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

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war