October 13, 2005

Everything Is Illuminated

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, is a book that impacted me like no other. The vivid and surreal Jewish characters and the intertwining of tales between two authors, both in their early twenties, one living in NY and the other in Odessa, Ukraine, is inspirational and hilarious. The book is now a movie. Stephen and I checked it out last night. And, although it is very different from the book, it still successfully intermingles past and present in a dreamlike narrative.

Both the book and film allowed me, for the first time, to acknowledge my Jewish Ukrainian heritage, seeing it as something to explore rather than to regret or detest. The contemporary American obsession with continuously rehashing the Holocaust pushes me away from Judaism. Why should I always be filled with a sense of obligation and inevitable guilt – “we shall never forget”. Yes, but can we actually move forward? Foer’s writing touches on this dilemma and helps me transcend the repulsion and instead appreciate my own effort to tie past to present.

Stephen’s curiosity about my Jewish heritage is also quite wonderful. He observes, absorbs and amazingly remembers all kinds of things from films, books and our family traditions. His ability to cull this information, which seems both natural and alien to me, and ask me about connections and meanings, helps me to appreciate what it is to be a modern Jew – especially in Texas. Although I do not practice Judaism I do feel a comfort and acceptance when I meet Jewish people in each new place that I live. It seems that we have a cultural understanding that lies beneath our daily day-to-day living.
Maybe some day I will not have a pit of pain in my heart fueled by so much guilt loaded into me as a child and perpetuated by the American Jewish community which I feel so disconnected from – by choice.