Feature Article

The Jewish Connection to Jerusalem

Mon, 06/20/2016 - 7:00am
Remembering Jerusalem permeates Jewish belief, thought, and practice in profound and powerful ways.
By Rabbi Ed Snitkoff for MyJewishLearning.com   

With the sound of shattering glass at the conclusion of the wedding ceremony, generations of Jews were reminded that Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jewish people were in exile. With this ritual the vow recorded in book of Psalms was actualized: “If I forget thee Oh Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue stick to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my greatest joy” (Psalm 137).

While we are overjoyed for the couple, at the same time, we remember that this small shattering glass is filled with sad memories mixed with hopeful dreams.

Yehuda Amichai, a well-known Israeli poet, wrote about remembering Jerusalem in a collection called “Songs of Zion the Beautiful“:

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The Mendacious Maps of Palestinian “Loss”

Mon, 06/13/2016 - 7:00am
Shany Mor for The Tower

Anti-Israel activists often use doctored maps to show Israel’s supposed malfeasance over the past century. Such claims are made by people who, in the best case, have no knowledge of the facts, and in the worst case, have no moral compass.

You can’t walk very far on an American or European university campus these days without encountering some version of the “Palestinian Land Loss” maps. This series of four—occasionally five—maps purports to show how rapacious Zionists have steadily encroached upon Palestinian land. Postcards of it can be purchased for distribution, and it has featured in paid advertisements on the sides of buses in Vancouver as well as train stations in New York. Anti-Israel bloggers Andrew Sullivan and Juan Cole have both posted versions of it, and it occasionally creeps into supposedly reputable media sources, like Al Jazeera English.

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The Hebrew Revival Was No Miracle

Mon, 06/06/2016 - 7:00am
Dara Horn for Mosaic
It took tremendous toil to produce the cultural rebirth of the Hebrew language. Let us give thanks to the toilers—and to their master translator.
For whom does Hillel Halkin toil?

After reading his magnificent essay in Mosaic on the life and work of Yehudah Leib Gordon, the preeminent Hebrew poet of the 19th-century Jewish enlightenment, I had the same thought I’ve had over and over again since I was a teenager: unending gratitude that someone out there has done the world a favor by opening up the genizah of Hebrew literature and curating its treasures. As usual, that someone is Hillel Halkin.

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Film scored by Eric Clapton depicts child of survivors’ three days in Auschwitz

Mon, 05/30/2016 - 7:00am
By Lisa Klug for The Times of Israel   

Filmmaker Philippe Mora talks about his three visits to his mother’s ‘hell,’ which he documented with help from his longtime musician friend who co-produced
Shortly before World War II came to a close in the spring of 1945, Eric Clapton was born. More than 71 years later, the rock legend has composed a score that revisits that tragic time in history.

The music serves as the soundtrack for a very personal documentary film co-produced by Clapton’s longtime friend, acclaimed French-Australian director Phillipe Mora.

Clapton, friends with Mora since 1967, also co-produced the film, entitled “Three Days in Auschwitz,” which revisits the fate of Mora’s family during the Holocaust. The film debuted in the UK last week. It will also appear at the New Horizons International Film Festival in Wroclaw, Poland on July 24.

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Ancient Jerusalem: The Village, the Town, the City

Mon, 05/23/2016 - 7:00am
Hershel Shanks as published in Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2016
How Many Jews Lived in Ancient Jerusalem?It’s made such an enormous impact on Western civilization that it’s hard to fathom how small its population really was—small compared even to the centers of contemporaneous empires to the east and to the west. Of course, I’m talking about Jerusalem.
Today many of us live in cities of millions. Very few of us live in towns of only thousands, but hardly any of us live in a village as small as King David’s capital.

A new study of Jerusalem’s population in various periods has recently been published by one of Israel’s leading Jerusalem archaeologists, Hillel Geva of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Israel Exploration Society. Geva bases his estimates on “archaeological findings, rather than vague textual sources.” The result is what he calls a “minimalist view.”1 But whether you accept Geva’s population estimates or those of various other scholars he cites, to the modern observer the ancient city of Jerusalem can only be described as “tiny”—with population estimates at thousands and tens of thousands during many periods of the city’s history. (In comparison, Rome in the century before Jesus lived is estimated to have had a population of 400,000 tax-paying males—so the entire population must have been about a million.)

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Scientists Reveal Jewish History's Forgotten Turkish Roots

Mon, 05/16/2016 - 7:00am
DAVID KEYS for The Jewish Voice

Israeli-born geneticist believes the Turkish villages of Iskenaz, Eskenaz and Ashanaz were part of the original homeland for Ashkenazic Jews
New research suggests that the majority of the world’s modern Jewish population is descended mainly from people from ancient Turkey, rather than predominantly from elsewhere in the Middle East.

The new research suggests that most of the Jewish population of northern and eastern Europe – normally known as Ashkenazic Jews – are the descendants of Greeks, Iranians and others who colonized what is now northern Turkey more than 2000 years ago and were then converted to Judaism, probably in the first few centuries AD by Jews from Persia. At that stage, the Persian Empire was home to the world’s largest Jewish communities.

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How Whimsical Comic Books Helped One Couple Stay in Love — and Survive the Holocaust

Mon, 05/09/2016 - 7:00am
Cnaan Liphshiz for The Jewish Daily Forward

As a Dutch Jewish couple hiding separately from the Nazis, Emmanuel Joels and Hetty van Son were literally drawn together by a comic book of Emmanuel’s romantic invention.

After narrowly avoiding deportation to Auschwitz thanks to a policeman’s tip, the young couple spent 2 1/2 years living less than a mile apart, each in the care of rescuers with ties to the resistance in the city of Apeldoorn, 55 miles east of Amsterdam.

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Anti-Zionism Is Anti-Semitism. Get Over It.

Mon, 05/02/2016 - 7:00am
Recent campus debates teach us an important lesson about bigotry and how to deal with it
By Liel Leibovitz for Tablet Magazine

Is anti-Zionism any different from anti-Semitism? The question is probably the most accurate seismograph we’ve got to measure where one stands on the ever-tremorous political grounds we all walk when we talk about Israel. Not that there’s necessarily any right or wrong answer; civil, well-meaning people can make arguments on both ends. Yes, because Jews and Jewish life cannot be reduced to the national aspirations of the Jewish state. No, because anyone denying Jews, alone of all the world’s nations, their right of self-determination is by definition a hater. It’s not an altogether useless debate to have, but it’s not the debate we’re having.

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What We Lose As The Diaspora Shrinks

Mon, 04/25/2016 - 7:00am
By Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, Special To The Jewish Week

Back in my lithe teenage years, I used to Israeli dance with the best of them — that is, whenever I wasn’t nursing a sprained ankle caused by my congenital flat-footedness. OK, I admit it; while I thought I was pretty good, I reminded people less of Rudolph Nureyev than those dancing hippopotami in “Fantasia.” In fact, it was my stirring rendition of a gushing water sprinkler in Hora Mamtera that convinced the Israeli government to go all-in for drip irrigation. But I loved Israeli dance nonetheless.

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Was There an Exodus?

Mon, 04/18/2016 - 7:00am
Many are sure that one of Judaism’s central events never happened. Evidence, some published here for the first time, suggests otherwise.
Joshua Berman for Mosaic

To this day, no pulpit talk by a contemporary American rabbi has generated greater attention or controversy than a sermon delivered by Rabbi David Wolpe on the morning of Passover 2001. “The truth,” Rabbi Wolpe informed his Los Angeles congregation, “is [that] the way the Bible describes the exodus [from Egypt] is not the way it happened, if it happened at all.”

Beyond dropping a theological bombshell, the sermon ushered in a new era, one in which synagogue-attending Jews could increasingly expect to be confronted with the findings of academic study of the Bible. To Rabbi Wolpe, intellectual honesty mandated that, with respect to the exodus in particular, these findings be not only confronted but embraced, and it was the duty of spiritual leaders like himself to help the faithful assimilate them.

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Passover is just about here, check out our Passover Holiday Spotlight Kit

Why Do We Eat Coconut Macaroons on Passover?

Mon, 04/11/2016 - 7:00am
By Aly Miller in The Nosher for MyJewishLearning.com

Few foods represent Passover as much as a box of matzah, gefilte fish, and those dense and chewy coconut macaroons. Most foods at the seder have symbolic ties to the story of Passover, or at least to a traditional Eastern European or Sephardic recipe. But not so for coconut macaroons. How did these tropical coconut-based treats make their home on the Passover grocery store shelf?

With some recipe sleuthing, linguistic investigation, and history lessons, we might just get to the bottom of this Passover mystery.

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For even more Passover ideas, check out our Passover Holiday Spotlight Kit



Exhibit shows new works by iconic photographer who immortalized pre-WWII Jewry

Mon, 04/04/2016 - 7:00am
Roman Vishniac retrospective at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum includes never-before-seen footage of 1939 Poland
By Lisa Klug for The Times of Israel

When Roman Vishniac began documenting impoverished Jewish communities with his camera in 1935, he unwittingly sealed his photographic legacy by capturing a rare glimpse into a world that was soon to disappear.

On the eve of World War II, while on assignment for the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), Vishniac created what would become the most widely recognized and reproduced photographic record of European Jewry. In the many decades since they were first distributed, his iconic black-and-white images continue to capture the public’s interest with their portrayal of a vanished world.

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What happened to the Jewish orphans who were brought to Britain in 1945?

Mon, 03/28/2016 - 11:14am
The stories of the 732 orphans - of which only 80 were girls - who were taken in by the British government are now being recorded in 'Memory Quilts' at the Jewish Museum
By Jenni Frazer for The Telegraph

Bela Rosenthal was three years old when she came to Britain in August 1945. She spoke no English and even her German was limited to a few words, dog and soup.

Born in Berlin, Bela, was the youngest of six Jewish orphans liberated from the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia in April 1945.

Her mother – whose name the toddler didn’t even know until years later – had died in the camp in March 1944, her father had been killed in Auschwitz the year before. In June 1945, the six were taken to houses outside Prague, while the Red Cross searched to see if there were still any surviving relations of the children.

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With 75% non-Jewish students, Utah’s Jewish school seeks to universalize Judaism

Mon, 03/21/2016 - 7:00am
By Uriel Heilman for JTA

SALT LAKE CITY (JTA) – It’s Friday afternoon at the McGillis School in Salt Lake City, and students from the third through fifth grades are gathered for the weekly Shabbat celebration.

They read and discuss a passage about humility by former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Then a blond girl with braided hair prepares to light the candles. A hush falls over the room as the flames are kindled, and the students recite the practiced benediction in unison:

“As we bless this source of light, the warmth these candles bring reminds us of times we gave light and received light,” they sing, followed by a recitation of the traditional Shabbat candle-lighting blessing in Hebrew.

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Uganda Rabbi Wins Opposition Seat in Parliament as Authoritarian Leader Clings to Power

Mon, 03/14/2016 - 7:00am
Sam Kestenbaum for The Jewish Daily Forward   

Far from political discussions about Bernie Sanders and the meaning of secular Jewish socialism, Jewish political history has just been made — in Uganda.

An African Jew, and chief rabbi, no less, has just won a parliamentary seat, a first for the country.

On February 19, Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, the spiritual leader of the century-old Abayudaya Jewish community, was named the winner in a heated race among eight candidates, including two main rivals from Uganda’s ruling National Resistance Movement party. Sizomu, who ran with the main opposition party, will represent Bungokho North, a rural district outside the town of Mbale, about an hour’s drive from the Kenyan border.

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Who Was Abba Eban?

Mon, 03/07/2016 - 7:00am
The “voice of Israel,” as David Ben-Gurion dubbed him, was revered abroad, mocked and sidelined at home. A new biography helps explain why.
Neil Rogachevsky for Mosaic

For much of the second half of the 20th century, Abba Eban was one of the world’s most famous Jews. As the first representative of the fledgling state of Israel to the United Nations in 1948, and then as its ambassador to the UN and Washington, Eban shot to prominence through his eloquent defenses of the Jewish state in some of its most perilous early hours. For two decades after 1960, serving as Israel’s on-again, off-again foreign minister, he remained in the eyes of the world the indispensable “voice of Israel,” as David Ben-Gurion had dubbed him. His books on Jewish and Israeli history and a hefty autobiography were best-sellers, and Heritage: Civilization and the Jews, a 1984 public-television series in which he served as both writer and presenter, drew more than 50 million viewers.

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