Beit Hatfutsot https://www.bh.org.il Museum of the Jewish People Tue, 18 Jun 2019 09:09:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.2 https://www.bh.org.il/wp-content/uploads/cropped-favicon-512-32x32.png Beit Hatfutsot https://www.bh.org.il 32 32 Watch: My Family Story 24th Anniversary Celebration https://www.bh.org.il/news-and-events/my-family-story-24th-anniversary-celebration/ Sun, 16 Jun 2019 07:09:37 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=42827 The final event of this international Jewish heritage competition includes 200 Jewish institutions, 30 countries and more than 20,000 young participants. The 50 finalists and their families will attend the exhibition opening in memory of Manuel Hirsch Grosskopf at The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot in Tel Aviv, Israel. The Koret international [...]

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The final event of this international Jewish heritage competition includes 200 Jewish institutions, 30 countries and more than 20,000 young participants. The 50 finalists and their families will attend the exhibition opening in memory of Manuel Hirsch Grosskopf at The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot in Tel Aviv, Israel.

The Koret international School for Jewish Peoplehood at The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot is proud to host finalists from around the globe and their families at an exhibit opening showcasing their family stories.  Youth from North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia, South Africa, Australia and Israel took part in the My Family Story International Competition in Memory of Manuel Hirsch Grosskopf.

Watch:

My Family Story, one of Beit Hatfutsot’s most innovative programs, inspires and educates students from diverse nationalities and Jewish backgrounds on cultivating their own family histories. Through a yearlong curriculum, rigorous research and inspiring creativity, the students produce a final project illustrating their personal exploration into their family roots and connection to the greater story of the Jewish people. Final projects include films, art pieces, comics, board games, and more. While every student, family and community goes on their own personal journey, they are part of the greater movement of tens of thousands of other students simultaneously embarking on parallel journeys.

Through an international competition, 50 outstanding finalists are selected and awarded a free ticket to Israel to see their pieces displayed in front of thousands of visitors at Beit Hatfutsot. The winning displays are featured in The My Family Story exhibit, opening on June 16th, 2019. In the two-day event at for finalists, students meet with their peers from Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Canada, Cuba, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, Mexico, Panama, Russia, South Africa, United Kingdom, Ukraine, USA, Venezuela and more to share their own stories and hear from others.

Photo: Nir Shaanani

Irina Nevzlin with the Grosskopf family (photo: Nir Shaanani)

Photo: Nir Shaanani

Photo: Nir Shaanani

 

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Pride and Prejudice: The Jewish Doctor who fought for LGBT rights over a century ago https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/pride-and-prejudice-the-jewish-doctor-who-fought-for-lgbt-rights-over-a-century-ago/ Wed, 12 Jun 2019 15:16:38 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=42799 Pride Month, and its celebration of the many ways to love and be loved, is a result of years of activism and advocacy on the part of LGBTQ+ people and their allies, particularly starting in the 1960s. But before the dawn of the 20th century one German Jewish doctor and sexologist, Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, became [...]

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Pride Month, and its celebration of the many ways to love and be loved, is a result of years of activism and advocacy on the part of LGBTQ+ people and their allies, particularly starting in the 1960s. But before the dawn of the 20th century one German Jewish doctor and sexologist, Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, became a pioneer for LGBTQ+ rights, paving the way for the world to recognize the existence and legal rights of individuals regardless of their sexual orientation.

Hirschfeld was born in 1868 Kolberg (now Kolobrzeg) Poland and eventually moved to Germany in order to earn his doctoral degree. After moving to Berlin in 1896 and establishing a practice there, Hirschfeld embarked on a remarkably productive career in both the study of sexuality and advocating for the rights of sexual minorities.

Magnus Hirschfeld 1929 (Wellcome Imgaes, wikimedia)

For Hirschfeld, this was a matter of life and death, after treating a number of patients who attempted or eventually committed suicide because of their sexuality; later, in 1919, he would even write a film, Different from the Others (Anders als die Andern) and even had a small role in which he urges a man not to commit suicide after his lover does. Additionally, this activism was also personal; Hirschfield’s own sexuality was an open secret, and he lived with his two life partners, Karl Giese, and Li Shiu Tong.

In 1897, Hirschfeld co-founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, which is considered to be the first organization promoting for gay and transgender rights. Hirschfeld and the other founders of the committee hoped that a more scientific understanding of homosexuality would eventually lead the public to reject homophobia. In addition to conducting scientific research, the Committee worked to decriminalize homosexual relationships between men in Germany; one petition to repeal the criminal law against male homosexuality garnered thousands of signatures, including Albert Einstein.

Karl Giese and Magnus Hirschfeld. Photo from archive of Magnus-Hirschfeld-Gesellschaft. http://www.magnus-hirschfeld.de

Over the course of his research and activism, Hirschfeld made a number of pronouncements that proved him to be someone who was very ahead of his time. He determined that there were categories beyond “male” or “female,” which he referred to as “sexual intermediaries,” which included transgender people, and people who were gay, lesbian, or bisexual, making him one of the first to acknowledge the existence of gender-nonconforming people and variations of human sexuality.

Hirschfield also believed that gay rights and women’s rights were closely linked, and also advocated for contraception, access to abortion, and premarital sex and argued against policies dictating that female teachers and civil servants could not be married or have children. In 1919, during the more liberal years of the Weimar Republic, Hirschfeld co-founded the Institute of Sexual research, which provided medical and educational services to thousands of annual visitors, and also employed and gave medical treatment to transgender people.

“Anders als die andern” 1919 poster

As a Jew, a gay man, and a prominent proponent of LGBTQ+ rights, Hirschfeld was always a target for German nationalists and was even beaten and left seriously injured in 1920. After the Nazis came to power in 1933, Hirschfeld became even more of a target. The Institute for Sexual Science was stormed by Nazi university students, who beat staff, damaged the property, and shouted “burn Hirschfeld!”; books were later removed from the library for a book-burning event. The Institute was forced to close. Hirschfeld, who was abroad on a speaking tour, never returned to Berlin; he eventually moved to France, where he died in 1935.

Although Hirschfeld did not live to see it, many of his ideas ultimately moved from the fringes to the mainstream. As we celebrate Pride Month, we should also make sure to remember the Jewish doctor from Berlin who helped pave the way for its existence, and who dedicated his life to the idea that, as he put it, “love is as varied as people are.”

Students organized by the Nazi party parade in front of the building of the Institute for Sexual Research in Berlin prior to pillaging it on May 6, 1933 ( United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, wikipedia)

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Marcus-mobile: The Jewish genius who invented the car and was erased by the Nazis https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/marcus-mobile-jewish-genius-invented-car-erased-nazis/ Wed, 05 Jun 2019 08:53:31 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=42728 Peugeot, Citroen, Ford, Honda, Ferrari, Bentley, Renault. Before these brands became megacorps employing hundreds of thousands, they were flesh-and-blood people. Armand, Andre, Henry, Soichiro, Enzo, Walter, and Louis – the visionary engineers, inventors, and industrialists who entered the Industrial Revolution’s pantheon – are etched in human memory as masters who changed our lives forever. And [...]

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Peugeot, Citroen, Ford, Honda, Ferrari, Bentley, Renault. Before these brands became megacorps employing hundreds of thousands, they were flesh-and-blood people. Armand, Andre, Henry, Soichiro, Enzo, Walter, and Louis – the visionary engineers, inventors, and industrialists who entered the Industrial Revolution’s pantheon – are etched in human memory as masters who changed our lives forever.

And there’s one more. In fact, two. Mercedes Benz. And before they morphed into a car, they were Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler. For those who are wondering where the “Mercedes” came from: Daimler’s first client, a seasoned businessman named Emil Jellinek, made his purchase of the company’s first cars conditional upon naming them after his daughter Mercedes.

A group of Jewish friends in their car, on an outing. Austria 1919. (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Dana Bush-Kaury, Israel)

I visited the Mercedes-Benz Museum last month on a family trip to Stuttgart. The museum’s four floors are housed in a massive, polished, and gleaming glass building. A thickly carpeted iron bridge carries visitors through models of the first Mercedes motorcars, Daimler’s vintage-1895 bicycle, the first Benz truck produced in 1912 and the 1954 iconic 300sl to the modern-day E Class and Smart Cars.

Suddenly, we hear a loud noise that draws visitors to a large gallery. A towering woman with a classically Aryan appearance stands on a platform in the gallery’s center, sheathed in an aluminum lamé uniform and sporting a polite smile that threatens to explode. The noise that grew louder as we approached resembled the grunting of a horse scaling a mountain and occasionally kicking tin. Pushed to the back of the gathering crowd, we finally discovered the source of the noise: A tireless belt doggedly turning a tremendous flywheel. The uniformed woman introduced us to, “The first gas engine in history produced in 1885 by Karl Benz.”

Is that so?

Siegfried Marcus 1831-1898

Siegfried Marcus 1831-1898

Siegfried Marcus was born in 1831 in a tiny town that now lies in northern Germany. His parents Rosa and Lippman, leaders of the town’s Jewish community, discovered when their son was still very young that he – unlike other mortals – very rarely thought inside the box. The rest of the time, a constant lightning strike of neurons in his brain sparked primal inventions.

Siegfried became an apprentice in the town’s mechanics factory when he was 12. Three years later and with his father’s blessing, he moved to Berlin to train in the factory established by a certain Ernst Siemens. In 1851, when he was only 20, he earned Germany’s government prize for inventions in the telegraph field. One year later, he moved to Austria to work in the Royal Institute of Physics and the Royal Institute of Geology.

First Marcus Car of 1870

First Marcus Car of 1870

Marcus was a one-man patents office. During his life, he worked on many projects in the fields of mechanics, electronics, lighting, ultra-mechanics, and the development of artillery employing electric ignition. As many as 131 patents were registered in his name. The collection included eclectic inventions: Light bulbs, triggers for underwater mines, a printing instrument, a whale-hunting knife, a distributor and carburetor for an internal combustion engine, and more.

As significant and original as these inventions were, they were nothing compared to Marcus’s opus vitae. In 1870 (some say as early as 1867), the ingenious inventor installed a gas-fueled internal combustion engine in a simple hand wagon. Marcus was able to ride the makeshift vehicle for 15 minutes before seemingly alarmed local police arrested what appeared to be an approaching alien. That feat made him the first man in history to drive a fuel-powered vehicle.

Second Marcus Car of 1888

Second Marcus Car of 1888

In 1887, Marcus began to collaborate with the Märky, Bromovsky & Schulz motor company. That collaboration gave rise to what would be called the “Marcuswagen.” People were finally knocking on the scatterbrained genius’s door. The automobile was displayed in the Technisches Museum Wien (Vienna’s museum of technology) and ASME (the American Society of Mechanical Engineers) officially recognized him as the vehicle’s inventor.

Chalk it up to poor marketing or the typical distractibility of geniuses: Marcus failed to register the invention of the motorcar as a patent. Go figure. The man who did that was Karl Benz, who upgraded Marcus’s motored carriage to a real motorcar with a cooling system, brakes, a stable frame, and everything necessary to drive longer distances. That would eventually become the first Mercedes-Benz.

There is no evidence that Karl Benz – a gifted and creative engineer in his own right – intentionally stole the patent. The emergence of technological inventions relies on immeasurable layers of previous knowledge. And as Newton put it, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” The question here is who stood on whose shoulders?

Siegfried Marcus died in 1898 and was buried with honors in Vienna’s Central Cemetery. The Jewish genius went calmly to his grave. During those days, all the official bodies charged with shaping memory recognized him as the first man to start up a gas-powered vehicle. And then the Nazis came.

Leah- Alizah Pikbeski next to her fancy car. Cairo, Egypt 1920 (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Gila Hershkovitz, Israel)

Leah- Alizah Pikbeski next to her fancy car. Cairo, Egypt 1920 (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Gila Hershkovitz, Israel)

The German ministry of propaganda published an official document in July 1940 that opened “In honor of the General Administration of the Daimler Benz Company.” It is a fascinating glimpse into the Nazi propaganda machine’s “Ministry of Truth”:

“Re: The real inventor of the motorcar.

In response to your letter of May 1940, the Institute of Bibliography and the publisher F.A. Brockhaus received an announcement that in the future the Brockhaus Große I Meyers Konversations Lexikon encyclopedia will attribute the invention of the modern automobile to two German engineers, Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz, and not to Siegfried Marcus.”

When the Nazis annexed Austria, Marcus’s statue was removed from the façade of Vienna’s Technisches Museum and the model of the first motorcar that he developed, the Marcuswagen, disappeared. But that was not enough to satisfy the Nazi propaganda machine. Marcus’s grave was later desecrated and destroyed. Thus, the Jewish genius’s brainchild was erased with one document.

Attempts were made to right this injustice when the war ended. Vehicle historians took pains to cite his contribution, his statue was returned to the Technisches Museum, and a model of the first motorcar was gloriously displayed in the museum’s façade.

But does that matter? Has anyone but the avid readers of car magazines ever heard of Siegfried Marcus? The damage is done and Marcus has gone lost on the horizon of memory along with his motorcar. You don’t believe it? Ask the uniformed woman in the Mercedes factory.

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Beit Hatfutsot Awarded the Access Israel Accessibility Prize for Offering Robotic Guided Remote Tours https://www.bh.org.il/news-and-events/beit-hatfutsot-awarded-access-israel-accessibility-prize-offering-guided-remote-tours-using-robot/ Thu, 30 May 2019 07:03:56 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=42555 For the first time in Israel: The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot is proud to present a state-of-the-art tool: The C U ROBOT. As part of the Museum’s focus on accessibility through the use of innovative technologies, Beit Hatfutsot has launched a new robot tour that was developed specifically for Beit Hatfutsot. [...]

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For the first time in Israel: The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot is proud to present a state-of-the-art tool: The C U ROBOT. As part of the Museum’s focus on accessibility through the use of innovative technologies, Beit Hatfutsot has launched a new robot tour that was developed specifically for Beit Hatfutsot. This tour will allow thousands of people with disabilities and special needs who are unable to visit the Museum in person to experience a full guided tour from the comfort of their homes. This robot is the first of its kind in Israel, and one of the only ones in use in museums around the world.

Earlier this week, Beit Hatfutsot won the Simcha Lustig Award at the Access Israel’s 7th Annual International Conference 2019 for its robot tours. This award is given to projects that advance accessibility in Israel, and improve the lives of people with disabilities and help them better integrate into society. The C U ROBOT program at Beit Hatfutsot was awarded this prize for being “a trailblazer, [an] original product that encourages the improved accessibility and quality of life for people with special needs in Israel; a device that gives hope to many people with disabilities around the world and offers [them] a chance to enjoy exhibitions in the museum; [and] a product that is also a model for other institutes to follow.” Hagay Kraus, the Online Director of the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot received the reward from Yuval Wagner, the President and Founder of Access Israel, and Adv. Michal Rimon, the CEO of Access Israel.

Photo: Guy Tayeb

Photo: Guy Tayeb

Dan Tadmor, the CEO of Beit Hatfutsot, emphasized Beit Hatfutsot’s commitment to accessibility: “Our slogan is “You Are Part of the Story,” which applies to all of the Jewish people, including those with disabilities and special needs. The new robot is one of many new ideas that make Beit Hatfutsot a leader when it comes to accessibility.”

Visitors who take the robot tour enjoy a private guided tour with a guide who has been specially trained to use this new technology. During the tour, visitors can see the guide and the exhibitions via 3 cameras that allow for a 360-degree view of the Museum. Visitors can also fully control the robot’s movements, and communicate directly with their guide, as if they were physically in the Museum

This award is the culmination of months of hard work developing these unique tours. Beit Hatfutsot will shortly begin offering this service to visitors in Israel and abroad.

