Sunday, January 11, 2009

Thoughts of Great Neck, Germany and Iran

My father, despite being born Jewish always considered himself to be German. To his dying day, I think he regarded his exclusion as a Jew from the mainstream of German life with pained sadness. Although I close a different path and belief system from my father, I will always remember what he believed and how he explained it to me. The millieu of my grandparents was a mix of German Jews and gentile German expatriates. It was a gentle pale of settlement that was neither Christian nor Jewish. It is a fond memory, a fading sunset in a day of history that has passed.

When I remember the sound of Americanised German that I heard as a child when visiting Great Neck, it reminds me of the Iranian Jews who have since settled there. My family went back four hundred years in German history on German soil before they fled or were killed. The Iranian Jews go back to biblical times. They are of course mentioned in the book or Esther. Their pride in being Iranian as well as Jewish reminds me of the feelings my father also expressed. It is this underlying feature that draws me to Iranian music videos, movies and painting. There is a tension between Jewishness and attachments formed in exile that transcends any clear national boundary. I am drawn to communities and individuals who feel and articulate this perpetual contradiction. It is a sweet and painful longing that lies at the centre of this unique and contradictory form of patriotism.

One of my favourite past times is watching movies and listening to music from countries that are ruled by a totalitarian governments. It is interesting to see allegorical statements of truths that can not be stated openly, or the retreat to areas not yet intruded upon by the regime. It is also a reminder that behind the lines of an enemy state are citizens with yearnings similar to ours. Many people consider this to be a contradiction to waging war effectively. I have spoken with German Jews who fought the Nazis, who knew every shortcut and sidestreet in cities that they were conquering. I have known Jewish soldiers who spoke Arabic and fondly listened to Arab music. This intimacy did not deter them from being effective soldiers. To the contrary, with G-d's help they were far more effective in battle than their foes who demonised and dehumanised them.

There is a poetic beauty to taking the language of one's enemy and using it against him. Some of the greatest Irish patriots used the language of the English against them in their struggle for independence. Bertolt Brecht used the German language against the Nazis. It is for this reason that I do not agree with the idea of refusing to speak German.

I found the video with this article on You Tube. It is a slide show of Iranian atrocity pictures interspersed with satirical cartoons of Iranian leaders. I do not understand the Farsi, but watching the video brings back memories of my grandparent's home and their circle of German expatriates among whom they felt so comfortable. I am assuming that this video was not made by Jews but by some of the many others in whose name the Islamic Republic of Iran has no right to speak. These are people who I presume yearn to be free of a regime that not only seeks to kill Jews and wipe out Israel but oppresses many others as well. As I watched this video, the words of the Hagada echoed in my mind.

"In each and every generation they rise up against us to destroy us. And The Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hands."

There is something strange about the situation in which Israel and the Jewish people finds itself. There is a feeling of uniqueness in time that magnifies a feeling of standing alone in the world. The video with this posting is a reminder of those who struggle in Iran at great risk to themselves. Any prayer, any act of struggle for liberation is for them as well.

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