Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Maskil Remembers Sudilkov

An aerial photograph of Sudilkov taken by the Luftwaffe

Excerpt from an address by Isaac Landman, entitled "A Program for Enlightenment", delivered at a meeting in Atlantic City on June 1, 1942:

"My father was a maskil in a Ukrainian town. He rejected semicha when the time came for his ordination. Vivid in my mind and still searing my heart is the scene when as a boy of seven I witnessed my father’s books—the Bible with the Biur, the works of Maimonides, HaMeassaef, editions of books dealing with profane history and the natural sciences—torn page by page and burnt in the brick oven of my grandfather’s home by what then appeared to me to be a group of wild, bearded, bespectacled, fur beschtreimeled, dancing dervishes. My father in distant America, my mother weeping with unseeing eyes—how I hated them then, God forgive me!

But my father was in America. By design he avoided the American cities where the Jews from Eastern Europe were thickly populated. He had already heard of the pioneers of the Middle West, of Abraham Lincoln. He found his way to Cincinnati, Ohio, and in Cincinnati he discovered Isaac Mayer Wise and Reform Judaism. While still peddling tinware in the hills of Kentucky, after six months he wrote me to stop studying the Talmud and to devote myself to study of the Bible and particularly the prophets. Within two weeks after our family reached American shores, three of his children were enrolled in a Reform religious school in Cincinnati. This maskil, who had rejected his East European Judaism while still in Russia, this Apikoros, had found and worked out a synthesis of Haskalah, and American Jewish. Reform.

And my father was a Zionist. He attended the Second World Zionist Congress and established the first Zionist society west of the Alleghenies. But as an American and as a Reform Jew, he rejected the nationalist phases of the Zionist venture. When his children were of age and self-supporting, he mobilized all his material resources, went to Palestine, opened a clinic for the treatment of trachoma, for which in his medical practice, he had developed a special formula, free to Jews and Arabs. He founded this clinic not under Zionist auspices, because he could not reconcile his Americanism and the Americanism of his children with the wide and wild Zionist propaganda for Diaspora nationalism. He died while on a visit to Cairo, a Reform Jew by conviction, an American by choice."


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