Friday, November 26, 2021

From Ian:

Meir Y. Soloveichik: The 1620 Project
Four hundred years ago this month, the Mayflower set sail for the New World. On board was William Bradford, who would serve for decades as governor of Plymouth Colony and whose memoir is still the central source of knowledge about the colonists’ triumphs and travails. His grave is in Plymouth as well, an obelisk marking the spot and bearing his name. But above the engraved English words three words appear, etched in Hebrew: Adonai ezer hayai, the Lord is the help of my life. To most tourists, the Hebrew words are gibberish, but to Jews who come upon them, they are a source of fascination—and a reminder, 400 years after the Mayflower set sail, of the remarkable tale of America itself. The origin of the intriguing epitaph can be found in Nick Bunker’s fascinating book on the Pilgrims, Making Haste from Babylon. There he reveals Bradford’s fascination with Hebrew, and how, at the end of his life, he began to study what he saw as a sacred script. “I have had a longing desire,” Bradford reflected, “to see with my owne eyes, something of that most ancient language, and holy tongue … and what names were given to things, from the Creation.” With paper scarce, Bradford “copied out his exercises on blank pages at the front of the manuscript of his history of the plantation. He covered the white space with nearly 900 Hebrew words, starting with eight names for God.” Bradford’s Pilgrims, like the Puritans who would follow him, “wished to swim back up the stream of learning, and to absorb the wisdom of the Bible from as close to the source as possible.” They sought out Christian exegetes with interests similar to theirs, who “read with sympathy the rabbis of the Roman Empire, Egypt, and medieval Spain, authors whose books were preserved by the Jews of Germany or Venice.”

Bunker further reveals that Bradford’s engagement with Jewish tradition began on the Mayflower itself. One book he carried with him was a commentary on the Psalms by the Hebraist Henry Ainsworth. While Ainsworth was interested in the vastness of rabbinic tradition, he was in love with Maimonides, whom he called “the wisest of the Hebrew Rabbins.” Ainsworth cites Maimonides in explaining how Psalm 107 serves as the source for Jews to express gratitude to God after successfully crossing a wilderness or a treacherous body of water. Bradford’s brethren could certainly identify with this teaching, and his memoir, which references the words of this Psalm, recounts that upon arriving safely at Cape Cod, the Pilgrims expressed their own gratitude to the Almighty. The feast that we annually commemorate today would not come until 1621, but, as Bunker reflects: “If we could ask William Bradford to define the first Thanksgiving in America, he would point to something else. He would say that it took place at the instant of arrival, at the moment on Cape Cod when the Pilgrims fell on their knees to say the Jewish prayer.”

Bradford’s Hebraism set the stage for what would follow. The Puritans who arrived after the Mayflower were equally obsessed with the people of Israel. This was succinctly and sublimely described by George W. Bush in remarks to Israel’s Knesset: The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty. It is grounded in the shared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, the ties of the soul. When William Bradford stepped off the Mayflower in 1620, he quoted the words of Jeremiah: “Come let us declare in Zion the word of God.” The founders of my country saw a new promised land and bestowed upon their towns names like Bethlehem and New Canaan. And in time, many Americans became passionate advocates for a Jewish state.
Lyn Julius: Exodus commemoration is an antidote to denial
Professor Mohamed Aboulghar is a busy man—an obstetrician, politician and amateur historian who has published two books on the Jews of Egypt. Apparently, they are selling like hotcakes. At a recent Zoom meeting, however, his assertion that few Jews had been driven out after the 1956 Suez crisis, and that the rest had left of their own free will, provoked outrage.

Some 25,000 Jews were forced out: Dozens of Egyptian Jews could testify to having been expelled at 24 hours’ notice, or interned for months and put on a ship leaving Egypt, their property sequestered without compensation.

As the saying goes, “denial is a river in Egypt”—but denial is not confined to the Arab world. Plenty of academics and opinion-makers in the West believe that Jews and Muslims coexisted peacefully before Israel was established. Executions in Iraq? Torture in Egyptian prisons? Deadly riots in Libya? If all this was not a figment of the Jewish imagination, they say, it was “understandable backlash” for which the Zionists are ultimately to blame. (The Farhud massacre in Iraq seven years before the establishment of Israel, and the Tritl in Fez, Morocco, in 1912, are harder to explain.)

Jews who look back to their idyllic childhoods in Arab countries have themselves contributed to Exodus denial. Their golden age only lasted as long as the colonial era in the Middle East and North Africa. Arab nationalism soon marginalized and oppressed minorities. Other Jews suppress negative memories because they suffer from a kind of dhimmi syndrome, a survival strategy developed more than 14 centuries of “coexistence” that entails silence and submission.
President Herzog marks 30 November
This year, Israel President Isaac Herzog will mark 30th November, the date designated to commemorate the exodus of 850,000 Jews from Arab lands and Iran with a reception, live-streamed to a global audience and hosted jointly with Merav Cohen, minister for Social Equality, at the President’s residence in Jerusalem. After the formalities, organisations representing the different communities have been invited to join him for a tour of the residence, which was home to the President when his father Chaim Herzog was himself President.

The commemoration has a personal significance for President Isaac Herzog, as his mother Aura (nee Ambache) was a Jew from Egypt, born in Ismailia. Her sister Suzy married the great diplomat Abba Eban. The President has often mentioned that his mother’s family had fled Egypt in 1948, leaving all their possessions behind.

The Ambache family was among 11,000 Ashkenazi Jews driven out from Palestine during World War I by the Ottoman Turks, mostly because they were identified with the Turkish enemy Russia. The Palestinian Jews found refuge in Egypt. They were helped to resettle by the local Sephardi community. They joined other Ashkenazi refugees fleeing the Tsarist pogroms at the turn of the 20th century. Egypt was the only Arab country to host a Jewish community composed of both Sephardim and Ashkenazim.

The Facts Behind Israel’s Designating Six Palestinian NGO’s as Terror Groups
Recently, Israel blacklisted six Palestinian NGO’s for their connections to terrorism, accused them of funneling foreign aid to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a proscribed terror group which has murdered innocent Israelis.

Instead of lauding Israel for the move, much of the international media has issued condemnations alleging that the Jewish state was attempting to quash dissent instead of daring to defend its citizens from terror attacks.

Has Royal Court learnt nothing in the 30 years since Perdition?
January, 1987. As a young reporter at the Guardian, I’d just arrived in the office when my friend Roger Alton, the paper’s arts editor, thwacked a thick bound typescript on my desk. “Rose, you know your history,” he said (I had a degree in the subject from Oxford). “Take a look at this. I think it might be controversial.”

The typescript was Perdition, a new play written by Jim Allen and directed by Ken Loach (right), which was due to open the following week at the Royal Court, then and now London’s premier venue for new and challenging work.

As I read, I felt a deepening horror. For the play – as I wrote at the start of the article that the paper published a few days later – claimed that: “Jews, and specifically Zionist Jews, collaborated with the Nazis. They did so, the play argues, because they regarded the massacre of their co-religionists as a political necessity, which would strengthen their hand at negotiations after the war to achieve the realisation of the state of Israel.”

According to the play, Zionist leaders in Hungary, the last country to witness mass deportations to Auschwitz, in the summer of 1944, connived with none other than Adolf Eichmann in the hope of maximising the number of victims. They were, Allen said, the “Zionist knife in the Nazi fist”.

If this had been true, they would have been entirely successful. In this last, terrible spasm of the industrial phase of the Holocaust, more than half a million were murdered.

Two days after my piece was published, the Royal Court cancelled Perdition’s run, on the eve of its first preview, leaving the theatre dark for six weeks. I found myself at the centre of a vicious, ugly row, accused of being a “tool of the Zionist lobby” and worse.
Should J Street Be Welcome in Westchester?
Twenty years ago, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) were considered two of the leading organizations helping shape US policy towards Israel. In 2007, J Street emerged and promised to be the “political home of pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.”

Since its inception, J Street’s approach to “pro-Israel” advocacy has involved pressuring Israel over “the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.” The group also called the decision by Ben & Jerry’s to cease sales within “settlements on occupied Palestinian territory” a “principled decision.” In 2019, Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s president, stated that American aid to Israel is not intended to be a “blank check.”

While J Street’s annual conference in 2009 attracted over 1,500 participants, its gathering in 2019 grew to over 4,000 progressive activists, with several Democratic presidential candidates choosing to attend the J Street event over appearing at the bipartisan AIPAC annual meeting in Washington, DC. According to its website, in 2020, J Street netted an income of over 10 million dollars, and today boasts an impressive consortium of approximately “900 rabbis, cantors rabbinic and cantoral students who support J Street’s “pro-Israel, pro-peace mission.”

While it is true that the lobby’s increasing success is in part attributed to a leftward shift within the Democratic Party, its expansion could not have occurred without the backing of Jewish organizations, like the Westchester Jewish Council (WJC). Unlike the Conference of Presidents, which rejected J Street’s bid to join the Jewish umbrella group back in 2014, the WJC openly promotes J Street as one of its member organizations.

Formed in 1975 as the Westchester Jewish Conference, the WJC represents over 135 Jewish organizations ranging from prominent pro-Israel groups such as Friends of the IDF (FIDF) and AIPAC, to left-leaning lobbies like the New Israel Fund (NIF). Yet over the last several months, WJC’s endorsement of J Street sponsored events has eclipsed its promotion of other groups who are firm pro-Israel advocates.
BBC News again fails to tell the full story about extremist ‘protesters’
In this latest report too, the BBC failed to provide its audiences with a proper explanation of the group, its tactics and its political agenda which includes the following:
“We view the Israeli occupation of Palestine as starting in 1948, and coming out of a history of colonial oppression. The Israeli state is a colonial and apartheid state, and so we view the struggle for Palestinian liberation as an anti-colonial struggle.”

Neither did this report make any effort to inform readers why the people who were once again portrayed merely as ‘protesters’ had targeted and vandalised a factory that produces resin products or of the connection to a Welsh Marxist group.

“Palestine Action activists have today scaled the roof of Solvay’s Wrexham site, as part of their ongoing campaign against the suppliers of Israeli drone manufacturer Elbit Systems Ltd. The building has been sprayed with blood-red paint, symbolising the bloodshed from which Elbit and Solvay profit. Further action has involved the dismantling of factory premises, as activists look to disrupt and undermine future operations at the site. Today’s action – the first time that Palestine Action have occupied a factory in Wales – is supported by the Welsh Underground Network, a group employing community and direct action in pursuit of a socialist republic in Wales.”

Back in February we observed that:
“…just as the BBC has in the past refrained from providing relevant background concerning the aims of the BDS campaign and the agenda of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), it once again hinders audience understanding of a story by failing to provide the full range of information about the real agenda of a group whose political stunts it chooses to report.”

That particularly unhelpful editorial policy of airbrushing extremism and failing to provide relevant context obviously still applies, even while BBC clearly sees no issue with touting the slogan ‘Free Palestine’.
Dutch priest who opposed the Nazis to be made a saint
Pope Francis will canonize Titus Brandsma, a Dutch priest, academic, and journalist who was murdered in the Dachau concentration camp in 1942 for preaching against the Nazis, the Vatican said on Thursday.

Brandsma, who was a member of the Carmelite religious order and served as president of the Catholic university at Nijmegen, began speaking out against Nazi ideology before World War Two and the German invasion of the Netherlands in 1940.

During the Nazi occupation, he spoke out against anti-Jewish laws. As adviser to the Netherlands' Catholic newspapers, he urged their editors not to print Nazi propaganda.

He was arrested in 1942 and held in Dutch jails before being taken to Dachau, near Munich, where he was subjected to biological experimentation and killed by lethal injection the same year at the age of 61.

The Vatican said Francis had approved a decree attributing a miracle to the intercession of Brandsma, who was beatified – or declared 'blessed' – by Pope John Paul II in 1985.
Italian street artist battles racism by turning swastikas into cupcakes
Swastikas on the wall become giant cupcakes with purple icing, and the words "my Hitler" are transformed into "my muffins." All in a day's work for the Italian street artist who fights racism by turning nasty graffiti into food.

"I take care of my city by replacing symbols of hate with delicious things to eat," says the 39-year-old artist, whose real name is Pier Paolo Spinazze and whose professional name, Cibo, is the Italian word for food.

On a recent sunny morning, he had been alerted by one of his 363,000 Instagram followers that there were swastikas and racial slurs in a small tunnel on the outskirts of Verona.

Up he turned, wearing his signature straw hat and necklace of stuffed sausages. He took out his bag of spray paints and set to work, while cars drove by beeping.

He covered up the slurs with a bright slice of Margherita pizza and a Caprese salad – mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. A swastika was transformed into a huge red tomato. As he created the murals in the tunnel, which each took around 15 minutes, people drove by, peering out of their windows to stare and wave. One art teacher wound down her window to compliment his work.

In recent years, human rights groups have warned of growing racism in Italy following mass immigration from Africa. Fascist culture and wartime dictator Benito Mussolini still have a hard core of admirers.

As he has become a local celebrity in Verona, he has also made enemies: "Cibo sleep with the lights on!" someone spray-painted on a wall. He turned the threat into the ingredients of a gnocchi recipe.

New Exhibit on History of Jewish Communities in Arab World Opens in France
An exhibition opened to the public on Wednesday at France’s Institut Du Monde Arabe (IMA) exploring the centuries-old history of Jewish communities in the Arab world.

The exhibit, called “Eastern Jews,” takes a “chronological and thematic approach” to describe “the great times of Jewish intellectual and cultural life in the East and will reveal the prolific exchanges that have shaped the societies of the Arab-Muslim world for centuries.”

It will address how Jewish and Muslims have cohabited over centuries, “from the first links forged between the Jewish tribes of Arabia and the Prophet Mohammed to the emergence from the main figures of Jewish thought during the medieval caliphates in Baghdad, Fez, Cairo and Cordoba; from the rise of Jewish urban centers in the Maghreb and in the Ottoman Empire to the beginnings of the final exile of the Jews of the Arab world.”

Featured in the exhibit are unpublished works in a variety of formats, including archeology, manuscripts, paintings, photographs, liturgical, and audiovisual and musical installations. Items in the exhibition, which runs through March 2022, are all on loan from collections in France, England, Morocco, Israel, United States and Spain.

The IMA said it will also expand its efforts outside of the exhibit to teach people about Jewish communities in the Arab world, including a program of concerts, shows and film screenings. The museum noted that “ambitious mediation actions will be carried out for the public, in particular among the younger generations” and that “a scientific publication and conferences, in connection with the exhibition, will deepen these fascinating themes.”
The Canadian 'Falcon of Malta' who died for Israel
One of the most successful and decorated Canadian World War II "Top Guns," George Frederic' Buzz' Beurling, was born in Montreal one hundred years ago on December 6, 1921. After the war, he joined the nascent Israeli Air Force to fight in the War of Independence and was killed mysteriously in 1948: It was a lamentable end to a dazzling dream.

This is his story.

'Buzz' was, without a shadow of a doubt, among the most accomplished fighter pilots in military aviation. He was considered a "lone wolf" who spent more time mathematically calculating optimal shots from various angles and distances to maximize Spitfire ammunition than having a pint with his mates. For example, Beurling found that by shooting cannon on the approximated flight path of an enemy plane, one could attack the aircraft without straightening one's tail, utilizing a side angle. Pilots who flew with Beurling said that he would notice approaching planes before anyone else and count them. As others were unable to see what he was talking about, they thought that he was nervous or tense, but in the end, he was always accurate.

Known as "The Falcon of Malta," he and other ‘Top Guns’ played a significant role in preventing Hitler and Mussolini from occupying the island and turning the western Mediterranean into an Axis lake, thus securing the vital lines of communication for their North African campaigns. Accordingly, the dictators blockaded the strategically located island, intercepted supplies to the besieged British forces, and bombed the small island incessantly. The Germans and Italians flew over 3000 bombing raids, dropping 6,700 tons of bombs on the Grand Harbor area alone: the archipelago was largely reduced to rubble. In May 1941, Erwin Rommel warned that "Without Malta, the Axis will end by losing control of North Africa." In Churchill and Malta's War, 1939-1945, Douglas Austin argues that the Prime Minister understood that without Malta's ability to attack ships resupplying German forces in North Africa, victory in Europe would be delayed by up to a year. Victory on the shores of the burning island enabled the Allies to use it as an unsinkable carries in the subsequent invasion of Italy leading to the collapse of the Berlin-Rome Axis.

With little or no food, shortage of spare parts and fuel, Buzz and his fellow pilots fought bravely against all odds. They launched sorties after sorties, with little rest, as waves of enemy warplanes tried to force Malta into submission. Each Nazi assault was confronted and repulsed with the defiant roar of Spitfires resulting in the decimation of the Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeronautica Italiana. Those who fought the Axis were often reminded by Admiral of the Fleet, Andrew Browne Cunningham of the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 when the Ottoman Empire was defeated by the Knights Hospitaller who fought valiantly against Suleiman the Magnificent’s superior forces. 'Buzz' shot 27 Axis warplanes in two weeks in 1942 and earned another sobriquet:”Knight of the Sky.”
National Library of Israel Series Unearths Rare Hanukkah Artifacts in Eight Languages
To mark the eight days of Hanukkah, the National Library of Israel has released eight clips in eight different languages, with each featuring a rare artifact related to the Jewish holiday.

The artifacts are from the National Library’s vast collections and some of the items in the videos are appearing publicly for the first time ever.

Each clip has English subtitles and is about 2-3 minutes long. They are presented in Spanish, Italian, Polish, Hebrew, German, French, Russian and English. All the videos are already uploaded onto the National Library’s website but on each day of Hanukkah, a new clip will go up on its Facebook and Twitter pages.

The Hebrew clip showcases a recording of legendary Moroccan-Israeli performer Jo Amar singing traditional Hanukkah blessings at the official candle lighting ceremony hosted by Israel’s president in 1957.

Other items highlighted in the films include a rare printing of a Medieval French text that features what is believed to be the oldest written mention of latkes; a Hanukkah booklet prepared for Jewish German soldiers during World War I; an 18th-century “Book of Antiochus” manuscript from the Bukharian Jewish community; a rare booklet of Ladino Hanukkah verses printed around 1828 during the Ottoman Empire; a Hanukkah recipe printed in Polish and Yiddish in Warsaw right before the Holocaust; and late 19th-century Hanukkah flyers from Italy and India.

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