In the Vilna Ghetto, Jews Fought to Preserve Their Culture

Oct. 14 2021

The Frankfurt School philosopher Theodor Adorno, the German-born son of a Jewish father, famously declared that “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” But while Adorno was in the Pacific Palisades with other German exiles from the Third Reich, the great Yiddish poet Avraham Sutzkever was in the Vilna Ghetto, where he wrote, in his own words, “more than I did the rest of my life.” And not only that, writes Justin Cammy:

Sutzkever . . . mentored [the ghetto’s] youth group, helped organize the ghetto theater, and, of course, read his poetry at literary gatherings. He also worked heroically alongside others as a member of the so-called Paper Brigade, those slave laborers whom the Germans appointed to sort materials from various Jewish libraries who smuggled and hid as many of the most valuable literary treasures as they could.

In his memoirs of this period, which Cammy has recently edited and translated, Sutzkever writes:

The day after my mother was murdered, the young director Viskind came to pay me his condolences. He invited me to a meeting of Yiddish actors. They wanted to establish a theater. I looked at him, astonished: “A theater in the ghetto?”

“Yes,” Viskind confirmed. “We must be true to ourselves and resist the enemy even with this weapon. We must not surrender under any circumstance. Theater was also performed in the ghettos during the Middle Ages. The origins of Yiddish theater are there. Let us, too, create a theater to delight and embolden the ghetto. It might even be the vanguard of a new Yiddish theater in a free world.”

I left. Viskind’s faith soothed my sadness. At Strashun Street 7, in the frigid little attic belonging to the actor Blyakher, I met with the remaining actors in the ghetto. All of them were in favor of establishing a theater. I agreed with them and accepted the position of literary director of the planned theater.

We got to work on the first performance. It was a challenge to choose appropriate material. With what words could we appear before audiences and avoid dishonoring their anguish? How could we temporarily cloud the vision of mass graves before their eyes? And how could we awaken ghetto residents to the heroism of Jewish history, to appreciate beauty, and to continue to believe in the future?

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Avraham Sutzkever, Holocaust, Jewish Culture, Vilna, Yiddish theater

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount