Friday, August 17, 2007

Zehut: Identity, who's who?

In August, after famous filmmakers died (Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni), it appears that other personalities passed away this summer, completing in some way, the sceneries depicted in the movies realized by these film creators. The point is that, generation after generation, people depart by sorts of waves "be'ito - in due time"(Tehillim 104, 27) having accomplished their task we still cannot measure. .

Identity is a major concern in Israel. Anytime, anywhere, anyhow. It is not linked to the fact that police officers would check identity cards everywhere. ID cards cannot include the richness of all the events that paved the way of a person in good and bad, sorrows, struggles for life and intimacy. ID cards and passports have a number and reckon the “citizenship life account” of a person.

It is like the dry skeleton of a body that may progressively grow in density as one tries to discover the muscles, sinews, brain, speech and memorized or forgotten or possibly forged biographies (cf. Ezekiel 37). In some decades, it will be very intriguing to add the virtual identities of some computer whizzes that invented or reshaped their identity for reason of convenience or as in a playful connection with others.

“Zehut – identity” comes from “zeh hu – this (one) is” or “it is like this or that”. “zeh /masc./, zot-zu /fem./ as in “yavo zeh – let this one come and receive this or that” or “zeh zeh Moshe = “this one – this this” means Moses and “zot zu HaTorah = this that means the Law-Torah” (Menachot 53b). “ei zehu = eyzehu (Mishnah language)” and help determining what something is or who somebody (male or female) is or is supposed to be or just definitely declares what facts and people are (Gittin 8, 4). “eyzehu chacham = who is wise” (Avot 4, 1). The quest is to know “who, what, which” things or individuals are, while “be’eyzeh tsad = in what manner (Aramaic: “eyda – eydeyn that can be compared to “deyn-deyn” – this or that that implies the ability to judge what is existent).

Moreover, the root relates to things-objects or subjects-individuals as they are existent now/at the moment/instant as in “tell me now (eyzu)” (Bava Metsia 70a) or “admit then at least” (Yoma 30b). Time is short and refers to life in its apparently very limited duration if compared with eternity. Instants and short twinkling detectors of life paths that are far more flexible than what we perceive of individual bios.

Nonetheless, “zehut” tracks back to some interrogation about whom and what is existent. It does not use the same way as “min, mah, mi – out of where, what, who” that relate to “semen, seeds” germinating into humans or fruits, plants (Avot 3, 1; cf. the first blogs). We had previously seen that “etzem – self”, connected with “atzmaut – independence, atsamot - bones” would be more suitable to roughly visualize the identity of a person more accurately. “Zeh hu/eyzehu” shows of people or who is who and what for what!

Raul Hilberg was born in Vienna (Austria) to a Jewish family that immigrated to the United States via Cuba in 1939. In 1944, in Munich (Germany), being a young American soldier in charge of the Nazi archives, he interviewed numerous Nazi soldiers. He died this month, on August 4th, after having dedicated his life to the historic approach and understanding of what had happened during the Holocaust/Shoah in a very specific manner. He was the first to collect the Nazi archives and to try to grasp from within the point of view of the Nazis how and why the process of the “Endloesung – final solution” could be implemented. Thus, he wrote “the Destruction of the European Jews”(1955), his dissertation in which he showed some kind of “collaboration” of the Jewish Ghetto heads and councils in their deals with the Nazis.

This point of view was definitely banned by Yad VaShem. Hannah Arendt has misused his works and surveys during Eichmann’s trial in 1961 as regards her view to some “banality of evil”. R. Hilberg interestingly considered the long experience of the European Jewries throughout ages of persecution. He described the sorts of deals passed with non-Jewish authorities in order to “ransom” or “redeem” and thus save some part of the Jews beyond all the murders, pogroms and expulsions/ assets and properties confiscations. Based upon the fact that the Nazi laws could be firstly discussed, the Jews did not anticipate, in Hilberg’s opinion, that these Nazi rules would turn to non-guilty obedience to irrational army orders that blinded and froze their brains.

In his view, the Jewish people in Europe were “slow to fight the Nazis”. Therefore, they could not only be victimized by the exterminators. This point of view profoundly shocked the Israeli authorities and the management of Yad VaShem and other official Shoah organizations.

Times of troubles of such a huge nature as the Shoah/hurban will only be understandable overtime, over centuries. We already get the archives from some former communist countries; still the Vatican and other countries would reluctantly show their records. The sufferings of the Jews have reached an immense depth of despair and distrust towards the Nations of the world that it is far too early to openly discuss any Jewish involvement of any kind during WWII. Right now, the Jewish Orthodox groups commence to positively get to Yad VaShem on various feasts (Pessah, Yom Kippur) while the secular Israeli society would somehow continue to accuse the Christians and to be unconcerned.

On July 30th, Patriarch Teoctist of Romania passed away. He was 92 years old and had been elected as patriarch in 1986. Israel has a lot of Romanian and Moldavian inhabitants and citizens. For decades, the Ceausescu regime – let’s call that some kind of peculiar communism – the gates of aliyah/immigration to Israel have always been open from Bucharest to Israel as a possible route to quit the communist countries. After the fall of the regime, tons of workers arrived in Israel as (half)legal/illegal workers/ Romanian Israelis represent a very quiet part of the Jewish aliyot while the workers have often been obliged to leave the country. The Romanian Orthodox Church has a prestigious history in the Holy Land and is very lively. Patriarch Teoctist had a troublesome life path.

He was accused of having worked for the communists and resigned in 1990. Unexpectedly, he was called back by the Holy Synod under the pressure of the faithful. In 1999, he was the first Eastern Orthodox patriarch, since the schism of 1054 between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, to meet with the John Paul II, the Pope of Rome. He built many monasteries and created many schools. With regards to Judaism that has a long and prestigious history in Romania, it should be noted that a lot should be launched in the Romanian Church to study the relationships of the Oriental traditions and the emergence of the Chassidic and other movements in Romania and Bukovina. The Nazi period has been more than chaotic for a region full of contradictions that attempts to settle down and build up credible structures.

On August 5th, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger died. Born in 1926 in Paris to a family of Polish Jews, he was baptized in the Catholic Church at the age of 14 years old in Orleans and ordained a priest in 1954. His father spoke Yiddish and had traveled to Poland before the war broke. Their family of Bendzin was murdered in the camps as the Cardinal’s mother. He undoubtedly was a man of brilliant intelligence and faith, who kept silent for the better part of his priestly life about his backgrounds and tragic sufferings. He also was a man of hope and creative talents, a theologian, a preacher with musical and artistic skills. In 1979, Pope John-Paul II assigned him as bishop at Orleans, which is an extravagant biographic response in some manner.

Soon afterwards, he was appointed archbishop of Paris. At this point, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger explained he was born Aron and also baptized Aron. He definitely considered himself a Jew. True, he worked somehow for the betterment of the Jewish and Christian relationships. Indeed he was a man of rare openness and freedom.

The French Rabbinate protested that he could not claim to be both a Jew and a Catholic. Interestingly, at his funeral, psalm 113 was read in Hebrew and French and his cousin, an Auschwitz survivor, said the Kaddish Yatom (instead of the usual burial Kaddish Tsidduq HaDin) in front of the cathedral of Notre-Dame. Cardinal J.M. Lustiger maintained he was a Jew as were the first Apostles. Again, as for any survivor deeply hurt and afflicted by the Shoah, the Jews have to show a lot of loving-kindness to a man who gave back to Judaism.

But who can say he was a “Jewish” cardinal? He was a French, Parisian Buttes Montmartre “urchin” and an archbishop of the Catholic Church that he had joined in the shadow of Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, appointed for his competence to resolve the local problems of the French Church.

It maybe a part of his own wounds that he was not recognized to the full by his own people (John 1:11). He courageously carried his yoke of contradiction (Luke 2:34). He could envision Jewishness as a free part of the Church. But the time of the Early Church is over and new times can only show over long periods of mutual pardon and full recognition between the Jews and the Christians, without pretence. Curiously, the Priests Daniel Rufeisen and Alexander Glasberg were full Jews and still, having saved numerous Jews in Poland and Iraq, they only got recognized as “Righteous among the Nations” by Yad VaShem. “Da’ lifney atah omed – do know (and accept) in front of Whom you are standing”…

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