Marc Chagall’s Jewish Reality and His Jewish Imagination

Dec. 20 2018

From 1918 through 1922, three great avant-garde Russian artists—Marc Chagall, El Lissitzky, and Kazimir Malevich—worked together at a Soviet art academy in the city of Vitebsk. Two of them, Chagall and Lissitzky, were Jews; both had spent their childhoods in Vitebsk. Reviewing a current exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York City of the works of all three, Shifra Sharlin explains how Chagall was influenced by an emerging, distinctively Jewish style of art, and how he broke with it:

Both Chagall and Lissitzky studied at Yehudah Pen’s art school [in Vitebsk], which opened in 1897, . . . where Yiddish was the language of instruction and no classes met on the Sabbath. Both participated in the ethnographic expedition, organized by [the ethnographer, revolutionary, and playwright] S. An-Sky, to record and collect remarkable examples of Jewish folk art in the Pale. . . . Both got as far away from Vitebsk as soon as they could. Lissitzky was nineteen when he arrived in Darmstadt to study. At twenty-three, Chagall moved to Paris.

Chagall’s early work, before he went to Paris, shows the distinct influence of Pen and An-Sky in his choice of subject matter. Pen encouraged his students to paint scenes from everyday Vitebsk life. [The poet Abram Efros] praised him for his eclecticism, for the way that he combined Jewish “tradition” and modernism.

[Eventually Chagall] left much of that behind. . . . In Chagall’s [later and better-known] paintings, the documentary specificity of Pen’s paintings, and of his own early work, is absent. Viewers could learn little from them about the actual Vitebsk. They could be misled into thinking that it was a shtetl and not a small city with a population of 100,000. . . . Chagall’s paintings neither preserve the details of which Yiddish newspapers Jewish artisans read, as Pen did, nor do they make use of the folk-art elements, as his own and Lissitzky’s earlier work do. And yet, . . . Chagall captured something that has come to be identified with the Jewish spirit.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Jewish art, Marc Chagall, S. An-sky, Soviet Union

Why Israel Pretends That Hamas Fired Rockets by Accident

March 21 2019

Israeli military and political officials have repeated Hamas’s dubious claim that the launching of two rockets at Tel Aviv last week was inadvertent. To Smadar Perry, accepting Hamas’s story rather than engaging in further retaliation is but a convenient, and perhaps necessary, way of aiding Egyptian efforts to broker a deal with the terrorist group. But even if these efforts succeed, the results will be mixed:

The [Israeli] security cabinet has met in Tel Aviv and decided that they would continue indirect negotiations with Gaza. A message was sent to Egypt, whose delegation is going back to Gaza to pass on the Israeli demands for calm. The Egyptians also have to deal with the demands from Hamas, which include, among other things, an increase in aid from $15 million to $30 million per month and an increase in the supply of electricity.

The requests are reasonable, but they do leave a sour taste in the mouth. Israel must ensure that this financial aid does not end up in the pockets of Hamas and its associates. [Israel] also knows that if it says “no” to everything, the Iranians will step in, with the help of their Gazan friends in Islamic Jihad. They are just waiting for the opportunity.

Hamas also must deal with the fallout from a series of massive handouts from Qatar. For when the citizens of the Gaza Strip saw that the money was going to the Hamas leadership, who were also enjoying a fine supply of electricity to their own houses, they took to the streets in protest—and this time it was not Israel that was the focus of their anger. . .

[But] here is the irony. With Egyptian help, Israel can reach understandings for calm with Gaza, despite the lack of a direct channel. . . . In the West Bank, where the purportedly friendlier Fatah is in charge, it is more complicated, at least until the eighty-three-year-old Mahmoud Abbas is replaced.

As evidence for that last statement, consider the murder of two Israelis in the West Bank on Sunday, and the Palestinians who threw explosives at Israeli soldiers at Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem yesterday.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, West Bank