About Me (The Personal, The Creative & The Moral)

Justice, justice [Tzedek, tzedek] shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. ”
Deuteronomy 16:20
כ צֶדֶק צֶדֶק, תִּרְדֹּף--לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ. {ס}
Chapter 16 דְּבָרִים

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them. He said:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Gospel of Matthew 5: 1–10

©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. By the time he moved to Canada in 1951, ending up in Montreal, my native city, this trade became less relevant. Thus, he became a carpenter, a self-employed one, and made a living. We were never rich, but we were not alone; many Jews at that time were part of the working class.

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 period 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; such are the values of the Jewish People, passed down from generation to generation. 

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. The Torah speaks much about justice and the pursuit of it. To give tzedakah (צדקה‎) is to do right, to pursue justice— as both have in their root word, “justice” (צדק). In the pursuit of justice, one is not complacent, and one often acts boldly—the only way to change the bad to good. 

This is why I am a Jew, viewing myself as joining a long tradition of making the world a better place. 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, including its religious rituals. 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.  But I do so as a Jew.

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 see myself as carrying on the tradition of my father and his humane Yidisher values of menschkayt. Make no mistake, this has nothing to do with the New Left (and its destructive permutations) and its hateful anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic views, none of which I support. I never could. Never.  

The Jews, it must be said, and without equivocation, have done so much for humanity, have done so much to better the world for everyone (makhn di velt a beser plats)On this account, I think of the video, “The Mystery of the Jews.” It is self-explanatory and a testament to the power of the Torah, our long history and our long and continual pursuit of justice.  Speaking of which, Jesus of Nazareth, born a Jew, elucidates on divine justice in one of my favorite biblical passages, “the Sermon on the Mount,” found in the New Testament’s Book of Matthew.

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? As for you, dear reader, I hope that you will join me in such good pursuits and at least keep on reading. It is all that I can humbly ask.

“Seeing the world as I do”
Perry J. Greenbaum
Toronto, Ontario