Tag: Yiddish

Ira Robinson: Avraham Novershtern, Kan gar ha’am hayehudi: sifrut yidish be’artsot habrit [Here Dwells the Jewish People: A Cent


Avraham Novershtern, Kan gar ha’am hayehudi: sifrut yidish be’artsot habrit [Here Dwells the Jewish People: A Century of American Yiddish Literature] Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2015. 747 pp.  ISBN: 978-965-493-822-8.


The phenomenon of secular Yiddish literature, beginning in the late nineteenth century, is an immensely important part of the story of Jewish cultural creativity in modern times.  By the early twenty-first century, this phenomenon is largely a memory.  For contemporary Jews, other than those who live in Hasidic enclaves which cultivate Yiddish as a means of communal solidarity, Yiddish constitutes a memory to be revisited and utilized in a post-vernacular context.   The thousands of men and women, poets, novelists, essayists, and critics, who together produced , for a brief century, a formidable body of artistic and literary creativity in Yiddish have disappeared from the consciousness of contemporary Jews save for those, like Isaac Bashevis Singer,  who have been translated into other languages and are known by their translations.  The relatively small community of several thousand academics and Yiddish cultural activists able to read and communicate in secular Yiddish and to access its treasures in the original language do not seem to constitute a sufficient critical mass that will markedly change this situation.


This is what makes Avraham Novershtern’s massive Hebrew volume an event of great cultural importance for all those for whom no aspect of Jewish cultural creativity should be alien.  From his position as Professor of Yiddish at the Hebrew University, Novershtern has spent decades carefully reading and researching Yiddish literature, and the present volume marks the masterful culmination of his efforts.  Novershtern’s book concentrates on the American center of Yiddish literature while always requiring the reader to understand that the true story of the achievement of American Yiddish literature can be appreciated only by comparing America with the two other great centers of Yiddish cultural creativity in the twentieth century–Poland and the Soviet Union.  In Poland, however, that creativity was cruelly cut off by the extermination of European Jewry during the Holocaust.  The promise of Yiddish cultural continuity in the Soviet Union as well was artificially cut off by Stalinist policies and purges. 


That left America as the one major center to enjoy unimpeded by external forces the rise of secular Yiddish culture (from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, culminating in the 1920s) and its subsequent decline (from mid-twentieth century on).  For that reason alone, America would have been important for the story of Yiddish literature.   Beyond that, however, Novershtern emphasizes that America was the place where Yiddish theater and journalism flourished earlier and more lastingly than anywhere else and that cultural influences between Europe and America travelled in both directions.


The length of Novershtern’s book is necessary for several reasons.  One of them is that he has a really complex story to tell and this story has only been partially told in previous literary criticism and scholarship in Yiddish, English, and Hebrew.  Secondly, he is writing in Hebrew for a Hebrew-reading audience.  Israel is the place where the struggle for the primacy of the Hebrew language as the everyday language of the Jewish people resulted in the “othering” of Yiddish.  For the Hebrew readers of Israel, heirs to this “othering,” Novershtern attempts to convey the immense cultural importance of American Jewry in general and of Yiddish creativity in America in particular through both historical reconstruction and artistic presentation.  Thus for every poet and novelist he analyzes, Novershtern offers not merely copious and extensive citations in the original Yiddish.  Each citation is offered in a Hebrew translation that is not merely accurate, but also displays great artistic merit.


The book begins with several general chapters that enable the reader to understand the major trends of the story in all its complexity.   Then readers are treated to studies of the works of a number of individual poets and novelists, with the bulk of the attention given to poets (both A. Leyeles and Yankev Glatstein merit two chapters apiece).  While obviously not every writer of merit received that sort of extended attention (the book was certainly not conceived as an encyclopedia) enough has been said by Novershtern to give the discerning reader a well-planned entrée into the world of the authors and critics and the issues they confronted.  The lengthy and detailed timeline included at the end of the book (699-720) is one of the book’s most valuable features, helping the reader see the forest as well as the individual trees. 


As has been said, Here Dwells the Jewish People is a work of Israeli scholarship in Hebrew meant to satisfy the needs of the Israeli academic community.  In its breadth and scope, there is no exact equivalent in English but it is my hope that it will be translated speedily for the benefit of an English-speaking reading public that will certainly greatly appreciate this important contribution to our knowledge of Jewish cultural creativity in North America.


Ira Robinson


Concordia University


We welcome your comments to this and any other CIJR publication. Please address your response to:  Rob Coles, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, PO Box 175, Station  H, Montreal QC H3G 2K7 




How Peace Negotiator Martin Indyk Cashed a Big, Fat $14.8 Million Check From Qatar: Lee Smith, Tablet, Sept. 17, 2014 — The New York Times recently published a long investigative report by Eric Lipton, Brooke Williams, and Nicholas Confessore on how foreign countries buy political influence through Washington think tanks.

Summer in Sweden: Ida Eriksson, Jeruasalem Post, Aug. 27, 2014— Summer is ending. The rain has washed summer away and the air is crisp and cool.

What’s Behind Germany’s New Anti-Semitism: Jochen Bittner, New York Times, Sept. 16, 2014 — Europe is living through a new wave of anti-Semitism.

The Secret Yiddish History of Scotland: Philologos, Forward, Sept. 16, 2014— Recently, as Scotland’s independence vote began to loom large in the media, someone asked me if I had ever heard of Scots Yiddish.


On Topic Links


Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks: Eric Lipton, Brooke Williams & Nicholas Confessore

, New York Times, Sept. 6, 2014

Anti-Semitism, Old and New: Ian Tuttle, National Review, Aug. 25, 2014

Meet the New Jews, Same as the Old Jews: James Kirchick, Tablet, Aug. 28, 2014

Klinghoffer: Pretending Art Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry: Lori Lowenthal Marcus, Jewish Press, Sept. 15, 2014

Merkel Confronts Anti-Semitism: Wall Street Journal, Sept. 15, 2014



HOW PEACE NEGOTIATOR MARTIN INDYK CASHED A                                

BIG, FAT $14.8 MILLION CHECK FROM QATAR                                              

Lee Smith                     

Tablet, Sept. 17, 2014


The New York Times recently published a long investigative report by Eric Lipton, Brooke Williams, and Nicholas Confessore on how foreign countries buy political influence through Washington think tanks. Judging from Twitter and other leading journalistic indicators, the paper’s original reporting appears to have gone almost entirely unread by human beings anywhere on the planet. In part, that’s because the Times’ editors decided to gift their big investigative scoop with the dry-as-dust title “Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks,” which sounds like the headline for an article in a D.C. version of The Onion. There is also the fact that the first 10 paragraphs of the Times piece are devoted to that highly controversial global actor, Norway, and its attempts to purchase the favors of The Center for Global Development, which I confess I’d never heard of before, although I live in Washington and attend think-tank events once or twice a week.


Except, buried deep in the Times’ epic snoozer was a world-class scoop related to one of the world’s biggest and most controversial stories—something so startling, and frankly so grotesque, that I have to bring it up again here: Martin Indyk, the man who ran John Kerry’s Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, whose failure in turn set off this summer’s bloody Gaza War, cashed a $14.8 million check from Qatar. Yes, you heard that right: In his capacity as vice president and director of the Foreign Policy Program at the prestigious Brookings Institution, Martin Indyk took an enormous sum of money from a foreign government that, in addition to its well-documented role as a funder of Sunni terror outfits throughout the Middle East, is the main patron of Hamas—which happens to be the mortal enemy of both the State of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party.


But far from trumpeting its big scoop, the Times seems to have missed it entirely, even allowing Indyk to opine that the best way for foreign governments to shape policy is “scholarly, independent research, based on objective criteria.” Really? It is pretty hard to imagine what the words “independent” and “objective” mean coming from a man who while going from Brookings to public service and back to Brookings again pocketed $14.8 million in Qatari cash. At least the Times might have asked Indyk a few follow-up questions, like: Did he cash the check from Qatar before signing on to lead the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians? Did the check clear while he was in Jerusalem, or Ramallah? Or did the Qatari money land in the Brookings account only after Indyk gave interviews and speeches blaming the Israelis for his failure? We’ll never know now. But whichever way it happened looks pretty awful. Or maybe the editors decided that it was all on the level, and the money influenced neither Indyk’s government work on the peace process nor Brookings’ analysis of the Middle East. Or maybe journalists just don’t think it’s worth making a big fuss out of obvious conflicts of interest that may affect American foreign policy. Maybe Qatar’s $14.8 million doesn’t affect Brookings’ research projects or what the think tank’s scholars tell the media, including the New York Times, about subjects like Qatar, Hamas, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other related areas in which Qatar has key interests at stake. Maybe the think tank’s vaunted objectivity, and Indyk’s personal integrity and his pride in his career as a public servant, trump the large piles of vulgar Qatari natural gas money that keep the lights on and furnish the offices of Brookings scholars and pay their cell-phone bills and foreign travel.


But people in the Middle East may be a little less blasé about this kind of behavior than we are. Officials in the Netanyahu government, likely including the prime minister himself, say they’ll never trust Indyk again, in part due to the article by Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea in which an unnamed U.S. official with intimate knowledge of the talks, believed to be Indyk, blamed Israel for the failure of the peace talks. Certainly Jerusalem has good reason to be wary of an American diplomat who is also, or intermittently, a highly paid employee of Qatar’s ruling family. Among other things, Qatar hosts Hamas’ political chief Khaled Meshaal, the man calling the shots in Hamas’ war against the Jewish state. Moreover, Doha is currently Hamas’ chief financial backer—which means that while Qatar isn’t itself launching missiles on Israeli towns, Hamas wouldn’t be able to do so without Qatari cash. Of course, Hamas, which Qatar proudly sponsors, is a problem not just for Israel but also the Palestinian Authority. Which means that both sides in the negotiations that Indyk was supposed to oversee had good reason to distrust an American envoy who worked for the sponsor of their mutual enemy. In retrospect, it’s pretty hard to see how either side could have trusted Indyk at all—or why the administration imagined he would make a good go-between in the first place. Indeed, the notion that Indyk himself was personally responsible for the failure of peace talks is hardly far-fetched in a Middle East wilderness of conspiracy theories. After all, who benefits with an Israeli-PA stalemate? Why, the Islamist movement funded by the Arab emirate whose name starts with the letter “Q” and, according to the New York Times, is Brookings’ biggest donor.


There are lots of other questions that also seem worth asking, in light of this smelly revelation—like why in the midst of Operation Protective Edge this summer did Kerry seek to broker a Qatari- (and Turkish-) sponsored truce that would necessarily come at the expense of U.S. allies, Israel, and the PA, as well as Egypt, while benefiting Hamas, Qatar, and Turkey? Maybe it was just Kerry looking to stay active. Or maybe Indyk whispered something in his former boss’ ear—from his office at Brookings, which is paid for by Qatar.


It’s not clear why Indyk and Brookings seem to be getting a free pass from journalists—or why Qatar does. Yes, as host of the 2022 World Cup and owner of two famous European soccer teams (Barcelona and Paris St. Germain), Doha projects a fair amount of soft power—in Europe, but not America. Sure, Doha hosts U.S. Central Command at Al Udeid air base, but it also hosts Al Jazeera, the world’s most famous anti-American satellite news network. The Saudis hate Doha, as does Egypt and virtually all of America’s Sunni Arab allies. That’s in part because Qataris back not only Hamas, but other Muslim Brotherhood chapters around the region and Islamist movements that threaten the rule of the U.S.’s traditional partners and pride themselves on vehement anti-Americanism. Which is why, of course, Qatar wisely chose to go over the heads of the American public and appeal to the policy elite—a strategy that began in 2007, when Qatar and Brookings struck a deal to open a branch of the Washington-based organization in Doha. Since then, the relationship has obviously progressed, to the point where it can appear, to suspicious-minded people, like Qatar actually bought and paid for John Kerry’s point man in the Middle East, the same way they paid for the plane that flew U.N. Sec. Gen. Ban Ki-Moon around the region during this summer’s Gaza war…

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





SUMMER IN SWEDEN                                                                                               

Ida Eriksson                                                                                                                                             


Jerusalem Post, Aug. 27, 2014


Summer is ending. The rain has washed summer away and the air is crisp and cool. You can almost feel the autumn sweeping in. You are walking to the local grocery store as you do every other day and suddenly everything is changed. The beautiful surroundings you find yourself in don’t match the hateful commentaries you get both from Jews and non-Jews on social media and elsewhere. They certainly doesn’t match the story of a Jew being attacked because of wearing a Magen David necklace some 500 meters outside your house. Who could imagine this could happen in the middle of Sweden? In a quarter that is heavily patrolled by police officers day and night? Once you were a Jew, now you are a baby-killer. Once you were a Swede, now you’ve become an Israeli. A long time ago you were accepted, part of society, now you are an outsider, once again. When you once came here you couldn’t reconcile the beautiful, perfectly-cut grass lanes and the tidiness of the street and the hard-working, marginalized people who surrounded you.


In the summer they used to burn cars, or even throw stones at bus drivers just for the sake of it, forgetting that these very bus drivers actually lived the same hard lives they did. All were striving through the Swedish societal maze of language, customs and behavioral codes. Once upon a time, when Jewish people in Europe were accused of baby-killing, or of housing Zionist nationalistic sentiments – they were persecuted and eventually murdered for it. Today, Jewish people in Europe are once more persecuted for their nationalistic sentiments and perceived as outsiders for their religious choices. Being a Jew in Sweden started as a privilege given to a single man, Aaron Isaac, at the end of the 18th century, and might end as a privilege accorded only to those Jews that don’t dare to be Jews. Such Jews apparently don’t realize they are acting exactly like their Spanish predecessors did at the end of the 15th century. They, too, were prevented – by law, as opposed to custom as is the case now – not to practice their religion in the open, and eventually had to flee for their lives. Hiding behind the Swedish custom of keeping religion a private matter, or trying to blend in, even going so far as letting go of some basic practices like circumcision or kosher slaughter are just a few examples. The Jewish practice of circumcision is compared in Sweden to female genital mutilation. Kosher slaughter is forbidden for hygienic reasons even though there are many research papers about Jewish customs and how they are intended to improve hygiene. A ban on circumcision has made it to the headlines a few times, resulting in a feeling of threat, though to date no legislation has been forthcoming. Kosher slaughter is forbidden by law.


Swedish Jews need to rise to the challenge; the challenge of protecting their life, lifestyle and right to choose freely, as can any Muslim or Christian in this country. If you feel you “stand with Israel” or “together we will win,” then you should know it’s all right and you shouldn’t fear for your life, your well-being or the consequences it will have on your family members. That is the meaning of freedom. Being free, in Israel or in Sweden, is hard work. You need to earn your freedom. You need to work hard in order to blend in, you need to be “lagom” (a Swedish word meaning “not too little and not too much”). In Israel the matter is protecting your life, and the little piece of sanity you have in order to go on functioning in society. In Sweden it’s about protecting your spiritual life and your mere existence as a Swedish Jew. Some would say these are actually the same. When autumn begins, you usually feel it is a fresh start. The new school year is coming, a new year commences at work after the long summer vacation. If you are Jewish then it is actually a new calendar year. In Sweden one can literally feel it in the air. This autumn, however, doesn’t feel refreshing. This autumn feels like history is just repeating itself. Living in Sweden today, having been born almost 40 years after Second World War and the Holocaust ended, makes it no better. The general feeling is “I don’t have a place in this world.”                                                                   




WHAT’S BEHIND GERMANY’S NEW ANTI-SEMITISM                                        

Jochen Bittner                                                                                                                   

New York Times, Sept. 16, 2014


Europe is living through a new wave of anti-Semitism. The president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews calls it the worst the Continent has seen since World War II. He may well be right. Attacks on synagogues are an almost weekly occurrence, and openly anti-Semitic chants are commonplace on well-attended marches from London to Rome. And yet it is here, in Germany, where the rise in anti-Semitism is most historically painful. On Sunday, thousands of people marched through Berlin in response, and heard both Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck denounce the resurgence in anti-Jewish hatred.


We’ve seen this before, of course. But there’s an important difference this time. The new anti-Semitism does not originate solely with the typical white-supremacist neo-Nazi; instead, the ugly truth that many in Europe don’t want to confront is that much of the anti-Jewish animus originates with European people of Muslim background. Until recently, Germany has been unwilling to discuss this trend. Germans have always seen Muslim anti-Semitism as a less problematic version of the “original” version, and therefore a distraction from the well-known problem of anti-Jewish sentiment within a majority of society. And yet the German police have noted a disturbing rise in the number of people of Arabic and Turkish descent arrested on suspicion of anti-Semitic acts in recent years, especially over the last several months. After noticing an alarming uptick in anti-Semitic sentiment among immigrant students, the German government is considering a special fund for Holocaust education.


Of course, anti-Semitism didn’t originate with Europe’s Muslims, nor are they its only proponents today. The traditional anti-Semitism of Europe’s far right persists. So, too, does that of the far left, as a negative byproduct of sympathy for the Palestinian liberation struggle. There’s also an anti-Semitism of the center, a subcategory of the sort of casual anti-Americanism and anticapitalism that many otherwise moderate Europeans espouse. But the rise of Muslim anti-Semitism is responsible for the recent change in the tone of hate in Germany. Until recently, the country’s anti-Semitism has been largely coded and anonymous. Messages might be spray-painted on walls at night; during the day, though, it would be rare to hear someone shout, as protesters did in Berlin in July, “Jews to the gas!” Another popular slogan at this and other rallies was “Jew, coward pig, come out and fight alone!” — shouted just yards from Berlin’s main Holocaust memorial. And this is the difference today: An anti-Semitism that is not only passionate, but also unaware of, or indifferent to, Germany’s special history.


Talking to Muslim friends, I can’t help but believe that the audacity of today’s anti-Semitism is in part a result of the exploitation of a “victim status,” an underdog sentiment that too many European Muslims have embraced enthusiastically. This is not just the sort of social-science explanation we often hear for hatred, as racism from people who are themselves the victims of racism and discrimination. Yes, there is discrimination against and exclusion of Muslims in Europe, and many of them certainly have reason to be frustrated. But this sentiment is more complex, born not only from how someone feels about himself and his neighbors, but about himself and his country. It is twofold: Germany’s history is not my history. And: I’ll never fully belong to your nation anyway, so why should I take on its burdens as you do? One friend, whose parents are from Turkey, told me that when she learned about the Holocaust at her German school, she wondered what all that had to do with her biography. As someone born in 1973, though with blond hair, I could ask the same question. The point is, it’s not about personal involvement; it is not in our blood, but it is in our history, in the timeline of a place that migrants have become part of. For Germans, accepting responsibility for the Holocaust has to mean feeling ultimately and more than any other nations’ citizens responsible for keeping the memory of its horrors alive — simply because those crimes were ordered from our soil.


Nothing more, but also nothing less has to be expected from every citizen of this country, no matter where her or his parents are from. What has become obvious this summer is that the “old” Germans have not yet managed to properly deliver this message to all the “new” Germans. Emotionally, this may have been understandable, given how many “bio-Germans,” as we call ethnic Germans, actually had Nazi family members that they still got to know, which may have made them wary of telling others what to think. But the lesson of the Holocaust is a lesson for mankind. And it’s every German’s job to make that clear at all times and to everyone, regardless of where you think you come from.       






THE SECRET YIDDISH HISTORY OF SCOTLAND                                                Philologos                                                                                                                             Forward, Sept. 16, 2014


Recently, as Scotland’s independence vote began to loom large in the media, someone asked me if I had ever heard of Scots Yiddish. “I canna say that I have,” I answered, only to be told that there was an entire chapter on the subject in David Daiches’s autobiographical “Two Worlds: An Edinburgh Jewish Childhood.” Scots Yiddish? I decided to have a look. Daiches, a well-known English literary critic and historian who grew up in Edinburgh and later taught for years in the United States, was the son of a prominent rabbi, the de facto head of Edinburgh’s small Jewish community; his book is a fond memoir of a 1920s childhood and adolescence in both a strictly Orthodox home and a friendly, tolerant city in which Jewishness was casually accepted. Edinburgh, Daiches writes, had some 400 Jewish families in those days, many composed of Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Eastern Europe. Yet although he indeed refers to their speech as “Scots Yiddish” and even calls it “one of the most remarkable dialects ever spoken by man,” one comes away from his discussion of it with a sense of something linguistically less momentous. What he describes, far from being a distinctive language or dialect, is little more than what he terms “the debased Scots of the Edinburgh streets,” spoken with a Yiddish accent and a smattering of Yiddish words. It is merely a Scottish version, one might say, of the English that Eastern European Jewish immigrants were speaking on the streets of New York in the same period.


Still, such “Scots Yiddish” has a charm that the English of Orchard or Delancey Street never had. “Vot time’s yer barmitzvie, laddie?” Daiches recalls being asked by a fellow synagogue-goer shortly before his 13th birthday. “Ye’ll hae a drap o’bramfen. Ye ken: Nem a schmeck fun Dzon Beck.” Bronfn is Yiddish for liquor (in Eastern Europe it generally meant vodka, but Edinburgh is whisky land), while “Nem a shmek,” Yiddish for “Have a taste,” is, as Daiches points out, a clever translation that preserves the rhyme of the first half of the advertising slogan “Take a peg of John Begg.” And when Daiches once asked someone in the same synagogue why he scolded a visitor for talking during services when he was wont to talk during them himself, the reply was: “Two men vent into a poob and ordered a glass beer. Dey hadna been in dat poob more dan vonce or twice before. Vell, day sip deir beer un’ dey sit talking un’ schmoosing. Dey sit un’ talk un’ talk. At last de barman leans over de counter and he says to dem: ‘Oot!’ Nu, dat’s how it is mit a shul. I come here every veek and Hakodosh Borukh Hu [the Holy One Blessed Be He — that is God] kens me vell, un’ he don’t mind if I take it easy. But dese bleggages dat come vonce or twice a year — no! Dey daven or dey shot op!”


“’Bleggage,’ meaning scoundrel — one of two such words that Daiches mentions as exclusive to Scots Yiddish — is taken by him to be a corruption of “blackguard,” which seems a reasonable guess. The second word, for which he gives no origin, is “trebblers,” defined by him as “those Edinburgh Jews who made a precarious living as itinerant salesmen, peddling anything from sewing needles to ready-made dresses.” The derivation is almost certainly from Yiddish traybn, a cognate of English “drive” that occurs in the expression traybn a gesheft, “to run a business.” (The word may have assumed this meaning because many peddlers drove carts or wagons with their goods from village to village.) Daiches writes affectionately about the trebblers who filled the trains every morning on their way to their various destinations and said their morning prayers en route. They “had perfected a technique for getting compartments to themselves, and even if they had not, it would have taken a hardy outsider to enter a compartment where a swaying, bearded figure stood chanting at the window.”


Daiches thinks that Yiddish may have sounded less outlandish to Scots than to ordinary Englishmen because the Scots language shares some of Yiddish’s Germanic vocabulary and sounds that English lacks. Words like Scots “to hoast,” to cough, which is close to Yiddish hustn, or “lift,” sky, which is akin to Yiddish luft, “air,” exist in considerable numbers. Sometimes the two languages coincide. “More light” in Scots is “mair licht,” which sounds exactly the same as Yiddish mer likht. In fact, Daiches writes, he once conversed with a stationmaster along one of the lines the trebblers traveled and was told by him that his father would speak to them in broad Scots and be answered in Yiddish “with perfectly adequate mutual intelligibility.” It’s a nice story, but I have my doubts about it. English shares a huge vocabulary with both German and French, but that doesn’t make either of these two languages intelligible to English speakers or vice versa. In any case, whatever the future of Scots (which has been steadily losing ground to standard English for decades) in an independent Scotland, “Scots Yiddish” will not be around to try out on its speakers. Dos iz alts geven in days o’lang syne.





CIJR Wishes All Our Friends and Supporters: Shabbat Shalom!


On Topic


Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks: Eric Lipton, Brooke Williams & Nicholas Confessore, New York Times, Sept. 6, 2014—The agreement signed last year by the Norway Ministry of Foreign Affairs was explicit: For $5 million, Norway’s partner in Washington would push top officials at the White House, at the Treasury Department and in Congress to double spending on a United States foreign aid program.

Klinghoffer: Pretending Art Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry: Lori Lowenthal Marcus, Jewish Press, Sept. 15, 2014 —The most important thing to know about the Metropolitan Opera’s staging of the provocation piece “The Death of Klinghoffer,” is that the first of what should be many protests against it will be on Monday, Sept 22, starting at 4:30 p.m., at the Metropolitan Opera, which is nestled in the Lincoln Center Complex, at Broadway and West 65th Street in New York City.

Anti-Semitism, Old and New: Ian Tuttle, National Review, Aug. 25, 2014—Across Europe’s borders in recent years have flooded millions upon millions of immigrants, the overwhelming majority from North Africa and the Middle East.

Merkel Confronts Anti-Semitism: Wall Street Journal, Sept. 15, 2014—Angela Merkel spoke out Sunday against the spread of anti-Semitism in Germany. After a summer when protesters at rallies against Israel were heard chanting "Jews to the gas," the Chancellor's speech was a welcome affirmation of the country's best liberal traditions.

Meet the New Jews, Same as the Old Jews: James Kirchick, Tablet, Aug. 28, 2014 — With violent attacks against Jewish communities on the rise across Europe, it’s worth revisiting one of the sillier memes to have infested public discussion over the past decade: that Muslims are the “new Jews.”


















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Efraim Zuroff

Jerusalem Post, January 4, 2012

Imagine for a minute that memorial masses were held in two major cities in Germany on the anniversary of the death of Adolf Hitler. Needless to say, such a ceremony would arouse fury, indignation, and widespread protests not only in Germany, but throughout the entire world. Recently, the local equivalent of such an event took place in Croatia, but instead of anger and demonstrations, not a single word of protest was heard from anywhere in the country.

I am referring to the December 28 memorial masses conducted in Zagreb and Split (and perhaps elsewhere as well) to mark the 51st anniversary of the death of Ante Pavelić, the head of state of the infamous Independent State of Croatia, created by the Nazis and their Italian allies in 1941. Following its establishment, rule was turned over to the local fascist movement, the Ustasha, headed by its Poglavnik (leader) Ante Pavelić.

During the entire course of its brief existence (1941-1945), the Ustasha sought to rid the country (which consisted of the area of today’s Croatia plus most of Bosnia-Herzegovina) of all its minorities, as well as their local political opponents. In order to do so, they established a network of concentration camps all over the country, the largest and most notorious of which was Jasenovac, located on the banks of the Sava River, southeast of Zagreb. There, many tens of thousands of innocent civilians were murdered in a variety of brutal ways, which earned the camp the nickname of the “Auschwitz of the Balkans.”

To this day, there continue to be disputes regarding the total number of civilians murdered by the Ustasha, but the number is certainly no fewer than several hundred thousand, primarily Serbs, along with Jews, Roma and anti-fascist Croats. And while all those who participated in these atrocities bear criminal responsibility, the individual with the greatest culpability was undoubtedly Ante Pavelić, who headed the most lethal regime in Axis-dominated Europe.…

The question now is, how does such an event to honor the memory of one of the biggest mass murderers of World War II pass with nary a word of protest or condemnation? The obvious address for such indignation would be in Croatia itself, where many people fought with Tito’s partisans against the Ustasha, and a significant sector of the population have a strong anti-fascist tradition. But the same question applies outside the country as well.

Croatia is well on its way to membership in the European Union (slated for 2013), a membership which is ostensibly contingent on the acceptance of EU values and norms. Is a memorial mass for one of Europe’s worst war criminals compatible with EU membership?

The sad truth is that in this respect, the European Union has failed miserably in dealing with the resurgence of neo-fascism and the promotion of Holocaust distortion in its post-Communist members. Once admitted to the EU (and NATO), countries like Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary and Romania have begun to take active steps to rewrite their World War II histories, minimizing or attempting to hide the highly-significant role played by their nationals in Holocaust crimes, with barely a word of protest or condemnation from Brussels.…

[The] masses in honor of Ante Pavelić are…an insult to all the victims of the Ustasha, their relatives, friends, and people of morality and conscience the world over. The time has come for effective protests from within Croatia, as well as from the European Union, the United States and Canada, Israel and the Jewish world. That is the minimum that we owe the victims of that notorious mass murderer.

(Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center
and director of its Israel Office.)

Joseph Berger

NY Times, December 27, 2011

The Talmud is a formidable body of work: 63 volumes of rabbinical discourse and disputation that form Judaism’s central scripture after the Torah. It has been around for 1,500 years and is studied every day by tens of thousands of Jews. But trying to navigate through its coiling labyrinth can be enormously difficult because the one thing this monumental work lacks is a widely accepted and accessible index.

But now that breach has been filled, or so claims the publisher of HaMafteach, or the Key, a guide to the Talmud, available in English and Hebrew. It was compiled not by a white-bearded sage, but by a courtly, clean-shaven, tennis-playing immigration lawyer from the Bronx.

The index’s publisher, Feldheim Publishers, predicts it will be snatched up by yeshivas and libraries, but more important, it will be a tool for inveterate Talmud students—and there are plenty of those. Feldheim’s president, Yitzchak Feldheim, said the first printing of 2,000 books—a market test—sold out in a few days here and in Israel. More printings have been ordered.

The index has 6,600 topical entries and 27,000 subtopical entries that point students to the treatises and pages of text they are seeking. In these passages, sages analyze matters like whether one can remarry a former wife after she has been betrothed to another, or how one should handle a lost object found in a garbage heap. The index guides the student to significant laws about Sabbath and daily observance, as well as maxims, parables, commentaries and Talmudic personalities.

The index represents seven years of work, but do not ask Daniel Retter why he undertook it, unless you have a spare hour. His answers are as meandering as the Talmud itself, with pathways leading to byways leading to offshoots that sometimes end in cul-de-sacs. Along the way, his voice sometimes rises and falls in Talmudic singsong, and his eyes glitter with delight at the saga’s oddities.

“My father was a man of letters,” he begins, then describes how his father, Marcus, had been dedicated to Talmud study during an epic life in which, as a child, he escaped the Nazis on the Kindertransports that rescued Jewish children from Germany and took them to British havens. He brought his family, including Daniel, to New York from London in 1949.…

Daniel Retter, 66, attended a yeshiva, enrolled at City College at night while studying Talmud in the daytime, then studied at Brooklyn Law School during the day while digesting Talmud at night. He married another lawyer, Margie, an advocate for abused women seeking Jewish divorces; they raised four children and ended up in Riverdale, where he continued his Talmudic explorations.

“I can’t waste a minute,” he said in an interview at the Manhattan offices of his law firm, Herrick, Feinstein. “If I’m on the immigration line waiting for a client to be called, I study the Talmud.”

But a puzzle nagged at him. He and other students sometimes needed help tracking down a specific passage, law or topic, or the thoughts of sages like Hillel and Shamai. Most of the time the student consults a loftier scholar. “For the life of me,” Mr. Retter said, “I could not understand why the Talmud did not have an index.”

One 50-year-old translation of the Talmud, by Soncino Press, has an index, but its pages do not match those of the standard Aramaic text used by most students hunched over their dog-eared volumes. More recent English translations are either not indexed or have not been completed. For three decades, Talmud students have been able to use a Nexis-like CD search engine, the Responsa Project, created by Bar Ilan University in Israel, that locates words by frequency and proximity. But like Google, it often produces irrelevant hits. Bar Ilan officials acknowledged that the CD had one major disadvantage: students cannot get access to it on the Sabbath, when much learning takes place.…

Until 1445, the concept of an index was meaningless, since books were not being printed. But in the 16th century, the first complete editions of the Talmud were printed by a publisher from Antwerp, Belgium; the Vilna edition, printed in Lithuania in the 19th century, standardized pagination. One effort to help students navigate the Talmud, Mesoras HaShas, provided cross-references alongside the Aramaic text toward similar ideas elsewhere in the Talmud. But, Mr. Retter wrote in his introduction, “it was not an index as that word is commonly understood, because one had to know the location of the initial reference to find the others.…”

Before he went—Talmudists should pardon the expression—whole hog, [Mr. Retter] took his wife’s advice and sought the approval of great sages so the work would be credible. HaMafteach includes letters of endorsement from a dozen, including Yisrael Meir Lau, the former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel. Mr. Retter also recruited Rabbi Elchanan Kohn, a recognized Israeli Talmud scholar, as his editor.

The index’s potential market is sure to include the thousands of Jews who participate in Daf Yomi, the page-a-day cycle in which everyone studies the same daf—two actual pages—every day for seven and a half years, until all 5,422 pages are completed, when they begin all over again. Some 90,000 people are expected at the Daf Yomi graduation of sorts that will be held in August at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.…

Gustavo D. Perednik

Jerusalem Post, January 11, 2012

Of the 6,000 extant languages, half will disappear in less than a century; half of the world population speaks 10 languages alone. Gauging a language’s importance according to how many native speakers it numbers would place Hebrew at number 70, yet its influence is much broader.…

Hebrew’s presence is felt in most languages, which include dozens of words like amen, hallelujah, jubilee and sabbatical, and more than 100 everyday sayings and phrases such as broken heart, drop in the bucket, nest of vipers, breath of life, flesh and blood, and a voice crying in the wilderness. Adages like a leopard cannot change its spots, a soft answer turns away wrath, my brother’s keeper, and eat, drink and be merry are all of Hebrew lineage.

More interestingly, the influx of Hebrew semantics is indirect. For instance, the Greek word kirios used to mean just “chief,” but after it was used in the translation of the Hebrew Bible it started to bear the meaning of a universal dominium. Linguist Antoine Meillet explained in 1928 that from Greek to Latin, and hence to all the European languages, “Without Hebrew, many common words and phrases would…have quite another meaning.”

Another way to appreciate Hebrew’s influence is to trace the origins of the alphabet. William Chomsky showed how the Phoenicians—Semites close to the old Hebrews—disseminated the Hebrew-type alphabet among the Greeks. And the 22 letters, before Ezra the Scribe adopted our present block Hebrew writing, were ultimately adopted in most European languages. Traveling west, the Phoenician sailors were impressed by the Greeks’ accomplishments—which did not include reading and writing. Therefore they facilitated aleph, bet and gimmel to become alpha, beta and gamma.

Even more than in words and alphabets, Hebrew’s influence stems from the ideas and narrative that penetrated Western civilization, or what Thomas Cahill sums up as “most of our best words: new, adventure, surprise; unique individual, person, vocation; time, history, future; freedom, progress, spirit; faith, hope, justice…individual destiny, morality, inter-generational accomplishment, personal repentance.… We can hardly get up in the morning or cross the street without being Jewish. We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes.”

The national book of the Jews has indeed become a sacred text for mankind, the first and most widely published and translated into no less than 1,850 languages (no other book has been translated into even 250 languages.) Since words are cultural storehouses, to speak Hebrew today is like traveling several millennia to the past. Certainly one of Israel’s unparalleled successes is that a Jewish child can read with relative ease texts over a thousand years old.

Since the 16th century, Hebrew learning increased as an inherent part of classical studies. Even Columbus’ interpreter, Luis de Torres, knew Hebrew well, as did the Renaissance scholars, and major poets like William Blake. It became prominent in Puritan England, especially in John Milton’s days.

The eccentric religion of Anglo-Israelism went so far as imagining the Hebraic roots of English, explaining the term “Brit-ish” as “man of the Covenant.” Their French competitor in creative imaginary, the poet Guy de la Boderie traced the word “Gallia” (the original France) to the Hebrew for “waves,” and the name of the French capital to the Hebrew for “man’s glory—pe’er ish.”

The Hebrew impetus arrived in America, where the first published book was Psalms, in 1640, and where Governor William Bradford (one of the Mayflower’s pilgrims) was a devout Hebrew learner. John Cotton established Hebrew in the educational curricula, and when the first North American university, Harvard, was founded in 1636, Hebrew was compulsory for all. The inauguration speech of every academic year during two centuries was read there in Hebrew, until the year 1817. A Hebrew teacher, Ezra Stiles, was the first president of Yale University, whose emblem is still in Hebrew, a language so admired by early Americans that William Gifford argued in his Quarterly Review that some members of the Congress wanted it to become the national language rather than English.

During its meteoric Jewish revival during the past two centuries, the Hebrew language had to overcome several other rival languages. In 1880 Lazar Ludwig Zamenhof foresaw his Esperanto becoming not only an international language but also the language of the Jews; in 1908 the Congress of Czernowitz proclaimed Yiddish as “the Jewish national language;” in 1913 teachers at the newly-opened Technion battled over which language should be used for instruction in the new university—Hebrew or German. They called it the “Battle of languages.”

Hebrew won every battle, and in 1921 was recognized as official language of Palestine, spreading rapidly and giving birth to new, thriving literature. Nowadays, strengthening its status as a classical language abroad will not only promote its appreciation but also the recognition of Israel’s unique contribution to culture. Last and not least, it will also build bridges between the reborn Hebrew nation in its land and mankind as a whole.…

Daniella Cheslow

Tablet, January 12, 2012

It is hard to imagine a less charming venue for a concert than Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station, a grimy, labyrinthine, seven-story tower in the city’s most drug-addled neighborhood. Even less likely is that such a concert would be held in Yiddish. But on a night in early January, when Mendy Cahan crooned there in the mama loshen, surrounded by a cavernous collection of Yiddish books illuminated by candlelight, the experience was transformative. “Me without you and you without me is like a handle without a door, like eating without a table,” Cahan sang in Yiddish to visiting French singer Miléna Kartowski, who joined him in a duet.…

Cahan, 48, grew up speaking Yiddish in Antwerp, Belgium, and is determined to save the language from extinction in the Jewish state, where he has lived for the past 30 years.… “After having paved the way through hundreds of years to build Jewish identity, finally we build our homeland,” he told me in English. “I find it unacceptable and wrong if Yiddish would not find its respectful, loving space.…”

When he immigrated to Israel from Belgium in 1980, [Cahan] was surprised to see how sidelined his native tongue had become there. “Many people spoke Yiddish,” Cahan said of the Israel he encountered. “They would read and meet in clubs, but it seemed as if it wasn’t a part of the whole Israeli experience.”

In 1990, he started collecting books. At first, Cahan housed his collection in a dilapidated building in an industrial zone in Jerusalem. He then opened a second library in Tel Aviv. He named the organization overseeing the two libraries “Yung YiDish” in an effort to expand the Yiddish circle beyond the elderly. Yung YiDish is one of several Tel Aviv institutions…that are doing what they can to revive and preserve the tongue that once united the Jews of Eastern Europe, by teaching the language, offering theater, and printing books.

Cahan said it costs $150,000 to $200,000 to properly run Yung YiDish, but private donors provide only half of that. For the rest, he lives by the seat of his pants, begging city hall for a break on his taxes and meeting with the Ministry of Culture to ask for government funding. Cahan spreads word of his center while teaching in Eastern Europe and performing in cities around the world with significant Jewish populations.…

Yiddish, an amalgam of German, Hebrew, and Aramaic written in Hebrew characters, was once the main Jewish dialect in Eastern Europe. But in Israel it was seen as the prime competition to the revival of Hebrew, according to Avraham Novershtern, the director of the Beth Shalom Aleichem Yiddish cultural center in Tel Aviv “There was a conscious decision which began in early 20th century that Hebrew would be the language of the new state…” said Novershtern.…

Tel Aviv remains at the center of the Yiddish revival in Israel, as most of the city’s residents trace their roots to Eastern Europe.… Eliezer Ceizler, assistant director of productions and administration at Tel Aviv’s Yiddishpiel Yiddish theater, which was founded in 1987, said the company now runs more than 300 plays a year.… This month, the theater is performing God, Man, and the Devil, a play about a simple, religious man who wins the lottery. Most of his audience is older, Ceizler said, but he also sees younger Yiddish speakers.…

Cahan said he has also developed a lecture for Israeli high-school students preparing to visit the concentration camps of Eastern Europe. “About the destruction they will hear plenty,” he said. “I bring newspapers and books and magazines to their classrooms so they can touch and feel and get a sense of the life that was”—and the language that was spoken there.…