Reflections of a Russian-Jewish-American Writer

Feb. 22 2023

As a young man, Maxim Shrayer left the Soviet Union with his parents after what he describes as “eight-and-a-half years of a refusenik limbo,” and realized that he might have to give up his aspirations of becoming a Russian-language writer and try his hand at writing in English. Thirty-five years later, having lived in Boston longer than he ever lived in his native Moscow, Shrayer reflects on what it means to be a writer who belongs to three cultures: Russian, American, and Jewish:

Over the years I’ve learned that there’s more to translingualism than working not just in one language but in two or more, simultaneously or consecutively. In the not-so-recent past, translingual writers used to be all alone, artistically homeless, culturally stateless. Think of the loneliness of Raḥel, arguably the first modern Hebrew woman poet, who was born in 1890 in Saratov on the Volga and died in Tel Aviv in 1931, leaving for posterity two published collections of Hebrew verse and an unpublished volume of Russian poems.

Think also of Paul Celan, a multilingual Jew from Northern Bukovina [then Romania, now Ukraine] who lost his family during the Shoah, went on to write and publish peerless German-language poetry, and in 1970 killed himself in Paris. Think, finally, of the less unhappy yet still lonely story of Samuel Beckett, the Irish literary genius who spent much of his adult life in France and translated most of his French works into English. . . .

In the 1970s and 1980s, many more writers came to the U.S. and Canada from the USSR, riding the wave of the great Jewish emigration. . . . Representatives of this new wave of American and Canadian translingualism write in English and do so by hearkening back to such major Jewish-Russian authors as the incomparable short-story writer Isaac Babel and also to Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov, who coauthored their popular satirical novels. At the same time, not surprisingly, some of the Russian-American authors also nominate Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, and Mordecai Richler as their literary ancestors.

Read more at Jewish Journal

More about: American Jewry, Jewish literature, Soviet Jewry

How Israel Can Break the Cycle of Wars in Gaza

Last month saw yet another round of fighting between the Jewish state and Gaza-based terrorist groups. This time, it was Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that began the conflict; in other cases, it was Hamas, which rules the territory. Such outbreaks have been numerous in the years since 2009, and although the details have varied somewhat, Israel has not yet found a way to stop them, or to save the residents of the southwestern part of the country from the constant threat of rocket fire. Yossi Kuperwasser argues that a combination of military, economic, and diplomatic pressure might present an alternative solution:

In Gaza, Jerusalem plays a key role in developing the rules that determine what the parties can and cannot do. Such rules are designed to give the Israelis the ability to deter attacks, defend territory, maintain intelligence dominance, and win decisively. These rules assure Hamas that its rule over Gaza will not be challenged and that, in between the rounds of escalation, it will be allowed to continue its military buildup, as the Israelis seldom strike first, and the government’s responses to Hamas’s limited attacks are always measured and proportionate.

The flaws in such an approach are clear: it grants Hamas the ability to develop its offensive capabilities, increase its political power, and condemn Israelis—especially those living within range of the Gaza Strip—to persistent threats from Hamas terrorists.

A far more effective [goal] would be to rid Israel of Hamas’s threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests. Achieving this goal will not be easy, but with proper preparation, it may be feasible at the appropriate time.

Revisiting the rule according to which Jerusalem remains tacitly committed to not ending Hamas rule in Gaza is key for changing the dynamics of this conflict. So long as Hamas knows that the Israelis will not attempt to uproot it from Gaza, it can continue arming itself and conducting periodic attacks knowing the price it will pay may be heavy—especially if Jerusalem changes the other rules mentioned—but not existential.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israeli Security, Palestinian Islamic Jihad