Andy Bush: Vassar Jewish-studies scholar, delivers surprises




Source: Poughkeepsie Journal, 7-29-11

Like Sandy Koufax, Andy Bush — a popular Vassar College professor of Hispanic studies and Jewish studies who speaks five languages and has a Ph.D. from Yale — throws curveballs.

What I mean is Bush’s ideas, like curveballs, traverse a tantalizing and surprising path between where they begin and where they wind up.

For instance, Bush’s latest book, “Jewish Studies: A Theoretical Introduction,” seems at first glance like a short, conventional and narrowly focused work.

It’s actually long, revolutionary and broad.

At just 145 pages, it’s long because it requires rereading, revolutionary because it successfully breaks so many literary and scholarly rules, and broad because it spills over to enduring themes of intellectual life.

Traditionally, Jewish studies hold a privileged status for certain starting points, such as the Torah, medieval thinker Moses Maimonides, or the history of Eastern European Jews.

But Bush undermines this hierarchy with his unproven, but effectively demonstrated, faith in the interconnectedness of all things in this world.

Because Jews cleave so deeply to this world — Christians and Muslims seek, and sometimes even yearn for, a home beyond — all earthly starting places, geographic and intellectual, are equal.

This means Bush would implicitly approve of beginning a Jewish-studies quest right here in Poughkeepsie.

Just notice Rabbi Paul Golumb’s purposeful stride down Ferris Lane toward Vassar Temple, or the delight Ellen Devorsetz takes in finding out who knows whom, or Marist College pollster Lee Miringoff’s relentlessly funny, we’re-all-in-it-together perspective on political foolishness, and you’ve already entered the endlessly connected realm of Jewish studies.

In his concluding chapter, Bush abandons his thick, scholarly camouflage. He suddenly starts what looks like a play.

But it has an impossible structure: 37 Jewish characters — the living and the dead; a setting that is either Berlin in 1800 or a present day Jewish-studies class before the teacher arrives; and, silliest of all, a very omniscient narrator.

But the joke is on us: It works!

But for me, Bush, with an assist from a feminist Algerian Jew, Helene Cixous, is at his most brilliant in shedding new light on the ancient commandment “Thou shall not kill.”

And get this: He does it with a commentary on two previously unrelated Rembrandt paintings — “Bath-sheba” and “The Slaughtered Ox.”

Now, we may reach the end of this bewildering, life-giving book wondering what exactly Bush is up to.

Is it really Jewish studies? Maybe Jewish life? Or even human existence itself?

Surprise, surprise. It’s all three.

Welcome to the big leagues.

Play ball!

Naim Dangoor: Which country has 10 Jewish study centres? (And it’s not obvious)




New professor Naim Dangoor

A delegation of professors from a leading foreign university flew to London last Friday to honour a British supporter of their country’s burgeoning programme of Jewish studies.

Philanthropist Naim Dangoor, who is 97, was made a consultant professor of China’s Nanjing University in an award ceremony held in his Kensington apartment.

“We are very proud that you are now one of us,” Nanjing vice-president Xue Hai Lin told Professor Dangoor, newly decorated in his black and red academic robes and sporting a black mortar board with red tassel.

Nanjing’s Institute of Jewish Studies opened in May 1992, just a few months after Israel and China established diplomatic relations. According to Professor Xu Xin, director of the Nanjing Institute and president of the China Judaic Studies Association, there are now around 10 Jewish studies centres in the country.

Nanjing’s 800-page Chinese translation of the Encyclopaedia Judaica is the standard reference work on Judaism in the country and its other works include a how-and-why of antisemitism as well as a translation of Martin Gilbert’s Atlas of Jewish History. Iraqi-born Prof Dangoor said that he was “greatly honoured” by his award, which he received along with a gold thread embroidered tapestry of a kirin, a mythical beast which signifies good luck, prosperity and a long life….READ MORE

Jonathan Sarna: In their 40s and 50s, embarking on second careers as rabbis




Source: JTA, 7-28-11

Various factors are propelling these individuals into the rabbinate. Some long had harbored dreams of becoming a rabbi but wound up pursuing other careers for personal or financial reasons. Others became interested in the rabbinate later in life, prompted in some cases by something specific.

Not all the new rabbis are pursuing congregational jobs. More professional options exist now for rabbinical school graduates, including in the chaplaincy, education and Jewish communal work.

Pursuing the rabbinate as a second career is not a new story in American Jewish life, but it’s more common for those in their mid- to late 20s or early 30s after working for some time in professions such as law or medicine, said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University and the chief historian at the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Sarna said it is unusual for those in their 40s, 50s or 60s to go for the rabbinate, and that it’s more common for older second-career clergy members among Christian denominations.

After the tragedy of 9/11, there was a sudden increase in the number of older rabbinical students, Sarna noted — those who were moved to pursue more meaningful careers….READ MORE

Reviews: David Shneer: Remembering Soviet Yiddish




Source: Jewish Journal, 7-26-11

Since the 1950s, the so-called Night of the Murdered Poets has become a summertime ritual for Yiddish cultural circles in the United States. The gathering commemorates Stalin’s attempted deathblow to Yiddish culture: On August 12, 1952, the major group of Yiddish writers, thinkers, and critics, who were the leading activists in the wartime fight against Nazism, were shot dead, marking a bloody full-stop to a chapter of what may have been the most intense flowering of Yiddish culture in history…..

The simultaneous covert embrace and public rejection of Yiddish Communist culture points at the difficulty in celebrating it. How can you celebrate poets who wrote enthusiastic odes to Stalin, or worse, denounced one another? How do you applaud the only state in the world that gave official, often generous, support to the flowering of Yiddish letters and also murdered its greatest writers?

This summer, two new books examining Soviet Yiddish creativity shed light on what the Cold War obscured: one of the most productive periods in Jewish cultural history. The first, Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War, and the Holocaust, by historian David Shneer, looks at the way Jewish photographers invented photojournalism in the USSR. The second, A Captive of the Dawn, edited by Shneer with Gennady Estraikh, Jordan Finkin, and the late Joseph Sherman, is a scholarly examination of the foremost Soviet Yiddish poet, Peretz Markish. Both books, in their own way, look at a certain “Jewish” aesthetic.

Through Soviet Jewish Eyes focuses on the presence of Jews in Soviet photojournalism as a key to understanding a striking aspect of crafting Jewish history. Famed Jewish historian Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi once linked the entry of Jewish life into modernity with the Jewish drive to create history. In fact, the heavy Jewish presence in photojournalism was by no means limited to the Soviet Union, but was a global phenomenon throughout the twentieth century—think of the iconic images captured by Robert Capa and Joe Rosenthal.

In the United States, this “Jewish eye” in the arts in the early twentieth century may be associated with social, often leftist, critique. In the Soviet Union, writers and photographers worked, proudly and confidently (not out of fear, as some who wish to rewrite history claim), in the service of the Soviet State. Although it may be strange to admit, Russian Jewish visual and literary artists in the wake of the October Revolution became the fledgling Soviet Union’s most eloquent advocates.

Shneer’s book challenges the accepted rhetoric that came out of the Cold War’s distortions of Soviet history. In particular, Shneer examines previously neglected work to show that the often-repeated claim that the Soviet Union’s attempt to cover up Nazi atrocities is not only untrue, but completely the opposite. Jewish photojournalists in Russia were able to keep Nazi atrocities on the front page and continually emphasized the Jewish aspect of Nazi violence.

A Captive of the Dawn breaks similar new ground by presenting a complete view of this complex poet, so little known outside of Russia and academic circles. When his name is evoked at the Murdered Poets events, Markish is easily flattened as a simple martyr in the Stalinist “Great Terror.” This volume tells the full story of his creativity and, in doing so, tells the story of this incredible era in Jewish culture.

This year the commemorations of the murdered poets will continue as usual, but, perhaps, with a new focus. A new generation of Jews, both local Angelenos and Soviet Jewish émigrés, who have made LA their home, grew up in the age of bar mitzvah “twins,” perestroika, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. They appreciate art created in the USSR and, even, in service of the State. This generation that was offered only dissidents as Soviet Jewish heroes can now see a richer and far more complicated story of Jewish culture in Russia.

This year the Los Angeles August 12th Commemoration “Words Like Sparks: Celebrating Modern Yiddish Creativity in Russia,” will be held on Sunday, August 14th at 3:00 PM at Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring 1525 South Robertson Boulevard.

Dr. Robert Adler Peckerar is Professor of Jewish Literature and Culture at the University of Colorado, Boulder and is the executive director of Yiddishkayt LA.

2,000-year-old bell found in Jerusalem rings again



Source: AP, 7-25-11

2,000-year-old bell in Jerusalem: a 2,000-year-old bell has been discovered by Israeli archaeologists and rang for the first time in as many years.

2,000-year-old bell found by Israeli archaeologists in Jerusalem, Monday. The bell, dating back to the Second Jewish Temple period, was discovered in IAA excavations in a drainage channel, carved along the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

A sound last heard 2,000 years ago is audible again.

A tiny golden bell preserved in a Roman-era sewer underneath Jerusalem’s Old City has been recovered by Israeli archaeologists.

The tiny orb, just one centimeter in diameter, was likely an ornament on the clothes of a wealthy resident.

The Book of Exodus mentions tiny golden bells sewn onto the hem of the robes of Temple priests, though it was not known if this bell was one of those.

Archaeologist Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority says the bell likely fell off and rolled into the sewer as its owner walked by.

Shukron said it was a “very rare” find.

When he shook the bell Sunday, it emitted a faint metallic sound between a clink and a rattle.

Shuly Rabin Schwartz: More City Bar Mitzvahs Hold the Religion




Source: WSJ, 7-23-11



A small but growing number of families are opting for secular bar mitzvahs, taking the occasion to celebrate personal growth and Jewish culture instead of Jewish faith. Although such celebrations are derided by some religious leaders as little more than birthday parties, participants say they are a thoughtful alternative for those who do not subscribe to religious beliefs.

While secular bar mitzvahs veer away from traditional religious elements, they also tend to forgo the over-the-top celebrations that have become a subject of criticism by Jewish leaders.

“I think a bar mitzvah party that has a six-course meal and a large band, and doesn’t have a spiritual piece except that the food is kosher, is not as holy as one that is trimmed down and includes community service,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the Center for the Jewish Future at Yeshiva University in New York.

The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Manhattan is leading a nationwide movement to create meaningful secular services for Jewish teenagers. Marge Greenberg, whose daughter Rachel Gerber recently completed City Congregation’s 18-month bat mitzvah program, says it’s no accident that parties for participants tend to be small.

“The part that comes beforehand is the important part. The celebration is just the culmination of the study,” Ms. Greenberg said. “The party is incidental. It’s like a social occasion. It’s just not the point.”

The idea is slowly gaining acceptance, though some rabbis have different views.

“The concept of a ‘secular bar mitzvah’ is of course a bit of an oxymoron since ‘bar mitzvah’ means ‘one who is commanded by God,'” said Daniel Nevins of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. “Without the religious part it is just a birthday party.”

Secular bar mitzvahs continue centuries-old traditions: The emotions and themes common at bar mitzvahs—family history, maturity and hard-won pride—are all present, proponents say.

“This is part of the contemporary world,” said Shuly Rabin Schwartz, a professor of American Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary. “In an odd sort of way the nontraditional ceremonies are affirming the value of the tradition. They’re saying something should happen at this stage. They’re trying to figure out something meaningful for individuals in that community.”

At City Congregation, bar mitzvah candidates spend up to two years preparing for their big day. Students in the program write essays on topics such as family history, community service and role models, and complete a project on a topic in Jewish culture. (One recent project’s title was “Holy Carp: Gefilte Fish, Judaism and Me.”)

“It’s not Judaism lite,” says Rabbi Peter Schweitzer of the City Congregation. He has conducted the bar mitzvah training for more than 50 students… READ MORE

Ellen Smith Named Director of Brandeis University’s Hornstein Program



Source: Brandeis Now, 7-21-11

Ellen SmithPhoto/Mike Lovett

Ellen Smith has been named director of the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University.

Smith has been an associate professor at Hornstein, as well as an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Near East and Judaic Studies. She also co-directs advanced training programs at Brandeis for Jewish professionals and organizations.

Hornstein offers four graduate-level dual-degree programs.

“Hornstein is the only location that is able to integrate these degrees, that is also a leader in non-profit and social justice management,” Smith said.

She begins her post as director on July 1. Joseph H. and Belle R. Professor of American Jewish History Jonathan Sarna, with whom she’s collaborated on various projects for the past 20 years and who is a past director, has been named chair of the program.

“We’re excited to be working together again,” Smith says. “We’re a very happy team.”

Smith is also a principal of Museumsmith, a firm specializing in museum exhibitions and historic site interpretations throughout the nation. She is a former of the American Jewish Historical Society and the National Museum of American Jewish History. Trained as both an academic historian and a museum curator, Smith has published more than three-dozen books, articles and catalogs including “The Jews of Boston, which she co-edited with Sarna.

A popular speaker locally and throughout the country, Smith sits on numerous academic and civic advisory boards, and is past president of Boston’s Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center.

“Her dedication to the Hornstein program ensures both a smooth transition and strong leadership ahead,” Sarna says.

Connie Wolf: Jewish Museum director to head Cantor center — will join Stanford museum’s staff Jan. 1, 2012




Source: Palto Alto Online, 7-21-11

Connie Wolf, who heads San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum as its director and CEO, will return to her college roots on Jan. 1. She’s becoming the new director of the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in East Asian studies in 1981.

Wolf, who has worked at the Jewish Museum since 1999, has shepherded the institution through major change. The small museum grew from a 2,500-square-foot building to a dramatic 63,000-square-foot space near Yerba Buena Gardens, where it moved in 2008. During that time, Wolf raised $85 million and worked with architect Daniel Libeskind to develop the facility plans, according to a Cantor center press release.

The Cantor’s current director, Thomas K. Seligman, is retiring after heading the museum since 1991. He plans to continue teaching and doing research at Stanford, where one of his major focuses has been African art.

Nancy Troy, who chairs Stanford’s art and art history department, said in a press release that choosing Wolf is an innovative move.

“Hiring someone whose background is not squarely in the history of art is a move that is unexpected and daring for Stanford — and yet this is the moment for this, to think differently and be open to new directions, building upon the firm foundation that Tom Seligman and his staff have built over the last 20 years,” she said.

Previously, Wolf served as associate director for public programs and curator of education at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. For the Jewish Museum’s current exhibition “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories,” she also connected with her Stanford background: The lead guest curator was Wanda Corn, emeritus Stanford art professor.

Civics studies in Israeli Schools to focus on Jewish democracy



Source: YNet News, 7-20-11

Education Ministry approves controversial changes to high school civics curriculum which will emphasize historical justifications for State of Israel’s establishment

A new civics curriculum is underway after being approved by the Education Ministry on Monday. The new curriculum has a bigger emphasis on the connection between a Jewish and democratic state.

The program’s approval encountered a few obstacles due to a public battle between civics teachers and Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar who sought to introduce the change.

A source within the Education Ministry noted that while the alterations were relatively moderate, they definitely mark a change towards a more nationalistic and Jewish direction.

Secular, religious students to study civics together

Education Ministry pushing for new program in which religious, secular high schools will hold joint civics classes. ‘This requires a great deal of courage,’ program manager says — Full Story

The changes include additions like a historical introduction to the Balfour declaration and the UN’s partition plan in 1947.

The declaration of independence will be studied with an emphasis on the historical and international justification for the establishment of a Jewish State in Israel. There will also be an emphasis on the State of Israel as the Jewish people’s nation state while explaining it from the perspective of democratic values…READ MORE

Lily Vuong: Professor Inspires Critical Thinking through Ancient Texts



Source: Valdosta State University, 7-18-11

Dr. Lily Vuong, professor or religious studies at VSU, teaches courses in Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and early Jewish and Christian writings.

Dr. Lily Vuong, professor or religious studies at VSU, teaches courses in Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and early Jewish and Christian writings. Dr. Lily Vuong has spent many hours of the last decade translating religious texts amid dusty library basements. The assistant professor of religious studies, who is trained in eight languages — four of them ancient, came to VSU to encourage students to explore the faiths, cultures and traditions of religious origins. Vuong said she hopes to mold a community of critical thinking scholars who value diverse perspectives.

“By demonstrating the value of historical, cultural, political, sociological and theological approaches to the study of religion, my hope is to expand and challenge students’ critical thinking skills and prepare them to develop their own arguments and ideas,” said Vuong, who specializes in early Judaism, Christianity, and the ancient Mediterranean World. “Students who choose to become majors and minors in our department learn the skills to become better speakers, writers, and thinkers, which are precisely the skills graduate, medical and law schools are looking for in their prospective students.”

Vuong developed a love for religious studies during her undergraduate years at the University of Toronto in Canada, where she graduated with honors with a concentration in Western religions. She stumbled upon a Historical Jesus course and became fascinated with interpreting ancient scriptures and texts from a variety of social, historical, literary and feminist approaches. The experience pushed her to view familiar readings and stories from fresh perspectives. She aims to inspire that same meaningful examination in her students.

“As a teacher, I always welcome the opportunity to learn from students, especially when we are exploring new texts and ideas together. I cherish those moments when I am able to light a spark in a student’s mind and watch him or her eagerly head off to follow some intriguing line of thought,” said Vuong, who has presented papers throughout the world. “I hope that when my students leave my classroom they think of me as someone who pushed them to think profoundly about ideas and challenged them to question their own assumptions and biases.” ….READ MORE

Allan Nadler: Imaginary vampires, imagined Jews



Source: Jerusalem Post, Jewish Daily Ideas, 7-17-11

The practice of depicting Jews as drinkers of blood has been common for centuries.

The writer is a professor of religious studies and director of the program in Jewish studies at Drew University. This article was first published by Jewish Ideas Daily (, and is reprinted with permission.

Eighteen ninety seven was a watershed year in Jewish history. The first Zionist Congress convened in a grand hotel in Basel, Switzerland. With much less pomp, the Yiddisher Arbeter Bund, the Jewish Labor Movement, was clandestinely founded in a Vilna basement (socialist movements being illegal under Tsarist rule).

In New York, Der Forverts, the world’s largest-circulation and longest-running Yiddish newspaper, began publication.

Meanwhile, in Odessa, the Hebrew-language Ha- Shahar, the first and most influential Zionist journal, was founded under the editorship of Ahad Ha’am. And now, thanks to Blood Will Tell, an engaging and insightful new study by Sara Libby Robinson, Jewish historians may consider adding a surprising entry to this list of 1897 events: the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

While never explicitly identified as a Jew, the figure of Dracula – and vampires more generally – encompassed an array of anti-Semitic stereotypes: rootless, of East European origin, dark-complected, and lusting after the money/blood of others. Assessing a wide range of themes in which blood and vampirism were evoked in late-19thcentury European “scientific” thought (Social Darwinism and criminology in particular), Robinson argues that Stoker’s depiction of Dracula exploited widespread anxieties about the dangers posed by the flood of Yiddish-speaking immigrants to Great Britain.

DRACULA’S FEATURES are “stereotypically Jewish… [his] nose is hooked, he has bushy eyebrows, pointed ears, and sharp, ugly fingers.” As for his behavior, Robinson situates Dracula in the realm of fin-de-siècle national chauvinism, which viewed non-Anglo-Saxons – and Jews in particular – as dangerous interlopers, loyal only to their alien tribe. “Like many immigrants, Dracula has made great efforts to acculturate himself to his new country and to blend in with the rest of the population, through studying its language and customs… [his] greatest concern is whether his mastery of English and his pronunciation would brand him as a foreigner.” Likewise, Stoker mines anxieties over Jewish dual loyalty. The one identified person whose aid Dracula enlists in escaping Britain is a German Jew named Hildesheim, “with a nose like a sheep.”…READ MORE

Dvir Bar-Gal: Cultural Exchange: Preserving the relics of Shanghai’s vanished Jewish population



Source: LAT, 7-17-11

Gravestones, many plundered or built over, are symbols of a forgotten group. Dvir Bar-Gal, an Israeli expatriate, works to preserve them.

Cultural ExchangeJewish gravestones being unearthed from Shanghai villages. (Dvir Bar-Gal)
By Dan Levin, Special to the Los Angeles TimesJuly 17, 2011

Reporting from Shanghai ——

The green fields on the western outskirts of this vast metropolis are dotted with ripening ears of corn, trash and the skeletons of half-built villas abandoned by bankrupt developers. But Dvir Bar-Gal, an Israeli expatriate and photojournalist, saw none of these as he trudged toward a putrid creek, his eyes scouring the ground. Rather, he was looking for something far older: gravestones buried in the mud — the lost relics of this city’s vanished Jews

“When I go out to these villages filled with peasants it’s almost like I’ve gone back to another era,” he said. “Sometimes I’m lucky. Suddenly I’ll see Hebrew letters or a Jewish star poking out. Then I have to dig it up.”

Since finding one for sale at a Shanghai antique shop 10 years ago, Bar-Gal, 45, has made it his mission to find the Jewish tombstones that once stood in four cemeteries belonging to the real-estate barons, bankers and penniless refugees who settled here before the Communists took power in 1949 and expelled China’s foreigners. During World War II, around 30,000 Jews fleeing Hitler found safe haven in the open port of Shanghai, where they built synagogues, Yiddish theaters and yeshivas even as the occupying Japanese forced many to live in a cramped ghetto.

If the Nazis failed to wipe out these Jewish lives, China’s Communist Party succeeded in erasing their deaths. In 1958, the government relocated all foreign graves to one international cemetery, which was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, when locals plundered the gravestones to use in construction. Although the Jewish bones are irrevocably lost, Bar-Gal, a blunt, balding man who left behind a job covering the chaos of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to devote himself to documenting Shanghai’s Jewish history, refuses to allow the elaborately carved markers to be consigned to the trash heap.

“It’s harder and harder to find them now because of all the development,” he said, pointing to new houses rising nearby.

In collaboration with the Israeli consulate, Bar-Gal has so far found 105 gravestones and has created the Shanghai Jewish Memorial Project tracking down the descendants of those who died and documenting their lives. He hopes one day the gravestones will become part of a Jewish memorial in the city’s Hongkou district, which once housed the ghetto and the Ohel Moshe synagogue, now a museum of Shanghai’s Jewish refugees. But, according to Bar-Gal, the district government has denied his request, claiming the gravestones would bring bad luck.

So they languish, cracked and broken, stored in a warehouse and piled up in a parking lot at the city’s Buddhist cemetery, which was once the international cemetery. With no one to look after his collection, the gravestones sometimes go missing. In April, Bar-Gal received word that two were on display at the Shanghai Burial Museum, which also functions as a crematorium….READ MORE

The American Debate: Again, false GOP hopes for Jewish support



Source: PA Inquirer, 7-17-11

Some things never change. Birds fly south for the winter, the sun rises in the morning, and conservatives persist in believing that Jewish voters will desert the Democratic Party and embrace the GOP.

Yeah, right. And the Beatles will reunite.

Republicans have predicted a mass Jewish Democratic exodus in every election cycle since the ’90s, claiming every time that it’s really going to happen. And I can understand why they would want it to happen. While Jews account for, at most, only 4 percent of the electorate, they are disproportionately concentrated in big swing states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida.

Now the old Republican story line has been dusted off, yet again, in the wake of President Obama’s May 19 suggestion that Israel’s prewar 1967 lines should be the basis for peace talks with the Palestinians. Which means that this time, the long-anticipated exodus is really, really, really going to happen.

Supposedly, Jewish voters now realize that Obama is a threat to Israel, making the GOP their natural home. Mitt Romney stokes this notion by claiming that Obama “has thrown Israel under a bus.” Michele Bachmann said Obama had “betrayed” Israel, and Tim Pawlenty said that “Obama’s insistence on a return to the 1967 borders is a mistaken and very dangerous demand.” Republicans have also excitedly circulated a news story, on the Politico website, that says “many” Jewish Democrats have reached “a tipping point” with Obama….

But it’s never enough. Republicans are excited about a new poll that suggests only 43 percent of Jews will vote to reelect Obama. It turns out that the questions were skewed, by the cosponsoring Republican firm. To wit: “Considering what President Obama has proposed for Israel just over a year before his 2012 reelection campaign – a return to the 1967 borders, dividing Jerusalem, and allowing the right of return for Palestinian Arabs to Israel – how concerned would you be about President Obama’s policies toward Israel if he were reelected and did not have to worry about another election?”

Actually, Obama has opposed a Palestinian “right of return” since 2008. The questioners simply switched his stance, in the hopes of ginning up that Jewish Republican trend.

Edna Nahshon: Dolled Up An exhibit in Tel Aviv surveys the changes in Israeli history, and the nation’s self-perception, through the once-popular medium of decorative dolls




Source: Tablet, 7-15-11

A figure of two members of a youth movement sitting on a tree trunk, made in the 1950s.From the Yaron Gayer collection; photos courtesy Eretz Israel Museum

To those who grew up in the pre-television Israel of the 1950s and 1960s—the country’s first broadcast came in 1966—the physical world that lay beyond our narrow territorial confines, its colors, smells, and textures, was often imagined via small personal collections of souvenirs: coins, stamps, cards, matchboxes, empty cologne bottles, napkins, and other potential discards. Modest thematized collections of trivial bric-a-brac went beyond kids’ stuff; grown-ups were equally engaged, showcasing in their modest living-rooms carefully assembled displays of small objects acquired in far-off lands like salt shakers and miniature liquor bottles. The curatorial emphasis was mostly on variety, not aesthetics, the decorative trophies endowing the household with social prestige and marking the collector as diligent and intelligent.

Dolls in national costumes were a particular favorite. These 4-to-7-inch figures were not meant to be played with, and when we children were given permission to hold them—one at a time, and only after our hands were inspected for cleanliness—we were forewarned to handle them carefully, and we felt privileged and trustworthy. Fingering the delicate lace mantilla of the Spanish doll, the tiny dirndl skirt of the Swiss, the gold flecks on the Mexican’s sombrero, or the shiny black boots of the Russian was an unmatched pleasure, a flight of fancy to faraway regions of the imagination, to rivers and mountains and steppes, to languages and sounds, to songs and dances that were as exotic to us as the Orient had been to the European imagination. Yet a measure of local patriotism was never absent from these homey international extravaganzas—every collection I remember included an Israeli doll, usually of a typical sabra in khaki shorts or a Yemenite Jew with long sidelocks in an elaborate ethnic garb, thus asserting our own national identity and our proud membership in the family of nations.

These displays seemed to disappear as I grew older. I never gave them a second thought. The local dolls I sometime glimpsed in store windows now struck me as crass trinkets of the tourist industry, much like the wooden camels with which they often shared space on the same shelves.

A Land and Its Dolls,” a captivating exhibition that opened in May at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, brought back these memories.

Shelly Shenhav-Keller, the anthropologist who curated the exhibition, assembled more than 200 dolls from museums, organizations, and private collectors—some of them non-Israelis who, as tourists, had bought the dolls as mementos of their visit. As souvenirs go, these dolls encapsulate their period’s essential notion of Israeliness, and thus, says Shenhav-Keller, they express important aspects of the construction of Israeli identity and societal values, ranging from the early uniformity of the melting-pot ideal to the multiethnic and multicultural spirit of more recent years.

All the dolls displayed in the exhibition were produced in Israel, first by individual artists and craftspeople and later, as demand grew, by local workshops. The earliest dolls in the exhibition—a middle-eastern man and woman—were created by Rivka Stark-Avivi (1895-1979) in 1919. The most recent ones are from the 1980s: Local production of Israeli souvenir dolls came to an end in the 1990s, when there was little demand for them mostly due to the sharp reduction in tourism caused by the first Intifada. Dolls of a more recent vintage are bound to be made in China….READ MORE

Historian Gerald Steinacher Interview: How Did So Many Nazis Escape Justice?



Source: Jewish Free Press, 7-13-11

How did so many Nazis and Nazi collaborators manage to escape Europe after World War II? Who helped them flee and why? What routes did they take on their way to freedom? and other questions are answered in painstaking detail in a new book, Nazis on the Run: How Hitler’s Henchmen Fled Justice, by Gerald Steinacher, an assistant professor of history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The book, originally written in German, was translated into English by Oxford University Press and hit bookstores last month. The Jewish Press recently spoke with Steinacher.

The Jewish Press: According to your book, a great many Nazis escaped Europe through Italy. Why Italy?

Steinacher: Because the Allies were in Germany and Austria but had retreated from Italy. There was no Allied government there after December 1945, so once you were in Italy, you were free. This is one reason. The other reason is that for many people from Eastern and Central Europe the ports in Italy were just the closest in terms of geography.

Who gave Nazis the travel documents they needed to escape?

The International Committee of the Red Cross. They were in charge of giving documents to [the 12 million] Volksdeutsche – ethnic Germans – who were expelled from Central and Eastern Europe after 1945. But there was one condition for obtaining these documents, and this was that the person had to be stateless.

So war criminals like Eichmann, Mengele, and many others went to Italy and, once there, stated, “I’m an ethnic German from South Tyrol, Italy and I am stateless.”

Why would someone from South Tyrol, Italy be considered stateless?

That’s a good question. South Tyrol is a border region. It’s in Italy but it’s mostly German speaking. It was annexed to Italy after the first world war (it had previously been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for hundreds of years) and in 1939, as part of Hitler’s policy with Mussolini, the South Tyrol minority in Italy was given a choice: They could stay and become completely Italianized or they could become German citizens and move to the Reich or some newly annexed territory. Most of them became German citizens.

At the end of the war, this agreement between Hitler and Mussolini was not recognized by the Allies and these South Tyrolans were considered stateless like most ethnic Germans from Eastern and Central Europe.

But didn’t the Red Cross realize that some of these “South Tyrolans” applying for travel documents were in fact former Nazis?

They did. But you have to realize that the Red Cross had no, or at least not much, experience with issuing travel documents and they were completely overwhelmed. They told the Allies and the Italian authorities: “We don’t want to do this job anymore because we are not the police. We can’t screen the backgrounds of these people. We have to take for granted whatever these people tell us. If Adolf Eichmann tells us he is Richard Klement from South Tyrol and he’s stateless and he wants to go to South America to start a new life, we have to believe him.”

My interpretation is they realized there was massive abuse, but they thought, “We are still helping many, many normal refugees who need these travel documents to start a new life. There may be some black sheep with Nazi backgrounds among these refugees, but the majority are innocent people.”

How many travel documents did the Red Cross issue?

Around 120,000-140,000 between 1945 and 1950.

How many “black sheep” were among them?

It’s extremely difficult to give exact numbers. One reason is definition. Are you only looking at Austrians and Germans who were perpetrators of the Holocaust? Then you have very small numbers. If you look at Austrians and Germans who were Nazis or in the SS, but maybe not technically or legally perpetrators of the Holocaust, then of course the numbers are much higher. And if you also include collaborators and fascists from all over Europe – from the fascist regimes in Croatia, Slovakia, Hungary, Belgium, Ukraine, or Vichy, for example – then you have tens of thousands of people. So it depends very much on definition.

What was the role of the Vatican in all this?

The Vatican relief commission for refugees worked in close cooperation with the Red Cross. A Nazi would come to the Red Cross with a reference letter from the Vatican commission, and say, “I’m stateless, this is my name, date of birth, location of birth” and so on, and the Red Cross officials wouldn’t ask questions because the recommendation came from the Vatican.

That’s how Franz Stangl, the commandant of the Treblinka extermination camp, escaped Europe.

Why would a Vatican official give Stangl a letter of recommendation?

In this particular case the official was a bishop by the name of Alois Hudal, who was known to be very pro-Nazi. In 1937, Hudal had written a book by the title The Foundations of National Socialism, which he sent to Hitler with a dedication.

But members of the clergy helped Nazis for various reasons. Some of them did it because they were former Nazis; others because they were pro-fascist; and others out of religious motivations. They said we want to help these people come back to the herd. They got lost; we have to bring them back into the church and forgive them. Christian mercy also played a role. In fact, there were some clergy who helped Jews hide during the war and then helped Nazis escape after it – both times acting out of mercy.

What’s your take on Pope Pius XII?

Well, I don’t think he was “Hitler’s Pope,” but it’s clear that he was very anti-communist and anti-communism played a crucial role in all of this. The fear of a communist takeover in Italy was widespread after 1945. There was a strong communist party in Italy, and the possibility that Rome – the heartland of the Catholic Church – would become communist was a horror scenario for many people inside the Vatican. So there was a strong motivation to help anti-communists even if they had a Nazi background.

In 1945 the Nazis were gone, but the communist enemy was still there and more dangerous than ever before.

You write in the book that the CIA also helped former Nazis escape Europe. Why would the CIA do that?

Again, you have to keep in mind the background of the early Cold War. These Nazis were anti-communists and the new enemy was the communists. The United States thought some of these Nazis could be useful. They didn’t have experts on the east who knew the Ukrainian, Yugoslavian, Italian and French communists, for example. But there were people who knew these communists and these were former German intelligence officers.

In your book, you discuss a popular theory – which you call a myth – that former Nazis helped each other escape Europe after the war through an organization called ODESSA. What is this ODESSA myth?
ODESSA is short for Organization of Former SS Members. The ODESSA story came up in ’45, ’46 based on some reports from the CIC, the American counter intelligence corps. This was picked up by Simon Wiesenthal, the famous Nazi hunter, who proceeded to depict ODESSA as a worldwide organization, a kind of conspiracy of former SS members who had unlimited resources and bank accounts in Switzerland and gold and connections everywhere.

But this is a complete myth. There is no evidence of it whatsoever. Such a perfectly- and centrally-organized organization with these powerful means never existed. It’s an invention by Simon Wiesenthal and Frederick Forsyth, who wrote The ODESSA File, which was a best-selling novel – and later made into a movie – based on Wiesenthal’s reports.

Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun Fire: Damaged Synagogue Is an Architectural Milestone Too



Source: DAVID W. DUNLAP, NYT,7-13-11
DESCRIPTIONDavid W. Dunlap/”From Abyssinian to Zion” (left), David W. Dunlap/The New York Times Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, 125 East 85th Street, as it appeared in 2002 (left) and on Tuesday.

The fire that roared through Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on Monday night not only upended an important religious body but also badly damaged a milestone in the development of synagogue architecture. The restrained neo-Classical design speaks of a turning point in the early 1900s when Jews no longer felt bound to incorporate Moorish elements in their places of worship as a way of distinguishing them from Christian churches.

DESCRIPTIONPhotographs by David W. Dunlap/”From Abyssinian to Zion” Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in 1993.
DESCRIPTION Congregation Shaaray Tefila on the West Side, now a church, inspired the design of Kehilath Jeshurun.

As late as 1893, Arnold W. Brunner — probably the most influential synagogue architect of his time — was still sprinkling Moorish features like cusped arches through his design for Congregation Shaaray Tefila, also known as the West End Synagogue, at 160 West 82nd Street. Within three years, however, Brunner abandoned Eastern influences entirely in designing Congregation Shearith Israel at Central Park West and 70th Street. Given the discovery of Greco-Roman synagogue ruins in Galilee, Brunner argued that neo-Classical design conferred the “sanction of antiquity” on the modern synagogue.

George F. Pelham was the architect of Kehilath Jeshurun’s synagogue at 117 East 85th Street, which followed Shaaray Tefila by nine years and was clearly inspired by it. The two buildings are siblings, if not twins; with four monumental arched windows in their principal facades, framed by wide symmetrical towers. Pelham’s synagogue, however, has no Moorish ornament. If it weren’t for the name “Kehilath Jeshurun” inscribed in Hebrew letters over the door, together with the date of 5662, it would be difficult to identify this structure as a synagogue.

DESCRIPTION Kehilath Jeshurun’s earlier synagogue on East 82nd Street was torn down.

Kehilath Jeshurun was founded in 1872. Before moving to 85th Street, it had a small synagogue at 127 East 82nd Street, which was constructed in 1890. That building stood until a decade ago, when it was torn down and replaced by Congregation Or Zarua. In between the two Jewish congregations, the building had served as the First Waldensian Church. Such turnover is quite common among houses of worship in New York City. Brunner’s Shaaray Tefila synagogue today serves St. Volodymyr’s parish of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. And Temple Shaaray Tefila is a former Trans-Lux theater at 250 East 79th Street.

Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun Fire: Blaze Shatters a Heart of New York Jewish Life



Source: NYT, 7-13-11

Andrea Morales/The New York

Members of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun gathered outside the synagogue on East 85th Street Tuesday to survey the damage from a fire that destroyed the roof.

The fire that severely damaged Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on Monday night sent ripples of distress across the Modern Orthodox community of Manhattan’s East Side and among Jews around New York familiar with Ramaz, its affiliated school.

Andrea Morales/The New York Times

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein delivered prayers on Tuesday. The congregation was founded in 1872.

Librado Romero/The New York Times

The building had been under renovation when the fire hit on Monday.

The synagogue was where generations of congregants gathered to pray — and schmooze — on the Sabbath, the place where they married their beloved, bar mitzvahed their young, bade farewell to a dead parent.

On Tuesday, dozens of congregants or their friends flocked to 85th Street near Lexington Avenue to view the damage for themselves, and many seemed stunned. Hundreds called and wrote the synagogue and Ramaz with expressions of sorrow and offers of help.

“This building is really the center of my life and my family’s life,” said Gabriella Major, 69, a psychological counselor who has attended the synagogue since she was 14 and sent her four children and nine of her grandchildren to Ramaz. “Everything — all my happiness and all my sadness — has been through this synagogue.”

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the synagogue’s senior rabbi since 1979, broke down and wept during the morning Shacharit service, held across the street at the Ramaz middle school, when he read the psalm that declares: “May God answer you on the day of your travail.” He took some comfort in leading the Kaddish prayer of mourning that follows soon after the psalm.

“It’s a prayer that says God’s will shall triumph, and we have absolute faith in that,” he said in an interview. He sent his community an e-mail that read, “Out of the ashes of destruction will come the seeds of reconstruction.”

The four-alarm fire, which broke out on the upper floors while the 110-year-old building was being renovated, destroyed the roof and punched out large segments of the four stained-glass windows on the limestone neo-Classical facade. Rabbi Lookstein said the collapse of the roof caused the sanctuary’s ceiling to cave in. The Torahs, however, were not inside the sanctuary because services were being held at Ramaz.

Rabbi Lookstein said that it would be difficult to resume services inside the synagogue in time for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when the pews swell with worshipers, and that an alternative space would have to be found….READ MORE

Fire Ravages Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun Prominent N.Y. Synagogue



Source: JTA, 7-12-11

A fire has badly damaged one of New York City’s most prominent synagogues.

The four-alarm fire broke out in Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on Manhattan’s Upper East Side at around 8:30 on Monday night, according to the Associated Press.

The fire caused the synagogue’s roof to collapse and severely damaged the building’s top floors. The New York Fire Department reportedly is concerned about the massive 110-year-old building’s structural integrity.

The fire was brought under control an hour after it began. Four firefighters sustained minor injuries quelling the blaze, The New York Times reported.

The cause of the fire, which fire officials think began on the roof or top floor, has not yet been determined.

The synagogue building had been undergoing renovations. Religious articles had been removed prior to construction, so no Torah scrolls were damaged in the fire.

Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun is an Orthodox synagogue and one of the city’s most prominent Jewish congregations. It is led by Rabbi Haskell Lookstein, a leading figure in American Modern Orthodoxy.

Professor Benjamin Z. Kedar: Is Israeli archaeology an ‘old-boys club’?



The Israel Antiquities Authority has been attacked for not doing enough to preserve the Temple Mount antiquities, on one hand, but also for supposedly being a tool of extreme nationalist groups.

Source: Haaretz, 7-12-11

Prof. Benjamin Z. Kedar has been chairman of the board of the Israel Antiquities Authority for 11 years. He is also the deputy chairman of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Kedar will leave his position at the authority at the end of July. Haaretz reported yesterday on an amendment to the Antiquities Authority Law, proposed by Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, that would make it easier for her to find a replacement for Kedar. At present, the chairman of the Antiquities Authority board must belong to the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Livnat’s bill would require only that the chairman be a “leading scholar in the field of history or archaeology.”

Senior archaeologists criticized Livnat on Sunday, claiming that the purpose of the amendment was to enable her to appoint archaeologists who are identified with the right or who will toe the establishment line. Livnat’s critics say the bill reflects the anti-intellectual winds blowing through the government ministries. Kedar rejects this interpretation, but cautions against amending the law….READ MORE

Scotland: Top Jewish academics quit union in anti-Semitism row



Source: Herald Scotland, 7-12-11

FOUR leading Jewish academics in Scotland have quit one of the largest UK lecturers’ unions over its stance on the definition of anti-Semitism.

The lecturers resigned from the 12,000-member University and College Union after it rejected the European Union Monitoring Centre’s working definition of anti-Semitism. The detailed guidance paper defines it as a hatred towards Jews and says the “rhetorical and physical manifestations” of anti-Semitism can also target the state of Israel….READ MORE

In NY-9, Orthodox Jewish Vote Critical To Victory



Source: NY Daily News, 7-12-11

Observers are increasingly saying the battle for control of Anthony Weiner’s former Congressional District, NY-9, will be about winning the hearts and minds of the area’s sizable Orthodox Jewish population.

orthodox.jpgMuch more on this for you in tomorrow’s Daily News, but for now, our Blau, Einhorn and Gendar report:

GOP pollsters have estimated about 100,000 of the district’s roughly 300,000 registered voters are Orthodox Jews. John Mollenkopf, a professor of political science at the CUNY Graduate Center, said the district has a large number of older conservative Jewish voters in their 50s, 60s and 70s.

“I would say that social security and Medicare are probably far more important to them as issues than… following Mayor Koch’s effort to say they should vote for the Republican to protest President Obama’s position on Israel,” Mollenkopf said.

Democratic state Assemblyman David Weprin, who also carries the endorsement of the Independence and Working Families Parties, will face off against Republican Bob Turner, a retired TV exec who’s also the standard-bearer of the Conservative Party.

Weiner, of course, resigned the congressional seat earlier this summer after a sexting scandal.

Democrats argue they outnumber Republicans in New York’s 9th CD, which covers portions of Queens and Brooklyn. And more liberal Democrats have successfully represented heavily Orthodox stretches and ultra-Orthodox Hasidic communities in Congress.

“It is going to come down to turnout,” said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “Turner may have a chance if he can paint Weprin as being chosen by the party bosses and will just be another voice for Obama in Washington. Weprin’s got to get out the vote and tag Turner as a typical Republican who wants to cut Medicare, slash and burn.”

Former Mayor Ed Koch has tapped into the idea of sending a message to Obama by electing a Republican to Weiner’s old district, but Weprin was already collecting top-notch support.

“We’re both from the same part of Queens. We grew up together. I’ve known him for more years than I care to remember,” said Gov. Cuomo of Weprin when asked about the contest at a news conference today. “So any way I can be helpful to him, I will. I don’t know that he needs my help, but if he thinks I can be helpful, I will be.”

Mayor Bloomberg also fielded a question about the Sept. 13 special election at a separate presser: “I probably will not [get involved in the special election] but I haven’t thought about it yet,” he said when queried about Koch’s having stepped in.

Asked if it’s a good strategy on Koch’s part to invoke the president and Israel, the mayor replied:  “You know, let me tell you: Ed Koch has been around a lot longer than I have and had a lot more experience. I would never second-guess his judgment. Some things work, multiple things work — there are a number of ways to express yourself.”…READ MORE

Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun Fire: Fire Devastates Synagogue Under Repair in Manhattan



Source: NYT, 7-12-11

Fire Devastates Synagogue Under Repair in Manhattan

Miles Dixon

Firefighters on the 84th Street side of Kehilath Jeshurun, a modern Orthodox synagogue, during the blaze on Monday.

A four-alarm fire broke out Monday night at an Upper East Side synagogue that was being renovated, spitting flames through stained-glass windows, destroying the roof and heavily damaging the upper floors, the Fire Department said.

No one was badly injured in the blaze, which obscured the sky over much of the neighborhood with smoke. Four firefighters received minor injuries battling the blaze, which fire officials said apparently began on the roof. The cause was not known.

Hundreds of people crowded around Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, a modern Orthodox synagogue on 85th Street near Lexington Avenue, after the fire began about 8:30 p.m.

About 170 firefighters fought the blaze, which took about an hour to bring under control.

Onlookers gaped and snapped pictures with cellphone cameras as flames shot up from the roof.

“It went up like that,” said Stephen L. Ruzow, chairman of the FDNY Foundation and a member of the synagogue, who saw the flames engulf the roof. “Flames were 40 feet in the air, and there were large clouds of thick black smoke.”…READ MORE

Canada is Fertile Ground for Anti-Semitism, Report Says



Source: JTA, 7-11-11

Canada is fertile ground for anti-Semitism, especially on university campuses, a parliamentary committee has concluded.

After two years of hearings, the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism in a report released last week called on the federal government to do more to fight anti-Semitism in Canada, which it said is rising, due partly to increased hostility toward Israel.

Over 10 days of hearings between November 2009 and February 2010, the coalition’s 22 members, consisting of lawmakers from all federal parties, heard from 74 witnesses, including federal and provincial politicians, diplomats, university administrators, academics, chiefs of police, journalists and other interested individuals.

Among its dozens of recommendations, which are not binding on the government, the coalition said that police forces across Canada should be better trained to deal with anti-Semitism; Canada’s immigration department should take into account rising international anti-Semitism when designating source countries for refugees; and the Foreign Affairs Ministry should study the United Nations’ criticisms of Israel.

It also said that legislators and others need “a clear and concise definition of what anti-Semitism entails.”

One major concern of the coalition was Israeli Apartheid Week, an annual event on Canadian university campuses.

“We had got several testimonies from students, particularly Jewish students, who were scared,” committee co-chair Mario Silvia, a former Toronto-area member of Parliament, told the Globe and Mail newspaper.

“They were quite fearful of attending classes and going to their campuses because of the fact that they felt they were being targeted for being supportive of Israel.”

Rahm Emanuel Wanted to Be First Jewish House Speaker—Will the Honor Go to Eric Cantor?



Source: Carol Felsenthal, Chicago Magazine, 7-11-11

Rep. Eric Cantor
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Center stage in the debt limit/government default drama now playing in Washington is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Seldom off stage, he was instrumental in forcing Speaker of the House John Boehner to resist President Obama’s plea to make a jumbo deal—a deal that would have required Boehner to accept tax increases in exchange for deep budget cuts. During a meeting of congressional leaders in the White House Cabinet Room last night, it was Cantor who did most of the talking on the House Republican side, as he reiterated the no-tax increase mantra.

Here in Chicago, Rahm Emanuel may be busy with the latest weekend tragedy of street gangs’ bullets missing their targets and hitting children, but he is surely keeping his eye on Capitol Hill, his old stomping ground. Were he still there, he would be playing the Cantor role on the other side of the aisle.

When President Obama asked Emanuel to quit Congress and serve as his chief of staff, Emanuel wasn’t posturing when he appeared tortured and portrayed accepting the powerful White House post as a sacrifice.

Hence his now infamous taped telephone call to Rod Blagojevich asking if the then-governor could appoint Rahm’s buddy Forrest Claypool as a 5th District seat warmer until Rahm could escape the White House and return to the Congress—and his goal of becoming the first Jewish Speaker of the House.

With Emanuel’s ascension to first Jewish mayor of Chicago, the Speaker dream is defunct.

It has been replaced, I believe, by a grander dream—of becoming the first Jewish president. When George Stephanopoulos asked the new Mayor about running for the White House in 2016, Rahm’s response was hardly Shermanesque.

For Cantor, the first Jewish majority leader—and the only Jewish Republican in either the House or Senate, the dream of becoming the first Jewish Speaker is very much alive. Some observers see his Speakership as a pit stop en route to becoming the first Jewish president, but others say he doesn’t have what it takes to reach the White House.

“Cantor has positioned himself precisely where he wants to be. It’s realistic for [him] to aim for Speaker,” says political analyst Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “I think president is a real stretch, not because of his religion but because Cantor lacks the kind of charisma that is needed on right or left to win the White House.”….

The country got its first black president in 2008. Perhaps in 2016 or 2020, Rahm will become the first Jewish president. But not if Cantor gets there first.

Jonathan D. Sarna: Manischewitz Goes Sephardic



Source: Forward, 7-11-11

Man, Oh, Manischewitz

Holy Matzo: Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, a supervising rabbi at Manischewitz, compares a regular sheet of matzo with the giant matzo on the machine behind him at the firm’s Newark factory.

Peter Morehand
Holy Matzo: Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, a supervising rabbi at Manischewitz, compares a regular sheet of matzo with the giant matzo on the machine behind him at the firm’s Newark factory.

“Holy Matzo!” a recent Forward headline read. The accompanying article announced the baking of the “world’s largest matzo” — 82 square feet — to mark the opening of the new Manischewitz matzo factory in Newark, N.J.

The matzo proved ephemeral; it was soon broken up and distributed. What I found fascinating at the factory’s opening (which I attended) was an off-the-cuff remark by Israel’s chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, before he blessed the plant. “Who knew,” he quipped, “that the world’s largest manufacturers of gefilte fish were two Moroccan Jews from Casablanca?”

Manischewitz, founded in 1888 in Cincinnati, once symbolized the emergence of Eastern European Jews on American soil. Dov Behr Manischewitz, the company’s founder, hailed from Memel in Lithuania and spun gold in the New World by discovering new ways to combine flour and water. The technological innovations introduced by Manischewitz and his sons revolutionized the production of matzo in America and catapulted Manischewitz’s company into the world’s largest producer of Passover matzo.

What had been, before the founding of Manischewitz, a product that for the most part was handmade, locally distributed and round became, thanks to the man from Memel, a universally recognized brand of matzo: produced and packaged by patented machines, distributed internationally and shaped in the form of a square.

By the 1920s, Manischewitz produced 1.25 million matzos per day and claimed that it delivered matzo to “80% of the Jewish population of America and Canada.” Building on its success, it branched out into other Jewish foods, like gefilte fish, chicken soup and borscht. In 1947, it licensed its name to a line of sweet kosher wines produced by the Monarch Wine Co.

Thanks to one of the most brilliant advertising campaigns in the history of American kosher food, “Man, oh, Manischewitz” became a well-known slogan. Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan actually exclaimed that phrase during a moonwalk in 1973.

Eventually, like such well-known, family-based ethnic food companies as Ronzoni, Franco-American, La Choy and Lender’s, Manischewitz outgrew the family that established it. Bernard Manischewitz sold the company to Kohlberg & Co., L.L.C., in 1990; Kohlberg sold it to RAB Enterprises in 1998, and in 2007 it was sold again, this time to Harbinger Capital Partners.

Today, the Manischewitz Co. has moved far from its Eastern European roots. Indeed, its Moroccan-born co-CEOs, Alain Bankier and Paul Bensabat, reflect the changing face of America’s increasingly diverse and polychrome Jewish community. Sephardic Jews with roots in the Middle East, often known as Mizrahi Jews, form part of a sub-community that now comprises somewhere between 4% and 10% of all American Jews. And their numbers are growing….READ MORE