JBuzz Musings November 24, 2013: Rare 18th century illuminated Haggadah sold at auction




Rare 18th century illuminated Haggadah sold at auction

By Bonnie K. Goodman

A rare illustrated manuscript, a Passover Haggadah dated from 1726, named the Manchester Haggadah, because of the location where it was found, was sold on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013 at Adam Partridge Auction House in Macclesfield in their Cheshire Saleroom…READ MORE

JBuzz News May 20, 2013: Jonathan Marc Gribetz: Telling Jerusalem’s story through its many conquests




Telling Jerusalem’s story through its many conquests

Source: NJ Jewish News, 5-20-13

Professor Jonathan Marc Gribetz questioned whether permanently holding the city of Jerusalem is an attainable goal. 

	Photo by Debra Rubin+ enlarge image

Professor Jonathan Marc Gribetz questioned whether permanently holding the city of Jerusalem is an attainable goal. 

Photo by Debra Rubin

“The history of Jerusalem is the history of conquest,” said Jonathan Marc Gribetz, “and that past has demonstrated that it is a place where religion and politics are almost inextricable.”

Gribetz, assistant professor of Jewish studies and history at Rutgers University, spoke May 6 about the conflicting identities of Jerusalem during a program at Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth….READ MORE

JBuzz News April 25, 2013: First look inside luminous Museum of the History of Polish Jews




First look inside luminous Museum of the History of Polish Jews

Source: Jweekly.com, 4-25-13

“This was a world in color,” said Jewish studies professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, speaking of the 1,000-year Jewish presence in Poland, “and not the black and white we know from photographs.” She made her point last week in Warsaw….READ MORE

JBuzz News April 18, 2013: Museum of Polish Jews: Polish Museum Repairs a Tie to a Jewish Past




Polish Museum Repairs a Tie to a Jewish Past

Source: NYT, 4-18-13

Among civic leaders in Warsaw, a new Jewish museum is seen as a major step toward recognizing Poland’s Jewish past and recovering from its 20th-century traumas….READ MORE

JBuzz News April 18, 2013: Marci Shore: The Jewish Hero History Forgot — 70th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising




The Jewish Hero History Forgot

Source: NYT, 4-18-13

Raymond Verdaguer

SEVENTY years ago today, a group of young men and women fired the shots that began the largest single act of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.

The Warsaw Ghetto uprising is rightly commemorated — through books, memoirs and movies — as an extraordinary act of courage in the face of near-certain death. Those who fought in the ghetto provide the iconic image of heroism, and an antidote to images of Jews being led to the gas chambers….READ MORE

JBuzz News March 31, 2013: Historic Jobar Synagogue in Damascus was looted and burned




Historic Damascus synagogue looted and burned

Source: JTA, 3-31-13

The 2,000-year-old Jobar Synagogue in the Syrian capital of Damascus was looted and burned to the ground. ….READ MORE

JBuzz News November 15, 2012: New Zealand Jewish community calls for compulsory Holocaust studies




Jewish community calls for compulsory Holocaust studies

Source: TVNZ, 11-15-12

The Holocaust Centre in Wellington is calling for the study of the World War II genocide of Europe’s Jews to be made compulsory in New Zealand secondary schools….READ MORE

JBuzz News September 14, 2012: Yosef Yerushalmi: Remembrance of Jews’ Past Yosef Yerushalmi’s ‘Zakhor’ Remains as Relevant as Ever




Remembrance of Jews’ Past

Yosef Yerushalmi’s ‘Zakhor’ Remains as Relevant as Ever

Source: Robert Zaretsky, Forward, 9-14-12

Speak, Memory: One of our most prolific and profound writers on Jewish history, Yosef Yerushalmi died in 2009.

Courtesy The Jewish Museum
Speak, Memory:One of our most prolific and profound writers on Jewish history, Yosef Yerushalmi died in 2009.It was 30 years ago that Yosef Yerushalmi’s” Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory” was first published. The shortest book by Yerushalmi, a prolific professor of Jewish history at Columbia University until his death in 2009, it has had the longest reach. The issues raised in the book, Yerushalmi suggested, are not “necessarily confined to Jewish history.”He was right. With the new school year beginning, teachers and parents should recall the reason that a book devoted to “zakhor,” or the Jewish injunction to remember, resonates in fields far beyond Yerushalmi’s original subject.

Yerushalmi’s reflections begin with a paradox: For a people so preoccupied by the past, Jews were remarkably indifferent to history….READ MORE

JBuzz News August 25, 2012: Jews: A religious group, people or race?




Jews: A religious group, people or race?

Source: Jerusalem Post, 8-25-12

Now, Prof. Harry Ostrer has produced a 264-page, English-language volume melding together science, history and biography to better understand the complex subject….READ MORE

JBuzz News April 30, 2012: Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization: A Ten-Volume Look at Jewish Culture




A Ten-Volume Look at Jewish Culture

Source: NYT, 4-30-12

Yale University Press and the Posen Foundation are embarking on a 10-volume anthology that covers more than 3,000 years of Jewish cultural artifacts, texts and paintings. “This monumental project includes the best of Jewish culture in its historical and global entirety,” the editor in chief, James E. Young, a professor of English and Judaic Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said in a news release. “It will provide future generations with a working legacy by which to recover and comprehend Jewish culture and civilization.”

The series, called the Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, is starting at the end, with Volume 10, a collection of works that date from 1973 through 2005 and include cultural figures like the writers Saul Bellow and Judy Blume, the architect Frank Gehry, the sculptor Louise Nevelson, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Harvard law professor Alan M Dershowitz. (Volume 1 will begin in the second millennium B.C.) More than 120 scholars are expected to work on the project, according to John Donatich, director of Yale University Press.

Volume 10 is scheduled for publication in November, as is a companion book titled “Jews and Words” by the Israeli author Amos Oz and his daughter, Fania Oz-Salzberger, a history professor.

JBuzz News April 3, 2012: Elon University: New Jewish studies minor unites courses into comprehensive study of culture




Elon University: New Jewish studies minor unites courses into comprehensive study of culture

Source: Elon Pendulum, 4-3-12

It was during his first semester on campus that sophomore Mason Sklut discovered his interest in Jewish history and culture. Now, with the addition of a new program in Jewish studies, Sklut will graduate with a minor in the topic he loves.

Professor Geoffrey Claussen has been instrumental in the creation of the Jewish Studies Program. File photo by Julia Sayers.

“My first semester, I took Jewish Traditions with Michael Pregill, where I learned about how Judaism has become what it is today,” Sklut said. “Going back thousands of years in this class and discovering the ancient roots of my religion was an incredible experience for me.”

Sklut has taken multiple additional courses about Judaism and said he is fascinated with the diversity of the religion. The new program offers students an interdisciplinary minor tracing the culture and history of the religion.

“In many courses, it’s seeing how the community, generally throughout history, functioning as a minority group, related to other surrounding communities,” said Geoffrey Claussen, assistant professor of religious studies. “Being able to trace the very diverse experiences of the community through very different times and places is what the minor seeks to encourage.”

Claussen, who arrived at the university in the fall and has been instrumental in the formation of the program, said it seeks to unite a range of courses — including religious studies, foreign language, philosophy and sociology, among others — to illustrate the complexity and diversity of the Jewish communities.

Students interested in obtaining the minor must complete 20 credit hours, four in Jewish Traditions and the others from a selection of more than 35 course offerings.

Claussen said he has already spoken to some students who have fulfilled some of the requirements for the minor.

It is important for all students at Elon to have the opportunity to be exposed to religious diversity, and to explore further into traditions that they may be unfamiliar with.
– Junior Diana Abrahams

“Some students have had in mind over the last year that this was probably coming up, and they have planned ahead to some degree,” he said. “Or, just because of their own academic interests, some students have ended up taking many of the required courses.”

Junior Diana Abrahams will have completed all 20 credits by the end of the spring based on courses she was already enrolled in. Abrahams, who is Jewish, said she enjoys engaging in conversation about her religion.

“It is important for all students at Elon to have the opportunity to be exposed to religious diversity, and to explore further into traditions that they may be unfamiliar with,” she said.

Academic interest in Jewish studies has increased in North America in recent years, Claussen said, and the creation of such a program at Elon is beneficial to the university.

“Jewish families considering Elon have asked in recent years about whether there will be a Jewish studies program, and this program helps to make Elon attractive to that whole group of students,” Claussen said. “And this includes students who may not necessarily choose to minor in Jewish studies, but who want to know that the college supports taking the Jewish experience seriously as part of the liberal arts education.”

JBuzz Features March 7, 2012: Six Things You Might Not Know About Purim




Six Things You Might Not Know About Purim

It might not be a High Holy Day, but Purim is certainly one of the most joyful holidays on the Jewish calendar.

Source: Time, 3-7-12

Its Story Is About a Victory Over Jewish Persecution

Francois Langrenee / The Bridgeman Art Library / Getty Images

Francois Langrenee / The Bridgeman Art Library / Getty Images
Esther and Ahasuerus, c. 1775-80 (oil on canvas), Musee des Beaux-Arts, Quimper, France

In the 5th century B.C., as related in the Old Testament’s Book of Esther, Mordecai, a Jew, refused to bow down to an adviser of King Ahasuerus named Haman. Incensed, Haman persuaded the king that Jews were essentially uncontrollable and should be executed en masse. Mordecai’s adopted daughter, Esther, boldly approached the king and suggested all parties meet at a banquet, where she gave an impassioned speech about the goodness of the Jews and Haman’s plot against them. When Haman stumbled near Esther as he pleaded for mercy, the king mistook this as an attack on Esther, and he reversed course by ordering Haman’s execution. The following day was declared a holiday named Purim.

Next: Making Noise in Synagogue Is Encouraged

Making Noise in Synagogue Is Encouraged

Jewish School / The Bridgeman Art Library / Getty Images

Jewish School / The Bridgeman Art Library / Getty Images
Megillah – Scroll of Esther, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel

A principal tradition of Purim is the reading of the Megillah (Book of Esther) during a synagogue service. When the Megillah is read, it is customary to make noise by booing, hissing, or stamping one’s feet to drown out Haman’s name. You can also twirl a traditional noisemaker, called a gragger.

Next: Purim Is Considered the Jewish Mardi Gras

Purim Is Considered the Jewish Mardi Gras

Kitra Cahana / Getty Images

Kitra Cahana / Getty Images

Mishteh – drinking plenty – is on the menu for Purim.  The festival encourages Jews to eat, drink, and be merry, but places emphasis on the imbibing.  Revelers are taught to drink copious amounts of wine, until you can’t tell the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordecai.”  People with health problems, children, and recovering alcoholics need not follow the letter of the law.

Next: It All Comes Back to Food

It All Comes Back to Food

Steve Cohen / Food Pix / Getty Images

Steve Cohen / Food Pix / Getty Images

Purim begins with a fast on the previous day, in order to commemorate Esther’s fast for three days before she met with the king. After the fast is broken, a grand meal should be enjoyed by all, and a popular dessert to serve is Hamantaschen (“Haman’s ears”), triangle-shaped fruit-filled cookies that represent Haman’s three-cornered hat (though some say, as the name goes, that they represent his ears, or even the dice he cast to determine when the Jews would be executed). Sending food to friends, as well as making a charitable donation, are also prescribed as ways of sharing in the tradition.

Next: Purim Doubles as a Masquerade Party

Purim Doubles as a Masquerade Party

Menahem Kahana / Getty Images

Menahem Kahana / Getty Images
Israeli settlers and children celebrate Purim in Hebron in 2011.

A carnival atmosphere pervades this spring holiday, held on the 14th day of the Hebrew month Adar, which usually falls in February or March. Adults and children alike often go to synagogue in costume. The tradition used to be to dress as figures from the Old Testament, but today anyone from Harry Potter to Dr. Seuss is acceptable. Singing silly songs and acting out Purim plays are also popular activities.

Next: Purim Touched a Nerve With Hitler

JBuzz News & Reviews February 22, 2012: James Loeffler: University of Virgina Professor Explores Lost History of Russian-Jewish Composers




U.Va. Professor Explores Lost History of Russian-Jewish Composers

Source: UVA Today, 2-22-12

James Loeffler

(Photo: Jack Looney)

University of Virginia historian James Loeffler explores the lost world of Jewish composers working in Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution in his new, award-winning book.

“The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire,” examines composers who viewed themselves as both Jewish and Russian and who saw their work contributing to both identities. He focuses on the second half of the 19th century through the Russian Revolution, covering two generations of composers.

“It is an attempt to rethink the stock image of the Jewish experience in Eastern Europe,” said Loeffler, an assistant professor of history in the College of Arts & Sciences.

The research director of Pro Musica Hebraica, Loeffler is a pianist who has been actively involved in Jewish music for the past decade as a scholar, critic and performer. He co-founded the Jewish Music Forum, a new national academic organization supported by the American Society for Jewish Music and the Center for Jewish History in New York, and has served as a music consultant to numerous organizations and institutions.

Loeffler’s book has been lauded by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, receiving its Béla Bartók Award for Outstanding Ethnomusicology Book, and the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies, which presented him the University of Southern California Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies. His work was a finalist for the 2012 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, which recognizes the important role of emerging writers in examining the Jewish experience.

Loeffler’s book fills an important void in the scholarship of these composers, said Joel Rubin, an assistant professor and director of music performance in U.Va.’s McIntire Department of Music.

“This is the first substantial piece of research on this movement,” Rubin said. “A lot of what had existed before was old and romantic and not up to the standards of scholarship we are used to today. It is important he has tackled the subject and I am happy to have more material I can teach to my students.”

Rubin said the composers were influenced by Zionism and feelings of national aspiration, as well as by their Christian Russian contemporaries to create artistic music with Jewish roots. He said Western classical music evolved over a long time, without much contribution from Jews until the latter part of the 19th century.

“These are people who left the shtetl and went to the conservatory,” Loeffler said. “These are the contemporaries of Piotyr Tchaikovsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and later Igor Stravinsky.” Among them was Anton Rubinstein, a Russian-Jewish pianist and composer and a founder of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, the first in Russia.

“The people I write about are complex, but they felt they had to be validated by others,” Loeffler said. “They thought they were Russians and Jews and that they didn’t have to choose. They thought they were furthering classical music, that their twin identities would feed into each other and that they would be more accepted. And for a brief period they were heralded as the young guns, bringing Russian classical music into the modern era.”

But the brief period did not last. Loeffler said they had to choose an identity; if they did not choose, one was assigned.

“They believed art would transcend politics, but they found that it didn’t,” Loeffler said. “The Russian culture liked Jewish music, but it didn’t like Jews.”

Russian composers, though, wrote on many classic Jewish themes, Loeffler said, citing Dmitri Shostakovich and his the song cycle “From Jewish Folk Poetry” and his 13th Symphony, subtitled “Babi Yar.”

“It becomes a symbol that represents to liberals a freer, more pluralistic Russia that embraces minorities and allows free expression – or it warns of the dangers of a fifth column within the society,” Loeffler said. “It becomes a barometer of what kind of Russian you are.”…READ MORE

JBuzz Reviews February 22, 2012: Historian Harold Holzer Reviews Jonathan Sarna’s When General Grant Expelled the Jews




“When General Grant Expelled the Jews” by Jonathan Sarna

By Harold Holzer

Source: WaPo, 2-22-12


By Jonathan D. Sarna

Nextbook/Schocken. 201 pp. $24.95


Not all Civil War-era Jews were speculators, peddlers or smugglers, and not all Civil War-era speculators, peddlers and smugglers were Jews. But Americans living through the rebellion — and many crises before and since — often cast blame on the tiny minority that 19th-century Northerners and Southerners often referred to as “the Israelites.” Shocking as it seems, one of the most notorious offenders was the greatest Union hero of the war: Ulysses S. Grant.

That Grant harbored anti-Semitic inclinations should come as no surprise. He was educated at West Point and spent years in the Army, both bastions of period intolerance. In 1862, he assumed a particularly chaotic military command, including border states technically loyal to the Union but filled with slave-owners and Confederate sympathizers. Into this combustible mix swarmed speculators eager to turn chaos into cash — among them, certainly, Jewish ones. Grant and his chief lieutenant, William T. Sherman, groused about the Jews’ presence repeatedly but initially kept their concerns to themselves.

General Grant

(Knopf) – ’When General Grant Expelled the Jews’ by Jonathan D. Sarna

What apparently sent Grant over the edge was the arrival of another camp follower — his greedy father, accompanied by three Jewish business partners, all eager to use the general to secure profitable cotton-trading permits. Grant blamed the Jews.

Still, no historian has been able to fully understand — much less justify — why, on Dec. 17, 1862, Grant issued his notorious General Orders No. 11 deporting Jewish citizens. “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade,” went the chilling text, “. . . are hereby expelled from [his command in the West] within twenty-four hours.” Those returning would be “held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners.” Just two weeks before Abraham Lincoln was scheduled to extend freedom to one minority group with the Emancipation Proclamation, his most promising general thus initiated a virtual pogrom against another.

In the end, as the gifted and resourceful historian Jonathan D. Sarna points out in this compelling page-turner, General Orders No. 11 uprooted fewer than 100 Jews. But for a few weeks, he suggests, it terrorized and infuriated the Union’s entire Jewish population. It also inspired one of the community’s first effective lobbying campaigns. Jewish newspapers compared Grant to Haman, the infamous vizier of Persia in the Book of Esther. A delegation of Jewish leaders traveled to the White House to protest directly to the president, who quickly but quietly had the order revoked, eager to right a wrong but reluctant to humiliate a valuable military commander. As Lincoln carefully put it, “I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.” He never mentioned the episode publicly.

Grant tried not to as well, understandably omitting it from his otherwise exhaustive memoirs. In 1868, however, he did issue a letter confessing: “I do not pretend to sustain the Order. . . . [It] was issued and sent without any reflection and without thinking of the Jews as a sect or race. . . . I have no prejudice against sect or race.” But Sarna notes that this weak and “self-serving” statement — neither an admission nor an apology — “did not actually bear close scrutiny.” Besides, it was motivated as much by politics as regret. At the time, Grant was running for president, and Jews were threatening to block-vote against the Republican. Although no statistical evidence survives, most Jews probably did vote Democratic in 1868. The general won anyway. And to his credit, he continued to evolve.

The Jewish tradition encourages atonement and makes forgiveness mandatory. Grant made amends; the Jews forgave. As president, Grant appointed Jews to official posts, welcomed Jewish delegations, supported Jewish relief efforts in Europe and once attended a worship service at a Washington synagogue, the first president to do so. When he died, Jews mourned him as a hero.

Sarna’s account shines brightest around the edges of the story, offering valuable new insights into ethnic politics, press power and the onetime ability of leaders to flip-flop with grace. In a particularly stunning, if disturbing, argument, he suggests that many Northern Jews brought suspicion on themselves by questioning emancipation, fearful that freed blacks, abetted by anti-Semitic abolitionists, would compete with immigrant Jews for economic opportunity. Sarna shows how ineffective communications within Grant’s command further ignited unfounded calumnies against Jews. And he posits that the general’s military subordinates might have urged their overworked chief to ban Jewish speculators in order to leave the field open for their own graft.

Some quibbles: The illustration of “Grant, about 1860” is a photo of a beef contractor mistaken for the general; and Sarna’s occasional embrace of au courant phrases (“He was a one-man Anti-Defamation League,” “speak truth to power”) proves jarring.

What is still the best analysis ever offered about Grant’s greatest mistake came from his widow. In her own unsparing memoirs, Julia Dent Grant called General Orders No. 11 “obnoxious,” admitting that her husband “had no right to make an order against any special sect.” Sarna’s excellent study offers no excuses either and comes closer than ever to an explanation.

Harold Holzer is chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation. His latest book is “Emancipating Lincoln.”


JBuzz News February 7, 2012: Jenna Weissman Joselit: Jewish Culture Gets A ‘Master’ Class at George Washington University




Jewish Culture Gets A ‘Master’ Class

Jenna Weissman Joselit.

Jenna Weissman Joselit.

New G.W. graduate program to develop next generation of arts administrators for cultural institutions.

In the last decade, study after study has shown that Jewish culture — films, music, books — rather than traditional institutions like synagogues or day schools, has become an increasingly important part of American Jewish identity.

As if to drive home that point, a glittering array of newly built cultural institutions — from the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, which opened in 2005, to the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, unveiled in 2010 — have become landmarks for all American Jews.

All this has thrilled Jenna Weissman Joselit, a leading historian of Jewish culture and a professor at George Washington University. But what worried her was that there was no clear training for the future leaders of these institutions.

Many heads of new and older Jewish cultural venues, like JCCs, tended to have rabbinical training or success in the corporate world, she said. “But not all of them were all that clued in to Jewish history and Jewish culture.”

Conversely, she added, leaders who had come from the arts world — theater directors, say, or museum curators — didn’t necessarily have the business sense.

But the new master’s program she has created in Jewish Cultural Arts at George Washington University, announced last month, hopes to rectify that.

“The distinctiveness of the G.W. program is that it combines both the arts education and the administrative training,” she said, adding that both are necessary to run a cultural institution.

Elise Bernhardt, the president and chief executive officer of the Foundation for Jewish Culture, applauded the program’s arrival as well. “There are many such programs in the secular world,” she said. “But given that there’s a focus on Jewish culture that didn’t exist in the world before, [this program] makes sense.”…READ MORE

Dan Michman: Historians, educators forgetting about Jews in framing Holocaust, Bar-Ilan professor says




Source: The Jewish Tribune, 8-16-11

There is “a battle for memory” taking place in the way historians and educators understand and frame the Holocaust, and a trend in which the “centrality of the Jews” is being neglected, Professor Dan Michman, Department of Jewish History, Bar-Ilan University, and head, International Institute for Holocaust Research, Yad Vashem told the Jewish Tribune during a recent visit here. “The emphasis has moved in another direction: the laudable issue of preventing genocide,” Michman said.  “When you look to the future, the past – the memory – becomes less important. All that matters is what you can learn from the past to prevent genocide and, to prevent genocide from happening (in any place) on earth, the Jewish aspects of the Holocaust are perhaps not helpful…. Within these trends of (emphasizing) human rights, comparing all genocides and preventing future genocide, the special dimension of the Shoah doesn’t come forward enough, because of the (resulting) need to put the Holocaust into a certain broader framework.”

Scholarly and public discourse on the Holocaust is being over-generalized in the service of examining, for example, commonalities shared by perpetrators of genocide and mass murder or the experiences of lone individuals outside the context of  their local community or larger society.

“An understanding of what was lost in Jewish society and Jewish culture is hardly mentioned. It goes above murder and the motivations of the perpetrators and the suffering of individuals – which are both important aspects – but the special aspect of Jewish society and culture is of no importance for this method of interpretation.

“We’re not speaking about the gravity of murder as such.  It was not just Jewish individuals (targetted by the Nazis): it was the ruining, the erasure, the exorcism of any trace of Jewish existence.”

Michman quoted from the 1946 testimony of Dieter Wisliceny, a Nazi official in Adolf Eichmann’s Department of Jewish Affairs, who was hanged for his crimes in Czechoslovakia in 1948:  “Antisemitism was one of the foundations of the platforms of Nazism. It stemmed in practice from two outlooks: (1) the pseudo-scientific biological statements of Prof. Günther and (2) the mystical-religious view that the world is directed by forces of good and evil. According to this view, the principle of evil was embodied in the Jews.”

Yet today, Michman said, “they all use the term ‘holocaust’ because it has become a brand name.”

Dr. Robert Rozett, libraries director, Yad Vashem, also expressed concern about this trend. He told Canadian journalists, who were on a visit to Israel sponsored by the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem and the Adelson Family Charitable Foundation, that the Holocaust is being trivialized, banalized and diminished as a result of the current politicized “tussle.”

“The Holocaust has become our main anchor, the main way we understand evil,” Rozett said.  “It’s the reference point for understanding man’s inhumanity to man.” Perhaps as a result, “people are using the Holocaust to frame their own tragedies” and are using the name “holocaust” to describe events such as the potato famines in 19th century Ireland, the persecution of Christians in 16th century Japan, the deaths of millions in the Soveit Union under Stalin’s regime, as well as to abortion statistics.

“What makes the Holocaust singular versus other genocides is the idea that Jews are evil simply because they exist and that by murdering them you are doing something good for mankind.”

Gabriel Barkai: Israeli archaelogists claim Palestinians attempting to rewrite Jewish history




Palestinians are using archeology to advance their statehood bid. Prominent archaeologist Gabriel Barkai called it “cultural Intifada.”

The PA will seek World Heritage status for the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem, once the UN’s cultural agency (UNESCO) admits them as a full member. Hamdan Taha, the Palestinian Authority minister who deals with antiquities and culture, also listed Nablus and Hebron among 20 cultural heritage sites which he said could be nominated as World Heritage Sites….

Taha’s bid at UNESCO is supported by the Vatican Custody of the Holy Land, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Armenian Church. As th UN bid brings the Palestinians closer to an independent state, the historical and archeological claims are playing an increasingly prominent role in the building of the national consciousness.

Taha, who did his undergraduate work in Berlin, worked in Jericho with Paolo Matthiae, an Italian scholar who discovered Ebla, the Syrian site that is most famous for the “Ebla tablets.” In Herodion (Herod’s fortress in the Judean hills), Taha worked with Michele Piccirillo, a Fransciscan priest who has been one of the most famous Italian archaeologists. Taha gets funds and support from UNESCO, European governments and societies like the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, a major Catholic association in Jerusalem….READ MORE

Yosef Yerushalmi: Wanderings This Time In Fiction




Yosef Yerushalmi: His short story in The New Yorker is the only fiction the noted historian ever wrote.

Yosef Yerushalmi: His short story in The New Yorker is the only fiction the noted historian ever wrote.

Not long after Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi — perhaps the most esteemed Jewish historian of the last half century — died two years ago, at 77, his wife Ophra got a frequent question: “Is there anything else he’s written that hasn’t been published?”

What they meant, presumably, was other academic work, certainly not fiction. But it was fiction — particularly, a short story called “Gilgul,” which The New Yorker published last week — that was the only other thing Ophra knew of. “Nobody knew about it, just me and my son,” she told The Jewish Week in a phone interview. “Not even our friends knew he wrote fiction.”

Ophra remembered Yerushalmi working intensely on something for a few weeks in 2004, but not telling her what it was. Only when he finished, did he say, “Let me read it to you,” Ophra recalled. “He got very emotional about it.”

Yerushalmi never tried to publish it. But after all the questions following his death, Ophra decided to show it to a friend of theirs in Paris. The friend told her it was good enough to publish. A month ago, Ophra pitched it to The New Yorker.

“I didn’t know if they’d take it,” she said, “but it was my first choice.”

That the magazine published the only piece of fiction Yerushalmi ever wrote is all the more surprising. “I was impressed that it came from someone who has never written fiction before,” said Deborah Treisman, the fiction editor at The New Yorker. “It has a lovely lyrical line to it.”

The story follows a character not unlike Yerushalmi. Simply called Ravitch, he’s a scholar of Jewish history living in New York, who, on a whim, flees to Israel….READ MORE

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett: The Woman Behind the Polish Jewry Museum




Source: The Forward, 8-3-11

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett has many titles: award-winning author, essayist and New York University professor, among them. Most recently, she’s been tapped to lead the core exhibition development team for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which is now being built on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto, and which recently made headlines with the surprise departure of its longtime director.

Long associated with the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett worked with Polish-born scholar Lucjan Dobroszycki on the landmark 1976 exhibition “Image Before My Eyes: A Photographic History of Jewish Life Before the Holocaust,” which later was made into a book and a film. Her latest book, “They Called Me Mayer July” (University of California Press, 2007), was a collaboration with her father, Mayer Kirshenblatt, who died in 2009 at the age of 93. It combined Kirshenblatt’s paintings depicting prewar life in his hometown of Opatow, Poland, with stories gleaned from interviews that his daughter began conducting with him in the 1960s.

Forward contributor Ruth Ellen Gruber caught up with Kirshenblatt-Gimblett in Krakow during the Festival of Jewish Culture and asked her about her Yiddish roots, her most enduring project and the current morale at the museum….READ MORE

David Reich & Priya Moorjani: Genes Tell Tale of Jewish Ties to Africa




Exchange Between Groups Took Place About 2,000 Years Ago

Source: The Forward, 8-2-11

Genetic Melting Pot: David Reich (left) and Priya Moorjani found that Jews and Africans mixed genes about 2,000 years ago.

Genetic Melting Pot: David Reich (left) and Priya Moorjani found that Jews and Africans mixed genes about 2,000 years ago.

In the Book of Kings, Solomon is depicted as an international businessman of sorts who sent ships from the port of Etzion-Geber, near modern day Eilat, to trade precious metals and other goods with various parts of the world, including Africa. Solomon also famously received a visit from the Queen of Sheba, who is thought to be from what is presently Ethiopia.

Now, a new scientific paper offers a genetic timeline that could support these biblical tales. The paper builds on two studies published last summer that were the first to use genome-wide analyses to trace the history of the Jewish people through DNA.

“It demonstrated that there was a biological basis for Jewishness,” said Dr. Harry Ostrer, director of the human genetics program at the New York University School of Medicine, who led one of the studies.

Among its many findings, Ostrer’s paper indicated that Jews have African ancestry — an observation that David Reich, associate professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, and his colleagues decided to explore further.

Reich’s team analyzed more than half a million DNA markers across the entire genomes of people from seven diverse Jewish populations — including Ashkenazim from northern Europe; Sephardim from Italy, Turkey and Greece, and Mizrahim from Syria, Iraq and Iran. They then compared the genetic data with DNA from 15 sub-Saharan African populations.

Reporting in the April issue of PLoS Genetics, the researchers found that modern day Jews can attribute about 3% to 5% of their ancestry to sub-Saharan Africans, and that the exchange of genes between Jews and sub-Saharan Africans occurred approximately 72 generations, or about 2,000 years, ago.

Priya Moorjani, a doctoral student in Reich’s lab who led the research, was surprised that the degree of African DNA was so consistent across the various Jewish populations. She had expected, for example, that North African and Middle Eastern Jews would have a greater degree of genetic mingling than Europeans, based on their geographic proximities.

So the findings, Moorjani said, may point to a shared ancestry among the various Jewish groups. “It’s definitely suggestive that most Jewish populations have a common ancestral population,” she said.

Although the Harvard team couldn’t determine where exactly the exchange of genes took place, the results complement historians’ understanding of the Jewish narrative.

“This is interesting, and it gives me food for thought,” said Norman Stillman, a professor of Judaic history at the University of Oklahoma. “Does it prove something historically specific beyond the fact that we know the Jewish bloodline was open to some extent throughout history? No. But it fits in with the rest.”

Lawrence Schiffman, a professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at Yeshiva University, said two time periods came to mind that could support the geneticists’ findings. The first is during the First Temple Period, between about 950 B.C.E. and 600 B.C.E., when Solomon’s kingdom would have had contact with Africans.

Or, Schiffman said, the mixing of populations could have taken place a bit later, during the Hellenistic period, from about 320 B.C.E. to 30 B.C.E., when Jews were living all over the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and could have come into contact with Africans to the south of them.

Yet even though the biblical accounts offer possible explanations for the Reich lab’s findings, Schiffman stresses that he and other social scientists can only offer historical interpretations of the genetic data. “The facts are the ones that scientists are developing; the theories are what [historians] have,” he said. “We now have to take what they are giving us, and we have to add it to our picture of history.”

Stillman pointed out that Jews are often thought of as an insular group, because they tended to marry within their community. “But,” he said, “that doesn’t mean there wasn’t, all throughout history, an inflow of others into the group.”

As Reich sees it, genetics and history are not actually so disparate. His work, he said, is “a kind of complementary way of studying history.”

Ruth Ellen Gruber: In summer, Jewish studies flowers in Eastern Europe




Source: JTA, 8-1-11

In Austria and Poland recently, I couldn’t seem to get away from students, scholars and just plain interested folks who were taking or teaching summer programs in Jewish studies.

Visitors to the Auschwitz Museum Memorial in Oswiecim, Poland, enter the Arbeit Macht Frei gate on a rainy day. (Ruth Ellen Gruber)

I myself spoke at a three-day “summer academy” in Vienna where more than 100 members of the general public turned up for lectures by international experts on Eastern European Jewish history.

In both Vienna and Krakow, I met informally with some of the 71 teachers from Jewish and public schools in North America and Israel attending a nine-day summer academy of lectures, travel and workshops organized by the Vienna-based Central Europe Center for Research and Documentation.

The programs reflected the remarkable resurgence of both Jewish informal learning and academic studies that has taken place in Europe since the fall of communism. This process has opened up opportunities and fields of scholarship to new generations of students and researchers. It also has gone some way toward repairing the damage wrought by the Holocaust.

About 750 institutions of European Jewish learning were “lost forever” in the war, according to the European Association of Jewish Studies, with many cities experiencing a “near total devastation of their Jewish studies resources.” In postwar communist Europe, teaching and research in Jewish and Holocaust studies was virtually taboo.

The pace of reconstruction has varied from country to country. But today the European Association of Jewish Studies lists nearly 450 academic institutions and universities in two dozen European countries where Jewish studies courses or classes are taught. Many other programs are associated with non-academic bodies.

Summer programs have a special place in this scheme, as they often are geared specifically to visiting foreign participants. Some of them, such as the 5-year-old Leo Baeck Summer University at Humboldt Unviersity in Berlin, are organized in partnership with North American or Israeli institutions.

The benefits of study abroad programs are well known: exposure to other cultures and languages, contact with new ideas, the opportunity to forge international connections….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.

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

Jewish Bodies Found in Medieval Well in England



Source: Arutz Sheva, 6-24-11

17 Jews whose bodies were found at the bottom of a medieval well in England were almost definitely victims of persecution, the BBC reported.

According to the report, the Jews were probably murdered or had been forced to commit suicide.

The skeletons date back to the 12th or 13th Centuries, at a time when Jewish people faced murder, banishment and other forms of persecution throughout Europe.

Although the most famous expulsion and persecution was in Spain, England was not far behind. In 1190, the 150 Jews of York, then a center of Torah learning,  were burned to death by a church-incensed mob, leading to rabbis proclaiming a cherem (prohibition to live in) the city. In 1290, after years of murder and pillage, Edward II banished the Jews from England. Many drowned trying to leave.

Scientists were able to date the bodies using a combination of DNA analysis, carbon dating and bone chemical studies. Seven of the skeletons were successfully tested and five of them had a DNA sequence suggesting they were likely to be members of a single Jewish family.

According to the BBC, the bodies were discovered in 2004 during an excavation of a site in the centre of Norwich. The remains were put into storage and have only recently been the subject of investigation.

“This is a really unusual situation for us,” DNA expert Dr. Ian Barnes, who carried out the tests, told the BBC. “This is a unique set of data that we have been able to get for these individuals. I am not aware that this has been done before – that we have been able to pin them down to this level of specificity of the ethnic group that they seem to come from.”

Forensic anthropologist Professor Sue Black of the University of Dundee’s Centre for Anthropology and Human Identification, who led the investigation team, said the discovery had changed the direction of the whole investigation.

“We are possibly talking about persecution,” she said. “We are possibly talking about ethnic cleansing and this all brings to mind the scenario that we dealt with during the Balkan War crimes.”

She noted that 11 of the 17 skeletons were those of children aged between two and 15. The remaining six were adult men and women.

Pictures taken when the bodies were excavated suggest they were thrown down the well together, head first. A close examination of the adult bones showed fractures caused by the impact of hitting the bottom of the well. The same damage was not seen on the children’s bones, suggesting they were thrown in after the adults who cushioned their fall.

Norwich had been home to a thriving Jewish community since 1135, and many lived near the site of the well. There are records of persecution of Jews in medieval England, including in Norwich. One example of this was when Jews were executed in the 1230s after being blamed for kidnapping a Christian child.

Archaeologist Sophie Cabot, who has conducted research on the history of the Jewish community in Norwich, told the BBC that Jews had been invited to England by the King to serve as money lenders since, according to the Christian interpretation of the Bible, Christians were not allowed to lend money and charge interest.

She explained that the source for the later friction between Jews and Christians was the fact that some Jews became very wealthy from their jobs as money lenders.

“There is a resentment of the fact that Jews are making money,” she said, “and they are doing it in a way that doesn’t involve physical labor, things that are necessarily recognized as work.”

She noted that the findings of the investigation change “what we know about the community. We don’t know everything about the community but what we do know is changed by this.”

Dvir Bar-Gal: Shanghai’s Jewish history

Shanghai’s Jewish history

 Source: AP, 6-5-11

Not far from the Bund district in Shanghai, with its hordes of tourists and view of the city’s famous skyscrapers across the Huangpu River, is a quiet neighborhood called Hongkou.

Walk here along Zhoushan Road and you’ll stumble on a sign that signifies an otherwise unremarkable building at No. 59 as a landmark.

“During the World War II,” the sign reads in imperfect English, “a number of Jewish refugees lived in this house, among whom is Michael Blumenthal, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury of the Carter Government.”

The marker offers a clue to the hidden Jewish history of Shanghai and the incredible story of thousands of Jews who fled the Nazis and found refuge here in what was the Far East’s only Jewish ghetto. Among them was Blumenthal, who fled Europe with his family, spent part of his youth in Shanghai, then moved to the United States.

The best way to learn about this unusual slice of Jewish and Shanghai history is on a tour with an Israeli expat, Dvir Bar-Gal. But be warned: This is no superficial glance at the highlights; this is a five-hour, $60 mini-course with Bar-Gal as professor. With his encyclopedic knowledge and intense passion, he brings to life a vanished world, attracting visitors from every continent, many of them descended from the Jews who survived World War II only because they found refuge in Shanghai.

“No other place in the whole world saved so many Jewish lives,” Bar-Gal said, adding that “there is no anti-Semitism in China.”…READ MORE