Notes From the Old World

Senior Salute: Most likely to use a word like zeitgeist in a regular sentence.


Photo courtesy of Beck Williams.

Beck Williams, Commentary Editor

For as long as I can remember there has been a book on my shelf that looks as though it came from a dusty antiques store or the dingy stacks of a university library. The pages are brittle and yellow, the spine moans when opened and floods the nose with the scent of a foreign time. I’ve not read the book — it’s in Yiddish — but the rudimentary knowledge of Hebrew characters I attained while preparing for my bar mitzvah was enough to make out the name of the author: Sholom Aleichem. 

Solomon Rabinovich, better known by his pen name meaning “peace be with you,” was one of the foremost Yiddish novelists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and his character Tevye has been immortalized in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. Sholom Aleichem’s impact on the Jewish collective identity and national movement was profound during his lifetime, and only grew after six million European Jews (including my Litvak ancestors from whom I inherited the aforementioned book) were murdered by the Nazi regime. Though Sholom Aleichem did not live to see the horrors of the Holocaust, his words echoed off the walls of Treblinka, crept as a whisper through the abandoned shtetl of Shkud, and boomed in the hearts of those who made it out alive.

“No matter how bad things get, you’ve got to go on living, even if it kills you.” The words were salient to the downtrodden Jews of the Pale of Settlement, even more so to those who saw their friends and families carted off to oblivion by the Germans. Though few alive today have seen anything approaching the brutality of the Shoah, Sholom Aleichem’s words are still germane to the world of 2023. To hold our heads high through a pandemic, the most explosive political upheaval in decades, a torrent of school shootings, and the disintegration of collective and individual identities before our very eyes requires the same humorous, willful cognitive dissonance exhibited by Sholom Aleichem and five thousand years of Jews.

You may wonder, reader, why I have chosen to dump freezing water on the lighthearted tradition of Liberator editors sharing memories of their time at the newspaper. I have done so because my Jewish identity and the blessed memories of those who went before have shaped my time at this publication more than even I knew. My very first article published in the Liberator was an expression of my concern with growing anti-semitic trends in American politics. Last quarter, Sholom Aleichem and the memory of the Babi Yar massacre against Ukrainian Jews inspired me to write an article about religious discord and Putin’s invasion, of which I am particularly proud. Jewish philosophy and cultural heritage have informed my writing on social issues dear to me throughout my tenure at the newspaper.

This, I suppose, will be my fondest memory of the Liberator: it has consistently allowed me to partake in the fullness of self-expression, as it has done for the colleagues I have had the pleasure of working with and those who were here before me. I have every confidence that it will continue to provide a stable platform for those who come after me while not letting them leave unchallenged. I believe that, like Sholom Aleichem and the Jewish dream, the esteemed tradition of journalism at LASA and beyond will go on living — it is needed now more than ever. And so I will leave the Liberator with a toast to its bright future: l’chaim, to life!