Beit Hatfutsot https://www.bh.org.il Museum of the Jewish People Mon, 27 Jan 2020 09:52:22 +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 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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The Jewish student who paid with his life for Romanian anti-Semitism https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/jewish-student-paid-life-romanian-anti-semitism/ Sun, 12 Jan 2020 14:44:28 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=46370 “David Falik has been killed by the bullet of Totu and so will die all the country’s enemies, by innumerable bullets which will be fired against the filthy beasts. Totu is a martyr and a hero. Gentlemen of the jury, he must be set free.” (From the closing argument of the leading attorney for the [...]

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“David Falik has been killed by the bullet of Totu and so will die all the country’s enemies, by innumerable bullets which will be fired against the filthy beasts. Totu is a martyr and a hero. Gentlemen of the jury, he must be set free.” (From the closing argument of the leading attorney for the defense in Nicolas Totu’s case, the murder of David Falik.)

It was 1926, in the period historiographers call “between the two World Wars.” Europe was redivided after World War I ended, several years earlier. The Romanians won the historical region of Bucovia (now in Ukraine) in the Continental Monopoly game.

An early 20th-century postcard depicting the Czernowitz Synagogue

For the Jews of the Bucovian capital Czernowitz, the redistribution of this geographic bounty was nothing less than a tragedy. Their newly Romanian status severed a Golden Age, in which the Jews of Czernowitz thrived for nearly 150 years under the rule of the Slovenian Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Hapsburg Kaisers granted the Czernowitz Jews nearly full rights and the freedom to preserve their Jewish identity. This liberty – as is generally the case – fostered varied and opposing privileges.

Wandering the streets in those days revealed a small, cosmopolitan Jewish world. A Reform community, called “those who go forward,” and an Orthodox community, called “those who remain in place,” lived side-by-side in Czernowitz. This Jewish melting pot was joined by Zionist youth movements, Communists, Bundists, and converts to Catholicism who crossed the street to worship in the local cathedral. Czernowitz Jews spoke a Viennese German dialect, peppered with Yiddish and Ukrainian. Yiddish writers like Itzik Manger and Eliezer Steinbarg lived and wrote in Czernowitz; and the city hosted the 1908 “Czernowitz Conference,” considered to be a dramatic peak in the war between Yiddish and Hebrew. Jewish dominance in the city was evidenced in the 1912 mayorship of Jewish Salo Weisselberger.

The second conference of Tzeirei-Zion in Rםmania, Chernovtsy, 1921 (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, bequest of the late David Vinitzki, Israel)

But the end of World War I brought an end to the Hapsburg Renaissance in Bucovina. Romanian farmers began to oppress Jews as soon as the Romanian army entered Czernowitz on November 11, 1918; and Ukrainian farmers joined the Romanian rioters in the mid-20s.

Romania had a long history of anti-Semitism. Despite its commitment in the Berlin Congress of 1878 to grant Jews equality, the Romanian government failed to overcome its unconditional reflex for discriminating against its Mosaic citizens. One explanation for that is envy – plain and simple. The data speaks for itself. In the early 20th Century, Romanian Jewry comprised some 4.6% of the population. They held 31% of Romania’s industrial and commercial enterprise. A Romanian citizen who traveled by train rode on rails laid by the country’s leading and Jewish tycoon Max Auschnitt aka the “Iron King.” When that same traveler went to a bar, he got drunk on beer brewed by the Neuman brothers, owners of the largest and most modern liquor factory in Romania.

The Romanian government recognized the problem, and instead of solving it, added fuel to the fire, launching a “Romanianization” policy. The underlying principle of this racist policy was exclusion of Jews from the public sector thereby sapping their power. To illustrate its impact, note that during the Austro-Hungarian period a quarter of Czernowitz’s Jews served in public roles.

The Central Jewish Bank for credit and Saving, Credit Cooperative founded with the assistance of the Joint Distribution Committee. Czernovtsy, Bukovina, Romania, 1927. (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Courtesy of Moshe

With enactment of the Romanianization laws, the Romanian government issued a regulation determining that public institutions in the nation use only the Romanian language. The continued employment of senior officials was contingent upon mandatory testing for their proficiency in that language. The majority of Jewish officials, who spoke German, thus found themselves unemployed.

The Romanians so feared the Jews that then-propaganda minister Mihai Antonescu ordered that all the lead molds of records preserving the works of Jewish composers and musicians be destroyed.

A high point in the annals of Romanianization involves a Jewish boy named David Falik. The story begins with the wrongful failure in matriculation exams of 40 out of 69 Jewish students in a high school in Czernowitz. That their failure was tendentious is witnessed in the fact that all the non-Jewish Romanians passed the exam. The parents of the failed students refused to remain silent. They quickly gathered at the school’s gates to protest the fabricated test results.

The German “Czernowitzer Morgenblatt” newspaper reported that when an exam proctor named Diaconescu left the school grounds, Jewish student David Falik asked him, “Why did you do that?” Diaconescu replied, “It’s none of your business!” Falik shouted, “Down with Diaconescu,” and the gathered protestors began to attack the Romanian teacher. Diaconescu was actually escorted to safety by two other Jews, a police officer named Rotenberg and a Jewish wagon driver who happened on the scene.

Jews in front of the Russian Church at the market square, Chernovtsy, Romania, 1910’s (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center)

The “Matriculation Scandal” headline rocked the Romanian soul. The average Romanian could not stomach the fact that inferior Jews dared to oppose and attack a Romanian teacher – their flesh and blood. Indictments for attacking a public official were issued to 24 Jews, including David Falik. When the Jews left the courthouse in Czernowitz – on the second day of the trial, November 10, 1926 – a student named Nicholas Totu from the city of Iasi was waiting for them. Nicolas pulled out a pistol and shot twice “point blank” at David Falik, who fell in a pool of blood.

More than 3,000 Romanian attorneys volunteered to defend Nicolas Totu. His trial was rigged from beginning to end, and when the jury acquitted him despite his confession that he murdered Falik in cold blood – the crowd roared in joy. Wrapped in a Romanian flag, Totu was carried on his supporters’ shoulders out of the courtroom.

The murder of David Falik and the kangaroo-court trial of Nicolas Totu shocked Romanian Jews. But most nonetheless chose to repress their circumstances and carry on with their lives. Until 16 years later, more than half of Romanian Jewry was exterminated in the Holocaust.

(Translated by Varda Spiegel)

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About miracles:  Reflections on the concept of miracles for Hannukah https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/miracles-reflections-concept-miracles-hannukah/ Sun, 29 Dec 2019 12:06:29 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=46134 Once upon a time there was a man – says the Talmud – whose wife died in labor. The man was so poor that he didn’t have the money to hire a wet nurse for the new baby. And then a miracle happened. According to the Talmud, the man grew breasts bursting with milk. Rabbi [...]

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Once upon a time there was a man – says the Talmud – whose wife died in labor. The man was so poor that he didn’t have the money to hire a wet nurse for the new baby. And then a miracle happened. According to the Talmud, the man grew breasts bursting with milk. Rabbi Yosef said: How great is the man for whom this miracle was performed. Rabbi Abaye replied: Moreover, how terrible is the man for whom the natural order of Genesis was transformed.

The story in Talmud Shabbat 53b presents two approaches in Jewish thought to the concept of miracles. The first views a miracle as confirmation of the reality of a divine power capable of reordering things, intervening in the laws of nature, and bending reality according to will. The second approach believes that heavenly wisdom is embodied in the laws of nature themselves. That approach maintains that what makes an event a miracle is in the eye of the beholder. He may willingly choose to interpret it as an arbitrary and meaningless coincidence. And he may willingly choose to experience it as part of a plan expressed in a number of stories by an all-knowing storyteller, who intentionally planted the event in space and time. As Albert Einstein famously said: “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”

Hanukkah in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, Israel, 1950s Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection)

Leading representatives of these opposing approaches to the meaning of a miracle existed in Jewish thought. Among the renowned supporters of blatant divine intervention in the laws of nature were the Ramban and Rabbi Yosef of the aforementioned Talmud story. The Amora Abaye and the great Ramban were the dominant proponents of the principle that God’s will is embodied in the laws of nature. The Rambam maintained that events perceived as miracles derive from a divine plan sourced in the Creation – that they do not actually depart from the laws of nature. That is to say that miracles are part of the natural reality, and that what makes them miracles is our belief that they are.

The Hannukah story provides a fascinating glimpse of shifts in the approach to miracles the throughout generations. The story actually contains two miracles. One miracle is that of the cruse of oil that lasted eight days; and the other is the glorious victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucids.

In their capacity as the Jewish diaspora’s then-ministers of education and culture, the sages determined that the main focus of the story was the miracle of the cruse of oil. A miracle that comprises a change in the laws of nature themselves, and proof of God’s external intervention in natural reality. These sages’ focus was motivated by their wish to instill hope in an anguished and dispersed diaspora. Placing the cruse of oil at the center of holiday ritual evoked the Shepherd telling his flock that miracles could happen – that despite their seemingly dark and desperate external reality, God had not abandoned them.

Hanukka in Leningrad, USSR, 1983 Photo: Rita Sue Charlestein, USA (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Rita Sue Charlestien, USA)

When the Jewish People returned to its Land, the Zionist leaders returned the miracle of the Maccabees’ victory to the center of Hannukah. Because the Maccabees’ victory against the Greeks belongs to the second definition of the miracle – that is, it does not necessitate a shift in the laws of nature – we returned to a subjective view of the miracle.

One can see the Maccabean victory from both perspectives. From the atheist perspective viewing the Maccabean victory as the outcome of coinciding events, in which confluence arbitrarily led to victory; or from the religious perspective which ascribes the victory to the intentional hand of God. As is written in the Al HaNissim prayer that we read in synagogue on Hannukah.

“You in Your great mercy, stood up for them in their time of trouble…You took their revenge; You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few.”

There were voices in the Zionist Movement reflecting both sides. The rebellious pioneers of the Second and Third Aliyot associated the Maccabean victory with the rise of the Jewish People – they strove to expropriate the miracle from the Divine and transfer it to man. In their minds, this was neither miracle nor divine plan, but the effective act of flesh-and-blood people. This approach is expressed in the well-known Hannukah song “Anu Nosim Lapidim,” written in 1930:

“No miracle befell us… We quarried rock until we bled – And then there was light!”

In contrast, there were voices in the Zionist Movement who viewed the Maccabean victory as they did the return of the Jewish people to its Land: The outcome of a divine plan, the Dawn of Redemption and cosmic miracle that returned the Jews to history.

New Immigrant family from Pakistan lighting Hanukkah candles, Israel 1972. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld. (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection)

At his seminal commencement speech at Kenyon College author David Foster Wallace told the following story: “Two guys are sitting in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after the fourth beer. And the atheist says: ‘Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.’ And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. ‘Well then you must believe me now,’ he says, ‘After all, here you are alive.’ The atheist rolls his eyes. ‘No, man, all that was was a couple of Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.’”

Wallace’s anecdote is the whole story in a nutshell. The same exact experience can have completely different meanings for two different people. It depends on those people’s differing patterns of belief, and the different ways in which they construct meaning from experience. Which of these guys was right? The atheist who saw his rescue as a chain of random and meaningless incidents, or the religious guy who believed that the two Eskimos were cued by a supreme producer conducting human drama.  The beauty – or in this case, the miracle – is that it is completely in the eye of the beholder.

Happy Holiday!

(Translated by Varda Spiegel)

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A Complex Tale: How Agnon Received a Bittersweet Gift in His Final Years https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/a-complex-tale-how-agnon-received-a-bittersweet-gift-in-his-final-years/ Thu, 12 Dec 2019 13:23:42 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=45879 December 10, 1966 – 53 years ago. The clock ticks past 16:00, as the crowd waits in Stockholm’s opulent concert hall for the Nobel Prize winners. The honored guests are waiting anxiously for four stars. Three will herald the end of Shabbat. The fourth is the shining star of Hebrew literature, Shai Agnon. Soon after [...]

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December 10, 1966 – 53 years ago. The clock ticks past 16:00, as the crowd waits in Stockholm’s opulent concert hall for the Nobel Prize winners. The honored guests are waiting anxiously for four stars. Three will herald the end of Shabbat. The fourth is the shining star of Hebrew literature, Shai Agnon.

Soon after Shabbat ends, a posh car pulls up to the Grand Hotel. An elderly couple sits in the back seat in their finest clothes. Agnon, wearing a large black kipah, pulls out an electric shaver to quickly remove a day’s worth of stubble. The woman, Esther nee Marx, glances at her watch and gives her husband a worried look while straightening his collar. “Estherlein, my darling,” Agnon quips smirking to his wife, “I’ve waited for them for so many years. Nothing will happen if they wait a few minutes for me now.”

S.J. Agnon (1888-1970) in his house in Jerusalem, Israel, 1950s (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Dr. Paul Arnsberg collection)

Irony was a central tool in Agnon’s works. The greatest compositor of Eastern-European Jewish life truly loved his characters. Because of this great love, he did not hesitate to take them down in the thinly-veiled irony emblematic of his writing. They were rounded figures, you know. As in life itself. And as in life itself, Agnon’s journey to the most coveted title in international literature – that of Nobel laureate – was replete with bittersweet irony.

As Dan Laor wrote in his article for Haaretz, “War of the Words: The Intrigues Behind Israel’s First Nobel Prize Win,” Agnon’s anticipated Nobel Prize took decades in coming. The concept was born in the Hebrew press as early as 1938, when “The Bridal Canopy,” an English translation of his Hebrew novel, was published. But for various reasons, at that time the idea did not come to fruition.

The second time was nine years later. Agnon was still in the throes of writing “Shira” when the motion to nominate Agnon for the Nobel was hatched in the halls of the Hebrew University. The architect of that move was Samuel Hugo Bergman, the university’s first president. Bergman enlisted intellectuals in and beyond the university to promote the plan. But to his surprise, when he contacted Professor Josef Klausner – a prominent historian and literary researcher of his day – adamantly objected.

Professor Josef Klausner, 1912 (Central Zionist Archives)

“Agnon is a galuti (Diaspora-minded) writer,” Klausner blasted. “His work never managed to rise to a human height and his main strength is in Galician folklore.” Crazed with envy, Klausner suggested that poet Zalman Schneur was a worthier candidate for a Nobel Prize nomination. The literary researcher didn’t just talk the talk – he walked the walk, enlisting writers and academics to present Schneur’s nomination while Bergman attempted to promote Agnon.

Agnon and Klausner lived at that time a mere 100 meters from each other in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood. When Agnon heard Klausner’s words, he gave as good as he got. He served his revenge cold. Very cold. Agnon’s monumental novel “Shira,” published 30 years later, featured an entire chapter devoted to a ludicrous professor based on his neighbor and adversary Klausner named “Professor Bachlam.”.Holtzman notes that the chapter titled “At Professor Bachlam’s” is, “Apparently the wickedest and cruelest thing that Agnon ever wrote…a salvo of toxic barbs intended to ridicule every aspect of Klausner’s endeavors – and his personality and manners.”

But in a complete U-turn, the irony backfired first to Agnon’s detriment. In 1958, Klausner passed away and the Jerusalem Municipality’s cultural committee decided to name the street on which he lived in his name. Imagine how Agnon felt passing the street sign bearing his adversary’s name on a daily basis and picking up the letters in his mailbox to see his nemesis’s surname on the front.

Agnon in his last years, Jerusalem (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center)

The third attempt to nominate Agnon was in 1951. But in what looked like magic, the Schneur camp rose up again to try to thwart the motion. But Agnon’s fan base was bigger this time, and Schneur’s nomination was foiled. In order to increase his chances, Agnon flew quickly to Sweden to meet with influential intellectuals and writers. But the intended blessing turned into a curse. Not only did Agnon endure another disappointment and failure to win the prize, but he suffered a heart attack during the visit and was hospitalized in Stockholm. “It is a great honor that is worth one making a mockery of oneself,” said Agnon on another occasion – and the Nobel Prize seems to be the greatest honor of all.

In 1966, only 15 years later, the longed-for announcement arrived: The Nobel Committee for Literature decided for the first time in history to grant the prize to a Jewish writer who wrote in Hebrew. The Hebrew language waited 2,000 years for the Prince from Buczacz to finally wake her from her slumber with the kiss of his words.

But every rose has a thorn. The sweetness of this victory was tainted with an acrid drop. Agnon actually received half of the whole prize. He was forced to share the glory with German-Jewish poet Nellie Zakas. A genius of literature like him was worthy of keeping the entire prize to himself, but Agnon swallowed the bitter pill. Agnon’s regular readers can’t miss the thinly-veiled but piercing irony in the message to the Nobel committee in his address at the awards ceremony: “Before I conclude my remarks, I will say one more thing. If I have praised myself too much, it is for your sake that I have done so, in order to reassure you for having cast your eyes on me. For myself, I am very small indeed in my own eyes.” The humility is directly proportional to the talent.

Agnon was 78 when he won the Nobel Prize. He went to his final reward in February, 1970, four years later.

(Translated by Varda Spiegel)

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All in the Family: The Debate that Ripped Apart 18th-Century Polish Jewry https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/family-debate-ripped-apart-18th-century-polish-jewry/ Mon, 09 Dec 2019 12:42:15 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=45835 Winter 1759. Some 2000 Jews – men, women, and children – gathered in the central square in front of Lvov, Poland’s cathedral. All but the wailing infants were mum. The frigid bone-penetrating cold was beginning to claim victims. The occasional sound of a body hitting the ground was heard. Elisha Shor – of the famous [...]

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Winter 1759. Some 2000 Jews – men, women, and children – gathered in the central square in front of Lvov, Poland’s cathedral. All but the wailing infants were mum. The frigid bone-penetrating cold was beginning to claim victims. The occasional sound of a body hitting the ground was heard.

Elisha Shor – of the famous Rohatyn Shors – was among the Jews in the square. He begged the cathedral’s leaders to give at least the elderly and the babies food and shelter. He told them that the Council of Four Lands, the central Rabbinic authority of Polish Jewry, had issued a bill to excommunicate them. The council has accused us of Sabbateanism, heresy, and lawlessness, he said. It is forbidden to rent us a home or hire us, and our children have been expelled from educational institutions. We are starving.

The Church elders knew very well that in those days, the fate of a Jew who did not belong to the community was a painful death. The Bishop of Lviv told Elisha, “You will be given shelter and food on three conditions. First, that you publicly declare that your Talmud spreads lies about Jesus. Second, that you confess to using the blood of Christian children to bake matzas. And third, that you convert to Christianity.” Elisha Shor turned around to face the 1,999 questioning pairs of eyes. They stared at him in nerve-wracking anticipation. He took a deep breath, stood up straight, and told the bishop, “That is what we will do.”

Jonathan Eybeschutz 1694-1764

How did we arrive at this cataclysmic moment? Our story begins 65 years earlier. In 1694, a baby named Jonathan Eybeschutz was born in the city of Pinchov, Poland to Sheindel nee Tzuntz and Rabbi Natan Neta, an offspring of Rabbi Natan Neta Shapira the “Megale Amukot (revealer of the depths).” Eybeschutz, who grew up in a family of sages, was known to be a child prodigy and brilliant Talmud scholar.

When he turned bar-mitzva age, a tragedy befell his family: His father passed at a young age, leaving him an orphan. Before he died, his father asked Rabbi Meir Eisenstadt – known as the “Panim Me’irot” for his major work, “Shu”t Panim Me’irot” – to adopt his son and see to his education.  The loyal rabbi fulfilled his friend’s last request. Eybeschutz moved to Rav Meir Eisenstadt’s home in Prossnitz, Moravia and continued to excel in his studies.

This was the point at which the man who fired the opening shot in this war appeared. Among the young teachers appointed by Eisenstadt to teach Eybeschutz was Rav Yehuda Leib Prossnitz, a secret Sabatean and student of Rabbi Nehemia Hayun, a well-known 18th-century leader of Sabateanism. The young teacher and his charge shut themselves in a room and – in addition to studying the fine points of Talmudic pilpul and Halachic ruling – they devoted themselves to studying the Kabbalah, reading the Holy Zohar, and examining known Sabatean literature like the “Raza DeMehimnuta,” attributed to Sabbatai Zevi. Sabbateanism enchanted the talented boy. He devoted his days to the Torat Hanigla rulings of poskim (mainstream religious commentators), and his nights to the Torat Hanistar commentary of Kabalistic sources.

A brief aside. While this sounds anachronistic to us, a bitter struggle took place throughout the 18th Century between the Sabbatean movement and the rabbinic establishment. A near half-century after Sabbatai Zevi’s death, his ideas spread like wildfire throughout Europe. For example, it was said in 1726 about the city of Nadvorna, Galicia that “everyone in the entire city is Sabbatean,” and that “all the gifted scholars there [in Rohatyn, Ukraine] were Sabbatean” or in Yiddish, “Shabbtai Zvinikes.” The rabbinic establishment feared the anarchistic principles embodied in Sabbatean doctrine and the explosive Messianic material it contained. The elite required obedience and the Sabbateans were a thorn in their sides that must be expunged.

Let’s return to Jonathan Eybeschutz. The boy did not limit himself to Sabbatean concepts – he had plenty of Shas Mishna study and poskim rulings under his belt. And in 1710, he was privy to a worthy match with a Torah genius of his ilk. Her name was Elkele and she was the daughter of Rabbi Isaac Spira, the Chief Rabbi of Prague, after he was married, Eybeschutz served as a rabbi in the Great Beit Midrash in Prague, considered the greatest Beit Midrash in Europe.

In 1725, the troubles began. A complaint about Eybeschutz’s affinity for Sabbateanism was filed with the Prague Rabbinate. Eybeschutz was subsequently obligated to subject himself to a humiliating ritual during Kol Nidrei Yom Kippur services in the Great Synagogue of Prague. He was forced to face the entire Jewish community of Prague and admit that he was a Sabbatean. And that was only the beginning. A number of years later, Eybeschutz was offered the position of chief rabbi of Metz. There too, a surprise awaited him. It turned out that Elkele’s aunt lived in Metz and was coincidentally the widow of Rabbi Yaakov Reicher, the city’s chief rabbi who died not long before Eybeschutz’s arrival. When Eybeschutz’s name was mentioned to replace her husband, “Aunt Gittel” announced that she was present at an event that took place during Kol Nidrei services in Prague and that she refused to let Eybeschutz – who was tainted with Sabbateanism – replace her husband. She failed to heed sage advice to “keep this all in the family.”

