Two New Translations Attempt to Bring Avrom Sutzkever’s Poetry into English

While the moving life story of the Yiddish poet Avrom Sutzkever—who grew up in Siberia, spent part of World War II saving books and manuscripts from destruction at the hands of the Third Reich, fought the Nazis as a partisan, testified at Nuremberg, and spent the second half of the 20th century sustaining Yiddish literature in Israel—resonates in any language, translating his poetry has proved a more daunting task. In greeting two new English versions of his poems with enthusiasm, Mark Glanville reflects on the challenges they confront:

Sutzkever was unafraid to forge his high-poetic Yiddish out of a street “jargon” that had not previously been associated with serious literary culture, creating neologisms at will—but always within the context of strict poetic forms. Sutzkever’s employment of meter and rhyme themselves present considerable difficulty to his translators. . . .

One of the later poems, “The Full Pomegranate,” has given its title to Richard J. Fein’s collection [of translated poems]. Though for the most part it is well and accurately rendered, elements of this translation reveal the difficulties attendant on any non-annotated edition of such a difficult and sophisticated poet. Fein translates the lines “lave zayne kerndlekh. Atomen/ breyshesdik aroysgeyoyerte” as “Lava—its grains. Genesis—/ atoms turbulent,” hurling words at the page like paint at a canvas, omitting the neologisms and imagery that are Sutzkever’s trademarks.

A more literal translation might read “Lava its seeds. Atoms/ Fermented forth primevally.” The word yoyern is used of fermenting bread, while breyshesdik is an adverb Sutzkever has invented, a derivation from the Hebrew b’resyhit (in the beginning), the first word of the first book of the Bible and the Hebrew name for the book known to Christians as Genesis. The seeds of the pomegranate are seen as lava, as atoms, fermented primevally, combining two images—the power of fermentation and the shooting out of lava from the depths. None of this is apparent in Fein’s version, but is any translation able to convey such intricately wrought language without the help of notes?

Read more at Times Literary Supplement

More about: Arts & Culture, Avraham Sutzkever, Jewish literature, Poetry, Translation, Yiddish literature


An Israeli Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip Doesn’t Violate International Law

 The IDF announced on Thursday that it is safe for residents to return to some of the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip that have been abandoned since October 7. Yet on the same day, rocket sirens sounded in one of those communities, Kibbutz Mefalsim. To help ensure security in the area, Israel is considering the creation of a buffer zone within the Strip that would be closed to Palestinian civilians and buildings. The U.S. has indicated, however, that it would not look favorably on such a step.

Avraham Shalev explains why it’s necessary:

The creation of a security buffer along the Gaza-Israel border serves the purpose of destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminating the threat to Israel. . . . Some Palestinian structures are practically on the border, and only several hundred yards away from Israeli communities such as Kfar Aza, Kerem Shalom, and Sderot. The Palestinian terrorists that carried out the murderous October 7 attacks crossed into Israel from many of these border-adjacent areas. Hamas officials have already vowed that “we will do this again and again. The al-Aqsa Flood [the October 7th massacre] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized mass marches towards the Israeli border with the goal of breaking into Israel. Billed by Palestinians as “the Great March of Return,” its name reveals its purpose—invasion. Although the marches were supposedly non-violent, they featured largescale attacks on Israeli forces as well as arson and damage to Israeli agriculture and civilian communities. Moreover, the October 7 massacre was made possible by Hamas’s prepositioning military hardware along the border under false cover of civilian activity. The security perimeter is intended to prevent a reprise of these events.

Shalev goes on to dismantle the arguments put forth about why international law prohibits Israel from creating the buffer zone. He notes:

By way of comparison, following the defeat of Nazi Germany, France occupied the Saar [River Valley] directly until 1947 and then indirectly until reintegration with Germany in 1957, and the Allied occupation of Berlin continued until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The Allies maintained their occupation long after the fall of the Nazi regime, due to the threat of Soviet invasion and conquest of West Berlin, and by extension Western Europe.

Read more at Kohelet

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, International Law, Israeli Security