Watch the official launch video for the C U ROBOT:

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Mucho más que una sección de consejos: la historia de “A Bintel Brief”. https://www.bh.org.il/noticias-en-espanol/mucho-mas-que-una-seccion-de-consejos-la-historia-de-bintel-brief/ Tue, 28 May 2019 12:23:26 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=42530   “Me adhiero a todos aquellos que alaban a “A Bintel Brief”, a través del cual se pueden manifestar quienes tienen “un secreto o algo que pesa sobre sus conciencias”. “Mi hermana y yo somos revolucionarios rusos y seculares, pero nuestros padres se empeñan en que realicemos un casamiento religioso – ¿qué tenemos que hacer?”. [...]

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“Me adhiero a todos aquellos que alaban a “A Bintel Brief”, a través del cual se pueden manifestar quienes tienen “un secreto o algo que pesa sobre sus conciencias”.

“Mi hermana y yo somos revolucionarios rusos y seculares, pero nuestros padres se empeñan en que realicemos un casamiento religioso – ¿qué tenemos que hacer?”. “¿Tengo que casarme con una mujer que tiene un hoyuelo en la barbilla, si todos dicen que mujeres con un hoyuelo en la barbilla enviudarán  del primer marido?”. “Fui un exitoso hombre de negocios en Varsovia, pero en América, los negocios no prosperan, ¿me conviene volver a Varsovia?”.

Estos son algunos ejemplos del contenido de cientos de cartas que se publicaron en el diario idish “Forverts” (Adelante), en la sección de consejos “A Bintel Brief” (“Un Fajo de Cartas”). “Forverts” se fundó en Nueva York en el año 1897, por socialistas que hablaban el idish, y rápidamente se transformó en el diario con el mayor número de emisiones en Manhattan entre todos los idiomas, con una número récord de 275.000 lectores, antes de que América cerrara sus puertas a la inmigración de judíos. Abraham Cahan, el editor mitológico del diario, comenzó a escribir en la sección de consejos en el año 1906, y en poco tiempo se convirtió en la sección más popular del diario. Grupos de amigos y familias enteras se reunían para discutir sobre los contenidos de las cartas y las respuestas del editor. Sobre una de las cartas, enviada por un joven que preguntaba si debía casarse con una mujer que él no amaba, llegó al diario una carta respuesta escrita por un grupo compuesto por nada menos que de 68 mujeres, que se reunieron en el parque para discernir sobre el tema.

A Bintal Brief”, era más que simplemente una diversión. Para un judío de Europa Oriental que pretendía integrarse a la sociedad y crear una nueva vida en América, la sección era prácticamente una tabla de salvación. Ningún tema era tabú: amor y sexo; política; religión y más. Las cartas dirigidas a la sección reflejaban historias personales y únicas para cada uno y una de los remitentes pero, a la vez, se referían también a temas universales, eternos – historias de inmigración, absorción y crisis cultural; diferencias generacionales y conflictos familiares; problemas económicos y la tensión constante entre el viejo y el nuevo mundo. Para los inmigrantes que hablaban idish, y que en lo cotidiano no gozaban de mucho poder, la sección era el lugar en el cual podían expresarse y conseguir una pizca de control. Por ejemplo, en una breve carta de 1906, cuenta el remitente, un niño de 13 años que trabajaba en un taller, que por llegar atrasado en diez minutos le rebajan el sueldo, miserable de por sí. Este inmigrante, que luchaba para terminar el mes, no veía la posibilidad de protestar ante sus patrones, pero por lo menos tenía la oportunidad de escribir en la sección y descargar allí su rabia.

Fachada del edificio donde funcionó el diario “Forverts”, en Lower East Side, Nueva York, EEUU, 1981. Foto: Albin A. Shangold. Beit Hatfutsot, Centro de Documentación Visual Oster, por gentileza de Albin A. Shangold.

Fachada del edificio donde funcionó el diario “Forverts”, en Lower East Side, Nueva York, EEUU, 1981. Foto: Albin A. Shangold. Beit Hatfutsot, Centro de Documentación Visual Oster, por gentileza de Albin A. Shangold.

 

Parte de las cartas reflejan historias personales e íntimas de personas que vivenciaron episodios históricos traumáticos. Una mujer, que sobrevivió a un pogrom en Kishinev, a principios del siglo veinte, escribió preguntando si debe contarle a su novio que fue sexualmente atacada durante el pogrom. Otra persona, cuenta que estaba seguro que su mujer y sus hijos fueron asesinados durante el pogrom. Se casó con otra mujer y tuvieron un hijo. Descubrió luego que su primera mujer vivía aún en Rusia. Escribió a la sección preguntando qué es lo debe hacer. Llegaron cartas de sobrevivientes y familiares de las víctimas del gran incendio que se produjo en la fábrica de camisas Triangle, en 1911, en el cual perecieron 147 mujeres, la mayoría de ellas, inmigrantes. Las sobrevivientes escribieron sobre el terror que vivenciaron cuando vieron a sus compañeras morir quemadas, y los familiares describieron el luto y el dolor, y también sobre la lucha para sobrevivir económicamente después que perdieron de forma tan trágica el sostén de la familia.

El diario aprovechó la sección “A Bintel Brief”, también como un vocero ideológico, en protesta a la desigualdad imperante, que obligaba a tantas personas, sólo para poder sustentarse, a dedicarse a trabajos pesados y humillantes, e incluso a sufrir de abusos por parte de los empleadores. La sección apoyaba la concesión del derecho a voto a las mujeres, de la igualdad de derechos a los afroamericanos y de respeto mutuo entre los judíos religiosos y laicos; cada judío que viva de acuerdo a sus principios. Era realmente más que una sección de consejos – era el lugar en el cual los judíos podían descargar los problemas que los acongojaban, y creer en un futuro mejor y más justo, que soñaban con concretarlo en América.

La Rabina Rajel Druck, es la Directora de las Fundaciones y Proyectos Internacionales del Museo del Pueblo Judío en el Beit Hatfutsot.

Traducción: Kalman Gabay

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More than an Advice Column: A Bintel Brief https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/advice-column-bintel-brief/ Mon, 27 May 2019 12:36:36 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=42357 “My girlfriend and I are Russian revolutionists and freethinkers, but our parents want us to have a religious wedding—what should we do?” “Should I marry a woman with a dimple in her chin, when everyone says that people with dimples in their chins will lose their first husband or wife?” “I was a prosperous businessman [...]

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“My girlfriend and I are Russian revolutionists and freethinkers, but our parents want us to have a religious wedding—what should we do?”

“Should I marry a woman with a dimple in her chin, when everyone says that people with dimples in their chins will lose their first husband or wife?”

“I was a prosperous businessman in Warsaw, but I have not managed to succeed in America; should I go back to Warsaw?”

These are just some of the hundreds of questions printed by the Yiddish newspaper Forverts (פֿאָרווערטס‎) in its advice column, A Bintel Brief (אַ בינטל בריוו, A Bundle of Letters). The Forverts was established in New York City in 1897 by Yiddish-speaking socialists, and quickly became the most popular and widely-read newspaper—in any language—in Manhattan, eventually reaching a circulation peak of more than 275,000 before America closed its doors to Jewish immigrants. Abraham Cahan, the paper’s legendary editor, began the column in 1906, and it soon became one of the most popular sections of the newspaper, with friends and families gathering to debate the letters and the editor’s responses; for instance, one letter, from a young man asking whether he should marry a woman he did not love, prompted a response from a group of 68 people who had met in the park to discuss the question.

The famous building of the daily 'Forward', New York 1981 Lower East Side, photo: Alvin A. Shangold. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Alvin A. Shangold

The famous building of the daily ‘Forward’, New York 1981 Lower East Side, photo: Alvin A. Shangold. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Alvin A. Shangold

A Bintel Brief was more than entertainment; it served as a lifeline for Eastern European Jews who were trying to acclimate to their new lives in America. No topic was taboo: from love and sex, to politics, to religion the letters to A Bintel Brief tell both the unique and individual stories of each letter writer, as well as universal and timeless stories about immigration and acculturation; generation gaps and family conflicts; economic worries; and the ever-present, simultaneous pulls of the Old World and the New. A Bintel Brief was a place for Yiddish-speaking immigrants, who had so little power in their everyday lives, to express themselves and take control of their own stories. For example, one short letter from 1906 simply describes how a 13-year-old boy who worked with the writer in a Lower East Side sweatshop was docked pay (from an already meager salary) for arriving 10 minutes late. As a working immigrant struggling to make ends meet, the letter writer could not say anything to his bosses. What he could do, however, was write to A Bintel Brief and register his anger somewhere, at least.

Some letters provide intimate and personal stories from people who had experienced traumatic historical events. One woman who survived the Kishinev pogrom at the beginning of the 20th century wrote to ask whether she should tell her fiancé that she had been sexually assaulted during the pogrom. Another man, thinking that his wife and children had been killed during the pogroms married another woman and had a child with her, only to discover that his first wife was, in fact, alive in Russia, and wrote to A Bintel Brief asking what to do. Letters were sent from survivors and family members of victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the 1911 fire that left 147, mostly immigrant women, dead. Survivors wrote about their terror and seeing their friends burn to death, while family members of victims described their sorrow, and their struggles to make ends meet after having suddenly and violently lost a much-needed source of income.

A Bintel Brief became another platform for the paper to advocate for its ideology, railing against the inequality that forced so many people to subject themselves to all kinds of abuse and work themselves to the bone in order to live. The column advocated for women’s enfranchisement, equal rights for African Americans, and for religious Jews and “freethinkers” to live according to their beliefs, while respecting each other. More than an advice column, it was a place Jews could unburden themselves, and believe in the better, more equal future that they hoped to find in America.

Rabbi Rachel Druck is the Manager of International Foundations and Projects at the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot.

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The Avenger: The Jewish watchmaker who killed a Ukrainian despot https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/avenger-jewish-watchmaker-killed-ukrainian-despot/ Thu, 23 May 2019 10:27:14 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=42331 “Behind me stand hundreds of thousands of saints, a camp full of tortured victims staring silently at you and demanding justice. Not mercy – only justice. I stand before you here with them, with all my heart and soul.” If those lines sound familiar to you, you have a healthy grasp of history.  These words [...]

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“Behind me stand hundreds of thousands of saints, a camp full of tortured victims staring silently at you and demanding justice. Not mercy – only justice. I stand before you here with them, with all my heart and soul.” If those lines sound familiar to you, you have a healthy grasp of history.  These words taken from the closing argument in Sholom Schwarzbard’s trial in 1927 are remarkably similar to Gideon Hausner’s opening speech in the Eichmann trial – a speech that rocked the nation and is eternally etched in Israel’s national awareness.

Did Hausner’s preparation for the trial of his life include a search for inspiration in the protocols of the Schwarzbard trial that took place in Paris 34 years prior to Eichmann’s? That is not an unreasonable assumption. There is a deep affinity between the Eichmann and Schwarzbard trials. Both showcase trials addressed the bloody aftermath of mass murder of Jews. One focused on the horrors of the Holocaust, the other on the Ukrainian pogroms during the Russian civil war. The effect on the nation in both trials made the personal roles of defendants Eichmann and Schwarzbard utterly irrelevant.

But there was a significant difference between the two cases. The defendant in the Eichmann trial was the architect of the Final Solution, a monster disguised as a man – while the defendant on the stand in the Schwarzbard trial was a humble Jewish watchmaker who took the life of Szymon Petliura to avenge the acts of yet another despot who rose up against the Jews.

The Schwartzbard court trial Paris Oct 1927. Sholom Schwartzbard speech in the court. Below him, Henri Torrès, his attorney

The story began in 1917, at the end of World War I. Civil war erupted in Russia between the White forces loyal to the czar and the Bolshevik Reds. Petliura – who served during that period as the head of the Ukrainian cabinet allied with the Whites – marked the Jews as Reds, ordering and bolstering hundreds of pogroms against Jews in Ukraine. An estimated 1400 pogroms took place in Ukraine in the years 1918-1921, most of them in 1919 during Petliura’s term. There were an estimated 100,000 casualties.

That 10% of the murdered were children made these pogroms particularly devastating. Among other gut-wrenching acts, the rioters raped women and children, grandmothers and their granddaughters, dragged Jews through the snow, amputated limbs, burned houses with the Jews locked inside, and ripped unborn children from their mothers’ wombs.

Twelve members of Sholom Schwarzbard’s family were among the murdered. He was born in Ukraine, served in the French Foreign Legion during World War 1, and settled in Paris at the end of the war, where he worked as a watchmaker. When Schwarzbard discovered that Petliura was granted asylum in Paris after the war, he decided that he would personally see to it that Petliura’s days were numbered.

Sholom Schwartzbard (1886 – 1938). Assassin Of Ukrainian politician Symon Petliura

Petliura left a restaurant on the Boulevard Saint-Michel in Paris’s Latin Quarter at 2-3 pm on May 25, 1926, 93 years ago this week. Schwarzbard was stalking him.

A few meters down the road, Schwarzbard asked, “Mr. Petliura?”

“Yes,” replied the Ukrainian war criminal.

Schwarzbard drew a pistol and shot him at close range. “This is for Proskurov!” he shouted, “And for Berdichev! And Uman! And Chersky! Murderer! This is for the massacres, the pogroms!”

After the first five shots, when Petliura was lying in a pool of blood on the sidewalk, Schwarzbard aimed his pistol down the sidewalk and fired twice. According to Uri Katzir’s article, “Five Shots on Racine Street,” Schwarzbard knew his arrest was imminent, and he wanted a bullet to leave his gun at the moment of his arrest. When the first policeman arrived at the site of the assassination, Schwarzbard handed over his gun and said, “I have killed a great assassin.” A witness at the scene said that Schwarzbard’s face was not that of a murderer “but of a man who had fulfilled his dream.”

The judge granted both sides 18 months to gather evidence. Thousands of Jews from around the world volunteered to help Schwarzbard and money collected quickly to hire a top-notch attorney in his defense, Henri Torres – who was symbolically the grandson of Alfred Dreyfus’s defender. The trial opened in October 1927, grabbing unprecedented and resounding public attention. That Schwarzbard was a decorated World War 1 hero awarded a French medal for bravery earned him broad public support. Petliura, on the other hand, was considered by the French to be a loathed murderer, who exploited lax immigration laws to seek asylum in France.

Symon Petlura, 1917

But the real game-changer was Henri Torres’s genius legal acrobatics. He succeeded in turning the deliberation from that in a common murder trial to a harsh indictment of the Ukrainian leadership led by Szymon Petliura. Like Hausner – who used the showcase Eichmann trial to present for the first time the first-hand testimony of Holocaust survivors – Torres called witnesses to the stand who had survived Petliura’s pogroms. They were the first to present an unfiltered account of the carnage. Among the witnesses was Leo Motzkin, head of the Zionist movement, who emotively recalled in a quivering voice his experiences as a child in the pogroms. There was utter silence during Motzkin’s testimony and not a dry eye in the house.

Motzkin’s statements were supported by historian Victor Tcherikover’s detailed documentation of the horrors. Tcherikover quoted Petliura’s responses to a Jewish delegation that requested that he order an end to the riots. “I can’t do a thing,” said Petliura. “The riots strengthen discipline among my ranks.”

At the end of the trial, the jury unanimously acquitted Schwarzbard. The news spread quickly throughout the Jewish world, rousing an enthusiastic outburst. Parades and spontaneous celebrations took place throughout Europe’s cities and towns. The news also traveled to Israel, where the city of Tel Aviv expressed unbridled joy. The Ukraine restaurant on Geula Street changed its name to “Schwarzbard,” and workers in the Keter shoe factory in Rishon Letzion stopped work to dance for joy.

After the trial, Schwarzbard became a national hero and he has been called “The Avenger” ever since. He died in South Africa in 1938, and in 1968, his bones were brought to Israel for burial in accordance with his wishes.

Like many other fine figures, Schwarzbard fell prey to Israel’s national Alzheimer’s. Years later, his name and heroic story nearly vanished from Israel’s memory. Szymon Petliura, on the other hand, has become a national hero in his motherland Ukraine. Don’t look for justice. You won’t find it in this case.

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Beit Hatfutsot at the IAC Celebrate Israel Festival in Los Angeles https://www.bh.org.il/news-and-events/beit-hatfutsot-at-the-iac-celebrate-israel-festival-in-los-angeles/ Tue, 21 May 2019 12:53:42 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=42257 “Gibborim: Trailblazers of the Jewish People” from Beit Hatfutsot was the leading event for kids and families at the IAC Celebrate Israel Festival in Los Angeles this past Sunday, May 19. Hundreds of families jammed out to Jewish singers like Dana International and Bob Dylan, created works of art a la Marc Chagall, jumped in [...]

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“Gibborim: Trailblazers of the Jewish People” from Beit Hatfutsot was the leading event for kids and families at the IAC Celebrate Israel Festival in Los Angeles this past Sunday, May 19.

Hundreds of families jammed out to Jewish singers like Dana International and Bob Dylan, created works of art a la Marc Chagall, jumped in the seat of a fighter plane like Lydia Litvak, and answered some of life’s great questions, posed by philosophers like Rambam, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud.

Israeli and American families alike were excited for this mobile gallery’s first appearance at the Celebrate Israel Festival, some of whom recognized it from the beloved gallery at Beit Hatfutsot in Tel Aviv.

Netta, mother of Roi (9) and Kobi (5) said, “My kids were in shock to find out all of these people were Jewish. It totally changed their perspective; they need to know about this Jewish culture and our influence in the world.”

Michal, mother of David (10), Yael (6), and Aviad (5), brought her family to the Yom Haatmazut Celebration to stay connected to their Israeli roots. “We came for the feeling of Am Yisrael– Jewish Peoplehood. My kids were so engaged and excited in this gallery. It’s a great way of teaching them.”

Discovering new gibborim wasn’t just for kids. “Even I learned about new people I didn’t know about before”, Said Maya, mother to Tal (11) and Harel (6), “The Celebrate Israel Festival is an annual event for our family. It was great that this year they could also come away from it with this excitement about our people.”

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The Name Is Levin, Alter Levin: A Poet, an Insurance Agent – but Mainly a Spy https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/name-levin-alter-levin-poet-insurance-agent-mainly-spy/ Mon, 20 May 2019 10:29:46 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=42247 Long before the Israeli Mossad became the best espionage organization in the world, Jewish spies in Israel stripped off and donned disguises, crossed enemy lines and brought back quality intelligence – intelligence that did not come under the heading of “the public’s right to know.” Among the most important, least well known and most forgotten [...]

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Long before the Israeli Mossad became the best espionage organization in the world, Jewish spies in Israel stripped off and donned disguises, crossed enemy lines and brought back quality intelligence – intelligence that did not come under the heading of “the public’s right to know.” Among the most important, least well known and most forgotten of them was one whose life and activities nonetheless surpassed all imagination. The bohemian Jerusalem businessman, Israel’s leading insurance agent and a poet, was also among the leaders of one of Israel’s largest World-War-I era spy networks.

Alter Levin was born in Minsk in 1883 to a religious family, who made aliya to Palestine and settled in Jerusalem when he was two. His father Morris, a man of means, devoted himself to his son’s education and provided him with tutors in all subjects including science, literature, art and languages. As a youth, after studying in Rabbi Haim Yehoshua Kosovki’s Etz Haim Yeshiva, he joined his father’s business and became the head of the Jerusalem branch of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. He went on to become Israel’s leading insurance agent and open the “Alter Levin General, Life, Disaster, and Fire Insurance Office.”

Praying at the Western Wall. postcard. Jerusalem, Eretz Israel, 1920's. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Philip Cohen, England

Praying at the Western Wall. postcard. Jerusalem, Eretz Israel, 1920’s. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Philip Cohen, England

The office of the man local papers dubbed “the Insurance King” was located in Jerusalem’s Jaffa Street Sensor Building. It was considered one of the poshest offices in the Middle East, and at its height, employed seven workers and dozens of agents. Levin adopted cutting edge marketing strategies, and marked the homes of clients with signs called “fire signals.” His company represented dozens of American and French clients, including artist Nahum Gutman, who paid him in paintings. Half a century went by before Levin’s grandson, Mordechai Munin, reopened the agency under the name “El-Ad,” which is still operating in Jerusalem.

But Levin did not only view the world through the hole of Israel’s iconic “grush” penny. He blended the seemingly contradictory material and spiritual, publishing poems in Havatzelet, Hapoel Hatzair, and Haaretz under the name “Assaf Halevi, a Man of Jerusalem.” An anthology of his poems, “Megillat Kedem,” which reveals a naïve love of Jerusalem’s landscapes and characters, earned broad praise from critics including the celebrated Rachel (Bluwstein) the Poet.

Pleasing and fascinating as these anecdotes are, Levin’s legacy is etched in his great contribution as a spy and underground agent during World War I. Professor Eliezer Tauber righted a historic wrong in exposing this affair in 1991, 60 years after Levin’s death. Tauber uncovered a diary that proved to be that of Aziz (Akyurek) Bey, the director of the Ottoman 4th Army’s Security Service. Bey wrote in his diary that Levin’s business acumen enabled him to form ties with key figures in the highest ranks of the Turkish government. In time, his colorful personality, fluent Arabic and adoption of Turkish attire and customs endeared him to Djemal Pasha, the Ottoman governor of Syria and the Land of Israel. Levin became Pasha’s right-hand man and official aide, a role that gave him access to the Ottoman Empire’s deepest secrets.

Life insurance ad by Alter Levin in "Doar HaYom" edited by Itamar Ben Avi, December 28, 1919

Life insurance ad by Alter Levin in “Doar HaYom” edited by Itamar Ben Avi, December 28, 1919

Aziz noted that when World War I erupted, Levin played a central role in reporting strategy and tactics to British intelligence. Levin used his insurance agent story as a cover and his Jewish employees as spies on behalf of the British. When Levin’s insurance agents visited the homes and military and government institutions of Turkish dignitaries to sell them insurance policies, they collected information about the army’s movements, the dignitaries’ social and financial status, and prevailing winds in Ottoman society.

Aziz Bey cites Levin as a key player in bringing down the Ottoman Empire. He stresses the intelligence that Levin provided to the British regarding the Ottoman campaign to conquer the Suez Canal, believing that to be the central reason for the campaign’s failure. Nothing less.

Jewish prostitutes placed by Levin in Jerusalem’s many brothels during that period were vital to his spy network. When German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman officers encountered, played cards, and drank and ate with the women in these brothels, they shared their adventures and achievements on the battle field. Prominent among these spies was Lydia Murdoch Simanovich. She revealed in police investigations, after she was detained in a raid, that she was in Levin’s employ.

Her disclosure forced Levin into hiding in the home of Halil A-Schahini, his close friend and Arabic teacher. The Ottoman police cornered Levin after surveillance on his mother-in-law found her bringing Levin food in A-Schahini’s home so that he could continue to keep Kosher. Levin was immediately arrested, handcuffed an brought to trial in Damascus, where he was sentenced to death. He expressed a last wish for a “cigarette.” By miracle or palm-greasing, his sentence was reduced and after a year in prison, he was freed to return to Jerusalem following a prisoner exchange.  In Israel, Levin returned to thriving in business and mainly in insurance. The man who customarily introduced himself as “the King of Life and Death,” built a luxe home in Jerusalem’s new Romema neighborhood, where he housed his collection of over 200 works of art. He eventually bought the home of Jerusalem’s acclaimed ophthalmologist, Dr. Abraham Ticho.

A portrait of Asaf HaLevi (Alter Isaac Levin), by photographer Halil Ra'ad, Jerusalem, January 1929 (The National Library, Schwadron collection, creative commons

A portrait of Asaf HaLevi (Alter Isaac Levin), by photographer Halil Ra’ad, Jerusalem, January 1929 (The National Library, Schwadron collection, creative commons

Levin’s death was not surprisingly tragic: On Sukkot Eve in 1933, he was found hanging from a palm tree in the yard of his Romema home. There was no suicide note or letter of explanation and the mystery has yet to be solved.

The question is why every schoolkid in Israel knows the legendary and broadly documented story of the Nili spy network and its heroes, Sara and Aharon Aharonson, who spied on behalf of Israel during the same period – while Levin’s spy network is relegated to the shadows of forgotten history. Levin’s story could shed light on others. Take the ZZW Jewish Military Union in Poland and their leader Pawel Frenkel, whose memories have nearly vanished from Israel’s national memory despite their critical part in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Why did Mordechai Anielevicz’s Jewish Fighting Organization get all the glory in that rebellion – while people like Hillel Kook and Ben Hecht, who saved thousands of Jews from the claws of the Nazis claws in the Holocaust, remain anonymous to most Israelis? It turns out that in Alter Levin’s case as well, if you want to make history you had better be in the right camp of history’s agents.

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Beit Hatfutsot’s Capsule Exhibit on Vintage Jewish Fashion – in Los Angeles https://www.bh.org.il/news-and-events/beit-hatfutsots-capsule-exhibit-vintage-jewish-fashion-los-angeles/ Tue, 14 May 2019 10:53:01 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=42127 In the coming three months, Beit Hatfutsot’s Capsule Exhibit on Vintage Jewish Fashion will be displayed in six branches of the Los Angeles Public Library; in the Jewish Libraries Association conference; and in the Jewish American University. The images in the exhibit all belong to the Oster Visual Documentation Center at Beit Hatfutsot. Curator: Yaara Litwin [...]

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In the coming three months, Beit Hatfutsot’s Capsule Exhibit on Vintage Jewish Fashion will be displayed in six branches of the Los Angeles Public Library; in the Jewish Libraries Association conference; and in the Jewish American University.

The images in the exhibit all belong to the Oster Visual Documentation Center at Beit Hatfutsot.

Curator: Yaara Litwin | Designer and illustrator: Neta Harel

 

 

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