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A Literary Masterpiece and a Perfect Antidote to Jewish Sentimentalism toward the East European Past

Nov. 14 2017

In his 1940 Yiddish novel “When Yash Arrived” (available in English as Homecoming at Twilight), the Polish-born American author Jacob Glatstein tells the story of a Polish Jew’s return to the land of his birth from the U.S. Dara Horn recommends the book as a way “to repair the damage done to the American Jewish psyche by hundreds of lousy Holocaust novels and school productions of Fiddler on the Roof.” She writes:

American Jews with roots in Yiddish-speaking Europe bear the burden of a past not merely gone but incinerated. The community’s response has been to sanctify these ancestors’ deaths rather than their lives, as though it were our responsibility to recall their murderers’ actions rather than theirs—and thereby to regard these ancestors as holy innocents, trapped in sentimental amber. [As a result, American Jews] are never allowed to view the Jews of pre-Holocaust Europe as adults, as participants in a complex and diverse and contradictory world or, more important, as people who were aware enough to see it coming. . . .

When I call Homecoming at Twilight a masterpiece, the word hardly seems adequate. “Masterpiece” describes Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, a novel about a resort/sanatorium that shelters its diverse guests from the horror about to engulf Europe in World War I. But The Magic Mountain was published in 1924, years after that war ended. Homecoming at Twilight, a novel about a resort/sanatorium that shelters its diverse guests from the horror about to engulf Europe’s Jews, was written before World War II even began. (It wasn’t published until 1940, but it was composed in the mid-1930s.) . . . .

Glatstein’s book is still eerily predictive. From the conversations in this book with and about every type of Polish Jew as they gather at this resort—secular and religious, young and old, Zionists and Communists and Polish patriots alike—we learn just how profoundly all of them sensed their imminent doom, not because they could see the future, but because they could see the past. “They want to destroy us, nothing less,” one character notes of his non-Jewish neighbors early in the book, which, I’ll note again, was written before the first mass murders. “They want to exterminate us, purely and simply. Yes, exterminate us.”

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewry, Arts & Culture, East European Jewry, Jacob Glatstein, Yiddish literature

Why a Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Is Unlikely

Feb. 16 2018

High-ranking figures in the IDF, along with some Israeli and foreign officials, have been warning that economic troubles combined with severely deficient public works could lead to an outbreak of starvation or epidemic in the Gaza Strip; their warnings have been taken up and amplified in sensationalist stories in Western media. Hillel Frisch is skeptical:

The most important factor behind real humanitarian crises—mass hunger and contagious disease—is first and foremost the breakdown of law and order, and violence between warring militias and gangs. This is what occurred in Darfur, Somalia, and the Central African Republic. In such situations, the first to leave are the relief agencies. Then local medical staffs evacuate, along with local government officials and anyone professional who can make it out of the bedlam. The destitute are left to fend for themselves. Hospitals, dispensaries, schools, and local government offices are soon abandoned or become scenes of grisly shootouts and reprisals.

Nothing could be farther from such a reality than Gaza. Hamas, which is the main source of [misleading reports] of an imminent humanitarian crisis, rules Gaza with an iron fist. Few developed democracies in the world can boast the low homicide rates prevailing in the Strip. Nor have there been reports of any closings of hospitals, municipal governments, schools, universities, colleges, or dispensaries. . . .

Nor have there been news items announcing the departure of any foreign relief agencies or the closure of any human-rights organizations in the area. Nor is there any evidence that the World Health Organization (WHO), which rigorously monitors the world to prevent the outbreak of contagious disease, is seriously looking at Gaza. And that is for good reason. The WHO knows, as do hundreds of medical personnel in Israeli hospitals who liaise with their colleagues in Gaza, that the hospital system in Gaza is of a high caliber, certainly by the standards of the developing world. . . .

Hamas, [of course], wants more trucks entering Gaza to increase tax revenues to pay for its 30,000-strong militia and public security force, and to increase the prospects of smuggling arms for the benefit of its missile stockpiles and tunnel-building efforts. How Israel should react is equally obvious. You want more humanitarian aid? . . . Free the two mentally disabled Israelis who found their way into Gaza and are imprisoned by Hamas.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian economy