Beit Hatfutsot https://www.bh.org.il Museum of the Jewish People Mon, 15 Jun 2020 11:47:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.2 https://www.bh.org.il/wp-content/uploads/cropped-favicon-512-32x32.png Beit Hatfutsot https://www.bh.org.il 32 32 Tikun Olam: The Story of Rabbi Allan Levine, a Civil Rights Activist https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/the-story-of-rabbi-allan-levine-a-civil-rights-activist/ Mon, 15 Jun 2020 11:44:55 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=47882 Flames and confusion wrap America in the past three weeks. Flames – the result of a hideous murder followed by bloody riots in which hundreds of years of black discrimination, anger, and hate exploded like bursting steam; and confusion – didn’t a black man ended two terms as one of the most popular American presidents, [...]

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Flames and confusion wrap America in the past three weeks. Flames – the result of a hideous murder followed by bloody riots in which hundreds of years of black discrimination, anger, and hate exploded like bursting steam; and confusion – didn’t a black man ended two terms as one of the most popular American presidents, only four years ago? Didn’t a popular series about a black kid who ended up a legendary basketball star and an American icon admired by whites and blacks, ended only last month?

Amongst this riotous chaos, it seems that the forefathers’ promise for “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” for everyone is being silenced by toxic cries people slam at each other, while covering their faces with masks, not to protect them from the tear gas used by the police, but due to a deadly pandemic that threatens every one, totally regardless of how concentrated the melanin in their blood is.

What can we do then? We can look back to times when American reality seemed more explicit. When black was black, white was white, and racism was established, organized, and firmly fixed within the American soul. Well, perhaps not all souls, there were indeed a few exceptional righteous, one of which is our hero today: rabbi Eliahu Allan Levine.

RABBI ALLAN LEVINE’S mug shot, after being arrested for an anti-segregation protest in Mississippi in 1961. (photo credit: MDAH)

Rabbi Allan Levine’s mug shot, after being arrested for an anti-segregation protest in Mississippi in 1961. (photo credit: MDAH)

 

Born in 1932 in Montreal, Canada, rabbi Levine visited Israel in 1956, studied Hebrew in Jerusalem, then fell in love with Susan Marsh, who immigrated to Israel from Morocco. They married and settled in Rochester, New York, where after his ordain as a reform rabbi, Levine served as the rabbi of the Jewish congregation. After his death his son told that while watching TV. one day, he learnt about a most inspiring social project organized by activists from the civil rights movement, in order to fight racial discrimination against the blacks in the south of U.S.A.

Five years after Rosa Parks refused to rise from her seat in the front of bus number 2857 in Cleveland Avenue, Alabama, the American court ruled that racial segregation in public transportation was illegal. It was 1960, and the notorious Jim Crow laws that had been enforcing racist segregation in the south for almost a century, allowing segregation in the public sphere such as water fountains, restrooms and outdoor benches – were coming to a dramatic end. But the whites in the south weren’t going to give up without a fight. Although the law passed, in reality nothing seemed to change – segregation was alive and kicking harder than ever.

Rabbi Levine was watching a story about a project called the freedom rides. Black and white human rights activists were riding public interstate bus lines to the southern states, as a nonviolent protest against the racist segregation, in order to make sure that the court rule was being carried out. Levine decided to join the noble cause himself.

A mob of racists beats Freedom Riders in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.A. This picture was reclaimed by the FBI from a local journalist who also was beaten and whose camera was smashed.

A mob of racists beats Freedom Riders in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.A. This picture was reclaimed by the FBI from a local journalist who also was beaten and whose camera was smashed.

His first freedom ride, with a mixed group of blacks and whites, was to the airport of Jacksonville, Florida, where they sat together in the segregated restaurants area for a few minutes, then were immediately arrested and imprisoned. The event echoed throughout the United States. After his release, Levine got a letter from James Farmer, one of the renowned leaders of the civil rights movement. Farmer thanked Levine for participating in the act, that joined the long history of the fight for equality for black people.

But even a thousand words worth less than one image – in this case, one of the most known photos of the blacks struggle for equality. On March 7th, 1965, 600 activists were marching from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama. As they reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, crossing the Alabama river, they encountered barricades of the state police. The cops attacked the activists brutally, using tear gas. 17 people were injured on what was to become “bloody Sunday” t.v. covered the events, featuring pictures of protesters thrown down to the ground, beaten and wounded.

The civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965

The civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 , Library of Congress

One of the photos shows a young woman called Amelia Boynton Robinson, laying on the road, unconscious, after being beaten by cops. Rabbi Allan Levine is caught on film helping her out, a kippah on his head and a cigar in his mouth. The photo was published in American media and was announced photo of the year of Life Magazine, and since then it is displayed annually on Martin Luther King day, commemorating the leader’s birthday. (see the image here)

Rabbi Levine carried on with his devoted activity and freedom rides, even though he had to make personal and professional sacrifices, as he had to be away from his congregation a lot, which they did not like at first. However, his son told later, after the struggle became successful, they were proud of him.

In 1971 Allan and Susan Levine came to Israel and were among the founders of the southern kibbutz of Yahel, the first reform kibbutz. They have 3 sons, one of whom was killed during his army service. Four years ago, rabbi Levine died at the age of 84.

We all are familiar with another famous photo, symbolizing Jewish contribution to the blacks struggle in America, picturing rabbi Joshua Heschel, side by side with Martin Luther king in a rally in Selma, Alabama, but few if any, heard of the humble rabbi Levine with his cigar and kippah, aiding Amelia Boynton Robinson in the photo shot not far from there, and became a black action icon. In today’s burning and confusing reality that splits America, let us remember him and the like of him as well.

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Got Milk: How the Dairy Companies Took Over Shavuot https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/got-milk-dairy-companies-took-shavuot/ Wed, 27 May 2020 13:46:59 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=47847 In the early 1990s, when commercial t.v. was first introduced in Israel, we finally learnt why we celebrate Shavuot. Cool creative copywriters brain stormed in their fancy agencies and fabricated for us the following story: 4,000 years ago, while crossing the Sinai desert on their way to the promised land, the Children of Israel suffered [...]

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In the early 1990s, when commercial t.v. was first introduced in Israel, we finally learnt why we celebrate Shavuot. Cool creative copywriters brain stormed in their fancy agencies and fabricated for us the following story: 4,000 years ago, while crossing the Sinai desert on their way to the promised land, the Children of Israel suffered acute low levels of calcium, resulting in a variety of bones diseases, that made desert hiking almost impossible. God heard their cry and provided them with Manna, a substance made of wheat and honey, known for its curing qualities.

To his disappointment though, they went on complaining. Feed us with calcium containing milk! They demanded. The chosen people’s bitterness reached its peak in an event that commentators marked as the first consumers’ uprising ever – erecting the iconic golden calf, drifting milk drops. Picking up the subtle hint, the Lord sent Moses to Zin (phonetically close to Sinai), where, it was told, the patriotic Israeli dairy corporation called “Tnuva” was located. 40 days later Moses returned to the desert, mounting a flying chunk of Gouda cheese and carrying the requested goods – and the rest is cheestory.

And now for real: inasmuch as there is no real connection between the High Holidays and eating fish, or between Independence Day and Barbecue, there is no real connection between Shavuot – The Giving of the Torah holiday, and eating dairy products. As always, relentless consumerism, supported by cynical advertising spheres, appropriated this lovely holiday without batting an eyelid. We are all products, holidays included.

“Tenuva” milk car, Eretz Israel, 1946 Photo: Herbert Sonnenfeld (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection)

Indeed, there are a few popular references to Shavuot in relation to dairy foods. According to one, for example, the number 50 marks 50 days from Passover to Shavuot, while its numerical added value is in Hebrew: dairy. Well, so do hundreds of other words… another origin is explained as the acronym of the verse Numbers 28, 26: “in the day of the firstfruits, when ye bring a new meat offering unto the LORD, after your weeks be out”, which in Hebrew forms the word for milk. This is somewhat problematic, because firstfruits refer to plants, whereas milk is, well, not a plant, but the money growing on the metaphorical trees of the dairy companies is. The Mishna specifically determines that firstfruits only mean the seven species, that to our best knowledge do not include Parmesan cheese.

The most common grounds for enjoying dairy on Shavuot is that in Matan Torah, the giving of both written and oral law, all rules and restrictions regarding butchery and eating were introduced, therefore the children of Israel were not able to use their impure kitchenware for cooking for the holiday, so they had dairy dishes, that are easy and quick to prepare without having to use items that turned out to be not kosher. The chronological failure of this reason screams up loud: was the holiday of Matan Torah regulated on the very same day of the Torah giving?

Loading milk containers on a cart, Eretz Israel c.1946. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection)

One Hasidic tale with a feminist touch, goes about one smart assertive woman in a Jewish Shtetl, who happened to be the rabbi’s wife. She felt hated the idea of women not taking part in studying along with the men, so she went to the rabbi and elders, accompanied by a few fellow women, and demanded that women would be allowed to study Torah. The men naturally objected, therefore the women went on a strike and stopped cooking and washing.

It was Shavuot eve, and the town’s rich man ended his prayer and returned home he found no dinner on the table. Baffled, he stood at his window and saw the other men standing in their windows, dinnerless and amazed. All the wives were nowhere to be seen.

After a short investigation it was found out, that the rabbi’s wife provoked all the wives. The rabbi was embarrassed, then furious, and then he summoned all the town’s women and announced that should they not go straight and narrow, he shall cancel the Jewish polygamy prohibition. That scared the women and they rushed home to prepare dinner, however as it was almost sun set, they only had enough time to prepare a dairy meal before the holiday.

Kibbutz children during Shavuot festival, Israel, 1950s Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection)

A few more anecdotal interpretations regarding the milk in Shavuot were enough for the large dairy corporations to use the holiday for their annual balance sheets. The 1980s neo-liberalism, and commercial t.v. that came along a decade later, broadened the trend to that point that the equation milk=Shavuot became irrefutable.

It is our duty to fight this and stress the true sublime values of this holiday. First, we need to think how to recreate the firstfruits celebrations at the temple, that symbolized the deep affiliation between the nation and its county, and the farmers’ gratitude for the land’s yields. WE also need to learn from the story of Ruth about the welcoming of the foreign, thus encourage a reform in the existing conversion models. For Ruth, that Moabitess young woman who had every reason to turn her back on her mother in law, chose to stick with her, and her reward was to be the foremother of King David. We also need to remember that Shavuot is first and foremost the Torah Giving holiday, and whether you believe the Torah is divine or not, it is one of the most beautiful, powerful and wonderful texts in the history of humankind.

So instead of crying over spilled milk – let us focus on the true holiday’s values.

Either way, HAPPY SHAVUOT!

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Jews of the world unite: The Jewish question of Karl Marx https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/jews-world-unite-jewish-question-karl-marx/ Mon, 11 May 2020 10:20:26 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=47802 Born in 1825, the German scholar Ferdinand Lassalle was a bright economist, advocate of the “Iron Law of Wages”, who was highly accomplished: one of the founders of the modern political party concept, of the leaders of the German labor movement, and founder of the SPD, the Social Democrat party in Germany. One unfortunate personal [...]

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Born in 1825, the German scholar Ferdinand Lassalle was a bright economist, advocate of the “Iron Law of Wages”, who was highly accomplished: one of the founders of the modern political party concept, of the leaders of the German labor movement, and founder of the SPD, the Social Democrat party in Germany.

One unfortunate personal detail got in his way, though: he was circumcised. And to be circumcised in 19th century Germany was unforgiveable.

Let us now “enjoy” this heartwarming description of Lassalle from 1862: “It is now clear, from both the shape of his head and the pattern of his hair growth, that he (Lassalle) either descends from the blacks who accompanied Moses in his escape from Egypt, or his mother or paternal grandmother blended with a negro… you see, you cannot expect anything special from this mixture of Jewish and German on the one hand, and one specific negro race on the other. That guy’s constant demands are also typical of the negroes.”

You may dismiss this as just another racist text, that was not uncommon in the Anti-Semite atmosphere in 19th century Germany. The real surprise hits us when we learn who wrote this description – no other than the worker’s prince, the defender of the poor, smasher of the bourgeoisie’s chains – Karl “Helevi” Marx.

Karl Marx, 1875, Photo: John Jabez Edwin Mayal, WikiMedia

Karl Marx, 1875, Photo: John Jabez Edwin Mayal, WikiMedia

Karl Marx, born in Trier, then Prussia and now Germany, 202 years ago, was on his father’s side grandson of rabbi Shmuel son of Mordechai Halevi, who served as the chief rabbi of the town. On his mother’s side he was descendant of a Dutch dynasty of rabbis. Marx was a 100% Jew whose father, Herschl Halevi, was forced to convert in order to make a living as a lawyer, therefore he also changed his last name to Marx, and the rest is history.

We need to challenge then: how can a Jew, even a converted Jew, could produce such a hateful text against a fellow Jew?

Some might claim for the classic Jewish self-disgust, experienced by many Jews who converted, adopting also the Anti-Semitic consensus in their surrounding society. Others may argue that the strained rivalry between Marx and Lassalle regarding the interpretation of the proletarian revolution drove Marx to that malicious remark, and that Marx was in fact not a Jew hater, which settles with Marx’ restraint of religion in general, as well as the concept of national states.

Antisemitic caricature from 'Spasa Sveta', by Karel Relnik, Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1926. "Saint Marx-friend of Baron Rothschild and leader of the poor Christians." (Bequest of Jiri Lauscher, Prague), Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

Antisemitic caricature from ‘Spasa Sveta’, by Karel Relnik, Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1926. “Saint Marx-friend of Baron Rothschild and leader of the poor Christians.” (Bequest of Jiri Lauscher, Prague), Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

In an attempt to track back Marx’ true feelings regarding his Jewish origin, we read his “On the Jewish Question” from 1844, published as a reaction to processes of liberalization occurred in the Prussian areas, while one central public issue was whether or not the Jews should be granted full equal rights.

It’s hard not to twitch while reading extracts from this work, such as “What is the secular ritual of the Jew? The commerce. And the secular God? The capital. We perceive Judaism as a definite anti-social element.” And then he cruelly concludes: “The ultimate meaning of the emancipation of the Jews is the liberation of humanity from Judaism.”

Chilling as it may sound, what surprises us is that while Marx slanders the Jews, he urges the authorities to grant them full civil rights. How come?

In order to settle this contradiction, it is crucial to realize that at that time, what we consider an old caricature – the greedy Jewish moneylenders – was seen by most people as solid truth. The very word for Jew in everyday German use was judentum – which refers to commerce.

Marx’ supporters wished to acquit him from his critics’ accusation of Anti-Semitism. According to the eccentric genius, they said, the Jews were not to blame, but rather “Judaism” as a principle.

Bedroom of Karl Marx, with large cut-outs of Marx and his wife. While in exile, Marx wrote in this room "Das Kapital" in 1867. London, England 1936. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

Bedroom of Karl Marx, with large cut-outs of Marx and his wife. While in exile, Marx wrote in this room “Das Kapital” in 1867. London, England 1936. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

According to Marx, the expansion of secularization during the 19th century resulted in a dramatic change in the image of the Jews. After shedding their religious identity, the stereotype of greed and deceptiveness was all that was left. Because for centuries, tragically the Jews were pushed aside and forced to make their living only from the most despised moneylending occupations. That’s how Jewishness became the equivalent for greed. And by writing that “humanity must be liberated from Judaism”, his defenders assert, he meant not the Jews but the abstract concept of Jewishness, identified in his mind with the corrupting greed.

To support his claim, a most emphatic article towards Jews that Marx published in the New York Daily Tribune, while in exile in London (1854 c.) is often used: Marx was covering the Crimean War between the Ottoman and the Russian empires, and wrote about the Jews in Jerusalem: “Nothing compares to the misery and poverty of the Jews in Jerusalem, who reside in the Jewish quarter, between Mount Zion and Mount Moria, where all their synagogues are also situated. They are a constant target for Muslim oppression, Greek offensives and Latin persecutions. They only survive due to donation from the fellow Jews in Europe. They are not natives of Jerusalem, rather arrived from various places, drawn to the city for its religious magnetism. They suffer and pray, while looking up to Mount Moria, where the temple used to stand, daring not to approach it. They shed their tears on their destruction and exile. ”

So what was Marx’ real attitude towards the Jews? No doubt, the latter sympathetic extract about his suffering brothers, makes it even harder to single out one clear answer. Like it or not, this is what complex people are all about.

Karl Marx depicted as "the modern Moses", representing his book Das Kapital as the bible of social justice Postcard, France, 1906 Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of the Collection of Gerrard Benoit, Nice, France

Karl Marx depicted as “the modern Moses”, representing his book Das Kapital as the bible of social justice Postcard, France, 1906 Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of the Collection of Gerrard Benoit, Nice, France

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Family Names of the Jews of Egypt https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/family-names-jews-egypt/ Sun, 12 Apr 2020 14:34:57 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=47738 The Jewish community of Egypt flourished from the mid-19th century through the 1950s. Egypt’s increasing integration into international trade, particularly after the opening of the Suez Canal, attracted Jews from other parts of the world who settled in Egypt, manly in Cairo and Alexandria, alongside members of the veteran local Jewish community. Their arrival in [...]

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The Jewish community of Egypt flourished from the mid-19th century through the 1950s. Egypt’s increasing integration into international trade, particularly after the opening of the Suez Canal, attracted Jews from other parts of the world who settled in Egypt, manly in Cairo and Alexandria, alongside members of the veteran local Jewish community. Their arrival in Egypt coincides with the period when the use of surnames became widespread. An investigation into the meaning of the family names documented among the Jews of Egypt during modern times allows for a glimpse into the ancestry of their families and their country of origin before immigrating to Egypt.

A large group of names are typical to Sephardi Jews, descendants of those expulsed from Spain in 1492, who arrived in Egypt directly from the Iberian Peninsula or by the way of other countries in North Africa, the Balkans and Turkey. Names of Sephardi Jews in Egypt include Amarillo / Amarillio (“yellow”, in Spanish), meaning “blonde”, Moreno (“brown”, in Spanish), Ashkenazi, Farhi, Malka, Amiga (“friend”, in Spanish) and Aboaf. The meaning of the surname Madjar, documented in Egypt, is “Hungarian”. This family name is common among the Jews of Bulgaria, a country that welcomed some of the Jews who were expelled from Hungary in late medieval times. Carasso, a well-documented Sephardi name from Thessaloniki, Greece, is derived from Karasu (literarily “black water”, in Turkish), the name of a town in north western Turkey on the Black Sea coast.

Graduating photo at Moses de Cattaui school in Cairo, Egypt, 1938 – The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Sami Shemtov, Israel

Agion / Aghion (“holy”, the equivalent of the Hebrew name Kadosh) is a Greek name. Beit Aghion (Aghion House), built in Jerusalem according to the plans of the architect Richard Kaufman from 1936-1938 for Edward Aghion, a wealthy merchant from Alexandria,  is known today in Hebrew as Beit Rosh HaMemshala and serves as the official residence of the Israeli prime minister. Other Greek names include Castoriano, which is derived from the name of Castoria, a town in northern Greece.

Many Jews of Italian origin lived in Egypt for generations. They can be identified by their names, many are derived from place names in Italy, such as Fiorentino (from Florence), Viterbo (from Viterbo, the name of a town in central Italy), Capua (from the name of a town in the Naples area), or from Italian terms, like Casuto (“married”, in Italian) or Procaccia (“postman”, in Italian).

Jewish families from Cairo visiting the Giza pyramids, Cairo, Egypt, 1914 – The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Aharon Meriems, Israel

A large group of family names were derived from Arabic, of them many are documented in other Jewish communities in Arab lands. They include names derived from occupations, such as Hakim (“doctor”), Najar (“carpenter”), Harari (“silk merchant”) and Saban (merchant or producer of  “soap”). The Israeli-American businessman Haim Saban was born in Alexandria in 1944.  In addition, some Hebrew names were translated into Arabic, like Abdullah, an equivalent of Ovadiah.  Other names are toponyms derived from places names in Egypt, such as Minio, from Minya, a city in Upper Egypt, or Cattaoui  (Qaṭṭāwī , in Arabic), the name of a distinguished Jewish family, derived from Catta, the name of their ancestral village just north of Cairo. Joseph Aslan Cattaui Pasha (1861-1942) served as Egypt’s minister of finance (1924), minister of communication (1925), member of the Senate (1927-1939) and President of the Jewish Community of Cairo (1924-1942).

A number of Jewish families from Aleppo in Syria settled in the land of the Pharaohs too. They are recognized by their names, among them Taouil (Tawil), which means “long” in Arabic, and Douek (a type of “jug”, in Arabic), both families of Cohanim. A distinguished bearer of the family name Douek was Rabbi Haim Moussa Douek (1905 – 1974), a native of the Turkish city of Gaziantep (Antep), who served as the last Chief Rabbi of Egypt.

Samoucha family, from the Hebrew samukh (“close”, “near”) the cantor, and Baghdadi family came to Egypt from Iraq. Harouch (“head”), Barchilon (from Barcelona), Alfassi (from Fez, Morocco) and Mograbi immigrated to Egypt from North Africa.

Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue, Alexandria, Egypt 1994 Photo: Shlomo Taitz, Israel – The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot

From the end of the 19th century, Ashkenazi families from Central and Eastern Europe also settled in Egypt. Their names include Farber (“painter”), Zuckerman (“sweet man”), Samuelson (“son of Samuel”), Goldenberg (“Golden Mountain”), Wechsler (“money changer”), Feldman (“peasant”) and more. These names were common in all Eastern and Central European Jewish communities. Despite this fact, some family names may reveal the family’s country of origin. Alteresco is a Jewish family name derived from the Yiddish alter, which means “old”, “mature” but also “respectable”, plus the typical Romanian suffix “-esco” which indicates that before settling in Egypt the family lived in Romania.

Names derived from Hebrew are shared by all. These family names include Hazzan, Dayan, Gabbay, Gaon, and Hasid. These names are derived from terms describing various functions within the Jewish community.

Prayer hall at Sha’ar Ha-Shamayim synagogue, Cairo, Egypt, 1979 Photo: Micha Bar-Am, Israel – The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot

In addition, and like in other communities, the Jews of Egypt adopted surnames derived from the given name of one of the family’s ancestors, such as Elijah, Menashe or De Manasseh, Ben-Simon and Nachman. Double surnames were used only occasionally.  For example, some bearers of the family name Harari, which is quite common among the Jews of Egypt, adopted a second surname, such as Harari Sasson, Harari Agion or Harari Najar.

Since most of the Egyptian Jews are Francophones – many were educated at Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) institutions – the spelling of surnames appears usually in accordance to the rules of the French orthography regardless of the linguistic source of the names.

 

For a comprehensive list of Jewish family names in Cairo see Jacob Rosen-Koenigsbuch, Index of Jewish Surnames Found in 20th Century Cairo, Avotaynu Online, Dec. 2019

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Let’s Hear It From The Pharaohs: The Egyptian Story of Moses https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/lets-hear-it-from-the-pharaohs-the-egyptian-story-of-moses/ Tue, 07 Apr 2020 15:14:10 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=47715 Hereby is an alternative narrative of the biblical story of the Exodus, based on historical and archaeological findings, as well as Egyptian anti Jewish literature regarding the origin of the Jewish nation and the character of Moses. This alternative story relies on Prof. Israel Knohl’s fascinating book How the Bible Was Born. The first author [...]

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Hereby is an alternative narrative of the biblical story of the Exodus, based on historical and archaeological findings, as well as Egyptian anti Jewish literature regarding the origin of the Jewish nation and the character of Moses. This alternative story relies on Prof. Israel Knohl’s fascinating book How the Bible Was Born.

The first author to offer us a glimpse on the Egyptian Exodus story is the Egyptian Greek historian Manetho, who lived in Alexandria in the Ptolemaic period in the 3rd century B.C.

Manetho reports that in the 17th century B.C., foreign invaders called the shepherds – Hyksos in Egyptian – came to Egypt and took hold of the throne. They burnt down Egyptian cities, destroyed idols, and shattered temples, performing “horrible hate crimes against all the country’s natives”. Then after a while the Hyksos were expelled from Egypt by one Pharaoh. At this stage of the text, Manetho reveals their real identity: “They left the land of Egypt with their families and possessions, and went through the desert to Syria however, fearing the Assyrian rulers, they established a city for themselves in the land then called Judea.”

Detail at the Beni Hasan cemetery site. Semite nomads on their way to Egypt, one named Avisa or Avisar, called Hyksos, "ruler of a foreign land" in ancient Egyptian.

Detail at the Beni Hasan cemetery site. Semite nomads on their way to Egypt, one named Avisa or Avisar, called Hyksos, “ruler of a foreign land” in ancient Egyptian.

Manetho’s text, which determines that the shepherds were the ancestors of the Jews, goes on and conveys yet another story. Centuries after the Hyksos were expelled from Egypt, the Egyptian ruler, Pharaoh Amenhotep, wished to seek the advice of the gods. His consultants told him the only way to approach the gods was to cleanse Egypt from the lepers that were living by the border. Amenhotep gathered all the lepers under his territory, and concentrated them in the abandoned city of Avaris, formerly capital of the Hyksos. The lepers upraised and rebelled against him, led by a leper priest called Osarseph, who founded for them a new, hostile religion, of which the main principles were denial of polytheism and the faith in a single god. According to some researchers, Osarseph drew his monotheistic ideas from Pharaoh Akhenaten, who ruled over Egypt in prior centuries.

Manetho reports that Osarseph sent messengers abroad in order to establish a military aid force, requesting also the help of the descendants of the Hyksos, the Judean shepherds, who came in masses to support him and the lepers. Together they formed a strong new force that took over Egypt. The new ruler Osarseph, leader of the lepers, then became king, who collected taxes, and preached against the Egyptian gods. So who was Osarseph? According to Manetho, after joining the Hyksos, Osarseph changed his name to Moses. Though he does refer to Moses as a fanatic hater and isolationist, Manetho also talks of Moses’ unique wisdom, courage, and what the Egyptians called a divine presence, a description that complies with Moses’ biblical description in Exodus, 11, 3: “the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the sight of the people.”

A segment from the Harris Papyrus - British Museum, WikiMedia

A segment from the Harris Papyrus – British Museum, WikiMedia

Let us now discuss the Great Harris Papyrus – the longest known papyrus from Egypt (40 meters long), discovered in a grave near the state of Habu across from Luxor, on the west bank of the Nile. The Harris Papyrus speaks of a time in which Egypt was a deserted land, lacking solid leadership, until a man by the name of Irsu came to power. The literal meaning of his name is pretender, a man from outside the dynasty, who pretends to be king. Irsu was also a Kharru , that is, originated from either Canaan or across the Jordan river, territories called in Kharru Egyptian. These two titles imply that Irsu was not worthy of the throne. Reading onwards we learn that Irsu collected taxed, used to put down the Egyptian religion and prevented the worshipers from bringing their sacrifices to their temples. Then a turning point occurred: when the gods restored their mercy upon Egypt, they placed their son on the throne – Setnakhte, the founding Pharaoh of the 20th dynasty. Setnakhte fought the foreigner, got rid of him, and took the throne.

Another interesting finding, that supports the Harris Papyrus, is a tombstone discovered in Elephantine, dated back to the second year of ruling of Sethnakhte. It tells of Setnakhte, who rehabilitated Egypt after the era of the foreign ruler who broke the religious principles of the pharaohs.

The Exodus of the Children of Israel, painting by David Roberts, 1828

The Exodus of the Children of Israel, painting by David Roberts, 1828

According to the theory of Prof. Knohl, Irsu mentioned in the above sources, the one who despised the Egyptian religion and brought mercenaries from Canaan, was in fact our Moses. He supports his assumption by the fact that the queen who ruled before Setnakhte was Twosret, wife of the second Sethi who died in 1196 BC. The documents stated that her rule only lasted two or three years, after which a mysterious enigmatic event took place. An inner struggle broke in Egypt, that ended the 19th dynasty and brought to power a new one, founded by Setnakhte . This brings Knohl to conclude that the struggle was in fact the taking over by Moses and the lepers, joined by the shepherds on the Delta area.

Prof. Knohl dates the Exodus to the second year of the kingship of Pharaoh Setnakhte, around 1186 BC. He explains that Moses’ parents belonged to the descendants of Jacob, who came to Egypt during the famine. Moses grew up in the court under the protection of queen Twosret, who had no children of her own, and is possible the biblical Pharaoh’s daughter who adopted and raised Moses. After her death, Moses saw himself worthy for kingship and used the support of his people, the children of Jacob, who were enslaved in Egypy, for his conquest moves. He then brought additional backup from abroad – the shepherds from Canaan. In the struggle between the two forces, Moses and his men lost, deported from Egypt and went towards Canaan.

This is the Egyptian version then. The rest is history as the cliché goes, or rather – an alternative history. It’s up to you to choose. Happy Pesach!

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500 years ago: The first Jewish quarantine in Northern Italy https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/500-years-ago-first-jewish-quarantine-northern-italy/ Mon, 30 Mar 2020 16:45:31 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=47642 Not only in these trying times, but in the 16th century, the Italian region was the site of a “fatal virus.” Catholic scholars knew the invader well. They “studied” it for 1,500 years, and knew how to identify it from more than two meters away. They heard the primal story for generations – from father [...]

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Not only in these trying times, but in the 16th century, the Italian region was the site of a “fatal virus.” Catholic scholars knew the invader well. They “studied” it for 1,500 years, and knew how to identify it from more than two meters away. They heard the primal story for generations – from father to son and mother to daughter: How the devious “plague” – the Jewish People – murdered their ancient Father and Savior and left him bleeding to death on the cross. The Christian leaders did not admit it, but in their hearts, they knew that they were a mutation of the same “virus.”

Jews had lived in Italy since the days of the Roman Empire. In the late Middle Ages, many of them began pouring into the Land of the Boot following their exile from France and continued oppression under various princedoms in Germany. Most of them journeyed east to Poland, where a mammoth Jewish civilization came into being. But some of them settled in Italy. Their numbers in Italy grew significantly in the early-16th century, following the exile from Spain in 1492. Tens of thousands of Spanish exiles settled in Italy and other Mediterranean countries.

Interior of the Great Ashkenazi Synagogue (Scuola Grande Tedesca) in Venice, built 1528-1529. This is one of six 16th century Venetian synagogues still in existence in the ghetto. Model (Beit Hatfutsot, old Permanent Exhibition)

On those days, Italy was not the sovereign nation that it is today. It was a region divided into city-states: Florence, Pisa, Genoa and the hero of our story on the Adriatic Sea, Venice.

On March 29, 1516, 504 years ago, the Doge of Venice issued an order to create the first Jewish ghetto in history. Jews had been permitted to enter the gates of the city during the day to do business, but were forced to leave at sunset. To facilitate containment of the “virus,” authorities allowed Jews to live in the city – as long as they remained on a remote island far from the city center. The island – the site of a former lead foundry – was called in Italian “Ghetto.” That has since become a generic name for a separate, walled-off neighborhood designated for a specific population.

We have no idea which Italian played the current role of the Israel Health Ministry’s Moshe Bar-Siman Tov, but we do have the orders issued by the captains of the “Catholic Health Ministry” to prevent the spread of the “virus”:

  1. Exit from the ghetto is only permitted when the morning bells ring in St. Mark’s Basilica and until midnight.
  2. Exit from and entry to the ghetto is permitted only through two gates and under the supervision of four Christian guards, whose salary will be paid from the Jewish community’s coffers.
  3. Jewish money-lenders are permitted to leave for the city during limited hours and while wearing a yellow patch on their cloaks. The yellow patch was later replaced with a yellow hat, and then with a red hat.
  4. The following trades are permitted to Jews: Physicians, moneylenders, merchants, and used-clothing sellers – known in local jargon as “strazzarioli.”

Plan of the Ghetto of Venice, 1516-1797. by Architect Sullam, 1930. (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, from Exhibition “The Ghettos in Italy: Venice-Rome,1979)

Historians differ as to whether closure of the ghetto created a relative severance of cultural relations between the Jews and the rest of the population. Some maintain that it was actually a stage in their acceptance in the fabric of European life. Either way, the first ghetto dwellers in history adhered to the biblical principal that “It is a people that shall dwell alone and not be reckoned among the nations” (Bamidbar 23:9) – and they were undaunted by the limits imposed on them. They quickly began to develop a unique and independent culture that marked superb achievement in rabbinic

literature and commentary. Newly clustered in the ghetto, they established synagogues known as “Scole” and each ethnicity founded its own house of worship.

The Jewish community exported many scholars and schools of thought. One of the Venice Ghetto’s best known and colorful characters was Rabbi Yehuda Yehuda Aryeh of Modena, who was active in the city in the first half of the 17th century. On one hand, the sage scholar and true intellectual wrote questions and answers and contemplative texts and composed plays and music. On the other, he was an avid dice player and gambler. The Katzenellenbogen family, the father Meir, the son Judah, and the grandson Saul Wahl, were also well-known – Wahl for a legend in which he was claimed to have been King of Poland for one night.

The Jewish Square (Piazza Giudea), Venice, Italy. Engraving 1747 (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Roberto Milano collection, Italy)

But there is no doubt that the main contribution of all of Venice and of its ghetto were the city’s printing houses. The invention of modern printing, about 100 years prior, occurred in a canaled city that was ready and willing. One publishing house belonged to Daniel Bomberg, a Christian from Antwerp. He established a Hebrew print house on the recommendation of a friend – a Jewish convert to Christianity – who persuaded him to target the “People of the Book.”

Daniel Bomberg’s publishing house earned its name in the pantheon of creation mainly for printing editions of the Babylonian Talmud that were the first to gather all of the Talmudic tractates. Bomberg’s innovation was in its layout of the Talmud, in which Rashi’s commentary and the Tsofot appear on the outer margins of the page.

Bomberg assembled a staff of learned and exacting sages to prepare and proofread the texts for printing. To this day, every edition of the Babylonian Talmud, whether traditional of progressive, follow the model established in Venice. One of the first editions of the Babylonian Talmud published by Bomberg sold at auction five years ago for the astronomical price of $11 million. Another edition will be part of the permanent exhibition at the Beit Hatfutsot Museum of the Jewish People, scheduled to open in October this year.

Menorah in the Venice Ghetto, Italy, 1972 (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Dr. Morris Plust, U.S.A)

The Venice Ghetto was home to the city’s Jews for 281 years. In 1797, when Napoleon conquered the city, the ghetto was dismantled in response to its new ruler’s order. Jews became equal citizens and retained their status when Venice gained its independence in 1848.

Mussolini’s fascist regime and ally of Hitler reintroduced race laws in Italy in 1938. More than 200 of some 1,200 Venetian Jews failed to return from the concentration camps.

Some 450 Jews now live in in the city. Isolated again in these troubled times, this time they join the rest of the city’s and the nation’s residents in the battle against the CoronaVirus.

Translated by Varda Shpiegel

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700 years before Coronavirus: Jewish life during the black death plague https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/700-years-before-coronavirus-jewish-life-during-the-black-death-plague/ Mon, 16 Mar 2020 21:18:11 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=47545 Itamar Kremer  A mysterious disease erupted in the mid-14th century called the Black Death. The disease, caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria, began in Mongolia and spread quickly to China. It spread to Europe following a battle between the Mongolians and the Genovese army on the Crimean Peninsula. Dead bodies were catapulted toward Italy, in [...]

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Itamar Kremer 

A mysterious disease erupted in the mid-14th century called the Black Death. The disease, caused by the Yersinia pestis bacteria, began in Mongolia and spread quickly to China. It spread to Europe following a battle between the Mongolians and the Genovese army on the Crimean Peninsula. Dead bodies were catapulted toward Italy, in what appears to have been the first use of biological warfare, if you will.

The disease spread throughout the Old World, killing 20-25 million Europeans and another 35 million Chinese within a decade. As soon as the disease arrived in Europe in 1346, some blamed the Jews for leisurely poisoning wells. When the disease’s virulently fatal nature became clear – mainly in 1348-1349 – it was accepted as fact that the Jews were to blame.

This was not a new notion. During the 500 years that preceded the plague, European demographics, urban trade centers and major ports thrived, and Jews engaged mainly in local commerce. Jewish communities were subject to no lack of persecution, including the Crusades and major exiles from England and France in the late-13th and early-14th centuries.

The people of Tournai bury victims of the Black Death, c. 1353

But the plague brought a completely different type of persecution. This was not just economic oppression, unfair taxation, or even marking Jews with a yellow or purple patch. This was real slaughter. The masses ignored Pope Clement VI’s bull that the Jews were not to blame, King Carl IV of Germany’s explicit policy and even the public statements of a significant number of European municipalities. A purely economic matter was at play here. Jewish property was perceived to belong to royalty or cities. Jews worked under licenses, trading, profiting and earning their daily bread in the only occupations permitted to them. Kingdoms and local authorities were thus empowered to announce when and where Jews could be killed, how their property would be divided and by whom.

But the masses did not obey. Extremist religious groups, local actions, a series of religiously, economically and socially based mass murders, and mainly unbridled hatred and fear of the Other ensued.

Hundreds of Jewish communities were destroyed. Jews in Basel were burned in a structure created solely for that purpose, walking distance from the casino in which the First Zionist Congress was held 550 years later. More than 1,000 Jews were killed on the night of Valentine’s Day, and Jews were forbidden from living in the city for 100 years. A mass suicide of Jews took place in Frankfurt and the Jewish community of Erfurt was completely wiped out. Information regarding the location of a bounty of treasure, buried by the community’s sponsors, was also erased when the plague began. That treasure was coincidentally discovered during an archaeological dig in 1998. Beit Hatfutsot’s collection includes a wedding ring that was part of that treasure.

The Erfurt ring. part of the Museum of the Jewish people at Beit Hatfutsot collection

Most of the Jews who inhabited and survived the pogroms in Germany, Austria, France, and Switzerland emigrated to Poland, where King Casimir (Kazimierz) III displayed a tolerant policy toward Jews and other minorities. A smaller number fled to Spain, where Jews were briefly offered shelter until the pogroms and Massacre of 1391 meant their days were also numbered.

Despite commonly held belief, we cannot say whether Jews died in greater or lesser numbers of the disease than they did of their neighbors. Many historians believe that halacha mandating hygiene practices like netilat yadayim (handwashing), quick burial of the dead, and tahara (ritual purity); and arvut hadadit, mutual responsibility among members of the community protected Jews – at least from death – by reducing the spread of disease. Halacha also contains strict rulings on isolation

during an epidemic like “When there is an epidemic in the town keep your feet inside your house (Bava Kamma 60b.)” or the Halacha’s command against double-dipping: “One should not bite off a piece [of bread] in front of his fellow and put it into the bowl of food from which he eats (Masechet Derech Eretz).”

But one must remember that all Halachic laws were not enforced and observed to the same extent at the time, and that the Jews faced difficult environmental conditions: The Jewish Quarters were typically relatively crowded, located far from city centers and adjacent to city walls. Jewish Quarters in cities along rivers were typically located on their banks, in relatively unsafe areas near forests and wildlife.

Representation of a massacre of the Jews in 1349 Antiquitates Flandriae (Royal Library of Belgium manuscript 1376/77)

We know that many Jews died directly – not just indirectly – from the disease. There is little documentation about the lives of Jews in that period beyond fear, harsh decrees, and persecution. Halacha ceased completely to develop during those decades; yeshivot were dismantled, and the center of learning and religious ruling moved.

Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, Ba’al Haturim, penned the Arba’ah Turim (“Four Columns”), a few years before the plague broke out in Cologne, Germany. The collection of halachot practiced during that period was a testament to Western European Jewish life. It is actually eulogies and depictions of death that shed light on Jewish life during those dark times.

An epitaph for a boy named Asher ben Turiel has remained inscribed on his tombstone for hundreds of years in the surviving Jewish cemetery in Toledo. We can learn a great deal from his father’s farewell to his dead son about how the Jews of Toledo lived:

This stone is a memorial / That a later generation may know

That underneath it lies hidden a pleasant bud / A cherished child

Perfect in knowledge / A reader of the Bible

A student of Mishnah and Gemara / Had learned from his father

What his father learned from his teachers / The statutes of God and his laws

Though only fifteen years in age / He was like a man of eighty in knowledge

More blessed than all sons: Asher – may he rest in Paradise / 

The son of Joseph ben Turiel – may God comfort him /

He died of the plague, in the month of Tammuz, in the year 1349 /

But a few days before his death / He established his home /

But yesternight the joyous voice of the bride and groom /

Was turned to the voice of wailing /

And the father is left, sad and aching /

May the God of heaven / Grant him comfort /

And send another child / To restore his soul /

 

Forty years later, French Jewish physician Jacob ben Salomon wrote a work entitled “Great Mourning,” in which he describes his daughter Esther’s last moments. She died of a secondary outbreak of the Great Plague in 1383, weeks after her brother and sister, Israel and Sarah, also died. Esther expressed her few final wishes on her deathbed: She asked that her money be donated to charity and her clothes to the poor. She asked that her uncle leave the room before her death, because as a Cohen (member of the priestly class), he was forbidden from being in the presence of the dead; and that her husband not come to her side because she was ritually impure according to the laws of niddah. She asked that her husband name a future daughter after her, and that her sister not take her place as his wife. Jacob ben Salomon eulogized his children by noting that during Esther’s final moments, she strictly observed the letter of Jewish law.

May we not know his suffering. Great health to all.

Translated by Varda Spiegel

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The Woman who Founded the First School for Jewish Girls in Northern Africa https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/woman-founded-first-school-jewish-girls-northern-africa/ Sun, 08 Mar 2020 15:46:41 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=47470 “The Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People” was a missionary Anglican organization founded in 1809 in London in order to encourage Jews to convert to Christianity. This mission had emissaries in 52 states and operated as a smooth, perfectly organized, restless propaganda machine. Hundreds of devoted emissaries worked for the organization, about 50% of them converted [...]

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“The Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People” was a missionary Anglican organization founded in 1809 in London in order to encourage Jews to convert to Christianity. This mission had emissaries in 52 states and operated as a smooth, perfectly organized, restless propaganda machine. Hundreds of devoted emissaries worked for the organization, about 50% of them converted Jews.

For those conversion centers, money was a crucial factor. The mission’s leaders targeted young unprivileged Jews as their easy prey. Their tactic included basing in poor Jewish centers worldwide, establishing schools and lure the youth to join the mission by offering material benefits. Their methods and activity were condemned as “catching rotten fish in a golden net”.

In 1875 the missionaries arrived at Mogador, Morocco, following rumors that the city, located on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, was home to quite a few fat “rotten fish”.

Stella Corcos’ girls’ school in Mogador, Morocco, 1885-1900c., The Corcos Family Archive, Jerusalem. Courtesy of Sidney Corcos.

Stella Corcos’ girls’ school in Mogador, Morocco, 1885-1900c., The Corcos Family Archive, Jerusalem. Courtesy of Sidney Corcos.

Indeed, Mogador was a vivid port city, where Jewish artisans, rabbis, and scholars formed a vibrant community. Mogador was home to famous merchants such as the Cabessa and Elmalih families, great wise men such as rabbi Haim Pinto and rabbi Avraham Ben Attar, and artists like David Elkayam, known as “the Da Vinci of Mogador”. Due to the large number of Jewish merchants, the port of Mogador stopped working on Shabbat. The elders recall that after the morning prayer of Shabbat, Jews used to leave the Mellah (the Jewish quarter), and walk to the beach, where they would spend the day relaxing and bathing.

By the end of the 19th century, there were approximately 12,000 members in the Jewish community of Mogador. One of them was Stella Corcos, a brave inspirational woman who dedicated her life to hold out against the Christian mission’s intentions.

Stella Corcos Duran was born in 1858 on the other side of the ocean, in Brooklyn, New York. Her father, Abraham Duran, was a wealthy tobacco merchant who immigrated to America from Algiers, and her mother, Rebecca, was from an aristocrat British Jewish family, related to the philanthropist Moses Montefiore. Stella grew up surrounded by governesses and servants and received the finest education.

Then the family moved to England, and after graduating from high school, Stella started to study pedagogy. After graduation, she was a principal of a private school in London, then married in England to Moses Corcos, a successful tradesman from Mogador, in which they settled after their marriage.

Stella Corcos Duran, 1940c.

Stella Corcos Duran, 1940c.

The Corcos family was one of the wealthy and distinguished families in the city, which the Sultan Muhamad Ibn Abdalla invited during the 19th century in order to develop the city’s trade and economy. These families were called “Tujar Al Sultan”, tradesmen of the Sultan. Unlike most of the other Jews in Mogador, who resided in the poor Mellah, the Tujar Al Sultan lived in the established quarter of the kasbah, and were completely alienated from the poor Mellah Jews, which they considered a rabble and would let them enter their club at the Kasbah.

According to one urban legend, one day Stella Corcos was taking a walk in the Mellah, when suddenly she heard angelic voices singing. She came closer and found out they were Jewish girls singing Christian liturgy in a missionary school for Jewish girls. Her heart froze and she decided to fight back, not by a violent or angry act, but rather inspired by “Then shall ye do to him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother” (Deuteronomy 19,19). Stella established a competing school for Jewish girls, the first of its kind in all of Northern Africa. In time her school became one of the finest successful girls’ institutions in the entire Jewish world.

It is a known fact that one way to reconcile between two conflicting sides is to find a common enemy. Thus, encouraged by Stella, the poor Jews of the Mellah and the rich Jews of the Kasbah joined together in the fight against the Christian mission. Stella raised funds from the local community as well as from the Anglo-Jewish philanthropy association “Brit Ahim”, and started to work on her school as soon as she could.

 

Jewish children from Marrakech in a summer school in Mogador, 1945. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Dr. David Cohen, Bat Yam

Jewish children from Marrakech in a summer school in Mogador, 1945. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Dr. David Cohen, Bat Yam

Her school was named “Kavod ve-Ometz” (honor and courage) and addressed mainly poor girls, it ended up setting a wonderful model of education and pedagogy. Stella insisted that the teaching language will be English, and lessons in French, Arabic, and Hebrew were also included. Former MK Jacques Amir reported that only when he grew up, as he heard of the school, he finally realized why his Mogador born mother used to speak to him in English mixed with Arabic.

Initially, for lack of means, the school was located in the home of Stella and Moses, later they had enough funds to relocate it in a steady building inside the Mellah. Stella introduced a teaching method called advanced excellency, that directed the girls to self-studying as well as to community volunteering. The pupils studied history, geography, grammar, literature, general education, mathematics, reading and writing, translating, poetry, sewing, piano, and drama.

One Alliance principal who visited the unique school noted that Kavod ve-Ometz could no doubt compete with the best Alliance schools in Morocco. English pedagogues, who came especially to Mogador to inspect the educational wonder, said that Stella Corcos’ institution was even better than similar schools in England and that the students are no less educated than their British equivalents. Surpassing herself, Stella established a theater class, considered the first Jewish theater ensemble in Morocco. A replica of a rare program of one the productions, dated 1888, kept all these years with Stella’s great-granddaughter, Sidney, will be on display in the Trailblazer Women section in the new museum at Beit Hatfutsot, which will open in October 2020.

Gala night’s program of the Stella Corcos girls’ school, Mogador, Morocco, late 19th century. Beit Hatfutsot collection. Original document at Bibliothèque de l’Alliance israélite universelle, Paris)

Gala night’s program of the Stella Corcos girls’ school, Mogador, Morocco, late 19th century. Beit Hatfutsot collection. Original document at Bibliothèque de l’Alliance israélite universelle, Paris)

Following the school’s success, the Christian mission had to depart from Mogador for good. Moses Corcos died in 1907, who supported his wife in her life work, at the age of 45. Stella was left with 6 children she raised by herself while carrying on with her educational career, as well as her husband’s business and assets. Corcos’ school, that in its peak had 225 pupils, was operating for three decades, from 1885 until the mid-1920s. Stella passed away on March 6, 1948, 72 years ago this week.

Two years ago, the city hall of Mogador decided to name a street after Stella Corcos, the outstanding initiator who educated so many of her nation’s women. May this article, in honor of the International Women Day, pave the way for commemoration she deserves in Israel as well.

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The Jewish brothers who invented “Egyptian Mickey Mouse” https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/the-jewish-brothers-who-invented-egyptian-mickey-mouse/ Mon, 10 Feb 2020 12:13:40 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=46770 It almost seems unreal today, but it was a weekly ritual in Israel, from 1968 up until the mid-1990s, long before cables, Netflix or even just multichannel television. Each Friday afternoon, for almost three decades, everyone gathered around the tribal fire of the “Arab film”, an inclusive folk Israeli term referring to films that mostly [...]

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It almost seems unreal today, but it was a weekly ritual in Israel, from 1968 up until the mid-1990s, long before cables, Netflix or even just multichannel television. Each Friday afternoon, for almost three decades, everyone gathered around the tribal fire of the “Arab film”, an inclusive folk Israeli term referring to films that mostly came from Egypt to the young, mono-channel State of Israel. Heartbreaking dramas, tragic romances, tearful breakups and occasional wild comedies within the conservative genre rules – all were basic ingredients in Israeli culture, that caused thousands of workers to skip the holy Friday afternoon nap in order to enjoy a weakly piece of culture from the neighbors (as well as enemies) surrounding them.

Ever since then, the eyes of Israelis are lit with nostalgic affection whenever Egyptian filmmaking or television is discussed. But only a few know about the historical debt of the prosperous film industry in Egypt to one Jewish family who came to Egypt in 1914, and turned Arab cinema upside down.

Mish Mish Effendi, the Egyptian cartoon hero created by the Frankels

Mish Mish Effendi, an Egyptian cartoon hero

The story of the Frenkel family starts like many a tale of travels and immigration, so typical to Jews everywhere for most of the 20th century. Within just 50 years this creative family passed through five stations: Rechytsa in Russia, Jaffa, Alexandria, Cairo, and Paris.

In 1905, Bezalel and Genza Frenkel left the Russian empire following the anti-Jewish riots there. They came to Eretz Israel and settled in Jaffa, where they opened a printing house. When the First World War broke, the Ottoman authorities were suspicious of former residents of the Russian empire, therefore they accused them of being enemy’s agents. With the help of American Jewry, the Frenkels, along with some 10,000 Jews sailed from Jaffa to Alexandria.

Bezalel, who was a photographer back in Russia, passed on the passion for filming and cinema to his children and they used to film themselves whenever they had a chance. The turning point in the family’s story took place in the late 1920s, when Walt Disney’s “Mickey Mouse” was released. According to the family tradition, they decided to introduce animation into the Arab world after watching the iconic Mickey. In order for this dream to come true, they had to travel again, this time to Cairo, the center of the film industry and home of the large theaters.

The Frenkel family. Right top: Hershl, left top: David, left bottom: Shlomo. From the film Bukrah fill Mish Mish

The Frenkel family. Right top: Hershl, left top: David, left bottom: Shlomo. From the film Bukhra fill Mish Mish

Bezalel and Genza had three sons: David, an escapist, genius painter; Hershl, a down to earth businessman; and Shlomo, who had technical skills and the phenomenal capacity to make a camera out of almost anything.

“Those three were obsessive, perfectionist filmmakers”, nephew Isaac Rosenblum recalls, in the documentary “Bukhra Fil Mish-Mish” by director Tal Michael, about the brothers’ story. “First they learned by themselves the art of animation and cinema, then for eight months they labored to produce the first animation film in the Arab world ever. David drew thousands of pictures, and Shlomo invented a device that enabled them to screen films to viewers without a special hall, it was something of a premature television set, made of a box, celluloid film, and a lantern to reflect the shots on a small screen. It also included a portable speaker that played the sound.”

When they introduced their film to one famous Egyptian producer, his reaction was “Bukhra fill Mish Mish”, an idiom which stands for “when hell freezes over” (literally “tomorrow at apricot season”). As giving up was not in their vocabulary, they carried on. As a homage to the producer who rejected them, they named the film “Mafich Faida” – no use, and went further on mocking that poor skeptical guy by naming their animated hero “Mish Mish Effendi”, an Egyptian version of Mickey Mouse, an eccentric, lanky fellow with a tarboosh, who always gets into awkward situations, then gets away due to lots of funny gestures and loads of grace and humor.

The wonders machine Shlomo Frenkel invented. From the film Bukhra fill Mish Mish

The wonder machine Shlomo Frenkel invented. From the film Bukhra fill Mish Mish

The film is 8.5 minutes long, it was released in 1936 to theaters in Cairo and Alexandria, and went on playing for four consecutive weeks. People filled the halls and the film won everyone’s admiration everywhere. Soon the family, who lived and worked in a tiny apartment in Cairo, was swarmed with job offers. Their place was filled with film rolls, tape recorders, cameras and the like. “Their studio was in their house, where they used to paint, color, shoot and develop the film”, Rosenblum described, “there wasn’t a single spot in that apartment that was not stuffed with filmmaking equipment”.

Mish Mish Effendi became a national star. Egyptian companies hired them to produce commercials with his character, the government used him for propaganda, the ministry of agriculture purchased a tutorial film in which Mish Mish teaches how to cope with cotton crops parasites. Just before World War II, the ministry of defense asked for a film calling the Egyptians to strengthen the army. The Frenkel brothers were even awarded a national medal.

It seemed as though all their dreams were coming true, and that nothing was going to hold back their thriving career – when the establishment of the State of Israel was declared, and rocked their boat, marking the end of all their hopes and dreams. The streets of Cairo were unrest, violent anti-Jewish riots occurred, shops and businesses owned by Jews were nationalized, Jews were laid off from all official posts, from banks and educational institutes. It is estimated that in 1948 there were some 80,000 Jews living in Egypt. Most of them, like the Frenkel family, were forced to immigrate, leaving everything behind.

Opening shot of Mafich Faida, the first film by the Frenkel brothers, that became popular

Opening shot of Mafich Faida, the first film by the Frenkel brothers, that became popular

The brothers sailed to France, from where they planned to come to Israel, however one Jewish agency man in the Marseille port had other plans. He refused to let them load their cases packed with films, materials, and machinery aboard. Unwilling to leave their life work, they stayed in Paris and settled there. They tried to restart their successful film making there but to no avail. Eventually, they turned to other fields. Didier Frenkel, Shlomo’s son, reported that when one of the uncles died, his father asked him to get rid of all the equipment and original materials, kept in the family’s basement in Paris, however, he could not bring himself to consent. Years later, when he realized he was in fact in the hold of rare old animation films, he handed them over to the French national films archive for preservation, and the Frenkel treasure and life work were thus saved.

This week marks a historical watershed in the history of Arab cinema. On February 8, 1936, 84 years ago, at the Cosmograph hall in Cairo, the first animation film on African soil ever was screened, by the Frenkel brothers. It is time that we honor them.

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Six Feet Under: One Tiny Italian Car – One Moment of Human Grace https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/six-feet-one-tiny-italian-car-one-moment-human-grace/ Thu, 23 Jan 2020 15:11:10 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=46558 Last year, Claudia De Benedetti was launching her book in a ceremony held in Casale Monferrato in Piemonte district, Italy. Her book is fascinating research on the history of her family, one of the renowned aristocratic families in Italy. While delivering her moving speech, she still did not imagine that the real thrill was yet [...]

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Last year, Claudia De Benedetti was launching her book in a ceremony held in Casale Monferrato in Piemonte district, Italy. Her book is fascinating research on the history of her family, one of the renowned aristocratic families in Italy. While delivering her moving speech, she still did not imagine that the real thrill was yet to come. As the event was almost over, a woman in her sixties came upon her and said, my name is Sandra, and I am named after your aunt. After a short pause, she uttered the final jaw-dropper: In fact, I am Pietro Bo’s daughter.

When Claudia was able to speak again, the two women went out to talk in a nearby restaurant, next to the great synagogue in Casale Monferrato, considered one of the most beautiful synagogues in Europe. Soon enough they were reminiscing about the old Fiat 500 Topolino 37, that shall forever bond together the De Benedetti and the Bo families.

The De Benedetti family is an Italian Jewish elite. Their branched family tree reaches the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain and includes Edgardo Mortara, the Jewish boy whose scandalous abduction by Catholic authorities in 1858 resulted in the foundation of the Alliance educational network. Another famous branch includes the Donati family from Modena, from which many famous bankers, jurists, diplomats, and industrialists were descended. Claudia’s great grandmother’s brother, for example, was Angelo Donati, a Jewish Italian diplomat, and philanthropist who used his fortune and connections among Italy’s high officials to save thousands of French Jews during the Holocaust, while serving as the ambassador of San Marino. Claudia De Benedetti is a businessperson, curator, author, philanthropist, and a member of the Maccabi World Union board of directors, as well as the international board of governors of the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot.

The last postcard Claudia’s grandma, Carla Mortara De Benedetti sent to her sister, Lidia Mortara Giron, who immigrated to New York in 1939. In the postcard, she informs her sister of their decision to escape to Stevani. April 5, 1941

The last postcard Claudia’s grandma, Carla Mortara De Benedetti sent to her sister, Lidia Mortara Ghiron, who immigrated to New York in 1939. In the postcard, she informs her sister of their decision to escape to Stevani. April 5, 1941

The following events occurred during the Second World War, in the magnificent Piemonte district in northern Italy. Naturally, wartimes have their typical absurdities, and in the first years of the war, Jews who held Fascist Italy’s i.d’s, were also the lucky ones, who were holding the keys for survival and liberation. This was also the case of the De Benedettis from Turin.

The family owed their prosperity, based on banking, industry, and finances, to the Italian king Carlo Alberto, who in 1848 granted full emancipation to the Jews, after centuries of repression and discrimination. Up until then, the Jews of Turin were not allowed to purchase buildings, join the army or leave the quarter during Christian holidays and processions. For a long time, they were forced to wear a yellow badge and could not study in state official schools and universities.

Mole Antonelliana, mid 19th century according to the position of the tower

Mole Antonelliana, mid 19th century according to the position of the tower

In an act of gratitude, wishing to adorn their city, the Jews of Turin, including the De Benedettis, initiated the erection of the Mole Antonelliana, a celebrated synagogue designed to seat 1,500 worshippers, in the center of town. Today, the pointed building is Turin’s most recognizable landmark. The construction lasted for four decades, due to technical issues resulting from the problematic proportions between the narrow base and the overall height and weight of the structure. Turin Jews had a love-hate relationship with the synagogue, as it represented for them their own situation: based on a national extremely narrow basis. Eventually, perhaps fearing an evil eye, they decided to give the building up and transfer ownership to the municipality in 1877.

Half a century later, all their concerns and fears came true. The fall of the fascist regime in Italy on July 25 1943, followed by the surrender to the allies, resulted in Nazi Germany’s invasion. Italy was divided in two, the north was taken by the Germans while the allies held the rest of the territories. Dangerously, the De Benedettis and all the Jews of Turin, remained in the unfortunate area.

Claudia’s father Camillo, age 17, with his sister Sandra, age 13, on their first dance after returning to Turin.

Claudia’s father Camillo, age 17, with his sister Sandra, age 13, on their first dance after returning to Turin.

“I was just a kid when my grandma Carla told me about our family’s whereabouts in the Holocaust for the first time”, said Claudia, unfolding the events following the Nazi’s invasion to north Italy. “Rumors about the transports to unknown destinations that never came back reached my grandpa, Giulio De Benedetti. Giulio and Carla did not think twice, they packed and took my father, Camillo, his sister Sandra and their old parents, hasting to leave Turin to a small village called Stevani.

While in the village, the De Benedetti family developed close friendship with their neighbors, a poor family of farmers – the Bo family. Quite often at times of war, class differences disappear, especially when it comes to children. “They were inseparable; you could not find one without the other. My father Camillo, his sister Sandra and the Bo children: Renzo, Ottavio, Pietro, and Corinna.

1937 Fiat 500 Topolino

1937 Fiat 500 Topolino

A few months after the occupation of the north, even the village house became unsafe. Grandpa Giulio realized that had to move on and the family planned to cross the border to Switzerland for a safe haven. The parents were somewhat perplexed, as they owned many pieces of jewelry, diamonds, valuable art items and lots of money, which they knew they could not take with them.

Then the children came up with a brilliant idea. They suggested to put all the valuables inside their small Fiat 500 Topolino 37, that Giulio brought from Turin, and burry the whole car in a large pit. The kids dug the hole in the Bo family’s yard and drove the car inside. When they were done they covered up the entire area, and the Topolino was completely out of sight.

Claudia De Benedetti in front of a memorial plaque on the house in which Angelo Donati lived in Nice, France, in 1940-1943

Claudia De Benedetti in front of a memorial plaque on the house in which Angelo Donati lived in Nice, France, in 1940-1943

Two years later, on July 13 1945, after the end of the war, the De Benedetti family returned to Stevani, for an emotional tearful reunion with the Bo family. Renzo and Corrina once again shoveled the yard, slowly revealing that old Fiat 500, still holding all the family’s precious belongings. Nothing was damaged, nothing was missing.

Though the Bo’s had a treasure just two feet from their living room, that could change their lives; and even though they must have heard about the homicide of the Jews of Europe and knew they had a reasonable excuse for taking the treasure for themselves – they chose to keep it all safe until their neighbors and friends shall return.

This is just one story out of countless similar chronicles. On this upcoming International Holocaust Day, it is crucial to remember the great many non-Jewish good-doers, who risked their lives attempting to rescue Jews, thus beautifully executing the old Jewish command: “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man” (Pirke Avit 2).

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