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December 9, 2016 / 9 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Jewish.’

ADL, Families, Rebuke Jewish Teens for Decorating Birthday Cupcake with Swastika

Monday, November 28th, 2016

Guests at a Jewish teen’s birthday party in Paradise Valley, Arizona, on Nov. 20, decorated their cupcakes with swastikas. Images of the Nazi influenced topping have been infesting social media after the teen’s mother posted her account of the event on her Facebook page (she has removed the post since).

The mother wrote she was hoping her own shocking revelation it would be used as a teaching moment for parents. The girls told the mother they created the Nazi cupcakes because they wanted to “be funny,” after having attended a Holocaust class before the party.

Holocaust jokes are widely considered to be a defense mechanism. In fact, in 2014, Yad Vashem published in book form (It Kept Us Alive: Humor in the Holocaust) the Ph.D. thesis by Tel Aviv University philosophy major Chaya Ostrower titled, “Humor as a defense mechanism in the Holocaust.” Ostrower interviewed 84 Holocaust survivors, finding that Jewish death camp inmates told Holocaust jokes as “Defense Mechanism, including its sub types – Self-humor and Gallows humor.”

But the mother was not amused by the girls’ creative coping mechanism exercised under her roof. Neither was Carlos Galindo-Elvira, Director of the Arizona Anti-Defamation League, who told local TV station 12News that “when you joke with symbols like the swastika you begin to normalize them and make it very casual within our society.”

In a later post, this one still online while his story is being filed, the mother wrote: “I know many people are asking what happened after yesterday, so I hope this will suffice. I received wonderful feedback from each and every parent of the girls at the party fully underscoring that each family spoke at length with their daughters about the severity of the issue. My daughter spoke again with her friend who apologized profusely and told her she thought it was just “being funny” but understands that her actions weren’t humorous in the slightest.”

The mother added that she “spoke with the school and they will be reaching out to all the teachers to relay to their students that hateful speech/actions/insignias will not be tolerated or condoned. Opening this hurtful incident up to others to provide a teaching moment will hopefully stop others from promoting ideas of hate is all I ever wanted. Happy early Thanksgiving to you and yours.”

Finally, here’s a sample of Jewish gallows humor from Ostrower’s book:

Moshe and Chaim are being taken to be shot. The Executioner asks them, “Do you have a final wish?” to which Chaim answers, “No!” But Moshe says: “I can’t face the firing squad, please give me a blindfold.”

So Chaim turns to Moshe and says: “What are you making trouble for?”


President Donald Trump: A Jewish Perspective

Monday, November 28th, 2016

For the record, I am ecstatic that President Elect Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, that corrupt power-crazed chameleon who wears as many duplicitous faces as she does ill-fitting pant-suits. It was heart-breaking to see American society erode under Obama for eight grueling years, as he rammed legalized gay marriage upon an unwilling populace, and continued with his ever-pressing “rainbow” crusade to allow transsexuals into the ladies’ room-or men’s room. In her quest for power, the unprincipled Hillary would have surely pandered to every degeneracy, and the American Republic would have turned into Sodom. It is good to see the downfall of arrogant and corrupt people.

I confess that it is more than good. It is a JOY to see deranged liberals losing their minds over the results of a lawful election. Furthermore, the media was shamed and exposed for their biases, as Hillary’s litany of crimes were exposed. As so many others out there, I was sick of reading about Clinton’s negligent behavior as Secretary of State which cost American lives, the criminal enterprises of the “Clinton Foundation”, and a slew of other scandals. Throw in her general vindictiveness and the fact that Hillary Clinton is an enemy of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, and one needn’t wonder why it was a pleasure to see the American public flex their collective might and say NO MORE to this menace. For a further look at Hillary Clinton, check out my article, “President Hillary Clinton: Definition of a Nightmare”. )

Trump’s victory offers America a legitimate opportunity to right a sinking ship, and turn back the clock on Obama’s eight-year program of Bolshevism. If nothing else, Trump’s victory means that Hillary Clinton isn’t president, which means that Islam won’t triple its numbers and continue to grow as a fifth column. Nevertheless, it is not a mere example of addition by subtraction. With his genuine talents, and patented brand of chutzpah, I believe that Donald Trump can accomplish great things for America.

But I am less ecstatic by the extremes of Jewish expression on both ends of the spectrum, which as I see it, have no place in a Torah perspective. On the one hand, we have the cookie-cutter Jewish liberals worldwide, who have swallowed the leftist Kool-Aid and deem Donald Trump and his associates as Jew haters, bigots, etc. In the absence of any evidence they readily resort to the standard slurs of the left: vitriol and defamation. The Bnai Brith’s Anti-Defamation League comes to mind, with their recent witch-hunt against Steve Bannon, which they have since had to backtrack on. The ADL is blind to Obama’s anti-Semitism and his dark associations both past and present, but they saw fit to slander a man who supports Israel and exposes Islamic barbarism.

Those who were once accused of drinking blood (and still are in the Arab countries), would well remember the sin of false accusations. No honest individual denies that there are numerous white racists in the United states, but I would venture to say that they are fewer in number than the black Ku Klux Klan of the BLM movement, which has a wider base of support from the lib populace, media, academia and politicians, than any white racist ever could. The ADL should give equal attention to black supremacy. Naturally, if they did so they would be something else, and not an impotent arm of the equally clueless liberal Bnai Brith.

As we have seen all too often, liberalism is a world-wide pandemic, and the infected rarely recover. Look at the maniacs screeching over President Elect Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton. Bedlam unleashed in the streets. “Safe zones” on college campuses for the intellectually limited who want to curl up in a fetal position because Hillary didn’t win. People who equate law and order with racism. And these are the non-violent ones. The savages who resort to violence represent the darker side of this story, the veritable lynch mobs attacking people for voting Trump.

The Jewish liberal will always contribute to this infection, since in the absence of Torah, one will invariably worship some version of Baal. Today’s paganism is liberal thought, so contrary to the notion of free will and the intellect. As far as the elections go, even if one doesn’t like Trump, he is better than the corrupt Hillary. One may find Trump coarse and brazen, but what of the Clintonian perversions which are so apparent?

The charges of racism from the liberal federations, the Bnai Brith’s Anti-Defamation League, and the self-loathing American Jewish rags is as predictable as the morning sun. They tar innocent people while tolerating genuine anti-Semites who comprise the inner circle of Obama and of Hillary. Blood libels are the lefts tool. And when a Jew hurls a blood libel against Jew or gentile, it is an ironic perversity.

The Left are supremely intolerant of dissent. In response to an alternative viewpoint, they hurl invective. We see this all the time in Israel, most recently, when Zionist Union Opposition leader, Isaac Herzog referred to “settlers” as viruses. If a politician or pundit on the right used such inflammatory language, the Shabak would pay him a night-time visit. The eternal double standard.

Viruses? This is the language a contemporary Israeli leftist politician uses to describe so many noble Jews who choose to live in the liberated areas of our biblical Homeland to strengthen Jewish sovereignty. The demonization and subsequent dehumanization of fellow Jews who act as a buffer from the terrorists in our heartland is a vulgarity that will go unpunished since Herzog is a leader of the elitist untouchable Left. As an aside, it should be noted that the only virus in this situation is one who would use the term to tar other Jews for the crime  of living in their own land.

The demonization of Donald Trump and his advisors by Jews is a grotesque mischaracterization, and yet it is to be expected, since Jewish liberals mirror their non-Jewish counterparts. All too often, liberal Jews choose misguided universalism to assuage guilt and self-loathing. But the repercussions of such a distorted viewpoint are exposed on a grand stage when Jewish groups make public pronouncements which have no basis in truth.

The Folly of the Right

As a religious Jew living in Israel, I have no expectations of any President when it comes to Israel. After all, when Israeli PM’s speak of “peace talks” and peace partners, what can one expect of any president, even a decent man?

The reaction of many right-wing Jews in America and abroad is equally unJewish. The distorted and silly association of Trump as a messiah of sorts. For some this takes the form of misguided expectations and a delusional desire to read prophetic import into his election. This is the path of the guru and the self-styled mystic. For others, they seek out supposed proofs to show that Trump’s ascension has some cosmic implications.

Both extremes are foreign to Jewish thought. The desire to demonize Trump, and the desire to deify him. Nuance and context. From a Jewish perspective, Donald Trump is infinitely better than the nightmarish alternative. But less us not make more of it than we should. He will be much better for America. His mandate includes a promise to secure the border, fix the US economy, and deal with Muslim terror. While we certainly don’t know G-d’s ways on this matter, surely caution and discretion when making broad predictions is not the Torah way.

The ADL represents one extreme, and they are a caricature of sorts. One expects of them what one expects from Haaretz. An unJewish anti-Torah perspective which mimics western liberalism. But the religious Jew and the proud self-identifying Jew must guard himself. Donald Trump is surely no devil and we should excoriate those leftist Jews who desire to paint him as such. But we should refrain from the irrational messianic inclinations, particularly in relation to Israel’s destiny to see salvation in his presidency. Unlike America, our destiny is spelled out in the Shema. And if we follow the formula, neither the current occupant in the White House nor the future one have any impact on what happens in Eretz Yisroel. They have democracy. We have Divine Intervention.

The left and the right: both groups are clueless, because both have a distorted framework. The former has relativism as their moral compass and so we shouldn’t wonder why the ethics of Sodom express themselves. But the religious Jew who shirks responsible analysis and resorts to populist pandering is also a tragedy. It’s all over Facebook. Good Jews reading into Trump and portraying him as something he is not. He is not the Messiah. From Israel’s perspective, we should expect disappointment from every president, since the perspective of even the most righteous of men, will invariably be different from the ideal image of an authentically Jewish State of Israel.

I wish all the best to President Elect Donald Trump, with the hope that he follows the moral path, directs America onto a path of decency and strength, treats Israel with respect and respects our sovereignty, and thus merits the eternal promise of Abraham. These are reasonable things to hope for. But we should not assume that our lofty expectations will be met.

In the meantime, there is merit in celebrating Hillary Clinton’s defeat. The occasion is certainly worthy of making a l’chaim or two with quality schnapps. In the absence of gallows for Hillary’s documented treason, which the Founding Fathers would have surely deemed appropriate, here’s to the hope that she will soon be fitted with shackles.

Donny Fuchs

Jewish Communities Enlist in Supporting Israel through the Blazes

Sunday, November 27th, 2016

Jewish communities around the world, most notably in north America, have been engaged in emergency fundraising to help rehabilitate the numerous areas in Israel that have been damaged or destroyed in the fires of the past six days. So far, security forces have noted more than 600 fires, some of which were suspicious, from up north in Galilee all the way down to Negev communities.

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) has launched a Thanksgiving themed fundraiser: “On this Thanksgiving Eve we ask you to turn your attention to homes and forests that are in immediate danger across Israel. A series of wildfires are raging across Northern and Central Israel. Many homes have already been destroyed, families displaced, and more residents are being evacuated. Israel’s firefighting capacity is being stressed to its limits.”

“In light of this emergency situation we are beginning the Giving Tuesday match ahead of time,” the JNF declared, stating: “All donations toward this effort will be matched dollar for dollar. Donate now.”

The UJA Federation of New York has launched its own Israel Fire Relief Fund. The fundraising page states: “Many community institutions that provide vital programs and services—including those of our partners—have been hit hard. They will be struggling to rebuild just when they are needed most. The impact on Israelis will be long-lasting and your help is urgently needed.”

The Israeli-American Council (IAC), whose mission is to “build an engaged and united Israeli-American community that strengthens the Israeli and Jewish identity of our next generations,” has been running a busy Support the Firefighters campaign.

“Tens of thousands have been evacuated, many have been hospitalized, and countless homes and trees have been destroyed. Hundreds of thousands more are now threatened, as the fires continue to spread,” the IAC tells its followers, adding: “At this critical moment, we must unite to lend a hand to our brothers and sisters in Israel. All contributions made to the IAC over the next 72 hours will go directly to support the firefighters working around the clock to save lives and property.”

A group called Israel’s voice has launched a project called Life After Terror, telling its followers it’s “time to show we care. Israel needs you. We saw hospitals, synagogues, Yeshivas, schools, kindergartens, and our land burning. We saw devastation and frustration but also we felt unity and hope.”

Their response is as unique as it is original: “We organized a successful and humble campaign and we were able to deliver hundreds of pizzas to firefighters, security forces, and volunteers who non-stop have been working to control the fires.”

Next, the group plans “to take a second step. Our team will continue going to multiple locations, specially to Haifa which was the most affected city, in order to see what else is needed in order to rebuild. We need your help in order to continue with our mission.”


Jewish Students: Cover-Up of Anti-Semitism at Cambridge

Sunday, November 27th, 2016

Three Jewish students who were the targets of anti-Semitic abuse by a Cambridge University drinking society are accusing the university of a cover-up, The Telegraph reported Sunday. The students were attacked by a mob in a Christ’s College campus building in late October.

Shlomo Roiter-Jesner, 25, one of the victims, told The Telegraph: “It was a closed party so we walked out but as we did so these individuals started getting more physical and more vocal and they noticed our kippot. All of a sudden they were shouting: ‘Jew, get [expletive] out of here.’ We tried to leave but they were yelling at us.”

Another Jewish student sent an email to Professor Jane Stapleton, master of Christ’s College, stating: “We heard shouting and were literally grabbed and pulled out of the building by about seven large, intimidating males. We, and other bystanders, heard a number of vicious anti-Semitic slurs including ‘[expletive] Jew, you don’t belong here’, ‘dirty Jew’ and to myself, ‘[expletive] off, darkie.’ They then proceeded to try and choke my friend with his scarf, leaving him gasping for oxygen, and to push me and the third friend around, despite our attempts to de-escalate the situation. They eventually went back in after threatening to ‘smash our faces in.’”

Even though Prof Stapleton assured the student in a response email that “Christ’s would regard any conduct of the type that you report as wholly unacceptable, deplorable and worthy of appropriate disciplinary action,” all she finally reported in the end, on November 18, was: “The internal disciplinary process of the tutors is now concluded and two students have been disciplined. Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention,”

Not very satisfactory at all. “The college has not confronted the issue at all,” Roiter-Jesner told The Telegraph, “They have brushed it under the carpet.”


Jewish Students Accuse Cambridge of Brushing Anti-Semitic Attack Under the Carpet

Sunday, November 27th, 2016

Three Jewish students at Cambridge University walked into the school’s Graduate Union building, to find it was full of members from the sports societies from Christ’s College, who had rented out the bar area, according to a report in The Telegraph.

After walking in, the three Jewish men saw it was a closed party and tried to walk out, but were accosted by the mob, who, after noticing their Kippot, began cursing and violently beating them.

At least seven people took part in the beating.

Shlomo Roiter-Jesner described to The Telegraph what was yelled at them,

“We, and other bystanders, heard a number of vicious anti-Semitic slurs including ‘f—— Jew, you don’t belong here’, ‘dirty Jew’ and to myself, ‘f— off, darkie’.

The college reports that two students were disciplined though the two denied initiating the violence or using anti-Semitic language, only foul language.

There was an audio-less CCTV recording of the attack.

The Jewish students are accusing the college of covering up the attack and failing to investigate it properly.

Professor Jane Stapleton, master of Christ’s College, told the Telegraph, “I reject categorically that Christ’s has engaged in a cover-up on this matter.”

Jewish Press News Briefs

When Jewish Boxers Were Symbolic Warriors Against Anti-Semitism

Sunday, November 27th, 2016

Many people have asked me why I chose to write the book Max Baer and Barney Ross: Jewish Heroes of Boxing, which was just published by Rowman & Littlefield.

It’s a good question. Most people, Jews and non-Jews, have no idea that from 1910 to 1941 there were 628 professional Jewish boxers in the United States. Many of them, including Barney Ross, were raised in Orthodox homes. Ross and more than a dozen others were world champion titleholders. And Ross was one of the best, for he was the first boxer to hold three championship titles at one time.

When I was twelve years old, my father was worried that bigger boys in the public school I attended might pick on me, a short and skinny kid. One day he brought home a pair of boxing gloves, a speed bag, a heavy bag, and a jump rope. He taught me the elements of boxing, and I learned that my father had been an amateur boxer in his late teens. He had grown up in a German immigrant neighborhood in Queens, New York, and there was pervasive anti-Semitism in that community. He often got into fistfights with anti-Semites.

He told me about his good friend Abe Simon, who played football for John Adams High School. Abe, by the time he was a junior in high school, was 6’4” and all muscle. One day, at a Jewish social club in Queens that Abe and my father belonged to, they were confronted by four teenage members of the German-American Bund, a pro-Nazi group with members throughout the United States. They were taunting members of the club, shouting threats and anti-Semitic slurs. Abe knocked two of the boys unconscious, each with a single blow. A third boy, a little tougher than the first two, received a right to the chin, a left to the stomach, and another right to his chin. He slumped to the ground. The fourth boy took off running, shouting that a Jewish thug was on the loose.

One day while playing football during his senior year in high school, Abe was observed by a pair of boxing promoters sitting in the stands. Following the game, they caught up with him in the school’s locker room. They asked him if he would like to become a professional boxer. They told him he could earn a lot of money and be a symbol of strength for the Jewish community. Since he was the son of poor immigrants, he was intrigued by the opportunity to make a great deal of money. He talked it over with his parents, and his mother urged him to accept.

Abe was put in the hands of one of boxing’s great trainers, Freddie Brown, and he learned all the tricks and techniques of the sport. He fought with a Star of David on his trunks and went on to have a successful career. He knocked out a superb heavyweight, named Jersey Joe Walcott, thus becoming a contender for the heavyweight crown. (Jersey Joe, by the way, did succeed later and became the heavyweight champion). But when Abe knocked him out and became a contender, the champ was one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, and nearly unbeatable: Joe Louis. Abe fought him twice, losing by a technical knockout each time. After his last fight with Louis, Abe had a brief career as a movie actor.

I was deeply influenced by Abe’s story and agreed with my father that I should learn to box. After my father taught me the basics of boxing, he signed me up for ten boxing lessons at Stillman’s Gym, the most famous boxing gym in the United States from the 1920s to the late 1950s.sussman-112516-maxbaerbarneyross

We arrived at Stillman’s, located at 919 Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, early one afternoon and went up a flight of stairs. There was Mr. Stillman sitting at a desk near the door. He had a big, ugly cigar stuffed into his face that smelled like rotten cabbage. Hair billowed out from the sides of his head.

My father handed over several bills, and Mr. Stillman called over a young middleweight, a good-looking Italian kid with dark, curly hair.

“I’m Nick. Follow me kid,” he said.

Nick took me to a locker, where I changed. I was then led to a heavy bag. Nick had me stuff my fists into a pair of large boxing gloves, then tightly tied them in place. He taught me to jab with my left, punch straight out with my right, and deliver an effective right cross. I also learned to duck, to feint, to swing a left to the body and a right to the jaw. I learned how to protect my head and to look for openings. I learned how to create openings. Nick had me shadow boxing and skipping rope. He wouldn’t let me get into one of the rings. “You’re too young,” Nick said. “You’ll get killed.”

When I told this story to boxing writer Peter Wood, an English teacher who had been a Golden Gloves boxer, he suggested I begin writing about boxing for a website, www.boxing.com. After writing for the site for several months, I decided I would study the role played by Jewish boxers in the 1930s, when anti-Semitism was rife in the United States. I researched the life and career of Barney Ross, who had fought his way out of poverty, eventually rescuing his siblings from foster care after his father had been murdered by a pair of hold-up men.

I was fascinated. Ross had three bouts with a boxer named Jimmy McLarnin who was known as a “Jew killer” for all the Jewish boxers he had defeated. Ross won the first, lost the second, and won the third. He became a hero to Jews across America. I decided to write about Max Baer in addition to Ross because he had fought and defeated Max Schmeling, Hitler’s favorite athlete.

Baer’s fight was so important that more than 30,000 Jews, during the height of the Great Depression, paid to see it. My father was one of them and told me all about it. His story and my research into the lives and careers of Baer and Ross ignited my imagination, and I decided to write a book about just how important Jewish boxers were as symbols of courage and defiance in age rife with anti-Semitism. It is the only book I’m aware of that deals with the subject of Jews as symbolic gladiators against the anti-Semitism that was infecting Europe and many parts of the U.S. as well.

Jeffrey Sussman

Jewish Geography, Part I: Through The Mists Of Time

Friday, November 25th, 2016

Before “Jewish Geography” was a game played at simchas and other social gatherings, there were intrepid Jewish travelers who set out to explore the world. Sometimes they were in search of new markets for commerce, sometimes they were in search for glory – and sometimes they were seeking their long-lost brethren, descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes. In this four-part series, we’ll follow some of these adventurers.


Mystery Merchants

The Roman Empire was a dim memory. The gulf between Christian Europe and the Muslim world was growing wider every year. But wealthy people will always have a yen for exotic, luxurious things – rare spices and perfumes, soft silks and furs – and pay a good price to get them. Therefore, a group of Jewish merchants seized the opportunity and created a trade network that stretched from Spain in the west to China in the east, and from the northern kingdom of the Khazars to the southern lands of Arabia, India and Ceylon.

They were called the Rhadhanites in a document penned by ibn Khordadbeh, a 9th century postmaster and spymaster for the Caliph in Baghdad. Not much is known about them, besides their trade routes and the fact that they were multilingual. For instance, was the word “Rhadhanite” a general term for Jewish merchants, or did it refer to a specific family or clan? Were these Jewish merchants from the area around Baghdad, or did they originate near the Rhone River, the end point of their various trade routes? Historians have studied ancient documents, languages and maps to solve the puzzle, but so far the Rhadhanites have kept their secrets.

astaire-112516-drawingWhile no one doubts their role in bringing brocades, furs and swords to the Orient, and carrying back musk, aloes and cinnamon to Europe, other claims remain in the realm of conjecture. Was it the Jewish Rhadhanites who brought the Chinese art of papermaking to the Western world and not the Arabs? It’s possible, although it’s also possible that both Jewish and Muslim traders were involved. What about those Hindu-Arabic numerals that replaced Roman numerals in Europe? According to Avraham ibn Daud, a 12th-century Jewish astronomer and historian from Spain, it was Joseph of Spain who brought the simpler 10-digit system of counting from India. But who, exactly, was this Joseph of Spain? We know he was a merchant during the Rhadhanite era, but whether or not he was a Rhadhanite – there were other traders abroad – and whether or not he was the Joseph of Spain who authored several medieval mathematical treatises, which would explain his interest in numbers, is not known.

For the Rhadhanite trade network to work, the merchants needed a relatively stable world order, one that would allow them to move freely across borders and cultures. That stability was shaken in the 10th century by the fall of China’s Tang Dynasty and the destruction of the Khazar Empire. The rise of mercantile Italian city-states such as Venice and Genoa also led to the Rhadhanites’ demise. But for a 500-year period that lasted from approximately 500-1000, the Rhadhanites played an important role in the continuation of international trade, and they may have been a conduit for the flow of new ideas and inventions as well.


The Elephant in the Room

While the Rhadhanite traders usually liked to buy and sell luxury items that could be easily transported, Isaac the Jew, an emissary of the Frankish King Charlemagne, had the task of transporting an unwieldy elephant from Baghdad to Northern Europe. By all accounts, it wasn’t easy.

The incident is recorded in the Royal Frankish Annals, which cover the years 741-829 and are an important source for Charlemagne’s reign. Charlemagne, like other rulers before and after him, invited Jewish merchants to settle in his mainly agricultural kingdom to develop its commerce and trade. Jews could also be found in various positions at the royal court, thanks to their knowledge of languages and their international connections.

We don’t know the official title Isaac the Jew held, but he seems to have been a trusted diplomat because when he set out in 799 for Baghdad, he had been charged with an important mission. Along with two other diplomats, he was sent to establish friendly diplomatic relations with Harun-al-Rashid, the fifth Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad, so that Charlemagne could have access to the Holy Land.

Avraham ibn Daud

Avraham ibn Daud

Harun al-Rashid ruled during the peak of the Islamic Golden Age and it is his court that is described in the fictional One Thousand and One Nights. As was customary, the diplomats from the Frankish kingdom exchanged gifts with the Caliph. Harun al-Rashid got Spanish horses, hunting dogs and Frisian cloaks – expensive woolen cloaks that could be dyed white, gray, crimson or sapphire. In return, he gifted Charlemagne with silks, perfume, ivory chessmen, a water clock with mechanical knights that announced the hour, a huge tent with many-colored curtains and an Asian elephant named Abbul-Abbas.

Unfortunately, the other two members of the diplomatic mission died before the return trip began. It was therefore up to Isaac to bring the elephant and the other gifts safely home. Researchers have retraced his steps, following his progress from Baghdad across northern Africa, where he boarded a ship from Tunisia to cross the Mediterranean Sea. After Isaac and Abbul-Abbas landed in Genoa, it was just a hop, skip and a jump over the Alps to Charlemagne’s royal residence in Aachen. They arrived on July 20, 802.

The elephant became an immediate sensation, and its name was frequently mentioned in writings of the time. As for Isaac, who passed away in 836 when he was in his mid-eighties, not much else is known. But at least one writer, Jeff Sypeck, author of the book Becoming Charlemagne, has an appreciation of the difficult feat Isaac accomplished: “Whatever reward awaited him for leading an elephant across 3,500 miles, it could not have been enough.”


An Eye for Travel

There were other Jewish diplomats who traveled extensively for their monarchs, such as Jacob ibn Tariq, who was sent by the Caliph to Ceylon during the 9th century to pick up some books on astronomy. There were also many other Jewish merchants doing business along the ancient trade routes. Indeed, the medieval period is sometimes described as a time when the Jews were constantly on the move. But during the 12th century, a new kind of Jewish traveler took the stage – people who recorded their experiences while on the road, describing the people and communities they encountered, along with the sights. One of the most famous of these early travel writers was the 12th century author of Book of Travels, Benjamin of Tudela.

Benjamin left his native Spain around the year 1160 and was on the road for more than a decade. His final destination was Eretz Yisrael, which was then ruled by the Christian Crusaders. Some historians suggest Benjamin might have been a merchant and that doing commerce was another reason for his trip. Marcus Nathan Adler, in his 1907 book The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Critical Text, Translation and Commentary, suggests yet another reason. During those uncertain years, when many of northern Europe’s Jewish communities had been destroyed by the Crusaders and the Jews of Cordoba were being persecuted by their Moorish rulers – the Rambam’s family fled Cordoba, along with many other Jews who chose exile over forced conversion – Benjamin was perhaps searching out safe havens for Jews to flee to, if necessary.

Benjamin’s travels followed a Mediterranean route, visiting cities with established Jewish communities, such as Barcelona and Gerona, Narbonne and Montpellier, Genoa and Rome and Salonika and Constantinople, before arriving in Jerusalem. On his return trip, he visited Damascus, Baghdad and Basra and Alexandria. While he writes about Persia, China and other parts of the Far East, it is generally thought that this part of his travel diary relies on hearsay rather than eye-witness reporting.

Yet, it’s not only the number of places visited that gives Benjamin’s diary an important place on the medieval bookshelf; the breadth of his interests and observations offers us a rare glimpse into medieval communities and their everyday life. Thus, we are told the names of the Torah scholars who were prominent in each city and learn about medieval Jewish professions, such as silk weaving in Thebes and glass-working in Aleppo. He also describes the way synagogues were organized in Egypt.

A highlight of the diary is his detailed description of his travels in Eretz Yisrael, which included a visit to Har Tzion, where he hears a legend about King David’s burial place, and to Chevron, where he describes his visit to the Cave of Machpelah:

The custodians tell the pilgrims that these are the tombs of the Patriarchs, for which information the pilgrims give them money. If a Jew comes, however, and gives a special reward, the custodian of the cave opens unto him a gate of iron, which was constructed by our forefathers, and then he is able to descend below by means of steps, holding a lighted candle in his hand. He then reaches a cave, in which nothing is to be found, and a cave beyond, which is likewise empty, but when he reaches the third cave behold there are six sepulchers, those of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, respectively facing those of Sarah, Rebekah and Leah.


On the Move

Benjamin of Tudela

Benjamin of Tudela

Benjamin of Tudela’s travel diary was translated into many languages and can still be purchased today, which is probably why he is the best-known medieval Jewish traveler. But there were others. For instance, Rav Petachiah of Regensburg (also known as Ratisbon) made a journey around the same time, which probably began in Prague and took him through Eastern Europe until he headed south to reach Eretz Yisrael.

Yet another traveler was a Barcelonian Jew named Yuceff Faquin, also known as Yosef the Physician. According to a document of King James IV of Majorca, dated 1334, Faquin was sent by the king to circumnavigate the entire known world, making him one of the best-traveled people of his day.

But that day would soon be coming to an end. European monarchs were searching for a better way to reach the Indies, either by sea or by new overland routes. What they found instead was a new world – and they did it with the help of a new kind of Jewish geographer, whom we’ll meet next month in Part II of Jewish Geography: the mapmakers who made those long-distance voyages possible.

Libi Astaire

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/features/features-on-jewish-world/jewish-geography-part-i-through-the-mists-of-time/2016/11/25/

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