Friday, September 8, 2017

The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon: Dramatic Utterances

Words/Verter
Gezen di velt vi es zol zeyn

“Di gantse velt shteyt af der shpits tsung.”
Ignaz Bernstein
Jüdische Sprichwörter und Redensarten (1908)

After seven years (and 2,300 posts), it was in August, and I was seriously considering that it was time to put this “blog to bed,” my baby, my labour of love. I was thinking that it is the right time, considering the circumstances and the tenor of the times. There was dwindling public interest, although my focus on yiddishkayt resulted in a slight increase in readers, a good and positive sign for which I am appreciative. 

Some say that the liberal ways of old are dying, it replaced by a harsh cynicism and apathetic escapism. Well, have not the ideas of doing good and being a mentsh, of mentshlekhkeyt, been dying for decades along with Yiddish? Some call it enlightened self-interest. I see much evidence of the second part of this phrase, but not much of the first. It is not even self-interest, but just plain selfishness, narcissism and indifference. This is viewed as acceptable and many agree that there is no need to change it. I disagree, and I also know that I am not alone in my disagreement, even if it seems this way.

It also seems that words have become devices of artifice; and the writer the maker of artificial worlds to obfuscate the truth. If “the writer” is good at this craft of deception, he is richly rewarded, notably if his words entertain by revealing nothing important or essential. This is not the same at all as “the artist” who uses art and imagination to reveal the truth, di emes. Yes, truth counts; even for those who deny its existence and importance and revel in di ummoralish lebn; they pretend otherwise by making a mockery of it. I think they know better.

After all, it is true and an astute insight as any other proffered today, that we all see (and feel) the world a certain way and read articles that support this interest. My views are found within the posts, where I have written so many words to say what I view as necessary and true. They also reveal my heart and my desire to be an “honest witness” of what I see and, better yet, what could also be, which takes seriously the ideas of living a good and moral life, di moralishkayt. Such talk is part of being a Jew. No apologies.

Some would say with criticism that my writing—including this post—is filled with (too many) dramatic utterances; I plead both my innocence and my guilt and defend myself with the written words of Rokhl Auerbakh [1903–1976], found in Oyf di felder fun Treblinke (1947) [In the Fields of Treblinka]: “The uncomfortable thing is that every one of us is similarly given to dramatic utterances (melitsa), which may either be appropriate or altogether superfluous, but can also be true, the plain factual truth” (107).

And that says it all. Should such voices be silenced, forgotten? So, after having read this in an end-note in The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey Through Language and Culture (2000), by Ruth Wisse, a professor of Yiddish Literature at Harvard University, I can now resist the recurring feelings of weariness and meekness and muster the courage to continue, even if there are only a few readers. Or this is the way it seems; it always seems this way for the tired voices.

Now, I will leave you with this thought that my father taught me 50 years ago, which today still is true for me, even if few believe it, and even if it falls on deaf ears. A Yiddish statement of faith of the working-class folks, taken from the Der Arbeter Ring (The Workmen’s Circle), about the ultimate purpose of all this work: shenere un besere velt far ale.

—Peretz ben Ephraim, September 8, 2017

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