Marc Chagall and His Daughter

Aug. 15 2016

Friday was the 22nd anniversary of the death of Ida Chagall, the artist’s only child. While correcting some of the misinformation about Ida found in biographies of her father, Galya Diment discusses the circumstances of her birth and infanthood, her father’s at first ambivalent attitude toward her, and his paintings of her during her early years:

Ida Chagall was born May 18, [1916] in Petrograd, where her parents had moved from their native Vitebsk in the autumn of 1915, after their summer wedding and honeymoon. . . . The severe restrictions against Jews residing in big cities were relaxed during the war years, making it possible for the Chagalls to live in Petrograd legally. They could not, however, escape the general anti-Jewish violence raging in the country. Many unhappy citizens, soldiers among them, found the customary outlet for their frustration by attacking Jews. Chagall claimed that he himself barely escaped being killed one night in such a pogrom and saw other Jews being murdered: “Gunshots. Bodies falling into the water. I run home.” . . .

[At the time] the food situation in Petrograd—because of the catastrophically deteriorating economy of the war years and the increasing difficulty with transportation to this northwestern corner of the vast country—was becoming grimmer by the day. It caused bread riots, many of which would then erupt into anti-Jewish pogroms. Bella was apparently not producing much breast milk, probably due to her own poor diet, while commercial milk was very hard to come by. . . .

When summer came, the family went to a dacha not far from Vitebsk, around Liozno, where Chagall’s parents were originally from and where his grandparents still lived. They went there to make sure that Ida could have milk, they all could improve their health by eating the fruits and vegetables that still grew there in abundance, and so that Chagall could paint.

And paint he did, often on paper and cardboard because there was not enough canvas. In one of the paintings from that summer we see Bella greedily eating strawberries, gathered from the garden in sufficient quantities to fill three large plates, no doubt trying to compensate for the lack of vitamins suffered in wartime Petrograd. Ida, with her face largely blurred, looks on.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Jewish art, Marc Chagall, Russian Jewry, World War I

The Reasons for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Staying Power

Nov. 20 2018

This week, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have narrowly avoided the collapse of his governing coalition despite the fact that one party, Yisrael Beiteinu, withdrew and another, the Jewish Home, threatened to follow suit. Moreover, he kept the latter from defecting without conceding its leader’s demand to be appointed minister of defense. Even if the government were to collapse, resulting in early elections, Netanyahu would almost certainly win, writes Elliot Jager:

[Netanyahu’s] detractors think him Machiavellian, duplicitous, and smug—willing to do anything to stay in power. His supporters would not automatically disagree. Over 60 percent of Israelis tell pollsters that they will be voting for a party other than Likud—some supposing their favored party will join a Netanyahu-led coalition while others hoping against the odds that Likud can be ousted.

Opponents would [also] like to think the prime minister’s core voters are by definition illiberal, hawkish, and religiously inclined. However, the 30 percent of voters who plan to vote Likud reflect a broad segment of the population. . . .

Journalists who have observed Netanyahu over the years admire his fitness for office even if they disagree with his actions. A strategic thinker, Netanyahu’s scope of knowledge is both broad and deep. He is a voracious reader and a quick study. . . . Foreign leaders may not like what he says but cannot deny that he speaks with panache and authority. . . .

The prime minister or those around him are under multiple police investigations for possible fraud and moral turpitude. Under Israel’s system, the police investigate and can recommend that the attorney general issue an indictment. . . . Separately, Mrs. Netanyahu is in court for allegedly using public monies to pay for restaurant meals. . . . The veteran Jerusalem Post political reporter Gil Hoffman maintains that Israelis do not mind if Netanyahu appears a tad corrupt because they admire a politician who is nobody’s fool. Better to have a political figure who cannot be taken advantage of than one who is incorruptible but naïve.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics