Monday, April 30, 2007

The Sisyphean Existence of Jews:

by: Schvach Yid

Up and down, up and down, etc. This seems to be the life of Jews. The existence of a Jewish state is too much to bear for many non-Jews, despite the seeming support of evangelists who, of course, want to proselytize (and don’t you know, when the ‘End Times’ arrive that it will be the Jews who suffer most?). Israel, that fingernail clipping of a country, is too much to tolerate (and I do mean tolerate, like a bad odor). In a recent article that appeared in the Opinion section of Arutz Sheva (Israel National News) titled ‘Where’s Palestine?’, April 11, 2007, Jodi Levi provides useful stats about Israel and ‘Palestine’. At first I thought the problem was the partition of Britain’s Palestine Mandate. But it may be that Medinat Yisrael is just another one of our Jewish Sisyphean exertions. Israel’s current auto-da-struct (get it?) may derive in part from the partition of the British Mandate, so let’s consider England, Jordan, and that gd-all-mighty Palestinian homeland. I hate to sound like Lyndon LaRouche, but it’s all about England, America’s dedication to Britain, England’s contribution to the Middle East, ie., a model of British monarchal government in the Middle East – Jordan, and that little pixie of a monarch, King what’s-his-name and his dearly departed father King Hussein, the daddy of pixie kings. I think the current ‘serving’ king of Jordan should update his resume and move to the land of the pixies, Monaco. They’re used to his sort. The sacrifice of Jews on behalf of British self indulgence is absurd, but typical of British narcissistic thinking. The Palestinian homeland already exists, is three or four times the size of the Jewish National Homeland, and indeed is occupied, for all intents and purposes, by England. This is a poor excuse to go after Israel. I think the British should get out. David Bogner, in his blog Treppenwitz, dated Sunday Aprit 22, 2007 has reminded us of what the current predictament in Israel is all about, and who's right. It was and continues to be the Arabs/Moslems/ Palestinians who reject us. They not only tried to expunge the nascent Jewish State and its Jewish inhabitants, they were also full participants in HaShoah.

But there’s more. We’re back to my family. My mother has a cousin, Viennese by birth (like my mom), now an old man. He too escaped following the Anschluss and Kristallnacht, to England. Once there he succumbed to that great British epiphany – he change his name from its very German (and perhaps he thought Jewish) sounding original to a very close sounding English facsimile (aren’t ‘English’ and ‘facsimile’ mutually exclusive?). He dumped Judaism, joined/converted to the Church of England, married a true Britisher, and set up shop – his new life. This was back then. Several years ago he and she flew over for a visit – on Yom Kippur. Thanks! The next day I dropped by to introduce myself and say hello. He, the denying apostate, laced into me (in perhaps the thickest German/Austrian accent I’ve ever heard – and I’ve heard plenty) about my having observed the chag, fasting, and the amount of time ‘they kept’ me in schul. She was a bit better comported, but equally offensive: ‘isn’t it a pity the Jews never accepted Jesus?’, to be read: isn’t it a pity that Jews and Judaism continue to exist? After all, her apostate husband is no longer a Jew, is he?

If you think England has been ‘good’ to the Jews, try reading Barbara Tuckman’s Bible and Sword. In England, as elsewhere, we’ve led this yoyo existence, all toil with no lasting profit or benefit. It’s been a recurring theme in the Jewish existence in the West.

I had a job as a laboratory technician at a university – biomedical work. Upon being hired in a new lab, my new boss introduced me to his lord and master, an older man, Indian, an immigrant to America who had been here almost his entire adult life. He endlessly chomped on the bit. He seethed with hatred against all who are Western and White, and against Jews. Upon our introduction he launched into a soliloquy about my family’s history. It went something like this: ‘I know all about you; your family came over in the great wave of immigration’ (not true); ‘they settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan’ (not true); ‘they spoke Yiddish’ (not true, see earlier blog). It went on non stop for a minute or so. Then he delivered the punch line: ‘You are a Jew, but I am a Christian Man!’ (I wondered if he had prepared and practiced this before hand). He stood all of 5’5” or so, and had the personal character to match. A Hindu who became Christian; an Indian who became American, and what did he learn – to hate Jews! And this guy came to America to do a post doctoral fellowship in the lab of a Jew who, incidentally, would later receive a Nobel Prize – also Jewish. This man of diminutive stature (in more ways than one) chomps away – at Jews, and this was no isolated event. On almost every job I’ve had I’ve been confronted about being Jewish, as though the mere presence of a Jew serves as a source of antagonism.

David Mamet, in his book The Wicked Son, puts it succinctly and correctly in the first chapter: ‘The world hates Jews’. And one might follow this with 'appeasement is always the wrong policy'. Whether it’s Israel’s current dilemma and lack of proper leadership, or whether it’s here in the USA, we stumble and slip and strain like Sisyphus, and it never ends. I think Mamet is right in his terse declaration, and there’s absolutely no reason for this hatred. It’s hatred by default. It may be based on a narcissistic wannabe mentality and the often cited phrase – turned – accusation from the chumash ‘chosen people’. ‘Oh yeah’ I imagine them saying, ‘we’ll show you who’s chosen’. Thwack! Or a favorite assertion of some portion (I imagine large) of America’s Black population, that it is they who are the biblical Hebrews, having gone through 400+ years of slavery and subjugation, as they now rip off the ‘raiment’ of the descendents of their former oppressors, etc. (never mind the assertions of others of the same community that Black Americans are the descendents of the pharaohs). All this attention. What have we done to deserve it? Two billion Christians, 1.5 billion Moslems, 1+ billion Hindus, 1+ billion Chinese, and a lousy 12 million Jews (many undoubtedly think 12 million lousy Jews too many!). Well, let’s not forget that the bull's eye is the smallest circle in the target, but who wants to be a target? Do they all think that all roads lead to J’lem? We are the target. Oprah Winfrey talked about her career on TV – ‘if Steven Spielberg can do it so can I’. Not Johnny Carson, or Clint Eastwood, or Sylvester Stallone, or Arnold Swarzenegger (talk about making it big!). Today would she cite Eddy Murphie? Probably not. The Jew!

Al Sharpton did a cameo in Spike Lee’s movie about Malcolm X. Sharpton stood on a ladder. What came out of his mouth? 'Jews'! Has it occurred to him that he worships one of us, and that he’s a follower and promulgator of the teachings of Martin Luther? Do you know what Martin Luther said about Jews (after we declined his offer of apostasy)? And Sharpton wants reparations. I’m a first generation descendent of holocaust refugees. If you think that hasn’t determined the course of my life, guess again. I receive nothing. My only entitlement is citizenship in Germany, upon my request. No thanks!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Yeke’s Tale (but not in iambic pentameter):
by Schvach Yid

I have a cousin , early to mid twenties, who’s the daughter of my first cousin – my generational peer – who in turn is the daughter of my father’s brother. I don’t know if my 20 something cuz is considered my first cousin, or my second cousin, or my first cousin once removed, or something else – I haven’t bothered to consult a geneology lexicon to find out. I don’t care about the label. I haven’t see her in at least 10 years; I think she was 14 years old at the time. She and her mother – my generational peer first cousin – visited us back then. On that occasion my father behaved abhorrently toward her, so much so that I felt guilty and ashamed (he reduced her to tears), and apologetic to the extent that a few years later, when she was in the upper reaches of her adolescence, I sent her a Tanach. My 20 something cousin’s father is Black (sorry, I just don’t care for ‘African American’) and Christian. Her mother, my generational peer cousin, is Jewish and White. Her mother, my tante, like my mother, is Viennese, and like my mother escaped from the tyrannical rampages of that Austrian-turned-German lunatic with the genital-telling mustache whose name I will not convey, may the memory of him be as a wad of used toilet paper. Anyway, her father is a successful, well-to-do (from what I’ve been told he pulls in beaucoup bucks!) industrial artist who works for one of the large aerospace corporations. But my 20 something year old cousin was raised by her mother, my generational peer first cousin, and is the granddaughter of my tante from Vienna, who's also Jewish. Also in the picture were my paternal grandmother – German – and her other son, my uncle - my father’s brother - the maternal grandfather of my 20 something cousin (both German Jewish immigrants). In other words, my 20 something cousin is Jewish (courtesy of her matrilineal descent). And she’s Black. So? So this. According to intra-family communications, ie. phone conversations in which I did not participate, my 20 something cousin is living with a guy, and for some time, who quite frankly reminds her of her dad. He’s Black and Christian. But my 20 something cousin was raised Jewish (exclusively secular) and, you guessed it, Yekish. German this and German that, and Jewish, Jewish, Jewish, but in true Freudian fashion she found a guy just like dear old dad, and appropriately too I might add, since her maternal grandmother, my tante, is Viennese, as was Sigmund. So far, so cool, but after years of togetherness, her Freudian-generated significant other wants to marry and start a family. She’s not so sure, I’ve been told. I bet it’s a culture clash – hers. She probably wants this, and she probably wants that. Good luck! What to do? How should I know, I’m a social recluse, and proud of it. The point is my 20 something second generation American Yekish cousin is a sign of the times. I’m proud of her, and except for the dozen or so rings that pierce the greater helix of her left ear, she adds physical beauty and grace to our family (she was raised taking ballet lessons, and the last I saw of her it showed in her posture and gait), and she’s the only third generation Jewish descendent of my paternal grandparents, ie., her children will be born Jewish. I hope she remains Jewish and raises her children in our family tradition. I know she wants to, and that’s her dilemma.

Friday, April 27, 2007

What's a Yeke?
by: Schvach Yid

Yekes are German Jews, a subset of Ashkinazim who are/were literally ‘off-the-boat’ immigrants from Germany and Austria. The designation ‘Yeke’ derives from the German word for jacket – Jacke. According to the story with which I’m familiar, German Jews who arrived in what used to be British Palestine during the Mandatory Period arrived sporting, well, sport jackets. Ninety degree plus heat under the blazing sun, and those guys were reputed to have worn their jackets, regardless. Ergo, ‘Yeke’. Of course, all this refers to the men only – sorry! A collection of behaviors and cultural traits, taken in aggregate, helps to identify this sociological subset (it certainly did during the Nazi roundups of Jews in Germany and Austria in the weeks and months following Kristallnacht, my family included); Each of these traits, taken alone or in any truncated combination, may be common to many other members of society, including more recent immigrants from other parts of the world. Here are some that occur to me:

- First and foremost, a love of crystal; the more the better. Above one’s head crystal chandliers, in front of one’s nose crystal vases, bowls, serving plates, glasses, etc.;
- Beneath one’s feet, Persian carpets - many;
-A collection of faux art – ah!, but for the real things, but who could afford?;
- Gustatory: ‘Mannerschnitten’, marzipan (in fact anything with almonds), whipped cream, better known as ‘Schlagobers’ (Viennese) or ‘Schlagsahne’ (German German); the Viennese (my mother and her family) threw the stuff into coffee, which brings us to;
- the conviction that coffee/mocha equate prestige and sophistication;
- Forschspeise – appetizers – always a must;
- NO YIDDISH!!!! Absolutely, positively none. Who needed it anyway, everyone spoke German, which, by the way, was used to exclude the ‘Kinder’ (children) from adult conversations at the dinner table (Tisch); by the way, I like Yiddish, I even attend Chabad schul;
- An absolute distain for showing up late – for anything! ‘Late’ was defined as arriving less than 30 minutes before the scheduled time;
- Back to gustatory: cold cuts had to be German, and Jewish German at that; Bloch & Falk (kosher) and Pollack (not kosher). Cervelatwurst (the best, I mean it!), Jagwurst (good on the bus to the country), kochwurst (cooked in Linse Suppe – lentil soup), Rauchsfleisch (smoked beef thinly sliced), knockwurst cooked in sauerkraut with caraway seeds (perhaps this last item sounds a bit too Teut);
- More crystal, everywhere;
- Dress like you have money – and no one had. Men wore fedoras, white shirts and neckties, and of course, jackets. True, Clark Kent and Malcolm X were both clad in the same gear, but I don’t think theirs was a cultural obsession;
- Summers in the Catskills, and I mean the real Catskills – the Catskill Forest Preserve, Route 28 out of Kingston (exit 19 on the NYS Thruway) - the towns of Fleischmann’s and Margaretville in particular. Not the ‘Borscht Belt’, that was Yiddish;
- Music galore - all the symphonic, chamber, and operatic pieces one could manage to listen to, not to mention all the performances one could afford to attend;
- Books galore – mostly the humanities; biographies of orchestra conductors and musical composers; art books – art, art, art! Leon Feuchtwanger a must!
- Art museums as one’s surrogate homes; go ahead, you own them; take the kids or grandkids;
- Everything neat, in its proper place; obsessive repetition, everything always the same;
- Absolutely, positively, nothing wet – NASS (correctly spelled with a ‘sharfes’ ‘s’); Nass is aborrrent; nass is the enemy of civilization; if that which is supposed to be dry remained 'nass' for longer than was required for one to formulate and offer a verbal response to the insulting fluid – don’t ask! Nass? – Gott behute! (wet? – Gd forbid!)
- Grandparents – Oma and Opa, not Bubbe and Zayde; some liked to use Mutti – mother; I never knew the Yiddish Bubbe and Zayde until I was in my 30’s – emes!
- And of course, needless to say, one attended a Yekish schul; the rabbi and cantor (if there was a cantor) had
to be fellow Yekes. Ashkinaz nusach, exclusively.

Well, that’s all that comes to mind. Should anyone stumble upon my blog, and can offer additions, please do. As I’ve pointed out above, we Yekes share these traits with many others, but in aggregate, they define ‘Yeke’ – I think.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Tali Farkash’s Déjà Vu

by Schvach Yid

Tali Farkash - schlecht?
Original photo by Gabby Menasche
as displayed in the Ynetnews article

In an article posted on Ynetnews,(,7340,L-3389823,00.html), appropriately titled ‘Racists Among Us’, and dated April 20th, 2007, Ms. Farkash related her personal experiences with racism while attending a girl’s yeshiva during her youth, and the rejection accorded her on the basis of her dark complexion. Nu, with a ponim like hers she’s supposed to be ashamed? All Yiddin should be so fortunate to look so good! But flippancy aside, the matter of the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel coupled with the distain we should feel toward racism is the matter to be considered. What do the Jewish religiously inclined think? Don’t they realize that when we lain Torah or study Chumash with Rashi that we are reading about ourselves and our antecedents, that Avraham Avenu, Yitzhak, and Yaakov were ‘Middle Eastern’, ie., dark; that the Kabbalists refer to Yaakov as Tiferes – Beauty! Does it ever occur to ask how ‘white’ Jews ever came into existence as Jews? My own small corner of Klal Yisroel, the Jews of Germany and Austria, named ‘Yekes’, coined the horrific honorific ‘Arabische Juden’ to label Mizrachi Jews. Chutzpadik!! If anyone is supposed to be ‘real’ Jews by descent, it is they, the Mizrachim. I’ve often wondered about myself as an Ashkinazic Jew. I look in the mirror and I see a face full of injected capillaries. To my mind, mine is not a very Jewish looking ponim. A Jew is a Jew; ‘love your neighbor as yourself’! Neighbor, not stranger. Tali is no stranger. She should not feel like one, and she should never have suffered that humiliating sense of rejection and estrangement doled out to her by her own people, and at a cheder at that, and by haredim – those stringently schooled in halachah and devoted to leading lives of Torah and mitzvot. A Lubavitch rabbi (not the Lubavitcher Rebbe) once told me 'every Jew is precious'. I can't think of more important words that could be spoken by a Jew about any other Jew.Those who have caused Tali to feel apart from Klal Yisroel should do a t’suvah for this, as should any of us who has or would indulge in violating the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel. Yasher koach to Tali Farkash for sharing this life event with the Jewish community - her community.

Photo: Gabby Menashe

Photo: Gabby Menashe

Photo: Gabby Menashe

Friday, April 20, 2007

Yom HaShoah 2007
By Schvach Yid , (formerly Mechiya)
originally posted on Renegade Rebbitzin's blog site

My parents are, and my grandparents were, Holocaust refugees - they got out, but not before the eyeopening
fest of Kristallnacht (my father and his family in Germany, my mother and hers in Vienna). I grew up hearing all about it from them, especially from my maternal grandmother, and from many others. Almost every adult I knew who was a family friend either escaped capture and deportation or else managed to survive interment in the camps. Several times a year my parents would invite their friends to dinner, and each time the subject of conversation would invariably turn to their war-time experiences. Each summer we rented
a bungalow in the Catskills where perhaps half the families were headed by concentration camp survivors, most from Hungary. We attended a stiebel where, you guessed it, most people had had the same experiences. I would go to schul and watch these people daven. During the summers, in the bungalow colony, the wives would bench Shabbos candles and the men would congregate in a small wooden shack dubbed 'The Office' to daven Kabbalas Shabbos. What lessons for a youngster of any age. If you want to see people daven who demand absolutely nothing from life, who are greatful just to be alive, then you should have been around to see these people. When these women recited the brocho over Shabbos candles one understood the meaning of gratitude and of Kiddush Hashem.
The matter of educating our children -the next generation of Holocaust survivors - is a matter of approach and method and not of their ages. If it's done properly, then they will benefit. Few lessons can be as significant as the ones I received, and now that that generation is dying out, alternative lessons will have to be developed, but they can't be trivial, kitch, showy, or vulgar.
This will require smart, well informed educators to accomplish.
Not to have lectured,