Wednesday, April 8, 2009

En route to...

Are you "en route"? Well, I grew up being a Displaced Person and in their international company. The way was from East-Europe to West-Europe, then North America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand. World War I had inaugurated a long-term period of human flows or transfers of flocks, redesigning precarious borders.

In the 19/20th c., Sicilians used to harvesting twice in the Americas: firstly in Canada; then, in winter time, when the Mafia was hibernating, they made their money and often good fortunes in the rich plains of Argentina. To begin with, the Jews thought, , that the Russian and Austrian-Hungarian Empires political quakes would indeed allow them to remain in a rather beloved German-speaking and cultural area. Some deeply rooted "nationalisms" do exist among the Jewish communities. British Jews lost India and the Middle-East.

The German Jews who had been present in some Länder for over 600 years, which is still quite a frequent painful experience of memory, discovered with stupor that they had gone through a journey through illusion. But, before and just after WWI, it was rather expensive to travel and it was more an exploit to move definitely from one country to another.

Queen Victoria was still sending some colonizers/settlers paid on her own expenses and for the sake of the Crown to Australia: hooligans, released murderers and street women rose up the level of London cockney to the rank of a continent dialect at the turn of the 20th century. Suddenly, Greek, Bulgarian, together with the first Russian immigrants arrived by steamers . By the same time, the Ukrainian Yiddish father of the gazette Yiddish literary tongue described in a short novel "Blondzhdike shterne\בלאנזשדיקע שטערנע - Sparkling stars" how any Jew originating from any normal shtetl\שטעטל (small village) would so nicely feel at home in the London East End: no need to speak English, but just move "dos machen mit di hent\דאס מאדען מיט די הענט - by using their hands expressively". Some nations seem today very cozy and well-settled, as if they had cultivated their green lawn for over more than two thousands years. The intrusion of invaders or killing guests has been the cause for total disappearance of certain civilizations. Saint Augustine, the bishop of Hippone and major theologian for the Western Christianity, built his Church and assisted to the collapse of his work plundered by the violent destruction of the barbarians.

In a cute Dutch village by Nijmegen, nobody is seen in the street during the heat of the day… except that most gossip women know everything “online” looking at their “spiegeltjes – little side mirrors” and inform their tribe through SMS’ or cellular calls. Nations sank into the oblivious unconsciousness of low-gear memories. Modernity meets with gossip, chatting and apparent stiffness. No, people have always been on the move. I wonder if this is not due, to some extent, to the fact that the planet does rotate and pursues a difficult pilgrimage through history. Stability and fixity are rather a part of a myth. Life has often been too short or reduced by the hands of conquerors. In the 70ies, we were a handful of Jews, in Iceland, rescued from all kinds of persecutions: a famous pianist, a cemetery security guard among the happy few; we felt so “at peace” in that old-new Viking country. Still, our eyes were flickering at Pesach: “Next year in “ara de’Israel\ארעא דישראעל= in the Land of Israel”- “chulem oder emes?\חלום אדער אמת – a dream or a reality?” As regards Yiddishkayt and Jewishness, the Beyt Hatfutzot\בית התפוצות (Museum of the diaspora) is definitely a unique and insightful place for a coherent understanding of humans, in particular the Jews en voyage to themselves along God’s paths (“My plans are not your plans, nor My ways your ways says the Lord/so is the word that issues from My mouth: it does not come to Me unfilled”, Isaiah 55:8-12).

What is your real trip for Pesach 5769? What is your journey through these seven days of different daily bread? Jews have a sort of creative inability to settle somewhere or not to move from time to time. Say, the Russians have such a huge territory that it is obvious to have a “datcha – “external house, second far way located house with garden or forests”. Once the Jews came out of Egypt, they settled in land they never could totally control because of failures in the managerial programs or human, so too human sins committed by the leaders. But when the Temple was existent, the Klal Israelכלל ישראל – Community of Israel rapidly developed a system of free but rather obligatory pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to the Temple in order to offer the korbanot\קורבנות/prescribed sacrifices.This allowed to prohibit the other sites that did not focus on the Lord/HaShem alone, especially in the North. Shalosh regalim: i.e. three footings up to the Holy of Holies (Devir\דביר). As in English “foot-step” it is a move of ascent that also corresponds to a way of living, moral or spiritual conducts or actions. Of course, it is wiser to translate “regalim” by “pilgrimages”; but it sounds a bit bizarre. Pilgrimages mean that pilgrims (from O. Fr. Pelegrin = go “beyond the fields (acres) that are outside, foreign” and enter a new place).

In Hebrew, “regalim\רגלים” comes from “regel\רגל = leg”. We walk on foot, beregel\ברגל even if some wealthy people would arrive on Dutch bikes, in buses, soon by trains and other by private jets and Mercedes. Firstly, this kind of expedition for Pesach, Shavuot (Pentecost/Giving of the Torah) and Sukkot (Tabernacles) requires a strong a diet a reconnect with a soulful nomadic Semitic spirit (The “wandering Aramean” syndrome depicted in Bemidbar 26:5). “On foot is on foot”; we have all kinds of wonderful sandals, very solid and comfy. We can also walk bare-foot, somehow a bit titillating for the toes… “Shirey hama’alot שירי המעלות – are the “songs or ascents, Tehillim,120-134, some being read every evening in the Orthodox Church).

“Regalim\רגלים” has more. They are “r’gel davar = the basics of a reason” (Talmud Nazir 9:3). Thus, the three pilgrimages of ascents to Jerusalem and the Temple as commanded in Exodus 23:14.”Hirgil\הרגיל” = to make accustomed/ to flay an animal from its feet upwards “for the purpose of levitical cleanness” (Hullin9:3). “Rigel\ריגל – to spy”. But, “The 1st of Nissan is the new year for the oley regel\עולי רגל (those who go up on foot)” (Rosh Hashanah 16b). There is a concept of climbing, going up. It may be a slow process, take time.

The French Saint Therese of Lisieux, having seen one of the first elevators during her pilgrimage to Rome, declared she would love to get to God by elevator! Makes sense in Hebrew too: “shirey hama’alot\שירי המעלות = songs of ascents/ hama’alit\המעלית = of the elevators” showing that thirst for speed. In the Semitic languages, it is always this kind of journeys is always connected with “upwards”. “Aliyah” is the real word for this experience and adds an internal combat or capacity to reach a goal that is essentially spiritual. “Ol shamayim\עול השמים = yoke of heaven = the realm of the Mitzvot, the ascent of our soul towards God”. Jesus has a clear word: “My yoke is easy and my burden light” (Matthew 11:30).After the destruction of the Temple, the “Mitzvah to go up to Jerusalem for the three Feasts” seemed to be dropped away somehow. True, Jews maintained a specific sort of “aliyah – upward pilgrimage” when going up the bema/lectern to make a reading in the synagogue. Or to go by circles around the bema with the Torah scrolls (“hakafot\הקפות – circling like around the city of Jericho” and the feast of Simchat Torah\שמחת תורה/Joy of the Torah). This move is definitely universal or spiritually meaningful: it is performed during the “hajj – pilgrimage to Mecca” and suggests a mood of conversion towards God, also a victory allowing overcome our passions or desires of all sorts.

So what is your “pilgrim journey” for Pesach 5769? Christian pilgrimages are very ancient. They often led from Western Europe to the Holy Land with some sense of avenging defects of understanding among the Christians or mixing legends and sagas into non-pagan myths: Santiago de Compostela, the Hagion Oros (Mount Athos, Sinai), Lourdes, numerous places in the Christian world. There is a difference between the Oriental and Western Christian traditions. Firstly, some lay people would have left their home in order to realize an oath (Matthew 19:29); secondly, the Russian traditions, also vivid here, in our Israeli society, have always had some “stranniki/странники – “estranged pilgrims/God seekers along the ways”) who could wander along the wide spaces and stay for a while in some monasteries.

The Israelis love to be on “tiyulim\טיולים – tours” and visiting archaeological sites. It takes quite often a sort of “spiritual-like regalim along the country”. This is more than important for the newcomers who have to plant themselves back into the soil and the soul of the Eretz Israel. Archaeology is the key-element tracking back to history, religion, society, culture. Some tendencies seem to become usual practices, such as the recent move shown by the Ultra-Orthodox to systematically visit Yad-VaShem and similar Shoah memorials at certain times of the year.

On the other hand, more and more Israelis travel back to some famous cities or areas of the diasporas (Prague, Budapest, Bucharest). There is one intriguing and “charming” daily-weekly” permanent spiritual return to Uman, a small Ukrainian village, where the followers of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov can pray and rejoice near his house, “the world is a narrow bridge” and the chassid exerts a rare know-how of bridging Jews and Ukrainians for a spiritual peace and encounter.

The Christian Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian, Syrian-Orthodox, Coptic, Ethiopian and the other Protestant Churches enter a time that conduct them through the suffering of Jesus, his service to proclaim his rising from the dead. It is a sort of ascent that he made till the Golgotha, the place of the Skull or Calvary. The heathens used the skulls of their victims to have a toast; thus “skaal (pronounced /skol/ = cheers and skull” in the Scandinavian tongues. Golgotha is the Aramaic word similar to Hebrew “gilgul\גילגול” (prayer because going to sleep) or “gilgel\גילגל” (to revolve) that makes a skull not stiff (-headed?). On the contrary, it means that life continues, changes, runs, moves around and ahead of us. It incites us to make this personal and community, societal trip to reinforce our discovery of ourselves and proximity to the others.

av Aleksander [Winogradsky Frenkel]

April 6/24, 2009 – 12 deNisan 5769 - י"ב דניסן תשס"ט

entry in Jerusalem
Syrian Orthodox manuscript in Aramaic (R.E.)
לעשות וידוי ולעשות תשובה לשם השמים
נו, ווער האט געזאגט אז מיר זיינען חטאים געווען?? . ...
Marc Chagall's dove of peace (museum of Tehran)

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