YIVO’s New Digital Archive Helps Bring Prewar Vilna to Life

Seven years ago, the YIVO Institute launched the Edward Blank Vilna Online Collections project, an attempt to digitize an enormous number of photographs, pamphlets, poems, and other precious artifacts that were rescued from Lithuania following World War II. It is now complete and will soon be available online. Writing about her experiences working on the collection, Alyssa Quint notes that “radical access” to these artifacts stands to transform our understanding of “what East European Jewry was, and . . . our sense of the past.”

This will not be an overnight affair. There is no smoking gun, for instance, no star document that will shine a light on utterly undiscovered worlds. But there are many missing chapters in the story of Ashkenazi Jewry and many more chapters that lack detail and relatability. With instantaneous access to these collections, the energy of scholars, translators, performers, composers, artists, and genealogists will tell these stories with unprecedented ease. It provides an opportunity, not so much to rewrite history, but to write it in a way in which the energy of its historians is finally matched by the availability of primary sources.

And with shifts in history will come shifts in collective memory. In fact, if anything could do this, the digitization of the Vilna Collections might decisively shift Jewish memory away from its center of gravity in the six-year period of World War II, toward and throughout the hundreds of years of creativity that preceded it.

Read more at Tablet

More about: East European Jewry, Jewish archives, Vilna


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