The letters of our thoughts are the ideas present in our mind before they come to realization . . . Thoughts that are, yet not felt . . . The words of the subconscious . . . of the soul . . .


Monday, August 04, 2008

Three on Russians

On Great Russian Thinkers (though possible Russian Anti-Semites)

Solzhenitsyn is no more (article hat tip -Tzemach Atlas)

A Russian Conundrum:

Entering the Synagogue one sees a reception desk with various souvenirs to the left and our tefillin stand to the front and slightly to the right.
In the past tourists would approach the front desk to arrange a brief tour of the building. As such a pile of Yarmulkes could be found on the reception desk for those who wished to cover their heads, as per Jewish tradition.
Now all of this was fine in past times, when there was no tefillin stand; since our coming, however, it became obvious that by placing the yarmulkes on our table, guests would have an additional reason to speak to us . . . thus giving us greater opportunity to establish a relationship.

The problem? When fifty tourists come in, hustled and herded by a cruise ship tour-guide, a certain percentage of yarmulke wearing guests will walk out of the synagogue, their heads still un-doffed, taking their yarmulkes with them to some undisclosed location (hopefully to be used again).
In my eyes nothing serious has transgressed . . . a Jew wearing a yarmulke is never a bad thing.
In the eyes of the reception, however, a yarmulke lost is a serious problem -those things cost money you know . . .
Their solution? Hide all the yarmulkes from us, every last one, that way no on will walk off with the blasted things.
Only in the former CCCP!

On the Special Connection of Russian Jews:

A local Georgian Jew in prayer.

Americans are loud. We're brash and busy, and we like our Judaism that way as well.
Russians also have their bravado . . . but when it comes to religion there is a certain temimus, a certain wholeness of the heart and soul, that we Americans lack. There has been much made in the press about Chabad's success in the Former Soviet Union. Whatever the cause may be, it is in part due no so much to Chabad's own efforts (though the work of those shluchim who tirelessly give their energy and souls to various far sprung communities be they in the shadow of the Kremlyn, in swaths of Chernobyl's destruction, the wastes of Siberia or beyond is to be greatly admired), but rather due to the perception of the locals as to how Judaism ought to be.
No matter what walk of life, what level of personal observance, many of the locals wish to see Judaism in it's pure state -unadulterated by politics and agendas; they want Torahs and Tefillin, Schnaps and Herring, Hebrew and Yiddish.

As such, being an American, and thus gifted with that proud sense of pomp and bombast that our sense of manifest destiny has blessed us with (and it's a good thing, don't doubt me) I immediately noticed the Americans that came in -who else pronounces their A's with such a nasal broadness?
I noticed the Israelis as well -they all had skipper caps and spoke in loud, thick Hebrew, asking questions but not patient enough to hear the answers.
I noticed the Mexican Jews as well; large families sporting spiked hair and Jewish bling - golden stars of David and Chamtzas, proud to be a Jewish minority in Mexico City - the most densely populated city in the world.

I would notice the British and South Africans, the Australians and Italians . . . and the French -how could one forget the French?
But of the Russian Jew, of the local who weathered the fire of Nazism, the ice of Communism, and then the gradual thaw (and resulting chaos) of the fall of a political system so great that none had fathomed that such a day would arrive in our lifetimes . . . of this brave soul, sougerner of the cataclysmic tides of history, of which he sat in the eye of the storm, of him . . . I sadly did not notice.

At first.

But as time has gone by, when I've turned away from the questions of the Americans ('Is there Anti-Semitism?') and the Israelis ('Do You speak Hebrew?' -surprisingly, or perhaps tellingly not so, when they think I am Russian they do not ask me why I have not made the sacred Aliya to Israel), I have noticed the Local Jews, the proverbial Higge Yidden, that come to their synagogue. They come, be they young -clad in western blue-jeans and stylish shirts, or old -with weathered jackets and battered flatcaps or babushkas, and they pray. They take out a book of Psalms, or a Prayerbook, and they sit in the solitude of their synagogue -one that sheltered them during the German siege and bombardment, and was open during the darkest days of Communism.
They pray in silence, the silence of the soul that calls out to G-d not in words, not pompous voices, or even roaring tears, but the utter silence of the soul as it communes with its Creator in a way so deep, so whole and so real, that words, even sacred ones, would pervert it as sacrilegious.

And when they are done, they kiss their prayerbook, tucking it safely aside in the shelves behind the pews, and leave.
I notice them. And I am in awe.

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joshua said...

This last photo is really nice! Did you add in the reflection or just define it? So nice!

Cool post in general - really interesting

Leora said...

Beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing.

chaviva said...

I am in constant awe of you. Your writing is beautiful, the words chosen with an attention to which I aspire. And your photos? Beautiful.

I'm seconds away from throwing all my money into a ticket to travel Russia. Then again, I do have grad school starting soon.

Cheerio said...

beautiful. the photos - the first gave me such a feeling of warmth and devotion, the second two, a sense of clarity and awe.
and the writing - both style and subject were exquisite.

me said...

simply beautiful.

Nemo said...

Is that the Choral Synagogue?

Mottel said...

-Joshua: the reflection is 100% natural, all I did was sharpen the image (and increase the shadow)
In general I only use picasa for editing pictures, which means that what you see is what I saw -save for focal b&w, and the occasional saturation play (which are normally rather obviously enhanced)
-To everyone: Thanks for the kind words!
-Chaviva: You know what they say 'Join Chabad and see the world' . . . operators are waiting for your application :-) You should come out here, but then again you might be needed in grad school.
-Nemo: yes it is.

Nemo said...

Did you delete my comment, or am I dreaming and never actually wrote it?

If I was Davening right now, this would be one of those iffy moments where you say Shmoneh Esreh again because you're so spaced.

But hey, whatever, who cares, wasn't that funny.

Mottel said...

I almost never delete comments -and I definitely did not delete yours. What was it?

the sabra said...

Read this on Roving Rabbis and loved it. said...

Not into mogen Dovids, but the pic of the reflection in the puddle is great! Wish you were here!!!