To stand fast, resist and exist

A special “tseytl-lider\צעטל-לידער” Yiddish poem that I wrote these days because of what has happened in the Darom, in South Negev, Israel. I don’t call that a “pogrom”, I really think and say this and have been teaching/uttered in sermons in Hebrew and Russian: the Shoah is over.

My job (tafqid\תפקיד) is to say this inside of the Orthodox Church and it is bizarre because they don’t recognize the Jews, or Israel and cannot as of now. So I am “blurred” – do I exist, not too much, and what will be next after me? Still, yes I can act, be acting. Moreover, I am also a Yiddish language fan and have written thoughts, and even prayed in church and other places in my mother tongue. I wrote this “poem” because we are in the 110th anniversary year of the birth of the poet Avrom (Abrasha) Sutzkever.

It happened suddenly that Hamas appeared to commit all the abominations usually perpetrated against the Jews in the Galut/Diaspora, in particular in Eretz K’naan/ארץ כנען, i.e. the Ashkenazi regions of Eastern Europe and the Russian Empire. And nowadays, as a consequence of the decisions taken by the European colonial States after the Great War that ended in November 1918, there is the “miracle” of a Hebrew State, born not for national reasons in fact.

You cannot pray to return to Zion and Jerusalem for two thousand years and then the RETURN, the “right out of the blue” utopia (like settling in Uganda, for example) is not only possible after centuries of catastrophes and blessings. Yes, Israel is a shelter, but this is not her main call: she gathers in the exiled, those who are far and near, they are assembled as the prelude of the ingathering of all those who are linked to the Hebrew vocation (in particular the monotheistic creeds, believers). Our generation, the eyes of the living in our generation see something that was in the intense prayers over generations of men, women, families, and children of all possible backgrounds.

I do not believe that the Shoah is a “one-shot” affair. It has somehow been described in the Scroll of Esther. But as the only survivor of my family, I witnessed the growth of something that could not be “true”, merely a dream. There are good and evil individuals everywhere, among all souls.

Something happened from Theodor Herzl’s idea, Eliezer Ben Yehudah’s revival of the language (a true resurrection, a hapax in linguistics). And after 80-85 years after the Churban\חורבן (Shoah\שואה in Yiddish = destruction) on the final feast of Simchat-Torah\שמחת תורה (the Joy of the Torah), on Tishri 22, 5784, the Hamas rushed into a legal country, an independent State and assassinated. They planned and continue to plan to murder and exterminate the Jews.

Yes, there are other victims, but there is a basic project and this is the same as at Wannsee and over the centuries. We have to find a new word to say what happened in these recent days of 2023-5784-1445 (Hijri). And there is no real guilt, no remorse, from anybody.

And we know what happened, it is part of a thousand years of experience: “You do not exist… if you were born, you are to be assassinated… you think you bear a blessing… you will suffer and die… others will take your place, supersede your identity, and express it better than you ever could do. And they do”.

It is indeed an existential matter. “You do not have the right to exist” is the motto, a silent evident recurring one. Period.

And this provoked an enormous mental earthquake when the Jews came back to Zion to be grafted back into the Land of Israel. The others thought that they had caught, and seized the Jewish/Hebrew identity forever!

It did not reach any spiritual, moral, religious, political, or philosophical, human brains to cope with such a reality.

This is why the example of Avrom Sutzkever, the Vilna Ghetto survivor, the renowned poet, and the man who saved the books and the Yiddish printing letters and made his aliyah to Israel is so significant right now, these days of deep turbulence. He is the best Yiddish modern poet. The point is and this is why I write these lines these days, today: he was called to witness the Churban/Shoah at the Nuremberg Trial in 1945.

He asked to witness in Yiddish, his mother tongue, which is the language in which the Jews experience all sorts of pogroms and blessings, laughter, wisdom, and life in dire periods in the Ashkenazi East-European regions. He was not allowed to witness in Yiddish. He had to speak Russian – the language of the superpowers (the same as nowadays in different contexts: the Americans, the Russians, The British, and the French). He had no choice. He spoke in Russian, and he would eventually be asked (requested) to witness in English, French… maybe German (!) the criminals who were there to be judged at the Court.

He was not recognized for who he was. They did not accept him for who he was, his “existential” being. Yiddish is who he IS, not any other language. We witness at present the same process: “You do not exist”. Worse: “We can decide that you have to disappear”. It is the same in Be’eri, in the Negev. They can kill, rape, plunder, capture, rapture, burn babies or women or whosoever, “You are born to die”. They know we will not die…

When Avrom Sutzkever witnessed in Russian at the Trial, he could only utter a very very tiny part of who he was. Indeed, he was not recognized for who he was and why he was standing at the Court. He stood, which means as in Yiddish “er shteyt/ער שטעט” – he resisted, just as the word “stehen” also means “to stand and to resist” in German. Paul Celan noted this about German.

The same happens at present in this war launched by Hamas. For years, I heard and still hear very nice, clever individuals and groups of different backgrounds say: “But they (the Jews) will not stay, will not remain here (in Israel). How long will they stay?” As if it only can be evident that the Jews, the (quite multi-faceted) Israeli identity will disappear, just be removed from the true “Eretz K’naan\ארץ כנען” where the (Divine) Project started and was developed and continues to be developing in all possible ways and directions.

The reason for this poem is simple: Avrom Sutzkever’s experience is just the normal experience of a Jew, of Jewishness, of Israelis. The same blurring process of what and who is existent is real in the Land of Israel and can be expressed by a lot of these very clever, nice people.

Avrom’s Sutzkever’s identity was denied as a person and it was clearly said in linguistic terms. Yiddish could not be used, he was not existent for the bigger part of who he was and had the blessing to remain. He was compelled to keep silent, to silence. While the world kept silent on the Catastrophe (Shoah). Elie Wiesel’s initial title of the book “The Night” is “And the world kept silent/און די וועלט האט געשוויגן”.

This is fascinating. Because it is not a matter of sharing land, properties, cultures, lives, rights, identities, whatever capacities and knowledge. Just “Get away!” It is a local “mishigas (crazy thing) also used by the Greeks “έξω = get out, away!”

Avrom Sutzkever had this insightful capacity to continue to exist. He stood (fast, firmly)…

The translation of the English poem is below the English version:

There is a war going on, a disgusting war
Attacks as through our words
between tribes, small families,
Conflicts with mass murders.
And still, the question comes, like a guilty fear
Do you really see someone here?… Or
Is there a shadow, a demon, maybe a ghost…?
Abraham Sutskever stands in front of the judges at the Nuremberg Trial
Remains standing. He stands, firm and faces the laws, a warrior –
The Russian judge asks the surviving Vilnius poet
Asks him, softly and clearly in Russian,
He asks him questions, obviously not just questions, and listens to answers, not just answers.
The judge is not a fool, really convicted, and does not give a verdict
Or maybe this is only an inquiry without any true questions.
And the poet asked to testify in the Yiddish language,
Wanted to tell them about the Vilner ghetto, the destruction.
He declared that only the mother tongue has the honor to explain…
The writer, the poet who saved the (Yiddish) lead plate letters,
did not stand before four superpowers –
He remained, a man, a breath of life, without desire,
There he stands in front of four “winners”, thus no victorious men,
who do not hear any Yiddish, speak with exaggerated pressure.
The surviving Jewish hero was almost silent in Russian.
Avraham Sutskever counted the letters like on a printing table
And became mute, left without his own words, without free fate.
And the judges of the catastrophic era were silent –
Thus, Avraham Sutskever slowly grunted like a dead man, a spirit.
In the month of Tishri, when the Day of Judgment had already passed,
Surprising pogroms have caught our children,
Our people and residents of our South, the homeland, moledet.
Again and again, the world is silent, silent as in past and future
In silence, the gossipy people avoid the new tragedy
As taught by long long-term events.
As for the Court of Nuremberg, people are caught without stories
And silence the real language of the Holocaust.
In the prison of mute, closed utterances.
Abrasha(*) wrote without revenge and followed his route,
The lead plates remained not silent.
His children will survive the present time of Tishri,
Bring the language, the joy, the life, and all the souls
Right here, look once and always: here you are to stay forever
You and all are one identity – “Zehut: this-that is (there and shall be and we will not keep silent.
(*) Abrasha, the name of Abraham Sutskevern.
23.11.08. צעטל־לידער/יומן. Yoman 156
אַ לשון־סגי־נהור
אָט לױפֿט אַ מלחמה, אַן עקלדיקער קריג
אַטאַקען װי אין אונדזערע מדברים
צװישן שביטים, קלײַנע משפּחות,
קאָנפֿליקטן מיט רעסקע רצחים.
און כאָטש קומט די שאלה, װי שאולדיקע פּחד
זעט מען אמת עמעצען דאָ?… אָדער
צי דאָרט איז אַ שאָטן, אַ שד אפשר אַ גײַסט…?
אין נירנבערג שטייט אַברהם סוצקעװער פֿאָר דיריכטערס
בלײַבט שטיין, ער שטייט, פֿעסט און אַנטקעגן, אַ לוחם,
דער רוסישער ריכטער פֿרעגט דעם איבערבלײַבעם װילנער דיכטער
פֿרעגט אים, זאַנפֿט און קלאָר אױף רוסישער רייד
שטעלט פֿראַגעס, דאָך ניט שאלות, הערט ענטפֿערס, דאָך ניט תשובות.
דער ריכטער איז ניט אַ שופֿט, דאָך פֿאַרורטײַלט, געבט ניט קײַן פּסק
אָדער טומער איז דאָ אַן אױספֿראַגונג אָן קײַנע קשיאות.
און דער דיכטער האָט געבעטן צוּ טאָן עדות אין יידישער שפּראַך,
ער האָט געװאַלט דערצײַלן דעם װילנער גטו, דעם חורבן
האָט דערקלערט אַז נאָר די מאַמע־לשון באַנעמט די תעובה…
דער שרײַבער, דער בן־טובים פֿון די בלײַענע פּלאַטן,
איז ניט געבליבן שטיין פֿאָר פֿיר גרױסמאכטן,
ער איז געבליבן, אַ מענטש, אַ לעבענס־אָטעם, אָן פֿאַרלאַנג,
ער שטייט פֿאָר פֿיר געװינערס, דאָך ניט קײַנע בעלי־נצחון,
װאָס הערן ניט קײַן יידיש, רעדן מיט אײַבערהאַנטיקעם פּראַל,
דער ניצול־געװאָרענער יידישער כתבֿא־רבא האָט כמעט גישװיגן אױף רוסיש.
װי אַ סופֿר האָט אברהם סוצקעװער געצײַלט די אותיות
און איז געװאָרן שטום, אָן די אײַגענע װערטער, אָן פֿרײַגעלאָזענער גורל.
און די שופֿטים, דאָס געריכטער פֿון דער קאַטאַסטראָפֿאַלער תקופה האָבן געשװיגן
אברהם סוצקעװער האָט פּאַמעלעך בכוח גערדט װי אַ מת.
אין חודש תשרי, װי דער יום הדין תשפ״ד איז שױן פֿאָרבײַיק געװען,
חידושדיקע פּאָגראָמען האָבן געכאַפּט אונדזערע קינדער,
אונדזערע מענטשן און תושבים פֿון אונדזער דרום, דער מולדת.
װידער און װידער שװײַגט די װעלט, שװײַגען װי אין עבר און עתיד
בשתיקה פֿאַרמײַדן די אנשי ריכלות די נײַע טראַגעדיע
פֿון װײַטע־אָנגעלערנטע געשעענישן.
װי פֿאָר דעם געריכט פֿון נירנבערג כאַפּט מען אָן דערצײַלונגען
און שטילט אײַן די עכטע שפּראַך פֿונעם חורבן
אין דער תפֿיסה פֿון שטוּמע אין־לשער, פֿאַרמאַכטעם אױסזאָגעכץ.
אבראשא(*) האָט געשריבן אָן נקומה און מיט דרך־ארץ
די בלײַענע פּלאַטן האָבן ניט געשװיגען
זײַנע קינדער װעלן איבערבלײַבן די איטציקע תקופֿת־תישרי,
איבערברענגען די לשון, די שמחה, דאָס לעבן און אלע זעלען
אָט דאָ, קוק אַמאָל און תמיד דאָ דו ביסט און בלײַבסט פֿאַר אײַביק
דיר און אלע איז אַ זהות ־ ״זה הוא/היא״ און מיר װעלן ניט שװײַגען.
(*) אַבראַשאַ, דאָס נעמעניש פֿוּן אברהם סוצקעװערן.
About the Author
Alexander is a psycho-linguist specializing in bi-multi-linguistics and Yiddish. He is a Talmudist, comparative theologian, and logotherapist. He is a professor of Compared Judaism and Christian heritages, Archpriest of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, and International Counselor.
Related Topics
Related Posts