Holocaust Conference Urges More Efforts on Looted Art

Source: Bloomberg, 6-28-09

The governments of 46 nations pledged to boost efforts to return artworks and other property seized during the Nazi era to Jewish victims and their heirs. After a Prague meeting on Holocaust-era assets, delegates will tomorrow endorse a non-binding accord, promising to conduct more provenance research on art in public collections, to open public archives and to ensure that claimants have access to “just and fair” solutions and speedy consideration of their claims. “Our work to rectify the wrongs of the Holocaust remains highly incomplete,” Stuart Eizenstat, a former U.S. deputy Treasury secretary leading the American delegation in Prague, said in a speech. “Too few people have recovered too few of their Nazi-looted artworks and too many works remain in museums and private collections in Europe and around the world.”

During Adolf Hitler’s 12-year rule, the Nazis stole about 650,000 artworks, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany estimates. Almost 65 years after the end of World War II, the Art Loss Register, a database of stolen art, lists 70,000 works lost before and during the war that are still being sought by the owners. The Prague conference was called to review progress since governments agreed in Washington in 1998 to identify stolen art in museums’ collections, publicize the results and encourage pre-war owners and their heirs to make claims.

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Geoffrey Lewis: The declaration that changed history for ever

Balfour and Weizmann: The Zionist, the Zealot and the Emergence of Israel by Geoffrey Lewis

Avi Shlaim enjoys an elegant and insightful account of the unlikely partnership behind the foundation of the state of Israel

Source: Guardian UK, 6-28-09

Ernest Bevin, Labour’s postwar foreign secretary, once told the Zionist leader, David Ben-Gurion, that the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was the worst mistake in western foreign policy in the first half of the 20th century. From the perspective of British interests, it was certainly a strategic blunder. It committed Britain to support the establishment of a “national home” for the Jewish people in Palestine when the Jews constituted less than 10% of the population. Britain’s promise paved the way for the establishment of the state of Israel, but also unleashed one of the most bitter conflicts of modern times.

The story of the Balfour Declaration has been told many times. Geoffrey Lewis has chosen to focus only on the part played by the two principal architects of the declaration: Arthur Balfour and Chaim Weizmann, the Gentile Zionist and the ardent Jewish nationalist. The result is a perceptive, elegantly written and fair-minded book.

At first sight, Balfour seems an unlikely candidate for the role of mover and shaker. He was a languid aristocrat with a philosophical turn of mind. A popular saying went: “If you want nothing done, Balfour is your man.” Yet he was moved by a strong conviction that the case for a Jewish homeland in Palestine was wholly exceptional and that it overrode the natural right of the Arabs to self-determination.

Weizmann, a lecturer in chemistry at Manchester University, was a consummate diplomat and an eloquent advocate who converted many in the British establishment to the Zionist cause. The first meeting between Balfour and Weizmann took place in 1906, three years after the Zionist leadership had turned down the offer of a Jewish homeland in Uganda. Their conversation lasted more than an hour and contained within it the germ of the Balfour Declaration.

Balfour could not understand why the persecuted Russian Jews refused the offer of a safe asylum. Weizmann tried to explain why the Zionists could not accept a home anywhere but Jerusalem. “Suppose,” he said, “I were to offer you Paris instead of London.” “But, Dr Weizmann, we have London,” Balfour replied. “That is true,” Weizmann said, “but we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh.” “Are there many Jews who think like you?” wondered Balfour. “I believe I speak the minds of millions of Jews,” replied Weizmann. “It is curious,” Balfour remarked, “the Jews I meet are quite different.” “Mr Balfour,” said Weizmann, “you meet the wrong kind of Jews.”

In fact, most of the leaders of British Jewry were opposed to the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Prominent among them was Edwin Montagu, the secretary of state for India. Montagu rejected the notion that the Jews were a nation and warned that a Jewish home in Palestine would undermine the struggle for equal rights for Jews in the rest of the world. Balfour, however, was persuaded by Weizmann that race, religion and geography were linked in a unique way for Zionist Jews.

Weizmann’s refusal even to look at the Uganda scheme greatly impressed Balfour. He concluded that the Jewish form of patriotism was without parallel, that Zionism was a noble project and that Britain ought to support it on idealistic grounds. This perception led directly to the famous declaration that bore Balfour’s name, one that changed the course of Middle East history.

• Avi Shlaim is a professor of international relations at the University of Oxford. His books include Lion of Jordan: King Hussein’s Life in War and Peace (Penguin)

Jewish mysticism’s rich contribution to interfaith spirituality

Source: Examiner, 6-25-09

The Jewish mystical tradition has been around for 3500 years, beginning with the Biblical account of Moses at the Burning Bush.  Elijah described it as a “gentle whisper.” Ezekiel saw a vision of “a wheel within a wheel,” and Zechariah had eight visions, including one with a “flying scroll.”  Prophets continued this tradition, hearing and speaking the Voice of God.

Forest path leading up a hill.

During the Babylonian Captivity (621 B.C.E. – c. 551 B.C.E.), some Jews practiced “Throne” or “Chariot mysticism,” influenced by the mystics and magi of Chaldea. These seers perceived images of Adonai sitting on a throne shaped like a chariot – which is consistent with architecture from the Fertile Crescent of that time.

During Hellenistic times, the Sibylline Oracle influenced Jewish mysticism. The “Jewish Sibyl,” as U.C. Berkeley professor, Erich Gruen, has called her, would have readers believe that her prophecies (Book III) were about Jews and perhaps foreseeing the Roman world. One prophecy was that there would be Jewish senators (in Rome?), and that a woman (Cleopatra?) would rule the world. Gruen argues that it is more likely that an innovative Judean composed this part of the Oracle so as to conform to visionary insight consistent with the Greco-Roman supernatural world.

In the Middle Ages, a Castillian, Moses de Leon, wove a new and important strand of the Jewish mystical tradition: Kabbalah. Historical Kabbalah is based on, or associated with, the Book of Zohar.  Zohar means “the splendor,” and was probably written or compiled by de Leon in the 1280s. Kabbalah has become a catch-all name for the entire Jewish mystical tradition.  Scholars differ on the origin of the term, it’s ful meaning, and historic use.

The theme of the Zohar is how to explain the nature of evil; the book was probably written in response to a pogram executed by the King’s son. Evil is explained to be the result of “din,” a sphere in the mystical Tree of Life that corresponds to God’s attribute of justice. According to the Zohar, din, also called the “left hand of God,” sometimes goes wild. At these times, God’s Judgement is manifest in the world as an extreme expression of Divine Justice. It is released in response to causes (like a specific sin in the community) that perhaps only He knows.

Other kinds of Jewish mysticism are also often called Kabbalah, including the kind practiced by medieval German Jewish pietists, and by Hasidic Jews in Poland-Lithuania in the 17 th and 18th centuries. The Hollywood version, popular today, is a corruption of the rich historical tradition of Jewish mysticism. Be aware that not everything called Kabbalah now is directly related to the original teachings of Spanish Jewish mystics in Castile and Barcelona.

One significance of the Jewish mystical tradition, which began with the Biblical prophets, is that it is rich, diverse, and that many people contributed to it. Also, it has cultural antecedents from different geographic areas. The gematria part, which focuses on the meaning of words based on the number-value of letters, originated in Babylonia.  Kabbalah also influenced Renaissance-era Christian Hebraists such as Pico della Mirandola.

Understand, however, that for the Jews who experienced millennia of dispersion, mysticism provided both a specialized way to know the King of the Universe, and a means to overcome grief that accompanied perpetual persecution and the threat of identity-loss.

FOR MORE INFO: Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism by Gershom Scholem (New York: Schocken Books, 1946, 1995), especially 206-237.

The Heart and the Fountain: An Anthology of Jewish Mystical Experiences edited by Joseph Dan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

“Jews, Greeks, and Romans in the Third Sibylline Oracle,” by Erich S. Gruen, in Jews in a Greco-Roman World, ed. Martin Goodman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, 2004), 15-36.

Apply Kabbalistic principles to dating!  Visit this website, based in San Rafael north of San Francisco. It is hosted by  Malka Faden, SF Jewish examiner.

PHOTO CREDIT:  Path leading to rock circle, Golden Gate Park.  (R.A. Siegel photo, 2009)

Ruth R. Wisse: A Mensch for All Seasons

Source: WSJ, 6-23-09

“Now let’s talk about something more cheerful. What’s up with the cholera epidemic in Odessa?”

This season marks 150 years since the birth of Sholem Aleichem, whose appeal to “something more cheerful” made him the most popular Yiddish writer at a time when more Jews spoke Yiddish than any other language. Known to modern audiences mostly through “Fiddler on the Roof” — the Americanized musical adaptation of his stories of Tevye the Dairyman — Sholem Aleichem cast the Jews as a people who would live through laughter — or die trying.

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Sholem Aleichem

He was born Sholem Rabinovitch in 1859 in the Ukrainian Jewish town of Pereyaslav, a middle child of a large family that doubled in size after his mother died and his father married the proverbial wicked stepmother. His first stab at turning hurt into humor was an alphabetized collection of her curses. Recognizing young Sholem’s talents, his father tried to give him a good general as well as a Jewish education. But he was forced to send his son out into the world at age 16 to seek his fortune. With penmanship as his only marketable skill, the young man got a lucky break when he was hired by a Jewish landowner looking for both a personal secretary and a tutor for his only daughter.

Sholem’s storybook romance with his student, Olga, in defiance of her father’s wishes, became the plot of his first attempt at romantic fiction. The fictionalized pair committed suicide, but the real-life couple married, had children, were soon reconciled with Olga’s family and inherited part of her father’s wealth. His new economic status allowed Sholem to live in Kiev, outside the Pale of Settlement to which most Jews in czarist Russia were confined, and to pursue the career of a writer. He speculated in the market and used his earnings to subsidize a Jewish literary renaissance in which he intended to play a leading role. But it is his subsequent failure in the financial arena that may have spurred his success in the world of letters.

By the time the byline “Sholem Aleichem” appeared in 1883, Fyodor Dostoevsky had published “The Brothers Karamazov,” Leo Tolstoy had serialized “Anna Karenina” and Ivan Turgenev had died. Although the Jewish society of Eastern Europe was more literate than its Gentile counterparts, it valued the written word as the mainstay of a religious, not a literary, civilization. Jewish writers had to overcome that society’s resistance to secular writing and to encourage a taste for fiction.

Experimentation was the norm, including in language, since most Jewish writers of that generation could and did compose in Hebrew, Yiddish and sometimes Russian. Sholem corresponded with his father in Hebrew and spoke Russian to his children.

In this polyglot, unstable and government-censored literature, pseudonyms were also the norm. Once Sholem moved decisively from Hebrew to Yiddish and began to develop his brand of literary humor, he morphed his proper name into a common term of greeting, the equivalent of “Hello there” or “How do you do?”

“Sholem Aleichem,” the phrase that welcomes angels into the home on Sabbath eve or salutes an old friend on the street, suggested that this was a writer for all occasions: one who drew so freely on Yiddish folk expressions that his writing would be called “the living essence of the folk itself.” In imitation of his art, many Jews began sounding like the monologists of his fiction.

Sholem Aleichem proved best at creating characters who spoke in their own voices — an anxious mother, a harried marketwoman, grown-ups revisiting their childhood, a bereaved parent, a pimp returning from Buenos Aires to find himself a home-town wife. His fiction seemed to hold together a people that was undergoing unnerving change, forever on the road, or moving to America. One of them, Menahem-Mendl, gone to the big city to seek his fortune, trades letters with Sheyne-Sheyndl, his homebound wife who refers to his failed get-rich schemes as “tales of the deaf man hearing the dumb man tell of the blind man seeing the cripple run.” Their epistolary exchanges encapsulate the tensions between small town and big city, tradition and modernity. Some critics saw Menahem-Mendl as a parody of capitalism, others found in him the irrepressible messianic hope of the Jewish people.

Other variations of resiliency abound in Sholem Aleichem’s work. Tevye the Dairyman was the first Jewish stand-up comic, entertaining the narrator with episodes from his life: The tag-line about cholera is his, as is a running commentary on the daily prayers, “Heal our wounds and make us whole — please concentrate on the healing because the wounds we already have. . . . ” Though Tevye is an isolated villager, the challenges he faces were so typical of those confronting the rest of Russian Jewry that he was taken for a Jewish Everyman. Tevye is powerless to stop his daughters from making their own decisions independently of his wishes, or the czar from driving him off his property, yet his humor persuades us that he can outlaugh his crises and outlast his critics.

Sholem Aleichem discovered in Yiddish and its speakers habits of faith that were transferable from religious into national identity. True, Tevye does not realize his dream of returning to the ancestral Land of Israel, but he and Sholem Aleichem form a place of milk (his dairy business) and honey (his humor).

Several commemorative projects now in the works — a documentary by the filmmaker Joseph Dorman and a literary biography by Jeremy Dauber — will reintroduce Sholem Aleichem to contemporary readers. Once classified as a humorist, he may have done more than any other modern thinker to shape the image of Jews. Thanks to him, there are those who think Yiddish is a comic language and expect Jews to die laughing.

Ms. Wisse is a professor of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard.

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page D7

Jeffrey Shandler: How media have molded modern Jewish religion

Jews, God, and Videotape

Religion and Media in America By Jeffrey Shandler, New York University Press. 340 pp. $23

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, 6-21-09

Reviewed by Glenn C. Altschuler

Videotaping bar and bat mitzvahs, many observant Jews maintain, violates Talmudic prohibitions against work on the Sabbath, distracts the worshiper from worship, and transforms tranquil and dignified ceremonies into spectacles.

And yet, as Jeffrey Shandler reminds us, more and more parents – and teenagers – insist on documenting their families’ coming-of-age rituals.

In Jews, God, and Videotape, Shandler, a professor of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University, provides a fresh and fascinating account of the impact of technology on the religious life of American Jews during the last one hundred years.

The “new media,” he argues, have helped shape a popular Jewish religion, more concerned with consumerism, celebrity, and community than with theology or rabbinical authority. Reorganizing emotion and experience, this “religion in the making” is struggling to identify strategies through which “the People of the Book” can accommodate and/or confront how Jews can (or should) fit in and stand out.

In a richly detailed chapter on The Eternal Light, a long-running radio broadcast, created in the 1940s by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Shandler shows how the medium can affect the message.

Aimed primarily at a non-Jewish audience, the overarching goal of the show, which reached about five million Americans by the end of the decade, was to combat anti-Semitism by demonstrating (through historical dramas and literary adaptations) that Jewish “particularism” was incidental to its “fundamental universalism” and that Jews were anything but anti-American radicals or communist sympathizers.

Populated by actors whose voices were ethnically “unmarked,” The Eternal Light, Shandler speculates, allowed Jews, sight unseen, to invite themselves into the homes of their non-Jewish neighbors, confident that they were subjects of “respectful attention.”

More often than not, Shandler implies, modern media have marked – but have not made – changes in Jewish attitudes and behavior. The themes of The Eternal Light, for example, reflected the “powerful integrationist impact” of the post-World War II suburban migration of American Jewish culture. When, in the 1960s, concern about anti-Semitism gave way to fears of the “erosion” of a distinctly Jewish culture, the ecumenical, assimilationist Eternal Light dimmed.

Frequently, according to Shandler, modern media provide an arena for contests over appropriate conduct. E-cards, he points out, reflect a range of responses to the “December dilemma” of Jews. Some postulate parity between Christmas and Hanukkah, pairing Santa Claus with Tevye. Others, however, are more hostile to “interfaith” sentiments.

In 1989, Shandler writes, the American Jewish Committee, in conjunction with the National Conference of Christians and Jews, denounced greeting cards that combined the religious and cultural symbols of the two holidays as “an affront to the integrity of distinct faiths.”

With respect to religion, Shandler writes, provocatively and persuasively, the notion of “separate but equal” lives on.

Recently, Shandler reveals, ultra-orthodox Jews have overcome an aversion to technology as a corrupting distraction – and begun to use television, video, and the Internet to spread their messianic vision. Under the leadership of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who almost never left his neighborhood in Crown Heights in Brooklyn, the Lubavitcher hasidim have raised millions of dollars through telethons, even as they make sure that the arms, legs, and breasts of the female celebrities who appear on the small screen are covered.

DVDs and Chabad.org allow Schneerson to communicate with his disciples long after his death.

Technology, Shandler concludes, hasn’t changed everything. It can – and does – facilitate traditional communal rites, including synagogue worship, as well as more secular practices.

For many, it may be less helpful in forging new links than in renewing, in the virtual world, a sense of belonging to links already established in the “real” one.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University.

Vincent J. Cannato: ‘American Passage’: It’s Ellis Island’s history, and ours, too

Source: USA Today, 6-15-09

American Passage: The History of Ellis Island
By Vincent J. Cannato
Harper, 419 pp., $27.99

By Craig Wilson, USA TODAY

Ellis Island: Immigrants have just landed and are headed for the island's main building. Over the years Ellis Island has grown to 27 acres from its original three, yet it still remains a mere dot in New YorkHarbor. Its small size, however, belies the huge role it has played in American history. Some 12 million immigrants passed through its gates from 1892 to 1924, the greatest mass migration of people the world had ever seen. So, yes, more than a few stories lurk out there in the harbor mist.

American Passage: The History of Ellis Island is being billed as the first complete history of the famous island. At almost 500 pages — 75 of them footnotes — the claim should be taken seriously. Historian Vincent Cannato appears to have overlooked nothing in telling the tale of the historic island, now a national monument, and 16 pages of black-and-white photos bring his research to life.

But he concedes in his acknowledgments that he wanted the book’s subtitle to be “A” history of the island and not “The” history. “No one story encapsulates the Ellis Island experience; there are literally millions,” writes Cannato, a history professor at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. “For most immigrants, Ellis Island was a gateway to a new life in America. It was an integral part of their American passage.”

Cannato’s research takes us from the island’s early days of hosting pirate hangings to its rebirth as a national park in 1986. The good news is that Cannato is not only a meticulous researcher and historian, he’s also a lively storyteller. A rare combination….

Allis and Ronald Radosh: Book details Truman’s impact on Israeli independence A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel

Source: The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, 6-12-09

Yes, President Harry S. Truman played an essential role in the achievement of Israeli independence. And yes, his old friend Eddie Jacobson helped to steer him onto that path.

So say Allis and Ronald Radosh, authors of the new book “A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel” (Harper).
“In every single Jewish audience we speak to, there is someone who says ‘Wasn’t there a guy named Eddie who influenced Truman?’ Every Jew over the age of 50 knows about Eddie,” said Ronald Radosh.

The common wisdom on the overall subject of Truman and Israel is accurate, too, said Ronald Radosh.

“There would probably be no Israel today if there was no Truman,” he said. “Roosevelt wouldn’t have done what Truman did.”

altRonald Radosh is professor emeritus of history at the City University of New York, where his wife has also taught, in addition to her work as an official of the National Endowment for the Humanities. This is his 14th book, and their second together. They spoke with The Chronicle from their home in Martinsburg, W. Va.

The Radoshes said the subject of Truman and Israel deserved book-length treatment.

“So much has been written about Truman,” Ronald Radosh said. “I wanted to look for something new. Except for chapters in (David) McCullough (“Truman,” 1992) or Al Hamby’s book, (“Man of the People: A Life of Harry S. Truman,” 1995) … there was nothing for the general reading public that told the story.

“So we decided it would be perfect to do a history chronologically through time; to see how he functioned in the White House and lay the whole story out. …Three years ago, we began to write it. The research took two years, and the writing one year.”

Opening the door

The Radoshes twice visited the Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Mo., among many other archives, seeking documents that would shed new light on the old story. They said they found surprises throughout their research — some hiding in plain sight.

“So many people think they know the story, but they never knew this or that,” said Allis Radosh. “One thing we do that nobody else has done is to lay out concretely and chronologically the State Department’s attempts to prevent American recognition of a Jewish state and to undermine Truman, even after the U.N. vote” to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states.

The Radoshes said they uncovered a memo written by U.S. adviser and then-State Department official George F. Kennan “giving advice to Truman as to why there should be no Jewish state. Lots of people were stunned when they read that. … You realize that there is always something in a topic that has already been done; something someone has overlooked. Look at all the Lincoln books. There is something new to say always.”

The Radoshes’ book begins with a scene-setting chapter about FDR and the Palestine question. It then describes how the new President Truman was whipsawed by political and religious forces, events and personalities. Men like presidential adviser David Niles, American Zionist leader Rabbi Stephen Wise and Congressman Emanuel Celler come to life as the story progresses, not to mention hometown heroes Jacobson and his good friend, A.J. Granoff.

“Probably the most important thing he (Jacobson) did was opening the door to Chaim Weizmann into the White House to talk to Truman. Weizmann was very convincing and important in dealing with Truman and making his case to him about why he should support a Jewish state,” Allis Radosh said.

“When there was a dispute about the Negev desert, Weizmann saw Truman after Eddie persuaded him.”

Finally, during the run-up to the United Nations vote on partitioning Palestine, the Radoshes say, Truman got fed up with “Zionist extremists” who, in their eagerness to convince him, sometimes disrespected the president.

That was when Eddie’s finest hour occurred.

The convincer

“He was very instrumental at the end, when the State Department was trying to scuttle partition at the U.N.,” said Ronald Radosh. “When it looked like it was all going to go down the tubes, one person was able to convince Truman to chart a steady course, and that was Weizmann. Although Truman didn’t want to see any Zionists, B’nai B’rith called Jacobson in the middle of night and said ‘Charter a plane; come to Washington and convince Truman to see Weizmann.’ ” He does and convinces Truman to see Weizmann. … Weizmann’s wife said that was the most important thing he did.”

After Israel’s War of Independence, he said, Jacobson “became the actual liaison between the White House and the Jewish Agency and the new state. He was an informal ambassador.”

Jacobson and Truman remained friends long after Truman’s presidency. In fact, the men and their wives were scheduled to make a grand tour of Europe and Israel together when Jacobson died of a heart attack in 1955.

“Truman wrote Eddie a letter about what their itinerary was going to be,” Allis Radosh said. “It would have been the trip of a lifetime.”

Surpassing stereotypes

And what about the seemingly anti-Semitic comments that sometimes escaped from Truman’s lips?

“The whole thing with anti-Semitism is kind of bifurcated,” said Allis Radosh. “On the one hand, he is in business with Eddie, and played cards with him and other Jews, but he still lives in the house of his mother-in-law, and Jews weren’t allowed there.

“Loeb Granoff says it very well … Truman was a man of his time. He grew up with such standard slurs, but he (Granoff) never saw an anti-Semitic bone about him, nor did his father. So on the personal level, there was not one bit of anti-Semitism. You put that in context of what’s important, and you see Truman surpassed the stereotypes he grew up with. They came out when he was frustrated. On a personal level, he just wasn’t. His in-laws, the Wallaces, were.”

Abby Joseph Cohen: JTS to get first woman chair, as Kekst steps down

JTS to get first woman chair, as Kekst steps down

Source: JTA, 6-12-09

Plenty of attention was focused on Rabbi Ismar Schorsch’s stepping down as chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and the search process that tapped Arnie Eisen as his replacement. Now another major changing of the guard is taking place: Gershon Kekst is stepping down as chairman of the board after 18 years. His successor will be Goldman Sachs executive  Abby Joseph Cohen, the first woman to hold the JTS position.

Here’s the full media release:

New York, NY, June 12, 2009—Abby Joseph Cohen, Senior Investment Strategist and President of the Global Markets Institute at Goldman Sachs, has been named the first woman to chair the Board of Trustees of The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) effective July 1. She succeeds Gershon Kekst, founder and President of Kekst and Company Incorporated.

Ms. Cohen, one of the most prominent women on Wall Street, joined the JTS board in 2004. Her involvement with JTS has spanned many areas, including committee work on governance and investment and service on the chancellor search committee. Ms. Cohen was honored by JTS in 2001 with the Louis Marshall Award, presented to individuals who demonstrate the philanthropic commitment embodied by Louis Marshall, an esteemed constitutional lawyer and former board chair of JTS. Ms. Cohen joined Goldman Sachs in 1990, where her work is focused on the intersection of economic trends, public policy, and financial markets. She provides research and counsel to investors, corporations, and governments around the world.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have the experience and insight that our new chair, Abby Joseph Cohen, brings to JTS,” said Professor Arnold M. Eisen, Chancellor of JTS. “I have gotten to know her—since her pointed questions to me when I appeared before the chancellor search committee—as a probing intellect and a wise, committed, and caring human being. She is not only a visionary leader in finance, but a dedicated philanthropist in a number of areas, particularly higher education and the preparation of future Jewish leaders. Abby is deeply committed to Judaism and to JTS. I am excited at the prospect of working with her closely in the months and years to come.

“Abby assumes the helm of the JTS board from Gershon Kekst, whose tenure has been marked by years of incomparable growth at JTS,” continued Chancellor Eisen. “He has brought to the leadership of JTS a great deal more than business acumen and public relations expertise. Gershon is a man of deep faith whose dedication to Conservative Judaism and this institution make his counsel utterly invaluable. It has been an honor and privilege for me, as well as a source of enormous pleasure, to work with him. All of us at JTS are profoundly in his debt and look forward to his continued involvement as a trustee and chair emeritus.”

”I’m honored to serve as board chair,” said Ms. Cohen. “JTS, founded in 1886, has long played an essential role in educating leaders in the clergy, academia, and the community. This will continue. The century-old tradition of academic excellence is reflected in all our undergraduate and graduate schools and in our deep commitment to the next generation of students. My colleagues on the JTS board enthusiastically support the institution’s core mission to provide outstanding educational opportunities on campus and to respond to the growing demand for high-quality instruction in the Jewish world more broadly. Leaders trained at JTS will engage in the vital religious and secular issues of our day as rabbis, cantors, academics, Jewish educators, and well-informed laity.”

“The past eighteen years have been transformative for JTS and the school stands today as a vital institutionGershon Kekst of Jewish learning with a bright future,” said Mr. Kekst. “It is a great center of scholarship and research, teaching, and training, and a steadfast base for building thriving Jewish communities. I am thankfulto have worked with and learned from its exceptional leadership, faculty, student body, and Board of Trustees, and it has been gratifying to work with Abby Joseph Cohen; I am very pleased that she will be succeeding me as chair. Abby’s career in business and public service has decisively proven her to be a thinker and leader of rare perceptiveness, drive, and character. I can think of no one better qualified or more appropriate to shepherd the JTS board, and I look forward to continuing to work with her as a fellow trustee of JTS.”

Many of Abby Cohen’s other volunteer commitments also focus on education and on public policy. She is a Trustee Emerita and Presidential Councillor at Cornell University and a member of the boards of the Weill Cornell Medical College and the Brookings Institution. She previously served as chair of the board of the 90,000-member Chartered Financial Analyst Institute from which she received the Distinguished Service Award. An adviser to the investment committees of Cornell University and Major League Baseball, she serves on the national board of the Smithsonian Institution and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Abby Cohen holds degrees in economics from Cornell University and George Washington University and has received three honorary doctorates, including one in engineering. Ms. Cohen has been recognized as a leader in US portfolio strategy for more than fifteen years, and has been ranked number one by Institutional Investor magazine and Greenwich Associates. Her career is the subject of a Harvard Business School case study and a Business Week cover story. Ms. Cohen has been honored by many groups, including the Financial Women’s Association, New York Stock Exchange, Wall Street Week Hall of Fame, and leading financial publications. She began her career as an economist at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington DC.

The Cohen family is deeply involved in Jewish campus life. Abby’s husband, David M. Cohen, serves on Hillel’s International Board of Governors, the organization’s highest consultative body, and has been a member of Hillel’s Executive Committee for several years. Abby and David received the Cornell Hillel Tanner Prize for their contributions to Cornell and the Jewish people, and were honorees at the Hillel 2006 gala. David Cohen is Deputy Commissioner and Labor Counsel of the New York City Police Department.

Gershon Kekst has been a JTS trustee since 1989 and assumed leadership of the board in 1991. His tenure, at eighteen years, is the longest continuous service in that role since Louis Marshall. The son of Hebrew teachers, he has focused his philanthropy and communal leadership on Jewish education and science.

Highlights of his tenure include the appointment of Chancellor Eisen, the establishment of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, and the creation of the Women’s League Seminary Synagogue. He also oversaw the expansion of JTS internationally through the formation of Jewish education programs in Russia, Argentina, and Israel. In addition, Mr. Kekst supported the forging and strengthening of critical partnerships between JTS and other arms of the Conservative Movement and other Jewish institutions. A notable accomplishment is expanded interfaith outreach, most recently with the Muslim community, that has resulted in frank dialogue and joint social action projects.

Avinoam Patt: University Of Hartford Professor Says Holocaust Museum Shooting Is Evidence Anti-Semitism Still Exists

Source: Hartford Courant, 6-11-09

Avinoam Patt AVINOAM PATT, a University of Hartford professor who worked at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, says he often spoke to security officer Stephen T. Johns, who was shot and killed by a gunman at the Washington, D.C., museum. The shooter has been charged with murder. (MICHAEL MCANDREWS / HARTFORD COURANT / June 11, 2009)

WEST HARTFORD — – The slaying of a guard inside the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum by an elderly anti-Semite and Holocaust denier is stark evidence that the hatred that fuels genocide still exists, a University of Hartford professor who worked at the Washington, D.C., museum from 2004 to 2007 said Thursday.

“The museum is very threatening to deniers. It is not just a memorial but a museum that makes a statement to nearly 2 million visitors a year, educating people about the cancer of genocide,” said Avinoam Patt, who teaches American and European Jewish history. Patt said guard Stephen Tyrone Johns was one of many members of the security staff he met while working as a historian and archivist at the museum. Guards were always vigilant, and staff and visitors always screened, he said.

But shooting suspect James W. von Brunn, 88, entered the lobby Wednesday with a rifle in plain sight and began firing, an attack that investigators say was likely the action of a “lone wolf.” Von Brunn, a Holocaust denier who served time in federal prison for a 1981 attempted armed kidnapping at the Federal Reserve, was shot by other guards and is in critical condition in a Washington hospital. He has been charged with murder.

Patt said the museum is a powerful symbol, with its prominent spot on the National Mall and role as a educational defense against those who would deny the Holocaust and embrace race and ethnic hatred. The attack underscores the need for the museum and society never to forget the horror of the Holocaust and the need to fight genocide anywhere in the world, said Patt, the Texas-born son of Israeli parents both of whose relatives were killed by the Nazis during World War II.

In a release Wednesday, leaders of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford extended condolences and prayers to Johns’ family and to those visiting the museum when the shooting occurred. “Today’s horrific shooting is a painful reminder that no place, not even a memorial to the Shoah and a revered educational institution, which fights bias and teaches respect, is a haven from violence and hatred,” Dane Kostin, federation president, and Cathrine Fischer Schwartz, federation executive director, said in a joint statement. Patt learned of the shooting while in his university office Wednesday afternoon. He said he knew Johns as a “big teddy bear of a guy” who took his job seriously. “The guards stopped the attack. Just imagine what could have happened if they hadn’t been vigilant,” Patt said.

Menaham Ben-Sasson elected Hebrew U. president

Source: JTA, 6-10-09

A former Knesset member has been elected president of Hebrew University. Menaham Ben-Sasson, a former rector and professor at the university, was elected Wednesday at the closing session of the 72nd meeting of the university’s board of governors. He succeeds Menachem Magidor, who served three four-year terms. Ben Sasson, who served in the Knesset from 2006 to 2009 as a member of the Kadima Party, told the board of governors that the world financial crisis has hit the university. “The financial situation is so severe as to cast doubt even on the opening of the coming academic year,” he said. “I call upon the government of Israel to honor its obligations and keep its commitments so as to ensure the further development of the university and to ensure the strengthening of the mother of Israeli higher education.”

Ben-Sasson, a professor of the history of the Jewish people at the university who had completed his doctorate there, served as rector from 1997 to 2001. He has taught or served as a fellow at Yeshiva University, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the University of Pennsylvania and the Russian National Academy of Sciences. His research focuses on the history of Jews in Islamic lands and on research on Maimonides.

Stephen Levine: Jewish professor receives New Zealand Order of Merit

Source: Jerusalem Post, 6-10-09

Queen Elizabeth II has appointed Victoria University political science professor Stephen Levine an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his “services to education and the Jewish community” of New Zealand.

Prof. Stephen Levine.

Prof. Stephen Levine.
Photo: Courtesy

Levine, who is originally from the United States, moved to New Zealand in 1972, accepting an invitation to teach at the university. His work has been crucial to maintaining the history and life of the country’s Jewish community. “I was just amazed, kind of thrilled really,” Levine said on Wednesday, describing his initial reaction to receiving his award. “Who would have expected that a nice Jewish person from Brooklyn would come to be awarded by the queen?” He also discussed what the appointment meant for the Jewish community as a whole. “The fact that I am honored for servicing the Jewish community means that the community itself has been regarded as having made an important contribution to the development of the country,” Levine said.

Levine has written about the New Zealand Jewish community for the Encyclopedia Judaica, the Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora and the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. His two works – A Standard for the People, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Wellington Hebrew Congregation, and his monumental study, The New Zealand Jewish Community – are an essential source of information for all those trying to understand Jewish communities, especially in the Diaspora. The professor has also written extensively about New Zealand’s politics and international relations. Though he has served as chairman of the New Zealand Jewish Council, as well as other notable leadership positions, Levine maintains that his greatest contribution to the country’s Jewish community has been his recording of its history. “By preserving its history, I have added and preserved its identity,” he said. “If a people forget their history, it will have a hard time surviving in the future.”

Today, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, the Jewish population of New Zealand is estimated at around 10,000, making up 0.23 percent of the total population of 4.2 million. The story of New Zealand’s Jews “is like the story of the Jewish people, trying to survive with limited number… It’s such a small community. Its survival always seems to be somewhat tenuous,” according to Levine Dealing with the problem of “acculturation,” the Jews of New Zealand continue to hold on to their Jewish tradition. “They see an observant Jew, who doesn’t hide the fact that he’s Jewish, who comes to synagogue; a man who comes to Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim,” and this inspires others to hold on to their Jewish identities, Levine said.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key expressed his appreciation of the professor as having “made an outstanding contribution” to New Zealand. The honor bestowed upon Levine allowed “the New Zealand public the opportunity” to recognize the Jewish leader’s “hard work, dedication and achievements,” Key said. The honor will be presented to Levine in a ceremony in September.

Isaac Meyers: Lecture Memorializes Short, Inspiring Life of Jewish Graduate Student

Source: Chabad, 6-10-09

Professor Geza Vermes, left, who in 2007 participated in a Dead Sea Scrolls conference at the University of Birmingham in England, gave the inaugural Isaac Meyers Memorial Lecture in Jewish Classics at Oxford University’s Chabad Society.

Professor Geza Vermes, left, who in 2007 participated in a Dead Sea Scrolls conference at the University of Birmingham in England, gave the inaugural Isaac Meyers Memorial Lecture in Jewish Classics at Oxford University’s Chabad Society.

One year after the untimely passing of a noted 28-year-old graduate student, Oxford University’s Chabad Society inaugurated its Isaac Meyers Memorial Lecture in Jewish Classics with an address on the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Professor Geza Vermes’ lecture for about 70 students, academics and community members at the David Slager Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Student Centre touched on the scrolls’ controversial history, with the professor – a scholar of religious history who was one of the first experts to examine the scrolls following their discovery in 1947, and authored the standard English translation of the find – advancing his view that they belonged to the Essenes, a Jewish sect that ancient historical sources say lived in the area around the Dead Sea.

After Vermes’ hour-long discussion and a short question-and-answer session, Rabbi Eli Brackman, director of Chabad at Oxford, spoke about Meyers’ short life and unveiled the new Isaac Meyers Library of Jewish Classics that forms part of the 3,000-volume Chabad Society Samson Judaica Library.

Following the event, Denise Leigh, a student at Oxford’s Wolfson College, remarked that it was “a great lecture.”

Meyers, who studied at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies in 2003 and was an active member of the Chabad Society, graduated from Yale University. A native of New York, he was a pursuing a Ph.D. from Harvard University’s Classics Department with a concentration in Hebrew when he was hit by a truck on a Cambridge, Mass., street corner in March 2008. At the time, he was a popular Latin instructor and had been translating Hebrew texts into Greek. His poetry also appeared in The Forward.

Isaac Meyers, an accomplished classics graduate student, passed away last year at the age of 28.

Brackman, who described Meyers as a close friend of his family, said that he wanted to do something to memorialize the student’s academic dedication and strong sense of Jewish identity. An annual lecture seemed to be the perfect fit.

“He was an inspiration to everyone he met,” explained the rabbi. “We couldn’t possibly not do something. Our hope is that his life remains an inspiration for generations of Jewish students.”

At last week’s memorial lecture, Daniel Hemel, a Harvard graduate student currently taking courses at New College at Oxford, read one of Meyer’s poems.

Jonathan D. Sarna “Spiritual Journey Leads to a Historic First”

Source: NYT, 6-5-09

Forty-five years ago, Alyssa Stanton was born into an African-American, Pentecostal family in Cleveland. On Saturday, Ms. Stanton is to become a rabbi — the first African-American woman to be ordained as a rabbi by a mainstream Jewish seminary, said Jonathan D. Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University.

Al Behrman/Associated Press

Alyssa Stanton, once a Pentecostal, plays down her new role as the first African-American woman to be ordained as a rabbi.

Ms. Stanton is scheduled to assume the leadership of an overwhelmingly white synagogue in Greenville, N.C., in August. In interviews, many observers drew parallels between her joining the rabbinate and November’s presidential result. “It is of incredible importance to note that her ordination coincides with the election of Barack Obama,” said Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College, who will ordain Ms. Stanton at the college’s Cincinnati campus on Saturday. “It offers a ray of hope that the world can become a better place.”…

A Cookbook Craze Becomes a Rare Collection

Source: Forward, 6-3-09, 6-12-09

ARIEL JANKELOWITZ From the Kitchen: Roberta Saltzman shows off two of the 700 cookbooks she’s collected on her own and donated to The New York Public Library.

Looking for a Jewish cookbook with a recipe for lobster canapés? Then Roberta Saltzman is your woman.

Or how about the Sinai Temple Sisterhood’s old cookbook from Marion, Ind., with its offering of venison with sour cream? Or stuffed bangus, a (kosher) fish from the Philippines used for a Filipino variation on gefilte fish and highlighted in “So Eat a Little,” published by the Women’s Auxiliary of the Jewish Community of the Philippines?

Every few days, Saltzman brings another cookbook to the library where she works and donates it to the collection. But she’s not concerned with just any cookbook. And she doesn’t work for just any library. On her own time, and with her own resources, Saltzman — who confesses that she herself doesn’t cook much — has built The New York Public Library’s collection of Jewish cookbooks into the largest public collection of Jewish cookbooks in the country; indeed, probably the world.

The 1,500 volumes now sitting in the public library’s Dorot Jewish Division include 700 cookbooks that Saltzman bought online from eBay. The collection is more than double the number in the Library of Congress, and far more than Harvard’s Schlesinger Library collection, two other major repositories of historic Jewish cookbooks.

Until now, the library has not publicized the collection or Saltzman’s role in it. But the Jewish Division is currently planning a section on its Web site, to go up later this year, highlighting the cookbooks. Saltzman has catalogued and indexed them all for public use.

“People who came in here showed interest in Jewish cookbooks, and I usually respond to what people ask for,” said the native of the Astoria section of Queens, explaining her pastime as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. “I like having something that other libraries don’t.”

Saltzman, 48, turned to collecting cookbooks as a personal passion with a public mission. “I think ‘craze’ is the right word,” she said, but added, “You could do worse than be a collector of cookbooks.”

When Saltzman goes on eBay, she never knows what she may find. It might be a rare cookbook produced by the Hebrew Ladies’ Aid Society of Joplin, Mo., in 1912, or a 1937 German- and Hebrew-language cookbook published in Tel Aviv.

The majority of the volumes are community cookbooks, often compiled by synagogue sisterhoods or local chapters of national Jewish organizations across the country and in other parts of the world to raise money. This cottage industry has been a popular form of fundraising among church and ethnic groups, particularly in the United States, since the turn of the 20th century. American Jews played their part in fueling this fundraising phenomenon.

“Cookbooks are a great and humble source for vernacular culture, and they speak to so many aspects of Jewish life,” explains Jenna Weissman Joselit, a professor of Judaic studies and American studies at Princeton University. “I don’t think anybody today would deny the value of Jewish cookbooks and particularly community cookbooks, which are one of the most potent and unmediated sources reflecting region, religion, class, women’s history and all kinds of social practices.”

Weissman Joselit, who has published widely on Jewish vernacular culture, has a monthly column in the Forward and specializes in food, hailed in particular Saltzman’s bibliographic expertise and sensitivity to American Jewish culture in selecting and compiling The New York Public Library’s titles. “Hats off to her,” she said.

Over many hours logged online, Saltzman has tracked down community cookbooks from nearly every state, though she is missing titles from Wyoming, Mississippi and Montana. She found cookbooks from San Antonio and Salt Lake City to Saskatchewan and Salonika, from small communities such as Corpus Christi, Texas; Waukesha, Wis., and Florence, S.C.

Many are rare and obscure. Saltzman managed to find a fundraising cookbook produced in Berlin under Hitler in 1935 by the Judischer Frauenbund, an early German feminist organization. She found a British cookbook published by the Children and Youth Aliyah Committee for Great Britain in 1950. She found one of the earliest and less-known American Jewish community cookbooks, a 1909 National Council of Jewish Women, San Francisco cookbook, and an entirely Polish-language cookbook published in Israel in 1950.

Unusual cookbooks from the private sector also pop up in the collection, including “Sunshine Kosher Recipes,” from the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company of Spokane, Wash., in 1930, and the Mogen David Wine Corporation’s 1950 cookbook from Chicago, “Recipes the Whole Family Will Enjoy.” Rare cookbooks authored by individuals include Margit Lobl’s Hungarian cookbook, published in Israel in 1953, and the 1959 “Koscheres Ambrosia,” Frieda Hochstim’s Austrian cookbook published in Vienna.

Though Saltzman understood the historical significance of increasing the library’s existing collection, she felt her employer would not be willing to provide the funding for acquiring the books she found available and affordable on eBay. They run on average $15 per cookbook. When researchers began using the library’s growing collection for historical research, she felt she was on to something. Soon, esteemed cookbook authors such as Joan Nathan were making regular appearances. And Saltzman is still buying cookbooks of eBay.

Using these cookbooks, researchers may learn about the history of Jewish ritual observance and cultural practices among Jews in different time periods and places.

Sophisticated nonkosher recipes, such as the lobster canapés — featured in numerous cookbooks — were particularly popular in early Reform Jewish cookbooks and later post-World War II community cookbooks, when a blend of traditional Ashkenazic and treyf dishes characterized these homespun projects.

The Dorot collection also offers a glimpse at some recipes that, while kosher, are sort of, well, just strange. “Look & Cook,” compiled and edited by the Greensboro, N.C, chapter of Hadassah in 1959, published one woman’s recipe for porcupine relish, an appetizer composed of a head of cabbage studded with toothpick kebabs of assorted cheeses, onions, olives, radishes, gherkins, cauliflower and pineapple chunks. Thankfully, such midcentury delights are now limited to the interests of historical inquiry and not the dinner table.