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 Is in Venezuela to Stay

Feb. 21 2019

In a recent interview, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the presence of Hizballah cells in Venezuela as further evidence of the growing unrest in that country. The Iran-backed group has operated in Venezuela for years, engaging in narcotics trafficking and money laundering to fund its activities in the Middle East, and likely using the country as a base for planning terrorist attacks. If Juan Guaido, now Venezuela’s internationally recognized leader, is able to gain control of the government, he will probably seek to alter this situation. But, writes Colin Clarke, his options may be limited.

A government led by Guaido would almost certainly be more active in opposing Hizballah’s presence on Venezuelan soil, not just nominally but in more aggressively seeking to curtail the group’s criminal network and, by extension, the influence of Iran. As part of a quid pro quo for its support, Washington would likely seek to lean on Guaido to crack down on Iran-linked activities throughout the region.

But there is a major difference between will and capability. . . . Hizballah is backed by a regime in Tehran that provides it with upward of $700 million annually, according to some estimates. Venezuela serves as Iran’s entry point into Latin America, a foothold the Iranians are unlikely to cede without putting up a fight. Moreover, Russia retains a vested interest in propping up [the incumbent] Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and keeping him in power, given the longstanding relationship between the two countries. . . . Further, after cooperating closely in Syria, Hizballah is now a known quantity to the Kremlin and an organization that President Vladimir Putin could view as an asset that, at the very least, will not interfere with Russia’s designs to extend its influence in the Western hemisphere.

If the Maduro regime is ultimately ousted from power, that will likely have a negative impact on Hizballah in Venezuela. . . . Yet, on balance, Hizballah has deep roots in Venezuela, and completely expelling the group—no matter how high a priority for the Trump administration—remains unlikely. The best-case scenario for Washington could be an ascendant Guaido administration that agrees to combat Hizballah’s influence—if the new government is willing to accept a U.S. presence in the country to begin training Venezuelan forces in the skills necessary to counter terrorism and transnational criminal networks with strong ties to Venezuelan society. But that scenario, of course, is dependent on the United States offering such assistance in the first place.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Mike Pompeo, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, Venezuela