A Yiddish-Italian Purim “Shpil” in Verse

March 1 2018

On the holiday of Purim, which falls today, there is a longstanding tradition of performing a shpil, or humorous play, based on the story of the book of Esther—in which the heroic title character and her cousin Mordecai thwart the wicked Haman’s scheme to slaughter all the Jews of Persia. Curt Leviant has translated into English a mid-to-late-19th-century Purim shpil from northern Italy, itself an Italian translation of an earlier version in Yiddish. The entire play is in verse, a fact that the author emphasizes repeatedly. Thus, the king of Persia:

You heard my name is Ahasuerus.
Pronounce it, please, as Ah-ha-swear-us.
I declare it all the time:
my name impossible to rhyme.

Chorus: One cannot rhyme a name so long,
Not in poem, shpil, or song.

As Leviant notes, an unusually important role is given to Haman’s wife, Zeresh, who gives the following oration after her husband’s plan has been foiled:

You’re a bunch of anti-goyim,
Jew-bilating on your Purim.
Anti-goyness is a crime
of which you’re guilty all the time.
Don’t like the way I’m being treated.
Once this so-called shpil’s completed
I’ll get even, count on me
and members of my family.

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More about: Italian Jewry, Poetry, Purim, Religion & Holidays, Yiddish

For Israelis, Anti-Zionism Kills

Dec. 14 2018

This week alone, anti-Zionists have killed multiple Israelis in a series of attacks; these follow the revelations that Hizballah succeeded in digging multiple attack tunnels from Lebanon into northern Israel. Simultaneously, some recent news stories in the U.S. have occasioned pious reminders that anti-Zionism should not be conflated with anti-Semitism. Bret Stephens notes that it is anti-Zionists, not defenders of Israel, who do the most to blur that distinction:

Israelis experience anti-Zionism in a different way from, say, readers of the New York Review of Books: not as a bold sally in the world of ideas, but as a looming menace to their earthly existence, held at bay only through force of arms. . . . Anti-Zionism might have been a respectable point of view before 1948, when the question of Israel’s existence was in the future and up for debate. Today, anti-Zionism is a call for the elimination of a state—details to follow regarding the fate befalling those who currently live in it. . . .

Anti-Zionism is ideologically unique in insisting that one state, and one state only, doesn’t just have to change. It has to go. By a coincidence that its adherents insist is entirely innocent, this happens to be the Jewish state, making anti-Zionists either the most disingenuous of ideologues or the most obtuse. When then-CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill called last month for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea” and later claimed to be ignorant of what the slogan really meant, it was hard to tell in which category he fell.

Does this make someone with Hill’s views an anti-Semite? It’s like asking whether a person who believes in [the principle of] separate-but-equal must necessarily be a racist. In theory, no. In reality, another story. The typical aim of the anti-Semite is legal or social discrimination against some set of Jews. The explicit aim of the anti-Zionist is political or physical dispossession.

What’s worse: to be denied membership in a country club because you’re Jewish, or driven from your ancestral homeland and sovereign state for the same reason? If anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are meaningfully distinct (I think they are not), the human consequences of the latter are direr.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian terror