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The past is no tabula rasa

In a Crimean town, Koktebel,
Ukrainians in peace were able
to coexist with every Russian,
and with Jews, since Max Voloshin—
named for a place where great Jews studied—
with goyim of both nations buddied,
not far from Yalta where the czar
once played, and to which FDR
and Churchill came on bended knees,
willing spinelessly to please
the new czar, Stalin, whom they gave
all eastern Europe.

Now more brave,
Ukrainians in Koktebel in
Voloshin’s mansion think Putin
does not deserve the reverence given
Stalin, hoping he’ll be driven,
as Russia was from Europe East,
the USSR was deceased—
but not Ukraine!— the moment when
the Cold War ended, though again
it seems that it’s come back to life,
revealed in Koktebel’s sad strife.
Now both are one another’s bashers,
Krim nashers fighting the Krim vashers,
Crimea’s theft thought criminally
accomplished, ultraliminally,
by hostile neighbors at a site
established by a Jew, whose right
to be a Jew might now be challenged
in western Europe, which is melanged
with haters of the Jews.

It’s plus
ça change, if you’re a western Jew,
as it is if you are Ukrainian
or Russian. What was subterranean
can spew up danger quite throughout
the world, as without any doubt,
it is for Jews who live near Gaza,
the past no tabula that’s rasa,
peace, unlike tablets Moses smashed,
unlikely to be soon rehashed.

Neil MacFarquhar writes in the 8/20/14 NYT (“Annexation of Crimea Divides an Artist Colony Founded on Tolerance”):

In Soviet times, when favored artists received a government stipend to summer here on Crimea’s southern coast, a metal billboard by the beach read in bold letters: “Be quiet! Writers are working!” This season, it is the artists making most of the noise.
Drawn here for generations by Koktebel’s particular light and kinetic landscapes, the artistic community has recently split into two feuding factions. Neighbor has turned on neighbor, old rituals have been abandoned, and some regulars have avoided the place entirely….
.
Although reflective of current events, the clash is rooted in the history of Koktebel. Max Voloshin, a merry, skinny-dipping poet and painter who espoused tolerance, founded the creative oasis about 100 years ago. If not exactly free of Soviet strictures, Koktebel provided an escape to someplace more open, out of time.

It was seen as less wealthy but more spirited than Yalta down the coast, where the czar and Soviet rulers once played. But this summer, the world did not retreat. “People split into two camps, pro-Russian Crimea and anti-Russian Crimea,” said Natasha Arendt, 55, whose family members are bickering. “Some people were very excited, and some were disappointed, and they became enemies where once they were friends.”…
.
The Kremlin-inspired slogan for taking Crimea was “Krim nash!” or “Crimea is ours.” When some artists advocating a boycott discovered that others were planning to come anyway, they began hurling sharp comments like “Krim vash!” or “Crimea is yours” and “Just go to your Crimea!”

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 gershonhepner@gmail.com.
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