israel – there is freedom of speech and conscience in the State of Israel”. “dat – conscience, faith?” is difficult to adapt in other tongues and spiritualities. D. Ben Gurion wanted that the State could exert a control over the rabbinate and all kinds of clergy people. Undoubtedly, the rabbis have played an immense role over the centuries and until now in handing over living Jewish traditions. In some areas, they did encounter Christians and Muslims, which is a must in a society and a region as ours.

There is more: whatever faith concerned, there is no fear for believers in God or any pressure of any kind because the only thing that God can do is to help us finding His way and freedom.

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