Remembering a Soviet Author and His Paeans to the Lost Jewish World of Eastern Europe

Born in the Lithuanian shtetl of Jonava in 1929, the Jewish writer Grigory Kanovich spent most of his life in the Soviet Union, although he settled in Israel in 1993. He began his literary career in the 1950s, and kept writing until the end of his life, producing a series of memoiristic novels about his family, the Holocaust, and Lithuanian Jewry. Kanovich died on January 20. Elena Guritanu and Elie Petit consider his life and work:

Like Faulkner, Kanovich created his own imaginary territory, . . . populating it with characters from his own childhood—mainly ordinary Jews, but also Lithuanians, Poles, Belarussians, and Russians. Published in 2010, “Poor Rothschild,” [one of his final works], set in a shtetl, is a testament to a part of this world that unfolds in a dozen novels. Together they form an epic saga, haunted by the Shoah, dealing with the vicissitudes of East European Jewish history from the 19th century to the present day.

On the eve of the German breakthrough in Lithuania [in 1941], at only ten years old, Kanovich fled to Kazakhstan and the Ural Mountains where he spent several years with his parents. When Grigory Kanovich, the future author of the Lithuanian Jewish saga, returned to Vilnius, he was sixteen years old. Wilno [as it was called before World War II]—the Jerusalem of Lithuania which he had left in a hurry in 1939—took up all the more space in his adolescent imagination as it was nourished during those years of painful separation by the stories of his relatives and their memories; their uprooting gave it an air of legend.

But it is no longer the storytelling town of his childhood that he finds, following in his mother’s footsteps with fear. There is an absence. The ruins of a Jerusalem that hides under heaps of snow the tragedy of a murdered people. Kanovich will never cease to reconstitute the memory of these beings who disappeared in the earthquake of the Shoah, not to offer them a burial but to inspire them again with a breath of life and, with them, to rebuild with fiction the pre-war Lithuania and its Jerusalem.

Read more at K. Revue

More about: Holocaust, Jewish literature, Literature, Lithuania, Soviet Jewry


Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship