Feature Article

The First Jew Scalped for America: Francis Salvador

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 7:00am
From the Jewish Virtual Library

When we think of Jewish heroes of the American Revolution, Haym Salomon, the "financier" of the patriot cause or Isaac Franks, aide-de-camp to General George Washington, are the first names that come to mind. Rarely do we hear of South Carolina's Francis Salvador, the first identified Jew to be elected to an American colonial legislature, the only Jew to serve in a revolutionary colonial congress and the first Jew to die for the cause of American liberty.

Francis Salvador was born in London in 1747, the fourth generation of Salvadors to live in England. His great grandfather Joseph, a merchant, established himself as a leader of England's Sephardic community and became the first Jewish director of the East India Company. When George III ascended the British throne, Joseph Salvador arranged an audience for the seven-man delegation that officially congratulated the king on behalf of the Jewish community.

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Wagner and the Jews

Mon, 01/19/2015 - 7:00am
Two centuries after the great composer’s birth, his anti-Semitism remains a bitterly contested issue. Perhaps that’s because neither his defenders nor his detractors have come to grips with its, or his, true nature.
By Nathan Shields for Mosaic Magazine

In 2013, as the classical-music world lurched from crisis to crisis, with orchestras on strike and opera companies vanishing into thin air, the bicentennial of the birth of the towering German composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883) offered a brilliant exception to the prevailing gloom. Productions of his operas filled houses from Seattle to Buenos Aires, and the great companies of Europe and the United States vied to present ever grander stagings of the colossal 15-hour cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. At a time when so many preeminent musical institutions are collapsing into bankruptcy or labor disputes, Wagner is one institution that seems to endure.

Yet Wagner’s powerfully continuing appeal in terms of dollars spent and seats filled is only a part, and the less important part, of his enduring significance. Wagner has always been remarkable not only for the breadth but for the depth of his impact, a depth that can be measured both by the intensity of the devotion that his works inspire and by the fact that his devotees have included many of the intellectual and political elite of Western society. When his fame was at its zenith in the latter part of the 19th century, his most fervent admirers were as varied as the young Friedrich Nietzsche, the poet Charles Baudelaire, and King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who helped to bankroll Wagner’s great festival in the northern Bavarian town of Bayreuth.

Today the Bayreuth festival, dedicated exclusively to Wagner’s works, stands at the apex of German cultural life, counting Chancellor Angela Merkel among its regular guests, while the years surrounding the recent bicentennial witnessed an outpouring of reflections on and encomia to the composer from figures as divergent as the Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek and the Pope.

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Lone Star (of David) Story

Mon, 01/12/2015 - 7:00am
A ‘moving’ tale of a synagogue being trucked across Texas
By Samuel D. Gruber for Tablet Magazine

This is a moving story—really. This past week, during Hanukkah, the 121-year-old wood-frame, clapboard-sided B’nai Abraham synagogue of Brenham, Texas, has been sliced in pieces, trucked across four counties, and re-erected on the Dell Jewish Community Campus in Austin. For the first time in decades the synagogue will host a daily Orthodox minyan and be the central place for an active Texas Jewish community. Brenham native Leon Toubin, whose family has cared for the synagogue since most of Brenham’s Jews moved away, has mixed feelings. He’s devoted himself to keeping the synagogue ready for worship in Brenham but has to admit that Orthodox Jewish life isn’t coming back to the town. Leon is in his 80s, wants to see the old shul be a center for prayer again, and wanted to settle things while there was still time. He decided to look for new options and reached out to the Austin Jewish Federation.

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Lydda, 1948: They were there

Mon, 01/05/2015 - 7:00am
By Martin Kramer for Israel Hayom

Most Israelis know nothing about Ari Shavit's bestselling book, "My Promised Land: The ‎Triumph and Tragedy of Israel." Readers of Haaretz, where he's a columnist, may have seen it ‎mentioned in short articles celebrating Shavit's stateside success. But few Israelis have heard of ‎the book, and I'm guessing that only a handful have actually read it. That is because there is no ‎Hebrew edition.‎

