I, Jew

Image: Madalena Schwartz
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By JORGE LUIS BORGES*

Who has never played with their ancestors, with the prehistory of their flesh and blood?

Like the Druze, like the moon, like death, like next week, the remote past is one of those things that ignorance can enrich – that feed mainly on ignorance. It is infinitely plastic and pleasant, much more useful than the future and requires much less effort. It is the famous season preferred by mythologies.

Who has never played with their ancestors, with the prehistory of their flesh and blood? I do this often, and many times it didn't bother me to think of myself as a Jew. It is a lazy hypothesis, a sedentary and frugal adventure that harms no one – not even Israel's fame, since my Judaism was wordless, like Mendelssohn's songs. Crucible, in its issue of January 30, wanted to praise this retrospective hope and spoke of my “Jewish ancestry, maliciously hidden”.[1] (The participle and adverb leave me amazed).[2]

Borges Acevedo is my name. Ramos Mejía, in a certain note in the fifth chapter of Roses and your time, lists the Buenos Aires surnames of that time, to demonstrate that all, or almost all, “came from Hebrew-Portuguese lineage”. Acevedo appears on that list: the only document of my Jewish intentions, until confirmation of Crucible. However, Captain Honorio Acevedo did precise research that I cannot ignore. They point out to me the first Acevedo who disembarked in this land, the Catalan Dom Pedro de Azevedo, field master, already a settler of “Pago de los Arroyos” in 1728, father and ancestor of ranchers in this province, a man of whom the Anales del Rosario de Santa Fe and os Documents for its history Viceroyalty – grandfather, in short, almost irremediably Spanish.

Two hundred years and I don't get along with the Israelite, two hundred years and the ancestor escapes me. I am grateful for the encouragement of Crucible, but my hope of connecting with the Table of Loaves and the Brazen Sea, with Heine, Gleizer and the ten Sefirot, with Ecclesiastes and with Chaplin is fading.

Statistically, the Hebrews were very few. What would we think of a man from the year four thousand who discovered sanjuaninos[3] everywhere? Our inquisitors seek Hebrews, never Phoenicians, Garamantes, Scythians, Babylonians, Persians, Egyptians, Huns, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Ethiopians, Dardanians, Plaphagonians, Sarmatians, Medes, Ottomans, Berbers, Britons, Libyans, Cyclopes, and Lapiths. The nights of Alexandria, of Babylon, of Carthage, of Memphis, could never generate a grandfather; only to the tribes of the bituminous Dead Sea was this gift granted.

*Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) was an Argentine writer, poet, translator, literary critic and essayist. Author, among other books, of Fictions (Company of Letters). [https://amzn.to/3R7pV8n]

Translation: Josely Vianna Baptista.

Translator's notes


[1] “When responding to some accusations from the magazine Crucible, openly anti-Semitic, Borges wrote this satirical play about his supposed ancestors. Its list of extinct tribes even includes the mythological centaurs. This joke serves to mitigate the more unpleasant implications of the theme. If being Jewish means having had some Jewish ancestor, however remote they may be, then who can be sure in Spain or Portugal of not having at least one great-great-grandfather of that origin? By taking the argument to the point of absurdity, Borges loudly denounces the stupidity of his opponents. There is, however, a factual irony in this futile search. Through his mother's side of the Acevedos (the most Catholic and reactionary family, according to Borges), as well as through his father's side of Borges Ramalho, the mythical Hebrew blood would come to him. Perhaps for this reason, in his later years he dedicated more time to studying the culture and letters of this origin.” (Emir Rodríguez Monegal, Fictionary. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1981, p. 443).

[2] Comment by Jorge Schwartz: “In the magazine Megaphone (April 1934), Jorge Luis Borges responds to Alberto Hidalgo, Peruvian poet and director of the magazine Crucible (an Argentine publication from the first decades of the XNUMXth century aggressively identified with Nazism), which insisted that Borges hid his Jewish ancestry. Among other pearls from Alberto Hidalgo: “We know Borges's literary value, which no one can deny, his moral sordidness, also public, and his Jewish ancestry, maliciously hidden, but poorly concealed, as even his poems have that psalmic accent characteristic of poetry. Hebrew.”

[3] From the Argentine province of San Juan.


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