Thursday, May 24, 2012

The land and culture of Milking

The land and culture of Milking

Forty-six years ago, studying the links between Yiddish and the Old Germanic tongues, I was making my living on board Scandinavian ships that were sailing from Reykjavik (Iceland) to the Faroe Islands and then The Orkney and Shetland Islands down to Bergen, taking a lot of fish. We were cruising in the North Atlantic Sea where the Soviet fleet was fishing herring..., anchored put in the same area for nine months. Rain was daily, usual. It was not evident to have a Jewish life in these areas. On the other hand, the Psalms, Proverbs, the Bible as a whole was and remains a living source of spiritual renewal. People would spontaneously understand that I would not eat pork – which was rather difficult because of the local fascination for sausages/pølser. On the other hand, the seamen were nice, also in the islands and would help for the use of different utensils.

We were a handful of Jews over there, with of course different levels of practicing all sorts of traditions. Nonetheless, on board a ship, the team would always say the prayers as it was a rule in every “sjómannsheim – seamen home” and I often was asked to read the Tehillim\תהלים by portion (Hallel or some psalms of ascent) in Hebrew, which I mostly did with a full Ashkenazi Yiddish pronunciation. Some local scholars perfectly knew about the difference between the /a/ and the /o/ pronunciation that distinguishes Western from Eastern Aramaic. Hebrew was naturally a tongue for the Divine Services, and, undoubtedly, a native language of the Church.

Today, people there seem to be terribly interconnected through the web. Oh, they would be in contact first with their own people scattered throughout the world: Icelanders, Faroese, Danes and Norwegians would get some “buddies” and “contacts” in Honolulu, Brisbane, China. Wisconsin is still very Norwegian and pious (Lutheran). In some villages Icelandic remains the national language. The funny thing is that most buddies live next door! Say that the North Icelandic city is like any other town: online buddies meet on the net, in town, at work, in the restaurant, on board some ships and organize live rallies for “friends only”. Well, the Israeli society has the same thirst of connection. The Jews have the Chabad everywhere and the same way which is definitely an excellent system to web again the tissue of the Jewish faith, among other groups.

Now, on the Feast of Shavuot some people would come and give me cheese cakes. Not the local “ostakakur” that are fat and a bit Dutch-tasty. They could prepare a sort of Russian-like “tvorog – a special cheese paste” that is often used by the Eastern Jews for “Shvi’es – Shavuot\שבועות”. It is quite a heavy stuff that can be kosher. The Russian Orthodox as well as the Poles would use it for the “Passkha” or big pyramidal cake made with this “tvorog” also used for the cheese cake or “vatrushka”.

The more you leave the East for the West, the lighter the cheese seems to taste till it becomes the usual German Käsekuchen. Of course, there were no Mizrachi or Oriental Jew in this North Sea area, though I am quite sure that a Yemenite Israeli spent some months as a taxi driver in some Islands. There was something evident: the situation was not very kosher. I was worse when the ship was sailing the North till Nuuk (Godthåb) in Greenland. People were nice… with usual limitations.

An educated Scandinavian, “White Caucasian” as they say on the net, introduced me once to a smiling overweighed Eskimo Greenlander and added: “Is this really a human being?” Normal question for standard patterned educated people in a colonial system that more or less drifted them aside along the decades. I heard the same, a few years later: in Nazareth, a very pious and devout Scottish nurse-in-chief showed a group of local natives (Galilean Arabs): “Are these really human?” By the way, the two persons apparently showed the same comprehensiveness of their existing environment. What, in their opinion, could make a soul be a “human being”?

It is quite curious to put these refenrence into today's article on upcoming Shavuot and considering the fact that the Jerusalem Orthodox Church celebrates the Ascension Day. Strangely enough, one of my Facebook friend, journalist Yasmin Levy, mentioned today in a short paper how ugly it sounds for her that some many individuals could be mistreated and despised in our society. Yiddish has "oysvorf" to speak of such "social or racial or whatsoever outcasts".

Indeed cultural backgrounds are terribly different and may lead to ignorance, despise, disrespect, misunderstanding or fancies on racial purity or cleansing.. Assisting the poor often let people think they may say such stupidities because of the care they provide to what remains “a third world”. Today things have drastically changed in the Christian world, in the Middle-East. And things also developed in Scandinavia and/or Greenland, with the emergence of the autonomous Nunavut region of Canada for the Inuits.

In 1966, it was normal for any Scandinavian Lutheran believer to produce a certificate of baptism. It was considered as an honor. It was not a certificate proving that a Church recognized the human dignity of the concerned person. But I heard the question clearly pronounced for the first time then, because the woman was a young Eskimo/Inuit; indeed a Danish citizen, i.e. real citizen, but questioned about her belonging to the citizenship of heaven, i.e. a true Christian according to the rule governing the local Church at that time. Paul of Tarsus states: “So you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones (cf. the inhabitants of Jerusalem) and the members of the household of God (cf. Bney Israel)” (Ephesians 2:17-19).

Talmud Sukka 28a says “that in Vayikra/Leviticus 23:42 “ezrach\אזרח” means every native, male or female”. The verse of Leviticus is: “(you shall all live in booths), all citizens in Israel (“kol ha’ezrach beIsrael\כל האזרח בישראל”)). “Ezrachut\אזרחות” means to be a full member of the citizenship of heaven, also in that context, as we had seen in a previous article. It is the mark, imprint and document, eventually a Identity Card/Passport or any paper proving the validity of who a person claims to be. As a spiritual caretaker, I have always been very careful to require proofs and evidences, documents.

People can be very reluctant to show them and would say that this question only concerns their own person (never conscience!) and God in Persona. In Israel, one must ask such documents only with much respect and without suspicion because of the tragic lifepaths of most newcomers. Many had to change or hide some or part or the whole of their identity and this must be handled with compassion and esteem.The problem is that we live in very difficult upside down times. How many Jews can definitely produce the required documents stating that they are duly belonging to the Jewish people according to the Halachah? This can be a tremendous problem for a whole community, especially those whose archives have been destroyed in Europe, totally in Eastern Europe, but also some Middle-Eastern countries.

Shavuot\שבועות (Yid.: Shvi’es, Feast of the Weeks, Pentecost) is a major Feast of Judaism. It celebrates the Giving of the Written and Oral Torah at Mount Sinai that, thereafter, was transmitted, without discontinuity, until our generation. It is a feast that underscores the fulfillment of all God’s living Paroles, Commandments and Mitzvot\מצות. It is the day of closure and plenitude of Pesach/Passover. It could be called a “ra’ava dera’avin\רעבא דרעבין”(as the “seudah shlishit\סעודה שלישית”, third Shabbat meal instituted by Jacob), a time of highly abounding divine gifts. Some maybe baked in the shape of triangular burekas-like cheese cakes because cheese is a solid aliment, also made of the primary milk. The Christian tradition considers that the Holy Spirit was spread over the people present in Jerusalem on the day of Shavuot: “Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were amazed, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretan and Arabs, speaking in their own tongues the mighty acts of God” (Acts of Apostles 2:1-11).

We shall review this aspect in the next article, for the coming Pentecost and Day of the Holy Spirit. But it should be noted who are these citizens of God in the Gospel. Anyway, triangular cheese cakes can refer to the achievement of the TaNaKh\תנ''ך as the Books of the Law, the Prophets and the Ketuvim/Historical Accounts. Or, it may recall that it is a kingdom of priests (Kohanim\כהנים) (Ex. 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9), of Leviim and Children of Israel. We may live in Israel in a confusing situation of permanent suspicion and misunderstanding: God’s Gifts are definitely not properties with sealed ownership certificates.

Israeli society is indeed very flexible. Any person who would, to some extent, try to show a link with Judaism would be allowed to become a full citizen of the country. The problem is even pending in terms of self-responsibility and recognition of a personal dignity/identity. Let’s compare that to the anecdotes related from Scandinavia or Greenland, or to the fact that secularization in the Jewish communities do not allow to ban anybody. Instead, the ability to exclude or pronounce a cherem (ban) upon a Jew proves, in return, a more real capacity to exist as Jews, thus in totally different groups usually placed under the control of the Orthodox leadership. The same appear in the Christian world. Progressively, different groups have almost reached a point of non-return: if a group rejects all the others in the name of the presupposed authenticity of its existence as a body of faithful, it may no more be existent.

It is important today to discover the richness of cross-ways and trust in the mighty deeds of God. There is a famous Chassid Ummot HaOlam-חסיד אומות העולם / Righteous among the Nations, whom I knew as a child. Mr. “l’Abbé Glasberg” was a Ukrainian Jew who converted to Christianity before arriving to Europe. Firstly, he was accepted as a seminary student without any proof of who he was! In his case, there was more: being a Jew, a Ukrainian, how would be possibly be a Christian and then belonging to which Church. When World War II was over he welcomed and helped the rescued from the concentration camps and then brought to Israel the better part of the Iraqi Jews. Still, he is considered as a non-Jew by the Israeli authorities in accordance with the Halachah governing the Jews who become Christians. His journey through the Christian world would show he was on a borderline for the sake of being totally humane and witness for God’s citizenship.

Tomorrow, Sivan 4th, will be the commemoration day of the mass murder perpetrated by the Chmielnicki's Cosacks that killed ca. 300 000 Jews and much more were assassinated from Hamburg to the Ukraine in 1948. it strongly made sense for a lot of Jews to pack all belongings and try to make their way to Eretz Israel at the call of false Messiah and spiritual genius Shabtai Tzvi (cf. Gerschom Scholem's works on the subject).

Intriguingly, the Israeli Radio Reshet Bet again broadcast tonight something about Met. Andrii Sheptytsky of Lviv of the Greek-Catholics in Ukraine. He was definitely considered as a member of the Polish nobility, thus first of Ukrainian origin. He became alien to the Poles when he adopted the Byzantine Ukrainian rite and returned to the Ukraine. He then questioned the Russians while seemingly accepting the presence of the Nazis that he fought. In fact, he was considered as a general enemy of all when he systematically saved the Jews during the Shoah. Kurt Lewyn, the son of the assassinated Rabbi of L'viv with whom he used to discuss, has led a very steadfast battle for the recognition of the exceptional and heroic merits of the Metropolitan, both by the Catholic Church and the Jewish authorities, in particular Yad VaShem. Things are still on hold there, and as a matter, on both sides. Documents show that he directly protested against Hitler and Himmler which remains a unique action. His universality is often reduced to his own nationality, which, in a way, allows rejecting the bigger part of his actions.

As Prof. Gutman declared and again Mr Redlich, of the Beersheva University, who endlessly backs the recognition of Metropolitan Andrii Sheptytsky, the man was outstanding, beyond all possible and acceptable standards and norms. This is a true sign of real holiness and it will take time to just accept this sort of "beyond all borders" actions for redemption and faith.

This is the challenge of Shavuot: we can be citizens of heaven, at least real mentchen, and help share cheese cake, sufganiot, milk and barley times.

av aleksander Winogradsky Frenkel