“I have always said that the hardest thing to predict is the future.” This, famously attributed to Groucho Marx and others, was in fact a contribution of Nobel-winning biologist Joshua Lederberg. Notwithstanding Lederberg’s wise locution, Journal Watcher’s foray into futurology this month yields some intriguing gleanings.
I am the grandson of Holocaust survivors and the great-grandson of Holocaust victims, and while I don’t dwell on my ancestors’ significant losses, I am all too aware that their tragic experiences are part of my heritage, and it is important to me to make my life meaningful. For the past 18 years, I have lived in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, a predominantly Orthodox neighborhood. I have always attended Orthodox day schools and graduated from SAR High School in Riverdale this past June.
Although only one Jew remains, Afghanistan was once a peaceful home for Jews.
Sara Y. Aharon
‘You’re from Afghanistan? Is that in South America?”
Such was the comment my surprised grandfather received from one curious and well-meaning New Yorker, decades ago. In this post-9/11 world, it’s hard to remember sometimes that Afghanistan did not always dominate the news. Yet Afghanistan, for me, always held a completely different meaning: the country that my grandparents and their baby boy, my father, eagerly and voluntarily left to start over in the new Jewish state during the 1950s. They eventually made their way to New York in 1964.
Jews have classically fantasized about the future in two different ways: First, for the saintly righteous, our rich mythical literature describes a “world to come” and its purgatorial corollaries. This is the fantasy of deferred gratification; life may be terrible here — especially for those woebegone righteous people! — but something great awaits on the other side. In the words of one rabbinic teaching, this whole world is but a prozdor, a hallway, through which we are passing en route to the majestic banquet hall on the other side.
Diagnosed with cancer, my father decided to have his tongue removed. It’s an extreme treatment, but he’s always known how to make things work out.
I have a good dad. I’m lucky, I know. Not everyone has a good dad. Last week, I went to the hospital with him for a fairly routine test, and the doctors told us that he was going to die. He has an advanced stage of cancer at the base of his tongue. The kind you don’t recover from. Cancer had visited my father four years earlier. The doctors were optimistic then, and he really did beat it.
When the survivors are gone, Holocaust education will lose a powerful tool.
Deborah E. Lipstadt
When I first began teaching the history of the Holocaust in the 1970s I invited a survivor of Auschwitz to speak to my students. It was the first time she had ever spoken publicly about her experiences, and was a profoundly moving moment for her as well as for the students. After that, having witnessed the power of the voice of the person who can speak in the first-person singular, I invited survivors to the class regularly.
What you make of the past you make of the future. My father, who came to America as a boy in 1923, was born in a bucolic Latvian village called Ape, also known as Oppenhof. The members of his family who remained in Ape, including his 81-year-old bubbie, Sarah Gittel, were murdered there by Latvian fascist commandos in 1941. In that same year, my father received his doctorate in Jewish history from Dropsie College in Philadelphia. His field of expertise was the Jews of Christian Spain, a story that ended badly in 1492.
Growing up, I didn’t watch “Star Trek,” but I admit that I liked “The Jetsons.” Much of that 1960s vision of the 21st century has come to be. Recently, I asked some college students about what they imagined the future might look like, and they came up with instant travel, new forms of energy, brain cameras to watch our dreams, a cure for cancer. William Gibson, the novelist who coined the term cyberspace, said, “The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.”