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Thursday Newsletter 6/15/2023

Dear Reader,

At Jewish Currents, we take pride in publishing reader responses to our web and print content. Such letters reflect the broad intellectual community that constitutes the backbone of our magazine. Since the 2018 relaunch of Jewish Currents, we’ve included letters to the editor in the opening pages of each issue, and today, we’re excited to announce a new, dedicated space for them on our website.

In this newsletter, we’re sending you all of the reader responses we have edited and published since our last roundup three months ago. The letters here include a comment on our Nakba Day photo essay and a note from our editorial staff in reply; a reaction to our coverage of Tom Stoppard’s Tony-winning play Leopoldstadt; and a dispatch from an incarcerated reader who was denied access to last year’s Winter Gift, the Rest issue coloring book.

As always, we encourage readers to submit letters of about 350 words to with the subject line “Letter,” followed by the title of the article. Please include your name and location. We look forward to hearing from you!

—The Editors

Jewish Currents board member Nadia Saah’s mother, Nina (left), and her mother’s cousin, Leila (right), at home in Jerusalem in 1947.

Courtesy of Nadia Saah

On “Our Catastrophe” (Published May 15th, 2023)

I was troubled to see Jewish Currents commemorate the Nakba, an event that lacks critical context, in the photo essay “Our Catastrophe.”

The article operates under the framing that Palestinians were forced from the land that became Israel. The reality is that two-thirds of the Arabs who fled Palestine in the 1940s left the area before the events of 1947–48. It is well documented that the Arabs who deserted left on the heels of the elite, who had moved to their summer homes, or fled at the behest of Arab leaders so as to minimize collateral damage. The Zionist community in Palestine, the leaders said, would be quickly crushed, and the Arab population would be able to return and enjoy the spoils.

It is true that after the Jews withstood the combined fire power of the invading Arab armies, the displaced Arabs were designated “Palestine refugees” and placed under the care of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which failed to find new homes or employment for them. But of the fewer than 700,000 Arabs who fled Palestine in the 1940s, no more than 30,000 are still alive, and yet the UNRWA has 6,000,000 Palestine refugees on its rolls. Here, the UN abets Palestinian leaders, who demand that Israel “give back” the homes that “refugees” claim their parents, or grandparents, or great-grandparents lost when the Jewish ancestral homeland became a sovereign Jewish state. Such an inflated number of “refugees” ensures that Israel will never accede to a Palestinian right of return. Considering their vast land holdings and wealth, Arab countries who invaded Israel in the first place should certainly have taken in the Palestine refugees.

In contrast to the deliberately unresolved situation of the Palestine refugees, a tiny, renascent Israel absorbed some 800,000 Mizrahi Jews driven from their homes across the Middle East and North Africa after 1948 while also rehabilitating Holocaust survivors, recovering from damages inflicted by Arab armies, and dealing with terrorist attacks. The majority of Israel’s current Jewish population descends from those 800,000 Mizrahi Jews, and virtually every position in Israel’s government except Prime Minister has been filled, at one time or another, by someone with roots in Mizrahi communities. Perhaps these events would be a better choice for commemoration in a Jewish magazine.

Toby F. Block
Atlanta, GA

Jewish Currents’ editorial response:

We received a number of responses to our photo essay on the Nakba like the letter above. These letters reflect the story that most American Jews have been taught about the founding of the State of Israel—and a current of Nakba denialism commonly expressed in synagogues, Jewish day schools, and even Congress.

Contrary to the popular Zionist narrative, Arab residents did not abandon the land en masse because they were told to leave by Arab leaders. In 1959, Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi studied the Arab League archives, Palestinian and Arab press releases, Arab newspapers, and Arab and Haganah radio broadcasts to determine whether evidence existed to support the claim that Arab leaders urged Palestinians to leave their homes. He found none. Instead, he found evidence that Arab officials wanted Palestinians to stay, and even took action to prevent Palestinian refugees from entering bordering countries. Israeli historian Benny Morris’s 2004 book The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited complicates Khalidi’s research, but only slightly: Morris found evidence that some Arab officials urged women, children, and the elderly to flee so as to improve Arab fighters’ prospects for defending their villages. But Morris ultimately concludes that “what the Arab states . . . did or did not do . . . to promote or stifle the exodus was of secondary importance; the prime movers throughout were the Yishuv [the Jewish community in pre-state Israel] and its military organizations.”

Estimates vary on the number of Palestinians who fled in the first six months of the civil war following the approval of the UN partition plan. Some historians put the number at 250,000–350,000, while others put it much lower. Regardless, it is clear that the vast majority fled during the fighting, not “before the events of 1947–48,” as the letter writer claims. The rest of the refugee flight occurred after Israel’s declaration of independence, which precipitated the Arab armies’ entry into the fight against the new state. The letter writer presents a common misconception that Jewish forces were at a profound military disadvantage throughout. In fact, “at each stage of the war, [the] IDF significantly outnumbered all the Arab forces ranged against it and by the final stage of the war its superiority ratio was nearly two to one,” as the Israeli historian Avi Shlaim wrote in 1995.

The letter writer also takes up a familiar complaint that the UN has “inflated” the number of Palestinian refugees by according refugee status to the descendants of those who fled historic Palestine, implying a unique sympathy with Palestinians. But the passing down of refugee status is by no means particular to the case of Palestine; refugee status has also been conferred on descendants in other protracted refugee crises, such as in Somalia and Afghanistan. In the case of Palestine, the descendants of refugees encounter the same political problem their parents and grandparents do: Israel’s denial of their right to return to the lands they were expelled from. Many millions of people live in refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank, where they are subjected to Israeli military rule. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon face various forms of discrimination, while in Syria they endured a brutal civil war.

While we cannot hope to fully deconstruct this narrative about the events surrounding Israel’s founding in a response to a letter to the editor, we have aimed to provide a few sources that correct prevalent misconceptions. Though it took decades for the rest of the academy to catch up to Palestinian scholarship published soon after the founding of the state, our account reflects the contemporary consensus among those who study this period. We know that learning an accurate history does not necessarily ensure just outcomes. This is clear from Morris himself, who suggested in 2004 that Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion “should have done a complete job” of expulsion, rather than let a substantial minority of Palestinians remain within the Jewish state, and from the Israeli politicians who promise another Nakba, expressing the desire for further expulsions while implicitly acknowledging the veracity of the first one. And still, we know a just future requires a reckoning with the injustices of the past. We offer our coverage of the Nakba in that spirit.

—The Editors

Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in 2011.

Jim Henderson / Wikimedia

On “Reform Judaism Needs an Identity Beyond Israel” (Published May 30th, 2023)

While Rabbi David Regenspan is right that Reform Judaism must rethink its relationship to Israel, he neglects to consider how the early, anti-Zionist phase of the movement was no less caught up in the destructive logic of nationalism. It’s true, as he writes, that 19th-century American Reform leaders defined Judaism as religious, renouncing Jewish national aspirations. But they did so partly to make themselves better, more compliant citizens of the nation-state to which they newly “belonged.” A wealth of recent scholarship on American secularism—by Tracy Fassenden, Peter Coviello, John Lardas Modern, and others—has demonstrated how the modernizing of religion in 19th-century America was deeply entangled with the dispossession of Native peoples, imperial state-making, and the maintenance of racial hierarchies. Thus, the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 simply chose an existing settler-colonial state over the fantasy of another.

Regenspan’s call to reimagine “what a new Reform ideology and spirituality might look like” is admirable. But rather than ponder “the question of how Judaism might take shape in the modern age,” the movement should instead ask what in our age Judaism is prepared to challenge. It might take a cue from Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf (ztz”l), a great 20th-century Reform leader, who championed the Torah’s divine moral law as an inflexible, universalist bulwark against modern, chauvinist nationalism. Relatedly, Regenspan might reconsider his contempt for what he calls “fundamentalism”—a term that is reminiscent of the Islamophobic War on Terror, but is of little use to emancipatory politics—and ask how the very modernization project he celebrates paved the way for a religious movement subordinated to the nation-state.

Raffi Magarik
Chicago, IL

The letter writer is a contributing writer to this magazine.

Organizers meet at a Manhattan synagogue for a Jews of Color Convening hosted by JFREJ, Bend the Arc, and the Jewish Multiracial Network in 2016.

Rafael Shimunov

On “What Comes Next for Jews of Color Activism?” (Published March 23, 2023)

While we applaud Arielle Isack’s article for calling out the failures of American Jewish institutions to become truly anti-racist, the piece significantly understates both the role of Palestine solidarity in Jews of color organizing and the way that efforts to silence anti-Zionist ideas have impeded anti-racist work in Jewish spaces. The references to Palestine in the piece—including one to a non-Jewish group (the Movement for Black Lives) expressing solidarity with Palestine, and another to a group of Jews of color (the Black Jewish Liberation Collective) that has taken no position on Palestine—suggest that the landscape includes no Jews of color who are organizing in solidarity with Palestinians. In reality, this work has been going on for years.

