Monday, June 29, 2015

The Wandering Jew 1972

5732-33 1971-73
The Wandering Jew
(The Story of the Jew in the Present Exile)
July 14, 1972

“These are the travels of the children of Israel by which they went forth out of the land of Egypt…And they journeyed from Rameses and they camped in Sukkot and they camped in Eitam…And they journeyed from Refidim and camped in the Sinai Desert and they journeyed from Hazerot and they journeyed from Hazerot and camped in Ritma and they journeyed from Ritma and they camped in Rimon Paretz and they journeyed from Rimon Paretz and they camped in Livna and they journeyed from Livna and they camped in Risa,,,” (Numbers 33)

The wanderings of the Jews on their weary desert journey home. The weary journey of the wandering Jew through history. It is not relegated merely to this one forty-year period of the Jewish epoch. It is repeated constantly. It is the story of the Jew in Exile never knowing more than a transitory peace, never feeling more than a fleeting insecure moment of security. It is a story repeated endlessly, in every generation – not the least our own. It is tragic when the Jew is forced to journey from one camp to another. It is ludicrously pitiful when his wanderings assume the shape they do in the America of our times.

Thus will future chroniclers write of the mad wanderings of the American Jew.
These are the travels of the American children of Israel by which they went forth from the land of Europe…And they journeyed from Poland for Russia or Galicia or Lithuania or Hungary or Rumania or Syria or Turkey and they camped on the Lower East Side. And they camped in Williamsburg. And they journeyed from Crown Heights and they camped in Boro Park. And they journeyed from Boro Park and camped in Forest Hills. And they journeyed from Forest Hills and camped in Nassau County. And they journeyed from Nassau County and camped in Suffolk County. And they journeyed from Suffolk County and were last seen clinging to the lighthouse on Montauk Point for there were no more camps left…”

I am not ashamed to admit it. I do not understand the Jew. I am at a loss to understand a man who is so clever in business; so keen in science and the professions; so intellectually bright in debate – and so incredibly stupid when it comes to saving himself.

The wanderings of the American Jew are legendary. He moves into a new neighborhood and begins his predictable – almost inevitable – flight just a few short years later to a new neighborhood. His flight from fear of crime, Blacks, falling property values and his decision to move into precisely the same kind of a situation, which one must see a repetition of the old one in the space of an absurdly short time and a time that grows progressively shorter. He flees Brownsville leaving behind all his property and Jewish institutions and moves where? To East Flatbush where he must inevitably suffer the same fate. Burned twice, he will proceed to throw himself into the flames yet again by moving to Staten Island where a new yeshiva is being built after the old one collapsed under the pressure of a changing neighborhood. And he will not be in Staten Island six months before the specter is upon him again and he will unconsciously wonder how much time it will take to get to work in Manhattan from the wilds of New Jersey…

It is not a peculiarly American problem. It is indigenous to affluent and ‘healthy’ Jews in every “New Paradise” on earth. I once met a Jew from Montreal. He was a survivor of Auschwitz who had gone through the seven circles of Hell. In Montreal he had become very wealthy. Suddenly, the French separatist movement threatened his economic future if not his physical safety. He told me he was thinking of moving. I looked at this survivor of the gentile hell in Europe and the budding victim of its fury in Montreal and asked him where he contemplated going:
“Toronto….” Was the answer. And after that Vancouver, not doubt, and after that Australia. Any place but not the one logical, sane place. Home, Eretz Yisroel.

We are indeed stricken with some form of madness. It is as if the words of the Prophet Isaiah have risen to smite us with a vengeance:
“Hear ye indeed but understand not, and see ye indeed but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat and make their ears heavy and shut their eyes…” (Isaiah 6:9 –10).

This is the only explanation I can muster for the mad refusal of the American Jews to understand that – in the end – there are no neighborhoods which will be safe and secure for him and that no journey will bring him to a final camp of security. There is no other explanation for Auschwitz survivors convincing themselves that neighborhood Y will give them greater safety than neighborhood X which in turn they thought would give them safe haven from neighborhood Auschwitz. There is no other explanation for the decision to build a multi-million dollar yeshiva in Staten Island rather than in permanent Jerusalem. There is not other explanation for the moving of kaftan, shrtreimal and Rebbe from Warsaw, Samz and Sigit to Boro Park, Crown Heights and Williamsburg rather than Eretz Yisroel. We must surely be all stricken mad with the rage of Heaven not to realize that the eternal wanderings of the Jew will not stop for the Boston refugees in Brookline, for the Philadelphia refugees in Elkins Park, for the Cleveland refugees in Shaker Heights, for the Chicago refugees in Skokie, for the Detroit 0refugees in Oak Park and for the New York refugees to Nassau, Suffolk, Monsey or Staten Island.

There comes a time when there are NO MORE CAMPS LEFT EXCEPT THOSE OF TERROR. There comes a time even the most blind, deaf and stubborn among us learn that there are many camps but only one home. Generally that time comes too late.

It is not yet too late however to lift the veil from our eyes, the veil that grows not from lack of understanding but from REFUSAL to understand – not from true blindness but from UNWILLINGNESS to see. We are a generation that fulfills the words of our rabbis in Ruth: “Woe into the generation that judges its judges…” Indeed, woe unto a generation so lacking in men of greatness that it wanders around lost, rudderless and uncomprehending. We are such a generation and I know that never in the history of our people has such a massive community as the American Jewish one is – been so utterly and completely devoid of one single man of greatness. The Jews of the desert wandered but had, at least, the consolation of a Moses who knew clearly where he was taking them. The American Jewish wanderers do not have even that. I can only repeat what I have said so many times: It is time to stop wandering and go home.

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