You read that right. Thanks to a new Facebook Friend, Sophie Champagnon, I heard this poignant rendition of the Mordechai Gebirtig lament for the destruction of Eastern European Jewry, Unzer Shtetel Brent (“Our Shtetl is Burning“–1938). It is poignant not because of the power or musicality of the performance, but because of the way in which Shapira turned at 75 year-old song into a commentary on today’s Israeli news.
He sings the song in the original Yiddish, then in Arabic, then in Hebrew. As he does, the images displayed on the YouTube range from historical Holocaust photos, to graphic art about Palestinian suffering, to contemporary news photos of the destruction of Gaza. Once you understand the historical resonances, once you hear a Jewish lament sung in Arabic, you realize that Shapira has done something truly brilliant. He’s made you understand that the destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis and the destruction of Palestinian life in Israel by the Nakba are both acts of horrible injustice. And that no Jew should stand for inflicting such suffering on another people, when it was inflicted on our ancestors by the Nazis.
To be clear, let’s not get into the whole Holocaust meme by claiming I’m saying Nakba=Holocaust. I’m not saying that. But I am saying that there are resonances between the two that should be heard and understood.