A Fantasy Novelist Imagines a Great Jewish Exile, and a Jewish Rebirth

Robert Nathan (1894-1985), an American Sephardi Jew whose ancestors had first come to America before the Revolution, was a prolific author of fiction, most of it with supernatural themes. Although little remembered today, his work was very successful in the first half of the 20th century. In 1935, he wrote Road of Ages, which imagines a massive caravan of Jews—having been expelled from Europe, Palestine, and everywhere else—making their way to a safe haven promised them in Mongolia. Michael Weingrad writes:

The caravan includes atheists and believers, radicals and capitalists, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, aesthetes and laborers, hasidic rebbes and German concertmasters. . . . Thus, one of the running themes in Nathan’s episodic little novel is the extent of Jewish differences, the other is the process of cooperation and even fusion.

Two years earlier, Nathan had written an essay for Scribner’s titled “On Being a Jew.” There, Nathan explains that, lacking a normative Jewish religious faith, he has little sense of himself as a Jew by religion or as an active part of the organized Jewish community. He has found himself the object of hatred and prejudice in the Christian world, but also mistrusted by “the good bourgeois Jews themselves, because I was a poet, an artist, a bohemian, and a bad business risk.” Tepidly, he writes that the answer to the question of whether he is proud to be a Jew is “both yes, and no. . . . I am a Jew, I was born a Jew. Very well, let me neither deny it nor boast of it, but simply and gently accept it.”

David, the poet-character in Road of Ages, has some of this standoffishness—but sheds it. At first he identifies most strongly with the non-Jewish Amanda, who accompanies the caravan because she is married to a Jew, but says that she can never feel that this is her people. Yet in the course of the novel David finds himself caught up in the life of the caravan; sharing their sorrows and striving, he “no longer felt alone among the Jews.”

Read more at Investigations and Fantasies

More about: American Jewish literature, Fantasy, Jewish literature

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy