A New Translation Allows Readers to Follow Avraham Sutzkever’s Poetic Journey from Siberia to Tel Aviv

The great Yiddish poet Avraham Sutzkever (1913-2010) wrote poems while confined by the Nazis to the Vilna Ghetto, where he labored tirelessly to preserve Jewish books and manuscripts before escaping to take up arms with local partisans. After World War II, he settled in Israel, where he did much to foster and encourage other Yiddish writers while composing a prodigious poetic legacy of his own. Reviewing a newly published volume of his work, translated into English by Richard Fein, James Nadel writes:

[M]any of the pieces included [by Fein] have never before been rendered into English, but others have appeared in previous collections of Sutzkever’s work. The most prominent poems of the latter category are also those closest to Fein’s heart: the Siberia series from 1952–53, which was originally published in an earlier, longer, and somewhat different form in 1937. The series reflects on Sutzkever’s childhood years when he lived near the steppe city of Omsk. . . .

The poem “Recognition,” [part of this Siberia series], features a young speaker running to the top of a mountain because his father has told him that that is where the world ends. Arriving at the summit, the poet finds not an insurmountable boundary, but a platform from which he can gaze upon an expansive world and his “little dot of a father.” The realization that the world and its natural wonders continue beyond the isolated corner of his family’s cottage transforms the speaker of the poem into an unstoppable force of nature. . . .

Indeed, the scene . . . is transposed from the mountains of Siberia to the deserts of Israel in a previously untranslated poem (“Here I Am Fated to See . . . ”), written 35 years after the original image came into being and nearly twenty years after it was published in the Siberia series. Summiting the cliffs of a wadi, Sutzkever views the landscape through a “tear,” just as he had gazed upon the snow and ice of Siberia. The fire of the wadi reminds him of the “savor” of first snow. He has the same “revelation” that he did as “a child on the mountain” at the “beginning of my beginning.” Realizing the parallels between these two moments, the poet comments, “Someone wants my soul to fall to its knees/ Before it rises brand new in humid mirrors.”

These poems have never before appeared in the same volume, in English or in Yiddish. Read in tandem, they illustrate Sutzkever’s encounter with a new natural landscape to which he can apply his developed poetic sensibility. Past, present, and future mingle in this space. The poet is resurrected, phoenix-like, in fire, but the world around him is a mirror that reflects his frozen memories. The initial image of “discovery” is transmuted into continual and cyclical reinvention.

Read more at In geveb

More about: Avraham Sutzkever, Poetry, Siberia, 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