People of the Book?

Gut yor! I’m Evan Tucker.

Before we were Tuckers, we were Ticockis, and before that, we were Charlaps, meaning that my family is descended from King David. The direct founder of our lineage is Yakhya Ibn Yakhya, whose name is an acronym for Khiya, Rosh L’Galut Portugal/Poleen, which means somewhere along the way, I had an ancestor who was a medieval merchant who knew he could sell more goods by exaggerating his yichus.

My story is the story of Pikesville, the story of modern America, the story of modern Judaism — a dream 2,000 years in the making, an unmistakable disappointment in reality. After two millennia without land or prosperity, why now of all eras is every Jew screaming at each other like prosperity will disappear tomorrow?

I don’t need to tell you that many of Pikesville’s most promising kids have moved to more prosperous cities for better
education, jobs and spouses.

If you give anyone enough privilege, nobody but a goy would live among Jews. We’re difficult people at the best of times. At the worst of times? I don’t need to tell you.

In this era of misunderstanding, let’s look at Eycha — the Book of Lamentations, composed by Jeremiah, the Bible’s resident depressive, chanted on Tisha B’Av, a holiday so depressing that day schools tell kids it’s in the summer. If you’re liberal, you’ve been thinking Eycha for two months. If conservative, you’ve been thinking Eycha for eight years. Five chapters, 22 verses in the outer four — representing the 22 letters of Hebrew’s alphabet and 3-times-22 verses in Chapter Three. A perfect book, and a book asking aloud if God stopped caring.

No matter what our beliefs, everyone wonders if Hashem is wroth with America these days. Could it be that we, great among the nations, have become tributary? Whatever our transgressions, we are afflicted for the multitude of them. Our cities, whether by crime or police, are compassed with gall and travail. Seventeen intelligence agencies claim Russia builds against us. Half of America thinks we’re set in dark places; half thinks we’re emerging. Americans wonder if they have become the ridicule of all their country, and never before now has America seemed like an old country of broken bones.You may or not recognize the quotes in there, but if you don’t, read Eycha. You’ll recognize your thoughts in a great text before you even think them. They read us much more than we read them. No matter what our opinions, reading the best words, whether divine or secular, give us more clarity, more wisdom, more strength. Jews and America need more of all three.

In the excruciating Chapter 1, the destroyed Jerusalem becomes a weeping widow – “a menstruous woman… all that honored her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness… she hath seen that the heathen entered her sanctuary… her virgins are afflicted… her filthiness is in her skirts…”  Modern Social Justice Warriors will be tempted to think this writing an archetypal example of the patriarchy trivializing sexual assault by comparing it to the assault of a city. I’d advise them to be slower on the draw – The Bible cannot be The Bible unless all generations find all meanings in it. Remember, if one dares, the statistics (and just statistics because the accompanying stories will make you vomit) of mass rape in the Soviet occupation of Germany, or the Japanese of Manchuria, or the Pakistani of Bangladesh, to realize how easily rape becomes both tool and objective in war. In the 20th century, the widow of Eycha could be tens of millions of widows. For those the near-future terrifies, no literature could be more relevant.

But what bonds particularly me to Eycha is the doubts of Chapter 3. What in the New Testament or the Quran ever allow for such agonizing doubts in the goodness of God? “Surely against me he is turned, he turneth his hand against me all the day… He was unto me as a bear lying in wait… Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth evil and good…”

We chant Eycha on Tisha B’Av, the day of the Hebrew calendar on which both Judean Temples were said to be destroyed. It is the book specifically written for time of historical catastrophe, a book which dares to ask God “Yes, we still believe in Your goodness, but if we interpreted the evidence as it seems, your goodness is anything but apparent.”

Evan Tucker is North Baltimore-based writer and composer. He is the violinist and lead singer of the Yiddish rock band Schmear Campaign and has a monthly podcast, “Tales from the Old New Land,” which is a Jewish version of A Prairie Home Companion. Listen at podomatic.com/podcasts/oldnewland.

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