When the Yiddish Theater Tackled American Racism

July 28 2020

In 1931, nine African American teenagers were arrested and brought to trial in Scottsboro, Alabama for allegedly raping two white women—and then sentenced to death. The charges, it soon became clear, were demonstrably false, and the case eventually found its way to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the fate of the Scottsboro Boys—as they became known—received international attention, and eventually became the subject of the 1935 Yiddish play Mississippi, written by the playwright Leyb Malakh (1894-1936) at the encouragement of the director and critic Mikhl Vaykhert (1890-1967), who staged it at his Warsaw theater. Alyssa Quint writes:

When I first came across archival artifacts from productions of Mississippi . . . I assumed that [it] was a translation. I had come across ephemera of so many translations from this era: a review of the Vilna Troupe’s 1924 version of Eugene O’Neill’s expressionist play All God’s Chillun Got Wings, for example. . . . Directors saw translation as a way to introduce worldliness and sophistication to the Yiddish theater, and to engage with current social and political issues.

The script is also embedded with an array of original Yiddish songs by the celebrated composer Henekh Kon (1890-1970) who composed songs in the African American musical tradition including jazz, gospel, and African American spirituals. One makes reference to the enslavement of African people, and another refers to the part former slaves took in the Union army fighting in the Civil War.

Despite Vaykhert’s concerns that Polish Jewish theatergoers wouldn’t be interested in a play on so foreign a subject, Mississippi was a smash hit, enjoying a long run of over 200 performance.

Mississippi’ssuccess in the late 1930s worked off the energy of the Blacks’ and Jews’ common history of oppression. More remarkable, however, is the play as it reveals how much its Jewish participants, creators, and audience mustered sympathy for this mostly unknown African American subject matter, for how and where they lived, the particulars of their persecution, and for their cultural forms and traditions. Ironically, these are the least palatable aspects of the play, at least according to our standards [of political correctness] today.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Polish Jewry, Political correctness, Racism, Yiddish theater

Don’t Let Iran Go Nuclear

Sept. 29 2022

In an interview on Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the Biden administration remains committed to nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic, even as it pursues its brutal crackdown on the protests that have swept the country. Robert Satloff argues not only that it is foolish to pursue the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal, but also that the White House’s current approach is failing on its own terms:

[The] nuclear threat is much worse today than it was when President Biden took office. Oddly, Washington hasn’t really done much about it. On the diplomatic front, the administration has sweetened its offer to entice Iran into a new nuclear deal. While it quite rightly held firm on Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from an official list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” Washington has given ground on many other items.

On the nuclear side of the agreement, the United States has purportedly agreed to allow Iran to keep, in storage, thousands of advanced centrifuges it has made contrary to the terms of the original deal. . . . And on economic matters, the new deal purportedly gives Iran immediate access to a certain amount of blocked assets, before it even exports most of its massive stockpile of enriched uranium for safekeeping in a third country. . . . Even with these added incentives, Iran is still holding out on an agreement. Indeed, according to the most recent reports, Tehran has actually hardened its position.

Regardless of the exact reason why, the menacing reality is that Iran’s nuclear program is galloping ahead—and the United States is doing very little about it. . . . The result has been a stunning passivity in U.S. policy toward the Iran nuclear issue.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy