Ode to Odessa

April 7 2016

In a humorous and poignant picture of his hometown, newly translated by Val Vinokur, the celebrated Soviet Jewish author Isaac Babel, born in 1894 and executed in 1940 as a victim of one of Stalin’s purges, begins thus:

Odessa is a nasty town. Everybody knows this. Instead of saying “what’s the difference,” over there they say, “what’s the differences,” and also, instead of “here and there,” they say, “hayr and thayr.” But still, it seems to me you could say a lot of good things about this important and most remarkable city in the Russian Empire. Just consider—a city where life is simple and easy. Half of the population consists of Jews, and Jews are people who are sure about a few basic things. They get married so they won’t be lonely, make love so they will live forever, save up money to buy their wives astrakhan jackets, love their offspring because, after all, it’s very good and important to love one’s children. Poor Jews in Odessa can get very confused by officials and official forms, but it isn’t easy to shift them from their ways, their fixed and ancient ways. Shift they will not, and one can learn a lot from them. To a significant degree, it is thanks to their efforts that Odessa has such a simple and easygoing atmosphere.

Read more at Odessa Review

More about: Arts & Culture, Isaac Babel, Jewish literature, Joseph Stalin, Odessa, Soviet Jewry

In the Aftermath of a Deadly Attack, President Sisi Should Visit Israel

On June 3, an Egyptian policeman crossed the border into Israel and killed three soldiers. Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to respond by visiting the Jewish state as a show of goodwill:

Such a dramatic gesture is not without precedent: in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the “Isle of Peace,” a parcel of farmland previously under Israeli jurisdiction that Jordan leased back to Israel as part of the Oslo peace process. In a remarkable display of humanity, King Hussein of Jordan, who had only three years earlier signed a peace agreement with Israel, traveled to the Jewish state to mourn with the families of the seven girls who died in the massacre.

That massacre unfolded as a diplomatic cold front descended on Jerusalem and Amman. . . . Yet a week later, Hussein flipped the script. “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,” Hussein lamented. He told the parents of one of the victims that the tragedy “affects us all as members of one family.”

While security cooperation [between Cairo and Jerusalem] remains strong, the bilateral relationship is still rather frosty outside the military domain. True normalization between the two nations is elusive. A survey in 2021 found that only 8 percent of Egyptians support “business or sports contacts” with Israel. With a visit to Israel, Sisi can move beyond the cold pragmatism that largely defines Egyptian-Israeli relations and recast himself as a world figure ready to embrace his diplomatic partners as human beings. At a personal level, the Egyptian leader can win international acclaim for such a move rather than criticism for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: General Sisi, Israeli Security, Jordan