Shavit wrote it in English for an American Jewish audience, upon the suggestion of David ‎Remnick, editor of The New Yorker. Haaretz at first reported that a Hebrew version would appear ‎at the end of 2013, and later that it would be published in the spring of 2014 (by Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir). But ‎while the book has also appeared in Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Hungarian, and Polish, there is no ‎sign of a Hebrew edition.‎

So Israelis have no clue that Shavit has added a massacre in the city of Lydda (Lod) to the litany ‎of Israel's alleged crimes in 1948. That's why I felt privileged to take part in a December 4 panel ‎on the conquests of Lydda and Ramla in 1948, sponsored by the Galili Center for Defense ‎Studies. The chairman of the center, Uzi Arad, suggested that I explain and analyze the claims ‎made by Shavit in his book, which I had already done in English for the web magazine Mosaic. (The ‎organizers also invited Shavit, but he was off collecting accolades in south Florida.)‎

I was youngest participant on the panel, and nearly the youngest person in the lecture hall, which ‎was full of veterans of Lydda and many other battles of 1948. These people are not historians, and ‎they do not necessarily know the big picture of how politics and military operations interacted. ‎They were not commanders (the officers are all gone); they were young soldiers in 1948, at the ‎bottom of the chain of command. They have also read a lot and shared recollections over the past ‎‎60-plus years, so you cannot always tell whether what they say about some episode is first-hand or ‎derives from something they read or heard. Finally, time erodes memory, as some are quite ‎prepared to admit.

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How Not to Help the Ultra-Orthodox

Mon, 12/29/2014 - 7:00am
Liberal democracies like Israel need and depend on pious people. But they don’t need to— and shouldn’t—subsidize grown men for not working.
By Peter Berkowitz for Mosaic Magazine
In the short space of 66 years, Israel has established a kind of polity never before seen in the Middle East, a polity that promises all citizens individual freedom and equality before the law. To an astonishing degree, particularly given the exceedingly dangerous neighborhood in which it dwells, the Jewish state has succeeded.

Not that the dangers, either from without or from within, should ever be discounted. Those from without (Iran, terrorism, the collapse of the Arab state system, stalemate with the Palestinian Authority, and so on) are well known; less so, those from within. Although the Israeli economy has made great strides in shaking off the remnants of its socialist roots, large sectors continue to underperform as government’s heavy hand impedes innovation and stifles competition. In addition, a restive Arab minority, approximately 20 percent of the citizenry, though generally aware that it enjoys the same freedoms enjoyed by Jewish Israelis—freedoms of which Arabs elsewhere in the Middle East can only dream—is increasingly impatient with the underfunding of its communities and its outsider status.

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The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling!

Mon, 12/22/2014 - 7:00am
A reanalysis of last year’s important Pew Study contradicts persistent alarmism about ‘vanishing’ American Jewry
By Leonard Saxe for Tablet Magazine

Fifty years ago, Look magazine—the second most widely circulated magazine in America at the time—featured a cover story, “The Vanishing American Jew.” The headline screamed “[n]ew studies reveal loss of Jewish identity, soaring rate of intermarriage,” and readers were told “Judaism may be losing 70 percent of children born to mixed couples.” The now iconic title and headlines notwithstanding, buried in the story was that membership in Jewish congregations and enrollment in Jewish religious schools had reached record levels. But the narrative was unequivocally bleak. A half century later, dire forecasts are again front and center. The release last year of the Pew Research Center’s A Portrait of Jewish Americans has unleashed a tsunami of doom and gloom punditry. With headlines that could have been cut and pasted from “The Vanishing American Jew,” shrill warnings about the dangers of intermarriage and the decline of non-Orthodox forms of Judaism have given rise to a refreshed narrative of a dismal Jewish future. But it is a distorted story.

Ironically, Look magazine folded less than 10 years after “The Vanishing American Jew” appeared. In contrast, the Jewish population has grown and today is expanding at a rate that matches growth in the overall American population. There are now more than 7 million Americans who have Jewish parentage or who converted to Judaism and identify as Jewish. Moreover, the expansion of the Jewish population has been accompanied, particularly over the past 25 years, by substantial growth in the number of Jews who are engaged in Jewish religious life and/or have visited and are involved with Israel.

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From rebbetzin to maharat

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 7:00am
By Dina Brawer, The Times of Israel

Did I always want to be a rabbi? The answer is no. It never occurred to me.

Growing up I already had a defined, robust role for me to serve my community as a woman. As a Chabad teen, I aspired to be a shlucha emissary, a role that provided a clear path to spiritual leadership – regardless of marital status. As a result, I took up numerous communal responsibilities — from teaching to coordinating a Lag B’Omer parade to designing interactive educational exhibitions – all of them enjoyable and fulfilling. When I later married a rabbi, my position as a shlucha remained unchanged, as did my desire to serve my community. The reason the role of shlucha was so effective in enabling me to serve, therefore, was because it was understood, defined, and clearly labeled.

After five years on shlichut, my husband and I moved to the UK where he took up a position as a congregational rabbi. Over the next fifteen years we served two London congregations. As a rebbetzin, I led community development strategy, counseled congregants, taught Torah — and baked plenty of challah. And yet, while I clearly had carved out a communal role for myself, I couldn’t avoid the nagging feeling that if it weren’t for my husband, I wouldn’t have that role. I felt this most acutely when at events outside the Jewish community. People asked us what we did. My husband replied that he was a rabbi. But what was I? What could I say? A rebbetzin? A rabbi’s wife? That would just beg the question — what exactly does a rabbi’s wife do? My husband’s title could capture, in one word, who he was, whereas I had to spend fifteen minutes explaining what exactly I did.

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Hamas, Inc.-How Hamas Amassed Its Wealth

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 7:00am
Gazans suffer, while their leaders continue to pile up the loot
By Moshe Elad for Tablet Magazine

The idea that hardline Hamas political leaders like Mousa Abu Marzook and Khaled Meshal who order violence in the name of jihad are also canny businessmen who have assembled financial

Nor is the combination of political and military roles with business empires unique to Hamas, or to other Islamist organizations. When I started my job as the Israeli Military Governor of Tyre district during the first Lebanese war and asked to meet with the local police chief, I was told, “He is available only during the morning hours. In the afternoons he takes care of his businesses.” “Businesses?” I wondered. “Yes,” said my informant, “he has a supermarket chain.”

During my two years in Lebanon I learned that almost every local office-holder and officer, whether in the public sector, police, or army, owned a private business. The police commander in question, for example, recommended that citizens who approach the police for help should purchase food from his private stores. Because Western values such as conflict of interests, transparency, and public efficiency are less recognized and less respected in this part of the world, most political leaders in the Middle East see public office as a route to making a fortune, and most of their constituents accept this behavior—with the hope of sharing in even a small part of the leader’s wealth.

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That Time I Picked Up a Hitchhiking Bubbe

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 7:00am
By Shanna Silva for Raising Kvell

We know the rule: picking up hitchhikers is bad. It’s been drilled into our heads from a young age, along with other stranger-danger situations and how to avoid them. Parents and educators teach children to be wary of strangers, and try to impart a survival savvy that they hope will never be needed. And in addition to the parental and school warnings are the many movies and TV shows that reinforce these concepts. We know that when a scene features a naïve driver picking up a hitchhiker, it will not end well for someone. Needless to say, we’ve been warned.

So then, what possessed me to pull over for a hitchhiker on my way to work?

I rolled my window down, and there she was: a woman with salt and pepper colored hair, a brown cardigan, and orthopedic shoes. She was at least 75 years old, and seemed to be in distress. She explained that she’d missed her bus, and was going to be late for an important doctor’s appointment. She told me the address of her doctor, which was coincidentally near my office, and she asked for a ride. What else could I do? I told her to get in.

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Arafat–Ten Years Later

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 7:00am
by Elliott Abrams for Council on Foreign Relations
Yasser Arafat died ten years ago, on November 11, 2004.

I am posting this “appreciation” a bit early, and anticipating an outflow of mourning and praise for Arafat next week. In fact, he was a curse to Palestinians.

To measure the damage Arafat did as the Palestinian leader, let’s begin with a comparison. Just 9 days before Arafat’s death, on November 2, 2004, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan died. Sheik Zayed’s death was not greeted with the global mourning, nor with the ceremonies and speeches at the United Nations that Arafat got. This is grotesque, because he was the father of his country, the UAE, and a model of sober, responsible, constructive leadership. Born in 1918 in one of the Trucial States, he lived as a Bedouin for all his early years. Yet he was wise enough to understand the modern world that was growing up around him, and to see the need for the Trucial States to federate when the British left in 1971. So he negotiated and  then led the federation. The enormous success of the UAE today, and its role as a key U.S. ally, owe an incalculable amount to this man.

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Forward 50: Susan Talve

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 7:00am
Forward 50 annually publishes its list of the 50 American Jews who have had the most impact on our national story.

 When Rabbi Jill Jacobs, head of the rabbinic social justice group T’ruah, wanted to travel to Ferguson, Missouri to support protesters, she got in touch with Susan Talve.

Talve, 61, is rabbi and spiritual leader of Central Reform Congregation, located a few miles from Ferguson, in downtown St. Louis. Ever since the August death of black teenager Michael Brown, Talve has been the most visible Jewish religious presence in a movement led by local black youth.

A longtime activist on social justice issues, Talve was recognized as one of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis by the Forward this year for her local work in St. Louis combating gun violence.

Talve has been a regular participant in the recent protests in Ferguson, but she describes her role as one of support rather than leadership. “I go pretty much every night,” she told Haaretz. “It’s young people protesting and clergy showing up to model nonviolence and to listen to what they have to say.”

Over the past several months, she and her colleagues have continued to put their bodies on the line. One day in October, after they tried and failed to get arrested at an action outside the Ferguson police station, the Forward reached Talve by phone as she rode to visit a group of jailed ministers. She described a young member of her synagogue who lives in Ferguson: “He just wants to go to school,” she said. “He also doesn’t want to be afraid that when he walks on the street at night, that he’s going to be provoked, profiled and harassed because of the color of his skin.”

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In Germany, a Jewish community now thrives

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 7:00am
By Mike Ross for The Boston Globe


SINCE FIRST arriving in what would become Germany more than 1,800 years ago, Jews have searched for acceptance. No matter how desperate their attempts to demonstrate their standing as good German citizens — in some cases converting to Christianity, enlisting to fight in World War I, even trying to persuade their American counterparts to be less critical of the rising new leader Adolf Hitler — nothing brought them acceptance by their countrymen.

That, however, may be changing. Seventy years after the Holocaust, as anti-Semitism churns across Europe, the Jewish population on the continent is plummeting to record lows. New strands of hatred foment seemingly justified by the policies of Israel — a sovereign country thousands of miles away. And yet Germany has suddenly reemerged as a home for Jews.

Ask Cilly Kugelmann, the vice director of the Jewish Museum Berlin. Kugelmann is the daughter of two Polish Holocaust survivors who, as it is said, “grew up sitting on packed suitcases.” Today, she says she can’t think of anywhere else she’d rather live than Germany. “Germany is one of the safest places for Jews worldwide,” Kugelmann said.

In preparing to visit Germany for the first time, nothing was further from my own beliefs. In the place where my father’s family was slaughtered, I assumed that no Jew would ever again see Germany as their home. How could they?

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A love story

Mon, 11/03/2014 - 7:00am
Cory Booker talks about growing up in Harrington Park, falling in love with Judaism
by Joanne Palmer for New Jersey Jewish Standard

Often it’s easy to pick out a non-Jewish candidate trawling for Jewish votes.

He’ll show up at a shul wearing a fancy crocheted kippah with his name spelled out along the edge; it’ll be pinned to cover the bald spot precisely. (Really, if you’re going to wear one, you might as well benefit from it, right?)

He’ll throw out Yiddishisms with abandon — mishuganeh here, mensch there, oy, oy everywhere. He’ll talk about getting a bagel with a schmear. (Do you know any Jew who has ever eaten one of those? Me neither.)

In order to show his deep, lifelong sense of connection to the Jewish community, he’ll pander so hard it must make his teeth hurt.

But if you are looking for an actual Judeophile, a non-Jew whose connection to the Jewish world is longstanding, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and clearly real, you would have to direct your gaze in another direction.

You’d find yourself looking at Cory Booker —New Jersey’s junior U.S. senator — who visited the Jewish Standard’s offices last week.

Instead of flinging out Yiddish malapropisms, he’ll quote from the machzor, in Hebrew; he’ll cite biblical chapter and verse, again in Hebrew, and he’ll launch into a spirited explanation of why he insisted on being a co-president rather than the only president of Oxford’s L’Chaim Society.

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Has Argentina Turned Against its Jews?

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 7:00am
For twenty years, the government of Argentina has failed to bring to justice perpetrators of one of the deadliest anti-Semitic terror attacks of all time. Now, it appears that it is no longer trying.
by Eamonn MacDonagh for The Tower

 Argentina Turned Against its JewsOn July 18, 1994, a suicide bomber drove a van packed with explosives into the headquarters of the AMIA Jewish community organization in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The resulting blast killed 85 people and left hundreds injured. It was one of the worst incidents of anti-Semitic violence since World War II. The horrific attack is believed to have been ordered by the Iranian regime and executed by its terrorist proxies, and the ongoing betrayal of justice carried out by successive Argentine leaders who have failed to have the massacre properly investigated and prosecuted bears notable marks of anti-Semitism.

The criminal investigation into the massive terrorist attack was chaotic, plagued with accusations of cover-ups, witness tampering and bribery. In a particularly sordid climax, the investigating judge, Juan José Galeano, was removed from the investigation and now faces trial on charges arising from his handling of the investigation. A group of corrupt police officers, as well as a dealer in stolen vehicles, were eventually tried on charges of playing a secondary role in the attack. In 2004, they were all acquitted.

A subsequent Supreme Court decision revoked the acquittals of the stolen car dealer and some of the corrupt policemen. A new trial was ordered. It still hasn’t happened. The same ruling found that the initial investigation into the attack, flawed though it was, produced substantial valid evidence proving the attack was an act of terrorism.

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The Sarajevo Hagaddah: Held Hostage in a Crumbling and Shuttered Museum

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 7:00am
Sarajevo HagaddahPriceless 14th-century manuscript from Spanish Jewry’s Golden Age survived inquisitions and the Holocaust, but now sits trapped in the shuttered Bosnian National Museum, barred from public display
BY ILAN BEN ZION for Times of Israel
SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina — One of the most magnificent Jewish manuscripts, a book that survived two inquisitions and a Holocaust, is sitting trapped behind closed doors in Bosnia’s slowly crumbling National Museum, held captive by the dizzyingly convoluted politics of the Balkan nation.

The Sarajevo Haggadah, the most elaborately decorated codex remaining from Spanish Jewry’s Golden Age and today a keystone of Bosnia’s Jewish and gentile heritage, has been kept for the past two years from both the local community and tourists, despite grassroots and international efforts to put the treasure back on display.

The Bosnian government, experts say, is seemingly content to let the Haggadah continue to languish behind closed doors.

The book, which contains the story of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt — retold each year on Passover — is remarkable not only for its beautiful design, exquisite illuminated text, master-craftsmanship, and rare drawings from pre-Inquisition Spain, but also for its own remarkable exodus story.

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A Simchat Torah Story

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 7:00am
And it was morning and it was evening, the Seventh Game.
Gary Rosenblatt, Editor and Publisher of The Jewish Week

Gary Rosenblatt My favorite contemporary Simchat Torah story was told to me by a close friend who grew up in Pittsburgh. I offer it here in honor of Simchat Torah, which is celebrated this year on Thursday evening and Friday, and as the baseball season closes out this weekend. Nowadays, with the expanded Major Leagues, divisional playoffs and Wild Card teams, the World Series, long known as the October Classic, could very well linger until November. But when I was growing up, the World Series invariably fell out on the High Holy Days. (I used to imagine Ford Frick, the commissioner at the time, consulting a luach, or Jewish calendar, each year to pick the Series dates just to frustrate observant fans.) But it was just such a convergence of the baseball schedule and the Jewish holidays that led to the unique encounter described here …

This is a story about the faith and joy that can bring us together (all too rarely), about the ephemeral nature of man’s yearnings and the eternity of God’s words. Mostly, though, it’s just a story that always makes me smile.

The year was 1960, when Simchat Torah — that joyous day when we complete, and begin again, the reading of the Torah — was about to start, just as the long Major League Baseball season was about to end.

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