A Tale of Things Remembered, and of People Trying to Forget, in 1950s Israel

Jan. 24 2019

Born, like David Ben-Gurion, in the Polish town of Płońsk, Mendel Mann (1916-1975) fled to the Soviet Union after the outbreak of World War II, eventually joining the Red Army. He came to Israel in 1948, and became a prolific writer of poetry, essays, short stories, and novellas in Yiddish. In his possibly autobiographical short story “The Encounter,” published in a 1966 anthology, he describes a chance meeting with a familiar-looking woman in the Israeli town of Ramat Gan around the year 1954. What follows is an exploration of the psychic after-effects of the Holocaust. Herewith, an excerpt from the opening scene, in Heather Valencia’s translation:

“Please don’t be offended at my speaking to you again. I wouldn’t have done so if you hadn’t just been passing by while I’m still waiting for my bus. I do know you.”

I said these words with an urgency and certainty that surprised even me. She put her shopping bag down on the pavement and looked at me silently.

“I traveled across Ukraine with the Soviet army, and somewhere in a shtetl in Volhynia I met you. It was a strange encounter. Don’t you remember the Russian soldier who talked to you in Yiddish? Have you forgotten a night journey in a truck with two armed soldiers?”

She wrung her hands and her lips began to tremble. “I don’t know you. I don’t want to know you!” she shouted. Her vehemence made me certain that she was the woman I remembered.

At last the bus came. I was grateful to the driver for saving me.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Holocaust survivors, Israeli literature, Yiddish literature

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship