A Two-Century-Old Yiddish Humor Collection

Sept. 9 2016

Published in Vilna in 1823, Hundert un eyne anekdoten (“101 Anecdotes”) is a Yiddish-language collection of what might best be termed light reading. The book’s episodes—the majority of which were translated from French and Polish—are unlikely to strike modern readers as very funny, but were probably meant to be. The YIVO Institute explains:

[The book was published at] a time when there was not that much available to read in Yiddish. The great blossoming of Yiddish literature of the late 19th century was still a couple of generations away, and the most common Yiddish reading matter was the Ts’eynah Ureynah (adaptations of stories from the Bible), other religious books (especially ethical literature), and a few translations of epic tales, such as Elijah Bokher’s oft-reprinted Bove-bukh, first published in 1541.

Herewith, a sample anecdote, set in the 1756 naval battle between French and British forces at Minorca during the Seven Years’ War:

In the war, at Minorca, . . . a huge cannonball shot from the enemy’s cannon hit and completely tore off the right hand of a cannoneer (or an artillery soldier) who was shooting from the vicinity of the cannons. But the soldier fell into a rage and said, “My enemy should be thankful that I only have one hand. Nu, I still have one left.” He “lent a hand” to the lighting of the wick of his cannon and shot at the enemy.

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More about: History & Ideas, Jewish humor, Vilna, Yiddish

For Israelis, Anti-Zionism Kills

Dec. 14 2018

This week alone, anti-Zionists have killed multiple Israelis in a series of attacks; these follow the revelations that Hizballah succeeded in digging multiple attack tunnels from Lebanon into northern Israel. Simultaneously, some recent news stories in the U.S. have occasioned pious reminders that anti-Zionism should not be conflated with anti-Semitism. Bret Stephens notes that it is anti-Zionists, not defenders of Israel, who do the most to blur that distinction:

Israelis experience anti-Zionism in a different way from, say, readers of the New York Review of Books: not as a bold sally in the world of ideas, but as a looming menace to their earthly existence, held at bay only through force of arms. . . . Anti-Zionism might have been a respectable point of view before 1948, when the question of Israel’s existence was in the future and up for debate. Today, anti-Zionism is a call for the elimination of a state—details to follow regarding the fate befalling those who currently live in it. . . .

Anti-Zionism is ideologically unique in insisting that one state, and one state only, doesn’t just have to change. It has to go. By a coincidence that its adherents insist is entirely innocent, this happens to be the Jewish state, making anti-Zionists either the most disingenuous of ideologues or the most obtuse. When then-CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill called last month for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea” and later claimed to be ignorant of what the slogan really meant, it was hard to tell in which category he fell.

Does this make someone with Hill’s views an anti-Semite? It’s like asking whether a person who believes in [the principle of] separate-but-equal must necessarily be a racist. In theory, no. In reality, another story. The typical aim of the anti-Semite is legal or social discrimination against some set of Jews. The explicit aim of the anti-Zionist is political or physical dispossession.

What’s worse: to be denied membership in a country club because you’re Jewish, or driven from your ancestral homeland and sovereign state for the same reason? If anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are meaningfully distinct (I think they are not), the human consequences of the latter are direr.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian terror