I think I am very used to thinking of Jews as minority groups in different societies. As I’ve written before, there’s Jewish time and Jewish practice, but it adjusts to the majority culture. That isn’t easy and I grouse about it, particularly at holiday times, but I’m used to it. I’ve never experienced a society which runs on Jewish time. Time is something that varies from culture to culture and, like language, matters only to groups. I’m distinguishing cultural time here—how we keep track of the passage of the day, the year, and what we do to mark that—from natural time—when we plant, harvest, and so on. An individual hunter/gatherer or farmer (as if there every were such a thing) would only need natural time; groups, however small, need some kind of common, cultural time and this inevitably becomes invested with meaning. When a group is an integrated minority, time is fractured.
To return to the Shoah as loss of individuals and loss of community:
My first understanding of the Holocaust was through a book called I Never Saw Another Butterfly. It was poems and drawings by the children of Terezin, which was the Nazis show camp. Music, art, poetry, and drama came out of that camp, but ultimately most of the prisoners were killed. The book gave their stories and, as a ten year old, I connected to the child my age who had written a poem I would have liked to have written and who had then been murdered. It could have been me. That connection and others (the litany of books that tell individual stories) were all about individual experiences. And it makes sense that it is the individual stories that would stick—how can you tell the story of a village that is gone? How do you show how it feels to live in a Jewish village or in a city where you can live on Jewish time in a Jewish community? It’s a much harder task. I began to understand it as I walked through the streets of
That culture, to me, is most represented by Jewish time, although not exclusively time, also history and culture—and, of course, religion. Jewish time—that Thursday night is the end of the week and the week begins on Sunday morning. That on my walk to synagogue on Friday, the street names were all tribes (Dan Naftali, etc.). The names were bestowed with the casualness of any other housing development, but the choices were particular to Jewish culture. The language—there is no other place in the world where Hebrew is spoken. The thing about all of the above is that these are things that are almost invisible and don’t seem to matter. They aren’t about affiliating with one group or another because your group is better, more deserving, or what have you. They are simply about the underlying rhythm of life. Every one of us lives with that rhythm. But for me, in the
So many people, of all religions, come to
The other area of individual and community that I have been contemplating was brought home by a book I read in
I think what annoyed me about the book was that she was so into telling her story of being a nomad that the reality of the community lives—of the lives of people who could not and would not leave community never came through. She did care deeply about the people she stayed with, but that isn’t the same as having a stake in the community.
The most telling and disturbing examples are from
Then she goes off to
Now it should be clear that I wasn’t terribly fond of the author, just didn’t think she was very insightful, but I think the questions the book raises about being a nomad or being settled and what each implies about relation to a society are very interesting. She is at the opposite pole from Ilka’s in-laws, whose family is so deeply rooted—same town for upwards of 400 years—that they almost cannot move—how do you turn your back on that much history? I’m somewhere in the middle. I have no desire to become a nomad—at this point, I miss my community, my friends, my home, my kids, and did I mention DAVE. However, it is clear that I have learned a great deal on this trip—stuff that I can, I think, use to enrich myself and my community. So what’s the balance? For each individual? For minority communities, which can act like strangers/nomads in a settled community?