How Henry Roth Used Ornate English to Imitate Yiddish

A controversy has broken out in the German state of Baden-Württemberg over what many high-school students see as the disproportionate difficulty of the English portion of an important standardized test. Among the questions that provoked exasperation was a sentence from the American Jewish novelist Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep. Paul Berman comments on the irony of the situation:

Call It Sleep is a novel about a little boy growing up on Avenue D and a few other addresses on the Lower East Side a century ago. But it is also a novel about language, the crude and the elegant. When the characters speak crudely, they are speaking an English that, being immigrants, they have not entirely mastered. When they speak with spectacular elegance, we are meant to hear the language that is theirs, which is Yiddish, the language of poetry. And hints of this appear in the narrator’s tone. The passage [from the exam] is not supposed to sound like modern English, or even like archaic English. It is Yiddish poetry, rendered into English.

How could the Germans be expected to know that? How could anyone be expected to know? That kind of double-English—an ostensible English, which is really a Yiddish—scarcely exists anymore. Henry Roth was a master of it; and so was Saul Bellow. But it is gone. And here are the German students being asked to parse a supremely ornate evocation, in English, of the language that, in 1934, was already under a death sentence. And the students are complaining, and their complaint looks reasonable.

Who will understand that, even so, something in their complaint, or perhaps in the exam, is grotesque? Who will understand that, if Henry Roth has become incomprehensible, it is not because his English is sometimes difficult?

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More about: American Jewish literature, Arts & Culture, Germany, Henry Roth, Saul Bellow, Yiddish

To Israel’s Leading Strategist, Strength, Not Concessions, Has Brought a Measure of Calm

Aug. 14 2018

Following a long and distinguished career in the IDF, Yaakov Amidror served as Israel’s national-security adviser from 2011 to 2013. He speaks with Armin Rosen about the threats from Gaza, Hizballah, and Iran:

For Israel’s entire existence, would-be peacemakers have argued that the key to regional harmony is the reduction of the Jewish state’s hard power through territorial withdrawals and/or the legitimization of the country’s non-state enemies. In Amidror’s view, reality has thoroughly debunked this line of reasoning.

Amidror believes peace—or calm, at least—came as a result of Israeli muscle. Israel proved to its former enemies in the Sunni Arab world that it’s powerful enough to fill the vacuum left by America’s exit from the region and to stand up to Iran on the rest of the Middle East’s behalf. “The stronger Israel is, the more the ability of Arab countries to cooperate [with it] grows,” Amidror explained. On the whole, Amidror said he’s “very optimistic. I remember the threat that we faced when we were young. We fought the Six-Day War and I remember the Yom Kippur War, and I see what we are facing today. We have only one-and-a-half problems. One problem is Iran, and the half-problem is Hizballah.” . . .

In all likelihood the next Israeli-Iranian confrontation will be a clash with Amidror’s half-threat: the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hizballah, Iran’s most effective proxy in the Middle East and perhaps the best armed non-state military force on earth. . . . “We should neutralize the military capability of Hizballah,” [in the event of war], he said. “We should not destroy the organization as a political tool. If the Shiites want these people to represent them, it’s their problem.” . . .

“It will be a very nasty war,” Amidror said. “A very, very nasty war.” Hizballah will fire “thousands and thousands” of long-range missiles of improved precision, speed, and range at Israeli population centers, a bombardment larger than Israel’s various layers of missile defense will be able to neutralize in full. . . . This will, [however], be a blow Israel can withstand. “Israelis will be killed, no question,” Amidror said. “But it’s not going to be catastrophic.”

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Lebanon