A Story, Appearing in English for the First Time, of an Immigrant Who Tries to Forget the Old Country

April 18 2019

Appearing in Yiddish in 1965, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story, “A Letter to Mama,” has never been published in English until now. Its protagonist is a Polish-born immigrant living in the Midwest who has grown distant from all things Jewish, and receives an unexpected nocturnal visitation from his mother’s spirit. In Aliza Shevrin’s translation, it begins thus:

The older he became, the less able Sam Metzger was to understand why he had never written to his mother after leaving Krasnobrod for America. This “letter to Mama,” which he never wrote, became the bane of his existence. Granted that he disliked writing letters and that during the first years in New York he used to work fifteen hours a day in a sweat shop. Still, to leave his widowed mother behind in Krasnobrod and never write her so much as a single word, he had to be out of his mind. Sam could not fathom how this came about, although he had brooded over it many sleepless nights.

At first, it was simply a manner of putting it off. Then he seemed to forget about it altogether. At night, while trying to fall asleep in Moishe Leckechbecker’s alcove on Attorney Street, along with three other boarders, he would think of it. In the morning, he would forget again. Later the nagging sense of shame turned into a conviction that it was already too late. A devil possessed him who wouldn’t let him take a pen in hand. In New York at the time, they were all singing a popular Yiddish song which went: “Why delay? Write your mother today.” From the Yiddish theater stage, from Second Avenue cabarets, in the workshops on Grand Street, from record players blaring in homes, the song followed him everywhere.

Perhaps that was the reason Sam left New York. . . .

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More about: Immigration, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Yiddish literature

A Better Syria Strategy Can Help Achieve the U.S. Goal of Countering Iran

While the Trump administration has reversed much of its predecessor’s effort to realign Washington with Tehran, and has effectively used sanctions to exert economic pressure on the Islamic Republic, Omar Hassino argues that these measures might not be enough:

Iran and its militias control more territory and natural resources in Syria and Iraq than before President Trump took office. . . . The U.S. should back the low-cost insurgency approach that has already shown potential in southwest Syria to bleed the Iranian forces and increase the costs of their expansion and [of Tehran’s] support for the Assad regime. It makes no sense that Iran can fund low-cost insurgencies to bleed American allies in the region, but the United States cannot counter with the same. The administration should also consider expanding support to the proxy forces that it currently works with—such as the Revolution Commandos near the [U.S.] al-Tanf garrison in southwest Syria—for the purpose of fighting and eliminating Iranian-backed militias. This limited escalation can curb Iranian expansion and put pressure on the Assad regime in the long term.

Furthermore, in this vein, the U.S. should empower peaceful Syrian civil-society groups and local councils operating outside Assad-regime control. Last year, the Trump administration eliminated assistance for stabilization in Syria, including funding going to secular anti-Assad civil-society groups that were also combating al-Qaeda’s ideology, as well as the Syrian [medical and civil-defense group known as] the White Helmets, before quickly [restoring] some of this funding. Yet the funding has still not completely been resumed, and if this administration takes an approach similar to its predecessor’s in relying on regional powers such as Turkey, these powers will instead fund groups aligned ideologically with Muslim Brotherhood. This is already happening in Idlib.

The United States must [also] jettison the Obama-era [strategy of establishing] “de-escalation zones.” These zones were from the start largely a Russian ruse to help the Assad regime conquer opposition areas, and they succeeded. Now that the regime controls most of Syria and Iranian proxies are dominant within the regime side, support for de-escalation is tantamount to support for Iranian expansion. The United States must [instead] prevent further expansion by the Assad regime and Iran in parts of the country that they still do not control.

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More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy