Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Some Thoughts About a Nasruddin Story

When I used to visit my German Jewish grandparents, it was a world quite different from my own. As soon as I stepped through the door, German was the lingua franca. They were proud of their Jewish ancestry, but a bit ambiguous in conveying to me what it meant. Many of their friends were refugees from the nazis. I had assumed that all were Jewish, but found out later that some were gentiles whose marital and political choices had been displeasing to the Nazi regime.
From my father, I learned to map out a cultural pale of settlement in which those aspects of German political life that were not inimical to Jews. I heard some stories of Germans who made a day in the Reich bearable for Jews. My father always looked uneasy when I spoke too harshly of Germans. It was clear that he considered himself German. He was proud of coming from Berlin, and towards the end of his life told me that he considered himself to be Prussian. He was a study in contradictions, being liberal in many of his political convictions, but old fashioned in his ideas about discipline. He objected to long hair,riots and music on the evening news that sounded like rock and roll. (Although he liked the Beatles and Carly Simon.)
A recurring theme in our conversations during the sixties was "Life is not black and white.
Look for shades of gray."
Looking at the Nasruddin story that follows, I noticed that it was remarkably similar to a Jewish story that I had read years ago. Nasruddin was a comic figure who conveyed wisdom through humour. He is variously thought to be Iranian, Afghan or Turkish.
I think of Mullah Nasruddin because today, sadly, the destructive hatred that once gripped the German nation now is dominant in the Arab world. Good Arabs like good Germans are cowed into silence by the Islamo fascists among them. We Jews have no choice but to defend ourselves.In Ecclesiastes it says that there is a time for peace and a time for war. The Arab governments have made that choice for us.
Even as I reflect on this sad state of hostility, I think back to the cultural pale that existed in our home when I was growing up. When I look at the Nasruddin Story, I think of a more relaxed time in the history of Judaeo Islamic relations when friendly words, melodies and stories may have passed over the divide between us changing with time and distance.
I knew a Rabbi in Boston who was drafted into the Polish Army. He had no choice but to eat non kosher food during the time of his military service. His rov told him that he could eat non kosher meat, as long as he didn't chew the bones. This meant that he should somehow hold himself back from enjoying the non-kosher food.
When I meet those who bore arms in Israel's defense, I see something similar. As sacred as the duty is to defend Jewish lives and Holy Land, I do not see in them revelry in bloodshed. I see a sense of duty that goes against a gentle nature.
When Israelis accidentally kill an Arab child, they apologise. Arabs are seen celebrating in the streets. I am sure that some remain quietly behind closed doors. But those who do not are many, many in number.
I miss the time when stories traveled more freely between the Jewish and Arab worlds. I long for a unity that is based on common love and does not need hatred. Yes, dad I see the shades of grey. I think I finally understand your sadness as Europe faded from your troubled horizon. But your choices were made for you. And our choices were made for us.
Creative Commons Copyright By Magdeburger Joe 2008 Sphere: Related Content

No comments: