The Old-Country Roots of Zionist Music

In a new book on the development of Israeli songs, the historian David Assaf explains the East European, and often ḥasidic, origin of many classic tunes of the kibbutz and of secular pioneers. Allan Arkush, in a glowing review, notes that the book “is mainly about Hebrew songs, but Yiddish is rarely very far away,” and it contains a history of one of the most popular Yiddish songs of all time. Titled “Oyfn pripitshek”—a pripitshek being an old-fashioned stove used for heating as well as cooking—the tune owes its existence to one of the great Yiddish writers:

Sholem Aleichem was a friend and enormous booster of the composer of “Oyfn pripetshik,” Mark Warshafsky (1848–1907). But how, Assaf wonders, could the great Yiddish author write a realistic story like “Boaz the Melamed,” in which a hard-hearted ḥeder teacher brutalizes his pupils, while being an enthusiastic promoter of a nostalgic song featuring a melamed [traditional elementary-school instructor] who lovingly teaches his kids the “alef-beys”? The apparent contradiction, Assaf explains, expresses the ambivalence of many early 20th-century secularists who had a traditional ḥeder education.

At that time, many of the writers and intellectuals who had already left the small town and religious tradition behind them and moved to big cities had a deep feeling in their hearts that the decline of the shtetl in which they had been raised was almost a fait accompli. They also felt a certain longing for some old-world institutions, which they had come to perceive as bulwarks against assimilation despite all their failings.

This is the heart of the matter, but it’s only a part of the story. Assaf tells us where “Oyfn pripitshek” comes from—not just fond memories but a mid-19th-century French song that depicts a teacher sitting on a stump in a glade, teaching his pupils the alphabet—and where it very quickly went: Tel Aviv, where a Hebrew version likewise takes the children outdoors and focuses more on planting trees than learning one’s letters.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Israeli music, Jewish music, Sholem Aleichem, Yiddish

The New Iran Deal Will Reward Terrorism, Help Russia, and Get Nothing in Return

After many months of negotiations, Washington and Tehran—thanks to Russian mediation—appear close to renewing the 2015 agreement concerning the Iranian nuclear program. Richard Goldberg comments:

Under a new deal, Iran would receive $275 billion of sanctions relief in the first year and $1 trillion by 2030. [Moreover], Tehran would face no changes in the old deal’s sunset clauses—that is, expiration dates on key restrictions—and would be allowed to keep its newly deployed arsenal of advanced uranium centrifuges in storage, guaranteeing the regime the ability to cross the nuclear threshold at any time of its choosing. . . . And worst of all, Iran would win all these concessions while actively plotting to assassinate former U.S. officials like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and [his] adviser Brian Hook, and trying to kidnap and kill the Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad on U.S. soil.

Moscow, meanwhile, would receive billions of dollars to construct additional nuclear power plants in Iran, and potentially more for storage of nuclear material. . . . Following a visit by the Russian president Vladimir Putin to Tehran last month, Iran reportedly started transferring armed drones for Russian use against Ukraine. On Tuesday, Putin launched an Iranian satellite into orbit reportedly on the condition that Moscow can task it to support Russian operations in Ukraine.

With American and European sanctions on Russia escalating, particularly with respect to Russian energy sales, Putin may finally see net value in the U.S. lifting of sanctions on Iran’s financial and commercial sectors. While the return of Iranian crude to the global market could lead to a modest reduction in oil prices, thereby reducing Putin’s revenue, Russia may be able to head off U.S. secondary sanctions by routing key transactions through Tehran. After all, what would the Biden administration do if Iran allowed Russia to use its major banks and companies to bypass Western sanctions?

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Russia, U.S. Foreign policy