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September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Soviet’

It’s My Opinion: Missiles

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

   The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was a frightening time.  U.S. President John F. Kennedy confronted Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev on the missile bases that Khrushchev was building in Cuba. The rockets were aimed at America. 

 

   American citizens, especially those who lived in South Florida, were quite alarmed.  We seemed to be on the verge of war. 

 

   I remember being a kid and looking outside to see tanks rolling down the street alongside my Miami Beach school.  We were all on red alert.

 

   Now, so many years later, there has been a revelation.  Deep in the Everglades of Florida, a secret missile base had been built to store and launch rockets if need be.

 

   The 40-acre facility included a missile assembly building, three barns where missiles were stored, a guardhouse and an underground control room.  Three of the four missile   sites have been dismantled.  The base is still intact.  It contains 22 buildings.   It had housed 130 military personnel.  Apparently, the United States of America took the thought of projectiles aimed at its citizens in a very serious way.

 

   It is quite ironic that the same U.S. government encouraged Israel, during the First Gulf War, to ignore scud missile attacks on Tel Aviv.  The theory was that Israeli retaliation would complicate the war effort.  Incredibly, Israel agreed.

 

   Since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza thousands of missiles launched from Gaza have hit Sderot and neighboring Israeli cities.  Perhaps the coast seemed clear because of Israel’s precedent of non-retaliation to rocket attacks.  Terrorists were delighted.  They had nothing to lose.  Israel had established a policy of unilateral restraint.

 

   Finally, after years of constant bombardment, Israel did what any normal country would have done in the beginning.  They fought back.  The world was outraged.  Israel had created the idea that it was a giant punching bag and now the status quo had been upset.

 

   The U.S. government is now giving tours of the missile site in the Everglades.  It is, in essence, a museum documenting a historic period and the dangers that ensued.  Israel already has a museum documenting history and danger to the Jewish nation.  Its name is Yad Vashem.  

The Cousins Bielski

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008
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Yehuda Bielski on the right with his ensemble (Novogrudek 1937)

“You survive for a purpose that’s bigger than yourself.”

- Lt. Yehuda Bielski

In September I attended a special screening of the movie “Defiance” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. The film attempts to depict the formation of the Bielski partisans and some of their early exploits in the dense forests of Belorussia during the Holocaust.

The daylong event was held for Bielski family members and hosted by Robert Bielsky (he spells his name with a “y” rather than an “i”), the affable son of Bielski partisan leader Tuvia. Some 150 people were on hand, while many others were unable to attend because of age, illness or distance.

Why the Bielskis? There were, after all, other Jewish partisan groups that fought bravely and heroically against their Nazi oppressors. And they too must be honored. Yet the Bielski name resounds.

Perhaps it is because their story of survival against all obstacles – slaughter, flight, hunger, fear, intramural rivalries, assassination, execution and murder, ambushes – provides an awesome inspirational message about Jewish resistance and hope.

The Bielski triumph is a moral victory of heroic dimension, and it is a testimony to the invincible human spirit in the face of monstrous evil and demonic barbarism. Extraordinary times create extraordinary people.

It was one of the darkest periods in human history, when European anti-Semitism – always hissing, spluttering and periodically bursting for over a thousand years – finally exploded. In 1933 Hitler established his dictatorship and a new Germany arose with a new kind of war. Europe was to be made Judenrein with not even the possibility of future Jewish life. The evolution of mechanized mass murder was expedited. Every single Jewish man, woman and child was in peril.

By the time the master race invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 in Operation Barbarossa, many of Poland’s 3,250,000 Jews were dead, dying or locked up in ghettos waiting to die. The combination of German deception, indifferent bystanders and ferocious hatred of local collaborators doomed the Jews.

Those trapped – like my mother, Lola Hudes, who escaped from German-occupied Lodz – fled eastward to the Russian sector. The Soviet-German non-aggression pact that divided up Poland and enabled Hitler to wage war on September 1, 1939 would afford some measure of safety in the still neutral Russian sector.

Drunk with power and conquest, the Nazis turned against their Slavic allies with frenzied ruthlessness, fury and savagery. In 1941 Hitler told his generals that the war against Russia “is one of ideologies and racial differences that will have to be conducted with unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness.”

With the rapid advancement of German forces into Russia came a new policy against the Jews – the systematic destruction of every single Jewish person and community. No village, town or city was to be spared. No place was too far. No conditions were too difficult. And no exceptions were to be made.

In conjunction with the German army, four special mobile SS execution squads – Einsatzgruppen – were formed to follow the Wehrmacht into Russia to carry out the slaughter in which combat troops also participated. They were enthusiastically aided and abetted by local collaborators as well as Lithuanian, Latvian and Ukrainian militias and policemen who were noted for their sadism and brutality toward Jews.

Massacres began immediately and the killing was continuous. Most of the slaughter was done by mass shootings of people into trenches and pits. Sometimes little children were not shot – they were caught by their legs, their heads were smashed against trees and they were then thrown into the pits still alive.

* * *

There were hundreds of Bielskis living in the Belorussian city of Novogrudek and surrounding towns and villages. My father, Yehuda “Yudl” Bielski, was the youngest of seven siblings. His three brothers had immigrated to America long before World War II, when he was still a little boy. Two married sisters with growing families remained in Novogrudek.

A third sister had been killed as a teenager when her head was bashed in with a rock. The incident was hushed up, but Yehuda’s father wrote a letter to his sons in New York with the sensitive details.

Yehuda attended the Tarbut Zionist school and learned to play the violin and guitar. He was an excellent dancer and a superb athlete. Cleanliness and good grooming were important to him and he coined the term “malbushim” for those who neglected such matters. He was fluent in Yiddish, Polish and Russian, and spoke Hebrew and German.

Yehuda

In 1939 Yehuda was fighting at the front as a lieutenant in the Polish army. Badly wounded, he made his way to a Warsaw hospital. He had barely recovered when the good nuns there helped him escape the SS sweep. Yehuda returned home to Novogrudek, having witnessed many German atrocities along the way, and resumed a more or less normal life for the next two years.

And then, suddenly, the Final Solution arrived at Yehuda’s doorstep.

The Germans first bombed Novogrudek. Then German troops entered followed by the Einsatzgruppen. Violent assaults and shootings of Jews in the streets began immediately. They were taken into forced labor. The Germans confiscated their jewelry, money and goods. Killing and looting were widespread.

Two ghettos were established at each end of the city. They were surrounded by barbed wire and closely guarded by Lithuanians and Ukrainians. “Selections” were routine and people disappeared. They were usually taken to the nearby woods, forced to undress and shot. After one of the ghettos was liquidated, those who remained alive were transferred to the other one. The terror resumed.

Yehuda, a prisoner in the ghetto, received a letter delivered by a Christian friend from his older first cousin Tuvia, who had recently fled with his three brothers, sister and several relatives.

“We are hiding in the forest,” wrote Tuvia, “and we do not plan to submit to the Germans. Bring your wife, a few good men and we will build something together. Please do not hesitate. I hope to see you soon in the forest.”

Yehuda immediately began to plan the escape he’d been thinking about for some time. On a dark night, he led nine people to the ghetto fence surrounded by guards. Silently, fence boards were broken and the escapees crawled through a hole and then across an open field to the surrounding woods. They walked all night.

When Yehuda finally met up with his cousins, the development of the Bielski group took a new turn. It would now include non-relatives. The Bielskis decided not to turn away any Jew who came to them seeking refuge.

At a meeting held shortly after his arrival in the forest, Yehuda stood up – confident, daring, urbane – and spoke: “We have come here into the forest, my dear ones, not to eat and drink and enjoy ourselves. We have come here, every one of us, to stay alive. We must think only of one important thing: revenge and revenge again on the murderers.”

He then outlined his plan to secure weapons and attack the enemy. When it was agreed upon, Yehuda continued: “We must choose a commander and we must give our unit a name. For the responsibility of commander, I nominate my cousin, Tuvia Bielski.”

The group now included a definitive military focus. Thus the Bielski partisans emerged.

Led by the charismatic, courageous and cunning Tuvia, who had grown up with his large peasant family in a tiny rural Belorussian village, the Bielski partisan camp expanded as more and more Jews, ranging from young children to the elderly, arrived. A base camp was established surrounded by smaller camps.

People slept in camouflaged bunkers built underground. They dug wells, built a synagogue, bathhouse, makeshift hospital, school, theater, and workshops where tailors made clothes, cobblers resoled shoes and craftsmen repaired guns. A primitive forest village evolved.

People worked, quarreled, prayed, married, and conceived babies. A strict hierarchy existed and everyone knew his place. Challenges to the authority of the Bielski brothers were at times resolved through the end of a gun barrel. But despite hunger, exposure to severe winters, collaborators and German patrols, those who came under the orders and protection of the Bielskis survived while tens of thousands were massacred around them.

Meanwhile, the military unit of the Bielski partisans smuggled Jews out of ghettos; procured weapons, food and supplies any way possible; sabotaged German supply trains; retaliated against collaborators who turned Jews over to the Germans; and fought a guerilla war against German troops.

Yehuda Bielski, partisan (Belorussian Forest 1942)

Yehuda Bielski, partisan (Belorussian Forest 1942)

In Belorussia, Red Army partisan formations had also begun fighting in the forests behind German lines. Everyone was suspect to the paranoid dictator Stalin, and from the beginning these formations were put under control of the dreaded NKVD (secret police). The NKVD not only shot Russian officers suspected of disloyalty but actively targeted Polish officers regarded as enemies of the Soviet regime.

For the Bielski partisans, this presented another dangerous predicament. The necessity of cooperating with the Russians and being accepted as allies of the Red Army (which could supply them with weapons and ammunition) was vital. Though they were never Communists, it was crucial for the Bielskis to convince the Russians this was both a Soviet and Jewish struggle toward the same goal – victory over the Germans.

Subduing his quick temper and flying fists, Tuvia managed to persuade the Russians that the Bielski fighters were comrades essential to Soviet success.

Pro-German enemies surrounded them everywhere in the forest. Fighting against both the Russians and Jewish partisans were anti-Soviet and anti-Semitic Polish partisan units, the Armia Krajowa (Polish Home Army), Cossacks, and Belorussian soldiers. The appreciative Germans even allowed them to lead their own regiments.

In the vortex of this abattoir, Tuvia made it his business to shield Yehuda, the former Polish officer, from the NKVD. Though very different by education, experience and temperament, the two cousins worked well together in the forest. Both understood the nature of their enemies and the tactics required to deal with them. Tuvia also needed Yehuda’s military expertise.

And they shared something else in common. “The worst day in the forest was when we lost Ida and Sonya [the wives of Yehuda and Tuvia] in a German ambush,” a partisan tearfully recalled years later.

Yehuda became known as “the mystery man.” Somehow, he was never around when the Russians showed up. It was only after being liberated by the Soviets in 1944, when about 1,200 Jewish men, women and children walked out of the forest, that the NKVD finally caught up with him.

When Yehuda returned to Novogrudek he was summoned to NKVD headquarters, where he was interrogated. Afterward he was warned: “We know who you are. We know where you are. And we know what you did during the war. When we’re ready for you, there’s no place you can hide.”

That night, he and Lola (whom he married after she joined the Bielski partisans), wearing their darkest clothes and carrying a few meager possessions, climbed atop a coal train heading west. Hanging on for dear life to the slippery coal, they arrived in Hungary where Yehuda was recruited by the Palestinian Jewish underground.

Avoiding British patrols, he escorted 200 Holocaust survivors in a dilapidated vessel to British-occupied Eretz Yisrael. “We have to build a Jewish country,” he declared.

* * *

Once again Yehuda became “the mystery man” when he joined the Irgun underground, engaging in activities that could have ended with his neck in a British noose. About a year later Tuvia and his wife, Lilka, arrived in Palestine where they eventually moved next door to Yehuda and Lola. Both couples became parents of a daughter and two sons. Yehuda, the only Bielski to be commissioned an officer in the Israel Defense Forces, fought with distinction and honor for the creation of the new Jewish state.

Lt. Yehuda Bielski leading his men on parade (Israel 1949)

Lt. Yehuda Bielski leading his men on parade (Israel 1949)

The two families were close in form but not in substance. In some ways they could have been living at opposite ends of the globe. Lola had grown up in a cultured home with private schools, skiing holidays, doormen, and servants, and she could never reconcile herself to the profane language of the Bielski brothers, their affinity to vodka and their less positive pursuits during the war.

Underwear, for example, was a much needed and prized possession in the forest. Lola – who survived interrogation by Adolph Eichmann, escaped from the Stolpce ghetto and endured in three partisan groups – was shocked when the Bielski leadership demanded hers as the price of admission. “They gave the women’s underwear they collected to their wives and girlfriends. This was so ugly and low,” Yehuda lamented.

Lola had also witnessed the shooting of a Jewish partisan by Tuvia in the forest. And then there was the matter, mentioned earlier, of Yehuda’s dead teenage sister back in Novogrudek. According to Yehuda and the letter his father sent to his three sons in New York, Tuvia was involved in that heinous incident. So Lola and her family remained aloof, and contact was kept to a minimum in Israel and later in America.

With “Defiance” soon to be released, some Poles and Lithuanians have emerged to defame and diminish the Bielski partisans, claiming they were no better than bandits and thieves who roamed the Belorussian forests killing innocent civilians. Some people will believe almost anything about Jews, so long as it’s negative. The calumnies of anti-Semites are legendary, and in some quarters anti-Jewish prejudice remains unabated.

So as I watched my brother Y.E. Bell, an online columnist for The Jewish Press, and four generations of my Bielski relatives – lawyers, teachers, military officers, homemakers, rabbis, artists, doctors, businesspeople – enjoying themselves during that special Sunday screening, I thought about how the Bielski partisans, with all their assorted human strengths, frailties and social differences, had frustrated and ultimately foiled Hitler’s plans to eliminate them.

They survived them all – the Wehrmacht, Einzatsgruppen, SS, collaborators, Red Army, NKVD – and now it is up to their descendents, who number in the tens of thousands, to live up to their legacy and never forget or forgive.

Israeli Shul To Be Named After Hero

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

         The following article appeared shortly after Roi Klein’s death. We are reprinting it in order to reacquaint our readers with this heroic young man who sacrificed his life to save others.

 

         Major Roi Klein.

 

         It is a name that held no meaning to us. He was a complete stranger, about whom we had never heard and whom we had never met.

 

         Yet an image of the last seconds of his life won’t leave our mind.

 

         Roi was a son. He was a brother. He was a husband to Sara and a father to three-year-old Gilad and one-year-old Yoav.

 

         But most of all, Roi was a hero for all of us. He was a face and a name to the many Jewish heroes spanning the generations.

 

         Roi’s funeral was on Thursday (July 27, 2006), the day that would have been his 31st birthday.

 

         Major Roi Klein was a Golani brigade deputy commander. He was killed in an ambush among the houses of Bint Jbail, a large village in southern Lebanon. Hizbullah terrorists killed eight soldiers, including Roi, and injured nearly two dozen.

 

         There were other soldiers next to Roi. A hand grenade was thrown at them and Roi shouted, “Grenade!” He then threw his body over it, sacrificing his life for the sake of his soldiers, who later attributed being alive to his act of selflessness.

 

         In his last seconds of life, Roi mustered the strength to shout “Shema Yisroel,” the prayer that Jews have prayed for centuries, declaring our belief in G‑d and in a better world – the prayer that so many Jewish martyrs throughout the generations called out as they were being led to their deaths.

 

         It was for his loved ones that Roi served in the special units of the Paratroop and Golani brigades. It was for them, and for the ideals represented by the Shema Yisroel prayer, that Roi diligently and courageously pursued his army service, advancing to the point where he would have been promoted to battalion commander.

 

         What a colossal contrast between Roi and his enemy!

 

         Roi was there to ensure a peaceful existence of his people in their homeland. He was there to safeguard the innocent lives of his children and his nation; to ensure that people could live in their homes in peace and tranquility; to guarantee that they could continue their ordinary day-to-day activities – activities like shopping in a mall without being blown to bits, like eating a family meal together in a pizza shop without worrying about flying shrapnel, like praying in a synagogue without having to run for cover in a bomb shelter or like sending their children on a school bus without thoughts of bullets penetrating within.

 

         Roi was there to defend his people against those who vowed their destruction. Even in his death, he sacrificed his own life to ensure that his comrades could live.

 

         Roi’s enemy was willing to die to bring death and mourning to as many as possible; Roi was willing to die to ensure life and liberty for others, to preserve a world in which Jews could pray to G-d in their synagogues, perform G-d’s commandments and make our world a better, more moral and more conscientious place.

 

         This is the third time in this last century that the Jewish people have found themselves on the front lines against those who sought their annihilation.

 

         For the Nazis, the Jew was a racial impurity to be exterminated like insects. For the Soviet communists, the Jewish religion was a thorn in their sides to be eradicated. And for the Islamic extremists, the Jew and his state must be eliminated from the face of the earth.

 

         Less than a century has passed since Jews fell in the Soviet gulag with the chant of Shema in their mouths for the mere “crime” of observing kashrut or Shabbat in their private lives. Over 65 years have passed since the echo of the Shema resonated in the Nazi gas chambers where Jews were suffocated and then burnt to ashes in the crematoriums just because they were born as Jews.

 

         And now Roi Klein follows in the path of these martyrs, dying with the cry of Shema on his lips in the act of defending his people from those who, yet again, wish to destroy them.

 

         A new synagogue being built in Givaat Shmuel, Israel and will be called “Gvurot Roi.” Members of the congregation have already donated $500,000 but $500,000 more is needed to complete our project.

 

         Please send your tax deductible donations to P.E.F., 6 Bellcourt Place, Livingston, N.J. 07039 USA. Please mark on your check: In Memory of Major Roi Klein, z”l.

Jews And Cold War Politics: A Rumination

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

For obvious reasons, the disproportionate number of Jews who were either members of the old American Communist Party or otherwise active in left-wing politics during the Cold War has always been a sensitive issue for the Jewish community.

Even now, with the Soviet Union dead and buried and Marxism thoroughly discredited just about everywhere outside of liberal-arts departments of elite (and not-so-elite) universities, the subject still tends to make people uneasy, if not defensive and hostile.

