Hoping for Latkes, an Amateur Photojournalist Found Himself in the Maelstrom of Romania’s Revolution

Shortly after hearing in December 1989 that the notorious Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was on the run from enraged demonstrators, Edward Serotta—who was working as a photojournalist in the Eastern bloc at the time—realized that Hanukkah would begin that evening. And then he got an idea:

I could just drive down to the Romanian city of Timisoara and photograph the Hanukkah party in the kosher kitchen run by the aptly named Mr. Pichel, [pronounced “pickle”]. And since there would surely be celebrations on the streets, just as I had seen and shot in Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, and Budapest [as their Communist regimes collapsed], I could take some pictures, sell them to newspapers, and earn a little cash.

On that day, December 22, 1989, I had no idea that the dreaded Romanian secret police, the Securitate, were locked and loaded and only minutes away from launching a massive counterattack across the country. They were out to find Ceausescu and reinstate him. I was heading right into their gunsights, looking for latkes.

So off Serotta set, joined by a Hungarian journalist:

We passed the city limits of [Timisoara] and all was silent as a tomb. Not a soul around. Not a car on the streets. We drove on and on, kilometer after kilometer, and everything was shuttered tight, the traffic lights were all on blinking mode.

As we drove closer and closer to the center, we began to hear what sounded like thunder. But it wasn’t. It was gunfire. Lots of gunfire. And as if to postpone arriving at our destination, I kept driving slower and slower until an army roadblock stood before us, complete with tanks and armed soldiers running into the city center and out of it.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Communism, East European Jewry, Hanukkah, Romania

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy