Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Last Jew: A Smithsonian Institute Exhibition

I must have been twelve or maybe thirteen years old. The youth group at our temple in Wichita, Kansas was in charge of the Friday night service that Shabbat. Instead of using the Hebrew Union Prayer book they presented a series of skits and monologues dealing with Jewish themes. It is Tina’s that I remember.
Three years older than me, with long blonde hair and a melodious voice, I always looked up to her. As she began speaking I was mesmerized. She was talking as if she were living in the future, well into the twenty-first century. Tina declared herself the last surviving Jew. She pointed out a few still-existing Jewish artifacts surrounding her, a Torah scroll, a menorah, Shabbat candlesticks, and such. As if we were sightseers at the famous Washington museum, Tina explained that the demise of the Jewish people began with the Holocaust and continued with intermarriage. The final blow, she said sadly, was the destruction of the State of Israel. After that Jews from all over the world lost hope.  

After the program was over the congregation gathered in the social hall for Kiddush and cookies, socializing happily with each other. Tina’s dramatic wake-up call of alarm on the state of American Jewry did not seem to affect them for more than a few minutes. The same could not be said for me. I was haunted by her presentation. Although the others might have seen it as an exaggeration of a worrisome trend I saw it as I distinct possibility. Why wouldn’t I? I was well aware that six million Jews had been murdered in the Holocaust. I lived in a small city with a very tiny Jewish population. Over and over the young adults in Wichita became engaged to non-Jews. And it was obvious Israel was surrounded by hostile enemies who wished to destroy her.
I had never liked science fiction books or movies. Not only did looking to the future not interest me, I was also worried by it. I preferred to look at the past and learn from it. My favorite books were historical fiction and biographies. My favorite fantasy was to take a time machine back a century and cross America in a covered wagon with the pioneers.
So, I abandoned worrying about Tina’s scenario. The twenty-first century was not going to be for a long, long time. As I grew older I also abandoned my dream of going back in a time machine. I had learned to appreciate the comforts of indoor plumbing and electricity.
I did become a pioneer of sorts, though. With a husband and five children in tow I left the United States and all that was familiar to make a new life in the Land of Israel. It is a good life for a Jew. Recently, when I was at the Kotel, I suddenly remembered Tina’s skit. How mistaken it was!
Her family and my parents no longer live in Wichita and I have lost track of her. The last I heard she was living in the Rocky Mountains. I wonder what her perspective on world Jewry is from there. Are her children marrying out? Does she listen to CNN and know that most of the world wants to create yet another Arab country committed to the destruction of Israel?  Is she still worried that the Jewish people will disappear from the face of the earth?
From my vantage point at the Kotel I see many, many Jews. I know that there are now more than the emotional number of six million living in Israel. Very few of them are intermarrying. Despite the threat of hostile enemies within and without I am confident that Israel will not be annihilated. Just as HaShem saved us over and over throughout the centuries he will continue to protect us. Thank G-d, the Jewish people are alive and well.


Batya said...

Excellent thought-provoking post, Ester. In the 1950's a widowed aunt moved herself and children from Brooklyn to a poor neighborhood in Florida. When my cousin was beaten up as a Jew, she told the kids they no longer needed to be Jewish, and they no longer lived as Jews. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren don't live as jews and most aren't Jews according to Halacha. so sad

Esther Jacobs said...

What a wonderful story. I must have been gone, because I do not remember that service. It does make you think. Thank you for your wonderful stories. Did you see the great pictures on Facebook Chase Sachs posted. The one of you and your parents really touched me. My love to all. Esther

Ester said...

Esther, Thank you for your comments. You were probably at Case Western then. I did see the pictures and really enjoyed them. Love to all the family on your side of the ocean, Ester