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

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary], approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat