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January 21, 2017 / 23 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

The First Jewish Americans: Freedom And Culture In The New World

Monday, January 16th, 2017

It’s always nice to see an exhibit featuring the great contribution Jews have made to our country. It’s especially encouraging and validating when a secular institution like the New York Historical Society, one of America’s most preeminent institutions, dedicates a significant path-breaking exhibition examining the story of newcomers to the New World, both Jewish and of Jewish ancestry, who made their way to colonial America and engaged fully in the cultural, social, and political life of the young nation.

Isaac Pinto, trans. Prayers for Shabbath, Rosh-Hashanah, and Kippur . . . according to the Order of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews. New York, A.M. 5526 [1766].

Isaac Pinto, trans.
Prayers for Shabbath, Rosh-Hashanah, and Kippur . . . according to the Order of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews. New York, A.M. 5526 [1766].

The First Jewish America: Freedom and Culture in the New World explores the origins of the Jewish Diaspora and paths to early Jewish life in American port cities. It examines our first synagogues and the birth of American Judaism in the 18th and early 19th centuries. It also focuses on prominent Jewish Americans who made an impact on early American life.

Founded in 1804, the NYHS, which covers general educational and informative history about New York City, New York State and the country, also has a children’s floor with interactive stations. It fosters research and presents history and issues surrounding the making and meaning of history through art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world today.

This past spring, the NYHS featured an exhibition tracing the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany, called Anti-Semitism 1919-1939. At a time of continuing anti-Semitic attacks against Jewish communities in Europe and elsewhere, it examined the rise of a culture of hatred through the gradual and deliberate indoctrination of German citizens into active hatred of Jews through the ubiquitous words and propaganda images seen daily during the Nazi era.

The current exhibition, on view until March 12, is in its own right combating anti-Semitism by educating the public about the impact early Jewish settlers had on helping to establish this country. Displaying more than 170 objects, including rare early portraits, drawings, maps, books, documents, and ritual objects, it explores the arrival of Jewish immigrants to the New World; their integral role in the colonial port cities of New York, Philadelphia and Charleston; and the growth of a uniquely Jewish American tradition in the new republic.

Myer Myers Rimonim, 1765-1776. Silver and brass with parcel gilding.

Myer Myers
Rimonim, 1765-1776.
Silver and brass with parcel gilding.

The exhibition features a number of notable Jewish Americans, including Myer Myers, one of colonial America’s preeminent silversmiths, who designed rimonim (Torah finials) for early synagogues, a pair of which are on view, and Luis de Carvajal, a Mexican Inquisition victim whose long-lost manuscripts were recently rediscovered.

Another noteworthy individual featured is German-born Rabbi Isaac Leeser, considered the father of American Orthodox Judaism, who fought to retain tradition and settled in Philadelphia, where he became the chazzan of Congregation Mikveh Israel as well as a publisher, journalist, and educator. Leeser believed that a measured openness to innovation, coupled with traditional Jewish religious observance, was necessary for sustaining Jewish life at a time when Jews were free to choose how they wanted to be Jewish. He embraced powerful new technologies like the steam engine and the steam-powered printing press to carry his message across America, publishing the first major American Jewish newspaper. He helped found the American Jewish Publication Society, established the first American rabbinical school, produced a solo translation of the Chumash, and traveled the continent extensively. Several of his publications are on display.

European Jews fleeing persecution and seeking ports of refuge were propelled westward to the distant shores of New World colonies, which offered hope for a new beginning until the infamous Spanish Inquisition followed them across the ocean.

Luis de Carvajal the Younger (ca. 1567-1596) Memorias autobiographical manuscripts , ca. 1595, with devotional manuscripts Manuscript leaves, 3 volumes, each stitched into plain wrappers.

Luis de Carvajal the Younger (ca. 1567-1596)
Memorias autobiographical manuscripts , ca. 1595, with devotional manuscripts
Manuscript leaves, 3 volumes, each stitched into plain wrappers.

The exhibit powerfully illustrates this experience through the 1595 autobiography of Luis de Carvajal, a “converso” Jew in Mexico and the nephew of a prominent governor, who was tried by the Inquisition and denounced more than 120 other secretly practicing Jews (including members of his own family) before he was burned at the stake in 1596. The exhibition showcases, for the first time on public display, the manuscripts relating to Carvajal – considered the earliest extant Jewish books of the New World. These three documents include Carvajal’s autobiography (written under the pseudonym Joseph Lumbroso), Maimonides Thirteen Principles of Faith, the Ten Commandments, and a prayer manual. These exceptional documents underscore the long reach of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, which followed settlers of Jewish ancestry into the New World, forcing confessions and burning suspected “Judaizers” at the stake in horrific “autos-de-fé.”

The recently-rediscovered documents, which had gone missing from the National Archives of Mexico more than 75 years ago, are believed to be the only existing writings by a Jew in Mexico during the Spanish colonial period and are on view by special arrangement with the Mexican government before returning back to Mexico at the conclusion of this exhibition.

Solomon Nunes Carvalho: Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, Interior, 1838. Oil on canvas.

Solomon Nunes Carvalho:
Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, Interior, 1838.
Oil on canvas.

The First Jewish Americans also explores the paths taken by Jews who for centuries fled persecution in Europe – beginning with the little-known but remarkable stories of their experience in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Brazil during the colonial period, and following their journey toward finding freedom and tolerance in the early American Republic,” says Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the NYHS. “We are grateful for the extraordinary collections of Leonard L. Milberg and the partnership of the Princeton University Library, which will allow us to convey to the New York public the fundamental importance of the Jewish people to early American history. We are deeply grateful to Mr. Milberg for his tenacity and hard work in securing the loan of recently recovered Jewish writings from Spanish Colonial Mexico, the earliest extant Jewish manuscripts from that time period.”

The Jewish community in the New World dispersed throughout the colonies in the Caribbean, creating a network built on trade, family, and religious connections. Items of these island communities and influences include a 1718 map of the Jewish settlement in Suriname, 18th century texts of religious services for the circumcision of slaves, and Jamaican legal documents from 1823 that argued for Jewish voting rights.

During the colonial period, Jews clustered in the cosmopolitan- and commercially-minded port cities of New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, and, within each city, an elaborate communal infrastructure grew that supported all aspects of Jewish life. Shearith Israel, the first Jewish congregation in colonial North America, built its home in Lower Manhattan in 1730. The congregation has loaned significant objects to the exhibition, such as a Torah scroll that was burned by British soldiers during the Revolutionary War and Myers’ rare set of Torah bells (rimonim) from 1765 that he designed for Shearith Israel before the American Revolution. The New York-born Myers was an active member of Shearith Israel and served the congregation in many capacities, including as parnas (president) in 1759 and 1770. As the rimonim suggest, Myers was as dedicated to his craft as he was to the rites and rituals of Judaism. This set of Torah bells, constructed in the “stacked globe” style of Sephardic rimonim, is one of five surviving pairs made by Myers for congregations in New York, Philadelphia, and Newport.

Gerardus Duyckinck I (1695-1746) Portrait of Jacob Franks (1688-1769). Oil on canvas.

Gerardus Duyckinck I (1695-1746) Portrait of Jacob Franks (1688-1769). Oil on canvas.

Also on view are six oil portrait paintings, circa 1735, of the prominent Levy-Franks family of New York, also members of Shearith Israel.

The Philadelphia Jewish community grew during and after the Revolutionary War, with the city serving as a refuge for patriots fleeing British-occupied New York. Some Philadelphia Jews opposed Britain’s harsh restrictions on American trade by signing the Resolution of Non-Importation Made by the Citizens of Philadelphia in 1765 – one of the first official protests against British mercantile policy, which is on view in the exhibit. Also featured are portrait paintings of politically-active Philadelphia merchant Barnard Gratz, a signer of the resolution who supplied American militias, and of his niece Rebecca Gratz, who in 1819 established the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society, the first Jewish lay charity in the country.

Sara Trappler-Spielman

Jerusalem to Get $50 Million Arts Center

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

by Andrew Friedman The Jewish Federation of New York and the City of Jerusalem announced Wednesday a joint project to create a groundbreaking arts center in downtown Jerusalem, to be called the Jerusalem Campus for the Arts.

The project will cost $50 million and is part of a project to turn Jerusalem into a world capital of culture and the arts. It is expected to open in 2020.

Speaking at a ceremony honoring the Kirsch Family Foundation, a major backer of the project, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat thanked the family and said the center will be welcome gift as the city marks the 50th anniversary of re-unification during the 1967 Six Day War.

“The Jerusalem Center for the Arts will be yet another important step in reestablishing the downtown area as a place that is pulsing with life and energy, with thousands of young people and university students. it will provide a permanent home for Jerusalem’s leading arts institutions,” Barkat said.

The new center will be located on a 2.5 dunam lot adjacent to the Gerar Bechar Center in the Rechavia neighborhood.

The campus will serve as home to the city’s leading arts ventures, including the Nissan Netiv acting studio, Sam Spiegel film and photography school and others. Approximately 1,100 students will learn at the center at any given time.

Hana Levi Julian

Cinema Jenin Shutting Down, Dashing Hopes for Culture, Art, in Suspicious City

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

In August 2011, Cinema Jenin, with 335 seats and funding from the German Government, opened its doors to the public in a glamorous gala event that attracted international celebrities like Roger Waters and Bianca Jagger (they showed a movie called The Heart of Jenin about Israeli cruelty in the wake of an explosion that took out a Netanya hotel on the seder night). On Wednesday this week it closed down after running out of money.

According to AFP, demolition work has begun on the Cinema Jenin building, after the management team had failed to attract enough customers to allow it to continue operations. German director Marcus Vetter told AFP “it is a very disappointing and sad moment,” revealing that the original owners’ heirs had sold the place for $1.8 million.

The Cinema Jenin website related the heartwarming story of cooperation between the management team and a group of young and old people from Jenin who were going to receive technical training to run the cinema eventually. Cinema Jenin also offered film and theatre workshops, supported by “local and international partners” to get more people involved in the cinema.

And just to be able to pay the rent, Cinema Jenin also planned to become a venue for local plays, concerts, and even weddings.

Roger Waters at a fundraising event for Cinema Jenin

Roger Waters at a fundraising event for Cinema Jenin

Vetter told AFP the failure was due to a mix of local conservative attitudes and a fear that attending shows there would be tantamount to accepting Israeli “occupation.” “People were not ready to really go there. They were also maybe a little bit scared how it would be perceived if they go,” he explained.

According to news reports of the time, many locals boycotted the cinema because unmarried men and women drank alcohol and even slept together in the guest house that was attached to Cinema Jenin. In 2011 death threats were circulated in Jenin mosques, and many foreign nationals were ordered to stay off the Cinema Jenin project at the request of their governments.


Pop Culture Pundit Sees Superman as Paradigm of the Assimilated Jew

Monday, November 21st, 2016

Author and pundit Noah Berlatsky, whose collection of essays “Your Favorite Superhero Sucks” came out in September, told Sequential Tart’s Suzette Chan he thinks “superheroes are in a lot of ways originally a fantasy of assimilation.”

Chan noted how “many people have noted how the Jewish creators of Superman coded Jewishness into his alienness.” It got Berlatsky going:

“…I think superheroes are in a lot of ways originally a fantasy of assimilation,” he said. “Jewish creators like [Jerry] Siegel, [Joe] Shuster and Jack Kirby created these Jewish stereotypes (Clark Kent, Steve Rogers) who transformed into heroes who were more American than American.

“So, I think there’s a sense in which superheroes started as a kind of dream of whiteness; Superman and Captain America can be seen as Jewish creators imagining how they’d be awesome and powerful if they were white. And I think that has made it structurally difficult in some ways for superheroes to be black or POC (people of color). You have to work against the tropes a little bit. It requires more imagination, and perhaps a willingness to not treat the genre with too much reverence.”

Noah Berlatsky is the editor of the comics and culture blog The Hooded Utilitarian. He has written on gender, comics, and culture for many publications, including Slate, Public Books, The Chicago Reader, Reason, The Comics Journal, The Baffler, and The Atlantic.


2000 Years of Jewish Culture Exhibition at London’s Shapero Rare Books

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Bernard Shapero of Shapero Rare Books and Sandra Hindman of Les Enluminures are delighted to present 2000 Years of Jewish Culture: an exhibition of books, manuscripts, art, and jewelry.

A selling show, it is the first of its kind ever staged in the UK in a private space, and, accordingly, it will be marked by the publication of a fully illustrated catalogue. The exhibition encompasses every aspect of Jewish life, including philosophy, religion, literature, photography, fine art and jewelry.

Curator Bela Goldenberg Taieb said that “each of the assembled artifacts – the oldest of which is a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls – is representative of a particular field of endeavor, and as such they collectively offer a truly compelling picture of the Jewish contribution to world culture.”

The exhibition, featuring more than 100 objects, will be arranged over the basement, ground and first floor of Shapero’s Mayfair premises. It presents several important rare books, the subjects of which span the tenth to the twentieth centuries, including first editions of some important examples of Anglo-Judaica.

Bernard Shapero said that “the whole exhibition shows the positive side of Judaism. There’s no Holocaust material or anti-Semitic material, which forms a large part of collecting in this field.”

From November 2 to 19, at Shapero Rare Books, 32 St. George Street, London W1S 2EA

Gallery Talk: Beatriz Chadour-Sampson “Jewish Wedding Rings,” Thursday November 3, 7 PM.


German Culture Minister Promises Reform of Judenfrei Nazi Loot Commission

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

German Culture Minister Monika Grütters is planning to reform the Limbach Commission, established in 2003 to mediate ownership disputes of Nazi-looted art. Ronald Lauder, the founder of the Commission for Art Recovery and president of the World Jewish Congress, has stated that the commission has been “cold and distant” in its treatment of Jews trying to claim their art that was looted by the Nazis.

The cool approach to Jewish rights of ownership of Nazi-looted property could possibly be attributed to the utter absence of Jews from the Limbach Commission.

The non-binding Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, endorsed by 44 countries in 1998, recommend that governments establish independent commissions with “a balanced membership” to “assist in addressing ownership issues.” But according to The Art Newspaper, Germany’s interpretation of the phrase “balanced membership” has not included appointing a single Jewish panel member.

Grütters told the New York Times last March that the move was intentional, because, as everyone knows, a Jewish member “would be the only voice who would be prejudiced.” Her comment generated a torrent of accusations of anti-Semitism, and the culture minister promised Lauder to appoint a Jewish member. Eventually.

“Thirteen years after it was established it is time to think about the future development of the commission in the interest of improved implementation of the Washington Principles,” Minsiter Grütters said in a recent statement, and culture bureaucrats from the 16 German states and municipal associations are in the process of establishing a committee to recommend reforms, meaning to find a Jewish person they could trust with the process of examining the Nazi-looted art. According to a spokesman for Grütters, proposals should be coming in this year.

To illustrate just how (intentionally) frustrating the recovery process has been, according to the Center for Art Law in January a task force appointed by Grütters released the results of their two-year, $2 million investigation, which found the rightful owners of five of the 1,500 works in the Gurlitt collection. Grütters has admitted her own disappointment, but seems to be taking the slow and steady approach, to avoid “a second seizure” of the art — meaning that some lying Jewish family be improperly awarded one of the stolen masterpieces. Meanwhile, the entire collection continues to be exhibited in Germany this year.

In late February, also according to the Center for Art Law, Germany announced that it will pay for at least another year of research and hire additional staff to establish the provenance of works in the Gurlitt collection. Minister Grütters reaffirmed Germany’s pledge to return any looted art to its rightful owners or their descendants, and awarded the (ostensibly meticulous) research a budget of $6.5 million.


Erdogan Utilizing Turks’ Ingrained Conspiracy Theory Culture to Purge Foes, Real and Imagined

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

Devin Devlet (lit. giant state, col. deep state) is a Turkish word referring to the notion of there being a permanent government, existing through a shadowy network of civil servants, military officials and academics, who are the real decision makers. Every country on earth sports its own crowd of conspiracy theorists, who seem to proliferate following national disasters. But according to a growing number of respected voices in the media, Turkey, with its unique political history, may be the only democracy whose leader is the biggest believer in those conspiracy theories, which actually serve as the foundation of his policy and may have fashioned the ultimate conspiracy — a fake coups d’état.

Imagine that every conspiracy theory you’ve heard, from the Communists taking over America, to Obama conspiring with the deans of Al Azhar University to bring Islam to the US, to the CIA blowing up the World Trade Center, “was, if not true, at least plausible, and you have some idea of what the deep background of Turkish politics looks like,” James Palmer wrote this week in Vox. Palmer described the twentieth century in Turkey as a violent streaks of democratic government interlaced with military coups, resulting in an inevitable sense that someone in there is the puppeteer of this show, pulling the strings to fit his needs.

The Devin Devlet notion provided a reasonable explanation of their reality to generations of Turks living through perpetual instability: “To Islamists, its fundamental purpose is to crush religion; for liberals, it’s anti-democratic; for Kurds, it’s fanatically nationalist and anti-Kurdish; for nationalists, it’s secretly in league with the US; for anti-Semites, it’s an Israeli-backed scheme,” Palmer pointed out.

Roger Cohen, writing for the NY Times (Turkey’s Coup That Wasn’t) joined the growing voices suspicious of the Erdogan version of reality. “As coups go, the Turkish effort was a study in ineptitude: no serious attempt to capture or muzzle the political leadership, no leader ready to step in, no communication strategy (or even awareness of social media), no ability to mobilize a critical mass within either the armed forces or society. In their place a platoon of hapless soldiers on a bridge in Istanbul and the apparently uncoordinated targeting of a few government buildings in Ankara.”

Cohen is convinced that not only was the coup produced by the Erdogan regime, but that it was done with the tacit approval of the Obama Administration. He quoted a former special assistant to Obama on the Middle East, Philip Gordon, who said: “Rather than use this as an opportunity to heal divisions, Erdogan may well do the opposite: go after adversaries, limit press and other freedoms further, and accumulate even more power.”

Indeed, in a few hours more than 2,800 military personnel were detained and 2,745 judges were removed from duty, Cohen noted, adding that what’s coming next is “a prolonged crackdown on so-called ‘Gulenists,’ whoever Erdogan deems them to be, and the … ‘deep state.’ . . . An already divided society will grow more fissured. Secular Turkey will not quickly forget the cries of ‘Allahu akbar’ echoing from some mosques and from crowds in the streets.”

The speed with which the coup rose and crumbled continues to intrigue the western media. Mehul Srivastava and Laura Pitel, reporting from Turkey for the Financial Times, have suggested that “among the mysteries yet to be unraveled from the failed Turkish coup was this: the attack on Saturday morning by helicopter-borne commandos against a resort hotel in Marmaris. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was meant to be staying there. But the attack took place nearly an hour after every news channel in Turkey beamed images of Mr Erdogan addressing the nation from the airport in Istanbul, some 750 km away.”

“That episode is one of many inconsistencies and strange occurrences in a coup whose amateurish — almost kamikaze — nature preordained its failure and is now providing rich fodder for conspiracy theories,” Srivastava and Pitel wrote.

Kristin Fabbe and Kimberly Guiler, writing for the Washington Post, noted that the war of words in Turkey is being waged by two armies of conspiracy theorists. “On one side, government detractors are speculating that the attempted coup was a masterful, state-managed scheme to consolidate Erdogan’s power. On the other side, the AKP government is placing the blame for the coup attempt on perpetrators — real and imagined. The government’s list of villains ranges from bitter Erdogan rival Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who now lives in the United States, and other shadowy foreign ‘invaders’ to supporters of Turkey’s Ataturkist secular establishment and even the U.S. government. The skeptics are painting Erdogan as a megalomaniac tyrant bent on elected dictatorship; the believers are portraying him as a savior and victim.”

It is highly doubtful that the coup was initiated by Gulen, not because such action is necessarily beneath him, but because at the time Gulen immigrated to the US, his followers were estimated to number between 5 and 9 million, and had he launched the coup, it would not have collapsed overnight.

In June 1999, after Gulen had left Turkey, Turkish TV ran a video in which he said, “The existing system is still in power. Our friends who have positions in legislative and administrative bodies should learn its details and be vigilant all the time so that they can transform it and be more fruitful on behalf of Islam in order to carry out a nationwide restoration. However, they should wait until the conditions become more favorable. In other words, they should not come out too early.”

Gulen later complained that his words were taken out of context, and his supporters said the tape had been “manipulated.” Gulen was subsequently tried in absentia, and acquitted in 2008 under the new Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But the ideas Gulen, or his manipulated recording, espoused, were just the kind of nourishment the Turkish conspiracy theorists everywhere needed to confirm their worst fears or highest aspirations, take your pick.

At the moment, President Erdogan is riding high on his conspiracy accusations: he has just suspended democracy in Turkey for three months (he could go three more, according to Turkish emergency laws), and his henchmen are busy weeding out pockets of resistance across Turkish society, regardless of their connection to the coup or obvious lack thereof. Many thousands of people have been sacked or arrested following the failed coup. According to a BBC report, Thousands of soldiers, including high-ranking generals, have been arrested, along with members of the judiciary. More than 50,000 state employees have also been rounded up, sacked or suspended and 600 schools closed. Academics have been banned from foreign travel and university heads have been forced to resign. The government has revoked the press credentials of 34 journalists.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn on Thursday urged Turkey to respect the rule of law, rights and freedoms. The EU is “concerned” about developments after Turkey imposed its emergency rule, and about the measures taken so far in the fields of education, judiciary and media, which are “unacceptable,” Mogherini and Hahn said in a statement.

But it is doubtful Erdogan is going to interrupt his sacred mission of ridding Turkey of its clandestine Devin Devlet, real or imagined. And what if anything of the secular Turkish state will remain standing come September 2016, by the end of Erdogan’s own coup against his country’s democratic institutions, is anyone’s guess.


Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/erdogan-utilizing-turks-ingrained-conspiracy-theory-culture-to-purge-foes-real-and-imagined/2016/07/22/

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