We are members of one of the groups that has been doing this work, the anti-Zionist organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which was left out of the article. Jews of color have been in leadership at JVP since its early days in the late 1990s, but it took the formation of a member-led Jews of Color and Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews (JOCSM) caucus in 2015 to demand accountability from an organization that had worked to hone its anti-racism with respect to Palestinians, but had yet to reckon with its practices regarding JOCSM. In 2019, a staff-managed entity within JVP called the BIJOCSM Network took the place of the caucus. The Network added “Black and Indigenous” to the acronym JOCSM—which the caucus originally coined—in recognition of the fact that we are struggling under three parallel systems: global white supremacy, Ashkenormativity in Jewish institutions, and Jewish supremacy in Palestine/Israel.

BIJOCSM JVP members have been instrumental in planting the seeds of Jews of color work across the US, but our contributions have often been unrecognized and excluded due to our politics on Palestine. The erasure of our work has made it harder for us to join coalitions and access financial resources that could help us cultivate our BIJOCSM community. Such redlining, ongoing to this day, hinders our non-Zionist and anti-Zionist BIJOCSM siblings from finding safety, recognition, and inclusion in Jewish spaces. It also attempts to pit us against Palestinian communities by making the creation of BIJOCSM spaces seem contingent on keeping silent about Zionism. Writing about Jews of color organizing while omitting our longtime work effectively collaborates in our erasure from this landscape.

Over the past eight years, we have celebrated Mizrahi and Sephardi culture and resistance, and have given minoritized Jewish voices and Black and Palestinian comrades a platform to express their unique and undervalued perspectives. We organized a letter by Latinx Jews calling on the Trump administration to close the camps where immigrants are detained on the southern border, spoke up in defense of a Palestine-inclusive Ethnic Studies curriculum in California, led a celebrated “Black Lens on Palestine” webinar, and supported local, national, and global Sephardi/Mizrahi cultural work, among other initiatives. We have expressed solidarity with non-Jewish African refugees in Israel threatened with deportation—an ethnocratic policy that parallels the denial of the Palestinian right of return—and opposed the use of Blackface in Jewish communities. We have also defended the Movement for Black Lives against false accusations of antisemitism aimed at silencing their support of Palestine. Particularly relevant to Isack’s article, we have also organized for years against the Anti-Defamation League’s regressive stance on Palestine, calling out its attacks on anti-Zionists and Palestine solidarity activists—particularly activists of color—and drawing attention to its collaboration with racist policing initiatives in the US and Palestine/Israel. Although Isack touches on the ADL’s failures in the realm of anti-racism work, her article does not engage the urgently related issue of the organization’s Palestine politics.

The story of Jews of color organizing is incomplete without our voices, especially when told in a way that does not address the place of Palestine/Israel in the Jewish community’s grappling with anti-racism.

Shirly Bahar
New York, NY

Danny Bryck
New York, NY

Sydney Levy
Oakland, CA

The letter writers are BIJOCSM JVP members as well as present or former JVP staff members.

Two mourners comforting each other.

Shannon Stapleton/AP

On “The Right to Grieve” (Published March 13th, 2023)

In grief and mourning, Erik Baker has landed on a subject that reveals the central power struggle between boss and worker. That said, in limiting his focus to 20th century unionism’s negotiations at the bargaining table, Baker defangs the revolutionary aspirations of many of the people and movements he cites.

Hovering just outside the frame of Baker’s piece is the reality that many experience violence and grief while fighting for better contracts or labor conditions. The existential power struggle at the heart of labor organizing crystallizes with astonishing clarity when workers lose their jobs—or their lives—while resisting exploitation. The infamous 1974 coal miner strike in Harlan County, Kentucky, where a Duke Power foreman killed coal miner Lawrence Jones on the picket, should not be seen as a radical exception in labor relations but as the logical culmination of Duke Power’s yearslong campaign to harass and intimidate striking workers. As Baker notes, corporations know very well that accepting workers’ pain as a legitimate reason to stop work is “a Pandora’s box not easily closed.” Any concession threatens the foundations of the hierarchy in which bosses have control over the conditions of labor. Even relatively small displays of worker power often introduce violence, fear, and grief into workers’ lives.

