From Selling Jewish Calendars to Selling Schmutz: A Story

Sept. 21 2020

Naturally, the beginning of the Jewish year is the time for Jews to purchase calendars, and it is this trade that is the subject of a short story by the great Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, translated by Curt Leviant under the title, “Trying to Make a Living.” Through the eyes of one of his typical character-narrators, the author presents a searing reflection on the bewildering irrationality of anti-Semitism. The story begins thus:

Wanna know why a Jew like me, a father of children, has to sell illegal schmutz like French photo cards? It’s all thanks to Tolmatshov and Tolmatshov alone, may he fry in hell! But since this all happened so long ago, and since Tolmatshov is gone and Odessa is back to normal, I think I can come out with the whole truth and reveal why Tolmatshov was such an anti-Semite. And the truth is that I’m to blame for most of it, I’m afraid, if not all of it.

Well, now you’re probably wondering how a street-hawker like me, who peddles Yiddish newspapers—and those French photo cards on the sly—comes to General Tolmatshov! And what sort of pal am I with generals, anyway? If you can spare a few minutes, I’ll tell you an interesting story. It happened many years ago, right here in Odessa, at this season, during the intermediary days of Sukkot. Odessa was still the same old Odessa. No one had heard of Tolmatshov, and a Jew could roam around here free as a bird and sell his Yiddish books.

Then, there weren’t as many Yiddish papers as today. You weren’t afraid of anyone, and there was no need to mess around with contraband Parisian postcards. In the old days, I used to sell Sabbath and holiday prayer books and Jewish calendars around Lanyerovski, Katerinenski, and Fankonin streets. You could always run into a Jew there, for that was the area where speculators, agents, and various other Jews hung around waiting for a miracle.

Just like you see me now, I was strolling along on Fankonin Street, the spot where our fellow Jewish speculators wear out their shoe leather looking for business, and I said to myself: Where can I get a customer for those few Jewish calendars I’ve got left? Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are gone and forgotten and, before you know it, Sukkot will slip right by and I still haven’t gotten rid of my little bit of stock. God knows if I’ll ever sell those bound calendars—for if they aren’t sold before the holidays you can’t even give them away. Later, they’re completely useless. And I had three of these all-year Jewish calendars left over from before Rosh Hashanah!

Read more at Tablet

More about: Anti-Semitism, Jewish calendar, Russian Jewry, Sholem Aleichem, Yiddish literature

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount