Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fond Thoughts Of Munkacs on Channukah


It is hard to look at the Chanuka lights without thinking of people. illuminated by souls, anchored to the wick of a body and yet drawn upward in a perpetual state of tension. "Nishmas adam, ner Hashem". The soul of man is the candle of G-d. Looking at the Chanuka candles draws me to such thoughts.

Part of my ancestry is Hungarian. Marriage has drawn Carpathia into one part of my familial orbit. Carpathia fascinates me. Its local language is a mix of Slavic and Hungarian. Although it currently is in the Ukraine, it has in the past been a part of Austria Hungary. Although its inhabitants are anchored in regional loyalties, it is their borders that have wandered around them.

Munkacs, known also as Munkatch and currently known as Mukachevo is in Carpathia. In Brooklyn and elsewhere are Munkatcher Chasidim. Living in Brooklyn, I had lost my feel for their connection to that town. Fortunately, there is precious video footage of Jews who lived in Munkacs before the war. The footage captures the feel of the Chasidim in the greater social context of a fairly large town in which lived secular Jews, Zionists and "Neolog" (reform) Jews. Many, if not most of the people who appeared in the videos did not survive the war. Although the people in the video come from different social and religious sections of society, I feel a connection to all of them. I have been to family gatherings that spanned the spectrum of religious affiliation and observance.

To me, all of the people in the video are like family to me. I am grateful that some footage remains of their lives on earth. Along with love, I feel an empty echo of the descendants they should have left whose chance at life ended when these people were murdered. It is this sadness, this love and yearning that is my master key to understanding other peoples who have faced genocide and mass murder in this century, from the Tutsi of Rwanda to the Africans of the Sudan who are murdered and enslaved under Arab apartheid. Not a day goes by that I don't think of the sparks of life in Munkacs and elsewhere that were extinguished and dispersed. The drive to kindle lights and lives in their memory is a powerful one.

I have left the room in which my Chanuka lights flicker to face my computer screen and kindle the flame of memory. May we all be blessed with peace and light in this season of Chanukah.

The pictures above were shot by Roman Vishniac in Poland. They show Jews who are hiding from the Endeks, a Nazi like group that was active in Poland before the German occupation of that country.

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