Saturday, February 10, 2007

1 + 1 = 0

This may read like Berenstein Bears for Adults, something like "Berenstein Bears and Too Much Sabbatical." File this away dear reader in the "stop whining about doing something that most of us never get to do" category, by all means. Allow me my self-indulgence for the moment. I spoke with an old friend tonight, who's lived here for over twenty years, is raising 4 kids here, etc. His youngest is in the States right now, with her mother who's on a sabbatical of her own. The 8th grader faces a nice choice of high schools. So does my daughter. So why am I envious? Because I'm unresolved about my daughter's options, Jewishly and otherwise. Real three bears stuff and I don't feel any of the choices taste right. Bottom line is that the Jewish thing in America is inorganic in some deep way. The street isn't Jewish, the language, the time of day, etc. It's not a moral criticism, it is what it is. A non-Jewish space and time. It's just different here. Yes the split between religious and secular exists, and yes the state-run Orthodox mafia does violence to Judaism, but in spite of those problems this is a Jewish place/space. And the educational possibilities for kids to grow Jewishly are tremendous, in spite of the overburdened underfinanced school system generally speaking. And my kids aren't going to benefit from those, not in any real sense.
That's a way of stating my ambivalence about my own place in the universe. I'm here for too long to be a total tourist, yet for not long enough to be here, dealing with things like "where's your kid going to school next year" kind of stuff and everything else. Like I said, I know it sounds like sourgrapes: the point is I'm so lucky to have two places to live in both of which I'm doing interesting things, yet it feels like they add up to less than one whole place. Leah Goldberg wrote a poem about pine trees where she reminisces about her native Lithuania and its forests. The pines, ill-advisedly planted here by incompetent planners, suggest to her that maybe she's neither place: she's the pine tree planted in the wrong soil, stuck somewhere between Lithuania and Tel Aviv. As much as I hope and intend for this time to be precious for me and for us as a family, I cannot see how this feeling will subside. If anything the opposite.


Yehuda said...

not sure i agree with your premise here, that you can speak about the jewishness of a space or place without making a moral argument. the applicability of the adjective necessarily appropriates a dimension and a value that brings with it moral categories. and where does the jewishness come from? the prevalence of jews? what kind of jewishness is that? if a jew holds a gun, is that a jewish gun? and to what end?

davidbstarr said...

good point. I wasn't denying the moral value of these things, only that that dimension interested me in some ways less than the question of how culture works and what conditions are organic or inorganic. I accept the Zionist premise that it's harder to grow a culture when its growing inside of a larger culture. That's an amoral argument in effect. The moral dimension of what grows here, or in any other cultural space, is a separate question in that sense. Not everything a Jew does--anywhere--makes it Jewish. That's part of the universal/particular tension that all humans play with. If you take the naturalist point of view then you say what Jews make, assuming it bears some relation to historical Jewishness, will be Jewish AT SOME LEVEL, as mushy a definition of what culture is. Inadequate for the essentializers, but there you go. Yes public space matters, yes history matters, yes moral judgment matters, yes creativity matters, all cooking in some sort of cholent. This just strikes me as a better crockpot in which to cook.