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

April 29 2021

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


Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria