Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Secular Jews--Up To A Point

Miriam the librarian has a post at her place on the secular Jews in her life. One bit that struck me was this:

He and my father were religious skeptics, to say the least, although their father was a rabbi. So I was surprised when my cousin (his daughter) called to ask if she could distribute his ashes on a Saturday. In my father's family I am considered the expert on things Judaic, I guess because there are rumors that I fast on Yom Kippur.

I didn't think he would have cared, but she told me that he would not let her get married on a Saturday. The family decided to scatter the ashes on Sunday morning and sit shiva lite on Sunday. It's funny how remnants of religous practice and belief cling to people. Or how people cling to them.

No connection implied, but that reminded me of this:

While the SS were working the apartment buildings, the _Einsatzgruppe_ squad moved against the fourteenth-century synagogue of Stara Bozníca. As they expected, they found at prayer there a congregation of traditional Jews with beards and sidelocks and prayer shawls. They collected a number of the less Orthodox from surrounding apartments and drove them in as well, as if they wanted to measure the reaction of one group to the other.

Among those pushed across the threshold of Stara Bozníca was the gangster Max Redlicht, who would not otherwise have entered an ancient temple or been invited to do so. They stood in front of the Ark, these two poles of the same tribe who would on a normal day have found each other's company offensive. An _Einsatz_ NCO opened the Ark and took out the parchment Torah scroll. The disparate congregation on the synagogue floor were ot file past and spit at it. There was to be no faking--the spittle was to be visible on the calligraphy. [...]

Everyone spat in the end except Max Redlicht. The _Einsatzgruppe_ men may have seen this as a test worth their time--to make a man who visibly does not believe renounce with spittle a book he views intellectually as antique tribal drivel but which his blood tells him is still sacred. Could a Jew be retrieved from the persuasions of his ridiculous blood? Could he think as clearly as Kant? That was the test.

Redlicht would not pass it. He made a little speech. "I've done a lot. But I won't do that." They shot him first, and then shot the rest anyway and set fire to the place, making a shell of the oldest of all Polish synagogues.

-- Thomas Keneally, _Schindler's List_, 1982

Stephen Spielberg adapted this passage for his movie of the same name, although it was not finally included. The screenplay is extant somewhere on the web [click, clickety], here, for example. But in Spielberg's version, Redlicht earns the SS's half-mocking respect, whereas in the novel, he's just a fore-doomed guinea pig.

So, what would your reaction be if things came down to brass tacks? I know what I'd hope my reaction would be, me being a crack soldier in the 101st Keyboard Brigade and everything. But, for real? Hmmm...

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