I have any number of unusual, and sometimes highly amusing, items in my Judaica collection which, each of which, alone, does not establish the basis for an article but which I nonetheless want to share. As such, I have aggregated here a selection of such items, most relating to American and Israeli political leaders that I hope readers will enjoy.
Exhibited here is the iconic and whimsical Paul Goldman photograph of a 71-year-old Ben Gurion standing on his head at Herzliya Beach, and the hilarious sculpture of that image on Frischman Beach in Tel Aviv.
As the story goes, Weizmann Institute Professor Aharon Katzir (President Ephraim Katzir’s younger brother) referred Ben Gurion to Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, considered a healer by some, who created the controversial “Feldenkrais Method” that combines “psychic tension relaxation” with physical control. Feldenkrais – who was not a physician but rather had earned a doctorate in physics from the Sorbonne – taught Ben Gurion to stand on his head, citing not only its physical health value, which included increased oxygen flow to the brain, but also its alleged ability to promote Ben Gurion’s understanding of the views of others. When he finally succeeded in standing on his head, Ben Gurion is reported to have said “I have to stand on my head so the state of Israel can stand on its feet,” and, although he credited Feldenkrais with curing his painful and persistent lumbago, his wife, Paula, referred to him disapprovingly as “Mr. Hocus Pocus.”
Goldman’s photographs were marked by their simple and brightly lit compositions and, at a time before photojournalism was appreciated as a creative artistic form, his images were celebrated for documenting historic events with unusual clarity. He photographed people from the period of the British Mandate in Eretz Yisrael, through the arrival of Holocaust survivors, the War of Independence, the formative years of kibbutz and agricultural life in the nascent state, and the development of Tel Aviv into a modern city. Among his most acclaimed photographs are his images of the 1946 attack by Israel’s underground against the King David Hotel and a 1949 Operation Magic Carpet photo essay of the journey of Yemenite Jews from Aden to immigrant camps in Israel.
Born in Hungary, Goldman (1900-1986) fled Budapest for Eretz Yisrael with his wife in 1940, where he lived in an apartment in Kfar Sava. He became near-blind in the early 1960s and, after his death at age 86 in 1986, some 40,000 negatives remained in crates and kitchen cabinets in his apartment. In 1999, Time-Life assigned the renowned Israeli photographer David Rubinger – most famous for his iconic and timeless photograph of three Israeli soldiers looking up in awe at the Kotel after Israel’s recapture of Jerusalem in 1967 – to find the original Ben Gurion headstand negative for its millennium issue reviewing major figures of the 20th century.
Following Goldman’s painstaking notepad records, Rubinger found negative No. 4410 amidst the cache of material. The huge cache of negatives was sent to a Jewish laboratory for restoration, and an important posthumous exhibit of Goldman’s work was held at the Jewish Museum. Ironically, Goldman, who had worked in virtual anonymity during his entire life, has become a prominent photographer whose works are avidly collected and exhibited in prestigious galleries and museums.
The Ben Gurion headstand statue, which was made by the German company Artilink productions, was installed in 2015 by the Tel Aviv municipality.
Shown here is a print of the famous photograph of a beaming President Truman holding aloft the historic “Dewey Defeats Truman” edition of the Chicago Tribune – originally signed by Golda Meir. My research did not yield any explanation whatsoever about how, why, and when Golda would have signed this photo.
“Dewey Defeats Truman” was a famously erroneous banner headline on the front page of the Chicago Tribune on November 3, 1948, the day after incumbent President Truman upset Republican challenger Thomas E. Dewey in the 1948 presidential election. The paper’s incorrect headline became notorious after a jubilant Truman, while returning by train from his home in Independence, Missouri to Washington, D.C., was photographed holding a copy of the paper during a stop at St. Louis Union Station.
Shown here is an example of Yitzchak Rabin’s sense of humor – or is it a display of his iconoclasm? On a small cover franked by an anti-smoking stamp, with the caption “Life is Better Without Smoking,” Rabin has signed a cache depicting him lighting up with King Hussein of Jordan. One of the great ironies of the stamp is its portrayal of an ashtray filled with candy, suggesting that while smoking is hazardous to your health, eating vast amounts of candy is good for you.
Virtually from Israel’s founding, Israelis, among the world’s heaviest smokers, seemed impervious to the Israel Cancer Society’s relentless anti-smoking campaign and, even in 2022, an estimated 20 percent of all Israelis smoke. In 1980, “No Smoking” signs were posted on buses and, in 1983, the year the stamp exhibited here was issued, Israel’s Ministry of Health, after many years of lobbying, finally prevailed upon the government to ban tobacco advertising on radio and television. Later that year, the Knesset passed a far-reaching national law banning smoking in public places and imposing heavy fines on offenders.
Much as Democrat leaders in the United States enacted strict masking and distancing COVID regulations but decided that those laws did not apply to them, Rabin apparently decided that he was exempt from Israel’s anti-smoking law.
In this December 3, 1992, correspondence on his Clinton-Gore campaign letterhead, president-elect Clinton writes to author Jerry Marcus thanking him for his book, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Zev, which he looks forward to reviewing. (This letter particularly tickled my fancy not only because the intriguing title of the book seemed so incongruous, but also because my oldest son is named Zev.)
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Zev (published 1982) begins in 1950, when 12-year-old Zev Segal is growing up in an Italian-Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. As a young yeshiva student, he is greatly influenced by his rebbe, a teacher who lost his entire family in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. The story follows Zev through his adult years, as he wrestles with the basic problem of man’s inhumanity to man, why it occurs, and what responsibility each individual has to prevent its recurrence.
Zev’s life is filled with paradoxes: while attending a rabbinical seminary, he becomes involved with gamblers; after his ordination as an Orthodox rabbi, he takes a pulpit in a reform temple; his hypocrisy is evident, as he gives very traditional sermons, always reminding his congregants of their Jewish heritage while his own life becomes ever more entwined with the world of gambling. The dichotomy in Zev’s behavior is symbolized by “Laughing Demons,” spirits who appear to him throughout the novel and who try to persuade him to forget his responsibilities to his heritage by tempting him with sex (ironically, Clinton would go on to yield to his own temptations in this area), the power of money, and the excitement of gambling. When the spirits’ ploys appear to be failing, they torment Zev with visions of death marches, innocent beings screaming for their lives, and Nazi and Christian leaders marching hand-in-hand.
On the other hand, always trying to remind Zev of his responsibilities are the “Righteous Ones,” who ask him to remember the millions who died and to make a commitment to fight against the growing contemporary problem of global antisemitism. The strongest positive force in his life is Hope Elliot, a senator’s daughter, and their love temporarily relieves Zev from the horrifying moments he spends with the “Laughing Demons.”
The author, Jerry Marcus, is a freelance writer born in Israel to American parents and who spent most his childhood in New York City.
Exhibited above is a letter from Yechezkel (“Hezi”) Carmel, who served as Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles from 1970-1972, in which he writes “Prime Minister Golda Meir asked me to transmit to you her favorite Chicken Soup recipe as promised during her trip to Los Angeles.” After presenting the recipe, Carmel adds “Mrs. Meir generally serves chicken soup with kneidlach,” and proceeds to provide Golda’s recipe for that as well.
Carmel, formerly with the Mossad, was a journalist and novelist and the author of The Great Conspiracy: The CIA vs. Jonathan Pollard.
Recognize “Lady Liberty?
She is Golda Meyerson – then 21 years old – in a May 18, 1919, Poale Tzion Chassidim Pageant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Born in Russia, Golda and her family fled Jewish persecution and moved to Milwaukee in 1906. Graduating at the top of her class from the Fourth Street School (now the “Golda Meir School”) in 1912, she became a teacher at a Folk-Schulen (folk school) where she taught Yiddish. She was active in Poale Tzion (Labor Zionists) in Milwaukee, and it was in that capacity that she participated in its Pageant as Lady Liberty.
Many pundits insist that Lincoln had Jewish features; see, for example, the original newspaper photograph of a Currier & Ives print exhibited here. The text on the verso reads: “This rare Currier and Ives print shows Lincoln as a Jewish gentleman. Here the artist has made subtle changes from the actual likeness so that Lincoln appears as a member of the Hebrew race.”
A random perusal of the internet will disclose a plethora of wacky theories proposing to prove that Abraham Lincoln was actually from “the seed of our father Abraham.” Nonetheless, it is fascinating to note that Lincoln is the only American president never to have declared himself a member of any particular religious faith, and rumors regarding his “Judaism,” which persist even to date, may be attributable to his close friendships with individual Jews and to his policies, which evidenced great sympathy for American Jews, despite the fact that when Lincoln was elected president, only 150,000 of America’s 31 million people (less than half a percent) were Jewish.
In the February 12, 1916, correspondence to Isaac Markens exhibited here, Louis Brandeis, just two weeks after his nomination by President Wilson to the Supreme Court on January 28, 1916, writes: “Let me thank you for your kind letter of the 1st, and for your article ‘Abraham Lincoln and the Jews,’ which I find (sic) upon my return to the city.”
Markens (1846-1928), a renowned writer and Civil War scholar, is perhaps best known for publishing The Hebrews in America (1888), a series of historical and biographical sketches considered to be the first of their kind in American Jewish history. In his seminal study, Abraham Lincoln and the Jews (1909), he cites the following claim made in the April 20, 1865, Cincinnati Commercial by Rabbi Isaac Wise, the founder of the Reform movement and a leading 19th century American rabbi:
Abraham Lincoln believed himself to be bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. He supposed himself to be of Hebrew parentage, he said so in my presence, and indeed he possessed the common features of the Hebrew race both in countenance and features.
Markens rejected all claims that Lincoln was Jewish, concluding: “As a matter of fact, Lincoln’s knowledge of his ancestry was vague – so much so that his statement to Dr. Wise must be accepted as nothing more than a pleasantry.” (It is interesting to note that the fickle and publicity-seeking Wise, who portrayed himself as a great friend of Lincoln and led American Jews in mourning the late president, had opposed Lincoln’s candidacy and joined the Democratic Party’s vicious attacks on the president.) Lincoln’s son, Robert, who later denied any admission of Hebrew ancestry, told Markens that he had “never before heard that his father supposed he had any Jewish ancestry,” and Markens dismissed the exchange between Lincoln and the rabbi as “nothing more than a bit of pleasantry” and rejected claims that Lincoln was Jewish.
In American Jewry and the Civil War (1951), Bertram W. Korn, an American historian and rabbi who became the first Jewish chaplain to receive flag rank in the United States armed forces, concludes that there is not a shred of evidence to support Wise’s assertion. He further persuasively argues that Lincoln had many Jewish friends and acquaintances with whom he frequently corresponded – including Abraham Jonas, to whom Lincoln wrote in 1860 “you are one of my most valued friends” – and there is no record of his having ever said or written anything about his religious faith, let alone about being Jewish.
Hilary C. Price has been one of my favorite cartoonists for a long time, and I particularly enjoy her Jewish-themed work, three samples of which are exhibited here. In the first, Price lends an amusing Jewish twist to the caricature of a Christian family returning from their annual pre-Christmas outing proudly displaying their Christmas tree strapped to the top of their car. As they drive home, however, they are surprised to see a happy Jewish family driving in the opposite direction with an oversized menorah similarly strapped to the top of their car.
In the second cartoon, a family sits at a Purim seudah while a boy sits by the fireplace playing with a dreidel. An upside-down Santa Claus sticks his head out from the fireplace and asks for a latke.
Third, many people have difficulty adjusting to the change of a new year in January and, for example, continue to write “2021” on their checks when it has become 2022. In this wonderful riff on that theme, Price applies that phenomenon to the change of the Jewish date on Rosh Hashana in Tishrei.
Price is the creator of the delightfully quirky Rhymes with Orange – the joke is that there is no word in the English language that rhymes with “orange.” At age 25, she became the youngest cartoonist ever to be nationally syndicated. A four-time winner of the “Silver Reuben Award” for Best Newspaper Panel Cartoon from the National Cartoonists Society (2007, 2009, 2012 and 2014), she has released several compilations of her work in books, including Hanukkomics, a collection of her comics about Jewish holidays, culture, and traditions.
The Endowment for Mideast Truth (EMET) is an unabashedly pro-American and pro-Israel think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C. that plays a vital role in promoting support for Israel, as it effectively lobbies Congress in support of Israel and American Jews and advances – and in some instances, initiates – pro-Israel legislation, including the Koby Mandell Act of 2005 and the Taylor Force act of 2017. (It is an incredible organization supremely worthy of your support; please check it out online at emetonline.org.)
One of EMET’s honorees at its May 6, 2009, dinner was Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut), still the only Orthodox Jew – and the only Jew – to be on a presidential ticket for a major political party when Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore selected him to serve as his vice president in August 2000. I approached the senator at the dinner and asked him to autograph the program – in Hebrew – with the result exhibited here.
He grinned ear-to-ear and, before graciously complying, said “Wow, nobody has ever asked me to do that before.” As such, this may be history’s only extant Hebrew autograph by an American vice-presidential major party nominee!