It is, however, a subject that will not go away anytime soon; if anything, the release in the 1990’s of previously classified documents by both Washing-ton and Moscow gave new life, and provided several unexpected twists, to the debate over such questions as the extent of Soviet espionage in America and the true loyalties of American Communists.

Jews actually predominated on both sides of the 20th century’s epic political controversy. The old Jewish affinity for leftist causes notwithstanding, many of America’s leading anti-Communist intellectuals were Jews, from the liberal and socialist anti-Stalinists of the 1940’s and 50’s to the original neo-conservatives of the 1970’s and 80’s.

Some of the most trenchant criticism – past and present – of American Communists has come not only from Jewish intellectuals who, like the prolific author and conservative activist David Horowitz, started out on the left and gradually moved right, but also from those who, despite a sense of growing disillusionment, chose to maintain their political affiliation with the left.

In fact, the most widely-accepted debunking of two of the more durable left-wing myths of the Cold War – the supposed innocence of Soviet agents Alger Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg – was accomplished in the 1970’s not by right-wing Jews at all, but by Jews – most famously Allen Weinstein (Hiss) and Ronald Radosh (the Rosenbergs) – who commenced their investigations fully intent on exonerating their subjects.

And that was much the way things had gone for the first two decades or so of the Cold War, a time when many of the most vocally anti-Communist Jews were found on the left: socialists or liberals who had little patience with those, like FDR’s third-term vice president and 1948 presidential candidate Henry Wallace, whom they considered dangerously sympathetic to the Soviet Union – “fellow travelers,” in the day’s parlance.

Not that there weren’t Jews in the 1940’s and 50’s who forthrightly identified as political conserva-tives. Some even worked as lawyers and investigators for the House Committee on Un-American Ac-tivities and on the staff of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

And no fewer than seven Jews – Frank Chodorov, Marvin Liebman, Eugene Lyons, Frank Meyer, Morrie Ryskind, William Schlamm and Ralph De Toledano – were members of William F. Buckley’s inner circle when Buckley launched Na-tional Review, his groundbreaking conservative magazine, in 1955.

But as intellectuals who came of age when Judaism in America was paid little public regard and Orthodox Jews in particular were thought to be a near-extinct species, the National Review Jews had at best a superficial knowledge and understanding of their religious heritage and therefore failed to see in Judaism a spiritual bulwark against the encroachments of moral relativism.

Not surprisingly, those Jews were profoundly influenced by the intensely Roman Catholic milieu of National Review. Liebman and Mayer ended up baptized as Catholics; Schlamm was buried with Catholic rites; De Toledano came close to converting but held back out of a sense of loyalty to his Sephardi ancestors who had been victimized by the Inquisition.

It remained for the next generation of Jewish conservatives – or more precisely those one-time liberal Democrats like Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol who in the 1970’s became known as neoconservatives (and whose political heirs would reach their pinnacle of power and influence during George W. Bush’s first term as president) – to bring a more affirmative Jewishness to their conservative politics.

Though theirs was, for the most part, a cultural Jewishness rather than a religious one, it nonetheless was a significant departure from the rejection of Judaism that defined so many politically conservative Jews of an earlier era.

Jimmy Carter’s Jewish Problem

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

For those with eyes to see, there were hints as far back as the 1976 presidential campaign of the trouble to come. Early that year, Harper’s magazine published “Jimmy Carter’s Pathetic Lies,” a devastating exposé of Carter’s record in Georgia by a then little-known journalist named Steven Brill.

Reg Murphy, who as editor of the Atlanta Constitution had kept a close eye on Carter’s rise in state politics, declared, “Jimmy Carter is one of the three or four phoniest men I ever met.”

Speechwriter Bob Shrum quit the Carter campaign after just a few weeks, disgusted with what he described as Carter’s penchant for fudging the truth. He also related that Carter, convinced the Jewish vote in the Democratic primaries would go to Senator Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, had instructed his staff not to issue any more statements on the Middle East.

“Jackson has all the Jews anyway,” Shrum quoted Carter as saying. “We get the Christians.”

Relations between Carter and Israel were tense from the outset of the Carter presidency. Carter’s hostility was evident to Israeli foreign minister Moshe Dayan, who in his memoir Breakthrough described a July 1977 White House meeting between Carter and Israeli officials. “You are more stubborn than the Arabs, and you put obstacles on the path to peace,’’ an angry Carter scolded Dayan and his colleagues.

“Our talk,” Dayan wrote, “lasted more than an hour and was most unpleasant. President Carter … launched charge after charge against Israel.”

On October 1, 1977, the U.S. and the Soviet Union unexpectedly issued a joint statement on the Middle East calling for an Arab-Israeli peace conference in Geneva, with the participation of Palestinian representatives. The communiqué marked the first time the U.S. officially employed the phrase “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”

Reaction in the U.S. was immediate and furious. “[A] political firestorm erupted,” wrote historian Steven Spiegel. “After American officials had worked successfully for years to reduce Russian influence over the Mideast peace process and in the area as whole, critics could not understand why the administration had suddenly invited Moscow to return.”

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who five years earlier had expelled thousands of Soviet military advisers from Egypt, neither liked nor trusted the Russians, and decided to kill the U.S.-Soviet initiative in the womb. His decision to go to Jerusalem to address the Knesset electrified the world and caught the Carter administration completely off guard.

Eventually the U.S. would broker what became known as the Camp David Accords and oversee the signing of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. But Carter was far from a dispassionate third party. His disdain for Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and near hero-worship of Sadat were clearly reflected in his demeanor and has informed nearly everything he’s written on the Middle East since leaving office.

In The Unfinished Presidency, his book about Carter’s post-White House activities, the liberal historian Douglas Brinkley provides a detailed account of the former president’s obsession with helping Palestinian terror chief Yasir Arafat polish his image. Carter, according to Brinkley, regularly advised Arafat on how to shape his message for Western journalists and even wrote some speeches for him.

Carter was also a vocal critic of Israeli policies and “view[ed] the unarmed young Palestinians who stood up against thousands of Israel soldiers as ‘instant heroes,’ ” wrote Brinkley. “Buoyed by the intifada, Carter passed on to the Palestinians, through Arafat, his congratulations.”

Former New York mayor Ed Koch, in his 1984 bestseller Mayor, recounted a conversation he had shortly before the 1980 election with Cyrus Vance, who’d recently resigned as Carter’s secretary of state. Koch told Vance that many Jews would not be voting for Cater because they feared “that if he is reelected he will sell them out.”

“Vance,” recalled Koch, “nodded and said, ‘He will.’ ”

In Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israeli Covert Relationship, Andrew and Leslie Cockburn revealed that during a March 1980 meeting with his senior political advisers, Carter, discussing his fading reelection prospects and his sinking approval rating in the Jewish community, snapped, “If I get back in, I’m going to [expletive] the Jews.”

Carter – such was the country’s good fortune – did not get back in. But as evidenced by his years of pro-Palestinian advocacy, reams of anti-Israel op-ed articles, and the release last week of his latest book/screed, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, he’s been trying to [expletive] the Jews ever since.

Emmanuil And Janet Snitkovsky – Paintings

Wednesday, August 18th, 2004

Two highly successful artists, the husband and wife team of Emmanuil and Janet Snitkovsky, are currently exhibiting a selection of eight large Judaic paintings at the Chassidic Art Institute in Crown Heights. Three of those paintings are truly singular visions of Jewish Art that cause us to stop and reassess our preconceptions about the meaning and importance of their subjects.

Emmanuil and Janet Snitkovsky were both born in the Ukraine in the 1930′s. Emmanuil was trained in Odessa in public monument art, and Janet majored in fashion at the Lvov Decorative Art Institute. After both narrowly survived the devastation of the Second World War in Stalin’s Russia, they began to collaborate on state sponsored art works in 1962. For ten years, they worked on grandiose public sculptural projects to commemorate the fallen Russian heroes of the Second World War in Moscow, Kiev, Tula and Kazan. They were exemplary Soviet Realists working for the Soviet regime. Eventually, this career became untenable for them, both as artists and as Jews, when they clashed with Soviet officialdom over a commission to commemorate the Babi-Yar massacre.

The Soviets refused to acknowledge this massacre of 100,000 Jews and eventually suppressed the memorial. In 1978, Emmanuil and Janet arrived in New York and began to recreate their artistic lives. In the ensuing 25 years, they have been quite successful, exhibiting widely in the United States and Europe.

They have nurtured a hybrid style of painting and sculpture called “Renaissance Revival” combining contemporary and classical subjects in a stylized realism that evokes both the American regionalist Thomas Hart Benton and the Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli. The works are highly proficient, polished, and commercial productions in a quirky decorative style. They have continued to accept sculptural projects that have not shied away from kitschy realistic sculptures of Charlie Chaplin as “The Kid,” The Little Tramp” and Buster Keaton as “Cameramen.” In some ways, they have appropriated American culture just as they once accepted Soviet culture.

Young Hasid With Sefer Torah presents a parody of a stock sentimental image of youthful pietistic devotion. All the elements are there, a young hasid with peyos nearly as long as his talis katan peeking out from under his shin length beckesheh. He grasps the Sefer Torah, somewhat magically supporting its weight, as he strides across a black and white tiled floor.

Incongruously, a white bird follows him bearing a single lit candle that perhaps announces some kind of mystical wedding. The image becomes stranger as we notice that the background, a storied city and turbulent sky, presumably Jerusalem, is but a painted backdrop. Now the two fragments of a talis seen on each side of the painting fall into place as a kind of curtain that frames the iconic hasid with his Sefer Torah. In this painting, Snitkovsky comments on the stock image that it may be simply a play unveiled before a cardboard holy city. Certainly not what we might expect.

Moses And The Reed Sea is a similarly jarring image. Moses is striding forward, the waves beating a hasty retreat from his aggressive steps. An octopus glares out at us as his abode is uncovered by the great Jewish leader marching forward led by a pure white sea gull, perhaps representing an angel. B’nai Yisroel follow obediently in a long line that stretches back to the pyramids at the horizon, watched over by a lone Masonic Eye floating in the sky. This curious combination, the All Seeing Eye and the Pyramids, is a motif found on the back of the U.S one dollar bill. Moses, grasping a bamboo staff in one hand and a mysterious scroll in the other is depicted as a force of nature, his hair and beard blowing just like dramatically furious storm clouds. Emmanuil and Janet’s wit and charm bring us into the heart of the mythic narrative that seems be pointing to a latter-day Exodus out of American materialism and into an unknown future Promised Land.

What makes these paintings exciting is that each uses traditional Jewish imagery to reassess normative values and assumptions. We would not normally think of a young hasid as a play-actor or of Moses at the Reed Sea as a driven contemporary figure, and yet Snitkovsky’s paintings push us towards these thoughts. The next painting goes even further to uncover a layer of meaning about the nature of wisdom.

The Judgment of Solomon, painted in 1981, presents an iconic vision of exactly how the wise King Solomon made his famous decision between two women who both claimed the same infant (Kings 1; 3:16-28). Both women are clad in a warm red dress framing King Solomon. There is a poetic dance of six hands, each expressing one aspect of the narrative. Solomon symbolically threatens the child (nestled in a basket between the women) as his raised hand magically balances a sword that floats above his right shoulder. Solomon’s evenhandedness is the cunning stimulus to resolution as his gesture slices between the competing claims. The woman on the left seems willing to give up the child to save its life, pushing the basket away, while the other gestures dramatically that “Neither mine nor yours shall he be. Cut!”

Snitkovsky’s mannered rendition of gesture, costume and lighting add to the drama to allow us to fully appreciate Solomon’s wisdom just before the matter was resolved. King Solomon looks directly at us, challenging us to decide as the tension of the moment becomes close to unbearable. The artist’s point yet again is to bring the audience into the fabric of the narrative to engage us in the complexities of judgment that are as fully relevant today as they were close to three thousand years ago.

Emmanuil and Janet Snitkovsky have utilized their popular and commercial style to develop a successful career in America. When they turn their talents to Jewish subject matter, a very different kind of artistic success ensues. The Jewish art that emerges is one in which Jewish piety, leadership and even wisdom are examined through a vision forged in the restrictive crucible of Soviet Realism and developed in the heady surrealism of American popular culture. They force us to share their turbulent history that endured a totalitarian dictatorship and the jarring encounter with a brash America. After seeing these challenging paintings, these Jewish subjects will never be quite the same.

Emmanuil And Janet Snitkovsky – Paintings Chassidic Art Institute – 375 Kingston Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11213; (718) 774-9149. Noon – 7 p.m.; Sunday – Thursday: Zev Markowitz, director.

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.

A Glimpse Of Meaning Russian Post-Modernists At YUM

Friday, November 21st, 2003

Remembrance: Russian Post-Modern Nostalgia -
Yeshiva University Museum – Center for Jewish History.

West 16th Street, New York, N.Y.;

(212) 294-8330

Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 11a.m.-5 p.m.;

$6 adults, $4 children

until February 1, 2004.

 

 

The need to reassert a shattered cultural identity should be familiar to Jews. As a people, we are used to the historical rug being pulled out from under us every now and then. It’s G-d’s way of keeping us on our toes. After the Romans leveled the Second Temple, effectively
cutting out the heart of Judaism, we had to forge a new identity. Likewise, the trials and tribulations of the Diaspora have repeatedly demanded a reassessment of cultural definitions. We were highly cultured Spaniards until 1492 and then we were again cast among the nations.
The same experience of displacement was repeated in France, Germany and England over the centuries. Finally, our cultured homes and way of life in Western and Eastern Europe were incinerated and yet another cultural identity went up in smoke. The survivors and their descendents are still struggling to remake a viable Jewish culture in America and in Israel. This has been a numbingly constant Jewish paradigm for 2,000 years.

Therefore there is something familiar about the diversity, dislocation and postmodern chaos in the works of the 24 artists in Remembrance: Russian Post-Modern Nostalgia currently at Yeshiva University Museum. This exhibition by some of the foremost Russian artists of their generation displays their artistic lives hewn out of the ruins of the Soviet Empire. As critic Donald Kuspit surveys these works, he perceives “the problem of achieving an autonomous identity and strong sense of selfhood [that] haunts Russian art…”

Russian art boasts an illustrious history from pre-Revolutionary icons to the radically modern
Constructivist movement of the teens and early 20′s. Such abstract and highly conceptual works were finally crushed by Stalin’s Social Realism, which was the totalitarian norm, from the 1930s until the mid 1950′s. It was only after the death of Stalin in 1953 that the cultural climate began a slow thaw that was itself shattered by the catastrophic break-up of the Soviet
Union in December 1991. Most of the artists shown here are representative of this unique cultural transition from a tightly controlled society to what may be deemed contemporary cultural chaos.

Perhaps one of the most telling images that expresses what curator Alexandre Gertsman defines as “nostalgia for culture and for the destruction of culture; a longing for refinement and for vandalism…” is, I Saw Stalin Once When I Was a Child (1982) [in catalogue] by Komar and Melamid. The chilling vision of the Great Leader peering from the back of a black sedan
encapsulates the haunting presence of totalitarian authority and destructiveness that permeates the Russian soul. The exhibition is dominated by ironic images of Soviet relics that repeatedly attempt to deconstruct the terrible years and corrosive ideas that dominated their artistic youth.

Natalya Nesterova is represented by a number of works that considers multiple perspectives of cultural dislocation. Dream on the Shore (Reading Buber) (1999) transports us to a surreal scene of comatose relaxation while savoring a volume of Martin Buber in Hebrew. An
incongruous dragonfly against the leaden sky seems to illustrate the fleeting fragility of philosophical speculation in a world adrift from normative values. A similarly illusive image of Golden Angel (1999) attempts to take flight over a grim city below. The city may be burning;
the whole civilization in ruins, but the radiant angel cannot escape to its heavenly home. There is a persuasive hopelessness, a trapped spirituality that characterizes many of her works. The earlier Angel With Eyes Open (1991) anticipates this dread in a faceless angel that is paradoxically all seeing, all knowing and yet impotent to act. The entire winged figure is covered with eyes, a terrible presence that hovers against a gray threatening sky. Nesterova addresses a reinvigorated Judaism by a cautious exploration of the spiritually that was crushed, persecuted and denied in her nation’s recent past.

Likewise, Grisha Bruskin seeks a Jewish medium to exorcise Soviet demons. His background in Soviet Pop Art, called Sots-Art, and Soviet symbolism has flowed into an obsession with Jewish culture. Here a defining referent is the shared culture of “The Book.” His works, both paintings and flat silhouette sculpture tend to multiple series, echoing the multiple pages of books. Metamorphoses (1992) is composed of ten diminutive steel cut-outs painted in red or black enamel, depicting angels, demons, devils and a haunted Everyman that allegedly represents an 18th Century Kabbalistic text. These deeply disturbing images seem to emerge from a shared unconscious thousands of years old. In contrast to many other works in this show, there is a distinct lack of nostalgia in his works. Rather, because of his use of a stark modernist sculptural form, Bruskin’s works point to a vision of Jewish spirituality that is at once terrifyingly ancient and resolutely contemporary.

His paintings enlarge upon the textual motif by utilizing actual texts in a lined background against which his fantastic figures are painted. Message 5 (1989-90) [in catalogue] is part of a larger series that depicts a cosmic struggle that has been brought to earth and encased in a fragmented text. Snatches of Hebrew and Aramaic script surface in boldface, while the majority of the text remains unintelligible. The images seem to want to narrate, and yet an overload of information intrudes. One assumes that Bruskin mixes personal, political and
historical images with deliberately obscure texts to obfuscate the painting’s meaning. This tactic
unfortunately creates a cultural chasm that proves extremely difficult to cross.

These glimpses of meaning, attempts at construction even while acknowledging that reconstruction of a shattered cultural identity may be futile, represent but one response to the cultural dislocation so keenly felt by contemporary Russian artists. What is extremely intriguing about this exhibition is the particular way in which various echoes of Jewish themes, from disengaged angels to exploration of secular and sacred Jewish texts, have been utilized to address a problem that has a very real parallel in contemporary Jewish creativity.



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/a-glimpse-of-meaning-russian-post-modernists-at-yum/2003/11/21/

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