As a secular Jew I've had mixed feelings about the dwelling on the Holocaust so much, as to induce a bundle of guilt as well. I received a post card in the mail (!) years and years ago, with a picture of Jews rounded up in a cattle car bound for a concentration camp, with writing on the back of the card. The writing basically said, "This is what will happen if you marry outside the Jewish faith!" How did they know I was Jewish? How didn't they know that this kind of fear mongering would push me in precisely the opposite direction?
I have been one of may Jews not yet to visit Israel, perhaps afraid of what some call the "Jerusalem Syndrome", where I might suddenly and dramatically take to the ground and to kissing it, so strongly would I feel a connection to my own people and to my own Judaism.
I've been afraid of too much identification with my Jewishness. There is too much of it that I don't like: what seems like an obsessive adherence to very frequent and rather strict rituals. And of course, the stark punishments should a child, particularly a boy, fall in love with a non-Jew and well, marry her. I haven't like the comparisons I heard as a kid, between Jews and other minorities, namely black people who had a higher rate of going on welfare, for one. I also didn't like and couldn't successfully do, the joining of a temple as a social commitment, to keeping Judaism alive and to making friends. That rendered me somewhat lonely since being Jewish wasn't enough for me to make friends with a person. To be honest, as I've wandered, it's more the New York Woody Allen-esque kind of quick humor that I missed. And the like of him aren't to be found in synagogues, well for the most part.
But I have to embrace complexity, since I see us as having in general many contradictions, inside ourselves for one. So in truth, I very much identify as a Jew, and I am moved way beyond words by images, photographs and stories from the Holocaust. I can find ways of explaining it yet when I'm down to the wire of being confronted by a movie about it, I lose the bit of intellect that allegedly had informed me.
I found "Night" on my shelf last year before we took off for the summer in Italy. And without much hesitation I went on to read it. I know and knew then that Eli Wiesel was a learned, wise and poignant man who fought for social justice and had won the Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps what I hadn't expected was his rather full appreciation of the variety of emotions that plagued him during his time at Auschwitz, which included a stint at what seemed like dramatic detachment form his weakened father, who was near him in the camp but doomed to deteriorate sooner, and therefore to die. He yearned to be relieved of the burden of his father, though of course--especially with appreciation of complexity and contradiction--that was not all. Nor was it all of anything.
What stayed with me from this compelling memoir, which I feel can open the pores of feeling for almost any reader with an inch of compassion and humanity--was the ballet I envisioned about the friend of his who played a part of a Beethoven concerto. It took place over the dash from one part of the camp to another, one in terrible snow and one in which inmates were crushed and died.
On p. 94, Wiesel described calling out for his father who was trying to sleep. Could anyone sleep there where there was danger of instant death, the young Wiesel wondered. "These were my thoughts when I heard the sound of a violin. A violin in a dark barrack where the dead were piled on top of the living? Who was this madman who played the violin here, at the edge of his own grave? Or was it a hallucination?
It had to be Juliek. (A friend of Wiesel's from home)
He was playing a fragment of a Beethoven concerto...
The darkness enveloped us. All I could hear was the violin... He was playing his life. His whole being was gliding over the strings. His unfulfilled hopes, his extinguished future. He played that which he would never play again".
When Wiesel woke, he found his friend dead in the snow, his violin cracked into fragments. It was explained earlier in the text that Jews were forbidden to play "German" music. So it was that this Polish comrade was breaking the rules, clinging to his right to have as his last wish the gift of Beethoven as one sent out to his neighbors and savored personally.
I saw this almost instantly in ballet form, or perhaps another kind of dance, more let's say the kind of thing Garth Fagan would choreograph. That is, if he saw it in his mind's eye, as he has described his inspiration.
When I went to Auschwitz it was when Emma was 16. We went with a Polish friend who wasn't Jewish, though her uncle had been in the camp for three years for trying to help Jews. Karyna had felt defensive about the tendency in the States of Jews to assume Poles had been anti-Semitic, so as a gesture of accommodation, we went with an English- speaking interpreter, not through a Jewish organization.
It opened us all up, to the humanity of the situation, to seeing what had happened as not only Jewish but also as something human. Emma was inspired to create something attitude shifting in her high school and so with a friend's help, the first Gay-Straight Alliance in Port Washington was formed.
When I read "Night", I read it as a Jew and as a person. I recommend it as both.
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Source: Elder Care Huffington Post