Thursday, October 15, 2009

Because Inquiring Minds Inquired

Adam asks,

A Friar can be:

"Frei-er", from the Yiddish/German "free", meaning a Jew who has freed himself of his Torah obligations (a heretic, apostate, or more politely, a "secularist")

A Friar can also be a Catholic cleric who dresses in brown robes, takes vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and religious work for a given community.

Here in Israel, a Friar is slang for a sucker, a chump, a gullible person. (I don't know the origin of this).

or, maybe you just cook strings of potatoes at a fast food restaurant.

So, that is my question - what find of "friar" are you?

Though I do enjoy fried potatoes and have always had a soft spot for Fr. Tuck (see my profile image), I have long considered myself quite "Frei" in the classical Yiddish sense. As one friend explained to me, "If you had gotten a better religious education, you'd be considered an apikoros." Since I had none, I can better be thought of as a "child raised by [Gentile] nations [from infancy]," albeit one who has done a fair amount of remedial extra credit work in the decade-plus since discovering Judaism and Jewish history/culture. Anyone that doubts me can check my bookshelves sagging with Judaica. In fact many of the more pseudo-philosophical ramblings on this blog were originally part of a not-very-well-conceived book project I started in college called "Letters from a Frier Yid." Luckily, English happens to love a pun.

Next, Dan over at "OMGwhere'dmyeyesgo!"questions just how much relevance Poland has after all, in response to my Marek Edelman post.

Maybe Poland has indeed became irrelevant after the Ghetto? Simply, there are almost no Jews left there.

I'm not sure that the issue of Jewish relevance is uniquely, or even primarily, determined by one's Jewish population alone. If we're going to be picky, there are three times more Jews in France than in Boston. Does that mean France's Jewish population is three times as important as Boston? Does it devalue the many accomplishments and innovations that Boston's Jewish community has created over the years? Of course not. Nor, for that matter, does the fact that French Jewry is not as notable on the global Jewish scene as Brooklyn's mean that there is something the matter with Judaism in France.

Simply put, Poland is relevant because of its strong historical connection for millions of American Jews. Poland is, for many of us, "the Old Country," and it was the homeland for generations of our people for over 1,000 years. Poland was the site of great yeshivas, of important Jewish social movements, of financial, technological and scientific innovations in the Jewish community, and so on. Poland was not without its warts, but by and large, when people looked for Jewish success stories in Eastern Europe, they looked to Poland.

The past of the last 1,000 years cannot, and should not, be forgotten, ignored or sidelined because of the most recent 70, especially when Poland is undergoing a slow but enthusiastic Jewish revival movement. There are estimated to be tens of thousands of Poles of Jewish descent, (I found a small branch of distant cousins living in southern Poland a few years ago and hope to visit them in the next year or so) many of whom are becoming interested in learning more about their heritage, and more resources are being put into encouraging Jewish culture, community and learning in Poland now than ever before. There are now foreign rabbis coming to Poland to serve congregants there, running the gamut from Chabad to Reform. There are a small number of synagogues (including one in Oswiecim) slowly growing their communities again, as well as more secular-oriented Jewish social clubs and landsmanschaften. All of these are positive developments and a reason to celebrate that, whatever the old men at your Hebrew school or the shul kiddush klatch may have told you, Poland is more than a Jewish graveyard.

Perhaps even more important in a country where Jews are such a small minority of the population, Christian Poles are becoming more and more interested in Jewish culture-- see for instance Krakow's annual Jewish Culture Festival, which attracts thousands of non-Jewish visitors. These developments are significant, and should be encouraged.

The fact that Poland does not have as large a Jewish population as other places or as sexy or exotic an image as the Jews of India or Uganda does not mean that we should pretend that it doesn't still have something to offer to the global Jewish conversation.

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