A New Novel Tackles Jewish Family and Community—and Prayer

In As Close to Us as Breathing, Elizabeth Poliner covers such familiar ground as love, the Jewish family, and community. But, notes Adam Kirsch, this “unusually perceptive” work also addresses a subject almost entirely absent from American Jewish fiction:

Early in As Close to Us as Breathing, . . . there is a remarkable scene of a group of men praying at a Conservative synagogue’s morning minyan. For eight pages, Poliner follows Mort Leibritsky, a department-store owner in Middletown, Connecticut, as he makes his way through the order of the service. . . . It is not that anything very imposing or grand happens. On the contrary, we see Mort striving for a feeling of transcendence, but then falling back into the internal monologue of memories and anxieties that makes up most of daily life.

The scene is remarkable, rather, because it is so very rare for American Jewish novelists to write about prayer. Of all the genres of American Jewish fiction—the nostalgic and the dysfunctional, the satiric and the elegiac—few have much interest in the prayers that are supposed to define Jewish life and practice. Perhaps that is because prayer gets right to the heart of the contradictions of our Jewish identity, exposing the gap between God as He is imagined in the ancient liturgy and the way most American Jews think about God today. Or perhaps it is because prayer is simply too routine, a duty rather than an encounter. . . .

Spirituality is difficult terrain for American Jewish fiction; family is where the action is. And so it proves for Mort, who says the words of the prayer but is mainly thinking about his father and his son.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish literature, American Jewry, Arts & Culture, Judaism, Literature, Prayer

Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security