A Novel of the Jews of Baghdad and Budapest—and the Horrors of Mid-Century

In Nine Love Letters, Gerald Jacobs tells the parallel stories of two fictional Jewish families, one in Baghdad, the other in Budapest; both live through the destruction of their respective communities and flee to London, where they eventually cross paths. Marina Gerner writes in her review:

Jacobs vividly captures the smells and sights of Baghdad. Emre, a watermelon merchant in the market, offers free samples to customers, who do not always end up buying from him. “Emre would react aggressively, waving his knife in the air.” A little later, Rivke, the matriarch of the Haroun family, “had good reasons to be anxious. For, although Emre was almost certainly harmless, others did brandish knives with more deliberate menace in the Baghdad of these days.”

In 1941, the Nazi sympathizer Rashid Ali al-Gaylani seizes power. The new Iraqi government supports the Germans and vilifies the British and the Jews, culminating in the Farhud, the Arabic equivalent of a Russian pogrom. “In the space of two days, 2,000 years of rich and fruitful Jewish life in Mesopotamia had come to a sudden, savage end.” . . .

In Budapest, where as in Baghdad roughly a quarter of the city’s population was then Jewish, we meet the family of Chaim and Sarah Weisz. To an Ashkenazi reader like me, this family’s setting is a lot more familiar—their deep love for literature and music and their intellectual debates, as well as the Hungarian way of life. . . .

Howard Jacobson has written that there is “a deceptive matter-of-factness about Jacobs’s writing which masks an exquisite sadness. His is the art of the refined miniaturist.” Jacobs deploys this skill to paint a moving triptych of joy and pain, as experienced by generations of Jewish families.

Read more at Standpoint

More about: Arts & Culture, Farhud, Hungarian Jewry, Iraqi Jewry, Jewish literature, World War II

Iran’s Options for Revenge on Israel

On April 1, an Israeli airstrike on Damascus killed three Iranian generals, one of whom was the seniormost Iranian commander in the region. The IDF has been targeting Iranian personnel and weaponry in Syria for over a decade, but the killing of such a high-ranking figure raises the stakes significantly. In the past several days, Israelis have received a number of warnings both from the press and from the home-front command to ready themselves for retaliatory attacks. Jonathan Spyer considers what shape that attack might take:

Tehran has essentially four broad options. It could hit an Israeli or Jewish facility overseas using either Iranian state forces (option one), or proxies (option two). . . . Then there’s the third option: Tehran could also direct its proxies to strike Israel directly. . . . Finally, Iran could strike Israeli soil directly (option four). It is the riskiest option for Tehran, and would be likely to precipitate open war between the regime and Israel.

Tehran will consider all four options carefully. It has failed to retaliate in kind for a number of high-profile assassinations of its operatives in recent years. . . . A failure to respond, or staging too small a response, risks conveying a message of weakness. Iran usually favors using proxies over staging direct attacks. In an unkind formulation common in Israel, Tehran is prepared to “fight to the last Arab.”

Read more at Spectator

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria