The Short History of “I Have a Little Dreidel”

Dec. 30 2016

While the melody is nearly ubiquitous among American Jews, it is by no means ancient, as Albert Stern explains:

Samuel E. Goldfarb penned “I Have a Little Dreidel” (with Samuel S. Grossman) [in the 1920s], while his older brother, Israel Goldfarb, composed [a widely used melody for the Sabbath hymn] “Shalom Aleichem.”. . .

The Goldfarb brothers grew up on the Lower East Side of New York in a family of eleven children that emigrated from Galicia. Samuel was born in 1891, and learned how to read and play music from his brother Israel, who was twelve years his senior. In 1914, Samuel—who was making music in Yiddish theaters and other popular venues—entered into an arranged marriage with Bella Horowitz, from the family that owned Horowitz-Margareten, renowned makers of matzah and Passover products. . . .

While Samuel started out playing piano in theaters, Israel—a graduate of the Institute of Musical Art (now the Juilliard School), the Jewish Theological Seminary, and Columbia University—rose to fame as a noted cantor, and later became the long-serving rabbi at the venerable Kane Street Synagogue in Brooklyn. . . .

“Generally speaking, in America Yiddish music influenced the popular music of Broadway and Hollywood,” said [Samuel Goldfarb’s son, Myron Gordon]. “With these kinds of songs, it was the opposite—it was an American tone being brought into a Jewish context.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: American Jewish History, Hanukkah, History & Ideas, Jewish holidays, Jewish music

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

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Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy