How many parts does a bicycle have? ‘about 242’, ‘114, but it depends if you count each link in the chain as an individual part’, are just a couple of answers I have heard. It also depends on which kind of bicycle you mean: a mountain bike with disc brakes, a tourer (like mine) with a pannier rack, a time trial bike with additional handlebars for a more aerodynamic position? You get my drift. The numbers don’t always add up, not everyone agrees about what to count, let alone agree a figure. Some people question the need to ask the question at all. Others ask why anyone would ask it in the first place, something along the lines of: ‘what difference does it make, anyway? Like asking why some of us ask such questions, some people don’t understand how people like me can feel guilt for just having been born; how we can relate to the world in such a ‘negative’ way.   So, I want to pick up on this topic – I wrote about in a recent edition; you can read it here:


I was writing about the guilt I feel at just having been born. Judging from readers’ responses I am not alone in suffering such an  existential crisis. What response can there be to overcome these potentially life – threatening feelings? These feelings are a close cousin to the phenomenon of Survivor Guilt, the inversion of the cry of ‘why  me?’ Severe mental health problems and suicide amongst survivors of genocide is not uncommon, as longitudinal studies of  survivors of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide have shown. Furthermore, the variety of stressors for suicide is broad. Jews killed themselves during, and in the immediate aftermath, of Kristallnacht in November 1938. Inmates of concentration camps did so during the Holocaust. And decades afterwards,some  killed themselves as a direct result of Survivor Guilt, Primo Levi’s death in 1983 being perhaps the most well-known example.

the 20th century Jewish theologian, Emil Fackenheim (1916 – 2003), attempted to provide a response to how I feel.   Writing in the 1960s he asserted that an additional commandment should be added to the 613 that the scion of Jewish philosophy, Moses Maimonides (1135 – 1204) enumerated. In his book ‘To Mend the World’ Fackenheim explains his approach:’This [theory] proposes that people of Jewish heritage have a moral obligation to observe their faith and thus frustrate Hitler’s goal of eliminating Judaism from the earth. … we are, first, commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish. We are commanded, secondly, to remember in our very guts and bones the martyrs of the Holocaust, lest their memory perish. We are forbidden, thirdly, to deny or despair of God, however much we may have to contend with him or with belief in him, lest Judaism perish. We are forbidden, finally, to despair of the world as the place which is to become the kingdom of God, lest we help make it a meaningless place in which God is dead or irrelevant and everything is permitted.’

There’s a lot in this passage that merits a response.

We are ‘commanded’ and ‘forbidden’ how to think and act. Judaism is big on commandments, obligations (in Hebrew we use the same word – mitzvah – for commandment/ obligation as we do for good deed.) So in the language of his 614th commandment we must behave in certain ways including active remembrance and prohibiting despair. Well, I’m a practising Jew, religious commandments are central to my practice and help anchor me. But I also know that the 580th commandment as set down by Maimonides, states that we cannot add or take away from the commandments.

Perhaps I can try to meet Fackenheim half way. My Judaism has an energy to it that is independent of its truth of spiritual value, apart even from its moral codes. Even without my belief in an absent God I would still practice ritual commandments such as eating ritual foods on festivals and prayer.

Does that rob Hitler of a posthumous victory? Perhaps the Algerian/French philosopher Albert Camus (1913 – 1960), the only footballer – he played in goal for Racing Universitaire d’Alger – ever to have been awarded the Nobel Prize (for literature, 1957) wrote in ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’: ‘revolt gives life its value.’



Do I want to remember?

The peaceful ghetto, before the raid:

Children shaking like leaves in the wind.

Mothers searching for a piece of bread.

Shadows, on swollen legs, moving with fear.

No, I don’t want to remember, but how can I forget?

Do I want to remember, the creation of hell?

The shouts of the Raiders, enjoying the hunt.

Cries of the wounded, begging for life.

Faces of mothers carved with pain.

Hiding Children, dripping with fear.

No, I don’t want to remember, but how can I forget?

Do I want to remember, my fearful return?

Families vanished in the midst of the day.

The mass grave steaming with vapor of blood.

Mothers searching for children in vain.

The pain of the ghetto, cuts like a knife.

No, I don’t want to remember, but how can I forget?

Do I want to remember, the wailing of the night?

The doors kicked ajar, ripped feathers floating the air.

The night scented with snow-melting blood.

While the compassionate moon, is showing the way.

For the faceless shadows, searching for kin.

No, I don’t want to remember, but I cannot forget.

Do I want to remember this world upside down?

Where the departed are blessed with an instant death.

While the living condemned to a short wretched life,

And a long tortuous journey into unnamed place,

Converting Living Souls, into ashes and gas.

No. I Have to Remember and Never Let You Forget.

Alexander Kimel (1939 – )

This entry was posted in Bi Polar Disorder, Cycling, Depression, Genocide, Holocaust, Mental Health, Poetry, Rwanda, Suicide, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s