Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as
parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you regular essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the Torah Queeries online collection, which was inspired by the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible. This week, Michael Sarid sees echoes of Noah’s behavior after the flood among Holocaust survivors – and those who lived through the AIDS crisis.
Imagine that you are alone in the world. A monumental calamity has destroyed life as you knew it.
Your friends and community? Gone.
Your home and possessions? Gone.
Your frames of reference, your very identity? Gone or, at least, forever transformed.
How do you go on? How do you reconstruct a life for yourself? Is there no one to help or guide you? To comfort you when your nightmares of the devastation become unbearable? Why did you survive when so many others perished? Your sense of loss is so overwhelming that you feel paralyzed. You may even feel, perhaps subconsciously, responsible for the destruction.
While the Torah provides scant evidence of the emotional lives of most of its characters, I imagine that Noah must have experienced these feelings after the Great Flood, which wiped out the world as Noah knew it. We can allow ourselves to relate to Noah’s experience, as devastating loss is of course a continuing reality in our world. My thoughts naturally turn to my father, one of the few members of his extended family to survive the Nazi death camps; like many Holocaust survivors, he still bears the scars of his losses 61 years later. I think of myself and my own urban LGBT community during the early years of the AIDS crisis, a time when suffering, death and loss seemed absolute and unrelenting. And I think of my friends who have lived with AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses, and their succession of harsh losses: daily routines, bodily functions, hopes for the future.