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Passover Guide for the Perplexed 2013

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

1.  A central Passover lesson: Liberty entails responsibility, communal-awareness, blood, sweat and tears; not complacency, wishful-thinking or egotism. Sustaining liberty obligates free people to assume the cost, risks and sacrifice of self-reliance, including forty years in the desert and the defiance of great powers, lest they forfeit liberty and risk oblivion. The Hebrew word for “responsibility” – אחריות – consists of the word “liberty” – חירות – reinforced by the first Hebrew letter – א – which is the first letter of the Hebrew words for God, faith, Adam, human-being, father, mother, light, soil, land, love, tree, covenant, soil, credibility, awesome, power, courage, spring, unity, horizon, etc.

2.  The Passover-U.S.-Israel connection:  Moses, the U.S. Founding Fathers and Israel’s Founding Father, Ben Gurion, were challenged by the “loyalists,” who were intimidated by the cost of liberty, preferring subjugation to Egypt, the British King and the British Mandate.

3.  Passover (פסח) highlights the fact that the Jewish People were passed-over (פסח) by history’s angel of death, in defiance of conventional wisdom.  Non-normative disasters have characterized Jewish history ever since slavery in Egypt and the Exodus: the destruction of the two Temples, exiles, pogroms, expulsions, the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, daily Arab/Muslim terrorism and wars, etc. The 1948 re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty – against global, regional, economic and military odds - constituted a modern day Exodus and Parting of the Sea.  Principle-driven tenacious defiance-of-the odds constitutes a prerequisite to Jewish deliverance in 2013, as it was during The Exodus some 3,450 years ago.

4.  Passover’s centrality in Judaism is highlighted by the first, of the Ten, Commandments: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The Passover ethos is included in daily Jewish prayers, Sabbath and holiday prayers, the blessing over the wine, the blessing upon circumcision, the prayer fixed in the Mezuzah (doorpost) and in the annual family retelling of the Exodus on the eve of Passover. Passover symbolizes the unity, interdependence and straight line/direction between the People of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the Land of Israel.  In Hebrew, Israel (ישראל) means “straight,” “overcoming” and the acronym of the names of the Jewish Patriarchs (אברהם, יצחק, יעקב) and Matriarchs (שרה, רבקה, רחל, לאה).

5.  David Ben Gurion, the Founding Father of the Jewish State, Passover and the reaffirmation of Jewish deed over the Land of Israel: “More than 300 years ago, a ship by the name of the Mayflower left Plymouth for the New World. It was a great event in American and English history. I wonder how many Englishmen or how many Americans know exactly the date when that ship left Plymouth, how many people were on the ship, and what was the kind of bread the people ate when they left Plymouth.

Well, more than 3,300 years ago, the Jews left Egypt…and every Jew in the world knows exactly the date we left. It was on the 15th of [the month of] Nisan. The bread they ate was Matzah. Up to date all the Jews throughout the world on the 15th of Nisan eat the same Matzah, in America, in Russia. [They] tell the story of the exile from Egypt, all the sufferings that happened to the Jews since they went into exile. They finish by these two sentences: ‘This year we are slaves; next year we will be free. This year we are here; next year we will be in Zion, the land of Israel.’ Jews are like that (The Anglo-American Committee, March 11, 1946,http://bit.ly/evSqbP).

Rabbi Gamliel, Head of the Sanhedrin, mid-first century: “In each generation, every individual must consider himself as if he/she personally participated in the Exodus from Egypt.”

6.  President Ezer Weizman, Passover and the avowal of Jewish roots in the Land of Israel, Jewish unity and collective-responsibility:

Only 150 generations passed from the Pillar of Fire of the Exodus from Egypt to the pillars of smoke from the Holocaust. And I, a descendant of Abraham, born in Abraham’s country, have witnessed them all. I was a slave in Egypt. I received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Together with Joshua and Elijah, I crossed the Jordan River. I entered Jerusalem with David, was exiled from it with Zedekiah, and did not forget it by the rivers of Babylon. When the Lord returned the captives of Zion, I dreamed among the builders of its ramparts. I fought the Romans and was banished from Spain. I was bound to the stake in Mainz. I studied Torah in Yemen and lost my family in Kishinev. I was incinerated in Treblinka, rebelled in Warsaw and migrated to the Land of Israel, the country whence I had been exiled and where I had been born, from which I come and to which I return…. And, like our forefather King David who purchased the Temple Mount, and our patriarch Abraham who bought the [Hebron] Cave of Machpelah, we bought land, we sowed fields, we planted vineyards, we built houses, and even before we achieved statehood, we were already bearing weapons to protect our lives… (German Bundestag, January 16, 1996, http://bit.ly/10aOcJr).

7. “Next Year in the rebuilt Jerusalem” concludes the annual reciting of the Haggadah, the Passover saga.  It reaffirms the ancient Jewish commitment to build homes all over Jerusalem, the 3,300 year old indivisible capital of the Jewish people.

8.  Passover’s centrality in the American ethos inspired the Puritans, the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers and contemporary American morality and state of mind.

The Pilgrims
 – beginning with William Bradford’s “Mayflower” and John Winthrop’s “Arabella” – considered Britain “modern day Egypt,” the British king was “the modern day Pharaoh,” the sail through the Atlantic Ocean was “the modern day parting of the sea” and America was “the modern day Promised Land.”

The Founding Fathers
 were significantly inspired by Moses and the Exodus.  In 1775, the president of Harvard University, Samuel Langdon, said that “the Jewish government [that God handed down to Moses] was a perfect republic.”  Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” (the cement of the 1776 Revolution) referred to King George as “the hardened, sullen tempered Pharaoh of England.”

The term Federalism is based on “Foedus,” the Latin word for “The Covenant.” The Founding Fathers studied the political structure of the semi-independent 12 Tribes (colonies), which were governed by tribal presidents (governors) and by Moses (the Executive), Aaron (the Judicial) and the 70 Elders (Legislature). John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin proposed the “Parting of the Sea” as the official U.S. seal. George Washington and John Adams, the first and second presidents, were compared to Moses and Joshua. Washington was eulogized as Moses and Virginia was compared to Goshen.

Yale University President, Ezra Stiles stated (May 8, 1783): “Moses, the man of God, assembled three million people – the number of people in America in 1776.”

“Let my people go” and “Go down Moses” became the pillar of fire for the Abolitionists. “Proclaim liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10) is inscribed on the Liberty BellThe Statue of Liberty highlights a Moses-like tablet. The biography of Harriet Tubman, who dedicated her life to freeing other slaves, is called The Moses of Her People. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was motivated by the laws of Moses, which condemn slavery. Martin Luther King was considered the Moses of his age.

Daniel Boone
 was referred to as “The Moses of the West.” 

A statue of Moses stares at the Speaker of the House of Representatives, is featured (along with Maimonides) in the U.S. House of Representatives Rayburn Building subway station, towers above the Supreme Court Justices (in addition to seven additional Moses statues in the Supreme Court Building) and is found in the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress.  A Ten Commandments monument sits on the grounds of the Texas and the Oklahoma State Capitols. Cecile DeMille’s hit movie, The Ten Commandments, promoted U.S. liberty, morality and freedom of religion and expression, in contrast to Soviet oppression.

Theodore White wrote in The Making of the President: “It is as if Kennedy, a younger Moses, had led an elderly Joshua [LBJ] to the height of Mount Nebo…and there shown him the Promised Land which he himself would never enter, but which Joshua would make his own.”

9.  Moses, the hero of Passover, has been a role model of effective leadership, highlighting humility, faith, principle and endurance-driven leadership, along with human fallibility.  Moses’ name is mentioned only once in the Passover Haggadah, as a servant of God, a testimony to Moses’ humility. The only compliment showered upon Moses, by the Torah, is “The humblest of all human beings.”

10.  The Exodus is mentioned 50 times in the Torah, equal to the 50 years of the Jubilee, a pivot of liberty. Fifty days following the Exodus, Moses received the Torah (Pentecost Holiday), which includes – according to Jewish tradition – 50 gates of Wisdom.  Where does that leave the 50 States?!

11.  Passover highlights the centrality of spiritual, social and national Liberty. The difference between the spelling of Ge’oolah (“deliverance” in Hebrew - גאולה) and Golah(Diaspora in Hebrew - גולה) is the first Hebrew letter, Alef - א.  (Please see #1 above).

12.  Passover – the role model of liberty – interacts with Shavou’ot/Pentecost – the role model of morality.  Liberty and morality are mutually-inclusive.  The liberty/morality interdependence distinguishes Western democracies from rogue regimes.

13.  The Exodus took place around 1,400 BC, establishing the Jewish People in the forefront in the Clash of Civilizations between democracies and rogue regimes.  Passover is celebrated on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan ניסן – the first month of the Biblical Jewish year and the introduction of natural and national spring (Nitzan is the Babylonian word for spring and the Hebrew word for bud).  Nissan (Ness - נס is miracle in Hebrew) is the month of miracles, such as the Exodus, the Parting of the Sea, Jacob wrestling the Angel, Deborah’s victory over Sisera, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, etc.

14.  The 15th day of any Jewish month features a full moon, which stands for optimism – the secret Jewish weapon – in defiance of darkness.  It is consistent with the 15 parts of the Hagaddah (the Passover saga); the 15 generations between Abraham’s message of monotheism and Solomon’s construction of the first Temple; the 15 words of the ancient blessing by the Priests and the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shvat, Arbor Day – the “Exodus” of vegetation.  The Hebrew value of 15 corresponds to two Hebrew letters which are the acronym of God – י  and ה.

15.  Passover has four names:  The holiday of Pesach (“Passed-over” and “sacrifice” in Hebrew), the holiday of liberty, the holiday of Matzah and the holiday of spring.  The number 4 features in the Passover Saga, representing the four women who shaped the life of Moses (Batyah – Pharaoh’s daughter, his savior, Yocheved – his mother, Miriam – his sister and Ziporah – Jethro’s daughter, his wife); Joseph’s four enslavements- twice to the Midianties, once to the Ishmaelites and once in Egypt; the 4 times that the word “cup” was mentioned by Pharaoh’s jailed wine-butler when recounting his dream to Joseph; the 4 Sons (human characters) of the Haggadah; the 4 glasses of wine drunk on the eve of Passover; the 4 Questions asked on the eve of Passover and the 4 stages of the divine deliverance from Egyptian bondage. The 4th Hebrew letter (ד) is an acronym of God.

16.  Passover is celebrated in the spring, the bud of nature.  Spring, Aviv in Hebrew (אביב) consists of two Hebrew words: Father – אב - of 12 – יב – months/tribes.  The word spring is mentioned three times in the Torah, all in reference to the Exodus.  Passover – which commemorates the creation of the Jewish nation – lasts for 7 days, just like the creation of the universe.  Passover is the first of three Jewish pilgrimages, succeeded by Shavou’ot/Pentecost, which commemorates the receipt of the Ten Commandments, andSukkot/Tabernacles, named after Sukkota – the first stop in the Exodus.

“Next Year in the rebuilt Jerusalem”

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Remember King For Fighting Hate Against All

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

For those of us who closely follow the progress in America in the battles against racism and anti-Semitism, the observance of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this year has particular relevance.

First, the King holiday, which this year is observed on Jan. 21, reminds us of two significant anniversaries surrounding the civil rights leader. It is the 50th anniversary of his historic “I Have A Dream” speech at the Mall on Washington and the 20th anniversary of all 50 states in the union observing the holiday.

Second, while leading the monumental struggle for civil rights in this country, King never equivocated in denouncing anti-Semitism.

“The segregationist and racists make no fine distinction between the Negro and the Jews,” he stated bluntly.

And in a letter to Jewish leaders just months before his 1968 assassination, King said, “I will continue to oppose it [anti-Semitism] because it is immoral and self-destructive.”

The message – that it is never enough for Jews and Jewish organizations to condemn anti-Semitism – remains terribly important for the country. Important leaders from all communities must follow King’s lead.

More specifically, King’s condemnation of anti-Semitism was and is important for his own African-American community. For too long, levels of anti-Semitic attitudes have been too high. And some African-American cultural figures utter sentiments about Jews and Jewish power that remain very troubling.

Not only did King react against blatant anti-Semitism, early on he anticipated the more sophisticated versions. In an appearance at Harvard, as reported by the scholar Seymour Martin Lipset in his book The Socialism of Fools, King responded to a hostile question about Zionism, “When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews; you are talking anti-Semitism.”

Third, King understood the importance of standing up for other minorities both as a value and to strengthen support for his work on behalf of African Americans. Perhaps King’s greatest legacy was his conviction that justice for black people could not be achieved in a vacuum, that all Americans must live free from oppression in order to guarantee freedom.

Why was obtaining civil rights for African Americans so important to the American Jewish community? Because it was the right thing to do, and because it was good for all and built coalitions in fighting all forms of prejudice.

Fourth, King knew that power politics were important to bring change. Speeches, marches, demonstrations and sit-ins were all about power politics. But he profoundly understood that ultimately, appealing to the moral values, the goodness and long-term interests of those who needed to change – the white majority – was the key to changing society.

In the long run, changing hearts and minds through education and appealing to the best instincts of America is the real solution.

Fifth, the civil rights revolution led by King also further opened up America for Jews and is one of the key elements as to why today American Jews are the freest community in the 2,000-year history of the Diaspora and why things are so much better for Jews today than they were 60 or 70 years ago. Civil rights legislation allowed Jews to challenge their exclusion. Even more, the revolution changed society in a way that being different and expressing one’s differences was no longer a liability.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work in seeking equality for all was consistent with the values expressed by Hillel two millennia ago:

“If I am not for me, who will be?” One must have pride and stand up for one’s own.

“If I am only for myself, what am I?” To be fully human, one must go beyond one’s own problems and stand up for others.

“If not now, when?” Justice delayed is justice denied.

These values were King’s values. Too often in society today we stray from them. This 50th anniversary of his “I Have a Dream” speech is a good time to recommit to those things that brought us all together. JTA

December 31st, 1912

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

The next year  sweeps around the earth like the hand of a clock, from Australia to Europe and across the great stretch of the Atlantic it rides the darkness to America. And then around and around again, each passing day marking another sweep of the hours.

In Times Square crowds of tourists gather in clumps behind police barricades, clutching corporate swag beneath video billboards shifting and humming in the cool air. And the same scene repeats in other squares and other places even if it doesn’t feel like there is a great deal to celebrate.

While the year makes its first pass around the world, let us leave it behind, open a door in time and step back to another year, a century past.

December 31, 1912. The crowds are just as large, though the men wear hats. People use the word gay with no touch of irony. Liquor is harder to come by because the end of the year, one hundred years ago, has fallen on a Sunday.  There are more dances and fewer corporate brands. Horns are blown, and the occasional revolver fired into the air, a sight unimaginable in the controlled celebrations of today’s urban metropolis.

The Hotel Workers Union strike fizzled out on Broadway though a volley of bricks was hurled at the Hotel Astor during the celebrations. New York’s finest spent the evening outside the Rockefeller mansion waiting to subpoena the tycoon in the money trust investigation. And the Postmaster General inaugurated the new parcel service by shipping a silver loving cup from Washington to New York.

On Ellis Island, Castro, a bitter enemy of the United States, and the former president of Venezuela, had been arrested for trying to sneak into the country while the customs officers had their guard down. Gazing at the Statue of Liberty, Castro denied that he was a revolutionary and bitterly urged the American masses to rise up and tear down the statue in the name of freedom.

Times Square has far fewer billboards and no videos, but it does have the giant Horn and Hardart Automat which opened just that year, where food comes from banks of vending machines giving celebrating crowds a view of the amazing world of tomorrow for the world of 1912 is after all like our own. We can open a door into the past, but we cannot escape the present.

The Presidential election of 1912, like that of 2012, ended in disaster. Both Taft and Roosevelt lost and Woodrow Wilson won. In the White House, President Taft met with cabinet members and diplomats for a final reception.

Woodrow Wilson, who would lead America into a bloody and senseless war, subvert its Constitution, and begin the process of making global government and statism into the national religion of his party, was optimistic about the new year. “Thirteen is my lucky number,” he said. “It is curious how the number 13 has figured in my life and never with bad fortune.”

Americans of 2013 face the light bulb ban. Americans of 1913 were confronted with the matchstick ban as the Esch bill in Congress outlawed phosphorus “strike ‘em on your pants” matches by imposing a $1,000 tax on them. This was deemed to be Constitutional. In Indianapolis, the train carrying union leaders guilty of the dynamite plot was making its secret way to Federal prison even while the lawyers of the dynamiters vowed to appeal.

The passing year, a century past, had its distinct echoes in our own time. There had been, what the men of the time, thought of as wars, yet they could not even conceive of the wars shortly to come. There were the usual dry news items about the collapse of the government in Spain, a war and an economic crisis in distant parts of the world that did not concern them.

A recession was here, after several panics, and though there was plenty of cheer, there was also plenty of worry. The Federal Reserve Act would be signed at the end of 1913, partly in response to the economic crisis.

Socialism was on the march with the Socialist Party having doubled its votes in the national election.  All three major candidates, Wilson, Roosevelt and Taft, had warned that the country was drifting toward Socialism and that they were the only ones who could stop it. The influence of corporations was heatedly debated and the Catholic Church clashed with Socialists.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/daniel-greenfield/the-new-year/2013/01/01/

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