web analytics
May 26, 2016 / 18 Iyar, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘monument’

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

Survivor Park In Lodz

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

    The city of Lodz had once been the second largest Jewish community in all of Poland. Today there is hardly a Jewish presence in the city, with only about 300 active members. For years after the Shoah there had been very little activity, and little attention was paid to the survivors.


      In recent years there has been a push to correct this wrong with new monuments and plans for research centers. The discovery of the Radegast Station from which the victims were sent to their deaths was a catalyst for this awakening. During the 60th anniversary of the destruction of the Ghetto, thousands of people came from around the world to memorialize the victims. This shows that people did not forget what had happened there and would rectify the lack of educational facilities such as monuments and learning centers.


      I recently wrote about the Radegast Station and how it was restored to a unique and fitting memorial to those who passed through the station on the way to their deaths. But that was not the only plans the city had for the permanent commemoration of the Shoah. A park has been established in the area of the former Ghetto to honor the survivors.



      The park, an impressive site, covering 15 acres located in the area that comprised the Ghetto, includes an area of 387 trees planted by survivors. The saplings consist of, birches, oaks, larches, maples, and ashes. Each tree was numbered and registered under the name of the survivor who planted it. Survivors who visit Lodz in the future are invited to continue this ceremony and plant a tree in his or her honor.


      The park has a walk with the names of survivors, leading to a mound from which most of the city can be seen. There is also a large Magen David with a stream flowing below it.


      There are plans the have a study center for people to come and try to understand what happened there more then 60 years ago. In addition, there is a monument to Poles who saved Jews during the Shoah. Czeslaw Bielcki and DiM84 Dom I Miasto designed the monument.


      Halina Elczewska, a survivor of the Litzmannstadt Ghetto, first thought of the concept for the Survivors Park. But the park never would have been established if not for the constant prodding of the president of Lodz, Mr. Jerzy Kropiwnicki.


      There are still many other projects being undertaken by the city of Lodz, including the marking of significant sites related to the Shoah and other ongoing educational projects. The citizens of the city have taken an interest in the projects, with much success in overcoming stereotyping and anti-Semitism.

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Report From Foundation For The Preservation Of The Jewish Heritage In Poland

Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

       For the last two weeks I have written about cemetery restoration in Poland. This week I present a report from the Foundation for the Preservation of the Jewish Heritage in Poland, which has done tremendous work in the field. The first half of 2006 has been a busy time for the Foundation for the Preservation of the Jewish Heritage in Poland. The Foundation has cleared up ten Jewish cemeteries and fenced four of them, erected monuments or memorial plaques commemorating pre-war Jewish communities in five towns and is currently restoring four synagogues.


         Cemetery restoration has always been a priority for the Foundation. In Poland there are 1200 Jewish cemeteries, most of them totally neglected and forgotten; they are now begging for restoration. Taking care of Jewish cemeteries in Poland is an enormous challenge, which requires not only energy and perfect management, but also a considerable amount of money. The Foundation could not carry this gigantic task alone. Many of its restoration projects are therefore conducted in cooperation with another organizations, such as the Heritage Foundation for Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries (Avoteinu), the PJCRP, the Yad LeZehava Holocaust Research Institute, the Lomza Jewish Cemetery Foundation, and several small Polish organizations created by Polish enthusiasts who care about the Jewish cultural and religious heritage. A complete list is to be found at the Foundation’s website www.fodz.pl.


         The Foundation is also cooperating with landsmanshaften from all over the world and many private donors.


         Restoring cemeteries is not the only way of saving the memory of Polish Jews from falling into oblivion. In 2006 the Foundation participated in five projects commemorating pre-war Jewish communities in Jaroslaw, Koszalin, Wielen (Filhene), Slupsk (Stolp) and Mogilno. In Jaroslaw, Koszalin, Wielen and Stolp monuments were erected, and in Mogilno a memorial plaque was fixed.


         From among these, the Slupsk commemoration project has been the most spectacular. The Foundation supervised the erecting of a monument that is a reconstructed section of the fence of a huge, pre-war Slupsk synagogue that was destroyed by the Nazis in 1938 during Kristallnacht. The monument was founded by the descendants of Rabbi Max Joseph, the rabbi of Slupsk from 1902 to 1936, and erected by the Foundation in cooperation with the municipality. The ceremony of unveiling the monument was attended by Rabbi Max Joseph’s family, representatives of the Jewish community in Poland, the president of the city of Slupsk and his deputy, the consul general of the Republic of Germany, and a representative of the local bishop. A letter sent by Israel’s ambassador to Poland was read. The ceremony was also witnessed by a crowd of Slupsk citizens and several representatives of local media. The monument, erected in the very center of the city, is an important testimony to the city’s engagement in the task of commemorating its Jewish community, which for centuries had been an integral part of Slupsk’s social, religious and cultural life.




         Restoring synagogues in Poland is very difficult; the Jewish community in Poland is very small, and not only unable to financially support all the restoration, but actually does not need that many synagogue buildings. Therefore the foundation, besides coordinating construction and renovation is also establishing new functions for the restored buildings. The aim is to make the synagogue buildings useful for local people and, at the same time, preserve their dignity as reminders of the bygone Jewish world.


         The foundation is currently restoring four synagogues, all of which are registered monuments: a Renaissance, 17th century synagogue in Zamosc, a Neogothic 19th century synagogue in Ziebice, and two synagogues in Krasnik: a 17th century Baroque great synagogue and a 19th century small synagogue. The condition of these buildings when they were returned to the foundation was catastrophic – roofs were leaking and about to fall. Today all the essential construction work is completed and the foundation is gathering funds for continuing restoration.


         The Zamosc synagogue is the most splendid Renaissance synagogue in Poland. Together with the Old City of Zamosc, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Foundation, together with the city’s authorities and local non-governmental organizations, intends to turn the renovated synagogue into a center that will house various local initiatives, especially those connected with culture and heritage.


         It will also feature Jews who contributed to the intellectual, religious and cultural history of the region such as Icchak Leibusz Perec or the Dubno Maggid.


         Detailed information regarding the Foundation’s activities can be found at its website, www.fodz.pl.

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Myszyniec, Ostroleka

Wednesday, June 21st, 2006

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Abe Schwartz of Detroit. He and his family had traveled to Poland last year to see where their family had originated just one generation ago. They went first to their home town of Myszyniec, where they found almost nothing remaining of a thriving Jewish community. The cemetery is an empty field showing no signs of the hundreds (possibly thousands) of Jews who are buried there. Most of the homes from the pre-war era have been updated, and the whole town has changed. The family was able to find the home where the family had lived before the war in a courtyard of another home, but little else of interest.


A family portrait at the sign welcoming visitors to Myszniec, the town from where the family originated.



One of the Schwartz family members saying Tehillim at the desecrated memorial in Ostroleka.


         They went from there to nearby Ostroleka, where the family patriarch went to yeshiva. The yeshiva building, little more than a shack, is now used for storage. The cemetery at Ostroleka is also empty of marked graves. But there is a memorial marking the site made up of some broken tombstones. The small group of travelers were surprised to find that the reverse side of the monument had been desecrated. Some hooligans had thrown buckets of blue and red paint at the monument, covering a representation of the Ten Commandments. The group said some Tehillim for the martyrs and left, disturbed by their discovery.

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

The Old Shtetl Ozarów

Wednesday, February 15th, 2006

The village of Ozarów is located in the Kielce region. The Ozarów cemetery dates back almost 400 years and is one of the few remaining Jewish cemeteries in Poland. The approximately 300 (including about 200 recently uncovered) monuments stand in solemn testimony to the former thriving Jewish community. A search for ancestral roots and the remarkable beauty of the monument’s detailed carvings visit many visitors each year to Ozarów.

Before World War II, Jews far outnumbered Poles in Ozarów. Almost all were sent to Treblinka. Others, who were rounded up after the deportation, were forced to dig their own graves and were shot.

The cemetery wall was almost totally destroyed during the war, and many of the stones were taken by the Germans for fortifications about 15 km away. According to the custom of the time, no surnames appear; only the first name of the deceased and the father’s first name. While this is a serious limitation for family research, it may still be possible to identify many individuals, based on certain clues. These include family information, description on the stone carvings and the date of death.

Pertinent information is assembled in two documents that can be found on the Internet: a list of matzevot and a map of the cemetery, with matching numbered positions of matzevot . For years, Ozarówers and their descendants have dreamed of restoring the cemetery walls, erecting a commemorative monument, and repairing and raising toppled stones onto firm bases.

In early May 2001, the Ozarów Cemetery Restoration Project (OCRP) was formed with generous assistance from Ozarówers and non-Ozarówers from many countries. Funds have been raised for much of the restoration work and for producing a documentary film which was released in 2003, titled “Return to Ozarów-Mending a Broken Link.” The dedication ceremony for the restored cemetery was held barely five months later in Ozarów on October 15, 2001.

Norman Weinberg, determined to do what he could to honor and remember victims of the Holocaust, reached out for help from Ozarów descendants worldwide via the Internet. Their enthusiastic response was immediate.

At the dedication ceremony, Weinberg, his wife Hannah and other Jewish Ozarówers were greeted by over 500 townspeople, the mayor and the local priest, as well as by Polish and foreign dignitaries. A moving ceremony followed at the mass grave, where the priest and the Ozarówer rebbe, Rabbi Tanchum Becker – a descendant of the famous rabbis of Ozarów, led prayers.

No Jews live in Ozarów today. The restored cemetery, the former synagogue (now a plumbing supply business), the mill, and the houses formerly belonging to the Jews are all that remains of “a small Jewish town” that once was.

The book Memories of Ozarów, a Small Jewish Town That Was, by Hillel Adler, has been translated by William Fraiberg into English from French. An excerpt of that translation was published in the Kielce Radom SIG Journal. The book records the bittersweet life of the Jews there, from the 16th century until destruction. Thanks to a number of Ozarówers living in Canada, Fraiberg has collected and added new materials, stories and photos to this remarkably readable and wonderful account of shtetl life. They include the village characters, customs, religious life, humorous nicknames, the jail, various occupations and the trials and tribulations of the pre-war inhabitants. The book contains additional information on the cemetery.

Copies of this wonderful book are available for sale at $55, plus shipping. To order, contact Norman Weinberg at nweinberg@pjcrp.org

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/the-old-shtetl-ozarow/2006/02/15/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: