Sunday, May 18, 2014

Life and Death

I’m spending the next few days in Israel for JDC’s 100-Year Board meetings, and to run some site visits and briefings. I’m also going to have a chance to see some of my favorite programs in JDC-Israel.

But first – a great lunch with old and new friends here in Jerusalem. And one of the fascinating topics that came up was the subject of graves and burials.

There were Jews in Eastern Europe (and many other places too) who instructed that they should be buried wrapped in the red flag to show their support for socialist ideals. Some of the stories are quite well-known.

But what always fascinated me, and what we discussed today – is that even those who were at the vanguard of the Revolution never gave up on their Jewish identity. Even founders of the Polish Socialists, like Felix Perl, buried in a red flag, grappled with their Jewish identity throughout their lives. And were buried in Jewish cemeteries. Sometimes in separate ‘socialist’ Jewish cemeteries!

It’s a fascinating reminder of how Jewish identity evolved and took on different shapes and formats around the world.
Even in the darkest days of the Soviet empire, of seventy years of religious oppression and the dearth of community life … sparks remained.

You can still see the sparks in the cemeteries. It's a good reminder of the amazing persistence, pluralism and vibrancy in Jewish life. And death.

1 comment:

  1. Dov it was a pleasure to host you. Separate socialist Jewish cemeteries in Latin America are (were, since they no longer exist) a fascinating phenomenon. Yet I am not aware of any such cemeteries under the Soviets. There were Jewish cemeteries for sure, and they were not categorized by ideological affiliation of those who wanted to be buried there. Poland in the thirties, where Joseph Leszczynski passed away, was a parliamentary democracy. I am making an educated guess that in the Soviet Union proper Jews who wanted to be buried in Jewish cemeteries could not care less for the red flag and what it stood for.