The Books That Kept Soviet Jews Connected to Their Jewish Past

From works by Russian-language Jewish authors well-known it the West, such as Isaac Babel, to translations of Yiddish classics like the tales of Sholem Aleichem, to postwar works like the science-fiction novels of the Strugatsky brothers and Friedrich Gorenstein, Soviet Jews tended to treasure a similar set of books. Marat Grinberg collectively dubs them the Soviet Jewish bookshelf—which is also the title of his recent book. In conversation with Amber Nickell, he examines some of these works, his own experiences reading them, their significance, and how Soviet Jews—prohibited from most public expressions of Judaism or Jewish identity—read between their lines to appreciate their Jewish messages. (Audio, 73 minutes.)

Read more at New Books Network

More about: Isaac Babel, Jewish literature, 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