Leaving the Old Behind

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


The Wandering Jew 

The Wandering Jew is an anti-Semitic legend from medieval folklore.  The modern version of wandering Jews is the Broadway musical play Fiddler on the Roof about Tevye, a Russian Jew, and his family, who were driven out of the country by the Russians, whose hatred for the Jewish people resulted in murder during their pogroms and otherwise.  Tevye rescued himself and his family to immigrate to America. 

In Poland, the Jews lived in ghettos and had little opportunity to mingle with their fellow countrymen except when the latter wanted to persecute them, rob them of their meager possessions, and beat them in order to  leave them helpless or nearly so.  Even after the six million victims were dead and a minute number escaped the annihilation of the German and European murderers, the Jews who attempted to return to their Polish “homeland” were massacred one by one in their attempt at “going home.” In Nazi Germany, the Jewish people were registered by the government and could be found whenever the Nazis wanted to do so for indescribable purposes / atrocities which were known by all civilized humanity.  Long before the Holocaust, the Germans  had streets and alleys labeled for or because of Jewish occupancy.  The names of these narrow places were known and classified in writing as “Judengassen” (Jew alleys).

Today, in the year 2012, and for a number of decades earlier, Jewish citizens remove themselves from their current environment and often leave their homes and their synagogues to escape what are believed to be undesirable or high crime areas of the cities in which they live.

Synagogues unfortunately are targeted to move to more exclusive/ “safe areas,” i.e. the exurbs (not merely the suburbs) of cities.  We thus become our own worst enemies.  The poor Jews that are left behind are excluded by their financial  condition and therefore their inability to join their ever escaping brethren.  The younger, often more upward mobile Jews, do not give much thought what happens to those left behind.  They are the “invisible”Jews who remain in the tiny and not so tiny synagogues which have not yet been sold, which are remnants from an earlier era.  These places are frequently useless for the old since the stairs and the precarious conditions of the “Stueble” (small rooms) cannot be managed by those who hoped to enjoy their last few years of their lives among their kin.

There are the “machers and knackers” of the temples who feel that their Temple should be new and in a place more fitting their status, their opinions of themselves.  They are generally members of the Board of Directors, who are willing and eager to sell their “old” well kept synagogue for a new and plush structure - one in which they can express their superiority.  They will move every few years to escape being tainted by the lesser human beings among them.  These lesser folk are sometimes their close kin, not excluding their mothers and fathers who have scraped to get these upper crusts their educations and have helped them to attain the upper classdom that they now enjoy.  These “upper” class personages could not possibly associate with the lower class creatures to whom they are no longer able to feel soulfully related.  If these minorities are able to contribute substantially enough to be second class members of the newly built temple, they are tolerated and their wealthier brethren are willing to greet them when they sit in the newly established palatial Temple.

From all this we learn that we have learned very little from history; that we continue in our self destructive repetitive course that seems to never cease.

Let us stop running away from place to place; let us recognize when we have a good place to be and to stay in,  that new is not always a panacea, that our brethren, our family, our kin, our fellow Jews are more important than our vanity.  Let us stay in the warm accepting synagogue that we have built and remain with those who count as human beings, worthwhile folk who look for tranquility, inner beauty, values and peace.  Let us be true to ourselves, our Jewish values,  to the ten commandments rather than promoting and following our surface desires. “Vanitas Vanitatum, Omnia Vanitas.” 


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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