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Harris’ stepdaughter accidentally highlights the complexity of Jewish identity J. – The Jewish News of Northern California

Posted By on February 16, 2021

On Inauguration Day, I was very emotional, not only because Kamala Harris became the first African American and Asian American and woman to serve as vice president, and not only because her husband, Doug Emhoff, is the first second gentleman. But also because Emhoff is the first Jewish spouse of a U.S. president or vice president.

I even wrote and performed Jew in the White House to celebrate. Check it out at

Surprisingly, the video sparked a stream of hate, with fellow Jews calling me a stupid cow or psycho for deigning to call Emhoff a Jew (his Jewish mother be damned), considering that he does not follow their brand of Jewish practice (apparently Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox).

I advise you to pick up a [T]anakh, one person advised me, not bothering to ascertain I had grown up Orthodox so I picked it up plenty of times, thank you very much.

Then the Forward ran a Jan. 22 article headlined Ella Emhoff isnt Jewish (and she doesnt want to talk about it)after her social media manager released a statement: Ella, Dougs daughter, is not Jewish.

The writer focused mainly on religious practice, but I wanted to know more. Does Ella perceive Jews as being a religious group only? If so, why? What experiences led to that perception?

Does she recognize Jews as being an ethnic group, a people, a tribe, whatever? Does she identify on that front? Is her lack of identification rooted exclusively in the fact she is not an adherent of Jewish theology? Does it come from somewhere else internalized racism, maybe?

I am interested in knowing not only because I wrote about her in my song Ella rocks a JewFro. Makes me proud. Turning up the Jew, in the D.C. crowd but because of the Jewish obsession with pegging other Jews according to formulaic notions of family, religious observance and so forth.

This especially happens in Orthodox circles, and it has sent me running from any number of synagogues and community organizations over the years. In one incident, following a particularly strident interrogation, it even sent me running to the bathroom of a synagogue, in tears.

The central question raised by all this: To what extent do we get to define ourselves, and to what extent do other people, or circumstances of fate, get to define us?

Lets start with the JewFro. The Jewish people hail from the Middle East, and therefore historically share the physiological traits of others in the Mediterranean region. Through mixing with Europeans over the generations, the skin and eye color of Ashkenazim got lighter, but other traits remained, such as the JewFro and so-called Jewish nose (in actuality shared by Arabs, Italians, etc.).

A nose job has been a rite of passage for Ashkenazi girls for years. Similarly, African American women, including those with lighter skin due to generations of ethnic blending, sometimes alter their appearance, most commonly by straightening their hair, thereby erasing a physical mark of their African roots.

While these alterations might be matters of personal preference, that preference might be the result of internalized racism like when I kept buying blonde Barbie dolls as a kid because they were prettier than the darker ones.

Now lets talk identity. A mixed-race Black woman may personally identify as white; perhaps she grew up in a white neighborhood, never knowing her Black side. And yet, she may boast African features. So can she outright dismiss that side of her? Who gets to decide that?

As a corollary, can Black people (including Black Jews) be proud of her, as one of theirs, if she rises to a position of power, leadership and visibility? White supremacists certainly wouldnt let her forget her Black side.

A friend of mine notes, if you have a drop of Black in you, and the rest of you is white, youre considered by others to be Black. But if youre Black with a drop of white in you, youre still considered to be Black.

Similarly, Nazis will unequivocally define as a Jew anyone with the faintest shade of Jewish lineage. In fact, people responding to Jew in the White House pointed out that while ultra-Orthodox Jews might not consider Emhoff a Jew, Nazis would. (But wait. Does that mean haters, through targeting whomever they hate, are the definers of identity?)

Who gets to define us as Jews is complicated by mass ignorance and confusion about who the heck we are to begin with. I think of us a nation in a knapsack, hailing back to the motherland of Israel or, more precisely, the southern Kingdom of Yehuda (Judah), from where we get our name.

Through our history, we have consolidated the elements of our national identity (land, culture, language, temple, ritual, etc.) and made it mobile, adaptable heck, virtual, if you will so that it survived, and thrived, through millennia of persecution and exile.

We fled from one place to another, blending with locals in new lands, adapting our traditions, integrating local customs with ours and regulating religious practice according to what was safe (or fashionable). Thus, we shape-shifted our individual and collective identity, and today, we are an international, multiracial, multiethnic people spanning from atheists to the devoutly religious.

Regardless of how Ella identifies herself or how anyone else identifies her Im grateful for her visibility and the complexity of her identity, if only to catalyze public discourse about what it means to be a Jew. And who gets to decide that.

Come to think of it, given the onslaught of additional questions that have arisen from the singular question of her identity, one might say that Ella is, in this way, very Jewish.

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Harris' stepdaughter accidentally highlights the complexity of Jewish identity J. - The Jewish News of Northern California

Beth Din of Arabia: Jews in Gulf countries announce first communal organizations – The Times of Israel

Posted By on February 16, 2021

The Jewish communities in six Persian Gulf countries announced on Monday the establishment of the regions first communal organization, complete with a rabbi and Jewish court, the Beth Din of Arabia.

The Association of Gulf Jewish Communities (AGJC), which brings together Jews in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, will be headed by Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie and president Ebrahim Dawood Nonoo.

The AGJC is creating a Jewish court, called the Beth Din of Arabia, to preside over issues of civil disputes, personal status, inheritance, and Jewish ritual. It will also run the Arabian Kosher Certification Agency throughout the six Gulf countries.

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The announcement comes in the aftermath of UAE and Bahrain establishing diplomatic ties with Israel in September as part of the Abraham Accords. Israel subsequently also reached normalization agreements with Sudan and Morocco.

We thought that as the future has been changed in the last six months here, as this region is opening up to the presence of Jewish people As communities we ought to get together and try to have the infrastructure necessary to service the local Jewish community and all those Jews who are passing through, Abadie told The Times of Israel.

Some countries, like UAE and Bahrain, have relatively established Jewish communities, whereas others have foreign Jewish diplomats, businessmen, military personnel and employees living there.

There is a handful in Saudi Arabia, Abadie explained. There are others that do not yet publicly live a Jewish life, but we do know of people living there that are members of our association.

Rabbi Elie Abadie with Emirati social media personality Loef el-Shareef (courtesy)

The AGJC will serve both Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews who come from countries across the globe. Abadie will seek to incorporate historic traditions from the Gulf region into the religious life of the organization. He will preside over circumcisions, bar/bat mitzvahs, and weddings. Jewish ritual slaughter is planned as well in the coming months.

Three rabbis are needed for the Beth Din, and when it meets, rabbis will fly in to join Abadie as judges. Offers have come in from Israel, Europe, and the US.

We will provide educational services in the forms of shiurim, lectures, conferences, classes, Abadie said. Some will be given in person I will travel to different places and some will be given via Zoom.

The AGJC intends to slowly build a Jewish educational system as well, starting with early childhood programs.

On Passover, which begins in late March, the AGJC will provide mahzor prayer books, matzah, and other foods for the Seder meal.

The association is funded by private donors and local community members. At this stage, it has not received any money from state governments.

Abadie said that the Emirati authorities have been extremely supportive. They have told me that whatever I need, they want to be there for me and for the community.

Members of the Jewish community of Dubai holding a Torah scroll that they brought to Abu Dhabi to mark the importance of the arrival of Israeli and American delegations to finalize a normalization deal with Israel, at a hotel in Abu Dhabi on August 31, 2020. (NIR ELIAS / AFP)

Abadie has not yet been in touch with Saudi authorities. Local Jews are handling contacts with their governments at this stage.

