JBuzz News May 28, 2013: Funeral held in New York for Torah scrolls ruined by Hurricane Sandy

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Funeral held in N.Y. for Torah scrolls ruined by Sandy

Source: JTA, 5-28-13

A funeral was held in New York for 12 Torah scrolls that were destroyed in superstorm Sandy….READ MORE

 

JBuzz News October 23, 2012: Where Jewish Studies Captivates Non-Jews

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Where Jewish Studies Captivates Non-Jews

Source: The Jewish Week, 10-23-12

At City College, which is in Harlem, she’s hardly unusual: the Jewish studies program includes students from Bangladesh, Egypt, El Salvador, South Korea, Slovakia, Poland, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, Trinidad and Thailand, as well as the Bronx, Harlem and Queens….READ MORE

JBuzz News April 9, 2012: Kenneth Libo: Historian of Jewish immigration, dies at 74

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Kenneth Libo, historian of Jewish immigration, dies at 74

Source: NYT, 4-9-12

Kenneth Libo, a historian of Jewish immigration who, as a graduate student working for Irving Howe in the 1960s and ’70s, unearthed historical documentation that informed and shaped “World of Our Fathers,” Howe’s landmark 1976 history of the East European Jewish immigration to the United States, died on March 29 in New York. He was 74.

The cause was complications from an infection, said Michael Skakun, a friend and fellow historian.

Libo’s contribution was acknowledged by Howe and the publishers of “World of Our Fathers,” who listed his name beneath the author’s on the cover of the book: “With the Assistance of Kenneth Libo.”

Scholars familiar with his archival work credit Libo with adding a level of emotional detail, and a view of everyday life in the teeming tenements of the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York, that the book might have lacked without his six years of work. “I don’t think ‘World of Our Fathers’ could have been written without the spade work done by Ken Libo,” said Jeffrey S. Gurock, a professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University. “He had a certain researching genius, a feel for visceral detail.”

Libo worked with Howe on two more books and shared billing on both as co-author — “How We Lived,” a 1979 anthology of pictures and documentary accounts of Jewish life in New York between 1880 and 1930; and “We Lived There, Too,” an illustrated collection of first-person accounts by Jewish immigrant pioneers who moved on from New York to settle in far-flung outpostsaround the country, like New Orleans; Abilene, Kan.; and Keokuk, Iowa, between 1630 and 1930.

He became the first English-language editor of The Jewish Daily Forward in 1980, lectured widely, taught literature and history at Hunter College, and later in life helped several wealthy Jewish New York families research and write their self-published family histories.

But throughout his life, Libo was known best for his involvement in “World of Our Fathers,” a best-seller that Howe, a socialist and public intellectual, once described in part as an effort to reclaim the fading memory of Jewish immigration from the clutches of sentimental myth, Alexander Portnoy and generations of Jewish mother jokes.

The book was a large canvas — depicting a lost world of tenements, sweatshops and political utopianism — written with elegiac lyricism.

By most accounts Howe gave the book its vision, its voice and its intellectual legs. Libo gave it people and their stories.

He mined archives of Yiddish newspapers like The Forward, Der Tog and Freheit; the case records of social service organizations like the Henry Street Settlement House; the letters of activists like Lillian Wald and Rose Schneiderman; memoirs by forgotten people whose books he found in the 5-cent bins of used bookstores. He interviewed old vaudevillians like Joe Smith of Smith and Dale (the models for Neil Simon’s “Sunshine Boys”) for the story of Yiddish theater.

In an essay about the book, published in 2000 in the journal of the American Jewish Historical Society, Libo wrote that in the summer months “Irving did the bulk of the writing while I remained in New York with an assistant to run down facts.”

Kenneth Harold Libo was born Dec. 4, 1937, in Norwich, Conn., one of two sons of Asher and Annette Libo. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Russia, his mother American-born. His parents operated a chicken farm, friends said.

He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1959, served in the Navy and taught English at Hunter College of the City University until he began work on “World of Our Fathers” in 1968 with Howe, who died in 1993.

He received his Ph.D. in English literature from the City University of New York in 1974. He never married and no immediate family members remain.

Barry W. Holtz Reviews Jonathan Krasner: How One Man Samson Benderly Shaped American Jewish Education

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Barry W. Holtz Reviews Jonathan Krasner: How One Man Shaped American Jewish Education

Source: The Forward, 8-19-11

Visionaries: Samson Benderly (front row, second from right) at the 1907 Zionist convention in Tannersville, N.Y., with fellow delegates including Rabbi Judah L. Magnes (front row, left) and Solomon Schechter (front row, second from left).
Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America
Visionaries: Samson Benderly (front row, second from right) at the 1907 Zionist convention in Tannersville, N.Y., with fellow delegates including Rabbi Judah L. Magnes (front row, left) and Solomon Schechter (front row, second from left).

The Benderly Boys and American Education
By Jonathan Krasner
Brandeis University Press, 496 pages, $95

In the early years of the 20th century, Samson Benderly stood with the legendary figures of American Jewish life: He was recruited to New York by Judah Magnes; he knew Henrietta Szold and Barnett Brickner; he battled Solomon Schechter; he met regularly with his benefactor, Jacob Schiff, and his closest friend was Mordecai Kaplan. Indeed, Kaplan wrote of Benderly, “He is to me the most positive force in Jewish life today.”

Benderly, more than any other single individual, shaped the institutions of American Jewish education that we know today; but aside from historians of American Jewry and scholars of Jewish education, his name is virtually unknown. Now, Jonathan Krasner, an assistant professor of American Jewish history at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, has produced “The Benderly Boys and American Jewish Education” (Brandeis University Press, 2011), a prodigious and clear portrait of Benderly and his world.

It is not an exaggeration to say that this volume is the most important piece of historical writing about American Jewish education to have appeared in a generation. Although many fine scholars have written about various aspects of Jewish education in America, no one until now has taken such a comprehensive view of it. Krasner’s book delves deeply into the crucial period of the field — the 20th century — and contextualizes the history of American Jewish education both within Jewish life and within modern education. The wonderful collection of photographs on display throughout the book adds to its charm.

Benderly, born into a traditional Hasidic family in Safed, arrived in America in 1898 from Palestine. Though he came to Baltimore for medical studies, he was drawn to Jewish teaching and eventually left medicine to become an educator.

Benderly was a visionary and was capable of inspiring others to follow his vision. He developed around him a group of remarkable young people who shared his excitement about changing the face of American Jewish education. These were the “boys” of the book’s title: Alexander Dushkin, Isaac Berkson, Emanuel Gamoran and many others. Krasner also points out the importance of a group of “Benderly girls” (such as Rebecca Aaronson Brickner and Libbie Suchoff Berkson), many of whom had important careers in Jewish education, though most of them did not go into the work of institutional leadership, which was more characteristic of male career paths at the time. An excellent companion to this book, therefore, is the 2010 book “The Women Who Reconstructed American Jewish Education, 1910–1965” (Brandeis). Edited by Carol Ingall, it comprises portraits of influential female Jewish educators.

When Benderly began his work, Jewish education was a hodgepodge of disorganized institutions, profoundly incompetent teachers, nonexistent textbooks and undefined curricula. Studies were often conducted in “dilapidated, dark, stuffy, and often filthy conditions.” Benderly’s main mission was to organize, modernize and Americanize Jewish education. He was, despite his traditional upbringing, a cultural Jew, and he saw Jewish education in the light of Ahad Ha’am’s Zionist dream and his focus on Jewish peoplehood. Therefore, Benderly placed a strong emphasis on Hebrew-language acquisition, with a focus on the Hebrew of the modern world, not that of the synagogue and traditional texts. It was Benderly more than anyone else who promoted the “natural method” in Hebrew education, using the approach that has characterized the ulpan, or Hebrew language school, in Israel and “immersion” techniques in foreign language learning today that have a strong emphasis on conversation and comprehension in real-life situations. In addition, Benderly introduced “technology” into Jewish education, developing magic-lantern (an early type of image projector) slides to use in instruction on Jewish holidays and the Bible. (If he were alive today, it would be fair to assume that he would be promoting social media and the Internet as means for Jewish education.)

Benderly also insisted on a system for training and accrediting teachers. He wanted to apply the findings of educational “science” (what we today would call “research”) to Jewish education. And he strove to create an organized, centralized system of support for, and supervision of, Jewish education, dealing with curricula, standard hours and classroom environments. He also understood the importance of the “informal” aspects of education, and one of his disciples, Albert Schoolman, was the prime mover in creating what is arguably the greatest and most original contribution of American Jewish education: the summer educational camp. All this flowed from Benderly and his followers….READ MORE

Shuly Rabin Schwartz: More City Bar Mitzvahs Hold the Religion

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Source: WSJ, 7-23-11

MITZVAH

 

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

Fire Ravages Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun Prominent N.Y. Synagogue

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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.

In NY-9, Orthodox Jewish Vote Critical To Victory

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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

Allan Nadler Reviews Rebecca Margolis: Montreal, A Yiddish Love Story – Jewish Roots, Canadian Soil

Source: Jewish Ideas Daily, 6-28-11

International Yiddish Theater Festival.

The second International Yiddish Theater Festival, an elaborate ten-day fete whose program ranges from carnavalesque performances to academic symposia, just wrapped up last week in Montreal.  What is especially surprising about this young and very youthful celebration of what most Jews today consider the vernacular of the elderly and the Hasidim, is that Montreal is a city with a Jewish population of less than 80,000 (of whom almost 30,000 are non-Ashkenazim).  Toronto, Canada’s largest city, now has a Jewish population well more than twice that of Montreal’s.

The immediate explanation for the venue is that Montreal remains the only city in the world with a Yiddish theatrical company that actually owns its permanent stage.  The Montreal troupe itself is able to recruit Yiddish-literate performers from the only remaining Jewish day school system in North America in which Yiddish is a mandatory part of the curriculum. But such explanations are akin to the classical Yiddish penchant for answering one question with another. The deep question is why any such Yiddish institutions have survived in Montreal at all, given that they have disappeared almost completely in New York, once the world’s greatest center of Yiddish culture, as well more than a dozen smaller American Jewish communities. The historical answer to this question is expertly provided by Jewish Roots, Canadian Soil, a new volume on the subject by Canadian Jewish historian Rebecca Margolis.

Margolis’s detailed and engaging exploration of this bittersweet topic offers a fascinating contrast between the trajectories of Montreal and New York. Montreal emerged quietly as a relatively minor satellite of Yiddish culture in the initial years of massive east European Jewish migration to North America, from the 1880s through the First World War. Simultaneously, Yiddish culture in New York was exploding—during this period it would become the major center of Yiddish literary, journalistic, musical and theatrical activity, eclipsing even Warsaw and Vilna. In chapters devoted to Montreal’s Yiddish press, literati, secular schools, theater, and finally the unique Yiddishe Folks-Bibliotek (“Jewish People’s Library,” known today as the Jewish Public Library), Margolis meticulously documents the slow but steady growth of Yiddish cultural institutions in Montreal.

But Margolis’s book is more than a record of a historical trajectory.  It also offers a cogent explanation as to why Yiddish has managed to survive in Montreal in a manner unparalleled in far larger Jewish communities. One rather obvious explanation lies in the fact that Montreal Jews, educated in the English Protestant school system, always constituted a minority within a minority in a diverse, already bilingual Quebec. More interestingly, immigration to Montreal remained a small trickle until 1924, when the United States’ Johnson-Reed Immigration Act set severe quotas on the numbers of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Canada was a natural second choice for the tens of thousands who could not enter the United States, and this later wave, arriving after the Soviet revolution, constituted a more sober, less radicalized group than the fiery Yiddish socialists and communists who had flooded New York in the previous three decades.

By far the most significant factor distinguishing the Yiddishists of Montreal was their adoption of some form of Jewish nationalism. The two competing Yiddish day schools were both led by passionate Zionists affiliated with the socialist Zionist organization, even as they differed as to the proper balance between Hebrew and Yiddish in the curriculum (the Yiddisher Folkshule stressed the importance of the former; the Peretz Shule insisted on the primacy of the latter). By way of contrast, no Yiddish schools in New York included Hebrew in their curriculum or dared fly the flag of Jewish Palestine (and later Israel) on the masts of its building. Both of Montreal’s Yiddish schools did.

The Jewish Public Library was the first and only communal public library in North America whose main commitment was to promote Yiddish literary culture (though it also actively built Hebrew, English and French collections over the years). As for the Yiddish press, Montreal’s Yiddish reading community was only large enough to support a single daily Yiddish newspaper  (Der Kenneder Odler) which could in turn not afford to espouse any particular Jewish sub-ideology exclusively. Its editors over more than a half-century, the venerable scholars Max Wolofsky and Israel Rabinovitch, both assembled editorial staffs representing the full gamut of Jewish thought, from various radical ideologues to Orthodox rabbis.

While Margolis emphasizes the main difference between the New York and Montreal Yiddishist communities as being the latter’s commitment to communal consensus and moderation, she ironically fails utterly to do justice to the institutions and personalities of the mainstream Jewish community….READ MORE

Gus Tyler: Forward Editor, Writer & Firebrand of Labor Movement, Dies at 99

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Source: NYT, 6-11-11

Gus Tyler could recite word for word the first firebrand speech he gave more than 80 years ago on a soapbox on the Lower East Side. That long-ago youth tingled with the revolutionary promise he saw on the teeming streets of New York, in the new Soviet Union, in the great books he devoured, in the endless nocturnal debates.

Gus Tyler in 1964.

He tumbled through life like a Saul Bellow character, full of analytic thought and urban vitality. He wore multifarious hats: pamphleteer, professor and poet, but insisted on defining himself with a single word: agitator.

He became one as a teenager, throwing burrs at police horses during socialist demonstrations. And as a leader of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union for decades, he helped shape labor’s contribution to the postwar welfare state. His most powerful weapons were words, in books, newspaper columns, radio commentaries and speeches he wrote for labor chieftains.

His intellectual output was diverse, but Mr. Tyler tended to come back to one theme: the importance of democracy in unions, and the importance of unions to democracies. He pushed for government-sponsored health care and was a leader in the fight to reapportion voting districts so that cities were better represented.

A. H. Raskin, the labor expert who was a reporter for The New York Times, called Mr. Tyler one of the true intellectuals of the trade union movement. The historian Bernard Bellush wrote, “There are those who say that the history of the democratic left in America since World War I is the history of Gus Tyler.”

Mr. Tyler died on June 3 in Sarasota, Fla., at the age of 99, his nephew Jonathan Tilove said — 21 years shy of his goal of outliving Moses.

But he did see a promised land of sorts: his first job was at The Jewish Daily Forward when it was a big-circulation, left-leaning Yiddish daily. He threw himself into the 1930s brawls of Stalinists, Trotskyists and all manner of leftists before fighting some of the same people in the 1940s to kick Communists out of liberal veterans’ groups….READ MORE

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