A 19th-Century Poem Celebrating the Maccabees, and the Jews’ Place in England

In 1839, two young English sisters, Marion and Celia Moss, published a collection of poems whose title boldly identified them as belonging to “the Hebrew nation.” Just nine years prior, a bill intended to give British Jews nearly equal rights to their Gentile compatriots was defeated in parliament. One of the Mosses’ poems memorializes the events in York in the year 1190, when the local Jewish community took refuge in a castle and then committed mass suicide rather than face slaughter or conversion at the hands of a Christian mob. Lauding these Jews’ courage, the poem invokes the Maccabean revolt:

When the Israelites echoed the Maccabees’ cry
As they raised the Asmonean banner on high,
They stayed not to think upon danger or death,
But glorified God with their last fainting breath . . .

Karen Weisman comments:

One of the striking aspects of this poem is that the Moss sisters represent the Jews as embodying England’s most authentic values. What we have in [the first part of the poem] is a description of the English “stately hall” decorated with the proud reminders of English military might, “the sword and buckler on the wall/ Won from the foe in tented field.” But in the hall there are no warriors; the image of the brave English of famed and just valor has given way to the bloodthirsty English swarm, and it is the courageous Jews who are sheltering in the halls of the castle—the very symbol of English stability. With their “jetty” (black) hair and eyes, they don’t look like Englishmen—but they embody genuine English fortitude. . . .

The Jews who die at York Castle will be leaving “in their country’s annals a name/ That will ne’er be erased from the records of fame.” And their country is England. This is a rather remarkable turning of the tables, and a splendid irony: this poem about the moment when Jews were victimized as outcasts implicitly becomes a poem about their rightful belonging to a nation whose glorious history they presume to define.

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More about: Arts & Culture, British Jewry, History & Ideas, Jewish literature, Poetry

Hizballah Prepares for War, and UN Peacekeepers Do Nothing

Dec. 10 2018

According to last year’s UN Security Council Resolution 2373, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)—the peacekeeping force created after the Second Lebanon War to keep both Israel and Hizballah out of southern Lebanon—is authorized “to take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces, and as it deems within its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind.” If anything ought to rouse UNIFIL to action, writes Elliott Abrams, it should be the IDF’s recent discovery and destruction of tunnels dug by Hizballah to move troops into the Galilee:

The existence of these tunnels, dug from precisely the area of southern Lebanon that UNIFIL is meant to patrol, means that this area is indeed “utilized for hostile activities.” What, then, is the meaning of [UNIFIL’s statement in] response that it “will communicate its preliminary findings to the appropriate authorities in Lebanon”? The meaning is that UNIFIL will likely do nothing.

UNIFIL is not supposed to be merely a means of communication, or the Security Council would have bought cell phones instead of paying for a military force. Moreover, there are no “appropriate authorities” in Lebanon; if there were, Hizballah would never have been able to dig its tunnels.

The tunnels are hardly the only brazen Hizballah violation of the Security Council resolutions undertaken right under UNIFIL’s nose. Consider this: Hizballah is blocking roads in southern Lebanon to smooth the path of missiles it is moving into the area. . . . Then there is the village of Gila, just north of the Israeli border, where there is a Hizballah headquarters and according to the Israelis about twenty warehouses with weapons, combat positions, lookout points, and dozens of underground positions. All this was built in an area supposedly patrolled by UNIFIL. . . .

This is a test of UNIFIL and its new commander, [Stefan Del Col, who took over in August]. “Communicating” to “appropriate authorities” is a euphemism for doing nothing at all. Hizballah is preparing for war. UNIFIL is supposed to get in its way. If it cannot hinder Hizballah’s war preparations in any way, and is even ignorant of them, UNIFIL is a waste of time and money.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Lebanon, United Nations