In recent years, the UAE has made great strides in presenting itself as an open country that respects all religions. President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan declared 2019 to be the The Year of Tolerance in the UAE. In this context, the country announced the building of a massive interfaith compound in Abu Dhabi that will also include a synagogue.

The so-called Abrahamic Family House isslated to open in 2022, and it is currently unclear who will be invited to move into the building.

Beirut-born Abadie, a prominent rabbi and scholar of Sephardic Judaism who was living in New York City, began serving as the head of the UAE Jewish community in November.

The Abadie family, Beirut, Lebanon (photo credit: courtesy)

Abadie was born in Beirut to Syrian Jewish refugees who fled Aleppo amid riots in the wake of the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine. My family witnessed firsthand how the mobs entered the synagogue, ransacked the synagogue, pillaged it, took Torah scrolls out and burned them how they dumped the rabbi in the street. And they went into many Jewish businesses and ransacked them.

An estimated 75 Jews were killed in the Aleppo riots.

Abadies family lived in Lebanon for 22 years, until they understood that the country was headed toward civil war.

He grew up in Mexico City and later moved to New York to attend Yeshiva University, where he was ordained as a rabbi in 1986. Four years later, he obtained an MD degree, and still maintains a private gastroenterology practice.

For many years, Abadie served as the spiritual leader of the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue. He also founded the School of the Sephardic Academy of Manhattan and headed the Jacob E. Safra Institute of Sephardic Studies at Yeshiva University.

He is an officer of the Rabbinical Council of America and co-president of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, a group advocating for Jewish refugees from the Middle East.

Abadie said that he has received only positive reactions while walking around Dubai wearing a yarmulke, and has even been stopped by Emiratis who want to show off their Hebrew and knowledge of Israeli songs to him. That has been a very pleasant surprise.

He will continue his medical practice at a hospital in the UAE in addition to his rabbinical duties.

Ebrahim Dawood Nonoo of Bahrain will be the AGJCs president. His family moved in the 1890s from Basra, Iraq to Bahrain, joining hundreds of Jews moving from Iraq to seek economic opportunity in Bahrain.

Ebrahim Dahood Nonoo (Courtesy of Nonoo via JTA)

A smaller number of Jews also settled in Bahrain from Iran at around the same time. At its height in the 1920s and 30s, the community had about 800 members, according to Nonoo, though others have said the number was as high as 1,500. Though community members mixed socially with Bahraini Muslims, they mainly married within the community and lived close to each other in Manama. Members continued to speak Basrawi, a Jewish dialect of Iraqi Arabic and still do.

The synagogue in Bahrain was built in 1935, and the community flourished until the 1947 UN partition vote. A group of rioters, who some claim were foreign workers, burned the synagogue to the ground and stole the countrys only Torah scroll. Most of the community left after the attack or in the decade and a half following, settling in Israel.

The few who remained or their descendants make up the 50 or so Jews living in the country. There is an active Jewish cemetery, but the synagogue rebuilt by Nonoos father in the 1990s never officially reopened and most of the community continues to pray at home. Until recently, the community relied on the US Navy base in Bahrain for kosher food and ritual items, but that arrangement no longer exists.

Manamas still functioning Jewish cemetery. (Courtesy of Ebrahim Nonoo via JTA)

Most Jews now live in the Umm al-Hassam neighborhood in Manama, Bahrains capital.

Most of the community members today are financially successful and continue to be represented in the Shura Council, which has designated a seat each for representatives of the countrys Jewish and Christian populations. In 2001, Nonoo became the first Jew appointed to serve on the countrys Shura Council, the upper chamber of its National Assembly. He was succeeded by Houda Nonoo, who later went on to serve as Bahraini ambassador to the United States. She was replaced by Nancy Khedouri, a relative of the powerful Kadoorie family, a Hong Kong-based Jewish family of Iraqi origin that went on to become one of the wealthiest families in Asia (and transliterated the surname differently). Houda Nonoo and Khedouri are Ebrahim Nonoos cousins.

Nonoo spent 15 years studying in the UK, thenreturned to Bahrain to go into his fathers money exchange business.

The rebuilt synagogue will reopen when COVID-19 restrictions are rolled back. The community will use a Torah scroll from Israel.

Nonoo looks forward to having a new experience in Bahrain during Jewish holidays. We can handle the weekly prayers on our own. but we do need a rabbi for the festivals.

He is optimistic that the establishment of the AGJC will absolutely lead to a revival of Jewish life in the kingdom. If were going to be doing bar mitzvahs here, if were going to be teaching the kids here, if were going to be able to give them a religious education here, itll make a big difference.

Houda Nonoo, Bahrains former envoy to Washington. (screen capture: YouTube/icdchannel)

Jewish life in the Gulf has increased dramatically over the last decade, said Houda Nonoo, who now works in Bahrains Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Bahrain, home to the only indigenous Jewish community in the Gulf, has seen growth in Jewish tourism over the last few years. In June 2019, we held the first minyan in decades in our synagogue during the Peace to Prosperity Workshop and two years later, we receive inquiries almost every day from Jews around the world asking about kosher food and to visit the Jewish sites in the kingdom.

In the last decade, we have seen more Jews move to the GCC for business reasons. Additionally, we have all read or experienced the boom in Jewish travel in the UAE in the last few months. As a result, we are creating the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities so that we can support each other, she said.

Ebrahim Nonoo said Bahrainis have been approaching him seeking business opportunities with Jewish and Israeli companies. Thats a good sign, too, he said. There is a bit of movement, but its very slow. In a way, its a good thing that its slow. Because to make people aware and accept the changes that are going on, its better to take it at a slower pace.

Bahrain Jewish Community Leaders with Rabbi Marc Schneier. (R- L) Current member of Bahraini parliament Nancy Khedouri, former ambassador of Bahrain to the United States Huda Nonoo, Rabbi Marc Schneier and community leader Michael Yadgar, February 2018. (courtesy)

Abadie foresees a blossoming of Jewish life in the region. I definitely see a growth for communities here in the Gulf for several reasons. He cited tourism and business opportunities. He also expects some Jews looking to move away from countries experiencing a rise in anti-Semitism to relocate to the region.

For Abadie, starting a new life as a rabbi in the Middle East is deeply personal.

Coming back to a country, where walking down the streets, I feel almost like my childhood in Lebanon. Hearing Arabic, Arabic music, smelling Arabic cuisine, hearing the inspiring prayers of the mosque, he said.

It is in a sense closing the circle of Jewish history in Arab and Islamic countries that existed for millennia.

JTA and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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Beth Din of Arabia: Jews in Gulf countries announce first communal organizations - The Times of Israel

To understand Andr Aciman, try reading Thucydides – Forward

Posted By on February 16, 2021

If this interview aired on television, Andr Aciman would have earned himself a perfect score on Room Rater.

The novelist, memoirist, essayist and scholar greeted me from the Upper West Side study where he spends most of his time. Its the kind of home office about which most of us only fantasize: an Oriental-carpeted study lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves housing his basic collection of English literature. (Books in French, Italian, and several other languages are exiled to his office at the City University of New Yorks Graduate Center, where he teaches). Appealingly disordered, with no cloying color-coordination or conveniently displayed copies of his own work, it was the kind of background that garners kudos from the viral Twitter account famous for dunking on the chattering classs interior design skills.

But I dont think Aciman was trying to win the Zoom aesthetics game. He avoids television, tweets infrequently, and is one of the only people to ever tell me that work is going apace during the pandemic. He spends most of each day writing, with occasional breaks for interviews. Ours was his third of the day.

Things werent always like this. Born in 1951 in Alexandria, Egypt, to a Sephardic Jewish family, Aciman fled the country as a teenager when the government began to systematically expel noncitizens. After living for some time in Italy, Aciman moved to America, where he eventually received a doctorate in English and comparative literature from Harvard and established himself as a scholar of Marcel Proust. Besides academic work, he published novels, essays, and the critically acclaimed memoir Out of Egypt. But it was the film adaptation of his debut novel Call Me By Your Name by director Luca Guadagnino that made him a household name.

Acimans latest book, Homo Irrealis, takes its title from the linguistic category of verbal moods, including the conditional, subjunctive and imperative, used to discuss events that have not and may never occur. Touching on the work of writers like Cavafy, Sebald, and Pessoa, the collection explores the way memory, even when it represents a constructed or altered version of the past, controls our perception of the present and future. A moody and deeply introspective collection, it initially seems like a departure from the lush Mediterranean tableaus that made Call Me By Your Name a cultural touchstone.

Yet the ineffable and surprisingly forceful character of nostalgia is a constant preoccupation of Acimans, hovering at the fringes of even his most sensual novels. In a way, Homo Irrealis functions as a guidebook to the perspective that has informed the authors storytelling for decades.

I spoke with Aciman about human psychology, the case against contemporary literature and what lessons Prousts life has to offer us. (Spoiler: None.) The following conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Tell me a little about how youve been working during the pandemic.

Image by Chris Ferguson

Andr Aciman.

Well, I basically exist on Zoom at this point. I teach on Zoom. My physical therapist is on Zoom. Youre on Zoom. Its very hard to have anything going on thats not fundamentally displacing, even though were all remaining in place.

Its funny you mention feeling displaced, because thats such a prominent theme in your work although not precisely in this sense.

Well, one is displaced because the places one goes to have folded or closed, or one doesnt want to go there because one is afraid of running into others. I feel like Im in one place, and yet at the same time the places I normally go to are not open to me. As far as writing is concerned, this is ironically a blessing, all distractions are rescinded.

Is there anything you need to have on hand while youre working?

I used to have dictionaries: French, English, Italian, even a thesaurus. And I used to have an encyclopedia. All this is gone now because I can get it online. So provided I have internet access, Im OK.

Youre a scholar of Proust, who is famous for (among other things) staying home a lot. Have you taken any pandemic-era lessons from his life?

No, because he did nothing but write for the last 15 years of his life. He didnt live. We dont know much about his private life, if there was one. He was basically trapped, and I dont like that feeling. I dont think theres anything to learn from that.

I am very Mediterranean, I like the things life gives us. At the same time, as a writer I am very withdrawn and I examine myself all the time. Im sure that once Im dead, people will look at my books and say, This guy didnt live at all. So theres a contrast between the life I live and the life that appears to have been lived in my books.

What parts of your life would surprise people who only knew you through your books?

That I have wonderful friends, that social moments are very important to me. That I like to party. This is something that isnt transparent in my books. It seems more that Im isolated, that Im not friendly, that I dont cultivate people.

Maybe we should go back to Proust in that respect. Here was a man who was extremely social, who had entre into all kinds of clans and milieus, and who at the same time wrote one of the most private novels ever written. He had to stop being social because he found it was getting in the way of his other life, his scriptorial life. But Ive never had to make that compromise.

You never had trouble balancing?

I think I had trouble when I was a graduate student, I had to read, I had to work on my dissertation, I had to study. But frankly, as soon as I got a call Were at such-and-such a place, would you want to come and join us absolutely I would drop everything to go.

I want to go back to Proust. Youre both fascinated with memory and nostalgia. Were you drawn to Proust because he shares this interest? Or did you develop it by studying him?

When I was 14 years old, my father bought me my first volume of Proust. I immediately sensed it was too close, too intimate. It was my voice. Thats the genius of Proust, whenever you read him you feel its you speaking, not him. I liked that a lot, it made me feel at home. But I felt that Dostoevsky gave me more space, and allowed me to encounter sensibilities besides my own. Eventually, I went back to Proust and found I was reading him as if I was reading myself.

So, yes, Proust allowed me to justify who I was. And I acquired skills I didnt know I had; the moment I saw them in Proust I said, Yeah, I know how to do this. The whole bit about memory, I had lived that long before knowing the word Proust. I also had this ability to examine people. I always wanted to understand why people were the way they were. Of course, I was an incurable gossip and would criticize people all the time behind their back not because they were malevolent, but because I found something about them missing. I think that is true of Proust: Hes constantly excavating who the real person before him is, because he doesnt trust that other person. How many of us truly accept others the way they are? Wouldnt we be saints if we knew how to do that?

Youve said you dont watch movies, go to plays, or read magazines, which sets you apart from writers who see artistic production and consumption as symbiotic. Why do you think that is?

Theres something about contemporary culture which I feel is facile, easy. Whereas I find Im drawn to that which is bygone, older, classical. Im always drawn to older writers, writers who are not even alive. Fundamentally my favorite writer is Thucydides. I dont accept contemporary society yet because its too present, it hasnt been ratified by time. I always feel that I should wait some more before I accept someone. For example, the French critic Roland Barthes was writing a lot of books in the late 60s and early 70s. Everyone was consuming him, and I said, No, I dont want to consume him just yet. When he died, thats when I discovered him. I always feel that a piece in a magazine bears its time stamp on it. You wrap fish with it at the end of the day.

How do you square that skepticism with the fact that you yourself are a contemporary writer, and a popular one at that?

When people tell me, I loved your book, I say You are an educated person. Why arent you reading Edith Wharton instead? In other words, it doesnt square with me that someone writing today should be read by people today. I should be read in 40 years. But of course I want to be read today. Im in a state of total contradiction.

Do you think were in a uniquely bad cultural moment, or that art now will be more rewarding to consume in a few decades?

When a new book comes out and is very successful, people are buoyed by it. Everyone wants to read the book that has been raved about in the New York Times Book Review, because that book tells a story that speaks to us today, it deals with issues that are germane to todays issues. I dont want to read something thats germane about todays issues. Id much rather read something thats totally not germane to any issues. Id much rather read about two individuals on a beach who are having an illicit affair, and experience some of their pangs and timidities, than to read a novel about two guys who are attracted to each other but are in danger because of intolerance in the society they live in. Im interested in human psychology and motivation, the inner life of people, as opposed to the outer life.

Cant you write about the individual relationships and outer life at the same time?

It is possible, I think many people are doing it. Its not that I dont know how to do it although thats a good claim to make its that Im not libidinally moved by it. Theres a kind of creative libido that has nothing to do with sex. What arouses my creativity is what goes on between two individuals. The social aspect of it does not arouse me. I cant even dwell on it for more than two sentences. Out of Egypt is about a social catastrophe for Jews, but you barely sense that. What youre dealing with is personalities, the wills of people, the stupidity, the spite. Thats what interests me.

What is it you like about Thucydides?

Oh gosh. In an undergraduate class we were made to read the beginning of The History of The Peloponnesian War, and I was bowled over. Every speech that was given, Im on that side. Even if two people are arguing with each other, Im always persuaded by the first speech and the contrary one. I know of no other writer who has cut open the human motivation, and human spite, and idiocy and fanaticism like Thucydides.

Irene Katz Connelly is a staff writer at the Forward. You can contact her at Follow her on Twitter at @katz_conn.

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To understand Andr Aciman, try reading Thucydides - Forward

Residents of all the neighborhoods: Unite! – Jewish Currents

Posted By on February 16, 2021

This article appears in ourFall 2020 Housing Issue.Subscribe nowto getJewish Currentsin your mailbox.

DRAWING ON THE RHETORIC of the socialist workers movement, representatives of the Jewish housing projects on the outskirts of Salonica (Thessaloniki), Greece, convened a congress in 1924 demanding justice from the local Jewish community, the city, and the state. In a manifesto in Judeo-Spanish (Ladino), the language of the the citys Sephardic Jewish proletariat, the new Federation of Residents of All the Popular Neighborhoods of Salonica articulated demands on behalf of the vulnerable, exploited, and unseen that still resonate today: for housing, healthcare, education, access to clean water and sanitation, coal for heat in the winter, and infrastructure like paved roads and public meeting spaces. Organizing across seven disparate neighborhoods, the citys Jewish poor placed their faith in solidarity: a boulder of iron that cannot be broken (un penyasko de fiero ke non se rompe).

The rise of industrial enterprise in the late 19th century turned Salonica into a major commercial entrept in the eastern Mediterranean for flour, tobacco, bricks, and other goods. A cadre of wealthy Jewish families owned many of the factories, while a vast, mainly Jewish working classwomen as well as mentoiled in poor conditions. With the introduction of a new Ottoman constitution in 1908, Jewish workers united with their Greek, Bulgarian, and Turkish counterparts to form the Socialist Workers Federation of Salonica, which initiated strikes and demonstrations and won major concessions in the name of workers rights. During his 1911 sojourn in the city, David Ben-Gurion characterized Salonica as a Jewish labor town, the only one in the world.

The transfer of Salonica from the Ottoman Empire to the Greek nation-state during the Balkan Wars (19121913) transformed the city. In 1917, a fire destroyed two-thirds of downtown, leaving over 70,000 people homeless, including 52,000 mostly poor Jews. The new Greek authorities used the fire as a pretext to remake Ottoman, Jewish, oriental Selnik into Greek, European, modern Thessaloniki: They did not permit poor Jews to return to the city center, instead relegating them to shanty towns, military barracks, and housing projects. According to the manifesto, the Jewish communal institutions that administered most of the housing projects did not adequately address the residents own needs. Jews in the popular neighborhoods charged communal leaders with displaying a hostile attitude toward the associations of the quarters, and called on them to embrace the principles of mutual aid rather than charity.

The housing crisis was compounded by the influenza pandemic of 19181919, and then by the arrival of 100,000 Orthodox Christian refugees from Turkey in 1923. Refugees from Turkey settled in districts adjacent to those inhabited by the Jewish victims of the fire. Tensions mounted over access to scarce resources, and rising nationalism provoked violent confrontations. With no other recourse, some refugees began to occupy Jewish schools, impeding their operationhence the manifestos demand that the squatters be removed at all costs. This demand reveals the limits of the Congresss commitment to solidarity, as nationalist antagonism trumped class solidarity between these two vulnerable populations.

Jews in the popular neighborhoods organized for their rights until the bitter end. Their efforts help to explain why 39% of Salonicas Jews voted for the Communist Party in the Greek parliamentary elections in 1926, in a dramatic repudiation of the liberal middle and upper classes in charge of both the Jewish community and the Greek government. The manifestos demand that new housing be allocated to Jews in the shantytown of Teneke Maale prior to its planned demolition also bore fruit: In the 1930s, the Jewish community and state authorities transferred many of the families to other districts, including one with new, modern apartment buildings.

The German occupation of the city (19411944) resulted in the deportation of a quarter of the citys residentsnearly 50,000 Jews, the plurality of whom were rounded up from the neglected Jewish districts. Fewer than 2,000 survived. Those who returned discovered that the Greek state had transferred abandoned Jewish properties to Orthodox Christiansespecially Nazi collaborators. Eventually, some of the Jewish survivors managed to reclaim their properties. While they waited, these Jewsthe poor and formerly wealthy alikeslept on the benches of the only two synagogues that survived.

To read the full translation of the manifesto, click here.

Devin E. Naar is an associate professor of Jewish studies, Sephardic studies, history, and international studies at the University of Washington in Seattle and the author of Jewish Salonica: Between the Ottoman Empire and Modern Greece.

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Residents of all the neighborhoods: Unite! - Jewish Currents

Immigration, intermarriage and education making US Jewry larger and more diverse – jewishpresstampa

Posted By on February 16, 2021

Since the publication more than half a century ago of a landmark article that referenced the vanishing American Jew, its been hard to shake that idea as the dominant narrative of American Jewish life.

Yet the U.S. Jewish community is the largest in the world, with an estimated 7 million Jews slightly more than Israels 6.8 million.

And despite a low birthrate, American Jews actually are growing in number, primarily due to three factors: immigration, intermarriage and education.

Over the past three decades, Jewish immigrants have come in large numbers from the former Soviet Union, Latin America and Israel. Intermarriage, rather than acting as a net negative for Jewish population, actually has resulted in more Jews, as the children of intermarried parents increasingly identify as Jewish and some spouses convert. And Jewish education has helped retain the numbers of Americans who identify as Jews and drawn some Jews by choice into the fold.

The narrative of the Jewish community that we are a disappearing people Look magazine famously referred to us [in 1964] as the Vanishing American Jew is not true, said Leonard Saxe, a demographer at Brandeis Universitys Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies. What we know is that the American Jewish population is growing substantially, and we know where they are living, how old they are and their political attitudes. We also know that American Jews are increasingly diverse, both in their demographic characteristics and how they enact their Jewish identities.

The increasing diversity of American Jewry is apparent in myriad elements, including national origin, race and ethnicity.

We are not just descendants of European Jews, said Arnold Dashefsky, director of the University of Connecticuts Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life. Therefore, planners need to reflect on how their policies can accommodate the diverse nature of American Jewry.

Dashefsky estimates that 10 percent of American Jewry is Sephardic and another 5 percent is comprised of non-white Jews from Poland, Russia and Ukraine, such as Bukharian Jews. Jews of color a broad term that encompasses African-American Jews, Ethiopian Jews and others may constitute 12-15 percent of American Jews, according to researchers at Stanford and the University of San Francisco who in 2019 examined 25 population studies of American Jews and found that most likely undersampled nonwhite Jews.

The Jewish community has consistently been inconsistent with respect to how it attempts to account for Jews of color within the American Jewish community, Ari Kelman, an associate professor of education and Jewish studies at Stanford, told JTA last year.

The United States also has an increasingly vocal, visible and vibrant Israeli population. A landmark study of the nations Jewry in 2013 by the Pew Research Center estimated that 100,000 Israeli-born Jews are living in the U.S., similar to the estimate of the National Jewish Population Survey in 2000-01.

But according to an analysis of American Community Survey data conducted by Ira Sheskin, director of the University of Miamis Jewish Demography Project and author of dozens of Jewish population surveys, there actually are some 350,000 Jews with Israeli roots in America. Many are concentrated in communities with large Hebrew-speaking communities, including Northern and Southern California, New York and New Jersey, South Florida and Boston, but plenty of Israelis are scattered elsewhere across the country.

America has other sizable Jewish communities where the native tongue is not English. Russian-speaking Jews live in large concentrations in New York City. Spanish-speaking Jews reside in large numbers in South Florida, including immigrants from Argentina and Venezuela who have arrived during the past two decades. Los Angeles has a large Persian-speaking community, the result of an exodus of Iranian Jews following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The increase in Americas Jewish population comes despite the low fertility rate among American Jews, which has been in decline since the 1970s and generally is lower than Americans.

During the baby boomer generation of 1946 to 1964, most Jewish households had two or three kids, according to Sheskin.

But now, Jewish women are averaging 1.9 children each and not all are raising them as Jews, he said. As a result, the effective Jewish fertility rate is 1.4 per woman.

The majority of U.S. Jews live in four states: New York, California, Florida and New Jersey, according to the American Jewish Year Book. The states with the fastest growing Jewish population are Florida (up 200,000 in the past 40 years) and New Jersey (up 100,000 over 40 years).

U.S. Jews are highly educated: About 60% have a college education, compared with 32% of the general public, according to surveys. And among those aged 25 to 34, Sheskin said, 85% either have a college degree or have started college.

One major factor contributing to American Jewish growth is changes in attitudes toward intermarriage.

Intermarried families are, for the most part, accepted in the community, Saxe observed. I like to say that intermarriage no longer requires that they have to give up their Jewish passport.

After the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey alarmed Jewish leaders with its finding of an intermarriage rate of 52% among American Jews (subsequent scholarship revised the figure down to 43%), the community was galvanized into action.

Jewish education programs were revamped. Jewish summer camps, hailed as a highly successful Jewish engagement mechanism, multiplied. Philanthropists created Birthright Israel, which has provided free trips to Israel to more than 700,000 young American Jews. Such initiatives and investments have helped Jews develop greater interest in their Jewish identity, Saxe observed.

Improvements in demographic methods for finding and counting American Jews also have helped researchers acquire a more accurate picture of the Jewish community, he added.

We are applying new statistical tools to understand it and we are looking at different ways people are Jewish not just membership in synagogues but culturally, through membership in Jewish community organizations, advocacy groups and the study of Jewish literature and texts, Saxe said.

About 60% of American Jews identify with one of the three main U.S. Jewish religious denominations: 35% as Reform, 18% as Conservative and 10% as Orthodox. Orthodox Jews comprise the fastest-growing of these denominations, owing largely to their birthrate of 4.1 children per family, according to the Pew Research Center. A landmark 2011 study of Jews in New York, by far the countrys largest community, found that 61% of all area Jewish children were being raised in Orthodox households.

This article was sponsored by and produced in partnership with the Z3 Project and the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, CA.

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Immigration, intermarriage and education making US Jewry larger and more diverse - jewishpresstampa

The secret Jewish history of everyone nominated to the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame this year – Forward

Posted By on February 16, 2021

If you quickly scan the list of the 16 artists and groups nominated to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, only one name jumps out as Jewish: Carole King. But a deeper dive into each nominee reveals some surprising or unlikely Jewish stories.

First, a little more about King. How, you might ask, is Carole King not already in the Rock Hall? Her landmark 1971 album, Tapestry, virtually created the genre of sensitive singer-songwriter, gaining critical praise, multiple Grammy Awards, and setting a contemporaneous record for most time on Billboards Album chart until it was surpassed by Pink Floyds Dark Side of the Moon. It still holds the record for most consecutive weeks at number one by a female solo artist and regularly places high on lists of the greatest albums of all time.

King is indeed already in the Rock Hall, but only as one-half of the Gerry Goffin-Carole King songwriting duo, which supplied dozens if not hundreds of hit songs to other artists beginning in 1960, when King was still in her teens. They certainly deserve their place in the Hall as songwriters. But only now is King being recognized for her solo career, 51 years after she released her first solo album.

King is not the only nominee this year who is finally being recognized for long-overdue admission to the Hall as a solo artist. Like King, Tina Turner has been in the Hall for decades, but only as one-half of Ike and Tina Turner. Turners years with Ike Turner were a veritable horror story of physical and emotional abuse, such that when the duo was inducted into the Rock Hall in 1991, Tina Turner did not attend the ceremony. Out of the clutches of Ike Turner by the late-1970s, Turner rose to superstardom in the 1980s, but only now is she being considered for a place of her own in the Hall. Ike Turner converted to Judaism in 1994. But whats Ike got to do with it? Tina is not Jewish she is an adherent of Buddhism but that didnt stop vandals from defacing a mural of Turner with a red swastika outside a North Carolina record store in December 2019.

By Getty Images

Tina Turner: Though the artist considers herself a Buddhist, that didnt stop vandals from defacing a mural of Turner with a red swastika outside a North Carolina record store in December 2019.

Chaka Khan is being considered again for a place in the Hall. In 2012, the one-time lead singer of Rufus became something of a Jewish hero when she stepped in to replace Stevie Wonder after the music legend, bowing to pressure from pro-Palestinian activists, backed out of a scheduled performance at a benefit for the Israel Defense Forces in Los Angeles. Ironically, Rufuss biggest hit, 1974s Tell Me Something Good, was written by Wonder.

Superstar R&B singer Mary J. Blige, a candidate for admission this year, is almost as well known for her philanthropy as for megahits including Whats the 4-1-1? and a version of Sweet Thing, first recorded by Rufus featuring Chaka Khan in 1975. Blige used some of her earnings to fund the Mary J. Blige Center for Women at Westchester Jewish Community Services.

Another long-overdue candidate for the Hall, Dionne Warwick, whose most fruitful musical collaboration was with Jewish-American composer Burt Bacharach, who recognized her unique talent while she was singing backup for The Drifters. Warwick and Bacharach worked together on 39 chart records from 1962 to 1972. Seven of them became Top 10 hits, including Walk on By, I Say a Little Prayer, Do You Know the Way to San Jose? and Ill Never Fall in Love Again. Bacharachs writing partner, Hal David the son of Austrian-Jewish immigrants wrote the lyrics to most of these hits. In May 2015, Warwick had a public spat with Roger Waters, rocks most active anti-Zionist, who seems to care more about enforcing a cultural boycott of Israel than he does about making music. Upon announcing an impending concert in Tel Aviv, Warwick issued a statement saying she would never fall victim to the hard pressures of Roger Waters, from Pink Floyd, or other political people who have their views on politics in Israel. In response, Waters called Warwick profoundly ignorant of what has happened in Palestine.

L.L. Cool J cant seem to catch a break this years nomination to the Hall is his sixth. The Queens, N.Y.-born actor/rapper once reminisced fondly to a reporter from the Jerusalem Post of his New York City upbringing, saying My grandfather was from the Bronx and he came home with gefilte fish every week.

Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti received his first nomination to the Hall this year. Guitarist Jon Madof makes no bones about his debt to the late Kuti, who was the inspiration behind Madofs band, Zion80, one of the funkiest Jewish jazz outfits on the downtown scene. The group plays a horn-heavy, spiritual blend of Jewish melodies sometimes inspired by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach atop a foundation of heavy Afrobeat rhythms. Even the groups name pays homage to Kuti ensembles, including Afrika 70 and Egypt 80.

Jay-Z is also vying for admission to the Hall for the first time this year. Considered to be one of the greatest rappers of all time, Jay-Z got into some hot water during the summer of 2017, when he fumbled a tribute to Jewish self-empowerment in the greater context of calling on African Americans to step up their own entrepreneurial efforts. His song The Story of O.J. included the couplet, You wanna know whats more important than throwin away money at a strip club? Credit / You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it.

Never mind that Jay-Z lit a Hanukkah menorah in 2012 at the inauguration of Brooklyns Barclays Center in a rededication ceremony (he was an original investor in the arena and the Brooklyn Nets basketball team). Nor the fact that in 2006, Jay-Z joined fellow rap impresario Russell Simmons to film a public service announcement explicitly equating anti-Semitism with racism. Nor that on tour in Europe with his wife, Beyonc, Jay-Z visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Jay-Z got caught peddling a Jewish stereotypeeven though, as he told one interviewer, he knows as well as anyone that Jews dont own everything, because being a billionaire himself, he owns plenty. Of course I know Jewish people dont own all the property in America. I mean, I own things! So I know that they dont own all of the property in America. It was an exaggeration, he said.

Like Tina Turner, guitarist Jane Wiedlin of the early-1980s New Wave pop group the Go-Gos up for admission this year is not Jewish, but that hasnt stopped her from falling victim to antisemitic hate speech. Wiedlin once told an interviewer from the Riverfront Times, I made the mistake of Googling myself once. Ill never do it again. It was so horrifying. The first thing that came up was a white supremacist site, and they had me on one of their hate lists. And its for being Jewish. And Im not even Jewish! So its like, God, not only do these people hate me, but they hate me for something Im not even! I mean, I would be happy to be Jewish, but Im not. Its really bad.

Kate Bush got her second nomination to the Hall this year. Bush was reportedly a volunteer at Kibbutz Kissufim during the winter of 1977-78. Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour was a mentor to Bush early in her career; somehow Gilmours bandmate Roger Waters wasnt able to derail her career over her Zionist sympathies.

Glam-punk pioneers the New York Dolls hope to enter the Rock Hall this year. The groups guitarist, Sylvain Sylvain (who died last month), was born Sylvain Mizrahi to a Jewish family in Cairo, eventually making their way to New York City by way of France and Buffalo. Sylvain also worked in the rag trade as a side gig; he ran a clothing company called Truth and Soul.

New Wave art band Devo, best known for their hit Whip It and their cool yellow jumpsuits, are nominated this year. According to a childhood friend, the groups drummer, the late Alan Myers, was in a Jewish youth group, where his nickname was Aleph Ernie. The friend explained, Aleph was a title of respect, and we called him Ernie because he resembled the be-spectacled Ernie on [the TV show] My Three Sons.

Dave Grohl, already a member of the Rock Hall as a member of grunge-rock avatars Nirvana, is up for membership again for his group Foo Fighters. The group shocked fans this past December with an eight-night series of new releases, one for each night of Hanukkah, each a cover of a song by a famous Jewish artist. Although Grohl is not Jewish, the bands producer Greg Kurstin is, as is the groups keyboardist, Rami Jaffee, who was a founding member of Jakob Dylans band, the Wallflowers. Grohl announced the Hanukkah Sessions with this Yiddish-inflected statement: With all the mishigas of 2020, Greg and I were kibbitzing about how we could make Hanukkah extra-special this year. So hold on to your tuchuses because weve got something special coming for your shayna punims. Lchaim! The sessions included songs by Lou Reed, Justine Frischmann of Elastic, Peaches, Leslie West of Mountain, Drake, Bob Dylan, and, of course, the Beastie Boys.

Along with his career as a musician, Todd Rundgren nominated for the second time has also enjoyed success as an engineer and record producer, having worked with such Jewish artists as Robbie Robertson of the Band; Daryl Hall, a convert to Judaism; and the New York Dolls (see above).

It may surprise some to learn that several members of nominees Rage Against the Machine boast Jewish ancestry. Singer-lyricist Zack de la Rocha of the politically inclined hard-rock group claims Sephardic descent through his Mexican-American father. And drummer Brad Wilk, who cofounded Rage with de la Rocha and guitarist Tom Morello, is of Polish-Jewish descent.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is to learn that Bruce Dickinson, the non-Jewish lead singer of heavy-metal pioneers Iron Maiden garnering their first nomination this year has been outspoken against Nazi imagery in heavy metal; talks passionately about the horrors of Auschwitz; and has no truck with the likes of Roger Waters over performing in Israel.

Dickinson and Iron Maiden visited Auschwitz in 1984. Its a very spooky place, Dickinson told Newsweek. It really did my head in. You can smell the evil of the place. In his memoir, What Does This Button Do?, Dickinson wrote about Auschwitz: It is the banality of industrial execution planning contrasted with the screams of the gas chambers that is the true measure of the terror. That terror, I believe, is the secret fear that we may all be such monsters deep down. It makes me shudder even to think it. I cried a lot after the visit. After an incident at a Vancouver concert, Dickinson told the CBC, Nazi salutes have no place whatsoever in any kind of music community I want to belong to. I think people need a little bit more of a lesson in history, rather than a lesson in ignorance, which seems to be dished out far too often. Iron Maiden first performed in Israel in 1995 and had been scheduled to perform again last year before the COVID-19 virus shut down concerts across the globe.

This years Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees will be announced in May.

Seth Rogovoy is a contributing editor at the Forward. He often mines popular culture for its hidden Jewish stories.

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The secret Jewish history of everyone nominated to the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame this year - Forward

100-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard charged with Holocaust atrocities – CNN

Posted By on February 16, 2021

The man is charged with "knowingly and willfully" aiding and abetting the murder of prisoners at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, from January 1942 to February 1945, according to the prosecutor's office in Neuruppin, Brandenburg.

The charges include involvement in the shooting of Soviet prisoners of war in 1942, and aiding and abetting the murder of prisoners through the use of the poison gas Zyklon B, as well as other shootings and the killing of prisoners by creating and maintaining hostile conditions in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

Sachsenhausen was established in 1936. Of the roughly 200,000 prisoners who passed through it, around 100,000 are thought to have died there. During World War II, the camp's inmate population fluctuated between about 11,000 and 48,000 people.

The prosecution considers the man fit to stand trial despite his advanced age, Cyrill Klement, the Neuruppin court's senior prosecutor, told CNN.

Klement told CNN that the Neuruppin Regional Court consulted with a forensic psychiatrist and found the man able to attend the trial, though only for a few hours a day, with breaks.

The court is now considering whether to go ahead with the trial. The defendant first has the opportunity to respond to the indictment.

German prosecutors are investigating several other cases connected to the concentration camps of Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Mauthausen and Stutthof, according to the Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes.

An estimated 6 million Jewish people were killed in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Also killed were hundreds of thousands of Roma people and people with physical or learning disabilities.

CNN's Nadine Schmidt contributed reporting.

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100-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard charged with Holocaust atrocities - CNN

Social media post referencing the Holocaust leads to Gina Carano getting fired from The Mandalorian – Fox 59

Posted By on February 16, 2021

LOS ANGELES (AP) Lucasfilm says Gina Carano is no longer a part of The Mandalorian cast after many online called for her firing over a social media post that likened the experience of Jews during the Holocaust to the U.S. political climate.

A spokesperson with the production company said in a statement on Wednesday that Carano is not currently employed by Lucasfilm with no plans for her to be in the future.

Nevertheless, her social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable, the statement read.

Carano fell under heavy criticism after she posted that Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbors. even by children.

The actor continued to say, Because history is edited, most people today dont realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?

Carano, who played the recurring character Cara Dune on the Star Wars series, deleted the post but it was widely shared online and spurred the #FireGinaCarano hashtag to trend. Her character appeared in several episodes of the second season of The Mandalorian, a series about a bounty hunter and his quest to unite a powerful, young user of the Force with a Jedi Knight.

Dune, who in the second season is a lawperson on a frontier planet, frequently teams up with the title character to fight an old nemesis: remnants of the evil Galactic Empire.

Carano, a former mixed martial artist whose Dune character used a mix of heavy weapons and her fists to best opponents, had been criticized for social media posts that mocked mask wearing during the pandemic and voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election. She also mocked the use of gender pronouns, listing beep/bop/boop in her social media bio.

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Social media post referencing the Holocaust leads to Gina Carano getting fired from The Mandalorian - Fox 59

Holocaust Museums teddy bear and train set carry the weight of genocide – Houston Chronicle

Posted By on February 16, 2021

Ursula Meyers teddy bear, Bremen, Germany, circa 1925.

Tragedy can imbue the most mundane things in the world with overwhelming significance. Thats the main thrust of Stories of Survival: Object. Image. Memory., the new special exhibit at the Holocaust Museum Houston featuring 60 objects donated by survivors of the Holocaust as well as other genocides.

Collected and photographed by Jim Lommasson, each object is presented on a white board with handwritten thoughts by survivors and their families describing how and why these specific items meant something in the context of a mass human atrocity.

To walk through the exhibit is to have your understanding of reality be completely turned inside out. Something as simple as a childs toy train set or a handkerchief goes from meaningless old junk into a tactile point in history on which monsters hung their evil intentions. The train wasnt just a present; it was the thing a terrified father gave to his children as they fled Gotha, Germany in 1938 with little but the clothes on their backs. Sheltered by cousins in Chicago, the little electric train delighted three generations of a family after soothing the sorrows of those who lost their homes to Nazism.

The experience is jarring. It makes you immediately wonder what you would take with you if you could save only one thing in such circumstances. Playing cards to pass the time in refugee camps? A prayer book for strength? Its an uncomfortable question that is sadly still relevant today.

When: Tue-Sat 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sun noon-5 p.m. through April 18, 2021

Where: Holocaust Museum Houston, 5401 Caroline Street

Details: $15-$19;

Stories of Survival is largely focused on the Holocaust, but it weaves in the experiences of other, more recent pogroms alongside the German Nazi narrative. Sometimes the resemblances are disturbingly identical. A childs doll with the simple phrase I was seven dominates the back wall of the exhibit and is an artifact from the massacres in Iraq and Syria following the fall of the Hussein regime. Nearby, a one-eyed teddy bear sits staring into the distance. It had survived buried as a treasure by a child who escaped Hitlers regime but thankfully lived to reclaim it.

The moral of the exhibit in these times is inescapable; genocide is an ongoing concern and not a historical fascination. Sepia photographs of German youths are hung next to glossy color pictures of Sudanese refugees or Muslims building new lives in America. The body counts may be lower than the Holocaust, but they remain functional identical on a fractal scale.

The baldness of this fact makes the exhibit daring. There is a reason the HMS is the only museum in Houston I can ever remember having to empty my pockets and go through a metal detector to visit, and why signs prohibiting the carrying of guns are displayed on boards on the sidewalk rather than discreetly on window stickers. A lot of Americans actively reject the stories of refugees, assuming them to be an invading pestilence unwelcome on our shores. That was true in the 1930s when the country barely allowed German Jews to settle here and its sadly true today.

Maybe Stories of Survival can move the needle on that hostility. By framing the Holocaust and more contemporary genocides as the same, sad story, perhaps the reverence most Americans feel for the survivors of Hitler will rub off in the now when compassion is needed yet again. Lommasson has certainly tried to make that happen with his remarkable work.

Jef Rouner is a Houston-based writer.

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Holocaust Museums teddy bear and train set carry the weight of genocide - Houston Chronicle

With Anti-Semitic Attacks Surging, the Writing of a Fifth-Grader in Prewar Poland Teaches Tolerance – NBC4 Washington

Posted By on February 16, 2021

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

Beba Epstein.

Before her world disappeared into the horrors of the Holocaust, fifth-grader Beba Epstein wrote about her life in pre-World War II Poland, describing summers in the countryside, an outing to watch the movie "Uncle Toms Cabin" in her hometown of Vilna, a religious grandfather who never smiled and a grandmother who was "a great storyteller."

One thing for sure I was a big brat, she wrote in that essay, composed during the 1933-'34 school year at the Sofia Gurevich school in what is now Lithuania.

She got into mischief at home, sending dishes crashing to the floor from a sideboard when she was 2 and ripping her cousins neatly copied geography assignment to bits, but also grew into a keen if sometimes unsparing chronicler of her secular, middle-class life. She described working late into the night on school work but also the illnesses that forced her to miss class and the deprivations that her parents suffered during the First World War.

I speak Polish and Yiddish, but I prefer to read in Yiddish, she wrote. I learned to write very quickly!

From left: Beba's father, Shimon Epstein, her mother, Malke Epstein and her sister, Esye Epstein. There are no known photos of Beba Epstein's brothers Mote and Khayim.

After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, "The Autobiography of Beba Epstein" was lost along with thousands of documents once held at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in Vilna.

Part of the collection was destroyed, part was taken by the Nazis to Frankfurt for a planned anti-Semitic institute, but another cache of material, including her memoir, remained forgotten until 2017. That is when some 170,000 pages of material was discovered.

They had been smuggled out of YIVO building into the Vilna ghetto by Jews who made up what was known as the Paper Brigade." The material was later dug up and then concealed in various places by librarian Antanas Ulpis. He hid some in the Church of St. George, which was converted by the Soviets into the National Lithuanian Book Chamber and is now the Martynas Mavydas National Library of Lithuania, and some in the Wroblewski Library. All are in what is now Vilnius.

Today the childs essay is at the heart of the first interactive exhibit of an online museum created by YIVO, which began reassembling its collection after it relocated to New York in 1940. The notebook remains in the library in Lithuania, but the virtual display, the start of the Bruce and Francesca Cernia Slovin Online Museum, becomes a jumping off point for an exploration of Jewish life in Eastern Europe.

Designed by the museums chief curator, Karolina Ziulkoski, Beba Epstein: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Girl draws on YIVOs more than 23 million documents and artifacts and on the University of California, Los Angeles' Holocaust Testimonies Project, done in cooperation with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Beba Epstein: the Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Girl | Short Trailer from YIVO Online Museum on Vimeo.

As YIVO, founded in Vilna in 1925, considered how to highlight material in online exhibitions, Ziulkoski thought to focus on individuals whose lives could be told through the artifacts in the archives. Beba Epstein was an appealing way to reach other children.

What struck a chord with me with her story is that given the refugee situation in the world right now, you can see that her life was not unlike the lives of many kids today, Ziulkoski said. There is a lot to connect with kids today.

Beba, who was born in 1922, quarreled with her siblings, was a good student in school, ice skated in the winter and swam in the summer. She went to summer camp.

I am very loved at home, but they dont spoil me only when Im sick then I get special privileges, she wrote.

Her mother, Malke, suffered during the First World War, Beba wrote, when the food the Germans provided was inedible and her brothers and father were arrested and detained for days. Her father, Shimen, was sent off to Turkestan and Tashkent for his military service and then was drafted for the First World War.

He took every precaution to avoid being taken prisoner because the Germans tortured their prisoners, she wrote. He was in huge battles where tens of thousands perished and where cities and towns were burned to the ground.

Jews made up 40% of Vilnas population at the time, and the city was known as the Jerusalem of the North, a center for the Jewish Enlightenment with more than 100 synagogues and places of study. Some Jews were religious, others secular, some embraced the promise of Zionism and a new life in Palestine, others devoted themselves to socialism or communism. Children attended a variety of schools, including Polish public schools, and in the summers, families headed to resorts and to summer camps.

"Autobiography of Beba Epstein." Beba Epstein wrote her autobiography during the 1933-'34 school year at the Sofia Gurevich school in Vilna, Poland.

Accompanying her story are others written in the 1930s for contests sponsored by YIVO and collected in Awakening Lives: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth in Poland Before the Holocaust. More than 600 were submitted, showing the variety of the young peoples experiences, though only about half survived the destruction of World War II.

Ive heard that they used to eat with silver spoons, a 22-year-old unemployed glass factory worker wrote of his fathers wealthy family. A member of a Zionist youth group who had tried unsuccessfully to emigrate to Palestine, he lived in poverty, often with little to eat and his fathers earnings going to doctors.

Another young man, a 20-year-old who was a member of the socialist party, wrote, My mother tells me that on the day I started to learn to walk, the Bolsheviks arrived. It was a beautiful day, and I was taking my first steps, chasing a rooster around the yard. Just then a hail of shrapnel and bullets rained down on our town, striking all the roofs with a great crash.

The collection is rich in photographs, film clips, maps and historical artifacts. The musical prodigy Jascha Heifetz, a Vilna native, appears in a portrait as a child playing the violin in 1908. Police report on Jewish revolutionaries when Vilna was part of the Russian empire in 1899 to 1900, while a notice details the theft of cows from the old age home in the 1920s. A card from 1939 celebrates Rosh Hashanah or the new year.

Jonathan Brent, YIVOs executive director, has long wanted to make YIVO's collection more accessible to people around the world. The project to digitize it and recreate as much of the pre-war archives and library as possible began in 2015, but with documents in Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, German and Lithuanian, translating 1.5 million pages for a general audience was not feasible, so the idea of a museum was born, he said.

Through these documents you learn about actual lives, actual communities, he told a United Nations conference on combatting anti-Semitism last year.

They bring alive social, political and religious conflicts, the books people read and the movies they saw, their school assignments and their ambitions and "the religious aspirations of the communities that had existed for hundreds and hundreds of years," he said.

Putting the material online is especially important as anti-Semitism flares up in the United States and elsewhere. The Anti-Defamation League's annual tracking of anti-Semitism showed more incidents in 2019 than in any other year, up 12% over the year before. They included three deadly assaults: by a white supremacist on the Chabad of Poway, California; on a grocery store in Jersey City, New Jersey; and at a Hanukkah party at the home of a rabbi in Monsey, New York.

Anti-Semitism is at the core of the white supremacist ideology, and helps to fuel other forms of hate, including Islamophobia and misogyny, said Vlad Khaykin, the ADL's national director of programs on anti-Semitism.

To combat anti-Semitism, it is key to show the diversity among Jews, whether race, color, class or background and also experience with anti-Semitism,he said.

When you treat Jews as a monolith, it makes it a lot easier to stereotype Jews, he said.

Beba Epstein's account can open up the lost world of the prewar Jewish community, said the Lithuanian ambassador to the United Nations, Audra Plepyte.

That it is online is important to teach young people in particular, a counter-narrative to the anti-Semitism on the internet, she said.

"One small document can be a source of inspiration, she said.

Beba and her husband, Lee, with their grandson Noah.

When Beba Epsteins autobiography was discovered in 2017, many people, among them Brent, assumed she had died in the Holocaust. But then The New York Times wrote about the find and featured Bebas photograph and with that came a call from a Michael Leventhal of Los Angeles, California.

"We looked at it and we were like, 'Oh my God,'" Leventhal said.

That is because Beba Epstein was his mother. Not only had she survived but she had made way to an uncle in America, had married another migr from Poland, Elias Lee Leventhal, and had made a home in Pacific Palisades, California. She earned a bachelors degree when she was 58, and became a social worker for Jewish Family Services welcoming new immigrants, many of them Jews from the Soviet Union, until she was about 70.

She loved Chopin and Mozart and was incredibly proud of Jascha Heifetz, the musician. "He was from Vilna, you know," Leventhal said at her memorial service.

But his mother struggled to be happy, to appreciate the life she made with her husband for her children. He son used to tell her, There was a group of people who tried to kill you over 60 years ago.Youre still here, and theyre all gone.And look what youve created.

Page from Auschwitz Block 8 Logbook. Concentration camp logbooks like this one were used to document prisoners that entered the camp. On each page there are lists of each prisoner that entered with information including their identification number, ethnicity (Pole, Jew, etc.), departure date (code for murdered), and name. Many of the names on these pages are crossed out meaning that these prisoners were murdered by the Nazis.

When Vilna was invaded by the Germans, and the citys Jews were confined to a ghetto, her family sent her to live at a farmhouse in the countryside. She could pass for Polish, she said later for an interview for the University of California, Los Angeles, Holocaust Testimonies Project. But when she lost touch with her family, she was smuggled into the ghetto to find that all of them her parents, her sister, Esye, a piano player and dancer, a brother Mote who loved horses, the youngest, Khayeml, whom in the autobiography she had described as chubby and adorable and just learning to talk had perished.

Beba Epstein went on to survive two years in the ghetto and another two years in labor camps, including the Kaiserwald concentration camp and the Stutthof extermination camp. She cleaned for the Gestapo and worked in a munitions plant and surreptitiously listened to the radio for the underground.

Cable from Sweden. Cable that Paul Olberg, a friend of Lasar Epstein (Bebas uncle), sent him when he found Beba in Sweden. Lasar had asked Paul to locate Beba so he could make contact with his niece. It contains Bebas contact information in Sweden.

When she was finally freed, after a harrowing trip on a ship during which her cousin drowned, she had typhoid and weighed 74 pounds. She recovered in Sweden and eventually found an uncle in the United States with the help of The Forward newspaper. It published names of survivors which were read aloud in Israel, and a friend of the uncle happened to hear hers.

Her experience during the Holocaust was so unique, Ziulkoski said. She didn't have a savior. She essentially saved herself. She went through this by herself."

"She was hidden with a family, she was in the ghetto, she was in concentration camps, the whole of different experiences in one persons life," she said.

Rachel Knopfler, a teacher at the Girls Academic Leadership Academy in Los Angeles, will use the material with her seventh-grade English students, the autobiography and the primary sources accompanying it.

Knopfler, whose grandmother and great-grandmother survived the Holocaust together in Auschwitz-Birkenau, said she wished she had been introduced to the period through something like Beba Epstein's writings rather than as she was, through horrifying pictures and stories. The YIVO exhibit is accurate, relies on primary documents, but is not traumatizing, she said.

Teaching the Holocaust is not about shock value, she said. What we're doing is were teaching tolerance.

That is especially important now, given todays resurgence of anti-Semitism, the Proud Boys chanting Jews will not replace us, in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, and the U.S. Capitol rioter, Robert Keith Packer of Newport News, Virginia, wearing a Camp Auschwitz shirt. Too many young people are becoming desensitized to the Holocaust, which makes the photograph of Packer so vile and scary, Knopfler said.

Khaykin, a refugee himself from the former Soviet Union, said one fear is that anti-Semitism will become cool and so the ADL is looking at ways to fight back against viral videos on TikTok and elsewhere. He said he was not surprised that anti-Semitism was on the rise, but was dismayed that political leaders were not speaking out more forcefully.

It is incumbent on them to use their bully pulpit to push back, he said.

Beba, her daughter-in-law, Sharon, her son, Michael, her daughter, Mary and her husband, Lee, at Beba and Lees 50th wedding anniversary.

Robert Sandler teaches a course on Jewish history at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. In other years, he would have taken his students on a walking tour of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, once an enclave for Jewish immigrants, and to visit YIVO and the exhibits on display there. This year they instead visited pre-war Vilna virtually.

Later he asked his students which chapters of Beba Epstein's life they would chose to most engage other teenagers. Jewish, Catholic and Muslims, as diverse as New York City, some of them immigrants themselves, they juxtaposed the material about her life and the monstrosity of the Holocaust, the streetscape of Vilna and Jewish communities around the world with the ghettos and death camps.

That her essay has been published online now, after the Trump administration closed doors to refugees, was particularly well-timed, her son said.

View Beba Leventhal's oral testimony of the Holocaust later in her life through the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum here.

Thats something that directly bears on my motherss life experience, he said. The idea that maybe theres a lesson to be learned there and that she would be part of that lesson would be something that I think would thrill her.

Beba Epstein's grandson Noah Leventhal wrote about reading her autobiography after she had died. He had not known her whole story while she was alive. He was missing the child's perspective the essay offered.

"And now I have been gifted a book, a book through which to peer into the life of someone I thought I knew. Each new perspective came with the turn of a page, an experience I hope my readers will share. I wish I could have spoken to my grandmother, not the woman she was after she came out of the war, but the little girl she was before it started."

Read more from the original source:
With Anti-Semitic Attacks Surging, the Writing of a Fifth-Grader in Prewar Poland Teaches Tolerance - NBC4 Washington

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