The New Secretary of State and the American Jewish Family Saga

Ruth R. Wisse
pick
Jan. 27 2021
About Ruth

Ruth R. Wisse is a Mosaic columnist, professor emerita of Yiddish and comparative literatures at Harvard and a distinguished senior fellow at the Tikvah Fund. Her memoir Free as a Jew: a Personal Memoir of National Self-Liberation, chapters of which appeared in Mosaic in somewhat different form, is out from Wicked Son Press.

Yesterday, Congress confirmed Antony Blinken to the position of secretary of state. Ruth R. Wisse recalls how, nearly 40 years ago, she became acquainted with his grandfather, M.H. Blinken, who had read an article Wisse had written that mentioned his father, Meir Blinken (or Blinkin), “a Yiddish writer of short fiction, quite well known in New York in the 1910s.” M.H. had attempted to convince Wisse to produce a translation of some of Meir’s work—something “he needed . . . for his sons and grandchildren who would otherwise never understand where they came from.” Reflecting on four generations of Blinkens, Wisse is brought to mind of the short story “Four Generations, Four Wills” by the great Yiddish author Y.L. Peretz:

The patriarch Reb Eliezer leaves a Yiddish handwritten will, brief and judicious, taking for granted that his family will act in its spirit. His son Benjamin’s greater business success calls for a much longer formalized Yiddish document that spells out all his expectations of responsible succession that can no longer be assumed. His successor wills—in Polish—that a telegram should summon his only son from Paris and bequeaths a large sum to the Society for Assisting the Poor that is to feature the donor’s family name. Finally, the Parisian son writes an unsigned note taking his leave of the world.

How sharply this tale of deterioration contrasts with the Blinken saga, as though to highlight the difference between the Jewish experience in Poland and in America! Here the first generation was similarly followed by a son’s rise to wealth—but the subsequent generations rose ever higher in personal fulfilment and public service. As against Peretz’s version, Maurice Henry’s three sons . . . served in the military, married, and raised families, and under the Clinton administration, two of the brothers became U.S. ambassadors, Donald to Hungary, and Alan to Belgium. Now Donald’s son Antony, of the fourth generation, may he enjoy long years, has been nominated to be Joseph Biden’s secretary of state. How indeed has America proved to be the goldene medine, the golden land of Jewish immigrant dreams.

Yet is that how Peretz would have seen it, or M. H. himself? What about the golden chain of Jewish tradition? Was it just as a shelf showpiece that Maurice wanted his father’s stories translated, or did he hope that it would help his family to remain Jews? Does American success require the death of Jewishness, or does the Jewish story prove that religious freedom, ethnic pluralism, and democratic association inspire minorities to thrive?

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Read more at Commentary

More about: American Jewish History, Antony Blinken, I.L. Peretz, Yiddish literature

The New Iran Deal Will Reward Terrorism, Help Russia, and Get Nothing in Return

After many months of negotiations, Washington and Tehran—thanks to Russian mediation—appear close to renewing the 2015 agreement concerning the Iranian nuclear program. Richard Goldberg comments:

Under a new deal, Iran would receive $275 billion of sanctions relief in the first year and $1 trillion by 2030. [Moreover], Tehran would face no changes in the old deal’s sunset clauses—that is, expiration dates on key restrictions—and would be allowed to keep its newly deployed arsenal of advanced uranium centrifuges in storage, guaranteeing the regime the ability to cross the nuclear threshold at any time of its choosing. . . . And worst of all, Iran would win all these concessions while actively plotting to assassinate former U.S. officials like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and [his] adviser Brian Hook, and trying to kidnap and kill the Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad on U.S. soil.

Moscow, meanwhile, would receive billions of dollars to construct additional nuclear power plants in Iran, and potentially more for storage of nuclear material. . . . Following a visit by the Russian president Vladimir Putin to Tehran last month, Iran reportedly started transferring armed drones for Russian use against Ukraine. On Tuesday, Putin launched an Iranian satellite into orbit reportedly on the condition that Moscow can task it to support Russian operations in Ukraine.

With American and European sanctions on Russia escalating, particularly with respect to Russian energy sales, Putin may finally see net value in the U.S. lifting of sanctions on Iran’s financial and commercial sectors. While the return of Iranian crude to the global market could lead to a modest reduction in oil prices, thereby reducing Putin’s revenue, Russia may be able to head off U.S. secondary sanctions by routing key transactions through Tehran. After all, what would the Biden administration do if Iran allowed Russia to use its major banks and companies to bypass Western sanctions?

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Read more at Dispatch

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