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December 8, 2016 / 8 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘monument’

Hungarian Police Investigating Desecration of Holocaust Monument

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

A Holocaust memorial monument in the southwest of Hungary was desecrated.

The perpetrators broke off several parts of the bronze monument, which stands 3 1/2 feet high and is the shape of a large menorah. Hungarian police said they were investigating the incident.

The Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary said the monument was desecrated sometime over the last weekend. It stood in the courtyard of the buildings of the Jewish community of Nagykanizsa. The local Jewish community erected the monument, near the Croatia border, in 2004.

All seven menorah branches were sawed off and the main shaft was broken. Only part of the three-pronged base remains.

Some 120 Hungarians protested on June 7 in Budapest against anti-Semitism in Hungary. The demonstration was in reaction to an attack against a former chief rabbi. On June 3, a cemetery was desecrated near the capital.

In a letter to the country’s Jewish leaders, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban expressed his “indignation” at the cemetery attack and ordered the Interior Ministry to track down the perpetrators.

JTA

Tobi Kahn’s New Harmony

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Shalev at New Harmony, Indiana;
Thresholds at The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary
3080 Broadway, New York, N.Y.   (212) 678 8082
Sunday through Friday; 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; Free Admission
Until June 30, 2009



        Imagine if we could all work and live together in harmony.  We ask for this three times a day, “May it be good in Your eyes to bless Your people Israel at every time, in every hour, with Your peace.”   This ancient plea, harmony between us and our G-d, harmony between us and our fellow Jews and mankind, is one of the most fundamental yearnings we experience.  We are not alone in this deeply human quest.  In 1814 a group of Separatists from the German Lutheran Church led by Johann Georg Rapp came to Indiana’s frontier to find religious freedom and establish a utopian communal society in a new town named New Harmony. The community lasted barely 10 years before moving back to Pennsylvania but in that short time was a successful enterprise of cooperation and pious living.   The town is still there and at the New Harmony Inn that 185 years ago used to welcome seekers, Tobi Kahn’s monumental sculpture, Shalev, stands, promising a kind of refuge from the struggles of daily life that still besets us all.


       The rough-hewn granite sculpture commissioned by Jane Owen and the Robert Lee Blaffer Trust in 1993 stands close to 13 feet high and is composed of three colossal blocks; two rectangular pillars that support a massive lintel. Paradoxically, the monument itself cannot itself give shelter, since the “sanctuary” space is occupied by an abstract bronze figure, a sculptural everyman.  The giant stone lintel seems to loom out at anyone who approaches the sculpture.  This elemental quality radiates a sense of welcoming but primitive protection, a hope of shelter.  Its idiosyncratic title, “Shalev,” a contraction of shalom (peace) and lev (heart), echoes this sentiment.  Indeed the attempt to find a harmony between the viewer and the surrounding uncertain world is exemplified by the adjacent landscape.  While most of the year bucolic fields stretch beyond the sculpture the rainy season brings a flood from the Wabash River right up to the foot of the monument, sorely testing our faith in the artwork’s message.   We identify with the protected figure and feel a strange kind of comfort in its safety.

 

 


Shalev (1993) granite & bronze monumental sculpture by Tobi Kahn
Courtesy New Harmony Inn, New Harmony, Indiana

 


      Why?  Why do many of Tobi Kahn’s works evoke this response?  Kahn, an observant Jew who has exhibited, taught and created these kinds of works of art for his entire professional career, believes in the redemptive power of art.   He sees the making, viewing and teaching about art as an act of prayer, an appeal to G-d that, if we approach 
these artworks with the proper intention and concentration, can actually alter our consciousness.  For Kahn, art is a primary step in tikkun olam.

 

 


Shalev (1993) Flood Season; granite and bronze monumental sculpture by Tobi Kahn
Courtesy New Harmony Inn, New Harmony, Indiana

 


      Thresholds, an exhibition of Kahn’s work at the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, presents additional examples of the redemptive possibilities of visual art.  Surprisingly the works that evoke this sense of protection are diminutive in scale, quite the opposite of the New Harmony monument.  Nonetheless they radiate a comfort and 
reassurance well beyond their modest proportions.


      In one of the display cases we find three ceremonial boxes, each colorfully painted and uniquely shaped.  Two are titled “Zedek” and function as tzedakah boxes with thin rectangular openings ready to receive charity donations.  But there the similarity ends.  One turquoise box resembles a small altar with a gently curved roof meeting curved sides that enclose the sacred treasury.  The other box, cobalt blue with front and back painted panel inserts, is more business-like, a confident little monument to our expected generosity to those in need.  Both of these exhibit, by their carefully considered forms, surfaces and colors, the seriousness of the mitzvah of charity.   Their monumentality, small in size but with large intent, express a determination to repair the world in a most concrete manner.

 

 


Zedek, Hadahr, Zedek (2006 – 2007) Tzedakah and Esrog containers by Tobi Kahn
Courtesy The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York

 


      Perhaps to balance the act of giving, the third box is titled  “Hadahr,” literally meaning beautiful and fulfilling its function as an esrog box.  In its way it is more decorative than its neighbors, exhibiting an illustrative panel showing the esrog tree with its fruit, hanging ready for the picking.  Its gold cover communicates that this fruit is indeed the object of one very special mitzvah.


      All three of these objects provide a safe enclosure, a kind of sanctuary, each provoking a positive act that affects the world either by literally making it better; helping another human being; or by affirming G-d’s sovereignty in obeying his commandments.


      The simple and yet monumental character of these works is similarly reflected in other objects in the exhibition.  “Lahav,” a rather impressive memorial light, again plays upon the altar motif that reflects the traditional Jewish respect in honoring and remembering our dead.  Kahn seems to be saying that we do much more than recall our loved ones; we must hold them up and honor them as a blazing flame that will enlighten our lives as we attempt to move forward without them.  In Kahn’s hands a yarzheit becomes a celebration that allows us to live yet another year emulating our departed.


      Shifting from the personal to the familial, the Seder plate, “Erhu II,” proclaims its grand message in the simplest sculptural form.  Atop deep blue square shelves for the three ceremonial matzoth, six cups frame the six small plates necessary for the ritual objects central to the Seder itself.  Additionally these six cups reflect the mandatory four cups of wine plus a possibility of both a cup for Eliyahu and Miriam, a thoroughly modern and progressive gesture consistent with Kahn’s belief in a wide-ranging tikkun olam.

 

 


Erhu II (2007) Seder plate by Tobi Kahn
Courtesy The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York

 


      There are many other objects and paintings to be seen at Kahn’s JTS exhibition that is part of the 2009 Artist-in-Residence Program directed by Vivian B. Mann, a number of which I have previously reviewed.  One major new work, “Ashkaf,” is a site-specific installation of 8 abandoned card catalogs, each housing 72 drawers that once contained literally thousands upon thousands of library cards, now totally rendered obsolete by their digital replacement.  Kahn has, at seemingly random intervals, opened the drawers and allowed us to see small abstract objects placed therein.  Unfortunately the aesthetic effect is fractured and puzzling, at best creating a sense of loss and the opposite of the works I have been discussing.

 

 


Lahav (2006) Memorial Lamp by Tobi Kahn
Courtesy The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York

 


      Tobi Kahn’s work presents us with a subtle paradox.  From “Shalev” to “Zedek,” a yarzheit lamp to a Seder plate, the more monumental the forms he uses the more intimate and comforting his aesthetic operates.  It is perhaps because in each work he provides us with a way in, a visual passage that symbolically provides us with shelter and protection either literally or metaphorically.  That passage is an essential fundamental premise of his work; art must be a prayer to provoke an action to do good in the world. New Harmony has just become a bit closer to becoming a reality.

Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com.

Richard McBee

Warsaw Completes Ghetto Project

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

    Poland’s capital recently marked the completion of a massive restoration project that marks the borders of the former Jewish Ghetto that was walled in by Nazis occupiers during World War II.

     The mayor of Warsaw, along with the minister of culture, inaugurated the project that included 21 new information points along the boundaries of the former Jewish Ghetto. The project also placed a beige line, labeled “Ghetto Wall,” along the city streets that outlined the furthest reaches of the Ghetto’s borders.

   The line snakes along sidewalks and around apartments and offices, broken only when it reaches roads or tram lines.

    Paid for by the city of Warsaw and the Ministry of Culture, the project was launched last year by a team of historians.

    “When you ask people in Warsaw about the Ghetto, they can tell you about it and have an idea of where it was,” said Tomasz Merta of the Ministry of Culture. “But in reality, nobody could tell you how big it was and how it was a huge prison in the heart of the city.”

    Varsovians  (people that live in Warsaw) can now easily find the line running along several major streets near downtown and curling around what is now the Jewish cemetery.

   “Now it’s here, and we can see it and touch it. And it’s very difficult to remember because of how hurtful it was,” Merta said, “but at least now we can remember. This is our responsibility.”

   Until now the only reminder of the Ghetto #20 Wall was a small section that was preserved at 60 Zlota Street. But even that historic monument was in the back of a building’s courtyard and if you didn’t know where to look for it a person would have a hard time finding it.

 

 

Last remnant of the original Ghetto Wall at 60 Zlota St.

 

     Another participant in the ceremony said that until now people in Warsaw had been able to just forget about the Jews and the ghetto by not going to the Ghetto Park and monument. Now they have a tangible marker that traverses the center of the city that many thousands of people will see on a daily basis. It cannot be ignored.”

     Nazi officials cut off the Jewish Ghetto from the rest of the city on November 16, 1940. At its broadest circumference, the ghetto wall enclosed 307 hectares (approximately, 760 acres).

    Some 360,000 Warsaw Jews and 90,000 from other towns were forced into the ghetto, according to the city of Warsaw. Some 100,000 people died of hunger.

     “It’s not only important to Warsaw, but it’s a universal lesson about memory,” Merta said.

     The inauguration ceremony included a bus tour that took people along the former borders and stopped at the information points that marked important sites or events in the ghetto’s history.

    A crowd of project officials, local residents and historians went along for the trip. Older residents recalled the disquiet in the city when the wall was first built.

    “Nobody was sure if their house would lay in the ghetto, or where the borders would be,” said historian Jan Jagielski, author of a book about the Ghetto. “Walls had been built earlier, and people were worried that there would be a ghetto. From November 16, people couldn’t leave.”

    Jagielski, a non-Jewish historian, who is a leading authority of Jewish history in Poland, lead a group of mostly elderly women through a park and wondered at how modern Warsaw sits atop borders that are gone but not forgotten.

    “This is all real and unreal,” he said. “That we’re here walking, through these streets.”

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Warsaw Completes Ghetto Project

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

    Poland’s capital recently marked the completion of a massive restoration project that marks the borders of the former Jewish Ghetto that was walled in by Nazis occupiers during World War II.


     The mayor of Warsaw, along with the minister of culture, inaugurated the project that included 21 new information points along the boundaries of the former Jewish Ghetto. The project also placed a beige line, labeled “Ghetto Wall,” along the city streets that outlined the furthest reaches of the Ghetto’s borders.


   The line snakes along sidewalks and around apartments and offices, broken only when it reaches roads or tram lines.


    Paid for by the city of Warsaw and the Ministry of Culture, the project was launched last year by a team of historians.


    “When you ask people in Warsaw about the Ghetto, they can tell you about it and have an idea of where it was,” said Tomasz Merta of the Ministry of Culture. “But in reality, nobody could tell you how big it was and how it was a huge prison in the heart of the city.”


    Varsovians  (people that live in Warsaw) can now easily find the line running along several major streets near downtown and curling around what is now the Jewish cemetery.


   “Now it’s here, and we can see it and touch it. And it’s very difficult to remember because of how hurtful it was,” Merta said, “but at least now we can remember. This is our responsibility.”


   Until now the only reminder of the Ghetto #20 Wall was a small section that was preserved at 60 Zlota Street. But even that historic monument was in the back of a building’s courtyard and if you didn’t know where to look for it a person would have a hard time finding it.

 

 


Last remnant of the original Ghetto Wall at 60 Zlota St.

 


     Another participant in the ceremony said that until now people in Warsaw had been able to just forget about the Jews and the ghetto by not going to the Ghetto Park and monument. Now they have a tangible marker that traverses the center of the city that many thousands of people will see on a daily basis. It cannot be ignored.”


     Nazi officials cut off the Jewish Ghetto from the rest of the city on November 16, 1940. At its broadest circumference, the ghetto wall enclosed 307 hectares (approximately, 760 acres).


    Some 360,000 Warsaw Jews and 90,000 from other towns were forced into the ghetto, according to the city of Warsaw. Some 100,000 people died of hunger.


     “It’s not only important to Warsaw, but it’s a universal lesson about memory,” Merta said.


     The inauguration ceremony included a bus tour that took people along the former borders and stopped at the information points that marked important sites or events in the ghetto’s history.


    A crowd of project officials, local residents and historians went along for the trip. Older residents recalled the disquiet in the city when the wall was first built.


    “Nobody was sure if their house would lay in the ghetto, or where the borders would be,” said historian Jan Jagielski, author of a book about the Ghetto. “Walls had been built earlier, and people were worried that there would be a ghetto. From November 16, people couldn’t leave.”


    Jagielski, a non-Jewish historian, who is a leading authority of Jewish history in Poland, lead a group of mostly elderly women through a park and wondered at how modern Warsaw sits atop borders that are gone but not forgotten.


    “This is all real and unreal,” he said. “That we’re here walking, through these streets.”

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Anti-Semitic Incidents In Poland

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

         People are on edge when it comes to the topic of anti-Semitic occurrences in Poland. Some have even said that I see Poland through rose-colored glasses. In truth anti-Semitic incidents in Poland do exist, and denying it would be living in a dream world. But the fact is, they have become less frequent in the recent past.

 

         The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, which has jurisdiction over many Jewish sites throughout Poland, has just published a report of events that have been passed on to the police for further investigation. Though there are 14 events listed below, others took place outside the Foundation’s jurisdiction, and therefore are not listed. One such example is the recent anti-Semitic graffiti at the Ohel of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk (Lejask).

 

Anti-Semitic Incidents In Poland


Reported By The Foundation

 

         1. Warsaw, January 22, 2002 – Propagating of anti-Semitic contents and calling for hatred towards Jewish people on the Internet website www.polonica.net. Investigation made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office was discontinued on September 20, 2007 as no perpetrators were identified.

 

         2. Swidnica, September 1, 2003 – Propagating of anti-Semitic contents on the website www.historianiebezpieczna.kgb.pl/syjon/klinika.html, established by Mariusz R. Investigation made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office was discontinued on June 28, 2007, as the case was not classified as an offense.

 

         3. Brzeziny, December 14, 2006 – Devastation of the Jewish cemetery: a commemorative plaque was damaged. Investigation made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office was discontinued on March 14, 2007 as no perpetrators were identified.

 

         4. Swidwin, February 26-28, 2007 – Devastation of the Jewish cemetery: a commemorative plaque and matzevot were damaged. Investigation made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office was discontinued on June 9, 2007 as no perpetrators were identified.

 

         5. Suwalki, March 2007 (exact date unknown) – Devastation of the Jewish cemetery: swastikas were painted on matzevot. Investigation made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office was discontinued on May 8, 2007 as no perpetrators were identified.

 

         6. Warsaw, March 19, 2007 – Anti-Semitic graffiti were painted on the monument of the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes. Investigation is being made by the District Police.

 

         7. Augustów, probably April 8, 2007 – Devastation of the Jewish cemetery: a commemorative plaque was damaged and matzevot were covered with swastikas. Investigation made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office was discontinued on September 20, 2007 as no perpetrators were identified.

 

         8. Krakow, April 14, 2007 – Anti-Semitic slogans were shouted and Fascist gestures made by the participants of the NOP (a neo-Nazi organization) demonstration. Investigation made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office was discontinued on November 26, 2007 as no perpetrators were identified and the case was not classified as an offense.

 

         9. Warsaw, May 18, 2007 – Participation of David Irving, author of works denying the Holocaust, in the 52nd International Book Fair. After the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland and other institutions, filed a complaint to the organizer of the Fair, a meeting with Irving was cancelled and he was asked to leave the Fair.

 

         10. Tuliszków, probably June 22, 2007 – Devastation of the Jewish cemetery: a commemorative plaque was torn off from the wall and swastikas were painted on a matzevah. Investigation made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

 

         11. Bialystok, August 18, 2007 – Devastation of the Jewish cemetery: swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans were painted on the fence and on matzevot. Devastation of the monument of the Bialystok Ghetto Heroes: it was covered with paint and an obelisk was damaged.

 

         12. Bialystok, August 19, 2007 – Anti-Semitic symbols and slogans were painted on houses in Zamenhofa St. and Sienkiewicza St.

 

         13. Bialystok August 26, 2007 – Anti-Semitic symbols and slogans were painted on a building in Zamenhofa St., below the plaque commemorating Ludwik Zamenhof.

 

         A bill of indictment against three suspects was filed in the District Court. They were all members of an organized group called “The Fourth Edition.” They may be sentenced to five years in prison. The case was separated from another one, concerning 11 youths (the youngest are 15 years old); it was transferred to the Family and Youth Court.

 

         14. Suwalki October 25th-27, 2007 – Devastation of the Jewish cemetery: swastikas were painted on the facsimile of the Wailing Wall and on matzevot. Investigation made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office was discontinued on November 27, 2007 as no perpetrators were identified.

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

The Arch of Titus: Am Yisroel Chai

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

         I walked slowly away from the Coliseum in Rome. Completed in 80 C.E. by the Emperor Titus it was used for almost 500 years for countless gladiatorial games and bloody spectacles. Some speculate that it was initially financed from the booty taken from the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70. A murderous monument to Roman civilization, indeed.

 

         Turning my back on its horrors, I entered the Via Sacra, the well-worn street that leads to the Roman Forum and its triumphal entry, the Arch of Titus. The infamous arch towers over the ruins of the Forum and echoes the larger Arch of Septimius Severus at the opposite end. As I approached the 50-foot high monument on a late Friday afternoon in July it was swarming with tourists gawking, snapping pictures and resting in its shade, preparing for their next adventure. Few seemed to grasp the gravity of this site.

 

         The Arch of Titus was built in 81 C.E. by the Emperor Domitian, the brother of Titus, to commemorate the victory over the Jewish revolt and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. It marks the utter military defeat of the Jews in the face of paganism and what easily could be seen as the beginning of the creation of the Christian world. More importantly, it memorializes the severance between Jews and G-d that lasts to this day. The Diaspora from our Land and our Avodah still gnaws at the Jewish soul.

 

 


Arch of Titus, view from Roman Forum

 

 

         On the inside of the arch looking toward the Forum are two surviving marble reliefs that face one another. On the right, Titus is seen triumphantly entering Rome while the left parades the spoils from the Temple. The silver trumpets, the Show Bread Table and finally, the Golden Menorah, are clearly displayed. I sat down and covered my eyes in sorrow at our punishment. Seeing the Arch of Titus and its relief sculptures I was a direct witness to G-d’s wrath.

 

         Trying to contain my grief, I realized that this ancient work of art needed to be seen in its historical context, just like all works of art. My immediate personal reaction was only the first step to uncovering its larger meaning. What struck me immediately was the extremely prominent place that the Arch of Titus occupied. For hundreds of years as Romans approached the Forum, the heart of their far flung Empire’s administrative, social and religious life, they would see the Latin inscription that crowns the arch just as we see it today: “The Senate and The People of Rome [dedicate this to] The Divine Titus Vespasianus Augustus, [son of] Divine Vespasian.”

 

 


Coliseum, Rome

 

 

         The proud acknowledgement by the Roman people and Senate of Titus’s achievement in subduing the stiff-necked Jews is especially impressive when we consider how many other worthy foes the Romans had conquered. Before subduing the Jews, the Romans had conquered Macedonia, Greece, Carthage, Spain, Central and Southern Italy, Sicily, Gaul, Germany and Britain. And yet, it was this conquest that first greeted the Roman elite. As an expression of this, the arch is adorned with multiple figures of the Roman goddess Victory, proclaiming triumph. On the façade facing the Coliseum and the façade facing the Forum two spandrels (triangular shapes above the archway) boast two giant winged beings bearing trophies of celebration.

 

         The elaborately decorated soffit (underside) of the arch shows a central panel depicting the Apotheosis of Titus, his image carried aloft to heaven by an eagle. It was common in this era for the Roman Senate to deify their emperors once they died (hence ‘Divine Titus’). This visually crowns the two relief panels on the inside of the arch. In both relief panels the figures are moving in the same direction, toward the Roman Forum, dramatically reenacting the triumphal procession that actually occurred when Titus returned from defeating Jerusalem and Masada in the year 72 C.E.

 

 


Arch of Titus, detail

 

 

         Facing the Forum, the right side shows Titus standing in a quadriga (4-horse chariot) that is led by the goddess Roma. Just behind him, a winged Victory crowns the general with a laurel wreath while alongside the chariot he is accompanied by a youth, representing the Roman people and an old man representing the venerable Senate. The four horses impatiently stride forward, their passion in sharp contrast to the calm dignity of the marching soldiers and lictors carrying ceremonial fascia of royal office. The conquering Titus seems impenetrable and undefeatable. In fact, Titus died at the age of 40, a mere 11 years after he defiled the holy Temple. The Gemara in Gittin 56b famously relates how G-d tortured Titus with a tiny gnat that knocked around in his brain for seven painful years until he died. Not surprisingly, no trace of his real future is to be found in the proud marble depiction of triumph.

 

         Opposite the triumphant Titus is the relief of the spoils taken from the Temple. The men carrying the Golden Menorah have hoisted it up on long poles. They have pillows on their shoulders and laurel wreaths on their heads as they stride forward. There seems to be 12 men carrying the Menorah and another eight carrying the Show Bread Table. In front of the Table two silver trumpets are also carried. It is notable that many more individuals are shown in this procession than in the triumphal entry of Titus. We see behind the figures, four placards held aloft that proclaim the victories, conquered cities and peoples of Titus.

 

 



Menorah, Show Bread Table; Marble Relief


 

 

         This procession is much more animated than the staid Titus opposite, and it marches purposefully to enter into a carved arch at the extreme right. This depiction of the Porta Triumphalis uncovers the deeply religious nature of the triumphal procession. The passage through the Porta Triumphalis was meant to purify the returning soldiers of the bloodguilt incurred in battle. Additionally, the presence of the victorious general passing through this gate was thought to bring a blessing upon the Roman capital itself. The victory march would then make a ritual procession to a series of sacrifices and dedications of the spoils. The entire ceremony would culminate in the Roman Forum at the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maxiums, offering additional spoils, sacrificing “white oxen to Jupiter, laying a laurel branch and wreaths in the lap of the god’s statue.” The triumphant general and the Senate would then share in a sacred feast. What we are seeing in this relief is not just a victory parade; it is an aspect of pagan worship using the sacred objects from the holy Temple.

 

         The tragic aspect of the Arch of Titus did not cease with the collapse of the Roman Empire in the end of the fifth century. In 1555 Pope Paul IV ghettoized the Roman Jews and forced them to swear an “oath of submission to the Pope” under the still standing Arch of Titus. This arch carries the full weight of G-d’s anger at His people and the cruelty of His agents.

 

         And yet, as I looked around the arch on that July afternoon, I realized that this sordid history was not the whole story. The Arch of Titus, now presiding over what is left of the Roman Forum, is a complete and utter ruin. Uncovered and restored in the 19th century out of archeological curiosity and, more recently touted to foster tourism, for 1,500 years both the arch and the Roman Forum were abandoned; the Forum at best put to use as a cow pasture and quarry, the arch incorporated as part of medieval fortifications.

 

 


Triumph of Titus; Marble Relief

 

 

         The Jews meanwhile had set about reconstituting themselves, forging an authentic Jewish life without a Temple, somehow surviving without its degree of holiness. We were wildly successful as we codified the Mishnah and Gemara, codes of Law built upon generations of pious practice and rebuilding of countless communities. Our journey since Titus has been arduous to be sure, filled with tragedy as well as triumph, but we cannot deny that we live in a blessed generation – yeshivas filled to overflowing, Jewish communities blossoming around the world and our nation repossessing our Land. As we look at the Golden Menorah on the Arch of Titus we can rise above the sorrow that we feel and know that this same image adorns the seal of the sovereign and proud State of Israel.

 

         Years ago, when I first visited the Arch of Titus, I remember seeing graffiti scribbled in chalk under the relief- Am Yisroel Chai. That is how I still understand what this ancient monument means.

 

         References to Roman religion and triumphal celebrations are from “The Origins of Roman Historical Commemoration in the Visual Arts” by Peter J. Holliday (California State University, Long Beach) Cambridge University Press, 2002.

 

         Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com 

Richard McBee

Did Haym Salomon Really Finance The American Revolution?

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

       (Note: All quotes are from Early American Jewish History, The Jews of Pennsylvania and the South, 1655-1790, by Jacob Rader Marcus, The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1953, Chapter 8, pages 132-165.)
 
 
The Legend
 
        One of the most fascinating figures in American Jewish history is Haym Salomon (1740-1785).
 
        “Salomon, as this legend has it, was a Polish Jewish immigrant who had fled his native land after the partition of 1772. A friend of Pulaski and Kosciusko, he turned, like them, to these hospitable shores. He landed in New York, became a patriot forthwith, and along with others was commissioned by Washington to destroy the warehouse; and the ships of the city after its occupation by the British in 1776.
 
        “In this underground activity he worked closely with General Alexander McDougall, the New York political radical. He was finally caught, thrown into prison, sentenced to death by General Clinton, but managed to free himself by a bribe of a large sum of gold, and fled on August 11, 1778, to Philadelphia.”
 
        In 1778, France formed an alliance with the fledgling United States. When the Dutch became allies of France in 1779, both began to lend money to the American government. It was Haym Salomon, so the story goes, “who was charged with the negotiation of the entire amount of those munificent grants of pecuniary supplies from the governments of France and Holland.
 
        “As the French troops began to pour in, he handled all the funds for the support and maintenance of their sea and land forces, 150,000,000 livres, on which he received the regular mercantile commission. All the money he made through these transactions he invested in the Revolutionary cause.
 
        “But these large financial dealings – so the tale continues – by no means exhausted his contribution to the struggle for American liberty and independence. Frequently he supplied funds to members of Congress, who without his aid could not have remained in office, for they were reduced to their last dollar. Among those whom he so helped were James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Edmund Randolph, Joseph Reed, Arthur St. Clair, James Wilson, and a number of others.
 
        “Haym Salomon, continues the legend, was the real financial hero of the Revolution: ‘the man that stood behind Morris and actually produced the actual sums with which the Revolution moved on.’ He advanced to the government – in one form or another – about $800,000 of his own money, but when he died, leaving a young widow and helpless children, nothing was left for them. Thus far the story is a curious hodgepodge of fact and fiction.”
 
The Real Story
 
        The veracity of this tale of financial patriotism and sacrifice on the part of Haym Salomon has been debated by many. The root of the controversy goes back to 1827, when Haym Moses Salomon, the youngest son of Haym Salomon, wrote to James Madison about his father’s affairs in an attempt to recover the large sums which he claimed his father had advanced the U.S. government during the Revolution.
 
        “In spite of the claims made by his family a century ago, and despite the fact that at various times committees of Congress recognized validity in their demands, members of the family have never received one cent. In 1893 the Salomons were willing to waive all rights to financial reimbursement, if only a medal were struck recognizing the services of their distinguished ancestor. Still nothing was done, even though a Congressional committee viewed the suggestion favorably.
 
        “When the Federation of Polish Jews of America sought, on the basis of the family tradition, to erect a monument to his memory in New York, it met with strenuous opposition and a denial of the truth of the Salomon story. Indignantly the proponents countered: ‘America failed to repay the money he advanced, and now men seek to rob him of his posthumous fame.’
 
        “Max J. Kohler, of German Jewish descent and an able student of American history, was among those who opposed the monument. The project to honor Salomon, he maintained, was motivated not so much by the wish to enshrine the memory of the man, as by the desire of the Polish Jewish federation to emphasize the fact that Polish Jews had come to these shores long before the Russian pogroms of 1881.”
 
        The facts, as Kohler clearly demonstrated in his pamphlet “Haym Salomon, the Patriot Broker of the Revolution,”[i] are that Salomon did not lend or give the government huge sums of money. This is because he never had such sums of money to give away. By his own admission, he arrived in Philadelphia in 1778 without any money. It is documented that it was not until 1782 that he was financially “back on his feet and able to send money to his impoverished family in Eastern Europe.
 
        “It would have been impossible for him to have made such fabulous sums in four years; had he done so, he would have been the richest man in America, and there is no real evidence to prove that he ever possessed substantial wealth.
 
        “Salomon himself, moreover, never made the claim that the government owed him huge sums. It was the son who did so, many decades after the father’s death.”
 
        It is a fact that Salomon paid the government, through Robert Morris (1734-1806), who specialized in financial matters for the Continental Congress, large sums of money. However, “these sums were for drafts and bills which were sent by the French, Dutch, Spanish, and others to the United States and turned over to Morris for negotiation and sale. Salomon sold these bills, deposited the money initially to his own account in the bank, and then turned it over to Morris and the government. He was an agent; the money only passed through his hands. It was all government money, not his own. Later generations, either deliberately or unwittingly, chose to believe that his own money was handed over, because the records showed that it was originally deposited in his name.”
 
        In 1941 a monument was finally erected to the memory of Salomon, not in New York as originally planed, but in Chicago. Given the description above of what Haym Salomon actually did, one might wonder why there is a monument to him. If we understand Salomon to be a symbol of the participation of the American Jew in the struggle for independence, then it is most certainly justified.
 
        “Salomon did a craftsman’s job for Robert Morris. He was without a doubt the most competent bill broker in America during the Revolution. There is every reason to believe that his work met with the unreserved approval of the French, the Dutch, and the Spanish. Of course he received his commissions, but Robert Morris was also paid.
 
        “He made himself personally liable, through his own signature, for many of the drafts and bills of exchange which he handled on behalf of the government. And when these bills were not honored, he accepted liability without protest. This may have ruined him. Practically all of his estate was assigned to his chief creditor: the Bank of North America, Morris’s bank.
 
        “At the risk of his own life – in New York, from 1776 to 1778 – he helped French and American prisoners to escape; he induced Hessians to desert; he went to prison for his patriotism when he could well have made his peace and fortune with the English in New York; he fled from his home and left behind him wife and infant; he floated securities to the amount of $200,000; he helped keep Madison and others in Congress by lending them money without charge; he fought for political and religious liberty in Pennsylvania; and he gave liberally, munificently, that his fellow-Jews might worship the God of their fathers in dignity and devotion in a synagogue of their own.
 
        “He was Colonial America at its best. As a symbol and as a man he merits not only the respect and the affection of this generation, but also the monument which his admirers built to do him honor.”
 
        Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu


[i] Haym Salomon, The Patriot Broker of the Revolution: His Real Achievements and Their Exaggeration: An Open Letter to Congressman Celler, by Max James Kohler, 1931.

Dr. Yitzchok Levine

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/did-haym-salomon-really-finance-the-american-revolution/2007/05/30/

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