An Unknown Yearning by Tom Atwood
Volume 1 , Issue 3 (March, 1988 | Adar, 5748)
friend of my father's, a late Israeli scientist and historian who had left
It seemed that our
guest had observed, over a lifetime, how people separate themselves into
opposed groups based upon such simple differences as hair length. He offered
that this tendency was easy to understand yet tough to resist. Even he, a man
whom we knew in fact to be of profound learning, had felt this phenomenon. Dr.
B (as I shall refer to him) recounted how, after first arriving in
Tie Among Tieless
Psychologically this was not an easy task. He momentarily found himself in the absurd but difficult situation of needing to remove the tie, yet quite sincerely wishing not to, all for the same end. The sparkle in his eye and the story had us chuckling, but the moral was perhaps not so funny. If a tie among tieless peers can generate intense personal feelings of non-acceptance, will people in the world at large ever be able to rise above greater differences?
My father had met
our guest on a business trip to
Memories of Jewish Great Grandmother
memories of Jewish connections relate to my great grandmother, a wizened and
good natured woman whom I, as an infant, had inadvertently nicknamed ?Gander?.
I will never forget her shrunken figure, her white haired visage and steady
gaze. When, in my childhood summers, I visited the old family home in
In later years I
would discover in the attic an old
Her father, Joseph Kornitzer, had been a student at the
Prominence in the Old West
That my great great grandfather was a prominent Jew in the Old West is for me a source of pride. The brass mortar and pestle from his pharmacy sits on a shelf in my home. The house in which my grandfather and mother grew up, with its thick stone-clad walls, large fireplace and indian pottery, was first owned by him.
A sense of some degree of Jewish identity, or at least a sense of empathy with having Jewish origins, has lingered unmistakably beneath the surface throughout my life. It may seem preposterous to some that I should claim such feelings. In trying to share this with Jewish friends, I have been sometimes humored, sometimes accepted. There is something ironic, I think, about this.
As a youngster I was taken on Sundays to an Episcopal church and even went through the motions of confirmation. My strongest memory of those days is of my sister falling off a fence outside the adobe church and landing in a mass of dead prickly pear cactus. My mind quite far from religion, questions of origin were for me matters of prehistoric cave people.
In college I
studied anthropology, which brought my attention back to prehistory and,
eventually, the dawn of civilization in the
In college I spent several months studying at the Goethe Institute in
Before entering a graduate level professional school at NYU, I had been forewarned not to lose heart should I find myself competing with individuals of overwhelming brilliance. Some large portion of these were promised to be Jewish students (so I was advised by my college advisor). I looked forward to the experience.
Struck by the Similarities
At NYU, I had the good fortune to befriend a fellow student who was a cantor and devoutly religious, but with a fiercely world-wise mind. As a child he had memorized pages of the Torah almost effortlessly, a claim of which I have no doubt. He introduced me to his parents, both of whom are camp survivors. He even took me to a service at his Synagogue, at which Idonned a Yarmulke for the first time. On the one hand I was an interested, almost objective observer. On the other hand, so much was familiar.
On that occasion,
some of the people seemed to be praying and even singing out of step with those
leading the service! We were able to come into the synagogue, share a nod or a
few words with others, and leave amidst the goings on, without apparently
arousing any rancorous glance! I marveled at what
appeared to be far more relaxed gathering than I recalled from my childhood
memories of church. A Korean student in
Coincidences Reinforce Sense of Connection
Before graduating, I had the pleasure to attend two Seders, one on behalf of a Soviet refusnik at the school, and one a private family affair. It seems that coincidences have always, reinforced my sense of connection to the Jewish world: I went home to visit my parents and found that the house they had recently moved into has mezuzahs on the entrance doorways; I was hired for my first fulltime job, in New York City, by a man who quipped he liked the fact that my middle name was the same as his first.
Now, some years later, I find that when the news speaks of the latest horrors in the Middle East, or some other item involving Jews or anti-Semitism in this or that country, part of me, inside, listens with a sense of outrage, or shame, or pride, that I can only think is an emotional reflection of the Jewish connections in my life.
When a Jewish friend of mine recently looked up my great great grandfather's name in a book of historical Jewish figures and failed to find a listing, I felt a pang of bitterness. His quizzical look showed that there was no particular significance in not finding a listing. And, I have to admit, it is not something I should have worried about, but for a moment I did. It was as if I had belonged to a club where one would normally wear ties, and because I was not wearing one, I was no longer a member.
[Torn Atwood lives