There’s a very fine, but pleasurable, line between nationalist mythos and folk horror. Levin Kipnis walks that line with finesse in the sun-dappled pages of his short story “Children of the Field,” in which God and fathers are absent and the Jewish people is reborn—not of woman, but of the dark, damp earth.Kipnis was born in Ukraine in 1894, showing talent as an artist and writer early on. He began publishing in Hebrew-language journals and in 1913 he traveled to Palestine to attend the famed Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. He ended up staying in Palestine and spent decades living in modern Hebrew, working on behalf of children. But after the war, he returned to his native Yiddish. “Children of the Field” is one of his postwar stories, an allegory of modern Jewish auto-emancipation.The story tells us that it takes place in Egypt, when a wicked king arises, one who orders that Jewish boys be tossed in the river. The mothers of those boys, however, take them to an apple field, where the baby boys are nurtured by angels and the trees themselves. “Children of the Field” is beautifully translated and presented in Miriam Udel’s forthcoming book of Yiddish children’s literature, Honey on the Page. The angels “stroked the children’s little heads so that their hair grew very long, soft and silky, and covered their whole bodies. … After that, they dug out pits near the roots of the apple tree and padded them with grass—as a mother makes a bed for her child; they laid the children in the pits …” Soon enough the sun rises, bright and dazzling, making “the earth split open, and little heads began to sprout forth like pretty flowers.”Not God, but the sun, tells the baby boys that a liberator has arrived to free the Jews. As it shines brightly on them, “they began to grow bigger and taller … tall and handsome as date palms, strong and brave—a large army of heroes standing at the ready …” These were “free children” who had never known slavery, now ready to go where slaves could not.“Children of the Field” draws on a midrash about the early life of Moses, but according to Udel, Kipnis provided the arresting images of the apple trees caring for the boys, and their eerie planting at the roots. Maybe I watch too many horror movies, but this image of earthen burial and verdant resurrection has an ineluctable cast of the uncanny, if not pagan.Of course, this is not a horror story, either as pshat (surface meaning) or as allegory. Moses is celebrated for leading the Jews out of Egypt. And for Kipnis and his generation, Zionist leaders arose and led the Jews back to the Land of Israel, where they were reborn as new Jews. This was an appealing set of images to a generation who imagined themselves as having escaped the humiliation and enslavement of diaspora life, resurrected in the ancient soil of their ancestors.Despite their many achievements, Jews still haven’t figured out how to clone or resurrect themselves anew. (Also, have you seen Pet Sematary? It never works out like you want.) We can imagine away our fathers and their many flaws, but we still live in the world they created and they will continue to demand our imaginative attention.I thought of the disappearing Jewish father as I watched yet another documentary about the ultimate icons of 1980s filmmaking, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. As an ’80s child, I’m mildly obsessed with the shlok factory that was their Cannon film company. As the producer of films like Sallah Shabati, Kazablan, and Eskimo Limon, Golan can quite accurately be described as the father of Israeli cinema. The story of Cannon films is, however, also, how America was shaped by their love affair with Americana like Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson, and so many damn ninjas. It’s also how American Jewishness was reflected and refracted through Israeli sensibilities.In Golan: A Farewell to Mr. Cinema, Golan himself narrates his life story. At one point, he describes serving in the Israeli army during the War of Independence, working as Moshe Dayan’s radio operator. He and the other soldiers received a letter from David Ben-Gurion, suggesting that it would be patriotic to change their names to something that reflected the Land of Israel. And so Menahem Globus became Menahem Golan, he says, having been inspired by many sunrises over the Golan Heights.Of course, the taking of a new name (or names) is practically constitutive of Jewish modernity. But the name changes I’m most familiar with were all taken on as individual acts. I found something profoundly compelling about this moment in the movie. Ben-Gurion was speaking in his role as surrogate father to the soldiers, and father to the new state, instructing them as a group to shed their old identities, and hence their outward connection to their fathers, and families.My own great-grandfather changed his name from something identifiably Eastern European to a Hebrew name so unusual as to verge on the highfalutin. Though he changed it along with other family members who came to the United States, their motivations were not passed down, as far as I know, and remain still rather obscure. For Jews, casting off imperially imposed last names could be as much an act of Jewish pride as reinventing as a Golan or Cnaani. Or it could be an act of aspirational snobbishness. People are complex.Emigrating from Poland to settle in Tiberias, Golan’s father didn’t intend to sever his own relationship with his father. As Golan related in an interview on Cinema-Scope.com: “In 1938, my father tried to bring his father out of Poland. Grandfather was very rich, he had a very big wood factory in Rypin near Danzig. About 50 members of our family lived there. … my father went to Poland, a minute before the war, to convince my grandfather to leave.” But grandfather wouldn’t leave. Europe had culture, Palestine had only danger. “Grandpa and his whole family ended up in Auschwitz.” Citing his desire to adapt Aharon Appelfeld’s novel Badenheim 1939, Golan said, “this idea has been with me for many years. And then Appelfeld wrote the book about it, about how the Jews went like sheep, in lines. If they would have revolted like those partisans, maybe not six million might have died, but only one million.” It’s a strange thought to entertain, that an unarmed, oppressed minority population could do what the French and Polish armies could not. But these are the stories we tell ourselves. And if you are a titan of cinema like Menahem Golan, these are the raw materials of a career.One of my most vivid childhood memories is a doubled fear: that of flying and that of my plane being hijacked, with the Jewish passengers singled out. Until this very moment, I ascribed those fears to the tragic hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro, and the dreadful murder of Leon Klinghoffer. But the Achille Lauro was a ship, not a plane. It made no sense.Upon forcing myself to read the Wikipedia entry on the Menahem Golan-directed, co-written, and co-produced Chuck Norris star vehicle Delta Force, however, I realized that it was this movie, and its loose dramatization of the hijacking of TWA Flight 847, that scarred me so deeply. But audience members came in droves not to see a nightmare, but to be comforted. Indeed, American brawn is called in to slaughter the bad guys, the Jewish hostages are rescued and “the ex-hostages and Delta commandos join together in a rousing rendition of ‘America The Beautiful.’”Though he made millions off sex, violence, and sleaze, Golan’s values were, at heart, conservative, as demonstrated by Delta Force. Among his movies one also finds rebellious sons and weak or absent fathers, grappling with the allure of assimilation. The justifiably forgotten Over the Brooklyn Bridge follows an aspiring restaurateur (Elliott Gould) forced to choose between his gorgeous “Irish” girlfriend (Margaux Hemingway) and his dream of owning a high class Manhattan restaurant. With his father deceased, his rich uncle (Sid Caesar) offers to fund him—if he’ll marry the nice Jewish girl (and secret sex kitten), Cheryl (Carol Kane). We are made to understand that Uncle Benjamin is willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars, extorting Gould’s Alby into a Jewish wedding, because his own son is gay. (Resolving the anxiety posed by a gay son would have to wait another two decades.)As directed by Golan, the movie is almost entirely charmless, derivative, and, filled with enough cringeworthy Yiddish slurs to last a lifetime, occasionally downright offensive. Golan returned to the same theme, writing 2009’s so-bad-it-had-to-be-a-parody-but-wasn’t Oy Vey, My Son Is Gay (starring Lainie Kazan, previously one of the Jewish hostages of Delta Force.) Ostensibly about parents coming to terms with their son’s homosexuality, Oy Vey is very much about the anxiety of assimilation and the stress of keeping one’s family, and identity, whole. Both movies manage to square the circle of individual desire and tribal demands. Over the Brooklyn Bridge climaxes with a shouting match and tearful hugs at the legendary restaurant Sammy’s Roumanian, where a son’s right to (heterosexual) romantic love is acknowledged as a supreme value. This is, after all, American movie logic.In a March 2019 keynote she gave at “Milk and Honey: A Symposium on Jewish Childhood,” Miriam Udel describes her immersion in the neglected body of Yiddish children’s literature as a way of shedding new light on Jewish modernity. The places and plots of these texts form a “heterotopia,” an “other space,” where the relation among sites, and their simultaneity take precedence over the linear unfurling of moments across time.In the same interview on Cinema-Scope.com, Golan summed up his philosophy: “When people ask me, ‘What is for you movies?’ For me movies is to live twice. When I sit in the cinema I forget my life, I am in the story of the film. That’s another life.” If I find myself today a movie snob, a Yiddish cosmopolitan, a person allergic to any kind of nationalism, I am a person formed in opposition to everything Menahem Golan pushed on the American public. But I, too, am a passionate cinema lover and its simultaneous narratives, its lives upon lives, are where I am at home. And as much as I reject it, if I want to understand myself, and the Jewish moment from which I come, then it is, to use the same Foucaultian term as Udel, to a heterotopia of Golan’s making that I must return.WATCH: I’m always talking about how brilliant Miriam Udel is, but on July 2 you can watch her yourself as she talks about Yiddish Children’s Literature and Modernity. Her groundbreaking book on Yiddish children’s literature, Honey on the Page, is out in October.READ: After writing about S. An-sky in my last column, I started wondering why his journalism and literary work isn’t more widely translated. Then I stumbled on Rose Waldman’s very recent translation of his Yiddish novel, Pioneers, about a young Jewish teacher who sets out to lure his students away from the life of Talmud study.ALSO: Polina Shepherd will be leading the SOAS Summer School in Yiddish Songs, through June 19 …. If you’re interested at all in genealogy and family history, make sure you’re keeping up with the Center for Jewish History’s terrific livestream events, like the June 24 book talk with Libby Copeland on DNA testing and Jewish family history …. The YIVO Summer Program will be going ahead, in virtual form. Those of us who aren’t participating as students can still profit from the amazing Yiddish Civilization Lecture Series. Monday lectures will be in Yiddish, Thursday in English. Starting June 29 … On June 30 the Sidney Krum Young Artists Series presents Continuing Evolution: Yiddish Folksong in Classical Music … The next Yiddish Open Mics will be on July 5 and Aug. 9. (Be sure to note, events take place on London time.) … Master klezmer trombonist Dan Blacksburg is back with new episodes of his essential podcast on the history of klezmer, Radiant Others … There’s an incredible new resource for anyone interested in Soviet Yiddish theater. The Blavatnik Archive has digitized its materials related to the Moscow State Yiddish Theater, or GOSET. Books, papers, photos, playbills and more, all just a click away … In July a brand-new restoration of the silent 1924 movie The City Without Jews will be released, with a new score by klezmer fiddler extraordinaire Alicia Svigals.