Blog – Beit Hatfutsot https://www.bh.org.il Museum of the Jewish People Thu, 12 Jul 2018 14:36:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.2 https://www.bh.org.il/wp-content/uploads/cropped-favicon-512-32x32.png Blog – Beit Hatfutsot https://www.bh.org.il 32 32 Jews and Occupation: How One Hand-Fan Started French Colonialism https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/jews-occupation-one-hand-fan-started-french-colonialism/ Sun, 08 Jul 2018 09:25:12 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=35534 Anti-Semites, the people who brought us The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the belief that any evil is caused by Jewish fortune, would probably rejoice at knowing that while the English branch of the Rothschild family funded the English wars against Napoleon in early 19th century, two wealthy Jewish families from Algeria supported Napoleon [...]

The post Jews and Occupation: How One Hand-Fan Started French Colonialism appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
Anti-Semites, the people who brought us The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the belief that any evil is caused by Jewish fortune, would probably rejoice at knowing that while the English branch of the Rothschild family funded the English wars against Napoleon in early 19th century, two wealthy Jewish families from Algeria supported Napoleon in his wars against the English. These guys would probably say: “well, Jewish money sticks to yet some more Jewish money”.

The French occupation of Algeria lasted for 130 years and we all know how it ended, from dozens of periodical works: tens of thousands of lives lost, eight years of bloody war, and the declaration by Charles de Gaulle on the liberation of Algeria from France, on July 1 1962. But how did it all begin? Spoiler alert: this story contains a fly, a hand fan, and money, lots of money.

At the end of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire ruled large portions of the Muslim world, including Algeria. The Ottoman administration used to appoint local rulers in each protectorate, and Hussein Dey was appointed as ruler of the regency of Algeria (Dey was a title of the Ottoman Empire to rulers of Tunisia and Algeria).

Yaakov Bacry (on the right with a ladle in his hand) with soldiers in the French army during World War I, Algeria 1916. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Elise Cohen-Yonatan

Yaakov Bacry (on the right with a ladle in his hand) with soldiers in the French army during World War I, Algeria 1916. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Elise Cohen-Yonatan

The crucial date in this story was April 30 1827. On that day, consuls and diplomats were gathered for an official assembly held in the palace of Hussein Dey in Algiers. One of them was Pierre Deval, the French consul. The meeting was held in the midst of a harsh conflict between France and Algeria, over a huge French debt since 30 years earlier. During the party, Hussein Dey could keep silent no more, and defiantly asked Deval when his country was intending on paying the debt.

Let’s hold the scene now, in order to explain how Jews were related to the debt’s origin. During the 17th century hundreds of wealthy Jewish immigrants came to northern Algeria from Livorno, Italy, in search after financial opportunities. They were merchants, descendants of Jews expelled from Spain, settled in Northern Africa and soon became a central factor in international commerce between Algeria and Europe. Two of the most prominent families from the Jewish Italians were the Bacry family and the Boujanah family, who merged by the end of the 18th century and formed a large corporation which had exclusive monopoly over the export of goods to Europe, especial wheat.

Hussein Dey hits Pierre Deval with a fan, unknown illustrator, Wikipedia

Hussein Dey hits Pierre Deval with a fan, unknown illustrator, Wikipedia

At that time, Napoleon Bonaparte embarked on his never ending campaigns and conquests, and produced the famous quote “an army marches on its stomach”, therefore he was always looking for regular supply of wheat for his hungry soldiers. The Bacrys and the Boujanahs were willing to join the war effort and Napoleon hired them as wheat suppliers of the army. But as the wars expanded, Napoleon started to run out of funds. At some point they failed to deliver the amounts of wheat, and turned to Hussein to allow the French some credit. And so, the French growing debt was endorsed from the Jewish businessmen to the Algerian ruler. Years passed, Napoleon died, but the debt was never paid off.

Back to the scene in Hussein Dey’s palace now: Hussein asked Deval about the debt that was listed high on the agenda of the two states for three decades, with lots of excuses made, and none payments transferred. The local ruler was starting to feel humiliated by the foreign consul, who dared to mock him at his home court. As the Frenchman replied that to his knowledge there was no advancement with regard to the debt, Hussein lost his temper and hit him in the face with a hand fan he was holding. A more restrained diplomatic version of the story suggests that he was just aiming at an annoying fly, accidentally hitting the consul’s face. 

Marine bombing of French ships during the invasion to Algeria, 1830. Painting by Antoine Léon Morel-Fatio

Marine bombing of French ships during the invasion to Algeria, 1830. Painting by Antoine Léon Morel-Fatio

From that moment on, they were all on the fast track down the March of Folly. The French demanded that Hussein apologized. He refused. France declared a blockade on the sultanate. Then the French insisted on sending a representative to the capital Algiers, and the respond was cannon barrages on the French ships. Charles X King of France, who was in the midst of election rush, could not forgive the disrespect – and invaded Algeria. And the rest is all too familiar, bleeding history.

Had Hussein Dey anticipate the results of his hand fan’s strike, perhaps he would have tried other solutions to the debt issue. Fortunately, though, history is not told by reasonable men, but rather by impulsive unexpected leaders.

So what are we to conclude here? Well, that depends who you’re asking. The French will probably be very surprised to hear that their past leaders declared a war over “national respect”; The Algerians may argue that sometimes it is better take a breath, get some cold water and count to 10 before acting; and the Jews? It doesn’t matter, we’re already used to being blamed for everything.

 

(Translated from Hebrew by Danna Paz Prins)

The post Jews and Occupation: How One Hand-Fan Started French Colonialism appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
How Hugo Meisel Invented Football as We Know It https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/hugo-meisel-invented-football-know/ Sun, 01 Jul 2018 09:46:03 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=35375 How Jews imported football into Austria – that is some strange tale. It happened after the Austrian branch of the Rothschilds hired a group of English gardeners to maintain the lawns at their mansion. The workers brought along both a football and a strong passion for the unfamiliar game. The first football match in Austria [...]

The post How Hugo Meisel Invented Football as We Know It appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
How Jews imported football into Austria – that is some strange tale. It happened after the Austrian branch of the Rothschilds hired a group of English gardeners to maintain the lawns at their mansion. The workers brought along both a football and a strong passion for the unfamiliar game. The first football match in Austria took place on the magnificent lawns of the Rothchild mansion. But with all due respect to the noble banking dynasty, the man who made the most significant contribution to Austrian and European football was another Jew, who ironically chose to leave banking behind.

Hugu Meisel was born in 1881 in Bohemia, then in the Austrian-Hungarian empire (now in the Czech Republic). His father was the banker Ludwig Meisel and his mother was Caroline. His parents designated him for a banking career and when he turned 12, they sent him to Vienna to study in a school of commerce. Throughout school years, though, young Hugo was way more interested in playing football. He fell in love with the new game and joined the Vienna Cricket and Football club, where he was influenced by English styles. His parents would not give up their plans and sent him to Paris and Trieste for further studies, and when he was 24 years old he found himself behind a desk, working in a bank.

Hugo Meisel with the Austrian “Wunderteam”, 1932

Hugo Meisel with the Austrian “Wunderteam”, 1932

Unwilling to abandon his great love for football, Meisel started to work as a football referee, and soon reached international level. His high education did become useful, as he mastered German, English, French, Italian, Czech, Swedish, Spanish, and Dutch. He went on expanding his knowledge on the professional aspects of the game and in 1913 was appointed manager of the Austrian team, just before the leaders of Europe decided that some things are more important than football, such as a World War which shall cause the loss of millions of lives.

At the eve of World War I, Meisel hired a brilliant English coach called Jimmy Hogan who was rejected in his homeland. Hogan believed in short passes and tactic coordinated movement of the team rather than long ball chase practiced by the English. Meisel gave Hogan a free hand, which he could not enjoy in England.

The import from England. Jimmy Hogan

The import from England. Jimmy Hogan

But when the war broke, all Englishmen in Vienna, Hogan included, were imprisoned, until the battles are over – a matter of just a few weeks, everybody believed. Meisel was drafted and served in the front, yet he managed to pay off the guards and set Hogan free and bring him to Budapest, where his friends at the Jewish MTK branch took care of him. This action had two results: nine consecutive victories of the Hungarian team; a shift of the center of central European football to Hungary.

After the end of the war Meisel hasted to return Hogan and execute the big plans he had for the Austrian team. His new vision consisted of a pure professional approach, and the first professional team was Hakoah Wien club, where Meisel had friends and contacts, although he was from the Austria Vienna club, another Jewish institute, which was more assimilated in the Austrian general society.

By the early 1930’s the Austrian team became the best in Europe. With Hogan and Meisel as the professional wing, they brought on board the gifted and talented Matthias Sindelar as a player. Meisel went on promoting the intellectual aspects of the game and founded a panel of intellectuals, fans, managers and colleagues to discuss football news and developments. Sometimes he even used the forum just to pick the team’s line up before matches.

When you watch the European Football Championship or the the UEFA Champions League, you are watching Hugo Meisel’s vision

When you watch the European Football Championship or the the UEFA Champions League, you are watching Hugo Meisel’s vision

At that period, Meisel had a correspondence with two of the greatest strategists, Herbert Chapman, manager of Arsenal who ruled English football, and Vittorio Pozzo, who was improving the Italian team, who later won the world cup in 1934 and 1938. Meisel was focused on his next aim: international football. He realized that the game’s strength lies in its international nature. After maximizing the professional and tactic aspects, he went on investing his talents in making football international, and founded the first international enterprises: The Mitropa Cup for club sides, and the Intercontinental Cup for representative teams. At first, mostly clubs and teams from central Europe participated, but when you watch today the European Football Championship or the the UEFA Champions League, you are actually watching Hugo Meisel’s vision coming true.

Like the entire Austrian humanism and the Jewish dream of full integration – Meisel’s dream shattered. In 1934 Austria lost the world cup semifinal game after Mussolini hosted the referees for dinner at his home the night before the game. The Italian defender Monti hit Sindelar in his face, and while the Austrian player was bleeding before the referee’s eyes, he didn’t do anything to help him.

Hugo Meisel died of a heart attack during practice in 1937, fortunate enough to pass away and not having to see the fall of both his country and his life work. In 1938, Nazi Germany annexed Austria, the football national team included. Sindelar, though not a Jew, refused to represent Germany. In the last game of the Austrian team they won, and Sindelar celebrated the victory, trying to provoke the Nazis in seats of honor. A few weeks later he died in unknown circumstances – murder, suicide, or perhaps an accident. Years later, Sindelar was declared the greatest Austrian athlete of all times, and the greatest football player in the 20th century.

  

Mathias Sindelar

Mathias Sindelar

We could have ended our story here, but Hugo Meisel had a younger brother named Willy Meisl, a football journalist, who in 1934 figured out the political situation, and left to England where he served the British intelligence during World War II. After the war he became the most famous football reporter in the world, applying all the knowledge he learnt from his elder brother. In 1953 he compiled all his comprehensive mastery and published the book “The Soccer Revolution”. European football was a trendy issue at in England the time, after a few painful losses, which resulted in a growing understanding that the continent is getting better than England.

Two of Willy Meisl’s insights were prophecies that fully realized: in his visit to Brazil he saw the personal capabilities of boys on the streets and wrote that the joining together of their talent and the European tactic knowledge will make Brazil the best football nation – which came true; in another chapter he introduced a tactic that his brother thought of before his death. He offered to dismantle the roles and try a more flexible game formation, allowing players to switch roles. After many years, Rinus Michels said he was inspired by Meisl’s book when he introduced the “total football” style while coaching the Dutch team.

The cover of Willy Meisl's book, Soccer Revolution

The cover of Willy Meisl’s book, Soccer Revolution

(Translated from Hebrew by Danna Paz Prins)

 

The post How Hugo Meisel Invented Football as We Know It appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
The Jewish Blast of Journalism in Hungary https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/the-jewish-blast-of-journalism-in-hungary/ Tue, 26 Jun 2018 11:31:32 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=35302 “If journalism aims to serve the public, it must strive for as large circulation as possible. And the reason is simple – larger circulation means more publicity, which means more money, which means optimal journalistic freedom” – said Joseph Pulitzer, the Jewish journalism magnate who immigrated to America in the 19th century and was one [...]

The post The Jewish Blast of Journalism in Hungary appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
“If journalism aims to serve the public, it must strive for as large circulation as possible. And the reason is simple – larger circulation means more publicity, which means more money, which means optimal journalistic freedom” – said Joseph Pulitzer, the Jewish journalism magnate who immigrated to America in the 19th century and was one of the founding fathers of American journalism, along with William Hearst.

Though Pulitzer prospered in Uncle Sam’s country, he obtained the basic principles in his land of origin, Hungary. His quote defines the four elements of the financial model of journalism ever: journalism=publicity=money=freedom. These four bases also reflect the story of the Jewish Journalism empire that flourished in Hungary in the late 19th century and was part of the cultural revolution in Hungarian Jewry.

In 1867, after centuries of discrimination and oppression, the Jews of Hungary were emancipated. After the emancipation, they stormed the free market so vigorously, that historians believe the Jews’ great impact on Hungarian economy during the 19th century was unmatched anywhere else.

Andor Miklós (wearing a suit and tie), head of the largest press conglomerate in Hungary, Est, 1920

Andor Miklós (wearing a suit and tie), head of the largest press conglomerate in Hungary, Est, 1920

Ironically, it was their centuries long exclusion from traditional guilds and the ban on possessing property, that helped the Jews develop skills they could use after the industrial revolution. In other words, the cruel natural selection caused by the industrial revolution, introducing new professions and replacing the old feudal system, made the Jews more fit and prepared for the new system. Their experience and expertise in various fields of commerce, their education to literacy and their ambitious nature, typical to minorities, gave them advantage over the local population, that was primarily consisted of peasants.

In early 20th century there were approximately 900,000 Jews living in Hungary, 80% of them were free professionals working in various industries, whereas 70% of the general population were farmers or farmhands.

Hungarian Jews were considered pioneers in many diverse industries: The Goldenberg family founded the textile industry; Mandel Brant introduced steam machinery, and Jewish entrepreneurs established the first insurance company in Hungary. But undoubtedly, the icing on the cake was their influence on Hungarian journalism and the establishment of the famous “press palace” in Budapest.

The Jews’ attraction to journalism derived mostly from the fact they resided in big cities, where press flourished. 20% of the Jews in late 19th century were living in Budapest, capital of Hungarian journalism.

Ágai Adolf, a friend of Herzl and father of political satire in Hungary

Ágai Adolf, a friend of Herzl and father of political satire in Hungary

Prior to the emancipation, Miksa Falk introduced novelties into Hungarian journalism, such as deciphering system in order to avoid censorship; he actually created a unique new language that reflected popular speech. But only after the emancipation the great blast occurred, as new possibilities were opened for Jewish writers, who were considered the founders of Hungarian newspaper writing.

The most noticeable was Ágai Adolf, a genius satirists and a friend of Theodor Herzl, who worked as a reporter in the Neue Freie Presse. Ágai wrote witty feuilletons and was the forefather of political Hungarian satire, as well as a children’s author. Another prominent Jew in the 1870’s was publisher Légrády Károly, founder of the Pesti Hírlap political newspaper that unlike other political newspapers reflected the public’s views rather than interests of politicians. One renowned affair covered in Hungarian press during 1882 was the blood libel in the village of Tiszaeszlári, where a Christian girl went missing, and a Jewish slaughterer was accused of killing her and using her blood for his ritual needs. Her body was eventually discovered and it was proved that she committed suicide after her boyfriend left her. The affair, that echoed widely in Hungary and Europe, raised anger and frustration among the Jews and resulted in the establishment of two important Jewish weeklies with a social agenda, the Egyenlöség (equality), and the Múlt és Jövő, for Jewish Zionist youth.

 Publisher Légrády Károly, founder of a political newspaper who expressed the public’s voice

Publisher Légrády Károly, founder of a political newspaper who expressed the public’s voice

In 1896 a new exciting format was introduced: the tabloids. Printed on cheap paper, with eye-catching headlines and small pages, it was distributed in the streets and published mainly sensations and scandals. The tabloids were almost entirely Jewish. The first one was Esti újság, established by editor Simon Zilahi and Barna Izidor, the first reporter in Hungary.

Then in 1904 Sandor Braun founded the sensational tabloid A Nap (the sun) and two years later, the “Az Est” was founded, which was the best sold newspaper in Hungary. The founder was Andor Miklós, who came from a poor Jewish family and had lots of siblings, and did not even finish elementary school, yet managed to become head of the largest press conglomerate in Hungary, Est.

Title page of the tabloid A NAP, February 1950. Founded by Sandor Braun

Title page of the tabloid A NAP, February 1950. Founded by Sandor Braun

The jewel in Jewish Hungarian journalism’s crown was famous “press palace” of Budapest. For the first time all journalistic labor was performed under one roof – writing, editing, proofreading, printing, marketing and distributing. Researchers agree that the press palaces were planned by vigorous Jewish entrepreneurs, the most famous of whom was Simon Tolnai, founder of Tolnai Világlapja, the first magazine in Hungary, with 100,000 copies during World War I, and the popular weekly Szinhazi Elet, by the Jewish publisher Sándor Incze.

Following the end of World War I, and Hungary’s loss of vast territories, the Hungarian press, and especially Jewish newspapers, started to decline. The rise of Hitler in Germany, 3 decades later, was the final nail in the coffin of the Jewish Hungarian press.

The post The Jewish Blast of Journalism in Hungary appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
Welcome Barbie! An Interview with Tefillin Barbie’s Creator https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/welcome-barbie-interview-tefillin-barbies-creator/ Mon, 25 Jun 2018 11:11:02 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=35294 With the opening of Beit Hatfutsot’s new exhibition, “Let There Be Laughter – Jewish Humor Around the World,” the Museum has welcomed Tefillin Barbie into its collection of objects that inspire, amuse, provoke, and enrich the story of the Jewish people. This year, Tefillin Barbie is celebrating her bat mitzvah: 12 years of bringing joy, [...]

The post Welcome Barbie! An Interview with Tefillin Barbie’s Creator appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
With the opening of Beit Hatfutsot’s new exhibition, “Let There Be Laughter – Jewish Humor Around the World,” the Museum has welcomed Tefillin Barbie into its collection of objects that inspire, amuse, provoke, and enrich the story of the Jewish people. This year, Tefillin Barbie is celebrating her bat mitzvah: 12 years of bringing joy, laughter, and greater inclusivity to the Jewish world. Jen Taylor Friedman – Tefillin Barbie’s creator and a scribe who is the first known woman to have written a Torah scroll – sat down with us for an interview in which she discusses the unexpectedly funny origins of her unique doll.

Photo Courtesy of Jen Taylor Friedman

Photo Courtesy of Jen Taylor Friedman

Tefillin Barbie is part of Beit Hatfutsot’s new exhibition, Let There Be Laughter! How do you feel about it?

“I think it’s very amusing that Tefillin Barbie is part of an exhibition on laughter and humor“.

Tell me about Tefillin Barbie’s origin story. How did she come into being?

“It actually happened as a joke, which got out of control really fast. One October I was studying in yeshiva in New York, and I happened to see a Barbie for sale with a long denim skirt, just like the ones yeshiva girls were wearing then, and this Barbie looked a lot like most of my female friends, most of whom either wore tefillin or were struggling with wanting to. The ideas bounced together in my head, and I had some spare time, so I bought that Barbie and made her a quick tallit and tefillin. I took some photos and put them on my Facebook page, and rather to my surprise, she went viral. As it turned out, the image of Barbie (hyper-feminine and hyper-American) combined with the image of tefillin (hyper-masculine and hyper-religious) spoke very strongly to a lot of people, in both positive and negative ways.

This social group of religious girls on the fringes of Orthodoxy wanting to wear tefillin gave rise to Tefillin Barbie as an artistic expression, but it also ultimately gave rise to the Women’s Tefillin Gemach. A gemach is an organisation for loans. Many religious communities have a Tefillin gemach, where men who can’t afford to buy tefillin can borrow a set. But in that sort of community the service usually isn’t available to women. So I started collecting old sets of tefillin, sprucing them up, and loaning them to women who needed them but couldn’t afford it. Like Tefillin Barbie, the Women’s Tefillin Gemach is still going strong, but gets less publicity”.

Tefillin Barbie Can also do Hagbah! Photo Courtesy of Jen Taylor Friedman

Tefillin Barbie Can also do Hagbah! Photo Courtesy of Jen Taylor Friedman

What were the initial responses to Tefillin Barbie?

“Some people adored her because they saw their own Judaism reflected in her. Some people liked her because they thought she was making Jewish ritual fun, and they felt the same way. Some people told me I was destroying Judaism. Well, Judaism still seems to be going strong though, so I think it’s okay. Art is a mirror to the soul, you know”.

Have you had any interesting and meaningful interactions surrounding Tefillin Barbie? Any interesting buyers (other than Beit Hatfutsot, of course)?

“She appeared in a few other Museums, and features in a few books about Judaism, in the bits about tefillin or about egalitarianism. Lots of the sales are graduation presents, which is rather nice. Some are for bat mitzvah girls or Hebrew schools. My favourite is the one I made for a blind friend; that Barbie had a cane and a Braille siddur, as well as tefillin”.

Tefillin Barbie Reading from the Torah Photo Courtesy of Jen Taylor Friedman

Tefillin Barbie Reading from the Torah
Photo Courtesy of Jen Taylor Friedman

What other projects have you worked on?

“Other projects recently have been my sixth Torah scroll, a lot of tefillin (mostly for bnot mitzvah), some mezuzot, and some megillot. I’m involved with an effort to make klaf from ethically-treated animals, and I have a whole lot of excellent students, from a retiree in New Zealand to a college student in America. Part of my fee for teaching students to write mezuzot is a mezuzah, so all the doors in my house have mezuzot written by different students and colleagues. This makes me very happy, feeling like I am always surrounded by friends. Some of them are making a real difference in their communities, checking tefillin and writing mezuzot and repairing Torahs. My team of scribes has a website at stamscribes.com: we’re Jewish scribes from around the world serving all types of Jewish community with expertise and respect”.

What’s next for you, and what’s next for Tefillin Barbie?

“Since 2006, Tefillin Barbie has got woke. Now she has tefillin-laying friends who aren’t white, skinny, and blonde! I’m working on a PhD about otiyyot meshunnot (embellished letters) in Torah scrolls, the letters which are altered to hint at hidden meanings”.

Tefillin Barbie Getting Ready to Learn Some Talmud. Photo Courtesy of Jen Taylor Friedman

Tefillin Barbie Getting Ready to Learn Some Talmud. Photo Courtesy of Jen Taylor Friedman

More about Jen Taylor Friedman and her work can be found at http://www.hasoferet.com

Rachel Druck is the editor of the Communities Database at Beit Hatfutsot-The Museum of the Jewish People and loves receiving photographs of Jewish communities in action, funny or otherwise. She can be reached at racheld@bh.org.il

The post Welcome Barbie! An Interview with Tefillin Barbie’s Creator appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
Jews of Lion: The Film Studio that Changed Hollywood Forever https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/jews-of-lion-the-film-studio-that-changed-hollywood-forever/ Tue, 19 Jun 2018 12:56:11 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=35190 Everybody who lived in at least part of the 20th century can easily recognize the cultural icon of the roaring lion before every movie by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, known worldwide as MGM. Today the company functions mainly as an archive owned by Sony, but at its peak in the 1930’s and 1940’s it was not only [...]

The post Jews of Lion: The Film Studio that Changed Hollywood Forever appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
Everybody who lived in at least part of the 20th century can easily recognize the cultural icon of the roaring lion before every movie by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, known worldwide as MGM. Today the company functions mainly as an archive owned by Sony, but at its peak in the 1930’s and 1940’s it was not only the main production studio in Hollywood, but has also set the foundations of cinema, with classics such as The Wizard of Oz, I’m Singing in the Rain, Ben Hur, Gone with the Wind, the Marx Brothers films and many other movies that became eternal pillars of cinema.

The personal stories of the founders and directors of MGM are inseparable from the company’s history. They were all Jews who immigrated (or their parents did) from Eastern Europe in the mid 19th century. The story of MGM studios is also the story of the mass Jewish immigration into the United States, and the fate – whether good or bad – of those Jews who had plenty of inspiring opportunities waiting for them in the new world.

Leo the lion during shootings, 1928

Leo the lion during shootings, 1928

One key figure in the establishment of MGM, though not involved in its actual film making, was Samuel Goldwyn. Born Shmuel Gelbfish in Warsaw, his father died when he was a child. In 1895, when he was only 16 years old, he decided to leave to England and join some distant relatives he had there. On his way he changed his name to Goldfish. From England he went on to America at the turn of the century, and soon managed to get an American citizenship. He contacted some Jewish acquaintances in New York and together they established a new film studio.

Though a gifted entrepreneur, Goldfish apparently had a somewhat problematic personality. He used to curse his partners a lot, and to get furious in seconds – he was not an easy boss nor colleague. After a short while he quit – or was kicked of – his first company, and tried again with new partners from Broadway. The new company was called Goldwyn Pictures – whether he first changed his name once more from Goldfish to Goldwyn and then named the company or vice versa is not clear. There were lots of studios then. It was during the first World War and the public did not care much for the events in Europe at that point, however cared more and more for filling the theaters and watching movies. Although Goldwyn Pictures did not stand out nor necessarily produced great films, they did have one Gimmick of their own.

It was Goldwyn’s idea to shoot a real roaring lion in studio and use it as a logo shown before every movie – a marketing trick that proved very successful pretty soon. But once again Goldwyn’s bad temper interfered. Just when his firm was growing prosperous, and right before closing a huge deal that would eventually lead to the establishment of MGM, he decided to leave, due to conflicts with his partners. After a long legal struggle, the new company went on using his name, as well as the lion logo. Meanwhile Goldwyn started a new firm, in which he was involved until his death in 1974.

Samuel Goldwyn, 1919

Samuel Goldwyn, 1919

Louis B. Mayer was the other main founder of MGM, he too was born in Eastern Europe, by the name of Lazar Meir. Unlike Goldwyn, Mayer came to the United States as a baby, and helped his father, a poor Jewish welder in New York. Young Lazar had some business with metal sellers in order to help his father and like his partner was too an extraordinary entrepreneur. When he was 20 years old he entered a business of buying theater and cinema halls in New York. During the first World War, he established an actors’ agency called “Metro” with a partner, but after two years they split and he founded “Mayer Productions”. He almost immediately became famous as a highly promising young producer, whose films were extraordinary financial successes.

And so, in 1924, MGM was in fact created, following the initiation of another Jew called Marcus Lev, a businessman who knew young Mayer well. Lev merged the former “Metro” company with the new “Mayer” and the “Goldwyn” firm. Mayer was appointed the director of the new merged studios, and a new era in the history of American and world cinema has begun.

As director, Mayer had some unusual ideas for new movies. He invented the stars system, i.e. was the first who marketed a new movie using the famous names that acted in it. Some of the great movie stars ever were discovered nurtured by Mayer: Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, and many others. Mayer insisted that as a producer he had to protect his actors, cover up for them in romantic scandals and even help them out if they occasionally broke the law. Such was the case of Frank Sinatra, who was already a famous singer and an actor in “Anchors Aweigh”. There were stories about his bad behavior on the set and his contacts with criminals, but Mayer took care of things and silenced all rumors, using his contacts and money.

Louis B. Mayer with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, 1937

Louis B. Mayer with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, 1937

Unlike Goldwyn who had a hard character, Mayer was more easy going and usually gave the film directors a free hand. However, he was merciless towards directors who did not meet his expectations and some of them reported some serious mental scars they suffered after working for him. He also came up with the concept of star kids. Young stars such as Judy Garland told that on one hand he was a protective father figure, but on the other hand he was rough and put lots of mental pressure on them, almost mentally abused them. Elizabeth Taylor said that as a young girl she hated his domineering personality and called him “monster”.

Mayer’s unique management manners came to an end with the descent of MGM. All through the prosperous periods of the firm, Mayer had struggles with Nicolas Schenck, another Jewish Eastern European immigrant, who was Marcus Lev’s partner. Lev died in 1927, thus did not spend long in the new firm. In 1951 Schenck persuaded the MGM board of directors to replace Mayer.

From "The Hurricane" trailer, a film by John Ford, produced by Goldwyn in 1937

From “The Hurricane” trailer, a film by John Ford, produced by Goldwyn in 1937

Schenck and Lev’s son tried to go on and revive the sinking company. In the 1950’s, MGM produced a few more classic movies, but it was seriously descending. The world has changed, the “stars system” was fading out, and a new generation of bold film makers was rising. New studios who did better in fighting the new enemy – Television – were established. The old studio was sold a couple of times and went on producing films, but the glory of the past was never resumed.

Though MGM is for many years not the most important studios in United States as it used to be 70 years ago, it is still famous worldwide. All the founders were poor Jews who were looking for a better future and found a haven in the new media. They represent the larger Jewish American story – of leaving an old ruined world and managing on their own to make their dreams come true and to sell them to the masses in the new world.

(Translated from Hebrew by Danna Paz Prins)

The post Jews of Lion: The Film Studio that Changed Hollywood Forever appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
The Fearless, Politically Incorrect Lenny Bruce https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/fearless-politically-incorrect-lenny-bruce/ Thu, 14 Jun 2018 08:55:41 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=35078 Miki and Sally Schneider’s only son was born in Long Island in 1925. He was circumcised when he was 8 days old, and named Leonard Alfred, or “Lenny”. Little did his parents know then, that this baby was about to smash the idols of his time and announce a new religion: counter-culture. “Lenny Bruce was [...]

The post The Fearless, Politically Incorrect Lenny Bruce appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
Miki and Sally Schneider’s only son was born in Long Island in 1925. He was circumcised when he was 8 days old, and named Leonard Alfred, or “Lenny”. Little did his parents know then, that this baby was about to smash the idols of his time and announce a new religion: counter-culture.

“Lenny Bruce was bad, he was the brother that you never had”, Bob Dylan wrote after Lenny’s death. And this is, perhaps, Lenny’s story in a nut shell. Dylan always knew how to nail it. For him and his friends, Lenny was a spiritual brother who pulled the mask off the face of the American double standard morality during the 1950’s, clearing the way for the great cultural revolution of the 1960’s.

Part of the Lenny Bruce exhibit in the exhibition “Let There Be Laughter – Jewish Humor Around the World” in The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot

Part of the Lenny Bruce exhibit in the exhibition “Let There Be Laughter – Jewish Humor Around the World” in The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot

Lenny Bruce was scathing and critical. He wasn’t a nice comedian who made nice people in nice clubs laugh at nice jokes. He was a protest performer, kicking and angry. Behind his profanity and the wallowing in the sewers of human language, there was a complex, agonized and hurting man hiding.

The mean Lenny who used to damn his audience and hold merciless social experiments on stage; and the good-hearted Lenny who married a junky stripper called Honey Harlow (1951) in order to help her out of the hell she was living in – were the same man. Lenny and Honey had one daughter, Kitty, and eventually separated in 1957.

Gifted with one of kind humane sensitivity, shared only by a few, such as the great comedians Bill Hicks and Geroge Carline, Lenny Bruce was a trailblazer in predicting the Politically Correct trend. In a comic show he held with the black musician Eric miller, Bruce used to mock white condescending people who tended to become way too nice to black people, out of embarrassment. What can be more racist than trying to cover it up with a righteous appearance, he used to tease them sharply.

Behind the profanity, a complex, agonized and hurting man hiding. Lenny Bruce, photo: The Library of Congress, Wikimedia

Behind the profanity, a complex, agonized and hurting man hiding. Lenny Bruce, photo: The Library of Congress, Wikimedia

Unlike joke tellers, Lenny did not care so much for punches, he considered himself more a critic than a comedian. In his acts, a three minutes’ joke could easily become a 30 minutes’ passionate address. He used to mold an idea and improvise on it like a Jazz artist, using humor instruments.

He pulled the Jewish humor out of the closet of the Shtetl and the Borscht Belt, and introduced a new kind of Jewish culture – not nice, not humble, proud and kicking. He turned Jewish comedy upside down. The great comedians of the previous generation came from the center of the “Borscht Belt”: Mel Brooks, Danny Kaye, Rodney Dangerfield – though comic geniuses, they kept their acts clean from profanity, and addressed decent Americans. They were extremely careful not to mention their Jewish background in front of non-Jewish listeners. Just like authors and illustrators who often changed their last name, because they did not wish to sound “too Jewish”. They wished to obscure their Jewish background and be “all American”.

And then Lenny came, and did the exact opposite. He did not hesitate to laugh at gentiles, at Christians, at Judaism and the relations between the two faiths. In the puritan 1950’s, when the threat of senator McCarthy was everywhere in show business, most Jews just wished to integrate and not make a fuss. But not Lenny Bruce. He poked a finger right in the eye of Christian American society, and kept it down. “We Jews killed Christ and if he comes back, we’ll kill him again”, he provoked a packed club once.

Some of Lenny’s bits made it into the hall of fame: for example, “Jewish or Goyish”, where he proved it was much cooler to be a Jew than a Goy; or that if Jesus was killed in our generation, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks. Some of his jokes were in Yiddish. He had one mythical bit of how he got arrested for saying the word “Shmock” in an act, which means stupid in Yiddish, because they thought he meant to curse and use the word for a penis.

This is where the story turns sad. Today, many people complain that democracy is dying and civil rights are in danger. But to be honest, though there are occasionally some sanctions by the PC police – no one today is imprisoned for using dirty language. But in America in the 1950’s, an era of extreme conservatism, there was an actual regulation of what could and could not be said by people. Profanity, cursing and criticism towards the authorities – were against the law. Lenny Bruce kept provoking the government – and kept entering prison one time after the other. This was no spin nor a marketing trick, as by that time he was already a successful popular performer, who filled venues such as the Carnegie Hall more than once. He simply could not hold his tongue. He was truly and uncontrollably subversive as if he was aware of his role in the history of popular culture. Many places would not invite him for shows: Britain and Australia banned him from performing and he was not even allowed in Britain at all. The recurring arrests finally broke Lenny, and on August 3, 1966, he was found dead in his home in Los Angeles, with a heroine needle in his arm. He was 41 years old.

Louis C.K, Sarah Silverman, and other comedians owe Lenny Bruce. Thanks to him they are able to stand and use whatever dirty words they wish. Lenny has also indirectly influenced the practicing of the freedom of speech first amendment of the constitution, allowing citizens of the Unites States to express themselves freely. In 2004 the “Comedy Central” channel placed Lenny third in a list of 100 great comedy artists of all times. Richard Pryor and George Carline were in the first two places. For both of them, Lenny was a main inspiration. The Jewish boy from Long Island was a living proof that humor indeed can change reality – something that nice conventional jokes about marriage and parenting on prime time of commercial channels or on social networks will never be able to do.

Lenny Bruce is included in the exhibition “Let There Be Laughter – Jewish Humor Around the World” in The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot

The tombstone of Lenny Bruce in Mission Hills, California: “Peace at Last”

The tombstone of Lenny Bruce in Mission Hills, California, inscripted: “Peace at Last”

(Translated from Hebrew by Danna Paz Prins)

 

The post The Fearless, Politically Incorrect Lenny Bruce appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
The Goebbels Connection: Romantic Mystery Behind the Arlosoroff Assassination https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/the-goebbels-connection-romantic-mystery-behind-the-arlosoroff-assassination/ Thu, 07 Jun 2018 12:57:09 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=34841 They were both unusual characters. He – head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency, a bright young star in the Zionist movement during the 1930’s; she – a Third Reich celebrity and the renowned wife of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda. Were they romantically involved? Can Joseph Goebbels be standing behind [...]

The post The Goebbels Connection: Romantic Mystery Behind the Arlosoroff Assassination appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
They were both unusual characters. He – head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency, a bright young star in the Zionist movement during the 1930’s; she – a Third Reich celebrity and the renowned wife of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda. Were they romantically involved? Can Joseph Goebbels be standing behind the most famous unsolved crime in the history of Zionism? Is he the answer to the most repeatedly asked question in Zionist mythology: who was responsible for the assassination of Haim Arlosoroff?

Magda Goebbels and Haim Arlosoroff were almost the same age. She was born in 1901 and he was two years older. Both had quite unusual life. Magda was born in Berlin to the Ritschel family, her parents separated when she was a child. Her mother, Augusta, remarried to a wealthy Belgian Jew by the name of Richard Friedlander. Rumors, never neither verified nor refuted, had it that he was in fact Magda’s biological father, one way or the other it was Friedlander who raised Magda and she even carried his family name for several years. Augusta and Richard separated after a few years, and during the holocaust Richard asked for Magda’s help in fleeing from the Nazis, however no attempt by her to help him is recorded, and he was perished in the holocaust. When Magda was 20 years old she married Günther Quandt, who was 17 years older than her, and they had one son, whose daughter, who grew up knowing who her grandmother was, decided to convert to Judaism.

Haim Arlosoroff. From Beit Hatfutsot photo exhibition: "A Century of Zionist Immigration to Eretz Israel",1981. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

Haim Arlosoroff. From Beit Hatfutsot photo exhibition: “A Century of Zionist Immigration to Eretz Israel”,1981. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

Haim Arlosoroff was born in the Russian Empire; his family moved to Germany after the Kishinev pogroms and settled in Berlin. The young Arlosoroff, who came from a dynasty of rabbis, stood out in various schools, and by the age of 21, after the end of World War I, he already had Doctorate in economics. He married Gerda Goldberg and they had a child. Haim was a prominent member in the Zionist leadership, standing out for his young age, sharp analytic skills, and broad education. He was also extremely charismatic and popular among women.

Their first encounter was during the First World War. Magda lived with her parents in Belgium, from which they were deported and had to return to Germany. She was only 13, anxious for new contacts, thus became close friend with Liza Arlosoroff, Haim’s sister. She often visited his home and it was told that she had a warm close relationship with the family, including attending Jewish festivals held at their home.

Magda and Haim knew each other well and were close friends. After the war each of them married, yet they maintained a close friendship, especially through Liza. It all changed when Arlosoroff received his doctorate, and decided to execute his Zionist ideology and immigrate to Israel, where he soon joined the local politics.

Sitting on the left: Sima Rubin (Arlosoroff), with friends from at a Trip to Berlin, 1922. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Shmuel Levitin

Sitting on the left: Sima Rubin (Arlosoroff), with friends from at a Trip to Berlin, 1922. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Shmuel Levitin

Back in Germany, Magda’s marriage to Quandt was falling apart. People said she had many lovers, and was feeling choked living with an older man who did not understand her needs and wished. They eventually split in 1929. Two years earlier Haim too divorced his wife and remarried Sima – his second wife, who would be the only eyewitness to his murder.

Arlosorff was a rising star in Zionist politics. His extraordinary literacy in many languages, his charisma and wisdom made him the perfect man for missions around the world, raising supporters and funds. During the 1920’s he visited Germany many times, which was a fine opportunity to reattach with Magda, who was by now a wealthy divorcee. There are stories indicating that she was very fond of him, and that he tried to persuade her to acknowledge the just causes of the Zionist concept, and the significance of Aliyah. Some said she even considered converting and coming to Palestine, being already accustomed to replacing identities and faiths, having a Jewish foster father and then after her marriage, removing the Jewish name and converting from Catholic to Protestant.

Their relationship ceased, probably in 1930, after Magda met Joseph Goebbels, whom she married the following year. We learn about the events from a letter Haim wrote to his wife Sima in May 1933, regarding Magda’s new relationship with Goebbels: “Dr. Joseph Goebbels, minister of propaganda of the German Reich, of all the women, needs to marry my old friend Magda Friedlander, later Maria Magdalena Quandt. If you are interested, Liza can tell you about the whole adventurous life tale of this school mate of hers.”

The wedding of Magda and Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler in the back. December 1931. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R32860 Creative Commons)

The wedding of Magda and Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler in the back. December 1931. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R32860 Creative Commons)

Interestingly Arlosoroff used Magda’s youth surname. It is also interesting that he was well aware of Magda’s uncommon lifestyle. Whether they had a love affair while he was married to Sima is unclear, for he certainly did not avoid discussing Magda with his wife and even encourage Sima to talk with Liza about Magda, therefore it seems more likely they were merely friends rather than lovers.

A month after this letter was sent, Arlosoroff was murdered – a traumatic shock resulting in a split within the Jewish “Yishuv”. Just before his death, Arlosoroff was appointed head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency, causing a conflict for trying to form an agreement with Nazi Germany regarding saving German Jews and their property. As far as we know he did not try to make use of his long acquaintance with Magda, now happily married to Hitler’s close consultant and senior minister.

Magda committed suicide along with her husband Joseph and their six children using cyanide, a day after Hitler’s suicide in the Berlin bunker in May 1945. After Arlosoroff’s assassination, assumptions were made about the possibility that Goebbels, furious and jealous, sent German Templers, supporters of the Nazis, to kill Arlosoroff after he found out about his wife’s affair with the Jewish public figure. These assumptions were never proven. It seems that the exceptional characters of both Haim and Magda, as well as the historical turbulence of that time – produced this historical mystery that might never be fully resolved.

“Davar” headline on June 17, 1933, a day after the assassination

“DAVAR” headline on June 17, 1933, a day after the assassination

(Translated from Hebrew by Danna Paz Prins)

The post The Goebbels Connection: Romantic Mystery Behind the Arlosoroff Assassination appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
The Great Speeches: Menachem Begin’s Civil War Threat https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/the-great-speeches-menachem-begins-civil-war-threat/ Mon, 04 Jun 2018 08:53:08 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=34574 What makes a great speech? A great speech confronts two universal values with one another and forms an unsolvable conflict. Such was the steering speech by Elazar ben Yair, which led to mass suicide on the Masada. A great speech can be addressed in a seemingly insignificant occasion, and still enter indifferent hearts, like Elie [...]

The post The Great Speeches: Menachem Begin’s Civil War Threat appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
What makes a great speech? A great speech confronts two universal values with one another and forms an unsolvable conflict. Such was the steering speech by Elazar ben Yair, which led to mass suicide on the Masada. A great speech can be addressed in a seemingly insignificant occasion, and still enter indifferent hearts, like Elie Wiesel’s speech in the White House; in other cases a great speech is addressed in a crucial historical event, such as Gideon Hausner’s speech in the opening of the Eichmann Trial, which sent shivers down the spine of the entire nation. Finally, a great speech can in some cases hit the most sensitive chord of a collective, like the rebuking address by Menachem Begin against the Reparations agreement, in 1952.

It was often said that Menachem Begin used to stand in front of the mirror for hours before each speech, rehearsing his body gestures, timing his fist clenching to perfect precision, and practicing his powerful lines. Long before the era of T.V. politics, which created eloquent leaders such as Barack Obama and Benyamin Netaniahu, Begin – head of the Nationalist Zionists – realized that body language mattered as much as what he had to say.

In Begin’s speeches, the icing on the cake has always been the content. He spoke passionately and never had two faces. There was never any gap between Begin the ideologist, Begin the statesman and Begin the skilled orator. He was indeed a gifted speaker, no less than legendary rhetoricians such as Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King. During his career he addressed some of the most influential speeches. His most charismatic speech was addressed when he was still a young leader, in front of a rally in Jerusalem, which naturally was not televised, therefore did not enter as deep as it should to the Israeli collective visual memory. This was the speech that strengthened the image of Begin as a fearless devoted leader – the speech about the Reparations from Germany.

The reparations agreement speech, Menachem Begin, 1952. Israel State Archives

The reparations agreement speech, Menachem Begin, 1952. Screen shot: Israel State Archives

Upon the Reparations Agreement with Germany, the Mapai ruling party was facing a tough moral dilemma: should they or should they not accept the large sums offered by the Germans to the young State of Israel as compensation for the horrors of the holocaust? Can money really clear a guilty conscious? And should the Jewish state help the aggressors clear their conscious this way? Prime Minister Ben-Gurion held a typical pragmatic approach. It was a time of austerity, mass immigration, and the state was recovering from the War of Independence, facing a severe financial crisis. “The Old Man” figured that the German funds will be a significant lifebelt for the poor new state, a financial foundation on which the Hebrew state could develop and prosperous.

The controversy over the Reparations agreement split the public in half and revealed the core of the historical debate between the Zionist right and left: restraint versus fanaticism; compromise versus absolute justice; the ideal versus the reality. It was one of the most emotional debates in the history of the state and of the Knesset. The struggle was escalating until January 7, 1952, when the Reparations Agreement was introduced in the Knesset. During the debate in the Israeli parliament, a mass rally was held in Zion Square, not far from the Knesset building in Jerusalem. Begin, then chair of the “Herut” party, spoke in the rally harshly against the government:

“This is their only calculation: money, money, money. For a few millions of dollars they will perform an act of abomination. Sure, they promise to establish a new civil engineering company or something of the kind, but rest assure that these sums will soon be gone and dissolved, and where will they get another six millions of Jews for their murderers’ money? This is atrocious!”

One of the main motives in Begin’s speeches has always been the value of the Jewish honor. Like his mentor, Zeev Jabotinski, he also admired the image of a proud, generous, and fierce, “super Jew” that the Beitar movement wished to create. With his Polish gentleman manners, Begin, whose parents and brother were murdered by the Nazis, hit the most sensitive nerve – the holocaust. Like a professional dramaturge he knew how to analyze the Reparations issue in terms of a struggle between good and evil. Representing the ultimate evil were the people from Mapai and the lobbyists from “Solel Boneh”, who wished to make profit from the blood of six million victims. On the other end there were the good men of “Herut”, fiercely guarding the national honor.

The division to “us” and “them” was a central element in his speeches. But this time pushed it even further, and openly called for a civil war, which he was so careful to prevent four years earlier, during the “Altalena” affair.

The reparations agreement speech, Menachem Begin, 1952. Screen shot: Israel State Archives

The reparations agreement speech, Menachem Begin, 1952. Screen shot: Israel State Archives

“When you fired at me with cannon, I gave the order; ‘No! Today I will give the order, “Yes!”. This is one of those things that we are ready to sacrifice our souls for; it is for what we shall be ready to die. Get your factions together, sit down and discuss this matter and feel mercy for our nation and do not join this abomination…“

As he finished speaking, the excited protesters began marching towards the Knesset, a march which resulted in a battle field. Hundreds of policemen were injured, and several Members of Knesset had to receive medical treatment. Chances of an actual civil war seemed all too real. Following the events, Begin was barred from the Knesset for a few months. 25 five later Begin, whom Ben Gurion referred to with disgust as “the MK who sits next to MK Bader”, became Prime Minister, which made him realize that he too had to make painful compromises .Nevertheless, he always remained a great speaker.

The post The Great Speeches: Menachem Begin’s Civil War Threat appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
The Jewish Mother: From “A Yiddishe Momme” to Philip Roth https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/the-jewish-mother-from-a-yiddishe-momme-to-philip-roth/ Sun, 27 May 2018 10:34:32 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=34467 A short while after losing her beloved mother in 1928, the Jewish-American singer Sophie Tucker recorded the song “A Yiddishe Momme” which made her famous. Every time she performed the song the used to tell the audience about her late mother, “a woman with a pure Jewish heart, with eyes reflecting endless devotion”. The song [...]

The post The Jewish Mother: From “A Yiddishe Momme” to Philip Roth appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
A short while after losing her beloved mother in 1928, the Jewish-American singer Sophie Tucker recorded the song “A Yiddishe Momme” which made her famous. Every time she performed the song the used to tell the audience about her late mother, “a woman with a pure Jewish heart, with eyes reflecting endless devotion”.

The song “A Yiddishe Momme” is the ultimate soundtrack of the Jewish soul, at least if your ancestors came from east of the Vistula river. It is like a sentimental time tunnel that throws us back to the lost paradise of the Jewish town; to days when Jewish mothers had much less rights, but far more strength, which they did not hesitate to aim against whoever was threatening harm their offspring.

Exhibit from "Let There be Laughter - Jewish Humor Around the World" exhibition in The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot

Exhibit from “Let There be Laughter – Jewish Humor Around the World” exhibition in The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot

Let us review the song’s content, for just a few of us who do not speak Yiddish: the song is in fact a letter, from a young soldier to his Jewish mother, portrayed as a bold lioness, full of confidence and inner strength, nonetheless showering warmth and love all over, especially upon her only child.

Now let us skip ahead four decades, to 1969. A Jewish American author called Philip Roth published “Portnoy’s Complaint”, a best seller with over 6 million copies, which was a monologue of a lonely frustrated man in the psychiatrist’s clinic. Alexander Portnoy settles his business with everyone and everything, especially with his Jewish mother, whom he blames for all his failures with women, his bad career choices, his obsession with sex and his unrestrained passion for “Shikses”. In Portnoy’s mind, the Jewish mother is like the omnipotent Demiurge, who created the world and left us all hopelessly neurotic and battered. From a very young age his twisted relationship with his mother shaped his attitude towards women: “She was so deeply embedded in my consciousness that for the first year of school I seem to have believed that each of my teachers was my mother in disguise.”

A copy of the first edition of “Portnoy’s Complaint”, 1969. Displayed in the "Let There be Laughter - Jewish Humor Around the World" exhibition in The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot

A copy of the first edition of “Portnoy’s Complaint”, 1969. Displayed in the “Let There be Laughter – Jewish Humor Around the World” exhibition in The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot

How come the stereotype of the Jewish mother was so extremely transformed within just one generation? From an entity spreading nothing but love and kindness in “A Yiddishe Momme”, to a demonic overbearing, anxious, guilt causing woman as described in “Portnoy’s Complaint”?

One suggestion to this turnover comes from the realm of Evolutionary psychology. It is actually quite simple: Just like the human fingers can be used for picking or collecting fruit or nuts, as well as for texting messages, the same way certain traits or mutations used for one purpose can be used for a different purpose along evolution. Certain traits that used to be essential may sometimes become redundant according to changing reality.

In the turn of generations in America, the Jewish mother went through a similar process. Constant persecutions, fragile existence and financial uncertainty experienced by the first generations of immigrants from Europe, forced the mother to develop diligence, devotion and self-sacrifice which made her a mythic figure worthy of admiration and thankfulness from the family (as expressed in the song “A Yiddishe Momme”, for example). But following the unprecedented success of American Jewry, things changed. Financial conditions stabilized, persecutions and Antisemitism were no more, and the American dream was no longer just a fantasy. The fast social advance within just one generation was a popular research material in sociology and culture studies. Thousands of Jews left the crowded poor Lower East Side daily, towards the comfortable middle class suburbs of America.

The Jewish mother, though, still lived under a threat. Physically she lived in America but her mind was still in the Shtetl, surrounded by brutal Ukrainian rioters wishing to hunt her down. Thus, attributed warmth, compassion and self-sacrifice turned into this overprotective, smothering, overbearing, castrating figure, who won’t miss an opportunity to make her son feel guilty. “Spring me from this role I play of the smothered son in the Jewish joke!” Portnoy cries to his therapist. Later on we learn that the comedy is in fact a tragic-comic joke on the expense of Alexander Portnoy – and of Philip Roth himself.

From the exhibition "Let There be Laughter - Jewish Humor Around the World" in The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot

From the exhibition “Let There be Laughter – Jewish Humor Around the World” in The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot

Another 40 years gone by, and Philip Roth released his great book “The Plot Against America”, which can be perceived as a sort of reconciliation with the harsh mother figure portrayed in “Portnoy’s Complaint”. “The Plot Against America” is delivered from the point of view of Roth as the child in an alternative America where Charles Lindbergh, the pro-Nazi pilot, became the president of the United States, thus jeopardizing the well-being of the Jews in his county. In this book, the older Roth is no longer furious at his mother like in his youth. On the contrary, the award winning author draws an affectionate nostalgic picture of his mother, somewhat like the character drawn in “A Yiddishe Momme”.

Perhaps it was his own maturing that made him identify with his mother and make his peace with her, or it could have been his guilty conscious for the literary tarnish of her personality decades before – the same guilt she herself has burnt into his mind. At any case it seems that in his last years Roth softened a bit and was willing to embrace Sophie Tucker’s view of the mother as an ultimate mythological loving thing.

So RIP, Philip Roth. We only have one last request. Wear something warm, so you won’t catch a cold in that place you’re going to.

Philip Roth in 1973

Philip Roth in 1973

(English translation: Danna Paz Prins)

The post The Jewish Mother: From “A Yiddishe Momme” to Philip Roth appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
Green Park: The Most Famous Jewish Hotel in England https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/green-park-famous-jewish-hotel-england/ Tue, 22 May 2018 06:29:55 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=34400 Green Park hotel was standing upon four things: tradition, religion, family, and food – as declared in the opening scene of Marsha Lee’s award winning film about the most famous Jewish hotel in England. The story of Green Park reflects the story of the entire Jewry of England. First, mass immigration due to pogroms in [...]

The post Green Park: The Most Famous Jewish Hotel in England appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>
Green Park hotel was standing upon four things: tradition, religion, family, and food – as declared in the opening scene of Marsha Lee’s award winning film about the most famous Jewish hotel in England.

The story of Green Park reflects the story of the entire Jewry of England. First, mass immigration due to pogroms in Eastern Europe; then the formation of a flourishing united Jewish community; and finally – globalization, disintegration and deterioration.

צילום מתוך "מלון גרין פארק"

It all began with two families, the Richmans and the Marriotts. Like many other Jews from Eastern Europe, they fled from Russia and Poland in late 19th century, and settled in East End, London. The young Ruby Marriott and Sarah Richman fell in love and married after a short while, and like any young immigrating couple, they were both considering their professional options. Ruby did not wish to become a tailor like his father, but rather was very ambitious and sought for himself a more “British” occupation.

His business opportunity came from the most unexpected place: Bournemouth, a popular beautiful resort on the southern shore. Ruby noticed an old building for sale on top the eastern cliff overlooking the ocean. With some help from friends and family, he managed to raise the sum and handshake purchasing the share. After thorough renovation, his plan was to establish a trendy new hotel designed in the trendy Art Deco style. The hotel was inaugurated in 1943, at the peak of the preparations for the invasion in Normandy. Thousands of ally soldiers flooded the small resort town, among them many Jewish soldiers, who were surprised to be announced one day that they were invited to hold a Passover “Seder” in the new, kosher, splendid hotel, called “Green Park”.

חוגגים יום הולדת לבובע ריצ'מן (יושבת מול העוגה). עומד לשמאלה, בכיפה שחורה ומשקפיים, רובי ריצ'מן. צילום מתוך "מלון גרין פארק"

This was the first out of dozens of Seders, Hanukkah celebrations, and stylish Purim costumes parties, held in Green Park for over 40 years, in which the hotel has become a vibrant Jewish center never seen in England before.

It was a family ran hotel, managed by the Marriotts and the Richmans. Ruby Marriott used to give a warm personal welcome to his guests at the entrance. Arriving at the reception, guests would be handled by Ray Richman, who was in charge of reservations and payments. The main financier was Judy Richman, and the chief caterer was Hannah Richman. Ruby’s sisters in law worked in the hotel for 40 years, until it closed. But the chief operator and the grand matriarch was Bubbe Richman, quite a stocky woman, a heavy smoker, a living remain of the old Jewish world who would curse out loud in Yiddish and cheat in cards; she wasn’t going anywhere, nor had any intentions to change.

צילום מתוך "מלון גרין פארק"

However, don’t get the wrong idea; Green Park was not a humble simple place. It was a fine establishment, favored by the British Jewish high society; those who wished to acquire high class manners and at the same time maintain their Jewish tradition. Many distinguished guests stayed in Green Park, such as the business magnate Sir Isaac Wolfson; the bookmaker Cyril Stein; founder of “Tesco”, Sir Jack Cohen; President of “Odeon”, Oscar Deutsch; the legendary manager, Brian Epstein; and lots of others. The hotel had magnificent suites, elegant bathrooms, card halls, and dance halls for the night parties, and the crowning glory – the wonderful delicious, refined and kosher meals. To quote a T.V. commercial from the 1960’s: “At the Green Park hotel all of your kosher needs will be fully met! We have separate facilities for milk and meat, our fish are all fully scaled and freshly caught in the North Atlantic, it’s all fresh, and of course – no pork!”.

Two additional ideals characterized the Green Park hotel: Tradition and religion. Edward Lee, one of the second generation children of Green Park, shares in the film:  “for 50 weeks a year you’re trying to assimilate and two weeks a year going back to your roots”.

אכלסו חדרי אירוח מפוארים עם אמבטיות פרטיות. צילום מתוך "מלון גרין פארק"

Green Park was not only a venue for card games, parties and Jewish dating, but also deeply committed to Jewish traditions and rituals. You did not have to be orthodox in order to come to the synagogue on Shabbat eve, or bless the four species in Sukkot. “The Jewish rituals joined all the participants together”.

During the 1970’s the place began to decline. New concepts and fashions, as well as increasing globalization gradually wore out the unique social fabric of the place. The older generation, who had deep respect and emotions towards the Jewish tradition and the unification of the community, failed to pass on these values to their grandchildren. The generational gap deepened, and also, world economy was changing, holidays abroad became cheaper and trendy (for example to Italy and Majorca) – all of these circumstances brought the end of the establishment.

Green Park was closed in the mid 1980’s. Bubbe Richman passed away, followed by Ruby Marriott. The unmarried sisters Judy and Hannah Richman now live together in an Art Deco house in Bournemouth, not far from a hideous apartment house, an ugly monument for the most famous Jewish hotel in England that used to stand there.

(Translated from Hebrew by Danna Paz Prins)

The post Green Park: The Most Famous Jewish Hotel in England appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

]]>