JBuzz Features May 25, 2012: Shavuot Holiday Guide 2012





Source: GoIsrael.com

A fundamentally agricultural holiday, Shavuot commemorates the custom of bringing offerings to the Holy Temple from the first fruits of the harvest and the first animals born to the flocks.

About Shavuot

Shavuot, the Holiday of Weeks, is one of the three pilgrimage holidays, along with Pesach and Sukkot. These are the holidays on which the whole Jewish people would come to Jerusal in ancient times, when the Holy Temple was there, and would offer animal and grain sacrifices.

Shavuot is observed at the end of the counting of the Omer: the counting of seven weeks (actually 50 days) from the first day of Pesach. At the beginning of the counting, Jews would bring an Omer (Biblical measure) of grain from the first barley harvest to the Holy Temple, and at the end would bring an Omer of grain from the first wheat harvest. The seven weeks in the counting of the Omer are what give the holiday its name.

A fundamentally agricultural holiday, Shavuot is also called the Harvest Holiday and the First Fruits (Bikkurim) Holiday, commemorating the custom of bringing offerings to the Holy Temple from the first fruits of the harvest and the first animals born to the flocks. This agricultural aspect of the holiday was retained even after the destruction of the Holy Temple: among the symbols of the holiday are the seven species with which the Land of Israel is blessed – wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.

Shavuot is also the holiday of the Giving of the Torah. According to tradition it was on this day that the Torah was given to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai.

During the period when most of the Jewish people was in the Diaspora and could not celebrate Shavuot as an agricultural holiday, the religious traditions took precedence. With the renewal of Jewish settlement of the Land of Israel, the new farmers (mainly in the kibbutz and moshav cooperative farming communities) reinstated the agricultural aspect as the main focus of the holiday, and a rich and colorful tradition developed around ceremonies commemorating the bringing of Bikkurim.

Shavuot is also connected to the Biblical Book of Ruth, which relates the story of Ruth the Moabite, who joined the Jewish people and who is the ancestor of King David. This story is connected with Shavuot as it takes place during the wheat harvest, around the time of Shavuot.

There is also a connection between the Davidic royal dynasty and the holiday of the giving of the Torah. According to tradition, David was born and died on Shavuot. The story of Ruth emphasizes the fact that every person can join the Jewish people and accept the Torah, even if he is from another nation, even an enemy nation.

Holiday Customs

Shavuot night prayers – One custom connected with tradition is that the Torah was given on Shavuot: thus on the night of the holiday, it is customary to learn Torah all night long at the synagogue in order to prepare oneself for receiving the Torah, just as a bride prepares herself to receive her groom. The texts that are studied vary from one community to another, but usually include passages from the Torah, the Mishna and the Zohar.
The reading of the Book of Ruth – On Shavuot day the Book of Ruth is read in synagogue and the reading is accompanied by various liturgical songs connected with the precepts in the Torah.
Eating dairy products – This is a relatively recent tradition, whose origin is unclear. Many Israelis who are not specifically religious have adopted this custom and hold fancy meals based on the many dairy products available in Israel.

JBuzz News May 23, 2012: Archaeological Discovery Proves Bethlehem Part of Kingdom of Judah




Discovery Proves Bethlehem Part of Kingdom of Judah

Archaeologists have discovered the first evidence outside of the Bible that Bethlehem was part of the First Temple era Kingdom of Judah.
Clay seals confirms Bethlehem part of Judah

Clay seals confirms Bethlehem part of Judah
IAA photo by Clara Amit

Archaeologists have discovered the first evidence outside of the Bible that Bethlehem was part of the First Temple era Kingdom of Judah.

The dramatic archaeological find was announced Wednesday, five days before Jews around the world celebrate the holiday of Shavuot and hear the recital of the Book of Ruth, which takes place in Bethlehem.

A half-inch clay seal was discovered at the ongoing excavations at Ir David (City of David) located across the road from the Western Wall.

The stamp, with ancient Hebrew script, is one of a group of seals used to stamp official documents that were to be opened only by authorized officials.

Three lines in the stamp state:

בשבעת (Bishv’at)
בת לכם (Bat Lechem)
[למל[ך ([Lemel]ekh)

The writing means that the stamp was sent from Bethlehem to the king in Jerusalem in the seventh year of his reign.

Eli Shukrun, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said that it is unclear if the reference to the king is to Hezekiah, Manasseh or Josiah.

The stamps, or seals (called bullae), were used to seal tax shipments in the Kingdom of Judah in the late eighth century and the seventh century BCE.

“The tax could have been paid in the form of silver or agricultural produce such as wine or wheat,” according to Shukrun.

He added,” This is the first time the name Bethlehem appears outside the Bible, in an inscription from the First Temple period, which proves that Bethlehem was indeed a city in the Kingdom of Judah, and possibly also in earlier periods”.

Bethlehem is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis (Bereishit) when it is named concernng the place of death and burial of the Matriarch Rachel.

Bethlehem also is mentioned in the Book of Ruth as the place where “the children of Judah dwelled,” including the family of Boaz, who is a central figure in the Book of Ruth, which takes place in Bethlehem except for the first few verses..

Bethlehem is cited in the Book of Samuel as the city where David was anointed as king and the location of his family’s home.

JBuzz Op-ed May 21, 2012: Dovid Katz: An Open Letter to Yale History Professor Timothy Snyder




An Open Letter to Yale History Professor Timothy Snyder

Source: Algemeiner, 5-21-12

Professor Timothy Snyder of Yale University, the author of the famous (and controversial) book “Bloodlands” was brought to Lithuania last week for a symposium on the Holocaust attended also by the director of YIVO in New York. In the course of the same week, the Lithuanian government repatriated, reburied with full honors and held a series of events honoring the 1941 Nazi-puppet prime minister who signed off on the German order for all Jews in Kaunas (Kovno) to be forced into a ghetto.

Dear Tim,

Greetings, and sorry we missed each other in Vilnius this time. I write in the context of our ongoing and respectful conversation, which started in the Guardian (thanks to Matt Seaton, and prominently including Efraim Zuroff) back in 2010 (I, II, III, IV); continuing through our meeting at Yale, the Aftermath Conference in Melbourne, Australia, in 2011 (thanks to Mark Baker, and with participation of Jan Gross and Patrick Desbois), and more recently, via my review of your book Bloodlands (along with Alexander Prusin’s The Lands Between), in East European Jewish Affairs.

In that review, I dealt with a number of areas of disagreement that are on the table concerning the Holocaust in Eastern Europe and the efforts underway to use state funds to downgrade it in a number of countries, particularly the Baltics.

But these debates are inherently separate from the troubling issue on which I’m addressing you today: the ongoing instrumentalization and abuse of your important work by well-oiled government-financed ultra-nationalist and often antisemitic forces in Eastern Europe who have (wrongly) found in your work the ammunition for a discernible slide in the direction of the Double Genocide movement, which reached its zenith with the 2008 Prague Declaration (critiques here), and in the direction of positing the sort of “complexity” that is regularly invoked, particularly here in the Baltics, as euphemism for what is now called Holocaust Obfuscation.

There is, alas, in nationalist and antisemitic circles in some East European states a movement to sanitize or actually glorify local Holocaust collaborators and perpetrators (who were after all, usually quite reliably “anti-Soviet” and “anti-Russian”). In Lithuania alone, this effort has gone hand in hand with a tragic effort to concurrently blame the victims by trying to criminalize, in the absence of any evidence, Holocaust survivors who are alive because they joined the anti-Nazi resistance. Not one of these kangaroo cases has yet led to a public apology, not even to 90 year old Dr. Rachel Margolis in Rechovot, who still dreams of one last visit to her native Vilna.

As reported in DefendingHistory.com last September, a foreign-ministry hosted event in Vilnius in September 2011 included a speech by a leading local historian in which he claimed (wrongly) that your book offers support for the condemnation of Jewish partisans who fought against the Nazis. In May 2011, a historian speaking on Lithuanian radio boasted that “It’s not all hopeless” because of Bloodlands.

Even before that, in late 2010, a far-right film production cited you as an expert consultant in a project to glorify the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) perpetrators who unleashed murder and mutilation of Jewish civilians in dozens of Lithuanian towns before the Nazis even arrived (and who announced their intentions before the war even started). (I trust you withdrew from that project, and offer my belated congratulations for so doing).

But that episode somehow connects with this week. The same ultranationalist filmmakers recently announced their premiere on Sunday 20 May 2012 in Kaunas of a new “documentary” (promo clip here) adulating Juozas Ambrazevičius (later Brazaitis), the 1941 Nazi puppet “prime minister” in Kaunas who signed off on orders for the setting up of a concentration camp for Jews, and the requirement that “all the Jews of Kaunas” be moved within four weeks to a ghetto.

The new film premiered yesterday in Kaunas as the grand finale of four days of Lithuanian government financed events (May 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th) focused on the reburial with full honors and the elaborate honoring of the World War II Nazi puppet prime minister.

What do these events have to do with you, or with the director of Yivo from New York who joined you? Directly speaking – absolutely nothing. In fact, people in the Jewish community here in Vilnius feel certain that when you (and he) accepted the invitations for the May 2012 symposium and related events here in Lithuania that you had no idea your presence would coincide with the long-planned glorification of a major Holocaust collaborator.

But when such things happen, it becomes necessary to react, if not by postponing one’s trip then by speaking out unambiguously with moral clarity.

Events featuring a Yale historian and the head of Yivo, coming at the same time as the state-sponsored events to honor the collaborator, have been used, first:  to deflect foreign and diplomatic attention from the Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis outrage, which has drawn protests this past week from B’nai B’rith, the Wiesenthal Center, an international petition, and critically, the remnant Jewish Community of Lithuania; second: to use your appearance to legitimize those events. After all, if a Yale professor and the head of Yivo are happy to appear the same week about the Holocaust and not come out publicly and firmly against the concurrent glorification of the collaborator, well, then it can’t be such a big deal…

It was sad that neither of you publicly condemned the Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis events during your symposium on the Holocaust in Lithuania. However, it did come up in an interviewer’s question to yourself.

According to the interview published on 15min.lt on 18 May 2012 (and for the sake of the Almighty, please do tell us if they misquoted you), your answer to the question about the repatriation, honoring and reburial of the Nazi puppet prime minister underway during your visit was as follows:

“I am going to choose my words very carefully here. I think before you rebury anyone, you should think very very hard and probably wait a very very long time because once you rebury somebody once, you can’t rebury them again.”
Is that really all you have to say to Lithuanian society, during your visit here, regarding the latest in a litany of government sponsored events to honor collaborators and perpetrators of the Lithuanian Holocaust and not seldom to use your own name and book as artillery?

During this past week, very courageous Lithuanian citizens (who remain here and may even have to face this or that consequence in their careers) have raised their proud voices in dignified protest. They include the members of parliament Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis and Algirdas Sysas; member of the European Parliament Leonidas Donskis; political scientist  Darius Udrys; former editor of the Jewish newspaper here, Milan Chersonski; dozens of Lithuanian citizens who have signed Krystyna Anna Steiger’s petition; and, not least, the small remnant Jewish community itself, which issued a bold statement in partnership with the Jewish museum.

As a famous professor soon returning to Yale, would it be too much respectfully to ask you to reconsider your public reaction to the week’s events. You can phrase this much more eloquently and elegantly. Here is just a first thought:

“There are certainly many historical complexities, but as a true friend of Lithuania, I have to tell you frankly that state financing of the honoring of a Nazi-puppet prime minister on whose watch the mass murder of Lithuanian Jewry got underway, one who actually signed orders separating out for persecution and worse those citizens who were Jewish, is the worst possible message your government could be sending. It is a tragic mistake, and if I had known it would coincide with my visit, I would have asked to come some other week out of respect for the victims of the Holocaust. As someone who passionately shares your cause of educating the West about Stalinist crimes, I have to tell you that this sort of thing undermines that noble effort through and through.”

Wishing you, as ever, the best of everything,


Dovid Katz was visiting professor in Judaic studies at Yale in 1989-1999. From 1999 to 2010 he was professor of Yiddish language, literature and culture at Vilnius University, Lithuania. He is based in Vilnius, where he edits wwwDefendingHistory.com. His personal website is http://www.dovidkatz.net.

JBuzz Feature May 20, 2012: Was Christopher Columbus secretly a Jew?




Was Columbus secretly a Jew?

Source: CNN, 5-20-12
Christopher Columbus bids farewell to his son Diego at Palos, Spain, before embarking on his first voyage on August 3, 1492.
Christopher Columbus bids farewell to his son Diego at Palos, Spain, before embarking on his first voyage on August 3, 1492.
  • Sunday marks the 508th anniversary of the death of Christopher Columbus
  • Charles Garcia: Columbus was a Marrano, or a Jew who feigned to be a Catholic
  • He says that during Columbus’ lifetime, Jews became the target of religious persecution
  • Garcia: Columbus’ voyage was motivated by a desire to find a safe haven for Jews

Today marks the 508th anniversary of the death of Christopher Columbus….

Recently, a number of Spanish scholars, such as Jose Erugo, Celso Garcia de la Riega, Otero Sanchez and Nicholas Dias Perez, have concluded that Columbus was a Marrano, whose survival depended upon the suppression of all evidence of his Jewish background in face of the brutal, systematic ethnic cleansing.

Columbus, who was known in Spain as Cristóbal Colón and didn’t speak Italian, signed his last will and testament on May 19, 1506, and made five curious — and revealing — provisions….

The evidence seem to bear out a far more complicated picture of the man for whom our nation now celebrates a national holiday and has named its capital.

As we witness bloodshed the world over in the name of religious freedom, it is valuable to take another look at the man who sailed the seas in search of such freedoms — landing in a place that would eventually come to hold such an ideal at its very core….READ MORE

JBuzz Profiles May 16, 2012: Michail Kitsos: Gratz College Goes Greek




Gratz Goes Greek

Source: The Jewish Exponent, 5-16-12
Michail Kitsos is the first student to travel all the way from Greece to take classes at Gratz College’s Melrose Park campus.

He’s also the first Greek Orthodox Christian to become valedictorian.

And the 32-year-old is the first graduate whom Gratz administrators immediately hired to create a brand new certificate program, in Jewish-Christian Studies.

Rabbinics scholar Michail Kitsos

On Sunday, the college will recognize Kitsos and 294 fellow graduates at commencement ceremonies. Halfway across the world, Kitsos’ 72-year-old mother will lean in to her computer to watch as her son receives his master’s degree in Jewish Studies with a specialization in rabbinics.

Unlike Kitsos, the vast majority — 252 to be exact — will receive their master’s degrees in education, a secular program started in the late ’90s primarily for existing school teachers. That, along with other new general market programs, has helped fund the Judaic initiatives the college was founded to serve in 1895.

The other 43 studied Jewish subjects: 18 earned master’s degrees; one a bachelor’s degree and others, certificates in topics such as Jewish Early Childhood Education, Holocaust Studies and Jewish Non-Profit Leadership, administrators said.

So how did a devout Christian from Greece end up among such a small, niche group of rabbinics students at a Jewish college in Philadelphia? Curiosity, patience and the Internet, according to Kitsos.

Ever since he first learned biblical Hebrew as part of his undergraduate course work in Christian Theology in Greece, “I felt an attraction to Judaism and to the texts,” said Kitsos….READ MORE

JBuzz News, May 10, 2012: University of Colorado Boulder Jewish Studies Program Grants First Degrees




CU Jewish Studies Program Grants First Degrees

Source: Boulder Jewish News, 5-10-12
If you will it, it is no dream.”  Theodore Herzl

Professor David Shneer, Director and Jamie Polliard, Assistant Director.

Professor David Shneer, Director of the Program in Jewish Studies, invoked Herzl’s famous quote as he presided over the Program’s inaugural degree granting ceremony in the Board Room of Old Main on the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus today.

He recounted the four-year journey of the program from certificate to major, and thanked everyone who had made it possible, from the students to the faculty to the family and community that supported him and the program over the years….READ MORE

JBuzz News May 9, 2012: Catherine Chatterley: Canadian anti-Semitism institute aims to fill worldwide void




Canadian anti-Semitism institute aims to fill worldwide void

Source: The Canadian Press, 5-9-12

When Catherine Chatterley was growing up in Winnipeg, the first serious book she read was The Diary of Anne Frank, the harrowing story of a young Jewish girl forced to hide for nearly two years in an attic in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam.

“I was in shock,” Chatterley recalls. “I couldn’t understand how a girl like Anne Frank could be perceived as a threat to Germany.”

For Chatterley, who was raised in a devout Lutheran home, the famous book sparked a lifelong fascination with the Jewish people, the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.

That fascination has prompted Chatterley, an adjunct history professor at the University of Manitoba, to develop the first academic institute in Canada to focus on the study of anti-Semitism, which she says is a persistent — and in some parts of the world flourishing — problem facing Jews today.

“There is a void in academia, our universities and our human rights discourse” when it comes to the study of anti-Semitism, she said in a telephone interview from Winnipeg, where the Canadian Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism (CISA) is based.

CISA, which is barely two years old, is one of only six such institutes in the world. Its mandate is to promote research, education and awareness of anti-Semitism.

Ultimately, her goal is to have the independent, non-profit institute fund and offer university-accredited courses leading to an undergraduate degree in the study of anti-Semitism. In addition, she plans to develop an online publication for young people and publish an academic journal on current and historical anti-Semitism.

Already, the young institute is attracting international attention, especially after Elie Wiesel, the renowned Nobel Peace Prize winner, agreed to serve as honourary chairman….READ MORE

JBuzz News May 3, 2012: Jay H. Geller: Professorship sparks expanded Jewish studies at Case Western Reserve University




Professorship sparks expanded Jewish studies at CWRU

Source: Cleveland Jewish News, 5-3-12



“As the Jewish studies program grows, it will become a magnet for Jewish students interested in Jewish studies.” Jay H. Geller, CWRU professor

For Case Western Reserve University professor Jay H. Geller, a passion for history was cultivated as a young child in Houston.

His maternal great-grandfather was a cantor who immigrated to the United States in 1910, Geller had been told, and his paternal great-great-grandfather was a rabbi and Talmudic scholar who arrived in the United States in 1892. Both settled in Galveston, Texas. As he was growing up, Geller remembers hearing fascinating stories of their voyages and adventures. While enjoying the folklore, he initially aimed to reconstruct the details surrounding his own ancestry. His interest in delving into the past eventually expanded to world history, particularly German Jewish history.

In January 2011, Geller became the first Samuel Rosenthal Professor of Judaic Studies within the history department at Cleveland’s CWRU. The appointment followed the repurposing of funds from the Samuel Rosenthal Center of Judaic Studies to a professorship in the College of Arts and Sciences. Peter J. Haas, the Abba Hillel Silver Professor of Jewish Studies and chair of the religious studies department, was on the search team….READ MORE

JBuzz Op-eds May 1, 2012: Steven Windmueller: A Perfect Firestorm For Anti-Semitism




A Perfect Firestorm For Anti-Semitism

Steven Windmueller

Steven Windmueller

The story of world Jewry covering the past six decades must be defined as one of achievement and recognition. American Jews have achieved extraordinary success and influence, and Israel, despite threats to its existence, has flourished as a democracy, and absorbed and resettled millions of Jews. Yet, as the world marks the 80th anniversary of the rise of Nazism, the status of Jews in the world seems to be seriously eroding.

During this period international politics was influenced by the powerful motif of memory. The images of past atrocities that tarnished the 20th century created a baseline for moral action. Over time, though, the power and integrity of this historical record has seemingly faded.

Earl Raab, a prominent social scientist and communal professional, once posited that two factors aligned together could create a serious threat to the Jewish people. An unstable economy and a growing set of tensions between Jerusalem and Washington would present, according to Raab, the “perfect firestorm” for potentially accelerating anti-Semitism and in creating a destabilizing environment for Jews in this nation and beyond. Both factors seem to be in play at this time….READ MORE