I saw Aaron Lansky speak tonight. He told stories from his book, Outwitting History, and painted lovely images of a vibrant future for Jewish culture. He honored a past with charming and hilarious stories. He sprinkled yiddish phrases throughout. He dusted off the covers of aging books. He brought a sense of yiddishkeit to life for approximately 1 hour. And as he closed his speech with hopeful words and good tidings, I felt angry.
I felt angry that cultural preservation was being neatly packaged and sold to a passive audience. Because it feels incongruous with the reality I generally feel, which is that Jewish life in metro detroit is a giant question mark, and is struggling most because it is most generally enacted as a spectator sport.
And to add insult to injury, I saw my dreams and desires reflected in the visions espoused. I could have felt validated, felt hopeful because an audience was hearing a reputable voice describe the same disconnect I want to repair, prescribe the same rediscovery and re-ignition of culture and history. But, I grumbled… I’m on an island here! I’m lonely! Alone! My passion is meaningless if it is only mine.
And then I made two new friends. Two yiddish enthusiasts, local students… who had just started a yiddish club (in Detroit). I felt my spirits move from sullen to ecstatic. Real people with real shared interest!? Just about the only thing that could make me feel hopeful, standing before me. I keep having to be taught the same lesson: low expectations aside, connection is the only thing worth living for. The more open I remain, the more I seek it out, the better is living.
So, tonight, my yiddish community grew exponentially. From 1 to 3 (and possibly 4). And now, it feels like mir kenen hobn di yiddishkeit do, in Detroit.