web analytics
October 9, 2015 / 26 Tishri, 5776
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Jewish History’

The Meaning of Freedom

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

It’s an interesting time in Israel now. The Passover holiday is days away. It’s a holiday that I mostly dread because it comes with immeasurable work and only spare moments to enjoy – at least for me and for many women who are still fulfilling the more traditional roles of caring for home and food and such. No matter how much help I get in the house, it seems I am still the planner, the coordinator, the ultimate one responsible for seeing, checking, and often doing what it takes to bring the holiday in.

I have come to dread it – from the start to the end and have yet to learn how to enjoy the more important aspects. There is an amazing rabbi who was asked how long it should take to clean for Passover. I remember more the principle of what he answered than the clear numbers he cited. It was something like a day or two, perhaps three. The person then went and asked his wife how long it takes her to prepare and she answered, three weeks, just like everyone else. Perhaps it was four.

Passover is often lost in the details and it is a shame. The details are cleaning your home – your office, your car, etc. – but sadly, too many turn it into spring cleaning and so you see the neighborhood, in fact the country, alive with those who are painting their apartments, fixing railings outside, buying new furniture and appliances. None of that is really connected to the holiday and yet my windows are dirty from the long winter and I want them cleaned.

Already, my arms are starting to hurt – the deep inside pain I get when I strain them. I’ve carted out garbage, washed cabinets, sorted through drawers and more. This year seems especially tense and stifling. We crave freedom – and yet we are being smothered from the holiday on one end and Obama’s visit on the other. I need to travel to the center later this afternoon – how will Obama’s arrival impact on that? One major highway will be closed for some time – the second, to which traffic will be diverted, is a road that was built to by-pass Arab villages and protect Israelis as they drive to Jerusalem. It is called Route 443. People have been murdered on that road – shot at point blank range. Regularly there are stoning attacks. The army promises to put more surveillance on the road, more jeeps and soldiers.

I travel that road regularly – often out of the Israeli principle of dafka. Dafka is an amazing Israeli word that defies translation. I learned it decades ago, long before I lived here. I remember way back in college, freshman English course at Barnard College. We were having an intellectual discussion and I disagreed with the previous person. It was a free-flowing, open conversation among the entire class, with the teacher (the only male in the room) looking on proudly.

“Dafka the opposite,” I said and began to explain. A few, very few, looked confused and so the Jewish professor smiled and said, “explain ‘dafka’, Paula.”

I tried..Dafka means…on purpose…dafka means…intentionally so….deliberately so…but it has a twinge of insolence, resistance. If you tell a child to stand over there, they will dafka sit down. Defiance, pride, intention. I can’t explain dafka but it is the dafka principle that has me driving on 443, even when they throw stones there. I will not let them keep me from my country.

So Obama will come to Israel today and Israelis will be diverted to a road on which there are often more stoning attacks and likely there will be more because the Arabs too want to deliver a message to Obama. I doubt Obama will know that yesterday in Ramallah, they were driving cars over pictures of his face, burning American flags, and painting big red X’s over his nose.

Meanwhile, Obama seems to be the only one truly free here. He has freely chosen to insult Israel by deciding that students from one university will not be invited to his meeting with university students. Ariel University is located over what Obama calls the “green line” – how convenient it is for him to ignore the fact that Ariel, like  ALL universities in Israel, admit hundreds, even thousands of Arab students and provide them with access to educational degrees widely honored and respected. The last I heard, three of Israel’s five universities are in the top 100 in the world. This is the education we make available to Jew and Arab alike – but Obama will insult us be showing his selective prejudice.

Searching for the Past at Tel Shiloh

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

I was thinking about writing about Israel’s possible new coalition government, what I think of PM Binyamin Netanyahu and the chutzpadik new political power Yair Lapid, but Arlene Kushner says it so well that I suggest you read her article aptly titled Outrage.

Here in the Holy Land, there’s one month in the Jewish Calendar that typifies “spring” as the poets would describe it, and that’s the month of Nissan, miracles and the holiday of Passover, Pesach.  As has been my practice for quite a few years, I go to pray at Shiloh HaKeduma, Tel Shiloh, the site where the Biblical Mishkan,Tabernacle rested/was located for 369 years after the Exodus from Egypt, from the time of Joshua until the death of Eli the High Priest.  For almost four centuries, Shiloh was the religious and administrative Capital of the Jewish People/Nation.



Recently, archaeologists have been back to Tel Shiloh looking for ancient treasures and secrets to show what life had been like in Biblical times when Jewish pilgrims came to Shiloh to pray.




Visit Shiloh Musings.

The German Women Who Stood Up to the Nazis

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

This year marks the seventieth anniversary of a remarkable public protest by ordinary German women against the Nazi regime.

From February 27 to March 6, 1943, a group of unorganized German women went into the streets of downtown Berlin, within a few city blocks of the most feared centers of Nazi power, to protest for the release of their Jewish husbands, who had just been arrested by the Gestapo. Daily giving voice to their collective demand – “give us our husbands back” – first softly, then with increasing urgency, they succeeded in achieving their goal.

For these German women, the brutal Nazi state had lost all legitimacy. Like very few others, they were willing to express this publicly, on the streets, for all to see. For decades, their story was largely absent from histories of Nazi Germany. Their story challenges the comforting, generally accepted narrative that opposition was honorable but always futile. This year’s anniversary is an opportunity to focus deserved attention on these women’s brave action – and its implications for resistance more broadly.

On February 27, 1943, as part of the Nazi plan to remove the last remaining Jews from German soil, the Gestapo arrested some 2,000 Berlin Jews who had not yet been deported because they were married to non-Jews. In response, hundreds of women – wives of those arrested – pushed their way onto the street in front of Rosenstrasse 2-4, an office of the Jewish community where these arrested Jews were being held, and began to protest.

SS men as well as policemen guarded the single entrance. Over the course of the following week the Gestapo repeatedly threatened to shoot the protesters in the street, causing them to scatter briefly before resuming their collective cry of “give us our husbands back.”

Decades later, I interviewed one of these women, Elsa Holzer, who remembered arriving on the street in search of her husband. “I thought,” she said, “I would be alone there the first time I went to the Rosenstrasse…. I didn’t necessarily think it would do any good, but I had to go see what was going on…. If you had to calculate whether you would do any good by protesting, you wouldn’t have gone. But we wanted to show that we weren’t willing to let them [our husbands] go. I went to Rosenstrasse every day, before work. And there was always a flood of people there. It wasn’t organized, or instigated. Everyone was simply there. Exactly like me. That’s what is so wonderful about it.”

During the same week of this protest, some 7,000 of the last Jews in Berlin were sent to Auschwitz. On Rosenstrasse, however, the regime hesitated; almost all of those held there were released on March 6. Even intermarried Jews who had also been sent to Auschwitz and put in work camps were returned to Germany.

Surprising as it might seem, these events on closer examination fit with the treacherous strategies of the Nazi regime for domestic control. The Rosenstrasse protest occurred as many Germans were tempted to doubt Hitler’s leadership following Germany’s debacle in the Battle of Stalingrad. As he elaborated in Mein Kampf, Hitler believed that popular support comprised the primary pillar of his authority among the German “racial” people, and his dictatorship throughout strove to maintain this basis of his power. To end this protest, the regime released the intermarried Jews, furthering, for that moment, Hitler’s goal of quelling any appearance of dissention.

The murderous Nazi regime also appeased other public protests. On October 11, 1943, on Adolf Hitler Square in the city of Witten, some three hundred women protested against the official decision to withhold their food ration cards until they evacuated their homes as part of Nazi policy to protect civilians from bombing raids. The following day Germans in Lünen, Hamm and Bochum also protested on the streets for the same reason.

In response, Hitler ordered all regional authorities not to withhold ration cards as a method of forcing civilians to evacuate their homes. This was followed by further orders by Nazi officials to refrain from “coercive measures” against evacuees who had returned. In his cold calculations, Hitler chose not to draw further attention to public protest, judging it the best way to protect his authority – and the appearance, promoted by his propaganda machine, that all Germans stood united behind him.

The Book of Esther: A Political Analysis

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

The Book of Esther, which is read on Purim and to which that holiday is dedicated, has been interpreted many ways. Yet there is much to be understood by analyzing the story in terms of political ideology and strategy.

Ahasuerus is the powerful king over Persia and much more. He holds a banquet and invites the leaders of all of the provinces to come in order to wield together his diverse empire by showing his wealth, strength, generosity, and bringing together his political elite in terms of fellowship and equality with each other.

While drunk, he orders Queen Vashti to come to the banquet to display herself. She refuses, for unspecified reasons, and his advisors urge him to depose her and select a new queen. A young Jewish woman, Esther, is among the candidates. Urged by her uncle Mordechai, she conceals her religiosity-ethnicity, enters the competition, and eventually wins.

At this point, the story introduces a new theme. The king makes Haman prime minister. Mordechai, for unspecified reasons, refuses to bow to him. On discovering Mordechai is a Jew, Haman resolves to destroy all the Jews in the empire.

The story provides a sophisticated analysis of antisemitism:

First, Haman’s antagonism toward all Jews springs from a personal and psychological conflict. This has often been true in history including today.

Second, that conflict is then dressed up in political language to justify it to the ruling authority and the masses.

Third, Haman provides the classic, statement of non-theological antisemitism that could easily fit into the nineteenth and twentieth century and even today, mirroring the kinds of things hinted for example by nominee for secretary of defense Chuck Hagel. Haman explained:

“There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples…of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s law, and it is not in your majesty’s interest to tolerate them.” In other words, the Jews comprise what would later be called a separate national group. It is impossible to assimilate them; they are disloyal due to dual loyalty; and despite their apparent weakness they plot against you.

I’m sure that Hagel is not antisemitic in any conscious way yet he echoes the same themes that Haman used. Haman might have said that he was not a “Jewish” minister but a “Persian” minister, who would not bow down to the Jewish lobby whose interests subverted those of the nation.

A contemporary problem in understanding antisemitism today is that hegemonic political, intellectual, and informational forces in the West want to measure antisemitism by conscious intent and not by the use of well-worn historical (these are even in the Bible!) themes, though that is precisely the criterion that they do use in examining just about any other sort of bigotry. They also begin by excluding all non-Western populations from possibly being antisemitic. But Haman was residing in a non-Western society.

Fourth, antagonism against the Jews camouflages a desire to loot their wealth, in other words material gain.

The king agrees—after all, his most trusted courtier has just told him it’s a kill or be killed situation—and issues the decree for genocide.

In contradiction to these claims of Haman is Mordechai’s good citizenship. This would later become a major theme of Jewish assimilation—I don’t use the latter word in a pejorative sense here—that Jews must prove they are the best, most loyal citizens. Mordechai saves the king by uncovering a real plot against him. By his example, Mordechai shows Jews are not subversives and disloyal.Yet Mordechai’s good behavior is useless if the king doesn’t know about it. Suppose mass media existed and hadn’t covered Mordechai’s behavior but reported on all of Haman’s speeches?

Especially remarkable is the behavior of Esther. Warned of Haman’s plan, Esther wants to do nothing lest she place herself at risk. After all, she is a fully “assimilated,” even hidden, Jew. But Mordechai reminds her: Do not imagine that you will escape because of your high position.

It’s easy to suggest that this can be compared to the Nazi desire to kill all Jews on a “racial” basis. But there are many types of such situations. What’s especially interesting is that Esther’s situation shows how individual Jews can try to set themselves apart to be immune or even prosper from persecutions: converted Jews against steadfast ones in medieval times; Modernized, semi-assimilated Jews against traditionalist immigrants in America and Western Europe; and anti-Israel Jews against pro-Israel ones and Israel itself today.

Purim of Yesteryear: Celebrations in TLV 1932-34 (Video)

Monday, February 25th, 2013

The “Adloyada” Celebrations in Tel Aviv in 1932-34.

Particularly interesting are the floats mocking the Nazis, complete with giant swastikas, and warning of the impending disaster in Europe.

Happy Shushan Purim!

Visit The Muqata.

Why Don’t We Celebrate Two Days of Purim in Jerusalem?

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

While the rest of Israel celebrates Purim this Sunday (the 14th of Adar), Jerusalem celebrates on Monday (the 15th of Adar).


Well, the easy answer is “because Jerusalem is a walled city from the time of Joshua.”

Which is partially right.  Jerusalem was a walled city in the time of Joshua, but the walls we see today were built in the 1500s, in the Ottoman Era.  From the early 13th century and until the mid-16th century, Jerusalem was not a walled city at all.  And indeed, it was unclear to the Jews of that time when they should celebrate Purim.

Rabbi Eshtori Ha-Parchi of the 14th century tells us that when he came to Israel, he was told that in Jerusalem they celebrated on both the 14th and 15th of Adar, as they were uncertain which one they were obligated to keep.  Rabbi Eshtori brings an entire Halachic discussion about what should be done, and adds that he wrote his rabbi, Rabbi Matityah in Bet-Shean, to ask him what he should do.

Rabbi Matityah wrote him back: If I would be in Jerusalem on the 14th of Adar, and they would read the Megillah, I would leave the synagogue.  Otherwise they could say about me “The fool walketh in darkness” (Ecclesiastes 2, 14).  And the same is true for Tiberias.

Rabbi Eshtori finished by saying that Rabbi Matityah is right.

We don’t know what changed the minds of the Jews of Jerusalem, but today there is no doubt – and we celebrate Purim in Jerusalem on the 15th of Adar.

Visit the Muqata.

Purim and the Right to Bear Arms

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

On February 8, Rabbi Dovid Bendory spoke at the New Jersey statehouse about the right to bear arms. The Rabbinic Director of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, Rabbi Bendory stated with reference to chapter 22 of Sefer Shemot:

God has given us the right to self-defense. We have not only a God-given right to defend ourselves and to protect our families; but we have a God -commanded responsibility to do so.

Soon we will celebrate Purim. Last year I interviewed Rabbi Bendory about these themes in relation to the festival. He observed:

Purim is a story in gun control and its impact on a nation. It’s because of the gun control of Achashverosh’s reign that the Jews had no right to defend themselves, that they were so vulnerable to being wiped out by the decree of one lunatic. The government has taken away from the people the God-given right to self-defense. So Achashverosh magnanimously grants them that right back—you  can now defend yourselves against the people who attack you—and the result is of course the celebration of Purim.

Rabbi Bendory further noted regarding Shmuel I 13:19, that

The first historically recorded incident of gun control—and when I use the term gun control, of course in this context it means weapons control—the  first historic use of gun control was against the Jews. Today in Israel, these lessons are more urgent than ever.

Four Jews who will not celebrate Purim this year are Yitzhak Ames, Talia Ames, Kochava Even-Haim, and Avishai Schindler. On August 31, 2010, Hamas murdered them on Route 60 near Kiryat Arba. (May the Almighty avenge their blood).

The government had disarmed Yitzhak before the massacre because of he and his wife’s activism in defense of Gush Katif. A family friend stated, “There are four bodies today because the government, instead of fighting terrorism, is fighting citizens. They put settlers in situations where their hands are tied.”

As the civil rights organization Honenu noted in a report last November on the government’s broader disarmament of citizens, “If Ames’s weapon had been in his possession, perhaps the incident would have ended differently.”

The grandson of the owner of the Lahav gun store in Tel Aviv similarly remarked in December on Israel’s repressive gun policies:

The problem is that the law makes it very difficult for the good people to get guns. The number of legal guns in recent years has gone to around 170,000, but there are a half a million illegal guns floating around the Arab sector, no one knows how many.

On illegal guns in the Arab sector, Dr. Guy Bechor of the Interdisciplinary Studies Center in Herzliya wrote in November concerning the terror attack on a bus in Tel Aviv:

Arab villages in Israel are flooded with illegal aliens—and the weapons they bring along. The Israel Police are well aware of this problem and of its extent, but for some reason are doing almost nothing to stop it. This is understandable.

After all, police apparently have more urgent priorities like raiding a beit midrash and beating people therein.

The Israeli government and it seems much of the citizenry have learned neither from Tanach nor history. The American jurist St. George Tucker had more wisdom and sense of survival than many Jews today when he wrote in 1803: “Wherever…the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/guest-blog/purim-and-the-right-to-bear-arms/2013/02/24/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: