(An apology to Alexander: by H. Abner)
Nannette and I had Michael Abner and Mark Micklow over for Passover last night, Sat. April 7, 2012.
I should have spent more time reviewing the guidelines of the ceremony and less time in the kitchen. The way the ceremony was led by me probably was just what one would expect from a Southern Baptist Christian that until the past few years did not know a yarmulke from a pair of goulashes. I still cannot pronounce most of the names and none of the Yiddish stuff but I think I get the idea of it all.
As a son of the real South and being raised Christian there is importance to me now to understand that Jesus himself attended Passover each year as a child and then as a man.
The short of it all is that 16 hundred years before Christianity the experiences of a handful of individuals in the Middle East began the formation of a culture of people that became the Jewish people. They had certain attributes that set them apart and that has sustained them through enumerable crises that continue today. They governed themselves with laws and they disciplined themselves with education. In the early times when most humans felt the need to have multiple Gods they believed in just one. Their history records many years of backsliding from the fundamentals which have formed them as a people but ceremonies like this one, the annual Passover, has played a role in maintaining their identity and survivability.
When I was young all the southern communities I knew had at least one department store owned and operated by a Jewish family. I made the assumption that somewhere there was an organization that helped particular families to find and relocate to these places very early on when all of them were not much more than cross roads. A Jewish acquaintance once told me that my understanding was almost disrespectful. Of course I was not disrespectful, just ignorant. He went on to tell me that in order for me to understand how these stores came to be I should read a book named –WHERE THE MULE DIED. This title actually tells the whole economic story for in the early days the Jewish people did know how to load up a wagon load of goods, lets say, in the large north eastern cities and to travel into the remote areas of our young country. Many of them found permanent homes and, yes, many found these homes simply because their mule died and stranded them.
The early, early, Jewish groups, especially in Europe were time and again forced to pack up and leave their homes. When this happened they moved to new communities. In the dark ages this worked to their advantage. They were a people that governed themselves and caused no harm. The lords and land owners of the day saw many benefits here and found ways to make use of them. The wealthy of these days were surrounded by uneducated poor and downtrodden people. This had the benefit that these people were there to do the sweaty work without advancing into an adversary or competitor down the road. A Jewish community on the other hand knew how to keep books which provided control on the economic things and they too did this without becoming competitive. Also, because the Jewish people had been kicked out of so many places they had connections in a much broader territory than a local rich guy. They were able to use these connections to expand the rich guy’s operations. They were able to find funds for the rich guys from places far away. Since the rich guy was probably Christian he could not borrow money on the basis of paying interest. That was forbidden; but not to a Jewish guy. That was known as usury. The two groups found ways to work around this problem.
Later, of course, as the dark ages were overtaken by the enlightenment period the more common people worked their way out of ignorance and poverty and this put them in a competitive way with the Jewish community: often with terrible results – non Christian results.
This essay then is an attempt to be apologetic to our guest of last night and to Alexander. Alexander would have held a proper ceremony. Alexander Milen is Nannette’s father who passed away much too early but before he did he cared extremely well for his family and among that care was the transposing to them the traditions of his and their people. Alexander’s mule did not die in Mount Vernon, Kentucky but somehow he found his way there, and there, he established one of those Jewish stores surrounded by Christians. I wish I knew the whole story. He did not start out from a northern city. He started out from some place in Russia.