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The correspondence constitutes the only remaining trace of Rivca’s voice, as well as a relatively rare window onto a … – Tablet Magazine

Posted By on August 21, 2017

Until my early adulthood, I had no family names or faces to connect with the Holocaust. I always assumed that, on my fathers side, any members of his extended Lithuanian family who didnt manage to escape their shtetls for America or elsewhere had become victims of the Nazis. Unexpectedly, though, the first time I had confirmation in writing about my familys connection to the Holocaust came from my mothers side of the familythe Sephardic side.

As I was sifting through some family memorabilia in my parents Virginia home about 15 years ago, I found a typed document in Italian, dated 1964 and bearing two official seals and signatures. My knowledge of Italian was limited to vocabulary recalled from high school Latin, but enough words jumped out at me for an understanding to emerge: ALHADEFF REBECCARODI1944deportata in Germania in campo di concentramento.

Like most American kids, the mainstream Holocaust narratives that I had been exposed to during my childhood and teen years focused on Eastern Europe. Despite plentiful religious school and youth-group commemorations of the Shoah, I had no comprehension whatsoever that Sephardic Jews in the Balkans and along the Mediterranean experienced many of the same atrocities as Ashkenazi Jews in countries like Germany and Poland. I had never heard of Salonica, the northern Greek city whose vibrant prewar Jewish population of 50,000 was reduced to fewer than 2,000 people. And I was woefully ignorant of the fate of the Jews on the Isle of Rhodes, a historic community reduced to 151 survivors after the war.

Rivca Alhadeff, the authors great-great-grandmother, was born on the island of Rhodes in 1870 and died at Auschwitz in 1944, photo undated. (All photos courtesy the author.)

That piece of paper I found in my early 20s was the beginning of my search into what happened to Rebecca Alhadeff, my great-great-grandmother, known in the family as Rivca. I now know that the document was a form, issued by the Italian consulate and signed by the president of Rhodes Jewish community, in response to restitution claims by Rivcas youngest son, Abner Leon. This document, along with two photographs and a Yad Vashem testimonial about her death, was the entire basis of my knowledge of Rivca for many years.

But two years ago, while emailing with a great-aunt in Capetown about my ongoing genealogical research, I found out that she possessed a few handwritten letters in Ladino that had been sent to her mother during the war. The letters author was my great-great-grandmother Rivca, who was born in 1870 and died at Auschwitz in 1944. Sent from the Italian-occupied island of Rhodes to British colonial Africa in the spring of 1940, the letters brim with domestic details, humor, blessings, and salutations. Life on the island, at that point, was mostly fine.

My great-aunt in Capetown sent me scanned versions of Rivcas correspondence last year, and I have since acquired comprehensive transcriptions and translations of each letter via Emily Thompson, a Seattle-based professional translator of Ladino and Spanish. The correspondence constitutes the only remaining trace of Rivcas voice, as well as a relatively rare window into a Sephardic womans perspective during the war.

***

In her lifetime, Rivca had witnessed power change hands several times on Rhodes. For centuries, conquerors ranging from Crusader knights to the Ottoman Turks and modern Italy had held sway over the island, which was prized as a strategic base for seafaring in the Mediterranean. For the most part, Rhodes Jews, who traced their roots to antiquity, were allowed to live in peace according to their religious traditions throughout these transitions of ruling powers. They populated a corner of the island known as La Juderia, the Jewish quarter in the old town of Rhodes. The 1912 Italian census listed 4,290 Jews living on the island.

The correspondence constitutes the only remaining trace of Rivcas voice, as well as a relatively rare window onto a Sephardic womans perspective during the war.

To better understand the circumstances in which Rivca wrote her letters, I delved into the history of Italys colonial rule over Rhodes. Italy had wrested control of Rhodes from the Ottomans in 1912, and its colonial rule over the Dodecanese islands became official under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. According to Aron Rodrigue, a Stanford scholar who is currently writing a history of Rhodes Jews before the Holocaust, Italian rule over the island was seen as a benevolent enterprise under Gov. Mario Lago, and Jews could even obtain a form of Italian citizenship.

Stamps mark the inside of the Italian passport that Estrella Galante, Rivcas youngest daughter, obtained in Salisbury in 1932.

After reading one of Rodrigues articles, I pulled out my great-grandmother Estrellas Italian passport, one of my prized family documents. The blue-covered passport was issued in 1932 by the Italian consulate in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe), the British Crown Colony where Estrella was raising her family at the time. Among other things, it lists Estrellas professione as casalinga (housewife) and her height as 1.61 meters. The passport also includes a photograph of her in a chic post-flapper bob, though the picture is partially obscured by the consulates eagle stamp (one of the prominent symbols of fascism).

Why did my Rhodes-born great-grandmother, a Sephardic Jew who had immigrated to southern Africa a decade prior, decide to use her birthplaces colonial status to acquire Italian citizenship in 1932? I think this decision shows the allure of affiliating with a strong European nation-state, an understandably appealing option for Jewish citizens who had been striving for equal rights and social acceptance in Europe since the Emancipation era. Rodrigue also points that, from a practical perspective, the Jews who did not become naturalized citizens in Rhodesia needed official papers of some kind, and the Italian documents were Estrellas only option.

Though only two decades long, the period of Italianization had a profoundly deep impact on Rhodes Jewish community: Besides the option to adopt Italian identity, as Estrella did, many of Rhodes Jewish inhabitants also adopted aspects of Italian culture, including the language, music, and participation in fascist youth movements. Rhodesli descendants in Africa and North America have told me that for many years after leaving the island, their older relatives enjoyed putting on opera music and singing along in Italian.

The relatively peaceful state of existence under Italian rule came to a halt, however, by the late 1930s, when a switch in colonial administrators brought drastic changes to daily life for the Jews on Rhodes. The Italian Racial Laws (leggi razziali) passed by Mussolinis government in 1938 imposed increasingly stringent measures upon Jews living in mainland Italy as well as its colonies. The laws forbade circumcision, ritual slaughter, and gathering in synagogues; Jewish children were no longer allowed to attend state schools.

This was the foreboding political context leading up to Rivcas letters in the spring of 1940, yet her acknowledgment of any change in living conditions or civil liberties is minimal. The only real reference I can findand it is rather obliqueis an offhand comment: Ya savis querida Mari como es aqui estos dias. You already know, dear Marie, how it is here these days. Was Rivca genuinely unconcerned because she had seen so many other rulers come and go? Did she limit her expression of anxiety about como es aqui (how it is here) in order to keep up a happy appearance for her new daughter-in-law? Or, perhaps she was concerned that wartime censors might cancel any letters that referred negatively to Italian rule.

All eight of Rivcas children had left Rhodes for Africa by the late 1930s, part of the waves of emigration that had started in the first decade of the 20th century. Her oldest son, Behor Samuel (known in the family as B.S.), was one of the earliest Sephardic immigrants to colonial Rhodesia, arriving in 1908. He quickly established business ventures in mining, farming, and real estate. B.S. leveraged his considerable wealth to help arrange for Rhodesli Jews to immigrate to Africa during the 1920s and 30s, including one last boat at the start of WWII. To his dismay, however, a last-ditch effort could not persuade his own mother, a widow whose winemaker husband, Shmuel Leon, had died in 1926, to leave the island and join her children in Africa. Rivcas mind was made up: She would stay in La Juderia, come what may.

B.S. Leon, Rivcas oldest son, was one of the earliest Sephardic immigrants in colonial Rhodesia. Rivca resisted his pleas to join the family in Africa.

Rivcas reluctance to move to Rhodesia before the war may have been based on her one documented visit to southern Africa in the late 1920s. According to family sources, she arrived around 1927, soon after her husband died, and stayed for about two years. She spent her time with her youngest daughter Estrella, son-in-law Haim, and their twin daughters; I possess one undated photograph of Rivca with the twins on some kind of boat. Apparently, Rivca did not like that her childrens town lacked proper religious amenities such as a kosher butcher. She sailed back to Rhodes by 1930, probably accompanied by Estrella.

Already knowing how the story ends, I forced myself to find more facts about what happened to Rhodes during the rest of the war, after Rivca had sent off her letters in 1940. As in previous eras, the islands location in the Mediterranean, along with its airfields, again made it a desirable strategic property. Writing in his Memoirs of the Second World War, Winston Churchill expressed his chagrin that he could not convince his American military partners of the need for a sweeping Dodecanese campaign: It seemed to me a rebuff to fortune not to pick up these treasures. The command of the Aegean by air and by sea was within our reach. Unsupported by an Allied campaign, Rhodes fell quickly to the Germans in the fall of 1943.

The following year, in July 1944, Gestapo forces rounded up the Jews of Rhodes along with a small group from the neighboring island of Kos. Forced onto boats, they were taken to Athens and the transit camp of Haidari, and eventually arrived at Auschwitz on the final transport train out of Greece. Of the 1,651 Rhodesli Jews who were deported, 151 surviveda cataclysmic devastation of one of the worlds oldest Sephardic communities.

***

Si cheria escrevir todo querida Mari cheria chi encera un journal, Rivca wrote. If I wanted to write down everything, dear Marie, I would need a whole journal.

Rivcas letters record the moment just before the arc of history bent toward shadow and destruction for the Jews of Rhodes. Even with the anti-Jewish laws and the war intensifying on mainland Europe, life on Rhodes was proceeding somewhat normally. Despite the sizable emigrations of the previous decades, Rivca was still surrounded by family and friends in La Juderia, including her favorite brother, Mussani Alhadeff, a shopkeeper, and his wife and children. In every letter, she names the many relatives who join her in sending their greetings over to Africa.

If I wanted to write down everything, dear Marie, I would need a whole journal.

My family sources have told me that during the war, a young cousin named Rosa Hanan lived with Rivca in her house on Via de la Eskola. In fact, Rivca dictated her letters to Rosa, who wrote them down in her looping script, using Latin letters rather than the right-to-left soletreo handwriting of Sephardic Jews. Occasionally, Rosa interjects her voice into the letters and relays questions or greetings to the recipients. The correspondence thus weaves the voices of two Jewish women, one older and one much younger, as they lived through the war together. (Rosa ultimately survived the concentration camps, married another Holocaust survivor, and settled in Rome. I met her in an emotional Skype conversation last year.)

Marriageits joyful occurrence for her son Solomon in April 1940, contrasted with the ongoing bachelorhood of her sons B.S. and Abneris Rivcas main topic of discussion. Addressing herself in four of the letters to her new daughter-in-law Marie, who left Rhodes for the Belgian Congo on the last boat out of the island before the war, Rivca repeatedly expresses her joy at the union and bestows blessings upon the newlyweds: Ivas agaj viejos con todos los deseos compartidos amenMay you grow old with all your wishes fulfilled, amen. Though unable to attend the simcha in person, Rivca celebrated the wedding from afar with her friends on Rhodes. She boasts to Marie that 200 people attended the magnificent boda (wedding celebration) that she hosted in the couples honor.

Echoing anxious Jewish mothers throughout time, Rivca also uses the space of her letters to chide Solomon and Abner for not writing frequently enough. She calls them timbelico, a Ladino word for lazy (though it uses the diminutive form, expressing endearment), and employs a popular Ladino saying to encourage them to correspond with her more often: El querer es poder, or Where theres a will, theres a way! She implores Abner especially, No saves che la sodisfaction di una madri es las letteras buenas de los ijosYou dont realize the satisfaction it gives a mother to read happy letters from her children.

Much more worrying than their lack of communication, though, is the fact that Abner and Buhoraci, as she calls her beloved oldest son, Behor, are both still single. In the letter dated May 9, 1940, she declares to Marie: When we marry off our dear Buhoraci, well have a month of wedding celebrations. God willing, well see that happy day in all our lives, amen. Because this is my greatest desire. Writing to Abner, Rivca promises to make him a boda just as impressive as the one she made for Solomon, if only he will find himself a wife. As it happens, despite her agitation on the subject, three of her five sons (B.S., Abner, and a middle son named Haim) never married.

Reading the letters over and over again, I comb through the Ladino originals and the English translations for clues to Rivcas personality and inner life. Her religious outlook is clear, as she frequently invokes Dio and punctuates many sentences with amen. I am especially struck by the stark difference in tone between Rivcas notes to Marie and her one letter to Abner. With her new daughter-in-law, Rivca is buoyant and positive about her situation, affirming that yo esto muy buenaI am doing very well. She is curious, pressing Marie for details about the wedding in Salisbury: Tell me more, everything about that day, Im impatiently awaiting the news. She also asks Marie about which other Jews are living in Bindura, the mining town where the couple settled briefly after their wedding.

Only in her letter to Abner, dated May 25, 1940, does Rivca betray any sense of wistfulness that she has stayed behind on the island: Y ansi passamos la vida che mi topo tanto lescios de vosotros. And so our lives are passing by and I find myself so far away from you all. A few lines later, she shares a heartbreaking confession that brings me to tears: Mi cheria aser un pasciaro i bevir serca di vosotros. Ma ya me ise vieja i no es possivle di aser estos camminos de muevo. Id like to become a bird and live near you. But Ive grown old already and I can no longer turn onto a new path. Here, it seems, Rivca betrays her true feelings to her youngest son: She has made her choice to stay and is now trapped on the path, whichwe now knowwill lead to deportation to Athens and then Auschwitz in just over four years time.

Id like to become a bird and live near you. But Ive grown old already and I can no longer turn onto a new path.

Rivcas grandchildren, who now have grandchildren of their own, have told me that despite her anxieties, Rivca remained resolute during the war. During the British bombings of Rhodes in 1944, all of the Jews in La Juderia would leave their neighborhood and run to the other side of the island. Rivca, however, refused to flee the area and insisted on staying in her house. Bombs fell on structures right across the street. One hit the Alliance Isralite Universelle school where her daughter Estrella had taught French briefly in the early 1920s; another destroyed the Kahal Grande synagogue, a centuries-old worship space around the corner from her house.

But no bombs fell on Rivcas home. It miraculously stayed intact, surviving the war even when its owner could not.

In the late 1950s and early 60s, Solomon and Abner Leon, Rivcas adored and scolded timbelicos, would begin the legal process of requesting Holocaust restitution, which eventually resulted in their reclamation of the Leon house in La Juderia; in the late 1990s, I would discover the Italian letter sent to Abner in June of 1964, which confirmed Rivcas deportation in July of 1944; in 2006, I would visit the familys house, which still stands on a quiet street in La Juderia; and in 2017, I would read the correspondence that Rivca spoke aloud to young Rosa while sitting together in that house in 1940, the Ladino language flowing between them as the world beyond marched inexorably toward war.

