About Me

Du Bist a Yid”
My Father to Me

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
Albert Einstein [1879–1955],
quoted in LIFE magazine, May 2, 1955

“In order for the wheel to turn, for life to be lived, impurities are needed, and the impurities of impurities in the soil, too, as is known, if it is to be fertile. Dissension, diversity, the grain of salt and mustard are needed: Fascism does not want them, forbids them, and that’s why you’re not a Fascist; it wants everybody to be the same, and you are not. But immaculate virtue does not exist either, or if it exists it is detestable.”
Primo Levi [1919–1987], 
“Hydrogen,” The Periodic Table (1975)

©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum

I have been thinking about my father lately; he died of colon cancer in 1980; he was 69, a hard-working tradesman, a cabinet-maker trained in Poland, which by the time he moved to Canada in 1951, became less relevant. He became a carpenter, a self-employed one, and made a living. We were never rich, but we were not alone.

My father spoke to us in Yiddish, the mameloshn (“mother tongue;” language) of Eastern Europe Jews for a thousand years—it was the language that he used when speaking to other working-class friends, which were many. My father often took great pains to remind me who I was and where I came from. My father was a life-long socialist, an unreconstructed one.

Much to my dismay today, I often ignored his advice, his views, his thinking and his feelings, generally deciding that assimilation was important while growing up in Montreal, in Canada. I had (foolish and childish) dreams of becoming wealthy. Alas, I was a capitalist and such was my thinking.  How else could one fit in? Is this not the best way? For some, perhaps, but not for me. Not now. (I was born in 1957, and lived during a certain time in history, different than today, with a different kind of questioning and yearning.)

You see, strange things begin to happen when you get married and have children, and they are growing up, and you once again think of your parents. And you see and read what is taking place around the world, so much meshugas. Then, you begin to realize that what is really important is stability and continuity and humane values. 

It is my view that the whole basis of Judaic culture is learning, debating, arguing (even with God) and coming to an understanding, where we can apply moral knowledge to our world, with the purpose of making it better and in particular more humane. There is much to be done. Einstein is right about the need to keep on questioning; such is the only way to find answers, the only way to not be complacent, and the only way to change the bad to good. 

This is why I am a Jew, viewing myself as joining a long tradition of fighting for the poor, the downtrodden and the disenfranchised—the underdogs of society, This is my way of saying that my father was right. As a Jew, I celebrate life, and all things Jewish in its various forms of expression. And, yet, I cannot ignore others, since I am also cognizant that no man (or culture) is an island, and thus I also celebrate what we share as humans and what makes the world more humane. 

A search of my blog will reveal that the Holocaust (khurbn eyrope, חורבן אײראָפּע, in Yiddish or Shoah, שואה, in Hebrew) figures prominently in my writing, even if I am not writing particularly about this subject. It is ever-present in the background, even if I want to escape it, which I attempt to do from time to time. Even so, it is hard to ignore such a seminal event in modern Jewish history. Equally important is the Jewish World (di Yidisher velt) of pre-war Europe, in particular Poland and its rich and vibrant Yiddish language and culture.

For this reason I am a democratic socialist and believe in its virtues, as my father did. On this account, I think of the Yiddish song, Un Mir Zaynen Ale Brider (“And We are All Brothers”).  I also think of Einstein’s article, “Why Socialism” (1949) as an aide to understand how capitalism as it is practiced today is not a good solution to the world’s problems. Many of the best and most humane minds were socialist at one time, including many of my father's generation. 

I see my role as a writer and journalist to “comfort the afflicted.” As long as I live and am alive, I will continue to tell the story of these times, as difficult as this might be. I might be a poor soul and a tired one, but I believe that I am an honest one. 

So, I will continue to write to promote such ideas and ideals, and although the times have changed, the universality of these values have not. Can one change one’s principles? I enjoy writing, which is why I have been writing professionally for more than 20 years. I have posted some of my professional published work on my site [see “My Other Journalistic Writing]

As for you, the reader, I hope that you will keep on reading. It is all that I can humbly ask.

“Seeing the world as I do” /
“Gezen di velt vi es zol zeyn”

Perry J. Greenbaum
Toronto, Ontario