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.

 

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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.

AACI Celebrates the Written Word

In honor of Shavuah Haoleh and Jewish Book Week

Thursday, November 21
15:00 – 19:00 Pre-Chanukah gift, Craft and Book Fair

19:00 Keynote Speaker Professor Moshe Arens
Professor Arens will speak on his oleh experiences and his book
Flags over the Warsaw Ghetto
Cost: 40 NIS/AACI members 25 NIS

Friday, November 22
9:00 – 12:30 Pre-Chanukah gift, Craft and Book Fair

Sunday, November 24
11:00 The Balancing Game; A Child Between Two Worlds, A Society Approaching War, with Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

13:30 Discussing Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, with Judith Oster
(AACI Classic Book Club)
14:45
The Art of Reading Poetry, with Judith Oster
Poetry is only made of words – but in very interesting combinations. We will ask “what can it mean?” and “how does it mean?”

16:00 A Tale of Two Avrahams: The Joy of Writing two time periods,
two styles, three countries with Dr. Avraham Avi-hai

18:00 “To Soar or Shatter: Poetry Up, Down, and Bittersweet” Rachel
Beitsch-Feldman

20:00 Poetry Slam

Monday, November 25
10:30 Readings from Binding Memories by Diane Greenberg, Relatives Once Removed by Brenda Herzberg, and I Want to Grow Backwards by Cassandra Melnik

11:30 “A Writer in Jerusalem” with Dvora Waysman

13:00 “Getting Your Name on the Spine of a Book: How to Write and be Published” with author David L. Young

15:00 10 Steps to Publishing a Paperback or Ebook for Free with
Marcia Goldlist

17:00 Dying to Tell the Story: How Journalists Behave in a Time of War with Ilene Prusher, author of Baghdad Fixer

Cost per day on Sunday and Monday/ poetry slam on Sunday and Monday: 30 NIS / AACI members 20 NIS

Throughout the week: Art Exhibit “Creative Beginnings – Recent Immigrant Artists”

All programs take place at:
AACI – Dr. Max & Gianna Glassman Family Center Tel 02-5661181

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.

Turkey and Beans; thanks for what we have

Operation Pillar of Defense did more than force southern Israel to cancel school. It also forced the Southern Branch of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) – for which I volunteer – to cancel its annual Thanksgiving Dinner. For the past couple of years, AACI has joined up with Beer Sova – a local soup kitchen serving hundreds of Beer Sheva’s needy – to cook up a Thanksgiving meal that just about any American can be proud of. Being Canadian, it’s all lost on me, but it’s good fun, and the money raised is split between the two organizations.

This year, however, Thanksgiving landed right at the end of the week of bombs, and we had to postpone the dinner.

It was important to us to postpone and not to cancel because Beer Sova served meals to record amounts of people during the week of the war. They served the elderly who couldn’t leave their homes. They served people who lost income because of lost business, or closed businesses. They served children and mothers, Arabs and Jews. All who needed were given hot, nutritious meals, no questions asked.
AACI members were also disappointed at the postponement, and hoped we would have the dinner later. It seems people miss a taste of the old country, especially when it comes to turkey with all the trimmings.

After the war, we settled on a new date, which was last night. Several volunteers came to the kitchen of Beer Sova to prepare a three-course meal of soup, turkey and dessert.

Situated in an old run-down building in the town center, Beer Sova’s kitchen hosts industrial size ovens, stoves, and fridges. You can bathe a pony in one of their pots. (It’s even possible that someone had.) Clean and well-kept, the kitchen’s appearance clearly shows the hard work that goes on there regularly, almost entirely by volunteers, to feed and serve between 70-100 people daily in their dining room, and several 100 or so by home delivery. It also clearly shows how much they need donations to continue their holy work.

I got to the kitchen to help with the cooking a bit late. I used, as I always do, my daughter as an excuse for being late, but really, I just hate cooking. The kitchen was already a beehive of activity. I stood a minute and watched five wonderful women rush around the rooms looking, for all the world, like five whirlwinds that the Tasmanian devil from the Bugs Bunny cartoon makes (but without the grouchiness). ZOOM chop. ZOOM chop chop chop. ZOOM splash. MORE SALT! I NEED SOME SUGAR! ZOOM.

Tasmanian Devil

Within four hours these women (and one man who expertly checked and washed five lettuces [lettuci?] – but didn’t go rushing around) boiled up a witch’s cauldron of pumpkin soup, stuffed and cooked 6 turkeys, broiled 10 kilo of potatoes, made two gargantuan sweet potato pies, mixed up three humongous pots of three different salads, boiled up some cranberry sauce and apple compote, and baked four sets of brownies. I, meanwhile, stirred some beans. Expertly, I might add. I even added a bit of garlic.

Beans

Just over 40 people met later at the dining room of Beer Sova, which is separate from the kitchen. It was really a lovely dinner, complete with music and wine. Seeing as how I was an expert in bean stirring, I also decided I would give a short speech thanking people.
Here’s a copy – with illustrations, something those at the dinner didn’t get.

“Welcome everyone to our AACI/Beer Sova Thanksgiving dinner.

Beer Sova was established in 1999 by a group volunteers, to supply hot, nutritious, healthy meals for the needy in Beer Sheva and the surrounding area, and it was the first and remains the only kitchen preparing freshly cooked meals daily.

AACI encourages Aliyah of Americans and Canadians and assists its members to be absorbed into Israeli society and participate in the life of the Country.
AACI accepts everyone regardless of their religion or political opinions.
AACI is an a-political, a-religious organization.

But I’m not.

Last year at the AACI Thanksgiving dinner, someone told me that the Canadian Thanksgiving was actually established before the American Thanksgiving. I didn’t even know that there was a Canadian Thanksgiving, so I looked it up.

Indeed, Martin Frobisher established Thanksgiving in 1578 after returning safely home to Newfoundland after failing to find the Northwestern Passage through Canada to the Pacific Ocean.

Sir Martin Frobisher

The American Thanksgiving celebrates having survived a winter and near-starvation, but were able to produce a bountiful harvest and, therefore, show thanks with a big meal with lots of food – 43 years after Martin Frobisher gave thanks – in 1621. The Canadian Thanksgiving is one of homecoming and no food is actually involved; which is why the Canadian Thanksgiving has been more or less forgotten.

An American Thanksgiving

However, the Jewish Thanksgiving goes back even further than 1578. And it was from them that both the Canadians and Americans got the idea. And, as most things Jewish, it involves food.

A Jewish meal

During the times of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, a person who survived a potentially dangerous situation – which in those days meant crossing the desert or sea, imprisonment, or illness – brought a Sacrificial Offering of Thanksgiving (korban todah) to the Temple, to show gratitude to G-d for saving him.

This sacrifice was different than others in that it had to be eaten by the person giving it on the same day. There was a great deal of food involved: The animal sacrificed – either a bull, a calf, a ram, a sheep, or a goat (each according to his ability) – 30 loaves of unleavened bread – a kind of matzah – and 10 loaves of regular bread – or challot.

This was a tremendous amount of food that had to be eaten in a very limited time. The person, therefore, would invite lots of people to come with him to eat of the sacrifice. The rabbis say that in this way the miracle of the person’s survival was publicized, his or her gratitude to G-d was made known to all, and G-d’s compassion and mercy was publicly proclaimed.

Today, we don’t have a Temple, or sacrifices. So instead, today, when we survive a potentially dangerous situation, we make a ‘seudat Hodaya’ a Meal of Thanks, where we invite a lot of people, and eat a lot of food.
In addition, say the sages it is right to give tzdaka – charity – in the amount of cost of the animal to be sacrificed – or in the amount of a meal.

And that is what we are doing here tonight – however inadvertently. We are gathered here in a group to give thanks for the things that we have. We have all donated money tonight to two organizations, AACI and Beer Sova.

We have a great deal to be thankful for tonight; our friends and family; a wonderful supportive community, for which I am grateful every day; a beautiful Land in which we have been blessed to make our home and which is populated by more heroes than I can count; the IAF and the IDF, and most of all G-d, for nudging those missiles just a bit and having most of them land in open areas. 176 missiles over the skies of Beer Sheva and there were no fatalities. This is a great miracle that needs to be acknowledged and publicized over and over again.

In addition, I would like to thank those that, with the help of G-d, organized this wonderful evening; the volunteers that cooked and set up; the go-between for AACI and Beer Sova, those at Beer Sova, especially those who helped with all the shopping, and most of all thanks to two superladies who planned and prepared the event from soup to nuts – except that there aren’t any nuts, but there’s cake.”

(names have been left out to protect those who only stirred the beans.)

It appeared that everyone had a good time and came out stuffed to the gills. We raised a small amount of money for both organizations – not nearly enough, but it’s a start.

The best part of the evening, however, was that the Canadian bean stirrer won the raffle – a stuffed turkey.

Now I don’t have to cook much for Shabbat. There’s something to be thankful for!!

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

MAP of Jerusalem Location

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.