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.

Read more at YIVO Institute

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


To Undermine Russian and Iranian Influence in Syria, the U.S. Must Go on the Offensive

March 22 2018

When Iranian-lead, pro-Assad forces attacked U.S. allies in Syria last month, they found themselves quickly overwhelmed by American firepower. The incident, writes Tony Badran, makes clear that the U.S. has the capability to push back against the Damascus-Tehran-Moscow axis. By taking a more aggressive approach while working closely with Israel, Badran argues, Washington can at once prevent Russia and Iran from cementing their control of Syria and avoid getting drawn into a wider conflict:

Israeli assets can augment U.S. capabilities considerably. A few days after the skirmish in Deir Ezzour in February, Iran flew a drone into Israeli air space. Israel responded by destroying the Iranian command center at the Tiyas military air base near Palmyra, and then proceeded to bomb a large number of Iranian and Assad-regime targets. The episode again underscored the vulnerability of Iran, to say nothing of the brittle Assad regime. Close coordination with Israel to expand this ongoing targeting campaign against Iranian and Hizballah infrastructure, senior cadres, and logistical routes, and amplifying it with U.S. assets in the region, would have a devastating effect on Iran’s position in Syria.

By going on the offensive, the U.S. will also strengthen Israel’s hand with Russia, reducing Jerusalem’s need to petition the Kremlin and thereby diminishing Moscow’s ability to position itself as an arbiter on Israeli security. For instance, instead of haggling with Russia to obtain its commitment to keep Iran five or seven kilometers away from the Israeli border, the U.S. could adopt the Israeli position on Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and assist Israel in enforcing it. Such a posture would have a direct effect on another critical ally, Jordan, whose role is of high importance in southern Syria and in the U.S. zone in the east.

Assad and Iran are the scaffolding on which the Russian position stands. Targeting them, therefore, undercuts Moscow and reduces its leverage. By merely forcing Russia to respect Israeli and Jordanian needs on the border, the U.S. would undermine Russia’s attempt, more generally, to leverage its position in Syria to make headway into the U.S. alliance system. In addition to adopting a more offensive military posture, the U.S. should also intensify the economic chokehold on Assadist Syria.

Read more at Caravan

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy