web analytics
December 18, 2014 / 26 Kislev, 5775
 
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Brazil’

Remembering Irene

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

I was in Brazil, speaking to the Jewish community of Sao Paulo, when the sad news of the petira of Irene Klass reached me. Many memories, many scenes, many conversations and experiences flashed through my mind. With Irene’s passing, a whole era – a whole way of thinking, of values, of goals, of idealism – disappeared. Irene had a sense of mission and never allowed politics, petty jealousies or territorial considerations to influence her.

Irene was a visionary, a woman who loved Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael with a passion. She was prepared to climb every mountain to overcome every obstacle for what she knew was our G-d-given heritage and she clung to this goal tenaciously and uncompromisingly.

I first met Irene many, many years ago. I was a newlywed, and my husband, HaRav Meshulem Halevi Jungreis, zt”l, and I were spending the summer at the Pioneer Hotel in the Catskills. I was lecturing and was in charge of shiurim for the day camp. We shared a table in the dining room with Rabbi Sholom Klass, zt”l, and his Rebbetzin, Irene. At that time, Reb Sholom was the editor and publisher of The Brooklyn Daily and he and Irene shared with us their vision of creating a paper to be known as The Jewish Press which would not only report the news, but, more significantly, bring the message of Torah into every Jewish home.

Irene suggested I write a column, and then the discussion came up as to the subject on which the column should focus. My husband immediately suggested that I offer practical advice and guidance. “After all,” he said, “who can do that better than you who were nurtured and taught by the great tzaddik, your father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham Halevi Jungreis, zt”l?”

Next the question arose as to what the column should be called. Without hesitation, I replied, “If I were to undertake this challenge, I think I would call it “The Rebbetzin’s Viewpoint.” In those days, the title “rebbetzin” – being identified through your husband’s profession – meant you had no identity of your own, and the very title “rebbetzin” connoted that you were who you were only by virtue of your husband’s profession.

“I would like to make the title ‘rebbetzin’ popular and respected,” I said, “so that little girls would aim to become rebbetzins just as they hope to become teachers, nurses or professionals.”

Thus began my relationship with Irene, and with every passing day it grew stronger. She never hesitated to pick up the phone to tell me when she found my article to be particularly good. Her integrity was such that she was always happy to give credit to someone else.

Some years later, I had a vision to start Hineni, a ba’al teshuvah movement that would inspire the Jewish people to say, “Here I am O G-d, ready to do Your bidding, ready to serve You and reach out to our brethren.” In those days, assimilation was rampant and Orthodoxy was ridiculed and looked on as atavistic. I knew I would have to do something extraordinary to reach out to our Jewish community, something that would electrify our people and awaken the “pintele Yid” in them.

To call for such a happening in a synagogue would be futile – young people would simply not come. In those days, Israel Bonds held events in Madison Square Garden at which stars of stage and screen would perform. Often, I mused about how amazing it would be if we could fill the Garden to disseminate Torah and mitzvos. So it was that my vision of awakening and inspiring our nation was born.

Many times I shared my hopes with Irene and she always encouraged me. “What a wonderful idea!” she would say. “Go for it. The Jewish Presswill be there to back you and to help you spread the news.”

To be sure, there were many hurdles to overcome. I didn’t as yet have a viable organization. I had no funds. I was a young rebbetzin with very small children. But my holy father and my esteemed, beloved husband kept telling me, “Uverachticha b’chol asher ta’aseh” – “You need only do it, and the blessing will come from G-d.”

And so it was that, Baruch Hashem, we filled the Garden. The night of the program Irene not only sent a reporter to cover the story, she herself came and insisted on writing up the event. Never was there even a twinge of the “politics” or territorialism that unfortunately marks today’s Jewish scene.

With the help of G-d, that night in the Garden was more than we could have ever anticipated. Thousands were inspired to come back, to explore their roots, to embark upon a voyage of Jewish self-discovery, as the arena resounded with “Shema Yisrael.” On that night, I related the awesome story of our people; I spoke of everything we’d experienced from the genesis of our history. Among the many subjects on which I touched was the silence of the Church and its acquiescence to the annihilation of our people throughout history and during the years of the Holocaust.

As a result, a prominent Catholic priest wrote an inflammatory letter of condemnation to The Jewish Press. Irene asked me if I would like to respond and I immediately accepted the challenge. I wrote a lengthy dissertation documenting the history of the Church vis-a-vis our people throughout the long, painful centuries. The Jewish Press placed the article in its centerfold, and the response was spectacular. Thousands upon thousands of requests for copies flooded the paper and Reb Sholom and Irene published more than 100,000 copies to fill the need.

Irene, I would like to tell you – for I know you are reading this column from the heavens above – that just recently I met with the chief rabbi of the IDF and he told me that for many years now, when teaching the history of our people to the troops, he’s referred to this column.

So, Irene, yasher koach for having had the courage to back me in my stand and for placing that story on your front page as well as in the centerfold.

There is much more that I can write about Reb Sholom and Irene. I could write of the thousands of Jews who’ve told me over the years that The Jewish Press was their first connection to their faith – that it was through The Jewish Pressthat they discovered Torah.

So once again, Reb Sholom and Irene, thank you for having made a difference in our Jewish world. You will never be forgotten, and will always remain in our hearts.

