Beit Hatfutsot https://www.bh.org.il Museum of the Jewish People Sun, 16 Dec 2018 13:04:58 +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 Beit Hatfutsot https://www.bh.org.il 32 32 Siro Polo Padolecchia da Ponte, Descendant of Marco Polo, Visited the Museum https://www.bh.org.il/news-and-events/siro-polo-padolecchia-da-ponte-descendant-marco-polo-visited-museum/ Wed, 12 Dec 2018 10:24:17 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=39144 We were proud and delighted to host Prof. Siro Polo Padolecchia at the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot. Siro Polo Padolecchia, born in Venice in an ancient noble family, is the last living descendant of Marco Polo. Former Ambassador of Italy at the  United Nations, he assisted maaplilim to arrive to Israel after [...]

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We were proud and delighted to host Prof. Siro Polo Padolecchia at the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot.

Siro Polo Padolecchia, born in Venice in an ancient noble family, is the last living descendant of Marco Polo. Former Ambassador of Italy at the  United Nations, he assisted maaplilim to arrive to Israel after World War II.

Prof. Siro Polo Padolecchia and Dan Tadmor (The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, December 2018)

Prof. Siro Polo Padolecchia and Dan Tadmor (The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, December 2018)

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Heal the World with Ink and Color: in Memory of Stan Lee https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/heal-the-world-with-ink-and-color-in-memory-of-stan-lee/ Wed, 12 Dec 2018 10:10:01 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=39128 Assaf Gamzu The popular culture of 2018 owes so much to Stan Lee. Every couple of months a new comic movie is released by Marvel Cinematic Universe, that undisputedly has been ruling the world of cinema for a decade now. Most of the stars – Thor, The Hulk, The Black Panther, Spider-man and others – [...]

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Assaf Gamzu

The popular culture of 2018 owes so much to Stan Lee. Every couple of months a new comic movie is released by Marvel Cinematic Universe, that undisputedly has been ruling the world of cinema for a decade now. Most of the stars – Thor, The Hulk, The Black Panther, Spider-man and others – were created by Stan Lee over five decades ago. Back then they were part of a cultural revolution and apparently no one – not even Stan Lee himself – could imagine the honor, fortune and cultural impact they receive today.

The beginning of Stan the Man was much humbler. He was born in 1922 by the name of Stanley Martin Lieber in New York, to parents who immigrated from Romania. From a young age Stanley planned to become a famous American author, when he was 17 his cousin helped him get a job as an assistant in a publishing house in the comic’s department “Timely Comics”. He joined in perfect timing the superheroes revolution started by second generation Jews like himself, only a few years older: Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (“Superman”), Bob Kane and Bill Finger (“Spider-man”), and Will Eisner and Jack Kirby (“Captain America”). In the comic book “Captain America 3” he got his first credit as a writer, by the name of Stan Lee, as he preferred not to use his real name yet, which he was saving for his first serious novel by Stanley Lieber, not to be confused in the future with that under culture comic books writer.

Following United States’ entry into World War in 1941, and the induction to service of the chief editor, as well as many artists, Stan got promoted. He was only 19 when appointed chief editor, and had a change to demonstrate his unique aptitudes in managing and editing where demonstrated. Yet he still did not renovate much in his writing. In fact, for the next 20 years Stan and “Timely Comics” (which later became Marvel), did more of the same superheroes written (and sometimes left behind) by other writers, mainly from the competing firm, DC Comics. They were good, strong balanced heroes – exactly how America perceived itself in the time after the war and during the recession.

The turning point only arrived in the 1960’s, but its impact can be still felt today. Stan was tired and bored, he threatened for the million time to retire and finally sit down and write his big serious thing like he had always dreamed of. His publisher, Martin Goodman (husband of that cousin who got him the job 20 years earlier), urged him to invent a new team of super heroes, that would compete the Justice League by DC. Imagine how pleased Martin would be had he knew how hard “Justice League” tries today to meet Marvel’s success. Frustrated Stan’s wife gave him her advice: why not write superheroes just the way you want them to be, instead of complaining all the time?

The Fantastic Four,1963 (Marvel Characters, Inc)

The Fantastic Four,1963 (Marvel Characters, Inc)

So he did just that. An era of superheroes of a new kind started –vulnerable, complex, and way more realistic and humane. The first release of this new wave were “The Fantastic Four”. In cooperation with Jack Kirby, Lee created a story about a family of adventurers with dynamic complex relationships. At first they did not even have a designated outfit, only after the readers demanded it did they get one. Following the success, Jack and Stan created an even more complicated character: The Hulk, who is in constant internal battle between his everyday identity as a nice scientist and his monstrous heroic alter ego. Then came Spider-man, (with Steve Ditko), a loser in high school who keeps stumble wherever he turns; the X-men, Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil (with Bill Everett) – all participants in the Marvel revolution.

During the 1960’s Stan Lee teamed up with the baby boomers who grew up on DC’s superheroes, but wished to change the conservative bourgeois world of their childhood. Stan, Jack and Steve offered them more realistic heroes, who had personal troubles and dilemmas, and who lived in the real world, for example New York, rather than Metropolis or Gotham. It was a rare combination of excellent business instincts and a genuine aspiration to relate to actual issues, for example Afro-American rights, with the Black Panther (Lee and Kirby, 1966) and Luke Cage (Thomas, Goodwin, John Romita Jr, 1972), or the Vietnam War, drugs use, and other current affairs. Stan’s characters were not just saving damsels in distress, but also tried to correct the real world that the readers of America, torn by racial and economic splits, were living in during the 1960’s.

November 2018, Stan Lee's star in Hollywood covered with flowers and letters from fans and lovers (Sidrao, Creative Commons, WikiMedia)

November 2018, Stan Lee’s star in Hollywood covered with flowers and letters from fans and lovers (Sidrao, Creative Commons, WikiMedia)

Stan was also a fine salesman, and a branding expert, long before the term was known to every greenhorn. He started to publish letters from readers in the back pages of the comic books, to answer questions and send gifts, he made heroes visit stories outside their own, and make sure the fans buy as much merchandise as possible, which laid the foundations of the business model of Marvel today.

Soon he became “Stan the Man”, the man who seemingly was behind all the trailblazing eye capturing productions that Marvel released. Of course, it was not that simple. Stan, who was supposed to write dozens of different comic pages each month, with various characters and interrelationships, came up with what is still known as “the Marvel Method”, in which Stan invited the chief artist of the issue to a brainstorm talk about a new character or story, then filled the artist’s illustrations with all the speech balloons by himself, which allowed him an extraordinary productivity, but also raised lots of criticism against him, for not giving enough credit to other participants in creating the Marvel’s gallery of characters.

In 1972 Lee ceased to write regularly, and became the publisher of Marvel. During the 1990’s after a career of 5 decades, he retired, but still continued to be identified with the firm until his last day, last month.

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Liberté, Egalité – Yes, Fraternité – No: The Philosopher Who Challenged the Socialist Model https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/liberte-egalite-yes-fraternite-no-philosopher-challenged-socialist-model/ Thu, 06 Dec 2018 12:02:51 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=39071 Two contradictory ideologies dealing with distributive justice were dominant in modern history: the model of the Socialist State, that strive to expand government’s power and interference in the lives of citizens, and the opposite model of the Liberal State, that focused on individual rights and wished to limit governmental interference in private lives. In a [...]

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Two contradictory ideologies dealing with distributive justice were dominant in modern history: the model of the Socialist State, that strive to expand government’s power and interference in the lives of citizens, and the opposite model of the Liberal State, that focused on individual rights and wished to limit governmental interference in private lives. In a deeper level, even today there is an intense struggle between these two central values – equality versus freedom.

The question of distributive justice kept Jewish philosophers busy since biblical times, when the “Hebrew biblical republic” as Thomas Hobbs called it imposed social laws such tithe taxes, charity, sabbatical and jubilee years, and the half of a Shekel tax.

If we render the biblical moral social laws to modern terms, we may call it part socialism (shmita, tithe, poor tithe, for example) and part liberal-capitalist (voluntary charity, lack of legislation regarding equality, dislike of a regulated monarchy, for example).

After the exile, without a sovereign entity, and when their freedom of occupation and ownership were significantly limited by the authorities, the Jews developed “the capitalist gene” – business entrepreneurship, international commerce, an urge for ambitiousness and erudition, leaving the social matters within the community’s responsibility in voluntary philanthropy institutes such as Hekdesh and Hachnasat Kala.

Jewish socialists protesting. Regents Park, London, England, 1981. Photo: Melvyn A. Newman. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Melvyn A. Newman

Jewish socialists protesting. Regents Park, London, England, 1981. Photo: Melvyn A. Newman. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Melvyn A. Newman

In the modern era, both schools were represented by bright theorists, many of them Jewish. Among the enthusiastic supporters of “Freedom” were author Ayn Rand, the economist Milton Friedman, the political theorist Isaiah Berlin, and also Robert Nozick, who was born 80 years ago this month.

Born November 16 1938 in Brooklyn, New York, Nozick was the only son of Jewish immigrants who came from a small town in Russia. In his youth he was a passionate socialist, and joined the new left. He graduated in Philosophy from Columbia University, carried on to Princeton for his doctorate, and at the age of 30 was a Professor of Philosophy in Harvard, one of the youngest Professors in the history of the prestigious University.

The 1930’s until the second World War marked the rising of the welfare state model, which was an integration of both values of freedom and equality. Roosevelt’s “new deal” in America, the Beveridge Model in Britain and the rising of the labor party, led to a Renaissance of social legislation such as social security, minimum wage, price control, and other laws. It was the finest hour of the government power, in order to decrease economic inequality.

Fundraising event for the Weizmann Institute, New York, USA, 1960’s. Photo: Herbert Sonnenfeld. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld Collection

Fundraising event for the Weizmann Institute, New York, USA, 1960’s. Photo: Herbert Sonnenfeld. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld Collection

After the war, during the 1950’s and 1960’s, philosopher John Rawls was one of the leading voices in favor of state’s power. Rawls, surely not a coincidence, was colleague and teacher of Robert Nozick from Harvard. In 1971 Rawls’ book “A theory of Justice” was published and took the academic world by storm. The basic theory was simple and brilliant: when we come to set a constitution, we need to examine reality through a veil of ignorance. Imagine you have no idea whether you are black, white, man or woman, smart or stupid, poor or rich – and only then, when you have reached neutrality as to the nature of the good life – set the constitution. The constitution must disregard all cultural, social, ethnic, biological or economical context. A hundred percent pure equality. It sure seems reasonable and just, but even Rawls realized that naturally there is inequality between individuals, as people are born with different capacities, ambitions and tendencies. Therefore, in order to minimize the gaps, Rawls said we need to choose a way in which gaps are in favor of the weak, for example capitalist’s investments in factories that create jobs.

Unlike in his youth, when he was captured by the beauty of the Socialist idea, as he got older Nozick began to change his views. He started to develop hatred towards the idea of equality, and especially to Rawls’ ideas. Thus, three years after “A theory of Justice”, Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” was published in 1974 – a brilliant work by the Jewish Professor from Harvard, who was only 36 years old at the time.

Old beggar with a charity box sitting in the street, Jerusalem 1950s. Photo: Herbert Sonnenfeld. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

Old beggar with a charity box sitting in the street, Jerusalem 1950s. Photo: Herbert Sonnenfeld. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

Nozick’s theory, like Rawls’, was simple and genius: he divided the market into three conditions: Primarily there must be a state of just property distribution, when everyone has equal assets. Then, rules of fair exchange are applied, such as free will contracts of buying and selling; and eventually, this process will always result in a just distribution.

Nozick claims that if you give an equal sum of money to a random group of people, then allow them fair commerce, you’ll have rich and poor within the hour. For economic inequality, according to Nozick, is not the result of injustice but on the contrary, they are the result of talent, diligence, intelligence, entrepreneurship, skill and initiative. Unlike Rawls, who thought that there is a direct link between equality and justice, Nozick asserted that as more we protect individual freedom to act according to personal choice and conscious, the more just our society becomes.

Robert Nozick, who was a three-piece suite man, always looking smart, with a long fluttering hair, was accused by left wingers for being a heartless, alienated libertarian. But as a man with Jewish roots, he simply believed that grace and compassion could not and should not be imposed by the state, but should voluntarily be created within the community, not depending on legislation and enforcement. Whether this world-view is “Jewish” or not – is for you to decide.

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Two Hanukkah Narratives – Choose Yours https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/two-hanukkah-narratives-choose-yours/ Thu, 06 Dec 2018 09:31:22 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=39069 In the early 1930’s, an unknown young Jewish lyricist called Aharon Ze’ev published the poem “We are carrying torches” – Anu Nos’im Lapidim, which became popular overnight among Zionist sing along lovers. It was a one-liner essence of all Zionist core ideas: No miracle happened for us / No cruise of oil did we find [...]

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In the early 1930’s, an unknown young Jewish lyricist called Aharon Ze’ev published the poem “We are carrying torches” – Anu Nos’im Lapidim, which became popular overnight among Zionist sing along lovers. It was a one-liner essence of all Zionist core ideas: No miracle happened for us / No cruise of oil did we find / We walked through the valley, ascended the mountain / We discovered wellsprings of hidden light / We quarried in the stone until we bled / “Let there be light!”

These loved lyrics condensed the entire story of the Zionist movement, whose central goal was to set an archetype of a new Jew: the active, self-reliant Jew, whose off his 2000 years’ addiction to miracles, who has left his ancestors’ exilic values far behind and is no longer occupied, like his forefathers, with existential issues such as an egg laid on Yom Tov, or where to hide in the next pogrom.

Hanukkah Celebration at the Bergen-Belsen DP Camp, Germany 1947. Photo: Grebenau, Tel Aviv. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Sara Grebenau, Israel

Hanukkah Celebration at the Bergen-Belsen DP Camp, Germany 1947. Photo: Grebenau, Tel Aviv. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Sara Grebenau, Israel

Though he turned out to be a one hit wonder, Ze’ev’s song played a major role in the mission of Zionist spiritual leaders to re-establish Hanukkha as a national holiday rather than religious.

The main motive of Hanukkah before Zionism appeared, was the religious legend about the miracle of the cruse of oil found in the temple. Chazal, who did not like the Hasmonites, to say the least, wished to undermine their part in the Hanukkah story, thus eliminate the national aspect of the holiday altogether and focus on the religious ritual instead. They felt they had a heavy responsibility as leaders of the Jews in exile, to strengthen and hearten the Jews who had no independence and no sovereignty under an everlasting threat of persecutions. The mystical religious dimension of the Hanukkah story was a comfort for the Jews, as well as a promise of a metaphysical justice one day in the future.

As we all know, history is written by the winners –  in our case, by Chazal for over 2000 years. The cruse of oil story is mentioned briefly in the Talmud and in Megillat Antiochus as the main reason we celebrate Hanukkah. Chazal were real experts in translating ideas to rituals, and they formed many halachot as to how to light the Hanukkah menorah which became the prime symbol of the holiday.

School girls during Hanukkah celebration, Ghardaia, Mzab, Algeria, 1956. Photo: Dr. Noah Aminoah, Ramat Gan. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Dr. Noah Aminoah

School girls during Hanukkah celebration, Ghardaia, Mzab, Algeria, 1956. Photo: Dr. Noah Aminoah, Ramat Gan. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Dr. Noah Aminoah

Unlike the cruse of oil miracle, composed in Babylon hundreds of years after the actual events, the historical records written shortly after the Maccabean Revolt can be found in the Jewish apocrypha, deliberately uncanonized by Chazal, mainly 1 and 2 Maccabees book, that review the events of the revolt quite accurately and have higher historical credibility than the legendary miracle story.

In a nutshell, these books reveal that Antiochus’s discriminating decrees came after an internal battle of cultures between the Jerusalem elite, who adopted Hellenistic values, and fundamental groups who wished to preserve national Jewish identity. Among the Hellenized leaders were Jason and Menelaus, who bought their priesthood for fees. They turned Jerusalem into a Hellenistic Polis, established a gymnasium and an eph’bion, they wished to blur their Jewish identity and to assimilate in the advanced Hellenic culture. The Hellenized were followers of Antiochus and subjected to his orders. Some historians claim that they even initiated the decrees against the Jews.

Hanukkah celebration at the Hebrew kindergarten, Grodno, Belorussia, 1919. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Shulamit Margalit

Hanukkah celebration at the Hebrew kindergarten, Grodno, Belorussia, 1919. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Shulamit Margalit

On the opposite side were the national Jewish forces, who went on a bloody battle, headed by the Maccabeans: Matityahu and his sons who fought stubbornly for over 25 years, until in 140 BCE they won their independence.

If you place the Hanukkah story as delivered in the Maccabees book and the new mythology of Modern Zionism and the foundation of the State of Israel side by side, you will spot similar motives: oppressing empires, the few against many, isolationists versus universalists – and an ideologically firm minority struggling for national freedom and then the establishment of an independent Jewish sovereign entity.

The Zionist commissars felt that the Hanukkah story was a perfect myth just waiting to be reused for their needs. There was only one problem: the focal point of the story, told for thousands of years by Chazal, was the miracle of the oil cruse, not the national struggle of the Hasmonites.

Choir made of members of the youth movement at a Hanukkah Party, Tunis, Tunisia, 1950's. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Ron and Ester Debache

Choir made of members of the youth movement at a Hanukkah Party, Tunis, Tunisia, 1950’s. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Ron and Ester Debache

Then came Aharon Ze’ev’s song and offered a simple yet brilliant solution. Using lyrics expressing secular defiance, he managed to push aside the religious components and leave only the nationalistic core. In fact, the message of the song is that like in these times, back in those times too, the real story was not the oil cruse, but the liberation from oppression and the founding of a Jewish national independent state in the Land of Israel.

Clearly, the Zionist movement borrowed from Chazal: they wished to nationalize the holiday and use it for their needs so they interpreted the story to national rituals. Festive sermons binding the Hasominite’s victory with the hopes for Zionism’ victory, singing, reciting, and performances were added to the traditional candles lighting (as explained in Yoram Meltzer’s “New Jewish Time”, volume 4, under “Hanukkah”).

The resemblance between the ancient Jewish state and the modern one does not end here. It is most fascinating that with the establishment of the Hasmonean state, the Macabbean elite begun to adopt Hellenistic values, and push nationalistic characteristics aside. Just like the cultures war that takes place today between the “mobile” and the “immobile” in Gadi Taub’s essays. It is the same story, now as in those days. Happy Holiday.

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Special Guest: Nobel Laureate Claude Cohen-Tannoudji https://www.bh.org.il/news-and-events/special-guest-nobel-laureate-claude-cohen-tannoudji/ Thu, 29 Nov 2018 15:31:52 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=38980 The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot had the pleasure to host today the Nobel laureate in physics, the Algeria born French-Jewish physicist, Prof. Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, who now visits Israel within a scientific conference, as the President’s guest. Tannoudji, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1997, toured the museum, accompanied by [...]

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The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot had the pleasure to host today the Nobel laureate in physics, the Algeria born French-Jewish physicist, Prof. Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, who now visits Israel within a scientific conference, as the President’s guest.

Tannoudji, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1997, toured the museum, accompanied by Dan Tadmor, CEO of The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot and Dr. Orit Shaham-Gover, the chief curator.

During their tour, Tannoudji was surprised and moved to find himself in the “Heroes – Trailblazers of the Jewish People” gallery. He watched the film about his life and career, presented in the gallery, and was delighted to be included in the category of the greatest Jewish scientists of the world.

He also visited other exhibitions, including the new Synagogue Hall and the new exhibition about Jewish Humor, “Let There Be Laughter”.

 

Prof. Claude Cohen Tannoudji and Dan Tadmor. The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, November 2018 (photo: Itzik Biran)

Prof. Claude Cohen Tannoudji and Dan Tadmor. The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, November 2018 (photo: Itzik Biran)

Visit our Nobel Luminaries site

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Beit Hatfutsot at the GPO Jewish Media Summit https://www.bh.org.il/news-and-events/beit-hatfutsot-at-the-gpo-jewish-media-summit/ Wed, 28 Nov 2018 12:39:04 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=38955 In a summit held this week in Jerusalem, Irina Nevzlin, Chair of the Board of Directors of The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, chaired a panel moderated by journalist Zvika Klein (“Makor Rishon”), titled: “Israel and the Diaspora: united we stand?” Before the panel, the audience enjoyed the video “You are part [...]

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In a summit held this week in Jerusalem, Irina Nevzlin, Chair of the Board of Directors of The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, chaired a panel moderated by journalist Zvika Klein (“Makor Rishon”), titled: “Israel and the Diaspora: united we stand?”

Before the panel, the audience enjoyed the video “You are part of the story”. All viewers, mostly Jewish journalists and bloggers from around the world, were deeply touched by the moving film.

During the session, Ms. Nevzlin presented the future plans for the opening of the new Core Exhibition in 2019, and went on replying questions from the audience, about issued discussed in the panel.

photo: Ronen Horesh, GPO

photo: Ronen Horesh, GPO

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The Jewish Publisher Who Took St. Petersburg by Storm https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/jewish-publisher-took-st-petersburg-storm/ Wed, 28 Nov 2018 12:38:13 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=38911 Though he wasn’t the first to publish a modern newspaper in Hebrew; though the paper wasn’t the largest, nor the most popular; though he sometimes copied from his adversaries; and though he didn’t stand out in his education among his colleagues – still, the paper “HaMelitz” and its publisher and editor, Aleksander Zederbaum (“The Cedar”) have [...]

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Though he wasn’t the first to publish a modern newspaper in Hebrew; though the paper wasn’t the largest, nor the most popular; though he sometimes copied from his adversaries; and though he didn’t stand out in his education among his colleagues – still, the paper “HaMelitz” and its publisher and editor, Aleksander Zederbaum (“The Cedar”) have a special place in the hall of fame called 19th century Jewish journalism. One of the reasons for HaMelitz’s designation was the city in which it was published – St. Petersburg in Czarist Russia.

When Zederbaum and his partner Aharon Isaac Goldblum launched their new weekly in 1860, they made the obvious choice as for the location – Odessa, which was then the center of Jewish enlightenment.  Every eastern European Jew who wished to become part of the literary elite came to Odessa, where numerous groups of authors, poets, and scholars were restlessly writing and publishing, mainly in Hebrew and Yiddish. HaMelitz started in German in Hebrew, and after a year remained exclusively in Hebrew. Then, after ten years, Zederbaum decided it was time for a change – and moved, along with his weekly – to St. Petersburg.

Aleksander Zederbaum, St. Petersburg 1885 (Wikimedia, National Library of Israel)

Aleksander Zederbaum, St. Petersburg 1885 (Wikimedia, National Library of Israel)

Relocating in the capital of Czarist Russia was not a trivial matter. At that time, most Jews were not allowed to settle in Russian cities and those who were approved had to remain within the pale of settlement, in which Odessa was included, but St. Petersburg was not. Alexander II had relatively liberal views, therefore a few Jews were allowed to live in the capital. But Zederbaum managed to obtain not only the right to settle in the city but also – what was most impressive – to publish his weekly there, under the supervision of the Russian censorship, naturally.

HaMelitz was a fusion of journalistic genres, including general news, stories from Jewish communities around the world, sensational items, intellectual essays, political articles and Hebrew poetry. Zederbaum introduced some important novelties, such as personal editorials in which he shared his views, and also a most controversial method of editing in which he added and published his own comments on items of other writers: mostly critical, sarcastic comments aimed at the writers. Just try to imagine that in today’s press, and you’ll realize unusual it must have been.

Jewish students at St. Petersburg University, c1907. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Batia Gamzu

Jewish students at St. Petersburg University, c1907. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Batia Gamzu

The most significant uniqueness of HaMelitz in the Jewish world of eastern Europe was that it was a central platform for a variety of opinions. Zederbaum himself did not conceal his views – after the move to St. Petersburg he came to identify with the Zionist ideology, and supported a national solution for the Jews. Though considered enlightened, he wasn’t identified with the radical parts of the enlightenment movement. Some intellectuals even looked down on him, sensing that his education was limited, his general knowledge was poor, and that he did not speak Russian. Still he insisted as chief editor that HaMelitz should reflect all kinds of views, and gave free hand to writers from all parts of the Jewish society, and encouraged them to debate and argue in the weekly. He also published readers’ responses and comments, sometimes extremely sarcastic, so that the paper would express a wide range of opinions. Thus, HaMelitz has become a main important Jewish voice, more than other papers, who clung to consistent tendencies.

In spite of his insufficient Russian, Zederbaum succeeded in tying excellent contacts with officials and governors in St. Petersburg, probably unlike any other Jew at that time. During the 1880’s, when the first Zionist organization “Hovevei Zion” was being formed, Zederbaum was one of the founders, using his contacts in order to receive the Russian authorities’ approval for its activities. Thanks to his efforts, though under the open eye of the authorities, Hovevei Zion, as well as other Zionist associations that followed, was able to work in the city. Zederbaum participated in the Katowice Conference of 1884, in which Hovevei Zion was formally established.

Participants of Katowice Conference, November 1884, Zederbaum sits third from right. photo: P. Krause. Wikimedia, The National Library of Israel

Participants of Katowice Conference, November 1884, Zederbaum sits third from right. photo: P. Krause. Wikimedia, The National Library of Israel

Zederbaum’s good terms with the city’s officials were not used just around Zionist issues, but also for lobbying for the benefit of the Jewish in Russia in general. In one case, that made him famous among none-Jews as well, he interfered in favor of a few Jews who were falsely accused of murder. Not only did he manage to refute the blood libel, but also confronted Hippolytus Lutostansky, a converted Jew who became an Antisemitic priest. Immediately after the blood libel, Lutostansky begun spreading Antisemitic propaganda in all Russian press, and especially in the capital. Zederbaum published pungent attacks against him in his weekly and in other papers, and even took a risk and announced that Lutostansky was welcome to sue him for defamation – which the latter actually did, and stirred a turmoil in the city. In 1880 the sue was declined by the district court of St. Petersburg and Zederbaum became a local hero not only for the Jews, but for the entire liberal public of the city.

Zederbaum was not the most original editor when it came to his weekly, occasionally coping with competing journals such as “Hatzfira” and “Hayom” by copying their style. He was a charismatic, involved editor, known for his pursue of honor. Yet he was always willing to help the Jews, to promote Zionism and to use the bonds he made in the capital of the Russian empire in favor of others. After his death, in 1893, the popularity of HaMelitz dropped and a decade later it was closed. Zederbaum was buried in St. Petersburg, where he had lived, work and fought his battles for 23 years.

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The Patria Disaster: Forgotten Zionist Mass Tragedy https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/the-patria-disaster-forgotten-zionist-mass-tragedy/ Mon, 26 Nov 2018 09:51:15 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=38885 November 25, 1940, 9 am. The illegal immigration ship “Patria” is docking in Haifa port. Suddenly, a loud blast rips the side of the ship. Huge amounts of water flood the ship and within minutes the old ocean liner, carrying 2,000 passengers, starts to sink. Chaos and panic all around, old people slip and fall [...]

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November 25, 1940, 9 am. The illegal immigration ship “Patria” is docking in Haifa port. Suddenly, a loud blast rips the side of the ship. Huge amounts of water flood the ship and within minutes the old ocean liner, carrying 2,000 passengers, starts to sink. Chaos and panic all around, old people slip and fall to their death, large waves drown families trapped in low cabins, and dead bodies start to pile up on the shore.

One of the passengers who refused to give up was Yosef Dekel. After all he and his wife went through escaping the Nazi horrors, he decided he would not drown in the port just before reaching safety. In the seconds following the blast he put life belts on himself and his wife, held tight the small bassinet in which their baby daughter lied, and they jumped overboard together and swam slowly to the shore. Yosef held his wife with one hand, as she couldn’t swim, his other hand grasped the baby, but then he started to weaken. The bassinet was filling with water and he saw his baby’s head sinking rapidly and then, God knows how, he put forward full effort, took a breath of air and managed to cry for help. Some survivors on the shore jumped and rescued the three.

The remains of the Patria at the Naval Museum, Haifa (photo: Moti Karniel, Wikepedia)

The remains of the Patria at the Naval Museum, Haifa (photo: Moti Karniel, Wikepedia)

That one-month baby was Zipporah Levinger, managed to build a life for herself in Israel. She married, had a family and worked as an English teacher in the Bar Ilan school in Natania. But 267 passengers were not as fortunate. They did not enter the promised land like she did, and drowned on the shores of Israel instead.

“The Patria Affair” started with the arrival of three passenger ships: The Pacific, The Milos and The Atlantic, loaded with illegal immigrants, unto the Haifa shore. The British implemented the White Paper policy, that is, harsh limitations on the immigration of Jewish refugees into Israel. The British gathered all passengers unto one large old ship called “Patria” (homeland in Latin) in order to deport them all to a detention camp in Mauritius in the Indian ocean. Commanders of the Haganah, whose motto was “fight the White Paper like there is no World War, and help the British like there is no White Paper”, wished to prevent the deportation, and their idea was to slightly damage the ship’s side in a small blow, in order to earn some time during the repairs, and thus to cancel the trip to Mauritius.

However, amateurism, negligence and perhaps even an inherent subconscious disrespect for the refugees, blinded their eyes. The Haganah commanders acted against experts’ advice and placed the bomb in the rickety side of the old ship, rather than under the machines area, where there would be no passengers. The Patria disaster was largest catastrophe in which Jews caused the death of other Jews.

The sinking Patria, Haifa port. November 25, 1940 (Wikipedia)

The sinking Patria, Haifa port. November 25, 1940 (Wikipedia)

Trauma and despair shook the Jewish Yishuv for weeks after the disaster, as described in Prof. Meir Hazan’s essay, “Ho, my Homeland”. Each day for weeks they kept collecting the dead bodies from the water, more and more as time passed. Isaac Tabenkin testified: we wanted to curse the sea, as if the ship did not explode at once, but went on exploding every day.

The most fascinating aspect of the affair was the psychological defense mechanism of the leaders of Mapai after the disaster. Rather than condemning the ill practice and negligence, and putting the perpetrator to trial, they manipulatively maneuvered a twisted, heroic narrative that laid the responsibility off their shoulders. According to that narrative, the refugees scarified themselves for the heroic Zionist cause. In one case, the victims were cynically compared to the fighters of Tel Hai, as if a small group of pioneers who willingly went to battle in order to defend their homes, could be compared to thousands of refugees who were scarified unknowingly on the altar of a political party.

A day after the tragedy, Berl Katznelson, of the ideological leadership of Mapai, said to Shaul Avigur, one of the heads of the Haganah: “keep in your mind that the Patria day is just like the Tel Hai day for us”. He further stated, that the Patria was “the greatest Zionist act of our time”.

Isaac Lufban. Got slapped in the face (Wikipedia)

Isaac Lufban. Got slapped in the face (Wikipedia)

Katznelson wasn’t the only one attempting to idealize the tragic affair. Isaac Tabenkin said that the Patria victims were “unknown hero soldiers”. Pretty soon they became martyrs. “BaMaale” – the organ of the “HaNoar HaOved” movement, placed this title on the front cover: “before we burn at the stakes we will cry “Shema Yisrael” – we shall burn at the stakes!”

Three weeks after the sinking of the Patria, on December 12, as the bodies were still piling up on the shore in Haifa, the committee of Mapai gathered to discuss whether to add the Patria events to the set of Zionist constitutive myths, i.e. was the story ideologically suitable to the enforcement of the Jewish heroism. It was a one of kind moral eclipse, how they brutally ignored all signs of criminal negligence, of boast, and of Hybris that caused the tragedy. In previous events, Mapai was an expert in setting committees to inquire circumstances, but at that time, after the largest catastrophe in the history of the movement – no committee was set, and not a peep of criticism was allowed. One exception was editor of “HaPoel HaTsair” newspaper, Isaac Lufban, who refused to follow the party’s guidelines, and published his criticism about the “evil hand that sunk the ship”, for which he was literally punished – got slapped in the face in the paper’s offices by Amos Ben Gurion, son of the great leader.

What strikes us the most about the whole affair is the contrast between the magnitude of the tragedy, which is the largest in terms of the number of casualties, and its total exclusion from Israeli collective memory. Israeli high school pupils have no idea what was the Patria Affair, this is badge of shame for the Israeli education system, and also shows how effective was the Mapai propaganda machine. Ironically, an inquiry committee was set after the “slap in the face” tragedy. Whether the conclusions were sent to Zipporah Levinger for reviews and comments remains unclear.

Patria’s victims’ graveyard, Hof HaCarmel, Haifa (Wikipedia)

Patria’s victims’ graveyard, Hof HaCarmel, Haifa (Wikipedia)

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A Prostitute, a Thief and Jesus Walk into a Tavern: The Tragedy of the Jewish Dickens https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/prostitute-thief-jesus-walk-tavern-tragedy-jewish-dickens/ Thu, 22 Nov 2018 08:22:57 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=38697 Radical works of art may raise arguments and debates about whether they belong in the public arena and might even destroy the career of an appreciated author, who only wished to push some boundaries. That was the case of the Yiddish author Shalom Asch. Ash was born in 1880 in Kutno near Lodz, Poland, to [...]

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Radical works of art may raise arguments and debates about whether they belong in the public arena and might even destroy the career of an appreciated author, who only wished to push some boundaries. That was the case of the Yiddish author Shalom Asch.

Ash was born in 1880 in Kutno near Lodz, Poland, to a traditional family. From a young age he has familiarized himself to western literature, he was an autodidact and knew Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian from home, and also German, which he learned by himself. In his youth he tried to write in Hebrew, then soon switched to Yiddish. At 23 he published his first stories collection.

Through his biography resembles many others of writers of his generation, at an early stage of his work he proved to be an outsider. He did not wish to become yet another author who describes life in the Shtetel. Living in intense political times, when many Jews were drawn to Socialism and Communism – and Zionist as well, he was deeply affected by the hardships of the lower classes. Asch begun to write stories and plays on the margins of the Jewish society. He wrote about Jewish prostitutes, thieves and criminals.

“Shalom Asch Ruins Circumcision Ceremony". Caricature in the satirical journal "Der Groyser Kundas", New York, USA, 1900-20. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

“Shalom Asch Ruins Circumcision Ceremony”. Caricature in the satirical journal “Der Groyser Kundas”, New York, USA, 1900-20. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

The Jews in Asch’s stories are preoccupied with materialism and sexuality on the one hand, and with redemption and pardon appeals on the other hand, accompanied by a profound sense of sin and guilt. Asch first provoked rage and controversy when he published a play called “The God of Vengeance”, now also playing in the Israeli Cameri Theater. The play was about a seemingly religious family, the father an observant Chasid who tries to maintain a descent appearance of a good family, while secretly running a brothel in his basement, unaware that his daughter fell in love with one of the women he pimped. Though highly successful in Europe, the American Jewry resented the play, fearing it might arouse Anti-Antisemitism, and protested against it. Shalom Asch benefited from the protest – he was famous as a young trailblazer, gradually turning into one of the famous Yiddish authors in the world. His books were translated to various languages and reached even non-Jews, who acknowledged his literal talent and originality. Some referred to him as “the Yiddish Dickens” (or the Jewish Dickens), especially for his focus on the lower classes.

At the same time, Asch had a bitter dispute with the orthodox society, due to an affair that took place in 1907, when a Jewish baby died in Warsaw before his circumcision, and the burial society (Chevra Kadisha) insisted on circumcising him before burial, in spite of the parents’ objection. Asch wrote harshly against the Chevra Kadisha, condemned the Brith ceremony they insisted on and called it a barbaric act, and published it in a Polish, slightly Anti-Semitic magazine. His popularity was not damaged, though. He was still the leading Yiddish writer, choosing each time a surprising topic: Jewish Anusim in Spain, or the false messiah Shabtai Zvi, to mention just two. He visited the land of Israel several times, lived mainly in Europe, and at the eve of the second World War he immigrated to the United States.

Shalom Asch (center with hat) and friends on the Beach in Tel Aviv, 1926. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Zahava Gordon and Rachel Levinger

Shalom Asch (center with hat) and friends on the Beach in Tel Aviv, 1926. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Zahava Gordon and Rachel Levinger

Then his popularity dropped almost overnight. It was due to an exceptional essay published in 1939 called The Man from Nazareth, dealing with the life of Jesus from a sympathetic point of view. Up until then, there were authors and scholars who thought of Jesus as a Jewish moral prophet who had nothing to do with Christianity. But Asch’s timing was unfortunate, while the war was destroying Europe and the Nazi’s atrocities towards the Jews in ghettos and camps were already known. In that point of time, the fact that Asch wrote about the founder of Christianity positively, made him a target to direct personal attacks.

His reaction to the attacks against him made it even worse. Not only did he not apologize, he started to talk about Jesus as a true messenger from God, and implied he could be a true messiah. And not only that, he wrote a sequel book called The Apostle, dedicated to the life of Paul, the apostle who shaped Christianity as a new religion. Whereas Jesus was somewhat accepted as a moral figure, Paul was way too much – the man who claimed that God has abandoned the Jews, that circumcision and Mitzvot were no longer required – such a character could not pass as a Jewish author’s protagonist. Asch was looked upon as a Jew who converted his faith to Christianity.

Masks in the play "God of Vengeance" by Shalom Asch, performed by the Moscow Jewish State Theater. Moscow, USSR, 1921. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Zuskin collection

Masks in the play “God of Vengeance” by Shalom Asch, performed by the Moscow Jewish State Theater. Moscow, USSR, 1921. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Zuskin collection

Regardless, Asch still considered himself Jewish, in fact it seems that “The Apostle” reflected his identification with Paul, as a Jew who started to believe in Jesus. Possibly Asch did discover a certain religious faith in Christianity but would not under any circumstances turn his back to his Jewish background. But for his Jewish readers this was totally unacceptable. Jewish journals refused to publish his stories, all but one Communist paper. When the stories did get published – in a small Communist paper – Asch was accused by the American congress of political subversion, which deteriorated his reputation even more.

In his last years, Shalom Asch made a most surprising move. Though he always was sympathetic to the idea of Jewish nationalism, he did not care so much for Zionism. But in 1955, after being an outcast for years, he decided to come to Israel, and settled in a small flat in Bat Yam. Most of his Jewish readers, who indulged on his literary pimps and criminals, refused to accept the complex identity of the perplexed author himself. Asch died two years later, while visiting his daughter in London. Britain’s chief rabbi refused to bury him in a Jewish cemetery, so he was buried in a small reform ceremony, with only a handful of mourners.

Writer Shalom Asch, New York, USA, 1938. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

Writer Shalom Asch, New York, USA, 1938. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

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Is Turkey Even Kosher: Jewish Thanksgiving https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/turkey-even-kosher-jewish-thanksgiving/ Wed, 21 Nov 2018 12:14:50 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=38678 Every year, on the fourth Thursday of November, Americans celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a quintessentially American holiday, one that not only ushers in the winter holiday season, but also tells a story about the country’s founding and its values. Thanksgiving as a holiday whose purpose is to set aside a time for [...]

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Every year, on the fourth Thursday of November, Americans celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a quintessentially American holiday, one that not only ushers in the winter holiday season, but also tells a story about the country’s founding and its values. Thanksgiving as a holiday whose purpose is to set aside a time for gratitude during, or in the wake of, difficult national moments, is explicitly connected to the most major moments in American history: the arrival of the pilgrims, the Revolutionary War that founded the country, and the Civil War that ultimately kept it together. For American Jews, who had their own reasons to be grateful for a country that allowed them religious freedom and life without persecution, celebrating Thanksgiving became an important part demonstrating their sense of themselves as full and equal Americans, and expressing their gratitude towards a country where they were able to find a home.

Saying grace before carving the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner in the home of Earle Landis in Neffsville, Pennsylvania, 1942 (Wikimedia Commons)

Saying grace before carving the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner in the home of Earle Landis in Neffsville, Pennsylvania, 1942 (Wikimedia Commons)

First Jewish Thanksgiving Celebration

Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in New York City and the first Jewish congregation in North America, was an enthusiastic participant in the earliest Thanksgiving celebrations, and held the country’s first Jewish Thanksgiving service, in 1789. During this service, Gershom Mendes Seixas, the community’s spiritual leader, delivered a sermon expressing gratitude for the freedom and opportunities offered by the United States to its Jewish citizens, and the obligation that American Jews had, both as full and equal citizens, and as part of the Chosen People, to support the country: “It behooves us to unite, with cheerfulness and uprightness, upon all occasions that may occur in the political as well as the moral world, to promote that which has a tendency to the public good. As Jews, we are even more than others, called upon to return thanks to God for placing us in such a country – where we are free to act according to the dictates of conscience, and where no exception is taken from following the principles of our religion.”

To this day, Shearith Israel holds special Thanksgiving services on the morning of Thanksgiving, including the recitation of a special Thanksgiving Hallel, as well as the prayers for the United States and the State of Israel. Following the celebratory services, congregants can watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from the synagogue building, and take part in organized chesed projects.

Gershom Mendes Seixas, c. 1784 (Wikimedia Commons)

Gershom Mendes Seixas, c. 1784 (Wikimedia Commons)

Is Turkey Kosher?

But what would a Thanksgiving celebration be without a turkey? For non-vegetarian Jews who keep kosher, the question became whether or not they could partake in what is, perhaps, the most important Thanksgiving tradition: carving and eating the turkey during the Thanksgiving feast.

It was not entirely clear whether or not the turkey is a kosher bird. The Bible includes a list of birds that are not kosher and cannot be eaten, and later rabbinic authorities then stated that in order for a bird to be kosher, it must have an established tradition of Jews eating it and considering it to be kosher. The turkey, a bird from the New World, is not listed among the forbidden birds. However, once it was discovered by westerners, thousands of years later, and Jews began asking about eating it, there was no established tradition that it was kosher. This set off an intricate and contentious debate among rabbis—many of whom were dealing with a reality in which even observant Jews were already eating the questionably-kosher turkey. Complicating matters was the fact that there are multiple names for the turkey (stemming from confusion about where these birds were originally from), meant that it was sometimes unclear if those discussing turkey were referring to the same bird.

Servicemen eating a Thanksgiving dinner after the end of World War I. New York City 1918 (Wikimedia Commons)

Servicemen eating a Thanksgiving dinner after the end of World War I. New York City 1918 (Wikimedia Commons)

Luckily for Jewish Thanksgiving-celebrants, the conclusion was eventually reached that the turkey was similar enough to the chicken that it could be considered kosher. There remained, however, one strong holdout: Rabbi Yom Tov Lipmann Heller, a 16-17th century Bohemian rabbi who maintained that if there was no tradition supporting its kosher status, a turkey could not be kosher. To this day, a number of Rabbi Heller’s descendants maintain their family custom, and do not eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

For most Jews, however, turkey is a natural and essential part of their Thanksgiving celebrations. And they can enjoy the fact that it is a bird whose popularity seems to be nearly universal among the Jewish People: the only country whose citizens consume more turkey than the United States—is Israel.

The Jewish tradition is full of holidays that emphasize gratitude, and the need to give thanks. For American Jews, the ability to fully participate in the holiday, whether religiously or gastronomically, allowed them to focus that tradition of thankfulness on a country that allowed them to live in peace and freedom.

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth", painting by Jennie A. Brownscombe, 1914 (Wikimedia Commons)

“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth”, painting by Jennie A. Brownscombe, 1914 (Wikimedia Commons)

Rabbi Rachel Druck is the editor of the Communities Database at The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot. Do you have a special Jewish Thanksgiving tradition? Do you have photographs of your Thanksgiving celebrations? Let her know at racheld@bh.org.il.

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