Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 25, 2007

Weekend Reading

In 1982, COMMENTARY published in English for the first time The Rebbetzin, a 1974 novella by the Lithuanian writer Chaim Grade (1910-1982). Born in Vilnius, Grade began his intellectual life as a student of the noted Torah scholar Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, but by his late twenties had become one of his city’s most admired writers. The introduction accompanying COMMENTARY’S original publication of the story notes that Grade “specialized in exploring the inner life of East European Jewry between the two world wars—a period when such modernizing forces as secularism, socialism, and Zionism were in active and often ugly conflict with one another and with traditional religious beliefs and practices. No other writer rendered that world and its conflicts more vividly or with more intimate authority than Grade.” Set in Lithuania in the late 1920′s or early 1930′s The Rebbetzin takes as its subject the trials and tribulations of the aging rabbi Koenisgberg, his wife Perele, and their adult children. This weekend, we offer The Rebbetzin in its entirety, as translated from the Yiddish by Harold Rabinowitz and Inna Hecker Grade.

In 1982, COMMENTARY published in English for the first time The Rebbetzin, a 1974 novella by the Lithuanian writer Chaim Grade (1910-1982). Born in Vilnius, Grade began his intellectual life as a student of the noted Torah scholar Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, but by his late twenties had become one of his city’s most admired writers. The introduction accompanying COMMENTARY’S original publication of the story notes that Grade “specialized in exploring the inner life of East European Jewry between the two world wars—a period when such modernizing forces as secularism, socialism, and Zionism were in active and often ugly conflict with one another and with traditional religious beliefs and practices. No other writer rendered that world and its conflicts more vividly or with more intimate authority than Grade.” Set in Lithuania in the late 1920′s or early 1930′s The Rebbetzin takes as its subject the trials and tribulations of the aging rabbi Koenisgberg, his wife Perele, and their adult children. This weekend, we offer The Rebbetzin in its entirety, as translated from the Yiddish by Harold Rabinowitz and Inna Hecker Grade.

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All You Have to Do Is DREAM

It hasn’t received much attention, but added at that last minute to the recent immigration reform bill was a provision called the DREAM Act, which has strong bipartisan support from such disparate backers as John Kerry and Orrin Hatch. This legislation would create a fast-track toward citizenship for a select group of undocumented immigrants—those who entered the U.S. before age 16, have no criminal record, graduate from high school, and then complete two years either in the military or in college.

This is a good step but doesn’t go nearly far enough for my liking. The essential principle of the DREAM Act—that you can earn citizenship through productive behavior—ought to be expanded. We should offer citizenship to anyone who is willing to serve a set term in the U.S. armed forces—say, four years. This is a proposal that I’ve made in several articles over the past few years, and one that could address a number of problems at once. It could lessen our current recruiting difficulties, increase the knowledge of foreign languages and cultures within the armed forces, and provide a fresh path to assimilation for a self-selected group of highly motivated immigrants.

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It hasn’t received much attention, but added at that last minute to the recent immigration reform bill was a provision called the DREAM Act, which has strong bipartisan support from such disparate backers as John Kerry and Orrin Hatch. This legislation would create a fast-track toward citizenship for a select group of undocumented immigrants—those who entered the U.S. before age 16, have no criminal record, graduate from high school, and then complete two years either in the military or in college.

This is a good step but doesn’t go nearly far enough for my liking. The essential principle of the DREAM Act—that you can earn citizenship through productive behavior—ought to be expanded. We should offer citizenship to anyone who is willing to serve a set term in the U.S. armed forces—say, four years. This is a proposal that I’ve made in several articles over the past few years, and one that could address a number of problems at once. It could lessen our current recruiting difficulties, increase the knowledge of foreign languages and cultures within the armed forces, and provide a fresh path to assimilation for a self-selected group of highly motivated immigrants.

Under this plan, standards would not be dropped for our armed forces—they would actually be increased. At the moment, to maintain recruiting numbers, the army, in particular, is accepting more recruits who would not have been signed up a few years ago—those with low intelligence scores and records of minor criminal offenses. The army is also flunking fewer recruits out of boot camp. By dramatically expanding the recruiting pool—from only American citizens or green card holders to anyone anywhere on earth who would like to become an American citizen—we would make it easier to maintain the high standards that our professional military requires. All recruits, American or not, would have to know English, pass background checks, have a high-school diploma, and so forth.

This would be a natural expansion not only of the DREAM Act but of existing legislation which provides a faster path to citizenship for the 40,000 green card holders currently serving in the U.S. military. Many of them have distinguished themselves on the battlefield, as this Washington Post article notes.

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Seoul Train

On May 17, two trains, one moving south and the other north, crossed the demilitarized zone, the strip of land that divides the two Koreas. The last time a train traveled through what is now the DMZ was in 1951 during the Korean war.

“It is not simply a test run,” proclaimed South Korea’s unification minister, Lee Jae-jeong. “It means reconnecting the severed bloodline of our people.” But the reconnection lasted for only a few hours. There are no plans for regular service, or even further tests. There will be no more train runs until the south comes up with even more piles of cash. Seoul underwrote the entire cost of about $600 million to remove mines from the DMZ, reconnect the rail lines, and build stations. The work was completed in 2003, but no test run occurred until this month because of North Korea’s intransigence. To permit the trains to make their short runs last week, the south had to fork over another $86.5 million in aid to Pyongyang.

“I cannot understand why we should give rice, flour, fertilizer, and everything else the North Koreans want when they don’t do anything for us,” said Hong Moo-sun, a South Korean who demonstrated against last week’s test. Many foreigners would agree with Hong, especially because North Korea’s missile tests last July and nuclear detonation in October implicitly threatened the south. Yet there is a perfectly logical reason why the South Korean government engages in diplomacy that appears to be utterly inexplicable: the quest for political popularity.

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On May 17, two trains, one moving south and the other north, crossed the demilitarized zone, the strip of land that divides the two Koreas. The last time a train traveled through what is now the DMZ was in 1951 during the Korean war.

“It is not simply a test run,” proclaimed South Korea’s unification minister, Lee Jae-jeong. “It means reconnecting the severed bloodline of our people.” But the reconnection lasted for only a few hours. There are no plans for regular service, or even further tests. There will be no more train runs until the south comes up with even more piles of cash. Seoul underwrote the entire cost of about $600 million to remove mines from the DMZ, reconnect the rail lines, and build stations. The work was completed in 2003, but no test run occurred until this month because of North Korea’s intransigence. To permit the trains to make their short runs last week, the south had to fork over another $86.5 million in aid to Pyongyang.

“I cannot understand why we should give rice, flour, fertilizer, and everything else the North Koreans want when they don’t do anything for us,” said Hong Moo-sun, a South Korean who demonstrated against last week’s test. Many foreigners would agree with Hong, especially because North Korea’s missile tests last July and nuclear detonation in October implicitly threatened the south. Yet there is a perfectly logical reason why the South Korean government engages in diplomacy that appears to be utterly inexplicable: the quest for political popularity.

President Roh Moo-hyun’s approval rating has at times dipped to single digits this year, with his leftist Uri party scoring around 10 percent. Roh’s “peace and prosperity policy”—the continuation of his predecessor Kim Dae Jung’s “sunshine policy” of engaging the north—has produced few results. For this and other reasons, the conservative Grand National party looks likely to win the next presidential election, which will be held in December. Roh and the Uri party are desperate to show the electorate that the North Koreans are responding to Seoul’s especially soft brand of diplomacy. The train test, therefore, is essentially an expensive campaign maneuver intended to bolster the chances of Roh’s so-called “progressives” in December.

It is in the interest of the U.S. to keep these staged extravaganzas to a minimum, and to restrict Kim Jong Il’s sway with the South Korean electorate. If Kim is successful in influencing the next election, it will be our own fault. The train test could not have occurred if the Bush administration had not reversed its long-held position last February and agreed to an interim—and deeply flawed—nuclear deal with Pyongyang. That arrangement, which Kim has so far failed to honor, has given an excuse to South Korean politicians to restart aid to Pyongyang.

Why has the U.S., the strongest nation in history, been unable to disarm one of the world’s most destitute states? In part because our own diplomacy undermines that effort by helping our adversary.

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