The World Has Not Changed
The World Has Not Changed
I am named for my grandfather Nathan Zelman, my mother’s father. Although I never knew him, I feel in many ways I am very close to him. I am his namesake – My Hebrew name is Natan and I carry it proudly.
I believe I was imbued with his sense of humor. My Gramma Fay says that sometimes his jokes were too much and when she says it I can see my wife’s expression looking at me. He was a smart man who taught himself to read and write in several languages. He was a religious Jew who put on Tefillin everyday, even after surviving the Shoah.
Above all, he loved his family. He worked in factories and on Chicago’s Maxwell Street in the bitter cold to support his family. He worried for his oldest daughter Luba, who made aliyah and fought for Israel’s independence. He worried for his daughter Helene (my aunt) and his baby Linda (my mother). My mother loves to tell stories about how she would wait for him to come home from a long day of work and how she would run into his arms.
Unfortunately, Papa Nathan passed away when he was still a young man. But he left my 21 year old mother one last gift. At the last High Holidays services he attended, he pointed out a young man in the sanctuary standing next to his parents and told her that he looked like a fine young man. He was right. That man is my father.
This past week was Papa Nathan’s birthday. He would have been 104 years old. The Jewish tradition demands that I remember the anniversary of his death during the Hebrew month of Nissan. However, I think it’s a nice tradition to think of him on his birthday as well – not as a day of mourning but as a day of celebration.
Would Papa Nathan recognize the world of 2015? I think he would.
In spite of all of the funny looking phones and the expensive coffee, I think the world has not changed much since his childhood in Lodz, Poland. He would be unphased by events this week. A famous Jewish singer is banned from performing in Spain because of the BDS movement – sounds a lot like anti-Semitism. World leaders have made a deal to appease an outspoken enemy of the Jewish People and the Western World – sounds a lot like British PM Neville Chamberlain’s great achievement of “Peace in our times” in 1938. I could go on and on, but it’s easier to quote Ecclesiastes, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl. 1:9) True then and true now.
I think Papa Nathan would be surprised and elated that the Jewish State is a player on the world stage. I think he would be so proud of Luba and her family there in Israel. I think Papa Nathan would be impressed that American Jews have achieved so much blessing here in this great country.
On the other hand, I know Papa Nathan would be disappointed to find that American Jews still lack clarity. The Torah is supposed to be a compass, not an excuse. There were American Jews during World War II who believed that good relations with the American government were more important than saving European Jewry. And now their children support Holocaust Museums. The Jewish community needs less museums and we need more protection for living, breathing Jews – here, in Israel, and around the world.
“The world’s not that complicated,” my grandparents used to say to me as a child. The older I grow up the more I know that saying to be true.
Papa Nathan understood the world. He lived a hard life. He lived a meaningful life. I think if he read the Iran deal on the internet he would say that things that seem too good to be true are just that. He’d be right.
Papa Nathan's memory should always be a blessing – for me, my family, and the entire Jewish People.