And sometimes I wonder why I feel a kind of affinity with Finnishness. It’s not just the food, though that helps…the Eastern European comfortingly unhealthy fried herrings and boiled or mashed potatoes, which echo the salt beef and latkes of my childhood. But more so it’s the fixed grin, the hardened smile, the sardonic uncontrollable laughter in face of tragedy, the melancholic absurdity expressed and befriended by Tove Jansson and Aki Kaurismäki and of course, Finnish Tango (or should I say just, “tango”?).
And to find a voice for this, try listening if you can to the words of the writer Elie Wiesel, who as a teenager survived Auschwitz but granted survival, that blessing and that curse, testified to the horrors through a torrent of books, including a play, “The Trial of God.”
A group of travelling minstrel’s appear in an inn in seventeenth-century Ukraine, planning to perform a Purim schpiel a traditional play of the biblical Book of Esther, on this most joyful, drunken and raucous of the Jewish festivals. But as Berish, the innkeeper reveals, all the Jews in the village are dead, murdered in a pogrom; only he and his crazed daughter survived. Instead he insists that they perform a different kind of play, a trial. In the dock stands God, though absent. Berish takes the part of the prosecutor.
The story is based on an actual event which Wiesel witnessed in Auschwitz. Three great Jewish scholars assembled a rabbinic court of law to indict the Almighty for allowing the massacre of His children. The verdict was unanimous: God, the Creator of heaven and earth was found guilty of crimes against creation and humanity.
After what Wiesel described as “an infinity of silence” one of the scholars looked at the sky and said, “It’s time for evening prayers.” And the members of the tribunal began to recite the evening service.
What can we do in the face of such horror? What can we say against the din of unbearable silence? Berish the Innkeeper, says this:
I am ready to invite all people to come and eat, drink, sing and celebrate – and together drive away the curse that transforms certain people into killers and others into their victims…And listen to a clown who makes people laugh. And then, I realize that the clown, that’s me.