Nicholas de Lange: Bible discovery reveals links with Jewish scholars

Source: Cambridge University News, 12-30-10

Experts at Cambridge University have made a major discovery about the history of the Bible.

Researchers have been studying ancient biblical manuscripts in the University Library, and have found that a version of the Bible written in Greek was used by Jewish people for centuries longer than originally thought.

The documents, known as the Cairo Genizah manuscripts, were discovered in an old synagogue in Egypt and were brought to Cambridge at the end of the 19th century.

They have now been brought together digitally and posted online, enabling scholars worldwide to analyse them for the first time.

Prof Nicholas de Lange, professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Cambridge University, has been leading a three-year study into the ancient fragments.

He said: “The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek is said to be one of the most lasting achievements of the Jewish civilization – without it, Christianity might not have spread as quickly and as successfully as it did.

“It was thought that the Jews, for some reason, gave up using Greek translations and chose to use the original Hebrew for public reading in synagogue and for private study, until modern times when pressure to use the vernacular led to its introduction in many synagogues.”

Prof de Lange’s research has discovered that some of the manuscripts contain passages from the Bible in Greek, written in Hebrew letters. The fragments date from 1,000 years after the original translation into Greek – showing that use of the Greek text was still alive in Greek-speaking synagogues in the Byzantine Empire, the Greek-speaking eastern part of the Roman Empire.

Prof de Lange said the research offered a rare glimpse of Byzantine Jewish life and culture, and also illustrated the cross-fertilisation between Jewish and Christian biblical scholars in the Middle Ages.

He said: “This is a very exciting discovery for me because it confirms a hunch I had when studying Genizah fragments 30 years ago.”

Shmuel Feiner: ‘A Historical Sensation’– Moses Mendelssohn: Sage of Modernity

‘A Historical Sensation’

Source: The Jewish Exponent, 12-30-10

A fictitious meeting of (from left) Moses Mendelssohn, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Johann Casper Lavater as seen in an engraving, after a painting by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, 1856

Shmuel Feiner begins his new biography, Moses Mendelssohn: Sage of Modernity, published by Yale University Press, with two anecdotes, which he’s linked in an effort to define the essence of his subject and the contour of the man’s life.

He begins with a summer night in 1780. Mendelssohn is out walking in Berlin with his wife and several of their children when a gang of youths suddenly appear, chanting “Juden! Juden!” and throwing stones.

In the aftermath of the attack, the city’s most famous Jew was beseeched by his children: “What have we done to them, Father? Why do they always chase and curse us?” Feiner states that Mendelssohn could not find the words to comfort his children, only murmured, “People, people, when will you stop this?”

Feiner, a professor at Bar Ilan University, goes on to say that Mendelssohn, a reserved individual who never publicly expressed his feelings about this incident, did comment upon it later in a letter to Peter Adolph Winkopp, a young Benedictine monk and one of the philosopher’s most ardent admirers….READ MORE

Against the odds, U.S. Jewish studies thrive

Source: The Forward, 12-29-10

History is filled with surprises, and sometimes the surprises are quite pleasant; the Association for Jewish Studies is exactly such a surprise.

Seriously, how much do you know about sea narratives by Hasidim and their opponents? Were you not listening that day? Surreptitiously texting? Did you perhaps grow up in Syracuse, which is not near the sea and which has had more than 70 inches of snow already this season? That, dear friend, is no excuse: Just down the block, at Syracuse University, you will find Ken Frieden, who just happens to be the B. G. Rudolph Professor of Judaic Studies at Syracuse and, I dare say, the world’s leading expert on sea narratives by Hasidim and their opponents.

I love it. I love that amidst all the hurly-burly of our times — while Sarah Palin does her shtick, and Michele Bachmann is oxymoronically appointed to the Intelligence Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Goldman Sachs sacks the rest of us — people like Frieden, a magna cum laude graduate of Yale, think about things such as the role of Hebrew and Yiddish narratives in Jewish literary history….READ MORE

It was at the 1969 Brandeis meeting that the idea for a professional association of Jewish academics was put forward and endorsed. And now, 41 years later, the Association for Jewish Studies has more than 1,800 members, and more than a thousand came to Boston to attend its recent conference, at which there were more than 150 panels.

It is a wonderful surprise that there are still students who choose Jewish studies as their college specialization. One wonders whether that will last, given the growingly stepchild status of the humanities. These days, when the value of a college education is widely announced in earning potential, when both fiscal and cultural tendencies in our public schools prompt more and more cuts in the “soft” subjects, when the largely fraudulent “for profit” universities are accountable not to their students but to their shareholders, when technology and, if I may be quaint, love of learning, seem so separate, a continuing interest in Jewish studies can hardly be taken for granted.

But who knows? History is so filled with surprises, and sometimes the surprises are quite pleasant. The Association for Jewish Studies is exactly such a surprise.

US Jews in decline? No, says survey

Source: The Jewish Chronicle, 12-29-10

The number of American Jews is growing, not declining, according to a new study from Brandeis University.

Leonard Saxe, a professor at Brandeis’s Steinhardt Social Research Institute, found that the number of Americans who identify themselves as Jewish has risen from 5.5 million in 1990 to 6.5 million.

Mr Saxe made his estimate by analysing data from 150 surveys taken by the US government and polling organizations. It challenges the finding made in a 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey conducted by the Jewish Federations of North America, which estimated that the US Jewish population had declined by 300,000 over a decade.

The new research project which Saxe unveiled last week in Boston also examined a sample of 1,400 Jews surveyed by Knowledge Networks, a polling firm, and found that 80 per cent identify as Jews on the basis of religion, while the remaining 20 per cent choose another criterion to define themselves as Jewish.

Those who identify on the basis of religion were far more likely to marry a Jewish partner and to participate in Jewish events like barmitzvahs, Jewish weddings and shivahs, the survey found.

The Kissinger “Gas Chambers” Debacle – A Post Mortem

Source: The New York Jewish Week, 12-26-10

‘Twas the day before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except, of course, Henry Kissinger’s publicists and strategists who decided that the slowest news day of the year was the perfect time for him to apologize, sort of, for telling Richard Nixon in 1973 that “if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

They may have finally realized – an apt epiphany given the season – that by not issuing such an admission of regret earlier, Kissinger had violated his own maxim that “whatever must happen ultimately should happen immediately.” They probably also hoped that no one would pay attention over a holiday weekend and that what had become the most embarrassing contretemps (that’s French for public relations train wreck) in the former Secretary of State and Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s illustrious career would fade into oblivion.

Not so fast.

For almost two weeks since the now infamous Oval Office remarks first appeared in the New York Times, Kissinger had refused to acknowledge that he had said anything inappropriate. He at first tried to get out from under his predicament with a disingenuous statement that “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time.”

Without expressing any contrition whatsoever for what even some of his Jewish defenders deemed to be a “disturbing and even callous insensitivity toward the fate of Soviet Jews,” Kissinger’s statement contended that he and Nixon had in fact raised Jewish emigration from the U.S.S.R. “from 700 per year to close to 40,000 in 1972.” He and the President feared, the statement continued, that efforts to make “Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue” through Congressional legislation – to wit, what became the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment – “would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed.”…READ MORE

Did Jewish women surpass Betty Friedan’s ‘Mystique’?

Source: JWeekly, 12-23-10

Despite Betty Friedan’s widely accepted characterization of postwar American women as subservient housewives, many Jewish women did not fit that mold, says Rachel Kranson, co-editor of the recently released “A Jewish Feminine Mystique?”

Jewish women benefited from their involvement in Jewish life, said Kranson, taking on important roles in religious institutions and political organizations and seizing the opportunity “to be leaders and make a public impact when American culture didn’t offer them many of these opportunities.”

AfriedanSome became social and political activists through organizations such as Hadassah and the National Council of Jewish Women, and some turned their attention to religion.

For example, she said, women in the Reconstructionist movement petitioned for aliyahs before the second wave of the feminist movement had even begun.

“Friedan herself drew on her connection with the Jewish Labor Movement,” said Kranson, adding that “Jewish involvement opened up (a new) world for Jewish women. It was one way in which they negotiated the constraints of 1950s America.”

Kranson, a doctoral candidate in New York University’s joint Ph.D. program in history and Hebrew and Judaic studies, said she and fellow doctoral student Shira Kohn were attending a seminar on American Jews in the decades after World War II and “were frustrated that none of the books dealt with gender.”

The mother of two — who grew up in Fair Lawn, N.J., and holds a master’s degree in Jewish women’s studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary — decided, together with Kohn and Hasia Diner, a professor of American Jewish history at NYU, to set about filling that gap.

The first thing the women did was organize a conference at NYU to bring together scholars in women’s history and Jewish history to share their research and thoughts. Pleased with the material that was presented, the three women concluded that the presentations would work as a printed volume.

Their new book examines how Jewish women sought opportunities and created images that defied the stereotypes and prescriptive ideology of Friedan’s “feminine mystique.” Its 12 essays focus both on ordinary Jewish women and prominent figures such Judy Holliday, Jennie Grossinger, and Herman Wouk’s fictional Marjorie Morningstar….READ MORE

Portland State’s Judaic Studies minor — which can now become a major — draws diverse lot

Source: The Oregonian, 12-12-10

meir.JPGView full size Beth Nakamura, The Oregonian

Natan Meir, a PSU professor, teaches holocaust studies classes at the school.

When Rabbi Joshua Stampfer began teaching Hebrew at Portland State University in the 1960s, he didn’t plan on the school ever having a full-blown Judaic studies program or offering a major in the subject so dear to his heart. But, given the sort of guy he is, he may well have hoped it would happen.

Now it has. A successful fundraising campaign will allow PSU’s Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies to add a fourth, full-time professor so that it may offer a major beginning in 2012. Michael Weingrad, program director, says the hunt for an Israel studies scholar will begin next year. The new position will be named for Stampfer.

Already, the Judaic studies program serves about 500 students each year, many of whom are not Jewish and have no direct link to Judaism, Weingrad says. Some students take a class because it fits into their schedule or fulfills a university requirement. Once enrolled, many find they’re fascinated with the subject — whether it’s literature, history or modern Hebrew — and they stay on. Since 2007, it’s been possible to earn a minor in Judaic studies at PSU. Twenty students are working toward that goal now…READ MORE

Steven Windmueller: Election 2012: Why Jews Are Likely to Be Key Players

Source: The NY Jewish Week, 12-10-10

The 2012 presidential election campaign has begun. Suspecting that the incumbent is vulnerable, Republicans are already beginning to position themselves to carry this campaign to voters early and often against the Obama Administration.

Jews will be seen as a key target for this effort. Several core factors will define the Jewish connection in this campaign cycle. Accessing early campaign money and embracing the Israel connection represent two elements that will be seen as pivotal the 2012 campaign and to Jewish support. Both parties, and more directly aspiring candidates, will be looking for financial assistance as a way to launch and to build their campaigns and to garner political endorsements.

Jews are seen as significant political funders. In the past Jewish donors have generated as much as 45 cents of every dollar raised by Democrats and provide a growing base of support for Republican candidates. As one commentator has suggested, “the primary emphasis in the Republican Party has not been to win Jewish votes but to attract major Jewish giving and, at a minimum, to deprive Democrats of that giving.”

Political funds are secured through outright gifts to politicians, contributions made to PAC’s, and support for political parties or commitments provided to advocacy organizations and political interest groups. As there are likely to be a number of candidates entering the presidential sweepstakes, there will likely be a “multiplier effect” as Jewish supporters aligned themselves with particular individuals spreading out Jewish financial and voter support….READ MORE

Deborah Lipstadt: “Shoah” Remains the Monumental Documentary

Source: Tablet, 12-10-10

[Deborah Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, is the author of History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving. Her latest book, The Eichmann Trial, will be published by Nextbook Press in 2011.]

When Shoah, Claude Lanzmann’s documentary on the Holocaust, was released in 1985, it was immediately lauded by critics as pathbreaking, epic, and a sheer masterpiece. Simone de Beauvoir, in her introduction to the published text of the film, called it a “funeral cantata.” Holocaust scholars and film specialists, speaking with almost one voice, hailed it as not only one of the best Holocaust films ever made but as fundamentally different from all other films on the topic. In the ensuing 25 years, despite the release of numerous Holocaust films, this assessment has not been challenged. What gives this film its iconic status?

One obvious factor is, of course, its length. It is 564 minutes—approximately nine and a half hours—long. Presented in two parts, Lanzmann’s preference was that it be viewed in one day or, at the least, in two subsequent days. Sitting through it can be an exhausting, almost grueling, experience.

Ultimately, however, the power of this documentary is rooted not in what Lanzmann has done but in what he does not do. The film does not contain one moment of archival footage. There is no visual horror in Shoah: no scenes of Jews being loaded onto trains, marched out of ghettoes, or shot by Einsatzgruppen. There are no cadavers being bulldozed by the Allies into mass graves in the immediate aftermath of the “liberation” of the camps. Instead Lanzmann weaves together an intricate web of interviews with survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders. Because there is no representation of the horror, the viewer must imagine what happened, and, as Leah Wolfson of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has put it, “we hear the witnesses in an entirely different way.”…READ MORE

Timothy Naftali: On Tapes, Nixon Rails About Jews with Henry Kissinger

Source: NYT, 12-10-10

Oliver Atkins/National Archives

President Richard M. Nixon at his desk in the Oval Office, where a secret taping system had been installed.

Richard M. Nixon made disparaging remarks about Jews, blacks, Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans in a series of extended conversations with top aides and his personal secretary, recorded in the Oval Office 16 months before he resigned as president….

These tapes, made in February and March 1973, reflect a critical period in Nixon’s presidency — the final months before it was “devoured by Watergate,” said Timothy Naftali, the executive director of the Nixon Library.

Mr. Naftali said that there were now only 400 hours of tapes left to released, and that those would cover the final months before the tape system was shut down in July 1973 after Alexander Butterfield, who was a deputy assistant to Nixon, confirmed its existence to the Watergate committee.

Mr. Naftali said he intended to have those tapes — actually, given changing technologies since Nixon’s time, CDs, and available for listening online at the library’s Web site — released by 2012.

An indication of Nixon’s complex relationship with Jews came the afternoon Golda Meir, the Israeli prime minister, came to visit on March 1, 1973. The tapes capture Meir offering warm and effusive thanks to Nixon for the way he had treated her and Israel.

But moments after she left, Nixon and Mr. Kissinger were brutally dismissive in response to requests that the United States press the Soviet Union to permit Jews to emigrate and escape persecution there.

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

In his discussion with Ms. Woods, Nixon laid down clear rules about who would be permitted to attend the state dinner for Meir — he called it “the Jewish dinner” — after learning that the White House was being besieged with requests to attend.

“I don’t want any Jew at that dinner who didn’t support us in that campaign,” he said. “Is that clear? No Jew who did not support us.”

Nixon listed many of his top Jewish advisers — among them, Mr. Kissinger and William Safire, who went on to become a columnist at The New York Times — and argued that they shared a common trait, of needing to compensate for an inferiority complex.

“What it is, is it’s the insecurity,” he said. “It’s the latent insecurity. Most Jewish people are insecure. And that’s why they have to prove things.”…READ MORE

Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky: The Red Bridle

Source: The NY Jewish Week, 12-3-10

Poverty is hardly beautiful, but we are commanded not to look away from it.
Brass ‘Shul’/Temple-shaped Charity Container. Brass ‘Shul’/Temple-shaped Charity Container.

There is a folk saying quoted in the Talmud and Midrash, which some sources even ascribe to Rabbi Akiba, “Poverty is as fitting to the Jews as a red bridle on a white horse.” It’s sweet, if a little fatalistic. Do we really think that poor Jews are so attractive? These days, it is not a small question, as greater and greater numbers of Jews find themselves jobless. That great alphabet soup of Jewish organizations has tightened its collective belt a notch or two, so even our Jewish professionals find themselves scrambling to make a living. And our philanthropists, those who made their millions in real estate or on Wall Street, well, they also are suffering.

What’s a Jew to do? We console ourselves with pithy folk wisdom about how beautifully we Jews wear our poverty. There’s even a midrash on Leviticus from the fifth-century Galilee, which imagines a Jew, perhaps having heard one hard-luck story too many, say to a fellow Jew, “Why don’t you just get a job? Look at those thighs, those knees, that flesh! Go work!” But these attitudes are far from the norm in our tradition’s attitudes toward poverty and charity. In fact, when that fellow refused the entreaty of his poor neighbor, God replied harshly, “It’s not enough that you won’t share with him what you have? To make it worse, you put the evil eye on the very flesh and bones that I, God, gave him?!”…READ MORE

So how is it that with such a sympathetic and sophisticated take on poverty and charity, the rabbis could say that poverty “is as fitting to the Jews as a red bridle on a white horse?” If we understand it in its fifth-century context, we will see that it is anything but a statement of complacency about poverty or a fatalistic acceptance of joblessness. Back in the days of Byzantine Palestine, horse racing was all the rage throughout the empire. The racing teams were divided into four factions: blue, green, red and white. The trouble was, by the early fifth century, the red team had a winning record like that of the Mets this past season, or the Knicks for the past few years. What the folk saying was telling us was that poverty is a sure loser for the Jews. There’s neither fun nor attractiveness in being poor.

When you see someone who is out of a job, or down on their luck, or in need: gain merit through them. Perform a mitzvah. See them.

University of Toronto under fire over ‘Jewish racism’ thesis

Toronto university under fire for accepting thesis

The University of Toronto has come under fire for accepting a master’s thesis that calls two Holocaust education programs “racist.”

Written by Jenny Peto, a Jewish activist with the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, the thesis attacks the March of Remembrance and Hope, through which young adults of diverse backgrounds travel with Holocaust survivors to sites of Nazi atrocities in Poland, and March of the Living Canada, part of an international program that takes young Jews and survivors to Poland and Israel.

Peto argues the programs cause Jews to believe they are innocent victims. In reality, she writes, they are privileged white people who “cannot see their own racism.”

The “construction of a victimized Jewish identity,” she argues, is intentional; it produces “effects that are extremely beneficial to the organized Jewish community” and to “apartheid” Israel.

She further questions “the implications of white Jews taking it upon themselves to educate people of color about genocide, racism and intolerance.”

Irving Abella, a well-known Canadian historian and former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, told the Toronto Star that the thesis is “not scholarship, it’s ideology. It’s totally ahistorical; I found it full of untruths and distortions and held together by fatuous and very flabby analysis. It borders on anti-Semitism.”

Abella added, “I’m appalled that it would be acceptable to a major university.”

Holocaust survivors involved in both programs also have denounced the paper as hurtful.

In a letter to University of Toronto President David Naylor, retired University of British Columbia sociology professor Werner Cohn said the thesis “makes wild charges against [Peto’s] fellow Jews without a shred of evidence,” the Canadian Jewish News reported.

Peto, who was part of a group that tried to occupy Toronto’s Israeli Consulate in 2009, said the controversy is a smear effort by “right-wing, pro-Israel groups and individuals.”

“This is not the first time I have been dragged through the mud by pro-Israel groups,” she told the Star, “and I am sure it will not be that last.

JBuzz: Hanukkah Special, Party at the Obama White House

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of JBuzz. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Judaic Studies at Concordia University.

Menorah Lighting

Ben Retik lights the Menorah as President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama take part in the Hanukkah Candle Lighting ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Dec. 2, 2010 (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)



  • The first night of Chanukah at the National Menorah Washington,
  • The Festival of Lights: Hanukkah Stories From Across the Nation – PBS Newshour, 12-3-10


  • White House hosts Hanukkah party: President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden hosted a party Thursday marking the second day of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Obama offered condolences to those who have died in a forest fire in northern Israel before recounting the story of the Maccabees fighting in the Temple in Jersualem watching a day’s worth of oil burn for eight.
    “That miracle gave hope to all those who had been struggling in despair,” Obama said. “As the Talmud teaches us, so long as a person has life, he should not abandon faith.”
    Among those attending was Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew, who replied, “we’re still talking,” when asked about the status of tax-cut legislation. When asked what night of Hanukkah a deal would be reached, Lew replied: “Aren’t we lucky to have a whole week?”
    The party featured a menorah from Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans, which was found caked in dirt and mold after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Obama said. Its candles were lit by Susan Retik, whose husband died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and her family…. – Politico, 12-3-10
  • President Obama’s Hanukkah Celebration: The President and First Lady hosted a little gathering Thursday night in the East Room to celebrate Hanukkah. Included on the list of 500 guests, one-third of the Supreme Court justices- Breyer, Ginsburg, and Kagan. Several Jewish members of Congress and other elected officials and members of the military were there too. The menorah for the event was loaned to the White House by New Orleans’s Congregation Beth Israel. It was one of very few items to survive Hurricane Katrina. It was found by cleanup crews in horrible condition but was restored and re-lit for the first time three years ago…. – CNN, 12-3-10
  • Menorah retrieved from Hurricane Katrina muck in Lakeview is part of White House Hanukkah celebration: Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of Jewish survival, and on Thursday, President Barack Obama and some 500 notables, mostly Jewish, celebrated the second of the holiday’s eight nights by lighting a menorah fished from the muck of Congregation Beth Israel’s flooded synagogue in Lakeview after Hurricane Katrina.
    Describing the Hanukkah candles as tiny reminders of “the importance of faith and perseverance,” the president told the festive assemblage in the East Room that “the menorah we’re using tonight, and the family who is going to help us light it, both stand as powerful symbols of that faith.” “This beautiful menorah has been generously loaned to us by Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans,” Obama said. “Five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit, the synagogue was covered in eight feet of water. Later, as the cleanup crew dug through the rubble, they discovered this menorah, caked in dirt and mold. And today it stands as a reminder of the tragedy and a source of inspiration for the future.”… – The candles were lit by Susan Retik and her family…. – Times-Picayune, 12-2-10
  • White House Hanukkah ceremony features menorah salvaged from Lakeview: President Barack Obama and dozens of guests tonight will celebrate the second night of Hanukkah by lighting a menorah fished from the muck of Congregation Beth Israel’s flooded synagogue in Lakeview. But for a few bits of ornamental silver that once decorated its ruined Torahs, the blackened menorah was the only sacred object in ritual use the congregation was able to save, said Rabbi Uri Topolosky, who will attend the ceremony with his wife, Dahlia.
    At Beth Israel, the restored menorah has become precious — the sign of their own ordeal and recovery, Topolosky said. The congregation also saved a display menorah, now at the Presbytere, Topolosky said. But the 53-year-old restored menorah at the White House — technically, it is a nine-branched “hanukiah” — is the one the congregation uses to commemorate ancient Jews’ recovery and reconsecration of their temple in Jerusalem…. – NOLA, 12-2-10
  • Gov. Schwarzenegger Joins Chanukah Celebration at Capitol Menorah Lighting Ceremony: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and local leaders of the Jewish community today joined Chabad of Sacramento to celebrate Chanukah at the 17th Annual Capitol Menorah Lighting Ceremony.
    “The message of Chanukah is ‘light’ and is about optimism and hope, even in the face of darkness and crisis. That is especially meaningful to me because I am a big believer in the spirit of optimism and hope,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “We all know there is darkness in the world, especially in these challenging times, but one tiny candle can light a room, and one act of kindness can change a life. It is so important that we reach out and help each other through these tough times.”
    This year, guests at the Capitol Menorah Lighting Ceremony participated in a “reverse toy drive.” The Governor joined West Coast Chabad Director Rabbi Shlomo Cunin in passing the gifts out for the toy drive during today’s ceremony. Chabad has asked guests of the ceremony to present these gifts to children in need…. – Lubavitch, 12-3-10


  • President Obama Hosts A Hanukkah Celebration at the White House: Remarks by the President at a Hanukkah Reception:
    Now, tonight, we gather to celebrate a story as simple as it is timeless. It’s a story of ancient Israel, suffering under the yoke of empire, where Jews were forbidden to practice their religion openly, and the Holy Temple — including the holy of holies — had been desecrated.
    It was then that a small band of believers, led by Judah Maccabee, rose up to take back their city and free their people. And when the Maccabees entered the temple, the oil that should have lasted for a single night ended up burning for eight.
    That miracle gave hope to all those who had been struggling in despair. And in the 2,000 years since, in every corner of the world, the tiny candles of Hanukkah have reminded us of the importance of faith and perseverance. They have illuminated a path for us when the way forward was shrouded in darkness.
    And as we prepare to light another candle on the menorah, let us remember the sacrifices that others have made so that we may all be free. Let us pray for the members of our military who guard that freedom every day, and who may be spending this holiday far away from home.
    Let us also think of those for whom these candles represent not just a triumph of the past, but also hope for the future — the men, women and children of all faiths who still suffer under tyranny and oppression.
    That’s why families everywhere are taught to place the menorah in public view, so the entire world can see its light. Because, as the Talmud teaches us, “So long as a person still has life, they should never abandon faith.”
    This beautiful menorah has been generously loaned to us by Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans. Five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit, the synagogue was covered in eight feet of water. Later, as the cleanup crew dug through the rubble, they discovered this menorah, caked in dirt and mold. And today it stands as a reminder of the tragedy and a source of inspiration for the future.
    And that feeling is shared by Susan Retik. It’s a feeling they know all too well. After her husband, David, was killed on September 11th, Susan could have easily lost herself in feelings of hopelessness and grief. But instead, she turned her personal loss into a humanitarian mission — co-founding “Beyond the 11th,” a group that reaches out to Afghan widows facing their own struggles.
    So on this second night of Hanukkah, let us give thanks to the blessings that all of us enjoy. Let us be mindful of those who need our prayers. And let us draw strength from the words of a great philosopher, who said that a miracle is “a confirmation of what is possible.” –
    WH, 12-2-10WH, 12-2-10


  • Gil Troy: This Hanukka let’s celebrate Liberalism and Zionism: Let’s face it. Although Hanukka’s basic plot has not changed for 2,000 years, the Hanukka we know and love is a twentieth-century invention. Hanukka’s themes of heroism and power, both physical and spiritual, were Zionist ideas; traditionally, the Rabbis thanked God for the eight-day oil miracle. When the Zionist revolution reevaluated Judaism a century ago, the Maccabees’ story proved that Jewish history was not just about anti-Semites oppressing us and rabbis teaching us but our own warriors defending us. The Maccabees were hometown heroes, rooted in Israel’s ancient soil, willing to fight, if necessary, for their homeland, their beliefs, their freedom. At the same time, our festival of lights became our popular response to the seasonal malady of Christmas envy. Boasting eight nights, meaning eight gift-giving opportunities, Hanukka helped Jews trump their Christian neighbors.
    Considering that pedigree, this Hanukka we should celebrate the happy marriage of liberalism and Zionism. We can fight the trendy claim that liberalism and Zionism are increasingly incompatible without doing violence to the Maccabean story. Emphasizing a liberal-Zionist rift, in a world fighting the dark clouds of Islamic totalitarianism, ignores the shared enlightenment past of both Zionism and liberalism, as well as the light liberal Zionism can generate today….
    There is yet another added bonus that can result from rededicating our commitment to both liberalism and Zionism this Hanukka. Both modern liberalism and modern Zionism struggle with the tension between materialism and altruism, the selfishness of the “I” and the self-sacrifice of the “us,” the desire to take and the need to give. As Hanukka, like its seasonal partner Christmas, has degenerated into what the historian Daniel Boorstin called “festivals of consumption,” the question “what did you get” has eclipsed the more important holiday questions “what does this mean?” and “did you grow?”
    Traditionally, during Hanukka Jewish communities rededicated themselves to Jewish education. In that spirit, parents gave children “gelt” or coins to sweeten the experience of Torah study. In the early 1900s, many Jews used Hanukka as an opportunity to donate the modern equivalent of the “shekel,” the Biblical coin representing the power of responsibility, the importance of being counted, to the Zionist cause. This Hanukka let’s remember the best of both the liberal and Zionist traditions. This Hanukka, let’s look for opportunities to give not just get. This Hanukka, by doing that, we can redeem not just these two noble movements, but ourselves. – Jerusalem Post, 12-3-10
  • HOWARD JACOBSON: Hanukkah, Rekindled: TONIGHT, Hanukkah begins. The word — Hanukkah — is lovely, but what’s the festival itself for? What does it do? But Hanukkah?
    Everyone knows the bare bones of the story. At Hanukkah we celebrate the Maccabees, also known as the Hasmoneans, who defeated the might of the Syrian-Greek army in 165 B.C., recapturing the desecrated Temple and reconsecrating it with oil that ought to have run out in a day but lasted eight. Indeed, Hanukkah means “consecration,” and when we light those candles we are remembering the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
    But how many Jews truly feel this narrative as their own? I’m not asking for contemporary relevance. History is history: whatever happens to a people is important to them. But Hanukkah — at least the way it’s told — struggles to find a path to Jewish hearts.
    Those Hasmoneans, for example …. The Maccabees are fair enough: they sound Jewish. Scottish Jewish but still Jewish. There was a sports and social club called the Maccabi round the corner from where I was brought up in North Manchester, and as a boy I imagined the Maccabees as stocky, short-legged, hairy men like the all-conquering Maccabi table tennis team. But “Hasmoneans” rang and rings no bells.
    Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Hanukkah doesn’t draw on events described in the Hebrew Bible. The Book of Maccabees, from which the story comes, is in the Apocrypha, the non-canonical, more esoteric books of sacred scripture. There’s a reason it never made it out of there: I won’t say it’s spurious, but it doesn’t quite feel authentic…. – NYT, 12-1-10
  • Latke vs. Hamantaschen: An Age-Old Debate: It’s a debate that’s spanned the centuries – at least about half of one – and brought professors, writers and philosophers to the table to argue their cases on one of the most essential questions in modern scholarly discourse. Which one is better: the latke or the hamantaschen?
    The famed latke-hamantash debate first launched at the University of Chicago in 1946, and since then it’s been argued at such esteemed academic institutions as Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins. First conceived as a way to shore up a sense of Jewish community, nowadays the debate is as a way for scholars to blow off some steam, poke fun at academia and support their favorite potato- or flour-based foodstuff…. –, 12-3-10
  • Hanukkah in public spaces: Although many people have come to identify public menorahs with Hanukkah itself, a recently published book argues that the holiday’s celebration today has been largely defined by just one slice of the Jewish population.
    “Whatever people associate with Hanukkah in the public space is Chabad,” says Maya Balakirsky Katz, associate professor of art history at Touro College in New York and author of The Visual Culture of Chabad. “In the last few decades, Chabad has provided the public image of Hanukkah in America, possibly in the world.” According to Katz, many Jews balk at Chabad’s conspicuous display of religion in the diaspora and consider it “embarrassing, if not also dangerous.” “They pushed religion into the public space and presented it as the Jewish image,” Katz says. “Before Jews even had a chance to react, it became the Jewish holiday image. I think the only people really invested in challenging Chabad’s right to light are other Jews.”
    “Chabad emissaries take comparisons between their giant menorahs and Christmas trees in stride,” Katz says. “Comparisons between their menorahs and the Israeli national symbol make them more nervous.” Katz’s book devotes an entire chapter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s decision to promote menorahs with diagonal branches in sharp contrast to the arced, half-moon branches of the menorah on the Israeli national emblem. The Rebbe claimed his inspiration was an argument by the medieval theologian and physician Maimonides that the original Temple menorah had diagonal branches.
    “For Houston Jews and Jews everywhere, I think the Rebbe initiated a rebirth to diasporist culture; you can proudly be a diaspora Jew and have a whole other material culture that’s not only connected to Israel,” Katz says. “That is definitely going to be part of his legacy. He gave birth to a very proud religious diaspora material culture.”
    Whereas Katz’s book addresses Chabad’s appropriation of Hanukkah as a means to forge an American-Jewish religious material culture, Zaklikofsky focuses on the mitzvah, commandment, of lighting the menorah as a testimony to what he considers a historically documented miracle…. – Houston Chronicle, 12-2-10
  • Southern Jews Put Their Spin On Soul Food: The eight-day Jewish holiday of Hannukah began earlier this week and with it comes culinary traditions of the season. A new book describes how Jews in the American south have blended traditional Jewish fare enjoyed around the holidays with southern cuisine. Host Michel Martin speaks with Marci Cohen Ferris, author of “Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South”…. – NPR, 12-3-10 Download MP3
  • Dianne Ashton: American Hanukkah Traditions Focus on Children: Newswise — Hanukkah isn’t a hugely important holiday on the Jewish calendar, but modern day celebrations of the Festival of Lights do work to get today’s children–and adults–excited about Judaism, according to Dianne Ashton, a professor of religion studies at Rowan University. Author of a book on Hanukkah in America to be released next year by New York University Press, Ashton says two Cincinnati rabbis led a movement to “Americanize” Judaism in the 1860s. That movement included promoting the idea of a fun holiday festival for Jewish children.
    “One of the rabbis said Jewish children shall have a grand and glorious Hanukkah, a festival as nice as any Christmas, with songs, dramatics, candle lighting, ice cream and candy,” says Ashton, whose book examines Hanukkah from 1860-2000. “This really shifted Hanukkah from primarily an observance of Jewish adults to a festival seen as particularly important for Jewish children, a way to keep them interested in Judaism.”… – Newswise, 11-30-10
  • Rethinking the “Jewish Christmas”: Hanuka is back! Perhaps some wonder when it ever was gone. According to Jenna Weissman Joselit, the Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies and professor of history at George Washington University, “Well into the 1880s, Chanukah fared poorly in America, a victim of neglect.” She quotes the despairing voices of 19th century American rabbis, in an article for Reform Judaism magazine (Winter 2008): “‘The customary candles disappear more and more from Jewish homes,’ lamented Rabbi Gustav Gottheil in 1884. ‘Kindle the Chanukah lights anew, modern Israelite!’ declared Rabbi Kaufmann Kohler just a few years later. ‘Make the festival more than ever before radiant with the brightness and beauty of love and charity.'” Instead of kindling Hanuka candles, Americans “were adorning their homes with greenery and parlor illuminations and eagerly exchanging gifts in the spirit of Christmas. The purchase of Christmas gifts, commented the Jewish Daily Forward in 1904, ‘is one of the first things that proves one is no longer a greenhorn,'” the Jewish studies professor writes….
    The historian continues her survey of the festival’s rise, noting that in the 1950s, “American Jews no longer had to dread the ‘cruel month’ of December. Chanukah’s accoutrements had grown to include paper decorations, greeting cards, napkins, wrapping paper, ribbons, and phonograph records. And in the years following World War II, the outside world increasingly freighted Chanukah with the same cultural and social significance as Christmas, yoking the two together in demonstration of America’s ‘cultural oneness.’ Public school educators in particular convened a ‘holiday assembly’ on a ‘compromise date’ in December in which a Christmas tree and a ‘Menorah candle’ as well as the singing of Chanukah hymns and Christmas carols figured prominently.”… – American Jewish World, 11-26-10

Rebecca Kobrin: Too Big to Fail in 1930

Source: The NY Jewish Week, 12-3-10

History’s silence on the Jewish immigrant entrepreneurs behind the Bank of United States.

Front page and back cover of the Bialystoker Stimme,  Nov. 1921. Front page and back cover of the Bialystoker Stimme, Nov. 1921.

On the morning of Dec. 11, 1930, thousands of people lined Delancey Street to withdraw their savings from the Bank of United States. Rumors had circulated for days that the largest retail bank in New York, with over 440,000 depositors and $300 million in assets, was insolvent. Founded by Russian-Jewish immigrant entrepreneur and garment manufacturer Joseph S. Marcus in 1913, the bank, despite its grandiose name and the large portrait of the Capitol adorning its main branch, was actually just a provincial New York retail bank. The bank advertised mainly in the Yiddish press and catered primarily to immigrant Jews and their organizations scattered throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Its name convinced many immigrant depositors that, unlike other shady financial enterprises scattered throughout the city, it was, “as solid as the Bank of England.” It was this continued deep trust, The New York Times reported, that made policemen unnecessary to control the “throngs” who gathered around the bank that morning. All were calm, failing to recognize that the bank’s president, Bernard Marcus (Joseph’s son), and first vice president, Saul Singer, a garment manufacturer turned real estate entrepreneur and banker, had depleted the bank’s assets through heavy speculation in its own stock and through risky real estate investments.

Wall Street financiers, led by J.P. Morgan, Jr., refused to risk their funds to help save the bank, despite the pleas of Joseph Broderick, New York State’s superintendent of banking, and Hebert Lehman, the state’s lieutenant governor, who warned that they were “making the most colossal mistake in the banking history of New York.” The bank was closed; within days, thousands of depositors throughout the country, who mistakenly assumed the bank’s credit was on par with that of the federal government, ran to withdraw funds from their local banks. Indeed, if a bank named the Bank of United States could fail, then no bank was truly safe. In short, as one historian argued, “the damage done by the failure of the Bank of United States to both depositors and the banking community remains inestimable.”…READ MORE

While further research is needed to address these questions, as we mark the 80th anniversary of the dramatic rise and demise of the Bank of United States, we need to reconsider how we conceptualize and think about the nexus of economics and Jewish history, particularly in the United States. We need to think more broadly about Jewish entrepreneurship and openly discuss those who failed along with those who succeeded. Indeed we already know much about successful, American Jewish bankers such as Jacob Schiff and Paul Warburg. But in fact, the implementation of long-lasting government financial reforms, namely the FDIC, came in response to the schemes of Saul Singer, not the achievements of Schiff or Warburg. Perhaps if we shift our focus in the writing of Jewish economic history, we will be able to see more fully the multifaceted role Jews played in the evolution of America’s distinctive brand of capitalism and its regulation.

Jonathan Sarna, Mark Raider: Small-City Congregations Try to Preserve Rituals of Jewish Life

Roger Ackerman, 78, prodded his aging congregation at Temple Sinai in Sumter, S.C., to create a living will that includes a maintenance plan for its cemetery.

Source:  NYT, 12-1-10

…According to Jonathan D. Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, most Jews in the United States have migrated from small communities to large cities: he estimates that 85 percent of the country’s 5.2 million Jews live in 20 metropolitan areas, primarily on the East and West Coasts and in Sun Belt states.

Mr. Sarna estimates there are 150 to 200 communities across the country that could benefit from the project’s help.

The process of dismantling a community, experts say, is fraught with potential tensions involving both purse and heartstrings. Mark A. Raider, a professor of modern Jewish history at the University of Cincinnati, cited disagreements over disposition of material assets.

“Where there’s money, real estate and other significant resources, there tends to be differing and often opposing views about who should control it,” Dr. Raider said.

Rabbi Mychal Springer, director of the Center for Pastoral Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary, says the project will have to deal with “extraordinary sensitivity on the part of all people involved.”

“When a community is shutting its doors and making decisions about what should be,” Rabbi Springer said, “some people let go sooner and others hold on longer. There can be a lot of angst, disagreement and regret….READ MORE

Lori Lefkovitz: Top scholar first to hold Jewish Studies chair

Source: Northeastern University News, 12-1-10

Top scholar first to hold Jewish Studies chair

Lori Lefkovitz has been named the inaugural holder of the Ruderman Professorship of Jewish Studies at Northeastern University Photo by Lauren McFalls

Renowned scholar Lori Lefkovitz has been named the inaugural holder of the Ruderman Professorship of Jewish Studies at Northeastern University and the director of Northeastern’s Jewish Studies program.

Alumnus Morton Ruderman, COE, ’59, and his wife, Marcia, made the chair possible through a generous donation.

“The Ruderman’s commitment to the Jewish community and the study of its history and culture will be enriched by the appointment of Lori Lefkovitz. She is an outstanding scholar whose love of teaching and engagement with the Jewish community will elevate the impact of Jewish studies at Northeastern,” said Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University.

Before coming to Northeastern in August 2010, Lefkovitz was the Sadie Gottesman and Arlene Gottesman Reff Professor of Gender and Judaism at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the founding director of the College’s Kolot: Center for Jewish Women’s and Gender Studies.

“Our family welcomes Professor Lefkovitz as the new Ruderman Professor of Jewish Studies at Northeastern,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation.

“We believe that her passion for Jewish life and scholarship coupled with Northeastern’s unique co-op program will have a profound positive impact on the Jewish community of Greater Boston and beyond.”

To Northeastern, Lefkovitz brings a diverse background that includes interdisciplinary training in Jewish Studies and program development, specifically training in literature and critical theory and experience teaching both Bible and modern and contemporary Jewish literature.

“Professor Lefkovitz is the right leader at the right time to lead Northeastern’s Jewish Studies program. She is a gifted and talented scholar whose expertise and knowledge undoubtedly will enhance the program’s mission to develop future leaders, to nourish Jewish identity in the modern world, and to represent Judaism in the public sphere,” said Georges Van Den Abbeele, Dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities.

Lefkovitz hopes to establish strong relationships with the Jewish community through co-op and student life, work with Northeastern’s talented faculty to expand the program’s curriculum and coordinate events and conferences. The goal of these efforts, she says, is to further increase student interest in the program.

“I am honored to have been selected for this position,” said Lefkovitz, “and excited and challenged by this opportunity. A full-time chaired position is an expression of commitment to Jewish Studies and opens the possibility of developing a first-rate program that emerges from Northeastern’s unique strengths.”…READ MORE