***

This past May I visited the Ladineros, a Seattle group that meets weekly downtown to read Ladino texts, debate the language and its history, and talk about Sephardic culture. I had provided one of Rivcas letters to be discussed during the class. Settling in with coffee and cookies, we went around the room so that each participant could have a turn reading a short paragraph from the letter and translating it. Isaac Azose, the groups coordinator, who is also a retired cantor of great distinction, provided occasional corrections and thumbed through his pile of dictionaries to search for words of questionable origin or meaning.

The tall white house on the righthand side of this photo is where Shmuel Leon and Rivca Alhadeff lived with their eight children in La Juderia, the Jewish quarter of Rhodes. The house withstood wartime bombings and still stands today. (Photo: Hannah Pressman)

The class is mainly composed of older members of Seattles Sephardic community, descendants of Jews who emigrated from Rhodes and Turkey in the early 20th century. Their parents and grandparents are the ones who managed to leave in time, overcoming the combined forces of war, global upheaval, and immigration quotas to get to America and build new lives. (Rivca made an observation about the exodus to America in her May 22, 1940, letter to Marie, which was the one I selected to read with the class: Lo chi esto mirando chi no va chidar viejos en Rodis todos si estan yendo a lAmerica, she wrote. What Im seeing is that there will be no more old people in Rhodes, they are all leaving for America.)

As I sat and listened to the Ladineros renderings of Rivcas letter, hearing her voice through their voices, I thought about how my great-great-grandparents were cousins with their relatives back on Rhodes, how Rivca might have stood in line at the communal bakery chatting with one of their grandmothers, how her husband, Shmuel, might have served raki to one of their grandfathers in his caf.

I looked around the room at these Seattleites who still speak the musical mother tongue of Sephardic Jews. These are my substitute Sephardic grandparents. If 20th-century history had not taken its particular course, I might have grown up in La Juderia down the street from them. If my Leon forebears had decided to immigrate to America rather than Africa, I might have been raised in Seattles Seward Park neighborhood and gone to school with their grandchildren. Instead, I grew up in central Virginia at a double remove from Rhodes: far from the tight-knit community of Rhodesli immigrants in Zimbabwe, where my mother and her sisters attended religious school at the Sephardi Hebrew Congregation; and even further from the picturesque Mediterranean island that nurtured generations of Jews, until time so tragically ran out.

There will be no more old people in Rhodes, they are all leaving for America.

I cant help considering the historical what ifs concerning Rhodes Jews. What if Rivca had agreed to let her beloved Buhoraci take her back with him to Africa at the beginning of the war? What if Churchills dream of a Dodecanese campaign had succeeded? What if the trains had stopped running from Athens to Auschwitz in August of 1944, just before the Jews of Rhodes and Kos arrived? If any of these situations had been otherwise, Rivca might have become a bird, surviving the war, making it to Africa, and living out the rest of her life among her many children and grandchildren.

On my one visit to Rhodes, in the late spring of 2006, I visited the Holocaust memorial in Martyrs Square, located in La Juderia. An exact replica of the six-sided black marble memorial now stands in the courtyard of Seattles Congregation Ezra Bessaroth, the synagogue founded by Rhodesli Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century. This summer, the congregation will present its annual program commemorating the July 1944 deportation of Rhodes and Kos Jewish populations. In Seattle and in many other cities around the world where Rhodesli descendants now liveBrussels, Capetown, Buenos Aires, Los Angelesmemorializing is central to maintaining a connection with Rhodes. These Jews are consciously creating what Rodrigue calls an island of memory as part of their Sephardic identity.

For me, deciding how I will relate to Rhodes means figuring out the balance between mourning and celebrating. I must find ways to make meaning of my enormous sense of loss without being completely overwhelmed by it. One way I do so is to tell my children stories about the tiny island in the Mediterranean where their family lived a long time ago. I describe their ancestor Shmuel, who would fall asleep riding his donkey back from the vineyard at night. I show them pictures of the giant Crusader walls and gates that mix with Ottoman minarets in the towns skyline. I tell them we will all visit the island one day and find the house where Rivca lived.

Another way to make meaning, as hard as it may be sometimes, is to reread Rivcas letters from the spring of 1940. Like other Holocaust-era letters, they are marked by date and place, and they tell the story of people caught in the crosshairs of forces larger than themselves. Unlike other letters, Rivcas correspondence belongs to my familys narrative, casting an irrevocable shadow because of her death, but also shedding light on her life.

***

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Hannah Pressman has a doctorate in Hebrew literature and is co-editor of Choosing Yiddish: New Frontiers of Language and Culture. Her writing has appeared in Lilith, the Forward, eSefarad.com, and MyJewishLearning.com. She lives in Seattle, where she is affiliate faculty for the UW Stroum Center for Jewish Studies.

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The correspondence constitutes the only remaining trace of Rivca’s voice, as well as a relatively rare window onto a … – Tablet Magazine

Trump Official Once Praised a Defender of Holocaust Deniers – Mother Jones

Posted By on August 21, 2017

Now shes in charge of family planning policy.

David CornAug. 21, 2017 6:00 AM

President Donald Trump watches the lighting of memorial candles during the annual Days of Remembrance Holocaust ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda on April 25. Tom Williams/ZUMA

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump appointed Teresa Manning, a leading anti-abortion activist, to be a deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services. The pick was controversial because Manning, formerly a legislative analyst at the conservative Family Research Council anda lobbyistfor the National Right to Life Committee, would be in charge of family planning policy, even though she has questioned theefficacy of contraception in preventing pregnancy and has said government should not play a role in family planning. But there was one item in her rsum that did not receive attention: She had once praised a defender of Holocaust deniers.

Manning edited a book published in 2003 that was a collection of essays by die-hard anti-abortion advocates calledBack to the Drawing Board:The Future of the Pro-Life Movement. That sameyear, she moderated a panel discussion in Washington, DC, to promote the book that featured its contributors and was co-sponsored by the Republican National Coalition for Life. Half an hour into the program, Manningwho then went by the name Teresa Wagnerintroduced Joe Sobran, who had written a key chapter in the book:

Hes a writer and columnist, a former senior editor atNational Review, a known authority on topics as diverse as the United States Constitution and Shakespeare. He authored the chapter in the book called The Republican Lesser Evil.’ He was tasked with critiquing the Republican Party record [on abortion]. He has been called the finest columnist of his generation as well as a national treasure. I wholeheartedly agree with both statements.

Sobran proceeded toslam the GOP, insisting that hardly any Republicans were truly committed to the anti-abortion cause. Referring to the Republican Party, he remarked, the lesser evil keeps getting more evil. He hailed Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), another contributor to Mannings book who was present at the event, for being one of the few Republicans who fully embraced the fight against abortion as a top priority.

In her flattering introduction of Sobran, Manning neglected to mention that a few months earlier, in June 2002, he was a speaker at the 14th annual convention of the Institute for Historical Review. This is how the Southern Poverty Law Center has described the group: Founded in 1978 byWillis Carto, a longtime anti-Semite, the Institute for Historical Review (IHR) is a pseudo-academic organization that claims to seek truth and accuracy in history, but whose real purpose is to promote Holocaust denial and defend Nazism.

IHR began holding annual conferences in 1979.Holocaust deniers, includingDavid Duke, the neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan leader, would attended the gathering. A prominent speaker at the conferences and other IHR get-togethers was David Irving, perhaps the leading Holocaustdenierof his time. As the SPLC once put it, For years, IHRs yearly conferences were key events that offered networking opportunities for neo-Nazis and anti-Semites from around the world.

