Notes of Irritation


Unless someone asks me to do otherwise, I think that this will be my last pre-written post. I am happy to share more about my trip to Poland and more from my journal if someone has the desire to read it. After this, I will start posting more political entries again. This is two different journal entries that are somewhat connected. They are not– at all– meant to give off a holier-than-thou attitude. They are simply meant to convey the way I was feeling at the time. I hope these entries paint a picture of the peculiarity I was experiencing rather than illustrate any sort of criticism or hostility toward my friends.

1. On the bus, just outside of Majdanek.

Human nature is a funny thing. We walk through Majdanek- silence. No one is faking their emotion. The camp evokes feeling beyond literary expression. Silence. Silence. Silence. Silence. Silence. From staff and camper alike. We get to the end. We do a tekes (ceremony).  Silence. Emotion chokes back any words. We pray Mincha (the afternoon service). Silence. We get on the bus, and within a few seconds, kids are laughing and chatting, yelling and joking, eating Kit-Kat bars and Oreos. No one is talking about it. No one is processing it. No one is crying, or silent, or dumbfounded. This is bizarre.

2. Outside a mass grave of eight-hundred children.

I wish I could smell the bodies.

No, I’m not sadistic or evil. I just wish that there was something there besides a blue fence surrounding bushes and leaves. It’s so hard to connect. I imagine the kids and I imagine the Nazis. But there’s not something there to help me connect. And now I’m on a bus full of kids. And they’re all screwing around.

I wish they could smell the bodies.

Provoked Thoughts


The following are two poems that I wrote, sitting on the side of the main road between the barracks of the Majdanek death camp outside of Lublin, Poland. The first I wrote staring up at a long road, and the second I wrote sitting directly adjacent to the first location, in a rolling green meadow:

Pebbles – Majdanek

In a quiet wooden corridor                                                                                                 Deriving from nature’s discomfort and unease                                                                               I walk at a brisk pace                                                                                                                   And look straight ahead, never down.                                                                                       And keep my eyes on the prize: the end of the hall.                                                                       And look ahead at my goal.                                                                                                               Beneath my feet are eleven million tiny pebbles.                                                                           Each pebble is unique. Each has its own relationship to the other stones. But none stand   out. I never look down.                                                                                                                       And each pebble, under the iron-esq weight of my blue, modern shoe, makes its own           screeching noise.                                                                                                                                 And each individual pebble is stuck in its place. Each unique pebble will only move at         the will of something less trivial, something with influence.                                                       And each tiny pebble is stepped on– by my foot.                                                                           Each pebble suffers.                                                                                                                             Each pebble waits.                                                                                                                               Each pebble remains.                                                                                                                           Each pebble is the whipping boy of Me, the person who has a goal, and is determined to     meet it.                                                                                                                                                   And while each pebble is in my way, I don’t move it out of the way of step around it.           I walk over it, hearing the cries of each pebble, creating and destroying, but I never look   down and I never think “down.”                                                                                                       I am only trying to get there.                                                                                                             I will meet my goal, I will walk on.                                                                                                 Ignoring the petrified ground on which I trudge, I persevere.                                                     I don’t care.                                                                                                                                           I don’t care.                                                                                                                                           I don’t care.

And life goes on.                                                                                                                                   For me.

A Coat of Green– Majdanek

Death                                                                                                                                            Comes from small, dark rooms and                                                                                            Then it get’s planted in the ground                                                                                        Where its carbon-filled expired-ness                                                                                              Nurtures verdant potential and becomes                                                                                        The absolute leading factor in the production of                                                                    Life.


God?


I mentioned yesterday that I am going to start posting journal entries that I wrote in Poland and start discussing Israel. Right now, I am going to post the last thing I wrote in Poland; a theological reflection on the cumulative emotions of the entire trip, which culminated with a very strenuous day at Auschwitz-Birkenau. I still believe some of this. Other parts I don’t. (If there are typos, awkward grammatical mistakes, or rocky language, please note that I have not edited it and wrote it somewhat hurriedly in a Warsaw hotel room.):

I can think of no single theological reason or explanation for this. It is 100% incomprehensible. A God could not have been there. Marta Wise (the Holocaust survivor who accompanied us to Auschwitz-Birkenau and told her story) said that when there was rain– and it saved her life– it was מן השמים, from God. But she didn’t believe that God had any role in the mass murder.

No. That is unacceptable to me. It cannot be that simple. You can’t just flip God on and off at ideal moments. There is no divine light-switch.

If anything, this trip has strengthened my sense of Jewish Nationalism (perhaps Zionism), and pushed me further in the direction of Atheism. It’s not that I don’t believe that there is a God, but rather that I don’t understand the scale of effect which God has on daily or cosmic life. After walking the surfaces of Treblinka, Majdanek, and Auschwitz, the mass graves, and Poland as a whole, I am left with more questions– perhaps never to be answered– and a much more coherent, yet still murky image of what happened.

I think, however, that before this trip, the question, “Do you believe in God?” was not something that I really saw as a grey area. But now I do. Alan (our educator) said something that resonated with me, though.

ישראל– the pride and namesake of ourselves and our homeland– means “struggle with God.” That comforts me. Does God exist? Who knows. Did God have a role in the Holocaust? I don’t think so. Therefore, maybe God doesn’t exist. But I’ve learned on this journey that being Jewish does not mean adhering to the set of standards for belief or disbelief in God. It means struggling with the existential and theological implications of day-to-day life.

If you’re going to take the time to assess the Holocaust, I don’t believe that God should be in the equation. If you’re looking for answers, at least, then adding God will further confuse you.

Confusion yields frustration with “God” and with the Nazis. It is for that exact reason that I took a brick from the rubble of a crematorium and threw it at the ground. What is there to get? Do we even want to understand?

Where was God? I don’t think it matters. It’s up to us to make sure doesn’t ever happen again.

Polychrome


Last night, I returned from a seven-week trip that changed the way I look at the world on a political level, but also on a sociological and religious level.

In the coming days, I’ll take a short hiatus from narrating on politics and, instead, share some journal entires and thoughts that I wrote while I was in Poland. I’ll also explain the changes in my political ideologies– why being in Israel caused me to move further right or further left on certain issues.

The most important realization I had, however– the thing that kept me open to so many other opinions– is that the world isn’t drawn in black and white. It’s important not to incarcerate yourself in any political or religious box. While I was in Israel, I heard people say things that made me want to punch them. I also heard people say things that made me want to hug them. But regardless of what the opinion was, I learned that I had to keep everything in context: there’s a reason that the man living on the Lebanese border is so right-wing. There’s a reason that the Palestinian man who has been neglected all his life is so left-wing. You have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes– really understand where they’re coming from– before you argue with them (or decide whether or not it’s a good idea to argue with them).

This past Friday, on the corner of Gaza Street in Jerusalem, I met Noam Shalit, the father of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. In an uncomfortable effort to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime moment, I hesitantly walked up to him and asked–perhaps naïvely–what it is that we, Jewish American youth, can do to help his son’s situation.

Noam Shalit turned to me, his furrowed brow frozen in a frown than seemed to encapsulate his whole body, and very slowly shook his head. “Nothing,” he said, almost in a whisper, “thank you for your support.”

Americans tend to have strong opinions about things that we think we understand. And then we make a big ruckus about joining a cause, sell bracelets, ask people to donate money, and the list goes on. Sometimes, however, nothing can be done. My brief encounter with Noam Shalit was a wakeup call; not to the idea that we can’t do anything, but rather to the idea that if we’re going to get ourselves involved and invest time and effort, we should know the realities of the situation and avoid the precarious and all too familiar belief that we are invincible. Because we’re not.

There’s one other experience that should be shared before I write future posts. Last week, early Tuesday morning, my group was hiking up a mountain just outside of Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city. As we were climbing up the final stretch, right when we began to be able to see the Red Sea and the peak where we were going to pray Shacharit (the morning service) we heard a very loud “BOOM,” that sounded like planks being thrown thrown into a dumpster at a construction site. We kept walking. a few seconds later we heard another one. We asked our staff what the noises were and they assured us that it was nothing…that the IDF does special trial runs in the desert all the time and that we shouldn’t worry.

The “BOOM”s that we heard were not planks from a construction project in Eilat. They were two of five rockets that were fired from the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula with the intention of hitting the Eilat area. They were fired with the intention of hitting anything Jewish. They were fired to hit me.

So, next time you decide, like me, that the man who lives on the Lebanese border is crazy and unjustified (which I happen to partially believe), think about how your opinion might be changed if you were constantly under fire from enemy rockets. Think you might be angry?

Hiatus


I live in the geographical and demographical heart of the Los Angeles Jewish community. I am growing up in the twenty-first century. I go to a Jewish high school. I take for granted the luxuries of being able to practice my religion freely and never think twice before wearing a kippah (yarmulke) on the streets of metropolitan LA.

On Sunday, I’ll be flying to Poland to explore what Jewish life was like in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust, during the Holocaust, and what it’s like now. Given the background the I described above, I’m sure that it will be difficult to relate or put myself into the shoes of another teenage Jew who wasn’t as lucky as I am. I’ll walk through Treblinka, Majdanek, and Auschwitz-Birkenau trying to picture what that same setting felt like in 1943– the defenseless inhabitants, the hate-filled disciplinarians, the repugnant smells, the somber sounds, the merciless aura. I have no idea what I’ll feel, taking in the sensation of what it may have been like not to be able to “be” Jewish.

After a week and a half, I’ll head to Israel (for six weeks) and soak up Jewish culture and life. It’s difficult for me to write about what I will do, or will feel. So I’m going to leave it open ended. I’ll write about it all when I’m there and post the pieces when I’m back. I’ll give you my thoughts on the political situation after talking to Israelis– and hopefully Palestinians– about it.

Enjoy summer.