Trending American

We have come to America. We were refugees ourselves, striving to live within it borders…on the inside.

Some of us came through Mexico.  My grandfather certainly did.   Some came through Ellis Island.

Rabbi Steinberger’s family came through Ellis Island, to Chicago, in 1948. Her mom was born in 1942…at a logger camp in Siberia.  img_1751 Her grandparents were married on the 31st of December in 1939 — in total darkness — in a basement in Poland by a rabbi — and then they walked to Brest, Russia.    She shared pictures of these courageous people.

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Her mom learned to speak English when she was six years old — in day camp.  She spoke Russian, Yiddish, Polish, German…and English.

And then it was 1948…and they were at Ellis Island, in line, waiting for their turn to tell the officers that their final destination was Chicago.

Coming into the Harbor, they passed Staten Island and saw the beautiful Statue of Liberty National Monument…and a poem, by Emma Lazarus, graven on a tablet within the pedestal on which the status stands.

Here is that poem:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame

With Conquering limbs ascribe from land to land;

Here at our sea-washing sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles.   From her beacon-hand

Glows worldwide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips.  “Give me your tired, your poor, 

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-toss to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Here she stands, the poem says, the Mother of Exiles.   Are we not a home to exiles….?  Was that not the promise?   Colossus was the picture of strength.   Of power.  Of protection.

Colossus
Colossus

And America as a community…not just a melting pot — which implies assimilation, but also a fruit salad — which implies careful co-existance among differences…intersectionality?

The dangers of the melting pot — that we would become SO American that we would lose parts of our identity that are so integral to us.

Becoming American…the promise of streets of gold and religious freedom, was a pipe dream.    Becoming American was Trending.   The map itself, though, was not the territory….as explained by Jacob Glatsein in his poem, “Good Night World”, written in America in 1938:

Good Night World

“Good night, wide world.

Big, stinking world.

Not you, but I, slam the gate.

In my long robe.

With my flaming yellow patch

With my proud gait,

At my own command–

I will return to the ghetto.

Wipe out, stamp out all the alien traces.

I grovel in your dirt.

Hail, hail, hail.

Humpbacked Jewish Life.

A ban, world, on your unclean cultures.

Though all is desolate,

I roll in your dust.

Gloomy Jewish Life.

Piggish German, hostile Polack,

Sly Amalek, land of guzzling and gorging.

Flabby democracy, with your cold

Compresses of sympathy.

Good night, world of electrical insolence.

Back to my kerosene, tallowy shadow,

Eternal October, we little stars,

To my crooked alleys, hunchbacked street lamp,

My stray pages, my Twenty-Four-Books,

My Talmud, to the puzzling

Questions, to the bright Hebrew-Yiddush,

To Law, to deep meaning, to right.

World, I stride with joy to the quiet ghetto-light….(….)”

This poem by Glatsein sheds light on the darker side of the new golden land…and in its transformation, the poet finds peace and light even in the chaos and dirt and brokenness of the New World….

“From Wagner’s pagan music — to tune, to humming.

I kiss you, tangled Jewish life.

It cries in me, the joy of coming.”

It was all at once a cool, trending thing to be an American and an embarrassment to be of the old country, to be a Jew.  Countless ‘celebrities’ dropped or augmented their surnames which hinted that they were really Jewish.

Bob Dylan was an artist who did such a thing.   Leonard Cohen, although keeping his surname, was not identified as a Jew…though for both of these particular recording artists…there was work of their which leaked their Judaism…

Here are the lyrics to You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen…

If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame
You want it darker
We kill the flame

Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the help that never came
You want it darker

Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord

There’s a lover in the story
But the story’s still the same
There’s a lullaby for suffering
And a paradox to blame
But it’s written in the scriptures
And it’s not some idle claim
You want it darker
We kill the flame

They’re lining up the prisoners
And the guards are taking aim
I struggled with some demons
They were middle class and tame
I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim
You want it darker

Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord

Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the love that never came
You want it darker
We kill the flame

If you are the dealer, let me out of the game
If you are the healer, I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory, mine must be the shame
You want it darker

Hineni, hineni
Hineni, hineni
I’m ready, my lord

Hineni
Hineni, hineni
Hineni

And our beloved Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman) perhaps outed himself in Blowin’ in the Wind:

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, ’n’ how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, ’n’ how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind How many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, ’n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ’n’ how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, ’n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ’n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

OR PERHAPS Like A Rolling Stone…?

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?
People’d call, say, “Beware doll, you’re bound to fall”
You thought they were all kiddin’ you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin’ out
Now you don’t talk so loud
Now you don’t seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone? You’ve gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street
And now you find out you’re gonna have to get used to it
You said you’d never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He’s not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And ask him do you want to make a deal?

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down and did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain’t no good
You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you
You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain’t it hard when you discover that
He really wasn’t where it’s at
After he took from you everything he could steal

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They’re drinkin’, thinkin’ that they got it made
Exchanging all kinds of precious gifts and things
But you’d better lift your diamond ring, you’d better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

It is, I believe, a dance that we do….a dance between assimilation and particularism, a wanting to belong and wanting to hold on to.  From the time that our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents gave their names to the men at the gates, suitcases in their hands and stones in their bellies….to now…when it is still a time when refugees want to come here and seek REFUGE.     How can we deny this when it is still a time that is Trending American?    Fixing the world has always been our inclination — as Americans…and as Jews.     Overlap.img_1746

Josh Gilstein joined us via Skype from Buenos Aires!
Josh Gilstein joined us via Skype from Buenos Aires!
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