In a 2001 column, Sobran had denied that IHR was anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi and praised its magazine,The Journal of Historical Review, for publishing long and fascinating articles. He blasted Jewish groups for reviling the IHR and trying to interfere with its activities. He presented as legitimate the revisionist view that fewer than a million Jews perished of various causeschiefly diseaseduring World War II. Sobran noted that many Holocaust witnesseshave been discredited. He questioned whether the word Holocaust accurately applied to what happened to Jews during the Nazi years, referring to the event as the Jewish misfortune.

Sobrans affinity for the IHR was not surprising. In 1993, he was fired as a columnist for the conservativeNational Review by editor William F. Buckley, who had once mentored Sobran and now disparaged his contextually anti-Semitic writing.

At the 2002 IHR convention in Irvine, California, Sobran hailed the courage of the Institute for Historical Review and its leaders. He called critics of IHR raving, hate-filled fanatics. In his remarkspublished subsequently in IHRs journal under the headline For Fear of the JewsSobran defended the members of the IHR as reasonable people free of any bigotry. In my thirty years in journalism, he asserted, nothing has amazed me more than the prevalent fear in the profession of offending Jews, especially Zionist Jews. He lambasted Israel and its treatment of Arabs, and he claimed, The only discernible duty of Jews, it seems, is to look out for Israel. He insisted that he was not a Holocaust denier himself, but he inveighed against those who criticized the deniers and contended that the main point of the Holocaust narrative was to justify the existence of Israel. In short, he noted, the Holocaust has become a device for exempting Jews from normal human obligations.

Sobrans speech to the IHR cost him a job. Prior to the convention, conservative Pat Buchanan had offered Sobran a column inThe American Conservative, a magazine Buchanan had co-founded. But shortly before Sobran was to start the column, Scott McConnell, the editor of the magazine, discovered Sobran had accepted an invitation to speak before the IHR crowd. He called Sobran and begged him not to do so, telling Sobran that he could not employ him if he delivered the speech. McConnell feared this would ruin his magazines reputation. Sobran was angry and upset and refused to withdraw. McConnell killed his column.

Sobran died in 2010 at the age of 64 due to kidney failure related to diabetes. AWashington Post obituary noted:

Over the years, Mr. Sobrans views veered ever more wildly to the right, beyond the ken of National Review and anything resembling the mainstream. He praised an unabashedly racist publications called Instauration, which, in Mr. Sobrans own words, was openly and almost unremittingly hostile to blacks, Jews, and Mexican and Oriental immigrants.

With little substantiation, he wrote of centuries of Jewish persecution of Christians and denounced Israel as an untrustworthy tiny, faraway socialist ethnocracy. He wrote that the New York Times really ought to change its name to Holocaust Update.

In the preface toBack to the Drawing Board, Manning, who did not respond to a request for comment, called contributors to the book statesmen, scholars, doctors, lawyers, judges, activists, and mothers. And at the conference, she remarked that they included people that I have respected and admired my entire professional life. Presumably, her accolades applied to Sobran, whose controversial association with Holocaust deniers and whose contextually anti-Semitic writings were publicly known within conservative circles at the time.

The woman who once hailed Sobran as a national treasure today is making policy for Trump.

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Trump Official Once Praised a Defender of Holocaust Deniers – Mother Jones

EMS couple saves two on Friday – Arutz Sheva

Posted By on August 21, 2017

After Miri Shvimmer, a United Hatzalah volunteer paramedic responded to three life-saving calls in a few hours with Lior Ashkenazi, a fellow United Hatzalah volunteer EMT, she quipped One might say we had a productive day.

On Friday afternoon just after 3:00 p.m. the couple responded to an emergency in which an individual jumped off the Kibbutz Galuyot bridge. The patient suffered severe trauma to multiple systems and was treated on scene by the couple who were among the first responders to arrive at the scene. We were out shopping and we got the call that a person had fallen from the bridge. Due to the traffic jams that ensued, it took the ambulance a long time to arrive. We drove on Liors ambucyle and arrived in just a few minutes, explained Shvimmer.

The couple, who had treated a teenager for serious stab wounds just two days earlier, was on the scene of the attempted suicide within less than three minutes, thanks to Ashkenazis ambucycle.

We arrived at the scene together but left separately, explained Ashkenazi as Shvimmer, who is a paramedic, had to head to the hospital with the ambulance as the vehicle that arrived at the scene did not have a paramedic on board.

In Israel, it is against the law to diminish care, explained Eli Beer, President, and Founder of United Hatzalah. Thus if the medical situation requires a higher level of care and one of our volunteer paramedics or even one of our volunteer EMTs are more experienced than the ambulance crew, they go with the ambulance and transport the patient to the hospital. This is in order to maintain the high level of care that our volunteers provide for the patients during the journey to the hospital as well.

Before Shvimmer left with the patient, Ashkenazi asked which hospital the ambulance was headed to and cleared the way on his ambucycle. He met Shvimmer there and picked her up so that the couple could continue their afternoon, having saved the persons life and handed the patient over to the next level of care at the hospital. We headed back to the shuk (open market) to finish our shopping for Shabbat and we had just arrived when we received a call that a woman had collapsed one street over. We rushed over and began CPR, Ashkenazi recalled. Once again the couple was the first on the scene. Unfortunately in this instance the patient did not survive and after lengthy resuscitative efforts EMS teams were forced to declare her death.

The CPR call was the third call of the day for the pair. We were a bit busy all day, said Ashkenazi. We had responded to an allergic reaction earlier in the day when Miri had to accompany an ambulance once again to the hospital after a child suffered an anaphylactic reaction in the morning and required an epinephrine shot. We both went to the emergency and I picked her up then as well.

Both Shvimmer and Ashkenazi agree that It isnt always simple to have to drop everything at a moments notice and keep up with all of lifes expectations of studying, errands, and still having a social life. But the goal and the reward of helping others makes it well worth the hassle and keeps us motivated. We have found that we are able to minimize the effects on our schedules of rushing to a scene as much as possible even when it happens multiple times a day. Thankfully, our friends and family are all very understanding of our spontaneous disappearances due to an emergency call in our vicinity, and that makes it easier for us as well.

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EMS couple saves two on Friday – Arutz Sheva

Benjamin Netanyahu and the Politics of Grievance – The Atlantic

Posted By on August 21, 2017

A leader who portrays himself as one of the persecuted, the target of an incessant witch-hunt by the so-called deep state. A liberal media intent on revisiting an election gone badly. And a left-wing political machine supposedly out to get him. This leader, of course, is Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel.

On August 4, Netanyahus former chief of staff signed a deal with the Israeli police to become a states witness in two criminal investigations in which the prime minister is a suspect. One of the cases involves gifts from billionaires abroad; the other concerns an alleged attempt to negotiate favorable press coverage. Three other investigations involve people close to Netanyahu: his lawyer (a second cousin), a political appointee, and even his wife, Sara. Netanyahu has not been indicted by the attorney general, let alone convicted by a criminal courtthat could take months.

And yet, things dont look good for Bibi, as the leak-happy Hebrew press keeps reporting. The states witness, Ari Harow, must provide the goods if he himself is to avoid a prison sentence for suspected bribery and fraud; few know more about Netanyahus dealings than him. Netanyahus many rivals at home, both within and outside his own Likud party and coalition, have long been preparing for the end of his tenure. Now, they smell political blood.

Netanyahus response has been one of defiance. On August 9, Likud party officials and supportersthe Bibi faithfulgathered at a rally in Tel Aviv to voice their support for the prime minister. There, he delivered a message of persecution, railing against the despised liberal media and the even-more despised left-wing. The two, he said, are one and the same. They had failed to beat him at the polls, and were now out to get him by other means, which that amorphous elitethe left-wing, the mediapresumably control. Never mind that the attorney general, who holds sole discretionary power to indict him, is a Netanyahu appointee and certainly no lefty, or that his rival and predecessor, Ehud Olmert, just left prison, where he spent nearly 18 months after being convicted on charges similar to those Bibi now faces.

At the rally, Netanyahu seemed to channel Donald Trump. He even explicitly (mis)used the English phrase fake news to attack the supposedly biased mainstream media thats out to get him. While Netanyahu and Trump are profoundly differentBibis many faults aside, he is erudite, cautious, and experiencedthe two men share an approach to confronting political adversity: divide and conquer, turn the spotlight on the other, create an other when none is available, and always, always, feed the base.

Therein lies a long-term danger for both Israel and America. The governing institutions of each are strong, but their leaders have the power to shape or erode basic norms of democracy and codes of national unity; both Netanyahu and Trump have been careless at best in this regard. Faced with a real threat to his position, perhaps even to his liberty, Netanyahu is once again playing with fire.

Netanyahus performance at that Likud gathering was vintage Bibi, recalling his first run for prime minister in the 1990s. Back then, Netanyahu led the opposition to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of the Labor Party, as a vicious public campaign against him swept through Israels right-wing. After his assassination by a right-winger, Netanyahu defeated Rabins successor, Shimon Peres, to become Israel’s youngest-ever prime minister. In Netanyahus mind, the same elite he now attacksthe media, the left-wing, the supposed deep statenever forgave him, blaming him for the incitement against Rabin, and for daring to defeat Peres fair and square. They never accepted this outsider who was raised partly in America, who had never been a minister (he had been a deputy minister), and who had never been part of any of the main cliques of the Israeli elite.

Netanyahus paranoia was not entirely unwarranted. On the morning after his first electoral victory in May 1996, for example, a mere six months after Rabins assassination, signs lamenting that Rabin was assassinated twiceequating his win to the prime ministers deathadorned signposts on the streets of Tel Aviv. Many Rabin-Peres supporters never got over Netanyahus victory. (They were also appalled by many of his subsequent policies.) Yet there was also political opportunity for Netanyahu in that narrative, which he exploited.

The old elites, a phrase that gained currency in Israel during Netanyahus first term, were the bogeymen for the disparate parts of his political base: the Mizrahim, the ultra-orthodox Jews, the National-Religious, the Russian-speaking immigrants from the former Soviet Union. They shared little except their antagonism to Israels perceived elite, the left-wing and largely secular Ashkenazi Jews of Israel. As Menachem Begin did 1977, Netanyahu, an Ashkenazi Jew, enlisted the votes of these left-behinds, sometimes called second Israel, to the political cause of the (Ashkenazi) right-wing. Almost every segment of Jewish-Israeli society that felt disenfranchised opposed the hated establishment, leaving only Israels Arab citizens aligned with the left.

For Netanyahu, catering to the base also came with political risk. Many in the Israeli political center were taken aback by his tone when, for example, he was caught on camera whispering into the ear of an octogenarian rabbi influential among religious Mizrahi voters that the left had forgotten what it means to be Jewish. Many voters in the centernot leftist themselvesdisliked such tactics. Netanyahu was routed in the elections of 1999 in no small part because of a sense of fatigue with the partisanship of his first term. Like in the United States, a base offers loyalty and energy, but not always sufficient numbers.

At the same time, Netanyahus choice to voice the legitimate, sometimes-justified concerns of those who felt left behind had important benefits for Israeli society, in the symbolic realm at least. Mizrahi culture and heritage, for example, received more recognition and airtime in mainstream media.

In the United States, too, one lesson of Trumps rise is that its ruling elite need to take a hard look at the many Americans alienated by the current power structures. It may have been high time for Washington to be shocked by its disconnect from much of the country. But without a leader able to transform grievance into empowerment and political victory into responsibility and ownership, the disconnect will only widen.

In the end, Netanyahu failed to transform his victory into a cathartic experience for the groups he claimed to elevate; he never stopped campaigning as the antithesis to the hated elite. The never-ending, cynical invocation of the political bases grievancessomething Netanyahu and others have now perfectedhad severe consequences for Israeli society and politics. Even as he secured political power, Netanyahu preferred to play the role of leader of the opposition, to perpetuate a sense of victimhood among his supporters rather than transform his numerous political victories into agency, empowerment and, above all, responsibility.

Today, Netanyahu’s gamble of catering to the base while neglecting the center is less risky than it was in the 1990s, as the Israeli right-wing has expanded. Hasmol, or the left in Hebrew, is now often used as a pejorative phrase. Rabins Oslo peace process, and the left as a political camp, were decimated by the Second Intifada, which began in the summer of 2000. The political center of Ariel Sharon and Olmert, which pushed for unilateral separation from the Palestinians, was rebuffed in Israeli voters eyes by the rockets that followed the disengagement from Gaza in 2005. It has now been 40 years since the rise of the Likud party of Begin and Netanyahu. Over that time, Labor, the once-hegemonic party of Israeli politics, has held the prime ministership for less than eight years (the centrist Kadima held it for three more). The right-wings reign in Israel today is no temporary fluke.

And yet Likud still speaks as the underdog, as the opposition to a deep state and an amorphous elite. (That elite, incidentally, feels more besieged and marginalized than ever.) This thinking helps explain, at least in part, why in the last election in 2015, Netanyahu posted a video warning his supporters that foreign-funded NGOs were busing Arab voters in droves to polling stationsa false story, and reckless for Netanyahu, leader of a country where 20 percent of the citizenry is Arab, to disseminate.

The power of Netanyahus base does not mean he will evade legal trouble, however. The rule of law in Israel is strong. If the state prosecutor recommends indictment, the attorney general will then weigh the evidence and the chances of conviction, and likely grant Netanyahu a special hearing before any final decision to indict.

Netanyahu has hinted that he does not intend to resign even if indicted. He may even try to call for early elections in order to gain a popular mandate in the face of a legal decision. Yet if Bibi is indicted, he will likely eventually have to resign; polling suggests that even many right-wing voters expect him to do so.

After Netanyahu, the opposition would aim to capitalize on the scandals and seek to replace him. Yet the power of his base means that his replacement may well come from within his own camp. If he resigns, Likud might also maintain its coalition and simply appoint one of its own as prime minister, bypassing a general election.

If the right-wing prevails, Israels policies, including its stance toward the Palestinians, would remain largely unchanged. Yet a new prime minister, whether a hawk or a dove, would have a chance to change a central aspect of the Netanyahu legacy: the divisiveness of his politics. Even after over 11 years as prime minister, Netanyahu has, deliberately, never lost the appeal of an oppositional figure pitting himself against a hated establishment. In Israel, as in the United States, that is a dangerous approach to leadership.

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Benjamin Netanyahu and the Politics of Grievance – The Atlantic

Is there a blessing for the eclipse? – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on August 21, 2017

Solar eclipse 370. (photo credit:REUTERS)

As millions of Americans gear up for the rare solar eclipse on Monday, rabbis across the spectrum weighed in on the event – and its significance.

For a wide swath of the United States, the sun will be eclipsed at some point on Monday leaving residents – and those traveling to see it – in darkness for about two minutes. It’s the first time in 38 years that an eclipse has touched the United States.

There are Jewish blessings prescribed for seeing lightning, hearing thunder, viewing a rainbow or even smelling a flower. But what about witnessing an eclipse?

Rabbi Joshua Heller, the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Torah in Atlanta, Georgia – which is just off the path of the eclipse – wrote that there are two options of appropriate blessings to say.

One is the blessing you would say upon witnessing an earthquake or tornado, which is “Blessed is the God whose strength and power fill the world.”

The second option Heller considers is the more general “Blessed is the God who performs the work of creation,” which is said over thunder or a meteor shower.

According to Rabbi Eliezer Melamed of the Beit El Yeshiva, the former blessing is recited over scary events, while the latter is for more common, less frightening occurrences. Is the solar eclipse a scary event?

There are no direct dangers from the eclipse’s occurrence – unlike with a tornado or earthquake. However viewers can harm their eyes if they look directly at the sun, and the dangers of car accidents during those two minutes are certainly high.

But many rabbis have been wondering more allegorically if the eclipse is a bad omen for the Jewish people – and perhaps should not be blessed at all. After all, the Talmud in Tractate Sukka said that “When the sun is eclipsed it is a bad omen for the entire world.”

Rabbi David Lau, the current Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, reportedly said in 2001 that since there was no Talmudic blessing prescribed for such an event, it could not be added today.

He suggested instead reciting psalms, particularly those praising God’s glory. Others, however, ruled against saying a blessing because it is considered a bad omen, and should not be blessed.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late Lubavitcher rebbe, said in 1957 that an eclipse is a bad sign – and the result of human sin, as the Talmud says. Rabbi Nicole Guzik, of the Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, meanwhile, sees the eclipse as a reminder of the world’s beauty.

“This world is a museum of God’s beauty and if we are lucky enough to be active patrons, we will notice artwork that prior, never caught our eye,” she wrote on Facebook.

“God’s artistry is ours to discover. Be it with the sun, moon or stars, may God’s light illuminate the many divine wonders just waiting to be enjoyed.”

Rabbi Joshua Yuter, the former rabbi of The Stanton St. Shul who now lives in Jerusalem, said while he has studied these issues of superstition in Judaism, he “didn’t quite come up with an answer.”

Though he shared the Talmudic sources on Twitter with his followers, he expressed some doubts that the eclipse should be viewed as a bad omen – especially considering the many contradictory sources on the topic. “It’s possible they viewed these things theologically,” Yuter told The Jerusalem Post, and it’s “also possible it was their idea of science.”

Meaning, at the time the Talmud was written, the sages may not have understood that an eclipse was a predictable natural occurrence the way we do today. He pointed to another source in Tractate Ketuvot, which addresses all sorts of omens, and the ways in which they can be interpreted differently.

“They talk about various sorts of signs, portents, omens,” he said, “which people will interpret as they so choose.”

While the discussions are plentiful, Yuter said what is missing is a call to action, i.e. what to do when an eclipse occurs. “I personally try not to engage in historical telepathy.”

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Is there a blessing for the eclipse? – The Jerusalem Post

After Barcelona, French Jewish Leader Calls For ‘Immediate Eradication’ Of Terrorism – Forward

Posted By on August 21, 2017

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(JTA) Following the death of a pedestrian in what appeared to be a vehicular terrorist attack in Marseille, a leader of the local Jewish community called for the immediate eradication of terrorism.

Bruno Benjamin, the president of the local branch of the CRIF umbrella of Jewish communities, wrote the message on Twitter on Monday, shortly after police arrested a man they suspect is connected to the slaying of one woman and the serious injury of another woman in a car-ramming attack that morning.

Police cannot confirm that the incident was a terrorist attack, a police source told the Le Soir daily.

#Marseille, terrorism knows no borders, terrorists have no limits and no humanity. Today, a total eradication is necessary, Benjamin wrote in the unusually harshly worded message. We cannot comprehend these levels of hatred and capacity for terrorism, he added.

A prosecutor in Marseille said the incident appeared to be the work of a mentally ill person, the La Chane Info news channel reported.

The incident comes on the heels of deadly terrorist attacks in and around Barcelona on Thursday and Friday, where 14 people were killed when a van plowed through a crowd.

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After Barcelona, French Jewish Leader Calls For ‘Immediate Eradication’ Of Terrorism – Forward

Anti-Defamation League head says violent ‘alt-left’ is a right-wing … – Raw Story

Posted By on August 21, 2017

CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt (Screen capture)

Jonathan Greenblatt CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) told MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts on Sunday that the idea of a violent alt-left is a right-wing myth and that there is no equivalency between the violent hate groups of the right and the people who resist them.

In response to President Donald Trumps assertion that there are fine people on both sides of the neo-Nazi question, Greenblatt said, There are no fine people among the ranks of Nazis. Then they tried to divert the conversation to the quote-unquote alt-left, but look, there is no comparable side on the left to the alt-right.’

The alt-right, he said, are white supremacists who amass with an idea of pushing a nationalist agenda that pushes out minorities based on how you pray, who you love or where youre from. So, its really not comparable.

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Anti-Defamation League head says violent ‘alt-left’ is a right-wing … – Raw Story

Charlottesville synagogue on fear, resolve and more security – The Charlottesville Newsplex

Posted By on August 20, 2017

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — For Diane Gartner Hillman, the new reality of being Jewish in Charlottesville sunk in when she had to leave Congregation Beth Israel through the back door.

On any other Saturday, worshippers at the city’s lone synagogue would have left through the front and walked without fear to their cars, parked near the statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee in Emancipation Park.

But now, men wearing white shirts and khaki pants and other white supremacists carrying semi-automatic rifles were streaming past their sanctuary, taunting Beth Israel with phony Brooklyn accents and mocking Yiddish expressions, such “oy gevalt.”

“We were in a different world than where we had been previously,” Hillman, 69, said Friday, as a stream of people entered the synagogue, now guarded by three police officers out front and several more in the park. “We just don’t know where things are going to go from here.”

The presence of hundreds of white nationalists and the loss of three lives last weekend have members of the synagogue confronting new levels of anxiety and resolve. Anti-Semitic vitriol and violence has been on the rise in the United States, according to the Anti-Defamation League and other organizations that monitor hate groups. But the dynamic in Charlottesville showed an intensity of bigotry rarely seen out in the open.

Writing for the website of the Union of Reform Judaism, Beth Israel President Alan Zimmerman said Nazi websites had called for the temple to be burned.

“Fortunately, it was just talk – but we had already deemed such an attack within the realm of possibilities, taking the precautionary step of removing our Torahs, including a Holocaust scroll, from the premises,” he wrote.

Beth Israel hired an armed security guard for the first time last Saturday, and plans to increase security, according to the congregation’s Facebook page. One Beth Israel member was “injured by the terrorist who used his car as a weapon, but is recovering at a local medical center and is expected to do so fully,” that post said.

As much as the show of hatred increased fears, it also boosted a sense of community in this normally quiet college town.

Cale Jaffe, a University of Virginia law professor, watched as the white nationalists marched past with guns, helmets and body armor, “explicitly with the intent of intimidation and to create violence,” and for the first time, felt anxious about walking into his synagogue, he said.

“But it has crystalized for me why it’s so important to push through that anxiety and step inside the sanctuary,” said Jaffe, 44. “It made it clear that’s a place I need to be.”

And many people in Charlottesville who aren’t Jewish have come to Beth Israel to show their solidarity, Jaffe said. “What gives me hope going forward is knowing so many people in the larger Charlottesville community feel that way and are there with us.”

AP National Religion Writer Rachel Zoll contributed from New York.

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Charlottesville synagogue on fear, resolve and more security – The Charlottesville Newsplex

Fearing deportation, Araceli Velasquez finds reprieve in a Denver … – The Denver Post

Posted By on August 20, 2017

Araceli Velasquez had an appointment with immigration officers, as shed had many times in the past. But this time, she didnt show up.

Instead of appearing for her check-in on Aug. 9, Velasquez and her family sought refuge inside Park Hill United Methodist Church and Temple Micah synagogue Aug. 8. She plans to stay there indefinitely to avoid being separated from her husband and her three young children.

Velasquez lost a request for asylum last year and was given a year-long stay of deportation. Immigration authorities have since indicated that they would not renew that protection, meaning she faces deportation, said Jennifer Piper of the American Friends Service Committee. Velazquez fled El Salvador in 2010 when her life was threatened and the possibility of being forced to return there was a risk she wasnt willing to take.

PHUMC and Temple Micah are the newest religious congregations to join the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition ,bringing its total to 11. The two communities share a place of worship on Montview Boulevard.

Its an honor and a privilege to stand up for Araceli and her family, said Rabbi Adam Morris. It feels right. Its what our tradition teaches and with the tone of our country, weve certainly felt that more poignantly.

It was in March of this year that the leaders of the congregations met to discuss the idea of becoming a sanctuary congregation. Steve Holz-Russell, a layman for PHUMC was galvanized by the idea and worked to start a sanctuary task force.

It started with educating ourselves, Holz-Russell said. We had a meeting to talk about issues and then we voted. There was an overwhelming vote in favor to doing this.

Their 100-year-old building became the perfect location for the Velasquez family. They are currently staying in the youth center while a more permanent location is being renovated. The space will have a common area, bedroom, bathroom and kitchenette to provide a safe, comfortable and accepting place, Morris said.

This is the first time that the congregations have given someone sanctuary, but religious institutions have long offered protection for immigrants.Religious sanctuary is not a legal protection against deportation agents, but immigration authorities have beenhesitant to enter houses of worship.

Velasquez walked from El Salvador and arrived on our Mexican border requesting asylum. She was detained for one month and a half in a Texas immigration facility before being released. Velasquez then made her way to Colorado and it was here that she met her husband Jorge, who has temporary protected status in the country. They have three children: 4-year-old Jorge, 2-year-old Christopher and 10-month-old Kevin who are all U.S. citizens.

Velasquez is not the first immigrant to request sanctuary as a reprieve from deportation in Colorado, but the fifth. In Denver, Jeanette Vizguerra and Arturo Hernandez Garcialeft sanctuaryafter winning two-year stays of deportation.Ingrid Latorre received a shorter reprieve. Rosa Sabido claimed sanctuary inMancos on June 2.

I think there are a lot of people in the same circumstances as Araceli, Piper said. Many people decide to return to their home country or relocate elsewhere in the U.S. It takes a very strong person to give up their freedom to got into sanctuary to try and keep their family together

Further information in Velasquezs case wasnt immediately available. The action is being organized through the Metro Denver Sanctuary Committee.

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Fearing deportation, Araceli Velasquez finds reprieve in a Denver … – The Denver Post

Judaism: Sephardim – Jewish Virtual Library

Posted By on August 20, 2017

The descendants of Jews who left Spain or Portugal after the 1492 expulsion are referred to as Sephardim. The word Sephardim comes from the Hebrew word for Spain, Sepharad, that is stated in the Bible.

It is believed that Jews have lived in Spain since the era of King Solomon (c.965-930 B.C.E.). Little information can be found on these Jews until the beginning of the first century. We do know that in 305 C.E., the Council of Toledo passed an edict forbidding Jews from blessing the crops of non-Jews and prohibiting Jews and non-Jews from eating together.

– Visigoth Rule – The Golden Age – Christian Rule, Inquisition & Expulsion – Exiled Sephardic Communities – World War II-Present – Language – Religious Practices

In 409 C.E., the Visigoths conquered Spain. The Visigoths were Arian Christians, followers of Arius who reasoned that Jesus could not logically co-exist with God and must therefore be subservient to him.

In 587 C.E., King Reccared, the Visigoth king in Spain, converted to Roman Catholicism and made it the state religion. Subsequently, the Church was to exert powerful influence on all aspects of social life. Almost immediately, in 589 C.E., a canon was passed forbidding the marriage between Christians and Jews; and in 612 C.E., the Council of Gundemar of Toledo ordered that all Jews submit to baptism within the year.

In 638 C.E., the Arian Visigoths declared that only Catholics could live in Spain.

The situation improved in 711 when Spain fell under the rule of the Muslim Moors. Both Muslims and Jews built a civilization, based in Cordoba, known as Al-Andalus, which was more advanced than any civilization in Europe at that time. Jews were able to coexist peacefully with their neighbors; however, they were still treated as dhimmis, “People of the Book” (Jews and Christians) who are protected under Islamic law. Jews did not have complete autonomy and had to pay a special tax, the jizha , but were able to freely practice their religion.

The era of Muslim rule in Spain (8th-11th century) was considered the “Golden Age” for Spanish Jewry. Jewish intellectual and spiritual life flourished and many Jews served in Spanish courts. Jewish economic expansion was unparalleled. In Toledo, Jews were involved in translating Arabic texts to the romance languages, as well as translating Greek and Hebrew texts into Arabic. Jews also contributed to botany, geography, medicine, mathematics, poetry and philosophy.

A number of well-known Jewish physicians practiced during this period, including Hasdai Ibn Shaprut (915-970), who was the doctor for the Caliph (leader of Spain). Many famous Jewish figures lived during the Golden Age and contributed to making this a flourishing period for Jewish thought. These included Samuel Ha-Nagid, Moses ibn Ezra, Solomon ibn Gabirol Judah Halevi and Moses Maimonides.

Jews lived separately in aljamas (Jewish quarters). They were given administrative control over their communities and managed their own communal affairs. Jews had their own court system, known as the Bet Din. Rabbis served as judges and rendered both religious and civil legal opinions.

Islamic culture also influenced the Jews. Muslim and Jewish customs and practices became intertwined. For example, Arabic was used for prayers rather than Hebrew or Spanish. Before entering the synagogue, Jews washed their hands and feet, which is a practice done before entering a mosque. Arab melodies were used for Jewish songs. Jews wore the clothing style of their Moorish neighbors, although they were not allowed to wear silk or furs.

Jews lived peacefully in Al-Andulus for 400 years. The Golden Age for Jewry in Muslim Spain declined after the Almovarids gained power in 1055 and continued to deteriorate after the Almohads came to power in 1147. Jews continued to work as moneylenders, jewelers, cobblers, tailors and tanners, however, they had to wear distinguishing clothing, such as a yellow turban.

The Christians conquered Toledo in 1098 and the Jews in Christian Spain prospered, while those in Muslim Spain suffered under the Almohad dynasty. Both Jews and Muslims were involved in the cultural, economic, intellectual, financial and political life of Christian Spain. By the mid-13th century, the Christians controlled most of Spain and increasingly forced Jews to convert to Christianity. Those who converted became known as Marranos or New Christians. Marranos are also known as crypto-Jews because they taught their children and practiced Judaism in secret. During this period, Jews were forced to participate in “religious” disputes with Christians counterparts.

Anti-Jewish riots broke out in 1391 in several Spanish cities and the situation worsened for the Jewish community. New Christians were tortured or killed in the Spanish Inquisition during the 15th century. Father Tomas de Torquemada felt that if the Jews remained in Spain, then they would influence the new converts to Christianity. After the capture of Granada from Muslim forces, Father Torquemada convinced King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella that the Jewish community was expendable. In 1492, Isabella and Ferdinand commanded that all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity be expelled from Spain. The Jews were given four months to leave Spain and were forced to sell their houses and businesses at low prices. It is estimated that 100,000 Jews left Spain at this time. The expulsion from Spain is commemorated every year by all Jews on the holiday of Tisha BAv.

Many Spanish Jews settled in Portugal, which allowed the practice of Judaism. In 1497, however, Portugal also expelled its Jews. King Manuel of Portugal agreed to marry the daughter of Spains monarchs. One of the conditions for the marriage was the expulsion of Portugals Jewish community. In actuality only eight Jews were exiled from Portugal and the rest converted, under duress, to Christianity.

In the first Sephardi Diaspora, a large number of Jews settled in North Africa and in the Ottoman Empire, especially, Turkey and Greece. Spanish exiles brought with them a unique culture, language (Ladino) and traditions. Many of these immigrants continued to speak Ladino until the 20th century.

A Marrano Diaspora took place a century later. Some Marranos had settled in Portugal and eventually moved to Holland, where they were allowed to outwardly practice Judaism. Many settled in Western Europe and moved to the Americas. Marranos who settled in Latin America continued practicing crypto-Judaism for many years because Spain began an inquisition in its New World colonies. Fear of persecution led Crypto-Jews to settle in remote villages. Today, descendants of crypto-Jews can be found in Colorado and New Mexico.

Europe

Large Sephardic communities were founded in Venice, Leghorn, London, Bordeaux, Bayonne and Hamburg. These immigrants spoke Portugese and Spanish and many adapted mainstream Western European culture. Successful business enterprises were started by the Sephardim and their trade networks became famous worldwide.

Throughout the medieval period in Europe, the Sephardic Jews were treated as elites among Jews. Many times they had a secular education and often had great wealth. In the 18th century, the Sephardic Jews who lived in Amsterdam and in London, tended to discriminate against non-Sephardic Jews who wanted to pray at their synagogues by forcing them to sit separately from the rest of the congregation.

North Africa and the Arab World

For hundreds of years, Sephardic Jews lived, as dhimmis, in relative peace with Muslim neighbors and rulers in North Africa and in the Ottoman Empire. They were considered second-class citizens, but were free to practice their own religion and participate in commerce. Similar to Spain and Portugal during the Golden Era, the Sephardic upper class in the Ottoman empire were employed as translators.

The Sephardic communities in the Arab world were more receptive to modernity than their Ashkenazi counterparts in Europe. The Zionist movement became popular among Sephardic Jews in North Africa. Many Sephardic rabbis in the Ottoman Empire supported Zionism and the Zionist movement spread to many Muslim countries in North Africa, such as in Egypt and Tunisia.

In World War II, Sephardim in Europe suffered the same fate as other Jews, and most perished during the Holocaust. In a few places, such as Holland, they received some preferential treatment, meaning they were among the last to be liquidated.

After the establishment of the State of Israel, conditions for Jews in many Islamic countries grew increasingly uncomfortable and, in some cases, their lives were threatened. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, tens of thousands of Sephardic Jews fled from North Africa and other countries in the Middle East to settle in Israel, usually being forced by the Muslim authorities to leave behind most of their worldly possessions. Once they came to Israel, most of the Sephardic immigrants were put in transit camps and became dependent on welfare. The conditions in these camps were very bad and it was difficult for the newcomers to work their way out of the lower rung of Israeli society because they had less education than the established Ashkenazic community. Consequently, many worked in blue-collar professions.

Today, tensions remain between Ashkenazim and Sephardim in Israel because of the poor treatment the latter received and the long, difficult road Sephardic Jews have had to travel to approach parity in society. Though they have not yet achieved equality, Sephardic Jews increasingly occupy positions of prestige and influence. Moroccan-born David Levy, for example, has served as foreign minister and, in July 2000, Iranian-born Moshe Katsav was elected president.

Besides Israel, other large Sephardic communities developed in Central and South America, Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo. Meanwhile, the existing communities in New York, Paris and London grew. One of the most famous Sephardic synagogues is Congregation Shearith Israel, the first Jewish congregation in North America, and the only Jewish congregation in New York from its founding in 1654 until 1825.

The Sephardi Jews preserved their special language, which was a combination of Hebrew and Spanish, known as Ladino. Ladino is still spoken by some Sephardic communities, such as those in Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Rumania, France and Latin America. Today the largest Ladino-speaking community can be found in Israel. One can also read Ladino in Sephardic literature.

When Jews left Spain and Portugal they continued to speak Ladino, in the same grammar and vocabulary of 14th and 15th century Spanish. The Sephardic exile communities of Amsterdam, London and Italy were still in contact with Spain and hence they continued to speak Castillian Spanish.

Exile communities in the Ottoman Empire, however, retained the 14th and 15th century Spanish and borrowed words from Hebrew, Arabic Greek, Turkish and French and diverged considerably from Castillian Spanish. There are many different Ladino dialects. An Oriental Ladino was used in Turkey and Rhodes, while a Western Ladino was spoken in Greece, Macedonia, Bosnia, Serbia and Rumania.

Ladino is written using Hebrew letters and often uses the Rashi script. In fact, Rashi script was originally a Ladino script; however, after Rashis death, this script was used to differentiate his commentary from others ones. More recently, in the 20th century, Ladino has been written using the Latin alphabet.

Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews share the same tenets of Judaism, follow the Babylonian Talmud and the Shulkhan Arukh. Differences arise in customs and in liturgy. For example, on Passover, Sephardic Jews eat kitnyot, rice and corn products. Also, at many Sephardic sedars, the father will reenact the experience of gaining freedom by circling the sedar table and holding a symbolic bag over his shoulder.

Other differences exist in the way Sephardic Jews wind their tefillin straps outwards, whereas Ashkenazi Jews wind the tefillin inwards. Sephardic grooms are honored with an aliyah to the Torah on the Shabbat after their wedding, whereas Ashkenazi grooms are called up to the Torah the Shabbat before the wedding.

Sephardic Torah scrolls are usually stored in a large wooden cylinder, which stands erect when opened. The parchment is in an upright position when read, whereas, Ashkenazi scrolls just have an embroidered cover and the scrolls are read while lying flat on a table.

Sephardic liturgy uses the same basic prayers, but add different psalms and poems. The prayer, Ein Keloyheinu, is recited at the Saturday morning services for both Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews, however, it is also read daily by Sephardic Jews. Sephardim also use a different cantillation for reading the Torah and different melodies for prayers. All Sephardic synagogues are traditional, women are seated separately, typically in a balcony.

Sources: Congregation Shearith Israel Golden Age of Spain. Sephardic Adventure. Marks, Scott Alfassa. “The Jews in Islamic Spain.” Sephardic House. Sephardim. Encyclopedia Judaica. CD -Rom Edition 1995. The Sephardim or Spanish Jews Stillman, Norman A. The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times. The Jewish Publication Society of America. 1991. Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph. Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People and Its History. William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1991. Ward, Seth Dr. Sephardim and Crypto-Judaism: Definition of Terms and Brief History

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Judaism: Sephardim – Jewish Virtual Library


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