The New Secretary of State and the American Jewish Family Saga

Jan. 27 2021
About Ruth

Ruth R. Wisse is professor emerita of Yiddish and comparative literatures at Harvard and a distinguished senior fellow at Tikvah. 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?

Read more at Commentary

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

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

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