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Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Mastering the Change

I am a declinist. I see in most modern trends a loss of something, though the loss is always gradual, never total, and the something that once was, perhaps wasn't quite. 

Perhaps it is in the nature of created things that they are always in some form of decline. 

And perhaps it may be said that, while one thing is in its decline, another is in its ascent. We are still in the early generations of the historic ascent of the modern age of global wars, global trade, and global communities, including global diseases. 

Here is a passage from Herman Wouk's fictional memoir of Aaron Jastrow, A Jew's Journey, from Wouk's 1978 War and Remembrance. Jastrow, an apostate Jewish scholar and minor intellectual celebrity failed to escape central Europe during the rise of the Axis, now faces the decline of the world -- but the ascent of something within himself. It stirred something in me beyond my meager ability to express -- such is the gift of literature. Maybe it will in others as well:

Here under the Germans I resumed my Jewishness because they forced me to.

I have been in Theresienstadt about a year. I value this year more than all my fifty-one years of hefkerut, of being like others. Degraded, hungry, oppressed, beaten, frightened, I have found myself, my God, and my self respect here. I am terribly afraid of dying. I am bowed to the ground by the tragedy of my people. But I have experienced a strange bitter happiness in Theresienstadt that I missed as an American professor and as a fashionable author living in a Tuscan villa. I have been myself. I have taught bright-eyed, sharp-minded Jewish boys the Talmud. They are gone. I do not know whether one of them still lives. But the words of the Talmud lived on our lips and burned in our minds. I was born to carry that flame. The world has greatly changed, and the change was too much for me, until I came to Theresienstadt. Here I mastered the change, and returned to myself. Now I will return to Oswiecim, where I studied in the yeshiva and where I abandoned the Talmud, and there the Jew’s Journey will end. I am ready.

Jastrow, who in youth had cast aside his faith, was able to return to it. How great must be the ache of those who are never given anything of the transcendent to cast aside, or to which to return.


John Tanner said...

Remarkable. thank you

Morgan Plantar said...
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Unknown said...
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