Creating Jewish Art in Soviet Russia

Reviewing an exhibit of the works of the Soviet Jewish artist Anatoly Kaplan (1902–1980) at Jerusalem’s Beit Avichai, Sarah Rindner begins with a painting titled Interior:

In a gray, dimly lit room, a mother ties a red kerchief atop her daughter’s school dress. Behind them, even more deeply in shadow, sits a bearded man wrapped in a traditional black and white tallit, bent over a prayerbook. The scene seems innocent enough, and yet, small details hint to the influence of powerful forces beyond the domestic sphere: the red kerchief was an obligatory symbol of membership in the Communist youth movement. The religious man is surrounded by two red curtains, which both serve to frame his figure and also suggest that he may need to hide at a moment’s notice.

Even in 1976, when this painting was created by the Russian-Jewish artist Anatoly Kaplan, it was nearly impossible to be an observant Jew in the Soviet Union. Like much of Kaplan’s work, Interior draws us into a world of tensions, memories, and contradictions inherent in the experience of Jews in Communist Russia.


More about: Jewish art, 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