Yiddish Revival

September 25th, 2009

At first, I read about the revival of forgotten Yiddish songs by Rebecca Joy Fletcher '90 with great interest ("Oy, Madagaskar," Arts & Culture, July/August). I admired her commitment to ensuring that the musical legacy of her ancestors remains accessible and appreciated. However, I found her assessment of the cabaret movement in Tel Aviv dangerously embryonic and unexamined; Fletcher claims that the failed mentioning of the indigenous people in many of these performances was simply a desire not to "dwell on the Arabs." Rather, she notes that European Jews merely wanted to "celebrate their achievement in building up a new city in the middle of a desert."

Her words are haunting, absent of any substantive interrogation of the forced displacement and ultimate expulsion of the Palestinian people. It is as if one were talking about a plantation home in the South without an acknowledgment of the Native and African American struggle and presence. Surely, this is one of the many blind spots of Zionism, a failure to admit that Israel's "cities of light" were built on top of the skeletal remains of Arab homes and lives.

Susan Slyomovics, a professor I had at Brown who now teaches at UCLA, wrote a book titled The Object of Memory, in which she documents how a contingent of European Jewish artists form a colony at the site of what once was a thriving Palestinian village. The artists are so thrilled with themselves for bringing modernism to the mountains that they are nearly impervious to the suffering of the original inhabitants.

Fletcher claims "it's chic" that European Jews could not only prove themselves to be "farmers and swamp drainers, but café owners and government officials." I don't think my grandmother thought it was so chic to be forced out of her home for art's sake. I would have more respect for Fletcher if she pushed herself and bravely challenged the notion that the Palestinians were merely a "downer" at an otherwise festive, bumpin' party.

Hanan Masri '98
Oakland, Calif.

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September/October 2009