Saturday, October 30, 2004

My Jewish experience and the Holocaust [i]

16:05 pm,
Personal Note
Sketch note:
The 5 memories of Diana Wang (Surviving Survival, Argentina, 1998)
1. The deep memory - > The buried self
2. The angered memory - > The divided self
3. The humiliated memory - > The frightened self
4. The infected memory - > The reactive self
5. The inheroic memory - > The diminuted self

I'm not a psychologist neither have pursued any serious studies on the subject other than a certain field of philosophical readings; epistemology, general cosmology, ethics and what is called philosophy of death and suicide, based on the Platonic dialogues. Nevertheless I feel an urge to start dealing with the problem of the 5 memories proposed by Diana Wang and talk about my inner Jewish experience, my self-disregarding Jewish experiece in the context of my life in Israel and before. Lately for some reason events of my life have led me onto the discussion of morality and individual subjectivity; Ofer Mayer and Lara Diguistini have been my guinea pigs in this pursuance... the two persons (with whom I have a relative level of trust) I've sparked with my questions on morality, religion, individual freedoms and other; my personal experience speaks by itself and brings up the subject of my different memory-layers in a general and universal perspective.

In the year 2000 I came across two nowadays-old-good-friends at the National Library; the experience itself was frightening and conclusive for my personal search, for my endless search for identity and conceptualization within a certain universal frame that would define my life for ever after. Christina Goldschmidt and my German-Muslim friend Eduardo. Christina firstly would approach me one day at a table in the humanities reading room (the momentum is simply unforgettable) covered in her black scarf surrounding her red suit and would introduce herself with a big smile; I remember her telling me to my surprise she'd seen me at the cafeteria in the sociology faculty (where the classics lecturers and students used to sit several times a day for our coffee breaks).

Then she proceeds with asking me whether I'm Jewish myself or not because she's; it was one of the most frightening and freeing moments of my life, the discovery of not being alone out there and furthermore the discovery of a Jewish identity in community; a Jew that would identify me as one of their kin. Several questions attacked me, "do I look Jewish?", "do I behave Jewish?", "what would make anyone think I'm a Jew?". The answers were confusing and I longed onto a certain number of procrastinations as the answers I didn't have caused me severe emotional pain.

Until that day I would be a "closet Jew", for I was bearing enough "social burdens" for my age; such as being openly gay and probably the youngest person in the whole university, my intellectual intelligence would constitute at a certain level a curse, that was fair enough at my age to cope with as to take on me the weight of a "Jewish question". It wasn't easy being a Jewish student at the National University; my upper-middle class background at the American International School and my social background itself would almost totally preclude me from the university life.

The humanities faculty and all its departments (an experience common to most European universities) would embrace the "social struggles" of the world and among Marxist and almost Communist ideas, the democratic and capitalist socialism of my background (as a member of a Calvinist society, and also follower of Calvinist determinism) would make me by default an object of hatred. Having been by far better educated than most students and coming from a more privileged social background, I wouldn't make part of the community "milieu". I wasn't myself engaged in any political activity or social movement and opted to segregate myself from the "community" on the ground of my Zionist views; as a permament conferencist at the Distrital University (a different school) on the Jewish question and Jewish literature (at the teacher's education department) the activity itself as an open supporter of the existence of the Israeli state would constitute a predicament and a contradiction.

Later on I would participate at the Middle Eastern politics conference at the Pedagogic University; the conference would go around a thematic axe that would "de-mistify" Zionism as an ideological base for the foundation of the Jewish state. The conference would be obviously left-wing oriented and you could notice a good number of Arab students and I would spot "heading" the conference, the President of the Palestinian community, that would make a very bad impression on me. No person from the Jewish community would be ever invited, and Rabbi Goldschmidt (who contemptously disliked me and never accepted me - and Christina's family either, as a part of the Jewish community; probably because we didn't fit the social status of the Adar Yisrael community), who was expected at the conference, wouldn't turn up.

I appeared at the conference with my friends Gladys and Elizabeth, who were at the time studying for their conversion to Judaism (and Elizabeth eventually converted and moved to Israel, although we've lost contact I've heard she's living in Jerusalem for some time already), it was very interesting although we know that the opinions that were sold at the conference was partly biased, but since they're "wrapped" in the academic knowledge of well-known Christian historians and philosophers that attended the conference, it would give it an "scholarly" touch that would make it "food for thought". This conference would radically change my university life ever after, that was long after I would have met Christina. I would be framed as an "enemy" of public education, a liberal thinker (somewhere else I'd like to explain the duality between the liberal/subjectivist thinker and the realist/rationalist thinker... I have my problems with Aristotle) and a potential neo-capitalist. My questions about Jewish identity would continue growing and I would find myself attacked by so many questions and doubts all through the years; the fact of identifying myself as a Jew wouldn't help anything, because in one hand I'd be openly hated for being one and at the same time I didn't have a clear idea myself of what this Judaism is about, what it really means. I would live with a "split-identity", and like many other "nationally-confused" Jews of ashkenazic stock I would contemptously curdle up into the "protective shield" that my previous cultural identity would grant me (the German-Jewish connection) and would stress above all my German roots, be linguistically, culturally or socially. I would read German books and speak the language in public and openly idenfity myself with the German culture as an example of a perfectly assimilated Jew that could handle his own "multiculturalism" with perfect tact; the Jewish identity was part of those "subreptious and subdued memories" and would haunt me at "night" (this is a metaphor); I would feel afraid to walk around as if fearing a star of David tatooed in my forehead that would reveal me as a Jew.

The "brain trip" of my "selective" Judaism would eventually work out, I was accepted into the Classics seminar and would perform exceedinly to the extent that soon I'd become the protected of Georgia Kaltsidou and would become soon a teaching assisstant (in Greek civilization). There my "split" identity took a new turn as I would separate myself from my Jewish culture but at the same time being very much influenced and almost "persecuted" by it. Georgia is a Greek-born woman raised up in the good old Germany and highly influenced by this German culture, in that level we would find each other matching up and it would be the perfect "underdog" to neglect hideously my Jewish identity. I would learn the Classics and would get myself involved with the Greek schools of thought, the peripatetic lessons with Georgia. Since then I would once again personify an "anathema" at the National University. I would be part of the "Demotic Nationalists", a philological school rooted back to the times of the German Romanticism that would claim a different basis for the pronunciation and spelling of Classical Greek and that would define Greek as a continuum of a language; the Demotic pronunciation (used only in the Modern Greek Republic), that is the pronunciation of Modern Greek is the one we would use when reading the Classical texts, opposed to the Erasmic pronunciation of the Renaissance (and being such the pronunciation adopted worldwide for Classical Greek, the "cultured" norm). This ideological school is considered only as an "underdog" of the Greek nationalists of today to hold back to their Classical culture and set up the foundational stones of a new Greek nationalism, lost for so many years, product of the Turkish occupation of Greece and the apparent "lost" of their Greek heritage, that would be preserved through Medieval Greek and the Katharevouza (a literary and "purified" language created by the Greek intellectuals to preserve the language from losing the Classical forms, Katherevouza would become the official language of the Greek republic and then would share status with the Demotic or popular language until the late 70's, when it would be outdated and replaced by Demotic Greek in all aspects of everyday life. A similar example is the difference between "Nynorsk" and "Bokmal" Norwegian in Norway) in Venice and the Greek diaspora.

This ideas, once again imported from Germany wouldn't be acceptable in the academic community, and having become a well-known student of Kaltsidou I would be framed as one of those "Demotic Nationalists". Currently I don't belong to any philological school or trend, same goes for philosophy, politics and linguistics. The interdisciplinary approach of my non-linear ideas in linguistics and paleo-linguistics make it very difficult to place my "streamd of thought" within a certain particular school. Nevertheless I believe one day (given the pre-condition my intellectual knowledge might grow that high, I certainly doubt it) I'll be laying out the foundations of a new philological-linguistic school of non-linear linguistics parallel to my semiotic approaches for modern poetry in what I used to call a few years ago "hyper-textuality". In the meantime I'm still writing Classical English verses based on Druid songs and the corpus of other medieval European "streams" of poetic construction (the word I'm looking for escapes my mind at the moment). I'm pretty much obssesed by the classical and late antique forms; hence I find it very difficult to see myself returning to the "theory of chaos" approach at any time soon; those are just ideas flying in the wind.

The belonging to Kaltsidou's "Cultural School" and her classical approach to liberalism would make of me a fully emancipated Jew; I would embrace the Greek heritage as my own heritage being a full component of the western culture; neglecting once more most traces of Jewish identity. I wouldn't share my thoughts and procrastinations of this Jewish identity with so far anyone, only a few people I would meet along the way (none of them Jews) would get in touch with those disfunctional and lost streams of my split Jewish identity. Up to this day, even despite of the long search I've done crawling back to my very first roots I still have a feeling of uttermost belonging to this western culture, and certainly my knowledge of the Greek antiquity surpasses by far any "touch" or contact I might have with Jewish knowledge. The Classics seminar would portray me as a "liberal Jew" in spite of our nationalist and almost fascist ideologies, I would represent the ideals of the contemporary conservative man. I would "look down" at Jewish religious education and would examine these "issues" only in my private life by reading endless volumes, looking for information on the internet and specially by looking for other people that faced the same challenges, I believed myself being totally allienated and dried out by this Jewish conceptualization without being able to approach it; the years to come would bring answers for me, and more questions as well.

I would devour any reading material I could find on Jewish topics and would create my own ideas; eventually this self-pursued education would help me to create a more concrete idea of my Judaism and I would attempt to approach the "split identity" and the "broken continuum" of my own life through this vivifying knowledge. The Jewish religion would certainly interest me, but not as much as the history of the Jewish people and the popular literature; chassidic tales, Russian-Jewish novels and books on Israeli history, Jewish mentality and Jewish philosophy would find the way to occupy some permanent space in my shelves and would remain as growing interrogants as I grew up. I would use the National University as a take-off for my personal search, having started classes in Biblical Hebrew and reading books from local Jewish intellectuals, I'd attend Azriel Bibliowicz class in Bible and Literature, follow-up the agenda of local galleries trying to spot the work of the Jewish sculptor Feliza Bursztyn and would as well become hooked to the international art magazine "Nexus", created and directed by Celia Sredni and her husband Marco Birghbrager. In spite of being in contact with all this brilliant people I secretly admired, I never "outed" myself as a Jew and remained as a "Jew-in-the-closet" for several years. They all smelled something "very particular" about me and my interests, and following suit they tried to approach the "inner" me several times with different questions about my family and my get arounds; I contemptously withheld all information and remained as a closet Jew; silences would become an important part of my life, my silences would defy my words, my silences would scream loudly, but not many people would be able to decipher those silences. I wouldn't either and until today those silences still haunt me and rip me off at distimes.

My parents would never understand this craving, I would always be different and had always been. When in primary school children used to make fun about my accent and my fair skin, specially about my accent. I would become a very talented student always, also very capricious, dark and puzzling; the lack of "normality" will be glued to my personal image ever since, my religious feelings, my hesitations, my reading habits. For me as a person education was the only important thing in life, the only thing that stole my sleep, culture and educating, becoming an intellectual man wise in different subjects and with a profound touch of general knowledge. There I found an immediate connection with the Jewish people, but it wouldn't be the only; I would place myself in the continuum of Jewish existence and would draw historical and epistemological parallels between Judaism and my life; those parallels would match perfectly, as if they just had been separated many years back and one day by coincidence reunified and synchronized in time and space.

This process would be completed, or better say "opened" by two events. Once "touring" a bookshop I'd find some book on another "classical" Jewish topic; Schindler and the Holocaust. I stumbled upon the book "Die Schindleresmädchen" written by Stella Müller-Madej about her own life and her experience in the concentration camp of Auschwitz, her previous life as a German-Pole and the miseries she would be exposed to during the early years of her life; it was a bit of Anna Frank and a bit of Elie Wiesel. The book wasn't rich in literary forms or expressions, it was more of a chronic that I devoured with some kind of sick and addictive lust. I felt as if I was reading about myself in that book, reading about my life, reading about my past, reading about my experience... once the book was finished I think I never ever touched it again and eventually got lost in some salsa bar in downtown. Later on in life I'd have a conversation about Müller-Madej with my friend Eduardo and I think also with Fabian, the Zionist sociologist. Eduardo would take me back to a reading room and would put in my hands Diana Wang's book "Surviving Survival". I don't know why on earth he would want me to look up into such book, but the important fact here is that I did.

I would re-encounter myself in Diana Wang's words, I would find out the ultimate truth that would re-define my life for ever after. I'm not just a Jew, which we already know by now. I have an Holocaust survivor complex, it's a fact. This was just a thought though, and even when I started to read as many books as I could about other holocaust survivors and similar experiences, nothing of what I said had a common ground. It was just wishful and romantic longing of a lonely teenager. What else could it be?

I would prove myself wrong nevertheless. One sunny day as they say, sitting at "Il Pommeriggio", some famous superb Italian cafe, this would change. I would sit there with my latest date and enjoy the smell of fresh capuccino and good companion, next to me would sit a mature woman, already in her 50's, who would stare at us with some cheerful smile. Having my date finished and the guy gone, the woman would start a chat with me; interesting person... a Palestinian psychoanalyst. We would spend uncountable days meeting at that particular cafe and would talk about our lives; it's so funny.... how can a 50-years-old Arab woman and a Jewish confused gay teeanger find anything in common! well... we did! and our friendship was very sincere and very steady. Every week at the same hour we would sit, smoke, eat and just tell stories.

Sonya would re-call stories from her father and his life in Jerusalem before the beginning of the state, and how they were all practically expelled from their houses by the white Jewish immigrants and then left their homeland to seek refugee in the countries of the west. Sonya was a very wealthy woman, having inherited businesses, property and money from her father; who became a rich businessman, a commerciant, like many Jews and Arabs in those times, the end of the war, the foundational stone of the State of Israel, etc. Sonya was a Christian Arab, therefore she stood up in defense of the Jewish people, she always did... but Sonya wasn't a Zionist, I could understand her feelings. Her great grand parents were Christian Menonite Lebanese that left Beirut and went to Jerusalem to look for a better life, there they lived in harmony hand-in-hand with their Jewish counterparts. The Russian and German immigrations to Israel and the foundation of the state would finish with a century of prosperity in the Holy Land, with their weekly pilgrimages to Bethlehem and would send them much, much further than they ever thought. I used to enjoy her stories very much, her high-leveled language and almost motherly feminity, her delicate touch.

Overtime I started to share my stories, my lovers, my passions, my defeats, I talked about my parents, in particular about my father and our sick distant relationship. I came out to Sonya since our very first meeting so it was very easy surprisingly, to talk about my gay experience and gay life. I still don't know why, but mature women have this natural touch that allow them to understand homosexuals; our banalities, our procrastinations, our emptiness, our life devoid of responsibility; somehow women can get pretty close to it. I also talked about my Jewish experience, my religious roads, my academic work, my intellect... that truly fascinated her and she spent many hours simply letting me talk and asking questions that only could be asked by someone who completeley disacknowledges the particulars of the subject; but her questions always led us to more profound discussions, to soul-weary discussions.

Once we set up our meeting as usual, I turned up and found Sonya engaged in a conversation with some blond blue-eyes lady; she introduced us to one another. This woman turned out to be Estella Goldman-Goldstein, a Jewish psychiatrist. I didn't really like her though, found her quite superficial and arrogant, and the first in particular I thoroughly despise. I never really ended up liking her, but her words were conclusive in our few meetings. Yes, there's undeniable an holocaust complex at many different levels. You need some time more, search for your roots, find yourself more comfortable with being Jewish. She said probably a liberal rabbi would be the best way to start with.

I crawled back to Diana's book and started to figure out answers by myself, it wasn't difficult to start with, all the material was there, the rest was conversations with people, a simple bibliography and lots of imagination, intuition and passion. One day I decided to contact Diana, I found out there're groups of survivors and other groups for their children and the children of their children; the so-called third generation. That's probably where I stand. I started this journey trying to match the lost cradles of my roots, my origins, my belongings and my place in this world.

My Judaism slept away for many years, and in a certain level of awareness I couldn't withhold myself from letting it be that way; I was afraid and silence became my only language; even though I'm not silent anymore I'm still afraid and that's why I'm attempting to write these new series of note. I think I owe it to myself and I'm not pretending to make of it literature, just a chronic, for in my layers of subjectivity I never really approach these topics as they are, I just ramble about metaphors that describe the scorn, fear and anxiety these things produce me. I will start talking about my Judaism and the Holocaust but this is not my very bottom. This note and the next are only an introduction for myself to understand my own contexts and develop a counteresponse to Ofer and Lara about our conversations on morality; following that one with another note about sexuality and banality, about urban life, gay life, gender theory, etc. The bottom line is a clearer definition of my subjectivisit philosophy.

Here I go,


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ari, this more than anything has me waiting impatiently for you to continue on. I feel like you laid a groudwork here that will take me on a journey that I could only ever be on the periphery of in any other situation. I really admire your bravery to look into your own identity with such objectivity and to share so openly with us all what you discover there.
Affectionately yours,