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.

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

The Democrats’ Anti-Semitism Problem Involves More Than Appearances

Jan. 22 2019

Last week, the Democratic National Committee formally broke with the national Women’s March over its organizers’ anti-Semitism and close associations with the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Also last week, however, the Democratic leadership gave a coveted seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee to the freshman congresswoman Ilhan Omar—a supporter of boycotts of Israel who recently defended her 2012 pronouncement that “Israel has hypnotized the world” to ignore its “evil doings.” Abe Greenwald comments:

The House Foreign Affairs Committee oversees House bills and investigations pertaining to U.S. foreign policy, and it has the power to cut American arms and technology shipments to allies. So, while the Democrats are distancing themselves from anti-Semitic activists who organize a march every now and then, they’re raising up anti-Semites to positions of power in the federal government. . . .

There is no cosmetic fix for the anti-Semitism that’s infusing the activist left and creeping into the Democratic party. It runs to the ideological core of intersectionality—the left’s latest religion. By the lights of intersectionality, Jews are too powerful and too white to be the targets of bigotry. So an anti-Semite is perfectly suitable as an ally against some other form of prejudice—against, say, blacks or women. And when anti-Semitism appears on the left, progressives are ready to explain it away with an assortment of convenient nuances and contextual considerations: it’s not anti-Semitism, it’s anti-Zionism; consider the good work the person has done fighting for other groups; we don’t have to embrace everything someone says to appreciate the good in him, etc.

These new congressional Democrats [including Omar and her fellow anti-Israel congresswoman Rashida Tlaib] were celebrated far and wide when they were elected. They’re young, outspoken, and many are female. But that just makes them extraordinarily effective ambassadors for a poisonous ideology.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, BDS, Congress, Democrats, Nation of Islam, Politics & Current Affairs