Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk



Our Past - Does It Really Matter?


There is an old Ashkenazi phrase: “Fuers Gewesene Gibt der Jud nichts.”  (The Jewish person gives nothing for the past), or simply, the past does not count, has no meaning or is worthless.  These words have duel connotations.  We must strive for the future instead of looking behind us.  On the other hand, what has happened in the past has created the occurrences of today.  An old cliché is that “We learn from history that we have learned nothing from history.” The facts are otherwise: With awareness and normalcy we learn a great deal from history, from the history of the world, the history of humanity and our very own history, and what we did or did not accomplish and who we are.  Our very being, our very personality is a conglomeration of the past.  This is especially true of our Jewish history;  the persecutions, the restrictions, the opportunities, the blessings, the beliefs and the advantages, all viewed together, is who we are.  If we have learned nothing from history we are ignorant and cannot avoid the pitfalls and the lessons of what has gone before.  Our unconscious mind often reminds us of yesteryear through our dreams or the Freudian slips that creep into our thinking or our expressions,  although they may come out in convoluted ways.  Our grandparents are our past, so are our parents and others in our immediate past environment.  How we were trained, the expectations, the beliefs,  the practicing of these beliefs, the culture, our surroundings, the affection we received or lack thereof, are all who we were and who we are today.

If the past is understood we can understand the present, our behaviors, our outlook, and our persona, as well as have a glimpse into other people’s lives to some extent.  Let’s look at a few of the feelings, expressions, and lifestyles of the Jewish or erstwhile Jewish person that we encounter today. Aaron is a well adjusted male whose parents lived in a mid sized American town surrounded by friends both Jewish and otherwise.  He attended a public school in an upper middle class community; attended Sunday school, occasionally attended Synagogue with his doting parents; had a few friends and felt comfortable with himself and his being. For the most part  he knew what to expect and he had a positive outlook on the future.

Rosalyn was a child who was born in Nazi Germany during the times of persecutions.  From a very young age she was taunted and called “dirty Jew” and other more picturesque epithets.  She was beaten up by her classmates and unprotected by Nazi teachers and their sadistic mentalities.  Although she was an outstanding student she received no accolades for her efforts and abilities.  She was eventually sent to a Jewish School, to a distant city, away from her beloved parents.  She suffered a great deal, was homesick and unable to concentrate.  Her loneliness became more pronounced each day. When the hatred became unbearable and the Nazis rounded up all the Jewish men for transportation to concentration camps her father, through the underground, escaped to Belgium and from there to the United States.  By night and fog and much pain and fourteen months later her mother, Rosalyn and her siblings escaped Nazi land for America in a boat that  “sailed” through a “mine filled” endangered ocean.  She became an anxious, ambitious adult, a person who never felt secure.  No matter how many degrees she attained, nor how hard she strove, she never felt good about herself.  She needed to work into old age to  ascertain that she would never starve again.  She never felt accepted and, like all of humanity, she was a product of her past, of her history!

In the times that we are currently living, let us be cognizant of the difficulties that we are facing; that which is occurring today; the giving away of the hard earned funds of those who worked diligently to those who await handouts for expending no energy; the attempt to reduce our beloved America into a socialist state.  Let us make every effort to  do what  we can  do to change that which is unhealthy or damaging in whatever small way that we are able.  Let us vote for the candidates that are on our side, the side of the people who are honest, unprejudiced and just.  Let us consider those hardworking people who do not seek unearned advantages, or the anti-semites who seek to destroy us, fraudulent politicians or persuasive demagogues who, with their diatribe and rhetoric, can achieve their selfish goals without honest efforts.  Let us beware of Hitlerian tactics and continue to learn from our Jewish history, our own history, the history of humanity, and the history of the world.


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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