Rest easy, dear friend. Be at peace in the knowledge that your work continues through your dedicated children whose lives are devoted to that which you and Reb Sholom began, May your neshamah have an aliyah and find its repose among the righteous of Israel.

The Early Jewish Settlement Of Newport

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

In 1636 Roger Williams, after having been banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for what were considered radical religious views, settled at the tip of Narragansett Bay. He was joined by twelve other settlers at what he named Providence Plantation, due to his belief that God had sustained him and his followers.

This settlement became the colony of Rhode Island, which was unique in that it guaranteed freedom of religious practice to all. It is little wonder that the colony became a haven for Quakers, Baptists, Jews and other minorities who were prosecuted for their religious beliefs.

It seems Jews first settled in Newport in 1658, though some disagree with this date.

The date of the first arrival of the Jews in Newport has been variously given by different writers. Some give it as 1655, while others state it as 1656, 1657, or 1658. There is also a conflict as to the place [from] whence they came, although all seem to agree that the newcomers were originally from Holland.1

During the middle part of the 17th century the Dutch, acting through the Dutch West India Company, sent out several expeditions of Jews to settle in its possessions in South America. The most well known of these settlements was the one established at Recife, Brazil.2 In 1654 when the Portuguese wrested control of Brazil from the Dutch, the Jews who had been living in Brazil left. Some of these Jews found their way to Jamaica, where they settled.3

In 1655 Jamaica was captured by the British, and regular trade between it and Rhode Island was established. Jews who had fled Brazil most likely learned about the religious freedom permitted in this colony and decided to immigrate there.

Newport was a main port on the eastern coast of America during colonial times and hence an attractive place for Jews to settle. Indeed, Max J. Kohler wrote:

We must discard our present day view of Newport as an important fashionable summer resort, and permit our thoughts to carry us back to the period when, for some thirty years preceding our Revolutionary War, Newport was one of the principal cities in the American colonies. In commercial importance it must be put in the same category with Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Charleston, and it was not the most insignificant, even among these, for, as Edward Eggleston has well said, “he was thought a bold prophet who said then that ‘New York might one day equal Newport,’ for, about 1750, New York sent forth fewer ships than Newport, and not half as many as Boston.”4

 

The total number of Jews who initially settled in Newport was very small, probably no more that fifteen Spanish/Portuguese families. However, their numbers increased with the arrival on August 24, 1694 “of a number of Jewish families of wealth and respectability” from one of the West Indian Islands, most probably Curacao.

Jewish Life in Newport

 

The Jews who settled in Newport soon established the institutions necessary for the proper functioning of Jewish life. A minyan was organized shortly after their arrival in 1658, and services were conducted in private homes for the next 100 years. In 1677 land for a cemetery was purchased. This is the oldest known location of a Jewish cemetery in the United States.

With the arrival in Newport of the Lopez, Rivera, Polock, Hart and Hays families, all Jews, the city entered into an era of prosperity.

It was generally conceded that Newport had every advantage. Wealth had centered here, and was attracting capitalists from every part of the world. Between 1750 and 1760 some hundreds of wealthy Israelites, a most distinguished class of merchants, removed here from Spain, Portugal, Jamaica and other places, and entered largely into business.5 One of them, Mr. Aaron Lopez,6 owned a large fleet of vessels (rising thirty at one time) in the foreign trade, and many more in the coasting trade.

The manufacture of sperm oil and candles was introduced into Newport by the Jews, from Lisbon, between 1745 and 1750, and from that time to 1760 there were put in full operation seventeen factories for these articles alone; also twenty-two distilleries, four sugar refineries, five rope-works, and many large furniture factories, shipping immense quantities of furniture to New York, the West Indies, Surinam and many other places. In 1770 mention [was] made of eighteen West India vessels arriving here in one day.

As has just been indicated, the Jewish merchant princes were not merely the capitalists who furnished the wherewithal for this trade, but their enterprise created the trade itself, introduced the new arts and industries involved, and furnished the trade connections through their co-religionists in the different foreign ports with which the relations were formed.7

The Jews of Newport participated in the general life of the city and were viewed most favorably by their non-Jewish neighbors. One gentile writer wrote:

The Jews who settled in Newport were not only noted for their knowledge of mercantile and commercial affairs, but also for their industry, enterprise, and probity. They kept to their callings, took but little part in politics – at least there is no evidence that they gave much attention to the discussion of public questions – and they seem to have avoided both the marine and military service. They were neither good sailors nor good soldiers; nor do they appear to have been very fond of books. Moses Lopez and Jacob Joseph, it is true, were numbered among the founders of the Redwood Library, and in 1758 Jacob Rodriguez Riviera was a stockholder in that institution but this may be taken as one of many evidences of their desire to promote whatever promised to be a public benefit. Their business, with but few exceptions, they made a success, and in all things appertaining to their devotions they were exact.8

The American Revolution Leads to Decline

 

The residents of Newport, Jewish as well as gentile, flourished until the American Revolution. Rhode Island declared its independence from Britain two months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Given its large harbor and strategic location, Newport was a prime target of the British. The port was blockaded by the British fleet and Newport was soon under British control. This occupation was a devastating blow to the economy of the community. Many residents left rather than submit to British rule.

Almost all the prominent Jewish merchants fled the city, and Newport never regained its commercial prominence. By the early 1800s the Jewish community was essentially non-existent. During most of the 19th century almost no Jews resided in Newport, and the Touro Synagogue was used only on rare occasions. The descendents of Newport’s once flourishing Jewish community scattered throughout America. Sadly, many lost their Jewishness through intermarriage and assimilation.

This marked the end of a glorious chapter in America Jewish history. Indeed, in 1858 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his famous poem “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport” in which he wrote in part

 

Closed are the portals of their Synagogue,

No Psalms of David now the silence break,

No Rabbi reads the ancient Decalogue

In the grand dialect the Prophets spake.

Gone are the living, but the dead remain,

And not neglected; for a hand unseen,

Scattering its bounty, like a summer rain,

Still keeps their graves and their remembrance green.9

 

[1] “The First Settlement of the Jews in Newport: Some New Matter on the Subject” by Samuel Oppenheim, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1893-1961); 1937; 34, AJHS Journal.

2 See “Recife – The First Jewish Community in the New World,” The Jewish Press, June 3, 2005, page 32.

3 See Caribbean Jewish Communities in the 17th and 18th Centuries – Part I, The Jewish Press, October 4, 2006, page 28.

4 “The Jews in Newport by Max J. Kohler,” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1893-1961); 1898; 6, AJHS Journal.

5 This number is most probably inflated, unless many of those who came left. Ezra Stiles wrote that he estimated there were about 30 Jewish families in Newport in 1760. (“Ezra Stiles and the Jews”by Reverend W. Willner, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1893-1961);1900; 8, AJHS Journal.)

6 For information about Aaron Lopez, see “Aaron Lopez, Colonial American Merchant Prince,” The Jewish Press, October 7, 2005, page 36.

7 Ibid.

8 Reminiscences of Newport by George Champlin Mason, published by Charles E. Hammett, Jr., 1884, page 54. This book may be downloaded at no cost from http://books.google.com

9 See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Touro_Synagogue_Cemeter for the complete text of this beautiful poem.

 

 

Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu

The Power Of Chesed

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

(This story was originally published in The Jewish Press, “Lesson in Emunah,” entitled “The Power of the Mitzvah,” February 7 and 14, 1992, but additional events warranted an update.)

My husband and I had been trying to have a baby for several years. We’d gone to specialists and come pretty close a few times. The first pregnancy ended prematurely, when our twins were born in the sixth month, and were simply too tiny to make it through the night. I was told I would need surgery and complete bed rest during any subsequent pregnancy to avoid another such incident, G-d forbid. I became pregnant immediately after that, but it was not meant to be … very early, before surgery could be considered, it was all over.

During the next few years, we continued to visit a variety of doctors. Since my husband and I had both been working all these years, we were able to “live the good life,” as they say, but it was truly empty, without children.

It was Thursday, July 3, and everyone in Manhattan was leaving early for the July 4th weekend. My boss allowed me to go, as well, so I walked the two blocks to our restaurant, where my husband was already closing up for the weekend. We had planned to go to the fireworks display that evening.

The lights were out, and my husband and I were ready to leave, when an older gentleman walked in, clearly distressed. He was en route home to Brazil from a business trip to Israel. He had come to Manhattan between flights for some kosher food, and while eating in the park nearby, several teenagers ran off with his suitcase. Everything of value was gone … his siddur, tefillin, ticket/boarding pass, passport, travelers’ checks. He did not know where to turn. He spoke a broken English, but I was able to speak to him in Hebrew.

We called the police, but they never showed up. We walked up and down the street to find a police officer, but could not find one. We tried calling his consulate for a visa to return to Brazil, but they were closed for the weekend. Nothing was going well.

Finally, he decided to head for the airline ticket office to see what he could do. When he failed to get a ride, he set out to walk the few blocks.

My husband locked up the restaurant and we began to head home. We both felt terrible, but what could we do? Then, my husband said he wanted to invite the gentleman home with us for the weekend until he could get back to Brazil, but he didn’t know how I would feel about that. I told him that I was thinking the same thing, and we quickly turned the car around to see if we could catch up with him.

Upon our arrival to the ticket office, we found him pleading with the only employee in the dimly lit office. She said that she could not help him, that she would record the theft, but that he would have to pay for another ticket, and would first need a visa. He continued to call the consulate, leaving numbers after the beep, but none of the calls got a response. The employee advised him to go to the police precinct to officially report the theft in the hopes that someone might return some of his belongings.

I told him that he should not worry, that he should not purchase a new ticket yet, and that we would accompany him to the police station. He was visibly shaken, and asked me if I could direct him to a Chabad house. I told him that if he could not get on his flight, he was more than welcome to our home until things got straightened out.

When we got to the police station, my husband waited in the car. We were starting to feel a special closeness to this elderly gentleman. He was akin to a zeide. We proceeded to report the incident, detailing the items in the carry-on bag which were now lost, while I translated to the officers.

As we were about to leave, the phone rang. It was the consulate. The lady from the consulate had called the ticket office in response to our many phone calls, and the employee advised her to call the police station. We explained the situation, and she told us that she was calling from home, but this constituted an emergency, and it would take her approximately an hour to return to the consulate, but he would need passport photos first. I told her I would try to find a photo store, and made a set time and place to meet her.

When we left the precinct, I told my husband what had happened. I was so happy that the lady had called. There was no question that we were going to follow through. We decided that I would go with this gentleman for passport photos. We found a place nearby, and although I offered to pay, he declined, saying he had some money left in his pocket. Then we waited outside for my husband to return with the car. I was quite nervous, since we were in a seedy neighborhood.

I was so thankful when my husband returned, and we proceeded to the planned meeting place. We arrived early, and he had enough time to call his wife in Brazil to tell her what was happening, in case he missed his flight.

The woman arrived, opened up the consulate and began to prepare the visa documentation. We had to agree that we would pay for the ticket if necessary, since the visa would only be valid for 24 hours. She was a lovely woman, and did what was necessary.

When the paperwork was completed, she called another man from the consulate at home. She asked if he would come in to sign it the visa in order to validate it. He refused, saying we would have to come to his apartment, across town. So off we went. I waited in the car this time, while my husband went upstairs with our “zeide” for the proper signature.

With the visa stamped, our next stop was the airport. We arrived at JFK, found the airline, and waited on line. When we got to the front, we explained the situation, showed the police report, and he was, thank G-d, automatically issued a new boarding pass! No additional money was necessary. I gave him a pocket siddur and our name and address. We wished him luck, gave him a hug, a kiss on the cheek, and sent him on his way. We watched as he went through the security gates, thanking G-d that he had been able to make it in time. We were crying, happy he made it, but almost sad to see him go. He was so grateful to us for helping him, telling us over and over again that he did not think he would have made it without us.

I secretly hoped that I would hear from him. Some days later I received a little package from Brazil. It was my siddur, along with a very cherished letter … a note with a bracha from our very own shaliach. I missed him, but I was grateful to Hashem for allowing my husband and I the opportunity to do such a great mitzvah.

When we told people what had happened, they told us that we were good people and they didn’t think they would have done so much for a stranger. But the funny thing was that we truly didn’t feel as though we had done so much. Things kind of went along, and came together, and G-d helped us every step of the way. There wasn’t much time to think about what we were doing. We just knew that it had to be done and we did what was necessary. It became an adventure, and was much more fulfilling than any fireworks display would have been. We felt good about ourselves, better than we ever had.

Several months went by, and I discovered I was pregnant! Though a difficult pregnancy, I was expected to deliver early in the ninth month. As the ninth month drew to a close, and I found myself overdue, I realized that I would give birth on July 3.

After three days of uneventful labor, I gave birth on July 3, just before midnight (a week overdue)! Everyone at the hospital thought I would want a “July 4th baby,” but in my heart I was hoping for the third. We knew that our special gift was given to us on July 3, in the evening (I went into the hospital at 5:00 p.m., the same time we had caught up with the gentleman at the ticket counter, exactly one year to the day). I wanted to be able to tell our story to others, and show the power of doing mitzvot. We felt that we had been given a chance to perhaps save a Jewish life, and were rewarded with the greatest gift of all … a new, precious life.

We named our daughter Eliana, which means “My G-d answered me,” and we thank G-d every day for answering our prayers, and for helping us see the power of good in doing mitzvot. We were appreciative for the opportunity to see the purpose and meaning in life that most people do not get to see.

May Eliana grow up to be a source of nachas in our lives, and may she be a source of spiritual strength and inspiration to all those who meet her, and hear her story. May we all learn from the power of mitzvot. Amen!

Amazingly, the story does not end there.

Ten years after Eliana was born, a rabbi who wanted to use our story for inspiration in his Yom Kippur drasha approached us. We were asked to recall the details. I can only assume that this reminded Hashem of our story, because shortly after that I was shocked to find out that I was, once again, pregnant! Although it would be close, July 3 the following year would have been more than a week overdue, so I figured that it would not play into this story. The pregnancy was uneventful, and I stayed on bed rest as instructed.

Several days before my due date, I arrived at the doctor’s office for a checkup. During a routine sonogram, he noticed that the amniotic fluid was beginning to diminish and advised me to return the following day. The next day, a different doctor did a sonogram, and confirmed that the amniotic fluid was “in pockets” rather than surrounding the entire baby. Since the due date was a mere several days away, and the baby was definitely over seven pounds, he decided it was best to check into the hospital to be induced for labor. He called the hospital, and relayed that we should be there “at 5:00 p.m.” (note the time). At the hospital they told me that the process of inducing labor could take as much as two days. Throughout the night, labor progressed very slowly, but by early morning, I was taken into the birthing area.

Around 10 a.m. I realized that things had started moving very quickly and the doctor was shocked to find out that the baby was about to be born. At 10:31 a.m., on Friday morning, June 22, David Netanel (which means “Beloved Gift from G-d”) came into this world.

After I arrived home from the hospital, it occurred to me to check a calendar for the Hebrew date for the evening of July 3, 1989 (the date of the incident with the gentleman), and I saw that it was Rosh Chodesh Tammuz (the evening of July 3 was actually Alef Tammuz). Imagine my utter shock when I realized that the evening of June 21 through the next day, June 22, is actually Rosh Chodesh Tammuz (Alef Tammuz). Of our two children, one was born on the English anniversary, and the other on the Hebrew anniversary of that incredible day so many years earlier.

We are grateful to Hashem for giving us these two precious gifts … our “mitzvah children” … and we are in awe that the mitzvah we did so many years ago continues to retain so much power. I guess you never really know how far-reaching a seemingly simple act of chesed can be. Who knows what we could accomplish and how quickly Moshiach would arrive if we could all strive to do chesed, especially when the opportunity just falls into our laps. Had we skipped our opportunity, look what we would have missed!

Orange Chanukah Dreidel Cookies

Friday, December 19th, 2008

The dreidel is one of the best-known games during Chanukah. This four-sided spinning top has four letters: Shin, Hey, Gimmel and Nun. These letters mean “a great miracle happened there.”  Each letter has a fate, Nun means nothing happens, and the next player spins the dreidel, Gimmel takes all the tokens in the pot, Hey takes half the pot and Shin the player must put one token in the pot.

As well as playing the dreidel game with chocolate Chanukah gelt, why not play with these Chanukah cookies! These delicious dreidel shaped cookies are light and simple to make.  You can shape them using a dreidel cutter (I found some on the internet) but you can make them using a paper template and drawing round that. For an authentic look, you can also pipe a selection of Shin, Hey, Gimmel and Nun Hebrew letters using ready made colored icing. Little helpers will love making these!

To grind the Brazil nuts, place in a food processor for 2-3 minutes until completely ground.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes; Cooking Time: 15 minutes; Makes: 60 cookies

Ingredients

Orange Chanukah Dreidel Cookies

Friday, December 19th, 2008

The dreidel is one of the best-known games during Chanukah. This four-sided spinning top has four letters: Shin, Hey, Gimmel and Nun. These letters mean “a great miracle happened there.”  Each letter has a fate, Nun means nothing happens, and the next player spins the dreidel, Gimmel takes all the tokens in the pot, Hey takes half the pot and Shin the player must put one token in the pot.


As well as playing the dreidel game with chocolate Chanukah gelt, why not play with these Chanukah cookies! These delicious dreidel shaped cookies are light and simple to make.  You can shape them using a dreidel cutter (I found some on the internet) but you can make them using a paper template and drawing round that. For an authentic look, you can also pipe a selection of Shin, Hey, Gimmel and Nun Hebrew letters using ready made colored icing. Little helpers will love making these!


To grind the Brazil nuts, place in a food processor for 2-3 minutes until completely ground.


Preparation Time: 20 minutes; Cooking Time: 15 minutes; Makes: 60 cookies


Ingredients
½ cup margarine/unsalted butter
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 cup ground Brazil nuts – ground in a food processor
1 cup all purpose plain flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon almond extract
Topping: Colored icing, colored sprinkles


Method
1. In a food processor, cream together butter or margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.
2. Stir in the egg, orange zest, and ground Brazil nuts.
3. Sift together flour and baking powder. Add to the creamed mixture.
4. Mix well. Stir in almond extract.
5. Preheat the oven to 350º F.
6. Roll out dough 1 inch thick on a lightly floured board.
7. Cut into dreidel shapes or other desired shapes.
8. Bake on a tray lined with non-stick baking parchment paper for 15 minutes.
9. When cool, pipe a selection of Hebrew letters. Can be frozen or stored in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

The Jews Of Martinique And Guadeloupe

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

      Note: This article is based on The Jewish Nation of the Caribbean by Mordechai Arbell, Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2002. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from this source.

 

      Martinique and Guadeloupe are two small islands located between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Martinique is north of Trinidad and Tobago, whereas Guadeloupe is southeast of Puerto Rico.
 
      “The Jewish history of Martinique and Guadeloupe is relatively short, spanning only about 60 years. It began with the first arrivals from Amsterdam in the 1620s who came to manage Dutch interests in Dutch commercial outposts established on the island and continued until the expulsion of the Jews in 1685.”
 
      In 1635 the French conquered and occupied these islands. Upon their arrival in Martinique they found a number of Jews who had arrived earlier from Amsterdam and who served as agents and managers for various Dutch enterprises.
 
      “The French did not disturb the resident Dutch Jews, whose number was not significant. They were dispersed among the warehouses, plantations, and stores all over the island and, as far as is known, did not form a community. The Jews were able to work and prosper under twenty years of French rule, tolerated and protected by the French governors, who needed their commercial and financial acumen and whose services they used.”
 
      However, the successes of the Jews gradually aroused the jealousy of the French settlers and merchants. “At the same time, the growing number of Catholic monks and priests arriving in the colony could not bear to see Jews residing in French-ruled territory.”
 
      Things changed dramatically for the Jews after the recapture of Recife, Brazil by the Portuguese in 1654. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Jews left Brazil in fear of what might happen to them under the Inquisition. Ships loaded with Jews roamed the Caribbean looking for places for these refugees to resettle.
 
      When a ship carrying Jews anchored not far from Martinique, Governor M. du Parquet was inclined to grant their request to settle on the island. The Jesuit fathers residing on Martinique would not hear of it.
 
      The governor of Guadeloupe, M. Houel, learning of the refusal to allow the refugees to settle in Martinique, welcomed them to settle on his island. Many former Jewish inhabitants of Tamarica (Itamarica), Brazil, an island not far from Recife, were allowed to settle on Guadeloupe. They were granted the same privileges as the other residents of the island.
 
      Under the terms of surrender between the Dutch and Portuguese in Brazil, the Dutch and the Jews were allowed to leave Brazil with their movable property and their money. Thus, the Jews who came to the Caribbean seeking places to resettle came with means. The residents of Guadeloupe naturally anticipated that the new arrivals would spend lots of silver and gold as they established themselves in their new home. They were not disappointed.
 

      When Governor du Parquet of Martinique saw that he was losing a rare opportunity, he expressed his anger to the Jesuit fathers. The Father Superior went to Guadeloupe and tried to convince Governor Houel to expel the Jews. Houel told the Father Superior to mind his own business, and the Jews were allowed to stay. Shortly afterward, another ship carrying a number of Jewish refugees arrived in Martinique. This time Governor du Parquet received them with open arms.

 

 

      The permission given to the Jews to settle in Martinique and Guadeloupe attracted some French Jews of Spanish-Portuguese origin from Bayonne and Bordeaux, most often related to those who had come from Brazil, increasing the number of Jews in the French islands.
 
      It is difficult to evaluate the exact number of Jews in Martinique and Guadeloupe in 1658. A conservative estimate might be about 300 among a population of about 5,000 whites.
 
      The Jesuit fathers, who saw the settlement of Jews as a battle they had lost, did not rest and continued with incessant efforts to rid the island of Jews.
 
      The Jews, immediately after settling, began to establish commercial houses, sugar cane plantations, and sugar plants on a large scale. This brought a period of prosperity to the impoverished islands and profits to their owners, Houel and du Parquet.
 
      On 2 April, 1658, the Sovereign Council of Martinique issued a decree “prohibiting the Jews from dealing with commerce on the islands,” but due to the intervention of the governor – Seigneur du Parquet – a new decree several months later “reestablished the privileges given to the Jews to deal with commerce,” canceling the previous decree.
 
      The main Jewish contribution to Martinique and Guadeloupe was in agro-industry. The French islands were relatively late in developing sugar production. It was only after the settlement of the Jews from Brazil, who were experienced sugar refiners and merchants, that the sugar industry started picking up. In 1661 there were 71 sugar plants in Guadeloupe with Martinique lagging behind. However, Martinique in 1671 had 111 sugar plants with 6,582 workers and slaves working in them and by 1685 reached 172 plants.
 

      One of the most prominent sugar producers was Benjamin d’Acosta de Andrade, a Jew born as a converso in Portugal, who had settled in Dutch Brazil and had reached Martinique in 1654. He was the owner of two of the largest sugar plants in Martinique (the site is still shown to tourists visiting the Island). D’Acosta de Andrade is known and remembered as establishing the first cacao processing plant in French territory. Cacao processing was started in Spanish colonies in America, but the processing in Martinique was advanced, modernized, and transformed into chocolate.

 

Discrimination and Expulsion

 

      The prosperity of the Jewish community drew inordinate envy from the French planters of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

 

 

      The Brazilian Jews did not only have the expertise, but also were able to finance their sugar plants, which needed a considerable initial investment. The majority of the French planters continued planting tobacco and gradually became more and more impoverished. Their need for cash indebted them to Jewish moneylenders. The Jews were also accused of investing their profits outside Martinique, therefore depriving the islands of their cash liquidity. Thus, a coalition formed by the Jesuit fathers and the French planters and merchants went into action to limit Jewish life and bring about the expulsion of the Jews.
 

      The coalition managed to force the hand of Governor Prouville de Tracy to issue, in 1664, an act in which a paragraph is included saying that “those of the Jewish Nation must purchase and sell on the day of Sabbath, unless otherwise ordered by his Majesty….” The unhappy de Tracy wanted clearer instructions from France. He received ambiguous ones, namely “The King does not want to alter what has been practiced till now towards the Huguenots and the Jews…” De Tracy’s only recourse was to close his eyes to the transgressions of his own act. The Jews continued keeping the Sabbath.

 

 

      The only religion officially permitted on Martinique was Catholicism. As a result, Judaism was not practiced openly. In 1676 the community acquired a Torah from the Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam.

 

 

      Theories have been put forward that a synagogue existed in Martinique, and several possible sites have been indicated. However, the prayers were supposedly conducted in a private house, transformed into a prayer-house, which gradually became an improvised synagogue.
 

      The happy and quiet Jewish existence of the Martinique Jews continued until the death of Governor de Baas in 1677. His replacement, Count de Blenac, a devotee of the Jesuits, had served as confessor of [King] Louis XIV. His main aim was the expulsion of the Jews from Martinique.

 

 

      As conditions deteriorated for the Jews of Martinique, they began to abandon the island. On Guadeloupe there were many political upheavals, and, here too, the Jews left in considerable numbers.
 
      In 1685 Louis XIV issued an order expelling all Jews from the Caribbean islands under French control. Most of the Jews who left Martinique went to Curacao. When they left, they took their Torah and other religious objects used in their improvised synagogue.
 
      A few Jews managed to circumvent the Black Code (Edict of Expulsion) as a result of their special connections with the authorities. Indeed, in 1732 there were still as least ten Jews residing on Martinique. But “by the time of the French Revolution there was, for all practical purposes, no serious Jewish presence in Martinique or Guadeloupe.”
 

      Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at  llevine@stevens.edu.

 

Hooked On American Jewish History

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

One of the most well-kept secrets in Flatbush is the Yosef Goldman Collection of American Jewish Books and Manuscripts. Area residents no doubt would be surprised to learn that this private collection is one of the most comprehensive in the world.

Yosef Goldman looks like many other residents of Brooklyn, unassuming and completely devoid of airs. But just mention to him anything about American Jewish history and you quickly discover his expertise. He recently published the book Hebrew Printing in America, 1735-1926, A History and Annotated Bibliography.Once this beautifully illustrated two-volume set appeared, it became the resource for information about Hebrew books published in America from the beginnings of Jewish life here through 1926.

How Yosef became a collector of books dealing with American Jewish history is a story that is almost as interesting as the topic itself.

Yosef’s father, Rabbi Lipa Goldman, was the rav of Neipest (now known as ?jpest, a district of Budapest located on the left bank of the Danube River). Before the German invasion, his father was able to secure papers for the family identifying them as non-Jews – a ruse that enabled them to live on a farm disguised as gentiles and thereby escape deportation by the Nazis.

In 1950, Rav Goldman, his wife, and their eight children arrived in America. Rav Goldman thanked God for bringing him to a land where he was free to choose how he could support his family without necessarily serving as a rabbi. He made his living as a dayan and a publisher of books, putting out a Shas as well as many individual seforim. He also dealt to some extent with used seforim. As a result, Yosef grew up in an atmosphere permeated with Jewish books.

The genesis of Yosef’s remarkable collection of books and manuscripts was one of pure happenstance. “I always liked old things,” he told me. “I ran an ad in the paper looking for old furniture. An old woman in Boston responded telling me that she did not have any furniture for sale, but that she did have bookcases to sell.”

Upon arriving at her home Yosef found that her bookcases were filled with many seforim. She told him that her late husband was the son of Rav Zalman Friederman, who came to America in 1892 and three years later was called to serve as rabbi of Boston.
 
Rav Friederman was the son-in-law of Rav Yaakov Lipschitz, who served as secretary to Rav Yitzchak Elchanan.

“The son had inherited these seforim from his father,” said Yosef. “So I not only bought the bookcases, but I also bought most of the books she had.”

Yosef quickly realized there was a market for such books. He began to run ads in newspapers expressing his interest in buying old Jewish books. In the late 1960′s there were a number of people – mainly the children of rabbonim who had passed away – who had inherited seforim from their fathers. Many of them, sadly enough, had no interest in these seforim and were happy to sell them.

This became a parnassah for Yosef and led to his specific interest in American Jewish history. He started to read about various personalities who had played key roles in American Jewish history. He was hooked.

Yosef told me, “In the 1970′s, American Judaica was not really a commodity. People were not very interested in it. I bought and sold all sorts of books and seforim that were printed abroad, but I kept most of the things that were printed in America that came my way.”

This eventually led to the Yosef Goldman Collection, certainly, as stated above, one of the world’s most extensive collections of books about American Jewish history. It includes copies of many books and manuscripts that are available in only a few libraries anywhere.

First Hebrew Handwriting In America

At one point during our interview I asked Yosef to show me the oldest thing he had related to American Jewish history. He casually picked up a very old-looking sefer that had been lying on his desk.

“This is a Paris Tanach, published in 1556,” he informed me. “Written in English on the title page is the name Moses Hart. In Hebrew his name was Moshe Tzvi. In the middle of this sefer in a few places he signed it in Hebrew and wrote ‘here in the city of NY, 1743.’ His son also signed it in Hebrew, ‘Yitzchok the son of Moshe Tzvi, 1748 from the city of Lisa’ (Poland).”

Growing increasingly enthusiastic as he discussed the book, Yosef drew my attention to the handwritten notations.

“Take a look at this signature written fluently in a beautiful Ashkenazic script! You can see from it that Moshe Hart could write Hebrew beautifully. This signature is the oldest Hebrew script that we have on any klei kodesh from America!”

I asked him what he knew about Moses Hart. He told me that a Yitzchok Rivkin, who many years ago was a librarian at the Jewish Theological Seminary, wrote an article in 1937 about the oldest Hebrew writing that existed in America at that time. It was a Tosephos Kesuva written by a Samuel Levy in 1718. Levy’s writing was also in a beautiful Ashkenazic script.

“In this Tosephos Kesuva, Levy designates who the money should be given to,” Yosef explained. “Most of it was to go to his wife, but some of the money was to be given to Levy’s niece’s husband – Moshe Tzvi, Moses Hart! So the oldest writing that we had at one time mentions the name of Moshe Tzvi. I say had, because today we no longer have this Kesuva. JTS does not have it, and no one knows what happene to it. Therefore, the oldest Hebrew handwriting that we have from America is what is in this 1556 Paris Tanach.”

Yosef told me he purchased this Tanach at a Manhattan auction not long ago. There was only one other bidder, and he did not really know what this sefer represented historically. It is hard to describe the pleasure Yosef takes in owning this link to our Jewish past. The same can be said for many of the other items in his collection. To Yosef, each rare book and manuscript has a personality that he relishes.

Yosef suspects that there may well be other books still extant from before 1743. “After all,” he said, “the first Jews who came to New York from Recife, Brazil, must have brought seforim with them. There were no wars here, no devastation. Things could very well still be around waiting to be discovered.”

First Translation Of The Machzor

When I asked Yosef how many volumes he has in his collection, he could only venture an educated guess. “A few thousand – manuscripts, notes, books, etc. Anything that I find that was published up until 1926.”

Yosef showed me a copy of a “volume [that] contains the first translation of the Jewish liturgy into English issued for a Jewish audience.” Evening Service of Roshashanah, and Yom Kippur, or the Beginning of the Year, and the Day of Atonement was authored by Isaac Pinto and printed in 1761. Copies of this book are extremely rare; as far as anyone knows, there are only two other copies still extant.

(Considerable information about this book is to be found page 37 of Hebrew Printing in America. There one can see a copy of the title page as well as another page from the book.)

Evidence Of A Forgotten Jewish Community

The first Jewish community in the New World was established in Recife, Brazil in 1630 when the Dutch conquered part of Brazil from the Portuguese. This community ceased to exist in 1654 when the Portuguese reconquered this area. (See “Recife – The First Jewish Community in the New World” at http://www.jewishpress.com/page.do/19153/Glimpses_Into_American_Jewish_History_%28Part_3%29.html

Yosef pointed out to me that there was at least one other Jewish community in Brazil. He brought out a copy of Sefer Shefa Tal, a kabbalistic volume that was printed in Hanau, Germany in 1612. It contains a handwritten statement of ownership by a Rabbi Jacob Lugarto of a congregation in Tamarica, Brazil. Rabbi Lugarto came to Brazil as a young man and was the author of a volume of aphorisms (copies of which, evidently, no longer exist). The book he showed me is our only physical link to this Jewish community, since there are no other known artifacts from it.

Isaac Leeser

Asked whom he considers the most important American Jewish personality of the nineteenth century, Yosef did not even hesitate. “Isaac Leeser,” he said, without a trace of doubt.

Isaac Leeser was born in Neunkirchen, in the province of Westphalia, Prussia, on Dec. 12, 1806, and died in Philadelphia on Feb. 1, 1868. He received a good Hebrew and secular education as a youth and emigrated to America at the age of seventeen. For several years he worked in his uncle’s business in Richmond, Virginia. In 1829 he became the cantor of Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia and held that position until 1850.

Rev. Leeser was a visionary in all things Jewish. In addition to being a cantor, he was an author, preacher, translator, editor, and publisher. He introduced the giving of an English discourse during services on Shabbos at Mikveh Israel. He was a strong proponent of Jewish education for youth, and one of the few of that era who saw that a proper Jewish education could only be given in a “day school” environment.

In short, he was the most active proponent for Orthodoxy in America during his lifetime.

Rev. Leeser pioneered the publishing of many religious Jewish books. His publications included translations of the siddur into English, a Hebrew spelling book, a Jewish Catechism, his discourses, and a translation of the entire Chumash into English. He began publishing the Jewish monthly journal The Occident in 1843 and served as its editor until his death.

The reader should keep in mind that all of these endeavors broke new ground in the United States. Further, Rev. Leeser had to overcome considerable obstacles while he pursued his varied activities. He was an idealist who devoted himself totally to the preservation of Orthodoxy in America. To do justice to his life would require a lengthy article unto itself, and it is this author’s plan to publish such an article in a future issue of The Jewish Press.

Magnum Opus

Yosef spent about 15 years writing Hebrew Printing in America, 1735-1926, A History and Annotated Bibliography.Previously he had published catalogues dealing with, among other subjects, Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, and Jewish children’s books.

“I have a problem with the way books about books are written,” he told me. “Ordinary reference books are written strictly for ‘book’ people. They describe the physical features of a book. My book about Hebrew books gives all of this and more.

“I have tried also to include the ‘environment’ in which the book was published. How does a given book fit historically with other books published at the same time? What motivated the author to write the book? These sorts of things give one a ‘feel’ for the ‘soul’ o a book beyond its physical characteristics.

“My book tells you how a given book fits into American Jewish culture. It is not strictly for book’ people. Anyone interested in American Jewish history will benefit from reading my book.”

Yosef’s book catalogues more than 1,200 items, covering all Hebrew books published in America prior to 1926. As one can imagine, a prodigious amount of research went into the preparation of this work. He was in contact with libraries throughout the world in order to guarantee accuracy.

Books are categorized by subject. The sections include Bible, Liturgy, Haggadah, Christian Hebraism, Bible Studies, Reference Works, Education and Pedagogy, Drama, Fiction, Humor and Poetry, Bibliography and History, Rabbinica, Derash, Periodicals, Zionism, Miscellaneous, Christian and Missionary, Americana, as well as an Addendum.

Many of the sections have interesting historical introductions that provide the reader unusual insight into the listed books. Wherever possible there is a picture of the title page of each book. In many cases there is also a picture of a page or two from the book under discussion.

America And The Jews

At the conclusion of our interview Yosef noted that until the establishment of the state of Israel, no country in the world other than the United States had welcomed Jews from the day of its founding.

“Our first president, George Washington, wrote a laudatory letter to the synagogues that were in existence during his presidency expressing his belief that Jews were free to practice their religion in America,” he said.

“Jews have been unbelievably fortunate to live in a country where this positive approach to religious freedom has continued uninterruptedly until today.”

Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. His monthly Jewish Press feature “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/hooked-on-american-jewish-history/2006/12/06/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: