JBuzz News April 30, 2012: Benzion Netanyahu: Noted historian father of Israel’s prime minister, dies at 102




Noted historian Benzion Netanyahu, father of Israel’s prime minister, dies at 102

Source: JTA, 4-30-12

Benzion Netanyahu, a noted Jewish historian and Zionist thinker, and the father of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has died.

Netanyahu died early Monday morning at his home in Jerusalem. He was 102.

Benjamin Netanyahu visited his father for the last time on Sunday evening, according to a statement issued Monday from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu was born Benzion Mileikowsky in Warsaw in 1910, and immigrated to Mandatory Palestine in 1920.

Netanyahu studied at the David Yellin Teachers’ College and later at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His research focused on the history of the medieval Spanish Jewish community and the history of Zionism. Among his books are a biography of Don Isaac Abravanel; a history of the Spanish Marranos; and his major work, “The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain.” He also authored “The Founding Fathers of Zionism,” about the lives of the founders of political Zionism — Leon Pinsker, Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau, Israel Zangwill and Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

Netanyahu was the editor in chief of the Hebrew Encyclopedia for more than a decade beginning in the 1950s. He served as a professor of Jewish studies at various universities in the United States, concluding his academic career as professor emeritus at Cornell University.

From his time as a student in Jerusalem, he was involved in public Zionist activities. Netanyahu was a supporter of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and edited a newspaper that also featured Joseph Klausner and poet Uri Tzvi Greenberg on its staff…READ MORE

Rabbi John Rosove: Reinvention of Hanukkah in the 20th Century: A Jewish Cultural Civil War




Rabbi John Rosove: Reinvention of Hanukkah in the 20th Century: A Jewish Cultural Civil War

Source: Jewish Journal, 12-11-11

Last week I was privileged to hear a presentation on Hanukkah by Noam Zion, a fellow of and the senior educator at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, who led 40 Rabbis of the Southern California Board of Rabbis in a superb 2-hour conversation entitled:

“Reinvention of Hanukkah in the 20th Century: A Jewish Cultural Civil War between Zionists, Liberal American Judaism and Habad –  Who Are the Children of Light and Who of Darkness?”

Noam offered us a comprehensive view of Hanukkah from its beginnings (© 165 B.C.E.) through history and how it is understood and celebrated today by Israelis, American liberal non-Hareidim Jews and Habad. Based on Hanukkah’s tendentious history and the vast corpus of sermons written by rabbis through the centuries, Noam noted three questions that are consistently asked: ‘Who are the children of light and darkness?’ ‘Who are our people’s earliest heroes and what made them heroic?’ ‘What relevance can we find in Hanukkah today?’

Though religiously a “minor holyday” (Hanukkah is not biblically based, nor do the restrictions apply that are associated with Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Succot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur), Hanukkah occupies a place in each of the ideologies of the State of Israel, American liberal Judaism and Habad.

For example, before and after the establishment of the State of Israel the Maccabees served as a potent symbol for “Political Zionism” for those laboring to create a modern Jewish state. The early Zionists rejected God’s role in bringing about the miracle of Jewish victory during Hasmonean times. Rather, such leaders as Max Nordau, Theodor Herzl, David Ben Gurion, Chaim Weizmann, Jacob Klatzkin, and A.D. Gordon emphasized that Jews themselves are the central actors in our people’s restoration of Jewish sovereignty on the ancient land, not God.

For 20th century liberal American Jews Hanukkah came to represent Judaism’s aspirations for religious freedom consistent with the American value of religious freedom as affirmed by the first Amendment of the US Constitution. Even as the holiday of Hanukkah reflects universal aspirations, the Hanukkiah remains a particular symbol of Jewish pride and identity for American Jews and their children living in a dominant Christian culture.

For Habad, Hanukkah embodies the essence of religious identity on the one hand, and symbolizes the mission of Jews on the other. Each Hassid is to be “a streetlamp lighter” who goes out into the public square and kindles the nearly extinguished flame of individual Jewish souls, one soul at a time (per Rebbe Sholom Dov-Ber). This is why Habad strives to place a Hanukkiah in public places and why Hassidim offer to help Jews don t’filin. Every fulfilled mitzvah kindles the flame of a soul and restores it to God.

Noam concluded his shiur (lesson) by noting that the cultural war being played out in contemporary Jewish life is based in the different responses to the central and historic question that has always given context to Hanukkah – ‘Which Jews are destroying Jewish life and threatening Judaism itself?’…READ MORE

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




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

Noam Pianko: Clash Of Zionisms In Academia

Noam Pianko’s new book  focuses on forgotten cultural Zionists.
Noam Pianko’s new book focuses on forgotten cultural Zionists.
Group of scholars pressing idea of cultural Zionism, amid pushback.

From the United Nations to the capitals of Europe to the pages of the New York Review of Books, Zionism — and the Israeli policies that undergird it — have lately come under withering attack. Israel is reeling from the international condemnation following the failed flotilla attack. And Peter Beinart’s essay in the NYRB — which attacked Jewish leaders for failing to inspire a new generation of Jews committed to Israel — urged a more liberal Zionism as a way to get young Jews back in the fold. But beneath the headlines, a skirmish within academia over the very definition of Zionism has been intensifying. The debate broke into full view here last week at the biannual conference of the American Jewish Historical Society, as a group of scholars, pressing a controversial line of thinking, sought to reformulate Zionism for the 21st century. At root, their re-examination of the ideology amounts to a struggle over the very meaning of Zionism — or, in simplest terms, why Israel should matter to Jews in the diaspora.

While these scholars are galvanized by the sullying of the term in the international arena, they are perhaps more concerned that Jews themselves understand Zionism to be chiefly a political position — “support for the Jewish state,” period. But Zionism, they say, should mean much more than that.

“I think there’s a lot of confusion about what Zionism means today,” said Gideon Shimoni, an emeritus professor at Hebrew University’s Institute of Contemporary Jewry and author of “The Zionist Ideology.”…. READ MORE

Geoffrey Lewis: The declaration that changed history for ever

Balfour and Weizmann: The Zionist, the Zealot and the Emergence of Israel by Geoffrey Lewis

Avi Shlaim enjoys an elegant and insightful account of the unlikely partnership behind the foundation of the state of Israel

Source: Guardian UK, 6-28-09

Ernest Bevin, Labour’s postwar foreign secretary, once told the Zionist leader, David Ben-Gurion, that the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was the worst mistake in western foreign policy in the first half of the 20th century. From the perspective of British interests, it was certainly a strategic blunder. It committed Britain to support the establishment of a “national home” for the Jewish people in Palestine when the Jews constituted less than 10% of the population. Britain’s promise paved the way for the establishment of the state of Israel, but also unleashed one of the most bitter conflicts of modern times.

The story of the Balfour Declaration has been told many times. Geoffrey Lewis has chosen to focus only on the part played by the two principal architects of the declaration: Arthur Balfour and Chaim Weizmann, the Gentile Zionist and the ardent Jewish nationalist. The result is a perceptive, elegantly written and fair-minded book.

At first sight, Balfour seems an unlikely candidate for the role of mover and shaker. He was a languid aristocrat with a philosophical turn of mind. A popular saying went: “If you want nothing done, Balfour is your man.” Yet he was moved by a strong conviction that the case for a Jewish homeland in Palestine was wholly exceptional and that it overrode the natural right of the Arabs to self-determination.

Weizmann, a lecturer in chemistry at Manchester University, was a consummate diplomat and an eloquent advocate who converted many in the British establishment to the Zionist cause. The first meeting between Balfour and Weizmann took place in 1906, three years after the Zionist leadership had turned down the offer of a Jewish homeland in Uganda. Their conversation lasted more than an hour and contained within it the germ of the Balfour Declaration.

Balfour could not understand why the persecuted Russian Jews refused the offer of a safe asylum. Weizmann tried to explain why the Zionists could not accept a home anywhere but Jerusalem. “Suppose,” he said, “I were to offer you Paris instead of London.” “But, Dr Weizmann, we have London,” Balfour replied. “That is true,” Weizmann said, “but we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh.” “Are there many Jews who think like you?” wondered Balfour. “I believe I speak the minds of millions of Jews,” replied Weizmann. “It is curious,” Balfour remarked, “the Jews I meet are quite different.” “Mr Balfour,” said Weizmann, “you meet the wrong kind of Jews.”

In fact, most of the leaders of British Jewry were opposed to the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Prominent among them was Edwin Montagu, the secretary of state for India. Montagu rejected the notion that the Jews were a nation and warned that a Jewish home in Palestine would undermine the struggle for equal rights for Jews in the rest of the world. Balfour, however, was persuaded by Weizmann that race, religion and geography were linked in a unique way for Zionist Jews.

Weizmann’s refusal even to look at the Uganda scheme greatly impressed Balfour. He concluded that the Jewish form of patriotism was without parallel, that Zionism was a noble project and that Britain ought to support it on idealistic grounds. This perception led directly to the famous declaration that bore Balfour’s name, one that changed the course of Middle East history.

• Avi Shlaim is a professor of international relations at the University of Oxford. His books include Lion of Jordan: King Hussein’s Life in War and Peace (Penguin)