When Yiddish Poetry Flourished in the Cafés of Weimar Berlin

Feb. 25 2022

In the 1920s, Berlin became home to some of the most creative poets, novelists, and critics writing in Yiddish. Mostly natives of Poland and Russia who had come to Germany following the upheavals of World War I and the Russian Revolution, these authors lived in close proximity to—but apart from—an equally vibrant German-language Jewish culture. Madeleine Cohen reviews two recent books about this particular milieu, alongside a new translation of one of its “masterpieces,” the poet and novelist Moyshe Kulbak’s Childe Harold of Dysna. About the last, she writes:

Originally written between 1928 and 1933 and informed by Kulbak’s 1921–23 stint in Berlin [before he settled in Soviet Russia], this long poem in seven parts, totaling 62 stanzas, envelops the reader in the firsthand experience of the young Ostjude, [as German Jews called their less-acculturated, Yiddish-speaking East European coreligionists], in the cosmopolitan capital of Europe, experiencing all its pleasures and suffering the subsequent hangovers.

As the title suggests, Kulbak’s poem refers to Lord Byron’s [Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage] as well as [the 19th-century German Jewish poet] Heinrich Heine’s Deutschland: Ein Wintermärchen in its frame of a fully modern pilgrimage to discover the heart of Europe and to partake of all the wonders that Weimar Berlin had to offer. However, in this case, our young hero is Shmulik Pipeman, son of a tailor from the small provincial Jewish city of Dysna—or maybe Shklov, or Lohojsk, or Kulbak’s own hometown of Smorgon, which are all mentioned, suggesting Pipeman could be any young Jew aspiring to come west to Europe. Kulbak’s signature mixture of irony and empathy captures both the wonder and the superficiality of young Pipeman’s experiences, an effect heightened by Kulbak’s skillful control of poetic form.

In these final stanzas, Pipeman becomes a socialist, and it is clear the author himself is processing [what he sees as] the failures of capitalism and Berlin’s descent into fascism from his Soviet vantage point.

In 1937, at the height of the Soviet purges, Kulbak was murdered by Stalin’s henchmen.

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Read more at Los Angeles Review of Books

More about: Moyshe Kulbak, Poetry, USSR, Weimar Republic, Yiddish literature

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

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Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia