A Bard of the Diaspora

In 2016, Daniel Kahn translated Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” into Yiddish; he occasionally sings it in his concerts, where he weaves together English, German, and Yiddish in the many songs he has written or adapted. The German-based, Detroit-born Jewish singer recently spoke with the poetry critic Jake Marmer about his new album, Word Beggar, the title of which is drawn from a piercing 1947 poem by the author, playwright, and poet Aaron Zeitlin. Kahn translated that poem, titled “Six Lines,” and set it to music:

I know, this world will never find me necessary,
me, a lyric beggar in this Jewish cemetery.
who needs a song—let alone in Yiddish?
the only beauty in this world is in hopelessness & pain,
and godliness is only found in that which won’t remain,
and the only revolt is in submitting.

Despite the song’s despairing tone, Marmer finds a hopeful and redemptive quality in Kahn’s work, while Zeitlin’s poem evokes scenes from Marmer’s own childhood in Ukraine:

Though brevity is the central characteristic of the poem—as underscored by the title itself—it packs enough heartbreak to embrace a century’s worth of Jewish history. Who in the world would “find” the poem’s beggar “necessary”? If anything, it is the opposite—the beggar is usually seen as a sore thumb, a parasite, who continues to take without giving back. This, of course, would be the view of a culture that measures a person’s worth through its “necessity” or usefulness. Thankfully, other paradigms exist too, and the poem is a yearning for these other worlds.

As a child in Ukraine, I frequently encountered scores of folks asking for alms at the cemetery’s gate, perhaps because it is there that one’s sense of humanity is heightened by the proximity to one’s own mortality, with feelings of loss sharpening one’s need to do what’s right. In that way, to be a poet, especially a Yiddish poet, is not terribly different from being a “beggar.” Poetry is not “necessary” in any kind of a utilitarian sense, but our humanity hinges upon its existence.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Jewish music, Poetry, Yiddish


Iran’s Options for Revenge on Israel

On April 1, an Israeli airstrike on Damascus killed three Iranian generals, one of whom was the seniormost Iranian commander in the region. The IDF has been targeting Iranian personnel and weaponry in Syria for over a decade, but the killing of such a high-ranking figure raises the stakes significantly. In the past several days, Israelis have received a number of warnings both from the press and from the home-front command to ready themselves for retaliatory attacks. Jonathan Spyer considers what shape that attack might take:

Tehran has essentially four broad options. It could hit an Israeli or Jewish facility overseas using either Iranian state forces (option one), or proxies (option two). . . . Then there’s the third option: Tehran could also direct its proxies to strike Israel directly. . . . Finally, Iran could strike Israeli soil directly (option four). It is the riskiest option for Tehran, and would be likely to precipitate open war between the regime and Israel.

Tehran will consider all four options carefully. It has failed to retaliate in kind for a number of high-profile assassinations of its operatives in recent years. . . . A failure to respond, or staging too small a response, risks conveying a message of weakness. Iran usually favors using proxies over staging direct attacks. In an unkind formulation common in Israel, Tehran is prepared to “fight to the last Arab.”

Read more at Spectator

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria