Major Projects

Students choose a major topic of Jewish learning in any aspect of Jewish history and culture that engages their interest and they want to explore in depth.

Contents

The Meaning of Life by Camila Grunberg June 25, 2016
Ravens’s Guide to Growing Up as a Humanistic Jew by Raven Kaplan-Karlick May 21, 2016
Kreplach by Simon G. May 14, 2016
Klezmer: A Story of a People, Their Music, and Perseverance by Safia Singer-Pomerantz April 30, 2016
Jewish Stand-up Comedians Throughout the Eras by Julian Gerber January 9, 2016
Fiddler On The Roof and Tradition by Maya Mondlak Reuveni October 3, 2015
The Simpsons Sophia Singer September 27, 2015
Judy Chicago: Artist, Educator, and Feminist by Sofstreiia Wilson May 9, 2015
Jews and Department Stores by Liana Hitts April 26, 2014
Summer Camp: A Personal and Objective History by Austin Shatz November 22, 2014
Jewish Chicken Farmers by Benjamin Bottner October 11, 2014
Fresh Air, Healthy Food and an Escape from the City: The Story of Jewish-American Summer Camps by Andre Schoolman May 10, 2014
Jews & Chocolate by Liliana Franklin April 27, 2014
A Legacy: Jews on Broadway by Samantha Streit April 5, 2014
You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me: Decoding Jewish Humor by Julian Keifetz October 13, 2013
Gertrude Berg by Jolie Elins October 12, 2013
Comparison of Greek and Old Testament Mythology by Caleb Klein September 29, 2013
Tisha B’av, The Shabbat of Comfort and the Importance of Remembering by Anna Young September 22, 2013
How Soccer Builds Bridges by Alex Botwin September 21, 2013
Bread by Jordan Hallerman June 30, 2013
Becoming A Jew: Learning You’re Jewish Later in Life by Mazel Kaplan Karlick June 22, 2013
Hiding in Plain Sight by Adrianna Keller Wyman June 15, 2013
Back in Black and Fashion Forward by Yelena Keller Wyman June 15, 2013
Going Forward Looking Back: How the Biblical Miriam, Judith and Rachel Hold Lessons for Me Today by Georgia Dahill-Fuchel June 9, 2013
Merchant of Venice: Shakespeare, Judaism and Me by Leila Silberstein May 18, 2013
The Jews of Ireland by James Ryan October 22, 2011
The Mighty Fortress of Masada by Sam Botwin October 15, 2011
The Shofar, What it Means to Me by Murray Rosenbaum May 14, 2011
Iconic Jewish Deli Foods by Kaela Walker April 30, 2011
A Light in the Dark Ages-Peace Among Religions During the Golden Age of Spain by Mattori Birnbaum October 23, 2010
Holy Carp: Fish, Judaism and Me by Jack Cohen October 2, 2010 (PowerPoint Presentation)
My Torah Portion: A Story Among Others by Nicky Young June 13, 2010
Is it Really Kosher? by Arielle Silver-Willner May 15, 2010
The Jews of Morocco by Alicia Blum May 8, 2010
The Golem of the Ghetto: An Original Story by Isaac Mann January 17, 2010
Tradition! Broadway Composers and their Jewish Identity by Ryan Kramer December 5, 2009
A Personal Synthesis: The Whole is More than the Sum of Its Parts by Emily Dyke October 25, 2009
Some Thoughts on the Images and Stereotypes of Jews in Film by Daniel Segan June 6, 2009
From the Ten Commandments to the Four Noble Truths: American Jews and Buddhism by Jonah Lieberman Flint May 16, 2009
The Flood, the Holocaust and 9/11 by Sophie Silverstein May 9, 2009
Berlin, Boycotts and the Politics of Sports by Gabe Zimmerman December 20, 2008
Judaism and the Death Penalty: A humanistic perspective (PowerPoint) by Ethan Bogard September 13, 2008
Jewish Cowboys and Eskimos: The Search for a Jewish Homeland by Alex Rawitz February 23, 2008
New York Jewish Delis: A Photographic Essay by Jonah Garnick December 1, 2007
GREEN: The New Color of Caring by Sabrina Frank June 16, 2007
Stereotypes in Jewish Humor by Sam Lewis June 9, 2007
Religious Food Rules and Ethical Treatment of Animals by Ben Farber May 12, 2007
Children’s Art and Poetry at Terezin by Abigail Cheskis April 28, 2007
What’s the Standard? by Kyra Zimmerman November 18, 2006
The Lilith Myth by Danielle Nourok October 21, 2006
Why Jews Were A Major Ally of African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement by Benjamin Weitz September 9, 2006
You Want I Should Make Research? Yiddish Syntax in the English Language by Anschel Schaffer-Cohen June 3, 2006
A Purposeful Life: Tzedakah and the Philanthropy of the Rothschilds by Abigail Lienhard Cohen November 12, 2005
Freedom and Oppression in the Arts by Liana Segan (October 29, 2005)
Noah and the Flood Myths by Jason Cheskis (April 2, 2005)


“The Meaning of Life” by Camila Grunberg
June 25, 2016

The meaning of life, where do I begin? As I picked this topic, I decided to start my research by asking my family and friends what their opinions were. But first, I asked Siri: “what is the meaning of life?” Her response was, “I don’t know. But I think there is an app for that.” This was the moment when I realized that finding the meaning of life was not going to be easy.

The next day, when I went to school, I asked my friends and classmates what the meaning of life was from their perspective. Many answered right away, quick answers consisting mostly of becoming wealthy and famous, while others decided to text me their answers later because they had to think about it. I loved arriving home and turning on my cell phone to see all the replies I had gotten from my friends. The wording of each one was unique; however, there were common themes that remained present throughout the texts. Some of these common themes included determination, perseverance, trying your best, remaining true to yourself, and also enjoying life and what it has to offer. I enjoyed having conversations about this topic with my friends, as they were not the typical conversations that take place among middle schoolers.

After that, I googled the meaning of life. To my surprise, I got 1.2 billion results! And I checked Amazon. Close to 200,000 results came up. Then I realized just how many people had already attempted to answer this question, including my own grandfather, Saul, when at eighteen he set out to find the meaning of life with a group of friends.

During my initial meeting with Rabbi Peter, he suggested that I look into the difference between a person’s meaning of life and his or her purpose in life. While doing research, I came across the following formula: Your legacy equals the meaning you ascribe to your life, multiplied by the purpose you decide to pursue, to the power of your passion, divided by the number of distractions and the impact you let them have on you. While thinking about this formula, I came to realize that it would not only yield a different result for each person, but possibly also for each person at different times throughout that person’s life.

[Legacy = (Meaning x Purpose)ˆ(passion)]/Distractions

I further found that a “purpose” is a belief that something or someone has a reason for being, and that “meaning” is the value or values that are assigned to that belief. For example, the purpose of a piece of art may be for its creator to earn money in order to buy food to feed his family. Once that piece of art is displayed in a gallery or museum, each person seeing the piece of art may interpret its “meaning” differently according to his or her own life experiences.

Purpose therefore is “objective,” and “meaning” is subjective. “Purpose” does not have to be known in order to exist. For example, a person can find a watch and not know what it does – however it still has a purpose. Meaning does have to be known in order to exist. Meaning is what we place on an object, what it means to each one of us. For example, if that same person received the watch as a present from someone special, receiving the watch from that special person is its very meaning.

When I conducted research about the meaning of life as interpreted by various religions, I found that most sources used the terms meaning and purpose interchangeably. While studying the 4,000 year old ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian societies, I found it interesting that there were groups of people around the world who held more or less the same beliefs about the meaning of life, and how best to live one’s life, as we do today. These civilizations believed that the meaning of life consisted of being kind, generous, respectful, and fair to others; getting a good education in order to find a good job; and, taking life seriously by living it consciously to achieve success and happiness.

When I studied Christian ideology, I learned that according to Christianity, God created humans so we could have a relationship with God. This is why God created a universe fit for human life, and laid down guidelines for how to live our lives. Faith in God and in Jesus is right at the heart of the Christian conception of the meaning of life, and dictates the way to achieve fulfillment.

Similarly, in Islam, the object of human life is to believe in one God and do good in this world, in order to eventually meet with the Creator in the hereafter. This life is a preparation for the hereafter – or ‘Eternal Home’ – to which all human beings ultimately go. As such, Muslims are required to observe righteousness in their daily life, based on teachings from the Koran.

When I explored Paganism, I learned that it is a somewhat vague term to designate an eclectic group of people without one single specific and common religion. Most of them have more than one deity and tend to be nature oriented. There is no consensus on the exact practice of the pagan lifestyle, however honor and virtue are often present in pagan traditions. The expression of such values takes different forms within the various cultures that comprise Paganism.

Harmony and balance are not abstract philosophical concepts for traditional Native Americans, but rather they are formulas for daily living. According to the Native Americans, the practice of harmony and balance is simply something that human beings should do in daily life, and its meaning is found while living in tune with nature’s cycles.

Buddhist teachings are concerned with leading an ethical life, analyzing one’s existence to find meaning in it, developing an inner peace through meditation, as well as experiencing boundless compassion and love for others.

The meaning of life for Hinduism comprises: acting virtuously and righteously; repaying the debt human beings owe to the Gods, parents, teachers, guests, other human beings and all other living beings; the pursuit of wealth and prosperity in life, without stepping outside moral and ethical grounds; obtaining enjoyment from life; and enlightenment.

Judaism focuses on this world and this life, and not some future world or world to come. Traditional Jewish philosophy emphasizes that by making the world a better place God is not affected, but the individual and society benefit. Judaism includes among its fundamental values the pursuit of justice, compassion, peace, kindness, hard work, prosperity, humility, and education.

Humanistic Judaism offers a nontheistic alternative in contemporary Jewish life. On the City Congregation website there is a statement that reads:

”Humanistic Judaism is a secular Jewish denomination that celebrates the centrality of human judgment and human power from a uniquely Jewish perspective. As humanists we believe that reason, rather than faith, is the source of truth, and that human intelligence and experience are capable of guiding our lives.”

Humanistic Judaism focuses on the cultural and historical experience of the Jewish people. It provides a structure for humanistic and secular Jews to celebrate their Jewish identity by participating in Jewish holidays and lifecycle events (such as weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs) with inspirational ceremonies that draw upon, but go beyond traditional literature.

The following is a quote about the purpose of life according to Humanistic Judaism from the Shabbat service that our congregation uses:

”We believe that the purpose of life is bringing about justice and human dignity.

Some people believe that the purpose of life is personal happiness. Striving for pleasure, even at the expense of others, becomes the goal.

Some people believe that the purpose of life is getting ahead. The ends justify the means and it doesn’t matter who gets hurt in the process.

Still others believe that the purpose of life is obedience to a deity. Not questioning is a virtue and the offer of an afterlife is the remedy for the hardships of this life.

We believe that the purpose of life is in enabling people to live in freedom with autonomy and choice.

We believe that the purpose of life is making the most of the lives we have each and every day.”

Judaism has often been described as a religion of deed, not creed. This observation applies to Humanistic and traditional Jews alike. Observing religious practices and doing acts of social justice are much more important than embracing specific beliefs. The meaning of life and the purpose of life are achieved not by what we say or confess but by how we act and how we behave.

There are countless songs throughout time and different countries addressing the meaning of life, including songs by Beethoven, The Beatles, Celia Cruz, and Andy Grammer; references in TV shows like Que Pasa USA and Girl Meets World, as well as Broadway shows like Lion King, Finding Neverland and Fiddler on the Roof. In the world of art, The Thinker by Rodin is an expression of someone who reflects upon the meaning of life, and Mattisse’s Icarus conveys a space to wonder about the meaning of life.

I believe that the meaning of life is not a static concept; it varies from one person to another, throughout a person’s life, at different times in history and across geographies. It is defined by internal factors, such as personality and how we process life experiences, as well as by external factors, such as the time and place where we live.

I also learned that even though the meaning of life varies from one person to another, and from time to time within a person’s life, there are universal principles that have withstood the test of time, from the ancient civilizations through today, such as kindness, generosity, respect, being fair, awareness, tolerance and compassion.

Every person has the opportunity to find meaning in each moment, and do the best we can to build a positive life with what we are given. It all translates into every day life, by how we understand each moment or experience and making the best choices that we can.

I would like to end my presentation with a quote from the psychologist Eric Fromm:

“There is only one meaning of life: the act of living itself.”


“Raven’s Guide to Growing Up as a Humanistic Jew” by Raven Kaplan-Karlick
May 21, 2016

In this paper, I’m going to explore how I define myself as a Humanistic Jew, and how being raised and living my life as a Humanistic Jew has presented me with challenges, opportunities, and rewards.

In my elementary school in Brooklyn, I was the only Jewish kid in my grade. I felt like an outsider. Most of the kids in my school were Protestant and Catholic. There was one Muslim girl. In third grade, a girl named Emi, who is half-Jewish, enrolled in the school.

I still continued to feel like an outsider, because other than Emi, no one understood what I was talking about when I discussed being Jewish. For instance, Hanukah was the only Jewish holiday that the other kids knew anything at all about. They thought it was “Jewish Christmas.”  I tried to explain that Hanukah pertained to the oppression and survival of the Jewish people, but no one seemed to understand.

The kids also expected me to be able to explain the meanings of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Purim, and how they were celebrated. I was very little, and barely understood what the holidays were, myself. I really didn’t understand why other kids didn’t know what the Jewish holidays were, since I understood the basic ideas of Christmas and Easter. I struggled to explain the little I knew, and I’m sure I didn’t do a great job. That didn’t make me feel very good.

The kids back then used to ask me “what kind of Jew” I was. I was very honest. I said I didn’t believe in God. They asked me why I didn’t believe in God. I explained, “I believe in human values. You don’t need a God. You don’t need to ask someone in the sky for help. How can one supernatural being help people all over the planet, anyway? We need to help ourselves.” The kids told me I was “going to Hell.” I wasn’t scared, because I didn’t believe in Hell, but I was very, very hurt.

When I started middle school in Manhattan, half of my grade was Jewish. There were 60 plus kids in my grade, so all of a sudden I was around a lot of other Jews! That was amazing to me, and I expected to feel more at home and less awkward. But the Jewish kids were even less accepting of my brand of Judaism than the non-Jewish kids in Brooklyn had been. They felt that believing in God is one of the main points of being Jewish, and that if I didn’t, then I wasn’t really Jewish. One girl said, “Isn’t the very essence of being Jewish believing in God?” I was really taken aback. No one had ever asked me that before.

I described my humanistic values to them (the same values I discuss in my Family Values paper), such as the importance of education, compassion, and courage. I told them that these values, plus my deep connection to Jewish history, art, and culture, which I was learning about in City Congregation’s KidSchool and from my parents, are what make me Jewish. I told them that I believe that, “If you identify as a Jew, you are Jewish.”

I also told the other kids that I thought it was fine that they believed in God and I didn’t, and that I hoped they could be as tolerant of me as I was of them. But they insisted I wasn’t “technically” a Jew. I tried not to let them bother me, since by then I had one friend who was a secular Jew, and a few others who, while being religious, were also tolerant and open-minded. I understood by then that Humanistic Jews do not represent the majority of Jews, and that I’m going to have to learn to be comfortable with this as I grow up.

I decided to send out a questionnaire to explore how some of the Humanistic Jews I know handle the sorts of issues that I’ve been confronting since I was a little girl.

The first question I asked was, “Were you brought up as a secular Jew?”

Jakob Shonbrun-Siege, who’s been attending KidSchool since he was very little, replied, “ It’s been interesting. I like fitting in somewhere as part of a group. But sometimes it’s hard to explain our ‘reform-ness’ to my more traditional peers who don’t understand our secularism.”

Susan Ryan, a very active member of our congregation, said, “My family belonged to a Conservative shul when I was a child, but my parents were never religious, and although my brother and I attended Hebrew School, I can’t recall my parents ever going to synagogue themselves. The only time I recall seeing my father in shul was at my brother’s Bar Mitzvah. Although it was not ‘official,’ I’ve been a secular Jew all my life. I’m pretty sure if my family had known about Humanistic Judaism back then, we’d have tried to find a community to join, but there was no such thing at that time.”

The second question I asked was, “What does being a secular Jew mean to you?”

Twenty-two-year old Ben Sternhell, a college senior at CityTech, said, “I’m secular the way I’m a liberal Democrat. It just seems obvious to me that there is no God. It’s the way I see the world. It fits with all my core values. I’m Jewish because that’s my culture, my inheritance. It’s part of who I am. If I weren’t Jewish, I would still be secular; if I weren’t secular, I would still be Jewish.”

Alma Kastan, a very close friend of mine, said, “To me, it means celebrating Jewish holidays, mostly. Passover is my favorite holiday. It brings up Jewish values for me, such as spending time with my whole family. I also love finding the Afikoman.”

The third question I asked was, “Has anyone told you that you’re ‘not really Jewish,’ or a bad Jew,’ because you don’t believe in God?”

Oren Schweitzer, our Rabbi’s son and a 9th grader, said, “People have said that I’m not really Jewish because I don’t believe in God, to which I reply that Judaism isn’t just religion, but it is culture and the way one gets brought up and how one lives their life and although I may not believe in God, I am still Jewish and I connect with Judaism.”

Janice Eidus, my Bat Mitzvah mentor, said, “I’m a writer, and I once gave a lecture at a Jewish organization in Pennsylvania. I spoke about being both a humanist and a Jew. After my talk, a very angry man came over to me and said that there was no such thing as a ‘cultural Jew.’ I told him that he was looking at one.”

The fourth question I asked was, “In what ways do you feel connected to Jews who do believe in God, and in what ways do you feel different from them?”
Ilana Gruebel, my sister’s Bat Mitzvah mentor, said, “I feel different from them mainly when I attend traditional services conducted in Hebrew, which I assume most congregants don’t understand, and the repeated references to God. I feel connected to them because of the holidays and cultural traditions that we share and the songs where I often know the melodies and words from my youth.”

The fifth question I asked was, “Have you ever been picked on for something other than being a secular Jew? Have you seen other people – kids or adults – being picked on for something other than being a secular Jew? If yes, how did you handle the situation?”

Mia Shonbrun-Siege, a Park Slope neighbor, said, “I’ve been picked on a few times for my height and body size, which doesn’t feel good.”

Oren Schweitzer said, “Not too often because I’m fortunate to grow up in an accepting community.”

My final question was, “Can you offer advice to secular Jews who may have to deal with people who are not nice to them about being a secular Jew?”

Ben Sternhell responded, “It depends on who the mean people are.  Are they Jewish themselves?  Believers from some other religion?  Just standard anti-Semites who don’t like any variety of Jews?  And then—are they people you care about, or random strangers? If they’re people I care about, they shouldn’t be attacking me for my beliefs.  In that case, I’d try to explain what I think—but I’m not really interested in a big argument.  It can be fun to discuss/argue these issues, but if the other person really is being ‘not nice’ about our disagreement, then I probably wouldn’t bother.  If they’re anti-Semites, I’d just walk away.  If they’re believing Jews who dislike that I’m secular, I’d engage to a point. But I realize that neither of us will change our positions.  My advice would be, don’t even bother discussing this with people you don’t care about.  If you do care, make your best case for what you believe—in my opinion, our case is very strong! But don’t let anyone insult you.  It helps to know that secular Judaism has a long history and that many important thinkers share our views.”

I was very stimulated by the thoughtful, generous answers to my questionnaire. They helped me to realize that I’m not alone in having to deal with sometimes feeling “different” from others as a Humanistic Jew. I then turned to the words of Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the late founder of Humanistic Judaism, whose beliefs about believing in what is real, as opposed to what is “supernatural” and unable to be proven, were often controversial. I figured that he would have good advice for me about how to stay strong in my beliefs as a Humanistic Jew in a world that may not always welcome such beliefs.  

Rabbi Wine said, “Realistic living is the courage to acknowledge the truth, even when it is painful. It is the courage to strive for happiness, even when it is unlikely. It is the courage to make necessary decisions, even when there is uncertainty. It is the courage to improve the world, even in the face of overwhelming defeat. It is especially the courage to take both the blame and the credit, even when they are embarrassing. Realistic living is the courage to stay sane in a crazy world. The sun requires no courage to rise in the morning, to shine in the day, to die in the evening. But we, living, breathing, passionate people, we do.”

I’ve learned a great deal through writing this paper. Among other things, I’ve explored my feelings more deeply about being a Humanistic Jew. And, I’ve learned how others feel and think about their own experiences.

One thing that I’ve learned – and made peace with – is that I seem to be the kind of person who gets picked on a lot. I always have been, since I was little, and I may always be. I’ve been picked on for being a Humanistic Jew, and for having a limited diet. I’ve also been picked on because I speak up about what I feel, which makes some people uncomfortable. The more deeply I explore my feelings about this, and the more I listen to others, I realize that I have to live my life as I choose to live it, whether everyone approves or not.

I would offer this advice to others, as well: Live your life as you wish to. And that may include having a set of beliefs that’s unusual in your school or neighborhood, such as being a Humanistic Jew. Remember that you need not take to heart the opinions of those who aren’t tolerant and open-minded. As a humanist and a Jew, I try to see the good in everyone, and hope that others will do the same.
         
  I will end with a beautiful poem written by Rabbi Wine that sums up my “Guide To Growing Up As A Humanistic Jew”:

“Where is my light? My light is in me.
“Where is my hope? My hope is in me.
“Where is my strength? My strength is in me – and in you.”


“Kreplach” by Simon G.
May 14, 2016

In the canon of Jewish humor, the “kreplach joke” stands out as a classic. A mother is worried because her young son has a panic attack whenever he is presented with the Jewish version of dumplings known as kreplach. She consults a psychiatrist who advises that she desensitize her son by having him make kreplach with her, breaking it down to small, tolerable steps. All is well until the final product emerges when, alas, the boy once again runs out of the room screaming. Fortunately, I’m not that kind of kid……

Ever since I was very young I have loved trying new and interesting foods. I like trying out new restaurants and my mom, who is an amazing cook, has exposed me to many different kinds of food. So when it came time to decide what I wanted to write about for my major project the first thing I thought about was Jewish food. I have always enjoyed a lot of traditional Ashkenazi Jewish foods like matzo ball soup and blintzes, as well as Jewish deli foods, such as a bialy with smoked fish. Ashkenazi food comes from the Jews of Eastern Europe and differs quite a bit from Sephardic Jewish dishes such as hummus and falafel which come from the Jews of the Mediterranean and Middle East.

Ashkenazi food seemed like it was too broad of a topic and I had to consolidate my ideas into something focused. So I looked at a lot of different, cross-cultural foods and explored their Jewish versions. One of these was the dumpling.

I really enjoy Chinese dumplings. At first I only ate them at restaurants, but one day we cooked them ourselves at home. I learned that making dumplings takes a lot of time, but the process is interesting. Since it’s a lot of work you tend to do it as a family. There is already a tradition of making pierogis, an Eastern European dumpling, in my family. My grandmother Donna, whose family is from Poland, continues this tradition. I have made pierogies with my grandma and her uncle on a couple of occasions. Even my bisabuela who I recently visited in Argentina makes empanadas, which are not quite dumplings, but the concept – stuffed food – is similar. I was curious if there was a Jewish version of dumplings. With the help of my parents, a few cookbooks, and Rabbi Peter, I found out that there is a Jewish dumpling. It’s called the kreplach. But I had never eaten one.

I decided to make this Jewish dumpling the subject of my research. In this paper you will learn the history of kreplach. Where are they from? How and why are they served? Were there any interesting facts I could find out about them? I decided to explore how they are prepared – and of course how they taste – by trying out kreplach from various restaurants around the city, as well as by making my own.

For those of you who don’t know, a kreplach is a type of Jewish dumpling. It is somewhat similar to the pierogi, in the sense that it has thick dough, and in some instances they can look similar. Kreplach originated from the Jews of Eastern Europe, and were first seen around the close of the thirteenth century. Kreplach were generally made with meat leftovers wrapped inside dough. Some people describe kreplach as “peasant food” and its use of leftovers may reflect the difficult economic conditions for Jews in Eastern Europe at that time. In addition to meat, other varieties of filling can include cheese and fruit. Kreplach were traditionally served on Hoshana Rabbah, which is the seventh night of Soo-kot; on Purim; on Kol Nee-drey, the eve of Yom Kippur; and was also served on other special occasions. But of course, as with most foods, they were also eaten outside of these particular dates.

Kreplach symbolize different things for these holidays. For Yom Kippur and Ho-sha-na Ra-bbah, the dough symbolizes mercy and kindness. And, though I think it is a bit of stretch, some people think that the kreplach dumpling, which often has three points, symbolizes the three patriarchs of Judaism – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – as well as the three parts of the Jewish bible: Torah or “teaching”, Nev-ee-eeim or “prophets”, and Ke-tu-vim or “writings.” In addition to this, one of the more Purim-related symbolic ideas is that the three-pointed kreplach symbolizes Haman’s three-pointed hat.

For me the hardest part of this paper was researching the history of kreplach. There is some debate about various aspects of its background, especially its name. Some historians think the name comes from medieval Latin terms such as crespa or pastry which the French turned into krepish, which is dough baked around meat from a bird, which then became kreplach. Some people think that the name kreplach evolved from the initials of the various celebrations where kreplach was served; with “K” for Kippur as in Yom Kippur, “R” for Rabbah as in Hoshana Rabbah, and “P” for Purim.

There is also some debate about the origin of the kreplach. From my research I found that kreplach started to be served in the Middle Ages. One theory is that the kreplach was created based on the tortelli and other Italian stuffed pastas, and as the Jews moved northeast they adapted these Italian dishes to the area around them, made more meat fillings, and eventually named them kreplach. Another theory from the late 1200s is that kreplach are loosely based on the French krepish. Kreplach in soup didn’t evolve until the early 17th century and was baked or fried beforehand. In this theory, krepish evolved into kreplach in a similar way to how pasta, a noodle dish, was eventually adapted into kugel. Yet another theory has kreplach originating from Asian dumplings brought to Europe by the Tar Tar invaders when they conquered large parts of Eastern Europe (part of the Mongol Empire) in the late 1200s to early 1300s. I think that it is very likely that more than one of these different European and Asian dishes had a role in some part of the creation of the kreplach. It is also worth pointing out that the variety of stories about where kreplach come from and what influenced the dish’s creation also tells us about the diaspora and all the different places that Jews lived.

When searching around New York City for a specific type of food, even if it’s something unusual or ethnic, it usually isn’t that hard to find it. This rule applied for kreplach. I found plenty of places around the city that served them including the Second Avenue Deli and Sarge’s Deli.

The first place I tried kreplach was at the Second Avenue Deli located in Murray Hill. The menu offers everything, from towering triple-decker sandwiches to pastrami salmon; I found kreplach under the category of “Traditional Favorites,” and to my surprise, under “Soups.” Since most of my expectations about kreplach were based on pierogis, which I have had many times, I did not expect them to ever be served in soup. This intrigued me, so I ordered them that way instead of just getting them fried. When the soup came another surprise about the kreplach was their size. I found them to be about as large as pierogi (which is pretty big for a dumpling). I expected them to be slightly smaller. But when I tasted my first kreplach, I was glad that it was so large, because it was delicious. I enjoyed the texture of the meat filling, which was very smooth and not even a little bit chunky. There was also an interesting spiced flavor. The dough was very good as well: it was dense, but not too chewy, with an interesting taste almost like buckwheat flour.

The other kreplach I sampled was at Sarge’s Deli in midtown. Sarge’s was a similar experience to Second Avenue Deli, serving very large portions of food and including a side of coleslaw and pickles with everything. Here I found the same options as at the Second Avenue Deli: fried with onions or boiled in soup. This time I decided to try fried kreplach and when they came, their size was enormous, almost the size of small blintz, and they were covered in fried onions. These weren’t as rich or as flavorful as kreplach in soup. The texture was similar, but it was slightly more dry. The dough was much thicker than Second Avenue Deli’s, and it didn’t have the buckwheat flour taste. But it still tasted just as good.

After trying kreplach at these two different places I moved on to my favorite part of this project, which was making my own. I had already paged through many of my mom’s cookbooks looking for interesting Jewish foods even before I chose kreplach as the focus of my project. Once I’d decided on kreplach, I went with my mom to the library to check out even more books for research. After looking through many recipes and consulting with my parents and grandmother, I chose to use a recipe from The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home as my starting point. Of course I decided to make my kreplach with soup. Luckily for me I wasn’t going into this without any experience, as I had made both pierogi and Chinese dumplings many times. I knew about making dough, as well as how to put in the filling and fold up a dumpling, which can be tricky. I also knew a good deal about making meat fillings from making Chinese dumplings. Conveniently for me, my grandmother was also coming to visit from Massachusetts, and she could give me some tips based on her years of experience making pierogis.

Since we were making kreplach after school, my grandmother insisted on making them over the course of two days. We would make the meat filling the night before, and then make the dough and cook the kreplach the following night. I thought we would have enough time to do it all at once, but I decided to go with my grandmother’s idea to be safe. And I was quite thankful for that, because it took a long time to make the filling.

As I said before, kreplach were originally made with leftover meat, so I wasn’t surprised to find that when making the kreplach, I first had to slow cook the meat – a brisket – and then turn it into filling. We cut the brisket into chunks and cooked it in a Dutch oven with the spices including garlic, thyme, parsley, pepper, and a little bit of finely chopped carrot. The meat was supposed to soften so that it could be pulled apart to be made into the filling. But unluckily, after three hours of cooking, the brisket wasn’t falling apart as the recipe said it would. In the end, by around 7:00 p.m., we decided to simply put the meat into the food processor, even though I feared it would chop the meat to the point where it would become mush. To my surprise, the chopped result looked just like the fillings at Sarge’s and the Second Avenue Deli.

Then it was time to make the dough. That part was fairly simple, though we were even more unprepared for the dough than we were for the filling. The ingredients for the dough were pretty basic: two eggs, some water, salt, and flour. Surprisingly nothing else was needed. My grandmother pointed out that this dough was very different than the dough for pierogi, which is softer than that for kreplach, due to pierogi dough including butter. After we mixed the ingredients, we let the dough sit for twenty minutes under plastic and then started making it into the wrappers. We looked at the recipe and found out that the dough needed to be put through a pasta-making machine to flatten it due to how tough it was to flatten by hand. If it wasn’t for my mom’s heavy marble rolling pin and a tall stool providing additional leverage by pressing from above, I wouldn’t have been able to flatten it down to the required thinness. Even with those adaptations it still took a long time to roll out the dough. After that, it was a matter of cutting out wrappers into squares to fold up into triangles (which was fairly easy), measuring the kreplach meat, and using flour and water and a lot of pinching of the dough to keep the meat in the wrapper without it breaking apart. In the meantime we prepared a chicken soup and boiled the uncooked kreplach in the soup.

Finally making the kreplach was complete. Everyone enjoyed the kreplach, especially my dad who ate a lot and kept repeating that they were “so good.” I myself enjoyed them. They tasted very similar to the ones at Second Avenue Deli. The kreplach definitely tasted different than the pieorgi I had made a few times with my grandmother as both the dough and the fillings are quite different.

Between discovering, researching, tasting, and making kreplach I learned just how much one simple food could mean both historically and culturally. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that kreplach are better or worse than other dumplings, like pierogi or even wontons, which I like having with vinegary dipping sauce. Different cultures have their own cooking traditions and through this project I was able to learn more about mine.

In the future, I think that kreplach will be a good new way to use up leftover roasts in our house, though I think we will also end up just making them on their own. As I mentioned before we have made dumplings together many times before in my family and through this project I learned about how to do it in a new way that ties me to Jewish culture.


“Klezmer: A Story of a People, Their Music, and Perseverance ” by Safia Singer-Pomerantz
April 30, 2016

Music is one of the most important things in my life. Through it I express my feelings, carry a soundtrack for my days, and understand stories being told. The distinctive wailing of a clarinet or the notes of a violin as it sings, are particular sounds that have come to symbolize much more than just the notes of a celebration. In the context of daily life they are beautiful, yet in the setting of a Jewish wedding or Bat Mitzvah, they take on enhanced meaning. These are the sounds that have gotten under my skin and have called me to come closer and take in the sights, soul, and culture of not only the music, but also of our people who have played and evolved with the notes and their cadences. As I researched the topic of klezmer music for my major project, a few questions kept coming to the forefront which I hope to answer: What is klezmer both culturally and musically, how was it almost lost, how was it revived, and how is the story of klezmer a metaphor for Jewish survival?

The term klezmer comes from the Hebrew words klei meaning “vessel” and zemer meaning “song” – literally meaning “vessel of song.” This was the Yiddish word by which the musical instruments and later musicians themselves were known in Eastern Europe among Askenazi Jews. The term “klezmer music” was first used in the 1970s to describe the traditional instrumental music of the Yiddish-speaking people of this area. Today, klezmer has a unique and recognizable sound and is heard and enjoyed around the world. It conjures a wide range of emotions from joy to despair, and from meditation to celebration. Here is a blended example of two pieces that represent these emotions. (MUSIC: 1) However, klezmer began on a much smaller scale, as part of an insular culture in Eastern Europe, and it nearly died out after World War II. The story of its survival and its renewal during the 1970s in the United States and Europe, serve as metaphors for the endurance of the Jewish spirit and the adaptability of a people who, like many others, have migrated across continents to rediscover their identities.

Jewish culture has always retained a special place for music, both in religious and nonreligious settings. After the destruction of the second temple the Jews were plunged into mourning and rabbis discouraged the use of musical instruments except for the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. This changed starting in the 13th century when early oral descriptions of klezmer music and musicians are found. During this time, Jewish weddings were enlivened by a master of ceremonies, a badkhn, who would function as a jester, satirist, and singer. The badkhn would work with the band to create an enjoyable party, much like an MC at a Bat Mitzvah or wedding today. The first official written record of klezmer music is from the 15th century, with the music emerging from the shtetls and ghettos of Eastern Europe. Here, traveling Jewish musicians, known as klezmorim, performed at celebrations like Bar Mitzvahs and weddings, which often lasted for days.

Interestingly, the music was inspired by secular melodies, as well as by the nigunim, which are the simple melodies created by the Hasidim as a way to approach God through an ecstatic state. (MUSIC: 2 Nigun). In the early days, klezmorim were often poor and known for preferring alcohol and women to studying Torah. They were barely higher on the social scale than beggars but eventually, with dedicated musical training, they were in great demand for all joyous occasions such as birthdays, the appointment of a new rabbi, the arrival of a new Torah scroll, the founding of a synagogue, and especially for weddings.

Although, by the early 1800s some klezmer musicians had become famous throughout Europe, few of their works survived in printed form. In large part, this was due to the political and social climate of the early 19th century, when more than five million Eastern European Jews were confined to a small piece of land a few hundred miles around Kiev. During this time Jews were not allowed to move freely from town to town and most musicians had to learn to play by ear, with the profession being passed down from father to son. The Hasidim continued to value klezmer music, using songs and dances as ways of expressing their love for life and God. By the late 19th century, in spite of the large numbers of pogroms throughout Eastern Europe, or perhaps in part as a reaction to them, Yiddish culture and music were flourishing. During this period klezmer musicians were also able to trade popular tunes with musicians from surrounding cultures outside of the Eastern European region, including Greece, and Turkey, and klezmer took on new dimensions and blends.

Because of the religious and political persecution that Jews faced during the pogroms, many eventually left Eastern Europe in the late 19th century, looking for a better life. This pattern of migration from Eastern Europe also continued during the times of the Nazi’s and Stalin. As the Jewish diaspora, or dispersing, expanded over larger areas, the klezmorim who survived, both in Eastern Europe and in new worlds, planted the seeds for a future revival and the growth of klezmer music. This set the stage, in the early 20th century, for the making of the first klezmer recordings beyond the borders of Europe, and for new ethnic trends in the music. The evolution of klezmer was in full swing.

Yet this cultural evolution was not the only evolution within klezmer music. Its instrumentation also changed over time. For most of the initial history of klezmer, the violin was the most useful instrument for expressive variations and ornamentation. (MUSIC: 3 Gulerman’s Doyne). Ornamentation gives each note a symbolic meaning: cheerful, moaning, or sighing, which supplies an added dimension to the music. As Max Slobin, a well-known modern klezmer historian, said about ornamentation, it must be done in a balanced way since “ornaments are like spices which can ruin the best dish.” Interestingly, during the 16th century the violin was at the lowest place in the hierarchy of musical instruments, but it was easier to flee a pogrom with a fiddle than with a piano and, thus, the fiddle ruled. In the 17th century the flute (or fleyt) was also featured, and piccolos were common because they were cheap and easy to make. Another instrument, the tismbl, or hammered dulcimer as it is known today, was already popular in the 16th century in Poland and Belarus. It was initially incorporated into klezmer tunes, but with a hundred strings it was hard to tune and fell out of favor.

In Ukraine, in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Jews were only allowed to play on “quiet” instruments such as the fiddle, flute or tsimbl. Louder instruments such as brass and drums were forbidden. Later, in the second half of the 19th century, Jewish musicians introduced the clarinet, a slightly bolder instrument from Germany and Russia. Clarinet became one of the leading voices of the genre, with its expressive moaning sounds, especially useful for invoking emotion and passion. With this musical power, clarinetists soon overtook fiddlers in terms of their social status. (WILL) Another bolder instrument of this time, that would eventually become one of the most common elements in klezmer, was the accordion. It was rare and expensive by 19th century standards, but was useful in providing melody, strong accompaniment, and rhythm. The cello also contributed a greater volume than the violin for noisy gatherings, and was light enough to be hung from the shoulder during processionals.

Like the eventual boldness of its instruments, klezmer is not a subtle or tidy music, like classical music. The friction of melody against harmony in klezmer, creates a dissonance that adds to its musical tension. The music often has the chaotic sound of a synagogue congregation singing and speaking together, with the lead instrumental voices in a klezmer band recalling the sound of the Cantor’s voice. Although it can sound like pandemonium at times, the emotion generated by klezmer music is one of its most crucial aspects. (MUSIC: NY Psycho Freylekhs).

As with Jewish prayers, klezmer is characterized by various interpretations. Many instruments may play the same melody in differing ways, and often in different tempos. The tempo of klezmer is free, and fluctuations are played depending upon the need of the moment, the atmosphere in the ceremony, or the desire of the listeners. It may be faster as the musicians sense a crowd’s growing excitement on the dance floor, or slower when a grandmother enters into the dance. Like the Roma and jazz musicians, the klezmorim were able to play the melodies in front of or behind the beat, giving a feeling of instability. This also reflected the political and historical climate of Jews, and allowed for personal expression.

In “the old country” klezmer was able to survive local instabilities and political upheavals by being passed on as an oral tradition. In this tradition tunes were played without credit being given to a composer, and usually without even a proper title. Before the era of recordings, musicians often titled their songs simply by the name of the rhythm such as bulga, sher, hora, or freylekhs (meaning happy). The titles of songs often also referred simply to what was on the minds of the musicians when they wrote the songs. A good bottle of alcohol, and those who may have had a bit too much of it, may have inspired tunes such as Nokh a Glezl Vayn or “One More Glass of Wine”. (MUSIC: Nokh a Glezl Vayn). Song titles and the acknowledgement of composers became necessary only when recordings of the music began. Also, before the era of recordings, songs were adapted to the circumstances. If the guests were dancing the musicians were expected to play up to ten songs without a pause. However, with the arrival of the 78-rpm record, musicians were limited to just three minutes of music, which became the standard length of klezmer in the 20th century.

Just as the 78-rpm record represented an adaptation of klezmer music on a technical level, there were also creative revisions to the music over time that made it more accessible to listeners. This was manifested in the use of improvisation and embellishment. At first, improvisation meant simply varying the phrasing of a melody to meet the needs of the audience. As it evolved, however, and took on the influences of jazz, different musicians would add their own simultaneous variations to parts within the song. Songs would finish much like the way that Jews pray together, with everyone meeting up by the end of the tune or prayer. Embellishment, or “bending” of the notes, also became popular, and musicians used glissandi, or sliding from one note to another, to enhance the sound. Over time the slides and sobs of the klezmer musician gave klezmer its signature sound. This shaping of notes made the melody much like the human voice.

The unique voice, music, and culture of klezmer have a long history of survival. Klezmer was able to endure pogroms and other political unrest, but it faced a precipitous decline and was nearly lost after World War II. Multiple factors led to the near disappearance of klezmer after the war, with the most significant one being the loss of many Jewish musicians in Europe due to the Holocaust. In addition there was the strong desire among Jews to assimilate within the cultures they had newly adopted. This was done out of a need for survival as well as the desire to forget painful parts of a past identity.

After nearly twenty years in which little was created and cultivated in the world of klezmer, the beginning of klezmer’s rediscovery started to unfold in the 1970s in the United States and Europe, as musicians began to explore their roots. Old recordings were dug up and the surviving musicians of klezmer were consulted. Since few recordings were known to have survived from Eastern Europe, the sound of klezmer prior to its American introduction was still not well understood. It has been only in the past few years that European records from the EMI archives in England were uncovered, and the cultural evolution of klezmer music, from the old world to the new, was more fully appreciated. These archived copies of original recordings of performances date from the pre-World War I period, 1899-1914, a time when over 12,000 professional, commercial recordings of klezmer music were made in Europe. Most of the original records disappeared or were melted down to help the war efforts during World War II, and for nearly one hundred years it was unknown that these archives existed until a few experts in Jewish recordings began searching for specific song titles. After years of digitalizing the records from the archives, the amazing result was “Chekhov’s Band,” a CD released in 2015 that showcased 24 of these klezmer songs. (MUSIC: Dance in a Circle)

Klezmer’s revival led to its new international popularity and, musicians of this new revival generation saw the music in a more cultural and less traditional way. They recognized that klezmer was an expression of Jewish secular life, more than just a religious ritual to be played at ceremonies. This new approach to the music paralleled the way that many other aspects of Jewish life were adapting during this time. Changes also occurred in the relationship between the audience and the music, as it left its grassroots origins behind and began to move into concert halls and clubs. Here the audience was expected to listen in the same way they would when attending a classical music or jazz performance.

The 1980s saw a second wave of revival, as interest grew again in more traditional klezmer performances with string instruments. Players of this time included the violinist Yale Strom, whom I have heard perform and whose friends played at my parents’ wedding. A fusion between traditional songs and Roma music also began, as bands such as The Klezmatics came about, and later New Orleans funk, jazz, and klezmer styles all began to merge together. (MUSIC: Aging Raver’s Personal Hell).

Just like its people, klezmer music was able to survive in the diaspora. It adjusted and melded into new societies much as the immigrants from Eastern Europe had. Its thread of rebirth closely reflected the comfort level that Jews eventually found in their new adopted lands. While traditional performances may have declined for a while as many Jews struggled to assimilate, klezmer was never completely abandoned. Even before klezmer’s true revival, Jewish composers such as Gershwin were inspired by Yiddish sounds they had heard as children, and the opening of his “Rhapsody in Blue” from 1924 showed the strong influence of the klezmer clarinet. Klezmer today is a metaphor for the perseverance and adaptation of the Jews. Layers of ecstasy and anguish, hopelessness and renewal are the refrains of klezmer music. Laughing with tears is part of the essence of being Jewish, and klezmer is able to invoke joy and despair through its singular sound.


“Jewish Stand-up Comedians Throughout the Eras” by Julian Gerber
January 9, 2016

For my major paper, I have been researching Jewish stand-up comedians throughout the years. Comedy has always been part of the Jewish culture. Even in the Torah, the name of Isaac, Abraham’s son, means “he laughs” because, according to the Torah, Abraham laughed when he learned he and his wife were going to have a child at the age of around 99. Here, Abraham was laughing at the absurdity of his situation, which is still something we do today. Jews have a history of being persecuted, and one way to cope with that persecution is by making fun of it. As Jewish writer, Saul Bellow, once said, “Oppressed people tend to be witty.” In the 1900s, when many Jews immigrated to America, the style of comedy they presented was making fun of a situation. Whether that situation was their own persecution or even just their wives (most of the Jewish comedians at the time were men), they were making fun of it. I researched how that style evolved over the years.

The first time period I looked at was the Catskills era. The Catskill Mountains in Upstate New York (also known as the Borscht Belt) was the place where Jewish stand-up comedians got their start. From the 1930s to late 60s, large resorts brought millions of predominantly Jewish families there to vacation. As Larry King, a stand-up comic from the Catskill era, put it, “It was a breeding ground for the stand-up comic.” Many of those comics were Jewish, such as: Jerry Lewis, Jerry Stiller, Sid Caesar, Jackie Mason, Larry King, Jack Benny, Buddy Hackett, Mel Brooks, Henny Youngman, Rodney Dangerfield, and Joan Rivers.

Henny Youngman is referred to as the king of one-liners. His stand-up comedy consisted of just 20 minutes of one-liners. They were about absolutely nothing. Sometimes they would fall under a specific topic (usually his wife or mother in-law), but usually he simply made up an absurd scenario. For example, one of his one-liners was, “My step-brother became a life guard at a car wash.” Rodney Dangerfield had a similar style. He also only did one-liners. His most famous quote was, “I don’t get no respect.” This quote set the premise for most of his one-liners. For example, “I was drowning and I was yelling ‘Help! Help!’ The lifeguard ran over and said ‘hey buddy can you keep it down.’” In this era of stand-up comedy, there was an obvious pattern of one-liners with no real set up to the joke. Most of these one-liners were making fun of themselves or the people around them, specifically family members. They created a funny scenario and used that to make fun of something, or in many cases, themselves. Even though these one-liners are not particularly Jewish, they still have a Jewish sense to them because at the time, it was only Jewish comedians who were making these types of jokes. Therefore, looking back on these jokes, they seem Jewish not because of the content of the joke, but because of who was telling it.

From there I moved on to the late 60s to 90s. This era included Jewish stand-up comedians such as Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jon Stewart. The style of the comedians of this era was observational humor. Woody Allen’s style, being somewhat of a transition into the 90s, was to tell a story with multiple punch lines within that story. This style was a combination of the Catskills and the 90s era. Many of his stories were self-deprecating in that they portrayed him as a weak, very nebbishy person. In his comedy, he often played into Jewish stereotypes as a way to laugh and make fun of his own, often offensive, stereotypes. One of his most famous bits was called, “The Moose.” **Play “The Moose”** As you can see from this classic example of Allen’s stand-up comedy, it was a story with multiple punch lines, but the last punch line related to a former issue of Semitic exclusion. Though it is a former issue for us, the joke still works because the issue of anti-Semitism is a part of our history and we can still relate to it. So the question is, do you have to be Jewish to find this funny? As long as the non-Jew is not anti-Semitic, they could find it funny too. This is because even though it’s not necessarily their history, they can still relate to the sense of exclusion.

In Jerry Seinfeld’s style of comedy, he would use his observational humor to give a sarcastic delivery and make funny remarks about places or establishments. He wouldn’t specifically make fun of a situation; he would explain it in a funny way, which, in some cases, is a form of poking fun at something. **Show clip of “Best man tuxedo” from I’m Telling You for the Last Time**. In an interview with screenwriter and comedian Judd Apatow, Seinfeld describes his humor as taking an observation and developing it to become a routine. We saw this in his bit about men wearing tuxedos. During the interview, he describes a past routine and says, “I’m doing this routine about this guy that… caught a bullet between his teeth. … I think, what job did he have before he got into doing that? What made him go, you know, ‘I’d rather be catching bullets between my teeth?’ I have a whole routine about it.” He took an observation, which on its own is already weird or interesting, and developed it to make it funny. Many times, Jewish comedians use this strategy to take something that wouldn’t normally be funny, such as their own persecution, and develop it into a weird and funny scenario. It’s like they are dis-arming the situation and then adding humor to it.

Jon Stewart had a very similar style of comedy; he often used observational humor like Seinfeld. The similarity was most likely caused by the fact that George Carlin, who also did observational humor, influenced them both. One difference, however, is that Stewart used observational humor to mostly make fun of politics or current events. This political humor led to him taking a job as host of the fake news show The Daily Show on Comedy Central. On the show, even though it wasn’t stand-up comedy, he used that same style of observational humor to make fun of specifically right-wing politics. Sometimes he would use his observational humor in his stand-up to make Jewish jokes, which pointed fun at many stereotypes of Jews. **Show clip of “Jews and blacks fighting” from Unleavened**. At the time of this performance in 1996, African-American and Jewish tensions were high. In 1991 there were the Crown Heights riots. These riots resulted in the murder of an orthodox Jew by a black mob. Stewart’s style is to take current conflicts or events and turn them into his acts. In this particular bit, he makes fun of the Black-Jewish conflict by pointing out that both ethnicities have a lot in common and really have nothing to fight about.

The last time period I looked at was modern day Jewish stand-up comedians. Their style is also observational humor, but it is mostly observations of themselves. I looked at comedians such as: Alex Edelman, Elon Gold, and Amy Schumer. Alex Edelman is a 26-year-old comedian who has already won the Edinburg Comedy Award for Best Newcomer. He was the first American to receive that award since 1997. He is also an Orthodox Jew. His comedy centers around his religious upbringing and oftentimes his own experience of being an Orthodox Jew. He often uses observational humor to poke fun at his religion.

Elon Gold focuses less on Jewish stereotypes and more on ethnic stereotypes in general. He uses his observational humor and skill of impressions to act out ethnic stereotypes and make fun of them. For example, in one comedy bit, he describes the different types of neck movements of different ethnic groups.

Amy Schumer uses humor in order to make fun of herself. She often talks to members of the audience saying things such as, “You’re so much prettier than me.” She jokes about her social life, specifically dating. By doing this she often makes fun of the social standards for women. In an article in the New York Times entitled “The Sneaky Power of Amy Schumer,” Michele Schreiber, a teacher of film and media at Emory University, states that Amy Schumer’s comedy is “perfectly suited to a changing cultural landscape in which the word ‘feminism’ is slowly losing its negative connotations,” adding that she “dispels the most persistent point about feminists, which is that feminists can’t take a joke.” Amy Schumer was acknowledged for this and spoke at the 2014 Gloria Awards honoring Gloria Steinem’s 80th birthday. In her speech she spoke about her own experience in life and about dealing with the challenges she’s faced from social environments where she was criticized and lost her confidence because of social standards. She talked about how her confidence can be shattered just from a rude comment on Twitter. However, she ended her speech by strongly saying, “I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story… I stand here and I am amazing, for you. Not because of you… I am not my weight. I am not my mother. I am myself. And I am all of you, and I thank you.” From all three of these comedians, we see a type of humor in which by making fun of themselves, they are dispelling a social stereotype.

We can clearly observe that Jewish stand-up comedy has evolved since the Catskills era. It has gone from one-liners about nothing to a type of observational humor that is used to combat many social or even political positions by breaking down barriers and promoting a progressive social agenda. Perhaps the reason for this change is that in the time of the Catskills era, Jews were either immigrants or first generation Americans and therefore did not have as strong a voice. However, now, Jews are a part of American society and culture. Therefore, the tradition of comedy can be used as a voice. A current example of how humor is being used, in this instance, to bring together two groups who have been fighting for centuries are Muslims and Israelis. In a recent comedy tour, rabbi and stand-up comedian Bob Alper teams up with Azhar Usman, a lawyer, community activist, and Muslim stand-up comedian in order to bring together two groups who have been fighting for centuries by being able to laugh together. **Show Holy Humor clip**. Personally, this is my favorite type of stand-up. Of course I love the type of comedy that’s about nothing and all the silly stuff. But to be able to laugh at something that if it were coming from anybody other than a comedian would not be a laughing matter is amazing. I believe comedy and humor are the best forms of communication and in this type of stand-up comedy, they’re laughing at their situation and sending a message as a solution. As Sid Caesar said in the documentary When Comedy Went to School, “If you can laugh at your situation, wow what a gift!”


“Fiddler On the Roof and Tradition” by Maya Mondlak Reuveni
October 3, 2015

Tradition. What is tradition? I find it ironic that I am standing up here, talking about tradition as a Jewish girl becoming a Bat Mitzvah, when generation after generation has believed that a girl was not to have a Bat Mitzvah. If I were standing here even fifty years ago, it would be considered that I am breaking tradition.      

Fiddler on the Roof is a play about a father, Tevye, who lives with his wife, Golde, and their five daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava, Shprintze, and Bielke. The story takes place in the early 1900’s in a small town in Russia called Anatevka. In this story, Tevye has to deal with many challenges in his life such as poverty, his daughters growing up, and their desire to love who they want, not who their father wants. For me, the main themes in Fiddler on the Roof are tradition and breaking tradition.

Throughout the story, you witness the daughters breaking with tradition. For example, wanting to marry a man who Tevye does not approve of is a topic that comes up a lot. Another is the girls loving someone, but knowing it’s not okay to love them. As I thought about this some more, I realized that this can relate to modern times. People still can’t always love who they want to love. For instance, until recently, there were many places where gay marriage was not allowed and even gay relationships are not acceptable.

As much as I love this play for its humor, I also have a personal connection to it. When my mom was a little girl, her mom was in a production of the play in Spanish, because at the time they lived in Mexico. She played Chava, and my mom remembers going over the lines with her mom, to help her rehearse for the show. This brought back memories of my mom and me sitting in our living room, when I was around five or six, and watching my grandma put on skits for us that I couldn’t understand at the time. For the past four summers, I’ve acted in a musical theater camp, along with two of my best friends at the JCC (Jewish Community Center). A few summers ago we performed the musical Fiddler on the Roof. I was cast as Hodel, the second oldest daughter. It was quite a learning experience for everyone in the play because it gave us a different perspective about what life was like back then. Playing Hodel was especially interesting when she fell in love with someone who her father disapproved of. However, Tevye finally gives Hodel and Perchik his blessing, signifying that Hodel is allowed to love Perchik.

Throughout the story, Tevye experiences his daughters growing up and changing, and he constantly debates with himself about what is right and what is wrong. He asks himself, should he let Tzeitel marry Motel, a poor tailor, when there is no way to know if he will be able to provide for her? However, he would make her extremely happy. Or, should he force her to marry Lazar Wolf, a very rich butcher who will be able to provide everything for Tzeitel. If he did, her happiness would be at risk and she could resent him for her entire life. Since Tevye is the father, according to tradition he has the biggest say in who his daughters potentially marry. However, he seems to constantly forget that there is one more very important voice in this decision. Golde! It’s so amusing to watch Tevye and Golde debate whether they should to stick with tradition, or let their daughters be happy, and put aside tradition. As much as Golde has every right to voice her opinion, Tevye never seems to care about what she, the girls’ mother, has to say.

Throughout the entire story, tradition guides Tevye, but it also stands in the way of important decisions that can risk his daughters’, and other people’s happiness. Tradition is very important to Tevye because it gives him a sense of community, and secures a metaphorical Jewish “circle”. Many people felt that they had to keep their Jewish tradition strong, to feel secure. This is a reason Tevye was so furious with Chava that he considered her dead to him, when she ran off with a boy who was not Jewish, after he told her she was not allowed to see him. Until that happened, none of the daughters had broken with tradition. None of them had run off with a person who they loved who was not Jewish, and none of them had fallen in love with someone their father did not approve of. The metaphorical circle had been broken.  At this point, Chava was a great disappointment to her father, as well as to others who believed tradition came before love.

As part of the preparation for writing this essay, my mentor, Amy, and I read the original story of Tevye the Dairyman, by Shalom Aleichem, which was the inspiration for Fiddler on the Roof. At one point in the story Tevye says, “Anyone can be a nincompoop, but being a woman helps.” Most of you here today know me very well, so you know that feminism is something that is very important to me, and I consider myself a feminist. I’m sure that you can imagine how angry I was hearing this stupidity. For anyone reading this story, seeing the play, or watching the movie, it doesn’t take much to see the inequality that is shown between men and women. Of course, this story did take place a very long time ago, when there wasn’t much awareness of feminism.  The daily routine for a woman at this time was simple. Wake up in the morning, kiss your husband goodbye on his way to work, and make sure your daughters are awake and ready for a busy day working around the house. Cleaning, cooking, and if you have young children, caring for them as well, and making sure your husband and children eat something before bed. If you asked Tevye, I’m sure he would say this was a much easier task than milking the cows, making cheese, and selling it. And I’m sure, even today, one or two people here would say it was, too. However, does this mean that we can give no credit to the women? Was their only responsibility in life to have children, and look after the house?     

As much as Fiddler on the Roof is mainly focused on Jews, and Jewish customs, it’s also a universal story. People all around the world can relate to it in their own way. While researching Fiddler, I found that many different countries have performed this play in different languages such as, Japanese, Spanish, Hindi, and many more from all around the world. As I watched different scenes from the play in different languages on YouTube, I asked myself one simple, yet extremely complicated question: Why is it that people can relate so easily to this story, when really, their lives are completely different from the characters’ lives? I started thinking of a few different possibilities, which really could have made sense, but I still wanted to think about it some more. After I re-read this paper, I realized that Tevye deals with many challenges in his life, and so does every single person on this planet.  Of course, not in the exact same ways, considering the very different time period, but the struggles are mostly the same. Money problems, children growing up and getting married, and all the challenges that people face every single day.

This brought me to answering my question. The answer might just be that people relate to this story because, whether they speak Japanese, Spanish, Hindi, or any other language, they go through what Tevye and his community experience. Maybe connecting to these universal life challenges provides them with a sense of comfort. Putting religion aside, could it be that we might reach a point in our lives when we all feel like a version of Tevye? Feeling what he felt when he saw Hodel get on the train and leave her childhood and family behind forever, experiencing the anger he experienced when Chava didn’t follow his wishes. Or maybe at some point in your life you’ve felt like Golde. Having your opinion completely disregarded by someone, in this case Tevye. Or you might even feel like Tevye’s horse. Being used for work, day after day, with a big weight on your shoulders. No matter who we are, or what our story is, we all have something in common with characters in Fiddler on the Roof.


“The Simpsons” by Sophia Singer
September 27, 2015

Introduction

The reason I chose this topic, “Jewish Values and Themes in The Simpsons” was that I love watching the show. There are a lot of obvious, even very explicit, references to Jews and Judaism, but I never realized that many of the episodes implicitly reflected Jewish values until I started thinking about my Bat Mitzvah project. Several episodes vividly highlight traits associated with my Jewish values of memory, tradition, humor and education.

I remember the first episode I ever saw. I wasn’t old enough to understand the jokes, but it was fun to watch. The episode was called “Penny-Wiseguys” which aired in 2012. I had heard of the show, but I had never seen it. I remember my dad telling me to change the channel since he thought the plot was too confusing for me, but I wanted to watch it anyway. Soon after, I was hooked. Then, my dad started to buy me Simpson guides, DVD’s, plush toys, figurines, clothing and other Simpson merchandise. I became a Simpsons fan!

History of Jewish Comedy

Jewish humor is one of the “wonders of the world”, according to Harvard professor Ruth Wisse in her book “No Joke”. Other cultures also have a rich history of comedy and laughter, but scholars can trace the roots of Jewish humor sources back thousands of years to the Bible and Talmud. Wisse goes on to say that in Europe, “When Jews were forced to live in their own isolated communities, Jews could mock the people that oppressed them and speak humorously about them and each other, God and just about everything.” Wisse made the important distinction between people telling jokes, which is found in just about every culture, and the actual, more modern profession of comedy. The first full time entertainers came from England as Jews became assimilated in England in the late 1800’s. These Jewish entertainers brought their profession from England to the United States and by 1975, three quarters of US comedic celebrities were Jewish. Wisse states that the future of Jewish comedy is not clear as it no longer relies on Yiddish and Jewish tradition and ritual. She thinks Jewish humor has lost some of its edge as knowledge of both Yiddish and Jewish tradition has declined. So maybe, we now have to look elsewhere and find Jewish humor in unexpected places!

So where did Jewish humor flourish in America?

Sholom Alecheim, the famous Yiddish author, was fond of saying, “Laughter is good for you. Doctors prescribe laughter” (from the story “The Haunted Tailor”.) This must be the reason why people say laughter is the best medicine. Now, since the poor, striving Jewish immigrants escaping to America had lots of trouble, they needed lots of laughter– that famous Jewish medicine! Here are some places where Jewish humor made a happy home in the New World.

Yiddish theatre, centered on Second Avenue on the Lower East Side in New York City, consisted of Yiddish comedies performed by people from the Central European Ashkenazi Jewish community. It flourished from the late 1800’s until just before World War II.

Vaudeville was the theatrical genre of variety entertainment and was especially popular in the United States and Canada from the early 1880’s until the early 1930’s.

The Borscht Belt in the Catskills showcased major performers including Jackie Mason and Joan Rivers. There were nearly a dozen of these resorts and they were popular vacation spots for New York City Jews from the 1920’s through the 1970’s.

Television brought Jewish humor to the American public. TV brought this brand of humor to people who had never heard a Jewish joke or perhaps had never met a Jew. When Jews entered the genre of television, the impact was enormous. Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen brought their Jewish humor to the rest of the country as Jewish comedy moved from the East Coast all the way across to the West Coast.

Hollywood studios were first run by Jewish producers and the industry is full of Jewish writers, producers, actors and directors.

Jewish writers on “The Simpsons”

Before I start talking about “The Simpsons”, I thought I’d let you know there are a lot of Jewish writers on this popular show. Maybe this is why there are so many Jewish themes. The fact that “The Simpsons” feels so completely American shows how Jewish humor has become such a big part of the American culture. These are just some of the Jewish writers who have written or still write for “The Simpsons”.

● Mike Reiss is an American television comedy writer. He served as a showrunner, writer and producer for the animated series “The Simpsons” and co-created the animated series “The Critic”. Mike Reiss has travelled the country talking about Jews in “The Simpsons”.

● Jay Kogen used to write for “The Simpsons” in its first four seasons. He also wrote
episodes of The Tracey Ullman Show, which is the show where “The Simpsons” first appeared.

● Sam Simon, who recently died, was the co-creator of “The Simpsons” along with Matt Groening and James L. Brooks. He wrote for other comedy shows and created the Sam Simon Foundation, which has given millions of dollars to rescue animals.

Who are The Simpsons?

● It’s the longest-airing animated primetime show in the world
● It’s created by Matt Groening who said he based the show on his family. He is part Mennonite.
● There have been many guest stars on the show including the great Jewish comedian, Jackie Mason.
● Although Matt Groening is not Jewish, there have been many Jewish values in the series.
● The show has been on the air for 27 seasons and is still a success. Family members are Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie who are the main characters in the show. Did you know Homer, Marge, Lisa and Maggie were named after Matt’s family? And that Bart was based upon Matt as a child?

My Jewish Values shown in the clips

Other than enjoying this show for its humor and wonderful graphic art, I saw that my Jewish values are present in many episodes. These values are as follows:

● Memory
● Tradition – Bar/Bat Mitzvah
● Education
● Humor
● Family and Food

Memory

This upcoming clip is very important because it shows memory and love at the same time. It’s important in my everyday life because I have to remember facts and concepts in school. But more so, it is important to me because I remember the stories my parents tell me about my family, I remember my grandparents and the love they had for me. Moments before the actions in the clip, called “Lisa on Ice”, Bart and Lisa have been fighting nonstop during a hockey match where they are on opposing teams. In this scene, just before they are about to fight again, they remember all of the good times and love they have for each other. It’s an important moment in their relationship.

LISA ON ICE

So as you just saw, Bart and Lisa, through their memories of each other and their past experiences, exhibited their love for each other. At times, family members have to remind themselves of their love for each other and forget about the fights.

Education and Tradition

This episode is somewhat based on the movie “The Jazz Singer”, where the main character in the movie goes against the traditions of his Jewish family in order to fulfill his dreams. He is then punished by his father, a cantor. Years later, he has become a talented jazz singer but still wants to please his father.

This upcoming scene shows the values of education and tradition. Krusty is a very successful celebrity in the town of Springfield, where the show takes place. He has his own TV show and Bart is a huge fan. In this episode, Bart and Lisa find out that Krusty is Jewish and his father is a rabbi. The rabbi and Krusty haven’t talked in years and Krusty is saddened by this. The rabbi is very mad at Krusty because Krusty didn’t want to be a rabbi and follow in the family tradition and instead became a clown. So, Bart and Lisa decide to help Krusty reunite with his father. Lisa uses her love of education to help Krusty accomplish this goal. Lisa, the middle child, is very smart and loves to learn. In this scene, Lisa and Bart are in the library and Lisa looks for appropriate passages from the Talmud to help Krusty and the Rabbi get back together.

Like Father Like Clown

Lisa clearly exhibited her love of education by finding the appropriate passages in the Torah to help Krusty reunite with his father. She may not be Jewish, but she shows the Jewish value of education.

Humor

My value of humor is shown in this funny clip as Krusty and his dog walk through the Lower East Side of Springfield. On his walk, Krusty comes to the Jewish Walk of Fame. He’s shocked that he is not included as a famous Jew, which upsets him, and he then goes to find out why. This is funny because Krusty is not as famous as he thinks he is when he sees all these famous Jewish celebrities. There are many famous Jews in American culture and unfortunately, as I am about to show you, Krusty is not one of those famous Jews.

The Jewish Walk of Fame

The director of the Jewish Walk of Fame told Krusty he was not a good Jew because he did not have a Bar Mitzvah. So can you be a good Jew if you don’t have a traditional Bar or Bat Mitzvah? With or without a Bat Mitzvah, I know that I am Jewish.

Tradition

My value of tradition is shown in this clip when Krusty has his Bar Mitzvah. Earlier, when I spoke about my values, I told you about the tradition of Bar/Bat Mitzvah in my family. Now it is Krusty’s turn to have a Bar Mitzvah. He’s hired Mr. T. who speaks about the tradition of giving envelopes as gifts at a Bar Mitzvah. Also in this clip, the value of forgiveness is demonstrated. When Krusty is having his crazy, made for TV, celebrity Bar Mitzvah, he looks over to his father and sees that he isn’t happy. Krusty feels bad and then decides to have a “traditional” Bar Mitzvah and his father forgives him. Krusty’s Bar Mitzvah Extravaganza

Krusty wanted to make his father proud and have a traditional Bar Mitzvah. His father was proud of him and I know that my parents are proud of me, too.

The Jewish Values of Food and Family

Food is important in Judaism. When people think of Jewish food, they think of bagels, gefilte fish, lox, corned beef and my favorite, chicken and matzo ball soup. There are jokes about Jews and food. There is an old Jewish joke that declares: “We were persecuted; we overcame; now we eat!”

Jewish holidays often revolve around meals. Passover has the Seder, with the big holiday meal, and Hanukkah wouldn’t be Hanukkah without potato latkes. But food and meals are not just about eating. My family tries to have dinner together almost every evening. It’s a time that we can discuss our day, talk about plans for the weekend and just catch up and be with each other. In the clip I’m about to show you, Marge is calling the family for dinner and they all try to have a regular meal but it doesn’t turn out the way Marge wants it to be.

Eating Dinner

The Simpsons certainly tried to exhibit the value of family while having their dinner. It didn’t quite work out the way Marge wanted it to, so let’s just say, this is a work in progress for The Simpson family.

Even though “The Simpsons” will soon be ending its long run, it will always be my favorite show. Doing this major project has oddly made me much more interested in the show since I now realize there are many Jewish themes and values present throughout the episodes. Some are very evident, some not so evident. I enjoyed this project because I was able to watch my favorite TV show and learn in the process. Jewish themes and values are present in places you might not expect to find them. I hope the next time you watch this fun show, perhaps you’ll notice some Jewish values and themes.


“Judy Chicago: Artist, Educator, and Feminist” by Sofia Wilson
May 9, 2015

It’s exciting to find out that I have so many connections with someone I have never met. When I first learned of her, I was immediately interested in the works of artist, feminist, and educator Judy Chicago. Her history and motivations remind me of myself and what I would like to pursue in the future. That is what really made me want to write about Judy Chicago for my major project. Judy used art to portray struggles of women, and the power of women. She also incorporated her Jewish heritage into her work with her piece “The Holocaust Project”, which I will talk about in a few minutes. Please sit back and enjoy as I tell you all about this amazing and powerful woman, Judy Chicago.

PICTURE Judy Sylvia Cohen was born in 1939 in Chicago, Illinois to May and Arthur Cohen; she changed her last name which I will discuss later on. Judy’s mom, May, was a former dancer but she stopped dancing and worked as a medical secretary after she gave birth to Judy. Arthur worked at a post office.

Judy inherited her liberal beliefs from her father, and her love of art from her mother. Both Arthur and May had many left-wing views, and strongly believed in equal rights for women. Judy remembers people gathering in their second floor apartment and engaging in political arguments. Arthur identified as a communist; he believed in changing the conditions for black people in America, in abolishing poverty and in expanding educational opportunities for poor people. Judy has said that her father was the one who made her feel confident about herself and her achievements. Over time, however, Arthur’s symptoms of depression became more obvious to Judy, especially when he started staying home from work. Judy was only 14 when her father entered a deep depression. He subsequently developed stomach ulcers and on July 15th, 1953 he died during surgery. As a way to escape the pain from her father’s death Judy leaned towards art. She started to visit the Art Institute on Saturdays to view art. She became interested in how the colors in the artwork evoked emotional states.

Art opened Judy up to a whole new world, a world that gave her many more opportunities than she could ever imagine. Something that really interested me about Judy Chicago is that although she was Jewish, she stated that her parents “basically rejected everything Jewish.” Even though Judy acknowledged that her family did not observe Jewish rituals at their home, she believed that her family was guided by Jewish ethical values like Tikkun Olam– bettering the world. Judy’s parents both grew up in homes infused with Yiddish, but this didn’t really continue when May and Arthur had kids. The Cohens actually never lit a Hanukkah candle during Judy’s childhood, but they did celebrate Christmas until she was eight. When Judy turned eight, one of her religious aunts who kept kosher insisted that the Cohens start to celebrate Hanukkah instead of Christmas. Judy felt very connected to the cultural and intellectual traditions of Judaism, which included knowing about the world, speaking up, and making change. Being Jewish for her meant having high aspirations. She used her artwork to express many concerns and issues.

Since I was in second grade I have been coming to the City Congregation for Sunday school, and it has always felt normal for me to not believe in god, similarly to Judy. I relate to her, because I feel that the most important parts of Judaism to me are the ethical values.

In the early 1960’s Judy attended the University of California in Los Angeles, earning a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in 1962. When she was in college, Judy had her first love relationship with Jerry Gerowitz. Jerry was a secular Jew born in Chicago and had moved to LA by the time he was in high school. Judy was attracted to Jerry’s great sense of humor and his “mixed-up and rebellious” ways. Judy and Jerry immediately clicked, causing Judy to change her mind about wanting to move into her own studio. They ended up moving to New York together in 1959. Judy decided to put her academics aside to go on this adventure with Jerry. They sublet an apartment on 33rd Street, but soon Judy decided to move out, and go back to LA to finish school. She increasingly felt that Jerry had a “lack of direction” and this caused a lot of fighting between them. After many weeks apart Jerry joined Judy in LA. They tried to work out their relationship and ended up marrying in the spring of 1961 at the Los Angeles County courthouse. After they married she started to wonder if Jerry’s problems were similar to her father’s. This made her nervous; first her father and now her husband. Jerry stayed home from his job frequently, and seemed to be losing his direction in life.

On June 10th of that year Jerry was killed in a car accident in Topanga Canyon. Judy couldn’t believe he had died. When she talked to his therapist about it, Jerry’s therapist stated that he wondered if it was an “unconscious suicide. ” He believed Jerry felt that he couldn’t face the struggles ahead of him. Judy had dealt with grief when her father died. Jerry’s death forced her to re-live the grief of losing her father.

Judy went back to UCLA to finish her master’s degree in 1964. While she was in graduate school she created some work involving sex organs that was controversial to Judy’s mostly male teachers, especially a piece titled Bigamy. In 1965 Judy’s work was exhibited in her first solo show at the Rolf Nelson Gallery in Los Angeles. Many people asked her why she didn’t display her artwork at the “California Women in the Arts” exhibition. Judy said she didn’t want to define herself by membership in a particular group. She preferred not to have a label of “woman” or “Jewish” as an artist. I understand why Judy felt that she didn’t want to be labeled. She wanted to be an artist, and that’s it. Later on in her career she created a poster with the image of her bare body. Surrounding her body were the words “Aging, woman, Jew, and artist”. Judy did label herself in this image, which confused me at first, but I think her purpose was to express her view that she can label herself, but she doesn’t want to be labeled by other people.

When Judy Cohen married Jerry, she followed tradition and became Judy Gerowitz. When Jerry died she decided she wanted to change her name. She wanted to be independent. She did not want a last name connected to a man from her heritage or marriage. One of Judy’s friends and gallery owners, Rolf Nelson, nicknamed Judy “Judy Chicago”, because of her large personality and strong Chicago accent. She decided to go with the new name, and legally became Judy Chicago. This caused many people to question her. No one could understand why she would change her married name. To show people how passionate she felt about her new name, she posed for her new exhibition dressed up as a boxer with a shirt that said Chicago. (PICTURE)

This was in the 1970’s at the California State University of Fullerton. (PICTURE) She created a banner which said “Judy Gerowitz hereby divests herself of all names imposed upon her through male social dominance and chooses her own name, Judy Chicago.” I think this was an amazing move. I have always been bothered by the fact that in our society tradition dictates that women change their last name to their husband’s last name. If that is what someone wants to do, I support it. But I also support the idea of wanting to be independent, and having your own last name, just as Judy Chicago did.

She contributed significantly to the formation of the female art community and the visibility of feminist art. In 1970, Chicago taught at Fresno State College. Her goal was to teach women how to express the female perspective in their work. She taught a class that consisted of only women, and she started a “feminist art” class. This was the first feminist art program in the United States.

In 1972 Judy Chicago became a teacher at California Institute for the Arts, where she created a program called Woman House with her friend Miriam Schapiro. Woman House was the first exhibition to show a female perspective on art. Their goal was to portray conflicts experienced by women every day. By providing opportunities to use power tools and building techniques at Woman House, they hoped women would gain confidence and become more connected with their artistic aspirations. Judy Chicago believed that society “fails women by not demanding excellence from them.”

Twenty-seven women participated in Woman House and the final exhibition was very successful (PICTURE). About 10,000 people visited the old deserted mansion where Woman House took place. (PICTURE) One of the artists who participated created a linen closet with different parts of a woman mannequin on all of the shelves. Sandy Orgel, the artist who created this sculpture, stated that women have always been “in between the sheets and on the shelf,” and that it was time “for women to come out of the closet” (PICTURE). Judy Chicago also created something for Woman House, “Menstruation Bathroom”, which was trying to show that menstruation is something that many women feel like they can’t talk about or are ashamed of.

I was very lucky to see Judy Chicago’s exhibit “The Dinner Party” at the Brooklyn Museum with my parents, my mentor Eva and her daughter Anna. I had heard a bit about “The Dinner Party” from my parents, but I really didn’t know what to expect. Chicago first created the idea for this project in 1974 with the goal of teaching people about the history of powerful women and their struggles for freedom. The project began in her Santa Monica studio where she created her drawings. She began with the idea of putting images reflecting women from history and mythology on the front of ceramic plates and writing on the back descriptions of what the women achieved and their individual stories.

To prepare for this project Judy Chicago studied China painting for two years (PICTURE). She decided on 39 place settings. The exhibit is like an imaginary large dinner gathering with many influential women from many generations, all sitting together at a dinner party. (PICTURE)

Chicago put all of her money into this project until she slowly started receiving grants. “The Dinner Party” was first displayed in San Francisco, and moved around to many museums. In 1990 everyone was talking about “The Dinner Party.” An article appeared in the Washington Times reporting that “The Dinner Party” was banned at many museums because of its depictions of women’s genitalia on plates. Robert Dornan, a Republican from California, believed that “The Dinner Party” wasn’t art, but rather “3D pornography.” It seems to me that Judy Chicago was breaking taboos, or the norm at that time. Times have changed; nowadays many people would come and see “The Dinner Party” and not have any problem with it. Despite the controversy,” The Dinner Party” stayed in Northern California for the next 12 years. In 2002, a big supporter of Judy Chicago, Elizabeth A. Sackler, acquired “The Dinner Party” and brought it to the Brooklyn Museum, along with money to create a whole new gallery devoted to feminist art. Now “The Dinner Party” is a permanent exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.

The first wing of “The Dinner Party” begins with pre-history, with about seven place settings of mythical or legendary women. One of the beautiful plates from Wing 1 was based on Kali, an Indian goddess who was worshiped by Hindu in the first millennium BCE, at a time when the power of women was being assaulted.

The second Wing of the “Dinner Party” covers the period of time from early Christianity to the Reformation, when women were forced out of some of their traditional occupations. (PICTURE) One of the memorable plates from Wing 2 is Saint Bridget. Bridget was the daughter of an Irish Chieftain and a slave. She established a school of the arts, and to this day many travelers visit a location named after Bridget to be “healed.” (PICTURE) Another of my favorite plates is Theodora, who passed laws to improve the lives of actresses and created an institution for ex-prostitutes to start a new life. I loved Theodora’s plate so much that we used the tile design from this plate for my Bat Mitzvah invitation, thanks to our dear friend Bennett Goldberg. (PICTURE)

The wing that impressed me the most and inspired me greatly was Wing 3. Wing 3 was based on the Women’s Revolution. (PICTURE) Judy Chicago created a pretty flower-like design on Susan B. Anthony’s plate. Susan B. Anthony was one of the biggest faces in the fight for women’s rights during the 1870’s. (PICTURE) Another plate that struck me was Sojourner Truth’s plate. I would have to say that this plate is my favorite. I love how Chicago portrayed fear and sadness in this plate, with the different faces showing different emotions. Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in New York as Isabella Baumfree. She was raped and sold multiple times. When she escaped in 1827, she changed her name to Sojourner, because Sojourn means to “dwell temporarily.” She wanted everyone to know she had moved on from being a slave, and was going towards something new in her life to dwell on, as an activist. This is similar to Judy Chicago changing her name when she moved on from a different time in her life. Sojourner was one out of the many plates that inspired me to think about the women in the world who have really made a difference, but don’t get much credit for their impact and influence.

Judy Chicago designed the exhibit in a very interesting way. She chose 39 women to base the plates on, and surrounding each plate she painted the names of other people who were connected to these powerful women. (PICTURE) For example, under Emily Dickinson’s plate many other authors’ names were written, such as Jane Austen, Elizabeth Bekker, and Fanny Burney.

I highly suggest that you go to the Brooklyn Museum to see “The Dinner Party.” The artistic design on the plates is beautiful, and the whole thing is really inspiring and worth visiting.

When researching Judy Chicago what really stood out to me was her feminist work, and her view on feminist art. However, I also found out that she worked beyond issues of female identity. In 1985 Judy Chicago married the photographer Donald Woodman. Although her previous husbands were also Jewish, Donald inspired her to explore her Jewish heritage. Together, they created “The Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light”. It was a project that aimed to extend awareness of the Holocaust, and to link contemporary issues to it. The couple worked together for eight years to complete their Holocaust Project. They both sought inspiration from the documentary Shoah, which included interviews from Holocaust survivors and depictions of concentration camps. Judy Chicago felt she wanted to explore aspects of power: both feeling powerless and male power. She wanted to express how being Jewish shaped her art and her interest in the subject of the Holocaust.

She also included photo and written archives about the Holocaust in the “Project”. The artists traveled to Eastern Europe and visited all of the concentration camps, with the goal of combining contemporary issues with the Holocaust.

(PICTURES 3) The finished piece, “The Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light” consisted of sixteen large works made from stained glass, metal work, wood work, painting, and photography, capturing experiences of people in concentration camps. The main message in “The Holocaust Project” was to move from the darkness of the Holocaust to the light of day.

Chicago’s “Holocaust Project” really made an impact on me. When I began brainstorming about my major project for my Bat Mitzvah I was leaning towards studying art during the Holocaust in concentration camps, because I am interested in the use of art to deal with fear or struggle. I then leaned towards writing about Jewish artists. When I first read about Judy Chicago, I found her to be a combination of everything I was thinking about: she is a woman, she is Jewish, and she created art related to the Holocaust.

As I finished all of my research on this project I realized that there was a connection I hadn’t seen at the beginning. Judy Chicago pushed for the rights of women just like Malala. They did this in different ways and from different beginnings: Chicago with artistic expression, and Malala with the power of speech. It makes a lot of sense that I was drawn to both of them.

Judy Chicago is now 75, and she is still pursuing what she believes in. She founded Through the Flower in 1978, an organization that holds many workshops and lectures on feminist art and has launched a K-12 curriculum. The goal of the curriculum is to encourage the empowerment of women through art using “The Dinner Party” as the basis for teaching. The “Holocaust Project”, Through the Flower, “The Dinner Party”, and Judy Chicago’s many other projects are what inspired me and hopefully have inspired all of you too.


“Jews and Department Stores” by Liana Hitts
April 26, 2015

Wow! This is kind of scary. I’ve never had to give a presentation so involved to so many people. But I am up for it if you are! My major project is the history and evolution of Jewish-owned and operated department stores. Now, I love shopping like most 12-year-old girls, so when I started my project, I thought about how the history of the department stores I love so much is tied to my own heritage. Many major department stores that people shop at today were founded and made successful by Jewish people. So, this project took me on a very interesting journey, which I would like to share now.

If you’re walking around Manhattan, you’ve all seen historic department store sites, even if you didn’t know it. Many of the beautiful buildings people still marvel at today are famous flagship department stores. If you’ve ever been inside Bed, Bath and Beyond on 6th Avenue, you were in the original Abraham and Straus department store, founded by the same Jewish businessmen who owned Macy’s. This area is called the Ladies Mile, and in its heyday from the end of the Civil War to the start of World War I, it was the place where ladies shopped until they dropped, and is now an official historic district of New York City.

Even among Jewish people, many may not have given much thought to how Jewish department stores are woven into the fabric of our city, and really, our country.

You certainly know the department store Kohl’s. But you may not know it was founded by European Jewish immigrants. Of course you’ve heard of Sears, but did you know German Jewish immigrant Julius Rosenwald took over the struggling company in 1893 and turned it into a huge success story? And there’s the German Jewish immigrant brothers Isaac, Louis and Benjamin Stern, whose Stern’s department stores were leaders in the business for so many years.

People love to search for a bargain at Century 21, but they may not know it was founded by Syrian Jewish immigrant Sonny Gindi in 1961 in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Anyone who has seen the film Miracle on 34th Street knows of the great department store battle between Macy’s and Gimbels – but they may not know that Bavarian Jew Adam Gimbel pioneered department store franchising by opening up 30 stores by 1910, and that the Jewish German immigrant Straus family took over Macy’s early on, and then duked it out with Gimbel for shopping supremacy.

And that’s just for starters. There’s world-famous Bergdorf Goodman, Korvette’s, and other smaller, local and regional department stores founded by Jews who got into the retail trade all over our country.

Researching all these department stores, it didn’t take long to realize the vast majority was founded by Jews. I thought, what made this so? Why did the Jewish people gravitate toward the department store business? So my starting point is: How did Jewish people create this new kind of commerce in America, one that still influences the way America shop today?

I learned the department store pioneers came to the U.S. as part of a large wave of two million European-Jewish immigrants who settled here from 1840 to 1890. They arrived in an America that is very different from today, and it was a time of great change in America’s economy.

At one time, except for in the big cities, people generally grew their own food and made their own clothes – little needed to be purchased, and they often bartered with their neighbors. But by the middle of the 19th century, more tradesmen shipped out their surplus to make extra money, and they were looking for goods that might not be available to them.
Peddlers were small businessmen who bought items from manufacturers, usually on credit, and went door-to-door selling them. As you can imagine, peddling was a difficult and exhausting job, but it provided a decent income.

And most of those peddlers, from the 16,000 listed in the 1860 census, were Jews. They peddled everything from cloth to watches, linens to eyeglasses, bringing the products to the people.

Jewish peddlers roamed Europe as early as the Middle Ages. For 19th century immigrants to America, however, peddling was less a career than a starting point. It launched the idea for the general store, which later developed into department stores. Also, it was a good way to start a life in America for strong and fit men.

This army of European Jewish peddlers changed American life, and brought Jewish culture to American cities. They carried Judaism to places where Jews had never been seen before. By the end of the Civil War, the number of organized Jewish communities with at least one established Jewish building had reached 160, spread over 31 states.

Professor Hasia Diner of New York University wrote about the Jewish immigrant experience for peddlers, saying, “Rather than being a life sentence, as it had been in Europe, Jewish peddlers in their destination homes used peddling as a way to leave the occupation. Peddling represented merely a stage in a Jewish immigrant man’s life.”

Let me tell you about one such enterprising family, the Strauses, which included two brothers who changed the world of department store commerce. Nathan and Isidor were born to a Jewish family in Bavaria in the 1840s. Their dad Lazarus was a landowner and the family was important to the community. Isidor and Nathan’s great-grandfather served on Napoleon’s council to free Jews under his rule.

Their business fell apart in Bavaria, and in 1852 Lazarus moved to the U.S. by himself to seek a better life that would eventually allow his family to join him. He first lived in Philadelphia, and then in Georgia. There he partnered up with a local Jewish peddler and started a small dry goods store.

Two years later, Lazarus sent for his family, but life wasn’t easy – they were the only Jewish family in town. By the time the Civil War ended in 1865, anti-Jewish sentiment was strong in the south, and the Strauses left.

Lazarus moved the family to New York City, where they made their home on W. 49th Street. Oldest son Isidor went into business with his dad, starting a glass and china import business.

Nathan joined the business in 1866, and L. Straus & Sons became a big player in imports. In 1874, Lazarus and his sons made a deal with the department store Macy’s to run their glass and chinaware department. It only took a few years for the department to become the most profitable part of Macy’s, and by 1887, the Strauses were able to purchase the entire store from its founder R.H. Macy.

While Macy’s grew under the Straus leadership, Isidor and Nathan made another major purchase, one that would bear their name. They bought Joseph Weschler’s share of a store in Brooklyn called Abraham & Weschler, and along with their new partner Abraham Abraham (yes, that’s his real name!) renamed the store Abraham & Straus. It was another business success for the family – by 1900 they employed 4,500 workers.

Now, this story is particularly interesting to me because my family is from Israel. In 1912, Isidor and Nathan travelled to Palestine, a trip that affected Nathan deeply, but also led to a family tragedy. After a few weeks, Isidor wanted to leave but Nathan decided to stay on. Isidor and his wife booked passage on the Titanic. When the ship hit an iceberg and it became clear it would sink, Isidor was offered a seat in a lifeboat. He refused, saying women and children should be rescued first. His wife Ida also refused to get into a lifeboat, and they died when the Titanic sank. Nathan felt very lucky that he had not left with them, and his brother’s death drove him to become more charitable. He used his fortune to help the poor in New York City and fund Jewish and childrens’ projects. Straus gave two-thirds of his fortune to various projects in Palestine; in recognition, Netanya, a seaside town in Israel was named for him. Netanya is a Hebrew variation of the name Nathan, and I’ve been to the city several times.

Meanwhile, Macy’s and Abraham & Straus continued to grow. Isidor’s son, Jesse Straus, took over as president of Macy’s in 1919, and his son Jack followed him as president in 1939.

The Strauses continued to invest money to expand their department store operation – in 1928 they renovated the Abraham & Straus flagship store on Fulton Street in Brooklyn. The store grew to an amazing 1 million square feet, costing $8 million dollars. That would be over 100 million dollars today.

It was also around that time that the families sold the Abraham & Straus chain to the Federated Department Store Corporation, and the business became much less family run. In a strange twist of fate, however, Macy’s declared bankruptcy in 1994, and A&S owner Federated bought them. One of the first things they did? They dropped the Abraham & Straus name and renamed most of the stores Macy’s! They thought Macy’s was more famous and changing the names would support the Macy’s franchise. That 1 million square foot building that was the A&S flagship in Brooklyn is still bustling today – it is currently a Macy’s, the second largest Macy’s in the U.S. next to the Herald Square location.

Now, here’s a bit more about other New York Jewish department store giants. One is Century 21. Sonny and cousin Al Gindi opened their first store in Bay Ridge in 1961. It was a big hit, and they continued expanding, opening a massive flagship store in lower Manhattan. That store was famous during the September 11 attacks – it had to be evacuated when the first plane hit, and later, it suffered heavy damage when the towers collapsed. But the family repaired the store and eventually re-opened. Sonny Gindi, who died in 2012, was a generous man – he famously supported Jewish causes like the United Jewish Appeal, and served on the founding board of the Shaare Zion synagogue in Brooklyn. Century 21 continues to grow- it now has nine stores that take in $160 million a year.

Then there is the Gimbel family. Coming from an industrious, Jewish German family, Adam Gimbel had several small general stores before opening his first Gimbels department store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1887. It was a huge success, but Adam had a problem – he had eight sons, and he wanted all of them to join him in the business. His solution? Open a lot of Gimbels stores!

Adam ended up opening 30 of them, including its famous flagship store in Herald Square. It was only a block away from its archrival, Macy’s. Adam Gimbel was quite a character and loved to compete against Macy’s. Gimbels closed shop in 1987 when a corporation bought it out and turned most of the stores into Stern’s or Kaufmanns. The original flagship store is now Manhattan Mall.

Certainly the ritziest of the Jewish department stores is Bergdorf Goodman. The high-end department store attracts celebrities and millionaires from all over the world to shop its exclusive lines, and every designer in the world angles to get their lines placed in its store.

Founder Edwin Goodman was a Jewish American who worked as a tailor at a shop owned by Herman Bergdorf. The pair went into business together, but by 1901 Edwin was thinking big – he bought out Bergdorf and opened a large department store on 32nd Street in what became known as Ladies Mile. He eventually moved to its current location on 57th and 5th. By 1969, it was the last of the major U.S. department stores still operating independently. Bergdorf Goodman was so successful there was temptation to open up many stores, but Edwin Goodman said the only way Bergdorf’s could guarantee quality was to operate just one store. While Bergdorf’s was eventually acquired by Nieman-Marcus, they didn’t dare change the name of such a world-renowned store!

One of the innovative department store chains was Korvette’s. The store was founded by Eugene Ferkauf, of a German Jewish immigrant family. Eugene was a born seller – the name Ferkauf means “sell” in Yiddish, which he grew up speaking.

Ferkauf opened his first Korvette’s on E. 45 Street in Manhattan, then moved to a Herald Square location. Korvette’s operated differently than other department stores – Eugene sold cheaply and used high volume sales to make his profits. His low prices angered competitors, and led to legal battles for selling below the manufactured retail price. Ferkauf got around that by passing out “membership” cards to his customers – like how Costco and others operate today. Ferkauf was such a success he eventually opened up 58 Korvette’s around the country. A southern businessman named Sam Walton traveled to New York to find out how Ferkauf managed to make money with such price discounts. He took Ferkauf’s model and opened up the Wal Mart store chain. Ferkauf sold his share of Korvette’s in 1966, and spent much of the rest of his life donating his fortune to Jewish charities and other causes. The flagship Korvette’s is now the Herald Square Mall.

We’ve learned that many of the historic department stores of New York – Gimbels and Korvettes, no longer carry on under those names. But these Jewish immigrant families made a profound impact on America.

I feel pride learning the rich history of Jewish immigrants pioneering the department store industry – and you know, they were certainly good at it.

It’s made me realize more about my culture, how Jewish peddlers turned their businesses into storefronts, and think about my heritage. I wonder if many of these Jewish immigrants had trouble finding work in the U.S., so they created their own businesses to support their families. I don’t think you could say it’s ever been easy for Jewish immigrants to gain a foothold in America, but to see their ingenuity, and in many cases, their bravery in building such a dynamic business industry really makes me proud.

Jewish businessmen started from the very bottom and climbed to the very top, and they changed the face of America. Shopping has never been the same – I think it’s better, easier, faster and a lot more fun than before department stores came into existence.

From now on, whenever I walk into a department store, I will surely think of the rich history behind the business and be more appreciative of the hard work that went into it. I will also keep in mind that hard work does pay off.
By the way: If anyone wants to take me shopping after this, I’M AVAILABLE!!!


“Summer Camp: A Personal and Objective History” by Austin Shatz
November 22, 2014

The sound of the morning bugle, ghost stories, a swim in a too cold lake, bug juice, scoring the winning basket in a big hoops game, socials, and most importantly great lifelong friends. That is what sleep away camp is about for many of us here today, myself included. Many people, especially Jews from the Northeast, take this summer experience as a given and a rite of passage. How did this come to be? This wasn’t always a common way to spend the summer. So how did we get to this point? I’m going to now share with you some of the history of camping and how and why it became prevalent among Jewish people. Then I will talk about two camps that are meaningful in my family’s history and finally why I love camp so much that I already know being a counselor is going to be my first job.

Sleep away camps date back to the beginning of our country, when they were a place to meet for religious meetings. In these days, people also often sent family members away to spend a summer working for a friend or relative.

Though the practice of sending kids away from home in the summer had been around for a while, sleep away camps as we know them today started forming in the second half of the nineteenth century in New England. Frederick Gunn, a Connecticut schoolmaster, in the summer of 1861 during the Civil War marched his class of forty students to the shore of the Long Island Sound. They pitched tents, pretended they were soldiers in the war, swam in the lake and told stories around the campfire. They were building character and creating life lessons and memories. The Gunnery Camp continued in this way until 1879.

Other early camps focused on academics, or giving women a chance to express themselves more freely than at home for example by wearing knickers instead of ankle length skirts at all girls camps. Glad they don’t have those at Lenox. One common element of these early camps that remains today was liberal usage of Native American lore. Fresh Air Fund camps and YMCA camps also started at this time, some as early as 1870, which increased the number of people going away for the summer, especially from the cities of the Northeast where industrialization had created very crowded conditions. Luther Gulick, who ran New York City schools’ physical education program, founded Camp WoHeLo, which stood for work, health, and love. He introduced physical activity and mental well-being and development as a central part of camp life.

By the 1930s camps had grown in popularity and the social development part became central. Many counselors were social workers, and camps starting separating themselves based on different approaches such as the role of individuals versus groups and whether to emphasize skill development or social interaction. Joe Kruger, who founded in 1929 and ran for 55 years a camp many of us here know called Mah-Kee-Nac said he “made his reputation on the non-competitive.” Nowadays many camps emphasize special skill development such as sailing, basketball or gymnastics. And even the more traditional, generalist camps focus more on activities than pure personal development considerations.

The history of Jewish camps in the US is in many ways parallel to the history of all summer camps. The first Jewish camps were started in 1902; one on Surprise Lake in New York and two Tamarack camps run by the Fresh Air Fund in Michigan. Like the other American camps mentioned, these camps were run by charity organizations primarily to give city kids a chance to experience a summer where they could focus on outdoor activities. Then in 1907 the first for profit Jewish camp was founded: Androscoggin in Maine, where it turns out Rabbi Peter Schweitzer went as a kid!! This camp did not actively promote Jewish activities, but it had Jewish owners and more than 80% of the campers were Jewish. Several researchers have used this percentage as the definition of a Jewish camp and Androscoggin fits what many of us in this room today know as a typical summer camp. These camps have created a deep sense of cultural kinship among Jews in America.

In the decades that followed, Jewish camps grew quickly in popularity. They generally fell into two categories: for profit camps catering to more wealthy families and camps run by charitable organizations to aid poorer kids. Another factor that led to the growth of Jewish camps in the 1930s and 1940s was the polio epidemic. As this disease affected many kids in urban areas, where many Jews lived as recent immigrants, escaping the cities in the summer became very important.

The post-World War Two years brought on tremendous growth in Jewish camping. These years also brought new types of Jewish camps that were more focused on promoting particular aspects of Jewish life. For example, there were Zionist camps that mirrored the rise of kibbutzim in Israel. Among them was Massad, a network of Hebrew speaking camps that trained American Jews to be pioneers in Israel. In 1947 the Conservative movement of Judaism opened their first camp, Ramah, in Wisconsin. That same year, Camp Swig in California was the first Reform camp.

Now all kinds of Jewish camps exist. Some actively promote Jewish education and keep kosher. Other camps have classes and other ways of developing Jewish values and identity among their campers. Still other camps have no religious aspect on the surface, but still largely cater to Jewish kids and therefore support the expansion of Jewish bonds and identity.

NOW – let me tell you about two camps that have played an important part of the history of my family: Scatico and Lenox. Camp Scatico has been owned and operated by the Holman Fleischner family since being founded in 1921 by brothers Jack and Nat Holman. Nat is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and Scatico remains the only camp ever owned by a Jewish celebrity. The camp was also was one of the first to go co-ed, in 1934 when it moved to its current home in Elizaville, New York. David, Jack’s grandson, has been the director there since 1984. He told me that they never considered themselves a religious camp. However, he explained that they do light candles and say blessings in the dining rooms on Friday nights. The girls’ and boys’ sides also then have separate “services” after dinner, which are spiritual and not religious in nature. About three quarters of the campers are Jewish, and about half the staff. In David’s view, camping remains a very powerful force and tradition in the Jewish community in the United States.

Most importantly, Camp Scatico was where my mom, Uncle Billy, Aunt Heather and their cousins Jackie and Douglas went. My Uncle Billy recalls that camp was where he learned to get along with others, even people he didn’t like so much. He also remembers going to his first rock concert as part of a Scatico summer, a Guns ‘N’ Roses and Aerosmith double bill. Rock on Uncle Billy. My aunt Heather remembers camp as a place where she increased her self esteem. She was General of the Grey Team for color war, wrote the alma mater for her team that year, and was MVP on the tournament winning softball team. My mom also thrived at Scatico; she made many friends and became a leader. She too led the Grey Team. My mom mostly remembers the friendships she made and the life moments like shaving her legs for the first time and sneaking over to boys’ side. Yes – camp is a place where you learn to grow up and become independent. Camp is also a place where you learn about the importance of tradition. My mom still remembers the blowing of revile and taps; the job wheel, trading stationery and the annual rituals like tribes, carnival and the campfires. And the singing of the same songs from year to year. In fact she still sings them.

My Grandpa Barry still sings his camp songs too. But his are Camp Lenox songs. LENOX CHEER example. He went there for many years and it is where Carly and I now spend our summers. I asked my Grandpa Barry what he remembered most about camp and he said the counselors, friends and being color war captain in 1953. I can tell you his captaincy is a true fact, because I see his name on the plaque in the camp dining room whenever I eat.

This past summer I interviewed Rich Moss, the Camp Director, to find out more about the camp’s history. Camp Lenox was founded by the Selverstone family in 1918. One of its distinguishing characteristics was the first outdoor dining room set right on Shaw Pond. In 1964 Monty Moss purchased the camp from the founding family. Monty was a teacher and he wanted to run a sports camp in the summer. From the beginning Monty, known as “Coach,” emphasized high quality sports instruction and skill building. He also pioneered the inter-camp tournament scene, with his Pittsfield basketball tournament being one of the first major camp tournaments in Western Massachusetts. Even today pretty much everyone at Lenox paints their face orange and black to cheer on the players in Pittsfield.

While Lenox has continued to emphasize sports over the years, some big changes have taken place since 1964. Most notably in 1985 Lenox became a co-ed camp. This came about largely due to requests from parents who wanted their daughters to attend. Today the girls’ side is just as vibrant and important as the boys’ side. Not only do the boys and girls mix every day, but the various age groups do too. Lenox prioritizes having the older kids interact with the younger kids through activities such as Twilight League and Sundown league, and by having a communal dining room where everyone eats together.

Rich, Monty’s son, became the director of the camp in 1985 and now runs it with his wife Stephanie, though Coach is still there every summer. The camp was never directly about promoting Jewish education but Jewish life has always played some role in camp and today the camp continues to offer Shabbat services every Friday night. While they are not a huge part of the camp experience, I can tell you the challah is really, really good. We also play Ga-ga, the Israeli game. At my camp most of the kids are Jewish. For me, this is very different than the New York City public schools I have been attending where the population is very diverse in all aspects. In thinking about this, my main realization is that I look at people for who they are, and don’t think of them any differently based on their religion.

I have now gone to Lenox for five summers and it’s the thing in my life I like the best, outside of Mom, Dad and Carly, of course. One thing I like about camp is that it teaches me skills that will help me develop into a grown up. For example, people need to be able to speak up and look out for themselves. This past summer I had stitches in my head from a flag football collision, and several weeks later I felt one of the stitches was becoming uncomfortable. I told my group leader and after a visit to the health cabin it turned out there was an infection. It was very minor, but the point is I had to take care of the situation myself instead of expecting my parents or a teacher to take care of it for me. Another life skill I am learning at camp is the need to be aware of other people. For example, even if you are a slob at home, in the bunk at camp you have to be neat and not let your stuff take over everyone else’s space.

Another special part of camp is the memories each camper creates. I can think of little silly moments like in my first year when my bunkmates and I all bought stuffed animals at the canteen and would then hang out with the animals each night. One kid even got his nickname, Moose, from his choice of animal. Other memories, good and bad, are key moments from big sports games. On the plus side I remember when my team won Twilight League a few years ago. On the downside this past year I was goalie and gave up the winning goal in penalty shots in a big team handball game with most of the camp watching. But learning how to deal with stuff like that is all part of what makes camp what it is. And some memories are special private inside jokes; for example, for anyone here today from bunk 22, all I want to say is “Kim Kardashian.”

What is most special about camp, however, are the deep and lasting relationships you form when you spend seven weeks away together every year in an isolated setting. They say if you have a friend for seven years they are a friend for life. I’m not sure if camp changes that timing at all, but I do know that the relationships you form when away from home for so long become really meaningful. Whether it’s a counselor I keep in touch with during the winter or texting my camp friends late at night to share something, these people mean so much to me. Camp Lenox is definitely one of the most important and best parts of my childhood so far.


“Jewish Chicken Farmers” by Benjamin Bottner
October 11, 2014

Not too long ago my mother said I was not old enough for “chicks,” get it – girls. But this past May, something happened that transformed my life.

You are here because you have a deep connection to me and to my family. You know that I am an Azerbaijani, Jewish, New York kid. Many of you know that I love airplanes – anything to do with flying. I love to travel and have been to many places around the world. Many of you know that I love making things with my hands and when I am interested in something, I study and read about the topic I’m passionate about until I can master it. But did you know that this past May, I added something else to my identity? I became an urban Jewish chicken farmer. My farm was my bedroom and for two months, it was the home of seven chickens. How did this ever happen? When and how did I find a love for raising chickens? Well here’s how it all started.

It all started in January 2014 with a text. Our friend Paul mentioned that his one-week old chick was doing well. Then he said something that intrigued me. “You seem like the right person to raise chicks. Would you ever want to do that?” At first I was a little skeptical – you know -having chickens in an apartment?? Paul lives on 200 acres in the country. I live in a third floor loft space in Brooklyn. But, as Paul explained more and more about his wonderful experience and how easy it is to raise a flock of chickens, I became totally enchanted by the idea. After months of reading, researching and learning the ins and outs of chicken hatching, I decided I could do this too. My one obstacle was having my mother say, “YES”. I needed to convince her that hatching chickens in a NYC apartment was a good idea. After figuring out the logistics – that is, what would become of these chicks after they became fully grown, my mother agreed to this crazy idea. On May 1st, the eggs arrived and I put seven eggs into the incubator. For 21 days, morning and night I checked up on my eggs to make sure that they were doing well. Every day I would check that the two thermometers in the incubator were reading the same temperature. I also needed to make sure there was proper humidity in the incubator by checking the water level in the water tray. While my eggs were growing from just a few cells, to embryos, to chicks with a heart, eyes, and wings, my mother and I prepared for the day they would hatch.

I need to back up a little because there’s more to this story. I was supposed to be researching another topic for my Bar Mitzvah. BUT, once the chicken idea came into view, all I did was read and research chicken raising. Believe it or not there is a connection between Jews and chickens. Central and Southern New Jersey were known for their many small Jewish chicken farms and the region became one of the largest egg producers in the nation. As a matter of fact, I have relatives on my grandmother’s side who were chicken farmers in New Jersey.

Back to my story! On our way home from checking out Baku Palace for my Bar Mitzvah venue, my mother started screaming my name. “Ben, Ben, Ben.” Her voice became louder and I was wondering what I was doing wrong now. Finally, she blurted it out, “Ben, another connection. Remember the song Jujalarim?” Jujalarim is a well-know Azerbaijani children’s song about baby chicks. Juja in Azerbaijani means “little chick.” When I was younger, my mother used to play this song for me. The connection was complete – Jewish, Azeri, family, chicken farmer – it all made sense.

For my research on the history of Jewish chicken farmers in New Jersey, I read parts of the book The Land Was Theirs: Jewish Farmers in the Garden State by Gertrude Dubrovsky. The book tells the history of American and immigrant Jewish farmers in Farmingdale, N.J. from 1919 to the 1970’s.

I also read many articles including a New York Times article by Joseph Berger called “Film Set on Jewish Farmers in Jersey.” Mrs. Dubrovksy made her book into a movie and my mom and I watched it. I also visited the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County, in Freehold N.J. This is where my relatives, Mollie and Izzy Warshaw, had their chicken farm.

My story starts at the turn of the 20th century because that’s when my family came to the United States. The idea of Jews owning their own land was a taboo in Eastern Europe. Only four percent of Jews had any connection to farming. In the late 1800s, there were several pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe and Jews began emigrating west to the other parts of Europe, the US, Canada and South America. This worried many wealthier Western European Jews, and they began relief efforts to help. Baron Maurice de Hirsch from Germany decided to put his fortune into helping Jews own land and settle into their new countries. De Hirsch financed projects in the US, Canada and Argentina. In 1891 De Hirsch’s fund bought 5,200 acres in Woodbine, NJ. The mission of the project was to take Jewish boys from the city slums, and train them to become farmers. In 1894, the Baron de Hirsch Agricultural College was founded in Vineland, NJ to train future farmers.

At the turn of the century, the only working Jewish farm colonies on the east coast were in south Jersey. They were collective farms founded by Russian and Eastern European Jews between 1882 and 1892. Southern New Jersey was a good location near to Philadelphia and New York markets, and near to friends, family and Jewish institutions.

In 1900 another aid organization was established – The Jewish Agricultural and Industrial Aid Society later shortened to the Jewish Agricultural Society or JAS. Its mission was similar to the De Hirsch fund – to take Jewish immigrants out of the city, and train them to be farmers. It loaned Jewish immigrants the money to start a farm, and eventually farmers would have to pay back the loan.

Most Jewish immigrants started off in crowded slums in cities like New York. Many worked in factories for someone else. They dreamed of being their own bosses. In 1919 the Peskin and Friedman families were looking to get out of the crowded city and moved to Farmingdale, in central NJ, to work the land. Mr. Peskin became very ill from the 1918 influenza pandemic. His doctor advised him to leave the city as soon as possible. The men had read that the JAS was helping Jewish immigrants become farmers. They thought that as a farmer, and being your own boss, there would be no exploitive labor as there was in the factories. A farmer had independence owning land. Peskin and Friedman went to the JAS office for help and after many discussions were told to go to central New Jersey to “scout the area.” That is how the Farmingdale Jewish chicken community started. Peskin was determined to convince other urban Jews to come to the area. He even became a real estate agent, another way to earn an income. In those days, chicken farming alone could not support a family.

It was really in the 1920s that the poultry business took off. The soil in Orange and Monmouth counties was poor quality for traditional farming. JAS decided the land was better suited for raising chickens. They started funding individual chicken farms and came to the conclusion that collective farming was not the answer. They offered farmers loans and gave them the necessary supplies and support to start new farms. Many of the farmers were new to the business and had no farming knowledge. The JAS agents spoke Yiddish and went around to the different communities to give advice in farming techniques.

From 1907-1956, the JAS published a monthly magazine DER YIDDISHER FARMER in both Yiddish and English. The magazine was informative and community related. There were articles about the latest agricultural advances and about other farming communities. The JAS also gave the different farming towns money to build community centers that served as synagogues and cultural meeting places. JAS realized how important a social life was to the community. Without a community center the Jewish chicken farmers in places like Farmingdale or Freehold were nowhere. They needed a social life and a place to gather. The Farmingdale Center was built by 12 farming families in 1928. Gertrude Dubrovsky said, “The community center was small and modest, but it had a heart and soul.”

Jewish immigrants with no farming experience established a community of small family owned farms and New Jersey became the most successful egg producing state in the U.S. According to Dubrovsky, the real success of the Jewish chicken farmers came down to the sense of “…community, brotherhood, and cooperation”. Without this the industry would have failed. This is also a great example of how farming values went together with Jewish values. When Jews had lived in communities and in shtetls they had to rely on each other. The same was true on the chicken farms. Say if one family needed help vaccinating their chickens and they needed to do it all in a day, but there was no possible way to do it, their neighbors, fellow Jews, were there to help.

As one farmer explained, “Everything we did, we did communally. Everything. That’s what made it so exciting. For example, when we had to take the chickens in from the range we would all come together in the morning, and we would be working at each other’s farms, bringing the chickens in from the ranges into the chicken houses. Then the women at the farm would prepare a huge breakfast. This went on for years. It was a combined social time and work.”

New Jersey, sandwiched between New York City and Philadelphia, was a perfect location to raise chickens. For as little as $2,000 you could get a loan from the JAS and buy a five-acre farm, and bam! It took five months for you to be in business. A chicken would bring in $2 a year, and let’s say you had 2,000 chickens, you could earn $4,000 a year. This was not bad in the 1950’s. Mrs. Dubrovsky wrote: “The Jewish chicken farmers took chicken raising out of the backyard and made an industry of it.”
By the early 1960s the chicken industry was declining. There were many reasons for the downfall. One of them was the overproduction of eggs. The US government stopped price supports and chicken farming became very expensive. Also competition was moving south. Many farmers sold their land to developers to build subdivisions in Monmouth and Ocean counties. As the market went down, people had to find other means of making a living. In 1979 the state of New Jersey converted a large part of Farmingdale into a reservoir. So many chicken farms now lie beneath the waves.

My great grandfather Morris Markowitz’s sister and brother-in-law were chicken farmers in Freehold, New Jersey. Mollie and Izzy Warshaw ran a roadside gas station and restaurant in Nyack, New York. Izzy decided to retire and become a chicken farmer. I talked to his granddaughter Nina Skolsky Metz, and I learned that Izzy liked being his own boss. Nina said: “I think Izzy had a dream of retiring to what he thought would be a more relaxing life raising chickens on a farm, again his own boss. So in the late forties-early fifties Izzy bought his own farm. Unfortunately, raising chickens was not a cakewalk. It was almost as hectic and tiring as running the gas station-restaurant. After several years Izzy sold the chickens to another farmer who kept them on the farm, and rented the coops from Izzy. The coop was a large one-room building, and the chickens were not kept in cages. I suppose you could say they were free-range indoor chickens.”

So following in Izzy and Mollie’s footsteps let us return to my bedroom farm in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Alas! Day 21 was here – the day the chicks were supposed to hatch. It was a normal morning, I went to school… but I could hardly wait. The moment the teacher dismissed the class, I raced home like Usain Bolt, flew into my apartment, said a quick hello to my mother, and burst into my room.

I heard a cheeping noise. As I approached the incubator, I saw one egg. The next thing that caught my eye was the chick’s beak slowly breaking into this world, as the light from my lamp glared on its innocent eyes.

Since I was the first thing it saw, I became the mother of this chick. It was now my job to teach the chick what food and water were. I dunked the chick’s head into a spoon of water, letting it drink. Next, I had to teach the chick about food. I literally shoved a spoonful of food in front of the chick’s beak and he instinctively pecked at it a few times. After a few pecks, he got it.

Shortly after midnight, a noise woke me up. It was the rest of the chicks poking their way out into the world. By the morning six more had hatched. Again, I took on the role of their mother and taught them each what food and water were.

Their home was made out of cardboard boxes taped and clamped together. It sat on top of wooden boards, a large plastic tablecloth, and two inches of pine shavings. For seven weeks, every five days my Mom and I cleaned out their coop. Kids and chicks don’t have the same DNA, but the way they treat their room is really similar – messy!!

On July 6th, ten weeks after I placed seven eggs in an incubator, the chicks started a new life at Bushwick City Farms. Bushwick City Farms is a small community farm in Brooklyn that educates children about growing and eating healthy food. They maintain a chicken coop, beehives and huge planters for urban farming. A core value at Bushwick City Farms is to help feed people in the nearby community and teach them about food production. Their motto is: give-as-you-can, take-only-as-you-need. My chickens will provide for people who need eggs to feed their families. This ties into some of my values, “Tikun Olam,” or bettering the world, generosity and giving. Hunger is not gone but I am glad that my chickens will help fight hunger for those people who are under served by the system.

Gertrude Dubrovsky wrote, “In a larger sense farming gave new Jewish immigrants an identification with America that made them a part of the land. Rural living allowed the best of their values to flourish-a strong sense of family and community, a belief in cooperation and a strong commitment to human rights and social justice for all.”

I have to say, raising a flock of seven chickens has not made me feel more or less Jewish. However, it did help me make a connection to the secular values of many Jewish farmers. I have observed that those secular humanistic values such as social justice and cooperation are tied into this project. This experience didn’t make me feel more or less of a Jew, but it did make me feel very proud.


“Fresh Air, Healthy Food and an Escape from the City: The Story of Jewish-American Summer Camps” by Andre Schoolman
May 10, 2014

I go to a Jewish summer camp, and the day consists of wake up, breakfast, service on Fridays and Saturdays, sports such as basketball, running and the Israeli game of gaga, lunch, pool, and afternoon classes such as rocketry and ceramics. Showers, of course, then dinner and an after dinner program that more often than not has something to do with being a Jew. According to talks with family and friends, camp for me is very similar to what they experienced 40 or more years ago. But summer camps for Jewish kids didn’t always look this way. In fact, the typically healthy kids that I hang out with at camp, weren’t the typical kids when Jewish summer camps came into being.

For my Bar Mitzvah project, I have decided to take a look at the history of Jewish summer camps. As I did my research, it became clear that the founding of the camps fulfilled the Jewish mitzvot of tikun olam, making the world a better place, along with tzedakah, charity.

Jewish summer camps are an American invention. Taking the idea of camping from the Boy Scouts, which started outdoor sleep away experiences in the late 1800s, Jewish social leaders saw the “country” as a place for needy city children to get away from the heat of the summer and illnesses such as polio and tuberculosis.

Possibly the first Jewish outdoor camp was Camp Lehman, founded in 1893 by the Working Girls’ Vacation Society of New York. Around this time, Jewish social service agencies wanted to help the hundreds of thousands of poor Jewish immigrants who were flooding into the slums of the Lower East Side. Groups such as the Henry Street Settlement and the Educational Alliance started sending children away for two weeks to camps upstate. The Hebrew Orphan Asylum in New York City, for example, bought a small abandoned bungalow colony near Bear Mountain and sent 16 anemic boys and girls there for two weeks of fresh air, healthy food and mild exercise. The experiment was so successful that by the 1920s the Asylum sent every child in its care to the camp for two weeks in the summer. Boys went to Camp Wakitan and girls went to Camp Wehaha. The names reflect the trend of naming camps to sound Native American.

I’ll be talking about the camps that were in existence from the early 1900s until the 1950s, when the “modern age” of camping came into being – the kind of camps that my friends and I attend.

In the 1900’s, parents wanted to send their kids out of the city. Remember, there was no air conditioning, parents often worked six days a week and there was nothing for kids to do but play in the street. Even with the new subway system, the Rockaways or Brooklyn seashore were hours away. Some parents who had some money sent their kids to live upstate with another family. But the vast majority of poor Jews depended on the social service agencies and sent their kids to affiliated summer camps.

The campers were not only getting a few weeks of fresh air, they were also having an opportunity to enrich their knowledge of being Jewish and enhance their Jewish identity. According to author Jenna Weissman Joselit, “Jewish camps were suffused with a mystical, almost religious, view of nature. Hailing the outdoors as ‘God’s own temple,’ where the air itself was nothing less than ‘God’s own tonic,’ ” camp founders believed that nature could cure anything.

Unlike the air conditioned Academy bus with TVs and a bathroom that I take to my camp in the Poconos, kids in the early 1900s took a train, a ferry across the Hudson River, another train, then a horse and wagon to get to camp near Bear Mountain. The trip took eight hours, at least. It’s a one-hour drive today. Other kids took the train out of Grand Central Station up the Hudson River to Cold Spring, where one of the oldest Jewish summer camps in the Northeast, Surprise Lake Camp, is located.

Let’s take a look at the earliest Jewish summer camps. The camps were a series of simple wooden buildings or tents, with a common dining hall. There was a lake, with boys’ bunks on one side and girls on the other. One photo I have of my grandfather Joe shows him as a camp counselor, walking with kids past tents at the Irene Kaufmann camp outside Pittsburgh.

Activities at camps, as I said before, centered on the outdoors. The author Chaim Potok wrote that in his youth, the 1920s and 1930s, the fear of polio was so great that “people sent their children away to escape this plague.”

He wrote in a book that accompanied an exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, that on visiting day families were not allowed to get too near their children. Often they had to stand in a roped off area, so the healthy children at camp wouldn’t be infected by their families.

He wrote, “…and so, as I grew up, chief among the uses of summer camp was the saving of Jewish lives.”

One of the first Jewish summer camps was Surprise Lake Camp, founded in 1902 by the Educational Alliance. The goal was to take kids out of the dirty infected slum of the Lower East Side as well as give them a religious experience. The cost was $2 for two weeks, including transportation. In 1911, the 92nd Street Y became partial owner of the camp and the camp office was located in the Y for many years.

Because Surprise Lake was one of the few, perhaps only, Jewish summer camps for poor and working class kids, many of its campers and counselors are very famous. Eddie Cantor, the singer and silent movie star, was one of the first campers. Other famous campers include singer Neil Diamond, talk show host Larry King, actor Jerry Stiller and former New York Attorney General Robert Abrams.

Of course, getting healthy at camp was very important. But maybe more important to Jewish camps of the 1900s was the goal of making the kids feel more Jewish. In The Jewish Way of Play, author Jenna Weissman Joselit wrote that many camps tried to recreate the sheltered life of the shtetl – the Jewish small town. She wrote that in these camps, unlike the outside world, “Jews and Jewish culture predominated.” Campers learned Hebrew and Yiddish songs and ate kosher food.

In the 1900s to the 1950s, hundreds of Jewish camps were established across the US. And, since there isn’t only one type of Jew, there wasn’t only one type of camp.

Some camps only spoke Yiddish, like Camp Boiberik. Some spoke only Hebrew, like Camp Massad, which had a strong Zionist stand. Habonim, which was a Labor Zionist camp, wanted to train young people to be pioneers (halutzim) in Israel.

One of the largest Jewish camps was Cejwin, founded by A.P. Schoolman, no relation, in 1948. It closed in 1992. At Cejwin, campers learned about Reconstructionist Judaism and the importance of a Jewish homeland.

For some Jewish camps in the early years, it was very important to have “the right kind of campers,” according to the book The Jewish Way of Play.

While the earliest camps helped the Jewish poor, some new camps wanted to appeal to the Jewish middle class. “ ’We had kids from all the matzos,” said Bea Young, founder of Maple Lakes, referring to the children of the leading matzo manufacturing families.” (The Jewish Way of Play).

In a 1930 Camp Issue of The American Hebrew newspaper, (courtesy of Rabbi Peter’s collection), The Jayson Camps in Massachusetts said they were looking for “boys and girls from the finest Jewish families.” Camp Jo-Lee in Maine was “endorsed by most prominent leaders of American Jewry.”

Some camps were very political and being Jewish was second to politics. The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, a left wing Jewish group, founded Kinderland in 1923. But in 1927, Kinderland was taken over by the Communist-affiliated International Workers’ Order. Kinder Ring, which split off, was more Socialist.

Representatives of Jewish community centers in New York City and Westchester County founded Camp Wel-Met, in 1935, where my mother, uncle Mike, and mentor Marty went in the 1950s and 60s. Its real name was the Metropolitan Jewish Centers Camp Association. The purpose of the camp was to “encourage and provide for children and young people, recreational, health and character building opportunities through the establishment and maintenance of a summer camp for children.” (Camp history on web site). In the summer of 1935, 75 boys went to the first Wel-Met camp location on rented land at Lake Tiorati in Bear Mountain State Park. It cost $12 a week.

Today Jewish summer camps range from Orthodox to Reform, like my camp, Cedar Lake. An Orthodox camp like Camp Nesher for boys “combines an enriched Torah atmosphere with the best recreational programs,” according to its web site. For Orthodox girls, at Camp Shoshonim, girls wear mostly skirts and dresses while doing sports along with chesed (acts of kindness) and chinuch (education). Among the best known today is Camp Ramah, run by the Conservative Movement, which is co-ed and has sports as well as religious services. Ramah sets aside several hours a day for intensive Jewish study.

At Cedar Lake, which is Reform, there was a special Bar or Bat Mitzvah tutor available for campers who wanted to work over the summer. There were services Friday nights and Saturday mornings for about two hours and you had to wear white. Of course, there was kosher food, so no bacon or milk with meat. It wasn’t hard eating kosher food because there were still great meals like hot dogs and grilled cheese, but not at the same time of course.

The height of Jewish camp popularity was in the 1950s, but soon camps started to close because kids wanted to do other things in the summer.

Today, instead of going to Jewish summer camps, kids often go to secular camps, or subject related camps such as basketball camp, or math camp. But nonetheless, kids do go to summer camps during the summer to get out of the hot city, just as they used to back in the 1900’s when summer camps weren’t even very popular.

I have gone to Jewish sleep-away camp every year not because I am forced to, but because I want to enjoy my few months of no school, and nice, hot weather outside of the city. I have gone to this camp because I see something that I don’t see anywhere in the hot, do-nothing city. I see COMMUNITY, getting together, playing with friends my age, and having a good time. That’s why I have gone to camp.

My mom said her years at a Jewish camp were outstanding. She wanted me to have the same opportunity. My mom chose a Jewish camp because it was culturally familiar to her. She had sent me to the 92nd Street Y camps, again because of her comfort with the Jewish camp experience. While my mom is, obviously, a Humanistic Jew, she said exposing me to other forms of Judaism would be “good for me.” I’ve learned a lot about being a Jew at camp.

But, it is time for me to move on from summer camp. Now that I am almost 14 I have decided to do other things in the summer – a backpacking and kayaking trip with the Appalachian Mountain Club and computer class at Columbia. Camp has been a great growing experience for me, but it’s time to move on. Like it has been for kids for the past 100 years, Jewish camp has been an outstanding experience for which I am very thankful.


“Jews & Chocolate” by Liliana Franklin
April 27, 2014

Personally, I love chocolate. I have loved it forever. I may only know one person who loves chocolate as much as I do, my friend Steffie. When I used to go to Hershey Park, I would always love going on the ride that tells how they make chocolate and go to the gift shop and look for the biggest chocolate bar they had. I love all chocolates—dark, milk, white, pure, unsweetened, and sweetened.

When I originally chose a topic for my special project, I chose the history of Jewish desserts, but then I found out from Rabbi Peter that another rabbi had just written a new book called On the Chocolate Trail about the connection between chocolate and Jews. It turns out that our history together goes back many centuries. That piqued my interest so right away I started researching chocolate.

I have always wondered if chocolate was used for other things besides food. I also wanted to know how Jews used it in the past. I did not know anything about this history. I wanted to find out how our ancestors used it.

Facts About Chocolate

First some basic facts about chocolate: chocolate is a $110 billion-a-year worldwide industry. The word chocolate came to the English language from Spanish. I kept thinking about it and wondered if other people or religions used it as moisturizer or as a healing product. In my research I found during the 18th century it was used for its therapeutic qualities, like prevention of stomach aches. When Dr. James Baker of Baker’s Chocolate fame started the first chocolate factory in North America, its purpose was to make remedies for illnesses. But so far I’ve found that chocolate has mainly been used in cooking and food.

Chocolate can come in different forms. It can be powdered, solid, or liquid. These forms can be used in cooking, like drinks and desserts, and baked into things like mole and Mexican chili. Chocolate comes in different varieties, and some chocolates have more actual chocolate than other ingredients. For example, some have 60 percent chocolate and others have less.

But chocolate isn’t for everyone. Animals can find chocolate toxic because of an ingredient also found in coffee, tea and some over-the-counter stimulants called methylxanthine alkaloids. This ingredient commonly poisons dogs because of their habit of consuming things quickly, especially puppies and large dogs. Some people have addictions to chocolate and they are called “chocoholics.” But sometimes chocolate can just satisfy a craving one might have for something sweet.

What is Chocolate Anyway?

Chocolate is made from cacao beans, which grow on cacao trees. The tree is native to the Amazon rainforests of South America, but has been transported to many parts of the world. The bean needs a warm, wet climate to thrive, so it grows mostly in countries just north and south of the equator. Today most cacao beans are grown in West Africa, particularly the Ivory Coast and Ghana. The beans grow in pods, which look almost like melons. Each pod contains about 20 to 40 seeds, the cacao beans. The pods are harvested by hand and the beans are scooped out to dry. The beans are sorted, cleaned, and roasted. Then they are cracked and de-shelled in a winnower, resulting in cocoa nibs, the broken pieces of cacao without the shell. The shells are blown away from the nibs. Crushing the nibs creates a paste of the chocolate. This can be done by hand on a stone, like in the Colonial period, or in machines of industrial companies in Europe and North America. The result is “cocoa liquor,” which has no alcohol and has not yet been sweetened. Sometimes this is called the cocoa mass. A longer grinding period yields a smoother-textured chocolate. Through the grinding stage, the liquor/mass is separated from the cocoa fat/butter. They are recombined in varying quantities depending on the intended use of the chocolate. The chocolate mixture is then massaged to combine the ingredients. This also affects the taste and texture. Finally, the chocolate is tempered, which is the process of heating and cooling that gives the chocolate a glossy look and hardness.

Chocolate has health effects, some good, some not so good. On the positive side, it can boost cognitive abilities. Dark chocolate can lower cholesterol in some adults, and may positively affect the circulatory system. Some negatives include possible heartburn, allergic reactions for children, and there is some evidence that chocolate may be addictive.

Jews and Chocolate

Many people don’t know that there is a connection between Jews and chocolate, but there is. The story starts with Christopher Columbus. I even found some articles arguing that Columbus himself was Jewish—CNN reported about this—but I have no idea if that’s true. Members of his crew were secret Jews. (I’ll explain why it had to be a secret in a minute.)

As we all learned in school, Columbus “discovered” the New World in 1492. Of course that just means he discovered it for Europeans. Native people were already living here, and they drank chocolate beverages. They valued cacao beans so highly that they even used them as currency. On Columbus’s fourth voyage, to the Bay of Honduras in 1502, he and his crew discovered the beans and brought them back to Spain by 1520. Jews were living in Spain at the time, and many of them were merchants—but they had to keep their Jewishness a secret because this was the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisition was a campaign against “heretics,” anyone who wasn’t Catholic. Jews were prime targets. It was established formally in 1480 in Spain, 1536 in Portugal, and 1571 in New Spain (which included much of North and South America). People were tried for the crime of Judaizante (behaving like a Jew). They could lose property, be imprisoned, or even be burned to death at the stake. Jews were officially exiled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1496. Most were forced to convert, but they secretly remained Jews. They were known as “conversos” or “marranos” (though marrano meant pig in Portuguese). They secretly celebrated Jewish holidays and almost all married other secret Jews.

Once cacao came to Spain, chocolate became a big business there. The Spanish loved it! Here’s where the Jewish chocolate connection comes in. Many were already merchants and it made sense to get into the chocolate business. But remember, officially Jews had been expelled from Spain and Portugal (Portugal was also a center of the chocolate trade). Some, the conversos, stayed and got involved in the business. Many others were exiled and moved around Europe. They moved to France, the Netherlands, England, Belgium, and eventually to the New World of the Americas. This is known as the Jewish diaspora. A diaspora is a scattering or dispersion, when an ethnic or religious group is forced to move away from their original homeland. And wherever the Jews went, they brought the chocolate business with them.

Some people say that Jews introduced chocolate to France. Pamphlets claiming this can be found today in chocolate shops in Paris. The story is that Jewish exiles from Spain, or Jews with relatives in Spain, moved to Bayonne, a port city on the southwestern coast of France, near the Spanish border. Bayonne became the center of French chocolate-making at the beginning of the 17th century. About 60 converso Jewish families lived there at the time, outwardly pretending to be Christians. Because the Inquisition wasn’t as strong in France, they gradually became more open about their Judaism. By the end of the century there were about 800 Jews in Bayonne, with 13 synagogues. These Jews became expert chocolate makers, and were also active in the shipping and smuggling of cacao beans from South America to Spain and Amsterdam. There were problems, of course. Non-Jewish chocolate makers tried to push the Jews out of the business. Jews had to leave the city by sundown every evening (they lived in a Jewish district, not the main city) and weren’t allowed to sell chocolate on Sundays or Christian holidays. Nevertheless, after legal battles, the Jews won the right to continue making chocolate. Today Bayonne brags of its chocolate history and claims that Jews introduced chocolate to France.

Wherever Jews moved—pretty much everywhere—they brought chocolate. One big center of Jewish chocolate-making was Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. Chocolate-making became a Dutch Jewish specialty. A converso Jew opened the first coffeehouse serving hot chocolate in Oxford, England, in 1650. On the French Caribbean island of Martinique, a Jew formerly of Bayonne cultivated the first cacao trees and established the first cacao-processing plant in French territory. Chocolate eventually became the most important export from Martinique. Sadly, all Jews were expelled from the French colonies in 1685, ending the Jewish chocolate business in Martinique.

In Denmark in the 18th century, where Jews weren’t permitted to work in many professions, coffee, tea, and chocolate became known as the “Jew trades.” The expression was abolished when Jews became citizens in 1814. It was a Jew, Franz Sacher, who developed the famous Viennese dessert still known today as the Sachertorte: dark chocolate and apricot jam. He was only 16 at the time.

American History

Jewish families with roots in Spain—Sephardic Jews—were active in the manufacture and sale of chocolate during the Revolutionary and Colonial periods of U.S. history, particularly in New York City and Newport, Rhode Island. The Gomez family was a great example. Over two generations at least, from the late 17th century through the early 19th century, they built a chocolate business in New York.

The first Jewish settlement up the Hudson River was established by Luis Moses Gomez, who escaped the Inquisition to France before coming to America. His father Isaac was a Spanish nobleman who was warned by the king that the Inquisition was about to arrest him. That’s how the family escaped. The Gomez Mill House in Newburgh, New York, is the oldest surviving Jewish residence in North America. Rebecca Gomez was the first woman to manufacture chocolate.

Baker’s Chocolate Company calls itself the oldest and says its first sale was in 1772, but Jewish grocers were selling chocolate as early as the 1750s. It was mainly consumed as a drink. There were no chocolate ice creams, candy bars, or cakes yet. Jewish merchants in New York were at the center of the chocolate trade, importing cacao and trading it throughout Europe. It was an intercontinental trade with ties to Jews in other countries, often friends and relatives. Many got rich.

Chocolate drinking was very popular in colonial times. Some Pilgrims who arrived at Plymouth Rock were shocked by all the chocolate and called it “the devil’s food.” Now we call chocolate cake devil’s food cake.

Jewish immigrants to the U.S. have a long history of succeeding in the chocolate and candy business, beginning in the 1800s. Immigrant Louis Auster developed the chocolate egg cream in his candy store on the Lower East Side in 1890. (This is disputed.) Herman and Ida Fox developed Fox U-Bet Chocolate Syrup in Brooklyn in 1895, offering a kosher-for-Passover version. Leo Hirshfield, who learned the candy business from his family in Austria, invented Chocolate Tootsie Rolls, named for his daughter, in 1896. He saved money by using cocoa powder instead of actual chocolate. David Goldenberg, who immigrated to Philadelphia from Romania, developed the Goldenberg Peanut Chew. His children, Sylvia and Harry, began selling individually wrapped Peanut Chews in 1921.

During the Nazi era, the Jewish-run Bartons candy company, called Barton’s Bonbonniere, helped refugees escape to the U.S. The head of the company, Stephen Klein, an Orthodox Jew himself, had fled from Vienna the day after the 1938 Nazi march into Austria, known as the Anschluss. In Vienna he had owned one of the city’s biggest chocolate companies, but the Nazis seized it. After he escaped to New York, he started the Bartons company here. He aided many immigrants, refugees, Holocaust survivors, and displaced Jews all over the world. Bartons produced Jewish-themed chocolate, like candy in the shapes of Hebrew letters, chocolate-covered hamentaschen, and chocolate matzah.

Other Interesting History About Chocolate

Chocolate isn’t just popular here in the U.S. or in Europe. Israelis love chocolate! They especially love milk chocolate. Chocolate is a big business there. Israelis prefer local chocolate to anything imported. Max Brenner Chocolate—a chain now here in New York and all over the world—was originally Israeli (named after its founders, Max Fichtman and Oded Brenner).

Chocolate Hanukkah gelt has ancient origins. This tradition of giving money (Hanukkah gelt) originated in the 17th century to provide kids with money to give to their teachers—demonstrating that even hundreds of years ago Jews valued education. Over time, money was also given to the kids to keep. Even in ancient Israel, descendants of the Maccabees supposedly minted and distributed coins to commemorate their victory. As early as the sixth century the Talmud taught that poor Jews must light Hanukkah candles even if they had to go door to door begging for the money to do it.

Why is gelt chocolate? One story is that 18th and 19th century European Jews who became prominent in the chocolate business starting making the coins for Hanukkah. Or maybe it’s that the American companies Loft and Barton began making the coins in the 1920s.

A really interesting connection is to Christmas customs, of all things! In St. Nicholas’s Festival, which has been celebrated in Western Europe since the 13th century, St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sweets, supposedly journeyed from distant Spain to reward children with gold-covered chocolate coins. The Dutch call St. Nicholas Sinterklaas. Children collect the coins—geld, or gold—from their shoes the morning after his visit. And Christmas isn’t the only Christian holiday with a connection to Jewish chocolate. It is said that Jews may even have made the very first chocolate Easter eggs.

Ethics and Values

As you know by now, I love chocolate, but it’s very difficult to buy ethically produced chocolate today, a fact I find very sad. There are many different ethical issues someone might consider when buying chocolate (or anything). Someone might only buy kosher chocolate, for instance. Someone else might care most about the environment and only buy locally produced chocolate. Demand for chocolate creates a great disconnect between the standard of living of most growers of cocoa beans and that of the manufacturers and consumers of these luxury products.

The really disturbing thing to me is that almost all cocoa beans today are harvested by children, often slaves, in western Africa. Some of these children have been kidnapped from or sold by their families. They are not paid for their dangerous work, imprisoned at night, denied education, forced to work long hours, and often beaten. Most of them have never even tasted the delicious products they produce. And child slavery in the chocolate industry is unfortunately very common. In the Ivory Coast alone, there are an estimated 200,000 children working the fields, many against their will (even though child labor is illegal there). Leaders of a Mali human rights organization estimate that child slaves are found on at least 90 percent of the Ivory Coast cocoa plantations. And since about 80 percent of the world’s cocoa supply comes from West Africa, it is likely that almost all the bulk cocoa used by the world’s big chocolate companies is really child slavery chocolate.
Even though I love chocolate, I don’t want to eat chocolate produced by child slaves! But fortunately I found one company, Grenada Chocolate, which has gotten around these problems. It was founded in 1999 by three men named Mott Green, Doug Browne, and Edmond Brown. The three decided to create a chocolate company in an ecosystem-friendly factory without slave or child labor. The chocolate is organic. The company uses solar energy to power the factory. Sadly, the founder, Mott Green, died last June in the factory in an accident.

Jews helped bring chocolate, my favorite food, to Europe and America, and now I hope Jews will help make sure that chocolate is produced ethically everywhere in the world. For myself, I will try to eat only chocolate that is produced without slave labor. Other chocolate may taste sweet, but it won’t feel right in my mouth.

In honor of Mott Green, I would like to end my talk by showing this 3-minute video in his memory.

End on the Grenada video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAyjRNhakZM


“A Legacy: Jews on Broadway” by Samantha Streit
April 5, 2014

Studying for my Bat Mitzvah has made me even more proud of my religion. It is not because of the big party I am about to have, the delicious matzo ball soup, or the eight nights of presents for Hanukkah; rather, I learned that my Jewish heritage happens to directly link to my passion: musical theater. Going through this Bat Mitzvah process has taught me that Jews were the originators of the American Musical and composed music or wrote lyrics for nearly every famous show.

My favorite musicals are the ones that make me speechless. I sit at the edge of my seat and can’t find just one part I love because I am overwhelmed by the music and performance. When I recently saw Cinderella on Broadway, it quickly became my favorite, on top of Wicked, which I have seen twice before that, and which has always been my absolute favorite. When I sit down and think about which musical is the best, more shows I’ve seen come to mind, like the first musical I ever saw, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which began it all for me, or a school musical I starred in called Once Upon a Mattress. Because of this, I began to investigate my obsession with these shows as a way to start my major project research. Rodgers and Hammerstein, two Jews, wrote the music and lyrics for Cinderella, and Steven Schwartz, another Jew, wrote Wicked. Two Jewish brothers, Richard and Robert Sherman, wrote the music and lyrics for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Once Upon a Mattress was, yes, also written by two more Jews, Mary Rodgers and Marshall Barer. Through Judaism, theater was deeply connected to me before I even knew it. If I had to research anything, how could this not be my top choice?

Theater for me has always been a safe place where I can be whoever I want to be and express myself. This project made me realize I am not the first one to use theater as an escape. Theater was originally a way for Jews to escape from their sometimes-harsh realities and enjoy themselves. In the late 19th century, Jews were escaping Russia and Western Europe because of persecution. Given that they had already started to perform in Europe to help them cope with the terrible obstacles they faced, when they came to the new world, they continued performing in what became known as Yiddish Theater. On the Lower East Side of New York, where many immigrant Jews settled, performers were acting in Yiddish and helping to lighten the mood. Yiddish Theater became so popular that people began to pay money to see these often funny and educational shows. This went from a “pick-me-up” to a new tradition in the new world.

This once strictly Jewish tradition spread through New York City society as Yiddish Theater actors crossed over to Broadway. All types of people began to love Yiddish Theater, making Jewish people a vital part of the new New York City theater culture that was slowly developing in the early to mid-1900s. As this theater culture developed, it influenced the young Jewish children growing up at the time. The children who watched the expansion of Yiddish Theater became important contributors to the history of what we now call the “American musical.”

Even though it is now 2014, many Jewish children like myself are doing at least one of the same things as kids back in the early 1900s. Parents are taking us to see musicals and we are carrying on what has become a Jewish tradition. In my thirteen years, I have already seen numerous plays and musicals, and I take singing lessons, acting classes, dance classes, perform in shows, and do whatever else I can to be part of musical theater.

Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern elevated the tradition of Jewish people in theatre. Kern was born here in New York and Berlin immigrated as a very young boy. Both of them were part of the one of the younger generations of Jewish children being raised in America in the 1890s. Though born to parents from other countries, as young boys, Berlin and Kern always considered themselves American. As they grew older and began to create music, it was a new kind of music;they were a new kind of Jew.

Irving Berlin was one of the creators what eventually became known as“The American Song Book,” made up of all types of songs that people now consider classic American music. Although he started out writing songs about his own ethnic group, Berlin found fame writing songs like DzWhite Christmas,dzDzEaster Parade,dzand “Marie from Sunny Italy.” However, he grew up surrounded by Jews and his father was a cantor, and those influences seeped into his music. Berlin’s family emigrated from Russia for a better life. No matter what, his songs continued to have a Jewish feeling in them.

Just as Berlin created a brand new “American Style” of music, Jerome Kern began a whole new idea of musical theatre. Kern was a composer who created songs that are more similar to what we hear currently in musical theatre. Before him, musicals were based more on opera and fancy European songs. In 1914 he wrote,“They Didn’t Believe Me,” which was a song that had a lot of casual, slangy language in it, much like the musicals today, rather than the traditional operettas of the time.

Just as Berlin created a brand new “American Style” of music, Jerome Kern began a whole new idea of musical theatre. Kern was a composer who created songs that are more similar to what we hear currently in musical theatre. Before him, musicals were based more on opera and fancy European songs. In 1914 he wrote,“They Didn’t Believe Me,” which was a song that had a lot of casual, slangy language in it, much like the musicals today, rather than the traditional operettas of the time.

Later on, in the mid 20s, inspired by Kern and Berlin, more Jewish songwriters continued adding to the American tradition of Jewish music. The Gershwin brothers, George and Ira, wrote and composed even newer styles of music. George Gershwin brought jazz and blues into his American folk opera, Porgy and Bess. Although Porgy and Bess is about an African American community in South Carolina, like almost all other Jewish musicians’ work, Judaism seeped into all these songs. One of the best examples that only people that have been to temple would recognize is in the song “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” The melody is the same exact melody you would hear at a traditional Bar or Bat Mitzvah right before the Torah is read:

“Barchu Et Adonai Ham’vorach,”

Which sounds like:

“It Ain’t Necessarily So”

The most clever and humorous part about this song, besides the hidden Jewish melody, is that “It Ain’t Necessarily So” is about a group of African-American people discussing whether the words in the Bible are “necessarily so” or not.

Two more famous Jewish writers of musicals are Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers, who met while Rodgers was at Columbia University and began to work together in the mid-1920s and 40s. Both of them grew up surrounded by the new type of American music created by Berlin and Kern, which was really all Jewish, and this inspired them to create some of the most amazing musicals of our time.

Two more famous Jewish writers of musicals are Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers, who met while Rodgers was at Columbia University and began to work together in the mid-1920s and 40s. Both of them grew up surrounded by the new type of American music created by Berlin and Kern, which was really all Jewish, and this inspired them to create some of the most amazing musicals of our time.

While Hart and Rodgers were working together throughout the 20s and 30s, lyricist Oscar Hammerstein was working with a number of composers including Jerome Kern. Together Hammerstein and Kern wrote the first modern musical, Show Boat.

Finally, in the 1940s, Rodgers and Hammerstein joined forces, composed and wrote lyrics for another musical that I love, Oklahoma. It is another one of the great shows written by Jews that is not about Jews at all. This show is basically about a stereotypical America filled with cowboys, farmers, and their love stories. Rodgers and Hammerstein continued to control Broadway for two more decades writing South Pacific, Carousel, The King and I, and my personal favorite, Cinderella, written for TV.

Now that our world is more accepting of all cultures, I find it striking that Jews are still playing such an important role on Broadway, and that other cultures are still under-represented on the Great White Way. Yet, as our society becomes more modern, more and more races and religions are represented. Sondheim was and is the new generation on Broadway. He and Leonard Bernstein are the two men most responsible for generating the Broadway I have grown up around and loved. Another one of the best musicals I’ve watched over and over again for years is West Side Story, for which Bernstein composed the music and Sondheim wrote the lyrics and this show brought Broadway more up to date with jazz and style.

West Side Story, like the musicals that came before it, is not about Jewish life. However, before West Side Story was called “West Side Story,” it was actually written about the love between a Jewish girl and an Italian guy and was called “East Side Story,” about forbidden love between a Jew and an Italian. But in the 50s, Puerto Ricans were criticized and ostracized, and so West Side Story was reconfigured to tell the same tale as when the Jews first arrived in New York. This acculturation process keeps repeating itself: when different cultures first enter America, they are persecuted and have to prove their worth.

Although the Jews had earned their respect in musical theatre, they continued to work hard in this field. Sondheim is still working today and was joined by so many other Jewish musicians and lyricists, including: Richard Rodgers’ daughter, Mary Rodgers; the lyricist Sheldon Harnick; composer Jerry Bock; Charles Strouse; Stephen Schwartz; Marvin Hamlisch; and the list goes on and on. In my opinion, this list will never stop. Musical theatre started out as an activity I just happened to enjoy; it turns out that it was actually a tradition created for Jewish kids like me. I am part of the next generation of musical theater. It is crazy to think that something I do, simply out of choice, could have such a deep relation to my culture.

My research for this project became very real when I started to learn about Sheldon Harnick. That’s because many people I know have met Harnick and he has even chatted with my grandpa. When my grandfather was working as a lifeguard and waiter up in the Adirondacks at a hotel, he spent a summer getting to know Sheldon Harnick before he became famous. My grandpa always reminisced about that very special summer. Sheldon Harnick would later become known for his lyrics in dozens of musicals, including Fiddler on the Roof. Harnick also has worked with my TCC KidSchool teacher, Daniel, who also writes shows. Just last month, Daniel was generous enough to invite me and my parents to see one of Sheldon Harnick’s shows, “Tenderloin”. After seeing the show I was also able to meet Harnick and I was astonished to see how he just acted like any another guy. No matter where I look, it seems like all Jews have some connection to theater.

Mary Rodgers and I have a very strong link, but until I did this research, I didn’t even know it. She composed the music for the play, Once Upon a Mattress. I connect particularly with this show’s songs because if you know me, as many of you do, the songs are quirky and fun, which I think describes me, as well. This was the first school musical I starred in and was soon followed by me performing in another one; Beauty and Beast, yet another show with music written by, wouldn’t you guess it, Jews, including Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.

I even have a strong link to Irving Berlin and the Gershwins! Jews throughout history, and even today, may not express their full Jewish identity in order to do what they think will lead them to more success. For example, my family pronounces my last name as “Street,” which sounds less Jewish than “Streit,” which is how it is spelled. It was my great grandma who decided that a less Jewish sounding name would help her family live a better life. This is also true for Irving Berlin, who was born Israel Isidore Baline, as well as Ira and George Gershwin’s real names, Israel and Jacob Gershowitz. Anti-Semitism may be the reason shows by Jews are primarily not written about Jewish culture. This is because of stereotypes. Judaism, for centuries, was judged and marginalized.

Fiddler on the Roof is the most famous musical about Jewish life. Joseph Stein wrote the script, and Jerry Bock composed the songs for which Sheldon Harnick wrote the lyrics. Fiddler helps to tell the story of a Russian town, Anatevka, where Jews are being forced to leave due to a Russian pogrom. The families of the town are not only dealing with dislocation, but also with changing times as their children begin moving away from Jewish traditions. Everyone in the story, no matter how rigid his or her outlook, breaks a tradition. The play is a comedy written about tragedy.

The most humorous and challenged character in Fiddler of the Roof is the father, Tevye. He is struggling between deciding whether he wants his daughters to love and act freely or if he should make them obey the old-fashioned Jewish traditions. The situation with each daughter is handled differently and with humor. Usually, Tevye finds that breaking Jewish traditions to allow his daughters to live a happier life isn’t so wrong and he can find ways to adapt traditions for his family.

This relates to Humanistic Judaism which values some of the traditions of Judaism, but allows Jewish people to make the best choices for their own lives even if it means breaking traditions, like me having this non-traditional Bat Mitzvah.

The Sound of Music by Rodgers and Hammerstein is another musical that touches upon Jewish themes, including the Holocaust. The movie was made in 1965 about a gentile family coping with the occupation of the Nazis in Austria in the 1930s. In this play, the Nazis are the villains as they were in reality. The Von Trapp family is able to survive and stay strong through music.

While The Sound of Music presents the Nazis as villains and offered a realistic way for people in the 1960s to talk about Hitler and Germany, it is a polar opposite to the approach that Mel Brooks took in the 1960s with The Producers. The Producers was the most modern movie musical written about Jewish life, and was of course written by a Jew. Mel Brooks wrote the movie and the songs, which later he adapted into a Broadway show, and it is naturally hysterical. The Producers was written in 1968 about a fading producer, Max Bialystock, the former “King of Broadway,” who tries to raise money to make hits on Broadway like he used to, along with his Jewish accountant. When the accountant jokes that the producer would make more money from a flop, and then explains how this could really work, the two of them team up and set out to create a horrible, tasteless show. They decide to make it a merry show about Hitler and the Holocaust, the most deplorable of subjects, and call it “Springtime for Hitler.” But when the audience decides it is a comedy, rather than a serious show, it becomes a hit, which ruins their plans.

This show illustrates how Jewish people heal with humor. However, the exaggerated humor in The Producers, and the over the top, unrealistic jokes Mel Brooks wrote, were clearly used to take the power away from the evil events that had occurred. When the film was released, some people were extremely offended; however, both German and Jewish audience members have said that this was the first time they were able to laugh about this disturbing topic.

One less popular, but still great, musical movie from 1983 is Yentl, written by Jack Rosenthal and based on a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, with songs written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and music by Michael Legrand. Yentl is another musical written by Jews about Jewish life and its struggles. Like Fiddler on the Roof, this movie questions traditional Judaism and examines the desire to break those traditions. Yentl is about a girl who seeks the Jewish education that only Jewish men were provided in Poland in the early 1900s. Yentl hits some amusing, yet serious obstacles along the way, including falling in love with a boy who was in her boy’s-only study group, and having a girl, who thinks Yentl is a boy, fall in love with her. The story is just one big Polish love triangle. Eventually, Yentl, through song, learns how to survive it all. This movie is also known for another famous Jewish musician, director and star Barbara Streisand.

The musical Spamalot, written by the Monty Python group, premiered in 2005. The song “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” explains everything about Jewish people’s contributions to musical theater in the cleverest way. The lyrics state: “You won’t succeed on Broadway if you don’t have any Jews.” Just like this song details, today it is a given that Jewish people are woven into Broadway’s roots and continue to play a large part in contemporary Broadway. Jewish people, who are mainly responsible for the beginning and progression of Broadway itself, wrote most of the beautiful songs and shows that make up Broadway, as we now know it. Like Sondheim being mentored by Oscar Hammerstein, and Rodgers and Hammerstein joining forces, it has become clear to me that part of our Jewish lives is working together to do something great. Jewish creative people combining their strongest talents, whether musical ability, humor, optimism, writing skills, or more, leads to the best kind of show.

Musical theater has always been yet another family I can count on, along with school, my friends, and of course, my mom and dad. Now having a stronger grasp of how my Jewish identity is so deeply connected to the world of musical theater, I feel even more a part of it all. Studying Jews in musical theater has made me feel less of an observer, and more of a contributor. Who knows, maybe in thirty years, some young girl will study Jews in musical theater and read all about me?

I would love to sing a song for all of you from the Broadway show, Billy Elliot, with songs by Elton John and Lee Hall. I chose this song because from the first time I heard it, it spoke to me. Although it was not written by Jews, by sharing this song with you all at my Bat Mitzvah, we are bringing it into the fold. Rather than it being created by Jews, it illustrates my love for musicals and is one that I can’t seem to get out of my head. Even though years have passed since I first heard the song, I continue to hum it all the time. It goes like this:

I can’t really explain it,
I haven’t got the words
It’s a feeling that you can’t control
I suppose it’s like forgetting, losing who you are
And at the same time something makes you whole
It’s like that there’s a music playing in your ear
And I’m listening, and I’m listening and then I disappear

And then I feel a change
Like a fire deep inside
Something bursting me wide open impossible to hide
And suddenly I’m flying, flying like a bird
Like electricity, electricity
Sparks inside of me
And I’m free I’m free

It’s a bit like being angry,
it’s a bit like being scared
Confused and all mixed up and mad as hell
It’s like when you’ve been crying
And you’re empty and you’re full
I don’t know what it is, it’s hard to tell
It’s like that there’s a music playing in your ear
But the music is impossible, impossible to hear
But then I feel it move me
Like a burning deep inside
Something bursting me wide open impossible to hide
And suddenly I’m flying, flying like a bird
Like electricity, electricity
Sparks inside of me
And I’m free I’m free
Electricity, sparks inside of me
And I’m free, I’m free
I’m free. Free I’m free


“You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me: Decoding Jewish Humor” by Julian Keifetz
October 13, 2013

As you’ve probably gathered by now, comedy is something I’m passionate about. I like making people laugh because it makes me, and them, feel good. It feels really good when I tell a joke that kills! Likewise, when I hear comedians tell a brilliant joke, I feel deep respect for them and their craft.

I’ve often wondered where I got my love for comedy and my sense of humor. My dad is a very funny person – he knows how to make people laugh. The same can be said about my mother. Because I’m Jewish, I was inspired to look into what distinguishes Jewish humor from non-Jewish humor. Now, I’m going to take a look at a variety of Jewish jokes and discuss what makes them so “Jewish.”

A universal characteristic of humor, writes Ruth Wisse in her book, No Joke: Making Jewish Humor, is that “stereotypes are a regular feature of joking.” She adds: “jokes often characterize people by a single characteristic.” It’s in the playing up of stereotypes that good humor is found. Every ethnicity has its stereotypes. Some people are supposedly cheap. Some drink a lot. Others are dumb, and so on, and so on. Personally, I find stereotyping ignorant and judgmental, but when used humorously, ethnic stereotyping can be quite funny. Why? Because often you will see just how false and silly a stereotype is when you hear it in a joke.

Mindful that exaggerated stereotypes about Jews are at the heart of good Jewish jokes, I watched several comic routines, including some classics.
Now I’ll play an old Jewish Joke for you:

PLAY AUDIO: Old Jews Telling Jokes – Family

This is a Jewish joke because it plays off stereotypes about Jewish mothers. Specifically, how overprotective they are. She only calls Irving ‘bubbalah’ – an affectionate Yiddish term – and she does this so much that he doesn’t even know his actual name! This joke appeals to all ages because it’s not offensive – anyone can laugh at it. The overall message of the joke is that sometimes mothers, especially Jewish mothers, smother their children. The joke shows just how much Jewish mothers care about their children, and it makes this point without using inappropriate language.
Now I want to play a clip of Seinfeld doing standup:

PLAY AUDIO Seinfeld: Family

I like that this routine relates to children. I’m a child – well, I was…until today!
The routine is clever because it covers the topic of growing up in a creative way. It appeals to all ages because it isn’t offensive and anyone can laugh at it.
Because Jerry Seinfeld is Jewish and he’s talking about his childhood, it can be viewed as Jewish comedy, but it’s also universal. The message is that kids will do anything for candy. I think it works for anyone, because it’s not just Jewish kids that will do anything for candy. Any kid would! The message is funny and most people would like it. This joke definitely doesn’t cross boundaries – it’s a clean joke.

Now I’m going to tell you a few jokes. This one relates to family and Jewish mothers:
Four Jewish women would get together each week to play cards.
After a while, the first said, with a sigh, “Oy.”
The second answered, similarly, “Oy vey.”
The third joined in, “Oy vey iz mir.”
And the fourth said, “I thought we agreed we wouldn’t talk about our children today.”

It goes without saying that the women in this joke love their children and they also love complaining, or to use the Yiddish, kvetching. Some of this can be explained by the fact that throughout history, Jews around the world have had plenty of reasons to lament. Just think about the Jews of Europe, who had to survive horrible persecution.

In this way, the thinking in our culture has been shaped by victimization. The women in the joke use Yiddish – and it highlights the link to the past—and the use of Yiddish bonds them together, just as being Jewish mothers bonds them too.

OK here’s another classic joke:

A Jew who converted to Christianity was called a ge-shmott. It was a rare and shocking occurrence.
It was a bitterly cold, snowy night, in a small town in Poland. An old Jew felt he was dying. His time had come.
He called to his wife, “Sarah, please, send someone to the priest. Tell him to come right away. Tell him I’m dying.”
His wife couldn’t believe her ears. “The priest?” she said in astonishment. “You must have a fever. You mean the rabbi.”
“No, I mean the priest,” snapped her husband.
“May God protect you,” said his wife, “are you secretly a geshmatt?
“No, no,” said her husband, “but why disturb a Rabbi on night like this?”

This joke works on two levels: it addresses religious observance and Jewish community. The man’s wife is aghast by the idea of a priest reading her husband his last rites. She is first and foremost a Jew, so it is inconceivable to call anyone other than a Rabbi to perform these rites. Meanwhile, her husband feels he should be showing the ultimate consideration for the Rabbi by not asking him to come to his home on such a bitterly cold night. Because he’s a Jew, the man feels such a strong kinship and sense of community for the Rabbi that he would rather bother a Priest than inconvenience his Rabbi.

The next few jokes poke fun at Jewish stereotypes about health. Woody Allen once said:
“The most beautiful words in the English language are not, ‘I love you,’ but ‘It’s benign.’”

Here’s one classic joke on this theme. As an added bonus, in addition to Jews, it takes shots at other cultures too. Here it goes:

Four Europeans go hiking together and get terribly lost.
First, they run out of food, then they run out of water:
“I’m so thirsty,” says the Englishman, “I must have tea.”
“I’m so thirsty,” says the Frenchman, “I must have wine.”
“I’m so thirsty,” says the German, “I must have beer.”
“I’m so thirsty,” says the Jew, “I must have diabetes.”

This joke is funny because each hiker reacts according to the stereotype most often associated with them. The Jew – of course! – thinks that his body is failing him and that diabetes is the reason he’s thirsty.

Now here’s another classic that touches on health and money:
A Jewish pedestrian gets hit by a car. The paramedic asks, “Are you comfortable?” The man replies, “I make a good living.”

This joke is funny because instead of worrying about his own health, he finds a way to brag about his income. This joke is Jewish because it pokes fun at the stereotype of Jews’ fixation on money and hypochondria, or the belief that Jews are always worried by the slightest sign of illness. That’s why this joke works on a deeper level: two stereotypes are played off one another. We might think this Jewish pedestrian will use the question as an opportunity to kvetch about his health. But he doesn’t! He uses it as an opportunity to make a statement about his job.

Here’s one last joke that touches on health:

“Doctor, I need your help!” complained Shlomo. “I talk to myself!”
“Do you suffer any pain?” asked the doctor.
“No.”
“In that case,” said the doctor, “go home and don’t worry. Millions of people talk to themselves.”
“But Doctor,” cried Shlomo, “you don’t know what a nudnik I am!”

Again, the emphasis is on worrying about health. And what’s more, it highlights this stereotype in a self-deprecating way. Self-deprecation is the act of belittling or undervaluing oneself – it is one of the hallmarks of Jewish comedy today.
Larry David, the co-creator of Seinfeld and the producer and star of Curb Your Enthusiasm, is a master of self-deprecation. Larry once said: “I don’t like to be out of my comfort zone, which is about a half an inch wide.”

Another favorite Larry David quote of mine touches on health. “I tolerate lactose like I tolerate people,” he said. Finally, this last quote from Larry David pokes at the stereotype that Jews are often unhappy. He once said: “Hey, I may loathe myself, but it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m Jewish.”

Overall, I think all the jokes I’ve shared are funny because they play off stereotypes – and in the process, they deflate the stereotypes. That’s what makes these jokes classic – and this is what is so great about comedy. As a humanistic Jew – comedy is one of the pillars of my religion. I hope you’ve enjoyed spending time in my unorthodox temple.


“Gertrude Berg” by Jolie Elins
October 12, 2013

I’ve always loved the performing arts, so when I learned that my major project could be almost anything, I knew I had come upon a way to explore further topics I find fascinating, and to show it to others through a medium I find interesting.

I am interested in not only acting, but behind the scenes as well. I’ve always wanted to write a script, film, direct, and edit a movie. Even in plays and musicals I am often not only acting in them, but helping to build sets, and make costumes.

Deciding to make a movie for my project wasn’t the hard part. But then I needed a subject. I have also been interested in feminism and Jewish identity, so the idea of doing a short documentary on a Jewish woman came easily. When looking for the one I would be writing about, I had really only four requirements. She needed to be a woman, obviously, she needed to be Jewish, she must have worked in the performing arts, and I needed to find her interesting. Originally the one who came to mind was Fanny Brice. Even without knowing much about her I knew she filled three of the requirements immediately. When I first brought up this topic with Rabbi Peter, he gave me some information on three women whom he thought I might find interesting. Those were Fanny Brice, Molly Picon, and Gertrude Berg. Now, I am as stubborn as a mule, and having already picked Fanny Brice, I was reluctant to look at any other choices. I hadn’t even heard of Molly Picon, or Gertrude Berg. Then my mentor, Renee, gave me the task of writing a short paper on each of the women to make sure I really looked at all of my options. This took me quite a while as, as I mentioned before, I was adamantly against choosing anyone else but Fanny Brice. When I finally did the assignment, I found that Gertrude Berg filled not only the four requirements, but also an unexpected fifth. I had wanted to find someone who hadn’t been born into the entertainment business, but worked her way up, finding what she wanted and getting it. This was important to me because it is a quality I admire, and I felt I could connect with it, as it’s what I want to be able to do someday.

Determination, as defined by dictionary.com, is a fixed purpose, or intention. Gertrude Berg was definitely determined. She started by doing plays in her town when she was a young girl, and she continued to do what she loved her entire life, becoming not only one of the first women to act, write, direct, and produce on both radio and television, but was also a successful businesswoman and activist. Gertrude Berg created the first sitcom, which started with her radio show The Rise of the Goldbergs. This, and her TV show, The Goldbergs, paved the way for I Love Lucy and other sitcoms.

I realized that I had really only chosen Fanny Brice because she was better known, and that Gertrude Berg was the one I wanted to do my project about.

Gertrude Berg, born Tilly Edelstein, grew up in a small apartment in New York City, just around the corner from her grandparents. She had an older brother, Charles, but he died of diphtheria at age seven, when Berg was only three. Her mother never got over this loss and was institutionalized later in her life. Many people speculate that because of this her childhood was a little dark, and that the family portrayed in The Goldbergs is her projection of the ideal of the happy family life she didn’t really have. Many think that her grandmother, whom she called Bubeshu, was her inspiration for the role of Molly Goldberg. She always felt loved by her grandmother, and learned from her about being accepting of others, caring for them, and how to make a good dinner. She said in her autobiography, Molly and Me, “I was part of everyone in the apartment across the areaway [in my grandmother’s apartment], not only because I was born to them but because they wanted me to belong for myself–with my faults, with my temper…” (“Molly and Me,” Berg, p. 45). She was brought up that she had value as a person. It made her more confident, more sure that she was worth being paid attention to, especially in a time when not only women but Jews were seen as “less than,” undervalued. She knew her worth.

Gertrude had been writing and performing her entire life. She’d been writing skits to perform at her father’s resort, Fleischmann’s, in upstate New York. It had always come naturally to her. Her father’s resort is actually where she met her future husband, Lewis Berg. It was he who recognized her brilliance, and encouraged her to do what she wanted to, and to pursue a career, which was unusual in a time when most women were housewives. They were married in 1918. It was around this time that she changed her name from Tilly Edelstein to Gertrude Berg, which inspired the name of her famous character, Molly Goldberg. In fact, Molly became so popular that eventually Gertrude Berg became known primarily by that name.

Gertrude Berg was so determined to perform that she took a job voicing a Christmas cookie commercial for city utility Con Ed, in Yiddish no less, a language she did not speak. Lewis did, however, and wrote the words out phonetically so she could say them for the commercial. This kind of determination foreshadowed the rest of her career.

Gertrude was always writing, but one day with the encouragement of her husband, she brought a radio script to a CBS executive. She had written the script in pencil, and the executive could not read it, but she had the chutzpah to act it out for him. He liked it so much that he hired her to write the show, and to temporarily play the role of Molly until they could cast a professional actress. One day, Gertrude got sick and couldn’t do the show. The next day CBS received so many letters and calls that their switchboards went down. Everyone was asking for Molly! Her radio show coincided with the Great Depression of 1929, and in the very heart of it, she was told by a CBS representative, “We’re sorry, Mrs. Berg, but we can’t pay a cent over $2,000 a week!” Life was rough in America, and everyone looked forward to feeling better when they listened to The Goldbergs.

The radio show eventually became a television show, entitled The Goldbergs. It began in the middle of World War II. This was especially significant, as Molly made sure the show depicted a realistic Jewish family, and Jewish traditions. “I wanted to show them [Jews] as they really are … as I knew them…” (Something On My Own, Glenn D. Smith, Jr., P. 31.) It was the way she portrayed her Jewish characters naturalistically that helped viewers to accept them. They got to know Jews without discriminating against them, and they were able to realize that being Jewish didn’t make them awful people; it was just a part of who they were.

Gertrude also became a savvy producer and businesswoman, working with sponsors, and became very wealthy because of it.

In 1947 the Hollywood blacklist was released by the House Un-American Activities Committee. It was the most famous of blacklists, issued under McCarthyism to keep screenwriters and other Hollywood professionals who were accused of being Communists from working in their field.

[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blacklisting: Lorence, James J. (1999). The Suppression of Salt of the Earth: How Hollywood, Big Labor, and Politicians Blacklisted a Movie in Cold War America. University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-2027-9.] Philip Loeb, who played Jake Goldberg on The Goldbergs, was one of the original 151 people on the Hollywood blacklist. In 1950, a representative from General Foods, which sponsored the show, called Gertrude Berg and told her that she had to fire Loeb from her show. Berg refused, supporting her friend even when she was told that the show would lose its sponsorship if she didn’t fire Loeb. She characteristically stood her ground and replied that if General Foods ended their sponsorship she would use every available platform to tell her fans to ban their products. [“Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg,” a documentary directed by Aviva Kempner.]

Berg may have bought Loeb some time, but eventually he had to leave. Loeb, unable to handle being shunned by the business, committed suicide, like several other blacklisted workers. Berg may not have realized it then, but this was the beginning of the end. Loeb was replaced by another actor, although the show never regained its full popularity. The show was cancelled in 1956. Berg too, was eventually blacklisted, for “communist sympathizing” because she had helped Philip Loeb. Another factor in the show’s cancellation is that television had changed. The characters portrayed on most shows were now very non-ethnic and white and The Goldbergs didn’t fit with the new style. Berg never went back to television, but instead spent the last years of her life on Broadway and doing summer stock, until she died in 1966.

Throughout the rest of Berg’s life, she continued to be an activist, fighting for the rights of those who were discriminated against. In fact, Berg and Coretta Scott King were awarded in 1965 by the American Jewish Congress in recognition of their continued service to the civil rights movement.
In Glenn D. Smith, Jr.’s biography of Berg, Something on My Own, he writes that the Goldbergs represented an “idealized family in desperate times.” He talks about how Berg used radio (and later television), “to attack the various social problems affecting her listeners. The Great Depression, the persecution of the European Jew, and the Second World War, provided the backdrop for many of her shows’ plotlines… She saw radio as an educational medium, tied to notions of ethnic unity and national identity.” The Goldbergs appealed to a large cross-section of American life, regardless of people’s background. Her accomplishments resulted in enormous wealth, creative control, and celebrity status and her voice on the radio became “as recognizable and welcome as [her listeners’] own mother.”

Even today, many years after her time, Gertrude Berg is a great role model. She is somebody who can still be looked up to, someone whose examples won’t become outdated. It makes me a bit sad that not many people know of her, because she is truly someone to admire. Even I, when I first started this project, thought that she wasn’t someone cool, just someone I needed to write about, another chore. Since learning more about her though, I’ve realized that just because her career ended decades before I was born doesn’t make her less cool than today’s superstars. In fact she’s better. Not only did she act in her show, but she did almost everything else too! As a Bat Mitzvah today, I believe that Berg is not only a role model, but a superhero. When she realized what she wanted to do with her life, she got up and did it. When the blacklist was published, she stood beside her friend despite the eventual consequences. Gertrude Berg is an inspiration to me.

A couple of years after her show ended, someone called the CBS president, and asked about Gertrude, and he didn’t even know who she was, despite her show having made his network much more popular. She may not be known now but her obscurity doesn’t matter, as she is known to me.


“Comparison of Greek and Old Testament Mythology” by Caleb Klein
September 29, 2013

For my Major Project I have chosen to study the differences between two ancient cultures and their religions: Greek and Hebrew. I selected this topic because of my love for ancient Greek mythology, and because we do not know what really happened so long ago—we have ideas, but we are not sure. If we compare two different cultures that were around at the same time, that have similar myths, we could research these myths, and from them, attempt to determine truth. Some people think that the similarities of the myths are just a coincidence, but I do not. I believe that these myths are drawn from historical events that happened thousands of years ago.

I will begin at the beginning, with the stories of creation of humankind. In Greek mythology, after the war between the titans and the gods, there was peace. Titans are extraordinarily powerful giants that predated the gods and sat on mountains as thrones. Two titans who sided with the gods, named Prometheus and Epimetheus, started to create the animals of the world. Prometheus wanted to make the best of them all, and he created man in his own image. Once each animal was finished, the titan Epimetheus would give each creation a gift, such as the tiger’s claws and the giraffe’s neck. When Prometheus finished making man, there were no gifts left to give him. So, Prometheus went up to Olympus and stole the Olympian’s fire. When Zeus found out about this, he chained Prometheus to a mountain, and a giant eagle came to tear out his liver every day for three hundred years, and it grew back only to be torn out the next day. Zeus was angry about Prometheus giving man such great intelligence, and he was scared that he would overthrow the gods. In addition to chaining Prometheus to the rock, the gods created another being, woman. The twelve Olympian gods each gave her a gift, such as Aphrodite’s gift of beauty, and Athena’s gift of wisdom. But Zeus gave her curiosity, and a jar that she was never allowed to open. This jar was known as Pandora’s box. One day, Pandora’s curiosity overcame her, and she said, “Just a peek!” She opened the jar, and all of these horrible things came out and bit her partner, man. These were no ordinary bugs, these were things like jealousy, hatred, and murder. Pandora closed the jar just in time to keep hope in the jar—she kept hope for herself.

In Hebrew mythology we learn that God created humans in his own image, as with the Greek myth. But there are actually two different Hebrew creation stories and they have very different perspectives. The first, in Genesis chapter one, describes how man and woman were created together at the same time. In this story, they were created back to back and then needed to be separated. In the second creation story, which is found in Genesis chapter two, God first created man alone, by himself. God placed man in the Garden of Eden, and told him only to eat from the tree of life, not the tree of knowledge. God saw that man was lonely, so he put him to sleep, slit open his stomach, and removed one rib. From this rib he created woman. Their names were Adam and Eve. One day, Eve was walking alone through the garden, when the serpent came. This was not the type of serpent that we know of—this one had arms and legs, and could walk, and it spoke to Eve. It said, “Eat from the tree of knowledge, it will open your eyes.” Eve did, and brought an apple back to Adam. They ate, and suddenly noticed their nudity, and fashioned themselves loincloths. When God came down to check up on Adam and Eve, they hid, but God found them. They admitted that they ate from the tree of knowledge, and Eve told God about the serpent. God cursed the serpent to crawl on his belly for all of eternity, and banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and left them to be mortal.

In both stories, God and Zeus were angered with humankind for gaining knowledge, and punished them. Also, in both stories, there is one being that gave them knowledge, and they too, were punished. In both stories, man was created in God’s image. These parallels show how these two cultures were very alike, and explained things similarly.

Humanistic Jews believe in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution to explain the creation of all animals, including humans. But these ideas did not come about until the 1830’s. Thousands of years ago, when the myths were created and told, they did not know about evolution, so this is how they answered their questions about their existence. Darwin’s theory, unlike the myths, is more gender equal. It suggests that man and woman evolved simultaneously, and is like the first Hebrew creation story, but most mythology tends to favor men as the original humans.

I will now discuss the comparison of the floods in Hebrew and Greek mythology. And, for those of you who do not know, there is a Greek flood myth! According to Jewish mythology, God created a flood to destroy the human race due to their wickedness. He selected one man, Noah, and his family, to take one male and one female of each species to live on an ark that Noah was told to build, to keep each species alive. When the flood came, they were ready. Toward the end of their journey, Noah sent out two birds to find land. When one bird came back with an olive leaf, suggesting that there was some dry land, Noah stopped there until the flood was over.

In Greek mythology, Zeus, like the Hebrew God, wanted to rid people of their wickedness. So, he decided to send a flood. A titan, Prometheus, learned of Zeus’ plan, and told his human son, Deucalion, and his wife, Pyrrha to build a chest. All other people were obliterated by the flood, except for a few who escaped to high mountains. After drifting along the current for 9 days, they landed on Mt. Parnassus (which is one of my favorite places on the planet because it’s where the city of Delphi was created!).

It was interesting to me that two very different cultures with different ideas both have flood myths that are extremely similar. I have learned through my studies that after the explosion in Chernobyl, Russia, scientists researched whether the Black Sea was contaminated by the radiation. In conducting this research, they dug in the sands and at first, found fossils of salt-water sea animals, but then they found fossils of fresh water animals! They therefore discovered that a great flood actually occurred in the location where these cultures existed. This can explain why two ancient cultures, from around the same time period, had myths that were similar, and this proves my theory that most stories are driven by a hint of truth!!!

I will now discuss the comparisons between the two invincible heroes, Samson and Achilles. Samson, from the Hebrew Bible, was one of the most famous powerful figures besides Samuel and David. He was also, as with Achilles, known for his strength. Samson was told by God to never cut his hair, or he would lose his unlimited power. He led many battles against the Philistines, and took out men by the hundreds. Although he was at war with the Philistines, he married a Philistine woman named Delilah. Delilah was a spy for the Philistines, and tried to figure out what Samson’s weakness was. She attempted three times to find out. The first two times, he did not answer with truth, but the third time he did tell her the truth, that if his hair was cut, he would lose his powers. So, late at night, Delilah told the Philistines his secret, and they came and cut Samson’s hair in his sleep. The Philistines took him captive and brought him to the Philistine Palace. One day they brought him out in front of a banquet, and tied his hands to two pillars that held up the ceiling. His hair had grown long again, and he prayed to God that he would restore Samson’s strength. Samson pushed down the two pillars, crushing all of the Philistines, and himself. This is how he died.

Now I will tell you of the invincible Achilles. When Achilles was a baby, his mother dipped him in the River Styx, where all dead mortals must pass to get to the underworld, and held him by the heel. Every bit of him that touched the River Styx was made impenetrable. Although he was made invincible, the part of him that did not touch the water was still vulnerable. The similarity between Samson and Achilles was that they were practically invincible except for one particular spot on their bodies, which was each hero’s weakness. When Achilles was older, he fought in the Trojan War, and was the greatest hero of that conflict. Like Samson, he took out men by the hundreds, for no weapon could penetrate him. Yet, during one of the greatest battles of Troy, a Trojan, by the name of Paris, guided by the god, Apollo, shot Achilles in the heel and killed him. Both Achilles and Samson were great warriors, with one weak spot that caused their demise.

Last but not least, I will discuss with you the two most famous heroes of these two cultures, Moses and Hercules. Moses, as a little child, went through great danger as he was put in a basket and floated down the Nile River. Hercules also went through something dangerous in his childhood when Hera, Zeus’ wife who was cheated on by Zeus and a mere mortal to make Hercules, sent two snakes to kill Hercules. Hercules, still a child, killed the snakes with ease. So as children they both survived dangerous situations. In both of these men’s great stories, they are commanded by a godly figure. For example, Moses is commanded by God to free his people. Hercules is commanded by his cousin, who is influenced by Hera. Both men are guided by an oracle-figure. Moses is told by the burning bush to save his people and was given advice on how to do it. Hercules is told by the Oracle in Delphi how to regain his honor. Both of the oracle-figures spoke on a god’s behalf, and told them both to do the will of a god. Both heroes then had to perform extraordinary endeavors and miracles.

Hero stories, like those of the Greeks and Jews, were created to teach the younger generations lessons about morals. I learn from these hero stories that honor is everything, and that righteousness was, and still is, praised. Doing the right thing is the moral of the stories, especially of Moses’ tale. The stories of Samson and Achilles show that no one, in any way, can be completely impenetrable—not only physically, but mentally as well—I mean feelings and emotions. Oracle-figures remind me of all the people in my life who influence me, like family and friends, even people like politicians, whom I don’t know personally, but see on TV. In both the Hercules and Moses stories, the oracles represent a godly being, and some people today say that they consult with God for answers. I do not because I believe that only we, ourselves, can write our own fate, and no one can tell us what will happen next.

I love all of these myths as much as I do because of their heroic stories with heroes, villains, monsters and average people. They speak of different creatures that are noble and fierce, and I love that so much because of my personality—my creativity and love for stories. The reason I like all of these different myths is because of some of the characters’ unbelievable and inhuman powers, and the tiny chance of success, but all of these tales end with success, even with that small chance.

Also, it interests me how these ancient cultures tried to explain things without our scientific intellect, predictions, and evidence. While I still love these stories, the other side of me is always trying to prove them wrong! This side is the scientific side of me that enjoys looking through microscopes, learning about atoms and molecules, and finding the actual answers that are proven to be one hundred percent correct. What inspires awe in me today is how humankind finds all of these answers, and no longer relies on mythological tales to explain things that at earlier points in history, we could not explain. The reason why humans crave these explanations is because we fear the unknown so terribly that if we do not find explanations, we will fall into chaos. So I believe, the more humankind develops in science and technology, the less of a need we will have for religious explanations of a higher being deciding our fate.

What I’ve learned is there will always be a divide in me: one side will remain a lover of myths and stories, and always crave creative fiction; and another that will always love finding the truth with evidence, and will value the advancement of human knowledge throughout the ages.


“Tisha B’av, The Shabbat of Comfort and the Importance of Remembering” by Anna Young
September 22, 2013

I was born on August 14th, 2000. According to Jewish ritual, if I had a traditional Bat Mitzvah, it would have fallen on August 1st 2012, which was Shabbat Nachamu—the Shabbat of Comfort. My Chinese/Jewish family has been a member of TCC, a humanistic Jewish congregation, since I was in first grade. In their Bat Mitzvahs, they generally don’t read from the Torah. However, because I have been questioning religious rituals since I was little, I decided to read parts of what would have been my Torah portion (Isaiah 40:1-26) and I became inspired to research it for this essay.

Shabbat Nachamu is the first Shabbat after Tisha B’AV, which commemorates the destructions of the holy temples. It is the first of the seven Shabbats of Consolation that lead up to Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. As I did my research I found a cycle in the order of events that took place; Tragedy, then comfort, then new hopes. I also became interested in some of the different ways people find comfort, family, faith, and themselves. I kept thinking that it is important to remember the tragedies from the past because they form who you are and you use the lessons learned from them in the present.

On the Ninth of Av 586 B.C.E., the first Holy Temple was destroyed. The temple had been built in Jerusalem, under the third king, Solomon, son of David, during the tenth century B.C.E. The temple was considered the center of the nation or commonwealth. It was a reminder that kings come and go but the temple, and the sacrifice and worship that took place there, would stand forever. But in the year 722 B.C.E., the Northern Kingdom was invaded and conquered by the Assyrians. The southern Kingdom of Judah survived, for the time being, but was eventually attacked and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586. The Jews were then exiled from their land, but later, the Jews were not only allowed to return to Israel, but they were also granted permission to rebuild the temple. This was when the Second Jewish Commonwealth was started.

After the second Holy Temple was built, the second commonwealth thrived. It was doing even better than the first. But even with all the good happening to them, the Jews still mourned for the first holy temple and those who had fallen during the destruction. The past is always something to remember. The past forms who you are and where you come from. If you don’t know your past then you can’t know yourself.

In families, when someone dies, the family can drown in the sadness, or float with the memories. Since my grandpa died, my family has gone to the cemetery on the anniversary of his death. We remember him and miss him, and we live our lives with memories. When my mom plants her flowers, she thinks of him, especially when she’s planting the dahlias. This is true for whole societies, as well. An example from our own day is 9-11. If we had only focused on the fact that we were attacked, then we would be a country of revenge, which happened for a while. And now, while there is still a long way to go, the Freedom Tower is almost done which is a symbol for new hopes.

The second commonwealth built itself on the memories of the nation before it. It lasted for almost six hundred years, but it came to a tragic and familiar end in 70 C.E. This time it was Rome and not Babylon that destroyed the temple. But the sequence was the same: a failed revolt by the Judeans, the siege of Jerusalem, the breach in the walls around the city, and finally the destruction of the temple. If that wasn’t familiar enough, then how about the fact that the dates of major events were almost identical.

To this day, these events are remembered and observed by traditional Jews with many rituals. The cycle begins with a minor fast on the day that it is said the walls were penetrated and the enemy entered the city. Special prayers and a special Torah reading known as Va’ye’chal is recited on all fast days. There is then a three-week span until Tisha B’Av, when mourning begins. During those three weeks, observant Jews do not celebrate weddings, play joyful music, dance, wear new clothes, or get haircuts. In the last nine days, the laws of mourning get intense. There is to be no laundry except for the essentials, there is no swimming, there is no eating meat or poultry, there is no drinking wine, and you are supposed to refrain from taking baths or showers. This is especially challenging because it is in the middle of the summer! When it gets super hot, you can’t go swimming or even take a shower. During this period, you aren’t supposed to have fun or laugh or even greet each other with a smile.

I think the reason you are not supposed to have fun and laugh during this period is because laughter and fun bring you joy, and you shouldn’t be happy when other people die or a tragedy happens. Maybe another reason is because having fun and laughing distracts your mind from something you don’t want to think about. You are supposed to be focused on your own thoughts and feelings about the events and let others focus on their thoughts and grief, as well. Traditionally, Jews believe that during the period of mourning, the heart and mind are supposed to be focused on the tragedies of the past.

This year, Tisha B’av fell on July 16th. I went to an evening Tisha B’Av service at B’nai Jeshrun, a Jewish synagogue on the Upper West Side. I remember being extremely bored. And then my foot fell asleep and I got antsy. Everybody sat on the floor, with the lights out, using flashlights, while people took turns chanting from the book of Eichah, from Lamentations. People were telling a story about their past, as a community. This is different from how Humanistic Jews remember Tisha B’Av. Humanistic Jews do not set aside a specific day for fasting and mourning. They recognize the destruction of the Temples as terrible events in Jewish history but they don’t miss the traditional sacrificial service that took place in the Temple or turn these events into days of mourning.

The seven weeks following the Shabbat of Comfort lead up to Rosh Hashana, which then leads into Yom Kippur, when Jews typically fast again and ask for forgiveness for their sins. For secular Jews, on the other hand, the day is about meditation, self-examination, and self-forgiveness. While some still fast, many no longer do so.

So Tisha B’Av is the time when you are in grief. The Shabbat of Comfort is when you are comforted by people around you, and Rosh Hashana, being the start of a new year, is when you start again with new hopes.

Interestingly, my dad’s Chinese family story follows a similar cycle. In the 30’s, my dad’s grandpa built a house in Canton, a large city in southern China. The house was actually four houses connected by walls, because he believed that family should always stay together. During World War II, the Japanese invaded China. My dad’s grandfather had to flee with his family, which meant leaving the family house. The house was occupied by the Japanese as a headquarters because it was so large. When the Japanese were forced out of China, they destroyed the house. My dad’s grandfather then started all over again and rebuilt the house, after which life was good and the family was happy. But then Communism took hold, forcing Tao Sing and his family to flee to Hong Kong, because he was educated and intellectual. Life was good in Hong Kong, but the family wanted a better education so they left, losing their home again.

The Laio family then moved to America, but struggled to find a home. Tao Sing didn’t want to own another house for fear of losing it like the past two. However, they were a big family so they had to be split up and live separately. Once they were living together again, everybody in the family had to work, even the kids going to high school. They were disappointed because they had been told America was the “Golden Mountain”. Yet, there was still a significant amount of comfort and hope between the repeating cycles of tragedy, which kept the family together as they started over again

While family or community can provide needed comfort, some people find it in faith. When my maternal grandpa died, my uncle Andy went to temple twice a day for a whole year, as is the religious tradition. My grandpa had done that when his dad died too, which makes me wonder if they prayed for comfort from God or if the tradition is what made this ritual meaningful. My Aunt Lucille gets comfort from praying and she goes to church every Sunday.

Which brings me back to Shabbat Nachamu. It is called Shabbat Nachamu because of the first words in the service’s Haftorah reading. It begins:“‘Console, Console my people,’ says your God.” Later, the passage says:

Every valley shall be raised, and every mountain and hill shall be lowered, the rough ground shall become level, and the rugged places a plain.

It then goes on to say:

“All people are like grass, and all their kindness is like the blossom of the field.”

I think this is a metaphor saying that individuals are just one in a million, like blades of grass in a field. The passage continues;

The grass shall dry out, the blossoms shall wilt, but the word of our God shall last forever.

This is saying that people will die, and generations will pass, but the word of God will last forever. The word of our God, I think, is a metaphor for stories. Maybe God is a grand story teller, like my Grandpa was. Stories are passed down through generations. Family genes might also be seen as a kind of scientific metaphor. People are born to parents and ancestors that shape who they are biologically, morally and culturally, and they in turn form communities and nations.

Religious Jews believe that God guarantees redemption. At the same time, many people blame tragedies on people’s sins, as if the tragedy were a punishment from God himself. But redemption means that if you do something bad, you are guaranteed a second chance if you then do good things in the world. While God might guarantee redemption, when, where and how it is achieved depends on the actions of his children. The word Eicha is very important. It means “wherefore.” One interpretation of that is “wherefore is the sacred city?” Some people wonder where God is when bad things happen, so this could also mean, “where is God?” But the Hebrew letters also spell Ayeka, which means “where are you?” This could mean “where are you—the people, myself?” How can I effect the world?
The portion ends with Isaiah 40:26:

Because of his great might and because He is strong in power, no one is missing.

However, I find this wrong because a lot of people are missing. A lot of people have died. A lot of people have lost loved ones that are important to them, and they need comfort. Who is to provide that comfort? God? The community? Family?

It is said that the first temple was destroyed as a punishment for worshipping idols and that the second was destroyed as a punishment for hatred. But Rabbi Schweitzer told me that he rejects this idea just as we don’t accept the idea that the Holocaust is punishment for sins. He says that this line of thought unfairly blames and punishes the victim.

On Saturday, July 20th, I went to the synagogue again for the Shabbat of Comfort service. The rabbi’s sermon related directly to my questions about whether we receive comfort and redemption from a higher power or from within. He said that if you are able to see through the bad and see God, you will be a part of the change and will feel the joy. He said that God was truth, Emet, but he also said that truth is inside you. I think that means that you are your own truth, so in a sense, you are your own God.

The rabbi at the service said that memories are not just in the past. What we do with the memories now is what is important. When we see the destructive powers of people throughout the world, it should motivate us to want change both nationally and inside ourselves. Nowhere in the Haftorah portion for Shabbat Nachamu does it say anything about an enemy. The rabbi described it as an internal enemy. He referred to Rabbi Heschel, who said “The opposite of good is not evil, it is indifference.” He said that comfort comes from a place of vision and hope, and that we have to be willing to do this good work in the world ourselves. This is a humanistic idea.

This way of thinking during the start of the 7 Shabbats of Consolation ultimately brings us to the new year (Rosh Hashana) and the hope that annual rebirth implies.

Many people get comfort from putting their faith in a greater power. They feel that the greater voice, or whatever they are putting their faith into, is God. But what if God is really just yourself? I’m not sure whether there is a God or not. But I do know that when I think of “God”, I think of someone who is making things happen and is watching over me. But that could also just describe myself. People make things happen and people watch over themselves and each other. So maybe God isn’t an all powerful creature who grants our wishes and makes a path for everyone. Maybe God is the voice inside yourself and that voice makes a path for you and makes your wishes and ambitions come true by helping you to achieve them. It’s more about what you do with your own power than about how much external or cosmic power you have.

I get comfort from all of this. I get comfort from my family and from my friends. I get comfort from myself and my faith, even though I am not fully sure of what I put my faith in. When people die or something bad happens, you are sad, it is the way of life–it’s how people work. When religious Jews mourn, they look to God for comfort, and when secular Jews mourn, they look to each other for comfort. I do believe that it is important to remember the past. It is important to not forget. From writing this paper, I have not figured out what I believe in or if there truly is a God or not, but who has by 13? It is important to remember past tragedies and to help each other find hope after they occur. Remembering is what defines you as a person. Remembering where you come from. Remembering how you got to where you are, remembering what you’ve learned along the way. It is all what makes you you, remembrance and memories are what make a people human.


“How Soccer Builds Bridges” by Alex Botwin
September 21, 2013

Soccer, the sport I play and love, is the only sport that is played in every country in the world. Soccer, through tournaments like the World Cup, brings people together, exposes them to different cultures and promotes tolerance among countries (by the way the next World Cup is in 2014 and Brazil is hosting – Go Argentina!). Players are treated like “Demigods” by their very dedicated and loyal fans. They root for teams and players that are half a world away.

The greatest player in the world in 2012 was Lionel Messi from Argentina, who plays for the Barcelona Football Club. He scored more goals than any player in the history of soccer in one calendar year. He is so popular that when he broke the record it was on the news in the United States, where soccer is still not very popular. There are more kids in the world wearing a Messi jersey than Derek Jeter, Lebron James or Tony Romo jerseys combined. The sport is so popular that countries that dislike each other can still compete against each other on the soccer field. Where else in the world can you see an Israeli team compete in a non-violent way with a Palestinian one?

When I first started this project I was not sure where this topic would lead me. It began when Rabbi Peter first gave me an article to read about a boy my age who lives in Israel, who was the only Jewish player on a Palestinian/Israeli team. I found that interesting for two reasons: one because I am the only Jewish player on an all-Spanish team and two because I did not know anything about Israel except that it was a Jewish country in the Middle East. The boy’s name is Lior and after talking to Rabbi Peter we decided that he would talk to Lior’s father and if they both agreed, I could email him and see what happened.
When I first emailed Lior I asked him questions about his life. He told me that he grew up in a little town in the mountains named Tuval in the northern Galilee. He told me about his family; he has a twin sister, Talia, and an older sister, Galit, who is currently in the army, and he also has an older brother named Eitan. When I asked him why both his sister and his brother were in the army, he told me every citizen of Israel has to serve in the army for three years when they turn eighteen. This is very different than what happens here in America; when you turn eighteen you are required to sign up with the Selective Service. Since the US Army is made up of all volunteers there is no mandatory service. I don’t think I would like to have to go into the army after high school because I would be scared that I might be sent to fight a war.

Lior has family in both England and the US. His family has a house in Bantam Lake, Connecticut and it is his favorite place in the world. We told each other about our soccer teams and about what our favorite subjects are in school. Mine are math and science; his are history, biology, and citizenship. When I asked him what citizenship was he told me it was learning about human rights, about the Israeli Knesset (the congress in Israel) and also about the history of Israel.

Lior also told me that at his school you only can pick one sport as an after school activity, and you have games every week. I found that interesting because I play many after school sports depending on the season. This past year I not only played soccer, but also basketball and baseball, and I’m currently playing football. He plays the Midfielder position in soccer, which means he does a lot of running during the games. The midfielder plays both offence and defense. I prefer playing defense because you don’t have to run as much. I asked him about his favorite soccer player and he said that he liked both Cristiano Renaldo, who plays for the Real Madrid soccer club in Spain and Lionel Messi, who plays for the Barcelona Football club. My favorite player is also Messi. Isn’t it funny how two Jewish boys from opposite ends of the world both like the same Argentinean soccer player, who plays on a Spanish soccer team? If this doesn’t prove that soccer is universal, then nothing else will. We also talked about what it’s like for him to be the only Jewish player on an all-Palestinian/Israeli team and I told him what it was like being the only non-Latino player on an all-Spanish team. He mentioned that his teammates were a little uneasy at first but they accepted him after they got to know him and realized that he could help the team win. Lior also told me that he knows Arabic, which he leaned in school, so it is easy for him to communicate with the other players and coaches.
My soccer team is called the Buena Vista Football Club and I play left defensive back. It is a Spanish team that plays in an all-Spanish league. It is very different from the teams I played on before. When I first started playing for the team I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like. I only knew one person on the team, David, whom I knew from playing with a different soccer club a few years before. At the first practice we had, I was worried whether they would they accept me as part of the team. David vouched for me with the other players and after that first practice they accepted me as part of the team.

What I find both interesting and occasionally frustrating about this team is that sometimes the coaches speak to me in Spanish, so I don’t always understand them; I have to ask them to say it again in English because my Spanish isn’t that good yet. We play games all year long, but during the winter months we play indoor games at different school gyms around Brooklyn. These games are very interesting because they are played on a small basketball court. Many families, some with very young children, come to watch the games, and sometimes these little kids run across the field during the games, so you have to watch out for more than just the ball. There is always Spanish music playing during the games and there is always food available before, during and after the games. They don’t only serve what you would normally expect like water, Gatorade, and candy. They serve fresh homemade tacos, burritos, and cup a’ soup. With all the different kinds of food served, it feels more like a fiesta than a soccer game.

What I’ve learned from this experience is that soccer helps promote friendships and an understanding of different cultures and backgrounds. It was interesting and fun learning about Lior and his family. It’s interesting how two people from different parts of the world, who both love soccer, can get to know each other. I learned a lot about Lior and his family through this process. Not only does he love soccer and his family, he likes to spend most of his time outside in the beautiful mountains of Tuval. This also could be the reason that he does not like playing video games.

I also did some research and I found out a few things about Israel: it is about the size of New Jersey, and its population is 7.7 million people, which is smaller than the population of NYC, which is 8.3 million. Israel also has a Premier Soccer League, with 14 teams that compete against each other. When doing my research about Israel I came upon an article about a youth soccer team in the northern part of Israel up near the Golan Heights that is made up of both Jews and Arabs from local towns. They arranged a soccer game with Druze Arabs, who live on the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. This is part of a movement to have soccer build bridges between religions and countries. The kids played their game and when they were done, both teams shook hands and congratulated each other on a great game. I think that is pretty amazing. With more games like that between countries and religions soccer can truly build bridges between people.

What is great about a project like this is that you get to learn new things about other people and other countries. I really enjoyed getting to know Lior and his country. I now have a better understanding of what it’s like to be a teenager living in Israel. It was interesting to learn that even though we live very far apart and in different countries we have many things in common. Now when Lior talks about the little town in the mountains called Tuval, in the northern Galilee, I can look at a map and say that is where my friend Lior lives. I do also hope to be able to meet Lior one day either when he comes to visit his family in Connecticut or if my “wonderful” parents decide to take me to Israel.


“Bread” by Jordan Hallerman
June 30, 2013

“If you have bread and butter, then you have good luck.”

I love bread. I have loved it ever since I was little. From plain old rye, to the bagel, I can’t get enough bread. When I was assigned the task of coming up with a topic for my Bar Mitzvah project, my list of ideas was short. I had already done a paper on movies, and that’s really my passion, so I had to think harder. Then it hit me. I could do a research paper on Jewish breads. As I began planning out my paper; I decided to talk about breads I love and breads that have meaning in Jewish culture. I narrowed my choices down to 4 breads: Challah, Bagels, Bialys and Pletzels. As I began to research about the history behind these bakery creations, I learned about the impact bread has had throughout history.

Jewish communities were based around the synagogue and schools, which were led by rabbis and teachers who brought spiritual and educational guidance. Yet the one group essential for living in these communities were the food merchants, who were the suppliers of kosher meat, fish, vegetables, and, of course, bread.. Bakers were the most popular and well respected of the “food sellers.” The order was as follows:

○ The Oldest Living Generation (Typically the grandfather or father) would have the assignment of fetching the water from the well for kneading.
○ The 2nd Oldest Generation (the father or his eldest son) was assigned the task of the actual baking.
○ The Youngest Generation (the eldest or youngest son, depending on the number of children) would mainly stay in school, but if the Oldest Generation became too weak to fetch the well water, then he would take his place.

The bakers in these villages were very important, due to the need for bread in the lives of each and every community member. Bread was also very important because it was the one thing that almost evryone could afford, no matter what your economic status was. As it is written in the Talmud, (the central text of Rabbinic Judaism) “Bread eaten in the morning protects one from heat, cold, evil spirits and demons; it makes one wise and allows one to prevail in lawsuits; it helps one learn and teach Torah; it causes one’s utterance to be listened to; it gets rid of bad breath; banishes envy and causes love to enter.” All of these things can happen to you too by just eating a small piece of bread! According to French historian Fernand Braudel, “bread and gruel accounted for 70 to 80 percent of the average diet in the Middle Ages.” Repeatedly eating a piece of bread marked the differences between casual eating or snacking and having a full meal, which required the eater to say the hamotzi (Blessing over the bread) and birkas hamazon (The blessing after a meal). Bread had a large influence on the way that many people, not just Jews, lived.

Again and again, throughout biblical stories, bread is treasured as a gift from God that refreshes and relieves both the body and soul. Early in the book of Genesis, when angels visit Abraham, his first impulse is to wash their feet and bring them bread to “refresh themselves.” In the book of Leviticus, God tells the children of Israel to take fine flour and make 12 cakes to rest in the Temple. The expression “the breaking of bread” is used very frequently in the bible. The term itself is a common Jewish expression which relates to the task of breaking bread at the beginning of a meal. This act was performed by the head of a household or a host. One case of this saying being used is when Jesus would eat a meal with his disciples. Whenever this tradition would occur, he would give thanks to God for his food and then break his bread. Breaking bread has also been interpreted as the unique act of sharing stories with friends, family and others that you may know.

Immigrants brought their own unique customs and foods to America. These people came from Romania, Hungary, Galicia, Lithuania, Poland and the Ukraine. Early bakeries in the New World were run in cellars with easily built coal-burning ovens. The working conditions were horrendous! The bakeries were dark, damp and were unsanitary. Bakers worked about 16 hours a day, or 108 hours a week! As reported by Paul Brenner in an 1895 New York State factory inspector report, “there appears to be no other industry, not even the making of clothes in sweatshops, which is carried on amidst so much dirt and filth.” As time passed, people began to be able to afford higher priced items, and with the introduction of big supermarkets, people no longer needed to go to the bakery, in order to buy a loaf of bread or some cookies. Mass produced items, like Oreos became cheaper and more convenient to purchase than fresh rugelach. Little by little, many bakeries failed to survive and had to shut down. Also, with the rising popularity of the refrigerator, people didn’t need to constantly go out and buy food, since they could just preserve foods for later, which was not only easier, but was also more useful and convenient.

What does bread mean to me? Well, to start off, bread is a food that is meant to be had anywhere at any time of day. Bread for me is the multicultural food, because even though all cultures are different, every culture has their own unique bread/bread product. What intrigues me about bread is how it is created in many different ways. It can be made in a variety of ways using the same ingredients, and you can still end up with different products that are all considered bread. There are so many different types of bread and they all have their own histories.

Challah:

Challah, which happens to be my favorite Jewish bread, is most commonly eaten in Jewish culture, on the Sabbath and on holidays. Known for its intertwining braids, Challah is the most popular bread in Jewish culture. According to Jewish customs, both the three Sabbath meals and the different holiday meals, (which follow the day after) begin with two loaves of, you guessed it: Challah. During my research, Rabbi Peter told me about how there are two challahs because whenever Moses would tell people about the mana, he said that it would fall every day of the week. Yet because of the holiness of the Shabbat, no manna would fall on that day. Instead, two portions of manna would fall on Friday, which was enough for that day and for the Shabbat. The Challahs represent the double portion of manna that fell. The two loaves are made using a total of 12 braids (6 for each loaf of bread) to represent the twelve tribes of Israel: Judah, Issachar, Zebulon, Dan, Asher, Naphtali, Reuben, Shimon, Gad, Menasheh, Benjamin, and Ephraim. In Eastern Europe, Challah was the centerpiece of the Shabbos table which provided light and hope to those whose lives were filled with poverty and hunger. Challah was so significant that it was said to be unthinkable for anyone to go without Shabbos bread at the Friday night meals.

Most Challah recipes are made with eggs, white flour, water, yeast and sugar. These ingredients are combined to form a dough that is kneaded and then turned into braids that are placed one over the other, in order to give the Challah its traditional appearance. Once the Challah dough is braided and ready to go into the oven, it is usually coated with an egg wash to give it a golden brown color. In order to prepare for this project, I baked my own Challah using a recipe that I found in a book that I was using for research. It took about ½ a day to fully make the Challah and I had a lot of fun making it. In the end, my Challah turned out to be a little too dense because I didn’t add enough water. My experience made me think about finding another recipe to try and make Challah again.

Most Challahs are cylindrical, but on Rosh Hashanah, the Challah is made round, like a circle. This round Challah symbolizes the “cyclical nature of the year” as Rabbi Peter explained to me when I was researching about Challah. At the beginning of a Shabbat or holiday meal, blessings over the wine and Challah must be made in order to purify the Shabbat and begin the meal. In order not to “shame” the bread (which is always blessed after the wine), the bread is concealed with a Challah cover.

On both sides of my family, we always have a Challah, even if it isn’t a Jewish holiday.. Whenever we see my Dad’s side of the family, my Grandma and Papa always get 2 fresh Challahs from Rockland Bakery (my personal favorite). On my Mom’s side of the family, my Grandpa always brings up a fresh Challah whenever we all go up to our vacation house in Pennsylvania. However, instead of eating this Challah, my Grandpa uses it to make a French toast (with a lot of cinnamon!) and we all eat it together for brunch. I always look forward to these get-togethers with my family because not only do I get to spend time with the people I love, but I also get to have my favorite bread (a win-win situation).

I love Egg Challah just because it is the only Kind that ‘I have tasted, but there are many variations of Challah such as:
■ Raisin Challah
■ Cinnamon Challah
■ Chocolate Challah
And
■ Apple and Honey Challah
In the end, Challah is my favorite Jewish bread; its texture and taste make it my favorite snack, as well as a great bread for sandwiches.

Bagels:

Today, we associate bagels as a Jewish food, but they are actually not Jewish in origin.. Like most breads, bagels are available in many different forms and varieties (Plain, Poppy, Sesame, Pumpernickel, et cetera). The first bagels go back to the year 1610 in Krakow, Poland, where bagels were one of the gifts that were customarily given to; women in childbirth, midwives and others who were present at the birth of a child. The purpose of the bagel was to create a bread to compete with the popular Obwarzanek or Bublik, which was a lean bread made of wheat flour, which was constructed for Lent. They were made in ring shapes so that bakers and others could carry a bulk of bagels on a stick. The bagel’s name derived from the German word Bugel which means ring or bracelet.

Bagels were brought to the United States by Polish-Jewish immigrants, who worked as bakers. Early bagels were made up of 5 ingredients: High-gluten flour, water, malt syrup, salt and yeast. Since its creation, different countries have made their own different variations of the bagel. One of the most famous examples of a bagel variation is the pretzel, which is almost the same, except a pretzel is covered in an alkaline bath that gives it its dark color and glossy coating.

Towards the end of the 20th century, the bagel business took a huge leap forward with the introduction of frozen bagels that were made by automated production. This invention was a new way to expose the rest of the country, people who might not have lived in a traditional Jewish neighborhood, to bagels. There were mixed reviews on the taste and quality of the product. It was not until the 1980’s that the true potential of the bagel was discovered, when people began to realize that bagels could be sold any time of day by making sandwiches using bagels. This caused the bagel to be made bigger and softer in order to accommodate larger sandwiches. The bagel had adapted to fit the eating style of the American people and became the “roll with a hole.”

To add to my research, I got a plain bagel from three of the best bagel bakeries in Manhattan: Jumbo Bagels, Daniel’s Bagels, Essa Bagels and also one from the supermarket Gristedes, which is baked in the store and one that I thought would be closer to a suburban bagel. My mom put each bagel in a brown bag and we did a blind taste test. I noticed that all of the bakery bagels had a hard shell with a soft and chewy inside and the bagels varied in thickness and taste, with some being sweeter and others being more savory. Another thing that I noticed during the taste test was that the Gristedes bagel (which tasted very good) was very soft and felt more like a roll. In the end, I chose Daniel’s Bagels as my favorite, but I honestly really liked them all. What I have realized from this experience is that there are so many bagel bakeries out there, that I’ll never have to worry about being deprived of “the roll with a hole.”

Rye:

If Challah was the King of the Shabbos table, then rye was the poor but honest farmer who served during the other six days of the week. Rye grain grew in abundance throughout many parts of Eastern Europe. With very limited wheat cultivation, most of the Jewish population lived on Rye and other grains, so Rye bread became a large part of the Jewish diet. Usually, Rye bread was for the poor and Wheat bread was for the wealthy. If you were a poor person who lived in Eastern Europe, then you would have a piece of Rye bread at every meal.

It is known for its many different varieties (Dark Rye, Rye with Caraway seeds, etc.). Rye bread is made with varied amounts of flour from rye grain. The type of flour used and the coloring agents (if any) that are applied determine its color or type. The result is a bread that is a lot denser than bread that is made with traditional wheat flour. But what makes rye bread a Jewish item? Well, the answer is that rye bread is Kosher, so the Jewish tag was adapted because it was mainly eaten and made by Kosher Jews. Rye bread was not very successful when it first came to the United States, and its popularity did not grow until 1888 when Henry S. Levy opened a bakery in Brooklyn, NY that sold baked items favored by Orthodox Jews. These items included: Rye, Challah, Bagels and many different kinds of rolls.

As World War II ended, many immigrants and their families relocated and as they began to leave their old neighborhoods, Levy’s business went away with them. By 1949, Levy’s bakery was bankrupt. Henry Levy and his friend Whitney Rubin decided that in order to stay in business, they had to reach out to the non-Jewish market. This led to the national campaign: “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s real Jewish Rye.” Yet, not everything lasts forever. Soon, Levy’s found itself in another financial hole and their only option was to sell the Levy company name. This turned Levy’s into another mass produced brand like Thomas’ and Entenmann’s (not that I have anything against either of those companies). Nowadays rye bread is well known and associated with the Pastrami on Rye sandwich, which is one of the most popular deli sandwiches as well.

Bialys:

Bialys are another very popular Jewish bread item. Bialys were born in the Jewish area of the northeastern city of Bialystok, Poland. Bialys became so associated with their hometown that all Jews of the city were known as bialystoker kuchen fressers which simplifies to “The Devourers of Bialys.” Sadly, bialys were always covered by the bagel’s giant shadow, due to their chewy yeast roll structure and appearance. Unlike bagels, bialys are not boiled before they are baked and instead of having a large hole in the center, bialys just have a depression. Before a bialy is baked, its depression is usually filled with other ingredients like diced onions, garlic, poppy seeds or breadcrumbs.

The death of the original bialy makers can be pinpointed to June 27, 1941 when Nazi forces captured the remaining Jews in Bialystok. The bialy survived through those Jews who had left Bialystok and came to the United States for a better life. Sadly though, because bialys have a very short shelf life and cannot be preserved, the bialy has not gained national popularity, like the bagel did.

In order to learn more about bialys, I visited Kossar’s Bialys in Manhattan, where I interviewed the owner Debra Engelmayer and asked her about the history of the bialy in New York. She told me that Kossar’s is the oldest bialy bakery in the United States! Deborah also talked to me about how bialys aren’t as popular as bagels and they are trying to figure out ways to bring more people to Kossar’s. She feels that unlike the bagel, bialys are usually bought as a breakfast item or for special occasions, while the bagel has become a bread that can be eaten at any time of day. She talked to me about how historically significant Kossar’s is and the pressure to make a living and reinvent, while still being able to maintain their roots. I asked Deborah how she would feel about adding more things into the bakery like sweets and deli meats, but she said that she would not want to change, because then Kossar’s would not be staying true to its historical background. In a nutshell, that’s Deborah’s problem. My mom and I helped Kossar’s cause by leaving with a small bag of fresh bialys. I chose to focus on bialys as one of my topics because both my great great grandmother and great great grandfather (on my mother’s side of the family) came to the United States from Bialystok.

Pletzels:

Similar to Challah on my Dad’s side, pletzels have a very large significance on my Mom’s side of the family. But before I talk about that, what is a pletzel? Most people describe a pletzel as a Jewish flatbread. And it is. Pletzel dough is made by using flour, water and yeast. It is then rolled out to make it paper thin, and then not allowed to rise. The word pletzel in Yiddish means “wooden plank” and the shape of the pletzel is similar to this. Both home cooks and Jewish bakers make their pletzel dough using dough that is leftover from challah.

In order to learn more about pletzels and their history on my Mom’s side of the family, I made them with my Great Great Aunt Celia. According to her, pletzels were baked every year, on the month before Passover, when all of the Jews in the village had to use up any flour that they had in their homes. The reason they made pletzels was because they could be kept for a long period of time and not get moldy the way that bread does. This gave the people something to eat all the way up until the first night of Passover.

Now, one of the main reasons that I chose to focus on the pletzel as one of my breads, is because of what my Mom’s relatives call: The Pletzel Bake-Off. The bake-off was a big event on my Mom’s side of the family. It happened every year from about 1986-2006 at which time almost all of my relatives who lived on the west coast would come to my Aunt Celia’s house in Palm Springs, CA and bake pletzels all day long (like workers at a giant factory.) The purpose of the event was to keep the family together after Aunt Celia’s sister Gloria died. After the first bake off, everyone had so much fun, that it turned into a yearly tradition for my mom’s family. They even had a tradition that if a new family member joined the extravaganza, they would be doused with flour as way of inducting them into the group. When we made the pletzels together, my Aunt Celia made sure she doused my brothers and me with flour, while we were making them. She also told stories of when my mom and my grandma were out in Palm Springs joining the family for one of the bake-offs.

Another important story about the pletzel on my mom’s side of the family is that when my Great Great Grandmother Ray came to America, she hadn’t been taught how to cook or bake since she came from a privileged family that had servants and cooks. When she married my Great Great Grandfather they eventually settled in Brooklyn where his family lived. His cousin taught her to make pletzels and then she in turn taught my Great Great Aunt Celia and her sisters, one of whom was my Great Grandmother.

As Norman Berg wrote in his book Inside the Jewish Bakery, “There is a universality to baking that transcends time and space. Kneading dough and being a part of its transformation, as if by magic, into a fragrant loaf of bread is an experience as old as human civilization itself. To bake bread is to nourish, in the most fundamental way, self, family and community; to eat a piece of homemade bread is to merge with generations past and, hopefully, with generations as yet unborn.” This quote really summarizes the purpose of my project. All of the stories that I have heard or read, and all of the experiences that I have had with bread and my family, are the things that I will remember. The idea of sharing a moment when baking, whether it’s a cake, cookies or even bread, is the way that I can pass down my memories and my family’s stories, so that they can be told to my children and their children, and so on, and so on, and so on. I think that the time I spent baking with my family symbolizes this bar mitzvah process. It was during these times that stories were shared and memories were made. And in the end, I got to eat a lot of bread.


“Becoming A Jew: Learning You’re Jewish Later in Life” by Mazel Kaplan Karlick
June 22, 2013

Do you define yourself or do people define you? People at my school assume that everyone is Christian because almost everyone is Christian. When they find out that I am Jewish, they are shocked and surprised. And, when the topic comes up again, Pause they say “Oh yeah, I forgot”. They don’t treat me differently, and the fact they forget makes it clear that it does not have a lasting impact on them. Also, it does not feel like it affects the way they treat me.

The idea that people at my school don’t realize I am Jewish made me begin to think about people who themselves don’t know until later in their lives they are Jewish, or who had to hide their Jewish identity. They are called Hidden Jews. This Bat Mitzvah paper is a way to explain what being a Hidden Jew is, and what it means to me. This paper, furthered my journey to understand my own Jewish identity, and I hope I can help others who feel “hidden”.

The first International Hidden Child Gathering was a meeting of 1,600 people who in 1991 met for two days in New York City and talked about being hidden during the Holocaust. The gathering was the idea of Myriam Abramowitz. She brought her idea to Abraham Foxman, Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who himself had been a hidden child in Poland. Maybe because he had been hidden, he agreed to sponsor the gathering. The conference brought former hidden children together to meet each other, learn about each other’s experiences, and to help them realize that they are not alone in dealing with any unresolved issues. For many it was the first time that they had ever spoken about their experiences. As a result of the 1991 Hidden Child Gathering, the Hidden Child Foundation of the Anti-Defamation League was created and continues working to identify and locate everyone who was hidden as a child during the Holocaust. The Foundation wants to gather and preserve stories and create a place where adults can share their memories. They also want to help commemorate these events, as yet another way to help ensure that the atrocities of the Holocaust will not be repeated. They believe that educating people about the consequences of hatred and prejudice will ensure that no one will have to experience the horror and injustice of the Holocaust again.

My research about Hidden Children of the Holocaust taught me that Jews did whatever was necessary to keep their children safe including hiding them with non-Jews. The non-Jews would raise these children as their own. Some children did not know they were Jewish until after the Holocaust. Some did not learn about their Jewish roots until many years later. Many still do not know they are actually Jewish.

I read about a German couple who took in a young Jewish girl named Alice Sondike and they didn’t even know she was Jewish. She was very young, about 3 years old. They raised her as their own and when her mother came back to get her after the war, the couple did not want to give her up. They wanted to adopt her. The couple hid the girl in a closet, hoping that her mother would leave without her. When they were told that the girl was Jewish, they were horrified and literally threw the little girl out the door, which shocked her. The young girl was returned to her parents, but she had a very difficult time adjusting. First, she was extremely shocked that the family that had been raising her completely rejected her. Alice had lived with a number of couples while in hiding, and when she returned to her real “parents”, she viewed them as just two more strangers she had to live with. She did not remember them at all. She was too young to understand anything about the terrible experiences her parents had endured and now says “ I treated them badly”. Her mother was in awful emotional and physical shape. She did not even have any teeth. Alice remembers that she could not stand being around her mother. She just treated her parents like all the other adults she had lived with during the war. She couldn’t reclaim her Jewish identity, or her place in her original family.

Abe Foxman, the Director of the Anti-Defamation League, was hidden with his Catholic nanny in Poland when he was a baby. Five years later, when his parents came back to reclaim him, the nanny did not want to give him back. There was a custody trial and his parents won. Mr. Foxman said that his parents only won because he was too young to choose where he wanted to live. If he had been older and had been asked to choose, he would have chosen his nanny. She was the one he viewed as his parent, and he had learned to believe in Catholicism because of her. When he returned to his parents, he slowly began to learn about Judaism. His father allowed him to continue to practice his Catholicism and slowly acclimate to Jewish rituals. He eventually learned to enjoy being Jewish. If his parents had died and never came to claim him, he believes he would have become a priest.

Mr. Foxman said “I’m convinced there are thousands of Jews who do not know they are Jewish, especially in Poland. Every day we lose potential Jewish souls there because their foster parents die without telling them they had Jewish parents.” The Anti Defamation League makes many trips to Poland to find Christian rescuers and honor them, as a way to find more people who may not even know they are Jewish. The ADL hopes that more rescuers will then come forward and let their children know that they were hidden as children and are actually Jewish.

The day after Holocaust Remembrance Day, I went to the Museum of Jewish Heritage and met with Holocaust survivors. One person I met, Judith Steel, had been a Hidden Jew in France. When she was a baby her family were 4 out of 936 German Jews trying to escape the Nazis on the S.S. St. Louis voyage to Cuba. Cuba did not let anyone in, so they tried many different countries and everyone turned them down. The ship returned to Europe. Some Jewish organizations paid England, France, Holland and Belgium to accept some of the people. Judith’s family was lucky enough to go to France and rented an apartment there.

Judith befriended her landlord’s daughter Suzy who was four years older and they played a lot together. Judith loved going to Suzy’s house because she adored her mother. She called her “Mama Suzy” which she thought meant Suzy’s mom. It started to become less safe for the Jews. The Germans came for Judith and her family and they took them to a concentration camp. The night they got there her dad took her outside the camp and brought her to a small room filled with a few other children. The next morning Mama Suzy took her home. After that, Mama Suzy told Judith that she was going to be brought up just like her other children. Now Judith called her Mama, and Suzy’s father Papa. She also ate pork, went to church, she sang hymns, and made the sign of the cross.

However, she said that she always knew that she was Jewish and was able to maintain her identity. She went to kindergarten and Suzy told everyone that they were sisters. Many people in the town knew her before so she had to be extra careful. Whenever the Germans were there she didn’t say anything because she had a German accent. One day she overheard Mama and Papa say that her father was dead. She kept asking them when her mom was going to come back for her. After the war was over Mama took her to Paris so that she could get papers to go to live with her aunt and uncle. She did not want to leave Mama. It was very hard for her to adjust to living with her aunt and uncle because she only wanted to be with Mama. Later she got used to her new family and felt at home there. For many, many years she was not in contact with Mama.

After she attended the International Conference for Hidden Jews in New York she decided to go visit Mama. She spent a week with her in France. She asked her why she hid children. “It was the thing to do” she said. Now they phone each other every few weeks. She wanted her Mama to be honored as a righteous Christian and was able to make this happen. In June of 1993 Mama received an award and medal from Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem for saving the lives of six people.

“My Australia” is a movie, directed by Ami Drozd. It is a true story of Mr. Drozd’s hidden Jewish identity. It is an Israeli movie that was showing in New York City that I was lucky enough to see with my mentor Ilana, and my mother. When the movie begins, a mother and two sons are living in Poland in the 1950’s. One son named Tadek and his older brother are in an anti-Jewish gang in Poland. They were caught and arrested by the police for using metal poles to beat up Jewish students. The boys’ mother gets them released from jail but is distraught by their beating Jews, and the swastika on the older brother’s belt buckle. She tells the older boy that she is a Holocaust survivor and they are Jewish. She had pretended to be Catholic because at the time there was so much anti-Semitism in Poland.

She thought she was protecting her sons by raising them as Christians. Their mother decides she must move the family to Israel. However, she lies and tells Tadek that they are moving to Australia, a country that Tadek always dreamed about because he believed he had family there who had sent them gifts. That aunt and uncle it turns out actually live in Israel. The mother does not tell Tadek that they are going to Israel until the night before the boat docks in Israel, after he began to question some things he saw on the ship. He is very upset when he learns that they are going to Israel instead of Australia.

When they arrive in Israel the boys go live on a kibbutz because their mother does not have enough money to support them. The difficulties in adapting to their new identity are highlighted in how differently each brother adjusts to being on the kibbutz. Tadek makes friends with his peers and embraces Judaism. He wants to fit in so much that he asks and is allowed to be circumcised. This is very different from the older brother who cannot adapt to his new environment and identity, and does not even try to be accepted. During the movie Tadek’s identity drastically changes. But his older brother cannot change.
I was really glad to see the movie, which so perfectly fit in with my major paper topic. Seeing the movie made me realize that your identity can be based on the attitudes typical of where you live and how you are brought up. It also made me realize that a person’s identity can change based on their experiences, and their environment.

Another hidden Jew I learned about was former US Secretary of State, Madeline Albright. Ms. Albright did not know she was Jewish and a Holocaust survivor until she was 59 years old. When she found out she was Jewish, she was embarrassed to not have known her family better. Ms. Albright did research based on her earliest memories of fleeing from Czechoslovakia where she had lived with her family and her cousin Dásâ. Ms. Albright wrote a memoir about these early memories called “Prague Winter.” The memories were of a brick building where her family and her cousin Dásâ lived. Her family fled their home in Czechoslovakia to escape the Nazis. Dásâ was rescued from Czechoslovakia through a humanitarian program run by a British stockbroker named Nicholas Winton.

In my research to find out how Nicholas Winton rescued people, I learned that he was still alive. I emailed him to find out how he felt about rescuing Hidden Jews. I received a response back from his daughter saying that he could not write, as “he is 103 and not well”. His daughter said, “He set out to rescue endangered children whatever their race or religion. It happened that most were Jewish but there were some who were other religions or persecuted because their parents were communists or anti-Hitler”. Dásâ’s rescue caused her to be separated from her parents and sister, which was very tragic. They were among those who were sent off to prison camp in Terezin. None of them survived. Ms. Albright said that the most difficult part of doing research for her memoir was learning about the atrocities inflicted in Terezin. She thought it was grotesque that people believed they were going somewhere like a spa but in reality they were going to a death camp. She said it was very hard having to imagine her family going through this.
Albright also questioned her parent’s decision to keep her Jewish ancestry a secret from her. One of Ms. Albright’s theories is that her parents welcomed the sense of reassurance and safety that hiding their Judaism could offer to their family. Ms. Albright thinks that the decision was influenced by the belief that their children would have an easier life as Christians.

Madeleine Albright first learned of her Jewish roots in 1997 at age 59. During a recent interview now at age 75, she said, “I am a firm admirer of the Jewish Tradition but could not at the age of 59 feel myself fully a part of it. “ She says she is ” an American” who is made up of many parts. She is a mother and a grandmother who was born in Czechoslovakia, a Democrat, has been a Catholic and an Episcopalian and learned she was Jewish. She celebrates Chanukah and Christmas with her children and grandchildren.

I went on a school trip to Washington D.C. in the spring, which included a visit to the US Holocaust museum. An exhibit I saw was “Life in the Shadows, Hidden Children of the Holocaust.” The fact that the museum is having an exhibit on this topic makes me think that this topic is one that a lot of people are thinking about right now. It seems like many people are finding out that family members were hidden Jews and they want to learn more about their heritage.
Peter and Isabel I will add a sentence after I see this exhibit in early May.

Even before the Holocaust, Jews in many places had to hide that they were Jewish. In my research I learned the term Crypto-Jews. Crypto-Jews are Jews with mostly Spanish ancestry referred to as Marranos. In the late 1400s in Spain, Jews and others were persecuted during the Inquisition. If the Jews didn’t convert to Christianity they would be expelled from Spain. If the authorities learned that a Jew was secretly practicing Judaism, they would kill them and their family. Many Jews converted to Christianity and ate pork, went to church, and did not circumcise their children. They celebrated Jewish traditions behind closed doors and hid the fact they were Jewish from their families and friends. They found some ways to keep practicing their funeral rituals, which are to bury the dead as soon as possible and cover the mirrors at home. They even found a way to have a Mezuzah. A Mezuzah is a small box with a piece of parchment inside with a Biblical text and the letter “Shin” which stands for the name of God on the cover that is hung on the doorpost of a house. Many Christians had a statue of the Virgin Mary at home. The Crypto-Jews would carve out the bottom of the Virgin Mary statue and put the Mezuzah inside. Then every time they went inside they would kiss the Virgin Mary’s feet, but they were actually kissing the Mezuzah. Successive generations of Jews continued to publically practice Catholicism but secretly they continued to practice some Jewish traditions

My first exposure to the idea of Crypto-Jews was at the City Congregation Kidschool. During one class we created a scene where one person played a Crypto-Jew, one student played a Christian accusing their neighbor of being Jewish, and the third played a judge. We had a mock trial. The trial was about the Crypto-Jew practicing Judaism in secret while on the outside pretending to be Catholic. The crime she was charged with was being Jewish, as her neighbor saw that on Shabbat there was no smoke coming from her chimney. I think that if this trial actually happened in the 1400’s in Spain at that time, the Crypto-Jew would have been killed. What I learned from this is that it was very difficult for the Crypto-Jews because they had to hide their identities, under threat of death.

I also read an article from the National Geographic Society called Hidden History which talked about a Rabbi named Josef Garcia who was 32 years old when he discovered he was Jewish. He was raised in Panama in a religious Christian home. He had been an altar boy growing up. One day his great uncle told him that his family members were actually Crypto-Jews. He felt very confused. He didn’t know any Jews or anything about the history or culture of the Jews. He started to research everything about Jews, and eight years later he became a Rabbi. In 2004 he co-founded The Association of Crypto-Jews of the Americas. He wanted to help Crypto-Jews learn about their history and culture. He hoped they would form a Jewish community and live full Jewish lives. Rabbi Garcia says the biggest groups of Crypto-Jews in the Americas are in Brazil and Mexico. There are many in Arizona, Texas, California and New Mexico. Rabbi Garcia remembers when he was young that every Friday night his grandmother would light candles and say words he did not understand. He came to realize she was actually saying a Hebrew prayer.

When I began the research for this paper I did not know what I would find. I thought I would not find much information on this topic. I was pleasantly surprised to find so much in books, magazines and online about Hidden Jews and the Holocaust. I found information about the Anti Defamation League and their Hidden Jew organization as well as the gatherings they create for Hidden Jews.

I found many books about Hidden Jews. I even read a novel called “The Upstairs Room” written by Johanna Reiss, about her experience being hidden by a family on a farm with her sister when she was a young child. This story was interesting because I could see that the family who hid her really, really cared for her and her sister. At the end of the book, the author tells about taking her own two girls to meet the family. She showed her kids where she used to hide in a closet with a false back when the Nazis came to the farm. Her children asked her if she could still fit. She went over to the closet got on the floor and started crying. I think she started crying because it reminded her of when she was actually in danger.

I was very interested when I learned about Crypto-Jews. I also learned some things about the Inquisition. Learning about it all makes me appreciate that I do not have to hide my own Jewish identity. I appreciate that I am safe. It makes me realize the horrible results that would have happened had Hitler succeeded. I now have a greater understanding and gratitude for the bravery of the generations of Jews who had to hide their Judaism, practicing in secret, which helped keep the religion alive. Their bravery was remarkable. And but for their bravery, their would be far fewer Jews. The research also made me realize that there are similarities between religions. I hope the similarities will help build bandages between people so that no one again will have to hide their religious identity or practice their religion secretly.


“Hiding in Plain Sight” by Adrianna Keller Wyman
June 15, 2013

Anti-Semitism and the persecution of Jews was a central principle of Nazi belief. Soon after Hitler was elected in 1933, the Nazis started to make laws against Jews in Germany, beginning on April 7, 1933 with a law that barred Jews from civil service and public sector jobs.

Greater Germany, which included annexed areas such as Austria, went on to pass more and more restrictive laws as time went on, including laws that: only allowed certain numbers of Jewish students to attend German schools and universities; forbade Jewish doctors from getting reimbursed by public insurance; and forbade Jews from having German citizenship or marrying so-called “Aryans.” In 1938, the Nazis began banning Jews from many public places, like cinemas and public schools. In 1941, all Jews were forced to wear yellow stars and to live in walled ghettos. In 1942, the plan to exterminate the Jews began.

For my major Bat Mitzvah project, I examined three memoirs of people who hid in plain sight during the Holocaust. I will summarize them, spending more time on one of them, called “The Nazi Officer’s Wife,” and then share some of my reflections.

The first memoir I read was “Mischling Second Degree,” by Ilse Koehn. Ilse lived in a town in Germany called Waldmannslust. Her family was middle class and in addition to her father, her mother also worked as a ticket seller at a train station. The book starts when she was 6 in 1935 and ends when she was 16 in 1945, but the majority of the story is set in the Hitler Youth Camp where Ilse spent several years of her life. Ilse became a bit of a leader, but her father told her in a letter not to become a leader because she had one Jewish grandparent so he didn’t want her to be a leader in anti-Semitic activities. Having one Jewish grandparent made her a Mischling, Second degree, under Nazi Law. Though the Hitler youth administrators wanted her to become a leader, Ilse had one of the more liberal people in charge say that Ilse needed more training so she couldn’t become a leader.

This story centers on the fact that Ilse had to keep her Jewish grandparent a secret and pass as an “Aryan.” Her family had to have false papers saying they had no Jewish blood and give a reason for why her father hadn’t joined the army. The main thing she had to do to pass was to play along and act like she didn’t have any Jewish blood. She looked “Aryan” since she had blond hair and blue eyes and was considered Germanic looking. Still, she needed fake papers to say she had no Jewish blood; her parents got them just in time. But, she worried about her father, who had one Jewish parent, being found out.

The second story that I examined was “Europa, Europa,” by Solomon Perel. Solomon Perel was born in 1925 in Germany, but moved to Poland with his parents after Hitler came to power. After his older brother came to visit and warned their parents that Hitler was going to attack Poland, they sent Solomon and his brother off to hide and find safety. Solomon’s brother stayed with a group of Jews, but Solomon got separated and ended up living in a Russian orphanage for 2 years. After the orphanage was bombed, he got lost. He was found by Nazis who questioned him and other people about whether they were Jewish. He lied and said that he had lost his personal documents and that he was not a Jew. They believed him. Because he spoke Russian as well as German, he joined the army as a translator. He was later sent to a military boarding school. After the war ended, he was being punished for being a Nazi, but then his brother recognized him and they reunited.

The final memoir I read was “The Nazi Officer’s Wife,” by Edith Hahn. Edith Hahn was born in 1915 and grew up in Vienna, Austria, with 2 sisters. Her family was Jewish but not very religious, though the children went to children’s services at the synagogue on Saturday afternoons and most of their friends were Jewish. Her parents owned and ran a restaurant.

In 1938, Germany had already annexed Austria, and Edith wasn’t allowed to take her final exams at college because she was Jewish, so she couldn’t get her diploma. The mother of her boyfriend, Pepe, had him baptized and paid to have his name removed from the list of members of the Jewish community. However, it was too late, because being Jewish was considered retroactive to 1936.

Life was difficult for Edith’s friends and family in other ways as well. Pepe’s mother didn’t allow him to go to Edith’s house, because she didn’t want him seen with Jews which might make people think he was Jewish. In 1939, Edith’s older sister got a ticket to immigrate to Palestine on an illegal transport. Around the same time, her grandfather was evicted from his house and shop and came to live with them. When Edith had a cavity, she had to go to an “Aryan” dentist, who made her give him 3 gold chains as payment to pull the tooth.

In 1941 Edith signed a contract to do farm work for 6 weeks. Her mother was originally also told to do that, but Edith told the SS that her mother was actually just her maid and was not Jewish. When she went to the farm, work was very hard and the women had to stay there much longer than they had been told. Edith and some other girls from the farm who were from Vienna were told that they could go home to visit, but then the day before they were to go home they were instead sent to work at a factory. After working in the factory for a while, she went back to Vienna. On the train ride home, she and her friends took off their yellow stars. This was the first time she had hidden her Jewish identity.

After her mother was deported to a concentration camp in 1942, Edith decided that she had to hide the fact that she was Jewish. She had heard about a person at the local Office of Racial Affairs who could help her, so she went to see him. He told her to find an Aryan friend who looked like her and to tell that friend to go to the ration book office and say that she was going on vacation. Then a few days later, the friend should tell the police that while on vacation she had lost her purse in the Danube River and that she needed a replacement ration book. The friend should then give Edith her original ration book, birth certificate, and baptismal records and Edith should move elsewhere in greater Germany. He told Edith not to apply for a clothing ration book because those were distributed from the national office—and the national office would be able to see that two different people in different regions were living under the same identity.

Edith’s friend, Christl Maria Margarete Denner, gave Edith the necessary papers, and Edith moved to Munich to begin life under the name of Grete Denner. In Munich, Edith rented a room and did sewing and mending in exchange for room and board. She couldn’t get a clothing ration card, so she had to make all her own clothes by hand. When she was in public places, she kept her head down and avoided talking to people beyond what was necessary. Since her friend Christl was younger than Edith, Edith had to pretend to be 21 and uneducated instead of 28 with four years of college.

One day Edith went to an art gallery where she met Werner, a Nazi officer, who began talking to her. She didn’t like him at first but he kept persisting and she agreed to go out to lunch with him. They continued dating for a while, but when Werner asked about her family, she couldn’t tell him because she was living under a fake identity. Eventually, however, she told Werner she was Jewish. He said that he had lied too—by not saying he was divorced, so they were even. Even though he was a Nazi officer, it seemed that Werner was not an anti-Semite because he talked about a Jewish man his aunt had married whom he had liked.

When they got married, they didn’t have a fancy wedding; they just went to a judge. Edith got a job with the Red Cross—one of the only employers in the country that was not required to register its employees with the government. Edith knew it was important that the government not see two different people living under the same identity. They eventually divorced because Werner wanted Edith to be a housewife, but Edith instead went back to school and became a lawyer. After the war ended, Edith stopped pretending and started living under her old name again.

These three stories have a lot of similarities. One of them is that all the stories of hiding take place in Greater Germany. All of the people hide in plain sight and just pretend to not be Jewish, unlike, for example, Anne Frank, who actually hid. All of them had to criticize Jews and say things that they didn’t believe in or agree with so that other people wouldn’t suspect them; they had to be active in Nazi society, not just keep their heads down and not speak to anyone. Solomon Perel was in the German army and had to fight against the Jews, even set a house with Jews inside it on fire. Edith Hahn had to say ‘Heil Hitler’ and have a picture of Hitler hanging in her house; Ilse Koehn didn’t really have to do things against her family, but she was in the Hitler Youth and had to wear the uniform. All of them were under the age of 30. All were passing totally on their own (Ilse was away at Hitler Youth camp; Solomon had been separated from his family; Edith was a young woman who lived on her own until she met Werner). None of them looked especially Jewish (by Nazi criteria).

There are also some differences in the stories. Ilse was much less Jewish than the other two–she only had a Jewish grandparent and had no real connection to Jewish life and didn’t celebrate Jewish holidays. Edith was living on her own as an adult, while Ilse and Solomon were young people living with others–in the Hitler Youth, in the army, at boarding school, and in the orphanage. Edith and Solomon had riskier situations than Ilse, since they had to change their lives, while Ilse just had to keep her Jewish grandparent a secret.

My grandmother’s parents were named Emil and Edith Goldschmidt. They lived in Stuttgart, Germany, where Emil was principal of the Jewish high school. They had one child, my grandmother. They were not very religious, but they were very much part of the Jewish community. They had good friends who were not Jewish; Emil had a best friend named Hans Dinkuhn who later helped him escape. Emil and Edith both had family who moved to other countries—Chile and Palestine–before things got very bad.

On Kristallnacht, the Jewish high school was set on fire, and my great-grandfather, the principal, went to investigate. He was chased and arrested and put in prison at Dachau for 2 weeks. My great grandparents felt they had to leave Germany.

If I had lived in Nazi Germany, I would have been a Mischling second degree, since I have one Jewish grandparent. My situation would have been most similar to Ilse’s because of this; plus my family isn’t that religious. However, we are members of a Jewish congregation, my step-mother is Jewish, and my dad does Jewish-related work.

I probably would have been able to pass as Aryan because I have light coloring. Kids in Germany were required to join the Hitler youth, so I would have done that. My family would have needed to get fake papers. Probably we would have had friends who would have helped.

If I were faced with this now, it would be hard because I wouldn’t be able to see friends who were Jewish. It would be hard because I would always be afraid of being found out, and I would have to lie to everyone that I was not Jewish. I might have had to say things against the Jews that I didn’t believe so that other people wouldn’t suspect me of being Jewish. I would have instead wanted to leave with my family, like my grandmother and her parents did, even if that meant leaving my friends and most of my possessions behind.

If I had been able to get good fake papers for myself and a Jewish friend asked if she could get copies of mine, like Edith did, I wouldn’t have given her the papers, since, because mine were fake, there would have been a big risk of being caught. However, I would have helped my friend find someone else to get papers from. If I had gotten fake papers, I would have had to change how I lived. I couldn’t have contact with my Jewish family or friends; I would always worry about being found out.

Many people in our society today choose to pass in different ways. Sometimes illegal immigrants get false papers to show that they were born in the US. They might have unfair working conditions, but they can’t go to the police, because their employer might know they are illegal and report them. They also can’t visit their families in the countries they came from, or have family come to visit them. I know someone who immigrated here illegally and hasn’t seen his daughter in 13 years.

Many gay people have pretended that they were straight because their families and society wouldn’t accept them otherwise. Some famous people had fake partners so people didn’t suspect them of being gay. If they were found out, people sometimes lost their jobs, were ridiculed, disowned by their families, or dropped by their friends. Sometimes people were even killed for being gay.

People have also hidden their political beliefs because those beliefs weren’t accepted by society or by people in their circles. Most recently, in the 1950s and 60s, people who were Communists, or suspected of being Communists, lost their jobs and were prevented from getting other work, which was called blacklisting.

Also, sometimes people in our culture have hidden the fact that members of their family were African American, because they wanted to be perceived as white. There has been and there still is a lot of racism against African Americans, and racist organizations like the KKK still exist. In many parts of our country, black people can get beat up or killed for dating a white person or moving into a white neighborhood.

Passing to fit in can help you feel like you belong and are not the odd person out. You can have better job opportunities and get treated more fairly. It can help you and your family stay alive and can get you or your family into a better school. By passing you may be able to get and keep a better job. Even though passing can help you get what’s best for you and your family, there are certain costs to it. If you pass, you might feel like you are betraying your family or your heritage. You may also feel like you are living a lie. As well, you always worry about being found out.

People dealt with the crisis of the Holocaust in many different ways. Some hid, some stayed and fought, some fled and some were killed. But some people found a way to stay safe by pretending to be people they were not. And sometimes in our own culture people still have to hide who they are.


“Back in Black and Fashion Forward” by Yelena Keller Wyman
June 15, 2013

I will be looking at fashion options for Orthodox women that allow them to be on trend while still honoring the customs of tzniut.

New York City is home to over 25,000 ultra-orthodox Jews. That is the largest group outside of Israel. It is usually pretty easy to recognize an Orthodox man or women. For those of us living in New York, it is not uncommon to see an Orthodox person or family. The men commonly wear black jackets, pants, shoes, and white shirts with no tie, along with some kind of black hat. Women are often seen in clothing that is not too bright or tight fitting that covers up most of their body. Outside the home, married women cover their heads to show that they’re married.

Some of the ultra orthodox are called Hassidic, others are called “Yeshevish.” There are many other groups, but these are two of the main ones. The Yeshivish typically dress more conservatively than the Chasidic, but there is a subdivision of the Chasidic, the Lubavitch, which also dresses more conservatively. It also depends on the individual and their immediate community, but these are the general ideas.

The Hassidic live in tight knit communities called courts. These courts are centered around a Rabbi. These communities have different rules and generally don’t associate with the other communities. They all share a similar belief in the torah. They believe that they are living a life close to god, and that they are a role model for the rest of the world. For example everything they do for what they eat, to how they dress is centered around becoming closer to God.

One rule about clothing for both men and women of all Orthodox groups is that they cannot wear a garment that has both wool and linen in it. This law is called shatnez. This could mean a top made with wool that has a button attached with linen thread. The meaning of this rule is not explained in the Torah, but some believe it is for not mixing animal and plant products, kind of like keeping kosher. There are labs that will test a garment.

However, the most important clothing guideline for Orthodox women is called tzniut. Tzniut is a concept referring to modesty and humility and is what guides the Orthodox to dress the way they do.

There are very specific rules when it comes to how an Orthodox woman is allowed to dress. Women should not dress in a way that attracts attention. Married women need to cover their hair. Women aren’t allowed to wear men’s clothing, so women never wear pants or shorts. Hair is covered. Bright colored and tight fitting clothes are avoided. You are not supposed to draw attention to yourself through your clothes.

The main part of the body (the torso) needs to be covered. The collarbone needs to be covered; however, the neck doesn’t need to be. The shoulders and any part of the neck that is more horizontal than vertical also needs to remain covered.

Basically, anything below the lowest point that a necklace would hang from on the neck, needs to covered. The upper arms need to be covered, but the lower arm doesn’t need to be. However, the elbow needs to be covered because the upper arm becomes the top of the elbow. The upper parts of the legs, as well as the knees, must be covered with a skirt. However, unlike the arms, the shape of the legs needs to be disguised. This means women have to wear a loose fitting skirt. The lower legs must be covered with tights or hosiery.

This also applies to children, but not in as strict a way, and not all communities follow all of these requirements. For example, there was a time when I took gymnastics classes and there were two religious Jewish girls in my class that would wear full-length leggings and long sleeve shirts during class and then when class was finished they would put their skirts back on.
However, the general rule in all communities is to be modest. The rules only apply when in public or when in contact with those who are not immediate family. These rules may sound very extreme, but they are what most Orthodox women are used to.

Hasidic people believe that this is important so that Women don’t show off their bodies or distract the men. Also, they believe that their community is pure, and the outside world contaminates them. The strict rules help to separate the Hasidic community from the outside world.

There are strict consequences for breaking the codes for proper behavior in an Ultra Orthodox community. This is sometimes enforced by a community Modesty Police, who use different threats to enforce the code. The modesty police are known for beating up the offenders in Israel, where they recently even attacked an old lady. Here in New York State, a woman testified that “masked men from the religious modesty committee, based in Monroe, N.Y., had come into her bedroom at night when she was 15 or 16 years old. One store owner in Brooklyn was told to take down the mannequins in her store window, because she was told they were too revealing and were harming the community. In a case like this, the modesty police can turn a community against someone and make sure their store doesn’t have any business. As Rabbi Allan Nadler said, “They operate like the Mafia.”

Every community in the world has certain unwritten requirements regarding appearance. In our own society, there are certain ways people are expected to dress for school, work, weddings, funerals, and other situations. At school, people are generally expected to dress more conservatively and not revealing. At work it depends on your job, but generally, people are expected to look put together. At weddings, people are expected to wear nice, formal clothes. At funerals, people usually wear black.

I do have some experience with written dress codes because I go to a school with a uniform. However, it is not as strict as the rules for the orthodox community. My uniform is basically a polo or button down shirt and any solid pants or skirts except for jeans or leggings.

As a teenage girl, clothes are a big part of my life. I have a lot of freedom with how I dress, except for clothes at school, because we have a uniform. However we still can express ourselves a little bit with the uniform because there are still different ways of meeting the dress code requirements.

There are also other ways to express yourself even while wearing a school uniform with things like jewelry and hairstyles. For example my sister, and other people in my grade, dye their hair. Outside of school, I can wear pretty much anything I want to. I probably wouldn’t be allowed to wear something super revealing, but I wouldn’t want to anyways. Also, my parents would be the ones saying I can’t wear something, not the rules of my community. In my group of friends, people aren’t judged for what they wear, but we all have some similar styles.

There are, however, unwritten expectations for how to dress, and there are consequences in my community for dressing a certain way. People judge others and may treat them in a different way. At school, if someone doesn’t follow the dress code, they have to go and get ugly clothes from the PTA office and they might get lunch detention.

Living in New York, there is a huge range in what clothing is accepted. It’s more about your general appearance. If you look put together, and presentable, with clean clothes and neat hair, you are fine.

In other places, like the suburbs, everyone wears the same brands and dresses really similarly. If you dress differently, you won’t be accepted. Some clothes may be seen as childish. Some people dress a lot younger than their actual age and are criticized for that. People who don’t follow these unwritten rules may get looked down upon, not have a lot of friends, or even miss out on opportunities.

In addition, if you just don’t look “presentable”, you may be treated differently. If someone smells bad or is dressed in their pajamas, they won’t be taken seriously. People are technically allowed to walk around in their bathing suits all the time, but they won’t be accepted. In our culture, there aren’t any written rules regarding modesty, but if a girl is dressed in a very revealing way, she may be labeled as a slut. People also might not take her seriously, or she may be thought of as stupid.

But some things are changing. Nowadays, some Orthodox women are finding it is possible to honor tzniut while also being fashionable. There are less conservative communities they can move to, but many aren’t willing to leave their whole life behind.

So instead, there are now many options available for fashion conscious Orthodox women that allow them to shop in mainstream stores while still being respected in their communities. Exactly what a woman will wear depends on several factors; a woman’s age, where she lives, and how strictly religious she is.

In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I live, its common to see women with their hair covered, long sleeved blouses, and long skirts. But even for these women, there are still ways to be a fashion risk-taker while being modest and keeping tzniut. In fact, there are now multiple Orthodox fashion bloggers who talk about being fashionable while still staying true to their beliefs. One of these is Fashion-Isha. Isha means women in Hebrew. She is an orthodox woman who loves fashion but stays modest and true to her religion. In one of her posts, “How do I Make These Modest??,” she talks about adding fabric to necklines, arms, and lengths. She also goes to events like Fashion Week and photographs the modest outfits or puts suggestions for how to make an outfit more modest. She says, “The outfits express the individuality of the person wearing them…not their bodies. This is the essence of modesty in fashion. It’s not about dowdiness, but rather a celebration of the beauty of the person within.” For her, this is a very important idea when dealing with modesty. She also writes about her experience being an Orthodox Jewish woman.
A current trend in fashion is high neckline shirts, button up blouses, and maxi skirts. During the right season, these kind of clothes are available at many major retailers, such as H&M, Target, and Forever21, and many other stores.

I wanted to see what it would be like to shop for clothes that would meet the standards of being modest enough for orthodox women to wear. The clothes had to cover the knees, elbows, and color bones and also not mix linen and wool. To do this I went to several mainstream stores. First I went to Forever 21. However, I found nothing that would fit the standards. Instead, I found a lot of summer clothes that, while appropriate for most women, would not be appropriate for Orthodox women who are following the rules tziunit.

Next I went to Nordstrom Rack, and while there were some items that would be appropriate, they looked like old lady clothes. Finally, I went to Ann Taylor, and though I didn’t find any dresses or skirts and blouses that would work on their own, I did find items that would work if you layered them. For example, I found a long dress that was also light so it would work in the summer, but you would need to wear something like a collared shirt or a high neckline shirt with it because it had a neckline that showed the collarbone. You would also need to wear a sweater, blazer, or jacket over it because it was sleeveless. I also found a lot of blazers that were fashionable and could cover up your arms. There were also a lot of long dresses that went to the ankles that worked. I also found long sleeved sweaters that would cover the entire arm and could be used over a dress or with a dress.

But what I had a hard time finding was modest clothing that I, myself, would wear. Most of it was very different from the things we wear in our culture, where we don’t necessarily cover our elbows or collar bones or knees. These items–like short shorts, crop tops, and short skirts–would not be approved in the orthodox community.

Despite not finding actual modest clothes to buy, though, I did find many non-modest clothes that could be modified to become modest. Some had shoulder seams which could be raised. Others had problem necklines, but you could add a dickie. Many of the clothes could also be layered for modesty, with a turtleneck under a shirt or dress with an immodest neckline. I also found sweaters and blazers which could be worn over otherwise immodest blouses or dresses. The truth is, there are many ways to modify clothes to make them more modest.

Another source for modest clothes are the many stores that specifically sell modest clothes. One of the stores is called Junee’s, which has locations in the Orthodox communities of Boro Park, Midwood, Lawrence, New York, and Lakewood, New Jersey. They have a lot of clothes to choose from, and it is easier to get modest clothes from stores like these, rather than from mainstream clothing stores. However, the clothes are very basic and not super fashionable. The prices are a little high. For example, a skirt is anywhere from 40-60 dollars.

Trying to shop for modest clothes at the stores I already knew was a hard task for me, but if I were used to it, then it wouldn’t be such a big deal because I would be used to going into orthodox stores. I don’t think it would be difficult to avoid immodest clothes—it would feel the same as in our community if I saw something I liked that was too scandalous–I would be like, oh, I can’t wear that, not a big deal. Most of the women in an orthodox community dress pretty similarly, or at least it looks like that to me, so it doesn’t seem like it would be as much of a big deal to dress like the other people around you.

I really don’t like having a uniform for school and I can’t imagine being told what to wear all the time. I would not like being forced to dress in a way very different and more conservative than the people who surround me. I would also not like to start being told that I have to dress in a completely different way than I dress now. I would not like to have to follow the rules in place for the orthodox.

But I think it must be more annoying to orthodox women who have a role in the outside community who want to stick to their values but don’t want to stick out in the wider world when they leave the orthodox community to go to work. It’s probably for many of these orthodox women that finding ways to dress for two worlds—the orthodox and the fashionable—and to be risk-takers while still staying true to what they believe in, is most important.


“Going Forward Looking Back: How the Biblical Miriam, Judith and Rachel Hold Lessons for Me Today” by Georgia Dahill-Fuchel
June 6, 2013

Introduction
For my major paper, I have chosen to write about what I can learn from biblical women that will help me through my adolescence. I first came up with this idea because I was thinking about the struggles of going through adolescence. This led me to think about how women in biblical times faced the challenges of becoming a woman. Then I began thinking about what lessons biblical women have taught us and how they might relate to modern women. I researched several women and chose three to explore further: Miriam, Judith and Rachel.

In order to learn more about each of these women, I asked myself the following questions:

· When did they exist in history?
· What is the important part of their story?
· What lessons can we gain from these stories?
· What character traits do they each embody?
· Who are the modern versions of these Biblical women?
· Why do I value these character traits?
· Why are these traits important to have in 2013?
· Who in my family carries on the names of these Biblical Women?

Miriam
When we think of the story of Passover, we think of ancient Egypt and of Miriam and her baby brother, Moses, who was put in a basket in the river Nile shortly after his birth. That was because Pharaoh created a law that ordered all male Hebrew babies to be killed. Pharaoh did this because his advisors had prophesied that a man was to be born who would defeat him. Since he didn’t know which baby boy would grow up to be that man he figured he would eliminate them all. In my mind this is offensive toward women because it is saying that women were not capable of defeating a Pharaoh. Miriam was a prophetess and saw that her mother was going to have a son who was going to defeat the Pharaoh and free the Israelites from the Pharaoh’s rule. But Miriam’s parents had decided to stop having children altogether because they feared that if they had a baby boy he would be slaughtered. However, Miriam, being the persuasive person she was, told them it was unfair to stop having children because there was a 50% probability of having a girl. Miriam’s argument was successful and because of her intervention her parents had another child who turned out to be Moses.

The character traits I admire from Miriam were her ways of being protective, wise and persuasive. I am using these traits as tools as I grow up. I need to be protective over my friends, and my family in certain ways. For instance, if someone tries to insult my friends or my family, it is my responsibility to stand up for them with words in a protective manner. Also, at my age, there are lots of decisions to be made and I need to be wise when making them. Being able to look at both sides of a story rather than only focusing on one side is part of being wise. Finally, I am developing my powers of persuasion to learn how to convince people to follow my path. Being persuasive in my world means persuading people to walk me to dance class, or persuading people to want to go with me to get water from the water fountain at school. Or it means persuading my friends that Glee is not a bad show, or that some pop songs aren’t terrible. Being persuasive may help me in the future if I am ever trying to get people to not litter, or to stop smoking, or to go green.

In my world I have some special people whose names are Miriam. Our cousin Marilyn’s Hebrew name was Miriam. Marilyn recently passed away. She used to always let me play with her dog ZZ. She was an amazing artist and she touched many lives.

Another special Miriam to our family was Miriam Cohen, the woman who took in my grandfather, Kurt, during World War Two, when he was sent away on the Kindertransport. By taking in Kurt, in her own way she also played a part in securing the future of the Jewish people. If my grandpa had remained in Austria, it is likely he would not have survived the war. The only reason why his parents survived the war was because they went into hiding and with a small child it would have created a higher probability of being caught and killed. Miriam raised Grandpa Kurt as her second son. She only died recently at almost 100 years old.

From when I was six months old all the way until I was nine years old, I had a wonderful babysitter who became a part of our family. Her name is Miriam. My family and I have always called her Senora. She was a huge part of my life. She taught me Spanish and took care of me just like the biblical Miriam did with Moses. I remember sleeping over at her house and attempting to build a house with spaghetti, with her granddaughter Genesis. Miriam is so sweet and so caring, I don’t know what I did to deserve such an amazing babysitter like her.

Judith
Even though my name is Georgia Elizabeth, my Hebrew name is Yehudit Yonina. I was named to honor my mother’s mother Judith, and my dad’s mom Betty. Judith is the biblical character who I will talk about now.
Historians believe Judith lived in the 1st or 2nd century. Judith is known for doing something very gross and gory but courageous. Judith was an Israelite during a time period when a war was going on between the Israelites and the Assyrians. Judith knew that she could use her beauty to persuade the enemy general, Holofernes, to trust her. Nobody suspected what she was going to do. She went into Holofernes’ tent and fed him lots of cheese to get him sleepy. Then she took her knife and cut his head off. Afterwards, Judith carried his head back and Holofernes’ army surrendered when they saw proof of their general’s death.

Judith showed that women are just as powerful as men. She was a woman who took risks and showed great bravery. These are traits I admire about her and can use as I grow up today. Often I can be too complacent instead of being a risk-taker. For instance, I recently chose not to take a risk on a high ropes course on a class trip. I know that in order for me to fully enjoy life, I will need to take chances on things whose outcomes are not always certain. I also admire that Judith was brave. Judith’s bravery made the statement that women were a force to be reckoned with. I believe it takes bravery to put forward a statement that is not necessarily popular. In my world, I think I need bravery to make statements to my friends; like if I see one of them being mean to someone, I need the courage of Judith to tell them that what they are doing is wrong.

Judith is my Grandma’s name as well as part of my Hebrew name. My Grandma is just incredible. She has done so many things for me and has always been there for me. When I am sick at home and my mom is at work, she calls me to make sure I am ok. And she has made so many sweaters for me. I remember when she used to take my brother and me to the Museum of Natural History. We would walk there together. We would sit outside and she would always have apples and cheese. She has also taken me to see The New York City Ballet rehearsals which was always great. She would pick me up early from school and we would grab something to eat and go! Grandma has some characteristics that relate back to the Biblical Judith. She is a risk taker who has traveled all over the world. She also shows me her bravery now as she has to live with not being able to walk comfortably and yet still finds a way to keep herself active in the world.

Rachel
In my family, the biblical story of Rachel and Jacob is well known because those are also the names of my mother and brother. The story goes that Jacob went to his uncle Laban, and Laban put Jacob to work for him. One of Laban’s daughters caught Jacob’s eye. Her name was Rachel. Rachel also liked Jacob. Jacob asked Laban for Rachel’s hand in marriage. Laban responded by saying, “if you work for me for 7 years you can marry Rachel.”

Seven years went by and Jacob did indeed work for Laban. Rachel had an older sibling named Leah. Since Leah was older than Rachel, it was tradition to have Leah marry first. When the wedding day came, Jacob thought he was marrying Rachel, however he was actually marrying Leah. Leah’s face was covered by a veil, so Jacob couldn’t tell who he was marrying. Jacob was tricked and because Rachel was such a good sister she went along with the deception. Rachel didn’t want Leah to lose face. She must have felt jealous when she saw how many children Leah and Jacob were having. As much as she loved her sister, she must have wanted those things for herself. After another 7 years, Laban told Jacob he could also marry Rachel, and he did. They tried to have children, but it was difficult for them. Eventually they had two kids, Joseph and Benjamin, but, sadly, Rachel died during childbirth when Benjamin arrived.

The character traits I admire from Rachel are caring and sacrificing. Rachel was caring because she had her sister’s interests in mind when she went along with pretending that Leah was Rachel on her wedding day and night. She was sacrificing because she gave up her happiness and her life and showed courtesy to her older sister. I believe it is noble to sacrifice something of yours to please someone else. I think sacrificing has to do with compromising, and this is of value to me because one has to know how to please all people, without favoring one over another.
Women make sacrifices today. Mothers must sacrifice much of their spare time, and in order to have children one must sacrifice one’s own safety for another. For girls growing up, there are different sacrifices we need to make. However, for me, some sacrifices I have to make in my life are giving up a dance class for a school dance, or going to dance class when I could be with my friends. Sacrificing is not an easy thing to do. However, that does not necessarily mean it shouldn’t be done. Telling my friends I cannot do something with them is not easy but I do it because I have a place I need to be, which in most cases is dance.

Caring, to me, is something that I do in everyday life. I use my caring abilities to show affection to my friends at school. There are lots of ways to show people you care and lots of the time I show I care by giving someone a hug.

The central “Rachel” in my life is, of course, my mother. My mom has shown me how it is possible to make sacrifices in her life while still being an independent, strong, and courageous woman. She has been an amazing role model for me. She sacrifices time for me, she sacrifices sleep for me, she sacrifices so many things.

Being a teenager is not a comfortable place to be. In some ways it’s a lot of fun, for example having freedom to be out with your friends without an adult. However, it is also difficult. What is your identity, who are you friends with, who are you not friends with, what high school to go to, is that food healthy for me to eat, so many things are being questioned and the answers are not easy to find! These questions are deep and are scary to have to answer. In order to answer these questions, I looked to Biblical women for lessons on how they dealt with issues of life. As I go forward, I am looking back at what Miriam, Judith and Rachel have taught me. I will try, like them, to be persuasive, wise, protective, a risk taker, brave, willing to sacrifice, and caring.

In addition to the paper that I have just presented, I wanted to incorporate my love for dance into this project. I have asked my two friends from dance, Imani DeJesus and Genevieve Whaller-Walen to help me by being in a dance that I choreographed and having it filmed to show to you today. I have incorporated some Martha Graham movements along with some Ana Sokolow movements along with choreography by me. All of these movements will tell certain stories of Biblical Women.

Some themes that I have incorporated in this dance are striving, loss, hope, courage, bravery, fear and strength. These are all traits that I associate with Rachel, Judith, and Miriam. I hope you enjoy.


“Merchant of Venice: Shakespeare, Judaism, and Me” by Leila Silberstein
May 18, 2013

Last summer, I saw The American Shakespeare Center’s production of the Merchant of Venice while at their summer camp. I saw this production three times, and the last time was particularly unique. There was a storm raging outside, and around act three, the power went out. After a brief period of confusion, the scene resumed with the lights, but not for very long. It was as if someone was playing a trick on the audience and actors: the lights went on and off and on again. The play did end up finishing, but it was followed by an urgent announcement warning people of the violent storm and ordering all campers to stay where they were. We spent the next hour or two in the theatre; eventually we were driven the two blocks back to our now dark, un-air-conditioned dorm. Despite this, I was still intrigued by the play. Its complex, powerful plot and interesting characters fascinated me. This is why I chose to explore it for my major project: The Merchant of Venice: Shakespeare, Judaism, and me.

Part One: Three Plots Weave Into One

Act one, scene one, of the play begins with the audience learning that the merchant of Venice, Antonio, has “invested all his wealth on trading expeditions.” Next, we meet Antonio’s friend Bassanio, who asks the merchant for money so Bassanio can go to Belmont to woo, and potentially marry, a beautiful, wealthy girl named Portia. Antonio tells Bassanio “to borrow…money on Antonio’s credit.” It is also in this scene that we meet Gratiano, Bassanio’s garish friend.
Shylock is the Jewish money-lender to whom Bassanio goes to to borrow 3,000 ducats (Venetian coins) under Antonio’s credit. Despite his contempt for Antonio, Shylock agrees to lend the money so long as Antonio agrees to a bond to give a pound of his own flesh if he cannot repay the money. Antonio agrees to sign the bond.

It is here that some of the anti-Semitic comments that are present throughout the play begin. Shylock is consistently referred to as a “dog” or “cur” simply because of his religion, and sometimes the word “Jew” itself is used as an insult.

Meanwhile, in Belmont, Portia is with her waiting-woman, Nerissa. Portia expresses frustration over her dead father’s will, which states that Portia can only marry the man who chooses the right treasure chest among three: one gold, one silver, and one lead. The two ladies then discuss Portia’s suitors, none of whom Portia likes.

The Prince of Morocco is Portia’s first suitor. After he agrees to the terms of Portia’s father’s will, which says that if the Prince chooses the wrong chest he cannot ever propose marriage again, he is presented with the chests. The prince incorrectly picks the gold chest, and leaves disappointed. Portia, however, is pleased. She did not like the Prince of Morocco because he was black. After he leaves, a messenger arrives with news of another suitor.

This suitor is Bassanio, who has come with Gratiano to Belmont. Bassanio is the only suitor Portia likes, so she is nervous when he is presented with the chests. Bassanio correctly picks the lead treasure chest and he and Portia prepare for their marriage. Gratiano and Nerissa announce that they too will marry.

Back in Venice, Jessica, Shylock’s daughter wants to marry Lorenzo, a Christian friend of Antonio. Two scenes are concerned with Jessica’s elopement with Lorenzo. First we see Jessica and Shylock in their only scene together. The audience then sees Lorenzo and his friends come for Jessica, who happily steals money and a ring from Shylock and then leaves her father’s home.

It is now that these three somewhat unrelated plots weave together. Antonio learns that all his expeditions have failed. Shylock is enraged by his daughter’s elopement and demands a pound of Antonio’s flesh if Antonio does not repay his debts. Jessica and Lorenzo bring this news to Belmont, where Portia offers to pay twelve times Antonio’s debt if necessary.

Portia then decides to take the matter into her own hands. She and her servant, Nerissa, leave Belmont for Venice where Portia becomes a lawyer in Antonio’s trial. She points out that although Shylock’s bond says that he may take a pound of flesh from Antonio, he is not allowed to take any blood. Portia then “finds Shylock guilty of plotting the death of a Venetian and subject to the penalty of forfeiting his estate and suffering execution.” But Antonio interferes and suggests that instead Shylock only give away half his estate and be allowed to live, but under the condition that he convert to Christianity. Shylock agrees.

It is amazing how few lines it takes for Shylock to convert. When Portia asks Shylock whether he will convert, she asks him “Art thou contented, Jew? What dost thou say?” Shylock responds, “I am content”. Gratiano then insults him, and Shylock exits. This last part of the trial scene is written simply, leaving much room for actor interpretation. Those three words, “I am content”, can determine the whole character of the scene.

The main plot of the play stops there. There is technically one more act, act five, but this act has little to do with the rest of the plot. After the trial scene, Shylock leaves and the audience does not see him again. The plot returns to Belmont and the married couples and ends on a happy note with all the Christian characters and Jessica, who has converted, living peacefully.

Part Two: History of the Play

Shakespeare probably never met a Jew. Officially, the Jews were expelled from England about 300 years before Shakespeare’s time, but in Elizabethan England there probably lived about 200 illegal Jews. But the lack of Jews did not eliminate the anti-Semitic feelings in England and throughout Europe. Jews were persecuted throughout the Middle Ages. The accusation of blood libel, which said that the Jewish people used the blood of Christian children in matzo, may have begun as early as the 1100s. The Prioress’ Tale, by Geoffrey Chaucer, includes a group of Jews killing a young Christian boy for singing.

The climate in which Shakespeare wrote the Merchant of Venice may have been particularly anti-Semitic because of the execution of Rodrigo Lopez, Queen Elizabeth’s physician. Lopez, a Portuguese Jew, was accused of treason by the Earl of Essex, and executed in 1594. It is now clear that these accusations were certainly false and Essex’s attacks were due to his desire to enhance his political power. This was only six years before the Merchant of Venice was published.

The Merchant of Venice was first published in 1600 and then again in 1619 and 1623. As far as I know, there are no reports of reception to the play in Shakespeare’s lifetime or in the years immediately following. The first major production of the actual play (for butchered versions had been produced earlier) was in 1741. The actor playing Shylock was Charles Macklin. According to Shylock on the Stage, by Toby Lelyveld, Macklin presented Shylock as “something of monster”. This portrayal differed greatly from earlier depictions of Shylock as a sort of “comic villain”.

The first depiction of Shylock as an actual human, and not as a monster, was by Edmund Kean on the 26th of January, 1814. His was the first sympathetic portrayal of the Jewish character. Kean would then go on to become one of the major actors of his day. Later, Henry Irving took over the role alongside Ellen Terry, who played Portia. Their performances are noteworthy, but neither actor brought anything new to the play.

It was near the end of Irving’s time that the play began to grow more controversial. The first censorship of the Merchant of Venice was in a school in Connecticut in 1911. The play was considered anti-Semitic and inappropriate for students. This was just the beginning of a long history of censorship of the play that spanned across the country and throughout the rest of the 20th century.

It is here that I will intervene to give my thoughts on censorship of the play. Censorship is not inherently bad. I do believe that some inappropriate texts should be censored for younger children. I believe that curse words should be “bleeped” out on television. I also believe that horribly obscene and offensive texts should be censored from grade schools as well. Merchant of Venice does not fall under any of these categories of should-be censored texts. It deals with anti-Semitism, but not in a way that is obviously offensive. Instead of banning it, schools should take the opportunity to talk about the play and how it either condones or condemns anti-Semitism. Avoiding the play will not solve any problems, nor will attempting to shield the students (who in this case are mostly high school and college students). Rather, schools should embrace the Merchant of Venice, in all its ugliness and beauty. Having students talk about the text is the best way to begin dealing with complex problems such as anti-Semitism.

I will pick up with my historic tour a little after where I left off: World War Two. Unsurprisingly, this war saw very few United States productions of the Merchant of Venice, due to the sensitivity of the issues dealt with in the play. The time after the Second World War did not give way to many performances of the play either. The horrors of the Holocaust had left the world in shock, and no one was ready yet to discuss this controversial play. When the Merchant of Venice was eventually produced, attitudes towards Shylock, and the play in general, had changed. In a 1947 review of the play at the Century Theater, the critic wrote “in the twentieth century perhaps we know better than Shakespeare did how painful a tragedy… [The Merchant of Venice] is.”

But in 1974, Sir Laurence Olivier decided to challenge the idea that Shylock was solely a tragic character. In a spectacular television version of the play, Olivier portrayed Shylock as neither purely evil nor purely good. His Shylock is not black and white, but rather a complex figure. In other words, his Shylock is human. Predictably, Olivier’s portrayal of the famous moneylender was highly controversial. One Jewish group immediately included the production “in a list purporting to indicate a resurgence of anti-Semitism.”

Despite mixed reviews, Lord Olivier’s performance gave way to a new, more modern breed of Shylock. Shylocks now tend to be neither the comic villain nor the tragic hero of the past. It is one of these more “human” Shylocks that I saw the first time I went to the Merchant of Venice at the Pace Theater. F. Murray Abraham starred in a production of the play alongside Kate MacCluggage as Portia. I can barely remember Abraham’s Shylock now, but I remember being spellbound by the production. I had seen some Shakespeare plays before Merchant, but nothing with the same sort of power that I encountered at this performance. Two years later, I saw Merchant again at the American Shakespeare Center. Until this project, that is where my history of the play ends.

Part Three: A Jewish and Feminist Perspective of the Merchant of Venice, and How This Play Relates to Me

I do not believe that the Merchant of Venice is an anti-Semitic play. I believe that Shakespeare was showing anti-Semitism, but he was not condoning it. I say this for two reasons. The first is that the lines that Shakespeare gives Shylock do not make him seem like a monster or a caricature. One line, in particular, that shows that this whole play is not anti-Semitic is in the first scene in which we meet Shylock. He says to Antonio: “Signior Antonio, many a time and oft in the Rialto you have rated me…Still have I borne it with a patient shrug, for sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.” The last part of this line shows Shakespeare’s acknowledgement of the endurance of Jews throughout time and particularly in his day. This line would not have been included if the play was condoning anti-Semitism.

Another speech that shows that the play is not, in fact, anti-Semitic is the famous “Hath not a Jew eyes?” speech. Shylock gives this speech after Jessica runs away with Lorenzo. Two of Antonio’s friends make fun of Shylock and he questions them. “Hath not a Jew eyes?” he asks. “Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions…affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means…as a Christian is?” Shylock’s inquiries seem to question the whole notion of anti-Semitism. Both Jews and Christians are human, so why should they be treated any differently?

The second part of the “Hath not a Jew eyes?” speech is Shylock’s justification for revenge against Antonio. “If you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that…The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction,” he says. Many people have pointed to this part of the speech as evidence for the idea that Shakespeare condones anti-Semitism. After all, Shylock is trying to reason taking a pound of Antonio’s flesh. However, Shylock is also pointing out that he is only doing what any of his Christian counterparts would do. In other words, he is no better or worse than any other man.

This is one of the main points that the play makes. Shylock may seem evil, but none of the other characters in the play come off particularly well. In an interview about the play, F. Murray Abraham points out that “various characters are…racist, ageist, sexist, and money-lusting.” One example of this is after the Prince of Morocco leaves Belmont, Portia says: “A gentle riddance…Let all of his complexion choose me so.” In other words, she doesn’t want to marry the Prince solely because he is black.

This brings me to a better look at the character of Portia. On the one hand she is racist, anti-Semitic and a liar. One the other hand, she is a very smart, powerful woman who is able to do what the men in the play are not able to do. As a feminist, I must respect Portia for this. When she decides to leave Belmont, take matters into her own hands and become a lawyer at Antonio’s trial, she is not doing what women of her time (and in the play) were expected to do. Portia gives eloquent speeches, manipulates the law, and tricks her husband, all while the men in the play think her simple and pretty.

More so than any of Shakespeare’s other women that I know of, Portia gracefully mixes a romantic side and a powerful side. It is she who commands the love scenes, not Bassanio. And it is she who speaks at the trial, not Bassanio. Yet, despite this girl-power, Portia is cold-hearted, anti-Semitic, and racist. Her famous speech, “The quality of mercy is not strained,” is ridiculous; Portia discusses mercy yet she shows none to Shylock. She even suggests that Shylock should be executed. This is why, in my eyes, Portia remains one of the most fascinating characters Shakespeare has ever crafted. She has a mix of personality that is both enviable and repulsive.

But how does this all relate to me? Besides my love of Shakespeare, why does this play relate to my life right now? I am a Jewish girl. And as I become a bat mitzvah I work on finding my identity. Who am I? What makes a person who they are?

Identity is also one of the major themes of the Merchant of Venice. Shylock’s identity as a Jew affects his life greatly. He is spit upon, insulted, kicked, and ultimately he is forced to lose this Jewish identity. It has shaped his life, but it is taken from him in about two lines. His daughter Jessica too, loses her identity as a Jew, but by choice. But when she marries Lorenzo and converts, she finds herself unhappy, a misfit in the world to which she longs to belong. Portia’s identity as a girl changes only briefly when she disguises, but the audience can see how much more power she has when she is thought to be male.

As I look at the Merchant of Venice, I can see the effect of changing identity on the characters. Then, I think about my own life and my identity as a Jew. When I was little, I described my religion as “half Jewish/half Christian.” I said this because my father’s side of the family is Jewish and my mother’s side of the family is Unitarian. I did not yet understand what these religions were. As far as I was concerned, being Christian meant you got presents on Christmas and eggs on Easter, and being Jewish meant you got presents during Hanukah and hid an Afikoman during Passover. Since I did all of these things, I thought I was both Christian and Jewish. By the time I got to middle school, I began to describe myself as an atheist. I did not celebrate the holidays any differently, but I now understood that I was neither a practicing Christian nor a practicing Jew.

Yet slowly, I began to feel connected with my Jewish heritage. I felt more connected with Jewish values. Over time, I began to identify as a Jew. But I still wondered, what made me Jewish? Why is my identity as a Jew important? Reading and watching the Merchant of Venice, I can see Shakespeare’s thoughts on the matter. More than any other play, I can feel a connection with The Merchant of Venice. When I first saw the play, it was this connection that I felt. Judaism may just be a religion, and one’s religion can change, but Judaism is also a culture, a culture I can feel proud to embrace.

Yet Shakespeare teaches us that we cannot let this pride turn into feelings of hate. He shows us the brightest and darkest sides of humanity in this play, with a golden rule morality engrained throughout. Embrace your identity and who you are, but remember that humans are all humans. As Shylock said, we all are “fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, [and] healed by the same means.”


“The Jews of Ireland” by James Ryan
October 22, 2011

For my major project, I wanted to choose a topic that I could really identify with. Soon I realized that I could identify more with something Jewish that would also always be a unique part of me for the rest of my life. In this case, that was my heritage. With one half of my family being Irish Catholic and the other being Eastern European Jewish, I figured that I might want to research something that brought the two cultures together. Thus I chose a topic that I could really relate to: the Jews of Ireland.

Normally, when most people think of Ireland, Judaism is not the first thing that comes to mind, since the country is predominantly Roman Catholic. However, over the past few hundred years, Jews have established major communities in different parts of Ireland. While many Jews came to Ireland at different times, they all have a history of becoming assimilated into Irish culture, yet at the same time, adding their own beliefs, religion, and culture into the history of Ireland. There is even an Irish-Jewish Museum in Dublin dedicated to the contributions and achievements of Jews in Irish society.

As part of my research, I interviewed some primary sources, Irish Jews, about their experiences growing up as Jews in Ireland, including what their religious observance and their communities were like, and their views on the state of Judaism in Ireland today. Also, to research this project, I contacted Valerie Ganley, the director of a film called Shalom Ireland, about obtaining a screening copy. Ms. Ganley, an American Jew of Eastern European descent, married an Irish-American Catholic, and discovered, on a trip to Ireland with her husband, that her great-grandparents were the first Jewish couple to be married in the city of Waterford. After learning about the history of Jews in Ireland, she was intrigued enough to research the subject and create a movie about it. A copy, which came to me as a bar mitzvah present, really helped me to obtain a greater understanding of Jews in Ireland. The film is a wonderful documentary, and is an essential teaching tool.

When I started my research, I learned that the story of the Jews in Ireland was a broad history that stretched over centuries. I eventually decided that the best way to approach such a large topic was to research four main points: how Jews arrived in Ireland, the Jewish experience in Ireland, Irish Jews today, and the future of Irish Jews.

For starters, how did the Jews ever get to Ireland, anyway? There are several theories as to their arrival, all ranging in timeframes from 1000 CE to the 19th century.

Jews are first mentioned as arriving in Ireland in 1079, as a small band of five people who, “. . . Came from over sea with gifts for Toirdelbach (The king of Munster), and they were sent back again over the sea.” According to legend, these Jews came from Normandy, and were presenting gifts to Toirdelbach, the grandson of Irish King Brian Boru.

Records show that by 1232 there was a Jewish community in Ireland. Several records kept under King Henry III of Britain refer to “Jews and their keepings of all cultures touching the king.” However, it was not until the turn of the 16th century that a strong and sustainable Jewish community had embedded itself in Ireland. The Jews who settled there were Sephardic Jews who had fled from the Inquisition in Portugal in 1496. They soon established a colony, and the Jews from this settlement came to be very well known. One Jew, Francis Annyas, was elected mayor of Youghal, County Cork in not only 1569, but also in 1576 and 1581.

Jews were first mentioned in a bill passed by the Irish House of Commons in 1746. The bill “naturalized persons professing the Jewish religion in Ireland.” This bill later went on to the British government for approval, but failed to be passed into law. Jews were also excluded from the Irish Naturalization Act of 1783, but the bill was amended to include Jews in 1846. The Irish Marriage Act of 1844 was openly amended to include Jewish marriage laws.

After the formation of these Irish colonies of Jews, many Jews later arrived in the city of Limerick in a rather unusual manner. A large group of Jews had paid for a passage to America in the 1880s. An unscrupulous ship captain charged them large sums of money for passage, with the promise that they would arrive in America. As the story goes, the ship captain docked the ship a few miles outside of Limerick, telling the passengers that New York was up the road, and then abandoned them. The Jews established their community in Limerick, and the members of this group are the ancestors of many of the Jews in Ireland today.

In the 20th century, some Irish people, particularly from the turn of the century to World War II, viewed Jews with mixed feelings. There are several historic examples of anti-Semitism and discrimination. On the other hand, there are also examples of Jews holding important social positions. Many Jews served the Irish political parties during the War for Independence, which occurred from 1919 to 1921 between the British and the Irish Nationalists, led by Eamon de Valera, as gun runners and messengers for the Irish army in the fight for their freedom.

Jews had many communities from which to choose upon their immigration to Ireland. Cities with Jewish communities included Dublin, Cork, and Belfast. In addition to these cities, several other Irish cities had communities with a significant Jewish population. One of the most infamous was in Limerick. While the people of Limerick did share most of the same views about Jews as the rest of Ireland and did not persecute them, Limerick is also the home of the most anti-Semitic event in Irish history. Here, in 1904, the only certified pogrom outside of Eastern Europe took place.

On January 11th, 1904, Father John Creagh, the priest and leader of a good-sized Catholic congregation, delivered a sermon to his congregants denouncing the Jews, claiming that they practiced blood libel, or the myth that they killed Christian children at Pesach and drained their blood to make matzos. Based on this lie, he called for a mass avoidance of Jews in Limerick. Some congregants were so riled up by this sermon that they decided to go to the Jewish neighborhood and assault the Jews. The local police, however, stopped this event, before any major damage was done or anyone was injured.

Unfortunately, the problem for the Jews of Limerick was not yet over. In the weeks that followed, Creagh preached yet again, this time calling for a boycott of all Jewish businesses. This boycott lasted for weeks, and became so devastating to many of the vendors that five Jewish families closed their stores and left Limerick. Luckily, this anti-Semitism did not spread to other parts of Ireland, and this was the only major organized act against Jews in Ireland’s recorded history.

At several points in the early 1900s, Jews served in important political posts in the Irish government. From the mid 1900s until the present day, several Jews have served as representatives in the Irish House of Parliament and have also been elected as the mayors of several major cities. Probably the most famous person among these individuals is Robert Briscoe. Briscoe is known for being the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin, though he served in other political posts before his election in the Oireachtas, or Irish parliament, as a representative.

Briscoe, born in 1894, participated in the Irish War for Independence, where he was a gunrunner for the Irish Nationalists. Briscoe also accompanied Eamon de Valera, the leader of the Irish Nationalism movement and the first Irish president, to America on his first visit. Briscoe later spoke out, saying that his being a “Hebrew” did not impact his Irishness. Later on, during World War II, Briscoe also affirmed his belief in Zionism. He came under heavy scrutiny from the Irish security services while he was a member of the lower house of the Irish Parliament because of his support of the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Briscoe was also a major advocate for the successful entrance of approximately 5,000 Jewish refugees into Ireland from mainland Europe after the Holocaust.

The most famous event in his political career, however, was when Briscoe was elected Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1956. As Lord Mayor, Briscoe paid several visits to the United States, and in many ways improved relations between politicians in America and Ireland. Earlier, Briscoe first visited the United States in 1939, with Eamon de Valera. During his second visit to New York in 1959, when he was the Grand Marshal for the St. Patrick’s Day parade, Briscoe openly shared his Jewish views and beliefs with the press in New York. In fact, when interviewed by a reporter about his preparations for St. Patrick’s Day, Briscoe replied, saying, “Yes, a happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone back in Ireland, and also a happy Purim to those celebrating it without me back home. I hope to join them soon in the hopes of enjoying much hamantaschen.” Briscoe was the Lord Mayor for one year, and was then re-elected for another term later in the 1960s. His son, Ben Briscoe, was elected to the same post in 1988.

In addition to Robert Briscoe, there were several other Irish Jews who were politically important. For instance, Chaim Herzog, who was born in Belfast, was the 6th President of Israel, a post that he held from 1983 to 1993. His father, Isaac Herzog, was the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, and served in this position after being the first Chief Rabbi of Ireland under de Valera.

In addition to these political triumphs, Jews were met in several instances with open arms and welcomes during important events in Irish history. One of the best examples of this acceptance was during the Irish War for Independence. Jews were employed by both the Liberal (pro-independence treaty) and IRA (anti-independence treaty) parties during the war in several important jobs, such as gunrunners, messengers and scouts. Jews were often employed in groups that specialized in executing these tasks. These groups were depended upon during the fighting, and many Jews saw the front lines during this war.

For those who were not directly involved in the fighting, being a Jew could be advantageous as well. One of Robert Briscoe’s sons, Joseph, was six when the Irish Civil War broke out, between the Freestaters, who supported a completely independent Ireland, and the Republicans, who did not. At the time, a curfew was being enforced. Joseph and a friend of his broke the curfew and were questioned by some Republican soldiers. When asked if he was a Republican or a Freestater, Joseph simply replied, “Neither. I am a Jew.” His interrogators found this amusing, and chose to lead Joseph back to his home.

Beyond the war, Jews were shown great respect as well. Strong Jewish communities were established in Dublin and Jewish businesses and synagogues took root in these places. Specific neighborhoods became enclaves where Jews lived, worshipped, and made a living. One of the largest and most famous of these communities was a part of Dublin on the banks of the River Liffey called Little Jerusalem. There, many Lithuanian Jewish immigrants and their Irish-born children did business and recalled fond memories of growing up.

In my research for this paper, my bar mitzvah mentor, Devera Witkin, was able to put me in touch with her friend, Davida Handler, an Irish Jew who left Ireland in 1959. Ms. Handler was nice enough to allow me to interview her by email. She has positive memories of growing up as an Irish Jew, and was able to tell me all about it.

Ms. Handler grew up in Dublin, where most of the Jewish community was and still is based. She lived with her parents and a sister, among Catholic neighbors and many Catholic friends with large families, where there were often 10 or more children. In fact, one of her Catholic friends assumed that Ms. Handler’s parents did not like each other, since there were only two children in their family!

Though Ms. Handler grew up in a mixed neighborhood with different religions, her family did a good portion of their shopping in Little Jerusalem, shopping for specifically Jewish foods, such as kosher meat, pickles, and bagels on Sunday mornings. In fact, most of the Jewish families who did their shopping in Little Jerusalem went to Clanbrassil Street, where every store was devoted to Jewish businesses, such as butchers, delicatessens, and bakeries.

Ms. Handler and her family were not religious, yet they did attend High Holiday services and special occasions at the Grenville Hall Synagogue, built after the bombings of Dublin during World War II. It is an Orthodox synagogue with a relatively small congregation compared to that at the former Adelaide Road synagogue.

Although it may seem so because she has lived in the U.S. for so long, Ms. Handler originally never had any intention of leaving Dublin. However, she left simply because she was visiting with her family in New York when she met her future American husband. When the two were engaged, they returned to Ireland and were married at Grenville Hall Synagogue and then moved to California, where she still lives.

Today, the number of Jews in Ireland has unfortunately shrunk considerably. The Jewish community in Ireland has always been particularly small, with the highest numbers in the mid-20th century around 5,000. However, as of 2002, only 1,780 Jews were still living in all of Ireland, according to the Irish Census. Jewish communities, such as Little Jerusalem in Dublin, have lost many of their stores for varied reasons. Communities that used to have 10 kosher butcher shops now have one small shop that is still family owned. Many of the Jewish stores are now owned by larger chains, and this trend has uprooted some of the smaller “mom and pop” stores.

While doing research for this paper, I also had the pleasure of interviewing Natalie Wynn, who is Ms. Handler’s cousin. She is Jewish and currently lives in Ireland, and she told me about the Irish- Jewish community there. She has lived in Dublin, the largest Jewish community in Ireland, for the last 37 years, and was able to tell me how the community has changed.

According to Ms. Wynn, the Jewish community has been shrinking for the last 40 years, and continues to shrink. The congregation that she attends is extremely small, with a synagogue building that only comfortably seats 100. There is one rabbi who periodically visits from the UK, and they do not have their own full-time rabbi. When he is at the temple, the congregation holds weekly Shabbat evening services and monthly Shabbat morning services, in addition to holiday, wedding and bar mitzvah celebrations.

Besides Ms. Wynn’s own congregation, the Jewish community in Ireland has lost many of its numbers exponentially, particularly during the 1980s and 1990s, when overall Irish immigration was at its height. Many younger people left because they were looking for Jewish communities with more opportunities and larger congregations. Soon, others left to find spouses, and their parents and grandparents soon followed. What remains of the community is very limited, and there is little interaction among its members. Many young people intend to leave as soon as they are able. The remaining Jews are trying to keep the community alive. Unfortunately, this is a nearly impossible task with the sharp decrease in numbers.

Despite a recent influx of Jews from other places such as South Africa, which is slowly beginning to reinvigorate the community, many of the Jewish people left in Ireland still do not believe that there is much of a future for Jews there. Many of the Irish-born Jews who now live there believe that within 50 years Jews will no longer have large, organized congregations, and may lose touch with their Jewish heritage if they remain in Ireland. Despite this outlook, many Jews in Ireland today continue to practice their faith and pass on their traditions, both Jewish and Irish, to their children, in hopes of keeping the future of Judaism in Ireland alive.

In addition to the Jews who actually live in Ireland, there are many people who identify themselves as Irish Jews because of their heritage who live in other countries. I am one of these people. I believe that the Jewish community in Ireland can be strengthened and kept alive not only by the people in Ireland, but also by those who identify themselves as such. Despite having moved away, people are still able to pass on their Irish and Jewish roots to succeeding generations, in hopes that these future generations may come back to Ireland and continue the traditions. Irish Jews might even follow the lead of Jews from other countries, and return to Ireland someday to re-establish their businesses in the dwindling Jewish communities such as Little Jerusalem. I believe that the spirit of the community can be kept alive by those who maintain a strong identity and connection with their heritages, regardless of whether they are living in Ireland or elsewhere. I have not yet visited Ireland, but when I do, I would very much like to visit Dublin and see Little Jerusalem, the Irish-Jewish Museum and the Jewish community for myself.

For me, the possibility of the loss of the Jewish community in Ireland marks the connection that I must maintain with the Irish-Jewish community. By passing on my heritage and identity to future generations, I can help to keep the community alive and strong. This is a part of me that I cannot forget, which will always be with me. If others do the same, the community as a whole will be able to grow and thrive.


“The Mighty Fortress of Masada” by Sam Botwin
October 15, 2011

After meeting with Rabbi Peter about several different topics for my main project it became clear to me that the story of Masada would be something interesting for me to research. First, what made this topic so interesting is that I have a great love of history, especially the history of the Roman Empire and its battles. Secondly, the architecture and advanced building techniques used at Masada were especially interesting for me to research. I hope to be an architect or an engineer one day, like my grandfathers. Lastly, this topic also touches upon the relationship between the Romans and Jews. Since I am both Italian and Jewish I thought understanding the relationship between these two groups would give me insight into my history. Throughout history both Romans and Jews have shown great strength and determination. The major sources of information for this paper were the following websites: The Jewish Virtual Library, Bible Places and Bible Architecture.

Masada, the Hebrew word for “fortress”, was originally built during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus and expanded upon by Herod the Great between 37-31 B.C.E. Masada is situated on top of an isolated cliff rising 1,200 feet over the western end of the Judean Desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. The flat top of the fortress is a diamond shape, elongated from north to south. It is isolated from its surroundings by deep gorges on most of its sides. This position forms a natural fortification on which to have built a fortress.

Masada is one of the Jewish people’s most significant symbols in history. It is a symbol of the strength, courage and determination of the Jewish people. It also represents the Jews’ continuous fight for their freedom throughout history. When contemporary Israeli soldiers complete their basic training, they march up the mountain to the fortress and take an oath to defend the state of Israel. The oath states “Masada shall never fall again.” It’s a promise to the Jewish people that the State of Israel will always exist. Next to Jerusalem, it is the most popular destination of Jewish tourists visiting Israel. The history of Masada is an interesting and complex topic and stirs many emotions about Jewish survival throughout history.

Before I go into the history of Masada and its architecture I want to talk about the Roman rule of Judea and the Jews who lived there. At this time in history there were three well- established Jewish factions. These groups were called the Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes. The Sadducees believed in a strict interpretation of the writings of the Bible and followed it to the letter of the law. They were also the upper social class of Jewish society whose responsibilities included maintaining the Temple in Jerusalem. The Pharisees believed in a more liberal interpretation of the Bible as well as using other writings to help interpret the Torah in everyday Jewish life. They generally had the backing and goodwill of the common people. The Essenes were the smallest of the three groups. They lived a communal life dedicated to abstinence from worldly pleasures, which dictated no marriage and voluntary poverty.

During the time of the Roman occupation a “fourth faction” emerged. This was a political group called the Zealots that wanted to incite the people to rebel against the Romans. Within the Zealots there was an extremist splinter group called Sicarii, although the two names are often used interchangeably by historians. Sicarii was a Roman name given to this particularly extreme group because of the dagger its members carried called a sica that was used to kill their enemies. The founder of the Sicarii was a man named Judah of Gamala in Gaulantis. He and his followers broke from the Pharisee philosophy because they had an undying love of liberty. They and their families were prepared to die rather than submit to Roman rule and acknowledge the emperor as their God. This position differed from the original Pharisee philosophy in that they raised freedom to a religious belief and because they sated that recognizing the emperor as a God would be a mortal sin. They believed that God alone was their Lord and master. This philosophy put them at odds with the other Jewish groups at the time. The Zealots wanted an open revolt against Roman rule. They conducted raids against the Roman occupiers and they also intimidated and killed other Jews who wanted to live in peace with the Romans. This was the beginning of the “The Great Revolt” by the Jews against their Roman rulers.

“The Great Revolt” (66-70 C.E) began in 66 C.E when the Roman governor Gessius Florus stole large amounts of silver from the Temple in Jerusalem. The outraged Jewish masses rioted and wiped out the Roman garrison in Jerusalem. The Roman ruler Cestius Gallus brought troops from neighboring Syria to put down the Jewish uprising but he was defeated. The Romans came back later with 60,000 well trained troops and attacked Galilee in the north. This area had the most radical Jewish citizens. The Romans destroyed Galilee, and killed and enslaved over 100,000 Jews. The Jews who survived the Roman attack of Galilee fled to Jerusalem. While the Romans attacked Galilee the rulers of Jerusalem did nothing to help their fellow Jews. They realized that fighting the Romans was a mistake and did not want to be a part of the rebellion. When the refugees arrived in Jerusalem they were very upset with the leaders of Jerusalem who they thought had betrayed them. They killed all the leaders who were not as radical as they were. When the Romans arrived in Jerusalem for their final siege of the city, the Zealots were engaged in a civil war with less radical Jews for control of the city. The Zealots were so determined to make the rest of the Jewish population resist the Romans that they burned a stockpile of food that would have fed the city for years, in the hope that by destroying the food supply all the citizens would now have to join the revolt to survive.

The revolt ended when the Romans burned Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E. The surviving Zealots were led by Elazar bin Yair and fled to Masada. They climbed the famous “Snake Path” and overwhelmed a small Roman garrison that was defending the fortress. Elazar and the Zealots used Masada as a base for their resistance against Roman rule for the next 2 years.

Now before I talk about the siege of Masada by Roman Governor Flavius Silva, I want to pause for a moment to go over the history and the architecture of Masada to help you better understand what Silva was up against. The architecture of Masada is unique and very advanced for its time.

The original fortress of Masada was established sometime during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus who was King of Judea from 103 B.C.E – 76 B.C.E Its elaborate construction was carried out between 37 and 31 BCE by Herod, who was the first Governor of Galilee and then appointed by the Romans to be king of Judea, Jericho and Gaza by Augustus Caesar in 31 B.C.E. Herod fortified Masada for his own protection against foreign invaders such as the Egyptians and against a revolt from the local Jewish population. During his rule he constructed two ornate palaces there, one of which was built on three levels. Heavy outer walls surrounding the plateau were constructed along with extensive storehouses, a barracks and an armory.

One of the most unique features of Masada is its water system. Aqueducts brought water to immense cisterns that could hold nearly 200,000 gallons of water. A cistern is a waterproof receptacle that stores water. This water supply was guaranteed by a network of large aqueducts on the northwestern side of the mountain that fed a large cistern inside Masada. That cistern fed smaller cisterns inside the Masada complex. This water capture system provided an abundance of water to this mountain fortress in the middle of the desert.

The diamond shaped, flat plateau of Masada measures 180,000 square feet, which is a little more then the area of 3 football fields. It has a casemate wall, which is made of two parallel walls with a partition dividing the space in between into sections. The perimeter is 4,935 feet long and 13 feet thick. It was built along the edge of the plateau, above the steep cliffs, and had a number of towers. Three narrow paths led from the desert floor to fortified gates 1,200 feet above. Masada was an incredible architectural design for its time. It was a self-contained city in the middle of the desert. It was secure and safe from attack and was built to house thousands of people in comfort.

Now, I’m going to take you through the actual seizure of this amazing mountain fortress. In 72 C.E. the Roman general Flavius Silva, governor of the province of Judea, was determined to suppress the last outpost of Jewish resistance. His purpose was not for reasons of security, as there were only 960 men, women and children holed up in Masada. It was done to project Roman power in the region and to show the Roman Senate that Emperor Titus was firmly in charge. Flavius Silva marched against Masada at the head of the Tenth Legion with its auxiliary troops and with thousands of Jewish war prisoners, a total of ten to fifteen thousand people. The troops prepared for a long siege by establishing eight camps at the base of Masada.

The central challenge for Silva and his battlefield engineers was to overcome the mountain fortress and all its fortifications. Silva surrounded the fortress by constructing a 6-foot high, 7-mile long siege wall. This wall would prevent attacks and not allow the Zealots to escape. The wall also enclosed the eight base camps established for the army. After initial efforts to breach Masada’s defenses failed, it took Silva’s engineers and army nine months to build a siege ramp against the western face of the plateau. They used thousands of tons of stones and beaten earth.

The Roman army had many different siege weapons, one of which was a siege tower. This weapon was used to storm city walls. Normally men would push the tower up against the wall, climb the tower and use small bridges to get across. Another siege weapon that was used was the battering ram. This was a large cart with a cover and under the cover was a log with a stone head on the front and this would be used to break down wooden walls. During the siege of Masada Silva’s men combined the two: a siege tower with a battering ram on top. The ramp

allowed the Romans to roll up the battering ram to breach Masada’s walls. Finally they broke the stone wall, but the defenders managed to build a new wall of earth and wood that was flexible and hard to break. Both sides showed great determination and resolve. Eventually, the Romans managed to burn the wall to enter the city. However, as you may already know Silva’s victory was incomplete because the Zealots, some 960 men, women and children had committed mass suicide shortly before the Romans took the mountain fortress. The Romans succeeded in making their point clear and re-asserted their rule in Judea.

Elazar Bin Yair, leader of the Zealots, was a descendent of the founder of the “Fourth Faction” Judah of Gamala in Gaulantis. Elazar was a very powerful man with strong beliefs about justice and freedom. During the final day of the siege, believing that the end was approaching, Elazar delivered a speech to his followers urging them not to give in to the Romans. Elazar proclaimed that they should die as free men, rather than live their lives out as slaves of the Romans.

In Elazar’s final speech to the Zealots he stated “Since we long ago resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God himself, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice… We were the very first that revolted against Rome, and we are the last to fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom. Let our spouses die before they are abused, and our children before they taste slavery, and after we have slain them let us bestow that glorious benefit upon one another mutually.”

He then directed the group to set Masada ablaze. The Zealots were to let all their possessions burn, except for their food. This was done to prove that the Zealots did not die because of wants and desires, but because they refused to give up their freedom. According to Josephus the Roman historian, Masada was set on fire, and ten men killed all the other men, women and children, with the last man standing killing himself. This last act by the Zealots has come to symbolize the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.

Josephus obtained this information about Masada by talking to 7 survivors, two women and five children, who hid in a storeroom. The Zealots’ show of resistance has been symbolized by the term “Masada Complex”. The idea of the “Masada Complex” is today sometimes applied critically to advocates of right-wing policies in the Israeli government. Political scientist Susan Hattis Rolef has defined this “complex” as “the conviction … that it is preferable to fight to the end rather than to surrender and acquiesce to the loss of independent statehood.”

What does Masada mean to me as a person and as a Humanistic Jew? Masada is not only an amazing architectural achievement; it symbolizes Jewish freedom, courage, strength and conviction. The fortress was built on the top of a small mountain in the middle of a desert. Its complex design and innovative use of aqueducts and cisterns is nothing short of genius. Masada’s design inspires me and I hope that one day I will be able to create designs that will stand the test of time. Since I have not visited Masada yet, but I plan to someday, I decided to interview people who have been there. I asked them these two questions: What does Masada mean to you as a Jew? What was the most interesting thing you remember about the trip?

Some replied that Masada is a symbol of Jewish determination and courage. Others feel it’s a Jewish monument to freedom and liberty. Lastly, a few said that Masada has come to represent Israel’s inflexible negotiating position with the Palestinians. When talking about what they remember about the trip some said the climb up Masada was hot and difficult. Others remember the view of the Dead Sea and desert being amazing. Everyone I asked was amazed by the size and grandeur of the fortress and how well it is preserved.

Elazar and the Zealots fought the Romans who tried to break their resolve to win the freedom of their homeland. Humanistic Jews believe that freedom and social justice are a very important part of life. That is why I think Masada is an important symbol for me as a Humanistic Jew. These Jews committed suicide rather then becoming slaves of the Romans. They believed freedom was more important than their own lives. I think that is extremely brave. I don’t know if I were there if I would have joined them since I also believe that life is sacred, but I hope I can live my life with that kind conviction and courage.


“The Shofar, What it Means to Me” by Murray Rosenbaum
May 14, 2011

For all of the people who don’t know what a shofar looks like, this is a shofar… The first time I ever heard a shofar played was here at St. Hildas and St. Hughs in this room. My music teacher, Mr. Hirsch, played it for the Rosh Hashanah chapel talk he gave when I was nine. When I heard him play it I was surprised at the sound of it because it looked like something that a spiritual leader would carry, like a cross bearer who is a person who carries the processional cross at the beginning and end of Eucharist, rather than a musical instrument. The sound the shofar made was this fascinating raw, natural sound that had a scratchy smoothness to it. I’ll play you a note so that you can see for yourselves…

A shofar is an instrument that is made out of a ram’s horn and is used by the Jewish people in services and holidays, particularly the High Holidays: Rosh Hashanah, which is a celebration that marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, which follows 10 days later, and is the Day of Atonement and repentance. For traditional Jews it is used to call upon God to listen their prayers. For secular Humanistic Jews like my congregation, the shofar is blown as a kind of personal wake-up call and to make a connection to all the generations that have come before us that have also blown the shofar. We also say in our Rosh Hashanah service, “The blast of the shofar is a call to action, challenging us to resist evil, to strive for justice, to create peace.”

The first time I ever played the shofar myself was when Rabbi Peter came over to my house to discuss my final project. I had a different idea in mind at first, but Rabbi Peter had heard that I played the trumpet so he thought I might be interested in the shofar. We discussed this idea for a while before he brought out a bag holding three of his own shofars. Rabbi Peter offered me the chance to blow the shofar, and when I did, I got a note on the first try! Like this…

Rabbi Peter told me that getting a note on the first try was difficult and that I had some skill with this horn, and that was when I realized that learning about the shofar was what I wanted to do for my final project. I also thought it would be interesting to learn about the different notes played on the shofar and their purpose at different points in Jewish celebrations.

After my first note I started to play with ‘lipping’ up and down notes, and found out that there are higher and lower pitches that are possible on the shofar. Let me show you what I mean…

Rabbi Peter said that there was a very talented musician who was part of the congregation a long time ago who could play songs on the shofar but, to his dismay, he had a hard time playing the traditional shofar notes used at services which I’ll demonstrate later. Then I was surprised when Rabbi Peter said I could borrow his shofars. He said if I got good enough at playing it, he would let me be the shofar blower during the High Holidays, which would be a very high honor for someone my age.

The origin of the shofar is connected to the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. The story says that Abraham was about to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, to God, but God stops him and says that because he was faithful, he does not need to sacrifice his son. Abraham sacrifices a nearby ram in Isaac’s place in thanks to God. Afterwards, blowing into a ram’s horn in the future was intended to remind God of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son and that God ought to be forgiving to future generations on behalf of Abraham.

During the days when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, various musical instruments were used in the services, including flutes, drums and trumpet, but after the destruction of the first Temple in 586 by the Babylonians, the Jews were forcibly exiled from ancient Israel to Babylon and now they were allowed to play only the shofar, to show that they were in a time of mourning.

The destruction of the second temple by the Romans in 70 CE was even worse than the first. This second attack left the Jews scarred and scared because they didn’t have a house of worship any longer. The Jews were so frightened and traumatized that they again banned all instruments except the shofar because they believed that the more the shofar was played, the more likely it was that God would hear them and help them.

After the destruction of the second temple the Jews finally gave up on the idea of one centralized house of worship where sacrifices could be made. They created a new institution called the synagogue, which served as a gathering place for study and prayer. Synagogues were built throughout the land, and eventually also outside of Israel, and allowed Jews to meet wherever they lived. The leadership also changed from priests who offered sacrifices in the one Temple in Jerusalem, to rabbis who now lead prayers and taught classes in the local synagogues

Historically, the shofar was sounded on Shabbat in the temple in ancient Jerusalem, but this practice was later prohibited by Jewish law in the time of the synagogue. This restriction is based on a ruling that prevents fixing things on Shabbat as a kind of work. If the shofar blower accidentally broke the shofar while carrying it and tried to fix it on Shabbat it would be considered work, which is forbidden on that day. So there was really nothing wrong with playing the shofar on Shabbat, but to avoid the risk of breaking other Shabbat rules, it became prohibited to play it.

The job of a shofar blower is very important to celebrations in the same way that a Cantor is important to a Synagogue prayer. The Hebrew name for a shofar blower is a Tokea, which literally means “Blaster.” Being a Ba’al T’kiah (“master of the blast” or “shofar sounder”) is a very highly honored office in the Jewish community. Traditionally, while only men could blow the shofar and all men were eligible for the office, only a chosen few have the required skill to be accepted into the office. These days women are also welcome in non-Orthodox communities to blow the shofar, but they still have just as hard a time as the men.

According to the Talmud, a shofar may be made from the horn of any animal from the Bovidae family except that of a cow or calf, although a ram is the most preferred. Bovidae horns are made of keratin (the same material as human toenails and fingernails). An antler, on the other hand, could not be used to make a shofar since it is not a horn but solid bone and, thus, cannot be hollowed out because it is too strong and thick. The Bovidae family is most closely related by the way the horns are grown from the animal itself.

There is no requirement for ritual slaughter (shechita) of the animal from which the shofar is to be made. Theoretically, the horn can come from a non-kosher animal because under most interpretations of Jewish law the shofar is not required to be muttar be-feekha (literally: permissible in your mouth). The mitzvah is hearing the shofar, not eating the animal from which it came. The shofar falls into the category of toshmishai mitzvah, objects used to perform a mitzvah that do not themselves have inherent holiness. Moreover, because the horn is always inedible, it is considered afra be-alma (mere dust) and not an unkosher substance.

I believe the idea of using a ram’s horn as an instrument is unique and creative, I can’t imagine having thought of that myself. I think it’s the perfect instrument for a religious ceremony or community whether or not it holds traditional beliefs. That’s because it’s a completely natural and organic instrument that connects us to nature and to our very basic, core feelings. Unlike a guitar, which is mostly calm and soothing, the shofar’s raw sound is jarring and wakes you up and really catches your attention.

For me, the shofar also represents the diversity of humans in the way that no two shofars are the same, just like all humans are unique. I directly observed the uniqueness of every shofar in the three shofars that Rabbi Peter let me borrow. The first thing I noticed about them was their physical differences. (Pick up #1) One of them had only one curl and was pale, (#2) another was dark with a pale strip with half a curl, (#3) and the third was also dark but with more of a curl and no pale strip down the side. Each shofar also has a very different sound. The first has a nice rough sound… The second, which is my personal favorite, has a smooth sound to it…. And the third has a rough and natural sound…. Rabbi Peter also had another shofar that he didn’t bring over that night, which is called a Yemenite shofar. It’s really beautiful and has full sound to it….

The way the shofar makes me feel whenever I play it is a kind of Zen connection to the entire world, and what I mean by that is I get a sense of everything that is going on in the world. I think I get this raw and natural connection to a higher power, which normally I don’t believe in. Whenever I play the shofar, I feel this perfect Zen, and alignment, to everything. I also think it is a great statement of how creative humans can be to have come up with the idea of the shofar in the first place.

Another reason why I like to play the shofar is that I get this connection to everyone before who had played it in all situations. I think the most painful Jewish experience was after the destruction of the temple. Since then, there have been many other tragic and terrible times in our history when we have been persecuted and might have given up the strength to stay together as a community.

But despite all that our ancestors went through, the Jewish people had great strength and courage and did not disappear. The shofar’s sound is symbolic of this perseverance and connects us to those ancestors. The blasts declare loud and clear that we are here and celebrating our Jewish identity today.

To end this paper, I want to re-enact for you the four main types of shofar blasts or series of notes that are played at the High Holidays The first blast is called Tekiah. It is a long blast that is used as a call to the community. Next comes Shevareem, three separated blasts, and it supposed to be a mourning or sad sound. Third is Teruah, a series of short blasts that are used to sound an alarm. Finally, there is Tekiah Gedolah, a long note that ends with a note going up and is the sound of hope. The object of the shofar blower is to make that last blast, the Tekiah Gedolah, last as long as possible.

And now, in keeping with the practice of how we do this in our synagogues and temples, Rabbi Schweitzer will call out each of these notes and I will blow them for you.

TEKIAH

SHEVARIM

TERUAH

TEKIAH GEDOLAH


“Iconic Jewish Deli Foods” by Kaela Walker
April 30, 2011

I used to be a very picky eater when I was younger. At least two years ago I started experimenting with my taste buds. I wanted to eat everything. I loved trying foods, and most foods I tried I loved. When I started to think about my big project for my Bat Mitzvah I knew exactly what I wanted to do. FOOD! I didn’t have to think twice. But, I did need to narrow down my topic. That was the hard part. I had at least ten different ideas. My parents, Carol, and Rabbi Peter all helped me figure out how to focus my topic. Eventually we got it. Iconic Jewish Deli Food. (Don’t worry I’ll tell you what iconic means.) I had to learn what it means too. It means symbolic. But still I had to choose which iconic foods I wanted to study. I had to research the foods and eat them (but that really wasn’t the hard part…).

I picked five of my favorite Jewish foods, the ones I enjoy eating the most. In this talk you will learn about the Knish, Matzo Balls, Pastrami, the Bagel and Cheesecake. I know, right, now I am hungry too. But first I am going to tell you a little about the history of the Jewish Deli.

The History of the Deli

The first Jewish delis in America started on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In the beginning, they were strictly takeout. In the 1900s, they changed into restaurants where people could sit, eat and talk. Delis offered a sense of identity to recent immigrants and a feeling of belonging in their new country. A deli was a gathering place where Jews could find a community and spend time in each other’s company. The Jews would come together to talk about religion and politics and to get news about their homeland.

In the delis, foods of the Eastern European Jews were combined with dishes from Lithuania, Russia and Hungary. At that time, most deli food was peasant food. Now the treats we associate with the Jewish deli (for example, chopped liver, matzo ball soup, and gigantic meat-filled sandwiches) are more American than Eastern European. The Jews from Eastern Europe could not afford to eat like that.

The importance of the deli began to decline by the 1950s and 1960s. This is because the food was seen as too ethnic. Also, some of the more popular Jewish foods like deli meats and hotdogs could be found at the supermarket. Today, the traditional Jewish deli is struggling. The rent is high, people are more health conscious (Jewish food is not that healthy), and Jewish food is not trendy. In 1936, there were 5,000 delis in New York City, but now there are just a few. Many famous delis in the city have closed.

I have been to Katz’s Deli, the 2nd Avenue Deli, Yonah Schimmels, Barney Greengrass, Russ and Daughters, Pastrami Queen, and Junior’s. I still want to go to a lot more. What I like is that the people are nice, they give you a lot of samples, there is always food on the table when you sit down (pickles and coleslaw), and they give you a good amount of food. The only thing that I dislike is that it is always crowded.

The Knish

The first food I want to talk you about is the knish. A Knish is a Jewish food that Russian immigrants brought to America in the early 1900s. It is the Yiddish word meaning pastry or turnover. A knish is made from dough that can be shaped to be round, rectangular or square with a filling in the middle of it. A knish can be baked, grilled or deep-fried. There are a variety of fillings that could be inside a knish: potato, ground meat, sauerkraut, onions, kasha (buckwheat groats) or cheese. More modern varieties are filled with sweet potatoes, black beans, fruit, broccoli, tofu or spinach.

The dough of a knish is made differently depending on the place where the knish is being made. In New York City, knish dough is made with egg and potato. In Europe, the pastry is made from yeast dough. In France, knishes are known by their Russian name “piroshky” and also “belglach.”

The History of the Knish is lost. In Russia, knishes were legendary and were usually served at feasts. When the Jews from Russia migrated to the U.S at the beginning of the 20th century, they brought their cooking and foods with them and knishes were sold from pushcarts on the streets of New York City. Today in Russia and Eastern Europe, the knish is no longer as popular as it is in New York City where knishes are HUGE.

In 1910, Yonah Schimmel opened a Knishery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. It is the only knishery left in New York City. They make the knish dough very thin. At Yonah Schimmels, they believe a “real” knish is round, baked, and made with potato filling.

When I went to Yonah Schimmel, my mom and I bought a bunch of knishes—potato, vegetable, sweet potato and spinach. We first ate the potato knish. IT WAS HUGE! It weighed at least a full pound! When we each took our first bite, we were in love. It was all potato– you couldn’t even taste the dough at all. It was so soft inside, it was amazing. The store looked exactly like it did in the old days and was still being run by the Schimmel family itself. It was great.

Matzo Balls

A second iconic Jewish food – may be first on some people’s lists – is the matzoh ball. A Matzo Ball is a traditional Ashkenazi “dumpling” made from matzo meal. The Yiddish word for matzo ball or dumpling is Kneydlekh. It is the food of hardship—the poor man’s food. This is because it’s made out of only simple ingredients like matzo flour and water. Matzo balls are one of the best known Jewish foods and one of the most powerful symbols of Jewish cuisine.

Matzo balls became a part of the Jewish diet in the early Middle Ages. They were especially popular in German, Czech and Austrian cooking. Matzo balls are traditionally served at Passover. But matzo balls are so popular and well liked, they are served everyday and everywhere. Jews have intense arguments about which way is the right way to cook a matzo ball. Should they be light (floaters)? Or should they be dense (sinkers)? Dense matzo balls are heavier and doughier. Light matzo balls are softer and less doughy; they melt in your mouth.

When I went to the 2nd Avenue Deli, I fell in love with their matzo balls. They are big but when you put them into your mouth, they melt with flavor. I guess this is what is called a floater. But when I went to Pastrami Queen and tasted their matzo ball, I wasn’t pleased. It was big and heavy with no flavor. It was dense and hard to swallow. Judging from that experience, I vote for the “lighter” kind of matzo ball.

I love matzo balls, especially during Passover. We go to our friends the Kreppels and Midge cooks amazing matzo balls (they are “floaters”). I had my very first matzo ball there.

The Bagel

Now who doesn’t know what a bagel is? A bagel is round bread with a hole in it. While bagels are considered a Jewish food, their origins are actually more varied. Today, many different types of people eat and sell bagels that are not Jewish.

Bread and crackers similar to the bagel were eaten centuries ago in China, Italy and Ancient Egypt. You can even see rolls with holes in Egyptian hieroglyphics. There is a well-known story about the origins of the bagel, but no one knows if it is true or not. According to the story, the bagel came out of the 1683 battle of Vienna. King Sobieski of Poland was the first king who did not limit the production of bread. This meant that Jews could bake bread in the city of Krakow. When King Sobieski saved Austria from Turkish invaders, a baker made a roll in the shape of the King’s stirrup and called it a beugel.

Bagels also became popular in Germany. Bagel means bracelet in German. In Eastern Europe, bagels were known as good luck because they were the perfect shape, round with no end or no beginning. The shape symbolizes the eternal cycle of life. This is why they were given to women in labor and are often eaten after funerals.

When Jews immigrated to America, they brought the bagel to Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In America, the bagels are distinguished because they are boiled. Rings of risen dough are thrown into boiling water for a few seconds, then drained, cooled, and baked until they are golden, shiny and crisp. The boiling helps the bagels last longer. In 1907, a union was created that monopolized bagel production in NYC. The Jews made their bagels by hand with only exactly five ingredients: flour, yeast, water, salt and malt flavoring. Bagels made in NYC are supposed to taste the best because of the mineral content in NYC water. In the 1950s, Jews started moving to other parts of the city, which expanded the reach of the bagel.

Murray Lender was the first person to create frozen bagels. In 1956 when Murray returned from the Korean War, he bought a freezer. He and his father figured out that they could sell and deliver frozen bagels in batches of six. This enabled the bagels to last much longer. In the 1960s, the automated bagel machine was invented. The machine allowed bagels to be made more easily, faster, and it enabled the Lenders to make a lot more bagels. They shipped their bagels across the country. Today some of the best known bagel stores in NYC are not run by Jews. For instance, H&H Bagels is run by a Puerto Rican family.

Modern bagels are much bigger in size than they were before and come in many more flavors, including poppy seed, raisin, garlic, onion, sourdough, sesame, pumpernickel, whole wheat and blueberry.

I have tasted bagels from Tal Bagels, which is Israeli, Bagel Bobs, Ess-a-Bagel, and H&H. The bagels at Tal are big and doughy and they do have a lot of flavor. The bagels at Bagel Bobs are smaller and softer with less taste, unless there is cream cheese or butter or lox on it. The bagels at H&H are my least favorite because you never know if you are going to get a soft bagel or a hard one. Finally, the Ess- a-Bagel are my favorite bagel. What I love about the Ess-a-Bagel is that the bagel is fluffy and doughy, the taste is delicious and flavorable. And I love the mouth-watering smell of fresh bagels baking when you walk into the Essa-a-Bagel store!

Pastrami

And then there is the king of Jewish foods, Pastrami. In the late 1800s to early 1900s, a large population of Jews immigrated to the Lower East Side. These immigrants crowded into tenements. One to ten families would live in these tenements and there was just no room to hang out inside. So they spent time outdoors, which is how pushcarts and delis started! The pushcarts served knishes, pickles and bagels and people would hang out and talk.

One of the greatest inventions of the deli was Pastrami. They served pastrami on rye bread with mustard. Pastrami has Romanian origins, although what was called pastramă in Romania is very different from what we call pastrami, which was actually invented in New York City. In 1888, Katz’s Deli opened and claimed that they invented pastrami, which you might think is true. But actually it was Sussman Volk (a butcher) who invented pastrami. He first got the recipe from a Romanian friend in exchange for storing his friend’s luggage. The sandwich became so popular that he converted his butcher shop into a restaurant. Katz’s Deli still disputes this and says they were the first.

Pastrami was originally created as a way to preserve meat before modern refrigeration. Pastrami is made with brisket. The raw meat is brined, partly dried, seasoned with various herbs and spices, then smoked, then steamed (which is a lot of work). Modern pastrami is entirely different from the cured meats with similar names you would find in Turkey, Romania and the Balkans today.

Pastrami has become very trendy in New York City. One restaurant serves a pastrami eggroll and Russ and Daughters created pastrami-cured salmon. Another place makes a pastrami croissant! Plus, it has gotten so popular that in October 2010, there was a pastrami sculpture in a Brooklyn Park! Every year, New York City delis compete to see which one has the best pastrami. The 2nd Avenue Deli, Katz’s, Carnegie Deli, Pastrami Queen and even a deli in Brooklyn all compete.

I have eaten pastrami from Pastrami Queen, the 2nd Avenue Deli and Katz’s Deli, which is known to have the best pastrami in NYC. The pastrami sandwich I liked best is Katz’s by far. What I love about Katz’s pastrami is that it is cut thick and is juicy and full of flavor. Plus it melts in your mouth. The pastrami from 2nd Avenue Deli does not have a great taste and is not as juicy. Pastrami Queen is also delicious but I still say Katz’s is the best.

Cheesecake

Of course, we all need a nice dessert after dinner, and the iconic Jewish dessert I will discuss is Cheesecake. Cheesecake is probably one of the most well-known desserts. What you might not know is that cheesecake has a Jewish origin. Jews are known for their fondness for desserts, which probably comes from their involvement in the sugar trade. Jews were engaged in sugar refining in Poland and Russia and also ran sugar plantations in the West Indies. Sweets have symbolic significance for Jews. Sweets represent joy and happiness, which is why they play an important role on many Jewish holidays, particularly Shavuot.

Long ago, the ancient Greeks made the first cheesecake. But more recently cheesecake originated from Poland and Russia. In the old days, Eastern European women made soft cheese at home which was used as the basis for cheesecake, among other things. When Jews immigrated to the United States, they brought their cheesecake recipes with them.

In upstate New York in 1872, dairymen were trying to make cheese that tasted like the cheese from France. The cheese that resulted turned out to be much, much creamier than the French cheese, so they called it “cream cheese.” But the cream cheese spoiled quickly, so it was not practical to eat. It was not until after 1920, when two Jewish immigrants from Lithuania began to mass market cream cheese, that it became a staple and began to appear in cheesecake fillings. Because cream cheese was invented in New York, cheesecake is often referred to as “New York cheesecake,” no matter where it is made!

Today, the most famous Cheesecake is made by Lindy’s. Lindy’s Cheesecake is the “NYC Cheesecake.” Its recipe calls for:

· Heavy cream

· Lots of eggs

· Lots of sugar

· Vanilla Extract

· No less than 2½ pounds of cream cheese (This is at least 2x more than is used in most recipes!)

Just like bagels were originally made to be plain, cheesecake was also made without flavoring or toppings. Now people make strawberry cheesecake, blueberry cheesecake, chocolate cheesecake and carrot cheesecake.

I have eaten many types of cheesecakes. Lindy’s is known to have the best cheesecake in the city but I disagree. The flavor of the filling was very good but the crust was too cakey, and there was not enough filling. And the slices are just too big! Junior’s cheesecake is fluffy, and the filling has lots of flavor. But the crust was not very good, and there was so much filling that it was hard to swallow. My favorite cheesecake was from Katz’s Deli. There was a lot of crust, the texture of the filling was nice and creamy, and the flavor was delicious.

Jewish food is an amazing cuisine. I really never knew about these different foods. I had no interest in trying them or going to delis. I didn’t even know that the origin of the deli was Jewish before I did this research. Doing this project and going to different delis really helped me experience my culture. Just as food is central to the Jewish culture, trying different cuisines has become one of my most favorite hobbies. I recommend it highly!


“A Light in the Dark Ages — Peace Among Religions During the Golden Age of Spain” by Mattori Birnbaum
October 23, 2010

I once heard a Jewish joke that went something like this: “they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” But there have been times when Jews were not under constant attack. One great example of this is the Golden Age in Spain. It was a time when Jews, Christians, and Muslims were able to live together in relative peace and to enjoy life.

You may be wondering why I would pick this topic for my major Bar Mitzvah project. I learned a little about the Golden Age in Spain last year in 7th grade history class. I wanted to know more about that time period. For example how it was possible for Jews in the Middle Ages, the so-called “Dark Ages,” to live in peace with Muslims and Christians. Maybe more importantly, could there be a Golden Age today in places like the Middle East?

The Golden Age in Spain was a period from 711 to around the 12th century. During this short time in history these three religious groups were able to work, shop, enjoy life, and overall get along. There were advances in many different areas including philosophy, science, mathematics, medicine, and religious study. It was not all perfect harmony. There were still conflicts, corruption, and intolerance. The point is that in the Golden Age life was, on the whole, well, as good as gold.

Before I talk more specifically about the Golden Age, I will set the stage. Jews emigrated to the south of Spain in the 3rd century. In the early 5th century they came under the rule of the Arian Visigoths. The Visigoths were ancient Germanic people, known for conquering territories. In this case they captured the territory from the Romans. The Jews were generally treated well by the Visigoths, although over time the Visigoths became more and more anti-Jewish.

A significant turning point came in the late 6th century when the Visigoth king Recared renounced the Arian faith and adopted Catholicism for political reasons. Under his rule the Visigoths readopted many of the anti-Jewish laws that the Romans had put in place, increasing persecution of the Jews. Conditions worsened over time and included the confiscation of Jewish property, enslavement of Jews, and taking Jewish children away from their parents.

During the rule of the Visigoths, some Jews converted to Christianity and still practiced Jewish law in secret. These people were called Marranos or “swine” in Spanish.

Life under the Visigoths had become so horrible, it is theorized that the Jews actually encouraged the Moors, Berber Muslims from Africa, to conquer the Visigoths. After the Moors defeated the Visigoths, the Jews treated the Moors as their liberators. In fact, they actively fought the Visigoths side- by-side with the Moors and were left in charge of Cordoba, Granada, and other captured cities.

The Muslims gave Jews and Christians a protected status of dhimmi (meaning “People of the Book”), people who cannot be harmed by any Muslims according to the Quran. This was clearly a much better status than the Jews had under the Visigoths’ rule. Jews didn’t have the same status as the Muslims, but during this period Jews were respected and important to society, business, and the government. For example, Samuel Ha’Nagid, a Jewish refugee from Cordoba rose to become the chief minister of Granada.

The conditions were so much better in Spain than in some other places that Jews from all over Europe came to live in Spain. There they helped translate Greek and Hebrew texts into Arabic and other Arabic texts into romance languages. They also worked in botany, medicine, and philosophy among other scholarly jobs. Not only were Jews affecting other religions, but also Islamic culture was affecting Jews. The line between Jewish and Muslim customs and ways was becoming blurred. For example, some Jews would wash their hands and feet when entering a synagogue, a practice originating from Muslims entering mosques. Culturally, some Jews wore clothing in a style that came from the Moors. Arabic sometimes replaced Hebrew or Spanish in Jewish prayers, and some Arabic melodies crept into some Jewish songs.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims were living together in communities that were more neighborly than during most other times in history. For example, the three religions shared municipal baking ovens and bath-houses in towns that could afford them. There were some interfaith businesses. These businesses attracted customers from each other’s faith and they stayed open on each other’s Sabbath. People took it up a notch and even decided to have interfaith friendships and relationships, some leading to marriage. We take a lot of that for granted these days. These were huge steps forward for society during that time.

Jewish culture itself also thrived during this time. Some important Hebrew scholars who lived during that period included Yehudah HaLevi, one of the first great Hebrew poets, and Menahem ben Saruq, who compiled the first ever Hebrew dictionary. Another famous Jewish figure from the Golden Age was Moses Maimonides, one of Judaism’s greatest philosophers, thinkers, and writers. He fled from Cordoba at the age of thirteen to avoid Muslim persecution.

Persecution of the Jews during the Golden Age didn’t just affect Moses Maimonides. In fact, it began to increase way before Maimonides’ time, starting in 722, only about 11 years after the Muslims conquered the Iberian Peninsula. That is when the Muslims began to battle with the Christians for power and control over the peninsula. As the Muslims’ authority and government began to crumble so did protection of the Jews, leading to increased anti-Semitic activity. Anti-Semitism became so bad over time that, for example, in 1066 most of Granada’s Jewish population was massacred. During that event, Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela was crucified when a powerful Muslim mob attacked the palace in Granada. It is estimated that up to 4,000 Jews were killed in one day.

The prosperity that the Jews and Christians enjoyed under Muslim rule during the Golden Age varied from place-to-place and from time-to-time. Some Muslim rulers were more tolerant than others. However, when a scapegoat was needed, the ruling Muslims would often point to the Jews and Christians.

The end of the Golden Age was marked by increasing religious persecution, in large part due to the arrival of new Muslim tribes from Africa at the end of the 11th century and at the beginning of the 12th century. They conquered parts of Spain and the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. Their religious tolerance depended on the specific ruler in power, but in general they were much less tolerant than the Muslims who ruled earlier during the Golden Age.

Another blow to religious tolerance was the ongoing battle between Christians and Muslims in other parts of Europe, which intensified in Spain in the 11th century. Once again, religious tolerance was very dependant on who was in control. Similar to the Muslim rule, the Christian rulers’ treatment of their Jewish subjects varied depending on who was in control at what time and where the area in question was. Ultimately, the Reconquista, which was Christian Europe’s attempt to re-conquer formerly Christian territories, such as Spain, led to the Spanish Inquisition in 1492.

That’s a brief history lesson on the Golden Age of Spain. Now let’s fast-forward to the 21st Century, to our present-day world. Can what was achieved then happen in the modern-day world?

The short answer is “Yes.” In New York people of all ethnicities, lifestyles, and religious groups generally live together in relative peace, although there can be differing points of views. For example, in my school there are families who are Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, along with combinations of these three and some who don’t follow any religion at all. There are families with a single mother or father, two mothers or two fathers, some with one mother and one father, and some children live with other legal guardians. Some families have a lot of money, others have less. There are dual-income households, single-income households and no-income households. You get the picture. Misunderstandings do arise but for the most part these families in my school community live and work together, and respect each other.

However, not everything is good and peaceful in New York City. Earlier this year, a conflict started over a project called Park51. The plan of the project was to build an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero. Some people have confused this with building a mosque, which they do not believe should be built so close to the World Trade Center site (because some people associate the destruction of the World Trade Center with all Muslims, as opposed to a group of very bad terrorists). I think that blaming a whole religion for the acts of a few people illustrates that there still is intolerance here.

Nowadays, there are a number of organizations who support interfaith relations. One organization is the Interfaith Center of New York, whose mission is to increase “respect and mutual understanding among people of different faith, ethnic, and cultural traditions” and to foster “cooperation among religious communities and civic organizations to solve common social problems.” The Interfaith Center holds regular forums to discuss issues and foster understanding and tolerance. They also educate high school and college students, teachers and others about the history and cultural heritage of the different faiths. This information helps different communities to develop a better understanding of each other, leading to decreased prejudices and misunderstandings.

Now, broadening the view to all of America, there are certainly people who hold racist or stereotypical opinions about others. But the original idea for America was to be a land free from religious intolerance and persecution. On the national scale, there is much more at stake than just what you find in New York. There are even more religions and ethnic groups that have to find ways to live peacefully with each other.

On a national level, The Interfaith Alliance is an organization that “celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting the diverse voices to challenge extremism.” They promote federal legislation. They also help religious leaders and politicians to maintain the boundaries between church and state. In addition, The Interfaith Alliance sponsors events for people to meet others of different religious groups to increase interfaith dialogues and ultimately to eliminate prejudices.

There are countries with similar views and practices to those in the United States toward religious, ethnic, and other differences. Unfortunately, intolerance remains a problem here and in other countries, but especially in regions like the Middle East. It all depends on the history of those particular countries and what their cultures teach them.

Most people don’t think of Europe in the Middle Ages as being a time of relative peace and tolerance. But that’s what the Golden Age in Spain was. I have some ideas about why there was a Golden Age then, and if there is any hope for one today in places like the Middle East, which I’d like to share with you.

What made the Golden Age in Spain special was that the people in charge, the Moors, supported other religions and respected the Jews and Christians who lived under their rule. In most cases in Europe back then the governments would just want their specific religious group to be in charge. They did not allow people from other religions to be too successful.

The Moors were in control but they let Jews and Christians be a part of the government. One reason that the Moorish government supported the Jews was because they initially both had a common goal; to get rid of the Visigoths. That common goal gave them something to work together on, which they ended up doing, and it created a means for them get to know each other. This gave them a chance to develop some trust and respect for one another.

When the Moors eventually did defeat the Visigoths and conquer their land the Jews were treated very well, as I mentioned earlier in the paper. The Moors’ idea for running this empire was also used in the 10th century by Holy Roman Emperor Otto the 1st (who I actually portrayed for the 7th grade project that inspired me to write this paper). Otto and the Moors had the philosophy that anyone who lived in the land that they conquered potentially had value. The conquered people could be used to pay taxes and to serve as warriors, merchants, farmers, and in other professions. Also many of the conquered people had special skills that could be used by the government to improve the quality of life for all the people in the land. Some of these skilled people included inventors, historians, and scientists. Since it was a time of peace, these skilled people could really shine and be creative, which is what enabled those living during the Golden Age in Spain to make so many advances in so many fields.

Just as hard as it is to believe that there was a Golden Age in Europe in the Middle Ages it is difficult to imagine that there could be a Golden Age in less tolerant parts of the world today, such as in the current-day Middle East. However, I believe that it is possible to make a Golden Age in the Middle East between Israel and the other countries.

The first step toward a Golden Age in the Middle East, as with the Golden Age in Spain, is to find a common goal or purpose that can bring the people of the Middle East together. The second step is typically an outcome of the first step and that is to grow respect and trust. While the countries would be in communication with each other they may make better relationships among one another. The third step is that the governments need to support the idea of co-existing and work hard to convince their citizens. Finally, even beyond co-existence, the governments would have to treat each other with respect and value each other. Once these steps have been achieved the Middle East would be well on its way to cooperation, peace, and a Golden Age for the people who live there.

One of the biggest reasons for people in situations like the Middle East to hate each other is that they don’t know people from the other communities. The hatred and dislike that exist in the Middle East have been passed down from generation to generation. The reasons for these feelings might not apply today; in fact they may have been caused by misunderstanding and miscommunication in the first place. Also, there is pressure from the rest of society that wants each individual to believe these stereotypes, even if someone actually has a different point of view. People change and many of the stereotypes in the Middle East about others are probably not true. When you know someone you’re much more likely to trust and respect them and there’s less of a chance for misunderstanding.

Seeds of Peace is an organization that gives teenagers from places in conflict the skills to be able to understand and coexist with their enemies. I learned about it during a City Congregation Kidschool class when a counselor at Seeds of Peace visited our class to talk about the program. The teens come to a camp in Maine from Israel, Palestine, Egypt, South Asia, Cyprus, and the Balkans. Many of the teens arrive at camp considering other campers to be their enemies. Positive work by groups like Seeds of Peace make it more likely that there can be a Golden Age in the Middle East today.

To summarize, throughout history Jews have been persecuted, but there was a time when we lived in relative peace and harmony with other religions. One such extraordinary time was during the Golden Age in Spain, which surprisingly took place in Europe in the Middle Ages, also known as the Dark Ages. Based on why the Golden Age in Spain was able to happen in the Dark Ages, I believe there can also be a Golden Age in the Middle East during contemporary times. It will be difficult and will take time but it is certainly possible.

Works Cited

“About Interfaith Alliance.” The Interfaith Alliance. Web. 16 Aug. 2010. .

“About Us.” ICNY. Interfaith Center. Web. 16 Aug. 2010. .

“Granada.” Jewish Virtual Library. Web. 15 Aug. 2010. .

“JewishEncyclopedia.com – Spain.” JewishEncyclopedia.com. Web. 15 Aug. 2010. .

Lowney, Chris. A Vanished World: Medieval Spain’s Golden Age of Enlightenment. New York: Free, 2005. Print.

Menocal, Maria R. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. Boston: Back Bay , Little, Brown, 2002. Print.

“The Virtual Jewish History Tour – Spain.” Jewish Virtual Library. Web. 15 Aug. 2010. .


“Holy Carp: Gefilte Fish, Judaism and Me,” By Jack Cohen


“My Torah Portion: A Story Among Others” by Nicky Young
June 13, 2013

My Bar Mitzvah is different from a traditional Bar Mitzvah. As you may know in a traditional Bar or Bat Mitzvah a 13 year old boy or girl reads or chants from the Torah in Hebrew. The torah is the first section of the Hebrew bible. It includes the 5 books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It tells the story of the Hebrews beginning with creation and ending with the death of Moses and the Hebrews arrival in the Promised Land. There are 2 types of writing in the torah, the history and the parts telling the Israelites how to behave. It contains allegories, historical narratives, genealogy, poetry, and laws. There may be some historical facts, in the torah, but in many cases people have been unsure of how accurate they are.

In a traditional synagogue a portion from the torah, generally consisting of several chapters, is read every Shabbat, beginning with Genesis in the beginning of the Jewish year, and ending with Deuteronomy at the end of the Jewish year, this is how it is passed down from generation to generation. This cycle repeats itself each year and the reading of the Torah never ends.

In Humanistic Judaism, we don’t think of the torah as more important or more special than any other Jewish book. We consider the Torah a part of our literature alongside other valuable writings like the Talmud, modern Yiddish stories, Hebrew poetry, and so on. Instead of putting the torah on a pedestal we put the culture on a pedestal. By doing this we give ourselves the responsibility for our actions, not “God”. So, for our bar or bat mitzvahs Humanistic Jews are not required to read from the Torah.

For my final project I could choose to do anything I wanted, on any topic that interested me, that made me connect to Jewish culture.

I decided to learn more about my torah portion. I wanted to do this because I wanted to be more “in touch” with the traditional side of my Jewish life. I could have chosen any passage to explore but I wanted to explore the portion that would have been assigned to me by my birthdate. My portion is from Exodus: ki-tee-sah Chapter 30, verse 11 thru the end of chapter 34.

I just happened to start my life on the 27th of March. It is purely random that my passage is about the giving of the Ten Commandments. If I had been born on March 27th, 1998, instead of 1997, I would be talking today about semen, menstruation, and leprosy. Today isn’t even the date of my birthday; it’s about 3 months after my birthday which means that I don’t have to use this torah portion at all.

In a traditional bar mitzvah I would have chanted a section of the portion and made an interpretation about the section based on traditional teachings. I explored my full portion and got interpretations of it from my humanistic rabbi, Rabbi Peter Schweitzer, my dad’s aunt Irene, a devoted Christian, and an orthodox rabbi, Rabbi Bellino. By doing this I was able to explore what it means for me to be a Jew and how I fit into the Jewish community, what the torah means to me, what “God” means to me, and over all what religion means to me.

At the start of the story, Moses went up the mountain after “God” had come to the Hebrews and, with thunder and lightning, announced the commandments. The Hebrews got really scared and decided that Moses should just go up the mountain and get the commandments from “God” by himself. While Moses was with “God” for 40 day and 40 nights, the people got impatient and they lost faith in “God” and Moses. They then went to Aaron, Moses’ brother, and said “Come make us a god who should go before us, for that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt-we do not know what has happened to him.” So Aaron told them to take of their gold jewelry and he threw it into the fire and using his tools he made a golden calf for them.

My rabbi talked with me about mob psychology. I noticed how it says “the people said…” making them one thing, not individual people. Even back then peer pressure played a heavy role. The people all went with what other people were saying because it’s a lot easier to follow society than to be off on your own. Even people who claim to be total individuals still are held by societies iron grasp.

Rabbi Bellino and I were talking about leadership. Society needs leaders to govern them and it’s much easier to listen to people than to break free from society and make your own decisions. As much as anyone wants to say that society has no hold on them, we are all ruled by society’s latest fashions and ideas in some way. Like I said in my values paper, to have a choice can be a good thing or a bad thing. Sometimes people just want to be told what to do instead of having to choose. It can be so much easier that way. In the case of the Hebrews worshipping the golden calf, they just wanted to find a leader or something that they could put their hopes on and look to for guidance. They were scared.

As the people were celebrating, “God” and Moses were busy going over the laws and “God” looked down and saw that the Hebrews had made a golden calf and that they were worshipping it. “God” then went nuts and had a huge temper tantrum. He told Moses that he was going to kill all the Hebrews down below. Moses then pretty much tells God to chill out. He says that if “God” does kill them, then the Egyptians will be able to say that God only let the Jews be free from Egypt so he could kill them in the mountains. Moses also reminded “God” of his promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob which stated that he would make their offspring as numerous as the stars in the heavens. God then calms down and gives Moses the tablets.

One thing I wondered about was if it was necessary for “God” to give the Hebrews the commandments and to be an enforcer of the rules. I think it was necessary because humans don’t usually keep a lot of laws unless they’re set in stone, in this case literally, and they fear the consequences of not obeying them. According to a rabbinic story, “God” had held Mount Sinai over the Hebrews heads and threatened to drop it on them if they didn’t follow the rules. They lived in the fear of the lord, following his rules because they were afraid of him.
Rabbi Bellino asked me if the Hebrews should have already known to not kill people, for instance. This was interesting because I, for instance, will ignore homework even though I know I should be doing it, but I won’t ignore the feeling that I shouldn’t kill people. I think people would have known the instinctual laws, but not always followed. If the rabbis had sat in a room and tried to come up with laws I’m sure “thou shall not kill” would have come up, but because of the fear of “God”, I think the law was more enforced. In today’s culture, killing is illegal but people still do it. Even with the death penalty in some states. I think this is because we sometimes struggle to control our anger and impulses.

What I also don’t get is that if “God” made these people, why did he make them so rebellious or as “God” himself stated, so stiff-necked? Shouldn’t he understand that these people only doubted him and Moses because of the human nature that “god” himself created?

But here is what I think is really interesting and very human about the story. The people needed a leader like a child needs a parent and since their leader wasn’t there they started to doubt. When you were a little kid and your parents told you they would be back by 8 pm, and the clock hits 8:01 pm you start to freak out and think of all the bad possibilities that could have happened. Since Moses took a lot longer than the Jews expected they started to freak out after a while.

And here’s another very familiar human reaction. After Moses calmed down “God”, Moses was still left with his own anger. He descended from the mountain and when he saw the Hebrews dancing and worshipping the golden calf he let loose his anger and he threw down the tablets with all the rules from “God” and he burned the golden calf; then he ground it into a powder and put it in the Hebrews water and made them drink it.

Moses was being pretty hypocritical – he got “God” to calm down but didn’t calm down himself – and he was also pretty sadistic. Aaron told him that the Hebrews had wanted a God so he asked for all their gold and threw it into the fire, and out popped a golden calf. He hid the fact that he actually made the calf himself. Aaron made himself look good to the people, and in the story he told Moses, he made himself look innocent.

Then Moses told the Hebrews that all who had faith in the lord should come to him and all the Levites came to his side. Then he told the Levites to kill the rest of the people.
Apparently Moses needed someone to calm him down too.

One thing that I noticed about this story was that the format in which it was written was very close to the format that a modern day fiction story would be written in. You have characters, a conflict, beginning, middle and end, and a twist. The fact that the story was written in this format really makes me think that these stories aren’t factual because life doesn’t always fit that format.

Another thing that I noticed was that “God” and Moses act as parents of the Hebrews in the story; “God” as the temperamental father, and Moses as the calmer but still frustrated mother- or vice versa. When “God” gets really mad about the Hebrews worshipping the golden calf he’s like an angry parent who sees his kids doing something bad and he becomes so blinded by rage that he almost does something stupid. Moses is like the comforting parent because he is able to calm “God” down, but is still left with his own anger to deal with. This anger comes out when he actually sees what the Hebrews (the children) are doing and he then does something not so smart, he (Moses) orders the killing of 3,000 Jews.

“God” is a character and like any other character in a story, “God” has contrasting traits that cause conflict and make him more interesting. “God” isn’t perfect; he kills, has temper tantrums, and can be a pretty scary guy from what I’ve read. God loses his cool A LOT throughout the torah and when he does, it almost always results in the death of human beings. I’ve noticed that “God” gives a lot of ultimatums. People have faults and insecurities even if they are striving for perfection. To become so angry with people because of that is just wrong. All of those things don’t mean that he’s not a good god though. These very human like faults probably make it easier for people to relate to “God”. Overall I think the main themes of my portion are loyalty, leadership, and forgiveness. Whether the story is true or false, these themes are things we can all learn from.

One of the biggest opportunities I got from writing this paper was that I got to read my Torah portion, challenge it, and make my own interpretation of it. The stories of my family’s religions have been passed down from generation to generation. This opportunity, especially challenging the Torah, gave me the sense that I have a say in my Jewish world, and that’s what a bar or bat mitzvah’s all about, finding your place in the Jewish community.


“Is it Really Kosher?” by Arielle Silver-Willner
May 15, 2010

“The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, these are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat…. among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these.’”

What are these rules? These are the kosher laws, or to use the Hebrew word, the rules of kashrut. Keeping kosher is to follow the laws just mentioned, plus countless others, including ones about the slaughtering, growing, selling, cleaning, preparation and eating of food.

The Torah doesn’t explicitly state the reason for most kashrut laws, but many reasons have been offered, ranging from philosophical, ethical and ritualistic, to sociological, practical and hygienic. And over the centuries, the reasons for following them have changed.

Orthodox and Conservative Judaism hold that Jews should follow the laws of kashrut as a matter of religious obligation. Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism hold that these laws are no longer binding and, until recently, Reform Judaism opposed kashrut as an archaic practice that inhibited the integration of Jews into society. Recently, some Reform Jews have chosen to follow some or all kosher laws in an effort to be more connected to Jewish traditions.

Rabbi Peter explained to me that, because Humanistic Jews reject the idea of supernatural revelation, and favor inclusion and pluralism, many of us reject practices like kashrut, which keep us separate from other people and dictate uniform behaviors. For these reasons, Humanistic Jews generally do not keep kosher.

I don’t keep kosher, but I decided to study kosher laws because they seemed foreign to me, and as a Jew, I wanted to learn more about this feature of Judaism. I was particularly interested in exploring whether two of the original reasons for Kosher laws — hygiene and ethics — are still relevant today. Specifically, I wanted to know if the Kosher meat industry still raises animals humanely and in a manner that insures that they’re healthy. I also wanted to know if these issues are important to people who keep Kosher today.

Many people believe that kosher meat is healthier than non-kosher meat. But is this perception true? Centuries ago, kosher animals were raised in a clean environment to insure that they remained healthy. They were raised in open meadows with fresh grass. There were no factory farms! People didn’t have to worry about whether their beef contained antibiotics or hormones or their chickens were free-range or their eggs were organic. Everything was organic!

The animals were slaughtered in accordance with strict guidelines, and the meat was examined and cleaned meticulously. The word “Kashrut” means “fit,” as in, fit to eat, and in practical terms, this means that there couldn’t be discoloration, nicks, signs of disease, or grains of dirt in the organs. Glatt, an additional requirement that lungs be free of adhesions, prevented consumption of animals infected with tuberculosis. As some of you already know, the term “glatt kosher” is used differently today, to imply a higher standard of kashrut observance.

The Torah dictates ‘tzar baalei haim,’ or the respectful treatment of animals. Rabbinic rulings have insisted on compassion for animals and reducing unnecessary suffering in their lives and in the way they’re slaughtered. Exodus even states that animals should be given the Sabbath as a day of rest. It was believed that if the animal experienced stress or discomfort, its meat would be bad.

Unfortunately, times have changed. Now, if you see an icon or symbol that says, “K, OU or P” on a package of meat, you might think, “This meat is kosher, so it must be better for me, or, these animals were treated well.” While this was probably true in the past, it’s not necessarily true now. If you see a package of kosher meat, all you can know for sure is that it was slaughtered under the supervision of a rabbi. Our growing population, with its increased demand for animal products, has made it increasingly difficult for kosher food companies to maintain traditional practices and remain profitable. As a result, many kosher meat companies no longer adhere to mandates regarding hygiene and the compassionate treatment of animals. The difference between kosher and non-kosher animals is grossly exaggerated by agri-business to enable companies to charge a premium for kosher meat. Often, animals that are slaughtered for kosher meat are raised in the same farms with the same standards of hygiene as animals that are raised for non-kosher meat.

In a notorious case, the owners of America’s largest kosher meat processing plant, Agriprocessors, were convicted of 86 criminal charges including using child laborers, mistreating workers and forcing them to work in dangerous conditions, paying illegal wages and mistreating cattle.

An organization called “Humane Kosher” explains that, “There are no standards to ensure that kosher slaughter is any less cruel than conventional slaughter and investigations have revealed that in some instances it’s much worse.” They insist that, “In the face of horrifically cruel and ecologically devastating factory farms and a kosher industry that has sanctioned even the most grisly abuse of animals, it’s difficult to see how eating animals is compatible with Jewish values.”

So why do some Jews keep kosher? To find out, I interviewed several people who either keep kosher now or used to keep kosher. First, I interviewed my dad. When he was growing up, his family kept kosher because his parents had both been raised in kosher households. But today, to him, kashrut means a group of ancient dietary laws that have no relevance in the present day. When the laws originated, since there was no refrigeration, there was a great risk of becoming sick or dying from eating meat that wasn’t very carefully handled. Refrigeration and other modern innovations have made it much safer to eat meat. Moreover, many diseases that infected animals during biblical times are either nonexistent now or are very rare. Modern society has rendered obsolete many of the laws which were designed to insure that people didn’t get sick.

I interviewed four more people, Asya, Tsipe, Alexander and Natalie, all of whom keep kosher simply because they see it as an obligation as observant Jews, because it is commanded by God, and to feel connected to their community.

However – when I questioned them about the relationship between kashrut, health and hygiene – well — do you know the joke that goes something like “4 Jews lived in a village, how many synagogues were there?– Five.” Well, these four kashrut observers seem to have about 5 or 6 opinions about the issue of kashrut and hygiene.

See if you can follow this: — Asya and Alexander believe that kosher laws are partly based on health and cleanliness. Asya thinks that kosher meat is cleaner than non-kosher meat but Alexander thinks it isn’t. But, he thinks that other people believe it is. Natalie doesn’t think kashrut used to have anything to do with health or cleanliness— but—she thinks kosher meat has recently become healthier than non-kosher meat. And Tsipe has never considered whether kosher laws were created to insure that meat is healthy, or whether it is indeed, healthier. So, four Jews, five opinions, but there was one thing they agreed on. None of them believe that kosher meat comes from animals that are raised humanely.

I also interviewed Jonathan Safran Foer, the author of Eating Animals, a book that examines present-day practices in the animal food industry. He became a vegetarian when he learned of the inhumane ways in which animals are raised and slaughtered for human consumption. Jonathan has witnessed the inhumane treatment of animals in kosher slaughterhouses. He asserts that the inhumane treatment of animals is largely the result of factory farming and has concluded that there is no humane way of raising animals for mass consumption.

Much of the kosher meat industry is clearly disregarding kosher laws regarding the health and humane treatment of animals. And although I only interviewed a few people who keep kosher, none were concerned about the quality of kosher meat or the humane treatment of animals. It seems that some of the original interpretations of Kashrut may no longer be relevant.

Perhaps because of these changes, several organizations are now bringing attention to the widespread violation of kosher principles and absence of standards for ensuring that kosher meat is raised and slaughtered humanely. In addition to Humane Kosher, which I quoted earlier, Hazon, an American- Israeli joint venture, is also trying to revive the humane intentions of the kosher laws as well as create a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community. I interviewed the assistant director, Liore Milgrom-Elcott, who keeps kosher and is a vegetarian. She told me that although the Torah instructs Jews to treat animals respectfully, it doesn’t offer specific instructions, and since it was written when farming practices were vastly different from how they are now, we must decide how this command should be applied to contemporary animal farming practices. (Humane Kosher and Hazon contend that factory farming violates this command and because of the terrible conditions in factory farms, kosher meat is often not any cleaner or healthier than non-kosher meat.)

Liore sees Hazon as the “new kosher” because it interprets kosher rules for modern society. Hazon insists that the application of Kosher rules includes implementing sustainable practices for the environment and all living creatures, and that the most respectful and healthiest way to raise animals is on a free- range farm with a natural diet. Hazon encourages people to learn how the meat they eat was raised and slaughtered.

When I chose kashrut as my essay topic, I thought it was very strange that I knew so little about it. Then, as I did research about its original purposes, I was pleased to learn that some of the laws were based on the moral treatment of animals and being environmentally sustainable. However, as I did more research about kashrut’s interpretations and peoples’ reasons to follow the rules, I was disappointed to discover that many of these laws are being discarded and people who keep kosher don’t necessarily care about these values. When I finally heard about Hazon and how they are reintroducing these values, I felt proud as a Jew, and pleased that Hazon and other organizations will continue to work towards a better kashrut for the world. I am very glad I chose to write my main project about kashrut, it was a learning opportunity that I will remember for the rest of my life.


“The Jews of Morocco” by Alicia Blum
May 8, 2010

Many of you have heard about Morocco from that great old movie Casablanca with Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. Or maybe you have seen one of my favorite films – the Marx Brothers’ A Night in Casablanca.

But did you know that Jews have lived in Morocco since the Roman Empire? Or that a legendary Jewish Berber princess fought the Moslem invasion? Or that one of the greatest medieval Jewish philosophers lived in Morocco? Or that some of the best Moroccan food is Jewish in origin?

In March, 2009, my family and I took a Jewish Heritage tour of Morocco. We had a wonderful tour guide who showed us many interesting sights. Today, I will be your tour guide – but I won’t be shouting “Yella Yella” – “hurry up” – as I tell you about Jewish life in Morocco.

A little background: Morocco is an Arab Country. The main religion that they practice there is Islam. Even so, today Jews and Moroccans live in harmony. Morocco and Israel have had a good relationship. Morocco does not have a president like the U.S.A does – it has a King and his name is King Mohammed VI. He is also the religious leader of the country.

The temperature there is really hot. In the summer it can be extremely hot, well over 100 degrees. It wasn’t so bad when we went.

But our tour begins with the Roman empire. While some people think that Jewish traders actually arrived before the Romans, other people believe that the Jews came in the first century, when revolts against the Romans were crushed and Jewish communities were destroyed. We visited the extraordinary Roman town called Volubilis, which had a large Jewish community. (It was destroyed by an earthquake in the fourth century.) It was an important outpost of the Roman Empire and has many beautiful buildings and mosaics. Extensive remains of these survive in the archaeological site, located in a fertile agricultural area which produced grain and olives. These products were exported to Rome, contributing to the province’s wealth and prosperity.

Many Jews, however, took refuge in the mountains where they encountered local Berber tribes. The story is that these tribes were so impressed with Judaism that they converted. There were many Jewish Berbers, but most left for Israel in 1948 when the State of Israel was founded. Many Berber Jews lived in tents – and the menorahs they used hang from a rope across the tent – we actually bought one! You can still buy Berber rugs that were made by Jewish tribes.

We spent a night in a tent in the dessert. I can tell you it was very cold – and very dark. We got up at dawn to ride the camels through the dunes. The pillow was made out of sand so I had bits of sand in my hair every morning.

The Jewish Berbers were the last people to resist the Arab invasions in the seventh century. They were led by the legendary Queen Kahina – the Prophetess. Very little is known about her – they don’t even know if she was really Jewish. What is known is that soon after the Arab general Hassan took Carthage from the Byzantines, Queen Kahina’s forces defeated him.. Hassan retreated, probably all the way back to Egypt. The Kahina took Carthage and ruled most of Berber North Africa. Unfortunately, Hassam returned and defeated her.

Today, soaps made of argan oil are named after her! Argan oil is made by the Berbers. Goats climb the argan tree and eat the fruit. The Berbers collect undigested argan pits from the goat poop. The pits are ground and pressed to make the nutty oil used in cooking and cosmetics. Yes, we bought it and yes my Mom cooked with it!

We went to a town in the Atlas Mountains where Queen Kahina fought – or so we were told. To get there, we had to cross a stream – on donkeys – and climb to the top of the mountain on foot! But the views were beautiful and you could see for miles and miles. Actually, Queen Kahina probably fought in Tunisia. But it is good story anyway – like many myths and legends, it becomes a part of nation’s history and memories.

The Jews had their ups and downs during the period of the Arab conquest – depending on how tolerant the Arab rulers were. The town of Fez, which we visited, became a center of Jewish learning. The great medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides lived in Fez – and we saw the place where he supposedly lived. There was a plaque on the door of an apartment. Maimonides was born in Spain, but his family had to leave – the choice was conversion, death or exile – they took exile. He later went to Egypt.

Things went downhill for the Jews after that. The Almohads – very religious Moslem Berbers from the Atlas mountains – took over. Jews were forced to convert or die. Many communities were destroyed. Jews asked to live in “Mellahs” – special quarters – like the European Ghettos. We visited the Mellah in Fez which is very near the royal palace, founded in 1438.

But things picked up again when the Jews from Spain arrived in 1492 after the expulsion from Christian Spain. If you remember, at this time the Moors were driven out of Granada, and shortly after that Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain expelled all the Jews from their lands and put an end to the largest and most distinguished Jewish settlement in Europe. Our guide said that Moroccan Jews and Arabs had many things in common – they both worship one god (in contrast to the Catholic Trinity) and were both booted out of Spain at the same time. (He didn’t like the Spanish!) These Jews were very well educated and brought with them their own type of architecture, food and superior culture. They became great merchants, craftsmen and diplomats. Many became very wealthy. But their fortunes, too, declined with the economic decline of the Arab world.

So let me tell you about the culture that these Spanish Jewish refugees brought to Morocco.

Morocco has some very interesting food. They have their own dish called a Tajine. It is made in a special pottery pot – decorated nicely – in which the food is cooked. The food in the Tajine is usually beef, chicken, or lamb – no pork – neither traditional Jews nor Moslems eat pork. There is a special Tajine with only couscous and vegetables called the “Royal Couscous” . IT IS REALLY GOOD! I had it almost every time I could. Now the Jews from Spain added their own ingredients to the Tajine – dried fruits (prunes, raisins, pumpkin) and preserved lemons. You see these in many dishes in the restaurants – but they are Jewish in origin.

The Spanish Jews brought their own type of buildings to Morocco. The architecture of Morocco is spectacular!! It is so detailed and interesting. Did you know that in Mosques, decorations on columns and walls never have people or animals on it? Yes. It is true. It is forbidden to worship idols and Moslems believed that pictures would be like worshiping idols. All the Mosques are very nicely decorated from the top of the minaret to the front door step with different designs and colors. Even the doors of homes are decorated. Many of the decorations are words and sayings from the Koran. Jewish synagogues, too, are also beautiful inside with many colorful decorations.

Now, when you enter a Moslem home, you never enter directly into the house. There is a corridor that leads around to the central open courtyard with a fountain. Moslem women were never allowed outside of the home and Moslem husbands did not want other men to be able to see into the house. The Spanish Jewish homes look like their homes in Spain – large balconies on the upper floors where the women could go out and talk to their neighbors. So if you ever see a home in Morocco with a balcony – it was originally a Jewish home.

The Jews from Spain were given the rights to the mines and the rights to make gold and silver jewelry. They were wonderful artisans. Moslems are not allowed to charge interest on loans (that’s called usury) and some scholars believe that Moslems thought that decorating gold and silver – which makes the gold and silver more valuable – was just like usury and against the religion. That is why the Jews became the greatest gold and silver workers in Morocco.

In the Fez Mellah today there are many jewelry shops. Most of them are gold and silver shops and may have originally been owned by Jews. I have been in one. The jewelry is very detailed and elaborate and also very colorful. They put many jewels in the objects that they make. They have tiny things like earrings to large things that look like chandeliers.

In KidSchool we learn about Jews from other countries and other time periods. So it was important to us – and, a lot of fun – to visit synagogues – both old and new. We saw Jewish cemeteries. We visited the tomb of a Jewish mystic – there were many of these Jewish saints in the 19th century. But one thing we didn’t see – Jewish people! In 1948, there were over a quarter of a million Jews in Morocco. Today, fewer than 7,000 Jews live in Morocco, mostly in Casablanca and Fez, and mostly an elderly population. Most of the Jewish population has moved to Israel, where they make up the largest group of Sephardic Jews in Israel. Today, there are close to a million Moroccan Jews in Israel – 15% of the population! The Moroccan Jewish population is very religious, so moving to Israel was something the population very much wanted to do after the State of Israel was founded.

Morocco to me was a really different place. I felt a little un-comfortable there. People kept on staring at me. I felt self-conscious. I kept looking at myself, thinking am I dressed weird (I guess I was, to some people there) or is my hair messed up. Anyway, I did not feel that weird about being a Jew there, even though their religion is different from mine. After all, Jews have lived in Morocco for close to two thousand years and Morocco and Israel have good relations. To tell you the truth, I was too busy looking at the Mosques, smelling the food and trying to understand what people were saying to me on the streets! It was a great trip – a little scary – but I am glad that we went.

For our next trip, we will be traveling with the Jewish Federation of North America on a Family Mission to Israel. I am hoping that we can meet some of the Moroccan Jews who now live in Israel. I will have the chance to compare what life was like for Jews in an Arab country, with life today in Israel. I hope the food there is just as good!


“The Golem of the Ghetto: An Original Story” by Isaac Mann
January 17, 2010

Beryl stares at the barbed wire fence that is at the back of his house and all around the ghetto. The one room that he shares with his parents grows darker and darker and there are no candles to burn or switches to turn to relieve the darkness. There isn’t even a mattress for him to lie down upon. Beryl sits down on a stool, and waits for his parents to come home from their job of doing the laundry for the guards who work in the rec hall. That building was once Beryl’s synagogue. That was before the soldiers came.

Beryl remembers fondly the Chanukah parties in the old synagogue- the potato latkes, the theatrical and musical pieces created by all the Jewish families. He remembers the seemingly endless Rosh Hashanah services when he and Noah, a friend and neighbor, would sneak off to play soldier. The first time they did that was when they were only five and that was how they met. When they were done with their war games, Beryl would ask Noah questions about weapons, battles, and military tactics. Noah knew so much about the Macabees.

But now the synagogue belongs to the guards and the boys don’t play soldier anymore. Beryl opens up his door and smells the smoke of Bolívar cigars drifting from the open windows of the rec hall. He over-hears a conversation between two guards.

“Oh Kurt! You make ze most vonderful pig!”

“Shmurt you’re eating like a pig!”

“I’m all done. Vat do you say ve leave ze rest of zis pig in ze market place and let ze jews fight for it?”

“Oh Shmurt you alvays make me laugh. Ze jews eat ze pig, hahaha!”

Before the soldiers came, Beryl and his parents had raised several sheep. His mother knit sweaters from the wool and his father milked the sheep and turned the milk into cheese. Beryl trained their dog, “Chutzpah”, to herd and protect the sheep. The family never killed the sheep for meat, but the guards seem to relish meat, and the smell of it makes Beryl sick.

Beryl closes the door and is seized, once again, by memories of the day his childhood ended. These memories always rush into his mind in the same way: the sound of Chutzpah barking. He jumped out of bed to see soldiers approaching the house. One of the soldiers broke open the door and Chutzpah jumped at him and bit his leg. Beryl and his father try to gain control over the dog but he will not listen. Another officer pulled out a gun and fired. Chutzpah was lying in pool of blood.

As the memories from that terrible day begin to fade, Beryl goes over and lies down on a pile of clothing. Suddenly, he hears muffled footsteps outside the house. He quickly drags the couch in front of his door to ensure that no one will enter. Once in place, Beryl looks up to discover a figure on the couch smiling benevolently at him. Beryl tries to speak, but can’t. He can’t even figure out if the stranger is a man or a woman. “Who are you?! Why are you here?!” Beryl asks. “That’s not important,” the stranger said. “ I understand you’re unhappy, and you’ve suffered far too much for a boy your age. I understand your people are unhappy. I’m here to send a very important message. ” The stranger tells him a story about Jews in sixteenth century Prague. “Rabbi Leib”, the stranger says, “was a Wise Man who lived in a time when Christians were accusing Jews of placing Christian children’s blood in Matzah. Rabbi Leib knew these accusations were ridiculous and dangerous. The Rabbi had mystical powers and made a Golem, a monster of clay, that would follow his commands, and protect and avenge the Jews.”

Beryl likes this story: it is about justice and protection and everything working out just right. There are many details in the story and Beryl isn’t sure he’ll remember them all. He wonders, “Why me? Why do I have to do this? I’m just a little kid.” The stranger explains, “You’re the only one here who hasn’t given up hope.”

Suddenly in the blink of an eye, it’s day. Beryl wakes up and there is no stranger- just his empty house, and the story he has been told. He readies himself for school, wearing the same dirty clothes. He grabs a hard crust of bread. No sign of his parents. When he arrives at the school, he takes a stick and draws the outline of a huge body in the sandy soil. The figure is at least ten feet long. He writes on the forehead of the figure the Hebrew letters of the word “Emet” or truth. This is the word that you had to write on the Golem’s forehead to make him come alive. He runs into his classroom and sees Noah. Beryl takes a deep breath and declares “Our avenger is here.” His classmates turn their heads to look at Beryl. “We are the Jews! We are the chosen! What are we doing here, sealed off from the world in a cage like this? We need a solution and I just found one. I am going to summon the Golem!”

What’s a Golem?” a couple of the children ask.

“The Golem is a giant who can crush skulls in his bare hands and the Golem will listen to my every command,” Beryl says triumphantly as he stares at Noah. Some of his classmates’ eyes light up.

“Where is he?” they ask.

“He’ll be outside at the end of class waiting for us!” Beryl declares.

Noah is unimpressed. “What has happened to you Beryl? After a year of being here, you need something like this to hope for? Can’t you just face reality?”

The school bell rings and twenty children run out in a pack, all stumbling over each other to see if they can find the Avenger. Beryl looks down and sees that the outline of the giant has been trampled by footsteps. Noah puts his hand on Beryl’s shoulder and says, “You got to quit dreaming and face facts. We’re all starving and we need to do something about it. Something real—no more fantasies. It’s back to the old plan. “ Noah gathers his classmates around him and they start discussing how they are going to steal the guards’ food.

Beryl stares at the dirt and scratches his head. He angrily kicks what remains of his drawn figure. “What did I do wrong? Did I not spell “Emet” correctly? Was there some step that I missed? “Rabbi Leib,” the stranger had said, “gathered clay”, not dirt. He had built a three-dimensional figure and paced around it seven times.” Beryl realizes now that the details are very important. The crusty dry roads in the ghetto are nothing like clay. Beryl drags himself home in defeat.

His parents stumble through the door. Mom has a black eye and Dad has cuts all over his face. He can’t remember what his mother’s voice sounds like; she hasn’t talked for what seems like years. He has tried to engage his dad in conversation but his father has only replied with simplistic, predictable answers. Beryl notices now that his dad is covered in dirt from his waist down. “Dad, what happened to you?” “They threw me into one of their god-damn mud baths”, his father mutters, staring off in the distance. Beryl notices that the mud on his father’s pants is very thick and figures that there must be clay in it! He knows that he has to get into the rec hall and find that mud, no matter the risk. After his parents have fallen asleep, Beryl sneaks off and makes his way to the rec hall. He finds at the back of the building, a place where a brick is loose. He carefully and quietly removes several bricks and crawls through the opening.

Before Beryl can get to his feet, he comes nose to snout with a dead pig. He slowly crawls through a pile of beheaded chickens. When a guard walks in with a wheelbarrow and begins to load food onto it, Beryl hides behind some burlap sacks. He holds his nose, feeling sickened by the smell and sight of meat. After the guard leaves, Beryl approaches a huge metal door and pushes against it. It begins to budge with a rusty creak. He stealthily creeps into the hall and sees paintings of German war heroes on the walls, recalling the portraits of the rabbis that used to be there. He begins looking for the clay. Where would they put clay in this huge building? Beryl passes the bathroom door and suddenly realizes, they would store their mud right next to the tubs. He walks through the bathroom door, and there the crates stand.

Beryl begins to stomp on the top of all of the crates. He needs as much clay as he can get. The first crate gives in with a loud cracking sound. He tears away all of the wooden segments and begins molding this clay into a gigantic muscular arm. He opens all of the crates as fast as he can and from each one he molds an additional body part. He puts the body parts together attaching them to a huge torso. He has never done anything this fast in his life. Beryl begins shaping the features of the face. He lifts his hand after indenting the pupil on the monster’s eye. He looks down at the Golem whose strong features and brave face make him look like a warrior. But still there is no life in the clay giant. Beryl feels the sweat running down his face, and is overcome with frustration. With all of its muscles, it is still just a stupid lump of clay.

Beryl takes a deep breath and begins the ceremony: “And the Lord God formed a man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Beryl speaks as he walks around the giant seven times. After the seventh time, he scratches “Emet” on the forehead. He sees the clay arm slowly budging and imagines the skulls that it will crack in its bare hands. But after the initial motion, the clay is still. “Stand on your feet,” Beryl commands. He repeats the command over and over again but the clay man stares at the ceiling, motionless. Beryl tries to push him onto his feet but to no use. Overwhelmed by tears, he finds his way out, through the broken wall in the food storage area.

He spies a crowd of children in the distance and recognizes Noah’s voice. All of his friends except for Noah are crying. “We were caught by the guards,” they explain, “while we were trying to steal food. The guards have decided to take it out on our parents.” Beryl sees that the parents are being tied to poles and the guards are brandishing sticks and guns. Noah asks, “What are we going to do?”

Beryl responds, “I’ve built a Golem out of clay. I thought I saw his arm move.”

“Where is the Golem?” Adam asks.

“He’s in the bathroom in the rec hall. I snuck in. “

“Let’s go back in.” Jonah replies hopefully. “ It’s our last hope.”

Beryl leads the way back through the narrow hole. He leads them to the bathroom and they all gasp when they see the figure lying motionless on the floor.

Adam and Jonah add clay to the muscles in the Golem’s arms. “If only he could stand, he would destroy our enemies,” Jonah says.

“And lead us out of the ghetto to a great meal, good clothes, and house five stories high,” Adam joins in.

“You guys are getting ahead of yourselves. How are we supposed to go from rags to riches? It’s just a stupid lump of clay. You’re going on and on about this killing machine. The only killing machines are the soldiers who are about to kill our parents.” Noah says.

“That’s just it, Noah. We don’t need a killing machine. If we had a killing machine, then everyone would want a killing machine and then we’d be no better than they are.”

“I want him to crush their skulls”, Adam says. “What’s wrong with that? They deserve to die.”

“No”, Beryl says, “We can’t summon the Golem wishing for violence. We must summon him wishing for justice and safety. That’s why I failed. I didn’t make the Golem with the right intention.”

Noah sees a flash of light cross the Golem’s eyes and his heart fills with hope.

With a crash, the guards enter the bathroom and grab the children. They have decided to force all of them to watch the execution of their parents. They drag them outside by their collars as if they were wild dogs, and the boys dare not make a sound. Beryl, prostrate on the ground, sees a shadow looming from behind him. As the shadow gets larger and larger, he hears the sound of dragging footsteps coming closer and closer. The guards are silent now, he hears people from the crowd gasping. He turns his head to look behind him. There it was-ten feet tall, walking slowly. The soldiers fire their pistols at him, but the bullets pass through the clay without delaying the giant’s stride. Some of the guards fall to the ground and seem to pray, and others run away screaming. “it vas only a joke!” shmurt screams. “I didn’t mean it! Kurt, it vas his idea to make ze jews eat pig! Don’t hurt me. I love zem, I have alvays loved ze Jews!

“Shmurt stop it, you are making a fool of yourself!” Shmurt keeps the show going. He sings through his tears, “Chanukah oh Chanukah, come light all zese candles, let’s have a party, ve all must dance in– sandals— somezing somezing—I don’t know the next vords-”

The Jews stare up at the Golem in wonder. With one swift motion, the Golem frees all of the parents who have been tied to the poles. The Golem silently beckons the children with a sweep of his arm to follow him. Even the Jews hiding in their homes open their doors and follow. Among the followers are Beryl’s parents. They follow the Golem who leads them outside the ghetto, pushing over a barbed-wire fence. The Jews follow him out onto a field where an airplane is sitting on a makeshift landing-pad. The airplane is big enough to fit all of the members of the ghetto. The Golem squeezes through the six-foot door of the cockpit. Being made of clay, this is an easy thing for him to do.

Everyone enters the plane, finds a seat, and then immediately falls asleep, all except for Beryl. He is in the cockpit with the Golem and stares in amazement at the giant, who handles the plane as if he had been a pilot for years. Beryl too, grows sleepy, and drifts off.

“Beryl?” a deep, cool voice calls, waking him up. Beryl opens his eyes and groggily sees the Golem.

“Listen,” the Golem says, “Beryl, the plane has landed, and in a moment you will wake everyone up. The people of this land are waiting outside for your arrival. The place is safe and no one will threaten you. In this new land, you will be able to grow up and become highly educated. You will ultimately join forces with other progressive men and women who are determined and capable of setting the world on a straight and compassionate path.”

“Golem, won’t you stay and help us in this new country?

“No, Beryl, my mission is done. You know from the old stories, that if a Golem remains after the time in which he is needed, he makes a nuisance of himself. I might want to have friends and go to school, and to college too, even graduate school, and of course I’ll want a Bar Mitzvah. And I’ll want to get married and find a job I can settle into. You know, a job that’s personal and me. I will have needs and become very upset if they are not immediately satisfied.” With every new suggestion, the Golem’s eyes widen more and more. Beryl understands. “What do I need to do?” he asks. The Golem leans his head down so Beryl can reach his forehead. “Wipe out the letters- the letters on my forehead. I wish you and humanity the best of luck.” The boy carefully rubs off the word, “Emet” from the clay with his hand. The Golem begins to slump into the chair more and more, his head falling back. The intelligent well-meaning, human expression slowly reshapes into a neutral mask. The Golem begins to melt. Beryl watches as the golem loses all of its vitality, turning into a heap of clay again.

All of the adults took on jobs in their new country- as farmers, as tailors, and as merchants. It wasn’t hard for them to make money. It was a small town that welcomed them with open arms. The children got a good education, but there was one thing that bothered Beryl. When everyone woke up on that fateful day, they seemed to forget all about the Golem. When asked about their escape from the ghetto, they replied that they had walked thirty miles from the ghetto to this small town. They were able to do this because the guards and officers all of sudden grew ill.

Noah admitted to Beryl in private that he had visions of a clay monster that saved them but he advised Beryl not to mention anything of the sort, or the towns-people would think him crazy. The dilemma was, holding on to the truth and not being able to tell anyone, made Beryl wonder if he had made the whole thing up. Until one day, he read the following article in the local newspaper:

“Authorities report the discovery of a plane found in a large field to the east of town. A plane of this size and design has never been seen before. If anybody has information about the plane or the two inch crust of clay that covers its entire floor, they should please report this to the authorities.” Beryl smiled to himself when he read this article but he decided to follow Noah’s advice and never explained any of it to the authorities. He wanted to begin a new life and leave the old one behind.


“Tradition! Broadway Composers and their Jewish Identity” by Ryan Kramer
December 5, 2009

When I got to my major project, I wanted to do something that I could identify with. I started by looking at my strengths, what I was good at. Theater was the first thing that came to mind. I decided to do my major project on Jews and Broadway. Now normally, when people think of Jewish theater, the classic thing they think of is something like this

[Ryan plays a little of “Tradition”]

but I’m not going to go over that.

Jews and Broadway go way back. It was Yiddish Theater that began the connection. Yiddish Theater was the Jewish theater in Russia, Germany, and other places where the Jews lived in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Yiddish Theater also came to the U.S. when Jews began immigrating to America. Oddly enough, it was in the U.S. that Yiddish Theater blossomed. During World War I, there were more than a dozen resident Yiddish theaters in New York, concentrated on the Lower East Side, as well as troupes that toured from city to city.

Yiddish Theater told stories about what was going on in the Lower East Side. They were telling stories about the struggle between the Jews from the old country and their American born children. In addition, they would do more traditional pieces, such as Shakespeare or Ibsen. In Yiddish theater, melodrama was the preferred type of play; audiences would attend the more cultural plays as long as their favorite actor was the star. Also, the Yiddish theater made efforts to make the more serious plays less so, by adding in song and dance numbers before returning to the original plot. This brought in people from all over, and made the Jews feel more connected to America.

To do this project, I decided to research three main points: why so many Broadway composers are Jewish, whether you can tell if a Broadway composer is Jewish by his works, and how Jews used Broadway to assimilate into American society.

One of the traits that helped put so many Jewish names on Broadway was the fact that Jews weren’t discouraged by the difficulties of the immigrant experience. In fact, they made sure that they kept up their children’s education in both academics and the arts and encouraged them to develop careers. They took every disadvantage that was flung at them, and turned it around. Harold Prince, who produced several famous shows, including;

[Ryan plays two bars of “Tradition”]

Oh wait, we’re not covering that. Anyway, Harold Prince explains, “Most people who are high accomplishers come from behind some psychological eight ball where they feel disenfranchised and they have to create something. There are other religions out there and they don’t always turn adversity into creativity.” The Jews were able to take this disadvantage and turn it into an advantage. This was a catalyst to the first big wave of Jewish names on Broadway and made it easier for later generations of Jewish composers, such as Stephen Sondheim. In fact when Sondheim was asked if he had ever experienced any anti-Semitism in show business, his exact response was, “My God-in the theater? In musicals? Name me three gentile composers.”

Sondheim has stated that he’s not a very religious Jew. He never had any formal Jewish education, and he didn’t have a Bar Mitzvah either. However, when he was asked about his Jewish identity, Sondheim said, “It’s very deep. It’s the fact that so many of the people I admire in the arts are Jewish. And art is as close to a religion as I have.”

Sondheim’s art includes the lyrics, or music to many famous shows, such as West Side Story, Gypsy, Sweeny Todd, Company, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which features the song:

[Ryan plays a little of “Comedy Tonight”]

That moves me to the second question I asked myself, which was can you tell that a composer is Jewish based on his works? To answer that question I chose to look at one of the most famous composers on Broadway, Richard Rodgers.

Rodgers had always had a deep interest in music. His mother used to play the piano while his father sang. Rodgers soon replaced his mom as the family accompanist. At age six, Rodgers went to his first theatrical production. It changed his life. To borrow his own words he was carried into a world of glamour and beauty he never new existed. After this experience he started to go to the theater as much as humanly possible.

Rodgers wrote his first songs at age 11 while at a Jewish summer camp in Highmount, New York. A strange twist was that his first partner, Lorenz Hart, had attended the same summer camp a few years earlier. In addition, Steven Sondheim’s dad had gone to the same camp. Everything seems to be connected. Rodgers composed his first full musical score at age 15 for an amateur musical called One Minute Please. Rodgers originally worked with Lorenz Hart, but then worked with Hammerstein starting with their first production.

[Ryan plays a little of “Oklahoma”]

Rodgers worked exclusively with Hammerstein for the remainder of the latter’s life. The two of them literally created Broadway history, writing one famous play after another. Carousel, South Pacific, and The King and I are a few of these famous plays. It is in these plays that Rodgers’ Jewish identity comes out more. Hammerstein was also Jewish, so he had some influence in that area as well. The King and I is a fine example of how they used the Jewish immigration story in their works.

In The King and I, a schoolteacher and her son come to Siam in order to teach the royal children, the sons and daughters of the king. The king struggles with how modern the world has become. This is much like the story of the Jews when they immigrated to America. The children are much more adaptable than the parents, so the parents have a harder time adjusting to the modern world. The parents must do the best they can to help their children in the new country. Whether or not Rodgers wrote this based on some conscious Jewish motives or not, I don’t know. However, it was probably a subconscious point in the writing.

Several songs in these plays have a Jewish tie in. They show that people need to overcome their fear, just as the Jews were able to overcome their fear and move to the U.S. This is revealed in songs such as this one.

[Ryan plays a little of “I Whistle a Happy Tune”]

This, however, is only the beginning of the Jewish tie ins I found while researching Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Another place where Rodgers and Hammerstein used a Jewish theme is in their show, South Pacific. South Pacific takes place during World War II, on an island in the Pacific Ocean. All through the play, there is racial scandal. Many characters have issues with the native people, the Polynesians. This is similar to the anti-Semitism that the Jews sometimes experienced when they first came to America. People were afraid of the Jews because they were different. They couldn’t accept the Jewish practices because they weren’t familiar. Whether or not Rodgers’ grandparents found this kind of behavior when they got to America, I never found out. However, there seems to be no doubt that this theme influenced the duo in writing this play.

One of the songs that address anti-Semitism the most is “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”. The reviewers heavily criticized this song, and several people tried to get Rodgers and Hammerstein to take it out of the show. They refused. It shows how in the story, everyone from outside the island was taught to dislike and distrust people different from them. . It also addresses the anti-Semitism directed at the Jews. This comparison intrigued me when I saw it. The song was a very risky gamble by the pair as you can hear.

[Ryan may play a little of “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”]

Hammerstein died on August 23, 1960. Rodgers was heartbroken. He went on writing songs after Hammerstein’s death, but he never again had another permanent partner. He worked with several others, including Steven Sondheim, and was responsible for several of the best-known plays of all time. When he died on December 30, 1979, Richard Rodgers left the world a richer, more musical place.

Since I’ve been going backwards on the timeline, I will now go back further to talk about how Jews used Broadway to assimilate into American culture. Neither Rodgers, nor Sondheim had to worry about assimilation, because they were both born in America. However, another composer , Irving Berlin, did. Berlin was born in Temun, Russia on May 11, 1888. He was the youngest of eight, and given the name of Israel, although everyone just called him Izzy. In 1892, the family joined the momentous flow of people immigrating to the U.S. However, when he turned thirteen, Izzy’s father died, leaving the family without money. Izzy took to singing in the streets for spare change.

Izzy’s first real job was singing at a Chinatown café. During this stint, he made his first move as a songwriter. He began writing his own songs for the café. This was his first step to becoming a success. In 1926, once he had begun to become important in American society, he eloped with Ellin MacKay, a 22-year-old writer for the New Yorker. Her outraged father, Clarence MacKay, a telegraph tycoon and a devout Catholic, disinherited his daughter for marrying a Jew. I don’t know this for certain, but it is hard to imagine that this reaction from his father in law did not have a huge affect on him. The Berlins had three daughters during a marriage that lasted sixty-two years.

Twenty years later, Berlin had the biggest success of his lifetime. Reluctant at first, Berlin eventually decided to write the lyrics and music for the show Annie Get Your Gun. It was an immediate success. Annie Get Your Gun became the longest-running show of the 1940’s and the biggest Broadway success of Berlin’s career. Interestingly enough, Annie Get Your Gun was produced by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The more in depth research I do, the more apparent it is that everything is connected. There is a Jewish tie in here as well. Annie uses her talents in show business to become more connected with her community. By doing this, she becomes less of an outsider. Berlin used this same tactic. He used his talents in theater to assimilate into his new world.

Since we are drawing to the end, I want to pause to talk about certain points in Berlin’s life that I found interesting while researching him. One of Berlin’s most famous pieces was the song:

[Ryan plays a little of “White Christmas”]

“White Christmas” is possibly one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time. In fact, several very American style songs were also written by Berlin, including one of his most well known numbers, “God Bless America”. The fact that they were written by a Jew is very odd from the point of view of an outsider. However, this shows that Berlin was very successful in his assimilation into American society. Writing these songs probably made it easier for him to connect with the American people.

Berlin died on September 22, 1989, in his home on Beekman Place in New York City. At the time of his death, there was no doubt that Berlin was a genuine American. As Jerome Kern said about him, “Irving Berlin has no place in American music. He is American music.”

In conclusion, the Jews were very successful in their ability to use Broadway to assimilate into the American society. Yiddish Theater and the immigrants’ belief in education and the arts explain the reason why there are so many Jewish names on Broadway. If you examine these composers’ works, you can also see that a person’s Jewish upbringing or their values show up in their works, as I have shown with Richard Rogers. As to how they used Broadway to assimilate, they wrote songs that enabled them to be known and well received beyond the Jewish community. Some of these songs would eventually be included in the “Great American Songbook.” These composers used the piano to create works that would become hugely influential in American theater and cleared the path for future generations of Jewish composers. This is especially important to me because I am an enthusiastic piano player. Or, to borrow the words of Irving Berlin:

[Ryan plays a little of “I Love a Piano”]


“A Personal Synthesis: The Whole is More than the Sum of Its Parts” by Emily Dyke
October 25, 2009

When I went to my first meeting with Rabbi Peter to discuss my final project, I thought I was pretty set on a topic already. As some of you know, acting is one of my greatest passions. I was interested in learning about the history of Jews in movies and theater, and it seemed like a perfect topic, considering Jews have a long and rich history there. I even have a family member, my great, great uncle Ben Weldon, who was a professional actor. Among his many television and movie credits are episodes of Superman with George Reeves and Bedtime For Bonzo with Ronald Reagan. But over the course of my meeting with Rabbi Peter that day, the subject somehow floated over to my being “half Jewish.” As many of you here know, my mother, Debbie, is Jewish and my father, Jeff, is Christian…specifically, half Italian Catholic and half New England Protestant. As Rabbi Peter and I spoke, I became excited about some ideas and connections that I was making about my mixed cultural heritage. This subject soon came to interest me even more than Jewish theater. I realized that I didn’t view myself as “half- Jewish” and “half-Christian”, as in two distinct identities, but Jewish and Christian, as in a blending of both. I soon began to make connections to stories and to other people in similar situations.

My mixed religious and cultural identity didn’t seem so uncommon to me when I was younger. In fact, I didn’t really think of religion at all. I thought everyone celebrated both religion’s holidays as I did! As I already mentioned, to say that I am half-Jewish and half-Christian just doesn’t accurately describe the way I celebrate my religions or experience my identity. Factors from each religion and culture blend and contribute to my own unique sense of who I am.

The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, or TCC, has made the blending of my two cultures possible while still emphasizing Jewish study. Before we found TCC, I knew I wanted to learn more about my Jewish heritage, but my family hadn’t found a congregation that fit our belief system. We had been celebrating the Christian holidays with my dad’s family but didn’t have any Jewish relatives nearby to celebrate the Jewish holidays with. Though over the years we spent many Jewish holidays with great friends who welcomed us into their homes, there was little family connection to Judaism for me. Sometimes, we would travel to New Hampshire or Michigan to celebrate one of the Jewish holidays with family there, but those trips were infrequent. My mom was raised with what was then a brand new type of Judaism, called Humanistic Judaism, that had a cultural and humanistic orientation. Her Rabbi was none other than Sherwin Wine, the founder of Humanistic Judaism. My father remembered he had once overheard someone saying that there was a Humanistic congregation somewhere in NYC, and after a few phone calls, we discovered TCC. So in a way, we really “rediscovered” Humanistic Judaism. Belonging to TCC has not only enabled me to connect with my cultural Jewish roots, but it also provides me with an intimate and personal link to my mom and her cultural heritage. She was not only Bat Mitzvahed by Rabbi Wine, but he married her and my dad as well. He also performed Jewish baby naming ceremonies for my older brother and me. So Humanistic Judaism runs deeply and meaningfully through my heritage.

A couple of years ago, I read a book by Judy Blume called Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. During my discussion with Rabbi Peter, I remembered this book and that the main character, Margaret, also comes from a mixed religious background. Throughout the book she attempts to find her religious identity. She is pressured by her parents, grandparents, and friends at school to choose one religion. She ends up going to church and temple many times searching for God’s presence. She did not feel like she belonged in either one because she was only half of each religion. A half-Jewish writer, Daniel Menaker, feels similarly to Margaret. As he puts it “Often, I feel detached from both [sides], not fully committed to either. And then I very much envy those people who are One Thing, a person who knows precisely who he is and where he is from.” Margaret finds that she feels most religiously comfortable when she speaks to God before she goes to bed at night, rather than in a formal place of worship. Though it did take me a while to discover my religious and cultural identity, I’ve never felt the same amount of pressure that Margaret did. My parents did not force me to choose, my grandmother is very accepting, I have many mixed-heritage family members, and my friends at school are of many different religions.

I never understood why it is so important to some people in our culture to be only one religion or another. America is becoming more and more populated with people of mixed religious and ethnic backgrounds. The upward trend of mixed marriages in the Jewish population had really begun in the 1950’s. According to The Half-Jewish Book written by Daniel Klein and Freke Vuijst, some of the initial reactions to this new trend were fear and horror. A book came out around that time called The Enemy Camp by Jerome Weidman. This book is a story about a Jewish boy marrying his Christian sweetheart who eventually turns out to be an anti-Semite. This was meant to be a warning for all those Jews who might have been considering the idea of intermarriage. Even more dramatic is the novel written by Phillip Roth called American Pastoral. This book is about the monstrous offspring resulting from marrying outside of the Jewish faith. In this story the daughter of a Jewish father and an Irish- Catholic mother is jinxed from the beginning of her life. She starts out as a screamer and stutterer and eventually becomes a bomb-throwing terrorist and murderer! Just about everyone in the novel links her monstrosity to her being half-Jewish.

From 1965 to 1985 the rate of Jews marrying outside the religion rose by 42 percent, according to The Council of Jewish Federations’ 1990 National Jewish Population Survey. According to Daniel Klein and Freke Vuijst, “the number of American half-Jews under the age of eleven now exceeds the number of American full Jews under eleven”. Although interfaith marriages are becoming more common, as are their offspring, many people still have difficulty accepting them. We may not be as fearful as people were back in the 1950’s, however, I believe that many people continue to worry that intermarriage will lead to a loss of Jewish identification and traditions, and perhaps could ultimately lead to a severe weakening of the entire Jewish people and religion. It seems to me that this fear may come out of the perspective that people can only embrace one religion. If we are open to the idea of celebrating multiple cultural heritages, we are actually more likely to maintain the traditions, rather than losing them by having to choose one.

There are many different approaches that interfaith couples take in establishing their children’s religious and cultural affiliations. Some families don’t affiliate with any religion. Some parents choose one religion only for their children, or leave the choice up to the child to pick a religion or not affiliate at all. Others may force their children to choose one religion over the other, and still others choose to affiliate with aspects of both. The last approach best describes how my parents have chosen to raise my brothers and me. Because neither of my parents is formally religious, the aspects that we focus on are more culturally based.

My brothers and I are not the only ones of multiple religious cultures in our extended family. I have a total of five cousins who have mixed cultural and religious backgrounds. Most of them have not chosen one religion over the other, but one of my cousins did have a Bat Mitzvah. I also have a couple of friends who come from interfaith families. One of my friend’s parents chose for her to attend a religious Hebrew school at a young age, and she was Bat Mitzvahed, although she does celebrate Christmas and other Christian holidays. My other friend has not formally studied either religion, but she does celebrate holidays from both. All three of us have similar religious backgrounds, though all of us have chosen, or had chosen for us, very different ways to practice our religions.

Being both Jewish and Christian is important to me. I want people to view me as a mixture of both because I see it as being very different than just being half-Jewish and half-Christian. It’s like mixing colors. When you mix the colors blue and red you come up with a whole new color. Not half red and half blue, but purple. I am thankful that I don’t have to make a choice between two religions. That, to me, would feel limiting and artificial, because I am not red, I am not blue, I’m not even red and blue, but I am purple.

But what does being “purple” mean in terms of my mixed cultural identity? Frequently, there are stereotypes that become associated with a group of people or a culture. In general, stereotyping is problematic because it is often used in a critical way against a particular group. It risks labeling and a loss of individuality. Yet, shared cultural qualities can help to connect members of a group and give them a unique character and sense of pride and belonging. So, while stereotyping per se should be discouraged, we should also celebrate the existence of qualities that may help to characterize and distinguish a group or culture. I am the product of a number of different cultures and, as such, it isn’t easy to trace the exact origins of all my personality traits.

I believe that many of the qualities I possess reflect a blending of both of my heritages. For example, I tend to be very emotionally expressive, and sometimes even a little dramatic. Some might associate this with the Jewish culture; however, those people have obviously not met my Italian grandma, Rose. She has no short supply of these qualities herself! So where did it come from? My Jewish side? My Italian Catholic side? Both? Or is it my own form of expression, growing out of my mixed heritage?

Being extremely family oriented is another characteristic commonly associated with Jewish people. I do possess this quality but I’m not so sure it only comes from my Jewish side. While my Jewish family members are very loving and affectionate and dedicated to family, my Christian relatives are equally family oriented, loving and connected.

Another quality that I possess is industriousness and a value of intellect and education. Though these are often viewed as common Jewish characteristics, once again, they are not limited to that side of my family. My Jewish mom has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Her father built a successful men’s clothing business, and her mother went back to college in her middle age (with a dedication that my mother found embarrassing at the time!). Her uncle and many cousins were dedicated teachers in the Detroit public school system, as well as physicians. And yet, my Christian dad also has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. His father was a Harvard educated radiologist and his grandparents were esteemed educators in the New Hampshire public schools. My paternal grandmother was a registered nurse, and her parents were dedicated farm and railroad workers in Massachusetts.

While this is, of course, not an exhaustive list of my qualities, they contribute importantly to my overall sense of who I am. By giving examples of how these qualities connect to both sides of my family, I am illustrating how the mixture of all of my colors combine to become me…not Jewish and Christian, glued together, but a unique mix of the two heritages that blend into one. Interestingly, in The Half-Jewish Book, the authors have created a list of “Half-Jewish Traits” that have been self-reported by more than one hundred respondents to their survey. These are traits that don’t necessarily come out of being Jewish or Gentile, but appear to have evolved from the mixing of these cultures. Some examples of these traits involve being socially adaptable, empathetic, tolerant and having a profound sense of dualities. I think, for the most part, I do possess these qualities and believe them to be some of the gifts that have come out of having to negotiate two different cultures. It makes me think about how society has feared the raising of children in gay families. Many have worried that children of gay marriage will be damaged somehow by not having both a mother and a father. But as these families have become more prevalent, research has shown that this is not true. A study by two University of Southern California sociologists suggests that children of lesbian or gay parents show more empathy for social diversity. In general, I believe that being raised in a home which is diverse itself allows us children to be open to many different ways of living and many different belief systems.

I am proud to be of mixed cultures and to practice Judaism in a non-traditional way. I believe that it enhances the way I can be open to other people’s beliefs and overall differences, because I can relate to them. I hope that I will continue to grow in my ability to accept and understand others. I think accepting my own mixed religious and cultural identity has helped me to do so and will continue to be an enriching feature of my life.


“Some Thoughts on the Images and Stereotypes of Jews in Film” by Daniel Segan
June 6, 2009

“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? Ifyou tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”

Whether we like it or not, Shakespeare’s character Shylock is a lingering image of a Jewish character. It is also undeniable that this classic character has formed generalizations that may have morphed into more recent stereotypes of Jews. Deep into the 20th century, the images of Jews became aligned with Shylock‘s portrayal. Fagin in Oliver Twist and of course, Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof reinforced this one-dimensional image of a Jew. However, many contemporary films have reflected a more comfortable attitude toward being Jewish, expanding the characters into multi-dimensional people rather than the narrow stereotype of the past. My major paper will examine some of the common images and stereotypes formed through the portrayal of Jews through film and literature and how they have changed over time.

It might be more obvious to some than others as to why I chose this topic. Since I was going to spend considerable time reading and researching I wanted to combine my examination of Judaism with one of my passions. Tennis, baseball and singing didn’t compare to my love for movies.

I searched for articles that examined Judaism and film, and when I found information on stereotypes formed by film, I got excited. I have always been intrigued with stereotypes of Jews and wondered in what ways film reinforces or challenges the way people view Jews. As a kid in Bay Ridge I encountered the power of prejudice and stereotypes since classmates thought I was so different due to my pride in being a Democratic Jew and not a Catholic Republican like everyone else. Before they even got a chance to know me they formed a negative opinion.

Movies are a powerful and popular source of images for all ethnic groups, races, cultures and religions. When a movie characterizes a Jew, positive and negative stereotypes are formed, often reinforcing current beliefs. It is important to bear in mind that for some people, visual images through film are the only contact they have if they do not know or regularly interact with Jewish people.

As I mentioned before, the image of Jews in literature (and later on the stage) began with Shylock. In The Merchant of Venice young Basanio, son of Antonio, needs a loan of 3,000 ducats to impress an heiress of Venice. Antonio arranges for a short term loan from the Jew, Shylock.

Actually many times in the play Shylock is simply referred to as The Jew! Now, Shylock and Antonio have their history of hatred. Antonio patronizes and treats Shylock horribly because he is a Jew. Due to Shylock’s hatred for Antonio, the bargain stated that the 3,000 ducats must be repaid in 3 months or Shylock will exact one pound of flesh from Antonio.

In Shakespeare’s world Jews were looked down on and were limited to only a few jobs, including money lending. Shylock’s character exemplifies the image of the Jew as revengeful. Shylock’s hatred for Antonio blinds him After a while, it wasn’t about the 3,000 ducats, it was about revenge and getting his pound of flesh. This film portrays Shylock as an angry and heartless man. The other image that was forged for centuries in our Jewish identity is our relationship to money. This relationship has been transformed into Jews being cheap or selfish with their money.

Whatever Shakespeare believed, it is clear that Shylock promotes an anti-Semitic image. He is not a man who happens to be Jewish, his Judaism defines him. He is a representative of his religion. He has a narrow sense of justice, a love for money, a thirst for revenge, and an ugly long nosed appearance. This is the image European gentiles traditionally assigned to Jews. The portrayal of Shylock reflects the traditional gentile image of Jews as dirty, debased, and animalistic.

In the film, A Price Above Rubies, we watch a free spirited Hassidic woman, Sonia, who is married to a scholar- so what is new? She longs to escape the restrictions of the Hassidic community, into which she was born. – that’s new. Sonia’s husband is in love with God more than with her – he doesn’t have the time to attend to her needs. This story is mostly about how Sonia begins to question her restrictive Hasidic life.

Like in the Merchant of Venice, the image of Jews remain narrow – long beard, simply dressed and separated from the rest. The film presents an image of loyal Jews -where God is more important than anything else in their lives. What may be unusual is the films emphasis on the restrictions some women experience and the limitations on their power. Many gentiles who believed the Hassidic community was perfect might find this film to be unique.

Like most films or art, the images and the meaning they carry depends upon the way the audience perceives it. Interpretations can form stereotypes. People who don’t know any better may believe that all Jews are Hassidics, trapped in a extreme fundamentalist world. An understandable stereotype would be around the idea of Jews looking to God for guidance and never abandoning their beliefs and traditions. If this film was shown to an audience who already held a negative opinion of the Jewish community, this film would be accused of airing our dirty laundry, potentially reinforcing negative stereotypes.

Unlike Shylock and Sonia, Chaim Potok‘s novel The Chosen – begins to challenge the one dimensional image of Jews.

The Chosen is a story of friendship between 2 Jewish teenage boys in Brooklyn in the 1950’s. Danny Saunders is from a Hassidic community where he is surrounded by God, rabbis and scholars. Ruvin Malter is growing up in a secular household also believing in God without dictating all the rules of life. Their friendship was rooted in a baseball rivalry which later became a powerful bond that not even traditions could break. In the end, Danny, the Hasidic friend attends a secular college to study psychology, while Ruvin wants to become a rabbi.

This film adds range to the Jewish image. It opens up the image of Jews to include those who are secular while showing Hassidic Jews as athletic and open to change. However, even though this film addressed diversity within the Jewish community, it still presents Jews as only interacting with other Jews.

Besides the images or stereotypes of a restrictive Hassidic community, I was impressed by how the characters were trusted to make good judgments. There is a certain point at which you can decide your own destiny as opposed to others choosing it for you as shown in Price Above Rubies. This idea of making choices and taking responsibility for one’s life- even set within this religious world- has great appeal to humanistic Jews like myself who identify with taking charge of our lives. The Chosen continued to suggest the narrow world of Hassidic life but also the willingness to adventure out.

Another film that protests against the one dimensional image of Jews is School Ties. This film begins to suggest that being Jewish is not a look or pattern of speech but simply something that defines you. The main character is not religious yet he is proud of his Jewish identity. School Ties is the story of a high school senior who adventures out into the world of Catholic schools in the 1950’s. David Green is an athletic, tall and good looking kid who is recruited by an all boys Catholic boarding school to help their football team defeat a cross town rival.

David, a working class Jew, is different from his wealthy, Christian peers, However, he’s good at making friends, so he is able to blend easily into the crowd. He must hide his Judaism for fear of the anti-Semitism that lurks in some students and the institution‘s leadership.

When cheating is exposed, David’s being Jewish is also exposed and the anti-Semitism he feared emerges. In the end, his character is redeemed and the anti-Semitism loses its force. David Green is Jewish but that is not what defines him.

Another film that stretches the image of Jews is Munich. Munich is Steven Spielberg’s interpretation of the Israeli assassination team that hunts down those associated with the 1972 Olympic terrorists. This movie casts Jews as aggressive and strong, but different than Shylock’s anger and strength. In Munich, in order to defeat the terrorists, they had to become the very thing they were trying to eliminate. What stood out for me was the moment in which their personal morality conflicted with their loyalty to their country. They had to make tough choices

While in Merchant of Venice, Shylock claims he was, “taught by Christian example” that when wronged, you shall exact revenge. The characters in Munich became blinded by their hatred and couldn’t see that what they were doing was morally corrupt.

The image of Jews in Munich is completely secular – they were proud Jews who appeared ordinary. That was one of the scariest ideas of Munich, that one’s identity was hidden.

Without diving into any of their films in particular, it is impossible not to mention Woody Alen and Mel Brooks in a paper on Jews in film. They contributed to the expansion of the Jewish image by mocking anti-Semitism. But in 1998, when I was only three, a new generation of Jewish writers and film makers were hatching their own version of Jewish images.

Harry Medved, a journalist for the Jewish Journal, said that “While mainstream Hollywood has been leery of taking on Jewish characters and topics – the Holocaust being the exception – a new generation of independent directors is turning the cameras on their heritage.”

In the same year that Renee Zellweger played a sexually frustrated Hassidic wife in A Price Above Rubies, Ben Stiller was a heroine addict and TV writer in Permanent Midnight. Other films like 20 Dates, Wild Man Blues, Obsession, Knocked Up and American Gangster offered a new brand of Jew.

Lenard Maltin believed that “The proliferation of Jewish characters is a positive thing…It asserts that we exist and that we are part of the fabric of American life.” Together these films presented a multi- dimensional image of Jews.

Early in 2007, in the comedy hit “Knocked Up”, Seth Rogan and a bunch of his friends, nearly all of them Jewish, are hanging at a night club, talking about seeing the film Munich Seth Rogan’s character says “You know that movie with Eric Bana kicking butt…in every movie withJews, we’re always the ones getting killed, and “Munich” flips it on its ear… If any of us gets lucky tonight it’s because of Eric Bana.” This scene shows how comfortable our generation is with being Jewish. And how movies take on a life of their own.

According to Lisa Rivo, the director of the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University, “This generation is more self-accepting, and that has to do with the comfort level Jews feel in America; they are more comfortable in general with being jewish.”

Finally I want to say a few words that illustrate Jewish filmic images in my lifetime.

Adam Sandler’s movie Don’t Mess With the Zohan is the typical Sandler film with his frat-boy stupidity and toilet humor, but not the typical Jewish film. Zohan is a totally confident Jew with a big sexual firepower and the ability to kick anyone’s butt. Putting aside how horrible and a waist of time this movie is, it’s important to focus more on his character and how that reflects on Jews. As much as The Zohan defies the “anxious, neurotic, not very attractive, short with glasses, whines too much, urban Jew“, he does fall into the stereotype of a macho Israeli.

In the film “American Gangster” Russell Crowe plays Richard Roberts, a police detective who proudly wears a Jewish star around his neck. This is an example of someone who is transparently Jewish yet his Judaism doesn’t dominate his character.

In “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” actress Kat Jennings is not only a self-identified Jew, but easily the coolest kid in the room. Woody Allen’s effort to create the image of Jews as quirky and strange are stomped on by her character. The common theme in these three films is how ordinary and secular Jews can be. Being Jewish is important but not so obvious.

It makes sense that for me, I look upon the traditional Jew as unusual and not completely accurate. I am fortunate to have grown up in a time that is much more accepting of different races and ethnicities. I have also grown up watching films where religion is mentioned as a part of one’s identity, but does not define their complete character.

I started off observing movies where the Jew was so obviously Jewish through appearance, voice, and manner. In many of the older films, Jews were portrayed as one-dimensional. Over time, filmic images reveal Jewish characters who break the mold, overturn the stereotypes, and stretch the imagination of what it means to be Jewish.

In recent films and on television, one’s Jewishness is not so apparent. It is not expressed as positive or negative, just simply Jewish, conveying that religious affiliation is less relevant. I think the idea of presenting a diversity of Jewish images is an advancement over the limited way in which Jews were portrayed.

But still I wonder, Is it better that in films today being Jewish is part of who you might be but does not define your complete character? Some would argue, we run the risk of becoming completely assimilated and disappear into American culture. I would say, the image of Jews should encompass all dimensions of our large Jewish community, What do you think?


“From the Ten Commandments to the Four Noble Truths: American Jews and Buddhism” by Jonah Lieberman Flint
May 16, 2009

Only two percent of Americans are Jewish, but thirty percent of American Buddhists are Jewish. So many Buddhists are Jews that we have our own name: JuBus. Over the course of my life, I have been to eight Buddhist meditation retreats with my family. My dad became a Buddhist about twenty years ago and when I was five we started going to some family retreats because my mom got interested and my parents wanted my brother and me to be a part of it. All of these retreats have been in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh the Vietnamese Buddhist master.

Throughout my life, I have learned as much about Buddhism as I have about Judaism but as I thought about it, it wasn’t clear to me why so many Jews in America are drawn to Buddhism and that is why I chose this topic to explore for my Bar Mitzvah. Besides my own personal knowledge and experience, I read a couple of books, watched a documentary film on the topic and interviewed a bunch of JuBus like me.

The documentary that I watched offers a historical explanation for why so many American Jews have been drawn to Buddhism, and it makes sense to me. The story goes something like this. In the first half of the twentieth century the Jewish population in the United States quadrupled. In the years immediately following World War Two (in the 1950’s), there were many Jewish parents who were themselves the children of immigrants, and what they wanted most was for their children to fit into American society. In an effort to assimilate, many gave up Jewish traditions, especially the religion. At the same time, many congregations were focused more on raising money both for themselves to build modern Jewish communities and synagogues and also to support Israel. Many congregations were more focused on that then they were on nurturing the Jewish religion and spiritual practices.

According to this theory, for many Jewish American communities, post-war Jewish assimilation led to a “spiritual vacuum.” Judith Linzer, who did a study on Jewish seekers in Eastern Religions writes, “As I grew up, where could I learn about the life of the spirit? Was I raised with it? No! I associated Jewishness with bagels and lox, with latkes and kugels, corned beef on rye.” Food aside, young Jews wanted to fit into American culture and not be different. And because of anti-Semitism and the shadow of the concentration camps, they experienced being Jewish as a burden and were eager to “shed” it. As this generation came of age in the1960s and 1970s and the counterculture boomed, a lot of alternative experiences became available, including meditation and Buddhism.

Another important factor undoubtedly was the Holocaust. Judith Linzer describes her father: “He said that there was no God because God would not have allowed six million Jews to be murdered. On some days he said he loved the Jewish people more than God did, because God obviously didn’t love the Jewish people very much. My father passionately loved the Jewish people and at the same time he hated Judaism.” Judith Linzer is one of many who turned from Judaism to Eastern religion; for her, a part of this transition was an effort to make sense of the Holocaust.

A well-known Buddhist teacher who is also Jewish, Sylvia Boorstein, addresses this issue from a slightly different perspective. She writes: “Pain confuses the mind, and terrible pain, holocaust pain, takes a very long time to subside. Jews have been recovering for 50 years. It is very difficult to trust in the natural capacity of the heart to heal and fully love when it is so badly wounded. Even as we are healing, wounding is happening all around us, and as Jews—particularly as Jews—we feel the pain of it.”

Many Jews are still suffering from this pain and the fact that something so horrible could happen. For some Jews, Judaism has not helped them to cope with the suffering. One woman I interviewed reflected on growing up Jewish: “The spirituality of Judaism was never presented to me, prayers were never explained, the role of women was never clear. Jewish spiritual practice never seemed inviting in any way.” Many people find that the spirituality of Judaism is not always available. If you cannot understand the prayers in synagogue, it is hard to be spiritual because you do not know what you are saying. Another JuBu told me, “I could not really connect the religion to all the political and social upheaval happening, and to my own day-to-day life.”

Because of the lack of spirituality in the lives of many assimilated American Jews, relating Judaism to day-to-day life can be difficult if you do not know or understand any lessons to apply. Author Sylvia Boorstein says, “My experience of religion had been that of a club membership, an extended family in which members supported each other in times of difficulty. I also had no idea that religion offered answers or, better yet, provided clues or technical instructions and guidance so that club members could discover the answers for themselves.”

I thought it would be helpful to look at the basic teachings of both Judaism and Buddhism, so I want to talk a little bit about the Ten Commandments and the central teaching of Buddhism, known as the Four Noble Truths. We are all familiar with the Ten Commandments, you know: You shall have no other gods before me; honor your father and mother; you shall not kill; you shall not steal. The Four Noble Truths are less familiar for many of us, they are: There is inevitable suffering in life; the origin of suffering is attachment; the cessation of suffering is attainable; and there is a path to the cessation of suffering.

The Ten Commandments are rules to live by; the Four Noble Truths offer insight into the human condition. Many Jews who are dealing with the pain and suffering of the Holocaust or in their own lives see the Four Noble Truths as a way to cope with the suffering. Sylvia Boorstein may speak for many JuBus when she writes, “The first time I heard my Buddhist teachers explain the Four Noble Truths– beginning with ‘life is unsatisfying, painful by its very nature, unreliable even when it is pleasant because it is always changing’—I thought, they’re telling the truth. These people are talking about exactly what I’m worried about. They know what the real problem is and they promise a solution.”

This speaks to Humanistic Judaism too: we see life this way—realistically–with suffering, pain and randomness we can’t control. And if there’s one thing Jews know, it’s suffering. As my KidSchool teacher Rick likes to say about Jewish holidays, “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.” It’s no surprise that so many Jews would be drawn to a spiritual practice that centers on understanding suffering. In the words of Sylvia Boorstein, “The Buddhism that had come to the west offered a clear explanation for suffering and tools for the direct, personal realization of a peaceful mind. It required practice, not affiliation. It was a great spiritual path. It promised transformation.”

Buddhism provides a way to try to live peaceably with our suffering and still maintain our original religion. In many ways, Judaism and Buddhism seem incredibly different. However if you know both religions, there are comparisons to be made and you realize that they are not that different. One person I interviewed said, “My experience of Judaism is that some concerns—like going to Heaven or Hell after you die, are not important. And this is similar to Buddhist practice.” Another Jubu had this to say about the two religions: “Both are about living your highest values and ideals—compassion and kindness to others, integrity with self. Both are about developing awe for the wholeness and wonder that is present in each moment. Both are about honesty and self-awareness in how we act in community with each other. Both see all life as interconnected.”

But in spite of the similarities in some of the beliefs, the practices are quite different. Of course I can’t generalize from one person, but one of the Jubus I questioned said this about growing up Jewish: “My experience was superficial. We went to the temple for the high holidays; the women wore mink coats in the row behind us and talked throughout the service, which seemed incomprehensible to me.” One of the major differences in the religions that I have experienced is that in Buddhist practice, the participants are silent, getting in touch with their breathing, keeping to themselves and trying to be mindful in the moment. In Judaism, everyone is chanting the prayers, everyone has the same goal in their prayers (to talk to God), and the prayers are more of a group activity with a leader.

As I have been going to my friends’ religious Bar Mitzvahs, I have been very aware of these differences. For me it has been distracting (during the service) to have everyone chanting (or even just one person, but into a microphone). This makes it difficult for anything to go on in my head. Sylvia Boorstein says: “I think it was inevitable that Jews studying Buddhism and discovering the tranquility, orderliness, and seriousness of meditation retreats would compare these new religious experiences with synagogue experiences.” For many Jews, the peaceful tranquility of Buddhist practice provides an attractive alternative to the noisy chaos of synagogue, and of day-to-day life.

The main practice of Buddhism is meditation. There are many different forms of meditation. However, the most common is sitting meditation. Sitting meditation is as simple as sitting down in a chair or on a cushion, closing your eyes and getting in touch with your breathing. Another common meditation is walking meditation. This is often done in a group. You walk slowly, stepping with your breathing (in, out, up, down). One thing the kids do at many retreats I have been to is pebble meditation, and it is a practice that I have always enjoyed. You take a specific detail about the pebble and relate it to a feeling (a smooth pebble could represent calmness) then you meditate on that pebble and it helps you be calm (because that is the emotion that you want the pebble to be). This is a very simple practice, where we use a pebble to help us focus on our breathing and clear our minds.

Many people, through meditation and breathing, find a sense of ease and calmness. One woman I interviewed said, “I was having difficulty in my life raising my children and without really knowing it, I was looking for some spiritual practice to become more grounded. I immediately knew that it was the practice for me in the first five minutes in the meditation hall–I think it was the joy I found in the awareness of the breath.” Many of the Buddhist retreats I have been to were run by a nun named Sister Annabel Laity, and in one of her dharma talks—the Buddhist equivalent to a sermon—she said: “Many scholars have talked a lot about the Four Noble Truths, and they have certain ideas concerning the Four Noble Truths. Really they are a practice and we don’t have to be a scholar to understand it. We just need to be a practitioner. We don’t even have to be a Buddhist. We just practice.”

One reason that Jews might be attracted, is that Buddhism is easy to practice. The way one person put it to me is: “I feel like I would need a massive ‘Jewish education’ to even know what the Jewish religion is about, whereas at my first meditation retreat, I felt like I could understand and even practice the teachings of Buddhism.” I had that experience too. Even at a young age, I was able to meditate for a few minutes. One of the people I interviewed said: “The practice of Buddhism offers a really concrete way of transforming suffering. My practice changed my life. I was angry and bitter about having a child with developmental disabilities and no one to help me, and also about the unkind treatment from my parents. After practicing for about five years, I finally felt enormous joy and gratitude and happiness in my life. I think that Judaism could offer all of these things too, but if it does, it is highly inaccessible and I didn’t know how to find it.” These kinds of benefits from Judaism are out there, but many people find it hard to access and practice.

One thing I have noticed at the retreats I have been to is that the monks and nuns always seem happy. They love being with the kids and they seem so joyful in their practice. Sylvia Boorstein describes her experience of this: “The meditation practice that I learned from my Buddhist teachers made me less fearful and allowed me to fall in love with life, I discovered that the prayer language of “thank-you” that I knew from my childhood returned, spontaneously and to my great delight. From the very first day of my very first Buddhist meditation retreat, from the very first time I heard the Buddha’s elegant and succinct teachings about the possibility of the end of suffering—I was captivated, I was thrilled and I was reassured.” For many people ne of the appeals of Buddhism is that the focus on the end of suffering can lead to joy. My dad told me that “Thich Nhat Hanh says often that if our practice is not bringing more happiness and more freedom than either we are doing it wrong or it is the wrong practice for us.”

For many Jews raised in the 60’s and 70’s, like my parents, when religion was “out of fashion,” the fact that Buddhism is not God-focused may be part of its appeal. In fact, my mom said: “A big attraction of Buddhism for me is that there is no God. Raised in an unreligious family, I really can’t relate to God as a being in the sky, or even a supreme being in the abstract. Buddha is not to be worshipped, but is just an embodiment of the teachings and the practice. Judaism puts a lot of faith in God, whereas Buddhism is about looking inward and basing the whole spiritual inquiry on direct experience rather than on faith.” The Buddhist teacher Arinna Weisman writes that the Buddha “never claimed to be a god or a messenger of god. One of the reasons his teachings are so powerful is that he was human like all of us, so we can see what is possible for us.”

For me, as a Jew who does not believe in God, Buddhism is a practice that I know will always be there in my life. Some Jews who are not comfortable with the topic of God or do not believe in God, are drawn to secular humanistic congregations like this one—that’s part of the reason we are here today.

I mentioned earlier the first of the Ten Commandments: You shall have no other gods before me. Because in Buddhism there is no God, Jews can practice Buddhism without betraying a core teaching of Judaism or their core identity as Jews. Buddhism does not ask people to trade one God or set of beliefs for another. This is a strong appeal for secular, cultural, humanistic Jews like me. One person I interviewed said: “At a retreat, what we mainly do is meditate. You are free to take or leave the other ‘cultural aspects’. I don’t need to reject my Jewishness or accept a ‘new’ version of history, as I would be if I were embracing Christianity. And since we consider the teachings of the Buddha not as the ‘revealed word of a God’ there is no inherent conflict with my own religious upbringing.”

Many people, through meditation and Buddhist practice, have had insight into themselves and this has helped them with their Jewish practices. While some people may fear that when Jews turn to Buddhism they are turning away from Judaism, what I learned was that JuBus generally indentify themselves as both Jewish and Buddhist. For everyone I talked to, there is no conflict. Sylvia Boorstein says that in her own personal experience she became closer to the Jewish religion by practicing Buddhism. She has been a Buddhist teacher for decades, and she says: “I never stopped being a Jew, and I have very affectionate feelings for Judaism. Years ago, though, I found myself frightened, alarmed about the fragility of life. Because it was the seventies and meditation and Eastern philosophy were becoming popular in the West, and I met some Buddhist teachers who spoke to the very issues I was frightened about. Before I met them, I didn’t even know that it was spiritual understanding and spiritual solace that I was lacking. Maybe if I had known, I would have sought out a Jewish spiritual teacher.” For me there is no conflict between being Buddhist and being a Jew. I am happy that I am able to practice in both traditions.

Jews have a long history of questioning authority and seeking answers. Turning to Buddhism is part of this tradition. Buddhism is just one of many answers that Jews are finding to their questions. I imagine that many members of this secular humanist congregation are looking for answers to the same questions that a lot of the JuBus I interviewed are asking. A member of my dad’s Buddhist meditation community sums it up for me. She says, “My Buddhist practice helps me be a better Jew and better human being. I very much consider myself Jewish.” I, too, feel this way, and believe that I will continue to benefit from being a part of both of these traditions.


“The Flood, the Holocaust and 9/11” by Sophie Silverstein
May 9, 2009

I have been devoted to the theater arts since I was two. I always knew what I wanted to do. I studied and performed at TADA! Youth Theater since I was five, and when I was applying to high schools, I searched for schools with substantial theater departments plus strong academics.

I took time off from performing this year to work on applying to high schools — as complicated a process in New York as college application is for most people — and to prepare for my Bat Mitzvah. It seemed inevitable that my main Bat Mitzvah project would be on Jewish theater. But as I studied my family history, I discovered that Orthodox Judaism was practiced by many family members. I also learned of the traumatic impact the Holocaust had on my father’s side of the family.

I found myself wanting to explore those topics. And when I approached it from a humanistic point of view, I found many similarities between the stories in the Torah and events of our time. In discussing the Torah with Rabbi Peter, I was intrigued by how the story of Noah and the Flood related to the Holocaust. And then I connected it to an event I experienced directly and am still growing up with: 9/11. These events are all linked, with lessons we can still draw from.

There are many ways to interpret the Flood myth. The writers intended it simply as a warning about how God will punish those who live corrupt and immoral lives. At the other end of the spectrum, present-day researchers have found scientific explanations of the flood myth told in various cultures, as a bar mitzvah student in this congregation wrote about a few years ago.

There are literary interpretations as well. Was God was simply throwing a temper tantrum? The same way a small child rips apart a drawing she does not like? Was God was just unhappy with the vast landscape he had created?

That’s what it sounds like in Rabbi A.M. Silbermann’s translation of the Torah: “[God] saw that the wickedness of man was great and he regretted that he had made man. ‘I will blot out the man whom I have created from the face of the ground; from man to beast to creeping thing and to the fowls of the heaven; for I repent that I have made them.’”

Then he decided to not destroy everything. He wasn’t completely unhappy with his drawing and wanted to salvage the good parts. Or maybe he didn’t want to have to start from scratch. He saw righteousness in Noah in a world of corrupt thoughts and immoral acts and decided he wanted to save him, his family, and his other creations so they could start over again the right way.

We all have moments when we want to take an art project or a research paper and rip it up, stomp on it, throw it in the trash. If God was having one of those moments, does that justify the harm he did –even if he did save Noah and all his passengers on the Ark?

Most Jews and Christians take it on faith that if God decided that the world needed to be destroyed to rid it of evil, then he must be right. But was God right to destroy everything? “I bring a deluge of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh wherein there is the spirit of life,” God said. “Everything that is in the earth shall expire.” Rashi, the 12th century French rabbinic commentator, interprets this as “punishment of an indiscriminate character [that] comes upon the world killing good and bad alike.” Was God right to destroy the good along with the bad?

The Nazis’ “Final Solution” was based on the same idea. The followers of Osama Bin Laden believe their holy war will rid the world of the “Great Satan” — the United States. As their targets, as Jews and Americans, we see these causes as pure evil. But they saw their mission the same way God did with the Flood, destroying the good along with what they believed was bad, believing themselves to be a “higher entity” like God was when he brought on the Flood to rid the world of corruption.

From a Humanistic point of view, the moral of this story is that greed and corruption affects everyone. Our current financial crisis is an example — the economy crashed is because people got greedy, they put together poorly thought-out financial packages with nothing holding them together, creating a flood of bad debt. Their greed caused the loss of thousands of jobs and a deep recession that affects everyone, not just the unscrupulous perpetrators.

Another event that parallels the Flood is the Holocaust, one that swept up my family. The Nazis cast themselves as a “higher entity”, as the “master race” who needed to cleanse the world of all others – – especially the Jews.

In the course of my research, I found quotes from Nazi leaders about their massacre of the Jews. But I cannot bring myself to recite them. We all know their rationale, one that led to a huge war and 12 million deaths, about half of them Jews.

My grandfather’s family was a perfectly ordinary family living their everyday lives in Poland, when suddenly, out of nowhere, the Nazis came and deported them all, first to a ghetto and then to concentration camps. My grandfather was 12, getting ready to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah. I cannot imagine having my home invaded, my life destroyed, my family killed around me — having my whole life change in just one day.

Actually, I can relate to that feeling because my life did change in one day, as it did for many people, though not as tragically for me as the holocaust was for my grandfather. September 11th is a date everyone in this room relates to since all of us witnessed it, are aware of it, or have been affected by it. And it relates to the story of the Flood in a similar way.

It was a nice day in September. I went to school that morning, just an ordinary day. Well, by noon, I was walking home from school, and the World Trade Center was just a column of smoke. My parents tell me I always shouted “Twin Towers!” every time I saw them. I went to the top once or twice. I saw Elmo and Bananas in Pajamas in the plaza between them.

I had just turned six. I remember one of my classmates being rushed out of school, her dad in a panic, telling the teacher what happened. More kids were taken home. My first thought was, “Why can’t I leave?” The school made my dad pick me up around 12:30 — he insisted that it was safer for me there because we lived so close to the World Trade Center.

My dad then explained to me that the Twin Towers, the beloved buildings that were visible both from the corner of my block and out of my parents’ bedroom window, were hit by airplanes and fell. I later caught my parents watching the news, where I saw a full-on shot of the plane crashing into the World Trade Center. That’s when it hit me: the buildings were gone.

I initially believed it was an accident, but when I went to a memorial service in Strawberry Fields — a section of Central Park dedicated to my role model, John Lennon — I understood that it was done on purpose. A New York 1 news reporter interviewed me, and that’s what I told him.

I have since learned that 9/11 was another example of a “higher entity” wanting to cleanse the world of evil and corruption. Al Qaeda has cast themselves as the higher entity, Americans as the “Great Satan” that needs to be erased from the Earth. They believe America must die or conform to their principles.

And because we do not, they attacked us. The 9/11 Commission Report, says, “In February 1998, the 40-year-old Saudi exile Osama Bin Laden and a fugitive Egyptian, al-Zawahiri, published a fatwa, an interpretation of Islamic law, claiming that America had declared war against God and his messenger. They called for the murder of any American, anywhere on earth.”

My personal experience with September 11th may not be the most interesting, but I remember it like it was yesterday. And the aftermath affects me — as it does all of us — to this day. When traumatic events like the Flood, the Holocaust or 9/11 happen, the aftershock is real and lasting.

After the Flood subsides, God tells Noah to come out of the Ark, that all is OK. But Noah is not so sure, so he makes God promise that there will not be another flood before he comes out. The Torah tells of God’s promise. Rashi fills in the details: “He said this because Noah feared to fulfill the duty of propagating the species until [God] promised him that he would not again destroy the world.”

Like Noah, Holocaust survivors were emotionally scarred. I can’t fathom how terribly difficult it was to cope with the deaths of so many loved ones, as my father has said of his father. How could people be sure it would not happen again? Some Jews adopted the motto “Never again” to symbolize their determination to prevent this tragedy from ever recurring.

The state of Israel was created in part as a response to the Holocaust, and an army had protected it ever since from those who still want to finish the job the Nazis started. People rose above their fear and acted to prevent another Holocaust. This was our promise to ourselves, to never let it happen again, the same way Noah made God promise not to cause another flood.

The Israeli Declaration of Independence describes the need for a “home base” for Holocaust survivors: “The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people -— the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe -— was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the community of nations. Survivors of the Nazi Holocaust in Europe, as well as Jews from other parts of the world, continue to migrate to Israel, undaunted by difficulties, restrictions and dangers, and never ceased to assert their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their national homeland.”

My father’s parents were able to find a safe haven in Israel and were able to start a new life after their lives in Poland were destroyed. My father was born there before they came to the United States exactly fifty years ago.

Taking Humanistic point of view, I concluded that people realized the Holocaust was perpetrated by people. They didn’t just pray, “God, protect me and my soul should this happen again.” They took action by building the state of Israel. The understanding that this tragedy was NOT God punishing the Jews or trying to teach them a lesson ultimately helped Jews become stronger.

After 9/11, America tried to protect itself from further attack. But the rules of the game had changed. As one expert wrote, “How do we wage war on non-state actors who hide in states with which we are at peace? How do we work with allies whose territory provides safe haven for non-state opponents? How do we defeat enemies who exploit the tools of globalization and open societies without destroying the very things we seek to protect?”

Just nine days after the attacks, then-President Bush said, “We are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done. We have seen their kind before. They’re heir to all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. They follow the path of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism. We will direct every resource at our command — every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war — to the destruction and to the defeat of the global terror network.”

Noble words that everyone agreed with. But things went wrong. Vowing to never let another 9/11 happen again, Bush took steps to make the country more secure. But in the process, he subverted some of our strongest principles. He invaded Iraq under the pretense of fighting terrorists there rather than here — more Americans died there than on 9/11, as have countless Iraqis. The use of torture and illegal imprisonment was sanctioned under the pretense of getting information to prevent attacks. They even tapped phones and E-mails of ordinary Americans in the name of creating a sense of security.

Where Noah became the model for a new world that was not corrupt, the Bush administration became corrupt in the process of coping with 9/11.

But ordinary Americans took a different route. As Noah reconstituted their world after the Flood, as the Jews revived their culture and created a homeland, we have taken charge of our destiny with renewed spirit and focus.

Immediately after 9/11, no one was able to cope with the devastation. People were afraid to walk outside, to go places, and NO ONE wanted to talk about it. But eight years later, we have a new president who has started to reverse the worst abuses the Bush administration perpetrated in the name of national security. It will take him longer to get us out of Iraq. And the members of Al Qaeda are still out there planning their next attack.

The story of Noah and the Flood, it interpretations and meanings, have taught me about things that still happen around us today. I believe the Torah was written to explain the explainable, with emotions and lessons that have withstood the test of time. For Humanistic Jews, stories like the Flood help us interpret our own world, natural disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes, and man-made events like the Holocaust and 9/11. And it can hopefully help us avoid the next actual flood, which could be one of the consequences of global warming if we don’t take steps to change the way we live.

It may be scary to live in what is actually an unsafe world, but we go about our lives all the same. We accept that this is the reality of our world and not a punishment by God or any other higher power. There may be things we wish did not exist, such as terrorism and war and melting polar ice caps. We must teach ourselves and our children that it is a fact of life, and also how to deal with it and not be afraid.

I have been able to understand these lessons and re-interpret them through a humanistic lens. This perspective has a lot to say about the resilience of people in the face of terrible adversity, and the power of human beings to plan for a better future.


“Berlin, Boycotts and the Politics of Sports” by Gabe Zimmerman
December 20, 2008

For my major paper, my parents and I we were trying to think of something that would interest me, and something that would be relevant to Jews or Jewish history. As we were packing to move, my dad had to go through the 30 years of weekly SPORTS ILLUSTRATED issues he had collected. My mother refused to move them all to the new apartment. Luckily, one issue was worthy of saving. There was one with the Olympic Rings about boycotting the 1980 Russian Olympics. The article mentioned the issues surrounding the 1936 Olympics about whether those Olympics should have been boycotted because of rising anti Semitism in Germany. I also knew a little about Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, but not much. So I began to research the 1936 Olympics and the U. S. debate and ultimate decision not to boycott them. Little did I realize it would be so relevant to the Olympics this past summer. As I worked on this paper there were daily articles about whether we should boycott Beijing. Some felt that China’s economic involvement with the Sudanese government, who were involved in the horrible treatment of people in Darfur, could be stopped by boycotting Beijing. There were also articles about excluding Tibet and Iran from the Olympics. By draft 4, this paper read like a syllabus for a college seminar called “20-21st Century Politics and Sports, the Athlete as Political Player.” Rabbi Peter and Alan had the good sense to acknowledge that I had learned a lot, and remind me to keep this paper shorter. So that’s what I tried to do. I would like to believe that sports competition can be politics free, but they cannot. This summer there was an article in the New York Times that discussed how in 1976 theTaiwanese Olympians were excluded from the Montreal Olympics at the demand of the Chinese government. The article talked about how the “messy collision of sports and politics derailed the aspirations of athletes.” This quote described so clearly what I wanted to research. I could not say it better. In reality, politics invades every aspect of s ports, from the US investigation of steroid use in baseball, to government-sponsored training of Olympic athletes. If sports and politics cannot avoid being intertwined, the question becomes should we use boycotts in sports to try to influence political events? I think “Yes.” If we disapprove of a country’s actions we should boycott. Boycotts can make a difference whether by changing events or just by making a statement that brings more attention to the issue. Boycotts are an important tool that sends a clear message that the conduct that is being boycotted is intolerable. Later, I will discuss briefly how boycotts have been used in recent times. But I do believe that the United States should have boycotted the 1936 Olympics and any Olympics where another countries conduct is so offensive and destructive, that participation in the Olympics is intolerable. Winning a gold medal helps serve the individual, but a boycott supports and helps more people. If a boycott is going to help so many people we should do it; there will be other events for an individual athlete to win.

I learned that there are other ways to protest and still participate in the Olympics. One example happened at the 1968 summer Olympics in Mexico City. Tommie Smith and John Carlos were American athletes who ascended the winner’s podium, barefooted. They bowed their heads and raised their fists wearing black gloves, to protest (1) black poverty, (2) lynching in America, and (3) the stripping of Mohammed Ali’s boxing title for protesting the War in Vietnam. Although Smith and Carlos were expelled from the Olympic Village and stripped of their medals, their protest statement did not ultimately have the same impact as a boycott. As an aside, it is interesting that South Africa and Rhodesia were banned from those same 1968 Olympics for their apartheid practices. There is that “messy collision” again. Also, I support boycotts knowing that there is more at stake than just the gold medal. Athletes may lose lucrative product endorsements. But I still think that when necessary the boycott should occur. Boycotts send the greatest and most resounding message with a ripple effect heard throughout the world. Because of what I learned about the 1936 and 1980 Olympics, I think we should have boycotted the 2008 Summer Olympics. The selection of Berlin, Germany to host the 1936 Olympics was political. That decision, made in 1931 was partly made to recognize Germany’s return as a world power after its defeat in WWI. Germany was supposed to host the 1916 Olympics that were cancelled because of the war. As war reparations for its part in WWI, Germany was banned from participating in 1920 and 1924 Olympics. Allowing them to host the Olympics in 1936 was recognition that the world forgave Germany. In 1933, however, Hitler became chancellor of Germany. Among Hitler’s discriminatory policies, was to systematically exclude Jewish and even “partial Jewish” athletes from training gyms. Their opportunities to compete became more and more limited and they were expelled from sporting events. If these discriminatory practices did not alert the world to Hitler’s discriminatory beliefs, the passage of the Nuremberg laws, should have. The Nuremberg Laws passed in 1935 were made up of two main laws. The first prohibited intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews. The second law stripped Jews of German citizenship. Hitler however knew that if continued his racist practices and laws, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) might decide to move the Olympics from Germany. So to try and “mask” his plan he invited Jewish athletes like Rudi Ball and Helen Meyer to come back to compete for the German Olympic teams. He also realized that the Olympics could serve to “showcase” Germany. Hitler was politically aware “that the whole world was watching.” Notwithstanding these attempts by Hitler, people in the United States and other western countries began to consider boycotting the 1936 Olympics. The American Amateur Athletic Union headed by Judge Jeremiah Mahoney, wanted to boycott the Olympics. He believed that participation would be a sign of approval of the Nazis discriminatory and anti-Semitic policies. Governmental leaders such as Mayor La Guardia and Governor Smith both of New York supported the boycott. Avery Brundage was then the president of the American Olympic Committee (AOC). In 1934, facing political pressures, Brundage went to “inspect” German sports facilities to be used for the Olympics. Brundage came back to the United States supporting the US participation in the Olympics, after being “shown” that the Germans would treat the Jews fairly. In 1935 Brundage, continued to support participation in the Olympics stating that “Olympics belonged to the athletes not the politicians”. Brundage carefully “orchestrated” a vote by the AOC that favored participation. Avery Brundage’s successful campaign to have the U.S. participate in the Olympics, and not boycott them, was part of a consistent pattern of anti-Semitic, racist and sexist positions Brundage held throughout his life. For example: Brundage strongly opposed women participating in the Olympics. Brundage’s building company was awarded a building contract in 1938 to build the German Embassy in the United States. Also, he made a speech at a rally in Madison Square Garden in 1941 where he praised the Nazi regime. Also it was Brundage that stripped Tommie Smith and John Carlos of their medals at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. Finally, Brundage was president of the IOC in 1972 and he permitted the Olympic games to continue after only a one-day memorial service to honor the Israeli Olympic team that had been massacred there. In fact Brundage and the IOC never fully acknowledged the horrific event. Although Brundage was successful in preventing a United States boycott of the Olympics, there were individual athletes who chose to boycott them. For example, Herman Neugass, an American Jewish track sprinter and student at Tulane University decided not to participate in the 1936 Olympics. Milton Green and Norman Cahners, Jewish track stars from Harvard University, chose to boycott the Olympic final trials. Our own Broolyn L.I.U. basketball team, which had won 32 consecutive games and was viewed as one of the country’s most outstanding college teams, was comprised largely of Jewish players. They chose to boycott the 1936 Olympics because of the Nazis practices. International Olympiads that chose to boycott the Olympics included Judith Deutsch one of three people chosen to compete on the Austrian swim team, and Sammy Luftspring the top ranked lightweight boxer from Canada. Countries that considered boycotting the Olympics included Great Britain, France, Sweden and the Netherlands. However, once the United States decided TO participate in the 1936 Olympics, other international opposition stopped. The only country that did boycott them was Ireland. During the 1936 Olympic games, continued discrimination was widespread. Hitler’s views were as you might guess. He only wanted Germans to win. Jesse Owens, the great track star and an African American, who had set many records, and won all his heats, won 4 gold medals including the 100-meter dash competing, amongst others, against a German athlete. It greatly upset Hitler, who had attempted to denounce African Americans and other non-Aryans. Hitler was so disgusted he refused to shake hands with Owens, and would not even congratulate him. It is believed that to appease Hitler, Avery Brundage pressured the United States Olympic track coach Dean Cromwell, to remove Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller. The Olympics in Berlin were just foreshadowing of the horrible atrocities that occurred during the Holocaust. It made me think, What would have been the impact if the us and other countries had boycotted the 1936 Olympics? Maybe if the United States and other countries boycotted the Olympics, Hitler and the Nazis would have been more isolated. Also, even if boycotting would not outwardly stop Hitler, it would have sent a message that the world is watching and will not tolerate such actions. Sending an urgent message that the intolerable acts and beliefs of Hitler’s Germany were outrageous, would have greatly outweighed the “cost” to any individual athlete in terms of sacrificing a chance at a gold medal. To support the theory that a boycott in 1936 would have been useful, I decided to look at the impact of the US boycott of the 1980 Olympics held in Russia. Although the circumstances in 1980 and 1936 were different, it was instructive to see what effect the 1980 boycott had. The United States and other countries boycotted the 1980 Olympics held in Russia because the Russians were treating the Afghanis so poorly. The United States believed that a boycott of the Olympics would send a message that such treatment of other people would not be tolerated. I think that the US boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Russia was effective because it made the Olympics smaller and because it was such a “public” act, it highlighted what Russia was doing to the Afghanis. It served to embarrass the Russians. Further, it lessened the great economic boon that is usually gained by the country hosting the Olympics.

I learned that there have been other types of successful boycotts. There were the famous boycotts in the south in the United States where people boycotted to protest restrictive laws against African Americans that required them to ride in the back of the bus or defer a seat to a white person. It is estimated that on the first day of the Montgomery boycott there was 100% participation. Another well-known example of a successful boycott was Cesar Chavez’ organizing a national boycott of grapes grown in the United States to help the plight of migrant workers by highlighting the migrant workers poor working conditions, including the use of pesticides that were harmful to workers and consumers. At the height of the grape boycott 14 million Americans were not buying grapes. It is obvious to me that the success of these boycotts would have been paralleled had there been a boycott of the 1936 Olympics. And the need for the boycott in 1936 was magnified by the “broadcasting message” that would have resulted, had the boycott occurred. A boycott would have been the 1936 telegraph or “YouTube” way to alert the world to Hitler’s behavior and philosophy. But maybe most importantly, it would have demonstrated to Hitler and the Nazis that there is a strong, cohesive worldwide “army”, ready to battle him. This may have averted the murder of millions of people. As I watched the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, I was struck by the beauty and magnitude of the event. As the participants entered wearing clothing representative of their country, it also demonstrated how diverse the world is and how countries could all seemingly get along for the sake of sports. However, each commentary about the participants and countries somehow reinforced that beneath this majestic event, sports is political, and politics affects sports. I was particularly struck by the commentators, who talked about how important it was for China to show the world that it was able to host the Olympics, and take it’s place as a world economic and sports power. Sound familiar. While Beijing in 2008 was not Berlin in 1936, for each country the Olympics was politically very important. So I think that had we boycotted Beijing, maybe Darfur and Tibet would be better off today. So for good and bad, under the appropriate circumstances boycotts of sports events is necessary.


“Jewish Cowboys and Eskimos: The Search For a Jewish Homeland” by Alex Rawitz
February 23, 2008

In the latter half of the 19th century, Jews were scattered across the globe with no fixed homeland. From North America to North Africa, Eastern Europe to Central Asia, there lived a people who had been cast out of their native soil in the ‘cradle of society’ in ancient Palestine, which is nestled between Africa, the Jordan desert, and the Mediterranean Sea. Victims of a massive dispersion that lasted over several centuries, Jews, with some exceptions, longed to return to where they came from as a people: Israel. When this longing was coupled with a global rise of anti-Semitism, it is no wonder that Zionism came into being. Zionism, a worldwide movement to form a Jewish state in Palestine, has, in theory, existed for thousands of years. It was not until the late 19th century, however, that Jews convened to act out their long-held wish. One of the many problems (or, perhaps, one of the few good things) was that there were many options for homelands, and, with all the obstacles facing the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, some of these other options were examined.

It is important to note that it was always the primary goal of the Zionist movement to establish a Jewish State in Palestine, and for many Zionists it was preferable to have no Jewish state anywhere than to have one that wasn’t in Palestine. One reason this was true is because in the Torah, Israel was the land promised to Jews by God, though this was not the reason touted by Secular Zionists; they argued that Israel was where great cultural advancements in Jewish society took place. The Torah, the Hebrew language, and Jewish festivals and holidays were all created in ancient Israel. A major tenet of Judaism is to not forget Jerusalem, as it is the location of the Western Wall of Herod’s Temple, a most cherished site. However, by the turn of the 20th century, making Palestine a Jewish state while desirable was deeply problematic.

By the time the Sixth Zionist Congress met in Basel, Switzerland, on August 26, 1903 Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism and the man who convened the Zionist Congresses, had already met with British leaders, discussing a safe haven for the thousands of Russian Jews displaced by pogroms. With literally the whole world before them, Zionists considered the possibility of Uganda, in Central Africa, which was then a British protectorate. Britain agreed to allow Jewish settlement in East Africa “on conditions which will enable members to observe their national customs.”

Although Herzl stressed that Uganda would be temporary residence and not a substitute for Palestine, the proposal angered many Zionists and nearly led to a rift in the Zionist movement. However, in a vote of 295 to 178, the Zionists determined to send an expedition to examine the offered territory. One wonders what would have happened if Uganda was deemed suitable. At the time, Uganda was a mix of native Africans, a few European administrators and industrialists who built up the nation and an army imported from nearby India, then a British colony. Where thousands of impoverished Russian Jews would have fit in is anyone’s guess. It is fascinating to think about the development of Uganda with a large Jewish population transplanted primarily from Eastern Europe. What would the society have been like? What could have been the adaptations in language, dress and cuisine? Would Jews have assimilated in Africa? Most certainly an ‘Israel’ in Uganda would have faced serious trouble when sadistic dictator Idi Amin came to power through a military coup in 1971. Considering that Amin threw all people of Asian descent out of Uganda in 1972 and blamed the action on economic turmoil, the fate of Jews in Uganda was probably bleak. The Uganda Proposal ultimately failed – it was deemed impractical and discarded by the 7th Zionist Congress in 1905.

Even though the Uganda Proposal failed, it sparked the formation of the Jewish Territorialist Organization, which was made up of the different groups that had aligned with Herzl on the Uganda proposal. An interesting phenomenon was that the group’s membership increased in the aftermath of anti-Semitic events, such as the 1905 pogroms, but decreased when the possibility of a Jewish homeland in Palestine rose, such as in the aftermath of the Balfour declaration of 1917, in which Britain stated it supported a Jewish state in Palestine and would use its resources to achieve this goal.

The leader of the territorialist movement was Israel Zangwill, who proposed other locations, namely Canada and Australia after the Uganda proposal failed. But local opposition to the idea by a majority of the residents in both countries was deemed too strong, so both of those proposals failed as well.

Expeditions were then sent to Cyrenaica (Libya), Angola (in Southern Africa), and, most interestingly, Mesopotamia (Iraq). Again, the concept of the Jewish homeland established in these contentious areas makes for some intriguing imaginings: Libya is a military dictatorship and Iraq is in relative chaos thanks to a prolonged United States occupation, so neither option would immediately appear to be a positive place for a Jewish state.

Jews were spared from these potentially awful situations when nothing positive came out of those expeditions. There was, however, one other idea that was deemed possible by the Jewish Territorial Organization: a Jewish Homeland in the American Southwest, specifically: Texas. (Hey, at least they examined all options, right)? The Galveston Plan received support and funding from the prominent Jewish-American banker Jacob Schiff, and the Emigration Bureau of the Territorialist Organization helped 9,300 Jews settle into the area from 1907-1914. These Jews assimilated into Texas society (as others have written, they became “Lone Stars of David, deep in the Heart of Palestine”), but still worked toward a Palestinian homeland for European Jews, raising funds and awareness throughout the 1930’s and 40’s. A thriving Jewish community remains in Texas, today.

There was also a United States backed plan to establish a Jewish Homeland in Alaska. Because of local opposition to a Jewish state in what was at the time a US territory, as well as vocal anti-Semitic members of Congress, this plan also fell through. For anyone interested in a fascinating vision of a Jewish state of Alaska, I can heartily recommend Michael Chabon’s novel, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.

The United States and Israel are close allies, but one can only imagine how close they would be if they were physically touching. Perhaps Israel would have become America’s 51st state, or perhaps the United States would not tolerate the likely terrorist attacks that would occur in an ‘American’ Israel (anti-Jewish terrorist attacks would probably occur in a Jewish State at the North Pole). There might have been Jewish cowboys and rodeo stars with a homeland in Texas, or a whole generation of children of Jewish-Inuit descent with a homeland in Alaska. The United States would probably have been the best alternative to a Jewish State in Palestine.

At the time that Zionism became a major movement, Jews were clustered across Eastern Europe, living in shtetls and speaking Yiddish. Because people tend to like what is familiar to them, an idea was formed to establish a Jewish, Yiddish-speaking state in Eastern Europe. There was, however, one continent-spanning problem: Russia. Throughout history, Russia conducted pogroms against Jews, and the early twentieth century was still a very anti-Semitic time. Also, because of later Soviet domination of much of Eastern Europe, it would seem impossible that an often violent, anti-Semitic country would simply allow a piece of land so close to it to be handed over to a hated race. Although an eastern European Jewish homeland was an appealing idea to Russian Jews, most supporters of a Jewish state were still Zionists, who aimed for a Jewish state in Palestine and only Palestine.

However, with a bit of imagination, one can see what might have happened if Russia had allowed a Jewish state to be formed in Europe. It most likely would not have been on Russian land, making the probable location either Austria-Hungary or the Eastern German Empire in the Kingdom of Prussia. A Jewish state might have survived the Russian Revolution and the rise of Communism, but World War I would have been difficult. If a Jewish state were established by 1914, it would probably not have lasted long enough to see the 1920s. It could also have caused a very different kind of World War I. American politicians had been supporting the establishment of a Jewish state since 1900, and the United States would have had a personal investment in Europe, if a Jewish state had been established there. However, America was largely isolationist at the time, and President Woodrow Wilson ran for and won reelection in 1916 with supporters saying “he kept us out of war”. But with a close ally in the middle of a chaotic Europe, America might have been forced to step into war at an earlier time.

The United States might have been too late if the Jewish homeland was established in Germany. While a power-mad, anti-Semitic, heavily armed Germanic Empire trying to take over Europe while targeting Jews sounds like World War II, this could have been the reality faced during World War I. Except in 1916, public sentiment in America was not solidly pro-war and Jews were even more heavily consolidated in one place. With the time it would have taken an isolated America to prepare its military for a World War, genocide could have already occurred.

One product of this altered war would most likely have been the same worldwide sympathy for the Jewish situation that had arisen after the Second World War. This might have led to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine thirty years before the Israel that exists today was formed. Palestine was, at that time, under the possession of war-ravaged Britain, a country sympathetic to Jewish needs. Alternatively, this sympathy would have been used to form a Jewish state in any of the places that have been mentioned earlier in this paper.

Either way, this would have been a turning point for Zionism: Zionists would have stood on the edge of seeing their dream realized and smiled upon by a sympathetic world, or have suffered being shuttled off to the United States, the Jungles of Africa, or the frozen U.S. territory of Alaska.

However, none of what is detailed above happened. There was never a Jewish state established anywhere until 1948.

Zionists continued to press their cause throughout the early 20th century, and although no Jewish state was formed, support grew. Then came World War II, and with it the Holocaust. The world saw this tragedy as an urgent and devastating wake-up call, and there was a multi-national outcry to help relieve displaced European Jews. This outcry reached a high point when on November 29th, 1947 the United Nations called for the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Yisrael and fully recognized the right of the Jewish people to build their own homeland in Palestine. The surrounding Arab states objected, but after thousands of years of waiting, the will of the Jewish people prevailed. On May 14th, 1948, British control of Palestine expired, and the Jews officially established a Jewish state, known as Israel, in the Biblical Promised land, their spiritual home of Palestine.

In a fitting tribute to the founder of modern Zionism, the remains of Theodore Herzl, who died in 1904, were flown to Israel and reinterred on Mount Herzl, overlooking Jerusalem.

The alternate realities I’ve described can easily be interpreted as depressing, considering that most of the locations that have been examined most probably would have resulted in war and probable destruction of the substitute Jewish state. However, it is my intention that you all feel glad that what happened happened; that the Israel that exists today is probably the best Jewish homeland that Zionists could have hoped for. Israel has faced, and will face, great challenges, but nothing on the scale of what it could have faced if it were established in Libya, Canada, Uganda, or Alaska. It is an ultimately happy truth, then, that the goal of every Zionist – a Jewish state in Palestine – was also the most successful homeland that could have been established at all.


“New York Jewish Delis: A Photographic Essay” by Jonah Garnick
December 1, 2007

For my Bar Mitzvah I had to create a major project that connected me to my Jewish roots, values, and role models. I have chosen to photographically document the Jewish delis of New York because I enjoy the creative process. I also love the eating process. And eating is something I like to share with my family.

My photo-essay explores and captures the life that stills thrives in the New York Jewish deli, a living museum. Nathan’s is in it’s 91st year of hotdog eating contests, Katz’s is still sending those salami’s to boys in the army, and the Carnegie still sells the biggest pastrami sandwich in New York, and the 2nd Avenue Deli will soon be reopening on Toidy Toid and Toid. Today, the Jewish deli is not only for Jewish people, it’s a place where people from all over the world come to explore, experience and taste Jewish culture.

But just to give a little background of my exploration; the deli is a piece of modern Jewish history. Between 1881 and 1924, two million Jewish people immigrated to America from Eastern Europe and three-quarters of them settled in New York City. Many of these immigrants entered the American mainstream through the food they sold. A large number of Jewish immigrants began as pushcart peddlers selling food products in their neighborhoods.

Some peddlers achieved success and moved from a pushcart to a small shop owner or deli owner. Others, in a display of American entrepreneurial spirit, became manufacturers of such big brands as Manischewitz, Hebrew National and Nathan’s.

Many of the deli’s still operating in New York are run by third and fourth generation family members. I found the delis to be very different from each other, but they also share a lot of connections. Through the food they serve, the traditions they continue to practice, all the proprietors share a special bond. There is still pride in what they do, what they offer, and a love for the life they have inherited.

When I go to a restaurant I look for a number of things; taste, atmosphere, service, and the character of the place. I think a Jewish deli is a Jewish restaurant with a lot of character.

When I walked into Katz’s I felt a rush of traditions and Jewish culture. It is a timeless, living- history museum. It is also a New York City official landmark, and a staple in New York Jewish culture. During World War II, the three sons of Katz’s owners were all serving their country in the armed forces, and the family tradition of sending food to their sons became the famous slogan “Send a Salami To Your Boy In The Army.” This sign still hangs behind the deli counter.

All this adds to Katz’s character. Its signs, its waiters, its countermen, its chefs, even its food, have old time character. The head chef gladly shared with me that the corned beef is still made the old fashioned way, pickled for a month. He also shared his insights on what he thought happened to the late Abe Lebenwohl, the owner of the 2nd Avenue Deli who was shot to death in his delivery truck, but that’s another story. The most important thing I learned at Katz’s deli, was get your own sandwich and tip the countermen.

The Carnegie is a gathering place for many types of people. The customers are about 90% tourist families from all over the world. The staff is international. There are people from Tibet, Taiwan, Ireland, Greece, India, Indonesia, and many more. What I’m trying to say is that the Jewish deli isn’t just for Jewish people. It is a gathering place for everyone.

When I have to go photograph a deli I always ask for the owner. When we told the owner of the Carnegie what we were doing for this project he instantly offered to take me around the restaurant and to take as many pictures as I wanted to. He also nicely let us skip the line and get seated quickly. As I went around the restaurant all the employees were telling me their nationality, the many years they have worked there, and they were happy to pose for a picture. At the Carnegie I felt like I was part of the family.

There are deli’s and then there is one special Jewish restaurant where the atmosphere steals the show, Sammy’s Romanian Steak House. Just entering the place is an experience. On one side of the room was a wedding party, on the other the Russians. Balloons were everywhere, the vodka was flowing, as a singer belted out hits from the 1970’s. At Sammy’s everything was a joke, the musician was so bad he was good, he made fun of himself, the restaurant, and everybody around him. Everybody was cracking up. The owner, who introduced himself as “Son of Sam”, strange sense of humor, was able to laugh at himself and even call his own place a dump. Well it’s a dump with a $40 veal chop. The whole dining experience was a party; wait staff singing, and people dancing, it was just great. Sammy’s is a place where you’ll immediately feel at home. I also learned that evening, that Sammy’s is the place where my Romanian great grandfather loved to party with his family.

Nathan’s hotdogs is a big part of New York; its food, attitude, and style of on the go. It is a huge business consisting of franchises, with their own line of products and recipes. But although Nathan’s is big now, it used to be hardly known.

Nathan Handwerker was born in Poland, in June 1892, and emigrated from Belgium to the U.S. In the U.S. he worked various small kitchen jobs in New York including working weekends at Feltmans, an established deli restaurant at Coney Island. After saving up $300, Nathan was able to purchase his own place on the corner of Stillwell and Surf Avenues. But the crowd still went to Feltmans, the cheap half price Nathan’s hotdog made them suspicious.

With entrepreneurial creativity and a desire to succeed, Nathan went with the Coney Island spirit and hired bums to stand around the store eating hotdogs to make the store look busy. He paid them in hotdogs. Unfortunately, it did not make a great impression. So Nathan took it to the next level by shaving the bums, making them take showers, and put doctors clothes on them. He then put up a sign that read, “If doctors eat our hot dogs, you know they’re good!” The rest is history.

As I thought more about it, and as I looked back upon research, I realized how creatively Nathan used promotion to become a successful entrepreneur. Especially after surviving the 91st hot dog eating contest on July 4th.

These were my favorites and they were my most memorable experiences. But for my photo essay, I also visited : Russ and Daughters, Barney Green Grass, Yonah Schimmels, Guss’ Pickles, Kossar’s Bialys and The Stage Deli.

Of course, at all of these delis, portion size was never a problem. The problem was trying to eat it all. I felt like I was at my great aunt Zelda’s house, so much food, so little time, and eyes so much bigger than my stomach.

After visiting all these historic Jewish landmarks, I believe the Jewish deli continues its heritage of a gathering place where people still go to find community and share a sense of home.

If I had to recommend two classic New York Jewish delis, my favorites are: Katz’s and Sammy’s Romanian. Katz’s because it still feels like a neighborhood place. And Sammy’s because it uniquely combines Jewish humor, nightlife and indigestion.

The deli is all about perspective. Some may think it’s just a restaurant with a certain kind of food. Some may think of it as a hangout for family and friends. Some may think of it as a place to touch up on your roots, to try nasty sounding foods like tongue, chopped liver, grivens, schmaltz, and gefilte fish. And to quote Peter, my rabbi, “To some Jews, the delis were more of a sacred place than a synagogue.”

For me, I enjoyed making discoveries on my pallet and connecting to my ancestors’ lifestyles. Personally, I think all of these factors make up the deli. Overall, my main goal was to visually capture the history, humor, sense of family and diversity that makes up the classic New York deli as it exists today.


“GREEN: The New Color of Caring” by Sabrina Frank
June 16, 2007

Hundreds of millions of Africans, and tens of millions of Latin Americans who now have access to a regular supply of water might face the issue of water shortages in less than twenty years. By 2050, more than one billion people in Asia could face water shortages as well. By 2080, water shortages may threaten over two billion people depending upon the level of green house gases that cars and industries spew into the air.

Hard to imagine, isn’t it? Let me read more…

Global warming is when the average temperature on earth rises. When we use energy and burn fossil fuels we are letting greenhouse gasses into the air in an unnatural way. When they are let into the atmosphere naturally, these gasses are helpful- they keep us warm enough to live on earth by trapping heat in the atmosphere. When unnatural and natural productions of these gasses add up, we are left with global warming.

If global warming continues at the rate it is at now, I will be 43 years old and possibly married with children by the time Northern Europe’s small glaciers, along with many of the continent’s large glaciers, and ice caps will be on their way to disappearing, if they are not gone already.

Isn’t it sad that nowadays many people only respond to fear and trends when it comes to considering our environment? Without “going green” being in style many of us don’t try to solve the climate crisis. And without scare tactics about the effects of global warming, many of us cannot imagine what is happening, and what will happen if we do not all come together to change the environment. Therefore, without being fearful of what can happen to the earth, many people do not take it upon themselves to change the future by making good choices for our environment which we call going green.

Some businesses are genuinely going green, and some are not. It is hard to tell who, but businesses which are going green care about the environment and the lives of present and future generations. Some businesses claims of helping to slow down global warming are fraudulent. When claims are fraudulent, I feel as though they can be making the problem of global warming worse. Fraudulent claims of businesses going green may make people feel that an individual being environmentally friendly will not make a difference since supposedly big businesses are already taking care of the climate crisis. Thus, these individuals won’t take responsibility towards the environmental cause. If they looked into the global warming crisis, I am sure they would think otherwise.

Isn’t it sad how bad things will have to get for us to realize that there is an environmental crisis among us? In January and February of this year, it was unusually warm for a New York winter. I kept thinking I was happy about this weather, but then I remembered what it meant. Changes in the climate are affecting everyone’s lives slowly but surely. This reminds me of a poster I have seen on the West Side Highway: “Is it me, or is it getting warm in here?”

According to a recent report put out by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, “We are experiencing substantial, eco system, social, and cultural disruption from recent climate extremes.” This could help explain why we have more tornadoes, hurricanes, and wildfires than ever before. As humans, we rely on the planet for our survival. However, we are only one of Earth’s many inhabitants. Plants and animals are experiencing destruction because of humans and they cannot do anything to save themselves.

In recent years, a growing number of Jews have been developing a deeper connection to Judaism and the Jewish community through environmental activism. They are part of a larger movement of faith-based environmentalists. According to Marc Jacobs, director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL), a national coordination body of the Jewish environmental movement, “Judaism teaches us that above and beyond everything, we have a responsibility to protect life, not only when we know for sure it’s at risk, but when it may be at risk.” Marc Jacobs heads a coalition of organizations that care about the environment, and have discovered a link between their own spiritual and environmental roots and their being Jewish.

TEVA (which means nature in Hebrew) is an organization that focuses on teaching people to appreciate, love and care for the environment through hands on activities. They work with people on connecting with the environment spiritually, to create a bond with nature to then care for and take responsibility for the wellbeing of the earth. In their own words, “TEVA learning center exists to renew the ecological wisdom inherent in Judaism.” All their activities are designed to promote awareness, interconnectedness, and responsibility.

COEJL and TEVA are great examples of groups that connect environmentalism to Jewish teachings and values. They base their ideology and suggestions on ways to go green on ideas like pikuah nefesh, saving a life, and Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. They are very realistic thinkers and give suggestions based not only on Judaism, but on the fact that everyone can learn and go green differently.

COEJL has fought for laws to address the effects of pollution on public health, global climate change, and the destruction of wildlife habitat. They have done this on behalf of 29 different national Jewish organizations.

TEVA is a religious organization. They use the Torah’s laws of life to direct their thoughts and teachings involving eco-Judaism. One quote they find important is, “do not spoil and destroy My world, for if you do spoil it, there is no one after you to repair it.” This is based on the book of Genesis, that claims that God created and owns the universe and everything we use today. As a humanistic Jew, I think this quote should say Our world instead of My world because we all live here together and share the responsibility to care for it.

According to Sarah Chandler, Education Director of West End Synagogue, in NY, “…ecology and religion are completely intertwined.” However, as a humanist, I believe environmental preservation is important for practical reasons, regardless of one’s spiritual orientation.

In my research concerning global warming, I decided it was important that I learn about the varied perspectives on environmentalism and global warming from people who are outside the Jewish community. As I researched, I found that some Christian and Muslim followers share similar concerns as many Jews do about the issue of global warming. They are just as willing to “go green.”

Many churches have worked towards being more environment friendly by making their buildings more energy efficient. For example, members of the Christ Church in California installed photovoltaic panels. These panels use energy from the sun to generate heat and light that is usually generated by an electric power plant. Right after they pay for their photovoltaic panels- out go their electricity bills forever!

According to Muslim teachings, Mohammed was a strong advocate of environmental protection. Mohammed’s life and deeds show that he had an incredible respect for maintaining a strong balance between humans and nature. According to the Quran, the Muslim Holy Book, “To God belongs all that is in the heavens and in the earth, for God encompasses everything.” Mohammed believes that God is the basis of everything. Therefore, abusing one of his creations, such as a natural resource, is a sin.

Gary Gardner, the Director of Research at World Watch, an environmental policy organization, believes that a close collaboration between religious groups and environmentalists, “could change the world…These groups have different and complementary strengths.” I strongly support Gary Gardner’s way of thinking. We do not have time to segregate people who have the same goals and values when it comes to saving the environment, going green.

The modern environmental movement took shape in the 1960s with the widespread recognition that industrial society had polluted the air and water, poisoned the landscape and driven many species to extinction. One of the inspiring voices in the movement was marine biologist Rachel Carson.

When pesticides harmful to the environment were overused and misused after World War II, Rachel Carson was appalled and reordered her priorities. She started to warn the public about long-term effects of using pesticides in ways that were not good for the environment. Her award-winning book Silent Spring, published in 1962, demanded a change in how people viewed our environment. This was the first major book to bring attention to environmentalism.

When Carson began warning the public about agricultural practices, the chemical industry and people working for the government accused Carson of being an alarmist. Despite this accusation, Carson continued to speak her mind about the issues she knew were important to protect the earth and all it’s creatures. When Carson testified before Congress in 1963, she voiced the need for new policies to protect the environment. It took many years of political muscle to force our leaders to make the kind of large scale changes that were needed.

Now, 40 years later, many people are still unaware of and disinterested in the harms of global warming. Laws that protect the environment are being abused and minimally enforced.

An Inconvenient Truth is an Oscar winning documentary by former vice president, (and should have been current president) Al Gore. It is about the effects and history of global warming. Like Rachel Carson, Al Gore informs viewers about the problems global warming is causing that we do not necessarily SEE. He makes sure that people understand that global warming is not a myth. It is something happening right now.

Unfortunately, some people cannot handle the inconvenient truths Al Gore speaks of. These people can’t imagine such a terror called global warming will affect them in ways Gore has revealed. Many times these people attack Gore and label him as an alarmist, like Rachel Carson, even though his charts, graphs, and statistics are clearly plausible. The people who label these amazing environmental activists as alarmists remind me of ostriches. The ostrich affect is when ostriches ignore their problems by sticking their heads into the sand. Of course, this does not solve anything. We need to learn from the

ostrich affect- hiding from the issues will not solve them. Just like the theme song of the Inconvenient Truth tells us, “…it’s time to wake up now.”

It is easy to get distracted by day to day problems that seem to be the only ones that will affect us, but global warming will just get worse if we do not give going green our full attention. Unless we start planning ahead, present and future generations will cease to exist.

If however we go green, we may have times in which we would want to focus our time on the other issues. But, if we help stop global warming now, at least we, our children, our grandchildren, and every other living creature in existence will not have to live in a world where disasters occur and kill regularly. Twenty years from now is when scientists predict that many homes and towns will be wrecked, and many more health issues will cause serious problems unless we as responsible citizens make a change.

I have been a member of the City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism for five years. Although the congregation teaches about many important aspects of Judaism, eco-Judaism and environmentalism in a general sense does not come up much in the Kid school curriculum. I have a challenge for the City Congregation. I challenge you to only use recycled paper for all you do: bar and bat mitzvah booklets, handouts, Kehilah Circle, for classrooms and office work. I also challenge you to talk about eco- Judaism for all ages.

I have taken the first step. The invites to the City Congregation members were made of recycled paper, although they were pink. Also, the inside of the booklets for today’s service are made of recycled paper.

The next tips are for everyone:

-Make sure your family understand that it is important to follow certain habits that regard the environment.

-Switch your lights from incandescent bulbs, to compact florescent. They can cost about two times what incandescent bulbs cost, but they last ten times longer. Florescent bulbs are a better deal for you economically and environmentally. If every home in the US changed only one light bulb to a florescent light bulb, the U.S. would save more than $500 million in energy costs and it would be equivalent to taking 800,000 cars off the road. My family has taken the step to change every light bulb possible in our house to fluorescent.

-If it is unnecessary to use a car, please walk or take public transportation. If you do this, we can avoid feeding the atmosphere any excess carbon emissions.

-Find ways to have fun outside and not using electronics and lastly; walk up the stairs to your house to save energy you would have used by taking the elevator.

Now, I realize this was a long speech and you probably did not hear all of it. But, I want all of you to listen now, and be left with this simple message. Global warming is a serious issue that can easily be resolved; all we need is commitment. There are many politicians and people with more authority than anyone here that will not try to solve the climate crisis. But, if you only learn one thing from this paper, it should be that each individual really can make a difference.


“Stereotypes in Jewish Humor” by Sam Lewis
June 9, 2007

A bar mitzvah is defined as the day when a Jewish boy comes to the realization that he is more likely to own a professional sports team than he is to play for one.

Jewish humor is an important part of the culture of the Jewish people. Jews – from secular to very orthodox – integrate humor into their lives. Based on the jokes I read while doing my research, I found that much Jewish humor over the past 100 years is very funny. I discovered a lot of Jewish jokes are based on different types of people, which are what make the jokes funny. In order to understand them and share this humor, you must be familiar with the stereotype, but it may also make the joke irrelevant. A stereotype may change or nobody may know of it, or it may become so offensive it is not used anymore.

Although the roots of Jewish humor cannot be traced to an exact place or time, Jewish humor probably originated sometime between the medieval times and the late 19th century. The earliest traces come from medieval times in the Middle East. Humor helped them to not give up on life, even when they were poor, persecuted, or being expelled from their homes. Humor was a way to gain control over life and to get rid of anxiety.

Today, we tell jokes to celebrate our Jewish heritage, to reflect on our own situation or simply to be funny. As you will see there are many categories. Some Jewish humor, like the movie “Borat” by Sacha Baron Cohen, is anti-anti-Semitism. In other words, a joke that makes fun of anti Semitism.

To write this paper I began by going to websites and reading hundreds and hundreds of jokes. I picked out the ones that I really liked. I made an outline for each joke, which answered a few questions, such as, is this joke based on a stereotype, and is this joke classic or contemporary. I quickly found out that finding good jokes was a lot harder than I expected. After about a month I finally had one hundred jokes. I printed them out and made envelopes for the jokes, each labeled with different categories. Among them were jokes about Jewish mothers, cheap Jews, and rabbi jokes.

The envelope with the most jokes was in fact, jokes that have Jewish topics but would still be funny if changed to non-Jewish subjects. My favorite two categories are mother jokes and cheap jokes. They are my favorites because they are the two categories in which the punch line is something I understand.

After we had all the jokes filed away my mom, my dad, and I all read more about Jewish humor. At this point, my dad and I found out that one of the worst things you can do to a joke is to dissect it like a story, and look at its plot, characters and that sort of stuff. This is so true that after I explained a joke that was one of my favorites to my mom, it just wasn’t funny anymore and it never went into my favorites pile.

A gentile once asked Rabbi Goldberg, “Tell me, Rabbi, is it true that a Jew always answers a question with another one?”

The rabbi eyed him suspiciously and replied, “Who told you that?”

Some traditional subject categories of Jewish humor are, scholar jokes, old Russia jokes, food jokes and Hassidic jokes. Some of these categories are not as relevant anymore, as American Jews are more integrated and assimilated into the larger community and are farther up the cultural or generational ladder.

For example, jokes about Communist rulers don’t seem as important or funny as they once were, because Communism isn’t thought of in the same way. 50 years ago people were afraid of Communism the same way we are afraid of terrorism today. Now it is just another government and although it is not liked it is no longer feared.

Jewish mother jokes are still funny, but may also have lost some of their significance or punch since many Jewish mothers are no longer stay-at-home people who rule the household!

The first Jewish President calls his mother in Queens and invites her for Chanukah. “I’d like to,” she says, “but it’s so much trouble…First, I have to get a cab to the airport, and I hate waiting on Queens Boulevard….” “Mom! I’m President of the United States! I’ll send Air Force One!” “Yes, but when we land I’ll still have to carry my luggage through the airport… And try to find a cab…And you know what holiday crowds are like…” “Mom! I’ll have a helicopter pick you up! You’ll go straight from the plane to my front lawn!” “I don’t know… I’d still need a hotel room. And hotels are so expensive. And they’re not like they used to be…” “Ma! You’ll stay at the White House!” “Well…” She thinks. “I guess. O.K. “she sighs,” I’ll come…for you.” That afternoon, she’s talking on the phone with one of her friends. “What’s new?” The friend asks? “I’m visiting my son for Chanukah.” “The doctor?” “No, The other one”

Most of these old jokes are about mothers and their sons, in which the men were the important part of the family and had to do the jobs like be a doctor and a lawyer while the women were caretakers who stayed at home, raised the children, and took care of the house. In the new generation many women do the same jobs as men and are not solely wives and mothers. With Hillary Clinton running for U.S. president, we can no longer see our mothers as my great grandparents did many, many years ago.

But in another way, some of the Jewish mother stereotypes are still alive. My mother is always pushing me to my limits, so I can be successful in life, which is something that comes up in Jewish mother stereotypes. This proves that although we think of stereotypes as a bad thing, they can also exaggerate a positive characteristic. Without that confidence behind us, many of us “men” would not be as successful. The idea of Jewish mothers pushing their children to be successful is most obvious in the stereotype that Jews only want their children to be doctors or lawyers. The next joke is one example of that.

A couple sends out a birth announcement: Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Rosenbloom are pleased to announce the birth of their son, Doctor Jonathon Rosenbloom.

These days I think parents are happy if their child is successful on his or her own terms. I have never heard my Mom or Dad say, “You better be a doctor when you grow up.” A parent may be upset if their daughter or son is unhappy with his or her job. Many parents would much rather their kid be happy as a chef or a comic, than be miserable as a lawyer or a doctor.

For some, Yiddish is an important aspect of Jewish humor, and of course, only a few generations ago, was the language of many Jewish immigrants. However, most American Jews can’t speak Yiddish anymore. I learned there are many jokes in Yiddish that I didn’t get because of the language.

But a few Yiddish words have become so popular and that they have become part of the American English lexicon. For example, the word “kvetch”, which means to complain, has been added to the Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Here is an example of a kvetch joke:

A guy gets a new dog, a nice Jewish dog. He names the dog Einstein and trains Einstein to do a couple of tricks. He can’t wait to show Einstein off to his neighbor. A few weeks later when the neighbor finally comes over, the guy calls Einstein into the house, bragging about how smart he is.

The dog quickly comes running and stands looking up at his master, tail wagging excitedly, mouth open, tongue hanging out, and eyes bright with anticipation. The guy points to the newspaper on the couch and commands “Fetch!”

Immediately, the dog climbs onto the couch and sits, his tail wagging furiously. Then all of a sudden, he stops. His doggie smile disappears. He starts to frown and puts on a sour face. Looking up at his master, he whines, “You think this is easy, wagging my tail all the time? Oy vey … And you think its easy eating that junk that you call designer dog food? Forget it … it’s too salty and it gives me gas. It’s disgusting I tell you!”

The neighbor is absolutely amazed … stunned. In astonishment, he says, “I can’t believe it. Einstein can speak. Your dog actually talks. You asked him to fetch the newspaper and he is sitting on the sofa talking to us.”

“I know, I know,” says the dog owner. “He’s not yet fully trained. He thought I said kvetch.”

Another stereotype might have originated from the medieval times when it was against Christian law to lend money, and the majority of the population was Christian. Some Jews were able to take advantage of this and the fact that money lending did not require owning land, which Jews were forbidden from doing, and they became money lenders. In some places, they developed sophisticated banking practices and thrived on this part of the economy, even becoming wealthy. And yet these activities surrounding money, loans, and interest payments also played a role in forming the negative stereotype of the Jewish money lender.

Unfortunately, the stereotype was fueled by anti-Semitism and hatred, and at the same time exaggerated to make it seem worse. Then the stereotype that Jews are very rich was in vogue when Hitler was in power, and he told people that Jews controlled the banks and all the world’s money.

As Rabbi Peter explained to me these stereotypes of being cheap and of being rich are two sides of the same coin and both are ways antisemites attack Jews. All of this leads to “Cheap Jew” jokes.

Abe’s son arrives home from school puffing and panting, sweat rolling down his face. “Dad, you’ll be so proud of me” he says, “I saved a dollar by running behind the bus all the way home.” “Oy” says Abe, “You could have run behind a taxi and saved $20”

Abe wants his son to save a lot of money, and when his son runs behind the bus to save a dollar, he is disappointed and tells him should have run behind a taxi to save 20 dollars when he would still only be saving one. This joke has two main characteristics, frugalness and logic. The Jew is cheap and wants to save a lot of money, which is a trait of frugalness.

The Jew is also using logic by thinking, if you don’t take the bus you are not spending 1 dollar, therefore if you run behind a taxi you are not spending 20 dollars. This can either be a stereotype that Jews do not always use common sense or that Jews can be wisely foolish at times, as in their idea is logical but it is not following the rules of the world.

The most famous subject of this wisely foolish category is the fictional Jewish town of Chelm. Chelm appears mostly in Jewish folklore. The story behind Chelm says that god made two kinds of people smart people and foolish people, and when an angel was delivering the foolish people to the world he dropped the bag and all of them fell into Chelm. One tale of Chelm goes like this.

Two Citizens of Chelm are talking. One looks at the sky and suddenly asks, “Which do you think is more important, the sun or the moon?” “The sun, obviously,” is the response. “You’re wrong,” “How can I be wrong?” “Don’t you understand that the moon is more important? After all, the moon shines at night when it is dark. But the sun, It shines during the daytime when we don’t need it!”

Another type of Jewish humor is Talmudic logic. The Talmud is a record of discussions between rabbis that deal with Jewish law, ethics, and customs. The Talmud’s logic is one where you must examine every possible outcome of an act. It is also an elaboration on the written laws of the bible, in it there are many arguments over the laws so the reader can really understand how the law works. The many arguments or contradictions in Talmudic humor most likely came from this. The results of this type of logic can sometimes lead to clever conclusions as is apparent in this joke.

Feld and Bein met on the street. “Sholom aleichem,” said Feld, politely. “Go to hell,” said Bein. “Look,” Feld said indignantly, “I speak nicely to you and you tell me to go to hell. What’s the idea?” “I’ll tell you,” said Bein. “If I answered you politely you would ask where am I going, and I would tell you I’m going to the 8th Street baths. “You would tell me I’m crazy, the Avenue A baths are better, and I would say you’re crazy, the th “This way it’s simpler. I tell you right away to go to hell, and it’s finished.”

Another example of the Talmud in humor is in a more recent Simpson’s episode. In the episode Bart and Lisa used Talmudic logic to try to reunite Krusty the Clown, a Jewish clown for young kids, with his estranged father, a rabbi, Hyman Krustofski. It is interesting that Talmudic humor is in modern forms of entertainment when the topic itself is almost two thousand years old.

When this project began, I thought I knew a lot about Jewish humor, but I quickly learned that I actually knew nearly nothing. At the beginning I only knew the topics of Jewish jokes, like cheap or rabbi. Little did I know, there was a whole world of information on this topic going back hundreds of years. Researching this topic opened my eyes to ideas and facts about Jewish culture and history that I did not know about at all before.

The things I have learned will stay with me and have already become integrated into my own sense of humor and my view of the world. At the end I really feel good about doing all this work on a subject I knew so little about but was so much fun to research. I think that what I learned, connects to my Jewish culture because it showed me many things about Judaism that we find acceptable to make fun of because of how we feel about them. Reading all these jokes let me know of all these rules and traditions are such a big part of the Jewish culture.


“Religious Rules and Ethical Treatment of Animals” by Ben Farber
May 12, 2007

My major project is a look at Kashrut, or kosher rules, why they got started, and why they are still kept today. It is also a paper about the ethical treatment of animals in the food preparation process.

The kosher rules are rules for food preparation, handling, and eating, for Jews. Many Jews, mainly Orthodox, still keep these rules, while many Jews do not. The earliest version of these rules is found in the third book of the Torah, called the Book of Leviticus, dating back to around 800 BCE. The rules have been expanded and elaborated on ever since, in the Talmud and later rabbinic commentaries.

The rules of Kashrut explain what can and can’t be eaten. Of the land mammals, you may eat any animal that has cloven hooves, and chews its cud, like the cow, deer, goat, and sheep. Cloven hooves are when the hoof of an animal is split down the middle so that it looks like the animal has two toes. Animals that chew their cud partially regurgitate their food, then swallow it again.

If an animal doesn’t both have cloven hooves and chew its cud, then it is “treyf”, which literally means “torn”. Originally, this term was used to describe animals that were unacceptable because they were torn by other animals. Later, the term “treyf” was expanded to refer to animals that were slaughtered incorrectly, or were off limits because of other rules. For example, treyf animals include the pig, horse, and camel.

Of the creatures that live in the water, you can eat anything that has both fins and scales. Examples include trout, salmon, sole, and carp. Anything without both fins and scales is treyf, including shellfish.

Moving on to birds, you may eat them if they do not eat other animals. Examples of kosher birds include chicken, turkey, and pheasant. You may not eat birds of prey, such as the hawk, eagle, or vulture. Rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and insects are also forbidden. Vegetables are automatically kosher.

Even when animals qualify as kosher, there are only certain parts that you are allowed to eat. Blood cannot be eaten, nor can an egg with a blood spot in it. Also, the sciatic nerve and its adjoining blood vessels cannot be eaten. This is why you are not allowed to eat the hindquarters of an animal. The sciatic nerve is located in the hindquarters, and it is too hard to remove. A certain fat called “chelev” which surrounds the vital organs and the liver cannot be eaten as well.

Many people think that to make a food kosher, a rabbi has to bless it. Actually, a rabbi has nothing to do with making the food kosher. A rabbi comes to inspect the slaughterhouse on a regular basis, but that is pretty much it. Actually, to make food kosher, birds and mammals must be slaughtered in accordance with the slaughtering rules. This is done by a trained person called a shochet. The animal has to be killed with one quick stroke across the neck with a sharp, perfectly smooth blade, so it is not “torn”. It is explained by rabbinic teachings that this is to minimize the pain that an animal feels when it

is being slaughtered. This also allows for rapid and complete draining of blood, which is essential to Kashrut. All the blood needs to be thoroughly removed, by draining, salting, or broiling.

The origin of not eating blood comes from the Noah’s Ark story in the Book of Genesis. After the flood is over, God makes a pact with Noah. “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you and just as I gave you the green plants I give you everything only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” It goes on to say that “If you take the blood from an animal, I will require it from you”. Interestingly, in the Noah’s ark story, all animals are permitted, not only ones with cloven hooves that chew their cud. Also, according to legend, before the flood, Adam and Eve were allowed to eat animals with blood in them, but now Noah is being prohibited.

As many of you probably know, the other main rule of kosher is that meat can’t be eaten with dairy, served on the same plate as dairy, or eaten with the same utensils as dairy, or from plates cleaned in the same dishwasher load as dairy, or basically have any contact with dairy, and meat and airy must be eaten at least 3 hours apart. The origin of this separation of meat and milk is based on a verse in Leviticus: “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.” This means that you cannot boil a baby goat in goat’s milk. This specific example has been made into a broader rule, saying that it is “unclean” to eat meat and milk together. Fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables, and grains (such as rice and bread) can be eaten with both meat and dairy.

The Islamic religion has similar food rules as the Jewish religion, but there are also differences. These rules come from the Koran, the book that religious Muslims consider holy. These rules are called Halal, which means “permissible”. Muslim food rules are divided into two types; Dhabiha Halal, and Bismillah Halal. Dhabiha Halal is very similar to Kashrut. The similarities include not eating pork, pork products, or anything made with pork fat. Also, blood is forbidden, just like in Kashrut. Amphibians, such as frogs, are also prohibited in both. And animals that eat other animals are prohibited in both Kashrut and Dhabiha Halal.

However, there are differences between Kashrut and Halal. In Dhabiĥa Halal, consumption of alcohol, no matter how small, is strictly forbidden, even in something like rum cake and even if all the alcohol is baked out. In Jewish rituals, it is customary to have some wine, but excessive drinking is not encouraged. The exception to this is on the holiday of Purim, when it is accepted to drink to excess as part of the celebration; getting drunk is encouraged.

The slaughter of animals in Halal is basically the same as slaughter of animals in Kashrut. It involves one quick cut on the throat with a perfectly smooth blade. In fact, some people consider Kashrut an acceptable substitute for Halal.

I also did some limited research on food rules in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity. Many Buddhists try to avoid intentional killing, and are therefore vegetarians. In Hinduism, vegetarianism is preferred, but if you are going to eat meat, cows are strictly off limits because they are sacred. There is a principle in Hinduism about not harming anything. I think that this stems from the Hindu belief in reincarnation. Christianity has no universal rules about food as far as I was able to find.

There are many different explanations for why rules about food developed in ancient times. Some are scientific, some are cultural, and some are religious. One of the scientific explanations is health. Keep in mind that there was no refrigeration back then. This means that, without salting and curing, meat would spoil quickly. Also, milk was hard to keep fresh. Someone could have eaten some bad milk with some bad meat, and gotten ill and then later died, and this might have happened to other people, so the religious leaders decided to ban milk and meat together. Also, people did not understand

the concept of germs and infections back then so someone could have gotten terminally ill from shellfish or pork or anything else, and people thought that this death was God telling them not to eat that food. Also, I think that pork was unacceptable because pigs roll in the mud, so they seem unclean. But the real reason that people were getting sick from pork might have been that pork is susceptible to a bacterial infection called trichinosis, a parasitic disease found in pork and wild game. It makes you sick, and when it goes untreated it can kill you.

There is also an ecological explanation for why the prohibition on pork developed. The Middle East is very dry, and there are no forests in which wild pigs could live. This means that they could not forage for food. So to raise pigs, people would have had to feed them grain, which requires water to grow. But all the water was needed for the people to live. Other animals, such as cows, sheep, and goats, were easier to take care of because they could graze in the grass along the riverbanks without being fed grain. Pigs do not eat grass.

A second kind of explanation for why the rules developed is cultural. The Jewish food rules are strict and are very detailed and specific. Jews were required to follow these rules and the rules helped to identify who was a Jew. In contrast, when Christianity developed it did not require its members to follow these strict rules. A reason that there might have been no food rules in Christianity was that there were recruitment efforts going on. If Judaism had all of these food rules, and Christianity did not have any, then people naturally might want to be Christian because they would have to worry less about what food they were eating. It might have been a way for Christians to attract new members.

The Jewish rules were so complicated and strict that there was no way to get around them. It was hard to eat with, socialize with, or marry someone who did not share your food rules. This means that there was little intermarrying between Jews and Christians. People thought that this would keep the Jewish religion going by making it so that Jews didn’t gradually assimilate into other cultures. In the Torah, these rules were given without reason. Basically, it was “do it because God says so”. Even now, some Jews still follow the rules because they believe God commands them to do so. But nowadays, many Jews do not follow the rules so strictly. Some may keep some of the dietary laws, but out of tradition, not because they feel commanded. Others may not follow the rules at all.

The rules teach ethical behavior. They help to define right and wrong. In the Jewish and Muslim religions, it is wrong to kill an animal inhumanely. That is why the slaughter needs to be done with one quick stroke across the neck with a smooth blade. It is wrong to have an animal suffer. This ties in to my big personal food rule. I will not eat baby animals. I would never think about eating veal or lamb. Baby animals that are raised to be food do not have a chance to experience life. In factory-farming commercial meat production, from almost the moment they are born, the animals are confined to a small space, so they can barely move. This makes their muscles soft and tender, and people like to eat them. I would not eat a baby cow or sheep even if it was allowed to run free. It has to do with their age. Baby animals do not have a chance to live, and I will not take away their life while they are so young.

Personally, I do not follow the rules of Kashrut. For a long time, I didn’t know that there was such a thing as kosher. Until I was five or six, I didn’t know that there was any kind of Judaism other than secular Humanism. Now that I know that these rules exist, I find them interesting as an aspect of Jewish culture and history.

I do agree with the principle of humane animal slaughter. Even though there is no such thing as truly humane slaughter, there are some ways of killing animals for meat that are less cruel than others. This connects to my value of concern for the suffering of animals, and that has inspired me to look at some work by a woman named Temple Grandin. Temple Grandin is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. She is also autistic. Her work focuses on making sure that the slaughter of cows and pigs is done humanely. As of 1995, she had designed one-third of all the livestock handling facilities in the United States.

These systems are designed to improve the treatment of livestock. Temple Grandin thinks that it is morally wrong to make an animal unnecessarily stressed by being cruel to it during slaughter, and I agree. She believes that animals should be slaughtered in a humane way, but she is not a vegetarian. She says that she needs to eat animal protein or else she does not feel right. She has designed many slaughterhouses where the animals are not scared by being killed. She says that because she is autistic, her brain works a little differently than other peoples’, and she is able to “put herself in the place of the animal”. She imagines what it would be like to be an animal in that slaughterhouse, and she makes corrections accordingly. She works with McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy’s on ways to make slaughter a less frightening experience.

In the slaughterhouses that she has designed, the animals do not moo and bellow and scream. Her animal handling systems do not have things that distract animals in them. She says that animals are very sensitive to details and she tries to eliminate all frightening details in her systems. These details can include the area being too light or too dark, reflections, sounds, and strange movement like slow rotating fan blades, jiggling chains, or small pieces of metal that stick out.

Professor Grandin says mistreatment of animals by humans is the number one cause of concern in slaughterhouses. All the high-tech equipment means nothing if the workers are not kind or gentle to the animals. She says that managers also need to treat the plant’s employees humanely. Otherwise they will not treat the animals well if they are not given rests. Also, the employees should rotate positions so they don’t spend all their time killing and the actual killing should be done by a machine.

Professor Grandin has done a lot of work to improve the conditions of kosher slaughterhouses as well. In kosher slaughterhouses, a method, known as “shackling and hoisting,” had become common practice so the workers could cut the animal’s throat in one quick stroke as is required. This method involved hanging the animal by one hind leg with a metal chain. Instead, Professor Grandin either has the cow straddling a moving conveyor belt, or confined in an upright pen with a comfortable head restraint system. With Prof. Grandin’s methods, the animals can be treated well, and slaughtered according to kosher rules.

Kosher slaughter has been banned in some European countries. It has been banned in Switzerland since 1897 because people thought it was inhumane. However, some people believe that these early rules were a way to get rid of Jews. Kosher slaughter was later banned in Norway, Denmark and Nazi Germany in the mid-1930s. There are arguments that can be made both ways: that the ban is for humane purposes, and that the ban is anti-Semitic. Even as late as 2002 in Switzerland, the ban still stands, because, the law requires animals to be anaesthetized before slaughter, something forbidden in kosher slaughter. I think the ban is anti-Semitic, because although it bans kosher slaughter, the Swiss government does allow the import of kosher meat. How does it show concern for the suffering of animals when you are allowed to import the meat but not do it yourself? Also, we know that there are humane methods of kosher slaughter because of Professor Grandin’s work, so kosher slaughter is not necessarily cruel or inhumane. To the contrary, kosher slaughter was developed as the most humane way to kill animals for food, and I believe that it should still be done that way.

Since my family were secular Jews going back to when they lived in Europe, they did not keep kosher, so these bans would not have affected them. In my family, we keep traditions about food, but we don’t follow these rules. A tradition is something you keep not because you have to, but because you want to, and a rule is something you do not because you want to, but because you have to. My family sometimes eats traditional Hungarian food because they were Hungarians living in Romania. When my grandparents and their parents moved to America, they brought their habits of eating with them. But the emphasis on these habits of eating has worn off a little bit with each generation. For instance, my grandparents like to eat traditional Hungarian food, like Wiener schnitzel, a cheese spread called kotezett, and stuffed eggs. My mother’s generation, being born in America, eats Hungarian food only on special occasions. But in my generation, we don’t like these foods very much. But having them at our family gatherings is important to my family because it preserves our identity. Even though I don’t like the traditional Hungarian foods now, I might like them as I get older, and having them at family gatherings will always be important to me because it preserves the Farber identity.

In conclusion, it is interesting to see how rules about food reflect values. Originally, when I started this paper, I didn’t think that kosher rules had anything to do with my life. But now I realize that they do, even though we don’t follow them. They have to do with some of my values – not being cruel to animals, and keeping your culture. In addition to mandatory food rules, I have found that other traditions about food help to define a family and a culture.


“Children’s Art and Poetry at Terezin” by Abigail Cheskis
April 28, 2007

I first found out about children expressing themselves during the Holocaust through art and poetry when I went to the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. I saw pictures that children drew in this exhibit and felt that the idea of children drawing during the Holocaust was a surprising concept. This experience caught my interest because I have always liked anything that had to do with creativity. From when I was very young I liked to color and paint. Now I scrapbook, knit, make fleece blankets, draw, make collages, and more. I also like to write. When I work on a project I feel enjoyment, accomplishment, relaxation, and a good feeling about being able to express myself. My parents and grandparents are also supporters of art. They enjoy observing art and having it in their homes, but do not necessarily enjoy making art. I think my experience with creativity has made it easier for me to understand why art and writing comforted and helped the children in Terezin, a concentration camp especially known for the amount of art that was created there.

The Holocaust was a time when many Jews in Europe were put into concentration camps and killed by the Germans. This started during the late 1930’s and it ended when Hitler was defeated in 1945. There were many death camps in different countries. The most well-known of these death camps was called Auschwitz, in Poland.

Terezin is forty miles northwest of Prague, in the Czech Republic. Terezin’s better know German name is Theresienstadt. It was founded by Emperor Joseph the 2nd of Austria. He named it after his mother, Maria Theresa. In the 1700’s Terezin was an Austrian military base, then it was converted into a town for civilians (in 1882), and then later converted into a ghetto to contain the Jews during the Holocaust. Terezin had an odd shape. The town was enclosed by twelve walls in the shape of a star. Inside the town was a fortress.

In 1941 all of the non-Jewish residents of Terezin were removed from their homes by the Nazis. After the Nazis removed the residents they brought in Jews from all over Europe. There were many different types of Jews in Terezin. There were elders, honored and disabled veterans of World War I, Jews with special connections, and people with non-Jewish spouses. The Jews were all housed within the fortress.

Terezin was not technically a death camp, but it was a stopping place for the killing of Jews. It was created to hide from the outside world that Jews were being murdered. Red Cross inspectors who were internationally trusted and could influence world opinion were brought to Terezin to show how the Nazis were treating Jews well and that Jews weren’t getting starved or overworked.

There were two main elements of Terezin that were shown to the visitors. The Nazis tried to convince the visitors that it was a special place for the elderly where they were treated well. They were also shown that there was a lot of creative expression, through art, music, plays, work and other cultural activities. But really what the Nazis were showing was a disguise and the exact opposite of reality. People were actually starving, the elderly weren’t treated well, many people were sick and dying, and many people were sent to death camps regularly.

The Nazis in Terezin made some of the adults who were artists work for them to make signs and items that they needed. Because of this the adults had many art supplies available to them. The adults snuck out some of the art and writing supplies (which put them at risk of getting caught and in trouble by the Nazis). They used these supplies to teach the children how to draw and how to write. The adults hosted secret art classes. There is also evidence that prisoners brought art supplies with them, the most famous being the artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis.

There are many reasons that the adults hosted these classes, given other worries and fears that they had about survival at the time. I have thought of four reasons that may explain why the adults influenced so much art and writing. My first, and I think most important, reason is they were trying to help the kids make a bad situation better. I know if I were in a ghetto I would have wanted to make my situation better even though I was in a bad, sad, and mad place.

The next reason is the adults were showing resistance and trying to shape the children’s futures. They resisted by teaching the children to draw and write and by not following the Nazi’s rules and by taking their supplies. They resisted because they were trying to show the Nazis that they can capture the Jews but they can’t completely control what they do. It also showed that the adults had hope that the children would be alive and living full lives after being released from the concentration camp. If the adults had no hope they wouldn’t have been trying to teach the kids anything.

My third reason is that art and poetry helped the children to express their feelings. When I write a poem there is usually some feeling hidden in the poem that is related to real life. The adults knew that the children’s creative expression would help to make the bad situation better.

The last reason I have thought of is that drawing and writing can help time go by quickly. When I do art, I look at the clock and before I know it an hour has passed. The children were mistreated, hungry, and not taken care of in Terezin, so the adults tried to make time pass by quickly for them.

There were over four thousand pictures found at Terezin. There were also hundreds of poems and other writings found. All of these poems and pictures had been hidden. It was mostly girls from the ages ten to fifteen who drew and boys who wrote. These kids used anything they could find to draw on and write on: packing paper, blotting paper, and forms.

Different people have different ideas about the purpose that art and poetry had at Terezin. Anita Frankova, an archivist at the Jewish Museum in Prague, thinks the pictures were drawn to express joy and sorrow, share memories, longing for home, fears, and hopes. The poems have memories of lost homes, happy childhoods, bitterness at being taken away from normal life, strong longing to return home, and the idea of life after escape. Also the leaving of friends caused children a lot of sadness, so their poems sometimes reflected a longing to follow their friends and meet them somewhere, sometime in the future although it was unknown. In an essay by Sybil Milton, who was a writer and Holocaust historian, she states her opinion that children used art “As an outlet for their imagination as well as an escape, enabling them to gain control of their own personal space and time.” My own observations are that the children drew and wrote the pictures and poems to express the topics: Never give up, the longing for and the belief in freedom, the idea that you should stick to your beliefs, resistance, memories of home, and the importance of sticking together.

In children illustrating the topic “never give up” they expressed thinking about happy times in the future, trying to escape when they had a chance, and holding on to dreams. I have chosen a poem to share from the book I have not seen a butterfly around here. The child who wrote this poem is unknown.

I’ve lived in the ghetto here more than a year, In Terezin, in the black town now, And when I remember my old home so dear, I can love it more than I did, somehow.

Ah, home, home, Why did they tear me away? Here the weak die easy as a feather And when they die, they die forever.

I’d like to go back home again, It makes me think of sweet spring flowers. Before, when I used to live at home, It never seemed so dear and fair.

I remember now those golden days… But maybe I’ll be going there soon again.

People walk along the street, You see at once on each you meet That there’s a ghetto here, A place of evil and of fear.

There’s little to eat and much to want, Where bit by bit, it’s horror to live. But no one must give up! The world turns and times change.

Yet we all hope the time will come When we’ll go home again. Now I know how dear it is And often I remember it.

As you can see this poem also expresses longing for home, which is another one of the topics I am writing about. This person also mentions that times change, so somehow even though she is going through horrible times she still has some hope left in her body. The other poem that I found about never giving up is called “To Olga” by Alena Synkova, who survived.

Listen! The boat whistle has sounded now And we must sail Out toward an unknown port. Listen! Now it’s time.

We’ll sail a long, long way And dreams will turn to truth. Oh, how sweet the name Morocco! Listen! Now it’s time.

The wind sings songs of far away Just look up to heaven And think about the violets. Listen! Now it’s time.

This poem is about a fantasy that two girls developed together about sailing away to Morocco. The poem expresses the longing to go to another place that is not full of hatred of the Jews. When the writer talks about going on a boat to Morocco she said “And dreams will become truth.” She is saying that something that she dreamed of and never thought could happen will become real. She also says “Listen! Now it’s time!” This shows that you should try to escape when you have a chance and if you give up, you may never have that chance.

In Terezin the children’s lack of freedom was always on their minds. They weren’t allowed to do anything when they wanted to. It was all controlled by the Nazis: their eating times, reading times, and everything else. The longing for freedom is expressed in another poem by Alena Synkova.

I’d like to go away alone Where there are other, nicer people, Somewhere into the far unknown, There, where no one kills another.

Maybe more of us, A thousand strong, Will reach this goal Before too long.

Alena wrote “Where no one kills another.” She wants to be some place where there is peace and freedom. In this poem she also expresses the idea of sticking together.

The Nazis did not want the Jews to stick to their beliefs and follow their Jewish heritage. No matter how much the Nazis punished the Jews, the Jews still celebrated and observed their religion, beliefs, and Jewish identity. The following two pictures clearly show the Jews’ commitment to their beliefs. The first picture shows a Jewish star and a big family sitting together at a large table. You can tell that these people are celebrating Jewish holidays and Jewish traditions. In this picture there is a menorah sitting on a stool with all of the candles lit. This shows the same thing as the last picture. Thinking about and drawing celebrations of Jewish holidays helped the people during the Holocaust to keep their religious traditions alive.

Sticking to Jewish beliefs also shows the topic resistance. Just by writing and drawing the children showed resistance against the Nazis. This is a paragraph written by a girl name Charlotte Veresova. At this time she was fourteen years old and this is from her diary.

“Everything is so petty compared to this thing. Here it is a question of life and we have only one single life. No, it mustn’t happen, they can’t do it, no one will let them! But why shouldn’t they do it? Who prevented them from bringing us here and who will prevent the gas chambers, who—god? I have stopped believing in god, so is this punishment for that? No, it isn’t, Tonicka and Berticka pray and they would be sent to the gas chambers with me. But I won’t give up. I am not a bug, even though I am just as helpless. If something starts, I’ll run away. At least I’ll try, after all, what could I lose? It would be better to be shot while trying to escape than to be smothered with gas. I’ll take Tonicka and we’ll run away to Litomerice together. Perhaps someone will take us in there. I know I’m not the only one, but still I’ll not give up just like that, without resisting! No, I shan’t give up, even if everyone else did, but not I! I want to live, I want to go back home, for after all I’ve done nothing to anyone, so why should I die? It’s so unjust!”

This passage is an example of Charlotte Veresova’s courage and how even though she knew what was supposed to happen to her, she wasn’t going to accept it.

There were many, many poems and drawings to demonstrate the topic “memories of home”. I really liked these pictures and thought that this picture best demonstrated the children’s memories of home. Children probably drew a lot of pictures of home because home is something very important to most people. For example, whenever I’m at camp, I always say I miss my house and my room! The children at Terezin missed their homes a lot and wanted to remember and recreate their homes through pictures and poems. I am also going to share a poem called “Home”, by Franta Bass, who died in 1944.

I gaze and gaze into the wide world, Into the wide and distant world, I gaze and gaze toward the south-east, I gaze and gaze towards my home.

I gaze towards home, Towards the town where I was born, My town, my native town, How gladly I would return to you.

The last topic is the importance of sticking together, which children expressed a lot. In Terezin there was a group of girls that was referred to as “The Girls from Room L28”. These girls developed a tight bond with each other during their “stay” in Terezin. When four of the girls from L28 were deported they ripped the flag they had made for their room into four pieces and said that when they reunited after the war they would put the flag back together. But sadly only one of those girls survived. This picture shows a reproduction of the other three parts with the real fourth quarter.

Other examples of sticking together are pictures of playing with friends and hanging around with friends. Playing with friends keeps your mind off the misery and trouble you are going through. It also gives you something positive and good in your life.

The Holocaust is not the only example of children drawing and writing to express their feelings. For example, there have been books published that include pictures and poems drawn and written by children after hurricane Katrina and by children who have AIDS. One more example of children drawing and writing was after nine eleven. There are many other examples of children using art and poetry to express themselves during challenging and even tragic times. Drawing and writing are known

to provide some level of comfort and healing to people in these circumstances. The writings and drawings can help a child get through a difficult time as well as recover from trauma after the event.

Children’s drawings and writings serve the purpose of helping children through the horrible events. The art work also serves as a way to teach us what really went on in Terezin and how people were really treated during the Holocaust.

Events like the Holocaust have no clear way of being stopped in our world today. Something like this event may happen again and I am confident that if children are part of it, drawing and writing will be one of the resources that will help the children through this horrible time.


“What’s the Standard?” by Kyra Zimmerman
November 18, 2006

January, 2006, May 14, 2006 and November 4, 2006. What do these dates all have in common? Many, many New York city middle school kids may know. These are dates of the standardized tests. I thought about these dates and realized how much they affected my life. Our vacations, outings, when we go to Broadway show, even the date of this Bat Mitzvah was chosen not to interfere with the standardized test for the specialized high schools that many of my friends and I took a two weeks ago. Because of this, standardized testing as a topic stuck to me like “wet spaghetti to the wall”. I had considered freedom of speech, women’s right, and with much badgering from my mother thought long and hard about the topic of Affirmative Action. But standardized testing permeates everyone life, and can alter people’s career paths and life choices.

Standardized testing also relates to Jewish thinking. Education is a fundamental value of all denominations of Judaism, and as you have heard, a basic value of mine. Historically, Jews have always studied and debated. They emphasized learning for its own sake and furthering one’s understanding of ancient texts. Further, Jews realized that knowledge was not something that could be taken from them. When faced with discrimination and exile, the Jews could “take” their knowledge and it could help them overcome obstacles. They realized that pursuing all forms of education was a method of achieving professional success, notwithstanding external political restrictions imposed on status and property ownership.

However, over the years Jews have changed their views towards education. Historically, girls were not given the same opportunity as boys to gain a traditional Jewish education, or to study for a bat mitzvah, like me today. Isaac Beshavis Singer’s story, “Yentl”, showed how a girl had to disguise herself as a boy to get a yeshivah education. Over time, we became slightly more open-minded and allowed girls to get an education. But the priority was still on the boy’s education if the family had financial constraints. Today, howeve, we live in a time and culture where women attend college in larger number than men.

For the Jewish people, the tenet of education embraces the value of fairness and equality. These parallel the controversies around standardized testing, which are also connected to issues of fairness, racial equality and social justice which are important to me and Judaism as well. It even relates to affirmative action mom! But it also occurred to me that the issues surrounding the controversies of standardized testing vs. other performance measures, like portfolios, and interviews, are similar to a comparison between secular Judaism vs. traditional Judaism. Both standardized testing and traditional forms of Judaism largely measure performance by achievement and compliance with “rules”, or “correct answers.” Whereas, secular Judaism and portfolio and interview assessments focus more on critical thinking and creative expression, There’s that term again.

Standardized tests are used as entrance exams at all levels of schooling. Standardized tests were first used as a stepping stone to assist those students who could not go to elite prep schools. But over time they have been used as entrance criteria at all levels of schooling. With the passage of federal legislation in 2002, commonly known as “No Child Left Behind,” standardized tests are used to measure teacher’s performance in addition to being used to measure a child’s progress in school. Those who continue to support standardized testing view it as a “fair and accurate test that objectively measures levels of thinking of the test takers.” Because the test is “objective”, the results can be used to make comparisons among the test takers. In other words, a standardized test does away with the possibility that an evaluator’s subjective opinion, values or prejudices will negatively or positively impact the assessment of the person being tested.

The importance placed on standardized tests has been elevated because the “No Child Left Behind” legislation relies on them for measuring students’ progress and teachers’ performance. The legislation is designed to help ensure that all children are receiving an adequate, complete and comparable education. The law requires states to demonstrate that their students are learning, and teachers are teaching, by measuring the student’s performance on standardized tests. If the test scores are not high enough, the state or locality has an opportunity to correct it. If there are continuing failed grades, the school district, and ultimately the state can lose federal funding. So high test score results are paramount. This has led to concerns that “No Child Left Behind” has increased “teaching to the test” either by teaching only topics that will be on the test, or by focusing all teaching time on test strategies.

New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg has taken the idea of standardized testing to measure performance a step further. Additional standardized test have been added to the elementary and middle years to eliminate “social promotion,” kids being moved up grades without having really learned the grade materials. Mayor Bloomberg believes that test scores can detect if children are learning and progressing. If a child does not score well, he or she will not be promoted. It is believed that if children have learning delays they should be caught and addressed early, to avoid the historic problem of some kids getting to high school and not knowing how to read, write and do basic math. If these issues are discovered through tests when the child is younger, then needed assistance can be provided to put the child “back on track.”

Children should be taught to read, write and do math before they are promoted. Of course, holding states accountable for ensuring that the children are learning, if they are going to get federal money our tax dollars, is worthwhile. And a college applicant’s capabilities should be assessed before he/she is admitted to a college. The controversy, however, revolves around whether standardized tests are the best way to measure one’s capabilities.

There are many difficulties in relying on standardized test. They range from issues in accuracy in the grading to substantive biases in the questions. In recent time there have been errors in test grading. The implementation of the “No Child Left Behind” has caused an explosion in the standardized testing business. It is now a 2 billion dollar industry with more work than it can handle. “The demand for testing has outstripped the abilities of the industry and testing and scoring quality have deteriorated,” stated an article in the New York Times. Ironically, it is the increased reliance and value placed on test results that has led to increased grading problems. So much so, that legislators and education policy makers believe that there should be a new federal agency created to provide oversight to the designing, administering and grading of the test.

One example of grading errors was documented in a flurry of newspaper and magazine articles, in March, 2006, about misscored SAT scores that affected thousands of high school students applying to college. The College Board had to notify more than 1000 colleges that over 4400 students who took the SAT in October 2005 received grades up to 450 points lower than they should have The cause you may ask? Excessive moisture on some of the tests which caused the computers not to register the results when grading the tests. The error was revealed five months after the exam were taken, scores were received, college applications were submitted and acceptance and rejection letters based on the errorous results were issued. Grading errors have also occurred because the “bubbles were not filled in completed” and because someone skipped a line of “bubbles.” And remember our 7 th grade ELA test where the letter choices for one question on the exam were a, b, c, d and the corresponding bubble choices were f, g, h, and i?

The debate concerning the use of standardized tests was reinforced to me when the articles about the SAT appeared next to another series of New York Times columns, also in March, 2006. The Department of Education has a plan for kindergarten admissions to the “gifted and talented program” in the public schools on the Upper West Side of NYC. Anne Commiante, citywide director of gifted and talented program, established a new system designed to open the admissions process and diversify the gifted programs. Kindergarten students will be judged not only by their test scores, but also by teacher’s observations of the child’s behavior and creativity. Some Upper West Side parents are furious about this, claiming that the new admissions policy is too subjective.

Having the two series of articles together in the same newspaper highlighted for me that the controversy about standardized tests effects everyone. I also know that beyond accuracy errors, standardized tests have been determined to have many biases that result in inaccurate results. There are cultural biases in standardized tests when questions refer to facts it presumes the test taker must know to answer the question correctly. If the person is from a different culture or geographic area and does not know what is referred to in the question, he or she is at an extreme disadvantage when figuring out the correct answer.

There is also documented gender bias in Standardized Testing for college admissions. The “SAT 1” is designed solely to predict first year student’s grades. Girls earn high grades throughout high school and college even though they consistently receive lower grades on SATs. Similar results are found in GREs and MCATs, graduate school entrance exams. This disparity is attributed to references in the questions that women are less familiar with and that, in general, men perform better on multiple choice questions.

Standardized Testing does not measure other aspects of a person. It’s just a small “snapshot”, not a full evaluation of who the person is. Creative expression and life experiences are devalued with Standardized Testing. Standardized Testing can’t capture who you are as a person. It can’t measure your personality, behavior, attendance, diligence or conscientiousness, or the pride one has in their work When I was in fourth grade, to help us understand the time period of the 1920’s, the class learned to “swing dance” Not only did I learn the steps, I learned about the importance of hard work, discipline and commitment to a project. I also learned how to interact and respect others. I learned to dance with boys! This can’t be measured or quantified on a Standardized Testing.

The results of Standardized Testing measure test taking, not creativity. Creativity cannot possibly be measured on a “bubble sheet” or show through the answer to a multiple choice test. But as I have heard people say, if you don’t like the situation, come up with a different approach. So I decided to see if there was another way that could be used to assess a person but allow more of your creativity and personality to “shine through.” And with the help of my mom I came across the Posse Foundation.

The Posse Foundation provides scholarships for high school graduates to attend “partnership” colleges and universities. But the foundation does not choose their students with standardized tests results. Instead of having the applicants fill in “bubble grids,” the Posse Foundation uses interviews and observations of the teens doing teambuilding activities like robotics (Go Gabe!!) to assess students capabilities and potential. They are assessed to see what their social and interpersonal skills are. Their personalities and creativity “shine through or they do not shine through.” The students are then interviewed personally and matched with colleges. When in college they can call upon other Posse students for support and help if things get rough.

Additionally, there are over 700 colleges and universities in the United States that have chosen not to rely on standardized tests for admissions. They include Bowden, Hamilton College, Middlebury, Bates and Sarah Lawrence, to name a few. They realize that high standardized test scores results do not measure who will be a valuable addition to a college campus. These colleges have found that without Standardized Testing requirements the applicant pool has increased and become more diverse. These schools have also found that they consider students individually.

Test optional admissions policies and the Posse foundation are not perfect alternatives. It may not be a practical if a school received tens of thousands of applications. Also, just because students can interact and get along in a room, does not mean they can make it in college And isn’t the measure of how well people get along completely subjective and subject to bias? What if the observer thinks aggressive leadership is good, or, alternatively, that cooperation without asserting yourself is better? This could lead to skewed choices by the evaluators.

I asked Grandpa David, who had to take the MCATs to get into medical school and then medical boards to become a doctor, what he thought of standardized tests. He said standardized tests result in only standardized doctors. He believes reliance on these tests does not result in the best selection of doctors. The result is good test takers become doctors, and that makes the “practice of medicine stagnant.” Instead, Grandpa David thinks that medical school applicants should be evaluated based on careful review of applicants recommendations, interviews, “analysis of what they have given to the world,” their community service, and their grades. But when I asked about other factors, and what background the evaluators should have, to eliminate arbitrariness in the selection of medical students, he was stumped. Devising an alternative to standardized testing is no easy task!

I think that in the future there should be a middle ground between Standardized Testing and alternative admissions polices without regard for testing. You want to have a fair, personal way to assess a person that also maintains levels of consistency and rigor. Standardized Testing affects a lot of people in many ways. They can make you cry in sadness or cry in joy! But it is one of those things that doesn’t have an easy answer, no pun intended. Think about it, what would you do? Keep standardized tests? Don’t use them at all? Or something in the middle? Like most issues in life, it’s not black or white, it’s just gray.


“The Lilith Myth” by Danielle Nourok
October 21, 2006

I chose to do my major paper on a mythological character named Lilith. When I first began exploring the Lilith myth, I was interested in the fact that she was a demon. I was curious to know whether Jews believed in the devil. While doing my research, I learned that Lilith was a strong, independent woman who was demonized for believing she was equal to men.

Legends about Lilith, or characters very similar to her, have shown up in many different cultures, including Greek, Native American, and Oriental. But most of the stories come from Jewish folklore. These stories have been retold for over 3,000 years, and with each retelling the details grew and evolved.

The first Jewish reference to Lilith is in the Hebrew Bible, Chapter 1 of Genesis. “On the sixth day, God created male and female from His own image.” But in Chapter 2 of Genesis, Lilith has disappeared and the more familiar version of how man and woman were created is told. In this second version, God created man from the dust of the ground and then, while this first man slept, God removed his rib and created the first woman.

Later, in the Talmud, which was written from about 300 to 500 of the Common Era, the rabbis explained another aspect of Lilith. She is a wild-haired, winged creature, who seduces men. The Talmud was written for brilliant scholars; all of whom were men, and they never expected it to be read by women. People with average intelligence did not study the Talmud. Their exposure to the Lilith figure comes from stories and pictures of Lilith that decorated everyday items.

The story of Lilith as Adam’s first wife appears in the Alphabet of Ben Sira, around 800 CE. The Alphabet of Ben Sira is a medieval text that consists of a list of proverbs, some in Aramaic and some in Hebrew. The final section of the book takes place in the court of the Babylonian king. This king relays his problems to Ben Sira, who solves them by telling the king different stories. In one of them, Ben Sira tells him the story of Lilith. He says Adam asked God to send him a mate. When Lilith was sent down, Adam wanted her to lie beneath him, but she refused, not wanting to be in the symbolically inferior position.

God’s punishment to Lilith, for refusing to return to Adam, was that one hundred of her children would have to die every day. According to the Encyclopedia Mythica, Lilith is a female demon who flies around at night looking to steal or kill newborn babies. She also seduces men in order to give birth to her own demon children. Even today, observant Jews do not tell the name of the baby before it is born, and if it is a boy, not until the bris. Originally, this was most likely done to keep the baby safe from Lilith and other demons.

The story of God’s punishment and Lilith’s revenge was not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, but may have been written by rabbis who were trying to fill in the blanks in the Bible stories. It would have appeared in the Midrash or in the Talmud.

Men showed Lilith in this negative way because they were insecure and afraid that women would leave them. Through the Lilith myth, they were trying to send women the message that they should listen to the men, no matter what. Jewish men made up these stories because they had no power in the outside world. But in their community, they were able to use these stories to exert power over Jewish women.

As I did my research, and read more about Lilith, I began to see that she had a positive side. She was an independent, strong woman, and I started to think that men demonized her as a way of scaring women away from wanting to be equal. I actually think that Lilith was ahead of her generation. In modern times, many women expect to be treated equally.

Interestingly, there is a Jewish feminist magazine, called Lilith, which was launched during the height of the feminist movement. On the magazine’s website, Lilith is described as Adam’s absolute equal. There is a quote from the Alphabet of Ben Sira, which says “In the Garden of Eden, long before the eating of the apple, the Holy One created the first human beings— a man named Adam, and a woman named Lilith. Lilith said, ‘We are equal because we are created from the same earth.’”

And in the first issue of Lilith Magazine, published in 1976, there is an article entitled, “The Lilith Question.” In this article, the author, Aviva Canter Zuckoff, discusses Lilith’s departure from the Garden of Eden. She says that Lilith chose loneliness over being controlled by Adam, and describes her as a powerful female, one who is independent and takes responsibility for her life.

The author also makes a connection between the Lilith myth and what was happening to Jews at the time. The Jews were cast out and did not have a homeland, and it was during these times of exile that many of the Lilith legends were developed. For 2,000 years, Jews were forced to live on the edge of society. They were cast out in the same way that Lilith was cast out.

There are other Jewish stories, such as the story of Purim, which sends a similar message to women. In this story, Esther marries the king and hides the fact that she is Jewish. Later, she reveals that she is Jewish, and risks her life by asking the king to save the Jews. The king’s previous wife, Vashti, was more like Lilith in that she was independent and outspoken. She refused to “dance” in the king’s harem, and as a result Vashti lost her crown and possibly her head too. The message in this story is that it is okay for Jewish women to be assertive as long as she’s doing it for the good of Jewish men.

Through the ages women have been punished and ridiculed for being powerful. In the late 1600s, for instance, there were the Salem witch trials. During these trials, unexplained deaths of children were blamed on the midwives. These women were accused of being possessed by the devil. Like the Jews who were exiled, men during the time of Puritanism felt threatened with regard to their religious beliefs. When this happens, it is often the women who are demonized.

Even as late as the 1960s, at the beginning of feminism, men criticized women for choosing to work outside of the home rather than taking care of the family. Men demonized these women by making up stories about the women and accusing them of being masculine and aggressive.

The effects of feminism could be compared to periods of exile because each, in different ways, threatened men’s power. Feminist women were similar to Lilith because they considered themselves equal to men and were not willing to back down when confronted with men’s displeasure.

An even more recent example of the Lilith message can be found in the extremely popular sitcom of the 1980’s, Cheers. In it there is a character named Lilith Sternin, who wears fitted, masculine suits, and keeps her hair in a tight bun. She moves and speaks in a very robotic way, and doesn’t let herself relax and be softer like a “normal” woman.

Her relationship with Frasier is that she hates him when her hair is up, and will not permit him to behave in a gentlemanly manner toward her. But when her hair is down, she is sexy and they are attracted to one another. During these moments she lets him literally carry her away.

Now, please look at the screen to your right to see a short clip from Cheers.

As you can see from Lilith’s behavior and appearance, it is safe to assume that the creators of Cheers were familiar with the Lilith myth.

After doing all the research and reading about Lilith, I realize that what drew me to her character is my strong belief in feminism. I think women should be treated equally. And I admire those people who, like Lilith, stand up for equality.

One of the things I love is playing sports, but it wasn’t until the 1970s, with the passing of Title 9, that girls were given equal opportunity to play sports. This has especially benefited me, since last summer I was able to go to Holland and play soccer on a coed team.

When I was eight, I had my first experience of gender inequality. I was on a coed little league team for baseball. I was one of three girls. The league only allowed each team to have two girls, but our team had three because one of the girl’s names was Michelle and they thought it was Michael. The coach said everyone would get an equal amount of playing time at the different positions, but it became clear that the coach wanted to put the boys at the best positions and never the girls.

There is a flip side to feminism that affects choices for boys as well. While girls are allowed to do “masculine” things, it’s frowned upon if boys play with dolls or put on makeup. Luckily, today, as boys get older and become men, and women have careers, the men can choose to be stay-at-home dads without facing ridicule. It is this kind of result that women like Lilith have fought for over the centuries, and while there’s still work to do, we are much closer than ever before to a society that treats the genders equally.


“Why Jews Were A Major Ally of African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement” by Benjamin Weitz
September 9, 2006

During the 1950s and 1960s there was a major Civil Rights movement in the United States to achieve equality for African Americans, especially in the south. During that time, Jews became highly involved in the struggle. According to the encyclopedic website “My Jewish Learning,” and the Public Broadcasting Station, Jews only made up 1 or 2% of the United States population, but at least 30% of the white people who went south to fight for Civil Rights were Jewish. More than 50% of the Civil Rights attorneys in the south were Jews. More than two-thirds of the Freedom Riders desegregating Interstate transportation were Jewish. Why? They risked their lives. There must have been something very powerful to get them to do it.

Because of the oppression, slavery and exile that both groups experienced, because of Jewish values, and because Jews of all people know that no freedom is secure unless all are free, Jews became the major ally of African Americans during the Civil Rights movement.

The Torah says that thousands of years ago the Jews were enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years. According to the story we tell at Passover, Moses led them out of slavery. After gaining their freedom, they established their own country in the land of Canaan. But after many hundreds of years they were defeated by other empires and eventually kicked out of their homeland.

Through all the centuries following, Jews were oppressed and looked down upon wherever they fled because they were different. They looked different, they had different beliefs and different customs. In every land they were in, they were made to feel like they didn’t belong.

From the 1500s to the 1800s, Africans were taken by Europeans out of Africa to the New World to be slaves. But even after slavery was abolished, they were looked down upon and oppressed here. Laws were made so that they couldn’t vote or have the same rights that others have. They were kept separate by segregation and were always made to feel like they didn’t belong. Eventually, they knew that, like the Israelites, they would have to free themselves from this oppression.

During slavery and afterward, many black people used the Jewish Exodus from slavery and the Zionist movement for inspiration. A famous black spiritual goes, “Go down Moses, and let my people go.” Many African American churches have the word “Zion” in their names. Harriet Tubman, a leader of the Underground Railroad to bring slaves to freedom during the 1800s, called herself “Moses.” The day before Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, he gave one of his most famous speeches saying, “I have been to the mountaintop… And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the Promised Land.”

Moses could not get into the Promised Land either, but the Torah says he did go to the mountaintop and looked over to see the promised land of the Israelites.

Martin Luther King was making the connection between the experience of Jews and African Americans, because he understood their shared experience.

At the time of the Civil Rights movement both Jews and African Americans were discriminated against. Not only had both groups been taken or thrown out of their homeland, but in their new country both groups were still looked at as strangers who were not equal to people who were white.

Another bond between African Americans and Jews was created by Jewish support for black colleges in the south. Many Jews, such as philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, who was the chairman of Sears Roebuck and lived from 1862 to 1932, donated money to support black schools in the south. Also many German Jewish professors who had fled Hitler couldn’t find jobs at universities in the United States because of anti-Semitism. But black universities in the south welcomed them, because other white professors wouldn’t teach there. They bonded with their black students, who were very grateful to have them there.

In 1955, a 14-year old boy named Emmett Till was killed by a white mob in Mississippi for daring to speak to a white woman. This murder made many whites in the United States more sympathetic to discrimination against African Americans. A few months later, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. African Americans rallied to her cause, and Black ministers began a bus boycott. The Civil Rights Movement was born. Martin Luther King became a well-known public supporter and leader.

From the beginning, many of Martin Luther King’s advisors were Jewish leaders, like rabbis and people in business. One of Martin Luther King’s closest and most trusted advisors from 1955 until King’s death was Stanley Levison, a Jewish lawyer from New York, who helped King write many of his speeches and organized many Civil Rights events.

King showed his appreciation and his shared values by supporting the Jews in return. He was an early supporter of the new State of Israel. He called Israel’s right to exist “incontestable” and said, “We must stand with all of our might to protect its right to exist and its territorial integrity.” He spoke out in support of Jews in the Soviet Union. And King spoke of Jews’ and African Americans’ common struggle to make it impossible for any people to oppress another. This support from King bonded Jews even more to the black struggle. They knew that they were stronger if they worked together.

There were real dangers for Jews who came out in support of Civil Rights. During the movement, many Jewish participants were beaten, arrested, and some were killed. Freedom Riders were beaten while police watched, doing nothing. Rabbi Israel Dresner was one of them. Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld was badly beaten with a tire iron while trying to register black voters in Mississippi in 1964.

Also in 1964, two Jewish Civil Rights workers from the north, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, along with their black fellow worker James Chaney, were murdered by white segregationists in Mississippi.

It was dangerous to participate in the Civil Rights movement. But Jews had a history of activism and fighting for people’s rights.

For example, in 1909 Jews were among the founders of the NAACP, the civil rights organization for African Americans and other minorities.

During the 1930s, Jews were a major part of the Labor Movement, which created more equality in the workplace and gave workers more pay, security, and better working conditions. My great- grandfather, Louis Weitz, was an active supporter of the Labor Movement during those times and ran for elective office in the New York State Assembly.

In 1948, Rabbi Jacob Rothschild gave a Yom Kippur sermon in Atlanta, in which he said that he was ashamed of race hatred in the south, and asked that Jews “be among those who are willing to do something” about it. In 1958 his synagogue was bombed, like the churches and homes of many black leaders in the south, for his support of Civil Rights for African Americans.

A long tradition of Jewish values also led to their participation in the Civil Rights Movement. It is a tradition that teaches good deeds, justice, respect, and human dignity.

Religious Jews who supported the Civil Rights movement could find their motivation in the Torah. Most of the Jews who traveled south for the Civil Rights movement were secular Jews. But even if we’re secular Jews, our values came from somewhere. Many Jewish values originated in the Torah. As Humanistic Jews we no longer believe that if we don’t follow God’s commandments from the Torah we have sinned. But as Rabbi Sherman Wine said, Judaism is a culture. A culture is not just commandments to follow but it is a way to live, and we learn that way from our ancestors and from our experiences.

The Humanistic principle is to be responsible people, and faithful to our values. As a result of long centuries of values passed down from one generation to another we are not just willing to help in such movements as Civil Rights, but we know we have an obligation and a duty to do it. Good people cannot be silent when they see injustice.

In almost every land that Jews went to in the Diaspora, they were viewed and treated as aliens, not deserving the same rights and respect. But to Jews, justice, respect and human dignity do not only apply to one group of people but to everyone.

Whether Jews believe in God or not, their tradition tells them that all human beings are equal as brothers and sisters. The values that Jews learn apply to everyone in the human family, not just themselves. Racism is therefore against Jewish principles. Freedom Rider Rabbi Israel Dresner said that when “God breathed life into man’s nostrils He didn’t seem too concerned with making differences between white, black and yellow.”

The tradition of the Sabbath, which originated in the Torah, taught Jews that people deserve freedom and dignity, and not to be treated as slaves.

Another Torah commandment says that Jews should treat the stranger among us as one of our own, because we also were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Because African Americans were being wrongly treated, Jews felt they had to help. At that time, African Americans were “the stranger that dwelled with us.”

Rabbis wrote in the Midrash that if you are to study and learn mitzvot but not do them it is better if you had not been born. We cannot really say that we have ethics if we are not willing to act on them. If we see injustice we must do our best to correct it. Knowing about injustice and not trying to change it is an evil itself.

Rabbi Dresner explained his participation in the Civil Rights Movement by comparing African Americans’ situation to the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews, saying that if someone had interfered perhaps there would not be six million dead. Martin Luther King agreed, saying that perhaps the Nazis could have been stopped if more Christians had protested.

The history of slavery and the Holocaust made Jews not only understand that discrimination and persecution are evil, but also that we have to fight for justice and survival and not wait to be rescued. Jews wanted to feel free and safe in this country.

But they realized that what was happening to African Americans could also happen to them unless rights were protected. They needed to make Democracy safe for all people. They didn’t want to wind up ever again in a country where there was no freedom and justice.

So Jews were very enthusiastic about Civil Rights in this country.

The Civil Rights Movement started for African Americans but it helped all Americans. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed, making it a law that every person regardless of race, color, religion or national origin has the same equality and rights in this country.

And in 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed, to make sure that everyone’s right to vote is safe. It might surprise you to know that both laws were written at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Jews can be proud that they helped create these laws.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s, the alliance between African Americans and Jews began to fade. There were many reasons. Many black people were angered by the lack of support among Jews for affirmative action. Society began to accept Jews and so they became more successful, but African Americans did not have the same opportunities, so some of them became resentful.

Other African Americans began to support violent movements for black power, movements that did not accept white people – including Jews – as part of them.

But that has not stopped Jews from speaking out against injustice when they see it. In the Sudan recently, black Africans have been forced out of their homes, tortured and killed by Arab tribes. Jews have stepped forward to organize movements to stop the killing. This year, an 18-year old Jewish High School student named Adam Zuckerman organized rallies and raised $6,000 for the “Save Darfur Coalition.” He says he was inspired by Jewish traditions of social activism. According to Zuckerman, “If you’re not standing up for people who are oppressed then your belief is just words.”

My father, Saul Weitz, joined Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in 1963, because he believed in fighting for Civil Rights too. Rabbi Joachim Prinz was among the speakers that day, saying, “When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under Hitler, the most important thing I learned is that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent problem, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem, is silence.”

Elie Wiesel agreed that the greatest sin of all is silence and indifference. He was imprisoned by the Nazis in a concentration camp, where his mother, father, and sister, and many of his Jewish friends died. He dedicated his life to making sure that no one ever forgets what happened and that it never happens again. He said that it is a moral responsibility of all people to fight hatred, racism and genocide wherever it happens. He said:

“Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must at that moment become the center of the universe. One person – a Raoul Wallenberg, an Albert Schweitzer, a Martin Luther King Jr. – one person of integrity can make a difference, a difference of life and death… While their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.”

When I visited the Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem in Israel, I saw the Avenue of the Righteous where trees are planted in honor of non-Jews who helped the Jews during the Holocaust. I saw trees dedicated to Raoul Wallenberg, Oskar Schindler, and even a priest. Israel honored these people because Jews know that the struggle for freedom and equality has nothing to do with race, religion or country.

Because we know what it is to be persecuted, enslaved and killed, because we have values that we live by, and because we know that our own freedom is not protected unless it is protected for everyone, we must act when we see injustice. Like the Jews who helped win Civil Rights for everyone in this country, we will not be silent.

Bibliography

New York Times, “Muslims Plight in Sudan Resonates with Jews in U.S.,” April 30, 2006

Schneier, Marc: Shared Dreams: Martin Luther King and the Jewish Community, Jewish Lights Publishing, 1999

Wiesel, Elie: Night, Hill and Wang, 2006

Williams, Juan: Eyes on the Prize, Penguin Books, 1988

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/US_civil_rights_movement#The_American_Jewish_community_and_the_civil_rights_movement

myjewishlearning.com/history_community/Modern/Overview_The_Story_19481980/America/PWPolitics/CivilRights.htm

pbs.org/itvs/fromswastikatojimcrow/story.html


“You Want I Should Make Research? Yiddish Syntax in the English Language” by Anschel Schaffer-Cohen
June 3, 2006

About 120 years ago, millions of Jews, fleeing the pogroms and political upheavals of Eastern Europe, arrived in the New World. They came from different backgrounds, had different customs, and ate different foods. However, they had one thing in common: their language. Before 1948, Yiddish was the Lingua Franca of Jews from Vilna to Bialystok to Warsaw to New York to Buenos Aires and beyond. Of course, in all of these places, the Jews had to speak the local language as well as Yiddish, and in places like Vilna they might have had to speak many or all of: 2 dialects of Yiddish, Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian.

In di fareynikte shtatn, the United States, the immigrants had to learn a new national language, English. They were fast studies, but they learned this new language in the way most immigrants do: from other immigrants. They learned to speak English in a way that later became the classic “Jewish” way to speak. In other words, they spoke English as if it was Yiddish. This dialect of English, and it is a dialect of English, is the subject of this paper.

I should add, of course, that real, every-day Yiddish is not dead. In Hasidic communities in the United States, Israel, and elsewhere, and in many Yeshivas, Yiddish is still the language of daily life. But in most places, most of the time, Yiddish is neither spoken nor understood as a vernacular.

But first, an important disclaimer: the lovable and wonderful Yiddish accent, much more noticeable than the word order, is not what I will be talking about. When I quote someone saying something like “we took us an apartment,” I am noticing that most first language English speakers would not emphasize the verb “to take” by using the reflexive “we took us,” and I am warning you now that I will not even mention again the fact that the whole sentence was said in a cheery Polish Yiddish accent reminiscent of very tasty latkes.

I know what you’re asking yourselves: Why? Of all things, why the speech patterns of English when spoken by former Yiddish speakers? The answer is quite simple.

When I first started thinking about my bar-mitzvah, I remembered that another student had learned Modern Hebrew as part of the bar/bat-mitzvah process, and for a while I considered doing this myself. But then a thought struck me: Why Hebrew? Hebrew, a language to which I had no connection. Why not, I thought, learn Yiddish, the language that my family had spoken in the old country, the language that was truly the language of my heritage.

When I first started learning Yiddish, I was confronted with a serious problem: What order should I put the words in? If you have never studied a foreign language, you may not understand how much difference it makes. Here, as an example, is the sentence “Are you hungry,” compared with another sentence that uses the same words: “You are hungry.” An even better example is the difference between “The cat ate the mouse” and “The mouse ate the cat.” But when I concentrated, I felt like I had heard the Yiddish word order somewhere before: di alte yidn, the elderly Jews, spoke English the same way I was learning to speak Yiddish.

And so I decided to look into the speech patterns of the first Yiddish speaker I could think of, my great-great-aunt Blima, who was born in Bizoin, Poland, in 1917 and came to this country in the late 30s. She speaks English, Yiddish, and a little Polish. Luckily, I had already interviewed her about family history, and had recorded the interview, so I just had to find the tapes and transcribe them verbatim. Having done this, I noted several sentences which were, although clear and understandable, not colloquially normal. I took these sentences to my Yiddish tutor, Joe Dobkin, and he helped me figure out which sentences were correct in Yiddish and which ones were probably just ordinary mistakes. By the time I finished I was amazed at how much of what she said was word-for-word translation from Yiddish, even some things that I hadn’t even noticed as unusual earlier because I was used to them.

One of the most striking things about Blima’s use of English was preposition use. Yiddish has several prepositions, but most of them can be replaced by 3 of them, namely fun, far, and bay, roughly translated as from, for, and for the cause of or in the opinion of. To take an example familiar to everybody, the now-common English phrase “OK by me” is a direct translation from the Yiddish gut bay mir and conveys the meaning of bay fairly accurately. A good example of this from my transcript of Blima’s interview is the sentence “I was the youngest from all of them.” In standard English most people would say “I was the youngest of all of them.” In Yiddish however, of and from are the same word.

Another interesting thing is word order: “We told them not to come back ‘till with God’s help we come all to America” seems fine until we come to the last part, “we come all.” This demonstrates one of the most interesting rules of Yiddish syntax: in any clause, the verb must be the second element. What this means is that in Yiddish it would be incorrect to say “we all come” because the verb is the third element. Blima is making the common mistake of using an important Yiddish concept when speaking English.

But one important question remained: was this a personal oddity of Blima’s, or was it really a trend that could be found in many former Yiddish-speakers? It seemed simple enough to find out. I would simply find interviews and transcripts that somebody else had compiled and analyze them. But there were two things that made it harder.

The first of these difficulties is that Yiddish was spoken very differently in different places. Until about 1800, there were 4 main dialects of Yiddish: Western, poylish, galitsianer, and litvish, which were spoken in Germany, Poland, Galicia, and Lithuania, respectively. The Western dialect slowly died out. In 1925, an organization called YIVO was founded in Vilna, now Vilnius, Lithuania. It moved to New York City after WWII. From its founding it tried to establish a standard dialect, klal shprakh, which was a sort of scholarly blend. I decided to use only Polish Jews for my study, in order to make it more uniform.

The second, much harder difficulty is that there simply isn’t that much material available. Remember, I needed the recorded voices or verbatim transcripts of former speakers of Polish Yiddish. Lorin Sklamberg, the sound archivist at YIVO showed me transcripts of “Voices of the Shoah: Remberances of the Holocaust,” which includes interviews with Holocaust survivors. I copied the pages with Polish Jews on them, and, after thanking Lorin Sklamberg, I went back to school. For the next few weeks, I searched through about 20 pages of Polish Jewish interviews, and brought a page or two of sentences to my Yiddish tutor, Joe Dobkin.

The sentences with Yiddish word order were all the same structure I had noticed in Blima’s speech: “I was six weeks in Auschwitz.” “They bombed 2 miles away the I.G. Farben Company.” Although they stem from different rules of Yiddish syntax, these and Blima’s are the same in that they are literal, word-for-word translations of Yiddish.

The use of present tense in a past tense sentence is a little more complicated. Consider the sentence “They didn’t even know us, but they knew we are Jews.” The use of the present tense word “are” after the past tense “knew” reflects the Yiddish rule that present tense be used after such verbs as “know,” “say,” or others, even when they appear in past tense.

But the most common Yiddishism was the use of an extra pronoun. For example, in the sentence “The Poles, they could smell a Jew from a mile away,” the word “they” would probably be left out in standard English. In Yiddish, however, it simply adds color and emphasis to an otherwise neutral sentence. When he says “The Poles, they,” the speaker emphasizes the role of the Poles by essentially repeating them. Or how about “Any injustice, it hurts us”? Once again, the injustice is considered the most important part of the sentence.

Of course I found other Yiddishisms, which were interesting even though they did not show up very much. For example the much-used and -loved “should,” as in “they want we should go on the march.” This is called the subjunctive case in Latin and Spanish, where it has a different conjugation. In Yiddish, it is represented by “should.”

I also noticed what one might call “plural trouble” in several sentences. In Yiddish one can say “there is” instead of “there are”, with the result that one finds sentences like “But there was about 700 or 800 people.”

For an example of the way Yiddish can affect English, consider the joke in which an elderly Jewish couple, on their way to a vacation, get into an argument about the correct pronunciation of the island they are to visit: he was sure it was Havaii, but she maintained it was Hawaii.

As soon as they get off the plane, they run over to the first person they see. “Hi there,” says the husband. “Would you mind telling me how you pronounce the name of this island?” “Havaii” “Thank you” “You’re velcome”

One other source I used was Art Spiegelman’s Maus, which contains quotations of his father, Vladek Spiegelman, who was born in Czestochowa, Poland. His Yiddishisms remind me of Blima’s, with sentences like “How is going the comics business?” and “I visited a couple of times to her.” Once or twice he forgets to change an adjective to an adverb (there is no difference in Yiddish), like in the sentence “She […] held strong my legs.” This is a slightly complicated sentence, so lets break it down Yiddishism by Yiddishism: First, of course, is word order; I would use “She held my legs strong.” Then there’s the adjective/adverb thing: “She held my legs strongly.” And perhaps “strongly” is not as accurate as “firmly:” “She held my legs firmly.”

And so, with the help of my mentor, Richard Mann, Lorin Sklamberg at YIVO, and Joseph Dobkin my Yiddish tutor, I made a discovery about the English spoken by former Polish Yiddish speakers. But I also discovered something more important: I discovered an entire community. I learned a lot, but I also met an enormous number of people with similar interests.

Yiddish, as I had not previously known, is not just a language. Yiddish is a community of intellectuals, professionals, amateurs, klezmer musicians, linguists who happened to wander in and found themselves unable to leave, and native speaking immigrants. One might well say that by studying Yiddish and by going to some of the social gatherings, one enters another world. The setting itself might be a room one has been in hundreds of times, and yet when that room is temporarily inhabited by the Yiddish Revival community, it feels entirely new. I had spent months trying to explain to people what I was trying to do and why it was relevant, and almost no one understood. But when I walked into the publishing party for Jeffrey Shandler’s new book, Adventures in Yiddishland, suddenly everyone could understand my ideas with only one or two sentences of introduction. Many people I talked to immediately told me their own opinions about the subject, and told me who else I should get in touch with.

One of the first people in the Yiddish world who I was able to talk to was Alicia Svigals, a klezmer violinist who founded The Klezmatics and will be playing at my party. We talked over the phone about her theories of the way Yiddish affects English speech. What she had noticed was more about the way 3rd or 4th generation descendants of Yiddish speakers speak. One of the most interesting things she had noticed was that Yiddish, whether in the form of Yiddish-structured English or in the form of Yiddish words used in an otherwise English sentence, is usually used to tell a joke, to emphasize something, or to talk about something political. Plenty of people who say “Nu? What do you think about the war?” would never think of saying “Nu? Did you go to the bank?”

I am reminded here of the joke in which four old Jewish men are sitting in a New York coffee house. After a few minutes’ silence, the first man groans and says “Oy.” The second man nods: “Oy vey.” The third shrugs, saying “Nu?” The fourth, angrily, shouts, “If you fellows don’t stop talking politics, I’m leaving now!”

Yiddishisms occur when the speaker is thinking hard about the subject and has little mind left for syntax or vocabulary. People often use their first language when they concentrate.

Jeffrey Shandler, a professor of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University, wrote Adventures in Yiddishland: Postvernacular Language and Culture, for which I attended the publishing party. His opinion is that because Yiddish is no longer a commonly spoken language, it has developed an important symbolic value.

Maybe Yiddish is still a way of making a connection. After all, I use Yiddish words with my Jewish friends to make a connection: if I say that a teacher is crazy, I mean just that. If I say that a teacher is meshuge then I am also saying that this is between me and you, let’s talk about him behind his back.

The question I’ve been asked the most times throughout this project is quite a simple one: Why? Not just why am I doing this project, but why even this language. Of all the languages to learn, why should I learn Yiddish? Partly, of course, it’s a matter of communication. You’d be surprised how nice it is to have a language in which I can talk to my grandparents without my parents understanding me. But there’s another reason, something I only realized when I had been studying Yiddish for almost a month. When you really learn a language, you understand its people. For example, learning Spanish gives me a lot of insight into Spanish and Latin American culture. And in learning Yiddish, I am also learning about a culture, my own. I have become, in my own mind at least, more “Jewish.” I can sense Yiddishisms. I can even sense yidishkayt, Jewishness. I feel closer to relatives like Blima. By learning Yiddish, I have learned more than I had ever hoped to learn about myself.


A Purposeful Life: Tzedakah and the Philanthropy of the Rothschilds” by Abigail Lienhard Cohen
November 12, 2005

Tzedakah is the Hebrew word for charity. The root of the word, “tzeh-dek,” means righteousness or justice. This suggests a close link between the giving of money or effort and the righting of wrongs. For religious Jews, tzedakah is the requirement of righteous giving and just behavior. For secular humanist Jews tzedakah is a moral requirement for oneself and one’s community, both local and global.

I feel fortunate in the opportunities life has afforded me and I feel that I should give to those who aren’t as well cared for. I have enough money to live, but sometimes I wonder what I would do if I were in a position of great wealth? More money would mean a greater ability to give to others. But would my ideas about how I lead my life be different?

To help me get an idea of what the answer might be, I researched the path chosen by the famous Rothschild family of Europe. In the late 18th century, Mayer Rothschild of Frankfurt, Germany, was a man of modest means who founded what would become the wealthiest and most influential banking dynasty in the early decades of the 19th century—and which survives to this day (in diluted form). The members of Rothschild family had the ability to do great good in the world – but did they? Did they give to the best of their ability? What did they do with the possibilities that were available to them?

Like a lot of European Jews, the Rothschilds came to banking by way of laws put into place by Europe’s Christian rulers. In the middle ages, the Roman Catholic Church banned Christians from banking, as it was considered a form of usury. Usury was defined as the practice of lending money at interest, which is now an accepted business practice throughout most of the world. The word usury now is reserved for the practice of lending at an excessive rate of interest. Europe’s Christian rulers also banned Jews from owning land and learning most trades, like blacksmithing and carpentry. As a result, many Jews went into money trades such as banking, commerce and money changing, which was the business of exchanging currency, especially of different countries.

By the 16th century, the Reformation redefined the concept of usury and again made it acceptable for Christians to work in the money professions, but Jews stayed in the field and remained prominent in the profession from the sixteenth century into the 18th and 19th centuries when the Rothschild family rose to prominence in the world of banking and finance.

Mayer Rothschild, born in 1744, was the founder of the family fortune. He started out in the quarter of Frankfurt where Jewish people were required to live, called the ghetto, as an agent and banker who also dealt in rare coins. He occasionally sold coins to William IX, the son of the Landgrave, or local ruler who grew wealthy by providing Hessian mercenaries to England’s King George III for use in the American Revolution. When William became Landgrave in 1785, he inherited the largest private fortune in Europe. Mayer began changing gold for William in 1789 and built up his business as a gold broker as the amount of business he did for his wealthiest client steadily expanded.

Mayer Rothschild also made money during the Napoleonic wars by selling contraband goods, or goods forbidden by law to be imported or exported in Europe and by smuggling gold to the British general Lord Wellington. Mayer had five sons, four of whom moved to other parts of Europe to establish branches abroad. (There were also five daughters.) I’ll return to the sons and their stories shortly. The successive generations of Rothschilds stayed in finance and built a reputation as one of the most influential families ever in Jewish philanthropy.

Mayer’s sons gave mostly to Jewish causes, probably because in those days Jews couldn’t rely on admission into other hospitals, schools and other institutions. The Rothschilds felt it incumbent on them to help Jews less fortunate than themselves. Rather than glorify the family name, the purpose of Mayer’s sons’ giving was to make life better for as many Jews as possible by funding social programs and changing a legal system that discriminated against them.

Sons Amschel, Salomon, Nathan, Karl, and James, and their children funded and founded hospitals, schools, immigration societies, soup kitchens, financed Jewish colonies in Palestine in the 1880s and generally provided money to impoverished Jews.

Their influence on the Jewish Diaspora was widespread largely because of the brothers’ dispersion across Europe. Through the brothers, the Rothschild family had offices in London, Paris, Vienna, Frankfurt and Naples.

Amschel, the eldest, stayed in Frankfurt, while Salomon, who lived from 1774 to 1888 mostly in Austria, gave generously to Silesia (now part of modern-day Poland), where a coal and ironworks facility that he owned was located. The head of the region praised Salomon’s programs as a model of social responsibility.

His brother James and wife, Betty, lived in France founded a hospital for Jews with incurable diseases and an orphanage for Jewish children in Paris. Betty also bequeathed a large sum of money to be used to help poor workers pay rent.

Nathan Rothschild, who lived from 1777 to 1836, mostly in England, and Karl Rothschild, who lived from 1788 to 1855, mostly in Italy, used their power and influence among rulers to increase the rights and freedoms of Jews in those countries. When Karl went to Italy to financially prop up a new king, he made sure that the all-powerful Catholic Church’s attitude toward Jews was at least cordial before he would lend money to their king. In England, Nathan refused to work with German interests operating there if the interests’ home cities or towns wouldn’t give Jews basic rights.

In the second half of the 19th century, family patriarch Mayer Rothschild’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren retained their strong ties to Judaism but they also started to branch out to charities that helped non-Jews.

In Paris – Gustave and Alphonse, who lived from about 1830 to 1910, along with Edmond, their niece’s husband – donated money to Parisian students’ higher education and improved the living conditions of the working class by funding the construction of inexpensive housing.

In Vienna, Albert and Nathaniel, who lived from about 1840 to 1915, founded institutes for the blind and deaf-mute and a neurological clinic that was also a hospital, a botanical garden and an orphanage.

In the postwar era and into the current day, the Rothschilds’ philanthropy has broadened, especially into the arts, even though Jewish charities still receive a significant amount of their largess. With each new generation, their giving grows more and more secular.

The Rothschild philanthropic foundations that survive today operate in the U.S., Europe and Israel. Some are general, funding philanthropic activities of all kinds and some are specific. One headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, funds research in the field of ophthalmology, and another in the same city develops vocational training for young people. Two in Israel fund philanthropic activities in the Jewish state with an emphasis on education and medicine. Three in Paris focus on medicine, university physics and chemistry laboratories and the social welfare of children.

Much of the sort of giving that the Rothschild foundations do now would probably be considered “non-Jewish” giving. But what makes giving “Jewish”? Does an organization have to help just Jews? Be run by Jews? Have the word “Jewish” in the name?

My belief is that as long as the money or actions given by a Jew goes toward bettering the world, then those contributions can be considered Jewish giving. I feel that tzedakah, which is such a large part of Judaism and Jewish culture, allows that charitable giving be directed by reasons of need and not solely by the religion of the recipients.

On this point I am far from alone. The trend among American Jews is that with each new generation, its pattern of philanthropy becomes more secular and giving to strictly Jewish causes decreases. Today’s younger Jews also give less to Israel. Overall, Jews give less to specifically religious charities then other Americans. Many Jews today, like myself, see secularized giving as a Jewish expression of our ethical values. Furthermore, unlike in the Rothschilds’ day, our world is increasingly globalized: 24-hour cable news and international economic interdependence really does make the world a smaller place, and that means hardship in one part of the world, be it Sri Lanka or New Orleans, really does have an immediate impact on the rest of the world. Because of this, globalized and secularized giving makes sense, both from a Jewish and contemporary perspective. This expansion beyond Jewish causes brings tzedakah closer to another Jewish value: tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

But what about strictly Jewish causes? Should Jews give to Jewish causes, or ignore them for the sake of the rest of the world? Yes, Jews should use some of their time or money to help other Jews, because we are all part of a community and we should look out for other each other. However, this does not mean that you should give only to Jewish causes. The goal of tzedakah should be to improve people’s lives, and this includes easing the suffering of those who need it the most—but not to the exclusion of fellow Jews. I would suggest giving ten to thirty percent of the total you donate to Jewish causes, because if Jews don’t give to Jewish causes, who will? When you are contributing to Jewish causes, try to give to Jewish causes that really help, like by helping Jews in places like Ethiopia or by giving money to help preserve Jewish cultural or religious artifacts or fighting against antisemitism.

The Rothschilds had to deal with anti-Semitism. Their name was synonymous with big business, and they were cited as examples of Jews who were trying to take over the world by infiltrating controlling governments with their power and influence. Early on, the Rothschild’s tried to lessen antisemitism, but later on they did not do much about it.

The Rothschilds’ philanthropy extended beyond Jewish charities to help all kinds of people in need. Over several generations the many descendents branched out with their giving preferences. Reviewing the story of their philanthropy, I feel that charity to one’s own group is a good thing but extending the reach of one’s giving is even better. That is what the Rothschilds did, and I would do the same, though I think it would be better to be more personally involved, actually pitching in with the work, rather than merely funding programs.

Still, what a lot of good that Rothschild money has done. Much of it went to people living at a time when there were no publicly funded social programs. Consider the French workers who could get assistance with their rent when they were between jobs, thanks to Betty’s 6 million francs. Think of the orphans who had a roof over their heads at night because of Albert’s orphanage. To all those people, the Rothschilds’ tzedakah made a difference in their lives, and that is what counts.

Is all charity equal from a Jewish perspective? I feel that all charity is not equal, that some charities are better then others. I believe charities that tangibly improve peoples’ lives are better then charities that don’t affect peoples’ lives in an everyday way. In some cases, it’s a matter of resource allocation. For example, if there is already an effective housing aid and food program in place, then longer-term projects, like education and job-training programs would serve the community better than duplicating basic aid programs.

When you give to charity, how do you know if your money is doing what you want it to do? You should try to find out as much as you can about the organization so that you can have faith in its judgment to try to make the most informed decision that you can.

My school, the Elysian Charter School of Hoboken, started a fund to help the victims of the December 2004 tsunami, and I was among the kids chosen to research different organizations to which we could donate the money. Lynne Shapiro, Nathaniel Lewit’s mom, who works at my school and who is a member of The City Congregation and who is here today, told us about a job she had at an organization that used a large amount of the money donated to them for administrative costs. Her recommendation was that the organizations we chose should devote 90 percent or more of their donations to actually help for the victims.

We can look to Maimonides, the 12th-century Jewish philosopher, for some guidance on tzedakah. He believed that the priorities for charitable giving were, in order: family and friends first, then people who live in your neighborhood, then people who live in your city, and so on. In addition, he believed that you should give charity to non-Jews, if only for the sake of fairness and that you cannot give nothing. Maimonides built some skepticism and discernment into his system of charity. He said, for example, that if you see a man hungry, feed him at once, but if you see a man without clothing, make sure that his need is real and not feigned before giving clothes to him.

My personal interpretation of Maimonides’s system of charity is this: The best way to help a person is to provide assistance so he can learn to earn a living on his own and allow a finite amount of assistance to move on and help another person. This works best in the most serious of cases when coupled with basic-needs programs. A person learning to provide for himself won’t get very far if he has no food or a roof over his head or is sick. Contrary to Maimonides’s framework, I feel that one should give according to need, including globally, and not focus first on the needy close by, although you do have a commitment to your community.

When you give, you should give to the best of your ability, as little or as much as that might be. If you are trying to concentrate your money on one place, a place that needs everything, start with short- term food and housing programs. Next, support education and job training. Fund or establish programs that help the government and economy. Once the majority of the population is able to fend for themselves with things like stable jobs, a responsible government and a decent public education system, I feel that people can now give to whatever they want.

Tzedakah, I believe, is part of a purposeful life. Be not only for yourself, but for yourself and others. When you are offered the chance to help, seize it, because one day you might need help. If you have more than you need to survive, share your wealth to make others’ lives better. If you become wealthy and keep the money to yourself, what is the point of having it? Money cannot buy happiness, but it can be used to make others’ lives safer, more comfortable, more hopeful, and more dignified, which leads to greater happiness and the greater good of all.


“Freedom and Oppression in the Arts” by Liana Segan
October 29, 2005

Unfortunately, too many people have an understanding of the world as being either/or, black and white, right or wrong. As the current president says “you are for us or against us.” He is pressuring people to agree with his line of thinking, dividing us into groups and labeling those who might challenge his thinking or disagree as unpatriotic. Throughout history, there have always been those who choose to accuse others of wrong thinking. In 2005, the right to speak out and the freedom to question continue to be compromised especially when, patriotism becomes a requirement for entrance into the club of good citizenship and fear lurks in the background.

I feel pressure as an adolescent constantly, in many forms; whether it’s to let a racist remark go unaddressed, allowing a homophobic joke to be told, or a sexist comment to get laughs. We divide ourselves into groups so early in life and learn that membership in one is good, while membership in others is bad.

Like adolescence, politics is a pressure game too, where certain voices get louder and greater attention, and others are suppressed and almost silenced. In politics leaders in power use fear, to pressure the public to see it one way, their way. Political pressure is polarizing which is why I find it so upsetting. I strive to see the world as more than just competing groups.

However, history is a long tale of groups competing for public attention.

In this paper I will be discussing one act of oppression during one particular time in the recent past – The McCarthy era. The main stage for this intolerable play was HUAC – the House Un-American Activities Committee. HUAC’s unofficial role was to locate communists in America so their ideas would not poison our government and social organizations. Joseph McCarthy was a senator in the 1950’s who influenced the witch-hunting ways of HUAC.

HUAC was powerful. They held hearings and made accusations that were damaging to people’s reputations. HUAC established a blacklist, which was a form of censorship. This list presented the names of those who were accused of having communist connections. If you attended a workers meeting, signed a petition or even had a friend who was a sympathizer, your name was added to the list. The blacklist mostly focused on artists and writers, and made people cautious about producing work that could be interpreted as being un-patriotic or disloyal to the United States.

Being on the list made it difficult for employers to hire you weather it be studio heads in Hollywood, or even friends and family members. This blacklist destroyed careers, jeopardized relationships and scarred many people’s lives.

The list became known as the Hollywood Blacklist since most people accused were employed by Hollywood’s studios. McCarthy had suggested to HUAC that Hollywood was filled with people who were radical thinkers, who challenged the government. Hollywood was being singled out as influencing people to think and question the rules of society. In other words, to think unpatriotically, and this was bad!

I was impressed as I read more about these times that many courageous writers, filmmakers, playwrights and dancers continued to challenge the blacklist and the anti-communist fever by expressing challenging ideas in their works. It’s no coincidence that many of these people, who continued to voice their opinions and speak out against the government, were Jewish.

Arnold Forester, a journalist in the 1950’s, said, “Jews in that period were automatically suspect. The general mood was that if you scratch a Jew, you find a communist”

Jewish people have always questioned the status quo, rarely settling for the simple answers and therefore were often perceived as dangerous citizens. Keep in mind that most of the heads of movie studios at the time were Jewish.

My attention was drawn to three Jewish artists whom I will highlight – Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman and Anna Sokolow – three brave artists who raised their voices, developed challenging ideas and would not be silenced.

I was first introduced to Arthur Miller when in 7th grade we read The Crucible as part of our study of Puritan and Early Colonial Life. This famous play was about the Salem witch trials of 1692. The Salem Witch Trials, on the surface, were about members of a small Puritan colony accused of being witches. If you were you a witch you would have a direct connection with the devil, making you evil. However, Arthur Miler wrote the play as an analogy to the politics of the 1950’s and the McCarthy trials.

Both governments had people right where they wanted them, trapped in a pit of accusations. The only way out was to play by their rules, have your freedom and voice silenced or boldly state your truth and suffer the consequences. Witches did exist in Salem as Communists did exist in the 1950’s, but not everywhere the authorities hunted.

Not surprising, Miller’s passion for writing about issues that mattered and being outspoken made him a suspect of being a communist. Miller was brought before HUAC but interestingly enough relied on the first amendment that guaranteed freedom of speech not on the Fifth Amendment which protects against self incrimination. The Fifth Amendment was the amendment most commonly used by those who testified, to support them in their efforts to get by the committee. He did refuse to name names and admitted his past pro communist views. Miller was convicted of contempt of congress, fined, and sentenced to one month in prison. The conviction was overturned in 1958 but he continued to remain blacklisted until 1962. Still, Miller enjoyed a successful and socially active career.

The value of pointing out the flaws in the status quo is clearly a Jewish thing. Jews have always been outsiders therefore creating a unique perspective from which to see society. Jews have always been a minority and persecuted, this has made many of us believe that we don’t have to accept the world for what it is and we are compelled to work for social change.

Most playwrights have a perspective about the world and communicate that perspective, while serving to entertain. Another Jewish playwright, Lillian Hellman, like Miller, dealt with controversial issues. Both writers focused on rumors and hearsay, mob hysteria, capitalism and relationships. Both writers were extremely intelligent and outspoken. They had an understanding of the world shaped by progressive politics and a Jewish point of view. Lillian Hellman’s first play in 1934 was “The Children’s Hour” – a play about two women who were accused of being lesbians by one of their students. The play is about how rumors can become truth. Her goal was to voice her opinion on subjects that most writers were too afraid to touch. In years to come, she would be accused of being a communist largely because of her relationship with Dashiell Hammett This was clearly a case of guilt by association.

When Lillian Hellman was ordered to appear before HUAC, she wrote a letter, in her own voice, after rejecting the version her lawyer wrote. She said in April 1952, “I am most willing to answer all questions about myself. I have nothing to hide from your Committee and there is nothing in my life which I am ashamed of.” She did this completely aware that if she did not plead the fifth amendment – which protects us from self incrimination- the Committee could ask her questions about other people.

Lillian Hellman was refusing to name names but would cooperate with the committee if they only wanted to know about her political thinking. She was not going to play by their rules. The letter was rejected. Lillian Hellman was called to testify before the committee. At some point, someone from the press gallery began reading her letter loud enough for the committee to hear. To this day, no one knows who that reporter was.

In her memoir, Scoundrel Time, Lillian Hellman wrote how she wished she had the guts to have said the following to the committee members, “There is no communist menace in this country and you know it. You have made cowards into liars, an ugly business and you made me write a letter in which I acknowledged your power. I should have gone into your committee room given my name and address and walked out.” But Lillian Hellman did not say that. It was all too frightening, even for someone of her status.

One of the most famous lines to emerge from the HUAC investigations was “I will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashion.” Meaning Lillian Hellman wouldn’t do something immoral simply because so many others were acting like cowards.

Writing is expressive, artistic and can be political. Dancers’ during the McCarthy era weren’t a target for blacklisters compared to writers and playwrights who were considered to have a greater influence on the public mind. Writing a play and creating a dance are similar acts. To be a good writer you have to make your words move across the page and glide through the reader’s mind. To be a good dancer or choreographer you have to fit each dance sentence together to make a dance piece. Anna Sokolow, my hero, created many dances with bold elegance, dances that told stories and had a clear point of view.

Anna Sokolow was a Jewish modern dancer. She danced, choreographed and taught from the age of 10, and was still working at the age of 90. Most of her dances were expressions of Anna’s political and social views For example, one of her dances, titled “A War Trilogy”, was a satire that described the beauty of war . She took risks with her movements and her ideas, which is why I find her heroic.

Anna was committed to using dance as a weapon to fight social injustice and to advocate for worker’s rights. These ways of thinking and living were her family values passed on by her mother. In the 1920’s if you were a woman and a dancer, you were thought to have loose morals. This was not what nice Jewish women did! Nice Jewish women, as all women of the period, were expected to sit home, cook for their husbands, and raise the children. Jewish women didn’t dance since it was believed that showing your body in public was disgraceful.

When Anna’s mother, Sarah, broke with the traditional role of women, she did so out of necessity. Her husband died at an early age. For Anna, her mother was a role model. Sarah had great energy and spirit. She became a garment worker and a union representative in the international ladies garment workers union. The Sokolow home was observant of most Jewish rituals. Her mother was also a perfectionist with a short temper; a trait she passed on to her children, especially Anna.

As I mentioned earlier, during the 1950’s HUAC conducted their witch-hunting for communists in the arts. Anna had been too independent minded to even consider joining any group, which is why she wasn’t a suspect, along with the fact that dance flew under the radar. In her own words she said: “I was never a member, you see. What I felt, I felt very personally. It had nothing to do with a doctrine. I must say I believed in what the party could do in principle, yes. Of course later it became shockingly disillusioning…” Anna contributed heavily to making audiences think about sensitive and meaningful issues. She took advantage of her freedom to express.

To me Anna is a hero since she is a person who through determination and strong will-power achieved something of great value. Anna’s dances were challenging and disturbing. She possessed values and traits that made her larger than life. Most of her dances expressed freedoms and how easily they can be suppressed. She is my hero because she was rebellious – questioning the status quo and achieving something of true significance. How can one change the world without stepping outside the lines of conformity? It’s impossible, which is why Anna was no conformist.

The artists who knew Anna closely had incredible things to say about her. They said her heart was full, that she was uncompromising, that she honored her Jewish background, and she was a good teacher. I interviewed Jim May, an old friend of Anna’s, who now runs the Anna Sokolow dance company in New York City. He talked elaborately about Anna. He said “Her true genius was her ability to hold on to what she believed regardless of the outcome. She had artistic integrity. If it was a choice between the paycheck and art she would walk out. She also felt the personal connection to the dance. You must feel the dance to make a dance, you have to go down to the roots and ask your self: why do you want to create this dance?”

In contemporary times artists have grown quiet when they should be louder than ever. The arts, as a whole, have lost their once progressive nature and are losing the opportunity to express meaningful issues through an alternative media.

Still, some individuals in the arts have spoken up to the best of their ability in this suppressed era. For example, Elton John, a singer/song-writer, feels very strongly that the political climate of today is like the McCarthy era, and expressed how he felt in a speech to many other progressive musicians. Another example is the Dixie Chicks, a band of three women who write and sing songs that have beautiful lyrics, not political at all. Ironically when they openly said they were ashamed to be from the same state as George Bush, the media portrayed them as unpatriotic, when all they were doing was using their freedom of speech.

Bill Moyers started a political show called “NOW” on the Public Broadcasting Network or PBS, but his intelligent and critical show was canceled because he was accused by the right of being “biased.” In his own words, “It is our belief that the quality of democracy and the quality of journalism are deeply entwined…” He believes it is the job of a journalist to tell the truth, based on the evidence they find, even if it makes powerful people uncomfortable. I agree with Bill Moyers on his position in this debate.

In conclusion, I believe it is dangerous to let the government dictate what we can and can’t talk about, listen to, and read. If this continues to happen, and we don’t value our freedom to think independently and speak our minds then eventually we will lose our voice and humanity. Fortunately, I am a member of communities where I am encouraged to say, think, and behave without fear of being silenced. However, the world I live in continues to be divided by religion, politics, gender, social class and fear.

I think as people living in a democracy my generation needs to be aware of what is going on and speak out. Not just by literally saying or writing how they feel about our current events but by being the expressive, artistic young people we all are or can be. While doing this paper I have come to realize how ideas like patriotism, freedom of speech and protest have always served to threaten and preserve our fragile democracy. What I have also come to understand is the strong impact that the arts have on the public, the government and individual citizens.

As Anna Sokolow said, if you want to make a dance you have to go to the roots of your being and figure out why a dance must be created. I decided to find a personal connection between my world and dance. Since I have grown up in a post 9/11 world where our leaders impose fear I thought it was important to represent the struggles that we as a democracy face through movement. Please watch this recording of a dance I choreographed and performed based upon the themes of freedom versus oppression and liberty versus control.


“Noah and the Flood Myths” by Jason Cheskis
April 2, 2005

Since I started Sunday school at age 4, I loved mythology. I started to read mythology from Jewish and Greek cultures, and many others as I got older. It’s unusual that a kid at my age back then would be so interested in mythology. I think I liked it because of the idea of Gods and Goddesses, and their amazing powers. I still love it now. I decided to make it the topic of my major paper.

I wanted to choose a myth that many cultures have, something that everyone knows. After reviewing a lot of my mythology books, I decided the most reasonable myth was Noah’s Ark, or Deucalion and Pyrrha, a very similar Greek story. In other words, I decided to research the flood myths.

Many civilizations had their own version of flood myths, but some of the most popular ones are the Epic of Gilgamesh, from the 7th century BCE, which is Mesopotamian; Noah and the Ark, the Hebrew version, written down around the 2nd or 3rd century BCE, and Deucalion and Pyrrha, the Greek version, recorded in 140 BCE.

There are many Native American versions; also Sumerian; Babylonian; Egyptian; Hindu; many from Europe; many from Africa; many from South America; Australasia and the far East.

To refresh your memory, or if you don’t know it, I will tell you the story of Noah and the Ark and then the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha, the Greco-Roman version.

Noah and the Flood is in the book of Genesis in the Bible. Here is the story: God was sorry that he had created people as they had become evil and cruel to one another. He decided to wipe all living things off the earth. Noah (who was 600 years old) was a good person, who “walked with God” so Noah was warned about what God was going to do. God told him to build an ark. He gave Noah a lot of dimensions and instructions on exactly how it should be built, including the number of rooms, and where the windows should be.

God said that soon he would bring a flood so powerful that everything on earth would die. He said he would make a covenant with Noah and his family. He instructed them to take two of every kind of animal onto the ark, and more of some kinds that would be used for sacrifices, and to take all the food that would be necessary for survival. God sent Noah, his family and the animals into the ark, helped seal the door, and started the rain seven days later.

The flood waters rose for 40 days. Every living thing on earth died, except those in the ark. After 150 days the rain stopped and the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat. Noah sent out a raven, and then a dove, but neither could find a place to land. Seven days later he tried again. This time the dove returned with an olive leaf, indicating that the land was almost dry. In another seven days, he sent out a dove that did not return, a sign that he could open the ark. He sacrificed many animals to God.

God made a covenant with Noah, involving the following agreements: Noah and his family should populate the earth. They should eat animals and grains, and only eat animals that were killed in a certain way. The humans were instructed not to kill others, and God agreed that he would never bring another flood to destroy the earth. A rainbow appeared in the sky, and it was a symbol of the covenant between them.

Noah tilled the earth and became the first person to plant grape vines. He made wine, and drank too much one day. He went into his tent and took off his clothes. His youngest son saw him, and told his two older brothers. They took a cloth, put it across their backs, walked backward into the tent so that they did not see their father, and covered him up.

When Noah awoke, he learned what had transpired, and became angry at his youngest son. He cursed him and said that he should be a slave to his brothers. Noah lived another 350 years and finally died when he was 950 years old.

The Greek version is called Deucalion and Pyrrha:

Zeus sent a flood to destroy the men of the Bronze Age. Prometheus advised his son Deucalion to build a chest. All other men perished except for a few who escaped to high mountains. The mountains in Thessaly were parted, and all the world beyond the Isthmus and Peloponnese was overwhelmed. Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha (daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora), after floating in the chest for nine days and nights, landed on Parnassus. When the rains ceased, he sacrificed to Zeus. At the bidding of Zeus, he threw stones over his head; they became men, and the stones which Pyrrha threw became women.

The first race of people was completely destroyed because they were exceedingly wicked. The fountains of the deep opened, the rain fell in torrents, and the rivers and seas rose to cover the earth, killing all of them. Deucalion survived due to his prudence and piety and linked the first and second race of men. Onto a great ark he loaded his wives and children and all animals, two by two. The animals came to him, and by God’s help, remained friendly for the duration of the flood. The flood waters escaped down a chasm opened in Hierapolis.

In my paper, I will tell you about a scientific explanation of the flood referred to in these stories. Then I will explain why this story became so important to the Hebrew culture.

There happens to be a recent scientific exploration that supports the idea that the flood actually happened, but didn’t cover the whole world as the myths suggest. The scientists are Bill Ryan, an oceanographer, and Walter Pitman, a geographer. Early in his career, Bill Ryan had the opportunity to map out the bottom of the Bosporus Strait, leading to the Black Sea. When he saw what it looked like, it seemed to him as though the bottom was a canyon that had been carved out by something and continued well into the Black Sea itself. He found this very interesting, but did not know what could have caused it.

A couple of decades later, after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in Russia, the Russians wanted to find out if the Black Sea was affected by it. The Americans helped with our sonar system and the Russians provided a research vessel, called the Aquanaut. They found a drowned coastline, and ancient beaches and river banks of what used to be a river. They concluded that this had been a coastal area of dry land. Only an abrupt flood of water could have preserved the sand dunes, which were in perfect shape.

Then, they decided to do some underwater core drilling, to see what kind of fossils were there. The top layer started out with normal saltwater animals, but then after a few layers, the fossils revealed fresh water animals. So obviously, the Black Sea had once been a freshwater lake. Through radio carbon dating, the scientists discovered that all of the freshwater mollusks found in the layers died at the same time. Therefore, the scientists concluded that something very brutal and sudden had killed all the marine life in the Black Sea.

In considering what could have happened, they reviewed their knowledge of the Ice Age and geology. The polar ice caps hold a lot of water and, at the end of the Ice Age, they started to melt, releasing tons of water into the oceans. Since the oceans are all connected, they all rose, inch by inch. The Mediterranean Sea is connected to the Atlantic Ocean, so it gained water too. The Mediterranean Sea rose so high, it began to overflow. A lot of the water from the Mediterranean Sea was directed to a barrier of land that was in front of the Black Sea, which then was a fresh water lake. This land was called the Bosporus. The water built up in front of the piece of land, and eventually broke it open, into what is now known as the Bosporus Strait, and turned the Black Sea into a salt water sea and connected it to the Mediterranean. This destroyed the marine life of the former freshwater lake.

According to Ryan and Pitman, “10 cubic miles of water poured through each day, 200 times what flows over Niagara Falls, enough to cover Manhattan Island each day to a depth of over half a mile.” They also estimated that you could hear the roar of the rushing water from 300 miles away, that the water would be moving at the speed of 50 miles per hour, that the Black Sea would be rising at about 6 inches per day, and that all the world’s oceans would have been lowered by a foot. They also estimate that this would have taken a period of 2 years and that 60,000 miles of land around the former freshwater lake became inundated.

Just because this flood happened, there’s no proof that this is related to the Noah Story. But this flood’s story had people in it also. Ryan and Pitman researched archaeological findings and put together evidence of an advanced civilization well before Mesopotamia, the supposed “cradle of civilization.” Another scientist, Robert Ballard, was brought in to help find underwater evidence of human life, like pieces of wood or stone tools. Ballard is the scientist who located the shipwreck of the Titanic. He used the same technology for this project and found wooden timbers crafted by people and stone tools that were highly polished and drilled carefully with holes. Pieces of ceramics and wooden tools were also found. These discoveries prove that a surprisingly advanced civilization must have been living around the Black Sea before the burst through.

Ryan and Pitman had to combine their knowledge with that of archaeologists to understand more about this civilization. Apparently, the inhabitants had an organized religion. Their main god was the Great Mother Goddess, who was the most powerful deity. Bull’s horns were found in many archaeological digs, representing masculinity.

Many different shaped tokens were also found, with symbols on them, and archaeologists figured out that the tokens represented different animals, and this suggests they kept track of domesticated animals as well as crops. These tokens, and their use for accounting, are a very early form of writing. They dated 5,000 years before Egyptian hieroglyphs, previously considered the earliest writing.

A main city was excavated by archaeologists in what is now known as Turkey. There were many different towns surrounding it. This was probably the center of an empire. The city had several thousand people in it. The homes were advanced and decorated. There was evidence that these people made bread, which was thought to have been developed much later. They wore woven clothes, made

basketry, and were the earliest found yet to have created pottery. Of great surprise, they were also good at working with metal.

These people and many people like them were the ones who experienced the flood, thought to have occurred around 5,600 BCE. Most of them had little or no warning, and lost their lives. But if some of them survived, they would need to bring with them some resources, such as a few animals and seeds to grow crops so that they could start a new life somewhere else. This is essentially what Noah did, but, according to the story, he had an ark to put everything in. Excavations had also shown that the people had boats that could hold cargo. Some scientists believe that certain people had warning of the flood because they could see the increasing strain on the Bosporus land bridge. They also believe that they may even have had evacuation boats waiting.

Where did everybody go? Through the study of language, writing, and religious practices, Ryan and Pitman traced the spread of people from the Black Sea area in all different directions. On the coastlines of many different land masses, similar megalithic (which means very, very big) monuments to the dead were found. Archeologists hypothesize that these were built by ancient peoples who fled the disaster and settled in far-flung places. They built them in memory of their ancestors who were lost in the flood. They all arrived by boat, hence their appearance only in coastal regions. Very similar constructions can be found on Crete, Malta, Tunisia, the Western Mediterranean islands, the Spanish and French coasts and the British Isles.

People started passing down the flood story orally and eventually wrote it down. They thought that the flood was worldwide because it seemed so gigantic to them. This is a plausible explanation of why so many different civilizations have similar flood stories.

As I said earlier, many cultures have a “flood story”. Some cultures have this story just to remember, and it has no other value to them. In the Jewish culture, this story was valued enough to make it into the big book (the Bible). Why do we value it so much when other cultures use it only as a historical record?

Every culture recorded this story in its own way. The Jewish culture added something that earlier versions of the flood stories didn’t have: a moral component. We typically have a moral for all of our Bible stories, but this moral is probably among the most fundamental. Aside from telling the events of the flood itself, the story has a lot more information.

The writers of the Bible believed in monotheism, a concept that wasn’t fully accepted at the time. Eventually, polytheism evolved into monotheism. In the Noah story, the only way not to have another “natural disaster” is to follow this God’s rules and please him/her. This may have been used by the writers of the Bible as a way to promote monotheism.

The writers of the Bible had two different perceptions of God, both of which ended up in the Noah story. One is commonly referred to as the J writer who wrote about the God referred to as Yahweh. In German, Yahweh is spelled with a J. The J God is very emotional, and says “If you don’t please me, I’m going to severely punish you.” He can be nice though, like when he saved Noah and shut the door of the ark for him. He is personal, vengeful, angry, passionate and appeased by sacrifice.

The P writer, or Priestly writer, promotes a version of God that is precise, and is very rule oriented. He says “Here are the rules. I will be watching, so don’t break them.” This God is dispassionate, logical, and focused on control and order. The parts of the story attributed to the P writer involve the dimensions of the ark, rules about sacrifices, rituals, and purity. The Hebrew priests felt that

people could only contact God through them. People had to have priests sacrifice animals to God for them. The P writer was attempting to reinforce the importance of priests in the culture.

Some writers believe that this myth acts as a social charter. A social charter is like a constitution for people. It lays out laws for people and sets guidelines for how they should live. For example, this myth promotes family and procreation. The writers of the Bible wanted a lot of people in their culture so they would grow and hopefully dominate the region. They put this message into the Noah story, and made it look like God commanded it.

It laid out a hierarchy for the Jewish culture, and some rules to follow. The writers of the Bible said that God had power over the people, and the people had power over the animals and the plants.

This myth also promotes worship of a certain kind. It lays out the rules of the sacrificial ritual system. This was very important to the priests of that time. They set out the rules of purity, and the foundations of Jewish dietary laws are also present in the Noah story.

Finally, the charter regulates human action in society and the world. It defines justice, family relationships, and what is considered right and wrong. In a less publicized part of the Noah story, values about drunkenness and family loyalty are also illustrated. After Noah’s drunken sleep, Noah praised his two loyal sons for covering him up and cursed his disloyal son for telling his brothers he was naked in the first place.

At the end of the flood, God makes a rainbow and tells Noah that the rainbow is a reminder that they have a covenant between them. God would help Noah as long as he still worshipped, sacrificed to him, and followed his rules. These rules were put into the already existing flood story by the writers of the Bible, but they made it more effective by promoting the idea that the rules had a divine origin.

In conclusion, I am amazed that a myth that I’ve read for years probably happened as I described. Before I wrote this paper, I didn’t know that there were 2 or even more writers of the Bible. I like the J version of God more than the P version, because it’s more interesting to read about him. He’s more active and powerful. The P writer was very focused on rules and sacrificing, so I don’t like him much. Back then, the writers of the bible were competing against each other for how their society should be. The two writers created a balance so that neither one prevailed. The writers of the Bible used the powers of god to get people to follow their ideas.

A related, very unfortunate event recently occurred. A big tsunami hit approximately 12 countries in the Indian Ocean. The people being flooded probably felt the same way the ancient Black Sea inhabitants felt when they were flooded by the Mediterranean overflow. Some of the people that just got hit by the tsunami and didn’t have radios or education might think this was a punishment from the god(s). A man in Sumatra was quoted by Newsweek Magazine as saying “This is punishment from the gods… because there is no justice, because our leaders are oppressive. They don’t care about the poor.” Others who are educated understood that the disaster was caused by an underwater earthquake.

Though this didn’t affect nearly as large an area as the Black Sea catastrophe, it was still a very rare disaster that took many lives. Even today, horrible natural events, similar to events of the past, can change the societies who experience them, and we will only know in the future how their survivors interpreted and recorded what happened to them.

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