Sugihara and the Jews: A Chanukah Story

Thanks again to Jack Cohen of the Netanya Branch. You can read Jack’s blog here.

This event took place on Sunday, December 1, 2013 in Netanya.

Sunday I saw a movie entitled “Conspiracy of Kindness” at the AACI about Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Jews during WWII.  The movie was shown by Naftali Bet-Ram, a retired professor from Touro College, New York, who provided some commentary.

Although Japan became an ally of Nazi Germany in the Axis powers during WWII, nevertheless they refused to introduce anti-Semitic laws in Japan and treated the Jews who came under their control with respect.  It should be noted that the Japanese Government had a positive view of the Jews for one main reason.  When they wanted to go to war with Russia in 1902 they could not find any banker to finance their plans, except for Jacob Schiff of New York, who loaned them m$200, which was a huge sum.  When the surprised Japanese envoy asked him why he gave them the loan Schiff replied, “as a banker I should not give you this loan, but as a Jew I must give it to you,” and then he wished them luck in defeating the Russians, which they did in the Russo-Japan war of 1904.  In the 1930s a serious proposal had been floated called “the Fugu Plan” that Jews who were being forced to flee Europe should be settled in Manchuoko, the name given to the Japanese-puppet colony of Manchuria that Japan had captured from China.  But, the American Jewish leader Rabbi Stephen Wise rejected this proposal before the anti-Jewish atrocities in Europe became known and by then it was too late.

Chiune Sugihara had become a Japanese diplomat and had learnt Russian and German.  He was instrumental in buying the Manchurian railway from the Russians and was involved in learning the plans of the Russians prior to WWII.  In other words he was a diplomatic spy, and he was then sent to the Japanese Embassy in Berlin.  From there he was sent to the Embassy in Helsinki, and then he set up a consular office in Kaunas, Lithuania, which was closer to the Russian border.  Then Lithuania was invaded by the Russians and  they ordered all foreign Embassies to close.  During this period thousands of Polish Jews fled to Lithuania from the advancing German Army.  They brought with them tales of the atrocities carried out against the Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators.

One day Sugihara was in a store in Kaunas when a young Jewish boy named Solly Ganor came in.  He asked his aunt who owned the store for money to go to a movie, and she demurred.  Sugihara then offered the boy the money, but he refused it, saying that he could not accept money from strangers.  Sugihara told him to consider him an uncle.  Whereupon the boy said, if you are my uncle you must come to our Chanukkah party.  So Sugihara went to the family Chanukkah Party with his wife and children, and learnt about Jewish customs.  There Sugihara also learnt about the anti-Jewish atrocities being commited by the Germans in Poland and reported them to his Foreign Ministry.  Miraculously his correspondence  with the Ministry survived the American bombing of Tokyo, when most of the Japanese Government archives were destroyed.

Quite coincidentally, a Dutch Jewish couple who had fled from Poland to Lithuania asked the nearest Dutch Embassy if they could receive a visa for the Dutch Caribbean colony of Curacao, since due to the war it was impossible to return to Holland.  They were told that no visa was necessary for Curacao.  They asked the Ambassador if he would write this in their passports and he complied.  Soon they returned and asked for him to do the same for 30 of their Polish friends, and he did so.  Eventually thousands of Jews, finding no escape from Lithuania simply wrote in their passports “no visa needed for Curacao” and used this as a destination visa from Lithuania.  But, to leave Lithuania they needed two other visas, an exit visa from the Russians (who occupied Lithuania at this point) and a transit visa thru another country.

The Dutch couple approached Sugihara who worked out of his house in Kaunas as the offical Japanese Consul in Lithuania, from where he had spied on the Russians and the Germans.  They asked him for a transit visa thru Japan and he gave them one.  Soon his office was besieged by hundreds of Jews seeking similar visas.  He cabled the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo for approval to give out transit visas, but was refused.  He was refused three times, but nevertheless he started to give out visas to these desperate Jews seeking any haven, and in fact ended up giving 2,120 visas, according to the list of names that he subsequently submitted to the Ministry.  Note that because he had no staff, making out these visas by hand was a herculean task.

The Rabbi of the Mir Yeshiva, whose 300 teachers and pupils had escaped from Poland to Lithuania, came to Sugihara and asked him for transit visas, and he agreed.  But, in order to do the work the Mir Yeshiva Rabbi and a German volunteer worked together with him day and night.   However, this is not the total of visas he gave out, even when he had closed the Consulate he continued to give out visas, even at the railway station and even on the train.  In addition, noone knows how many visas were copied and forged.  Yet the Russians gave everyone (except Lithuanian citizens) exit visas from Lithuania, as long as they could buy a ticket on the Trans-Siberian railway to Vladivostock and the Japanese authorities honored all the visas, even those that were obvious forgeries.

In this way thousands of Jews manged to escape the Holocaust.  Solly Ganor, who was Lithuanian, was not allowed to leave, and when the Germans captured Lithuania and the Russians withdrew, he saw the ferocity with which the Lithuanians themselves massacred Jews in the streets.  He was sent with 30,000 other Jews to a Ghetto in Kaunas.  From there some 10,000 Jews were taken out one day and murdered.  Many of them were shot and many were thrown alive into the huge pit in the Ninth Fort, a remnant of the medieval fortifications around Kaunas. Altogether 30,000 Jews were murdered there.

Solly was lucky to remain in the Ghetto and was on a forced death march when he lost conscousness and awoke to find all the Germans soldiers gone.  Then he was rescued coincidentally by soldiers of the all-Japanese American unit, the 442 regiment.

Sugihara remained in Europe after the war, but when he was ordered back to Japan he was forced to resign his post at the Foreign Ministry due to his disobeying of orders and was stripped of his pension and was officially disgraced.  He did odd jobs until he returned to Moscow working in the import-export business.  After 16 years living there in obscurity he returned to Japan.  He was sought out by Jews who he had saved and was given the award of Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem in Israel in 1985.  He was only recognized as a hero by the Japanese Government after that and all his pension amounts were repaid to his family after his death in 1986.  When he was asked why he did it, he seemed not to understand the question and then replied “but anyone would have done it.”  He refused all attempts to glorify his name and to receive rewards.  Now there are monuments to him in Kaunas and his hometown of Kamakura in Japan.

Of those Jews he saved, many were shipped out of Japan to Shanghai during the war, but none were killed.  Some were given visas to Australia and New Zealand and other countries before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and America entered the war.  None of the Jews went to Curacao.  About half of the Jews eventually made their way to Israel where they and their descendents live today. One of those he saved, Zerah Warhaftig, who was a Zionist leader in Poland, later became a Minister in the Israeli Government and a founder of Bar Ilan University.   It is estimated that today there are ca. 40,000 descendents of the Jews Sugihara saved.

 

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Exotic Jewish Communities – Part 3 – Indian Jewish Communities

Thanks once again to Jack Cohen for his summary of this interesting lecture, part 3 of a series taking place in Netanya. Thanks also to Gabriella Licsko, our guest lecturer, who was kind enough to review Jack’s summary (and the previous ones) and approve it.

CLICK HERE FOR PART 1.

CLICK HERE FOR PART 2.

Thanks to guest poster, Jack Cohen from the Netanya branch of AACI. This is from his blog, Isblog.

This lecture series with Gabriella Licsko continues in Netanya with Exotic Jewry:  Communities and Lost Tribes on Dec 8.

Call 09-8330950 or visit http://www.netanyaaaci.org.il/PDF_files/Lecture%20Series%20-Exotic%20Jewry%202013.pdf

Scroll down for information and details about upcoming lecture series in November, “Let’s Surf on the Map!” and in December, “Jerusalem of Gold, Jerusalem of Colors” at the AACI – Max & Gianna Glassman Family Center in Jerusalem.

Indian Jewish communities

In the third of her series on “Exotic Jewish communities,” Gabriella Licsko spoke about the Indian Jewish communities, namely the Cochin Jews, the Bnei Israel, the Baghdadi Jews and the Bnei Menashe. Note that all of these groups are quite distinct and have separate histories and origins. Except for the Bnei Menashe, they all shared the characteristics of being very Indian, but also being pro-British, and distinctly middle class.

The Cochin Jews are the oldest group, their origins are supposed to go back to the Temple period about 2,500 years ago. They probably came from the Arabian peninsula to trade, since the area of Cochin is on the west coast of the State of Kerala in south west India. There was never any anti-Semitism in India and yet the number of Cochin Jews has always remained small. An early King gave them a copper scroll that is one of the oldest existing that guarantees them permanent safety in Cochin. There were three distinct groups of Cochin Jews, the earliest were dark skinned and were called the “Black Jews.” The second group came later, after the expulsion from Spain via Persia, and were called the “Paradesi” or “White Jews” and the third group was called the “Mechshurarim” or “freed” because they were originally slaves of the Paradesi and many of them converted to Judaism. These three groups were not allowed to inter-marry with each other.

Because of their connections first to the Dutch and then to the British, the Cochin Jews felt that they would lose their economic and political status when India became independent and most of them (ca. 5,000) moved to Israel in the 1950s. Although the Cochin Jews were recognised as Jews by the Rabbinate (except for the Mechshurarim who had to re-convert), they still had a hard time immigrating to Israel. Some of them suffered from the disease of elephantiasis, and it took a while before the health authorities in Israel would agree that it was not contagious and would let them immigrate. Also, over time many of them had apparently converted to a form of early Christianity known as St. Thomas Christianity that was perhaps influenced by their Judaism. Many of the Cochin Jews moved together to moshav Nevatim in the Negev and you can still see their small museum and authentic synagogue (as well as the original one in the Israel museum) and you can have a good Indian meal there. Another Cochin settlement close to Beit Shemesh is called Mesilat Zion.

The Bnei Israel are a group of Jews who largely lived in and around Bombay (today’s Mumbai). They were a larger group, consisting of tens of thousands, all of whom were supposed to be descended from 7 Jewish couples who were shipwrecked 2100 years ago. Since they lost all their books, they gradually lost many Jewish customs and became less observant, although they continued to observe kashruth, say the “shema Israel,” perform brit milah and kept Shabbat. They were called “the Saturday oil pressers” by the local population. They became very Indian in their dress, the women wore saris, and they spoke the local language, Marathi. But, they were trusted by the British and many of them were drafted into the Indian Army and became officers and there was even a Jewish Mayor of Bombay named Nissim. They were quite westernized and many were Zionistic and when India became independent the same year as Israel, 1948, many left for Israel, although some went to Britain where life was easier for them. Most of the Rabbinut accepted them as Jews, but there was a problem of some extreme Orthodox Rabbis not accepting them, because they were concerned about possible inter-marriage in the past, but the whole problem was settled in 1964. They live mainly in the south, Dimona, Yeroham, and it is quite common to see women dressed in saris walking around in those towns, although the younger women now only wear these clothes on special occasions.

The Baghdadi Jews didn’t only come from Baghdad, but more generally they were a class of merchant Jews from Iraq, Syria, Aden and Persia, who moved to India for trade starting in 1730. Some of them were very wealthy and became more so in India. Their center was Bombay and the most famous family were the Sasoons, known as the Rothschilds of the East (Vidal was not a member of this family, but Siegfried was). These wealthy Jews supported the synagogues and schools of the community and ran a welfare system, so no Jew went hungry. They spread as far as Hong Kong and Shanghai, but preferred to be considered British, and many of them moved to Britain. Some Baghdadi Jews who went to Israel were treated like the rest of the poor Sephardim, since the Ashkenazi Jews who ran the Israeli system were ignorant of their background, education and standing.

The Bnei Menashe are a very distinct group who live in the tribal areas of NW India in Manipur and Mizoram. They claim to be descended from the tribe of Menashe, one of the lost tribes, which some believe but others doubt. They speak Mizo, a Tibetan-Burmese language and about 100 years ago were probably animist headhunters. They were converted to Christianity, and probably because of a tribal longing to return to their original homeland, the story of the Jews had a special resonance for them. In the 1920-30s they became more fervent and some of their rituals were thought to resemble those of the Jews. In 1951 their spiritual leader had a dream after which he decided that they were really Jews and from then they started to follow Judaism. In the 1980s an Israeli Rabbi named Avihail discovered them and thought they were one of the lost tribes and brought their case to Israel. In the 1990s with the help of Michael Freund of Shavei Israel they began to convert and finally were accepted to come to Israel. There are now several hundred of them mostly in Kiryat Arba who are very committed Jews, and about 8,000 remaining in India waiting for their aliyah. But, because India frowns upon their conversion in India some have had to go to Nepal to be converted. They do bring new meaning to the phrase “a rainbow nation” applied to Israel.

Gabriella Licsko is a lecturer on Jewish history and society focusing on different religious communities.  She leads tours of different neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across the country, and is one of  AACI’s Scholar in Residence for our travel program.  Gabriella holds a bachelor’s degree in Culture Studies and a master’s degree in Jewish Studies and made aliyah from Hungary in 2007.

Gabriella Licsko is a lecturer on Jewish history and society focusing on different religious communities. She leads tours of different neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across the country, and is one of AACI’s Scholar in Residence for our travel program. Gabriella holds a bachelor’s degree in Culture Studies and a master’s degree in Jewish Studies and made aliyah from Hungary in 2007.

UPCOMING LECTURE SERIES WITH SCHOLAR GABRIELLA LICSKO IN DECEMBER

_______________________________________________________________

December:  “Jerusalem of Gold, Jerusalem of Colors”

Get to know more about the capital of the State of Israel.  Learn about the neighborhoods, both old and new, their history and society, the culture and population of different areas, the famous residents, institutions, schools and synagogues, social and demographical changes, real estate prices and new projects in town.

When: 

Wednesday, December 4th at 14:00

The OldCity, Yemin Moshe-Miskenot Sheananim, Musrara, Kfar David.

 Wednesday, December 11th at 14:00

Meah Shearim: Learn how a relatively modern religious neighborhood established by Polish and Lithuanian Jews in 1874, turned to be the symbol of extreme ultra-orthodoxy and anti-Zionism.

Wednesday, December 18th at 14:00

The most popular areas and neighborhoods in the city and the “Anglo colonies”

Wednesday, December 25th at 14:00

Lesser known and less central neighborhoods, their population changes and potentials, and Jerusalem real estate in the past and now.

Cost of series:  170 NIS / AACI members 150 NIS (Individual lectures 50 NIS each) Pre-registration with payment required.

 Gabriella Licsko is a lecturer on Jewish history and society focusing on different religious communities.  She leads tours of different neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across the country, and is one of  AACI’s Scholar in Residence for our travel program.  Gabriella holds a bachelor’s degree in Culture Studies and a master’s degree in Jewish Studies and made aliyah from Hungary in 2007.

AACI is the home for English Speakers in Israel with offices in
Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Beer Sheva and Haifa.
AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center
Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall) Talpiot, Jerusalem
Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.
(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.

 

Cromwell and the Jews

Once again, many thanks to Jack Cohen for sharing his summary of a program from the AACI Netanya branch. His article is posted here as well, on his blog.

It is almost impossible for me to reproduce the talk given by Elkan Levy at AACI Netanya on the return of the Jews to England, entitled “Cromwell and the Rabbi.”  His lecture was so rich in detail, so full of anecdote and yet so coherent, that one is left amazed by its fulness and scope.  Nevertheless, being foolhardy, I will try to at least summarize its main points.  Let me add that Elkan Levy was a former President of the United Synagogue of Great Britain and then the Head of the Department of Small Communities.  His knowledge of the history of the Jews of Great Britain is encyclopedic.

He sketched the background, reminding us that although the Jews were expelled from England in 1290 by King Edward I, some still remained there throughout the subsequent period.  It was the English Civil War (1642-1651) and the victory of the Parlimentarians (Roundheads) and the beheading of Charles I in 1649 that prepared the way for the Jews to openly return to England.

There were several reasons for the British and particularly the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), who was a very pragmatic leader, to want the Jews returned to England.  First, there was the general sense that wherever the Jews went they brought economic benefit because of their mercantile activities, just what England needed after a punishing and costly Civil War. Second, Britain was engaged in a war with Holland, which at that time was the richest country in Europe, a condition that was largely attributed to the active Jewish community there. Third, there was the theological argument, that until the Jews were spread all over the earth, according to the Biblical prophecies, the coming of the messiah (or for the Christians, the second coming of Christ) could not occur.  Fourth, there was a general sense in which religious tolerance was growing, mainly because the various Christian sects, especially the Protestant sects and Catholicism, needed to find a way to tolerate each other.

At that time it was more dangerous for the descendents of conversos (or Marranos) to try to pass as Catholics than as Jews.  He gave the example of a certain Senor Robles whose two ships at dock on the Thames and their contents were seized by the British customs because he was a Spanish Catholic.  When he submitted an affidavit claiming that he was really a Portuguese Jew, whose family had been persecuted by the Inquisition, his ships and goods were returned to him.

Manasseh Ben Israel (Soeiro) (1604-1657) was the respected Rabbi of the Amsterdam Sephardic congregation, appointed when he was only 19.  He was a very opinionated, egotistical and strong-willed individual, who in 1650 published a book “The Hope of Israel” (in Latin, Spanish, Hebrew and English) calling for religious tolerance and that the Jews should be allowed to return legally to England in order to fulfil Biblical prohecy.  He took it upon himself to be the leader of this movement, something that was frowned upon by the lay leaders of his Synagogue.  Nevertheless in 1655 he resigned form his position and travelled to London and published a direct appeal to Cromwell regarding the readmission of the Jews.

There were also strong opponents to this move, and so in 1655 Cromwell summoned leading lawyers, scholars and clerics to a Conference at Whitehall in London to decide the matter.  Tasked with determining the legal basis of the expulsion of the Jews, two Judges came to the notable conclusion that there were no laws actually preventing Jews from living in England, since the expulsion had been an edict of the Crown and only referred to the Jews then resident in England who were actually property of the King.  In his diary on Dec 14, 1655, John Evelyn wrote in his diary “Now were the Jews admitted.”

But, to actually achieve the practical outcome was not so easy.  Cromwell dismissed the Conference without any official declaration.  In answer to the critics, Manasseh published another work in 1656 entitled “Vindiciae Judiorum.”  Meanwhile Manasseh had no income from Amsterdam, failed to receive a promised payment from Cromwell and was not appointed the Rabbi of the first Synagogue that was allowed to open in London in 1656 at Creechurch Lane, where for the first time Jews were able to openly practise their religion.  Manasseh’s son died in London in 1657 and Manasseh took his body back to Holland for burial and he died there the same year.  Cromwell died in 1658.

The Restoration of the Monarchy occured in 1660.  When the Jews were challenged as to their right to practise their religion, since the laws were interpreted to apply only to Christian practise, Charles II supported the Jews and the general right of toleration to practise religion in Britain with the Royal Declaration of Indulgence in 1672.  Even then the fight continued for many years.

Exotic Jewish Communities – Part 2 – Ethiopian Jews

Thanks once again to Jack Cohen for his summary of this interesting lecture, part 2 of a series taking place in Netanya. Thanks also to Gabriella Licsko, our guest lecturer, who was kind enough to review Jack’s summary (and the previous one) and approve it.

Click here for part 1.

Thanks to guest poster, Jack Cohen from the Netanya branch of AACI. This is from his blog, Isblog.

This lecture series with Gabriella Licsko continues in Netanya with Exotic Jewry:  Communities and Lost Tribes on Nov 3, Nov 17 and Dec 8.

Call 09-8330950 or visit http://www.netanyaaaci.org.il/PDF_files/Lecture%20Series%20-Exotic%20Jewry%202013.pdf

Scroll down for information and details about upcoming lecture series in November, “Let’s Surf on the Map!” and in December, “Jerusalem of Gold, Jerusalem of Colors” at the AACI – Max & Gianna Glassman Family Center in Jerusalem.

For her second lecture in the series on Exotic Jewish Communities, Gabrella Licsko spoke about the Ethiopian Jewish community.  There are about 120,000 Ethiopian Jews living in Israel and the largest concentration of them is in Netanya.  It is common to see them in our streets and working around the city.  But, the Ethiopian community has had a hard time adapting to Israel, perhaps more than most immigrant communities.

The origin of the Ethiopian Jews is shrouded in mystery.  The popular theory is that they are descended from the liaison between Kind David and the Queen of Sheba.  Sheba was not in Ethiopia itself but across the Red Sea in Yemen.  In biblical times and later it was a very verdant area often ruled by Queens.  The son of the Queen of Sheba was Menelek who is considered to be the founder of the royal line of Ethiopia descended from King David.  Much later they converted to Christianity.  Another theory is that the Ethiopian Jews are descended from the tribe of Dan.

Around the 15th century there is eyewitness testimony of a Jewish Kingdom in Ethiopia, and for several hundred years it was ruled by a Jewish dynasty.  But, wars between the Jewish and Christian kingdoms resulted in great destruction and finally the Christians won and reduced the Jews to penury.  Jews were only allowed to be farmers and petty artisans, they were driven out of the main cities and those who survived ended up in Gondar province in the north east and some in Tigre province.  They spoke Amharic, which is a southern semitic language, but their sacred texts were written in a special language called Geez, that only the priests (Kesim) could read.

Because of their remoteness and isolation from other Jewish communities, the Ethiopian Jews never developed Rabbinic Judaism, had no access to Ashkenazi and Sephardi texts and never celebrated Hanukkah, a later festival.  They do however celebrate a unique festival of Sigd, 50 days after Yom Kippur, when they pray as a community to be returned to Israel.  This day is now a holiday for them celebrated in Israel.

During the 18-19th century things became worse for the remaining Jews who were named Falasha, a derogatory term.  Many were forcibly converted to Christianity, forming a group called Falash Mura, or “impure people.”  The relationship between the Jews and the Falash Mura is complex, some Jews regarding them as brothers, and others looking down on them as traitors.

By the 19th century their numbers had declined drastically because of a general famine in Ethiopia and attempts were made to help them.  In the 1920s Rav Kook, Chief Rabbi of Palestine, wanted to arrange their aliyah, but unfortunately it did not happen then.  Later several individuals, mostly the educated children of senior Kesim, managed to reach Palestine and then Israel.  But, the very poor majority continued subsistence farming in Gondar through civil wars and political strife under Haile Selassi and the Marxist dictator Mengistu, both of whom would not allow them to leave.  In 1974 Rav Ovadia Yosef, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi, agreed to accept them as Jews and this helped their aliyah, even though many Haredi Rabbis refused to accept them as Jews and still do.  In the 1980s many of them trekked across the desert to Sudan, although thousands died on the way.   In 1984 they were spirited out of Sudan secretly to Israel in operations Moses and King Solomon by El Al and with the help of the US.  But, eventually this route was closed and it only became possible for the rest to leave once the regime changed and wanted greater contact with the US.

Due to controversy about whether or not they are truly Jews there were bureaucratic hold-ups in their transfer to Israel and their acceptance under the “law of return.”  Finally most senior rabbis accepted them as Jews, allowing the Ministry of the Interior to recognize them.  The Falash Mura immigrated more recently and were also accepted, but they are required to convert.

Since they came from almost a stone-age background, they had no idea what things such as planes, toilets, elevators and TVs were.  Not only was it difficult for them to adapt to modern life in Israel, but they had to learn Hebrew and often how to read and write.  Also, since the men had been farmers there was not much they could do in Israel and often the wives, who were younger and more adaptable, became the bread winners, thus undermining their traditional family structure.   But, we should point out that this year’s Miss Israel is an Ethiopian girl from Netanya named Titi and there are now Ethiopian MKs and even one Ambassador.  The Ethiopian Jews are still adapting to Israel, and prejudice against them is gradually fading and in several generations it will probably be difficult to remember how hard it was for them to be absorbed here.

Gabriella Licsko is a lecturer on Jewish history and society focusing on different religious communities.  She leads tours of different neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across the country, and is one of  AACI’s Scholar in Residence for our travel program.  Gabriella holds a bachelor’s degree in Culture Studies and a master’s degree in Jewish Studies and made aliyah from Hungary in 2007.

Gabriella Licsko is a lecturer on Jewish history and society focusing on different religious communities. She leads tours of different neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across the country, and is one of AACI’s Scholar in Residence for our travel program. Gabriella holds a bachelor’s degree in Culture Studies and a master’s degree in Jewish Studies and made aliyah from Hungary in 2007.

UPCOMING LECTURE SERIES WITH SCHOLAR GABRIELLA LICSKO IN NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER

November:  Let’s Surf on the Map!

Join us for a new series about the Land of Israel, about the geography and society:  get to know the amazing geographic, social and cultural diversity of this Land, explore holy cities and the secular ones

 When:

Wednesday, November 6th at 14:00

The four holy cities: Hebron, Jerusalem, Tzfat and Tveria; past, present and future.

Wednesday, November 13th at 14:00

”If you want to be a mayor, go and build for yourself a city” Meir Dizengoff. Tel-Aviv and the center of Israel

Wednesday, November 20th at 14:00

“The South and the North will rise again! But how and when?”

Wednesday, November 27th at 15:30

Yehuda and Shomron and a crash course on Kibbutzim, Moshavim, Yishuvim, development towns and planned cities.

Cost of series:  170 NIS / AACI members 150 NIS (Individual lectures 50 NIS each) Pre-registration with payment required.

_______________________________________________________________

December:  “Jerusalem of Gold, Jerusalem of Colors”

Get to know more about the capital of the State of Israel.  Learn about the neighborhoods, both old and new, their history and society, the culture and population of different areas, the famous residents, institutions, schools and synagogues, social and demographical changes, real estate prices and new projects in town.

When: 

Wednesday, December 4th at 14:00

The OldCity, Yemin Moshe-Miskenot Sheananim, Musrara, Kfar David.

 Wednesday, December 11th at 14:00

Meah Shearim: Learn how a relatively modern religious neighborhood established by Polish and Lithuanian Jews in 1874, turned to be the symbol of extreme ultra-orthodoxy and anti-Zionism.

Wednesday, December 18th at 14:00

The most popular areas and neighborhoods in the city and the “Anglo colonies”

Wednesday, December 25th at 14:00

Lesser known and less central neighborhoods, their population changes and potentials, and Jerusalem real estate in the past and now.

Cost of series:  170 NIS / AACI members 150 NIS (Individual lectures 50 NIS each) Pre-registration with payment required.

 Gabriella Licsko is a lecturer on Jewish history and society focusing on different religious communities.  She leads tours of different neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across the country, and is one of  AACI’s Scholar in Residence for our travel program.  Gabriella holds a bachelor’s degree in Culture Studies and a master’s degree in Jewish Studies and made aliyah from Hungary in 2007.

AACI is the home for English Speakers in Israel with offices in Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Beer Sheva and Haifa.
AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall) Talpiot, Jerusalem
Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.
(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.

Exotic Jewish Communities – Part 1 – Yemenite Jews

Thanks to guest poster, Jack Cohen from the Netanya branch of AACI. This is from his blog, Isblog.

This lecture series with Gabriella Licsko continues in Netanya with Exotic Jewry:  Communities and Lost Tribes on Nov 3, Nov 17 and Dec 8.

Call 09-8330950 or visit http://www.netanyaaaci.org.il/PDF_files/Lecture%20Series%20-Exotic%20Jewry%202013.pdf

Scroll down for information and details about upcoming lecture series in November, “Let’s Surf on the Map!” and in December, “Jerusalem of Gold, Jerusalem of Colors” at the AACI – Max & Gianna Glassman Family Center in Jerusalem.

http://www.commentfromisraelblog.blogspot.co.il/2013_10_01_archive.html – FRIDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2013

Yemenites

We went to the first of a series of lectures on “Exotic Jewish communities” given by Gabriella Licsko at Netanya AACI. Gabriella is a Hungarian Jewish immigrant to Israel who specializes in Jewish cultural phenomena. She gave a series of lectures last year on the various Orthodox Jewish sects in Israel, which were so popular that we invited her back. The current series started with a description of the Yemenite Jewish Community, that includes not only the true Yemenites, but also the Habbani and Adeni communities.

The Yemeni Jews are a very ancient and separate grouping, not included under the Ashkenazi (Yiddish) or Sephardi (Spanish) main Jewish rites. They developed largely in isolation and their distinct attribute was to largely follow the teachings of the Rambam (Moses Maimonides), who came from Cordova, Spain and resided in Cairo (1168-1204). He wrote a famous letter to the Yemeni community, in answer to the question, if a Jew is threatened by death unless he converts to Islam, should he choose to convert or accept death? He wrote that it is preferable to convert, because first one can secretly continue to believe and practice Judaism (as many conversos did in Spain) and second there may come a time when the forced convert can revert back to his original path (as the Rambam once did). He also advised that conversion to Islam was preferable to conversion to Christianity, because Islam is determinedly monotheistic while Christianity requires belief in a “trinity.”

The reason the Yemenite Jews would ask such a question is because they lived under a terribly oppressive Muslim regime. Although they had developed a strong community during the pre-Muslim period, once Islam arrived in Yemen they were very badly treated. It was common for Jews to be abused in broad daylight on the street and Jewish women stayed mainly in their houses and only went out dressed as Muslims. But, many Jewish communities experienced harsh treatment, what made the Yemenite experience worse was the co-called “Orphan decree.” Under this, if any Jewish child was orphaned then they were automatically required to be converted to Islam. To avoid this fate many children were either betrothed and/or married at very young ages, something for which the Yemenite community is known, but the origin of this custom is not well known.

The Yemenites wore characteristic oriental-style clothes, the men with long peyot and were not allowed to wear turbans or wear swords or any protective weapons or ride horses, only donkeys. The women wore black clothes with a pointed cape on their head. They were not allowed to be farmers or engage in agriculture, so they became silversmiths, pot- and earthen-ware makers and shop-keepers. Ironically when they arrived in Israel in large numbers in the 1950s they were channeled by the Israeli authorities into agriculture. Because of their persecution the Yemenites developed Zionism independently and started arriving in Palestine in the 1880’s. The area of Tel Aviv called Keren Hateymanim became a Yemenite enclave, and later many settled in Rosh Ha’ayin, and Rehovot and vicinity. They were famously brought to Israel on Operation Magic Carpet in 1949-50 when many of them had never seen an airplane before. There are estimated to be now ca. 350,000 Yemenite Jewish descendants in Israel.

Yemenite Jews en route to Israel from Aden, Yemen - from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Magic_Carpet_(Yemen)

Yemenite Jews en route to Israel from Aden, Yemen – from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Magic_Carpet_(Yemen)

The Yemenites were not homogeneous, they divided into at least three major religious groups, there was a group who were influenced by Sephardic rites and mysticism called Shami, and those who were not influenced in this way were called Baladi (from the Arabic for “home country”). The offshoot of the Baladi were the Rambamistim and the Dordaim both of whom advocated a more “rational” version of Judaism and mostly rejected Sephardi mysticiswm.

A distinct smaller group from the area of Yemen called Habban are the Habbani Jews, who although nominally Yemenite Jews, were quite different. Many years ago they developed a military tradition, and wore their hair long, wore turbans, rode horses and were much feared by the local Arab tribes, who tended to avoid them. They were called “wild Indians” by the Israelis who rescued them. By contrast to most Yemenite Jews who were not strongly builtt, the Habbanis were tall and muscular. However, there were only several thousand of them, and they settled together in Moshav Bareket near Ben Gurion airport and became wealthy, since they owned the land on which Airport City was built.

Finally, the Adeni Jews were also quite distinct, due mainly to the fact that the British conquered Aden in 1839 and treated the Jews there very well, recognizing that they were loyal to the British Crown and were excellent traders, just what the port city needed. Although they descended from the same Jews as the Yemenites, they did not consider themselves Yemenite Jews and greatly intermarried with Iraqi and Indian Jews. They spoke English, were quite wealthy, adopted British dress and customs (including afternoon tea) and even before the Brithish withdrew from Aden in 1963 they mostly went to Stamford Hill, London, although there is a small group living in Israel in Tel Aviv. The persistence of these groups of formerly Diaspora Jews in Israel is a testimony to the strength of ethnic customs and practices.

Gabriella Licsko is a lecturer on Jewish history and society focusing on different religious communities.  She leads tours of different neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across the country, and is one of  AACI’s Scholar in Residence for our travel program.  Gabriella holds a bachelor’s degree in Culture Studies and a master’s degree in Jewish Studies and made aliyah from Hungary in 2007.

Gabriella Licsko is a lecturer on Jewish history and society focusing on different religious communities. She leads tours of different neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across the country, and is one of AACI’s Scholar in Residence for our travel program. Gabriella holds a bachelor’s degree in Culture Studies and a master’s degree in Jewish Studies and made aliyah from Hungary in 2007.

UPCOMING LECTURE SERIES WITH SCHOLAR GABRIELLA LICSKO IN NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER

November:  Let’s Surf on the Map!

Join us for a new series about the Land of Israel, about the geography and society:  get to know the amazing geographic, social and cultural diversity of this Land, explore holy cities and the secular ones

 When:

Wednesday, November 6th at 14:00

The four holy cities: Hebron, Jerusalem, Tzfat and Tveria; past, present and future.

Wednesday, November 13th at 14:00

”If you want to be a mayor, go and build for yourself a city” Meir Dizengoff. Tel-Aviv and the center of Israel

Wednesday, November 20th at 14:00

“The South and the North will rise again! But how and when?”

Wednesday, November 27th at 15:30

Yehuda and Shomron and a crash course on Kibbutzim, Moshavim, Yishuvim, development towns and planned cities.

Cost of series:  170 NIS / AACI members 150 NIS (Individual lectures 50 NIS each) Pre-registration with payment required.

_______________________________________________________________

December:  “Jerusalem of Gold, Jerusalem of Colors”

Get to know more about the capital of the State of Israel.  Learn about the neighborhoods, both old and new, their history and society, the culture and population of different areas, the famous residents, institutions, schools and synagogues, social and demographical changes, real estate prices and new projects in town.

When: 

Wednesday, December 4th at 14:00

The OldCity, Yemin Moshe-Miskenot Sheananim, Musrara, Kfar David.

 Wednesday, December 11th at 14:00

Meah Shearim: Learn how a relatively modern religious neighborhood established by Polish and Lithuanian Jews in 1874, turned to be the symbol of extreme ultra-orthodoxy and anti-Zionism.

Wednesday, December 18th at 14:00

The most popular areas and neighborhoods in the city and the “Anglo colonies”

Wednesday, December 25th at 14:00

Lesser known and less central neighborhoods, their population changes and potentials, and Jerusalem real estate in the past and now.

Cost of series:  170 NIS / AACI members 150 NIS (Individual lectures 50 NIS each) Pre-registration with payment required.

 Gabriella Licsko is a lecturer on Jewish history and society focusing on different religious communities.  She leads tours of different neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across the country, and is one of  AACI’s Scholar in Residence for our travel program.  Gabriella holds a bachelor’s degree in Culture Studies and a master’s degree in Jewish Studies and made aliyah from Hungary in 2007.

AACI is the home for English Speakers in Israel with offices in Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Beer Sheva and Haifa.
AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall) Talpiot, Jerusalem
Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.
(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.

Live from Jerusalem! It’s Avraham Avinu!

So by now, if you are a member of AACI, you have received a letter in the mail. And if you receive our free enewsletter, or if you are like us on facebook, or follow us on twitter, then you may know that Avraham Avinu was recently sighted in our Jerusalem office in Talpiot.

Here are some highlights of his visit.

Please like and share the video. And of course, you can donate by clicking here.

AACI is the home for English Speakers in Israel with offices in Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Beer Sheva and Haifa.
AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall) Talpiot, Jerusalem
Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.
(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.

Beer Sheva, past, present, and this summer!

UPDATE – A fun time was had by all. And we have photos to prove it!

Check them out! click on the link. Thanks to Matt Polani!

You are invited on Thursday, July 18th to experience Beer Sheva for yourself…

On Thursday, July 18 the Southern Region of AACI is hosting a gala Summer Picnic. We invite everyone across the country, new olim and vatikim, Israelis and non-Israelis, families and singles, to come and experience Beer Sheva, to glory in our past, to enjoy our modern beautiful present, and, in addition, to meet our wonderful community.

Our picnic will take place from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM in the large public park in the Heh neighborhood and will feature clowns, balloons, crafts for the kids, jumping castles, cotton candy, great music, and other surprises!. In addition, we are planning a small crafts fair of Negev art.

When you plan your summer vacation, plan on spending Thursday, July 18 in Beer Sheva. We look forward to having you!

For more information, contact me at reesagstone@gmail.com.

Years ago, when my husband and I were dating and things became serious, he told me that if we were to get married, we’d have to move from Jerusalem – where we were then living – to either Haifa in the north, or Beer Sheva in the south. He wouldn’t be able to make a good enough living to support a family as an engineer in the center of the country, but both north and south had excellent potential. This was back in the dark ages, when Google wasn’t even a glint in Larry Page’s and Sergey Brin’s eyes (and quite possibly Messrs Page and Brin might have been only slightly more than a glint in their fathers’ eyes), so I could only make an informative decision by asking around.

Not exactly scientific.

Nonetheless, somehow and for reasons that totally escape me today, we decided on Beer Sheva. My to-be husband sent out a bunch of resumes, got a few job offers, and three weeks after we were married, we moved to a dusty, quiet, and very hot town. I spent much of that moving day hiding my tears from my new husband. He never suspected that I had hoped and hoped that something would happen and we wouldn’t have to move to this hole in the middle of the desert.

Beer Sheva 1917

Beer Sheva 1917

I knew absolutely nobody in the city. I had visited only once before, years before, on a trip to the Negev. (I vaguely remembered walking back to the hostel and being accosted by Beer Sheva’s best, what was then called pushtakim or punks.) The weather was dreadful. The streets were covered in donkey poop. Dust covered everything. Truly, I didn’t want to be there.

30 hours after we first arrived in Beer Sheva, Shabbat also arrived. We went to shul, and almost immediately, everything began to change. I met warm, welcoming, and gracious people who invited us over for Shabbat meals, and offered to take us around and show us the town.

So, when my husband started working, and before I found work (three weeks later) I was not quite as traumatized as I had been and I took the opportunity to walk around town. At that time, Beer Sheva was still small enough that you could walk just about anywhere. It was then that the magic of Beer Sheva began to percolate into my bones.

In the 28 years that have passed since that fateful decision and my first tearful days in Beer Sheva, much has changed here. The city has grown from a large town of 60,000 to a big city of 205,000. The University has grown from less than 5000 students to over 18,000. And, unlike in 1985, there are now more shopping malls than sheep in the city. As a matter of fact, months can go by before I see a sheep or donkey. (In 1985, the Bedouin lady who rode her donkey down my street nodded to me daily.)

Yet, the magic has never worn off. Indeed, the city, to me, has become ever more entrancing. Here are some facts that few are aware of:

1. Beer Sheva is not just one of the oldest cities in the world, it is also the first Jewish city in history. 4000 years before Tel Aviv was built, Avraham Avinu planted the first Tamarisk Tree (Eitz Eshel) here, thereby establishing a Jewish city in the south part of the Land of Israel. All three of our forefathers lived here, giving the city the nickname Ir HaAvot – city of the Fathers. Today, at the edge of the old city, is ‘Be’er Avraham’, which claims to house the original well that was dug by Abraham. Of course, it isn’t the well, just a well; one of hundreds that were dug in the area over the millennia. A few years ago, Be’er Avraham was closed to the public and refurbished. It opens this summer as a museum of the history of Beer Sheva since the time of Abraham.

Beer Avraham

Beer Avraham

A Tamarisk tree is on the municipal flag and the trees can still be found around town.

Beer Sheva flag

Beer Sheva flag

Tamarisk tree

Tamarisk tree

2. Beer Sheva has some of the most comprehensive Byzantine ruins in the world. The Byzantines settled in the area to ward off attacks by the Nabateans, who controlled the spice route from Gaza to Arabia. Recently, an entire town was unveiled during the construction of the new bus station, and the ruins can be seen under the floor of the new station. I would venture to say that Beer Sheva is the only city in the world with a Byzantine city under its bus station on view through a glass floor.

Governor's house

Governor’s house

Beer Sheva boasts the largest number of Ottoman-era buildings in Israel. From the Governors House, to an early 20th century Mosque, to a school for the children of Bedouin Sheiks, to the train station (complete with an early 19th century train that traveled from Constantinople to Cairo – better known as the Orient Express), and other assorted residences and structures, these unique buildings have recently been restored and reopened to the public—each for a different purpose. The school is now a science museum, the Governor’s House is an art museum. The Mosque houses the history of Beer Sheva from Ottoman times to the present. Other buildings have become restaurants, shops, and art galleries.

Turkish Railway Station

Turkish Railway Station for the Orient Express

After the Ottomans, came the British Mandate, and dozens of Mandate-era buildings dot the city. The most magical (to me) of the remnants of the Mandate, however, is the British War Cemetery. Set off of what is today a busy thoroughfare, the cemetery is an oasis of quiet and, ironically, one of the most peaceful and green areas in the city. Buried here are the soldiers of the Commonwealth (mostly Australians and New Zealanders) who died in the Battle for Beer Sheva, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Beersheba_(1917) led by General Edmund Allenby. Just down the street from the cemetery, is a small park dedicated to Allenby’s memory. It was the first park built in the city, just after the war.

Allenby Park

Allenby Park

British War Cemetery

British War Cemetery

Moving along in historical architecture is the “Brutalism” style adopted in the new city shortly after the War of Independence. Searching for a way to quickly house the refugees from Northern Africa after independence, Israeli architectures settled on Brutalism, which is not nearly as harsh as the name. Like Tel Aviv is known for its Bauhaus buildings, Beer Sheva is now known for its Brutalism. http://www.haaretz.com/culture/be-er-sheva-the-capital-of-brutalism.premium-1.501982
But if Brutalism doesn’t do it for you (it doesn’t for me to tell the truth), the glorious fountains that our mayor has scattered all around the city more than make up for it.

3. If history, archeology, and architecture aren’t your thing, there’s always shopping. The Grand Kanyon (pun hopefully intended) Shopping Mall opened its doors last month. The largest and greenest mall in the country, it has three floors for shopping and one for eating. It takes half a day just to walk around it. This mall is, of course, in addition to the other dozen or so shopping malls in the city, some of them, really, really nice. There isn’t anything you can’t buy here.
4000 years worth of history, unique architecture, museums and art galleries, fountains, and shopping are all found here in the Capital of the Negev. And I haven’t even mentioned Beer Sheva’s famous ice cream!

Beer Sheva's famous ice cream

Beer Sheva’s famous ice cream

On Thursday, July 18 the Southern Region of AACI is hosting a gala Summer Picnic. We invite everyone across the country, new olim and vatikim, Israelis and non-Israelis, families and singles, to come and experience Beer Sheva, to glory in our past, to enjoy our modern beautiful present, and, in addition, to meet our wonderful community.

Our picnic will take place from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM in the large public park in the Heh neighborhood and will feature clowns, balloons, crafts for the kids, jumping castles, cotton candy, great music, and other surprises!. In addition, we are planning a small crafts fair of Negev art.

When you plan your summer vacation, plan on spending Thursday, July 18 in Beer Sheva. We look forward to having you!

For more information, contact me at reesagstone@gmail.com.

We welcome you to be in touch with our Southern Branch office in Beer Sheva:

Miriam Green, Southern Branch Counselor AACI–Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel Matnas Yud-Aleph, 11 Mordechai Namir St., Beer Sheva tel: 08-643-3953 mgreen@aaci.org.il

Subscribe to the AACI Beer Sheva newsletter

For more information about the Southern Branch in Beer Sheva click here.

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