The Wartime Revival of a Yiddish Poet

April 29 2022

Born in 1889 into a religious Jewish family in rural Ukraine, David Hofshteyn became one of the Soviet Union’s most celebrated poets. His Yiddish poem “Ukraine,” penned during the Nazi invasion of his country, has particular resonance for Ukrainians today. Ben Cohen discussed Hofshteyn’s legacy with the poet’s eighty-five-year-old niece, Svetlana Hofshteyn, who now resides in Germany:

“Ukraine has this very strange history,” Svetlana said. “Jews were killed in pogroms, then the revolution was pushed on them, but David Hofshteyn became an enthusiastic patriot. He loved Ukraine, and the other Ukrainian writers felt the same way towards him.”

A collection of Hofshteyn’s poems published in 1922, which mourned the anti-Semitic pogroms waged by the anti-Soviet “White” armies during the Russian civil war, was illustrated by the renowned painter Marc Chagall. The two artists had met while working as a teachers at a refuge for Jewish children who fled the pogroms. “David greeted the arrival of the Soviet regime, and so did Chagall,” Svetlana noted. “They welcomed it because it gave them the right to move out of the shtetl to the cities, where they could obtain an education. So he was in favor of the revolution, but he was also a huge believer in Jewish identity. Writing in Yiddish got him into many unfortunate situations, because he didn’t want to assimilate.”

In 1948, Hofshteyn was thrown into prison; many other prominent Soviet Yiddish writers soon joined him. Like many of them, he was murdered in 1952.

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More about: Poetry, Ukrainian Jews, Yiddish

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship