I.J. Singer’s Portrait of an East European Jewish Civilization at Once Vibrant and Disappearing

On Friday, I recommended a personal reflection on reading the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer. Today, I’ve found an essay on the work of his older brother Israel Joshua Singer—far less known to English-speaking audiences, but considered every bit his equal by those familiar with Yiddish literature. Adam Kirsch writes:

I.J. Singer emerged as a writer in the wake of the First World War and the Russian Revolution, and he used fiction to explore the political and economic forces that were uprooting Jewish life in Eastern Europe. His first novel, Steel and Iron (1927), follows a Jewish soldier who deserts the tsarist Army during the First World War, becomes a Communist, and ends up helping to storm the Winter Palace—the decisive episode in the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power. In later books, Singer dramatized the betrayal of Communist hopes by Stalin and the plight of German Jews under Hitler.

His great strength as a novelist is in depicting how individuals’ fates reflect the movement of history, and his most characteristic passages deal in plurals. . . . Israel Joshua Singer’s work, written in the fifteen years before the Holocaust, reflects a time when Yiddish civilization was more vital and more modern than ever before. It also shows that, even before the Holocaust was conceivable, Jews in Eastern Europe could feel their future disappearing. Franz Kafka, writing in German, and S.Y. Agnon, writing in Hebrew, had the same intuition.

Isaac Bashevis Singer, on the other hand, produced almost all of his work after that future was gone.

Read more at New Yorker

More about: I.J. Singer, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Yiddish literature

An Israeli Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip Doesn’t Violate International Law

 The IDF announced on Thursday that it is safe for residents to return to some of the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip that have been abandoned since October 7. Yet on the same day, rocket sirens sounded in one of those communities, Kibbutz Mefalsim. To help ensure security in the area, Israel is considering the creation of a buffer zone within the Strip that would be closed to Palestinian civilians and buildings. The U.S. has indicated, however, that it would not look favorably on such a step.

Avraham Shalev explains why it’s necessary:

The creation of a security buffer along the Gaza-Israel border serves the purpose of destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminating the threat to Israel. . . . Some Palestinian structures are practically on the border, and only several hundred yards away from Israeli communities such as Kfar Aza, Kerem Shalom, and Sderot. The Palestinian terrorists that carried out the murderous October 7 attacks crossed into Israel from many of these border-adjacent areas. Hamas officials have already vowed that “we will do this again and again. The al-Aqsa Flood [the October 7th massacre] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized mass marches towards the Israeli border with the goal of breaking into Israel. Billed by Palestinians as “the Great March of Return,” its name reveals its purpose—invasion. Although the marches were supposedly non-violent, they featured largescale attacks on Israeli forces as well as arson and damage to Israeli agriculture and civilian communities. Moreover, the October 7 massacre was made possible by Hamas’s prepositioning military hardware along the border under false cover of civilian activity. The security perimeter is intended to prevent a reprise of these events.

Shalev goes on to dismantle the arguments put forth about why international law prohibits Israel from creating the buffer zone. He notes:

By way of comparison, following the defeat of Nazi Germany, France occupied the Saar [River Valley] directly until 1947 and then indirectly until reintegration with Germany in 1957, and the Allied occupation of Berlin continued until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The Allies maintained their occupation long after the fall of the Nazi regime, due to the threat of Soviet invasion and conquest of West Berlin, and by extension Western Europe.

Read more at Kohelet

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, International Law, Israeli Security