Sunday, January 16, 2005

LimmudNY 2

Still amazed by the positive Jewish energy being displayed here. Though I think I would, in any circumstance, be deeply touched by all the learning and celebrating of Jewish life that is going on here, it has a special resonance for me. A week from this coming Tuesday I am leaving for Poland for the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz. Not only shall I be there but I am going as part of the official American delegation. I will be, as the person from the White House who called me to ask me to go, put it be representing the President and the Nation. It is an overwhelming honor and a bit mindboggling to think that I have been asked to be part of this delegation.

I shall go from watching how Jews lived to commemorating how and where they died. Or, as I put it in my book on the libel trial [History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving] from Jews as "subject," as they are here, to Jews as "object," as they were for the most part during the Shoah.

1 comment:

rashi's daughter said...

I like your use of ‘subject’ and ‘object’ here. It resonates with how I felt when attending klezmer music seminars in Germany (part of my own academic work). I remember very clearly a participant asking ‘Did the Jews used to….’? It was a question about kol isha. I wanted to shout out ‘Yes, some people still do – and that’s why I can’t sing to some of my friends – but others don’t – we are a diverse, modern people!’ To those of us who have a vibrant Jewish life in the UK and USA (and at Limmud, where else!), it’s really tough to feel categorised as a Lost Tribe, put on a pedestal for spectators. On the other hand, though, I think that many of the people studying Jewish culture in Eastern Europe have a valid viewpoint too. In too many places, a really vibrant Jewish life is history, and they – like you and many others - are doing their best to document and draw attention to it.

This difference in perspective does not only work one way. I have noticed interesting differences in perspective vis-à-vis today’s eastern Europe among Jews in the USA and UK. Many American Jews in particular travel to Germany and Poland and look only at the past, not interested in engaging at all with the realities of contemporary Europe. It’s true that UK travellers are also largely concerned with the past. However, I think our perspective is different: Germany and Poland are members of the EU and so is the UK so it’s rather more difficult to objectify them; there are plenty of people from both countries in our towns and cities, and travel is very cheap and easy, not the big transatlantic journey from the US. Perhaps physical distance enhances the distant perspective?

Is there a ground where these different vantage points can meet in the middle? I used to be very optimistic, but now I’m not always sure it’s so easy. The subjective and objective gazes seem to be like the poles of a magnet, tending to repel one another rather than creating a coherent vision of the whole? Just random thoughts, but I’d cite Yerushalmi’s _Zachor_ as an interesting investigation of why historiography can spark this division. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on this.