The “Song Searcher” of Jewish Ukraine

In the 1930s and 40s, Moyshe Beregovsky, a Jewish folklorist and musicologist, traveled through his native Ukraine carrying primitive recording equipment from shtetl to shtetl. The recordings, writes Andrew Silow-Carroll, can be heard “on 1,017 scratchy wax cylinders that for a long time many feared were lost.” A new documentary, Song Searcher, explores the history of these recordings and the culture they helped to preserve.

Various klezmer musicians are seen in the film, playing the songs that Beregovsky collected. Many of the songs reflect the misery of the Jewish experience under the Soviets, the Nazis, and the Soviets again. Even a so-called “humorous” song—sung here by Psoy Korolenko, a puckish Yiddish singer from Russia—is a revenge fantasy about confronting Hitler after the war.

There are also rare color photographs of the slaughter at Babyn Yar, one of many moments when the pictures and stories of trapped civilians and desperate refugees blur with this morning’s headlines out of Ukraine.

But the history, like today’s headlines, is head-swirling as you try to keep track of the shifting occupations and the various degrees of villainy. The Soviets are celebrated as the liberators of Auschwitz, but almost immediately turn on the Jews. Their targets included Beregovsky, who by this time had founded or led a slew of important and perfectly legal academic institutions in Russia and Ukraine.

By 1949, such Jewish ethnic activities were considered “cosmopolitan” by the Soviets, and Beregovsky was shipped off to Siberia, where he joined other slave laborers in building a railroad. Already a grandfather, he found some solace in leading the prison camp’s choir, and the film includes snippets of letters he wrote home to his wife Sara in Kyiv, asking her to send—what else?—sheet music.

Read more at JTA

More about: East European Jewry, Jewish music, Soviet Jewry, Ukrainian Jews

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy