Tuesday, April 17, 2007

My Deutsche Frage

Yom Hasho'ah has all but past, and the feelings associated with the day are waning slowly. Each year we allow the horrors of the past to expose the raw sores present in each of our hearts. We undergo a necessary process of self flagellation to keep keen in our minds that we will do all in our power to prevent the atrocities that befell our great nation over 60 years ago from ever occuring again. But in our quest for eternal remembrance I grapple with a simple question; can there or should there ever be any healing?

We have all encountered this question in one way or another, weather it be conscious or unconscious. For instance, I refuse to purchase a German car, and a "Made In Germany" sticker on a gift could just as easily read "Regift me ASAP". All Things German become like Chametz on Pesach, but at least chametz gets a chance to come back into our lives. I understand that which many of you are thinking right now. You are ready to close this window and begin leaving hate comments on this post, but I assure you I mean not to draw forth your anger or ill will, I simply need to bring forth an issue that struck me recently. My families were decimated along with yours and for that I ask for your patience and understanding.

I work in a research environment and was recently charged with overseeing the installation of a brand new, 1 Million dollar, Carl Zeiss , confocal microscope. Sure they could have purchased a Nikon or Olympus but this is not where my issue stems from. Throughout the preparations for the installation I dealt with people like John, Carol, George and Mike. But for that actual installation Zeiss shipped over a technician who I'll refer to simply as Heinrich.

The day I met Heinrich we were the first two people to arrive in the lab. My Yarmulke branded me "Jew" as clearly as his name labeled him. He towered over me by almost a foot and a half. He was Goliath but I was no David or even Joe Louis. Our initial conversation was quaint and beleaguered. His thick German accent brought to mind old black and white videos of the rise of National Socialism (and of course Dr. Ruth and that fish from American Dad). I would force myself to make eye contact only to see his eyes dart quickly away from mine. He was nearly as uncomfortable as I.

But why? Why should two professional men working in the intellective environment of academia feel so uncomfortable in each others presence. I have no knowledge of his personal background, and he, none of mine. For all I know he is a wonderful person, a philanthropist, an organ donor, an exemplary gentleman amongst men, but for some reason upon our initial meet and greet he has become to me like UV light to an albino, or more accurately Michael Jackson to a Cacophobic. My xenophobia sickens me and I can't even be sure why. Has my familial history formed within me a ball of hatred that can never be undone? and if so is this hatred an educational fault or a Jewish religionational necessity?

These questions race in my head and I am reminded of something I read a short while back in the introduction to Michael Wex's Born To Kvetch. He states that the Jewish propensity towards complaint is of utmost importance to the Jewish people as a nation. As long as we Kvetch we are in essence continually reminding ourselves that our ultimate dreams of a Jewish Utopia in Eretz Yisra'el has yet to be realized. We are reminded that we remain in galus and only our continued performance of Hashem's will, will lead us towards the zman hage'ulah. Maybe a similar system is at play here as well. Maybe I have been trained to see Heinrich in some negative light simply in order to create a psychological distance from him. Maybe I have been trained not to hate but simply to be wary of those who may wish cause me harm.

And so for a little better understanding I contemplate the issues at hand from a Judaic standpoint. Where do we see examples of horrific acts in the Torah (sadly there is no shortage). We find evil at the hands of the Egyptians, and so the passuk tells us (Devarim 17:16) "you should not return on this way again" to Egypt. Why? Well the chinuch tells us it's because of their evil nature. The Torah being the eternal document doesn't seem to delineate any good Egyptians from bad ones. In fact the Rambam states clearly that Egptians are one of the four nations from which the Jewish people may never accept any converts.

While on the topic of the Rambam, Amalek comes to mind. There is a famous inference in the Rambam regarding the modern day understanding of amalek. While mentioning the seven nations the Rambam states that they are no longer in existance today, but yet he discusses the obligation of the obliteration of amalek as if somehow they do remain, How? The famous answer given in the name of the Rav was that any nation that binds together of single mind to destroy the Jews is a member of Amalek. So where does that leave Heinrich?

If you are looking for a snazzy wrap-up I haven't one. I leave this post now as the issues presented are left in my mind, disoriented, disjunct and agitated.


Anonymous StrongBad said...

"you should not return on this way again" to Egypt. Why? Well the chinuch tells us it's because of their evil nature. The Torah being the eternal document doesn't seem to delineate any good Egyptians from bad ones. In fact the Rambam states clearly that Egptians are one of the four nations from which the Jewish people may never accept any converts.

Perhaps, but you seem to be forgetting the Torah's injunction, "You shall not abhor an Edomite; for he is your brother: you shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you lived as a foreigner in his land." (Deutronomy 23:8)

11:54 AM  
Blogger FFD said...

True and I did realize that when I wrote the post (especially since an actual blogger used that as a stepping stone to declare his appreciation for NYC) but keeping that in mind I am therefore left between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand as you say we are commanded not to Egypt and Edom because we had gained from them. Amalek however rests in an entirely different category due to the fact that we gained no benefit from them and therefore ARE intended to despise them. So then where does our current category fall? Are you to suggest that We resided in their land and therefore must act amenable towards them if so then I believe that you might possibly be bringing the Rav's inference into question. do you see what im saying? this isn't as clear as I’de like it to be but i think you get my drift. (Are you suggesting that If we reside in the land of an amalekite we are to forego our national responsibility-- p.s. I’m Just playing devils advocate, I was as disgusted with my reaction as you)

12:55 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

I liked the post this morning. Not much to say, but I've always felt that this line is true: We can forgive but never forget. I don't have the personal impact of the Holocaust in my family (see my comment to yet another good post by a fellow friend and bloggeress [?]), so I don't have that "Germany = chometz" feel. Moreover, to do some actions like that eventually hurt us more than they help us, as they only restrict us but do not impact Germany or whoever in any way. So while we can and must - if not forgive, move on, so to speak - we must also never forget, so we can continually internalize and learn from those lessons.

Does this allow for healing? Full healing is usually only accomplished when one can no longer remember, so to some extent, we can never achieve this. I guess that's the closest answer I have to your question.

1:35 PM  
Blogger SJ said...

Interesting post--really thought provoking, and well written (I like the made-up words, though I could do without the punctuation errors :)

9:38 PM  
Blogger FFD said...

SJ, I am a scientist thought is my nature, punctuation is my nuisance. Oh, and to me etymology is simply the historical clay which a spaciotemporal phylologistic manipulator uses to mold new forms of verbal expression. :-P

11:39 AM  
Blogger SJ said...

I am officially a fan.

10:08 PM  
Blogger M.R. said...

Re: Ezzie's response.

Definitely, moving on is a good thing, but denying the discomfort and awkwardness of dealing with certain brands of goyim isn't a viable option, either.

How long has it been since I've experienced a crusade/progrom? And what is my reaction on being faced with someone wearing a cross? Denying my fear and revulsion isn't the most helpful thing that I can do. However, Normal Interaction With Others is ususally the best course of action.

(Corroborating your Heinrich story with stories of me and Mahmoud both feeling way awkward, but I think a different story would be more helpful.)

You know all of those "greet everyone with a smile" stories? One that always makes me think involves a rabbi and a nun. He greets her consistently, and one day she asks him: "Rabbi, I really appreciate that you greet me every day, and treat me like a normal person. Can you tell me why none of the other Jews ever say 'Good morning' to me, why some of them even cross to the other side of the street when they see me coming?"

What can we answer her? And above all, how can we be both honest and kind?

Let's face it: I don't really hate many people. But after 2,000 years, all I can say is: I'm afraid.

10:41 PM  
Blogger FFD said...

Let's face it: I don't really hate many people. But after 2,000 years, all I can say is: I'm afraid.

M.R. You clearly have an understanding for the emotional schizophrenia that I encountered and I think your wording above is VERY true, however, Ezzie's makes a point which i totally understand as well. I think Ezzie was intending to say that our "fear" may lead us to remain advantageously separate while at the same time dejected by the goyim of the world. This would only lead to further antisemitism. The lines are very fine and nothing seems crystal clear yet.

9:21 AM  

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