Gershon Hepner

Survivors, a New Ancient History

Though designated like pius Aeneas to become survivors

of the horrendous Hellenistic holocaust of Troy,

many Jews no longer see themselves as designated drivers

in a national narrative that they don’t enjoy

or understand much better than the Aeneid is by those who have no Latin,

and therefore are dependent on corrupt translations, and

consider that their destiny is better manifested in Manhattan

than in a by-a-God-they-don’t-believe-in Promised Land.


Part of the problem may be this: unlike Aeneas, most aren’t pious —

being pious is hard when God appears to most to be quite dead —

but a greater problem, I believe, is that many are infected by a bias

against their true identity, which they have therefore shed.


The Sanzer Rebbe in a manner that was quite dramatic

implied this when he told Jews to loudly read the Torah verses

prophesying a dark and dire future that would be traumatic,

which Jewish history today most happily reverses,

and hopefully will not relapse, as typically occurs in dangerous epidemics,

like antisemitism that’s now being spawned from viral spread of its putrid polemics.  

Daniel Mendelsohn asks in the 10/13/18 New Yorker, “Is the Aeneid a Celebration of Empire—or a Critique? By mythologizing the Romans’ Trojan origins, Virgil turned a story about losers into an epic about winners”:

What is the Aeneid about? It is about a tiny band of outcasts, the survivors of a terrible persecution. It is about how these survivors—clinging to a divine assurance that an unknown and faraway land will become their new home—arduously cross the seas, determined to refashion themselves as a new people, a nation of victors rather than victims. It is about how, when they finally get there, they find their new homeland inhabited by locals who have no intention of making way for them. It is about how this geopolitical tragedy generates new wars, wars that will, in turn, trigger further conflicts: bella horrida bella. It is about how such conflicts leave those involved in them morally unrecognizable, even to themselves. This is a story that both the Old and the New Worlds know too well; and Virgil was the first to tell it. Whatever it meant in the past, and however it discomfits the present, the Aeneid has, alas, always anticipated the future.

Deut. 28:15-68 predicts a disastrous future for the Jewish people if they disobey the laws of the Torah. They are traditionally read very quietly, but the Sanzer rebbe, Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam, a survivor of the Shoah, told his community to read them loudly, because the threats had all been fulfilled by the Nazis, and he maintained that it was time for all Jews to experience blessings instead of threats, as if italicizing the threats as I have italicized the word “loudly” in this poem.

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at
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