Deep Thought?

2008.Mar.21 Friday · 0 comments

in Life

“We are all in deep thought, hurting, wanting to say something that will help us understand. Whatever we have to say probably pales in comparison to what those who have gone on would say to us.”

– Eugene Habecker, President, Taylor University

Buenos Aires – It’s not all food, wine, and architecture you know. There’s a lot going on here in town that touches on other areas of life as well. There’s an organization here called Yok (street slang for “yo ok”, or “I’m okay”) that sponsors various Jewish cultural programs, learning opportunities, street festivals, and, philosophical debates. I occasionally head out to one or another, they can be quite interesting events. This last week, they sponsored a debate between local rabbi Sergio Bergman and Israeli philosopher and writer Gustavo Perednik – a sort of event I hadn’t tried out, just because of the difficulty of following it in Spanish.

Yok Debate - sergio bergman and gustavo perednik

So, one thing that was noticeably cool for me was that this was the first time I’ve been to something like this, where there’s a fairly rapid back and forth, and the language delves into all sorts of arenas, is that I followed pretty much the whole thing, including the jokes. I don’t think I could have had a conversation like this, but then, I’m not sure I could in English at that pace either. It was also very interesting to see not just how many people were there – a couple of hundred were admitted to the theater where it was held and others were simply turned away because it was packed – but that the attendees ranged from teens to retirees. The topic of the evening “To be Jewish in Argentina Today”. There were four topics in particular that were held up as the focus of the debate on this theme – the security pilons that surround most Jewish temples and cultural centers – “security or symbol?”; cemeteries – “live jewish, die gentile”, referring to the lack of Jewish sections of most cemeteries; mixed marriages; and the Middle East – “war for peace?”.

The format quickly became not so much a debate as a duo of soapboxes – rabbi Bergman objecting the the five minute limit and back and forth between the two of them, claiming that they were not really debating anyway, since they pretty much agreed on everything but just approached things differently (turned out he wasn’t entirely right…) and so they should just talk. The moderator tried to object, pointing out they’d agreed to the format in advance, but was basically met by complete resistance, gave up, and let them each essentially give a series of speeches, one after another. I’m not sure I can boil two hours worth of philosophical speeches down to a few sentences, but…

Bergman’s take on things as I understood them – security of citizens is the responsibility of a country’s government, and that should extend to one and all, and what the Jewish community should be doing is getting the Argentine government to honor that commitment and provide security for everyone, and that any group taking on its own self-defense rather than the other approach is setting a dangerous precedent and heading down a slippery slope towards vigilantism. A similar view seemed to pervade the second topic – that just as cemeteries provide catholic chapels on their grounds here, they ought to provide the jewish equivalent, and, of course, while not an absolute requirement, it would be logistically easier if that were centered in a jewish section of the grounds, and while there exist jewish cemeteries here and there in Argentina, I kind of gathered he felt those were a cop-out, a way of not forcing “regular” cemeteries to live up to their obligations to everyone. On mixed marriages, his point seemed to be that they cause a loss of tradition and faith – that no matter the best intentions of a jewish parent in a mixed marriage, or even an agreement to teach their children in one or both faiths, the chances of the children understanding and/or carrying on the traditions and faith were slim. And, on the middle east, he mostly agreed with his debating partner who had spoken on the topic first, but centered it on the lack of involvement in the local jewish community in things like protests against the Iranian embassy, in followup to the Israeli embassy bombing sixteen years ago – that there was too much passive acceptance here and not enough action. He seems to be quite popular with the locals, I have to say I found his views to be a bit of wishful thinking in a lot of ways, and I found his overall demeanor to be pretty condescending towards the whole event – he spent most of the evening, including during his own speeches, text messaging on his cell, and even took and made a couple of phone calls.

Perednik was a bit of a firebrand – I gather he’s somewhat of a right wing columnist in Israel and a “hard-liner” in support of Israel and its policies. It’s actually sort of surprising that Bergman would have thought they’d agree on all topics. One thing, Perednik’s focus seemed to keep drifting back to Israel, and/or to the global Jewish community – he spent little time talking about anything local. On the topic of security measures, he felt that symbolism and security didn’t need to be separated, that the pilons and any other private security steps were both, and were necessary, and a community needed to defend itself, especially if no one else was doing it for them. He didn’t really touch on cemeteries. On mixed marriage, his view was that mixed marriage, while not a bad thing in itself, was a break in the continuity of the community – basically an end of the line with that person, because it was, at best, a 50:50 proposition, and probably lower odds, that the community line would continue through that family. Most of his time was spent railing on about the problems in the middle east, about the need to support Israel and its government in their approach to things, and in the fight against Islamist regimes (not Islam, he was quite clear he was talking about “2 or 3” countries where an Islamic fanaticism has created terrorist states) – in particular, Iran and Pakistan, and more locally, the support that Hugo Chavez has shown for Pakistan and anti-semitism – an area in particular he felt Argentines need to be approaching with the government here. He was definitely an engaging speaker…

…and then, of course, we got back to the important things in life and went out for pizza…


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