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Unhistorical Us

“We Jews are an unhistorical people. History has seven faces. Her true face is hard to discover. Jews have no history, all of it is only myth.”

-       Anonymous (Warsaw Ghetto, Oyneg Shabes Archive)

Mythology and tradition suppose stability; the legends we tell about ourselves and our community affirm a false rigidity of safety. When we sit around the Friday Night Dinner table, we are not simply participating in the ritualistic. Rather, we confirm our involvement in the mythology of Jewish homogeneity – the persistence of our people through the aeons of persecution and hardship as an undulating whole. “Jews are a people of myth and our faces are many”, stretching backwards and forwards across the Jordan, Volga, and Nile. We are a mythic whole, scattered and tethered to one and other. Words and legends uniting us over the waters of time and distance.


Bereshit. Masada. Anusim.


Moments of awesome destruction etched into the Jewish psyche. The experiential remoteness of their catastrophe doesn’t seem to matter. We are a mythic whole; the cries of Balta are mirrored in the drunken cheers of Finchley. The rush of a London Bus, the splashing of Moses stood in the Red Sea. Every scream and passing flash a reminder of our sum total. And catastrophe the bridge that unifies. The gesher of ahistoricism: do not fear it. It exists beyond the temporal as the amalgamating mythology; the stories we tell each other, bonding us to Josephus, Peretz, and Ringelblum. A myriad of tragic stares reflected in pickle brine and chickpea oil, Eliezer’s empty chair a projection of names and faces. 


Bereshit. Masada. Anusim. Mawza.


How do we place an addendum to this spirit? Are we tempering the flame of remembrance? These ancestral memories we store in candlelight, grape juice, and chopped liver – are they ours to change, warp? The contours of cataclysm demand respect; a deference incapable of change. Is not the very act of remembrance one of tradition? Does the sanctification of memory not require stillness? It is vertical progression reverberating in a cubicle – how do we reconcile tradition and modernity? These are the questions of our past and present – they will emerge in our future.


Bereshit. Masada. Anusim. Mawza. Pogrom.


A people of myth is a people of change: resistance and witness form our common DNA. Jews have been chased, burned, and raped – this is our shared birth-right, the sheath we wear to cover scars. The chainmail of history enabling our activism, gestating angels out of diaspora: Kameny, Kasky, and Kushner. Butting heads like bulls to cloth; the red shirt stained with the blood of responsibility, doled out over millennia. Bekhor to bekhor, dust to dust.


Bereshit. Masada. Anusim. Mawza. Pogrom. Shoah.


We combine and continue. Change within preservation. The links are subtle; scrolls and synagogues and sarcasm and sadness. A universal call beyond cognition. Empty chairs around tables flowing with Chinese takeaway; memory flickering in the gaps between remembrance and forgetting. A tale as old as time for the mythic nation.


Bereshit. Masada. Anusim. Mawza. Pogrom. Shoah. HaShabat HaSchorah.


Change is renewal. The seeds of recovery are embedded in the Jewish soul; our communal inheritance is one of persistence. Persistence is transformation – the beauty of tradition within the manifestly new. Our uniting spirit: change. 


“No one living would ever be able to escape them…These ashes will be contained in the breath and expression of every one of us…they will be contained in books which haven’t yet been written…no one will be able to get rid of them, for they will be the food, nagging ashes of the dead who died in innocence.”

By Anonymous


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