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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.

Read more at Pakn-Treger

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

The Future of a Free Iran May Lie with a Restoration of the Shah

June 25 2018

Examining the recent waves of protest and political unrest in the Islamic Republic—from women shunning the hijab to truckers going out on strike—Sohrab Ahmari considers what would happen in the event of an actual collapse of the regime. Through an analysis of Iranian history, he concludes that the country would best be served by placing Reza Pahlavi, the son and heir of its last shah, at the head of a constitutional monarchy:

The end of Islamist rule in Iran would be a world-historical event and an unalloyed good for the country and its neighbors, marking a return to normalcy four decades after the Ayatollah Khomeini founded his regime. . . . But what exactly is that normalcy? . . .

First, Iranian political culture demands a living source of authority to embody the will of the nation and stand above a fractious and ethnically heterogenous society. Put another way, Iranians need a “shah” of some sort. They have never lived collectively without one, and their political imagination has always been directed toward a throne. The constitutionalist experiment of the early 20th century coexisted (badly) with monarchic authority, and the current Islamic Republic has a supreme leader—which is to say, a shah by another name. It is the height of utopianism to imagine that a 2,500-year-old tradition can be wiped away. The presence of a shah, [however], needn’t mean the absence of rule of law, deliberative politics, or any of the other elements of ordered liberty that the West cherishes in its own systems. . . .

Second, Iranian political culture demands a source of continuity with Persian history. The anxieties associated with modernity and centuries of historical discontinuity drove Iranians into the arms of Khomeini and his bearded minions, who promised a connection to Shiite tradition. Khomeinism turned out to be a bloody failure, but there is scant reason to imagine the thirst for continuity has been quenched. . . . Iranian nationalism . . . could be the answer, and, to judge by the nationalist tone of the current upheaval, it is the one the people have already hit upon.

When protestors chant “We Will Die to Get Iran Back,” “Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, My Life Only for Iran,” and “Let Syria Be, Do Something for Me,” they are expressing a positive vision of Iranian nationhood: no longer do they wish to pay the price for the regime’s Shiite hegemonic ambitions. Iranian blood should be spilled for Iran, not Gaza, which for most Iranians is little more than a geographical abstraction. It is precisely its nationalist dimension that makes the current revolt the most potent the mullahs have yet faced. Nationalism, after all, is a much stronger force and in Iran the longing for historical continuity runs much deeper than liberal-democratic aspiration. Westerners who wish to see a replay of Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 in today’s Iran will find the lessons of Iranian history hard and distasteful, but Iranians and their friends who wish to see past the Islamic Republic must pay heed.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Iran, Nationalism, Politics & Current Affairs, Shah