Yesterday’s New York Times brought word that the orange-hued, monomaniacal leader of Venezuela had, after months of limited appearances ascribed to cancer treatments, “gotten his swagger back” (though a report released today from Spain gives him less than a year to live). In addition to reasserting his stranglehold on the political and social atmosphere of the country he’s ruled since 1999, Chavez has also again been rhetorically pushing into the Middle East—a territory that had, before his illness struck, been one of his favorite chew toys—by hosting Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, defending Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad and mourning Moammar Qaddafi’s downfall in Libya.
This may have been news to some, but it wasn’t to Senior Editor Matthew Fishbane, who visited the country last summer. He returned with a riveting story, published this morning, about a prosperous, paradisaical Jewish community under assault—and the consequential personal and communal conflicts that happen in its wake. Eerily, the Times reported that Chavez concluded an aerobic 9-hour speech this week by reading a passage from Nietzsche on the importance of will in overcoming obstacles—the exact same line used by one of Matthew’s lead subjects as an epigraph of his memoir. When you finish Matthew’s extraordinary piece, you’ll understand: This was no coincidence.
Alana Newhouse is the editor-in-chief of Tablet Magazine.