In Exile: Portraits of the Jewish Diaspora, Annika Hernroth-Rothstein draws on her travels to some of the world’s more obscure Jewish communities, from Finland to Cuba to Iran, to paint loving but not uncritical portraits of Jews who are often fiercely committed to preserving their local heritage, despite varied but grave roadblocks. Devorah Goldman, in her review, explores the question at the heart of the book:
In 1925, the Hebrew writer and [future] Nobel laureate S.Y. Agnon published “The Fable of the Goat,” a short story that asks a simple question: when is it time to leave? In the story, a young man and his father own a goat that repeatedly disappears for days at a time, returning with “milk whose taste was as the taste of Eden.” To figure out where she kept going, the youth tied a long rope to the goat’s tail so that he could follow her the next time she left. He ultimately accompanies the goat through a cave to the Land of Israel, and gets stuck there on the Sabbath when he cannot travel. He sends the goat back to his father with a note in the goat’s ear, urging him to join his son in the beautiful new country.
Tragically, the father assumes the worst when he sees the goat return without his son. In a fit of grief, he slaughters the goat, and only afterwards finds the note. He and his son spend the rest of their days apart. The story concludes that, “Since that time the mouth of the cave has been hidden from the eye, and there is no longer a short way. And that youth, if he has not died, shall bear fruit in his old age, full of sap and richness, calm and peaceful in the country of life.”
The animating question in Annika Hernroth-Rothstein’s first book, Exile: Portraits of the Jewish Diaspora, is nearly identical to Agnon’s: should Jews stay or should they go?
Hernroth-Rothstein saw great beauty in many of the places she visited—ornate synagogues, warm homes—but was almost always left with the question of whether these communities would flourish again or simply continue to hang on. As in the Agnon story, there is a poignant sense of missed opportunity.
Read more on American Interest: https://www.the-american-interest.com/2020/04/04/when-to-leave/