Jacob Emden’s tombstone, the Jewish cemetery in Hamburg-Altona (Holgerjan, WikiMedia)

But the Metz affair was only a promo for the major storm that would erupt in 1750, when the leaders of the Jewish community in Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbek  – an area known as the Three Communities – offered Eybeschutz the prestigious position of chief rabbi of that district. For Eybeschutz, this was a dream come true. For another man, it was a living nightmare.

Yaakov Emden, who is known as the Ya’avetz, was the son of the Hacham Tzvi Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch and the grandson of Rabbi Zalman Mirlesh. Both of them had served as chief rabbis of the Three Communities.  When Ya’avetz heard that Eybeschutz was to be seated on what was once his father’s and grandfather’s rabbinic throne, his response was “over my dead body.” Ya’avetz, a Torah genius in his own right, declared a war to the death against Eybeschutz and the Sabbateans.

Ya’avetz established a printing house for no other purpose than to print 20 books to thwart Eybeschutz’s appointment. You heard right: Only to condemn Eybeschutz and the Sabbateans. But that didn’t satisfy him. Eybeschutz’s step-brother was none other than Rabbi Meir of Biala, Ya’avetz’s brother-in-law who was also coincidentally a representative of the Council of Four Lands – the rabbinic authority over all of Polish Jewry. Ya’avetz dispatched his brother-in-law to oppose Eybeschutz, his step-brother. And from that moment forward, the council waged a McCarthyesque witch hunt against Eybeschutz and the Sabbateans. This culminated in events including the “Lvov Excommunication” in which 2,000 Jews were forced to convert in that city’s cathedral.

The five years in which Rab Eybeschutz served as the chief rabbi of the Three Communities were overshadowed by the battle against him. Ya’avetz relentlessly attacked him until Eybeschutz finally surrendered. He died exhausted and emotionally scarred in 1764.

*The story appears in Professor Rachel Elior’s book “Israel Baal Shem Tov and his Contemporaries*

(Translated by Varda Spiegel)

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Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot’s Annual Gala – NYC 2019 https://www.bh.org.il/news-and-events/museum-jewish-people-beit-hatfutsots-annual-gala-nyc-2019/ Sun, 08 Dec 2019 10:37:59 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=45774 “Essen with the Best: A Night to Celebrate All Things Food” – Museum of the Jewish people at Beit Hatfutsot’s Annual Gala took place the evening of December 2 2019 at the Ziegfeld Ballroom and honored our dear friend Joan Nathan. It was an evening to remember featuring the best and the brightest in the [...]

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“Essen with the Best: A Night to Celebrate All Things Food” – Museum of the Jewish people at Beit Hatfutsot’s Annual Gala took place the evening of December 2 2019 at the Ziegfeld Ballroom and honored our dear friend Joan Nathan.

It was an evening to remember featuring the best and the brightest in the world of Jewish food. Joan curated a delicious meal for the evening, and guests were treated to a one-of-a-kind food extravaganza, including interactive food displays, remarks from Michael Solomonov, food stories from Boris Fishman, Mark Federman, and Dani Dayan, and a silent auction featuring high-end items from a variety of chefs, restaurants, and wineries across the United States and Israel!

(Photos: Melanie Einzig)

Irina Nevzlin, Chair of the Board of Directors of The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot and President of the NADAV Foundation

Honoring Joan Nathan

Becky Sweren, Daniel Pincus (President, American friends of Beit Hatfutsot), Dan Tadmor (CEO, Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot), Claudio Pincus and Irina Nevzlin

Yossi Siegal, Irina Nevzlin, Ambassador Dani Dayan (Consul General of Israel in New York), Larry and Millie Magid

Robert Gottesman, Merav Oren, Tzili Charney and Dan Tadmor

Michal and Dr. Avraham Kadar

Nancy Spielberg and Irene Pletka

Mike and Sofia Segal with Shula Bahat (CEO of Beit Hatfutsot of America)

Alana Newhouse (founder of Tablet magazine)

Chef Michael Solomonov

The silent auction

The Ziegfeld Marquee on Gala night

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La Amante, el Comisario y el Químico: Tres Personajes Judíos del Lado Errado de la Historia https://www.bh.org.il/noticias-en-espanol/la-amante-el-comisario-y-el-quimico-tres-personajes-judios-del-lado-errado-de-la-historia/ Sun, 08 Dec 2019 08:00:25 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=45761 La Amante, el Comisario y el Químico: Tres Personajes Judíos del Lado Errado de la Historia MARGHERITA SARFATTI Amante de Mussolini “Hay dos mujeres que me aman locamente, pero yo no las amo. Una es bastante simple, pero ella tiene un alma noble y generosa. La otra es hermosa, pero tiene una naturaleza astuta y [...]

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La Amante, el Comisario y el Químico: Tres Personajes Judíos del Lado Errado de la Historia

MARGHERITA SARFATTI

Amante de Mussolini

“Hay dos mujeres que me aman locamente, pero yo no las amo. Una es bastante simple, pero ella tiene un alma noble y generosa. La otra es hermosa, pero tiene una naturaleza astuta y codiciosa; ella es tacaña, de hecho. Por supuesto, ésta es judía”. Benito Mussolini.

La destacada intelectual judía y crítica de arte Margherita Sarfatti (1880 – 1961), no sólo era la amante de Benito Mussolini, sino también una de sus colaboradoras más cercanas, que desempeñó un papel crucial en la elaboración de la ideología fascista tras el ascenso al poder del dictador italiano. No se podía imaginar Sarfatti que el régimen que ella ayudó a establecer, terminaría enviando a su hermana a Auschwitz y, finalmente, también la vería a ella, una judía, como una persona “indeseable”.

Sarfatti nació en Venecia, en el seno de la rica y religiosa familia Grassini siendo su padre Amadeo Grassini y su madre Ema Levi. Con sólo 15 años de edad, se empapó con los escritos de Karl Marx y otros teóricos socialistas. Esto causó una ruptura en su familia, que se sorprendió aún más cuando huyó de la casa y contrajo matrimonio con Cesare Sarfatti, un abogado socialista muy conocido, mucho mayor que ella. Se convirtió con el paso de los años en periodista y crítica de arte para los periódicos socialista Avanti! e Il Tempo, en Milán.

Margherita Sarfatti, 1923

Margherita Sarfatti, 1923

 

Sarfatti se encontró con Mussolini por primera vez a fines de 1912, cuando él era director de Avanti! Al igual que Mussolini, también ella fue expulsada del Partido Socialista Italiano, debido a sus inclinaciones intervencionistas, presionando para que Italia tomara parte de la Primera Guerra Mundial. Algunos años más tarde, sufrió una tremenda pérdida personal, cuando su hijo mayor cayó durante una batalla cerca del Monte Baldo, situado al norte de Italia.

Sarfatti siguió ayudando a Mussolini, preparando la Marcha Fascista Sobre Roma, y se convirtió en directora del diario de Mussolini, Gerarchia. Su biografía en inglés del líder, titulada “El Duce”, posteriormente traducida a 17 idiomas, consolidó la nueva imagen pública de Mussolini y su ideología fascista.

Como judía, no era la única en demostrar simpatía por el fascismo: unos 350 judíos participaron de la Marcha Sobre Roma, y 746 judíos pertenecían a la organización italiana “Combate Fascista”, una organización presidida por Mussolini que unificó a aquellas que se separaron del movimiento socialista y se incorporaron al partido fascista. Entre 1928 y 1933, 4.920 judíos (alrededor del 10% de la población judía de Italia), estuvieron inscriptos en el Partido Nacional Fascista, y muchos de ellos desempeñaron roles importantes en la máquinaria del partido. Mussolini había declarado explícitamente que el antisemitismo no tenía lugar en la cultura italiana y no cabía en el marco de su política.

Sin embargo, el país pronto comenzó a estrechar sus lazos con el Tercer Reich de Alemania, y cambió drásticamente lo que fue hasta entonces una postura moderada. Cuando Italia promulgó sus leyes raciales en 1938, Sarfatti y Mussolini se separaron y ella fue destituida de todos sus cargos. Además, la nueva alianza con la Alemania nazi provocó que Sarfatti se sintiera insegura en su país.  Primero huyó a París, luego a Sudamérica, donde se reencontró con su hijo. Más tarde, Sarfatti se mudó a los Estados Unidos, llevando consigo las mil cartas del hombre que había amado y cuya personalidad había ayudado a crear. En 1947 Sarfatti volvió a Italia, nuevamente se convirtió en una persona influyente en el campo de las artes. Visitó Israel en diversas ocasiones.

 

 

GUÉNRIJ GRIGÓRIEVICH YAGODA

El Jefe de la Policía Secreta Soviética

Guénrij Grigórievich Yagoda (1891 – 1938), fue un poderoso funcionario soviético de alto rango y, como figura clave en las purgas estalinistas de la década de 1930, se lo puede considerar como uno de los peores asesinos en masa de la historia moderna. En sólo pocos años, fue el responsable de la muerte de millones de personas. Yagoda nació en el seno de una familia judía de clase media, prolífera en hijos. Aún adolescente, se unió a los bolcheviques, y en 1912 fue preso y condenado a dos años de prisión por transgredir la “Ley del Límite de Residencia”, sentencia que cumplió en Simbiresk, a 900 kms. al este de Moscú. Después de su liberación, se convirtió al cristianismo para obtener el permiso de residencia en San Petersburgo, la capital del imperio ruso de entonces. Al estallar la Primera Guerra Mundial, fue movilizado al ejército, y después de ser herido en batalla, fue liberado en 1916. Poco tiempo después, Yagoda se incorporó a Cheka, el primer esbozo organizado de lo que luego sería la policía secreta soviética, y rápidamente ascendió en la escala jerárquica. Paralelamente, se aproximó cada vez más al propio Stalin. En 1934, Stalin lo designó director del NKVD, el nuevo Ministerio del Interior de la Unión Soviética, cargo que incluía en su marco a la policía secreta.

Guenrij Yagoda, 1930

Guenrij Yagoda, 1930

 

Desde esta función, fue vital en la creación de los Gulag, un sistema de alejados campos de trabajos forzados; creo un laboratorio en el comando del NKVD, para la elaboración de venenos que le servirán a él y a sus colaboradores para usarlos principalmente a lo largo de las grandes purgas. Estuvo muy involucrado en la Gran Purga ordenada por Stalin y sus infames juicios. Además de las deportaciones, confiscaciones, arrestos y ejecuciones masivas de las que Yagoda fue responsable, estuvo también involucrado directamente en la implantación de la Holodomor, (En ucraniano: “hambruna hasta la muerte”), una hambruna provocada a propósito y que mató a millones de ucranianos. En total, se cree que jugó un papel destacado y estuvo involucrado personalmente en el asesinato de unos 10 millones de personas.

En un irónico giro de la historia, no totalmente inesperado, el propio Yagoda cayó en desgracia con Stalin y fue arrestado en 1937. Fue juzgado por traición y conspiración contra la Unión Soviética durante el llamado Juicio de los Veintiuno, el último y más notorio de los tres juicios de Stalin, que incidentalmente inspiraron a Arthur Koestler a escribir su “El Cero y el Infinito — Oscuridad a Mediodía” (1941). Los cargos imputados a los acusados se volvieron cada vez más duros y extremos, bordeando el absurdo. Yagoda fue acusado de ser un agente alemán, un trotskista, un contrabandista de diamantes y adicto a la pornografía.

Al finalizar el juicio, Yagoda fue declarado culpable y ejecutado. Su esposa, hermana y cuñado, también fueron condenados a muerte. Gary Yagoda, hijo de Guenrij, creció en un orfanato y su apellido cambiado a Urbaj, apellido de soltera de su madre, para borrar todo rastro de la memoria de su padre. En los años 90, Gary hizo aliá a Israel junto con su familia. En 1988, al cumplirse el 50° aniversario del Juicio de los Veintiuno, los acusados fueron absueltos oficialmente de todo cargo y sus registros fueron borrados – todos, excepto Yagoda.

 

FRITZ HABER

El padre de las armas químicas.

El químico ganador del Premio Nobel Fritz Haber (1868 – 1934), hizo probablemente el mayor descubrimiento científico de la historia, uno que, hasta el día de hoy, proporciona sustento a miles de millones de personas en todo el mundo. Pero cuando las circunstancias se dieron, se convirtió también, sin remordimientos, en el pionero de la guerra química, directamente responsable de muertes horribles y sufrimientos indescriptibles. Orgulloso de ser alemán, su patriotismo lo impulsó a dedicar su trabajo tanto para el bien como para el mal.

“Durante los tiempos de paz, un científico pertenece al mundo, pero durante la guerra, pertenece a su patria”. Es uno de sus dichos famosos.

Nació en Breslau, Alemania, (actualmente pertenece a Polonia), en el seno de una familia judía asimilada. La suya, fue la primera generación de judíos alemanes emancipados, que gozaron de movilidad social y de la aceptación por parte de la sociedad general. Se casó con una colega de profesión, la química Clara Immerwahr, quien fue la primera mujer en obtener el título de Doctor en Química en Alemania.

Fritz Haber, 1919

Fritz Haber, 1919

                                                                 

 

Debido a que las carreras universitarias estaban cerradas para los judíos, fue bautizado como cristiano. Haber declaró que él se ve alemán en todo sentido, y que no se siente ligado a la religión judía, pero también al cristianismo no lo ve como una religión, sino más bien como una asociación cultural y, por lo tanto, no sintió dificultad en convertirse.

En los albores del siglo XX, el nitrógeno, esencial para la fabricación de fertilizantes, estaba disponible en depósitos naturales como el estiércol y el guano. El nitrógeno de origen natural era un producto tan preciado, que en América del Sur se habían desatado guerras por el dominio de tierras ricas en excrementos de aves. Trabajando en el Instituto de Química Kaiser Wilhelm, Haber desarrolló el proceso llamado Haber-Bosch (conjuntamente con su colega Karl Bosch), un método a través del cual el amoníaco podría sintetizarse directamente a partir de nitrógeno e hidrógeno.

El descubrimiento revolucionario de Haber hizo posible la producción en masa de fertilizantes. Haber luego hizo un giro drástico – probablemente el más destructivo de la historia – y se dedicó a inventar armas químicas.

Estalló la Primera Guerra Mundial, y Alemania y las Fuerzas Aliadas se encontraron empantanadas en un punto muerto aparentemente inamovible. Haber estaba ansioso por mostrar su patriotismo y ofreció voluntariamente sus servicios. Se le concedió el rango de capitán y el Ministerio de Guerra puso a su disposición un equipo de científicos. Su descubrimiento fue utilizado primeramente para fabricar explosivos y luego derivó en la fabricación de gas venenoso.

El 22 de abril de 1915, estando por detrás de la línea de combate en lo que dio por llamar la Segunda Batalla de Ypres, Bélgica, Haber dio la señal de liberar 168 toneladas de gas de cloro y dirigirlas hacia las trincheras en poder de las fuerzas francesas y argelinas. Minutos después, más de 5.000 soldados yacían muertos y había el doble de heridos. A partir de allí surgió una carrera armamentista por el gas venenoso y, al final de la guerra, más de 100.000 personas murieron y más de un millón quedaron heridas por causa de estos productos.

Clara, su mujer, una pacifista, quedó horrorizada y atormentada por las acciones de su marido durante la guerra y se suicidó.

Después de la guerra, Haber recibió el Premio Nobel de Química por su trabajo con amoníaco, pero también se convirtió en un paria internacionalmente, condenado al ostracismo, por su contribución crítica al desarrollo de armas químicas.

Fritz Haber en el laboratorio (Archivo Alemán Gubernamental, Wikipedia)

Fritz Haber en el laboratorio (Archivo Alemán Gubernamental, Wikipedia)

 

A pesar del creciente antisemitismo en Alemania, el espíritu patriótico de Haber se mantuvo incólume. Sin embargo, con la ascensión de Hitler al poder, se proclamaron las leyes raciales y se vio obligado a abandonar Alemania. Haber recibió la orden de despedir a todos los empleados judíos que trabajaban en el instituto que él dirigía. Se negó a ello y renunció a su cargo. Haber vagó sin rumbo por Europa, y su salud entró en un proceso de decadencia. Fue rechazado por científicos británicos y franceses, quienes lo consideraban un criminal de guerra, y se negaron a prestarle ayuda. Murió solo en una habitación de un hotel en Basilea, Suiza, en 1934, a los 66 años de edad.

Su amigo Albert Einstein diría más tarde que la vida de Haber “fue la tragedia del judío alemán, la tragedia de un amor no correspondido”.

Gracias al proceso Haber-Bosch, cada año se producen más de 100 millones de toneladas de fertilizante sintético. Es un descubrimiento científico de proporciones gigantescas, que ha ayudado a alimentar al mundo y ha evitado guerras y hambrunas.

Pero el ataque con gas de cloro que Haber orquestó en Ypres, cambió para siempre la índole de las guerras. Algunos de sus otros trabajos tuvieron consecuencias imprevistas: mucho después de su muerte, un pesticida que había inventado fue reformulado por los nazis y así nació el Zyklon B, que fue utilizado para el asesinato sistemático de un millón de judíos en los campos de exterminio.

El legado de Haber perdura tanto en las páginas de crímenes de guerra como en miles de bocas alimentadas. La Universidad Hebrea de Jerusalén, por ejemplo, decidió ignorar la primera parte y coronó con su nombre el Centro de Dinámica Molecular de la universidad.

Poco tiempo antes de su muerte, Haber comenzó a verse a sí mismo como parte de la nación judía. Jaim Waitzmann, uno de los líderes sionistas, le propuso venir a Eretz Israel y ser parte del Instituto Ziv, que se instauró en aquella época. Haber le dijo: “En mis últimos días me veo como una persona en quiebra; después que me vaya y mi nombre se olvide, aún tu contribución perdurará como un monumento majestuoso en la larga historia de nuestra nación”. Cuarenta años después de su conversión al cristianismo, y después que se vio obligado a abandonar Alemania a fines de 1933, Haber le escribió a Einstein: “Nunca me sentí tan judío como ahora”. Haber legó su biblioteca al Instituto Ziv, donde se encuentra hasta nuestros días.

Traducción: Kalman Gabay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Essen with the Best: A Night to Celebrate All Things Food” https://www.bh.org.il/news-and-events/essen-best-night-celebrate-things-food/ Thu, 05 Dec 2019 09:33:52 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=45718 “Essen with the Best: A Night to Celebrate All Things Food,” which will take place the evening of December 2 at the Ziegfeld Ballroom and honor our dear friend Joan Nathan. It will be an evening to remember featuring the best and the brightest in the world of Jewish food. Joan will curate a delicious [...]

The post “Essen with the Best: A Night to Celebrate All Things Food” appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

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“Essen with the Best: A Night to Celebrate All Things Food,” which will take place the evening of December 2 at the Ziegfeld Ballroom and honor our dear friend Joan Nathan. It will be an evening to remember featuring the best and the brightest in the world of Jewish food. Joan will curate a delicious meal for the evening, and guests will be treated to a one-of-a-kind food extravaganza, including interactive food displays, remarks from Michael Solomonov, food stories from Boris Fishman, Mark Federman, and Dani Dayan, and a silent auction featuring high-end items from a variety of chefs, restaurants, and wineries across the United States and Israel!

The post “Essen with the Best: A Night to Celebrate All Things Food” appeared first on Beit Hatfutsot.

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Far from the Eye, Close to the Heart: The Fascinating History of the Beta Israel Community in Ethiopia https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/far-eye-close-heart-fascinating-history-beta-israel-community-ethiopia/ Tue, 03 Dec 2019 14:06:28 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=45672 Historical research indicates that there were Jews in ancient Ethiopia, but their unknown origin and history has inspired many varying theories. The debate among researchers focuses mainly on the quality of the ethnic affiliation between those ancient Jews and the Jews who were first documented in the 9th-Century writings of Eldad HaDani and in Ethiopian [...]

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Historical research indicates that there were Jews in ancient Ethiopia, but their unknown origin and history has inspired many varying theories. The debate among researchers focuses mainly on the quality of the ethnic affiliation between those ancient Jews and the Jews who were first documented in the 9th-Century writings of Eldad HaDani and in Ethiopian sources in the 14th-Century.

The Jewish community in Ethiopia, Beta Israel, cites various traditions as to their origins. One tradition maintains that Jews arrived in Ethiopia in waves, mainly via the Nile and its tributaries. Other traditions associate the Jews’ arrival in Ethiopia with the story in the Ethiopian national opus “Kebra Nagast” of the procession of Menelik I, the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

The origins of the early Jews cited in Jewish sources – Eldad HaDani in the 9th Century, Benjamin of Tudela in the 12th Century and Elijah of Ferrara in the 15th Century – are few and they lack a historical basis. More specific reports appear in the Ethiopian Chronicles (Divrei Hayamim), maintaining that Judaism was common in the Aksum Kingdom established in the 2nd Century by Semite immigrants from Southern Arabia. The kingdom under the influence of Byzantine Rome adopted Christianity in the 4th Century. The subsequent persecution of Jews caused them to flee to the mountainous inland regions north of Lake Tana.

Kes Displaying the Torah Scrolls in the Synagogue, Ethiopia 1987. Photo: Gerald Gotzen. (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Gerald Gotzen, UK)

The group of Jews who came to be called “falasha” – Ge’ez for “exiles” or “immigrants” – coalesced and gained strength until they established an independent Jewish kingdom. The Jewish kingdom took part with the rebels in the 10th-Century rebellion against the Aksum rulers and the Christian church. The community’s tradition has it that a Queen of Jewish origin named Yehudit (Judith) led the rebels. The story – relying half on legend and half on history – says that Yehudit repelled the invaders and established a Jewish government that lasted 40 years.

The Solomonic Dynasty took power in the 12th Century, and established itself by means of conquests and promoting Christianity in pagan, Muslim and Jewish regions. Christian missionary activity in the 14th Century focused on the Jews of Shewa. Churches and monasteries were built in their midst. During that period, Ethiopians invaded Jewish regions and conquered what remained of Begamdar, the districts of Wagra and Dembia. The Ethiopian army established military outposts in Seklat and Gondar to fortify its occupation.  That gave rise to a Jewish rebellion that was harshly put down, and missionary activity in the region escalated.

Ethiopian Jews were hurt physically and economically in this battle. Emperor Amda Seyon (1314-1344) waged a war to the death against the Jews and the Muslims. His great-grandson, Emperor Ishak (1414-1429), followed in his footsteps with sharpened focus. He singled out the Jews, threatening that if they did not convert to Christianity, they would lose their land rights. When they failed to surrender, their lands were seized and they were labeled “falasha.” During the years 1434-1468, Emperor Zera Yakob’s continued persecution of the Jews earned him the title of “Destroyer of the Jews.” The Ethiopian Jews continued to fight and even managed to bolster Judaism’s influence. Jews sacrificed their lives during that period to preserve their Judaism, and a monastic status unique to Ethiopian Jewry developed. Those monks played a key role in preserving tradition and fighting attempts to force Christianity on the Jewish community. They copied the Orit (Torah) texts and distributed them to the community.

Moses wearing an Ethiopian priestly Turban. 16th or 17th century fresco above entrance of a rock church in Guh, Tiger province, Ethiopia. From “Churches in rock” by G. Gerster, London, 1970 ((From the Beit Hatfutsot photo exhibition: Beta Israel: The Jews of Ethiopia”, 1988)

Similar battles took place in the region until the 15th Century. And in the late 16th Century, the Ethiopians began to move their wandering capital to a region in North Ethiopia where most of the Jewish community lived. The relocation of the capital entailed progressive “Amharicization” (increased adoption of Amharic as the official language among non-Amharic-speaking ethnic groups) and conversion to Christianity among Jews and local pagans. The movement of the center of the Ethiopian kingdom to the center of the Jews independent region caused them to feel threatened and initiate a number of military responses. These battles – some of them successful – were viciously crushed and provoked the movement of the Ethiopian capital to the heart of the Jewish settlement. The last Jewish battle took place in the early 17th Century, when a mountain ridge on which the Jews lived was conquered.

In 1552, Rabbi David ben Zimra (the Radbaz), then-leader of Egyptian Jewry, determined that in accordance with Halacha, the Beta Israel were Jews and members of the Jewish People like all others. In 1632, 80 years later, what Ethiopian history calls the “Revival” began. That period was characterized by Ethiopian Emperor Fasilides’ orders to expel the Portuguese armies, and his restoration of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Known for his tolerance, the Emperor nonetheless completed the Ethiopian Inquisition that his father had begun in 1624. Fasilides banished Jesuit soldiers and missionaries from the land of Ethiopia and forbade Europeans from entering his empire. Under his influence, the Ethiopian Empire flourished politically, culturally, and creatively, paralleling the European Renaissance. The religious tolerance typical to that period benefitted the Beta Israel community. Its artists and sages joined the elite that led the empire.

Jacques Faitlovitch, scholar on Ethiopian Jews, with a group of Beta Israel, Ethiopia, 1908 (From the Beit Hatfutsot photo exhibition: Beta Israel: The Jews of Ethiopia”, 1988)

Hebrew began to disappear as a ritual language in the mid-16th Century and vanished completely by the early 17th Century. Ge’ez then became the accepted language of Jewish ritual. From the early 17th Century to the last half of the 19th Century, the community spoke both the Amharic and Tigrinya languages. The script used in all the aforementioned Ethiopian languages is the Habesha Script.

In 1862, a monk named Abba Mehari led thousands of Jews to Ethiopia via the Red Sea. They believed that God would perform a miracle on their behalf like that of the parting of the Red Sea on the journey out of Egypt. This ended in tragedy. Many of them died of starvation and epidemic disease before crossing the Ethiopian border. The failed attempt to make aliya to Jerusalem heightened the belief that there was no way to go to the Holy Land, and prompted a certain sense of despair.

In 1864, two years later, Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer, a major rabbi in Germany, published a call to action in which he unequivocally recognized the Judaism of Beta Israel and determined that the obligation to save and assist them comprised Arvut Israel – Jews’ mutual responsibility.

Beta Israel Jews celebrating the “Sigd” Festival, Ethiopia, 1979 Photo: John R. Rifkin, England (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of John R. Rifkin, England)

The missionary Samuel Gobat arrived in Ethiopia in the early 19th Century. Gobat met with and wrote about the Beta Israel community, and after that meeting, organized a mission to the Beta Israel community. The mission began to operate in 1860 under the management of the Church’s general mission to the Jews. The Beta Israel community’s resistance to the missionaries led to their expulsion from their villages and religious debate surrounding their customs – including their offering of sacrifices.

In 1867, the famous French-Jewish Middle-East historian and traveler Joseph Halevy arrived in the Beta Israel community. He was sent by Diaspora rabbis to examine how the community’s Jews were faring under the Christian mission. A period in the second half of the 19th Century came to be known by Ethiopians as “the Bad Times” – seven straight years of drought, wars, and epidemics in which two-thirds of the Jews died.

In the early 20th Century, Joseph Halevy’s student, Jacques (Yaakov) Faitlovitch arrived in Ethiopia. His arrival began a continuous connection between the rest of Diaspora Jewry and the Jewish community in Ethiopia. The missionary activity continued in parallel. From 1922, Faitlovitch sent youth “from Beta Israel” to Jewish educational institutions in Europe and the Land of Israel in order to make them leaders and emissaries to their community.  In 1946, Dr. Faitlovitch spearheaded the establishment of the first Ethiopian-Jewish boarding school, in the village of Uzebba in Gondar. The village serving children of the Beta Israel community from all the nearby villages was run by leader and educator Yona Bogala.

Yona Bogale Teaching Beta Israel Children, Asmara, Ethiopia, 1954 (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center. Courtesy of Rabbi Shmuel Be’eri, Israel)

During the Italian occupation (1936-1941) their connection with the rest of world Jewry was severed. The local government’s relations with the Jews were adversarial and many of them joined the Patriot movement. The race laws published in Italy in 1938 did not help the Jews, and many of them were executed because of the rebellion. In 1941, orders were issued to implement the plan to exterminate Beta Israel, in conjunction with the collaboration with Nazi Germany. But the Italians’ defeat by Allied Forces in the Ethiopian War of Independence prevented the plan’s realization. Emperor Haile Selassie returned to government and adopted a policy of Amharicization of Ethiopian peoples. In 1948 and in line with that, he approved the Christian mission’s continued activities in the Jewish community.

In 1973, then-interior minister Yosef Burg issued deportation orders to members of the Ethiopian community in Israel, claiming that the Law of Return did not apply to them. These Jews hid in places provided by the Public Committee for Ethiopian Jewry. The committee members appealed to the Rishon LeZion Rabbi Ovadya Yosef to thwart the deportations. Most 20th Century poskim (legal religious scholars) addressed the Ethiopians’ Judaism with skepticism. But Rabbi Ovadya Yosef relied on the Rambam’s 15th-Century claim that they were members of the Dan Tribe, who had been exiled during the First-Temple-Period destruction of the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians. Rabbi Ovadya’s ruling was dispatched to a special government committee charged with examining the Ethiopian issue in 1974. That paved the way for the Ethiopian Aliya. In contrast with the Chief Rabbis who succeeded Rav Ovadya and demanded that the Ethiopian olim must undergo ritual immersion to satisfy the laws of conversion – and in contrast with all the ultra-Orthodox rabbis – Rabbi Ovadya insisted that the Ethiopians were Jews in every sense and not required to undergo any process of conversion.

(Translated by Varda Spiegel)

Kes Shagi’a Bayenna holding the letter written by Rabi Ovadia Yosef which stated that the Falashas are Jews, Wallaka, Ethiopia, April 1984 Photo: Doron Bacher, Israel (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Doron Bacher collection, Israel)

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Gaza First: The Man Who Launched the Largest Messianic Movement in Jewish History https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/gaza-first-man-launched-largest-messianic-movement-jewish-history/ Mon, 25 Nov 2019 11:16:26 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=45510 That Gaza is a hotbed of fundamentalist religion is nothing new. Throughout history, the city has attracted zealous believers, inflamed with high-voltage messianism and a burning passion to save humanity from its earthly suffering. From the time of Samson – who uprooted the gates of the Philistine city in a fit of sacred rage – [...]

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That Gaza is a hotbed of fundamentalist religion is nothing new. Throughout history, the city has attracted zealous believers, inflamed with high-voltage messianism and a burning passion to save humanity from its earthly suffering. From the time of Samson – who uprooted the gates of the Philistine city in a fit of sacred rage – to Yahya Sinwar and Muhammad Deif, who strive in the name of jihad to turn the whole world into Dar al-Harb.

Messianism and zealotry are certainly not foreign to any religion, and Judaism also had its share of would-be messiahs, false prophets and eccentrics who offered their flocks a direct connection to the Shehina and free streaming to the holy spirit. We will focus on one of them.

An imaginary description of Nathan of Gaza leading the Tribes of Israel from Exile to the Holy Land, after he crowned Shabtai Zvi (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center)

Our story begins with a Jewish youth who lived in Gaza 350 years ago. Nathan of Gaza was considered the founder of the largest messianic Jewish movement in the modern era. Reports indicate that he was considered a real prodigy, well-versed from a young age in the Shas sections of the Mishna and Jewish commentary. Some said that he recited entire tractates by heart in the Beit Hamidrash of Jerusalem’s renowned commentator Rabbi Yaakov Hagiz.

When he was 20, Nathan married the daughter of Shmuel Lisbona, a native Damascene who lived in Gaza. After Nathan married, he packed his bags and moved to Gaza, earning the name Nathan of Gaza. That was a turning point in his awareness. He adhered to an ascetic lifestyle, dabbled in mysticism and Kabbalah, and delved further into the writings of the Ramak, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, and HaAri Hakadosh Isaac Luria.  He was subject at that time to many prophetic visions and reputed to be a miracle worker with a direct line to the holy spirit who could “rectify souls.”

Kabbalah researcher and journalist Dr. Yehuda Yifrach noted in his article for Segula Magazine, “Messianic Mania,” that Nathan of Gaza had rare personal skills: intense concentration and persistence, daring and original religious thought, and eloquent written and verbal expression. Add to that enduring willpower, coherent methodology, and a talent for sticking to a detailed and systematic plan. But his most significant trait was his extraordinary social skill. He was simply a magnet for anyone with whom he came into contact. People who met him felt that “he could read their souls, and they were captivated by his charm” – that there was no escaping his intimate knowledge of them.

He was soon surrounded by a circle of young apostles in Gaza who studied Kabbalah from his lips. A letter from one of them described “The Prophet’s” penchant for preaching the secrets of the holy Zohar to his disciples at the Gaza shore. This jolly club fervently sang the age-old piyyutim liturgical poems of Rabbi Israel ben Moses Najara while dancing ecstatically on the beach.

Shabbetai Zvi depicted as the commander of the ten tribes of Israel, Germany, 1666 Engraving (From the Beit Hatfutsot Photo Exhibition: “The Jews of Germany, From Roman Times to the Weimar Republic”, 1984)

But all that only paved the way for a meeting that changed Nathan Ghazzati’s life and sparked a tremendous spiritual eruption throughout the Jewish world. From Gaza to Hebron to Jerusalem, it spread like wildfire throughout the Ottoman Empire and the Lithuanian-Polish kingdom. It began when Nathan of Gaza met a bizarre, troubled and manic-depressive Jew with delusions of grandeur on steroids: Shabbetai Zevi.

The story of Shabbetai Zevi has been told. The vision that came to him in 1648, in which an angel from God told him that he was the Messiah and Israel’s Redeemer. His expulsion from the Jewish community in Izmir, the city of his birth, and later expulsions from Salonika and Constantinople – resulting from his performance of erotic ritual and chronic religious provocation. These included his forbidden pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton (the four-letter name of God) in synagogue; an attempt to stop the afternoon sun like Joshua bin Nun, celebration of all three annual festivals (Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot) in one week; and a ritual in which he placed an enormous adorned fish in a baby’s cradle to signify that Redemption would come in the sign of Pisces.

Around Purim, 1665, the prophet Nathan of Gaza was privy to his own religious ecstasy accompanied by ongoing visions of the heavenly world. That was when he received the revelation – the supreme enlightenment in “the light of the seven days [of creation]” of Shabbetai Zevi’s messianic mission. During that period, Zevi was living in Egypt and plagued by depression. When he heard of Nathan of Gaza, he packed his belongings and traveled to Gaza in the hope of finding solace for his troubled soul. The last thing he expected was that the famous Kabbalist would declare him the Messiah and King. Zevi was surprised to receive confirmation that his allegedly peculiar and outlandish behavior resulted from a superb soul rooted in the highest aspects of the divine world.

The great deceiver and false Messiah “Shabtai Zvi”, Turkey, 17th century (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center)

From then on, Nathan of Gaza was Shabbetai Zevi’s right-hand prophet. He wrote, produced, and directed the greatest film about messianic Judaism in the modern era. It opened in Hebron, where Shabbetai Zevi’s “Sabbatean” movement was a megahit. It spread from there to Jerusalem and on to Damascus and Aleppo. The rumor took wing and the buzz surrounding the new messiah grew with his road trips and visits to Jewish communities. Nathan’s missives attended this hysteria and the real euphoria that pervaded Diaspora Jewry.

And what about Gaza? It became an international prophecy hub. Jews thronged to see the prophet who had crowned the messiah. Its courtyards filled with women and men, sleeping in the streets and repeating the corrections and mortifications handed down to them by Nathan of Gaza.

The end is known. When the Turkish Sultan heard of the “Jewish king’s” growing popularity, he made Zevi an offer he couldn’t refuse: death or conversion to Islam. Zevi chose Islam. And the rest is history.

Historian’s cite the Sabbatean movement as the first in a series of Jewish spiritual movements that placed messianism at their ideological center: From Sabbateanism to Hassidism; from Hassidism to Zionism; and from there directly to Gush Emunim and the followers of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who still consider Gaza the Land of their Fathers.

Conclusion? The messianic message from Gaza at the dawn of the modern era is back in Gaza 350 years later, accompanied by tanks and Red Alerts. Learn how powerful messianism can be. Before the next round.

(Translated by Varda Spiegel)

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