A Poet’s Lament for Poland’s Lost Shtetls

One of the foremost figures in post-World War II Yiddish literature, Chaim Grade is best known for his works of fiction. But in the 1930s he began his literary career—in the then-Polish city of Vilna—as a poet. He wrote the poem “Jewish Towns of Poland” in Paris in 1947; in it, the evidently Jewish speaker travels through what had by now become a judenrein country. To great effect, Grade populates the shtetls with biblical figures, as in the following excerpt, from a new translation by Julian Levinson:

Jewish towns of Poland, you blazed in my heart and my memory,
Like the places in the Holy Land that lit up the pages of Torah.
My childhood years were barefoot steps over a river that passed my home, which became my Jordan.
And now every wall I see is a ruin of the Western Wall,
And as once in Bethlehem, a lament rises from the streets of Krakow. . . .

Dear [Matriarchs] from the Yiddish Bibles, Rachel and Leah of the women’s prayers,
You sat on the porches with all the women of the town.
Angels who accompanied Jacob, where will you find peace?
You have become orphaned guests, condemned to wander and beg.
And you, Patriarchs from Canaan, once at home in this land of the Poles,
You who stood like a divide between barman and drunken peasants,
The way back to heaven has been closed off to you
Because you walked along our streets, wearing our clothes.

The heavens no longer recognize you, and you gaze out, terrified, from
A trampled hedge, from a ruined gate,
Like a pious old Jew from a tiny village,
Who wakes from his Sabbath nap to find the world has turned upside-down.
The boys no longer stroll with girls on the riverbank,
And no longer do buses avoid the town on Sabbath,
The uncircumcised sit like honored men at the doors of Jews,
They have torn the siding from the stores,
The holy books thrown away, the wooden synagogue destroyed.

Read more at In geveb

More about: Arts & Culture, Chaim Grade, Holocaust, Poetry, Poland, Polish Jewry, Yiddish literature

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy