Saturday, May 19, 2007


For Jens, by special request. :)

Giustino reports snarkily on the opening of a synagogue in Tallinn - Shimon Perez was there for the ceremony, and the President of Israel had come earlier to lay down the cornerstone. (Construction is quick in Estonia today.)

At a Tartu blogger love-in a few weeks back, I was asked about my background; when I replied that I was (half) Yiddish, the others were surprised. Yiddish is a term for Eastern European Jews; I use it because it is a more specific definition. It is difficult to explain to foreigners the uniqueness of a post-Soviet Jewish identity, because it does not necessarily have anything to do with the two widely-known pillars of judaica: religion and Zionism.

All the mythology and conspiracy theories aside, Zionism comes down to a single imperative: Jews must live in Israel. It is partially because of dogma - the return of all displaced Jews to the Holy Land is supposed to be a prerequisite for the coming of the Messiah - but I guess mostly it's because Jews want a homeland, a place where they would not be persecuted. The Zionist movement dates from the 19th century, far predating the Holocaust, but then Jews had been persecuted in Europe before.

As I explained to my fellow Esto-themed bloggers, the Holocaust has given rise to a specific sentiment among people with at least some Jewish self-identification: the 'never again' which refers not to the evil of others, but to the complacency of ourselves. The most disappointing thing is not that so many people died - it's that so many people didn't resist. This cannot be allowed to happen in the future, and so I unquestionably support the existence of Israel, as a Jewish state and as a significant military force; I am sorry for all the suffering Arabs, but Israel acting like a psycho nutter bastard is my own personal guarantee that if a new Hitler emerges, he will get a late-night visit from Mr Craig long before he ever gets to any sort of threatening position.

And yet I have no intention or desire to move to Israel. It was an interesting country to visit, if I get a chance to go back I'll probably take it; but it's not somewhere I would want to live. My home is elsewhere.

The other thing, religion - I'm a militant atheist. Under equal circumstances I'd prefer Judaism to other mainstream religions, because it's mostly based on interpretation by rabbis - authoritative, but fallible; and because unlike others, it includes a loophole for outsiders. The Noahide Laws, which essentially come down to "don't be a dick", will guarantee a non-Jew passage into Heaven. Dogma influences mentality, so having a rule like this buys a religion a lot of credit in my book.

So I'm quite sure I won't be attending the new Temple in Tallinn; I might stop by for a look when I'm in town, but that's about it. Still, I'm very happy it's there.


Jens-Olaf said...

Thank you Flasher_T! I linked to your post and added a photo from a yiddish (?)man, a photo taken by a german officer during WWI. The Germans were overwhelmed by the diversity of people they've met in the Russian Empire then.

space_maze said...

Aside from it being good for Tallinn to have a synagogue again, in general (though I too am a militant atheist), the timing is splending.

You have the Kremlin bitching about how Estonia is a fascist nation and is headed right to a holocaust .. while in Tallinn, you have orthodox jews dancing at the opening of a synaguge, and Shimon Peres (who is not only Shimon Peres, but a nobel peace price laureate) praising the way the government handled matters?


Anonymous said...

I thought about going to the opening ceremony, but decided against it. Not only because I had work to do, but because that brand of Judaism doesn't have much of a place for women. I was a member of a Reform temple in the U.S., but wasn't so thrilled with that, either. The focus was on creating community and social opportunities, which didn't at all feed my mind or spirit. I suppose that's generally my complaint against organized religion, though. Actually, I have lots of complaints against organized religion.

By the way, Yiddish just means Jewish in the Yiddish language (mainly a fusion of Hebrew and German), which was the language of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. I'm thinking about attending the Yiddish Summer Program in Vilnius in August. We'll see... My Estonian studies haven't exactly been going swimmingly.

Giustino said...

So you're a Yiddish Estlander. Awesome.


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