Saturday, September 04, 2004

Jewish Life in Alsace



Claude Vigée is a Jewish poet who was born in northern Alsace in 1921. During the Nazi occupation, he was active in the Jewish resistance in Toulouse. However, he went into exile in the United States. He earned a doctorate and taught Romance languages. He even taught at Brandeis for eleven years. Eventually, he migrated to Israel where he taught at Hebrew University. Oddly enough, he migrated back to France, where he has lived in Paris since 2001.

Vigée combines reflections on Alsace with those of Judaism in his poetry. Like Yvan Goll, he uses the two to capture interesting features of Alsatian identity--the "in betweenness" that is so difficult to grasp. His linguistic sensibilities could only be described as regionally unique.
That language that we still spoke at home was Judeo-Alsatian, a dialect that is much older than the Yiddish, a dialect derived from medieval Rhenish German and mixed with corrupted Hebrew.

All that changed as country Jews rapidly immigrated to the towns and cities. My parents frequently spoke French, but with servants and clients we "fell back on Alsatian" and, with Jews, we greeted each other with rare vestiges of Judeo-Alsatian. We rarely expressed ourselves in French in a continuous manner; French was mostly the "Sunday language"

At school the dictates of French reigned; German was treated with the same hostility as they were to Alsatian dialect.

High German was taught in the high school like a foreign language. Classical German did not exist naturally. There were only dialects that were called "German".
Vigée has some popularity in France as a writer of regional literature, something remarkable in itself. His works include a novel written in Alsatian dialect. He has actively translated literature from many languages. Most of his poems are in French.

I have been taking quick glances at Le Parfum et la Cendre, a book that Vigée wrote as a reflection of various aspects of his career and life. They appear as self-interviews, Vigée questioning himself and answering his own difficult questions. I translated a biographical excerpt from the book, something that describes Jewish life in Alsace as he experienced. I don't plan any analysis of Vigée's work in the near future, but I find some of his reflections compelling.
I came from a Jewish Alsatian family of the middle class that was very assimilated. My mother’s parents were of modest origins–in fact, they were villagers. It is interesting to note how many of these country Jews in Alsace were not concerned with Zionism, especially since their ancestors were profoundly Jewish (as well as the education that they received). They remained naively rural in their customs. As for my father’s family, they left the country milieu in the 1790s. My mother’s family came to Bischwiller just after the end of the 18th century and became respectable bourgeoisie after the fall of Napoleon I.

Primitive religious sentiments had disappeared by the time I was a child. They were not replaced by Zionism. However, the members of my family remained conscious of being Jewish. These memories were a bit dull, but they survived in a strange fashion: in the family customs that were different from those of the gentiles around us. We were, I think, Jewish because we were neither Catholic nor Protestant in a milieu that was either Catholic or Protestant. Partially emancipated from the synagogue, we were moreover agnostic and confused ... .

In the small towns certain people filled blue boxes for Keren Kayemeth Le'Israel [note: these boxes were used to collect funds for Jewish settlement in Palestine]. However these donation boxes held no deep ideological significance in our eyes. In my father’s house there were never any blue boxes. We saw them in the homes of other Jews who were less assimilated and who observed the mitzvot [commandments] more scrupulously than we. Every year we were dispatched into the streets of Bischwiller by Rabbi Lehmann (who was himself anti-Zionist) in order to empty these blue boxes. For our efforts people gave us “Purim fritters”. The life of most of these families was picturesque. For me it was an opportunity to cast an eye at the interior life of Jews where they lived according to the rhythms of ancient times.

In Strasbourg there were groups of intellectuals who were very active in Zionism. At the time, they dominated high society. Before the rabbi, all the officers of the community, all the members of the Consistory, all the prominent members of the society were certainly not Zionists. Such was French Judaism. Up until the Second World War, Jews were slow and hesitant to recognize the historical realities of the Jewish nation in the modern era. French Jews vied with each other in their zeal to assimilate. Zionism risked making a failure out of the process of assimilation and releasing a last rush of Jewish identity among these pale and distant children of Jacob. Behind this fatal desire to believe in assimilation a need for basic self-confidence was disguised, an absence of respect for the spiritual heritage of Israel.


Read part II: E lapin isch e haâs.

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At 7:35 AM, Blogger Seth Patinkin said...

Dear All,

Seth Patinkin is a Jewish resident of Chicago, Illinois, whom completed his undergraduate studies at Indiana University (Bloomington, Indiana) in 1998 then his PhD in mathematics, with a grant from the National Science Foundation, under the advisement of Nobel Prize Winner John Nash, at Princeton University in 2003.

Mr. Patinkin has been involved in a number of entrepreneurial activities, including the founding two software companies, CUTTR Inc.and Plasoft, Inc. followed by the forming, together with Prof. Leonid Koralov of Princeton University, of a quantitative investment advisor, KPRG LLC, which specializes in short-term numeric predictions of stock price fluctuations. Mr. Patinkin, whom currently works in quantitative finance in Chicago, was recently named to the "30 under 30" list of his undergraduate alma mater, where he studied under a prestigious Wells Scholarship (http://www.bloomingpedia.org/wiki/Seth_Patinkin).

A small footnote to Patinkin's business career includes a small rental business,
consisting of a small number of rental houses in Bloomington, Indiana, which Mr. Patinkin has run since shortly after his college days there.

Starting in Fall 2005, Mr. Patinkin and certain of his Jewish tenants started to suffer an onslaught of overt anti-semitic threats, when it was discovered by City of Bloomington officials that Mr. Patinkin is a person of the Jewish faith. A housing inspector, Kevin Bowlen, uttered numerous epithets in the presence of Patinkin, his former tenant Moshe Berman and Patinkin's wife, Pamela Patinkin.
Subsequently, Mr. Patinkin was told by another housing inspector, Carol Jack, that "[The City of Bloomington] does not like your kind around here." The City of
Bloomington Legal Department, headed by Lisa Abbott, subsequently warned Patinkin's tenants that they would pursue fines and a lawsuit against them for alleged over-occupancy. Patinkin and his tenants responded in kind, producing numerous affidavits, attesting to their compliance with local ordinances.

Patinkin complained of the treatment he and his tenants had received from City of Bloomington officials to the office of Mayor Mark Kruzan in a meeting attended by Rabbi Sue Laikin Shifron in April 2006.

The harassment continued into the 2006-2007 school year, with the City of Bloomington Legal Department actively causing four (4) groups of Patinkin tenants to leave Patinkin's properties, despite full compliance with permit requirements and ordinances, under the guise of tens of thousands of dollars of fines for ordinance violations. The wife of Legal Department head Kevin Robling, Dorothye "Dot" Robling, also happens to be the head of the Student Legal Services department of Indiana University, which specializes in landlord-tenant disputes.

Once the move-outs materialized, Kevin and Dorothye then proceeded to advise Patinkin's former residents that they should seek refund of their security deposits from Patinkin, under the guise of phantom ordinance violations. As if
the vacant houses were not bad enough, Patinkin was soon dealing with the brunt of approximately twelve (12) lawsuits filed by the City of Bloomington and his former tenants in the Monroe Circuit Court.

In an effort to stop the bleeding, Patinkin filed a lawsuit on April 17, 2007, against the City of Bloomington in the Southern District of Indiana (07-cv-00482) for violating his right to equal protection of the law, and a number of other civil rights violations. Carl Lamb, of Indianapolis, is listed as Patinkin's attorney of record. Around the same time, the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Community Relations Council started to investigate the problems
experienced by Patinkin.

It seems that Mr. Patinkin has become the object of the despotism of the local government officials.

Even more disturbing, Patinkin's lawsuit is not unique. Another former Bloomington landlord, Barbara Leonard, also has a case (06-cv-00021) pending in the same district, relating to the improper withholding of a building permit by
the City of Bloomington when it was discovered that a prospective buyer of one of Leonard's commercial properties was a Jewish investor from New York. In an opinion dated March 26, 2007, Hon. John Daniel Tinder overturned a motion to dismiss brought by the City of Bloomington, stating "... the bottom line here is that if [Leonard] was denied a permit because city officials had a specific "ill-intent" towards it, then it was denied the equal protection of the law ... or if the building permit were denied because city officials believed [Leonard]
was going to sell the property to a Jewish developer, then its civil rights were violated and [the City of Bloomington] would be liable."

We encourage you to investigate these facts for yourself. Below are some relevant

contacts:

United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana/Laura A.

Briggs, Clerk
TEL: 317-229-3700
FAX: 317-229-3959

City of Bloomington Housing Department/Lisa Abbott
TEL: 812-349-3420
FAX: 812-349-3421

City of Bloomington Legal Department/Kevin Robling
TEL: 812-349-3426
FAX: 812-349-3441

Student Legal Services/Dorothye Robling
TEL: 812-855-7867

 
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