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

While Pursuing a Thaw with Israel, Saudi Arabia Foments Anti-Semitism at Home

July 18 2018

For the better part of this century, Jerusalem and Riyadh have cooperated clandestinely to contain Iran’s growing power. The kingdom has also increasingly aimed its diplomatic and propaganda efforts against Qatar, whose funding of Islamist groups—including Hamas—has damaged both Saudi Arabia and Israel. But, writes Edy Cohen, there’s a dark side to Riyadh’s efforts against the enemies of the Jewish state:

The [Saudi cyberwarfare agency’s] Twitter account tweets daily, mostly against Qatar and Iran. It uses anti-Semitic terminology, referring to Qatar as “Qatariel,” a portmanteau of Qatar and Israel, and claiming the [Qatar-sponsored] Al Jazeera network “belongs to the Israeli Mossad.”

“‘The deal of the century’ is a Qatari scheme to sell Palestine to the Zionist entity,’” one tweet reads, while another alleges that the “Zionist” Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the father of [Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, is scheming to divide the Arab states to fulfill the dreams of the “Zionist entity” and Iran. Yet another tweet alleges that Qatar is “trying to destroy the Arab world to serve the enemies of the Muslim world: Israel and Iran.” These statements penetrate deep into the Arab consciousness and increase existing hatred toward Jews and Israel.

The Saudis, then, are playing a double game. Behind the scenes, they send the Israelis the message that Iran is a common enemy and goad them to fight Iran and Hizballah. At home, however, they say the enemy is first and foremost the state of Israel, followed by Iran. Their formula is clear: covert ties with Israel coupled with overt hostility to the Jewish state to satisfy the people, a majority of whom hate Israel.

The Saudi double game is reminiscent of the Egyptian model under President Gamal Abdel Nasser in that dozens of anti-Semitic articles are published daily, while the Israeli populace is not exposed to the phenomenon and the politicians close their ears. Following the signing of the 1994 Oslo Accords, the Palestinians asked Israel for permission to incite “moderately” against the Jewish state for “domestic needs.” This incitement turned deadly and was used as live ammunition for the boycott, sanctions, and divestment movement (BDS). We must not give in and accept the incitement against us, and that is also true when Saudi Arabia is concerned. Incitement translates into action, and that action comes at a price.

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More about: Iran, Israel & Zionism, Qatar, Saudi Arabia