One of the Greatest Contemporary Scholars of Islam Was a Lover of Hebrew

Known for his mastery of Arabic, Turkish, and Persian, which enabled the extraordinary depth and breadth of his scholarship, the late historian Bernard Lewis—who would have celebrated his 102nd birthday yesterday—held a special place in his heart for Hebrew. Lewis was laid to rest in Tel Aviv’s Trumpeldor cemetery last week. Herewith, Martin Kramer’s eulogy at the burial:

Trumpeldor cemetery is, to Tel Aviv, what the Père Lachaise cemetery is to Paris. Here, mostly in the southwestern corner, are the graves of the great lights of Hebrew letters: Ahad Ha’am, Ḥayyim Naḥman Bialik, Shaul Tchernichovsky, Ḥayyim Yosef Brenner. Alongside them are Zionist luminaries: Max Nordau, Haim Arlosoroff, Moshe Sharett, Meir Dizengoff. Here also lie Israel’s two most renowned artists, Reuven Rubin and Naḥum Gutman, as well as the singer Shoshana Damari and the satirist [and filmmaker] Ephraim Kishon. And many more. . . .

Bernard famously would say that he became enamored of Hebrew while preparing for his bar mitzvah. When it was over, he insisted on continuing his Hebrew study, and his father obliged by finding him a tutor. Thus did Bernard become a budding Hebraist. As a teenager, he translated into English “quite an immense quantity” of modern Hebrew poems. “I think there must have been hundreds of them,” including Ḥayyim Naḥman Bialik’s “In the City of Slaughter” and “The Dead of the Desert.” Most went unpublished, but not all, although Bernard often signed them with a pseudonym. . . .

Bialik [has] lain in this cemetery, right over there, for the last 84 years. I never asked Bernard why he wanted to be buried here, although it’s a wish that goes back a good while. The obvious explanation is that it’s close to his apartment by the sea, where he felt so at peace. But I wonder whether it’s also because it’s near to the resting place of Bialik and the other Hebrew greats, and that here he would be reunited with his first love: ivrit, Hebrew. He mastered many languages. But Hebrew he loved, and from it stemmed the love for his people and this land.

Read more at Sandbox

More about: Bernard Lewis, Hayyim Nahman Bialik, Hebrew, Hebrew literature, History & Ideas, Israeli culture, Tel Aviv

Iran’s Options for Revenge on Israel

On April 1, an Israeli airstrike on Damascus killed three Iranian generals, one of whom was the seniormost Iranian commander in the region. The IDF has been targeting Iranian personnel and weaponry in Syria for over a decade, but the killing of such a high-ranking figure raises the stakes significantly. In the past several days, Israelis have received a number of warnings both from the press and from the home-front command to ready themselves for retaliatory attacks. Jonathan Spyer considers what shape that attack might take:

Tehran has essentially four broad options. It could hit an Israeli or Jewish facility overseas using either Iranian state forces (option one), or proxies (option two). . . . Then there’s the third option: Tehran could also direct its proxies to strike Israel directly. . . . Finally, Iran could strike Israeli soil directly (option four). It is the riskiest option for Tehran, and would be likely to precipitate open war between the regime and Israel.

Tehran will consider all four options carefully. It has failed to retaliate in kind for a number of high-profile assassinations of its operatives in recent years. . . . A failure to respond, or staging too small a response, risks conveying a message of weakness. Iran usually favors using proxies over staging direct attacks. In an unkind formulation common in Israel, Tehran is prepared to “fight to the last Arab.”

Read more at Spectator

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria