A Surrealistic Film Tackles the Ghosts of Poland’s Jewish Past

Sept. 12 2016

The recent Polish-language film Demon, a joint Polish-Israeli production loosely inspired by S. An-Sky’s classic play the The Dybbuk, tells the story of a foreigner named Python who comes to his Polish fiancée’s hometown for their wedding. (The two met while living in Britain.) Upon arriving, he discovers, or believes he discovers, human remains on the estate of his father-in-law-to-be, and is subsequently possessed by the spirit of a local Jewish woman killed during World War II, possibly on the day of her own wedding. J. Hoberman writes in his review:

Demon is more a Polish than a Jewish story. The land where Python finds himself is variously visualized as a massive construction site, in which things seem more likely to be buried than excavated, and a mysterious ruin wherein revelers reenact intricate folk rituals. . . .

An-Sky’s play is the ur-text for a tendency in Jewish art and literature that the Yiddish scholar Jeffrey Shandler has called “haunted modernism.” Literary examples include [the works of] Franz Kafka, Bruno Schulz, and Isaac Bashevis Singer; the best-known painters [to exhibit this tendency] are Marc Chagall and Natan Altman who, at least in their early work, were possessed by an uncanny past. Even before the Holocaust, the displacement and violent destruction of an ancient collective past prompted many writers, artists, and performers to view the vanished or vanishing traditional communities in which they originated as essentially ghostly—and therefore to reimagine these rural towns and urban ghettos as fantastic landscapes or haunted graveyards. . . .

This Jewish intimation of a past that, however lost, will not remain buried has also been experienced by some non-Jewish Central European artists.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Film, Poland, Polish Jewry, S. An-sky, Yiddish literature


The Palestinian Authority Deliberately Provoked Sunday’s Jerusalem Riots

Aug. 16 2019

On Sunday, Tisha b’Av—the traditional day of mourning for the destruction of the two Jerusalem Temples—coincided with the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. While the Israeli government had initially banned Jews from the Temple Mount on that day, it later reversed its decision and allowed a few dozen to visit. Muslim worshippers greeted them by throwing chairs and stones, and police had to quell the riot by force. Just yesterday, an Israeli policeman was stabbed nearby. Maurice Hirsch and Itamar Marcus place the blame for Sunday’s violence squarely on the shoulders of the Palestinian Authority:

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More about: Palestinian Authority, Temple Mount, Tisha b'Av