Sunday, November 8, 2009

Our Jewish World

I just discovered the most fantastic show! It's called "Our Jewish World" and it's on the Christian channel!

In other news, the trip to Montreal was a gleaming success: I fell so deeply in love with that city in only 3 days, I think about it every day. I would be so happy to get to live and study there. My meeting with Dr. V. went very well.

Another of my recent trips across the country was the one I made this week to Winnipeg for a funeral. I have been to a Jewish funeral before but I was too young to remember it now. On Thursday I saw a lot of Canadian Jewish identity in the funeral service. [As an aside: I should say that what I will comment on here probably sounds harsh and cold, since it refers to the funeral of a family member. I do not mean it to seem that way, but I'd just like to share what I noticed as I am not the type of person who shares her emotions anyways.]

Firstly, this is completely unrelated and I didn't even notice it until my aunt mentioned it, but the Rabbi looked and sounded very much like Alan Arkin (who I happen to love). He also gave a beautiful speech that I sincerely hope spoke to the rest of the people at the funeral as it did me. His speech began with the story of a couple who drove across the country to Banff, Alberta (from Winnipeg) for their first wedding anniversary. My aunt and uncle (of course) had bought a twenty-five dollar tent and slept under the stars in the Rockies. He compared the scene to the ancient scene described in Genesis 15:5: "And he brought him outside, and said to him, Look, now, toward the skies and number the stars, if you are able to number them; and he said to him, So your sons will be". The Rabbi extrapolated the comparison to say more things about Jews. He said that, like stars, Jews are brighter together. Like stars, Jews are brighter the closer you get to them. There were others as well, but I can't remember any of them. It was absolutely beautiful though; the analogy was breathtaking. But it was also academically interesting. My experience with funerals is not vast, nor would I like it to be, but I find it quite fascinating that even when we celebrate someone's life in this way we still like to categorize them to a group. This was a story of Jewish continuity: from Abraham to my uncle's grandchildren.

Most of my experiences with Judaism have gone along with this theme. Yom Kippur services (what I could understand of them) had a lot of thematic elements relating to ancestry. Dr. Weinfeld quotes Alti Rodal (a modern Jewish historian): "You are the grandchildren of people endowed with a powerful instinct for survival. To my mother's blessing, 'May life be good to you,' I add: May the strength of all your grandparents give you strength to withstand life's trials - we we owe it to them. And may the perseverance and values of their heritage be expressed through you, within and beyond our community, so that we survive" (218). I would argue that the powerful instinct for survival doesn't just refer to physical survival but also cultural survival. Perhaps this is understood in the quote, I'm not completely sure. I hope I'm not stating the obvious. I often feel like Judaism instills a sense of responsibility towards one's grandparents and further ancestors. I'm certain that Jews aren't the only people who feel this way, but I think it's inherent in Judaism.

In my paper that I handed in to Dr. Wong for Soci 475, I wrote about three main features of Jewish identity in Canada. The first was collective memory by way of the holocaust. There was no holocaust talk during the funeral service itself but there was a beautiful, fascinating artifact in the chapel where the family was sitting. There was a plaque explaining that the six lamps beneath it burn perpetually as a reminder of the six million Jews slaughtered in Europe. I wish I could remember what it said from beginning to end but I just can't remember everything it said. There are also seven small headstone-like things beneath it, each with the name of a concentration camp on it. It was absolutely fascinating. I wish there was a photo online that I could add here but of course there isn't.

The second feature I wrote about was the use of Hebrew and Yiddish. There was no Yiddish in the service as all religious services are conducted in Hebrew and English in most Conservative synagogues (and most other denominations as well). Of course, a great deal of the service was in Hebrew. I so wish I understood Hebrew but it's still something I feel at home around. I think it's really cool that somehow Hebrew (and Yiddish in some cases) are conserved within Judaism while at the same time adapting to the language used in the country in question (like English or French in Canada). To be able to simultaneously value a religious language but also be able to adapt to current trends or locations. I think that's very powerful. To be able to embrace pragmatism and traditionalism at the same time is really remarkable.

(my third feature was about the upward social mobility of Jews in North America, but I'm not concerned with it here. I'm cheating and choosing a third feature instead)

Thirdly, a connection with Israel. It is customary to place a piece of earth or sand in the casket. This is not only a very strong part of being part of a diaspora but also makes up a great deal of Jewish identity all the way over here in Canada. My uncle never set foot in Israel, as far as I know, but it is an important part of Jewish life everywhere. Additionally, Israel didn't even exist with any physical borders when my uncle was born. Not that that means much of anything but I just thought it was interesting.

I wish I had a conclusion to share that meant something. Unfortunately, my only conclusion is that perhaps the manifestation of Jewish identity in Canada in a funeral service would be an interesting study.

Thanks for listening (reading). I had hoped to share some of the great things I read in Dr. Weinfeld's book but I, once again, got sidetracked by things.


No comments:

Post a Comment