Since his bar mitzvah, back in 1952, my father must have experienced something like this fall: He’d lost his trust in God, rather than his “faith” in God’s existence. Although he could talk the talk of scientific atheism, he probably felt something much closer to betrayal than liberation. That evolution, astronomy, and Jewish history itself seemed to show that God could not have existed did not really excuse Him for not existing. The Covenant had been broken for good. No surprises—but, as he told me, it was the Holocaust that really did it. The good news was that both sides of my family had been spared. And yet, for most others in our situation, such good fortune usually gave rise to the great postwar secular religion of American Jewish gratitude for liberal democracy, to the optimism and confidence found in the novels of Bellow and Philip Roth. For my father, on the other hand, our very luck became part of the case against God, a protest against history. Once my father fell out with God, he sought refuge in a cosmopolitan, European culture that had already ceased to exist when he began to dream about making it his home. What caring being could have permitted both such devastation and my father’s own delusion that a European bohemia could save him? There seemed a peculiar, personal quality to my father’s outrage when he spoke about not just the rottenness of the Germans and the Austrians; the weakness of the French; the stunned complicity of the Judenrat; the painful theodicy of the Hasidim, but also the failure of a whole idea of civilization.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
The ram in the thicket, the stayed hand
The latest installment of Marco Roth's memoir: