Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hyman Feldman (December 15, 1905)

“Revolutionary” is a key theme that I think of when I try to characterize my father, Hyman Feldman. He had a strong interest in social and political justice, and he believed that social change for the better would happen through some kind of socialist revolution. His interest in education and science and his commitment to the family were equally strong. Although he hoped that revolution would some day change the things he disliked, he never during my lifetime actively paticipated even in non-violent political action – he said he’d learned his lesson from the McCarthy persecutions.

My father’s ideas on socialism were extremely well thought out. Frustratingly for me as a teenager, he didn’t see any need to rethink his views, but would react to any events or changes in the world by categorizing how the news fit into his existing framework. Yes, I thought he was rigid, though unlike many people with fixed views, he wasn’t negative about other people, and was tolerant of many things, and above all wouldn’t do harm to other people. My experience is that many people with such firm ideas often dismiss the rights or even the humanity of other people who don’t agree, and he never did that.

Wide reading in both his field of mathematics education and general history and culture characterized my father’s interests. At some point, for example, he recommended the novel The Brothers Ashkenazi by I.J.Singer, published around 1936. My father always said he preferred I.J. Singer to his more famous brother I.B. Singer. When I read the book, I could see why: I.J. is political and not nostalgic about mystic Jewish life in Europe.

In The Brothers Ashkenazi Singer makes an explicit comparison between Hassidic Jews around 1900 waiting for the Messiah and radicals waiting for the Revolution — which confirms some of my suspicions about Jewish revolutionaries. Singer’s description of the chaos of the Russian Revolution, which takes place at the end of the book and the end of his characters' lives, is very interesting – a bit parallel to a few of my father’s memories. Many of the themes of the book are quite relevant to understanding life as my father sometimes described it, recollecting his experiences with Germans and Poles and Czars.

Although he celebrated his birthday in December (due to circumstances of his immigrant status) .my father was actually born in the summer of 1905, probably in July. This puts his birthdate just in the middle of the Revolution of 1905 when peasants and others revolted unsuccessfully against the Tsar. I think it highly appropriate that my father, who openly or secretly believed in revolution all his life, was born during a revolution.

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