Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Es brennt - ס'ברענט - Fire!

There is a famous vitz-וויץ/joke about the insights of spiritual leaders in South Ukraine. That was in the good old days when the Jewish shtetlech-שטעטלעך / villages were still existent in this multi-cultural area. People were eagerly looking for some clarification about the future, even the near future, i.e. at times simply get some explanation about daily mishaps. We have the same today with the numerous soothsayers... One day, a tzaddik inflamed the assembled people with his very heartfelt sermon and cried out: "Es brent, es brent (Yiddish, not German) in Berdichev!!" I see flames and fire in Berdichev right now!" People got scared. They were in trouble. Some pogrom could be led against the community of the renown city. But the man who reported the event burst into laughters, sighed and said: "Actually, there was no fire and no house was burning in Berdichev on that day, but this darshan/preacher, 'vus a guk - וואס א גוק! = really full of insights!".

The world is on fire and flames lick and destroy everywhere - not always where we figure out that houses and/or minds are set on fire and burn down. We are going these days through a special period of anniversaries. The period extending from 8 to 17 Cheshvan - the Jewish month after New Year 5769 corresponds this week to various memorial and commemoration days or yohrtzayten\יארצייטן (Yid.: celebrations for the departed or historic events) from November 4th till November 11th, 2009.

According to the Jewish Tradition, the date of 11 Cheshvan 5769/November 9, 2009 marks the 3561th anniversary of the death of Rachel Imenu, patriarch Jacob's [Ya'akov-Israel's] wife whose tomb is constantly visited on the way to Bethlehem - at the present a special place located at a checkpoint. She is mentioned in a rather similar way the Hebrew TaNaKh (Bible) and in the New Testament. "A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not /קול ברמה נשמע נהי בכי תרווים רחל מככה על בניה מניה כי איננו "(Jeremiah 31:15) compared to "In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation and weeping, and great mourning because they are not" (Matthew 2:18).

Rachel is often mentioned as in a sort of paradox that should be overcome. The paradox allows to maintain the distance between Judaism and Christianity and not to get to the heart of any human process of pardon and unity. On the one hand, "she refuses to be comforted". In the Gospel, "refusal" has been removed from the Greek text that refers to the account of the assassination of the children in Bethlehem ordered by Herod. In the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, and in most Christian congregations, the commemoration day of that murder is essential after Christmas.

The Christian traditions often compare the deportation of the Jews to Babylon (and the destruction of the First Temple/Bayt Mikdash harishon/) with the murder ordered by king Herod, infuriated and jealous because of the "eventual" birth of the Messiah in David's city of Bethlehem. The Christian scholars underscored how strong Rachel's refusal to be comforted "shows evidence" for the Jewish permanent rejection of Jesus of Nazareth as being the true Messiah.

On the other hand, the tragedy witnessed by prophet Jeremiah is more than important. He saw the destruction of the Temple. He was deported with the Tribes of Israel to Babylon, the land of Abraham's ancestors, a place of idolatry and total pagan cult. In fact, Jeremiah is much more positive: "Thus said the Lord, refrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears: because your work shall be rewarded... and they shall come again from the land of the enemy (Jeremiah 31:16).

In the Gospel, new-born Jesus is taken to the land of Egypt, a way back and forth and later again to "Eretz Israel/ארץ ישראל" (Matthew 2:21) under king Archelaus, a historic manner to state the times and the delays. The killing of the [innocent] Children [of Bethlehem] has also been matched, by some theologians, with the destiny of the Jewish people. The Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem: "in view to build there the Temple, ordered Cyrus [the Gentile Messiah in the Jewish tradition], vey'al/ ויעל - to go up to Judea" - which is the last verb of the present canon of the Hebrew Bible (2 Chronicle 36:23).

Rachel died on her way to Efrat and she knew she was giving birth to a male boy, Benjamin, the first and only child born in Eretz Canaan-Israel\ארץ כמנען וישראל. Thus it significant for the understanding of the Megillat Esther/מגילת אסתר - the only book that anticipated the full extermination of the Jews in Persia. Both Mordechai and Esther were the direct offspring of Rachel through Benjamin. Mordechai and Esther's time of silence (as for the Jewish tradition and text) is definitely similar to the "Shoah extermination" or "Endlösung - final solution" during World War II.

It is also important to consider the development of hatredת deportation, assassination and genocide over long periods of history, in particular against the Jews (Armenians and Gypsies). With regards to the jews, it covers pre-Christian and pagan projects. It took a dramatic turn in our generation with the Nazi theories, the Endlösung /final solution (via full extermination of the Jews) drawn up by Hitler, carried out by Himmler, Goebbels and their clique in a full christened and highly baptized Europe. Indeed, Jews and Christians should carefully take into account the ups and downs that happened from the time of the destruction to the First and Second Temple. This is a long and common period of time and destiny. The query is to know why hatred prevail over the commandment of love.

On this day of Cheshvan 9th, the historic [or supposed] date of passing away of Rachel Imenu (Rachel our mother) allows a certain overtime envisioning of history. Special events are to be taken into account these days of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, usually covering November and sometimes tracking back to the end of October in the Gregorian calendar. These events are tied up. They are put connected like chains or ropes. They are part of a common humane and inhumane or a sort thread of memory. It would be a mistake to disconnect them.

This year, we commemorate, remember or participate in the following events: the 90th year of the end of World War II on November 11, 1918 [7 Kislev 5679], the 70th year of the "Kristallnacht" launched on November 8-9-10, 1938 [14-15 Cheshvan 5699], the passing over and then progressive breach into the Berlin wall on November 9, 1989 [11 Cheshvan 5750] that launched the reunification of Berlin and Germany. This is for the past and recent events.

With regards to Israel/Palestine, it is eventually noticeable that the Balfour Declaration allowing the establishment of the Jews in Palestine by the British Crown is dated November 2, 1917 [17 Cheshvan 5678] - a Muslim-Christian Association vehemently protested on November 11, 1918 at the end of the War against the Zionist establishment. Intriguingly, late prime minister Itzchak Rabin was murdered on 12 Cheshvan 5756 [November 5, 1995]. The new mayor of Jerusalem is to be elected on November 11, 2009 [13 Cheshvan 5769].

This Cheshvan list shows a development of actions, facts that are intertwined and cannot be separated. In terms of faith, they oblige to pay attention to the worse and constant desire of mankind to drown or be drowned, erase or be erased. There is a constant move that privileges mass murders (the Ukrainian holodomor in the Ukraine in 1932-35). It was very special in Christian and Jewish Europe.

How come that 70 years after the launching of the Kristallnacht, harsh and savage attack against the Jews in Germany, the Roman Catholic Church celebrated the feast of the consecration of the Latran basilica in Rome (4th century AD.)?

Curiously, the rampant fight among the Christian denominations inside of the Holy Sepulcher turned on this date, to a brawl between the Greek and Armenian clergy on the Armenian feast of the invention (discovery) of the Holy Cross? We go through times of drastic changes that showed up decades ago and should be considered with much attention and prudence. Such fights were even more eager in the past and we have pictures of unbelievable brawls between the Greek, Franciscan and other clergy people. These attacks happened throughout the ages. They are sharp at the present. There is a terrible time of fright. Huge anxiety of the Churches in facing the future.

I incidentally heard the comments of a specialist in religious affairs. He promoted his last book online anddeclared that the closer the harsher. The more religious people are close, the bigger the clash can erupt among the believers. I had made the same statement live on radio and wrote that years ago. This is definitely not the point at the present.It is evident that fire and hatred quickly spark and flash between spiritual groups that cannot accept the ideology of other parties.

In the context of Jerusalem today, the issues are a bit different. There is a strong national and phyletist [ethnic] narrow-minded and scary ghettoizing process among most of the congregations of all creeds and beliefs. This shows up clearly when they feel estranged to each other. It is worse when they feel foreign and alien to the natives of the present Holy Land, Israeli and Muslim, Christian Arab and Jewish identities.

Who could ever think that the Holy sites of Christianity would be under control of the Israeli State of the Jews? 70 years ago, riots clashed when the British allowed the legal settlement of the Jews, paving the way for the Israeli State. The problem is not political. It not even cultural. Who could anticipate that a Jewish State would exercise the legal control of the very ancient Christian denominations that have been present in Eretz Israel over two thousand years. They feel and are at home as any believer (Psalm 87:6). It is a tremendous challenge for both the Jews and the non-Jews to update fixed theological points of view. Simpleminded ignorance and despise, systematic rejection and replacement theology toward the Jews have led to constant historic denial of Israel. Jews are entitled to suspect any attitude toward their existence and tradition. It is important to open up trustworthy conditions of a real dialogue between equal partners. It will take centuries. This is not a joke. This is just real.

The problem is definitely not whether the fight burst out on November 9th, 2009 in the Holy Sepulcher. Once again.... No. It boomerangs back and forth with all the events that we commemorate these days. They are tied up into the long thread mentioned above. Should we consider that this happens by hazard or meaningless providence on that date?

The end of World War I caused the collapse of the Austrian-Hungarian and the Ottoman empires. Nonetheless, the same Habsburg atmosphere was and remains pregnant in many new states that became independent after the fall of communism. We think that communism fell and disappeared. This is undoubtedly a great mistake with regards to the real social situation in many countries at the present. The situation and the events concerned are to be considered with much prudence and subtlety.

As I wrote in a previous article, we have to track back with much insights in order to understand all the events that dramatically showed and affected the 20th century. Let's say that the ongoing discussion about a possible and often rejected beatification of late Pope Pius XII in the Roman Catholic Church is then to be connected with the issues raised by the canonization of late tsar Nicolas II and Russian imperial family murdered at Ekaterinburg/Sverdlovsk 90 years ago. I always celebrated a "pannychida/memorial" service in Jerusalem, in Slavonic and even in Ukrainian(!) long before the full recognition of the last Russian tsar. He had been canonized by the Church Abroad years before reunification with the Moscow Patriarchate. The departed were living souls. It is also a must to explain that humans are humans and how we have to act with decency in the Holy Land.

In my recent note about Metropolitan Andrii Sheptytskyi, I explained how a "beyond the norms" man of faith, accomplished an immense task... Still, he is not recognized by his own Church. The Yad VaShem Israeli/Jewish Shoah Memorial Institution does not accept him as "righteous among the Nations".

90 years cover a veery short period of time. It is like a minute, micro-time period in the destiny of humankind. Indeed, it affects the whole of the world at an international level; some soldiers came from Australia, New Zealand, America! It remains a European and Mediterranean pending problem about how to reshape Europe. By that time, Europe could think that the Europe nations have been totally faithful to the roots of Christendom. The Jews had been living in Germany since very ancient times. They also had settled in the Ukraine, Greece, the South of France and many other provinces of the Roman empire.

It would certainly be a mistake to dissociate the Kristallnacht persecution and laws launched on November 9th, 1938 from the beginning of the fall of the Berlin wall on November 9th, 1989. True, it appears to be an "impossible task" to match acts of rejection, hatred, apostasy and war with the prime of recovery for the German nation and the "newly reshaped" Austrian republic.

It is worthy to apprehend these terrible days in Germany with a spirit of authentic pardon and understanding. Pardon and reconciliation are not simple words. We parrot them too often in all existing clerical groups, It is a sort of professional click. It shows up quickly. It is too much imposed as a presupposed requirement of faith by the Christian creeds. Easy to utter, far more difficult to implement with a spirit of loyalty.

In this month of Cheshvan 5769 and November 2008, following a year of shemittah/remittance of debts and rest of the soil, all the above mentioned dates make sense for the believers. It only does if they accept true reconciliation. This also implies that we are ready to face the most hideous acts as events that go far beyond our understanding. For the moment, we need to collect the documents. We need to accept them as legible memories of our generation. Still, God exercise his loving-kindness toward all of us and constantly pardons. Humans are permanently jumping from a Flood to rising up again. We are submitted to the same challenging journey as Abraham in the "Lech lecha" parashah/reading portion of last Shabbat.

Interestingly, the Eastern Orthodox celebrate on November 11/October 29 the feast of Saint Anastasia the Roman virgin who was martyred in the3rd century. Her name means "Resurrection". This is the correct name given in Greek to the Holy Sepucher, though the local Greek Orthodox call the site "ho naos - ο ναος/the Temple", in opposition to the Mikdash/מקדש that was extant on the Temple Mount. We need to switch from opposition to complementarity.

I will take the liberty to make a personal statement. I rarely speak of my backgrounds. In a blog, I wrote a whole "Qiyum/קיום - [Yid.: existence in Yiddish] portion". I must explain to my children the family backgrounds.

I am the survivor of many family tragic events: the first pogroms in the 1880s in the Ukraine. My family started to back the Zionist movement and buy some land and properties for the account of the then Jewish Zionist Congress after the horrible pogroms of 1905 (my late mother and father were 5 years old). On both sides, the grandparents were of Jewish Orthodox rabbinic descent. The family went through all the pogroms, the Ukrainian civil war, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Soviet rule, deportation and extermination both in concentration camps (Majdanek). They faced the Gestapo and their local assistants in the Ukraine and in Western Europe. They faced blackmail in Germany, Switzerland and France.

Hundreds of my family members (both mother and father sides) were deported and murdered someway, to begin with my mother who was rescued at the World War II. She birthed me at the age of 48, which definitely was a miracle by that time for various reasons.

To begin with, in 1949, women could not easily bear a child. Today it is "trendy" for other reasons. She was also partly lame and deaf. I write this for one specific reason. My parents were 18 years old on November 11, 1918. Their prime of life. The situation was messy in the Ukraine by that time. They were born in the same town - Nikolaiev - Nikolayiv - as the late Tsemach - Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Lyubavich. When my grandfather passed away in August 1914, at the start of World War I, he was 42 yrs old; the whole of the city of Nikolaiev and other villages and cities (Cherson, Odesa) accompanied him to his burial place, Jews and Ukrainians, Germans and other people. He had set up a charity system to help the natives of whatever origin.

After World War II, the shock had been terrible for the Ashkenazi communities. A lot of Jews refused to give birth to children, considering that the time of the extermination could not allow them to suspect that life is still possible. I know a lot of Jews who hesitated to prolong their lives by birthing children. The question was raised in the same way by prophet Jeremiah by the time of the deportation to Babylon and the destruction of the Temple.

My parents were seemingly born to be murdered by hatred shown in many ways against the Jews - pious people - foreigners. They were forced to clean the pavements with toothbrushes in Berlin, which tracks back to the Kristallnacht period. 1938 was a deadline to flee from Germany.

Still, my mother took a very special decision. She thought she had to accomplish a special Mitzvah/commandment-positive deed. She decided that, being her son, I had to learn and speak German fluently, without accent. We had Yiddish, Russian, Ukrainian and other tongues like French and English. Still, she took a decision that met with a lot of opposition from the then very reduced Jewish community of survivors.

She took that decision explaining that being a survivor, it was her duty to give me the opportunity to reconnecting with the Germans. She had the courage to say: "my son does not belong to the past generation, but to a new generation whose duty is to reconcile with all the people who harmed us".

This was true toward the Ukrainians and the Russians. But it sounded very special to let me live among former Nazis for the sake of true pardon. She always refused to return to Germany. On the other hand, my parents always greeted the German in their language that they spoke wonderfully along with other tongues.

She managed in such a way that I spent some time as a child in a family that lived in Bischofshofen near Salzburg (Austria). I frankly don't know how she made it. But the Austrian family accepted me though they knew I was a Jew. I prefer to put that way to begin with. Basically my mother transgressed the Mitzvot by sending me to a non-Jewish family who did not say a word about their fully support, during the war, of the Nazi regime. Then I spent a lot of time in Dusseldorf. I was hosted by a famous local family who had fought the Nazis and also in Limburg. True, the Germans usually don't know from where I am. I love the tongue because it is very connected with Yiddish that I surveyed and even taught as I specialized in comparative and psycho-linguistics at the university of Copenhagen. I saw the first groups of German youths arriving in Israel.Some settle in the country.

Her decision was indeed very on line with the Jewish tradition of pardon. Jews are born to pardon. Not only to pardon, which can be beyond any thinkable act for most of the Ashkenazi survivors. My parents had survived of all the catastrophes that happened in the East European countries, in Christian environment. Nobody is entitled to parrot such words as "pardon". Of course "pardon and forgiveness" do not mean at all "to forget". On the contrary, it means "to remember" as mentioned during every Shaharit/Morning prayer about the obligation for the Jews to remember the awful deeds of Amalek, the devilish enemy, symbol of heathen idolatry.

This is also why I decided to dedicate my life to forgiveness. But there is a sacramental dimension or mystical reality in the realm of forgiveness. Of course, the Jews underscore this aspect of the intercession to God as a constant renewed cry and appeal. It is Abraham's interceding for Sodom. The inhabitants of Sodom were not sexually obsessed sinners and same-sex partners only, let's put it that way. They were framed, refused to welcome the foreigners, the others, the "aliens". They were those who would never open the door with a spirit of hospitality. They stubbornly denied the others any rights with blindness and moral racial opacity. I often wonder why no denomination has ever tried to build there, in the wilderness of salt, some monastery or a simple shtub/small yeshivah.

On the 12 Cheshvan 5756 [November 5, 1995], Itzchak Rabin was assassinated in Tel Aviv. This year, the date corresponds to the anniversary of the end of World War I. Look back to Rachel Imenu's death and the fact that she gave birth to the only son of Jacob/Israel who was born in the Land of Canaan: from him were born the two intercessors (Mordechai and Esther) who worked in deeds. They risked their lives in order to save the Jews from total extermination (Book of Esther, Hebrew version). They did it in silence. Feud and adversity, hatred, murderous impulsions are to be denounced and fought openly. Silence or patience and overtime reflection allow considering things differently. There is a special sort of sience: the silence that leads to reconciliation, a true one because people are then aware of their own being rescued. Pardon has nothing to do with weakness. On the contrary, it requires acting and thinking with veracity in all sorts od situations.

The Jewish tradition does not allow a generation to give a final answer to any event that affected the people over a certain period of time. 90 years are even less than a day, yesterday's day - as stated: "For a thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday when it is past as a watch in the night - כי אלף שנים בעיניך כיום אתמול" ( Psalm 90:4). We do not measure time at the present. We hurry up and think we are in a speedy race. Tremendous changes showed in the past 90 , 70, 60, 40 or twenty years. We face the same countdown as Abraham interceding for Sodom. He argued with full submission and righteousness. In the end, God decides. In interceding for Sodom, Abraham showed he did not reject them. He discussed the matter with the Heavenly Father.

In 1918, my parents were in the prime of their lives. The world sank and passed away many times during their lifetime. They reached their 80 and 90 and left a world in mutation. When he died at the age of 93 years old, my father saw the reunification of Germany live on television. It madde him happy. He was glad to see something like that. We are definitely not born to curse. We are born to bless and do our best to make sense of the days we are given. Dreams come true. Whatever they are, they must be coherent, even if we don't clearly understand their meaning and development . Job's words are correct: "I have heard of You (Lord) by the hearing of the ear - but now my eye see You; thus I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5).

Night and spiritual darkness, absence of sight have seemingly affected the souls over the 20th century in some awful death culture. "Night of faith" for the Little Flower nun, Thérèse of Lisieux that endured till now with Mother Theresa of Calcutta. It is the normal cry of a Holocaust survivor like Elie(zer) Wiesel whose first book was "Di nakht\די נאכט - the night".

The Breslover Rebbe has another point of view: anyone that would come and say the Generl Remedy psalms (Tikkun haklali - תיקון הכללי) at his grave in Uman and repent from his misdeeds of whatever nature, will be forgiven and rescued from the Gehenna. Such a statement is unique. It makes sense in accordance with the realm of the Mitzvot. It is much comparable to St. Silouan the Athonite's words: "Keep your soul in hell (she'ol\שאול in Hebrew, Gr. Hades, cf. the Gehenna) and do not despair!". This means that human experience is deeply rooted in life, rooted in hope beyond hope.

This is magnificently uttered in the festive Jewish prayer: "Blessed are You, Lord of the universe / Who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this (appointed) time (term)\ב' א' ה' א' מ' ה' ששהחינו וקימנו והגענו לזמו הזה. The Orthodox Churches also bear witness that God releases and pardons, reinvigorates.

Goethe wrote: "Schade, daß die Natur nur einen Menschen aus dir schuf, der zum würdigen Mann war und zum Schelmen der Stoff (it is a pity that Nature shaped only one man of out you that has the makings of a worthy man and a mischief") (Faust).

Forgiveness cannot be measured. It is the challenge we face by being still alive in the present. Pardon is the invisible Providence drizzling from the Throne of Glory in the High.

av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Fenkel]

November 11, October 29, 2008 - 12 Cheshvan 5769 - י"ב דחשון תשס"ט

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