The Biblical Sonnets of a Forgotten Jewish Writer

Largely forgotten today, the Vienna-born Jewish poet and writer Uriel Birnbaum (1894-1956) was perhaps best appreciated by an Austrian Catholic aristocrat Count Arthur Polzer-Hoditz, who published a brief study on Birnbaum’s work in 1936. Uriel’s father Nathan was himself a fascinating figure: a close associate of Theodor Herzl and devotee of Zionism—a word Nathan likely coined—he eventually broke with the movement, became a Diaspora nationalist, and then, after a religious awakening, a ḥasidic anti-Zionist.

The elder Birnbaum’s ideological peregrinations were matched by the younger’s artistic ones. Polzer-Hoditz described him as a “poet, artist, and thinker,” and by one estimate he produced “more than 6,000 poems, 130 essays, 30 plays, ten short stories, fifteen fairytales, fragments of a longer epic poem, twenty chapters of a lost novel, and 30 collections of illustrations.” Judy Taubes Sterman, whose father translated some of Birnbaum’s verse into English, examines fifteen sonnets he wrote about the first four chapters of Genesis:

Almost midrashic in their approach, they fill gaps in the narrative by entertaining questions that would likely never have occurred to even thoughtful readers of the Bible. How did Eve feel when she first laid eyes on Adam? What did Adam think happened to Eve’s body after she died? Who showed up for Adam’s funeral, and what were they feeling?

In “Cain at Abel’s Grave,” the poet wonders not about Cain’s emotional state at the time of the murder of his brother, but rather about how Cain would perceive the act much later, after years of restlessly wandering the earth. His conclusion takes us by surprise:

In Eden it was night. Rings of bright flame
Blazed from the swords of angels, whirling, vast.
Cain clambered strenuously till he came
To the wall’s summit—and leaped down. Steadfast,
Supported by his metal staff, he passed
Through Eden’s darkly sweet pervading scent,
Searching until he found the grave at last,
And spoke, as if in greeting, his head bent:
“Abel, I did not come here to repent
That deed of fury I could not restrain.
The weary centuries I underwent
As wanderer brought me—with new fury and disdain:
You never knew life’s hardships, nor life’s pain;
I readily would strike you dead again!”

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Austrian Jewry, Genesis, Jewish literature, Nathan Birnbaum, Poetry, Zionism

The Significance of Mahmoud Abbas’s Holocaust Denial

Aug. 19 2022

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, during an official visit to Berlin, gave a joint press conference with the German chancellor Olaf Scholz, where he was asked by a journalist if he would apologize for the murder of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics. (The relationship between the group that carried out the massacre and Abbas’s Fatah party remains murky.) Abbas instead responded by ranting about the “50 Holocausts” perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians. Stephen Pollard comments:

Scholz’s response to that? He shook Abbas’s hand and ended the press conference.

Reading yet another column pointing out that Scholz is a dunderhead isn’t, I grant you, the most useful of ways to spend an August afternoon, so let’s leave the German chancellor there, save to say that he eventually issued a statement hours later, after an eruption of fury from his fellow countrymen, saying that “I am disgusted by the outrageous remarks made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. For us Germans in particular, any trivialization of the singularity of the Holocaust is intolerable and unacceptable. I condemn any attempt to deny the crimes of the Holocaust.” Which only goes to show that late is actually no better than never.

The real issue, in Pollard’s view, is the West’s willful blindness about Abbas, who wrote a doctoral thesis at a Soviet university blaming “Zionists” for the Holocaust and claiming that a mere million Jews were killed by the Nazis—notions he has reiterated publicly as recently as 2013.

On Wednesday, [Abbas] “clarified” his remarks in Berlin, saying that “the Holocaust is the most heinous crime in modern human history.” Credulous fools have again ignored what Abbas actually means by that.

It’s time we stopped projecting what we want Abbas to be and focused on what he actually is, using his own words. In a speech in 2018 he informed us that Israel is a “colonialist project that had nothing to do with Judaism”—to such an extent that European Jews chose to stay in their homes and be murdered rather than live in Palestine. Do I have to point out the moral degeneracy of such a proposition? It would seem so, given the persistent refusal of so many to take Abbas for what he actually is.

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Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Anti-Semitism, Germany, Holocaust denial, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority