Paul Celan’s Biblical Modernism

Yesterday I mentioned in passing the Holocaust poetry of Chava Rosenfarb; today, I turn your attention to that of Paul Celan—who approached similar themes and experiences in very different ways. Born in 1920 into a German-speaking Jewish family in a part of Romania that is now in Ukraine, Celan spent the war years in the forced-labor camps; his parents were murdered. He settled in Paris after the war, wrote poetry in German, translated literature from a variety of languages, and drowned himself at the age of forty-nine. Neil Arditi reviews two new translations of his work, and examines his poem “Psalm.”

Celan knew what it was to sing “above, O above/ the thorn.” . . . “Psalm” draws not only on the image of God forming man out of clay in Genesis but also, most crucially, on Psalm 103:15: “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.” To the beauty and brevity of that flourishing, Celan adds an uncanny vulnerability: body and soul exposed, proffered like the reproductive organ of a flower to a godforsaken sky.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Holocaust, Jewish literature, Poetry, Psalms

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