Because of this, many organizers feel compelled to consider more drastic revolutionary action. In this, contemporary leftists in the US share similarities with many of the communist theorists and movements cited by the author. Given his discussion of Italian operaismo, for example—which understood workers as engaged in continuous active hostility to the demands of capital—I thought the author might go beyond a discussion of unionism, and instead consider actions aimed at disrupting the state and creating entirely different configurations of labor and governance. Though groundwork was laid for a battle, the piece’s conclusion, with a quote by theorist Terry Eagleton asking readers to consider “the demand made of all of us by the suffering of others,” had the tenor of a funeral. Summing up the piece with the idea that solidarity is the glue for a vague socialism softens the message of the radical communist sources cited throughout. There are myriad ways for leftists to work against capital, each with different means and ends, and these should not be collapsed into each other.

Leah Alpern
Portland, OR

A banner hangs at the gate of the University of California, Berkeley in November 2022.

Michael Ho Wai Lee / SOPA Images / Sipa USA

On “Little Bargains” (Published February 24th, 2023)

Reading Michael Berlin’s article on the University of California graduate workers’ strike, I noticed that it did not explain how workers could have won a better contract. Berlin criticizes the concessions made by the bargaining teams for UAW 2865 and the Student Researchers Union, writing that they made the strike a failure, while acknowledging that the new tentative agreement made real progress on wages, parental support, and workplace protections. Striking is difficult and risky, so if Berlin wants to assert that the bargaining teams left possible wins on the table, he also needs to explain why he believes that they could have gotten a better deal—which would mean showing that a majority of workers were prepared to keep striking, possibly for much longer.

To win a strike, graduate workers have to shut down their campus. Otherwise, a “strike” becomes a protest––something universities are much more able to withstand. The strength of a graduate strike, in other words, isn’t measured by how militant the bargaining team is, or by how radical the union leadership’s politics are, but by whether a majority of workers are actually striking. How many graduate workers really stopped working during the UC strike, and how many scabbed? How many grads picketed all day, every day of the strike? Did they stop undergrads, faculty, and scabs from entering buildings, as a picket should? Did striking grads refuse to go to class as students, not only as TAs? As a staff organizer with a graduate workers’ union, I can attest that this is the kind of information needed to assess whether the bargaining team was in a position to demand more.

Unfortunately, Berlin’s article is focused on making theoretical claims about the labor movement and “business unionism” that don’t tell us much about the UC strike itself. Graduate labor unions sometimes struggle with abstract radicalism, which results in minority action that sidelines non-activist coworkers and fails to intimidate university administrators. If the left is going to revive radicalism in the labor movement—as we must—we have to acknowledge simple questions of how workers build real power. Was the UC strike powerful enough to coerce the university system into offering a better deal? I’d like to think it was, but I don’t know, and Berlin’s article didn’t enlighten me.

Joel Reinstein
Providence, RI

As two leaders in United Auto Workers (UAW) 2865, which represents more than 36,000 student workers at the University of California (UC), we were disappointed to read Michael Berlin’s article, which dismisses the largest strike in the history of higher education as a “political non-event.” In reality, more than 33,000 graduate workers cast ballots in the December vote to ratify the agreements—a striking display of democracy. About 68% of graduate student researchers and about 61% of teaching assistants and other student workers voted to approve the agreements. We can attest that the strike was a truly collective action that will materially improve the lives of virtually every academic worker at the UC.

Berlin claims that the strike “failed” because the December tentative agreements fell short of some of the rank and file’s most ambitious goals. In arguing this point, he trivializes the significant raises, benefits, and workplace protections enshrined in the contracts—and disregards the fact that many UC workers will see raises of more than 50%, with some of the UC’s lowest-paid graduate student researchers seeing wage increases of up to 80% by fall 2024. The contracts also strengthen protections against sexual harassment and assault on the job, guarantee parental leave for part-time workers (and treat all parental relationships equally), and assure new rights for international and immigrant students—including paid time off for immigration or visa hearings. We’re most proud of the fact that the union must be notified if the university ever becomes aware of an immigration investigation concerning a student worker. Berlin claims that the most precarious members of our bargaining unit were left behind. The contracts say otherwise.

In his effort to argue that the contracts ceded too much ground, Berlin repeatedly misuses the word “concession,” a well-defined legal term that refers to a union’s decision to give up something won in a previous contract at the bargaining table. Under this accepted definition, the UC teams did not “concede” a single line item to management: Not one of the four UC-UAW contracts cedes a previously held right, protection, or raise. Berlin’s assertion that general members of the locals had no input in negotiations is similarly inaccurate: Tens of thousands of members participated in demands surveys; bargaining team members came daily to the picket lines to talk with workers; and the bargaining sessions themselves were open to all members.

Our strike elicited broad support from well beyond UC campuses—a detail seemingly outside of the scope of Berlin’s analysis. The UC-UAW strike fund, for instance, raised more than $400,000 in small donations from workers, unions, parents, and observers across the country. Carpenters, delivery drivers, and construction workers refused to cross the UC picket lines. One striker told The San Francisco Chronicle that the action was the biggest example of class solidarity she had ever seen. What stands out to us is the lasting power of the strike. Months later, UAW members are continuing to build on the cross-sector relationships that we established in the fall, mounting a campaign in the California state legislature for a bill that would allow all public sector workers to honor their consciences and respect picket lines.

We are deeply proud of the struggle that thousands of our coworkers joined, and grateful for the many continuing conversations about the movement’s successes and mistakes, but Berlin’s article is not an honest portrayal of last fall’s bid for a better UC. With solidarity and optimism, we fight on together.

Beatrice Waterhouse
San Diego, CA

Zach Goldberg
San Diego, CA

The letter writers are graduate workers at UC San Diego. Zach Goldberg is a rank-and-file member of UAW 2865 and a former bargaining team alternate. Beatrice Waterhouse is the Sergeant-at-Arms for UAW 2865.

On the Rest Issue coloring book (2022 Winter Gift)

I’m writing from Warren Correctional Institution in Manson, North Carolina to share some of the wisdom of the state prison system. Jewish Currents’s 2022 Rest issue coloring book is considered a threat to order, security, and safety because some of the illustrations include nudity, and so it’s been disallowed. I just received the final determination after I appealed the decision. The coloring book therefore joins a list of banned publications that includes socialist, communist, anti-racist, and anti-fascist publications, but also anything about Malcolm X, 12 Years a Slave, Prison Legal News, Earth First, even anatomy and exercise books. It includes anyone who is critical of the current bankrupt system or trying to educate prisoners, whether it’s in political consciousness or health, civil rights, or minority spiritual practices. Not much can be done about this: North Carolina doesn’t have many people working on progressive issues and the few that are can’t tackle much.

I cannot receive personal mail at the address given, just publications, so please don’t waste a stamp to respond; I won’t get it. Due to drugs being sprayed on mail, all personal mail has to go to a contracted third party in Maryland to be scanned, and most mail sent there never makes it to us.

Keep up the great work. I’ve always loved Jewish Currents. Been reading since back when Morris Schappes was at the helm.

Yisroel Azariah
Warren Correctional Institution, NC

At the Passover table in Leopoldstadt.

Joan Marcus

On “Attention Must Be Paid” (Published November 18th, 2022)

Thank you for Alisa Solomon’s wonderful review of Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt, and for the rich podcast discussion about the play, as well.

Solomon perfectly articulates a feeling I had about the play when she writes that the character Hermann’s realization of his own horrible fate—as a Jew in Vienna in 1939—is “a worn-out anagnorisis, a tragic recognition that has become threadbare with overuse.” The play may soothe some Jewish audiences by recalling a cultured Viennese past in a package more digestible than, for example, a 400-page Stefan Zweig book—but its attempt to present a legible Jewish narrative papers over the confusing mess of pre-World War II history that defines the identities of many US Jews. That choice is itself unsurprising: This isn’t Stoppard’s first rodeo, and legibility is still king on Broadway. When it comes to exploring Jewishness, plays must be able to speak simultaneously to tourists with little exposure to Jewish life, older Jewish New Yorkers reeling from the latest “antisemitic incident,” and students for whom Hollywood Holocaust narratives are the only frame of reference for Jewish representation. Stoppard’s play offers all of them an answer to the unanswerable question—“Who were we?”—with all the theatricality of a museum diorama, complete with dusty jokes about mohels.

I also appreciated Solomon’s insightful question, “What work can this play be doing in the present moment?” While I don’t disagree with her hypothesis that Leopoldstadt satisfies some Jewish audiences by dramatizing a “persistent danger” to Jewish life, I was surprised that she did not consider the play’s role as a post-Covid Broadway commodity. Theater after the pandemic encourages—and perhaps even requires—a form of Mourning Lite. Where soaring musicals elicit a certain kind of forgetting, “straight plays” instead offer a container for displaced pandemic grief. By framing Leopoldstadt as a personal reckoning with his own lately discovered Jewish history, Stoppard provides the perfect way to lure tentative audiences back to the theater. Solomon’s experience of squirming while the people around her sniffled mirrored my own. But I understood how Stoppard’s mawkish approach created a safe and even familiar space for audiences to mourn collectively. Leopoldstadt’s success may thus say more about how Broadway audiences are confronting loss in this post-pandemic moment than it does about their interest in interrogating (or even lightly exploring!) Jewish identity or generational grief.

Hillary Miller
Brooklyn, NY

The Muranów district in Warsaw, Poland, site of the former Warsaw Ghetto, 1945.


On “What I Read to the Dead” (Published January 19th, 2021)

As the daughter of a woman who, at age 15, fled the Warsaw Ghetto just as deportations to Treblinka began, I was excited to read Emily Julia Roche’s translation of Władysław Szlengel’s “What I Read to the Dead.” Szlengel belonged to the same milieu as my family—intellectual, secular, city-dwelling Polish Jews—and I was eager to reconnect with a sensibility I’ve known intimately all my life. Yet as I spent time with the translation, I noticed that it awkwardly mimics Polish grammar and sentence structure, at times obscuring meaning, and grew puzzled by the absence of the irony and dark humor so characteristic of the tribe that raised me, survivors whose profound trauma was inseparable from the caustic wit through which they filtered the horror of their experiences.

Suspecting that this was not a reliable rendering of Szlengel’s prose poem, I tracked down the original and began to translate it myself. I quickly found my suspicions confirmed. Roche’s translation does, in fact, obscure Szlengel’s defiant wit. For instance, when Szlengel refers to an earlier poem he’d written, she titles it ”Give Me Peace.” The actual title is “Give Me A Break”—no piety, all eye-rolling. (Throughout the translation, she offers literal renderings of idioms that gravely distort meaning.) Similarly, Szlengel’s ironic reference to “the high cost of a certain resemblance” (i.e., the fatal price of having typically European Jewish facial features and hair type) is mistranslated as “estimations of our chances of survival.”

Elsewhere, research failures erase precious facts about ghetto life. In one footnote, Roche refers to the Daily Life—more accurately, The Living Daily or The Daily, Live (think Saturday Night Live)—as “the newspaper of the Warsaw Ghetto.” It was actually a cabaret: Szlengel and his friends put on underground performances so entertaining that Gestapo officers and Jewish collaborators attended shows that mocked them to their faces. In many instances, Roche’s word choice ignores context, leans into the least relevant of multiple meanings, or is flat-out wrong. For example, two errors distort the line, “Four days on this piece of space without an exit, holding out against the raging storm.” While “bez wyjśća” does literally mean “without an exit,” in this context the sense is “without recourse.” And “zalewający żywiołis” (literally “the flooding element”) does not mean “raging storm.” Rather, it’s a botanical term meaning “invasive species,” used in 19th-century clerical writings in reference to Jews replacing an indigenous population. Szlengel writes of spending “four days sharing a tiny space . . . with no recourse against the advance of the invasive species,” turning an antisemitic trope against his persecutors. As a result of these kinds of mistakes, so much is lost.

I completed my own translation mostly to repair my lifelong heartbreak over the erasure of the cosmopolitan, urbane culture that defined my household yet rarely appears in American narratives about Polish Jews. Before the war, when photographer Roman Vishniac was dispatched to Poland by the Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish relief group, to document its Jews for fundraising purposes, he was directed to focus on the poor Jews most likely to inspire pity; his portraits of worldly, stylish Jews were excluded from the collections published in the following decades, including his historic 1983 volume A Vanished World, which has fundamentally shaped American perceptions of European Jewry. The Jews I descend from were exterminated with the same ferocity as their shtetl cousins—but since fewer had felt compelled to emigrate, they were less likely to have extended families in the US to keep their culture and traditions alive.

Szlengel’s riveting account of the final days of the Warsaw Ghetto, gutting and gorgeous in equal measure, is rendered ugly and incoherent by this translation, which dishonors both Szlengel’s legacy and the historical record he so desperately wished to fill in. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and of this poem; it saddens me greatly that at this historic juncture, English readers will access this translation and misapprehend both the facts and the glory Szlengel offered the world.

Maia Ettinger
Guilford, CT