jew on this

critical, progressive ideas from pondering jews

nakba poem

by jewonthisguest

a guestpost (or, more precisely, the sharing of a poem) by friend of the blog, and Melbourne-based writer, Micaela Sahhar

On the day of our Nakba, a reflection on an article published in The New York Times during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Describing a scene of chaotic abjection at Shifa Hospital, a journalist wrote ‘all hope flickered out’. In response I wrote a poem, angered by the ease of a suggestion that the Palestinians might just fold if things got bad enough. They have, and we haven’t. So in acknowledgment, love and solidarity with all Palestinian people today, but particularly to the ones in my life: you, the life blood, our hope has not flickered out.

(for shoe throwers everywhere)

Hope flickered out, the journalist purpled describing
the body of a young man who two hours frozen
returned: the shudder of a wrist, fresh blood at his
mouth (no one on hand to explain how air waits
in the lungs for hours) – instead, his brother yelled
‘How could you keep him in the refrigerator?’ The journalist

(again) described the family member – Male, Angry.
Later that day, in an event seemingly unrelated, Two
males (angry) scaled the barrier at Qalqilya. Ignoring
the warning shots, apparently (so logically what followed
were shots to kill). In the event, One survived, however,
while others kept throwing rocks. Analysis some years

hence evinces a picture of how the journalist’s
prose has perished, exposing the planar nucleus of
transmission again. Hope has not flickered out.


the four…

by jewonthisguest

as said at a second night seder in melbourne by z.
hebrew via the interwebs.

בָּרוּךְ הַמָּקוֹם, בָּרוּךְ הוּא. בָּרוּךְ שֶׁנָּתַן תּוֹרָה לְעַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל, בָּרוּךְ הוּא. כְּנֶגֶד אַרְבָּעָה בָנִים דִּבְּרָה תּוֹרָה . אֶחָד חָכָם, וְאֶחָד רָשָׁע, וְאֶחָד תָּם, וְאֶחָד שֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל

חָכָם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מַה הָעֵדוֹת וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֶתְכֶם? וְאַף אַתָּה אֱמָר לוֹ כְּהִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח: אֵין מַפְטִירִין אַחַר הַפֶּסַח אֲפִיקוֹמָן

רָשָׁע מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מָה הָעֲבֹדָה הַזֹּאת לָכֶם? לָכֶם – וְלֹא לוֹ. וּלְפִי שֶׁהוֹצִיא אֶת עַצְמוֹ מִן הַכְּלָל כָּפַר בְּעִקָּר. וְאַף אַתָּה הַקְהֵה אֶת שִנָּיו וֶאֱמֹר לוֹ: בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה יי לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם. לִי – וְלֹא לוֹ. אִילּוּ הָיָה שָׁם, לֹא הָיָה נִגְאָל

תָּם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מַה זֹּאת? וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו: בְּחֹזֶק יָד הוֹצִיאָנוּ יי מִמִּצְרָיִם, מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים

וְשֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל – אַתְּ פְּתַח לוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר, בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה יי לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם

Blessed is the blessing. Blessed that we can sit as friends, as family and as fucked-up individuals lashed together by empty ritual, tradition and blood and fill this with meaning. That we can build and destroy together.

The Torah speaks of Four Sons – not really, it doesn’t exist in that form – but the Rabbis, as men, thought that there were four sons worthy of inclusion and many invisible daughters who weren’t worth mentioning at all. They also didn’t mention animals, non-Jews and people who didn’t resemble themselves. Fuck that!

The Symbol of Wisdom – this symbol is the all-knowing, all powerful patriachal dictator that we internalise as we are socialised in our houses, our families and communities. he confuses the narrative with historical factoids and presents a slick retelling of the story as a totally reasonable history. and we internalise and adopt these stories as our own. to this, we must say, fuck us!

The Symbol of Wicked – this symbol is the land developer who talks about property prices and never about Indigenous people and their land, and the minor functionaries of capitalism who grease the wheels while complaining ironically about being functionaries of capitalism, and the csg volunteers who perpetuate and construct the siege mentality that zionism so loves in melbourne. to this, we must say, fuck us!

The Symbol of the Simple – this symbol is of the status quo, of those parts of us that think that rape culture isn’t a problem because it’s everywhere and that episode 9 of Girls was fine because it didn’t confront, call-out and reject the rape scene at the end between Adam and that random character. to this, we must say, fuck us!

The Symbol of the Blank – this symbol is of the uninformed, of those parts of us who think the Jewish News is a source of information, that Australian history begins in 1788, that Prisoner X and Zionism is totally fine, and that refugees who risk their lives on boats are queue jumping scum. to this, we must say, fuck us!

book review: The International Jewish Labor Bund After 1945

by jewonthisguest

David Slucki, The International Jewish Labor Bund After 1945: Toward a Global History
Rutgers, 2012
Available on Amazon for $US45.95

Reviewed by Clare Fester

It is not every summer that I read an academic book cover-to-cover, with enough fascination to miss my train station on more than one occasion. Last (Australian) summer David Slucki’s The International Jewish Labor Bund after 1945 gave me cause to do so. The book maps the survival and eventual decline of the Jewish Labor Bund during the post-war period in the Soviet bloc, France, the US, Australia and Israel. Slucki pieces together the struggles the Bund faced – their leadership and rank-and-file decimated, their surviving members scarred and scattered across the globe, and new alien political contexts in which to organise.

Even readers who have walked the halls of Jewish Studies departments could be forgiven for knowing little about Bundist history, since most courses cast only a cursory nod in the Bund’s direction. The Bund was a Yiddish socialist party active in Central and Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century. It grew to be the most influential Jewish political organisation in pre-revolutionary Russia and later inter-war Poland, playing a substantial role in trade unions, anti-racist struggles and local elections. It also ran a sophisticated network of media, schools and social clubs.

Slucki contributes not only to the modest array of literature on the Bund, but to the study of Jewish life in the Diaspora more generally. Slucki challenges the narrow binary of the post-war focus on Israel and the US, and hence the book considers more diverse aspects of Diaspora Jewish experiences since the Second World War.

The book is also compelling reading for anyone interested in the history of social movements and the left. Bundists had some of the earliest critiques of Stalinism; many had cut their political teeth jousting with the early Bolsheviks over questions such as party democracy and national minorities. These conflicts intensified with the degeneration of the Russian Revolution, ending in the bitter liquidation of the Bund in the Soviet bloc during the 1920s.

Slucki unpacks not only the political twists and turns of the Bund in the post-war period. Indeed the book speaks to critical questions the entire left faced at the height of the cold war, when there seemed to be few political alternatives beyond either Stalinism or Western democracy.

Furious tears dribbled down my face as I read how the French Bund marched in sorry lockstep alongside the rest of the French left supporting de Gaulle’s military intervention to squash the independence movement in Algeria. Shouldn’t the Bund, of all parties, have known better about the perils of imperial occupation and national oppression? Where was their tradition of challenging racism? But the Bund was consciously operating in the wider context of the French left, and the French left as a whole was decidedly confused on the Algerian question. The Bundist guiding principle is doikayt, from the Yiddish “here-ness”. Doikayt means to struggle for a better world for Jews and non-Jews alike in the political and geographical context that Bundists find themselves in. The Algerian experience is just one of Slucki’s investigations into how the Bund navigated its new do (“here”).

Slucki necessarily deals with the Bund’s work carving out a space to build Yiddish culture. The book explores the particular circumstances that allowed Bundist youth camps to flourish until the 1990s in Australia, but fizzle in France. It speaks to the role Israel played in reshaping the Bund’s historically anti-Zionist stance and the challenges Israeli Bundists faced building Yiddish culture in a hostile environment. It demonstrates how Bund members came to play significant roles in US and Australian politics, although not necessarily in their capacity as Bundists per se.

Slucki shows repeatedly how the post-war Bundist organisations were firmly embedded in their respective milieus and remained thoroughly committed to doikayt – this makes for fascinating reading for veteran Bundists, historians and leftists alike.

Readers might ask, what is the point of learning about this small organisation in decline? As the trope goes: history is written by victors. Needless to say, neither Yiddish nor socialism – the twin bedrocks of Bundism – have won many great victories lately. Slucki paints portraits not of victorious historical explosions, but of brave women and men who came out the other side of hell and painstakingly rebuilt a movement dedicated to social justice and cultural freedom. The book should be compulsory reading for anyone interested enriching the tapestry.

In the key of resistance: singing Yiddish in Sydney

by jewonthisguest

This is a Jew on This guest post from Clare. Clare is the secretary of Dos Pintele Syd. She is a non-Jewish Yiddish enthusiast, revolutionary socialist and involved in campaigns for refugee rights and against staff cuts at Sydney University.

In 2010 my second year Yiddish class attended Holocaust ethnomusicologist Dr Joseph “Yosl” Toltz’s guest lecture in Sydney University’s Holocaust class. Two years later Yosl and I run Sydney’s first and only all-Yiddish choir: Dos Pintele Syd.

Tragically, 2010 was the last year Sydney University ran the Yiddish program. The remaining students made a cameo appearance at Monash University’s Yiddish program via videoconference, then set off for the Yiddish Book Center’s Steiner Summer Program in Yiddish to complete our degrees. There I joined the Cowl Jewish Leadership Program, enabling students to bring Yiddish and Jewish culture to campuses across the US, and now Australia.

We are ever grateful for the Book Center’s support, but private grants such as ours are one of the many symptoms of a society that does not value culture, especially cultures beyond the mainstream. Cultural initiatives in the US, and increasingly in Australia, are driven by the private funding of individual donors or foundations. Anthropologists, historians and linguists must continually prove their cultural worth in projected dividends. Yiddish departments across the world struggle to make ends meet, here the SBS radio was forced to suspend its Yiddish and Israeli Hebrew programming over the summer due to budgetary and demographic limitations. Without serious state funding for education and cultural programs, Yiddish and every other minority culture face a deepening existential crisis.

On top of the increasingly privatised nature of culture, Yiddishists have faced the internal kulturkampf (culture war). Since its emergence Yiddish had been relegated to the margins of Jewish culture as women’s language, a shtetl language, a revolutionary’s language. With the near-hegemony of Israeli Hebrew as the Jewish language after the Holocaust, the kulturkampf continues quietly. Yiddishists the world over struggle to find a home for themselves and their culture. In Sydney we confront especially arid terrain for Yiddish. This is in part demographic, many of our communities never spoke Yiddish to begin with. But there are few Yiddish cultural initiatives, and those who love Yiddish find little support from the Jewish community at large.

In recent years some Yiddishists have turned to translation as their major cultural undertaking. Their projects are immensely valuable, but in some sense translation takes the Yiddish out of Yiddish. Translation alone is a bandaid for a bullet wound: it fails to address waning Yiddish literacy, education and institutional support. Dos Pintele Syd aims to deal with this issue, or at least provide a stronger bandaid. We learn music in transliteration and native Yiddish speakers translate as we go. We share poetic and professional translations to deepen our understandings of the text. We discuss the lives of the composers and poets. When linguistic or cultural idioms appear, we discuss them collectively, based on our different experiences – mame-loshen, university, Synagogue, musicianship. Every song is in Yiddish, and every song raises a question about poetry, folk culture, activism, children, festivals, antisemitism.  In the absence of the hallmarks of Yiddish life – Yiddish schools, theatres and papers – Dos Pintele Syd seeks to put Yiddish back on Sydney’s cultural map in a way that celebrates and expands Yiddish on its own terms. Remarkably, our membership is at least one third non-Jewish, and the demographic scales and sliding further in that direction. This suggests that text translation is by no means the only avenue for accessibility.

Dos Pintele Syd joins the growing list of cultural initiatives across the world reclaiming and re-energising Yiddish culture. One member explained: “The Yiddish language to me is the most expressive of all languages. It is filled with heart and soul. Similarly the music is magic – so emotionally rich – nothing compares with it.” Another described the importance of Dos Pintele Syd: “By grouping together and singing in Yiddish as we have in our Yiddish Choir is one way of maintaining our most precious Yiddish language… I also love Yiddish and singing songs many of which I remember from my childhood.”

Yiddish is the indispensible thread that holds together the fabric of Eastern European Jewish history and culture. Like every Yiddish endeavour, Dos Pintele Syd’s value is enormous, but its survival is contingent on more support – moral, membership and especially material. The growing success of Dos Pintele Syd is cause for hope that, despite what the pundits say, Yiddish is here to stay. I look forward not only to a flourishing Yiddish choir, but the reinstatement of the Sydney University Yiddish department, Yiddish literature being made accessible to all, and a society that engenders Yiddish with the innate value it deserves. Dos Pintele Syd is proud to be part of this process.


Dos Pintele Syd rehearses fortnightly on Tuesdays at 7:30pm in Newtown Shul, 20 Georgina Street, Newtown. Email or contact Clare on 0415 821 485, or find us on Facebook under ‘Dos Pintele Syd’.