In a Debut Novel, a Shtetl Frozen in Time Meets the 21st Century

Located so deep in the Polish forests that its Jews were spared the Holocaust, the town of Kreskol somehow survived to the present day completely cut off from the outside world. Such is the fanciful premise of Max Gross’s The Lost Shtetl, whose plot is driven by the sudden end of these Jews’ isolation. Michal Leibowitz writes in her review:

You’d think this sort of third- or fourth-generation, oh-so-clever riff on shtetl nostalgia wouldn’t work, let alone be sometimes rib-crackingly funny, but Gross pulls it off with the kind of flair that Seth Rogen—whose recent turn as an Ashkenazi Rip Van Winkle in An American Pickle showed just how unfunny such a premise could be—should envy. In part, it’s a matter of commitment. Gross’s novel is well thought out (especially when it comes to explaining what bizarre agglomeration of events might have led to the town’s isolation in the first place), and he’s willing to dive deep into all the possible effects of his alternate-history premise.

But it’s not all just silliness. Consider what happens when, after the world has already begun to doubt the authenticity of Kreskol, a swastika appears on one house in the village. The vandalism seems like the beginning of a dreadful decline in Kreskol’s relationship with its Gentile neighbors (and indeed, it is). But in a darkly comedic moment, the villagers, having missed World War II, need to have the insult explained to them.

Poland’s failure to grapple with the Holocaust drives The Lost Shtetl to its disquieting conclusion, which I won’t reveal. However, I will note that this is where Gross’s fantastical premise is at its most effective. For it’s the very fact of the book’s fantasy that makes many of its other elements both so funny and so heartbreaking, as though even in this wild, improbable alternate reality, some truths cannot be changed.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewish literature, Holocaust, Polish Jewry, Shtetl

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy