web analytics
April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Middle Eastern’

America’s Problems in the Middle East are Just Beginning

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

It’s 2015, and there is a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas), financed by Iran, wins an election on a platform demanding the expulsion of the Jews from Israel. Iran meanwhile smuggles shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to terrorist cells in Palestine that can take down civilian airlines at Ben-Gurion airport. With backing from the Egyptian military, Fatah throws out the elected Hamas government and kills larger number of Hamas supporters. What will Washington do? Given the track record of both the Obama administration and the Republican mainstream, one would expect America to denounce the use of violence against a democratically-elected government.

Such is the absurdity of both parties’ stance towards Egypt: the Egyptian military is doing America’s dirty work, suppressing a virulently anti-modern, anti-Semitic and anti-Western Islamist movement whose leader, Mohammed Morsi, famously referred to Israelis as “apes and pigs.” It did so with the enthusiastic support of tens of millions of Egyptians who rallied in the streets in support of the military. And the American mainstream reacted with an ideological knee jerk. America’s presence in the Middle East has imploded.

As it happens, Iran already is smuggling weapons via Syria to the West Bank to gain leverage against the Abbas government, as Stratfor reports (hat tip: the Daily Alert ), including surface-to-air and anti-tank missiles. Hamas crushed Fatah in the 2006 West Bank elections parliamentary elections 74-45, and made short work of the supposedly moderate Palestinian faction when it seized power in Gaza in 2007. As Syria disintegrates, along with Iraq and Lebanon, the artificial borders of Arab states drawn first by Ottoman conquerors and revised by British and French colonial authorities will have small meaning. Palestinians caught up in the Syrian and and Lebanese conflagrations would pour into a new Palestinian state and swell the ranks of the hard-core Jihadi irredentists. Iran will continue to use Hamas as a cat’s paw.

Among other things, the American response to the events in Egypt show the utter pointlessness of American security guarantees in the present negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Authority. Even in the extremely unlikely event that Mohammed Abbas chose to make peace with Israel, he would face a high probability of civil war, just as Ireland’s independence leader Michael Collins did when he struck a deal with the British for an Irish “Free State” rather than a republic. Collins killed more Irishmen than the British did in the preceding independence struggle. I do not want to compare Abbas to Collins, and I do not think he has any attention of making peace with Israel. But American blundering in Egypt has closed out the option, for whoever makes peace with Israel will require a free hand with Iranian-backed rejectionists.

America forgets that it corrected the flaw in its founding by killing 30 percent of Southern men of military age during its own Civil War, so many that the Confederate Army collapsed for lack of manpower. There are numerous wars which do not end until all the young men who want to fight to the death have had the opportunity to do so. And of all of history’s conflicts, none was so likely to end with this sort of demographic attrition as the present war in the Middle East. Compared to the young Arabs, Persians and Pakistanis of today, American Southerners of 1861 were models of middle-class rectitude, with the world’s highest living standards and bright prospects for the future. The Europeans of 1914 stood at the cusp of modernity; one only can imagine what they might have accomplished had they not committed mutual suicide in two World Wars.

Today’s Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims have grim future prospects. The world economy has left them behind, and they cannot catch up. Egypt was at the threshold of starvation and economic collapse when the military intervened, bringing in subsidies from the Gulf monarchies. The young men of the Middle East have less to lose, perhaps, than any generation in any country in modern times. As we observe in Syria, large numbers of them will fight to the death.

America cannot bear to think about its own Civil War because the wounds are too painful; in order to reunite the country after 1865, we concocted a myth of tragic fratricide. Wilsonian idealism was born of the South’s attempt to suppress its guilt for the war, I have argued in the past. That is an academic consideration now. America’s credibility in the Middle East, thanks to the delusions of both parties, is broken, and it cannot be repaired within the time frame required to forestall the next stage of violence. Egypt’s military and its Saudi backers are aghast at American stupidity. Israel is frustrated by America’s inability to understand that Egypt’s military is committed to upholding the peace treaty with Israel while the Muslim Brotherhood wants war. Both Israel and the Gulf States observe the utter fecklessness of Washington’s efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

The events of the past week have demonstrated that America’s allies in the Middle East from Israel to the Persian Gulf can trust no-one in Washington-neither Barack Obama nor John McCain. Those of us in America who try to analyze events in the region will be the last to hear the news, and the value of our work will diminish over time.

Behind the News in Israel.

The Future of America in the Middle East

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

(((CLICK BELOW TO HEAR AUDIO)))

Yishai presents a recent broadcast from the BBC about how the United States fits into the Middle East and also how the upcoming American elections can affect Middle Eastern policy, especially in regards to Israel.

Yishai Fleisher on Twitter: @YishaiFleisher
Yishai on Facebook

Religious Groups Urge Understanding following Wisconsin Shooting

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Religious groups are calling for tolerance after six people were killed in a shooting attack at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.

The Anti-Defamation League condemned the violence and reached out to the Sikh community at a national level to express concern, condolences and solidarity, as well as offer its resources and guidance on institutional security and response in the aftermath of a hate crime.

“Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, ADL and law enforcement officials have documented many apparent ‘backlash crimes’ directed at Muslim, Sikh, and Arab Americans,” said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman. “We have raised concern about a spike in bigotry against Muslims and others perceived to be of Middle Eastern origin. This attack is another gruesome reminder that bigotry and hate against those whose religion makes them ‘different’ or ‘other’ can have deadly consequences.”

The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism have joined with Shoulder to Shoulder, a national religious, faith-based and interfaith organization, to encourage Americans to join special services with their local Sikh communities in the wake of Sunday’s shooting outside of Milwaukee.

“As we wait for further information regarding the motive of the shooter, we reiterate our deep commitment to a United States that is able to tolerate and respect the many religious traditions that live together in this great country,” Christina Warner, campaign director for Shoulder to Shoulder, said in a statement. “The tragedy in Milwaukee shows painfully the need for Americans of all faiths to learn about one another and embrace the diverse religious tapestry of the United States.”

Along with the deaths, at least three people, including a police officer, were injured in the attack.The gunman, who was killed by police, was identified as the former leader of a white supremacist heavy metal band.

The U.S. Department of Justice has investigated more than 800 incidents since 9/11 involving violence, threats, vandalism and arson against Arab Americans, Muslims, Sikhs, South-Asian Americans and other individuals perceived to be of Middle Eastern origin.

 

A Gourmet Purim Feast

Monday, February 27th, 2012

In honor of Purim, Outré EATS presents a new take on traditional Persian fare.

Persian Tomatoes Stuffed With Lamb

Inspired by the spices and history of Persia this original gourmet recipe is surprisingly easy to prepare and the perfect appetizer for your Purim Seudah.

 

 

Ingredients 6 large plum tomatoes 1-½ lbs ground lamb 1 large shallot, finely chopped 2/3-cup matzoh meal ½ cup fresh parsley, chopped ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 egg 1 tsp kosher salt 1 tsp turmeric ½ tsp ground black pepper

Directions Cut each tomato lengthwise into 2 halves. Scoop out seeds and pulp from tomatoes. Set tomato halves aside while preparing filling.

Mix lamb, matzoh meal, parsley, mint, and egg in a large bowl till blended. Set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in medium skillet. Add chopped shallot and sauté till translucent. Add salt, turmeric, and black pepper and cook 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and add the pine nuts. Cool for 10 minutes and then add to lamb mixture.

Mix to blend.

Fill tomato halves with lamb filling. Place stuffed tomatoes into a slightly greased 9×13 glass-baking dish. If there is extra filling, make into meatballs and arrange in pan with the tomatoes. Bake uncovered at 350 for 50 minutes, until lamb is cooked through and tops are lightly golden.

Serve tomato halves atop Spiced couscous with cashews.

 

Spiced Couscous With Cashews

Ingredients 1 10oz package plain couscous 1 large onion, thinly sliced 2-¼ cup water ¾ cup roasted, lightly salted cashews 3 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons consommé powder 1 tsp turmeric ½ tsp cumin

Directions Heat 3 tbsp oil in a large sauté pan. Add onions and sauté until translucent. Add turmeric and cumin to onions and sauté 2 minutes more. Add consommé powder and water to onions. Bring mixture to a boil. Stir in couscous. Cover and remove from heat. Let couscous stand covered for 10 minutes. Uncover and fluff couscous with fork. Add cashews and mix thoroughly.

Can be served warm or at room temperature.

 

Braised Chicken With Zucchini

While not exactly “Persian” this delicious chicken recipe has a very Middle Eastern flavor.

 

 

 

Ingredients 1 roasting chicken, cut into 8ths 1 large onion, diced 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger 1 teaspoon chopped fresh garlic 1-teaspoon kosher salt 1-tablespoon consommé powder 1-teaspoon cumin ½ teaspoon dried oregano ½ teaspoon turmeric ¼ teaspoon cayenne 1-cup water 1 cup crushed tomatoes in thick puree 2 zucchinis, cut in 1/4 “ slices ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley 1 tablespoon lemon juice

4 cups prepared basmati rice

Directions Place chicken pieces in a 9×13 glass pan. Set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large sauté pan. Add onions and sauté till translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook till fragrant, about 1 minute. Add all spices and consommé powder and cook for 1 minute more. Add water and crushed tomatoes. Stir to combine. Add zucchini slices and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for 5 minutes more. Stir in parsley and lemon juice and remove from heat.

Pour zucchini mixture over chicken. Place pan in oven and bake covered at 325 for 1-½ hours.

Serve chicken and zucchini over steamed basmati rice.

Triple Chocolate Mousse Pie This decadent chocolate pie with just a hint of liqueur is the perfect ending to your Purim meal. Truly “fit for a king”!

Ingredients 1 pre made chocolate graham cracker crust

For Filling: 2/3-cup sugar ¼ cup cornstarch 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder 1/8 tsp kosher salt 6 egg yolks 2 cups vanilla soymilk ½ cup non-dairy whip topping (liquid) 6 oz parve semisweet chocolate chips 1 tablespoon chocolate liqueur (optional)

For Topping: 1 cup non dairy whipped topping, whipped Chocolate curls or edible glitter

Directions To prepare the filling: Whisk the first 4 ingredients in a large saucepan to combine. Whisk in egg yolks to form a thick paste. Slowly whisk in the soymilk and whip topping. Place saucepan over medium flame and whisk until mixture thickens and boils for 1 minute.

Remove from heat and add chocolate chips. Whisk till smooth. Whisk in liqueur, if using.

Pour filling into pre made crust. Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight. When pie is chilled, top completely with whip cream. Garnish with chocolate curls or edible glitter. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Creating the new and exotic as well as adding a modern edge to traditional kosher dishes, Outré EATS is an original alternative to standard at home entertaining. For menu requests and/or other inquiries, contact at TELOHEIT@CS.com.

A Song Of The Sea With A Hint Of Ladino And Arabic Towards A New Perspective On Passover

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

Out Of The Reeds
CD by Basya Schechter
Tzadik Records, 2004 (Re-release)
http://www.pharaohsdaughter.com/

The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage
Edited by Loolwa Khazzoom
Seal Press, Fall 2003
http://www.sealpress.com/


With Pesach swiftly approaching, many are hyper-aware of all the cleaning and cooking implied in the festival. A holiday of freedom, Pesach has an ironic way of assuring us that the process of preparing for freedom oftentimes involves work with a far more enslaving feeling than we imagined. Luckily, the arts can often remind us that holidays transcend the grunt work affiliated with preparation, and as Julie Andrews sang as Mary Poppins: “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. Find the fun, and snap, the job’s a game.” So what songs should we sing while we check the bitter herbs for bugs and while we eradicate every leavened crumb from our houses?

Happily, we needn’t look too far, for song is central to the Exodus narrative. Initiated by the men (and perhaps the angels), the Song of the Sea thanks G-d for the salvation at the Red Sea and for the Egyptian taskmasters’ aquatic demise. After the song, Miriam the Prophetess appropriates a drum and leads the women in singing their own thanks to G-d. We sing Dayenu and all the lovely songs of Hasal Seder Pesach and the Hallel. But Basya Schechter’s CD “Out of the Reeds” has a different song in mind.

On the CD cover, Schechter sits holding a drum a la Miriam, but her band is called “Pharaoh’s Daughter”. Schechter elaborates upon this apparent “schizophrenia” – the sister of the redeemer on the one hand and the daughter of the disgruntled king on the other – in an interview that two of my friends, David Keesey and Jake Marmer, conducted for an article in the Mima’amakim Journal. Schechter spoke of her travels in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Turkey, Morocco, Greece and of course, Egypt. “I loved Egypt, and I loved the Middle Eastern music. I wasn’t a musician at the time; to me it was just interesting to ‘see and feel.’” This collaboration of a Jewish singer from Boro Park with Egyptian music, emerges in the Biblical Miriam with drum, doubling on the CD cover as Basya, Pharaoh’s daughter who draws Moses from the Nile.

The CD does not focus exclusively or even mostly on the Exodus story, but track eight entitled, “Taitsch (Exodus)” begins with one of Schechter’s Hebrew school students’ chazzanus, singing the verse “And the daughter of Pharaoh went down to wash upon the river,” with Schechter further developing the story in Yiddish. “In Yeshiva we used to do taitsching,” Schechter told me of the technique of turning Hebrew into Yiddish. In an attempt to reenact that style of learning, “Taitsch” combines the Hebrew verses where the princess discovers Moses, with Middle Eastern percussion. The overall effect “creates a soundscape that combines both the Jewish way of learning and reciting the texts with textures of Egyptian percussion,” Schechter said. The song thus meditates upon the very Egyptian style that the princess seems to exhibit.

But what can a CD that seeks to combine Egyptian and Jewish sounds mean, within the larger context of a holiday celebrating the decimation of Egypt and of a commandment never to return to Egypt (to purchase horses therein)? What are we to make of such a collaborative CD, given such a general anti-Egypt halakhic sentiment?

To answer this question necessitates a meditation on Pharaoh’s daughter. Who was she? Unfortunately, we don’t really know. The Exodus text offers no name, let alone an unpublished memoir, though the Midrash calls her Batya, literally the daughter of G-d. Ironically, though the name was probably indicative of Pharaoh’s megalomaniacal notion of himself as a divinity, the name has been canonized in many contemporary Orthodox communities. We know Batya was kind; she unthinkably had compassion for a Hebrew infant (there were no “Jews” then), and perhaps she deserves the tag, Righteous Gentile simply for that act. But, despite her righteousness, the only memorable line she utters is the name she composes, Moses: an Egyptian name that references drawing him from the Nile. This ability to name without having her own name is a powerful thing, and it is a phenomenon that plagued many contemporary, North African Jews, as well.

Loolwa Khazzoom et al’s” The Flying Camel” explores a series of narratives written by Jewish women, Mizrahiot and Sepharadiot. In the introduction, Khazzoom writes, “Today, North African and Middle Eastern Jewish women continue to live in the shadows of metaphoric veilsIn a world where Jewish is synonymous with Central and Eastern European, where North African/Middle Eastern is synonymous with Arab Muslim, where ‘of color’ is synonymous with ‘not Jewish’People try desperately to reconfigure us [emphasis hers], lest they should have to reconfigure fashionable uniting and dividing lines.”

Here we have a community of disenfranchised Jews, who themselves have named so much of Jewish culture and tradition but, like Pharaoh’s daughter, they themselves lack names. Rachel Wahba’s essay “Benign Ignorance or Persistent Resistance” explores her family’s exile from Egypt to India and ultimately to America. Her father told her, “‘It was over for the Jews in Egypt, even though we were there before the Arabs, before Islam.’” Tragically, though, even upon settling in Los Angeles, Wahba experienced anti-Semitism from her new Jewish neighbors. “Suddenly people questioned whether I was ‘really Jewish’ because I did not grow up eating bagels and cream cheese, or because my grandmother did not speak Yiddish.”

This Pesach at our Seders, we can consider these generally disenfranchised elements of the Egyptian narrative: the kind princess and the very real Jews living in the region. As we sing our Jewish songs and narrate our national heritage and folklore, we can bear in mind the totality of our Egyptian experience. Surely, we celebrate our freedom from Pharaoh and our subsequent (voluntary) subservience to G-d. Surely, we thank G-d for our salvation. But we are instructed to recite an abridged Hallel for the bulk of Pesach so as not to delight in the demise of our enemies, and I know of no commentaries that condemn incorporating the beautiful aspects of the Egyptian culture. We would do well for ourselves to meditate upon Basya Schechter’s beautiful melodic diversity, upon a righteous, Gentile princess and upon communities of Jews who have too long been denied an opportunity to tell their own tales. What better place than in the festival where one of the primary commandments is relating the story of our redemption, of Passover?

Menachem Wecker edits the Arts and Culture Section of the Yeshiva University Commentator. As an artist, he has trained at the Massachusetts College of Art. Menachem may be contacted at: mwecker@gmail.com.

Israel, ‘Palestine’ And ‘Correlation Of Forces’ In The Middle East

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

War is never far from the minds of prudent Israelis, and prudent operational planning must always look closely at the regional “correlation of forces.” Drawn from the military lexicon of the former Soviet Union, this concept is usefully applied as a particular measure of armed forces, from the subunit level to major formations. Additionally, it has been used to compare resources and capabilities on both the levels of military strategy and of so-called “grand strategy.” This meaning is closely related to the concept of “force ratios” used more commonly in Western armies.

Today, with renewed preparations for a Middle East “peace” that would include a Palestinian state, Israel must undertake prompt assessments of enemy states with particular reference to the “correlation of forces.” Here it must seek more than an “objective” yardstick for measurement of opposing forces. Although the IDF is assuredly comparing all available data concerning both the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of units, including personnel, weaponry and equipment, its commanders will need to know more to establish Israeli force superiority at decisive places and times. This is especially the case in matters of grand strategy, where opposing forces could soon be endowed with genuine weapons of mass destruction.

What, exactly, should be the IDF concept of “correlation of forces?” First, it must take careful account of enemy leaders’ intentions as well as capabilities. Such an accounting is inherently more subjective than assessments of personnel, weapons and basic logistic data. Such an accounting must be subtle and nuanced, relying less on scientific modeling than upon carefully informed profiles. In this connection, it will not do to merely gather relevant data from all of the usual sources. It will also be important to put Israeli strategists into the shoes of each enemy leader, determining what Israel looks like to them.

Second, the IDF correlation of forces concept must take account of enemy leaders’ rationality. An adversary that does not conform to the rules of rational behavior in world politics might not be deterred by any Israeli threats, military or otherwise. Here the logic of deterrence would be immobilized and all bets would be off concerning expected enemy reactions to Israeli policy. This point now pertains especially to growing existential threats from Iran. There, if the Islamic regime is permitted to complete its still planned nuclearization without preemptive interference, Israel could find itself face-to-face with a suicide bomber in macrocosm.

Third, IDF assessments must also consider the organization of enemy state units; their training standards; their morale; their reconnaissance capabilities; their battle experience; and their suitability and adaptability to the prospective battlefield. These assessments are not exceedingly difficult to make on an individual or piecemeal basis, but the Ministry of Defense needs to conceptualize them together, in their entirety. To get this more coherent picture will require creativity and imagination, not merely the more ordinary analytical skills.

Fourth, IDF assessments must consider the capabilities and intentions of Israel’s nonstate enemies; that is, the entire configuration of anti-Israel terrorist groups. And once again, such assessments must offer more than a group by group consideration. Rather, the groups must be considered in their entirety, as they interrelate with one another vis-a-vis Israel. And these groups need to be considered in their interactive relationship with enemy states. This last point might best be characterized as an IDF search for pertinent “synergies” between state and nonstate adversaries.

Fifth, IDF assessments must take special note of the ongoing metamorphosis of a nonstate adversary (PLO) into a state adversary (Palestine). With this metamorphosis, Israel’s strategic depth will shrink to less manageable levels, and a far-reaching enemy momentum to transform Israel itself into part of the new Arab state will be energized. How shall Israel “live” with Palestine? In one respect, the codified institutionalization of disparate enemies into “Palestine” will actually provide some geostrategic benefit to Israel (now reprisal and retaliation will likely be easier and more purposeful), yet there will also be a corresponding and consequential loss of vital territories.

In the matter of synergies, the IDF must also consider and look for “force multipliers.” A force multiplier is a collection of related characteristics, other than weapons and force size, that make a military organization more effective in combat. A force multiplier may be generalship; tactical surprise; tactical mobility; command and control system; etc. The presence of a force multiplier creates synergy. The unit will be more effective than the mere sum of its weapons. IDF responsibility in this area concerns (1) recognizing enemy force multipliers; (2) challenging and undermining enemy force multipliers; and (3) developing and refining its own force multipliers. Regarding number (3), this means a heavy IDF emphasis on air superiority; communications; intelligence; and surprise. It may also mean a heightened awareness of the benefits of sometimes appearing less than completely rational to one’s enemies. This last point is especially important, and warrants serious and immediate study.

Correlation of forces will essentially determine the outcome of the next Middle Eastern war. It is time for Israel to go well beyond the more usual numerical assessments to “softer” considerations, and to focus especially upon the cumulative importance of unconventional weapons and low-intensity warfare in the region. A key dilemma in this focus will be the understanding that, in certain circumstances, preemption is both indispensable and infeasible, and that any suitable expression of “anticipatory self-defense” will require skillful and authoritative clarifications.

Copyright (c) The Jewish Press, 2005. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of many publications dealing with Middle Eastern security issues. Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for THE JEWISH PRESS, he is Chair of “Project Daniel,” a private group advising Israel’s Prime Minister on nuclear strategy matters.

Latest In Kosher Food

Wednesday, November 24th, 2004

Sabra Salads (Blue and White Foods, OK and Rav Weissmandel, Pareve) a name already synonymous with Middle Eastern fare, has a relatively new line of dips and spreads that are mouth-watering delicious. Hummus in flavors like Luscious Lemon, Roasted Pine Nuts and Supremely Spicy, eggplant prepared in the Spanish style, roasted or babaganoush, Spanish and Mediterranean salsa and tabouli and more. In our office, it’s just not Shabbos without a container of Sabra hummus and tehina on the table. Now available in larger size container, Sabra salads are great as an accompaniment to meat or fish, smeared on a slice of challah or bread, or as a dip for vegetables. You can find their whole line in your local kosher grocery or in the kosher food section of your local supermarket.

Steaz Soda (The Healthy Beverage Company, OU). Resembling the old 12 oz. glass soda bottles with screw-off cap, these sodas are 100% organic and made with green tea. I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it too, but they are delicious. They are lightly carbonated and available in cola, root beer, orange, raspberry, lemon dew, and key lime. No refined sugar, chemical preservatives or artificial flavors. And incredibly delicious. Did I say that already? Well, it’s true. I love the root beer so that’s my favorite, but at home and in the office, all the flavors were enjoyed. Available in some supermarkets and specialty health food stores, Steaz Soda can also be purchased on the web at www.healthybeverage.com. ◙


In 1866, a couple named Warneke started a bakery on the banks of the Missouri River. The family was very successful and in 1886, they opened three stores simultaneously in Kansas City. The business eventually consolidated and became General Baking Company. One of the brands they produced was Bond Bread. The advertisement you see here was created by BBDO (a well-known ad agency) for Rosh Hashanah 1936.

Multiple Identities – Oded Halahmy And Russian Post-Modernists At YUM

Friday, November 7th, 2003

Homelands: Baghdad-Jerusalem-New York: Sculpture of Oded Halahmy.

Yeshiva University Museum - Center for Jewish History,

West 16th Street, New York, N.Y.; (212) 294-8330.
Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.;

$6 adults, $4 children. Until January 15, 2004.

 

Who are you? Who am I? Questions of cultural identity among artists have raged from the
early twentieth century to yesterday’s memoir. Was Marc Chagall a Russian artist, a Jewish artist or a French artist? Crumbling social institutions, societal upheavals, and fluid opportunities in societies adrift from traditional moorings demand that artistic identity be parsed and minutely explored. Two exhibitions currently at Yeshiva University Museum examine this most postmodern of themes.

Oded Halahmy, working in New York’s Soho for the last thirty years, is showing an impressive retrospective of his works reflecting both the modernism he found in New York and his Middle Eastern roots. His identity shines forth as an Iraqi Jew marooned in New York in his retrospective: Homelands: Baghdad-Jerusalem-New York; Sculpture of Oded Halahmy.

Conversely, the twenty-four artists in Remembrance: Russian Post-Modern Nostalgia who have forged artistic lives out of the ruins of the Soviet empire treat identity as a borrowed shirt, an ironic garment within which to lash out at their past and present oppression. Identity for them is less a longed for homeland than a weapon with which to mock and attack multiple enemies, including a grandiose but dead Communism, avaricious capitalism, and artistic orthodoxies of the past hundred years. We will explore this complex exhibition next week.

While Oded Halahmy has at least three homelands: Iraq, Israel and New York, he has one
central artistic identity. Conversation (1996) establishes the framework of his aesthetic and cultural concerns. His whimsical and yet probing sculptures, almost all cast bronze, frequently utilize the powerful symbols of the palm tree and the pomegranate to create a dialogue between contrasting elemental facets of our personalities.

The palm is earthbound and yet continues to aspire to the sky, forever reaching even as it
shelters. It is a symbol of expansive freedom gently swaying in the wind. Frequently situated lower in the sculptural composition, the pomegranate occupies a distinctly different position that evokes our visceral nature. This luscious fruit, filled with seeds of fecundity and potential creativity, represents the earthbound nature of man bound to a life of flesh and blood. Its little crown even implies kingship over the earthly realm. In this sculpture, the dialogue is between the upper and lower aspects of our lives, with steps and ramps forming the base that we can metaphorically ascend.

Homeland (Study) (1987) moves these ideas into the realm of social identity. Halahmy
presents us with a tableau-like freestanding relief sculpture that could be mistaken for a group
portrait. The sculpture simultaneously operates as a series of universal symbols and as a landscape view of his remembered Iraq that he left as a 13-year-old in 1951. The majestic palm, curiously fractured, is flanked by the king and the humble, child like pomegranate. They in turn are framed by a star/sun symbol and an abstract figure on the viewer’s right. The skillful manipulation of size creates a scale and dignity beyond its actual height of only 48 inches.
Halahmy evokes for us a nostalgic view of a Middle Eastern childhood, perhaps representing his own family amidst the ever-present palms and life-giving sun. In the catalogue he writes that, “In my memories of Baghdad, everything is vivid, beautiful; people, friends, relatives, food… it was the most beautiful place on earth, a paradise.” It is a touchingly primitive portrait of a world long gone.

A more mundane realm of power and politics is referenced in Silver Pomegranate Moon
(1983). The sharp angles and rectangles contrast with curved gestures to abstractly describe a king seated in a palace attending to affairs of state while the moon rises above. Incongruously, a pomegranate is placed on its own stand next to his throne. Halahmy tells us that in the process of creating the work, he placed a real pomegranate on the abstract sculpture. The effect was a creative breakthrough.

The fruit is brilliant, reflecting the light differently from the surrounding burnished nickel bronze. It serves to remind the king that he too is but flesh and blood. His exercise of power, even
stern justice that might be seen in the jagged shape of his raised arm, needs to be tempered by
humility and gentleness as expressed by the soft light of the moon.

Halahmy frequently considers his work as playful. While that may be much of the time, still it is
a serious kind of play. His dalliance between abstraction, symbolism and a simple figuration reflects a life that he characterizes as nomadic. Born in Baghdad, Iraq, he grew up in Israel, studied in London, and finally moved to New York in 1971. At one point he states that “my homeland is the place where I am working and living” and yet there are no palm trees in Soho.
His constant use of these symbols reflects a poignant yearning for the lands of his youth, a
cultural identity bound up with the Middle East and the home of his forefathers. An artistic identity is not so easily manufactured from surroundings, even three decades old. Uprooting the artist does not uproot the artist’s authentic identity. Strangely, it may actually make it grow stronger.


Richard McBee is a painter of Torah subject matter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/multiple-identities-oded-halahmy-and-russian-post-modernists-at-yum/2003/11/07/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: