Wednesday, February 9, 2011

This Isn't In Der Heim

Here we are free to live like we did in der heim, where we were forced to live that way by governmental control and fiat. Explain that to me someone? We were limited by various regimes at various times to practicing only certain professions, when we were allowed to be part of the professional class at all. Huge swathes of Klal were poor, not by their own design but because commerce and the ability to join a trade was controlled by the government. Some areas at some times didn't believe there was any need to educate the Jews in secular matters since they could not participate in the greater society anyway. Our right to move around was restricted by governments who wanted us right where they could see us and control us. Regardless of innate ability or latent talent (with some very few exceptions), Jews were placed on the level of the "other" peasants and treated accordingly.

If the Cossacks were going to stage a raid, the Jews made the perfect target. After all, which of the others around them was going to pick up a hand to defend them? If things went wrong in general life it was truly convenient to blame the Jews. Were they going to go to court to try and defend themselves? What court what give them a fair trial? which government?

So here we are today, in a country known for the freedom available to its citizens. There are no restrictions in place that say we can't become educated, we can't practice any profession we want, we can't live anywhere we want. We are free to go as far as our dreams and our abilities can carry us. We don't have to pay money to the government just for breathing and for practicing our religion openly and as we wish. No, we don't have to be afraid to walk down any public street just because we are Jewish. If an injustice crops up we are free to protest and to take legal remedies to get rid of that injustice.

Yes, we are free to partake of all the benefits of a free society, to benefit from all the advances in science and medicine and technology. Being Jewish no longer makes us different in a way to be punished by rabid governments.

So just why is it that wistfulness and longing for in der heim remains? Just what is it that those who wish they were back in der heim are wishing for? The pogroms? The oppression? The fourth-class (if that) citizenry? The fear? Were there some beautiful moments? Sure, and made even more memorable because of the unliklihood of their happening at all.

Why these ruminations right now? Someone yesterday, in response to the ghetto posting, told me that in der heim was so much better for the Jews, that Yiddishkeit was purer somehow, that life was better. Say what? And a truly strange statement especially as it came from someone who has not yet hit the age of 40 and never lived in that heim he yearns for.


Anonymous said...

That's the nature of nostalgia. We only remember the good and not the bad. If we did not personally experience it, then we can let our imaginations run wild as to how good it was. It's not just a jewish thing. People often wax nostalgic about olden days. I for one, rejoice when I can get fruits and vegetables in the winter, have indoor plumbing, can take an aspirtin, and know that huge portions of women giving birth won't die in the process, and unlike in the days of yore, outside of famine stricken and impoverished countries, most children will actually live to see their fifth birthdays. Sure there are wonderful things about the past and hudge problems in the present, but the lesson is to try to improve the present and future since we can't revert to the past.

Rae said...

Human nature to make the past seem as if it were perfect, particularly when you may not have a perfect life in the present. It also allows you to happily dwell in a time you can't do anything about allowing you to avoid having to do anything about the problems in the present.

Bookworm said...

I think the reason why people moon over the old country is because they've never been there.

My mother actually lived in the old country - a rarity for someone her age - and my grandfather, while having to change from a business to a comparatively menial job, was still very happy with this amazing country.

In terms of Yiddishkeit (I heard one Rav describe it thus) there were the ghetto walls that kept the outside world out (by the outside world's choice). Now we must have the wall around our hearts, internally.

In this country, perhaps wrestling with our bechirah is a more constant battle, especially with the culture's immediate gratification. So the lazy wishes we were back to the land where after the Nazis showed up, the Communists moved in (that's how my mother ended up here).

There is no need to romance a past of blood and pain. We are not that sort of religion. Thank God every day that we are now spared that.

Anonymous said...

A very well made point: perhaps because this person had no personal or family connection to der heim, he was able to romaticise it.
Unfortunately, certain elements of the Baal Teshuva movement teach this view - perhaps because they feel that despite the powerlessness and poverty, it was 'easier' to be Jewish when the outside world cut itself off from us, without us needing needing to choose how we wanted to fit with it; as today when we are able to reside in a malchut shel chessed - with all the challenges that that brings.