Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Jew Who Knew

Rudolph Rocker was a German non-Jew who devoted his life to ameliorating the conditions of the working poor Jews in London at the start of the 20th C.

He learned Yiddish so well that he became the editor of the Yiddish Anarchist papers Dos Fraye Vort (The Free Word), Der Arbeiter Freint (The Workers Friend) and Germinal.

For his efforts he was detained by the British for years as an "alien enemy of the state".

Shortly after leading Jewish sweatshop workers to victory in a 1912 strike he recalled:

"As I was walking along a narrow Whitechapel street, an old Jew with a long white beard stopped me outside his house, and said: “May God bless you! You helped my children in their need. You are not a Jew, but you are a man!” This old man lived in a world completely different from mine. But the memory of the gratitude that shone in those eyes has remained with me all these years." THE LONDON YEARS, the last page of Chapter 23 – Workers' Circle. The Great Strike.

In 1912, you may be sure, that an old Jew with a long white beard knew the halakhah.

How many Jews today can honestly say they would do for the Jews what the gentile German Rocker did?

Today, far too many Jews who fancy themselves Orthodox and knowledgeable in Torah would dismiss Rocker as a "sheigitz" or perhaps try to shame him publicly for being an "abominable" Anarchist, or proffer a description of his "touched" personality based on an astrological chart, or throw in his face that his father celebrated Christmas or speculate on his mental state or call him a "freak". (See the Yahoo! group "Tzfat" in order to understand to what I am referring.)

But we all know deep in our heart of hearts that the Jew with the long white beard who was already old in 1912 was the real thing. May God bless him as he blessed those who helped the (secular, Anarchistic) Jews, who he called his children, in their need.

And thank God for a gentile who bothered to learn Yiddish so he could help the Jews, who recorded the words of that old Jew, immortalizing him, so that the voice of true Judaism can still be heard today by Jews like me who yearn to hear it but so very rarely do.

Doreen Ellen Bell-Dotan, Tzfat, Israel

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