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.”

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

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