samedi 2 novembre 2013


The Jewish Identity in Diaspora

The Economist, published weekly, has to be one of the best brain foods that is published that frequently in the English Language. I have great respect for people around the globe who read it regularly. They also publish a quarterly, Intelligent Life, which is so full of exciting information, researched articles full of curiosity (when did you last read about the history of our deep water ancestor, Coelacanth ( see-la-kanth)?
Or the Shaman-Health Agents in the Amazon forest among the Yanamomo? There is a free app available for Intelligent Life. I urge you to download and read the articles at your leisure.
There are reviews for theatre, films, concerts, exhibitions, from all around the world. It was nice to read about Barry Humphries’ Dame Edna getting ready to do the retirement tour, which will open in London soon. I remember walking up the stairs at the Globe Theatre at Shaftesbury Street in London to watch Dame Edna of Monee Ponds (Aussies would know) soon after my arrival in London to study Medicine.

An article in the November/December issue of Intelligent Life is of particular importance to many of us, whether Jewish or Anthropologists. The article is by novelist Adam Foulds about his visit to the Museum of Jewish People in Tel Aviv. Here is a museum where I could be one of the exhibits, he muses.
A sentence in the article gives fire to my ruminations. He quotes a line by Moses Herzog in the novel of the same name by the Nobel Prize Winning North American Writer, Saul Bellow.
“The Children of the race, by a never failing miracle, opened their eyes on one strange world after another, age after age, and uttered the same prayers in each, eagerly loving what they found.” Foulds adds, “there is an apt ambiguity here. Remembering Israel, the Jewish children love the place they find themselves in.”
The very jewish Portenos from Buenos Aires, would live nowhere but Argentina, the love of Australia and South Africa among the Jewish citizens are well known. Exiled and booted out of their millennial homelands in Europe, from shtetls, they were forced over the water to seek a safe home in faraway Argentina, Southern Africa and Australia. There they flourished. I remember our Rabbi telling us, We are not Jewish-Australians or Australian Jews but we are both Jewish and Australian. And the visiting Shaliach of that era, an erudite professor whose first name I remember, Ben Zion, said: Charles de Gaulle spoke for all the Non Jews when he said: Jew is a person whom others think to be Jewish. He taught us about the centrality of Israel in our lives. It is something non jewish people have difficulty comprehending, how can you be loyal to Israel when you are so proud to be Australian? Are you not being a traitor?
Many years later, working with American Indians and later with other Indigenous people, the idea became clearer in my head. The writings of Laurens van der Post also helped. He lovingly describes the hatred of the Indigenous people by the new comers to their lands all over the world, regardless of the race of the new comers, to the envy of loss of their closeness to creation. And also envy of a way of thinking that maintains the purity of an innocent mind of a child, even to this day.
As children we would be given prep talks by people, to make us study hard, by telling us how many Jews, less than one half of one per cent of the world’s population, have won Nobel Prizes in the Sciences. In fact the week in which Nobel Prizes are announced are still an exciting time for me, to learn about men and women who have contributed to the welfare of the world, and as always nearly half the winners would turn out to be Jewish.
Our contributions to the welfare of the world is undeniable but a fact that is less known to those who do not like us, or understand us is the fact that we are perhaps the only group of people, who have strived and have become successful in the eyes of the westerner that have maintained our distinct cultural identity. In Cuba, I had to explain to great lengths that being Jewish is much much more than being religious and in fact, if you look at the well known Nobel Prize winners in Literature: Saul Bellow, Nelly Sachs, Nadine Gordimer  (interestingly enough of Canadian/US, Swedish, South African  Nationalities!) or the well-known portraits of a Sigmund Freud, or a Franz Kafka or a Leonard Bernstein or even Mahler…the great flourishing of assimilated, post Enlightenment Jewish life, they are almost all of them are non-religious.
I would quote to my colleagues at the University of La Habana, unlike Christians or Moslems or Hindus, where observing rituals including attending Church/Mosques/temples are obligatory to your religious identity, being Jewish envelops much more than the religion and involves an understanding of the history of the Jewish people, practice of some core human principles, such as Tzadeka, and a feeling of unity that transcends national and geographical boundaries.
On my very first journey out of Australia into the wide world, I was attending a conference of the World Union of Jewish Students and I was amazed to meet a Bruno Levi from Milano, who was just like the Italians along Lygon street in Melbourne and how can a young, unexposed mind from the jewish suburbs of Melbourne to place a Jose Goldstein from Costa Rica! I told Levi, a student like me at that time, who was complaining that his radio spoke only Italian when he was at home and now it speaks a language he cannot understand!  We were not in Italy! ,” I know a John Levy, a William Levy but I never thought of Bruno Levi”.
To survive in the new lands, as did my professor of Radiology, Dr Manuel Viamonte at Jackson Memorial Hospial in Miami said, even the dogs in Miami have to speak two languages, to survive.
It is the centuries old tale, Survival. But survival not just becoming austrlian or Canadian or south African but also maintaining the long link that stretches back in time and making sure that you are not the link that is the first one to break. To do that a Cultural Identity as a Jew is important, also it connects you with Bruno Levi or Jose Goldstein or even black robbed rabbis who preserve our evolving religious traditions. Recently at the Zurich Airport, my heart felt good seeing the Star of David on an El Al plane parked at the gates and when I was near a long frocked, hatted gentleman, I gently said to him, Shalom, may Peace be with you.
Thank you for making sure that our written traditions continue by studying them, when some of us have are going to the Amazon to learn about Yanamomo or to Cambodia to decipher the origins of Diabetes there !

It is nice to think that I could be an exhibit, like many of us, at the Museum of the Jewish People!
Rita Levi Montalcini, expelled by the fascists for being Jewish Woman Scientist, worked in the USA and won the Nobel Prize in Physiology for her discovery of Nerve Growth Factor
Sitting at the Woodlands Resto near Leicester Square in London recently enjoying my Masala Dosai, was happy to see the theatre across renamed as Harold Pinter Theatre. A deeply disturbing social commentator who plays were admired, Harold Pinter was one of the only playwrights to be awarded Nobel Prize in Literature.

You can guess who they are, above.
and from me, Shabbat Shalom from Miami..