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January 20, 2017 / 22 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘eastern’

Friends Of Refugees Of Eastern Europe In Chicago (Part II)

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Last week we focused on how F.R.E.E. began the process of educating the refugees it came into contact with. However, the people at F.R.E.E. set about making life more fulfilling for the refugees, in many other ways as well.

 

Part II

Many of the Russian immigrant men and boys were anxious to undergo circumcision. It was amazing to witness this after so many years of the religious suppression that existed under Communist rule. At first, F.R.E.E. undertook the responsibility to arrange circumcisions. Over a period of forty years, hundreds of men and boys underwent kosher circumcisions. At first, Rabbi Avrohom Chesney of F.R.E.E. arranged and supervised them. Later, Rabbi Naftali Hershcowitz, under the supervision of Rabbi Shmuel Notik, took over. The doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago (a Jewish Federation institution), together with the noted mohel, Rev. Noah Wolff, performed the circumcisions. Chicago was unique in that its federation funded the Brit Milah program, while in other cities F.R.E.E. had to pay for it on its own. As more immigrants arrived, other mohelim and religious doctors joined the team, among them Rabbi Mordechai Turkeltaub and Rabbi Moshe Kushner. The observant doctors and mohelim worked efficiently, on a few patients each time. Dr. Philip Zeret, head of surgery at Mt. Sinai, and Dr. Chaim Hecht arranged the logistics.

Dr. and Mrs. Hecht were very involved with welcoming the Russian teenagers in general and introducing them to the warmth of their Shabbat table. They also opened their home to Rabbi Betzalel Shiff, his wife Mira, and their son Yossi, who came from Israel to work for the organization. Dr. Hecht was instrumental in bringing Rabbi Shmuel and Shterna Notik to Chicago to take over the directorship when the organization began expanding.

At one point, we notified the Lubavitcher Rebbe that many Russian refugees had to wait for their circumcisions to take place. On Erev Yom Kippur before Mincha, Rabbi Hadokov called us with an answer. He said that he had received instructions from the Rebbe to tell us not to let the immigrants wait. Thus, several times we arranged to use the hospital for an entire day, enabling as many as twenty or more circumcisions to be performed.

Mottel Kanelsky, himself an immigrant from a Lubavitcher family, was instructed by the Rebbe to arrange circumcisions as quickly as possible. Who would have thought that after just a few years F.R.E.E. would be given the responsibility for carrying out thousands of circumcisions of men and boys of every age?

When Russia began allowing Jews to leave, the American Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund made an agreement with the U.S. government that the latter would grant financial help for resettlement. In each city the Jewish Federation provided Russian-speaking social workers to aid the incoming immigrants. They also provided money and direction.

At first, the Jewish Federation of Chicago suggested that F.R.E.E. was duplicating its work and that we should close shop. Martha Binn, our representative to the Federation, succeeded in convincing it that we were not competing with their services, but rather complimenting them. Her confident demeanor and professional approach gave weight to her request that the Federation recognize and acknowledge the work of the religious organizations and give them their support.

Martha also did fundraising for our cause. She made call after call, not getting discouraged by nasty comments like: “What? It’s you again?” I would often consult with Martha; I would call her “my lawyer.” She would point out issues and analyze possibilities from a different vantage point. She was dedicated to our cause, passing up lucrative job offers to stay with the organization.

Once we asked Rabbi Oscar Fasman, president of the Hebrew Theological College of Chicago (aka Skokie Yeshiva), to accompany us to a meeting with the Federation to lend prestige to our organization. He told the members of the Federation committee that our work deserves its support. The impact of his words bore fruit and funding was increased. When F.R.E.E. opened a school on the premises of the Machziki Hadas Synagogue, it prompted the Federation to open a proper school as well.

Rabbi Shmuel Notik

Rabbi Shmuel Notik

Eventually, the Federation began receiving good reports from the immigrants themselves, after which they started working together with F.R.E.E. to the benefit of all. This was the beginning of a warmer rapport between the Federation and the Orthodox community, and a new era of cooperation between the general Jewish community and the religious community which continues to this day.

One Shabbat, as I was reading an article in the weekly Jewish journal, the Sentinel, written by Boris Smolar, the head of the JTA, I found myself reading my own words! Smolar was commending the Federation for all it was were doing for the Russian immigrants, such as arranging circumcisions, funding day camp and English lessons, providing vocational guidance services, etc. Half the article was copied from a grant proposal I had written to the Federation requesting funding for these programs. Mr. Smolar didn’t realize that a nursing mother was running these activities!

Many of the refugees were broken and nervous, since they had to leave everything behind and begin life anew. Many of them were highly educated in their fields, but found it hard to get jobs in America. Many who wanted to learn English turned to us. The local city colleges provided us with a program to teach English as a second language (ESL). Not only were the classes free of charge – students even received a stipend. Our offices were filled with people eager to learn. In addition to learning English, the students would hear short talks on Jewish topics, upcoming Jewish holidays and the like.

With the help of another government incentive, we organized a summer school for older teenagers who were interested in learning the Hebrew language. Chava Cooperman, daughter of Rabbi Yitzchak Zilber and daughter-in-law of Rav Yehuda Cooperman (the founder of Michlala Jewish College for Women), taught these young people to read and write Hebrew. These programs and government grants always became available just at the right times. I really felt that Divine Guidance was helping us every step of the way.

As the refugee population grew, we realized that we could reach more people through a Russian-language newspaper. Chuck Novak helped put together the first few issues of “Gazzette Sholom” which is still being published forty years later. Each issue is eagerly awaited by Russian-speaking Jews around the U.S. The newspaper benefited greatly when the Russian-born Lubavitch couple, Rabbi Betzalel and Mira Schiff, joined our organization. Betzalel became editor of the newspaper, organized concerts and Yom Tov celebrations, started a Russian-language radio program, and helped fundraise. He was like a father to the Russian Jews, and he and his wife dedicated themselves day and night to bring awareness of what it means to be Jewish to people who had grown up under the influence of communist propaganda. Although Betzalel was young, he was well-respected. After a few years, he and his wife returned to Israel, where he continued to work with Russian Jews.

We organized and ran a day camp for the immigrant children, in collaboration with Chabad Gan Yisroel. Most campers paid very little or went for free. Nowadays, when my son meets up with Russian Jews who grew up in Chicago, my son will say, “I bet you went to my mother’s camp.” They often did. One year, I managed to raise a substantial amount of money (I used to sit in my backyard with my baby and fundraise by phone), so I decided to send some Russian kids to overnight camp in Parksville, New York.  We sent them by car, a fifteen-hour drive. It didn’t quite work out. The boys complained to their parents that they were homesick, so I had to fly them all back to Chicago early. That was the end of that experiment.

To be continued…

Reitza Kosofsky

Exhibition: The Jewish Ghetto in Postcards from Eastern Europe to Downtown Manhattan

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

From 1880 to 1924, one-third of the Jewish population of Eastern Europe left shtetls and cities for the United States, fleeing persecution and seeking economic opportunity. Most settled on the Lower East Side making it the most crowded neighborhood in the world. On these shores, Jewish immigrants found themselves in a new kind of densely urban neighborhood. Still, echoes of the old country could be found in the cries of the marketplace, the plaintive tunes of the synagogue, and most of all in the shared Yiddish language of neighbors.

The Blavatnik Archive and the Museum at Eldridge Street “The Jewish Ghetto in Postcards” exhibition, through March 8, 2017, presents rarely seen images of shtetls in Europe that were wiped out during the Holocaust, and the “Ghetto” of the old Jewish Lower East Side. In captivating color and stark black and white, these vintage postcards provide snapshots of vanished places that are at the heart of the twentieth-century Jewish experience.

People of the Jewish shtetl Racionz, near the more densely populated Mława. Message dated June 23, 1915.

People of the Jewish shtetl Racionz, near the more densely populated Mława. Message dated June 23, 1915.

These early twentieth-century postcards provide important historical perspective of the immigrant experience in America. In captivating color and stark black and white, they recall vanished places that are at the heart of the Jewish immigrant experience. They also suggest how cultural conceptions and types were disseminated in popular culture.

The Jewish Ghetto in Postcards features fifty postcard images, interpretive texts, oral histories, and a digital component that allows visitors to enlarge and examine the postcards and historic materials.

The bulk of the exhibition features images of New York’s Lower East Side, long an immigrant gateway. Images of bustling streets with pushcarts and horse-drawn carriages, a pickle vendor, and a surprisingly beautiful view of tenements with laundry suspended from one tenement to the next recall a by-gone era.

The Lower East Side is described on both the front and back of postcards as “The Ghetto” or “Judea.” During the first decades of the 20th century, the term “the Ghetto” was understood as the place where the Jews lived in New York City. The postcards were collected in albums, sent as a memento from travels, or – as indicated by a message scrawled on one of the featured images – mailed by Progressive-era teachers and workers who wanted to show the atmosphere of the neighborhood where they worked.

The postcards of Eastern Europe depict men with long beards, wooden homes along unpaved streets, and other stereotypical scenes of the shtetl, with captions printed on the cards describing them as “Jewish Types” and the “Jewish Quarter.” Some of these images are snapshots taken by passing soldiers during World War I who were struck by the exotic looking community they encountered.

The Museum at Eldridge Street, 12 Eldridge Street, New York, NY 10002, is open Sunday through Thursday from 10 AM to 5 PM and Friday from 10 AM to 3 PM. Admission is $14 adults; $10 students and seniors, $8 children 5-17; free for children under 5 years of age. Mondays are Pay What You Wish. Entrance to the Jewish Ghetto in Postcards is included with Museum admission. For more information, visit eldridgestreet.org or call 212-219-0302 / 212.219.0888. Please check the Museum’s website for holiday closings including New Year’s Day.

The caption on this postcard reads "New Jewish Market on the East Side, New York."

The caption on this postcard reads “New Jewish Market on the East Side, New York.”

JNi.Media

Friends of Refugees Of Eastern Europe In Chicago (Part I)

Monday, December 19th, 2016

Presented here is a short history of the beginning of the F.R.E.E. organization in Chicago. F.R.E.E. is affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch network, and deals with the resettlement of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

This account was written by Reitza Kosofsky, the initiator and main activist of F.R.E.E. in Chicago, who found herself becoming deeply involved in the historic challenge facing the Jews of the free world at that time: reclaiming the Jewishness of those Jews exiting Russia. Covered is the period from 1973 until 1981, at which time Rabbi Shmuel Notik arrived and took over the directorship.

 

Mrs. Reitza Kosofsky

Mrs. Reitza Kosofsky

For much of the past century, freedom was a distant dream for Jews living in the Soviet Union and its satellites. In the early ‘70s, the Iron Curtain lifted, and a significant number of families were given permission to leave.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, spoke publicly about the influx of Soviet Jewish refugees, and the importance of helping them with their spiritual and material needs. The Rebbe’s words were heard in Chicago, and the women of N’shei Chabad under the leadership of Rebbitzen Chaya Sarah Hecht, the head shlucha, made a welcoming gathering for five families who had just arrived from Minsk. The American women presented the Russian women with silver candlesticks and encouraged them to light them for Shabbat. Rabbi Tzvi Shusterman delivered a talk in Yiddish, as that was the only common language shared by most of the participants.

After that gathering, Rebbitzen Hecht contacted the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Chaim Mordecai Aizik Hadokov, and asked how to proceed. Should N’shei Chabad or another already existing organization work with the Russian Jews? The Rebbe’s answer was clear: a new organization should be created to service the needs of the new immigrants.

At the time, I was a stay-at-home mother of a growing family. I had a nursing infant, and had just married off our eldest daughter to a Russian-born Lubavitcher. I was inspired by the Rebbe’s call to action. Because I spoke Yiddish, it was only natural for me to become involved with the Russian Jews who were settling in Chicago.

On our next trip to Crown Heights, I went to see the newly opened synagogue and center for Russian immigrants. The name F.R.E.E., which stands for “Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe,” was chosen by the Rebbe. I met with the founders of the center, brothers Meir and Hershel Okunov, who gave me permission to use the same name for our work in Chicago. Meir, who would be celebrating his wedding two weeks later, joined my family for the 15-hour drive from New York to Chicago in order to help us get started. He told me how to introduce the basics of Jewish life to Jews who had grown up in an atheistic environment.

We started out small, but as the trickle of immigrants grew to become a tidal wave, F.R.E.E. also grew and expanded. That first year we made a Chanukah party in the home of Victor and Rita Katz. By the following Chanukah, we had to rent a hall! We organized communal Pesach sedarim led by Chabad yeshiva students. Most of these young men had grown up religious in the Soviet Union, learning Torah and keeping mitzvot despite the danger of being arrested. Now, they turned their selfless devotion for Yiddishkeit towards running sedarim for others, giving up their opportunity to spend the Passover holidays in New York with the Rebbe.free-121616-hebrew-school-class

It was the second year of my involvement with the Russian Jews, in 5734 (1974), a few weeks before Pesach. I was sitting in my car on Devon Avenue, and my kids had gone into the kosher candy store. I was contemplating and worrying about the communal Pesach seder. The year before, about 175 immigrants had participated and now I had 300 newly arrived Russian Jews eager to experience their first seder in freedom. How would I manage it? At that point, a former neighbor passed by, stopped and asked me how I was.

I could have sufficed with the usual “Fine, Baruch Hashem” but instead I blurted out, “I’m running a seder for 300 Russian Jews, and I have no funds for it. How can we make a seder without food?!”

The man hesitated for a minute, and then exclaimed, “I will help you!” It turned out that he, Tzvi Kurs, was the president of the Chicago Maos Chitim Committee. Every year the committee would distribute 1,500 boxes of matzah, wine, chicken, gefilte fish, and other seder items and necessities for Pesach to families in need. From that year on, the Maos Chitim Committee provided for the communal sedarim. Working together with the committee, we set up a system by which families would be interviewed by volunteers from their own community to determine the extent of their Pesach needs.

There was a flood of immigration when the U.S.S.R. began letting Jews out, and the friendship and help for the Russian Jews who came to our city began to fall on my shoulders. When I had originally taken on this project, I thought that only a few families would be arriving in Chicago; however, they came in droves!

In the beginning, I handled all the F.R.E.E. work from my kitchen. I would hold my baby in one hand and the frying pan in the other, balancing a telephone on my shoulder, helping people from my kitchen “office.” One day, I got a call from Joseph Zaretsky, an officer of Congregation Bais Medresh HaGadol Keser Mariv. He offered us the use of the vacant classrooms in the Hebrew school at the back of the synagogue free of charge. With the new place, we were able to begin the formation of a working organization.

We continuously saw how the Almighty blessed our efforts. Someone taught me how to apply for the first $5000 grant that I got. In addition, CETA, a government program that was created to train the unemployed really helped. Through it, we were able to take on eighteen trainee office workers. Through this program, we were able to employ people who otherwise may have had difficulty in finding suitable work.

Former students of the Hebrew School

Former students of the Hebrew School

Marvin Schreiber was an expert in preparing grant proposals. His hard work paid off, and we received grants. We then were able to have a secretary, run a domestic job service, and hire a driver to transport Russian immigrant children to the Jewish day schools. We arranged for people who spoke Russian to tutor the children, especially in the Hebrew language and Jewish/religious subjects.

A friend who was a public school teacher, Abe Wolburg, told us that the Jewish Federation social workers were enrolling the Jewish immigrant children in the neighboring public schools. We asked Rabbi Hodakov how necessary it was to enroll the children in Jewish schools. The answer: as important as saving lives.

We immediately let the Russian Jewish community know that we would provide a day school education for their children. It was really hard to get the Russian kids into the existing Jewish schools because they would accept only a few new kids at a time. So we opened our own school in our office with thirty children! We had two talented teachers, one for Jewish studies and one for secular, both with the same name, Miriam Rabinowitz. The school lasted for twenty years. Those children who didn’t come to this school were persuaded to enroll in the Jewish Community Center Sunday School, so at least they would receive some level of Jewish education.

Reitza Kosofsky

Arabs Reject Liberman Promise to Build Gaza Harbor, Airport, if Hamas Stops Shooting

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

In a rare interview to the Arab daily Al-Quds, published in eastern Jerusalem, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned on Monday that “the next war in Gaza will be the last one.” However, in the same interview, Liberman said he supports the two state solution, and, “If Hamas stops digging the tunnels and shooting rockets, Israel would be the first country to aid in constructing a harbor and an airport in Gaza.” He did note that this promise is only his own vision and not official Israeli government policy.

Liberman insisted Israel has no plans to retake the Gaza Strip, or build new settlements there. But he criticized Hamas for its designs against Israel, saying they spend about $26 million every month on their military activities.

Speaking to journalist Mohammed Abu Hadir, Liberman accused the Palestinian leadership of being an obstacle to peace. He said PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was not seeking peace, and said he incited violence rather than work against it. “We need someone other than Abu Mazen (Abbas’s nom de guerre) to sign a final agreement,” Liberman said, accusing the chairman of stubbornly resisting peace.

Liberman noted that Jewish communities take up only 1.4% of Judea and Samaria and as such are not an obstacle to the peace process. He also noted that the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria are under attack every day, and he believes the two sides would be better off separated. However, he insisted, without mutual trust there cannot be peace negotiations.

The defense minister was highly critical of Arab society, saying that in the absolute majority of cases, violence there is the result of internal conflicts in the Muslim society rather than clashes with Israel. Needless to say, the interview was not received well by the readership, and many in Arab social media accused Al-Quds of normalizing and thus legitimizing Liberman’s views.

One of Liberman’s ideas that most upset Arabs on either side of the green line was his suggestion that a future peace deal will see a swapping of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria for Israeli Arab towns in the Arab triangle in central Israel. MK Ayman Odeh, Chairman of the Joint Arab List, told Israeli Radio Tuesday that Liberman’s suggestion is unacceptable, since the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria are illegal. He did not mention that, despite his well expressed Palestinian patriotism, he and his voters have no intention of substituting life in a third world Palestinian State for their lives in democratic Israel.

The Palestinian Authority for its part applied pressure on Al Quds not to run the Liberman interview, according to Arab media sources, accusing the paper of becoming a propaganda lap dog for the enemy. Abu Hadir rejected the insults, saying he submitted fifteen tough questions to Liberman and did his job well, as he has been doing for 30 years, during which he interviewed many Israeli leaders, including Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

Hamas rejected Liberman’s offer to help construct a Gaza harbor and airport depending on the organization’s putting an end to tunnel building, weapons smuggling and rocket shooting. Hazem Kassem, a spokesman for Hamas in Gaza, said the Palestinian people are entitled to having a harbor and an airport without being blackmailed. “A people under occupation have the right to possess means of power, including military ones, so as to be able to defend themselves against continuous Israeli assaults,” Qasim said, adding that this right was “not debatable.”

In other words, let the final war begin…

JNi.Media

Jerusalem Shooter Was Eastern Jerusalem Resident

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

Police released the identity of the shooter in Sunday morning’s terrorist attack at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem. He is Mesbah Abu Sabih, 39, a resident of Silwan, a mixed neighborhood on the outskirts of the Old City of Jerusalem. Forty Jewish families live in the Silwan, which is majority Arab. During the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, the neighborhood fell under Jordanian occupation.

Sabih was shot and killed by police.

David Israel

10 PA Police Vehicles Storm into Eastern Jerusalem in Pursuit of Suspects

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

Early on Monday morning this week, a convoy of eight PA military vehicles and two vehicles with Israeli plates traveled into eastern Jerusalem, which is under Israeli sovereignty, Israel’s Channel 2 News reported Tuesday night. The convoy included about 50 uniformed PA security personnel, members of Unit 101–the shock troop founded by the late Chairman Yasser Arafat, and the PA Preventive Security.

The convoy’s mission was to detain four PA Arabs suspected of murdering two PA policemen a week ago in the Shechem area. The four suspects were able to evade the local security forces and find shelter in heavily Arab eastern Jerusalem. The PA security force pursued them, weapons drawn, inside Israeli territory.

PA forces entered the Jerusalem municipality’s Arab neighborhoods of Ras Shehadeh, Ras Hamis, and the Shuafat refugee camp. The forces received no approval for their actions, nor did they alert Israeli authorities, or attempt to coordinate the chase.

This highly irregular even took place against the background of the sizzling violence in the PA city of Shechem, where confrontations between an estimated 100 gang members and police have resulted in two policemen shot dead, two wanted men beaten to death by police, and a senior militia leader gone rogue being lynched by police in his jail cell.

According to Arab media reports, many of the militias that sprang into existence during the 2000 second Intifada have become criminal gangs and have been fighting PA police over turf in several cities.

JNi.Media

Municipality Expands Jewish Community in Eastern Jerusalem Despite Faint Leftist Outcry

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

The Jerusalem planning committee on Wednesday approved using a third of an acre of the Jabal Mukkaber neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem to build religious facilities for the Jewish neighborhood of Nof Zion, where about 90 families reside. Nof Zion overlooks the Old City, and the view encourages construction of luxury housing, despite the vicinity of the Arab neighborhood, from which several terror attacks have been launched this year. The Jewish land was purchased in the 1970s.

Councilwoman Laura Wharton (Meretz), speaking to Ha’aretz, said the land is designated for a synagogue and a mikvah (ritual bath).

The Jerusalem municipality released a statement saying, “The area in question is part of the Nof Zion neighborhood, intended for public buildings and a synagogue. The land is located in the center of the neighborhood surrounded by Jewish homes and isn’t [built] at the expense of Jabal Mukkaber. The city is working to find solutions for all its residents and to erect public buildings for the residents of both Nof Zion and Jabal Mukkaber.”

The city has already earmarked about $2.9 million a year ago, for building a mikvah in the Jewish neighborhood of Ma’aleh Zeitim in eastern Jerusalem, near the Arab neighborhood of A-Tur.

Wharton complained that “tens of thousands of Palestinians living near Nof Zion are short of classrooms, kindergartens, public parks, community centers and basic services. The city adds to its sins by advancing construction plans for new residents while failing to permit construction for the Palestinians.” She also suggested that “all Israeli citizens are paying for the expropriation of land for a small number of settlers, who move into Palestinian areas which none of the world recognizes as Israeli territory.”

Councilwoman Laura Wharton’s Meretz party only netted two seats on the Jerusalem City Council, the rest are religious and nationalist members, and not a single member is Arab. The reason is that Jerusalem Arabs habitually boycott the elections, some out of resentment of the Jewish takeover back in 1967, most because they fear retribution. No self-preserving Arab resident of eastern Jerusalem would dare run for the Zionist city council, because, win or lose, his life expectancy would be meager.

According to American analyst Nathan Thrall, in municipal plans 52% of the land in eastern Jerusalem is barred from development, 35% is designated for Jewish neighborhoods, and 13% is for Arab use, roughly comparable to the current ratio of Jewish (64%) and Arab (36%) residents of Jerusalem.

Arabs make up 20.7% of the Israeli population.

Recently, Israel approved hundreds of new homes designated for Jewish and Arab communities in Jerusalem.

JNi.Media

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/municipality-expands-jewish-community-in-eastern-jerusalem-despite-faint-leftist-outcry/2016/08/11/

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