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Jack Eisner: Jews and Trust

by David Yeagley · February 14, 2010 · 20 Comments ·

“I learned not to trust anyone,” said Holocaust survivor Jack P. Eisner. Then he looked me right in the eyes, and said, “…even you.”

This was in the winter of 1998, as we stood in his high Fifth Avenue apparment in New York, looking down over Central Park. We had many talks, as he was orienting me to the very strange world of the Holocaust–in which he was a personal participant, in grave detail.

I was preparing the libretto for the grand opera I would write, based on Jack’s personal story. He was a Polish Jew. The opera would be called simply, Jacek (Ya’-check). I had read his book, The Survivor of the Holocaust (an earlier edition), and I was impressed with certain aspects and incidents. My libretto was all about progressive alienation. That’s what I saw happening to Jack, as his story begins. He was only 13 when the Germans came into Warsaw, Poland (1939). His memory of the circumstances is overwhelming. He found himself often correcting misunderstandings and misrepresentations, no matter how authoritatively they may have been presented.

I had met Jack and his second wife, Sarah, in Caserea, Israel, in 1998. I was there to present a music lecture, and to have a debut of one of my chamber works. Jack was impressed with my music, and had agreed to let me write an opera for him. Jack passed on in 2003, before he produced the opera. He promised me to produced it, as we conversed there in the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota. These were among our last words. I was with him for several days, before he died.


Jack and I, in his hotel room at the Mayo Clinic, 2003.

I have never forgotten the feeling that came over me when, after confiding so much to me of his personal experience, he nevertheless proclaimed a basic distance between himself and the world. Or, should I say, between the Jew and the Gentile? After all, I was a rank heathen, technically speaking. But, I had been taught to observe Sabbath since I was a child. And I had had sabbath dinners with Jack. (In orthodox Jewish culture, that is no small circumstance.) Well, maybe that’s why he said, “even you.”

In a way, I had made myself a servant of his personal narrative. I cherished it. My love for Jack was expressed in a work for oboe and orchestra, called “Ha Nitzol” (The Survivor). This was my memorial to his passing. It was recorded by a young Israeli oboist Meirav Kadichevsky and the Polish National Radio Sympony in 2005, and again by Volodymyr Koval and the Kiev Philharmonic (2006). I tried to express something of the depth of Jack’s personhood. The opening of this symphonic work is how I felt the first time I shook his hand, there in Caserea, on a walk home from the synagogue. It was like the door to another world, a world of profundities, mysteries, and ineffable sorrows. And yet, came somehow with sense of wonderful expectation and a hidden kind of good cheer. Hard to describe, exactly.

So, it affected me, when he said he didn’t or counldn’t trust. “Even you.” Even me. After I had given myself to understanding him. This was no basis for him to trust me. There is an eternal kind of separation, a kind of sacrosant distance. It must be. One must accept it, though. It is a Jewish thing. I was merely a sympathetic observer. Jack knew my Comanche Indian background made me especially atuned to his personal ‘symphony,’ too; but, that still wasn’t a basis for trust.

True, many Indians know the same feeling. Many Indians don’t trust the white man. We have to deal with him, but, we know he is in command, no matter how much space he has left for us, and no matter how much distance we keep between us.

So I understood Jack Eisner’s disposition. I accepted it. I grant each person his kingdom. I can only ask that I be granted mine. We all have our own worlds, anyway, but, it’s just a more pleasant world when we are not persecuted for them, and when we let others have their world, too.

Posted by David Yeagley · February 14, 2010 · 12:32 pm CT · ·

Tags: American Indians · Bad Eagle Journal · Israel · Jews · Race




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20 responses so far ↓

  • 1 MariaAnastasia // Feb 14, 2010 at 1:46 pm   

    I think it depends on the Jew. I experienced some pretty awful antisemitism as a child, from Catholic school girls in the neighborhood who beat me up, cut off my hair and called a “christ killer”. That incident might have turned me against Gentiles forever, but my mother (who was Jewish by birth, while my father was Jewish by conversion) told me, “Those girls did that because they don’t understand their own religion, let alone ours”. My dad then explained that Christianity teaches to love and forgive, not to hate.

    I devoted the rest of my life to studying other religions, while practicing my own. I was determined never to be as ignorant of the religious faiths of others as they were of mine. So you see, G-d turned that childhood incident around for my benefit.

    Half my family is Gentile, because my father was a convert to Judaism. By an interesting quirk, my husband is also a convert to Judaism (he was raised a 7th Day Adventist, so it wasn’t much of a switch for him to convert, apart from the belief in Jesus!)

    So, I am used to being around nonJews in my own family, and I trust them. I also have nonJewish friends whom I trust. Then again, I have never experienced what your late friend, Mr Eisner did. Maybe if I had, I would see things differently.

    But there were many Gentiles who rescued Jews during the Nazi genocide, often at the cost of their own lives or the lives of their loved ones. This is not given enough recognition.

    I have met a number of Jews who really do have a hatred for Gentiles, and after speaking with them I realize they have no real reason to. Sadly, there are some (usually nonreligious) Jews who think that the “best” way to “prove” their Jewishness is by a) hating Gentiles and b) making sure everyone knows they don’t like or believe in Jesus.

    I find this very sad, as a Jew. I defend my Christian family and friends every chance I need to, and I make sure they understand that I fully respect their religion even if I don’t practice it.

    America was founded as a Christian nation, and this too must be respected.

  • 2 Thrasymachus // Feb 14, 2010 at 3:32 pm   

    I have found Huston Smith’s 1958 book “The Religions of Man” a real help in understanding other faiths. Rather than destroy my childhood faith, learning about these others religions–Hinduism, Taoism, Judaism–has strengthened and purified it. I have come to understand religious philosophy from a perspective that is, for me, anyhow, deeper than theology.

    For I must confess: I’m not a theologian by nature, but more of a mystic. So when the ancient Chinese sages talk about the “Holy Way,” it helps me understand the analogous concept in my own faith. All these spiritual geniuses were seeking after Truth. I believe that Ultimate Truth is ONE — a concept called monism.

  • 3 Thrasymachus // Feb 14, 2010 at 3:38 pm   

    An interesting book on religion of a Jewish person to read might be Joachim Wach’s “The Comparative Study of Religions.” Wach was Jewish and a practicing Christian — a descendant of Felix Mendelssohn.

    Like Dr. Yeagley, I am a classical musician and I am studying composition.

  • 4 Thrasymachus // Feb 14, 2010 at 3:47 pm   

    However, I do think that, for the most part, the study of religion per se should be an adult study. In my opinion, this is best persued by the individual at his or her own initiative. I do know that I have not been able to interest friends and relatives in this subject. Some people are afraid that what they think other religions teach may not be the correct understand — the suspect their own ignorance and are afraid to confront it.

  • 5 David Yeagley // Feb 14, 2010 at 3:47 pm   

    MA, I from what I’ve observed, Jewish person can never presume that the Gentile will never turn on him. It is a defense mechanism of ancient origins.

    Being few and unwanted. Being small and despised. This is what’s handed the Jew, born into the world, from the beginning. It doesn’t matter what the contribution they make to the society they live in; it doesn’t matter how long they may know other Gentiles as friends, family friends, etc., the Jew simply cannot affored to forget about the possilibity that, under the right pressure, the Gentile will forsake and turn against the Jews.

    I think this is a valid generalization (if I can use such an obviously tenuous term). I’ve seen this, in Jewish people I have known. They have to be aware, that’s all. Not paranoid, not over-done, but, just aware.

    Groups like the ADL and the ACLU tend to over-do things. This is why I don’t think they really represent the best interests of Jewish people, though they are based on legitimate concerns. Historically demonstrable concerns.

  • 6 David Yeagley // Feb 14, 2010 at 3:49 pm   

    Thras, when I went to Oberlin, then Yale, I was obliged to learn about other faiths. I was very much affected at one point by zen, and the western philosophical cognate, phenomenology. Affected my ideas about perception and consciousness. There are major mind-tricks out there, that are not really religion at all. They are working tricks, however.

  • 7 Thrasymachus // Feb 14, 2010 at 3:52 pm   

    “There are major mind-tricks out there, that are not really religion at all.”

    Yes, interestingly, the 1950 movie version of Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim” makes this point very vividly. Great film!

  • 8 REG // Feb 14, 2010 at 4:22 pm   

    I can relate to the first three comments. I once asked G-d that I know the real Christianity instead of ‘popular Christianity.’ Almost immediately I found myself becoming friends with Jews, who appeared from out of nowhere. Followed by Christians who know the Jewish roots of our religion like Dr. Roy Blizzard of Bible Scholars.com. I have been blessed to know Shony Alex Braun a holocaust survivor who told me his experience of playing the classical violin during the SS meals. And Harry Renek who was part of the Normandy invasion to free Shony and his future wife. Both men can be found on the Internet, Shony has numerous classical albums and Harry wrote books.
    My religious and personal life is so much more richer (and different) as a consequence.

  • 9 Sioux // Feb 14, 2010 at 6:28 pm   

    There is another kind of survivor of the Holocaust, although surely not as numerous. If you haven’t seen the movie, “Defiance,” go out and rent it tomorrow and be amazed. The first half hour is kind of slow, but hang in there — it so worth it! The story of the Bielski brothers from Poland during the same period of Jack Eisner tells the story of choosing another path than what the Nazis had in mind.

  • 10 David Yeagley // Feb 14, 2010 at 6:49 pm   

    I saw The Prisoners of Vilna, years ago, at the Jewish Community Center in Allentown, CT (west of New Haven). There are indeed many different kinds of human experiences ensconced within the Holocaust.

    What to do with the Jew. It is the question the Lord asks every Gentile, I believe. I come at it with great prejudice–having read the Bible first. I don’t know how a person wholly unfamiliar with the Bible would approach the question.

    What has been the Jewish reputation in the world? What’s the word?

    [By the way, the BadEagle.com forums are down. Don't know for how long. Ikonboard, yet again]

  • 11 ajibik // Feb 15, 2010 at 1:13 am   

  • 12 David Yeagley // Feb 15, 2010 at 10:29 am   

    Hmmm. Is there a contradiction there somewhere? Not that contradiction is wrong…

    Is change not possible?

  • 13 steve // Feb 15, 2010 at 10:31 am   

    Maria Anastasia, I am sorry you and other Jews have suffered at the hands of these so called Christians. I believe what you are a victim of is a perversion of our faith called Replacement Theology. Here is the definition: “Replacement Theology – reduced to its simplest form – teaches that the Church has replaced Israel in God’s plan. The term “Replacement Theology” is relatively new and unfamiliar to many people (in some cases, even those who believe in it). Among theologians, the older and more widely used term is “supersessionism.” The Church “supersedes” Israel. Its proponents teach that God has set aside Israel and made the Church “new Israel,” the new and improved people of God. There are many variations within the broad spectrum of Replacement Theology, but two of the main approaches are these: http://www.shema.com/Combating%20Replacement%20Theology/crt-004.php” This is an excellent article and should be read.

    It is my belief that Replacement Theology is the DOCTRINE OF SATAN. Let me explain, God cannot lie and if you believe in Replacement Theology you must believe that all the Old Testament promises, concerning the Jews, are lies. Then you must believe that Jesus lied whenever he testified as to the fulfillment of prophecy, in other words you must believe the Holy Bible is a lie.
    The conservative Christian denominations, you know the ones the liberals hate, are strong defenders of Israel. I find it ironic that most of the denominations comprising the World Council of Churches, believe in Replacement Theology. Ahh, they love to talk about compassion and how we need to world peace, then they stick Israel in the back by sympathizing with the poor down trodden Palestinians or radical Muslims! Do a little research on the World Council of Churches and the interfaith alliances.

  • 14 David Yeagley // Feb 15, 2010 at 11:11 am   

    Unity is just not something we find much of in this world. Ironically, our own egotisms (individual or communal) keep us separated. I think that is the plan, anyway. Unity movements tend to be terrifying, in the end. They lead to centralized government, and tyranny.

    Christianity is not a unified thing. Nor is Judaism, nor even Islam, really.

    The only brotherhood is that of need, desire, hope and fear.

  • 15 Thrasymachus // Feb 15, 2010 at 12:39 pm   

    Rudyard Kipling, in his fine novel “Kim,” has Mabub Ali, the Muslim horse-trader say something to the effect that each faith has merit only in its own country, just as each breed of horse if suited for its own natural territory.

    It is the forced and unnatural mixing of creeds and the breakdown of national barriers that generates increased strife. The multicultural state is, in my opinion, an elitist plan to TAME the populations of the earth, much in the way a wild horse is ‘broken.’

    The purpose? “World peace” and a global economy.

  • 16 David Yeagley // Feb 15, 2010 at 12:48 pm   

    The purpose being—the tyrannical rule of a very few elite over the masses of the world. And it is a few white elite–who have been otherwise unable to attain power to control.

    Let’s be honest: it’s the liberals, the communists, and yes, the global capitalists–with no loyalty to any nation.

  • 17 Thrasymachus // Feb 15, 2010 at 1:36 pm   

    These elites are the ultra-wealthy.

    They want a monetary and political system where they can freely sough money, or capital, anywhere around the world, without any obstacles. It’s all about the love of money and power.

    I’m so glad that at least one conservative can see through the facade of excuses offered by these liberal elites!

  • 18 David Yeagley // Feb 15, 2010 at 1:59 pm   

    They have no understanding of themselves. They are actually in vice. They don’t understand what they’re really doing. They certainly think they know, but, they don’t see it objectively, or morally.

    They are in a state of non-self-control. They are in vice.

    Vice isn’t just sex, drugs, and rock’n'roll.

  • 19 MariaAnastasia // Feb 18, 2010 at 10:42 am   

    There is something I want to say, and I might as well say it here.

    Jews don’t realize how intensely many of their actions and attitudes offend Gentiles. Maybe because I’m genetically half-Jewish and half-Gentile, I can see this more clearly than either full Jews or full Gentiles, but there is a certain “way” that many Jews have (esp. the older generations of Jews) that really annoys the hell out of many Gentiles, and also Jews like me.

    I’m not going to go into detail; I’m sure if you thought about it you’d know what “way” I mean. But it seems to a lot of nonJews that some Jews are always trying to ruin things for everyone else, be it Christmas holidays, Gentile ethnic parades held on Saturdays, many American customs and the like.

    FTR it pisses me off too, and I’m Jewish.

  • 20 pkwrites // Feb 3, 2012 at 3:05 pm   

    I just finished Jack Eisner’s book last night and wow – what a read it was! I had purchased it maybe 20 years ago but was afraid to read it for fear of the graphic violence portrayed against Jews. Finally, after many years, I pulled it out of my bookcase and read it in one week.

    As a Jew growing up in middleclass America, I was always taught to be kind to others and to respect other’s of different relgious backgrounds, but the older generation also had their bias’s. I, however, did not take on their protective stance against Gentiles. In fact, I sought out others who were different and those people became my closest friends.

    I know that some Jews from my early childhood, have stayed close to our faith and I see that as being self-protective. After all, there is a lot of anti-semitism out there and if you look Jewish, you receive a healthy dose of it when you stray from the more enlightened crowds.

    I don’t ‘look’ Jewish, although I am 100%. Like Jack, I have always been able to blend into other cultures with full acceptance. That has been helpful to me in many ways.

    At this point in my life, I wanted to see what my European family (who I never met because they perished in the Holocaust) may have experienced. My grandmother’s family was from a small village in Russia – Shepatovka – which was annialated by pogroms in the early 1900s. My grandfather’s family came from Russia, as well, while my maternal grandparents were from Austria and Latvia.

    I’m glad I picked up Jack’s book and read it. I need to know what my ancestors went through for me to fully appreciate my freedom to practice my faith today in America. My faith is a blend of what I learned from Judaism combined with Native American teachings (which I’ve studied for many years) and some Eastern philosophy.

    I truly appreciate my ability to live in a free and open society, free from war, but I fear that there are movements toward neo-Nazism that are growing in pockets of our country. I think we need to maintain vigilence always and never get too comfortable because history has shown that religious persecution toward Jews has reared its ugly head for thousands of years.

    For me to survive, means embracing the part of me that is Jewish, but also working to educate others that we all have the “right” to our own views on religion. There isn’t just one “right” view. People who believe there is scare me because they practice hatred toward anyone who doesn’t agree with them. Those are the people I don’t trust.

    I’m sad to hear that Jack is no longer with us. What a great man he was!!! Thank you, David, for meeting with him and helping tell his story with music!!!

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