A New Film Tells the Story of the Heroic Poet-Turned-Guerrilla Avraham Sutzkever

Born in a Russian shtetl in 1913, the great Yiddish poet Avraham Sutzkever was among the thousands of Jews confined to the Vilna ghetto by the Nazis in 1941. There he was involved in a massive effort to preserve Jewish books and documents, as well as in the underground resistance; in 1943 he escaped to the forests to join the partisans. After the war he emigrated to Israel, via the Soviet Union, and continued to write poetry until his death in 2010 while devoting enormous energy to preserving Yiddish literary culture. The recent documentary film Black Honey tells his life story. In her review, Dara Horn describes two of its most poignant moments:

In 1948, Sutzkever sought funding for [his Yiddish literary journal, Di goldene keyt] from the Histadrut, the central labor union that at the time held Israel’s greatest political clout. [In the film, the Israeli Yiddish scholar Avraham] Novershtern recounts how, in the midst of Israel’s war for independence, Sutzkever came to petition Yosef Sprinzak, the head of the Histadrut, about supporting his Yiddish journal—without realizing that Sprinzak’s son had fallen in battle only days before. It is at this point that Novershtern cries onscreen.

I don’t pretend to know exactly why this story was so resonant for Novershtern, though in a country where nearly everyone’s children serve in the military, one can guess. But there is a deeper emotional significance to this incident in Sutzkever’s life, and in the life of the people of Israel, that is in perfect keeping with Novershtern’s emotions. At that moment Sutzkever and Sprinzak had something profound in common: they were both fathers of martyrs, both struggling to build something that could somehow redeem, however slightly, those horrific losses. Sprinzak’s boy died fighting to save Sutzkever’s daughters, and he succeeded; in that sense he was not merely a martyr but a superhero. Sutzkever’s [son, murdered by the Nazis as an infant] could only become a poem. His father was fighting for that poem. Sprinzak said yes.

[Another] moment of tears in the film comes from the Harvard professor emerita Ruth R. Wisse, though hers are suppressed enough to be plausibly deniable. She describes an encounter with Sutzkever at a conference when she was a young woman, honored to have the opportunity for casual conversation with the literary giant. All went well, she recalls, until she asked him an innocent question about a detail in a story he was recounting from the war. Sutzkever roared at her, “Vos veystu fun di tsapeldike rukzek?” “What do you know of the quivering knapsacks?” Wisse then explains what he meant: Jewish mothers in the ghetto, left with no options, smuggled their living infants out of their homes in order to abandon them to die. . . .

What do we know, indeed, of the tsapeldike rukzek? Thankfully, nothing—and one of the foundational purposes of the state of Israel is the assurance that this knowledge can be safely forgotten.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Arts & Culture, Avraham Sutzkever, Holocaust, Poetry, Vilna, Yiddish literature

Why the White House’s Plan to Prevent an Israel-Hizballah War Won’t Work

On Monday, Hizballah downed an Israeli drone, leading the IDF to retaliate with airstrikes that killed one of the terrorist group’s commanders in southern Lebanon, and two more of its members in the northeast. The latter strike marks an escalation by the IDF, which normally confines its activities to the southern part of the country. Hizballah responded by firing two barrages of rockets into northern Israel on Tuesday, while Hamas operatives in Lebanon fired another barrage yesterday.

According to the Iran-backed militia, 219 of its fighters have been killed since October; six Israeli civilians and ten soldiers have lost their lives in the north. The Biden administration has meanwhile been involved in ongoing negotiations to prevent these skirmishes from turning into an all-out war. The administration’s plan, however, requires carrots for Hizballah in exchange for unenforceable guarantees, as Richard Goldberg explains:

Israel and Hizballah last went to war in 2006. That summer, Hizballah crossed the border, killed three Israeli soldiers, and kidnapped two others. Israel responded with furious airstrikes, a naval blockade, and eventually a ground operation that met stiff resistance and mixed results. A UN-endorsed ceasefire went into effect after 34 days of war, accompanied by a Security Council Resolution that ordered the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in disarming Hizballah in southern Lebanon—from the Israeli border up to the Litani River, some 30 kilometers away.

Despite billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer support over the last seventeen years, the LAF made no requests to UNIFIL, which then never disarmed Hizballah. Instead, Iran accelerated delivering weapons to the terrorist group—building up its forces to a threat level that dwarfs the one Israel faced in 2006. The politics of Lebanon shifted over time as well, with Hizballah taking effective control of the Lebanese government and exerting its influence (and sometimes even control) over the LAF and its U.S.-funded systems.

Now the U.S. is offering Lebanon an economic bailout in exchange for a promise to keep Hizballah forces from coming within a mere ten kilometers of the border, essentially abrogating the Security Council resolution. Goldberg continues:

Who would be responsible for keeping the peace? The LAF and UNIFIL—the same pair that has spent seventeen years helping Hizballah become the threat it is today. That would guarantee that Hizballah’s commitments will never be verified or enforced.

It’s a win-win for [Hizballah’s chief Hassan] Nasrallah. Many of his fighters live and keep their missiles hidden within ten kilometers of Israel’s border. They will blend into the civilian population without any mechanism to force their departure. And even if the U.S. or France could verify a movement of weapons to the north, Nasrallah’s arsenal is more than capable of terrorizing Israeli cities from ten kilometers away. Meanwhile, a bailout of Lebanon will increase Hizballah’s popularity—demonstrating its tactics against Israel work.

Read more at The Dispatch

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden