Tag: Hebrew Literature


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Welcoming Pope Francis: David M. Weinberg, Jerusalem Post, May 22, 2014— This entire newspaper would not suffice to recap the anti-Jewish doctrines promulgated by Church Fathers which guided Catholic theology and practice down to the middle of the last century.

In Israel, Pope Francis to Witness Oasis of Stability in Chaotic Region for Christians: Sean Savage, Algemeiner, May 21, 2014—  Following in the footsteps of his two immediate predecessors, Pope Francis will embark upon a historic visit to Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank from May 24-26.

Tuvia Ruebner Never Stops Mourning the Lost: Toby Perl Freilich, Tablet, May 12, 2014 — Although long recognized for his lyric poetry in Europe, Tuvia Ruebner has spent most of his creative life in Israel laboring in relative obscurity, cast into the shadows of Yehuda Amichai and other modernist poets who enjoyed top billing among the “Statehood Generation.”

The Link Between Bamidbar And Shavuot: Rabbi Avi Weiss, Jewish Press, May 21, 2014— This week’s parshah, Bamidbar, is read prior to the Shavuot holiday.


On Topic Links


What Pope Francis Can do for Mideast Peace: Einat Wilf, New York Post, May 22, 2014

Middle Eastern Christians: Battered, Violated, and Abused, Do They Have Any Chance of Survival?

: Justus Reid Weiner, Jerusalem Post, May 22, 2014

On Middle East Visit, Pope Will Find a Diminished Christian Population: Nicholas Casey, Wall Street Journal, May 22, 2014

When Pope Francis Makes His Visit to Israel, This Rabbi Will Be His Guide: Meredith Hoffman, Tablet, May 12, 2014


WELCOMING POPE FRANCIS                                                  

David M. Weinberg                                                                                             Jerusalem Post, May 22, 2014


This entire newspaper would not suffice to recap the anti-Jewish doctrines promulgated by Church Fathers which guided Catholic theology and practice down to the middle of the last century. For centuries, Jews were rejecters of Christ, “perfidious” objects of contempt to be isolated and humiliated until they “saw the light,” a non-people shorn of their covenantal heritage including the right to the Land of Israel. Inquisition, blood libel, pogrom, burning the Talmud and burning Jews at the stake, ghettoization and Holocaust – these were the fruits of 2,000 years of vicious Christian anti-Semitism. In our generation, one pope was complicity silent throughout the Holocaust. Another pope warmly embraced Yasser Arafat way back when (in 1982) no one else would go near the terrorist chieftain. It took until 1993 for the Vatican to accord diplomatic recognition to the State of Israel.

But this is not the whole story, and it is wrong not to appreciate the vast strides forward of recent years in Christian-Jewish relations and Vatican- Israel ties. The ancient Christian anti-Semitism that fueled the Nazi movement has since been roundly repudiated by the Church, beginning with Nostra Aetate in 1965 and expanded upon by Pope John Paul II. John Paul II significantly changed the way in which Christians view, and teach about, Jews. He affirmed that God’s covenant with the Jewish people retains eternal validity; termed anti-Semitism a “sin against God” and called on the faithful to do tshuva for misdeeds against the Jews (using the Hebrew word for repentance); respectfully attended synagogue services and spoke of Jews as “elder brothers”; acknowledged Israel’s right to exist and its right to security; and established diplomatic relations with the state that embodies Jewish continuity. John Paul II’s millennial pilgrimage to Israel in 2000 was indeed an historic voyage.

Pope Francis, who arrives in Israel on Sunday, has deep friendships with the Jewish community of his homeland, and a track record of teaching respect for the Jewish People. He has spoken of Christianity and Judaism as partners, not adversaries, in the modern world; a world where a global struggle is under way against moral relativism on the one hand, and radical religious (mainly Islamic) extremism on the other.
Consequently, Francis should be warmly welcomed in Israel, to build on the bridges of understanding and cooperation that have been established. This is all the more true when we broaden the lens beyond Catholicism, to the Christian evangelical world that has become Israel’s best friend in global affairs. Israeli and Jews everywhere need to be cognizant of and grateful for the moral, spiritual, financial and political support of these believing Christians. They pray and lobby for Israel every day.

And yet, many in the Israeli religious community, in particular, still channel fear and resentment towards Christianity in general, and the Vatican in particular. They scaremonger about purported Vatican takeovers of Jewish sites (like King David’s tomb on Mount Zion), and relate with disdain to well-meaning Christian clergy and even to interfaith cooperation among lay leaders. I have seen angry Jewish religious treatises and newsletters which dismiss the Vatican’s warmer touch as Catholic lip-service, a tactical change in tone forced upon the Church by political realities. They assert that the Church’s goal remains the “theoretical, spiritual and practical destruction of the eternality of Israel,” and the “collapsing of the State of Israel by supporting anti-Israel terrorist organizations, under the cover of concern for justice and humanity.” Such militant talk provides ideological cover for misguided, fringe youth who have taken to occasionally vandalizing Church property.

I say that such radical unfriendliness towards Christians and the pope is wrong – morally, tactically and educationally. Morally, the Jewish People and the State of Israel ought to amicably adjust to favorable change in Christian attitudes where such exists, and it does. Tactically, we need not alienate millions of fair-minded Christians around the world. We have no need to make enemies out of friends and to spurn goodwill where it is proffered. Educationally, contempt for the Church is, I feel, somewhat passé. As a proud people restored to its homeland, we no longer need to scorn. We have the strength to accept the reformed Church and work with its leaders, to mutual benefit. In accepting the Vatican’s outstretched hand, I don’t mean to erase the memory of our galut years; of the Jewish People’s sad sojourn in the Diaspora as a people despised by the Church. Even the friendliest current voices cannot drown out Church history. It’s not humanly possible. We certainly have the right to stand aloof from the past attitudes and conduct of the Church.

Furthermore, distinguishing between today’s pro- and anti-Israel Christians is not always easy for Jews.
The lines blur between Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s rotten Anglican-missionary- colonized heart, pro-BDS Presbyterian and Episcopalian churches in the US, and the diabolically anti-Israel Church of Scotland, on the one hand; and the newly Israel-friendly Vatican and even friendlier evangelical churches around the world, on the other. But we have an obligation to discern and appreciate these differences, and to respond maturely to each in kind…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link –Ed.]







Sean Savage                                                                                                          Algemeiner, May 21, 2014


Following in the footsteps of his two immediate predecessors, Pope Francis will embark upon a historic visit to Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank from May 24-26. Throughout his career, Francis has shown a deep appreciation for the Jewish people and has made Jewish-Catholic relations a top priority. Yet this month, Francis will arrive in a Mideast region beset by uprisings, sectarian violence, and religious extremism, where Christians are routinely being driven from their homes and persecuted by Islamic fundamentalists.


As one of the few areas of stability and prosperity in the region, Israel has become an important ally for Christians. As such, on his trip the pope will face the dual challenge of confronting extremism, while also promoting reconciliation between the region’s Christians, Jews, and Muslim. “The Vatican is hoping this trip promotes unity among Christians, encourages Christians in the Middle East to remain committed, [while also] improving relations with Jews and Muslims,” John Allen, an associate editor for the Boston Globe who has covered the Catholic Church for nearly two decades, told JNS.org.


A major challenge Pope Francis and Vatican officials face, however, is walking the fine diplomatic line between support for Israel and staying on friendly terms with Arab-Muslim-majority countries, which are home to many Christians and important holy sites for the religion. “The Vatican tries to take a neutral position on many of the political controversies in the region,” Rabbi Dr. Eugene Korn, the Jerusalem-based director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC), told JNS.org. The Vatican, said Korn, “is enormously fearful of Christians who are being persecuted and are fleeing Muslim countries in the region,” and doesn’t want to provoke more violence against them by taking sides.


Nonetheless, privately, Vatican officials are often vocal in their support for Israel and grateful for the basic protections it provides to Christians and their holy sites. “The reality is that most Vatican diplomats are inclined to be supportive of Israel because they know whatever problems Christians in Israel face, pale in comparison to the problems they have in the rest of the Middle East,” Allen explained. “Many native Arab Christians in Israel do complain about being second-class citizens, facing travel problems and discrimination,” he said. “But they are not getting shot like they are in Syria, Egypt or Iraq. There is a great deal of sympathy for what they see as basic security, rights and rule of law in Israel.”


Israel has one of the few Christian communities left in the Middle East that is still growing.  According to 2013 figures released by Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, there are roughly 161,000 Christians living in Israel, up from 158,000 in 2012. At the same time, Christian populations elsewhere in the region are rapidly declining. According to the Pew Research Center, just 0.6 percent of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians now live in the Middle East and North Africa. Christians make up only 4 percent of the region’s total inhabitants, drastically down from 20 percent a century ago. In Israel, the Christian community largely thrives, regularly outperforming Jews and Muslims in education. But that is not the case in Palestinian-controlled areas. In Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, Christians have declined from about 70 percent of the population a few decades ago to only 15 percent today. “Being Catholic and living in Israel and in the Holy Land is without a doubt a grace and a privilege for many reasons; it means being close to the Holy Places, to local Christians, especially those belonging to the Eastern Churches, and to the Jewish people,” Father Francesco Voltaggio—rector of the Galilee Seminary, a Catholic-Jewish dialogue center founded by Pope John Paul II—told JNS.org. Voltaggio, who will meet Pope Francis during his visit, feels that the trip will cement Catholic-Jewish relations while also being an important opportunity to open dialogue with Muslims. “I expect a step forward in the renewed relationship between Christians and Jews, as well as an opening of hope in the dialogue with Islam, a dialogue that is often marked by wounds, yet is necessary today more than ever, so as not to prevent tragedies, like the violence caused by fundamentalism,” Voltaggio said.


While most of Pope Francis’s itinerary in Israel will take him to the usual spots visited by heads of state—such as Yad Vashem and the Western Wall—as well as to meetings with to Israeli leaders, the most remarkable aspect of the trip may be the trend it is setting. “This is the third consecutive pope who has visited Israel,” Korn said. “This is going to establish an informal policy for popes in the future.” “It really strengthens the Vatican policy of coming to Israel and paying homage to the Jewish people,” he said.


But despite the goodwill developed between the Vatican and Israel, several obstacles remain. One of the largest is that the “Fundamental Accord” signed by Israel and the Vatican in 1993, which established relations between the two states, has not been finalized—leaving Church properties in Israel in a state of limbo when it comes to taxation or other administrative areas. “You can find fault on both sides [for not finishing the agreement]. But the fact that this has been dragged out for so long has become a source of irritation in the Vatican,” Allen said. One of the points of contention related to this area has been the status of the Cenacle—the traditional site of the Jesus’s Last Supper on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Jews also revere the building containing the Cenacle, as the tomb of King David. Hundreds of religious Jews recently held a protest against the building’s rumored transfer to the Vatican during the pope’s visit. Lior Haiat, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official who is handling public diplomacy for the papal visit, said rumors surrounding the impeding transfer of sovereignty over the Last Supper room, as part of finalizing the 1993 agreement with the Vatican, are “untrue.” Nevertheless, he said Israel has been in discussions with the Vatican over the status of Christian holy sites…               

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link –Ed.]



TUVIA RUEBNER NEVER STOPS MOURNING THE LOST                                Toby Perl Freilich

Tablet, May 12, 2014


Although long recognized for his lyric poetry in Europe, Tuvia Ruebner has spent most of his creative life in Israel laboring in relative obscurity, cast into the shadows of Yehuda Amichai and other modernist poets who enjoyed top billing among the “Statehood Generation.” Though of their generation Ruebner, now 90, was always an outlier—both literally, since he lived on a northern kibbutz far from the cafés of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and creatively. His work focused on loss and destruction, topics out of favor with the generation of newly smelted Israelis. But these days, Ruebner is enjoying a new buzz in Israel. In the past decade, the accolades have been stacking up—the Anne Frank Prize, the Jerusalem Prize, the Israel Prime Minister’s Prize for Literature (twice), and finally, in 2008, the coveted Israel Prize.


Since 1957 he has published 15 poetry collections, most recently in 2013, and two new books of his poems in English translation are poised to come out: In the Illuminated Dark: Selected Poems of Tuvia Ruebner, translated and introduced by Rachel Tzvia Back—who accompanied me on a recent visit to Ruebner—and Late Beauty, a book of Ruebner poems translated by Lisa Katz and Shahar Bram. Ruebner is old enough to both appreciate the newfound fame and realize that it changes nothing; he is still haunted by the past and grateful for the present. For a man whose life and work have been overshadowed by loss—of his parents, his beloved little sister, a young wife, and an adult son—Ruebner has a remarkably bright presence. Hard of hearing, he listens intently and has a sense of humor and playfulness that belie his age. In his poem, “Postcard from Pressburg-Bratislava,” Ruebner writes:


    I was born in Pressburg. I had a mother, a father, a sister.

    I had, I believe, a small and happy childhood in Pressburg.


All the sadness and displacement expressed in his poetry seem to rest on something solid, secure, even joyous.


Outside the Ruebner home on Kibbutz Merhavia, I was greeted by Galila, Tuvia’s wife, and was immediately struck by how starkly beauty can express itself in an 82-year-old woman. Galila, a former concert pianist, led me inside where her husband was seated at the computer, wearing a long brown jalabiya and a colorfully embroidered Nepalese cap. Ruebner likens the seduction of territorial expansion to that of a mythological siren


The living room is tiny, on the scale of most old kibbutz apartments, its walls almost entirely obscured by works of modern art, shelves of books, family photographs, and Ruebner’s own body of photographic work. In January 1924, when Ruebner was born to a prosperous Jewish family, Pressburg—or Bratislava, as its Slovakian speakers knew it—was home to German, Hungarian, and Slovakian-speaking communities. Picturesquely situated along the Danube, it was sandwiched between Austria and Hungary and passed to Slovakian control just before Ruebner was born. He grew up in a traditional but largely secular household (“We were a little more observant than Kafka,” he noted wryly), where he and his father would sneak their bacon off paper plates in the hallway. He attended the Neolog synagogue with his parents on the High Holidays and his grandparents on Passover and was educated in a Protestant Evangelical school until fifth grade. The principal was a Masonic brother of Ruebner’s father at the local lodge. For religion lessons, a rabbi was enlisted to instruct the Jewish students in Bible stories and religious rituals.


Though he’d compose the occasional poem for a family event, it was prose that captured Ruebner’s imagination as a boy. In grade school, his teacher sent a short story of his to the renowned Prager Tagblatt. It was about a mountaineer who, upon cresting the top, catches the sunrise and promptly tumbles down the mountain. The paper declined the submission, claiming, “This can’t be the story of a 10-year-old.” Ruebner’s formal schooling ended after only a year of high school, when anti-Semitic laws banned public education to Jews. A counselor at his Hashomer Hatzair youth movement group arranged for him to join a Hachshara to train for life in Palestine, where he wrote stories for the publicly posted newspaper. One of his counselors, partial to poetry, suggested that Ruebner begin to write “expressionistically.” Pressed for an explanation, the counselor replied, “A corn leaf is a comma,” and advised Ruebner to read Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus. It ignited in him a love of Rilke and a lifelong passion for poetry.


Because of his membership in a Zionist youth group, Ruebner’s family was able to buy him an exit visa, and in 1941, when he was 17, Ruebner bade a halting farewell to his family and made his way to Palestine. Sent to Kibbutz Merhavia, he enjoyed the work outdoors but found the flat, parched terrain ugly, and longed for the lush and gently rolling landscape of his childhood. The yearning for home was compounded by the harsh welcome the new arrivals received. In explaining why he continued to write poems in German for 12 years after his arrival, Ruebner erupts in a torrent of painful memories, “We arrived during the war, Rommel was at Alexandria; we weren’t wanted. They took all our possessions and divided them among the kibbutz members. My separation from home had been a difficult one. I was a stranger; I felt I didn’t belong here. I didn’t want to change my name, I didn’t want to become a sabra.”


In 1944, he found out why, two years earlier, he had stopped receiving replies to his allotted 24-word, Red Cross postcards home: In June of that year his parents and his 12-year-old sister, Alice (Litzi), had perished at Auschwitz. In his grief he sought the solace of another Slovakian émigrée: a woman named Ada Klein, whom he married. They had a daughter in 1949, but within months the young parents were in a bus accident that killed Ada and left Ruebner seriously wounded with burns covering much of his body. While in the hospital he was visited by Lea Goldberg, already a renowned poet and a close friend…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




Rabbi Avi Weiss

Jewish Press, May 21, 2014


This week’s parshah, Bamidbar, is read prior to the Shavuot holiday. Rabbi Isaiah Halevy Horowitz suggests that this Torah reading teaches us important lessons about the holiday. Bamidbar presents the names and leaders of each of the tribes of Israel. It can be suggested that the delineation of the leaders of each tribe is linked to Shavuot as it promotes the idea that the heads of the community should be paragons or teachers of Torah. The parshah also describes the way the Jews encamped around the Tabernacle. Rav Umberto Cassuto echoes the similarity to Shavuot as he calls the Tabernacle a “mini-Sinai.” We simulated Sinai as we wandered through the desert, constantly reliving the experience of revelation.

Bamidbar begins by telling us that God spoke to Moshe in the Sinai desert. Rabbi Nachman Cohen in A Time for All Things maintains that the confluence of Bamidbar and Shavuot is “to underscore the great significance of the Torah having been given in the desert – no man’s land.” Rabbi Cohen points out that the location of the vast expanse of the wilderness is significant for it teaches us that the Torah is not “the exclusive property of given individuals.” Living a desert existence makes us feel vulnerable. The fact that the Torah was given in the desert also teaches that “Torah can only be acquired if a person humbles himself.”


My colleague Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky inspired another idea. Perhaps the key relationship between Bamidbar and Shavuot is “counting.” Not only does our portion deal with the census – the counting – of the Jewish people, but the Torah, when mentioning Shavuot, stresses the counting of days between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuot. In the words of the Torah, “seven weeks shall you count” (Leviticus, 23:15). This teaches that as important as the holiday of Shavuot may be, equally important is the count toward the holiday. An important lesson emerges. Whenever we are engaged in a particular project, whether working toward a professional goal or striving to achieve in our personal lives, it is important to reflect and to evaluate how much time has already been spent on the endeavor and how much is still required to achieve its realization. Evaluating forces us to consider the gift of every moment we have. Rabbi Joseph Lookstein points out that we must not only realize what the years have done to us but what we have done with our years.


Hence the confluence of Bamidbar and Shavuot. In the words of the Psalmist, “Teach us to number our days” (Psalms, 90:12). Bamidbar teaches the significance of each person and Shavuot teaches the importance of every moment for the individual.


CIJR wishes all its friends and supporters: Shabbat Shalom!

What Pope Francis Can do for Mideast Peace: Einat Wilf, New York Post, May 22, 2014 —As Pope Francis sets off for his visit to Israel, Jordan and Palestine, his aims are clearly humanitarian, but he risks falling into the pitfalls of the political.

Middle Eastern Christians: Battered, Violated, and Abused, Do They Have Any Chance of Survival?: Justus Reid Weiner, Jerusalem Post, May 22, 2014—Throughout the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, Christians are facing pervasive and systematic persecution that is steadily increasing in its intensity and scope.

On Middle East Visit, Pope Will Find a Diminished Christian Population: Nicholas Casey, Wall Street Journal, May 22, 2014—At the Church of the Nativity, triumphal banners with biblical stories hang in Manger Square, where Pope Francis will celebrate Mass this weekend.

When Pope Francis Makes His Visit to Israel, This Rabbi Will Be His Guide: Meredith Hoffman, Tablet, May 12, 2014—The day before her wedding, Florence Ofer, a blonde 27-year-old accountant, strolled out of the Shabbat service at Benei Tikva, a synagogue in Buenos Aires, praising the shul’s rabbi, Abraham Skorka, who was going to conduct her wedding.














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The resurgence of Hebrew literature in America and the Jewish refugees from Arab lands.


Denouncing Tehran as the biggest threat to global security, Canada has closed its embassy in Iran and will expel all remaining Iranian diplomats in Canada within five days Foreign Minister John Baird, cited Iran's nuclear program, its hostility towards Israel and Iranian military assistance to the government of President Bashar Assad Syria…
"Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today," said Baird, accusing Iran of showing blatant disregard for the safety of foreign diplomats.  "Under the circumstances, Canada can no longer maintain a diplomatic presence in Iran … Diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran have been suspended," he said.

In response, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed Canada's decision to expel the Iranian ambassador from Ottawa and to close the Canadian embassy in Tehran,  "I congratulate Canada's PM [Stephen] Harper for showing leadership and making a bold move that sends a clear message to Iran and the world. The determination shown by Canada is of great importance in order for the Iranians to understand that they cannot go on with their race toward nuclear arms. This practical step must set an example of international morality and responsibility to the international community,"

Cynthia Ozick
The New Republic,  June 7, 2012
On December 17, 2007, on the storied stage of the Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y in New York, the Hebrew language—its essence, its structure, its metaphysic— entered American discourse in so urgent a manner as to renew, if not to inflame, an ancient argument. The occasion was a public conversation between Marilynne Robinson and Robert Alter: a not uncommon match of novelist with literary scholar. In this instance, though, the scholar is an English Department anomaly: not only a master of the Anglo-American corpus, but a profoundly engaged Hebraist and Bible translator and expositor, whose newly published volume of Englished psalms is the evening’s subject.

The novelist, too, is exceptional among her contemporaries—a writer of religious inclination, open to history and wit, yet not dogged by piety, if piety implies an unthinking mechanics of belief. Robinson may rightly be termed a Protestant novelist, in a way we might hesitate to characterize even the consciously Protestant Updike. Certainly it is impossible to conceive of any other American writer of fiction who could be drawn, as Robinson has been drawn, to an illuminating reconsideration of Calvinism.
Protestant and Jew, writer and translator: such a juxtaposition is already an argument. The expectation of one may not be the expectation of the other. The novelist’s intuition for the sacred differs from the translator’s interrogation of the sacred. And beyond this disparity stands the inveterate perplexity, for English speakers, of the seventeenth century biblical sonorities of the King James Version (KJV): can they, should they, be cast out as superannuated? The question is not so much whether the KJV can be surpassed as whether it can be escaped.

From that very platform where Robinson and Alter sit amiably contending, a procession of the great modernists of the twentieth century (among them Eliot and Auden and Marianne Moore and Dylan Thomas) once sent out their indelible voices—voices inexorably reflecting the pulsings and locutions that are the KJV’s venerable legacy to poets. And not only to poets: everyone for whom English is a mother tongue is indebted to the idiom and cadences of the KJV. For Americans, they are the Bible, and the Bible, even now, remains a commanding thread in the American language.
It is that thread, or call it a bright ribbon of feeling, that animates Robinson as she confronts Alter’s rendering of Psalm 30, marveling at its “sacred quality of being,” and at the Psalmist’s “I, this amazing universal human singular who integrates experience and interprets it profoundly.” Any translation, she concludes, “is always another testimony.” Here the novelist invokes exaltation in phrases that are themselves exalting, as if dazzled by a vast inner light washing out both the visual and the tactile: hence “testimony,” an ecstatic internal urge. But Alter responds with an illustration that hints at dissent.

The KJV, he points out, has “I will extol thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up,” while for “lifted me up” Alter chooses, instead, “drew me up.” The Hebrew word dolah, he explains, refers to drawing water from a well; the image is of a bottomless crevasse in the earth, fearfully identified in a later verse as “the Pit.” Rather than turning inward, the translator uncovers sacral presence in the concrete meaning of the Hebrew, so that the metaphor of the well instantly seizes on weight and depth and muscle. Which approach is truer, which more authentic?
This, then, is the marrow—the unacknowledged pit—of the argument. And it becomes explicit only moments afterward, in Robinson’s beautiful recitation of Alter’s translation of Psalm 8, followed by Alter’s reading of the Hebrew original. The contrast in sound is so arresting that Robinson is asked to comment on it. She hesitates: it is clear that to American ears the Hebrew guttural is as uncongenial as it is unfamiliar. Diffidently, courteously, she concedes, “I have no Hebrew.” “Well, I have,” says Alter.
And there it is, the awful cut exposed: the baleful question of birthright. The translator asserts his possession of the language of the Psalms: is this equal to a claim that he alone is their rightful heir? Perhaps yes; but also perhaps not. The novelist, meanwhile, has embraced and passionately internalized those selfsame verses, though in their English dress—then is she too not a genuine heir to their intimacies and majesties? Never mind that Alter, wryly qualifying, goes on to address the issue of vocal disparity: “And if anyone thinks that he is reproducing the sound of Hebrew in English, he is seriously deluded.” A translator’s gesture of humility—the two musical systems cannot be made to meet; it cannot be done. But this comes as an aside and a distraction. What continues to hang in the air is Alter’s emphatic declaration of ownership.
Hebrew in America has a bemusing past. The Puritans, out of scriptural piety, once dreamed of establishing Hebrew as the national language. Harvard and Yale in their early years required the study of Hebrew together with Latin and Greek; Yale even now retains its Hebrew motto. Divinity school Hebrew may be diminished, but it endures. And though the Hebrew Bible is embedded in the Old Testament, its native tongue is silenced. “We have no Hebrew,” admits biblically faithful America.

Then can Hebrew, however unheard, be said to be an integral American birthright? Was Alter, on that uneasy evening in New York, enacting a kind of triumphalism, or was he, instead, urging a deeper affinity? Deeper, because the well of Hebrew yields more than the transports of what we have come to call the “spiritual.” Send down a bucket, and up comes a manifold history—the history of a particular people, but also the history of the language itself. An old, old tongue, the enduring vehicle of study and scholarship, public liturgy and private prayer, geographically displaced and dispersed but never abandoned, never fallen into irretrievable disuse, continually renewed, and at the last restored to the utilitarian and the commonplace.

Hebrew as a contemporary language, especially for poetry, is no longer the language of the Bible; but neither is it not the language of the Bible. And despite translation’s heroic bridging, despite its every effort to narrow the idiomatic divide by disclosing the true names of things (the word itself, not merely the halo of the word), we may never see an America steeped in Hebrew melodies.
Yet once, for a little time, we did.

THERE WAS A PERIOD, in the first half of the twentieth century, when America—the land, its literature, its varied inhabitants and their histories—was sung in the Hebrew alphabet. Long epic poems on American Indians, the California Gold Rush, the predicament and religious expression of blacks in the American South, the farms and villages and churchgoers of New England, the landscape of Maine—these were the Whitmanesque explorations and celebrations of a rapturous cenacle of Hebrew poets who flourished from before World War I until the aftermath of World War II. But both “cenacle” and “flourished” must be severely qualified.

Strewn as they were among a handful of cities—New York, Cleveland, Boston, Baltimore, Chicago—they rarely met as an established group; and if they flourished, it was in driven pursuit of an elitist art sequestered in nearly hermetic obscurity. They were more a fever and a flowering than a movement: they issued neither pronouncements nor provocations. They had no unified credo. What they had was Hebrew—Hebrew for its own sake, Hebrew as a burning bush in the brain. Apart from those socio-historic narratives on purely American themes, they also wrote in a lyrical vein, or a metaphysical, or a romantic.

Though modernism was accelerating all around them, and had taken root through European influences in the burgeoning Hebrew poetry of Palestine/ Israel, the American Hebraists almost uniformly turned away from the staccato innovations of the modernists. They were, with one or two exceptions, classicists who repudiated make-it-new manifestos as a type of reductive barbarism. Rather than pare the language down, or compress it through imagism and other prosodic maneuvers, they sought to plumb its inexhaustible deeps. And when their hour of conflagration ebbed, it was not only because their readers were destined to be few. Hebrew had returned to its natural home in a Hebrew-speaking sovereign polity: a fulfillment that for the American Hebraists was, unwaveringly, the guiding nerve of their linguistic conviction.

Who, then, were these possessed and unheralded aristocrats, these priestly celebrants unencumbered by a congregation, these monarchs in want of a kingdom? Were they no more than a Diaspora chimera? In a revelatory work of scholarly grandeur that is in itself a hymn to Hebrew, Alan Mintz has revivified both the period and the poets. The capacious volume he calls Sanctuary in the Wilderness is history, biography, translation, criticism, and more—a “more” that is, after all, an evocation of regret. The regret is pervasive and tragic. Think not of some mute inglorious Milton, but of a living and achieving Milton set down in a society unable to decipher so much as a-b-c, and unaware of either the poet’s presence or his significance. Yet Mintz never condescends; with honorable diffidence, he repeatedly refers to this majestic study as merely introductory, an opening for others to come. (Top)

[This article has been shortened  in the interests of space.
For the full article please see the On Topic links below.]

Irwin Cotler
Jerusalem Post, Sept. 6, 2012
This November will mark the 65th anniversary of the UN Partition Resolution of November 29, 1947. It is sometimes forgotten – and often not even known – that this was the first-ever blueprint for an Israeli-Palestinian “two states for two peoples” solution. Regrettably, while Jewish leaders accepted the resolution, Arab and Palestinian leaders did not, and by their own acknowledgment, declared war on the nascent Jewish state while also targeting the Jewish nationals living in their respective countries.
Indeed, had the UN Partition Resolution been accepted, there would have been no 1948 Arab- Israeli war, no refugees, and none of the pain and suffering of these past 65 years. The annual November 29 UN-organized International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People might well have been a day commemorating a Middle East peace, and the establishment of both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine.
Yet the revisionist Middle East narrative – prejudicial to authentic reconciliation and peace between peoples as well as between states – continues to hold that there was only one victim population, Palestinian refugees, and that Israel was responsible for the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe) of 1948.
The result is that the pain and plight of 850,000 Jews uprooted and displaced from Arab countries – the forgotten exodus – has been both expunged and eclipsed from both the Middle East peace and justice narratives these past 65 years.
Indeed, the upcoming United Nations commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People – celebrated on the anniversary of the Partition Resolution – will likely ignore, yet again, the plight of Jewish refugees, thereby indulging and encouraging this Middle East revisionism.
Moreover, this revisionist narrative has not only eclipsed – and erased – the forgotten exodus from memory and remembrance, but it also denies that it was a forced exodus, and one that resulted from both double rejectionism and double aggression. This is the real nakba – the real double catastrophe.
Simply put, the Arab countries not only rejected a proposed Palestinian state and went to war to extinguish the nascent Jewish state, but also targeted the Jewish nationals living in their respective countries, thereby creating two refugee populations – the Palestinian refugee population resulting from the Arab war against Israel, and the Jewish refugees resulting from the Arab war against its own Jewish nationals.
Indeed, evidence contained in the report entitled “Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries: The Case for Rights And Redress” documents in detail the pattern of state-sanctioned repression and persecution in Arab countries – including Nuremberg-like laws – that targeted its Jewish populations, resulting in denationalization, forced expulsions, illegal sequestration of property, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and murder – namely, anti-Jewish pogroms.
And while the internal Jewish narrative has often referred to pogroms as European attacks on their Jewish nationals, it has often ignored Arab-Muslim attacks on their Jewish nationals. Moreover, as the report also documents, these massive human rights violations were not only the result of state-sanctioned patterns of oppression in each of the Arab countries, but they were reflective of a collusive blueprint, as embodied in the Draft Law of the Political Committee of the League of Arab States in 1947.
This is a story whose voices are only now being heard by many for the first time. It is a story whose painful testimony has been shared too often only among the victims themselves. It is a truth that must now be affirmed, acknowledged, and acted upon in the interests of justice and history.
Regrettably, the United Nations also bears express and continuing responsibility for this distorted Middle East and peace narrative.
Since 1948, there have been more than 150 UN resolutions that have specifically dealt with the Palestinian refugee plight. Yet, not one of these resolutions makes any reference to, nor is there any expression of concern for, the plight of the 850,000 Jews displaced from Arab countries. Nor have any of the Arab countries involved – or the Palestinian leadership involved – expressed any acknowledgment, let alone regret, for this pain and suffering, or for their respective responsibility for the pain and suffering.
How do we rectify this historical – and ongoing – injustice? What are the rights and remedies available under international human rights and humanitarian law? And what are the corresponding duties and obligations incumbent upon the United Nations, Arab countries, and members of the international community?…
It must be appreciated that while justice has long been delayed, it must no longer be denied. The time has come to rectify this historical injustice, and to restore the plight and truth of this forgotten – and forced – exodus of Jews from Arab countries to the Middle East narrative from which they have been expunged and eclipsed these 65 years.
…Remedies for victim refugee groups – including rights of remembrance, truth, justice and redress, as mandated under human rights and humanitarian law – must now be invoked for Jews displaced from Arab countries.
…In the manner of duties and responsibilities, each of the Arab countries – and the League of Arab States – must acknowledge their role and responsibility in their double aggression of launching an aggressive war against Israel and the perpetration of human rights violations against their respective Jewish nationals. The culture of impunity must end.
…The Arab League Peace Plan of 2002 should incorporate the question of Jewish refugees from Arab countries as part of its narrative for an Israeli- Arab peace, just as the Israeli narrative now incorporates the issue of Palestinian refugees in its vision of an Israeli-Arab peace.
…On the international level, the UN General Assembly – in the interests of justice and equity – should include reference to Jewish refugees as well as Palestinian refugees in its annual resolutions; the UN Human Rights Council should address, as it has yet to do, the issue of Jewish as well as Palestinian refugees; UN agencies dealing with compensatory efforts for Palestinian refugees should also address Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
…The annual November 29 commemoration by the United Nations of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People should be transformed into an International Day of Solidarity for a Two-State – Two-Peoples Solution, as the initial 1947 Partition Resolution intended, including solidarity with all refugees created by the Israeli-Arab conflict.
…Jurisdiction over Palestinian refugees should be transferred from UNRWA to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There was no justification then – and still less today – for the establishment of a separate body to deal only with Palestinian refugees, particularly when that body has been itself compromised by its incitement to hatred and violence, as well as its revisionist teaching of the Middle East peace and justice narrative.
…Any bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – which one hopes will presage a just and lasting peace – must include Jewish refugees as well as Palestinian refugees in an inclusive joinder of discussion.
…During any and all discussions on the Middle East by the Quartet and others, any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees should be paralleled by a reference to Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
Some governments have made welcome progress on this question, such as the US Congress in recently adopting legislation recognizing the plight of Jewish refugees and requiring that the issue be raised in any and all talks on Middle East peace. I have a motion before the Canadian Parliament in this regard which I hope will soon be adopted. Legislatures around the world should hold hearings on the issue to ensure public awareness and action, to allow for victims’ testimony, and to right the historical record – an effort in which I trust that Canada will be engaged this fall.
In sum, the exclusion and denial of rights and redress to Jewish refugees from Arab countries continues to prejudice authentic negotiations between the parties and a just and lasting peace between them. Let there be no mistake about it – as I have said before and will continue to affirm: Where there is no remembrance, there is no truth; where there is no truth, there will be no justice; where there is no justice, there will be no reconciliation; and where there is no reconciliation, there will be no peace – which we all seek.(Top)