A Place for Water-Carriers to Pray and a Letter from Sholem Aleichem: Lost Jewish Archives Come to New York

Nov. 16 2017

Last month, the YIVO Institute announced that some 170,000 documents and artifacts had been found in Lithuania, remnants of the collection that a group of Vilna Jews had hidden from the Nazis during World War II. A few of these items are now on display in New York. Josefin Dolsten describes some of the most notable:

A communal record book from Lazdijai, Lithuania, 1836. The book, called a pinkas, was written for a Talmud-study association and used to record information about its members, such as births, deaths, and business transactions. It is decorated with ornate illustrations and states that in order to remain part of the group, members must study a full page of Talmud together. . . .

A letter written by Sholem Aleichem from a health resort, Badenweiler, Germany, 1910. The famed Yiddish author had health problems and would spend time in health resorts far away from friends and family. In this note, Sholem Aleichem makes fun of Leon Neustadt, a leader in the Warsaw Jewish community, writing that a biblical verse referring to non-kosher animals . . . actually refers to Neustadt.

An agreement between a water-carrier union and the Ramayles Yeshiva, Vilna, 1857. In the document, the group . . . promises to donate a Torah scroll and raise money to purchase a Talmud set for the prominent yeshiva in exchange for the use of a room for religious services.

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More about: History & Ideas, Jewish archives, Sholem Aleichem, Synagogues, Vilna, YIVO

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East