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The Benghazi Seder of 1943

April 3 2018

Libya, controlled by Italy at the beginning of World War II, was the scene of intense fighting for the war’s first few years. By the end of 1942, the city of Benghazi, which had changed hands several times, was firmly under British control. The following spring, soldiers from the Jewish Brigade—a unit made up mostly of soldiers from the yishuv fighting under British command—found itself celebrating Passover in Benghazi alongside local Jews, many of whom had been in concentration camps. Rabbi Ephraim E. Urbach, who later became a leading Israeli scholar of ancient Judaism, and who presided over the seder in his role as a military chaplain, described it in his diary—which has survived along with the Haggadah made for the occasion. Chen Malul writes:

Many of the 600 participants of the seder came from far away. During the fighting, the Germans banished the Jews of Benghazi to Tripoli; they only started to return after the British had completely conquered Libya. Jewish Brigade soldiers, [as well as] Canadian, American, British, and Australian soldiers serving in the area, came to celebrate along with the Jewish community.

There were major logistical issues that occurred during the preparations for a war-time seder, the biggest among them being printing enough Haggadot for all the participants. To resolve this issue, the writers and editors confiscated telegrams and other letterheads from the offices of the Libyan authorities. On the backs of these scraps of paper they typed out the [custom-made] text of the Haggadah and copied it with a mimeograph machine. . . .

[T]he [Benghazi] Haggadah ties the historical exodus from Egypt with the Holocaust taking place in Europe, ending in a Zionist declaration. . . . One unique aspect of the Haggadah, in addition to the foreword written by the Jewish soldiers, were the illustrations they added to it. Under the famous line, “Pour out Your wrath upon the nations who do not know You,” the soldiers added an illustration of a fighter plane dropping bombs on an unidentified target. No doubt this was symbolic of the future defeat of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

Read more at The Librarians

More about: Haggadah, Libya, Libyan Jewry, Religion & Holidays, World War II

What U.S. Success in Syria Should Look Like

April 26 2018

Surveying the history of the Syrian civil war, Jack Keane and Danielle Pletka explain that Bashar al-Assad’s brutal rule and vicious tactics have led to the presence in his country of both Shiite terrorists, led by Hizballah and backed by Iran and Russia, and Sunni jihadist groups like Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda. Any American strategy, they argue, must bear this in mind:

The best option is a Syria without Assad, committed to a future without Iranian or Russian influence. This is not a Pollyanna-like prescription; there are substantial obstacles in the way, not least those we have encountered in Iraq. . . . [But] only such a Syria can guarantee an end to Iranian interference, to the transshipment of weapons for Hizballah, and to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction of the kind we saw used at Douma. (Iran has been instrumental in Syria’s chemical-weapons program for many years.) And, most importantly, only such a Syria can disenfranchise the al-Qaeda and IS affiliates that have found a foothold by exploiting the Syrian people’s desperation.

How do we get there? The United States must first consolidate and strengthen its position in eastern Syria from the Euphrates river to the eastern Syrian border. This involves clearing out the remnants of Islamic State, some several thousand, and ultimately eliminating pockets controlled by the Assad regime and Iranian forces in northeastern Syria. This would enable the creation of a control zone in the eastern part of the country as a base from which to build a credible and capable partner that is not subordinate to the Kurdish chain of command, while effectively shutting down Iran’s strategic land bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean. A regional Arab force, reportedly suggested by President Trump’s new national-security adviser, would be a welcome addition. But we should seriously doubt [the Arabs] will participate without American ground leadership and air support.

In western Syria, the United States should rebuild a Syrian opposition force with advisers, weapons, and air power while upping the pressure on Assad and his cronies to select a pathway to a negotiated peace. Pursuing a settlement in Geneva without such leverage over the Assad regime is pure fantasy. Finally, the United States and other Western powers must impede Iran’s and Russia’s ability to be resupplied. Syria’s airfields must be destroyed, and Syria’s airspace must remain clear.

Read more at National Interest

More about: Hizballah, Iran, ISIS, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy