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A Major Novel by a Lithuanian Jewish Writer Finally Finds Its Way to English

Dec. 12 2017

In his autobiographical novel Shtetl Love Song, Grigory Kanovich—a native speaker of Yiddish who writes primarily in Russian and now resides in Israel—tells the story of a child in a Lithuanian shtetl, its occupation by the Soviet Union in 1940, and his flight with his family into the Soviet heartland following the Nazi invasion of 1941. Long an influential work in Russian, the book has now been published in English translation. Mikhail Krutikov writes in his review:

Shtetl Love Song belongs to the genre of homespun shtetl literature which began with [the great 19th-century Yiddish author] Mendele Mokher Sforim’s autobiography, Shloyme ben Khayems. One generation fades and another takes its place; the old country is fading year by year from the Jewish collective consciousness. In its place, the memory of the real shtetl is being replaced by a mythological image. Today’s readers are more interested in fantasies about the shtetl than realistic depictions of its Jewish life. Real shtetlekh, towns with significant Jewish populations spread throughout pre-Holocaust Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, Bessarabia, and more, are barely represented in contemporary Jewish culture. . . .

[This book] may seem sentimental to contemporary Jewish readers, but it has an important role to play in today’s political reality. The post-Soviet republics are continually rewriting their histories with a nationalistic narrative that leaves little room for their Jewish past. While they are aware that it is unacceptable to deny the Holocaust because doing so would threaten relations with Western Europe and the United States, it has become acceptable for them to manipulate the historical reality of the Holocaust for their own purposes, for instance emphasizing their countries’ suffering under the Soviet regime [at the expense of other aspects of World War II]. This approach allows East European nationalists of various stripes to present their [respective] countries as victims of occupation and even genocide. In this way the collaboration of local citizens and “freedom fighters” with the Nazis in murdering Jews can be easily hushed up.

Grigory Kanovich’s novel is so important because there simply aren’t many Jewish voices left which can provide a personal counter-narrative.

Read more at Forward

More about: Arts & Culture, East European Jewry, Holocaust, Jewish literature, Lithuania, Shtetl

Being a Critic of Israel Means Never Having to Explain How It Should Defend Itself

April 23 2018

The ever-worsening situation of Jews in Europe, writes Bret Stephens, should serve as a reminder of the need for a Jewish state. Israel’s critics, he suggests, should reflect more deeply on that need:

Israel did not come into existence to serve as another showcase of the victimization of Jews. It exists to end the victimization of Jews.

That’s a point that Israel’s restless critics could stand to learn. On Friday, Palestinians in Gaza returned for the fourth time to the border fence with Israel, in protests promoted by Hamas. The explicit purpose of Hamas leaders is to breach the fence and march on Jerusalem. Israel cannot possibly allow this—doing so would create a precedent that would encourage similar protests, and more death, along all of Israel’s borders—and has repeatedly used deadly force to counter it.

The armchair corporals of Western punditry think this is excessive. It would be helpful if they could suggest alternative military tactics to an Israeli government dealing with an urgent crisis against an adversary sworn to its destruction. They don’t.

It would also be helpful if they could explain how they can insist on Israel’s retreat to the 1967 borders and then scold Israel when it defends those borders. They can’t. If the armchair corporals want to persist in demands for withdrawals that for 25 years have led to more Palestinian violence, not less, the least they can do is be ferocious in defense of Israel’s inarguable sovereignty. Somehow they almost never are. . . .

[T]o the extent that the diaspora’s objections [to Israeli policies] are prompted by the nonchalance of the supposedly nonvulnerable when it comes to Israel’s security choices, then the complaints are worse than feckless. They provide moral sustenance for Hamas in its efforts to win sympathy for its strategy of wanton aggression and reckless endangerment. And they foster the illusion that there’s some easy and morally stainless way by which Jews can exercise the responsibilities of political power.

Read more at New York Times

More about: Anti-Semitism, Gaza Strip, Israel & Zionism