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Filmmaker Isaac Artenstein’s Tales of Frontier Jewish Life – Times of San Diego

Share This Article: By Mimi Pollack

Filmmaker Isaac Artenstein likes to tell good stories, especially unknown ones, and if those stories inform and entertain others, even better. He feels that the Jews of the Southwest have an untold story as the narrative has been mostly about the Anglo westward expansion. He wants to show one of the missing pieces of the puzzle.

To that end, he is working on a four part series of documentaries, Frontier Jews, which covers Jews of the Southwest, including New Mexico, San Diego, Tucson and El Paso. The documentary on New Mexico, Challah Rising in the Desert, has just been completed and the one on San Diego, To the Ends of the Earth, is near completion.

Artenstein was born in San Diego and grew up as a child of the border. He went to school in Tijuana and high school in Chula Vista. Fluent in both English and Spanish, he moves comfortably between both worlds. In addition, with an Ashkenazi father and Sephardic mother, he was also exposed to the different aspects of Judaism, all of which served him well while making the documentaries.

Early in life, Artenstein told his stories by painting. I can remember drawing and painting since I was very young. This love of art led to photography and later filmmaking. He studied painting and photography at UCLA and filmmaking at the California Institute of the Arts where he got his degree. He uses his artistic eye as a filmmaker.

After years of people asking him where he was from and not understanding that Artensteins could be Mexican, he decided to make a documentary on the Jews of Tijuana. He started by interviewing his own family and went on to interview other families and individuals who were all part of Tijuanas history. The documentary Tijuana Jewscame out in 2005 and was well received. It was shown at many Jewish film festivals.

At the Tucson film festival, he was given a book, Pioneer Jews by Harriet and Fred Rochlin, which piqued his interest in learning more. He spent the next ten years fundraising to accomplish his goal. As I traveled and interviewed people in Tucson, El Paso, and New Mexico, I realized that the stories were very similar to those of the pioneer Jews in San Diego whose lives were centered in Old Town. At the same time, each place had something unique.

Artenstein also has a methodical side to go along with his creative one. In preparing for each documentary, he likes to interview a wide array of people to find a dramatic structure and a theme. Although he is making a documentary, he feels it is still storytelling. He knows that the visual, lighting, mood, and music are important for each documentary, so he surrounds himself with talented people. His director of photography is Sergio Ulloa. As Artenstein says, For Challah Rising in the Desert, Sergio and I realized that the New Mexico landscape was also a character in our film as it is so diverse and beautiful. His co- composers are Jaime Valle and Alan Phillips. They composed very different music for each documentary.

The first documentary in the series, Challah Rising in the Desert, explores the history of the Jews in New Mexico. The braided challah bread represents the five strands or waves of settlements that have come, including the converso Jews escaping the Spanish inquisition 400 hundred years ago, the German Jewish pioneers of the Santa Fe trail in the 1800s, the scientists who came in the 1940s to Los Alamos, the counterculture youth of the 1960s, and the Jews of today. It also shows the special influence New Mexico has had on its Jewish community. Only there will you find bakers who mix green chilis into the challah dough, producing a hybrid and delicious bread.

San Diegos documentaryTo the Ends of the Earth came about from a collaboration between Artenstein and Bill Lawrence, the executive director of the San Diego History Center, for the History and Heritage of San Diegos Jewish Community exhibit, which is running until May 2018. Artenstein was commissioned to produce a series of standalone video capsules for the exhibit. He interviewed various people in the community. Although the videos are separate, this collaboration was the catalyst for the documentary. Artenstein shot the capsules concurrently while shooting for the documentary.

While doing research, he was particularly intrigued when he discovered and read a detailed diary by Victoria Jacobs, who lived in Old Town as a teenager. She wrote of her daily life. At that time, Jews were well integrated in the fabric and society of San Diego.

However, after the railroad was built and more Anglos arrived in San Diego, the climate towards the Jews began to change. By the 1940s and 1950s, there were restrictive covenants in certain areas of town where blacks, Mexicans and Jews were not allowed to live. La Jolla was one of them. Although these covenants were illegal, they still existed. This changed with the opening of UC San Diego in 1960. The head of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Roger Revelle, served as a point man for the UC Board of Regents. He made it clear that if the university was going to open in La Jolla, he wanted all the professors to be able to live nearby.

The 1960s and the university brought internationally influential Jews to San Diego such as virologist Jonas Salk, electronic engineers Irwin Jacobs and Andrew Viterbi, and poet Jerome Rothenberg. This renaissance was scientific, entrepreneurial, and cultural.

Artenstein interviewed diverse people for the documentary, including Jewish historian Joellyn Zollman, San Diego Jewish World publisher Don Harrison, actor and writer Salomon Maya, Jonas Salks son Peter, and Congresswoman Susan Davis. He learned from Zollman that 20 percent of the Jewish community in San Diego is foreign born and there are Jews from Mexico, South Africa, Israel and Russia. The Jewish community in San Diego is truly rich in diversity.

Challah Rising in the Desert will go to general distribution in September. To the Ends of the Earth will be completed by the end of the summer, and Artenstein plans to submit it for the next San Diego Jewish Film Festival. His goal is to complete all four documentaries or Frontier Jews by the end of 2018.

Mimi Pollack is an English as a SecondLanguage teacher and a freelance writer. This article is reprinted with permission of LChaim Magazine.

Filmmaker Isaac Artensteins Tales of Frontier Jewish Life was last modified: August 12th, 2017 by Editor

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This weekend’s Charlottesville rally represents an alliance between pro-Confederates and Nazis – Vox

The alt-right rally Friday night at the University of Virginia campus and Saturday in the city of Charlottesville is technically about a statue of Robert E. Lee. But common to many participants in the rally is a willingness to use and celebrate Nazi symbols and ideology.

Fridays protesters shouted anti-Semitic and Nazi-associated slogans, including “blood and soil: a phrase that references the German ideology of Blut und Boden, or the idea that a person is defined by his or her relationship to ethnic ancestry (blood) and the land they cultivate (soil).

Protesters also shouted Jews will not replace us (a more explicitly anti-Semitic take on you will not replace us, a white-supremacist alt-right slogan that arose in response to actor Shia LaBoeufs anti-Trump performance art piece He Will Not Divide Us).

Attendees at the rally also wore Nazi paraphernalia, carried flags with swastikas alongside Confederate flags, and wore shirts with quotations by Adolf Hitler.

The use of anti-Semitic slurs and display of Nazi imagery is ubiquitous among certain factions of the alt-right. But the rhetoric and imagery of Charlottesville, in which the tropes of the Ku Klux Klan including the burning torches of Fridays protest and the trappings of Nazism collide, is particularly unsettling. In adopting the Nazified ideology of Blut und Boden, the Charlottesville demonstrators arent just expressing hatred against one group of people, which would be sickening enough on its own.

Rather, theyre doing something even more terrifying: advocating for a radically reactionary understanding of societal relations thats predicated on the idea that people are solely obligated to fight for the future and well-being of people who look just like them.

Theyre also, implicitly, firing up their base by creating an even greater chasm between the good old boys, whom they portray as defending their own, and the gold old boys enemies: the implicit metropolitan (and coded-as-Jewish) elites. Its a strategy that may yet work to gather more disenfranchised, rural whites into the fold.

After all, Blut und Boden worked so powerfully and insidiously as a Nazi ideology not just because it privileged certain bloodlines among others, but also because it harkened back to an ahistorical, nationalist notion of rural idyll. Today, many on the American right today see that same rural idyll in their idealized recollections of the pre-Civil War South.

Nazi propaganda used Jews as a convenient scapegoat for the economic crises of the 1930s. Blaming Jews for making wretched ethnic Germans by lending them money and demanding they pay interest, one Nazi propaganda pamphlet characterized Jews as singly responsible for the decline of rural Germany:

They had to move to the cities. Torn from the land to which they belonged, robbed of their labor that gave their lives purpose and meaning, they fell victim to poverty and misery. Worn down, their souls crushed, they accepted Jewish doctrines that denied the Fatherland and opposed all that was nationalistic. Their strength and ability faded. The Jew had reached his goal.

In other words, blood and soil is about stoking the twin fires of false nostalgia and outright bigotry. Its at once an invitation to good old boys to Make America Great Again and a channel through which they can direct their anger by blaming an imagined other.

The use of anti-Semitic slurs in Charlottesville this weekend, therefore, is about more than just insidious bigotry. Its about creating an alliance between two historic hatreds, predicating the imagined greatness of Trumps America on expelling the undesirables.

That propaganda worked in the 1930s. It cannot be allowed to work today.

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This weekend’s Charlottesville rally represents an alliance between pro-Confederates and Nazis – Vox

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German Jews interrogated POWs for US in World War II – STLtoday.com

In 1944-45, a few thousand German Jewish exiles returned to the fatherland wearing U.S. Army uniforms. They were part of the Ritchie Boys alien refugees trained to interrogate enemy prisoners of war.

In Sons and Soldiers, popular historian Bruce Henderson tells the story of six of those Ritchie Boys. He starts with their misery in Germany as the brutally anti-Semitic Nazis took over, then follows them into exile, and then into the Army, and then on to Camp Ritchie, Md., for their training and finally to Europe and into combat.

During their training, they came to understand that they werent at Camp Ritchie just because they spoke the language. They also knew the culture and psyche of Germans better then anyone else a deep, intimate knowledge born from the small details of their lives growing up in Germany. As children, they had gone to school and played sports with boys who were now German soldiers. And as interrogators of German prisoners of war, they would be familiar with the workings of German minds, the habits of German lives, and the influences of Nazi doctrine upon German soldiers and civilians alike.

Author Henderson goes on to describe the positive results that the Ritchie Boys gleaned from POWs and some of their harrowing adventures under fire. (One Ritchie Boy made his first parachute jump at night into Normandy, under enemy fire, early on June 6, 1944.)

Hendersons book will appeal greatly to readers with a connection to the Holocaust. Theyll overlook some problems with the authors prose for example, a redundant reference to Buchenwalds having posts with automatic machine guns.

Local readers will take special interest in a Ritchie Boy named Gnter Stern, whose family got him away from their hometown of Hildesheim to faraway St. Louis. There, he lived with an uncle, baker Benno Silberberg. Stern graduated from Soldan High School (Class of 39) and picked up some money by busing tables at the old Chase Hotel.

In 1940, he enrolled at St. Louis University. A few months after Pearl Harbor, he tried to join the Navy but was turned away as a foreigner. A few months later, the less-demanding Army drafted Stern. The Army sent him to Camp Barkeley, Texas, for training as a medical administrator.

On May 1, 1943, he and some other foreign-born soldiers went to Abilene to be sworn in as American citizens. They were told that the court could change their Germanic or Jewish-sounding names if they wished. A number of soldiers, not wanting to go overseas with their birth names on their dog tags in case of capture, opted to do so. On that day, Gnter Stern of Hildesheim became Guy Stern of St. Louis.

Stern arrived in Britain in January 1944. Five months later, on June 9, he landed at Omaha Beach. He began interviewing POWs that very day, under German artillery fire.

On hand at the POW camp was Post-Dispatch correspondent Virginia Irwin. The sixth paragraph of her story opens this way:

Through an interpreter, who turned out to be Staff Sgt. Guy Stern of 1110A Maple Place, St. Louis, I talked with several Germans who had been captured.

Later, Stern ran into another well-known woman German-born actress Marlene Dietrich, on a USO tour. She accepted Sterns invitation to visit his POW camp.

But as Henderson notes, whatever curiosity Marlene had about seeing German POWs paled compared to their excitement at seeing her. The world had spread rapidly in the cage: Marlene Dietrich ist hier! Hundreds of them pressed against the wire enclosures on both sides, trying to see her, touch her, speak to her.

At one point, Stern and a fellow interrogator pushed the rules by having Stern pose as a Soviet commissar. Any prisoner who refused to answer questions was ushered into a tent housing Stern, dressed in a Soviet uniform and posing as Commissar Krukov. Under threat of being turned over to the Soviets, most of the POWs gave in and talked at length.

Henderson writes that as the war wound down in the spring of 1945, Stern kept alive the hope that his family would find a way to survive, and that once the war was over they would all be reunited.

But what he saw at Buchenwald ripped at his heart and took away what hope remained.

Shortly after the war ended, Stern returned to Hildesheim, in the British zone of occupation. Henderson says that his journey home had erased whatever hope he had that he would be reunited with his family. The truth was inescapable.

As he left the town of his youth, Guy Stern had no intention of ever returning.

Back in the postwar United States, Stern moved to New York, got a doctorate from Columbia and taught German studies, retiring from Michigans Wayne State University in 2003.

The afterword notes: Guy returned to his hometown of Hildesheim in the 1960s to speak at the dedication of a new synagogue.

Harry Levins of Manchester retired in 2007 as senior writer of the Post-Dispatch.

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The Catholic Church & the Jews: What is the True Story?

Though history has shown Catholics sometimes acting ignobly towards Jews, much more often Catholics have acted as protectors of them

Few episodes in recent Church history arouse as much attention as the alleged silence of Pope Pius XII regarding the Holocaust. Despite the fact that many respected scholarsincluding Jewish oneshave demonstrated that the pope gave European Jews much aid, this negative image of Pius XII prevails in many circles. Interestingly, unlike Pius, Allied leaders such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill did absolutely nothing to aid European Jews, although they do not have the same stigma. Perhaps this is because Pius XII is a symbol. Historical sources often present the Holocaust as the logical conclusion of traditional Catholic anti-Judaism; the pope should be demonized because he headed an institution that was the source of the hatred of Jews that culminated in the Shoah. Is this accusation fair?

In the Imperial War Museum of Londons otherwise excellent exhibit on the Holocaust, one can view a short documentary on the history of anti-Semitism. Before jumping into Nazi ideology, the film details Christian misdeeds against Jews during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. While the narrator of the documentary in the London museum explicitly states that modern anti-Semitism had little to do with traditional anti-Judaism, a similar documentary on the history of anti-Semitism in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum makes no such demarcation; it jumps directly from medieval anti-Judaism to the Dreyfus affair and the rise of the Third Reich.

Often times in texts about the Holocaust, the idea that the Nazi ideology was an extension of Christian anti-Judaism is presented as axiomatic. The problem with this presentation of history is that it solely focuses on Christian anti-Judaism. Why is it not acknowledged enough that the ancient Hebrew people were persecuted by many other groups? Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, and Romans all harmed Jews long before Christ was born. Perhaps this is because the Holocaust happened in Europe and was perpetrated by the traditionally Christian German nation. Was this the extension of Christian anti-Judaism?

Indeed, negative attitudes towards Jews among Christians have a long history. For centuries, Christians often blamed Jews for killing Christ; only did the 1965 document Nostra Aetaete officially absolve them of this charge. When bubonic plague ravaged Europe, many Christians in Europe accused Jews of poisoning wells. Throughout the centuries, Jews were accused of kidnapping Christian children and using their blood to make matzos (blood libel). During the Crusades, Christian soldiers killed numerous Jews on the way to the Holy Land. In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council decreed that Jews wear special clothing to distinguish them from Gentiles. As recently as the nineteenth century, Pope Pius IX reopened the Roman ghettothe last European ghetto before the Nazis came to powerand the Vatican kidnapped a Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara, who was raised by the pope and became a priest.

All these are troubling aspects of the historic relationship between Christianity and Judaism. Pope John Paul II was right in apologizing in the name of the Church in 2000 for these and other historic abuses at the hands of Catholics. However, this is only one part of the story. There is also a long tradition of the Churchs defense of the Jews. While it is true that the Churchs relationship with Judaism improved radically in the past half-century beginning with Pope John XXIII, who removed the prayer for the conversion of the perfidious Jews from the Good Friday liturgy and especially under John Paul IIwho had Jewish friends growing up in Poland and was the first pope to make an official visit to a synagogue, who established diplomatic ties between the Holy See and Israel, and who condemned anti-Semitism vocally and explicitlythese two were not the first major papal allies of the Jews.

The first was Pope Gregory the Great (590-604), one of the four Latin Church fathers. He issued the edict Sicut Judaeis, which stated that the Jews should have no infringement of their rights. We forbid to vilify the Jews. We allow them to live as Romans and to have full authority over their possessions. During his pontificate, Gregory the Great repeatedly intervened on behalf of the Jews; for example, when the bishop of Palermo confiscated Jewish schools and synagogues, the pope intervened to stop him. More papal edicts prohibiting violence against the Jews, forced baptism, and other abuses, and promising papal protection, were signed by later popes, including Calixtus II, Clement VI, Boniface IX, and Martin V. Numerous edicts by medieval and Renaissance popes starting with Innocent IVs 1247 bull also condemned the blood libel myth.

The anti-religious polemicists who topped the bestseller lists several years agoincluding Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkinsoften present Adolf Hitler as a Catholic and claim that the Holocaust was the result of historical anti-Semitism. In fact, Hitler most qualifies as a lapsed Catholic. As an adult, he no longer participated in the sacraments. His wedding with Eva Braun was a secular civil ceremony. The Nazi leadership was not influenced by Christianity, but instead was fascinated with Germanic mythology, the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, and the mysticism of the Far East, of which S.S. head Heinrich Himmler was especially enamored, believing that the origins of the Aryan master race could be traced to India.

The Nazis were not atheists, but pagans. They were, however, strongly anti-Christian. After coming to power, the Nazi persecuted the Catholic Church in Germany. Catholic youth organizations and newspapers were banned, as was the Catholic Center Party. In Dachau, the first concentration camp, they imprisoned many priests in a famous priest block.

Of course, there were Catholics who acted deplorably during the Holocaust, and their misdeeds have to be enumerated. Arguably, the most pernicious was Monsignor Jozef Tiso. Following Nazi Germanys annexing of Czechoslovakia, a Slovak fascist puppet state was formed headed by Monsignor Jozef Tiso, a Catholic priest. In 1939, Tisos puppet state sent 50,000 Slovak soldiers to aid in the German invasion of Poland. Tiso passed anti-Jewish legislation requiring Jews to wear yellow armbands and banning marriages between Jews and ethnic Slovaks. Tiso also helped the Germans deport 70,000 Jews to concentration camps. In 1942, he gave a speech in which he defended these deportations. Two years later, when the Slovak resistance launched an anti-Nazi uprising, Tiso accused the Jews of leading the rebellion and continued to support the deportations. Adolf Hitler himself was greatly impressed with Tisos sadism: It is interesting how this little Catholic priest Tiso is sending us the Jews! he remarked.

Slovakias fascist government was unique in that it was led by an ordained clergyman. However, there were two other pro-Nazi puppet governments that claimed to be Catholic in nature. The first was in Croatia. In 1941 in German-occupied Yugoslavia, the fascist Ustae formed the Independent State of Croatia, a puppet state of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The Ustae made Catholicism the official religion of the regime and committed acts of genocide against Serbs, Jews, and Roma. The Ustaes treatment of Serbs, more than 300,000 of whom were killed, mostly in concentration camps located in Croatia, was especially barbaric: The Croat education minister wanted to murder one-third of the Serbs, forcibly convert one-third to Catholicism, and expel the remaining third. However, Jews were also targeted, and the Ustae were complicit in the killing of 30,000 Jews.

Another Catholic pro-Nazi puppet state was founded in Vichy France, headed by World War I hero Marshal Philipe Petain from 1940 to 1944. Wanting an ethnically French and Catholic state, Vichy adopted Nuremburg-style laws that discriminated against Jews and pursued pro-natalist policies among autochthonous French. The French police helped the Germans deport almost 80,000 French Jews to concentration camps. In numerous roundups, French policemen herded Jews onto trains sending them to near-certain death often without the presence of a single German. The Vichy French themselves built and ran concentration camps in France in which Jews, Roma, and political dissidents were interned.

Looking at the examples of Slovakia, Croatia, and France, one could be tempted to believe that the Catholic Church, if not indirectly responsible for the Holocaust, was Nazi Germanys partner in exterminating European Jewry. However, the mature historian must always look at the entirety of a situation before passing a judgment. There were many counterexamples of lay and ordained Catholics who acted heroically to aid Jews.

In all three Catholic fascist puppet states mentioned above, there were numerous priests and bishops who aided Jews. In Slovakia, the Greek Catholic bishop of Presov Pavel Gojdic, in particular, was a resister of the Holocaust. In 1939, he wrote a letter to the faithful in his diocese protesting against the discrimination of Jews. When the Slovaks and Germans began deporting Jews to concentration camps, Bishop Gojdic wrote a protest letter and informed the Vatican of the deportations. He also directly helped several Jews. In Croatia, the cardinal-archbishop of Zagreb, Aloysius Stepinac, initially welcomed the Ustae regime and the creation of a semi-independent Croatia, although he did publicly condemn the governments persecution of Jews and secured hiding spots for Jews. In France, many bishops directly aided Jews; the most famous was Cardinal Pierre-Marie Gerlier of Lyon who hid Jewish children in convents and parishes.

Elsewhere in Europe, priests and bishops also actively opposed the Holocaust. In 1942, the Dutch bishops wrote a letter condemning the deportations of Jews that was read in all parishes in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands; as a punishment, the Germans increased deportations of Jews, especially targeting converts. In Hungarywhich by 1944 was ruled by a fascist puppet state that collaborated with the Nazis in deporting Jews to concentration camps, but before was a relatively safe country for refugees, Jewish and otherwisethe nations primate, Cardinal Jusztinin Gyrgy Serdi helped find shelter for many of the 150,000 Polish refugees who fled the country after the German-Soviet invasion of 1939, many of whom were Jewish. In 1944, as Nazis and Hungarian fascists began deporting Jews, Cardinal Serdi publicly protested. In the United Kingdom, which avoided Nazi occupation thanks to victory during the Battle of Britain, Cardinal Arthur Hinsley organized a Catholic Day of Prayer for Poland in Westminster Cathedral in 1942, publicly condemning Nazi atrocities against Poles and Jews. In western Ukraine, Greek Catholic monasteries protected several hundred Jewish children from German Nazis and Ukrainian nationalists. Martin Gilbert, an esteemed historian of the Holocaust, estimates that hundreds of thousands of Jews across Europe were saved by Catholics.

Perhaps the most surprising Catholic who aided the Jews was General Francisco Franco. This right-wing military dictator, aided by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, likely saved more Jews than any other political leader during World War II. The devoutly Catholic Spanish dictator refused to hand over Jews who had sought refuge in neutral Spain. Franco instructed Spanish diplomats in Nazi-occupied Europe to aid Jews. He also helped Jews obtain Spanish passports and flee to Latin America. In total, General Franco is credited with saving about 40,000 Jews.

Two countries where Catholic aid to the Jews merits special mention are Poland and Italy. Before the Second World War, Poland had Europes largest Jewish population, at more than three million. Invaded by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, non-Jewish Poles themselves suffered greatly during the war, losing two to three million people. Even without figuring in Jewish losses, Poland lost the largest proportion of its pre-war population of all European countries. It is true that before 1939, anti-Semitism increased in Poland, and that the Church was not immune to this. In 1936, the countrys primate Cardinal August Hlond issued a pastoral letter in which he accused Jews of spreading pornography and Bolshevism (although the letter also condemned physical violence against Jews and anti-Jewish prejudices, even though the author of the letter clearly himself had such prejudices).

Yet despite these souring relationsand despite the fact that Poland was the only occupied country where aiding Jews was punishable by death and that Polish priests themselves suffered under the occupation enormously, as half of all Polish priests and numerous bishops were deported to concentration campsthe Polish Churchs aid to the Jews was enormous. In his authoritative history of the Jews in Poland and Russia, Prof. Antony Polonsky of Brandeis University writes that 1,000 of 1,600 Polish convents sheltered Jewish children during the Holocaust. Irena Sendler, the famous Polish social worker who helped smuggle 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto, often placed the children in convents and remarked in an interview with Anna Mieszkowska that she never had a priest turn down a request to aid a Jewish child. The Polish bishops never issued a document officially condemning the Holocaust. However, they never made an official protest against the massive deportations of Polish priests, either. Actions speak louder than words: Recent research reveals that of the thirteen Polish bishops who were not killed by the Nazis, exiled, or deported to concentration camps, eleven are documented as having aided Jews. One of the exiles, Bishop Karol Radoski, officially condemned the Holocaust on the radio in London.

Italy merits mention because the Vatican, whose wartime role has been the source of much controversy, is located there. Of the 45,000 Jews registered in Italys 1938 census, 7,000 fled the country and 8,000 died in concentration camps; this makes Italys wartime Jewish survival rate one of Europes highest. Naturally, there are numerous reasons for this: the Jewish population there was relatively small; the punishments for aiding Jews in Italy were not as draconian as in, say, Poland; and Italian Jews were not isolated from the rest of the population in walled or fenced ghettoes, as in Eastern Europe. At the same time, given the facts that in 1938, Mussolini passed anti-Semitic laws banning Jews from Italian public life and banning intermarriage and that the Italian Fascist militia collaborated with the Nazis in hunting down Jews, this high survival rate is remarkable.

Another reason for the high survival rate of Italian Jews must be attributed to the Catholic Church. Pope Pius XII is frequently presented as Hitlers pope or as the silent pope. The truth of the matter is that Pius XII appealed to the Italian monasteries to hide Jewish children and himself hid several thousand Jews in Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence, and in the Vatican itself. Reading the testimonies of Italian Holocaust survivors, it is clear that many Italian Jews were rescued by priests or nuns. Additionally, Pius sent protests to the pro-Nazi governments of Hungary and Slovakia, begging them to halt the deportations of Jews to concentration camps (tragically, without effect). Pius XII used a network of his papal nuncios across Europe to help persecuted Jews flee to Latin America or neutral countries and to secure hiding places; the most famous were Monsignors Angelo Rotta, papal nuncio to Hungary, and Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, Vatican ambassador to Greece and Turkey.

Pius XIIs record is imperfect. Before World War II, he pressured Poland to give the Free City of Danzig to Nazi Germany to avoid military conflict. After the war, the Vatican assisted some Nazi criminals in fleeing to Argentina; was Pius unaware of this? He also did not condemn the post-war pogroms against Jews that occurred across Eastern Europe. However, Pius record regarding the Jews is certainly better than that of President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, who as Jewish historian Walter Laqueur has chronicled in extensive detail, were well-informed about the Holocaust. However, they did not intervene, despite the fact that, unlike Pius XII, they had the military capacities to do so. For example, President Roosevelt refused to increase immigration quotas to allow more Jewish refugees from Europe to seek asylum in the United States, while his Department of War decided to not bomb the death camp crematoria.

It is true that when Pius XII condemned the Holocaust (on Vatican Radio, for instance), he used generic terms rather than referring to specific atrocities. Still, we must remember that Pius previously was a Vatican diplomat. He likely knew that speaking out too forcefully could have unintended tragic consequences; the abovementioned example of the increased deportations of Jews following the Dutch bishops letter shows this. The fact is that Pius XII saved thousands of Jews, including a great many Italian Jews, by hiding them in the Vatican, securing hiding places for them in Italian convents, and helping Jews through to his network of papal diplomats. Pius compares favorably not only to the wartime leaders of the United States and Britain, but above all to another prominent cleric, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem who openly supported Nazi Germanys Jewish policy.

The historical relationship between Catholics and Jews has frequently been portrayed in a negative light. The fact that Catholics did commit many transgressions against their elder brothers in the faith over the past two millennia is a historic fact. However, as we have seen, this relationship has often been portrayed in a one-sided way. Alongside genuine examples of Catholic mistreatment of Jews, such as the Fourth Lateran Council, we have examples of medieval bishops condemning anti-Semitic canards. In addition to perverted priests like Tiso, there were many Catholic bishops, priests, and nuns in every European country who helped Jews.

Before making a judgment on the relationship between Catholicism and the Holocaust, it is worth asking: Which group of Catholics truly lived out the Churchs teachings on the Jews? In Catholicism, the doctrine of mortal sin, the notion that all humans have an inherent tendency to commit wrong, is strong. This is why the sacrament of reconciliation is so important in Catholicism. Even very saintly men and women confess their sins (in fact, they do so more frequently than ordinary mortals). Were Catholics who harmed Jews acting out of their own iniquity, or because of their faith?

Unique among most of the worlds great religions, Christianity proposes a system of ethical universalism. As St. Paul said, there is no man or woman, Greek or Jew, slave or free. The parable of the Good Samaritan shows that the Church eschews any primitive tribalism; all are to be treated equally. Nowhere in the New Testament is it said that Jews (or any other ethnic or religious group, for that matter) are somehow inferior. And with the exception of the Fourth Lateran Council, never did the official teachings of the Church promote any discrimination against Jews.

In addition to human corruptibility, is there any other origin of this well-documented, long-standing tradition of Christian hostility towards Jews and Judaism? In my opinion, two additional factors were at work. First, there is the fact that Christianity was born of Judaism, and so the two religions began as competitors. In addition to the battle for souls, many Christians have traditionally been disappointed that Jews refused to accept their Messiah. Meanwhile, Jews have themselves often been mistrustful towards Judaism. The Talmud presents Jesus Christ in an extremely negative light, while in Israel Jewish fundamentalists have set fire to churches, and Christiansboth ethnically Jewish ones and Palestinian Christiansare treated as second-class citizens (and sometimes not citizens at all) in Israel. I mention these facts not to suggest equivalence between Christian mistreatment of Jews and Jewish prejudice against Christiansthroughout the ages, Christian atrocities against Jews have been far more numerousbut to instead show how a certain mutual distrust often results from religions with a similar origin.

Second, there is the fact that human beings seem to have an inherent nasty tendency towards tribalism. Throughout most of European history, Jews have dressed differently, worshipped differently, spoken a different language (Ladino or Yiddish as opposed to the local language), and looked different in terms of physiognomy. Unfortunately, people often dont like those who are different. This is reflected in the fact that the Nazi ideology singled out the Roma and Sinti peoples for extermination, just as it did the Jews. Like Jews, Gypsies are of non-European origin and, like the Jews prior to 1948, have no state. Anti-Roma prejudice, both popular and institutional, is still strong today across Europe.

In conclusion, the historic relationship between Catholics and Jews has often been fraught. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of recent popes, anti-Judaism is marginalized within the Catholic Church. It is quite telling that the most anti-Semitic faction within the Church today is a schismatic one, the Society of St. Pius X started by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. However, the history of Catholic-Jewish relations has often been told in a one-sided way. In particular, the Holocaust is not an extension of Catholic tradition, and the attitudes of the Church towards Jews during that period must be presented in a more nuanced light. Catholics have every right to protest when the history of their Church is presented in a distorted fashion. The historical legacy of anti-Semitism is not limited to the Christian world, and in addition to Catholics acting ignobly towards Jews, there were many Catholic protectors of them.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found inThe Imaginative ConservativeBookstore.The Imaginative Conservativeapplies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politicswe approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please considerdonating now.

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French Jews Demand Extradition of Suspects in Deadly 1982 Paris Deli Terror Attack – Algemeiner

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The site of the 1982 attack. Photo: David Monniaux via Wikimedia Commons.

Thirty-five years after a deadly terrorist attack at a Jewish deli in Paris, French Jews are calling for the three suspects still at large to be extradited to France.

The Chez Jo Goldenberg attack was the deadliest atrocity committed against French Jews since the Holocaust. On August 9, 1982, a group of terrorists burst into the restaurant, threw a grenade, and began randomly firing at the patrons. Six were killed, including two American citizens.

All the attackers escaped, but as a statement on the matter from the French-Jewish umbrella organization CRIF relates, the investigating judge at the time, Jean-Louis Bruguire, found that the attack was planned and carried out by followers of Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal.

The investigation was stalled completely until 2007, when a new probe was launched by Judge Marc Trvidic, eventually leading to the identification of two of the suspects. In 2015, this finally resulted in international arrest warrants being issued for three individuals two for involvement in the attack and one for organizing it.

August 11, 2017 1:53 pm

The current locations of the suspects are known: Mohamed Souhair al-Abassi, the suspected mastermind, resides in Jordan; Mahmoud Khader Abed lives in the West Bank city of Ramallah; and Walid Abdulrahman is in Norway.

In June 2015, al-Abassi was arrested and held by Jordanian authorities in connection with the matter. At the time, Judge Trvidic stated, In all likelihood, there will be a trial. Thus far, however, Jordan has refused to extradite al-Abassi to France.

Norway has steadfastly refused to extradite Abdulrahman.

Francis Kalifat, president of the French-Jewish umbrella group CRIF, marked the 35th anniversary of the attack by criticizing France and the worlds indifference to the victims.

How can such a crime go unpunished? he asked. Can terrorists continue to enjoy happy days while the victims are waiting for a trial where they can receive justice? One can only regret that France has accommodated itself to the situation and has never asked the Palestinian Authority to hand Mahmoud Khader Abed over to the French court. Thirty-five years later, the victims and their families can no longer wait, they need to rebuild, we have to help them.

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How the Jews nearly wiped out Tay-Sachs – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Widespread testing is credited with helping reduce the incidence of Tay-Sachs among Jews by more than 90 percent since screenings began in the early 1970s. (Courtesy of National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases Association)

This story issponsoredby JScreen.

Parents of children born with Tay-Sachs disease talk about three deaths.

There is the moment when parents first learn that their child has been diagnosed with the fatal disease. Then there is the moment when the childs condition has deteriorated so badly blind, paralyzed, non-responsive that he or she has to be hospitalized. Then theres the moment, usually by age 5, when the child finally dies.

There used to be an entire hospital unit 16 or 17 beds at Kingsbook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn devoted to taking care of these children. It was often full, with a waiting list that admitted new patients only when someone elses child had died.

But by the late 1990s that unit was totally empty, and it eventually shut down. Its closure was a visible symbol of one of the most dramatic Jewish success stories of the past 50 years: the near-eradication of a deadly genetic disease.

Since the 70s, the incidence of Tay-Sachs has fallen by more than 90 percent among Jews, thanks to a combination of scientific advances and volunteer community activism that brought screening for the disease into synagogues, Jewish community centers and, eventually, routine medical care.

Until 1969, when doctors discovered the enzyme that made testing possible to determine whether parents were carriers of Tay-Sachs, 50 to 60 affected Jewish children were born each year in the United States and Canada. After mass screenings began in 1971, the numbers declined to two to five Jewish births a year, said Karen Zeiger, whose first child died of Tay-Sachs.

It had decreased significantly, said Zeiger, who until her retirement in 2000 was the State of Californias Tay-Sachs prevention coordinator. Between 1976 and 1989, there wasnt a single Jewish Tay-Sachs birth in the entire state, she said.

The first mass screening was held on a rainy Sunday afternoon in May 1971 at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, Maryland. The site was chosen in part for its proximity to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. One of the two doctors who discovered the missing hexosaminidase A enzyme, John OBrien, was visiting a lab there, and another Johns Hopkins doctor, Michael Kaback, had recently treated two Jewish couples with Tay-Sachs children, including Zeigers. Zeigers husband, Bob, was also a doctor at Johns Hopkins.

The screenings used blood tests to check for the missing enzyme that identified a parent as a Tay-Sachs carrier.

With the help of 40 trained lay volunteers and 15 physicians, more than 1,500 people volunteered for testing and were processed through the system in about 5 hours, Dr. Kaback later recalled in an article in the journal Genetics in Medicine. For me, it was like having written a symphony and hearing it for the first timeand it went beautifully, without glitches.

A machine to process the tests cost $15,000. We had bazaars, cake sales, sold stockings, and thats how we raised money for the machine, Zeiger said.

In the days before Facebook or email, activists and organizers spread the word about mass Tay-Sachs screenings through newspaper and magazine articles, posters at synagogues, and items in Jewish organizational newsletters. (Courtesy of National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases Association)

Before screening, couples in which both parents were Tay-Sachs carriers almost always stopped having children after they had one child with Tay-Sachs, for fear of having another, Ruth Schwartz Cowan wrote in her book Heredity and Hope: The Case for Genetic Screening.

But with screening, Tay-Sachs could be detected before birth, and carrier couples felt encouraged to have children, she wrote.

Dr. Kabacks work helped enable thousands of parents who were Tay-Sachs carriers to have other, healthy children.

What he did for Tay-Sachs and how he helped so many families was amazing, Zeiger said. People named their kids after him.

The screenings were transformative, and the campaign to get Jews tested for Tay-Sachs took off. This was the days before Facebook or email, so activists and organizers spread the word about screenings through newspaper and magazine articles, posters at synagogues, and items in Jewish organizational newsletters. Volunteers and medical professionals spoke on college campuses and sent promotional prescription pads to rabbis, obstetricians, and gynecologists. Doctors and activists enlisted rabbis and community leaders to encourage couples to be tested before getting married.

Another early mass screening event was held at a school in Waltham, Massachusetts, guided by Edwin Kolodny, a professor at New York University medical school. The first mass screening in the Philadelphia area was on Nov. 12, 1972, at the Germantown Jewish Center, and drew 800 people, according to a Yale senior thesis by David Gerber, Genetics for the Community: The Organized Response To Tay-Sachs Disease, 1955-1995.

Nearly half a century later, the Tay-Sachs screening effort remains a model for mobilizing a community against genetic disease. Parent activists, scientists and doctors are trying to emulate that model with other diseases and other populations.

You cant be complacent, because now there are 200 diseases you can test for, said Kevin Romer, president of the Matthew Forbes Romer Foundation and a past president of the National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases Association. The foundation is named for Romers son Matthew, who died of Tay-Sachs in 1996.

Romer and others involved with this issue stress the importance of screening interfaith couples, too. Non-Jews may also benefit from pre-conception screening for Tay-Sachs and other diseases. Some research indicates, for example, that Louisiana Cajuns, French Canadians and individuals with Irish lineage may also have an elevated incidence of Tay-Sachs.

Scientific progress means that Jews can now be screened for over 200 diseases with an at-home, mail-in test offered by JScreen. The four-year-old nonprofit affiliated with Emory Universitys Department of Human Genetics has screened thousands of people, and the subsidized fee for the test about $150 includes genetic counseling.

While some genetic tests are standard doctors office procedure for pregnant women or couples trying to get pregnant with a doctors help, JScreen aims for pre-conception screening. The test includes diseases common in those with Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrahi backgrounds as well as general population diseases, making it relevant for Jewish couples and interfaith couples.

Carrier screening gives people an opportunity to plan ahead for the health of their future families. We are taking lessons learned from earlier screening initiatives and bringing the benefits of screening to a new generation, said Karen Arnovitz Grinzaid, executive director of JScreen. It was a path pioneered by the Tay-Sachs screening that began in 1971.

In Cowans book, she mentions a chart prepared by Dr. Kaback reporting on 30 years of screening: 1.3 million people screened, 48,000 carriers detected, 1,350 carrier couples detected, 3,146 pregnancies monitored.

Kaback and his colleagues could well have stopped there, she wrote. But they did not. There is one more figure, the one that matters most and that goes the furthest in explaining why Ashkenazi Jews accept carrier screening after monitoring with pre-natal diagnosis, 2,466 unaffected offspring were born to parents who were both Tay-Sachs carriers.

(This article wassponsoredby and produced in partnership withJScreen,whosegoal of making genetic screening as simple, accessible, and affordable as possiblehas helped couples across the country have healthy babies. To access testing 24/7, request a kit at JScreen.org or gift a JScreen test as a wedding present. This article was produced by JTAs native content team.)

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In France, a curious fact emerges: Only the insane murder Jews – Arutz Sheva

A Muslim suspect rammed six police officers with his car in the Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret. Two French officers sustained severe injuries. The French media and authorities had no doubt. Terror returned to Paris. A voluntary act. Nobody questioned the motive of the Algerian terrorist who tried to shed the policemen’s blood. No one called him a lunatic.

What do you think, should this insane person be put in a psych ward while we contemplate the reasons for his actions? the Crif, the central organization of French Jewry,posted on Facebook about the attacker in Levallois-Perret. It was a provocative but brave reference to the French establishment for its dealing withthe slaying of a Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi, by a Muslim man, Kobili Traore, who was sent to observation as per his insanity plea even though he has no record of mental illness. He shouted Allah Akbar while killing Halimi and throwing her from the window. The judiciarys omission of the aggravated element of a hate crime caused by anti-Semitism, according with CRIF President Francis Kalifat, is a cover up of the anti-Semitic character of the crime.

The French media only covered Halimis deathtwo months after it happened.

We have seen this mechanism before with another Halimi, Ilan, a beautiful Jewish boy kidnapped at the outskirts of Paris, held prisoner for 24 days, tortured to death just because he was a Jew. The brave French journalist Guy Millire wrote that Ilan ‘s screams were heard by neighbors because they were especially atrocious: the killers disfigured the flesh of the young man, broke his fingers, burned him with acid and eventually with fire.

As in the case of Sarah Halimi, anti-Semitism was denied by the political authorities, the police and the media in the death of Ilan. As Francis Szpiner, the lawyer for the family of this boy, said, “the silence killed Ilan Halimi and justice has helped to perpetuate this conspiracy of silence, because the public was not told why he was killed.

It seems that in France, as in the rest of Europe, a lunatic is especiallylunatic if he strikes the Jews. I see the same conspiracy of silence fromthe European lites when the Palestinian terrorists strike the Israelis living in Judea and Samaria. The double stigma of settler and Jew makesthem unwhorthy of headlines and truth.

Have the European Jews become themselves settlers, unworthy of attention, compassion and justice?

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In France, a curious fact emerges: Only the insane murder Jews – Arutz Sheva

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More Catholics Than Jews Died at Auschwitz Between 19411943 – Church Militant

Today’s the feast day of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, the Jewish-born Edith Stein, who converted to Catholicism, became a Carmelite nun and died in the German prison camp of Auschwitz in 1942. Many people are unaware of original records, showing more Catholics than Jews died from 19411943 at this infamous Nazi prison camp built in Catholic Poland.

According to original records titledDeath Books,whichwere captured at Auschwitz prison camp by Russians in 1945 and preserved at the British Library, almost 3,000 more Catholics died during this three-year period than Jews. The records showthat of the 68,864 total people, who died there during that period, 31,814 were Catholic and 29,125 were Jews.

During that three-year period, 46 percent of the total number who died at Auschwitz were Catholic compared to 42 percent who were Jewish. Records for the period between 19441945 when the camp was liberated are not accounted for here. It’s telling to note, however, that the percentage of Catholics being killed at that location each year was actually increasing towards the end of that period.

During 1943, the last year records were kept in this original source, two and a half times more Catholics than Jews died at Auschwitz. Adding each journal entry for that year shows that 6,869 Jews died in this sector of the Holocaust compared to 16,960 Catholics, whose deaths were recorded that year in this original journal kept at Auschwitz.

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More Catholics Than Jews Died at Auschwitz Between 19411943 – Church Militant

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The Young American Jews Finding Spirituality Outside the Synagogue – Haaretz

The U.S. has over 100 independent minyans with different styles, customs and demographics

Michelle Reyf isnt really a synagogue-goer. Until recently, the 28-year-old New Yorker, who works for a Jewish nonprofit, was perfectly happy to get her spiritual fulfillment at Buddhist prayer services and meditation retreats.

Synagogue did not appeal to her for a variety of reasons she found the crowd to be older and the atmosphere to be impersonal. And as someone who identifies as queer, she felt distanced from the traditional values she encountered in many Jewish spaces.

But in January, a friend invited her to attend Shir HaMaalot, an independent minyan, or prayer community, in Brooklyn. There, Reyf found a place that had some of the very same qualities as the Buddhist community she was a part of and that she had not found in traditional Jewish settings.

Like finding a home

It feels like finding a home, and it feels like Im not a bad Jew for wanting different things than were being offered in most synagogues and Jewish communities, said Reyf, a senior digital organizer for the Jewish social justice organization Bend the Arc.

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I thought maybe Judaism isnt for me or maybe Im just not doing it right or maybe Im different or theres something wrong with me that I dont feel like I fit in wherever I go. And then I came to Shir HaMaalot and I was like, These are my people, she told JTA.

Shir HaMaalot a volunteer-led, nondenominational minyan that defines itself as a traditional-egalitarian havurah meets once a month in Prospect Heights and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, often in space rented and subsidized by a local Reform synagogue, Union Temple of Brooklyn. Following a musical Shabbat service, participants join together for a vegetarian potluck meal. There is no rabbi, and community members take turns leading the services.

Reyf is part of a cohort of millennial Jews finding spiritual fulfillment at independent minyans rather than in the traditional synagogue. Though the groups vary in prayer style, customs and demographics, many are egalitarian or support increased womens participation in services. They tend to draw a younger crowd than the average synagogue.

Independent minyans appeal to people looking for a type of religious experience, said Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, author of a book on independent minyans and president of Mechon Hadar, a co-educational, egalitarian institution of Jewish learning based in New York.

In my experience the people who are not going to synagogue its not because theyre anti-synagogue its more that theyre looking for something, and if the synagogue has it, theyll go there, and if the synagogue doesnt, they wont. And I think thats where Shir HaMaalot comes in, Kaunfer said.

He noted that Shir HaMaalot, founded in 2011, has a reputation for its use of music. I also think a place gets its own reputation just by who starts going there, Kaunfer said, so when people think about Where am I going to go on Friday night? now they know they have an option thats appealing to people in their age demographic, and that can also build on itself.

Over 100 nationwide

There are over 100 independent minyans across the country, and they are especially accessible to millennials who often have yet to make commitments to Jewish institutions, he added.

What it boils down to in large part is that people in their 20s and early 30s have more flexibility in terms of their social groups and commitments, he said.

The young crowd at Shir HaMaalot was a draw for Gabriela Geselowitz, a 26-year-old journalist and part-time Hebrew school teacher. Geselowitz knew she wanted to be involved in a Jewish community after college but had assumed she would be the only young person there.

When I moved to Brooklyn, I said I wanted to be near a Conservative shul, because that is generally traditional egalitarian, and I was sort of prepared to be the only young person at things. I did go to local synagogue a couple of times, and I was the only young person, said Geselowitz, who started attending Shir HaMaalot three and a half years ago.

At the minyan, Geselowitz found both a crowd around her age and an atmosphere she enjoys.

This was even better than Hillel in college in terms of enthusiasm and volume of people and what Im looking for. I didnt really expect to find a space that would hit all of my buttons in the way that Shir HaMaalot does, said Geselowitz.

Melodies, drums, potluck

The mood described by Geselowitz was evident at a recent Friday evening service, which she attended with her husband Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, a 27-year-old working to launch a media startup.

Around 75 people, mostly young professionals with a few older people and young families sprinkled in, sat in chairs set up in concentric circles around the prayer leader, who alternated between singing slow, soulful melodies and more upbeat ones. At various points throughout the service, when the tempo quickened, a young man started playing a djembe drum and people clapped along to the beat. Afterward they gathered around tables in an adjacent room for the potluck.

The majority of Shir HaMaalot attendees are young, said Russ Agdern, one of the minyans founders and a member of its organizing team.

It skews towards 20s and 30s, but its certainly not exclusively that, and thats certainly not our intention, said Agdern, 39, director of recruitment and outreach for the Jewish social justice group Avodah.

Community-driven davening space

Before the minyan was founded in 2011, there were not really any egalitarian spaces with full Hebrew liturgy in this part of Brooklyn, said Agdern, adding that the founders wanted to create a community-driven davening space.

The founders were active participants in the National Havurah Committee, a network of nondenominational grassroots Jewish communities. The organization has its origins in the havurah, or fellowship, movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, when an earlier wave of young people sought to create Jewish prayer experiences outside traditional synagogue settings.

Tobin Belzer, a sociologist of American Jewry at the University of Southern California, believes the difference between the havurah movement and the independent minyans is their attitude toward the Jewish mainstream. Because it was purposely positioned outside of mainstream institutions, the havurah phenomenon was often referred to as the Jewish counterculture. Participants published books and articles criticizing American Judaism, she wrote in a study of the two movements.

By contrast, minyans represent a subculture, not a counterculture. Independent minyans are not outside of the Jewish mainstream; they are on the margins of it, writes Belzer. In fact, many independent minyans have strong ties with Jewish institutions. Some receive funding from Jewish foundations, others gather in borrowed spaces in synagogues, and still others use Torah scrolls loaned from area congregations.

Though communities affiliated with the havurah movement vary in practice and affiliation, they are united in being egalitarian, mostly volunteer-run and promoting wide participation by community members.

Spitzer-Rubinstein likened Shir HaMaalots atmosphere to that of services at Jewish summer camps.

I went to Reform summer camp in California, and it was a similar sort of joy and celebration in praying, he said. I feel like there are a lot of Jewish spaces where praying isnt seen as something that should be fun, and one of the things that I really like about Shir HaMaalot is that people care about it and make it something significant.

Jewish youth group energy

For Geselowitz, Shir HaMaalots energy reminded me a little bit of teenage Jewish youth group.

The participatory aspect of the minyan appeals to Andrea Birnbaum, a 27-year-old medical student who has been attending Shir HaMaalot for four years.

Its not performative in the sense that sometimes you go to synagogue and theres someone on the bimah [podium] who has the most energy, and theyre trying to get the crowd moving but the crowd has a low energy, said Birnbaum. Its not like that. This is participatory we rotate every time someone leads the davening, the prayer.

For now, Geselowitz and Spitzer-Rubenstein, who attend other independent minyans in Brooklyn when Shir HaMaalot doesnt meet, dont feel like they are missing anything by not belonging to a synagogue.

No dues, just donations

Shir Hamaalot is free were happy to donate to it, but there arent synagogue dues. At this point in my life I actually like having a lay-led community rather than a single rabbinic authority, Geselowitz said.

Participants are also attracted to Shir HaMaalots progressive values.

What also was really cool was that there was a lot of different gender expression, people who werent necessarily [conforming to the gender] binary, and for me as a queer person that was really important to see that it isnt a heteronormative place where the gender binary was being enforced, Reyf said.

On its website, Shir HaMaalot encourages people to add your preferred pronouns to your name tag.

Pluralism is an important goal for the minyan, said Gregory Frumin, a 35-year-old social worker who serves on the minyans organizing team.

One of Shir HaMaalots core values is inclusive pluralism. We want to create an accessible and welcoming space for people of diverse backgrounds, identities, accessibility needs, he said.

At the potluck dinner after services, food is served on three different tables vegetarian, vegan and vegetarian cooked in a strictly kosher kitchen. Participants are also asked to list allergens on a spreadsheet prior to services.

I think its also important that Shir HaMaalot takes their religious observance seriously while still being welcoming to basically everyone, said Spitzer-Rubinstein.

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Filmmaker Isaac Artenstein’s Tales of Frontier Jewish Life – Times of San Diego

Share This Article: By Mimi Pollack Filmmaker Isaac Artenstein likes to tell good stories, especially unknown ones, and if those stories inform and entertain others, even better. He feels that the Jews of the Southwest have an untold story as the narrative has been mostly about the Anglo westward expansion. He wants to show one of the missing pieces of the puzzle. To that end, he is working on a four part series of documentaries, Frontier Jews, which covers Jews of the Southwest, including New Mexico, San Diego, Tucson and El Paso. The documentary on New Mexico, Challah Rising in the Desert, has just been completed and the one on San Diego, To the Ends of the Earth, is near completion. Artenstein was born in San Diego and grew up as a child of the border. He went to school in Tijuana and high school in Chula Vista. Fluent in both English and Spanish, he moves comfortably between both worlds. In addition, with an Ashkenazi father and Sephardic mother, he was also exposed to the different aspects of Judaism, all of which served him well while making the documentaries. Early in life, Artenstein told his stories by painting. I can remember drawing and painting since I was very young. This love of art led to photography and later filmmaking. He studied painting and photography at UCLA and filmmaking at the California Institute of the Arts where he got his degree. He uses his artistic eye as a filmmaker. After years of people asking him where he was from and not understanding that Artensteins could be Mexican, he decided to make a documentary on the Jews of Tijuana. He started by interviewing his own family and went on to interview other families and individuals who were all part of Tijuanas history. The documentary Tijuana Jewscame out in 2005 and was well received. It was shown at many Jewish film festivals. At the Tucson film festival, he was given a book, Pioneer Jews by Harriet and Fred Rochlin, which piqued his interest in learning more. He spent the next ten years fundraising to accomplish his goal. As I traveled and interviewed people in Tucson, El Paso, and New Mexico, I realized that the stories were very similar to those of the pioneer Jews in San Diego whose lives were centered in Old Town. At the same time, each place had something unique. Artenstein also has a methodical side to go along with his creative one. In preparing for each documentary, he likes to interview a wide array of people to find a dramatic structure and a theme. Although he is making a documentary, he feels it is still storytelling. He knows that the visual, lighting, mood, and music are important for each documentary, so he surrounds himself with talented people. His director of photography is Sergio Ulloa. As Artenstein says, For Challah Rising in the Desert, Sergio and I realized that the New Mexico landscape was also a character in our film as it is so diverse and beautiful. His co- composers are Jaime Valle and Alan Phillips. They composed very different music for each documentary. The first documentary in the series, Challah Rising in the Desert, explores the history of the Jews in New Mexico. The braided challah bread represents the five strands or waves of settlements that have come, including the converso Jews escaping the Spanish inquisition 400 hundred years ago, the German Jewish pioneers of the Santa Fe trail in the 1800s, the scientists who came in the 1940s to Los Alamos, the counterculture youth of the 1960s, and the Jews of today. It also shows the special influence New Mexico has had on its Jewish community. Only there will you find bakers who mix green chilis into the challah dough, producing a hybrid and delicious bread. San Diegos documentaryTo the Ends of the Earth came about from a collaboration between Artenstein and Bill Lawrence, the executive director of the San Diego History Center, for the History and Heritage of San Diegos Jewish Community exhibit, which is running until May 2018. Artenstein was commissioned to produce a series of standalone video capsules for the exhibit. He interviewed various people in the community. Although the videos are separate, this collaboration was the catalyst for the documentary. Artenstein shot the capsules concurrently while shooting for the documentary. While doing research, he was particularly intrigued when he discovered and read a detailed diary by Victoria Jacobs, who lived in Old Town as a teenager. She wrote of her daily life. At that time, Jews were well integrated in the fabric and society of San Diego. However, after the railroad was built and more Anglos arrived in San Diego, the climate towards the Jews began to change. By the 1940s and 1950s, there were restrictive covenants in certain areas of town where blacks, Mexicans and Jews were not allowed to live. La Jolla was one of them. Although these covenants were illegal, they still existed. This changed with the opening of UC San Diego in 1960. The head of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Roger Revelle, served as a point man for the UC Board of Regents. He made it clear that if the university was going to open in La Jolla, he wanted all the professors to be able to live nearby. The 1960s and the university brought internationally influential Jews to San Diego such as virologist Jonas Salk, electronic engineers Irwin Jacobs and Andrew Viterbi, and poet Jerome Rothenberg. This renaissance was scientific, entrepreneurial, and cultural. Artenstein interviewed diverse people for the documentary, including Jewish historian Joellyn Zollman, San Diego Jewish World publisher Don Harrison, actor and writer Salomon Maya, Jonas Salks son Peter, and Congresswoman Susan Davis. He learned from Zollman that 20 percent of the Jewish community in San Diego is foreign born and there are Jews from Mexico, South Africa, Israel and Russia. The Jewish community in San Diego is truly rich in diversity. Challah Rising in the Desert will go to general distribution in September. To the Ends of the Earth will be completed by the end of the summer, and Artenstein plans to submit it for the next San Diego Jewish Film Festival. His goal is to complete all four documentaries or Frontier Jews by the end of 2018. Mimi Pollack is an English as a SecondLanguage teacher and a freelance writer. This article is reprinted with permission of LChaim Magazine. Filmmaker Isaac Artensteins Tales of Frontier Jewish Life was last modified: August 12th, 2017 by Editor > > Subscribe to Times of San Diegos free daily email newsletter! Click here

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This weekend’s Charlottesville rally represents an alliance between pro-Confederates and Nazis – Vox

The alt-right rally Friday night at the University of Virginia campus and Saturday in the city of Charlottesville is technically about a statue of Robert E. Lee. But common to many participants in the rally is a willingness to use and celebrate Nazi symbols and ideology. Fridays protesters shouted anti-Semitic and Nazi-associated slogans, including “blood and soil: a phrase that references the German ideology of Blut und Boden, or the idea that a person is defined by his or her relationship to ethnic ancestry (blood) and the land they cultivate (soil). Protesters also shouted Jews will not replace us (a more explicitly anti-Semitic take on you will not replace us, a white-supremacist alt-right slogan that arose in response to actor Shia LaBoeufs anti-Trump performance art piece He Will Not Divide Us). Attendees at the rally also wore Nazi paraphernalia, carried flags with swastikas alongside Confederate flags, and wore shirts with quotations by Adolf Hitler. The use of anti-Semitic slurs and display of Nazi imagery is ubiquitous among certain factions of the alt-right. But the rhetoric and imagery of Charlottesville, in which the tropes of the Ku Klux Klan including the burning torches of Fridays protest and the trappings of Nazism collide, is particularly unsettling. In adopting the Nazified ideology of Blut und Boden, the Charlottesville demonstrators arent just expressing hatred against one group of people, which would be sickening enough on its own. Rather, theyre doing something even more terrifying: advocating for a radically reactionary understanding of societal relations thats predicated on the idea that people are solely obligated to fight for the future and well-being of people who look just like them. Theyre also, implicitly, firing up their base by creating an even greater chasm between the good old boys, whom they portray as defending their own, and the gold old boys enemies: the implicit metropolitan (and coded-as-Jewish) elites. Its a strategy that may yet work to gather more disenfranchised, rural whites into the fold. After all, Blut und Boden worked so powerfully and insidiously as a Nazi ideology not just because it privileged certain bloodlines among others, but also because it harkened back to an ahistorical, nationalist notion of rural idyll. Today, many on the American right today see that same rural idyll in their idealized recollections of the pre-Civil War South. Nazi propaganda used Jews as a convenient scapegoat for the economic crises of the 1930s. Blaming Jews for making wretched ethnic Germans by lending them money and demanding they pay interest, one Nazi propaganda pamphlet characterized Jews as singly responsible for the decline of rural Germany: They had to move to the cities. Torn from the land to which they belonged, robbed of their labor that gave their lives purpose and meaning, they fell victim to poverty and misery. Worn down, their souls crushed, they accepted Jewish doctrines that denied the Fatherland and opposed all that was nationalistic. Their strength and ability faded. The Jew had reached his goal. In other words, blood and soil is about stoking the twin fires of false nostalgia and outright bigotry. Its at once an invitation to good old boys to Make America Great Again and a channel through which they can direct their anger by blaming an imagined other. The use of anti-Semitic slurs in Charlottesville this weekend, therefore, is about more than just insidious bigotry. Its about creating an alliance between two historic hatreds, predicating the imagined greatness of Trumps America on expelling the undesirables. That propaganda worked in the 1930s. It cannot be allowed to work today.

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August 12, 2017   Posted in: Jews  Comments Closed

German Jews interrogated POWs for US in World War II – STLtoday.com

In 1944-45, a few thousand German Jewish exiles returned to the fatherland wearing U.S. Army uniforms. They were part of the Ritchie Boys alien refugees trained to interrogate enemy prisoners of war. In Sons and Soldiers, popular historian Bruce Henderson tells the story of six of those Ritchie Boys. He starts with their misery in Germany as the brutally anti-Semitic Nazis took over, then follows them into exile, and then into the Army, and then on to Camp Ritchie, Md., for their training and finally to Europe and into combat. During their training, they came to understand that they werent at Camp Ritchie just because they spoke the language. They also knew the culture and psyche of Germans better then anyone else a deep, intimate knowledge born from the small details of their lives growing up in Germany. As children, they had gone to school and played sports with boys who were now German soldiers. And as interrogators of German prisoners of war, they would be familiar with the workings of German minds, the habits of German lives, and the influences of Nazi doctrine upon German soldiers and civilians alike. Author Henderson goes on to describe the positive results that the Ritchie Boys gleaned from POWs and some of their harrowing adventures under fire. (One Ritchie Boy made his first parachute jump at night into Normandy, under enemy fire, early on June 6, 1944.) Hendersons book will appeal greatly to readers with a connection to the Holocaust. Theyll overlook some problems with the authors prose for example, a redundant reference to Buchenwalds having posts with automatic machine guns. Local readers will take special interest in a Ritchie Boy named Gnter Stern, whose family got him away from their hometown of Hildesheim to faraway St. Louis. There, he lived with an uncle, baker Benno Silberberg. Stern graduated from Soldan High School (Class of 39) and picked up some money by busing tables at the old Chase Hotel. In 1940, he enrolled at St. Louis University. A few months after Pearl Harbor, he tried to join the Navy but was turned away as a foreigner. A few months later, the less-demanding Army drafted Stern. The Army sent him to Camp Barkeley, Texas, for training as a medical administrator. On May 1, 1943, he and some other foreign-born soldiers went to Abilene to be sworn in as American citizens. They were told that the court could change their Germanic or Jewish-sounding names if they wished. A number of soldiers, not wanting to go overseas with their birth names on their dog tags in case of capture, opted to do so. On that day, Gnter Stern of Hildesheim became Guy Stern of St. Louis. Stern arrived in Britain in January 1944. Five months later, on June 9, he landed at Omaha Beach. He began interviewing POWs that very day, under German artillery fire. On hand at the POW camp was Post-Dispatch correspondent Virginia Irwin. The sixth paragraph of her story opens this way: Through an interpreter, who turned out to be Staff Sgt. Guy Stern of 1110A Maple Place, St. Louis, I talked with several Germans who had been captured. Later, Stern ran into another well-known woman German-born actress Marlene Dietrich, on a USO tour. She accepted Sterns invitation to visit his POW camp. But as Henderson notes, whatever curiosity Marlene had about seeing German POWs paled compared to their excitement at seeing her. The world had spread rapidly in the cage: Marlene Dietrich ist hier! Hundreds of them pressed against the wire enclosures on both sides, trying to see her, touch her, speak to her. At one point, Stern and a fellow interrogator pushed the rules by having Stern pose as a Soviet commissar. Any prisoner who refused to answer questions was ushered into a tent housing Stern, dressed in a Soviet uniform and posing as Commissar Krukov. Under threat of being turned over to the Soviets, most of the POWs gave in and talked at length. Henderson writes that as the war wound down in the spring of 1945, Stern kept alive the hope that his family would find a way to survive, and that once the war was over they would all be reunited. But what he saw at Buchenwald ripped at his heart and took away what hope remained. Shortly after the war ended, Stern returned to Hildesheim, in the British zone of occupation. Henderson says that his journey home had erased whatever hope he had that he would be reunited with his family. The truth was inescapable. As he left the town of his youth, Guy Stern had no intention of ever returning. Back in the postwar United States, Stern moved to New York, got a doctorate from Columbia and taught German studies, retiring from Michigans Wayne State University in 2003. The afterword notes: Guy returned to his hometown of Hildesheim in the 1960s to speak at the dedication of a new synagogue. Harry Levins of Manchester retired in 2007 as senior writer of the Post-Dispatch.

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August 12, 2017   Posted in: Jews  Comments Closed

The Catholic Church & the Jews: What is the True Story?

Though history has shown Catholics sometimes acting ignobly towards Jews, much more often Catholics have acted as protectors of them Few episodes in recent Church history arouse as much attention as the alleged silence of Pope Pius XII regarding the Holocaust. Despite the fact that many respected scholarsincluding Jewish oneshave demonstrated that the pope gave European Jews much aid, this negative image of Pius XII prevails in many circles. Interestingly, unlike Pius, Allied leaders such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill did absolutely nothing to aid European Jews, although they do not have the same stigma. Perhaps this is because Pius XII is a symbol. Historical sources often present the Holocaust as the logical conclusion of traditional Catholic anti-Judaism; the pope should be demonized because he headed an institution that was the source of the hatred of Jews that culminated in the Shoah. Is this accusation fair? In the Imperial War Museum of Londons otherwise excellent exhibit on the Holocaust, one can view a short documentary on the history of anti-Semitism. Before jumping into Nazi ideology, the film details Christian misdeeds against Jews during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. While the narrator of the documentary in the London museum explicitly states that modern anti-Semitism had little to do with traditional anti-Judaism, a similar documentary on the history of anti-Semitism in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum makes no such demarcation; it jumps directly from medieval anti-Judaism to the Dreyfus affair and the rise of the Third Reich. Often times in texts about the Holocaust, the idea that the Nazi ideology was an extension of Christian anti-Judaism is presented as axiomatic. The problem with this presentation of history is that it solely focuses on Christian anti-Judaism. Why is it not acknowledged enough that the ancient Hebrew people were persecuted by many other groups? Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, and Romans all harmed Jews long before Christ was born. Perhaps this is because the Holocaust happened in Europe and was perpetrated by the traditionally Christian German nation. Was this the extension of Christian anti-Judaism? Indeed, negative attitudes towards Jews among Christians have a long history. For centuries, Christians often blamed Jews for killing Christ; only did the 1965 document Nostra Aetaete officially absolve them of this charge. When bubonic plague ravaged Europe, many Christians in Europe accused Jews of poisoning wells. Throughout the centuries, Jews were accused of kidnapping Christian children and using their blood to make matzos (blood libel). During the Crusades, Christian soldiers killed numerous Jews on the way to the Holy Land. In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council decreed that Jews wear special clothing to distinguish them from Gentiles. As recently as the nineteenth century, Pope Pius IX reopened the Roman ghettothe last European ghetto before the Nazis came to powerand the Vatican kidnapped a Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara, who was raised by the pope and became a priest. All these are troubling aspects of the historic relationship between Christianity and Judaism. Pope John Paul II was right in apologizing in the name of the Church in 2000 for these and other historic abuses at the hands of Catholics. However, this is only one part of the story. There is also a long tradition of the Churchs defense of the Jews. While it is true that the Churchs relationship with Judaism improved radically in the past half-century beginning with Pope John XXIII, who removed the prayer for the conversion of the perfidious Jews from the Good Friday liturgy and especially under John Paul IIwho had Jewish friends growing up in Poland and was the first pope to make an official visit to a synagogue, who established diplomatic ties between the Holy See and Israel, and who condemned anti-Semitism vocally and explicitlythese two were not the first major papal allies of the Jews. The first was Pope Gregory the Great (590-604), one of the four Latin Church fathers. He issued the edict Sicut Judaeis, which stated that the Jews should have no infringement of their rights. We forbid to vilify the Jews. We allow them to live as Romans and to have full authority over their possessions. During his pontificate, Gregory the Great repeatedly intervened on behalf of the Jews; for example, when the bishop of Palermo confiscated Jewish schools and synagogues, the pope intervened to stop him. More papal edicts prohibiting violence against the Jews, forced baptism, and other abuses, and promising papal protection, were signed by later popes, including Calixtus II, Clement VI, Boniface IX, and Martin V. Numerous edicts by medieval and Renaissance popes starting with Innocent IVs 1247 bull also condemned the blood libel myth. The anti-religious polemicists who topped the bestseller lists several years agoincluding Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkinsoften present Adolf Hitler as a Catholic and claim that the Holocaust was the result of historical anti-Semitism. In fact, Hitler most qualifies as a lapsed Catholic. As an adult, he no longer participated in the sacraments. His wedding with Eva Braun was a secular civil ceremony. The Nazi leadership was not influenced by Christianity, but instead was fascinated with Germanic mythology, the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, and the mysticism of the Far East, of which S.S. head Heinrich Himmler was especially enamored, believing that the origins of the Aryan master race could be traced to India. The Nazis were not atheists, but pagans. They were, however, strongly anti-Christian. After coming to power, the Nazi persecuted the Catholic Church in Germany. Catholic youth organizations and newspapers were banned, as was the Catholic Center Party. In Dachau, the first concentration camp, they imprisoned many priests in a famous priest block. Of course, there were Catholics who acted deplorably during the Holocaust, and their misdeeds have to be enumerated. Arguably, the most pernicious was Monsignor Jozef Tiso. Following Nazi Germanys annexing of Czechoslovakia, a Slovak fascist puppet state was formed headed by Monsignor Jozef Tiso, a Catholic priest. In 1939, Tisos puppet state sent 50,000 Slovak soldiers to aid in the German invasion of Poland. Tiso passed anti-Jewish legislation requiring Jews to wear yellow armbands and banning marriages between Jews and ethnic Slovaks. Tiso also helped the Germans deport 70,000 Jews to concentration camps. In 1942, he gave a speech in which he defended these deportations. Two years later, when the Slovak resistance launched an anti-Nazi uprising, Tiso accused the Jews of leading the rebellion and continued to support the deportations. Adolf Hitler himself was greatly impressed with Tisos sadism: It is interesting how this little Catholic priest Tiso is sending us the Jews! he remarked. Slovakias fascist government was unique in that it was led by an ordained clergyman. However, there were two other pro-Nazi puppet governments that claimed to be Catholic in nature. The first was in Croatia. In 1941 in German-occupied Yugoslavia, the fascist Ustae formed the Independent State of Croatia, a puppet state of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The Ustae made Catholicism the official religion of the regime and committed acts of genocide against Serbs, Jews, and Roma. The Ustaes treatment of Serbs, more than 300,000 of whom were killed, mostly in concentration camps located in Croatia, was especially barbaric: The Croat education minister wanted to murder one-third of the Serbs, forcibly convert one-third to Catholicism, and expel the remaining third. However, Jews were also targeted, and the Ustae were complicit in the killing of 30,000 Jews. Another Catholic pro-Nazi puppet state was founded in Vichy France, headed by World War I hero Marshal Philipe Petain from 1940 to 1944. Wanting an ethnically French and Catholic state, Vichy adopted Nuremburg-style laws that discriminated against Jews and pursued pro-natalist policies among autochthonous French. The French police helped the Germans deport almost 80,000 French Jews to concentration camps. In numerous roundups, French policemen herded Jews onto trains sending them to near-certain death often without the presence of a single German. The Vichy French themselves built and ran concentration camps in France in which Jews, Roma, and political dissidents were interned. Looking at the examples of Slovakia, Croatia, and France, one could be tempted to believe that the Catholic Church, if not indirectly responsible for the Holocaust, was Nazi Germanys partner in exterminating European Jewry. However, the mature historian must always look at the entirety of a situation before passing a judgment. There were many counterexamples of lay and ordained Catholics who acted heroically to aid Jews. In all three Catholic fascist puppet states mentioned above, there were numerous priests and bishops who aided Jews. In Slovakia, the Greek Catholic bishop of Presov Pavel Gojdic, in particular, was a resister of the Holocaust. In 1939, he wrote a letter to the faithful in his diocese protesting against the discrimination of Jews. When the Slovaks and Germans began deporting Jews to concentration camps, Bishop Gojdic wrote a protest letter and informed the Vatican of the deportations. He also directly helped several Jews. In Croatia, the cardinal-archbishop of Zagreb, Aloysius Stepinac, initially welcomed the Ustae regime and the creation of a semi-independent Croatia, although he did publicly condemn the governments persecution of Jews and secured hiding spots for Jews. In France, many bishops directly aided Jews; the most famous was Cardinal Pierre-Marie Gerlier of Lyon who hid Jewish children in convents and parishes. Elsewhere in Europe, priests and bishops also actively opposed the Holocaust. In 1942, the Dutch bishops wrote a letter condemning the deportations of Jews that was read in all parishes in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands; as a punishment, the Germans increased deportations of Jews, especially targeting converts. In Hungarywhich by 1944 was ruled by a fascist puppet state that collaborated with the Nazis in deporting Jews to concentration camps, but before was a relatively safe country for refugees, Jewish and otherwisethe nations primate, Cardinal Jusztinin Gyrgy Serdi helped find shelter for many of the 150,000 Polish refugees who fled the country after the German-Soviet invasion of 1939, many of whom were Jewish. In 1944, as Nazis and Hungarian fascists began deporting Jews, Cardinal Serdi publicly protested. In the United Kingdom, which avoided Nazi occupation thanks to victory during the Battle of Britain, Cardinal Arthur Hinsley organized a Catholic Day of Prayer for Poland in Westminster Cathedral in 1942, publicly condemning Nazi atrocities against Poles and Jews. In western Ukraine, Greek Catholic monasteries protected several hundred Jewish children from German Nazis and Ukrainian nationalists. Martin Gilbert, an esteemed historian of the Holocaust, estimates that hundreds of thousands of Jews across Europe were saved by Catholics. Perhaps the most surprising Catholic who aided the Jews was General Francisco Franco. This right-wing military dictator, aided by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, likely saved more Jews than any other political leader during World War II. The devoutly Catholic Spanish dictator refused to hand over Jews who had sought refuge in neutral Spain. Franco instructed Spanish diplomats in Nazi-occupied Europe to aid Jews. He also helped Jews obtain Spanish passports and flee to Latin America. In total, General Franco is credited with saving about 40,000 Jews. Two countries where Catholic aid to the Jews merits special mention are Poland and Italy. Before the Second World War, Poland had Europes largest Jewish population, at more than three million. Invaded by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, non-Jewish Poles themselves suffered greatly during the war, losing two to three million people. Even without figuring in Jewish losses, Poland lost the largest proportion of its pre-war population of all European countries. It is true that before 1939, anti-Semitism increased in Poland, and that the Church was not immune to this. In 1936, the countrys primate Cardinal August Hlond issued a pastoral letter in which he accused Jews of spreading pornography and Bolshevism (although the letter also condemned physical violence against Jews and anti-Jewish prejudices, even though the author of the letter clearly himself had such prejudices). Yet despite these souring relationsand despite the fact that Poland was the only occupied country where aiding Jews was punishable by death and that Polish priests themselves suffered under the occupation enormously, as half of all Polish priests and numerous bishops were deported to concentration campsthe Polish Churchs aid to the Jews was enormous. In his authoritative history of the Jews in Poland and Russia, Prof. Antony Polonsky of Brandeis University writes that 1,000 of 1,600 Polish convents sheltered Jewish children during the Holocaust. Irena Sendler, the famous Polish social worker who helped smuggle 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto, often placed the children in convents and remarked in an interview with Anna Mieszkowska that she never had a priest turn down a request to aid a Jewish child. The Polish bishops never issued a document officially condemning the Holocaust. However, they never made an official protest against the massive deportations of Polish priests, either. Actions speak louder than words: Recent research reveals that of the thirteen Polish bishops who were not killed by the Nazis, exiled, or deported to concentration camps, eleven are documented as having aided Jews. One of the exiles, Bishop Karol Radoski, officially condemned the Holocaust on the radio in London. Italy merits mention because the Vatican, whose wartime role has been the source of much controversy, is located there. Of the 45,000 Jews registered in Italys 1938 census, 7,000 fled the country and 8,000 died in concentration camps; this makes Italys wartime Jewish survival rate one of Europes highest. Naturally, there are numerous reasons for this: the Jewish population there was relatively small; the punishments for aiding Jews in Italy were not as draconian as in, say, Poland; and Italian Jews were not isolated from the rest of the population in walled or fenced ghettoes, as in Eastern Europe. At the same time, given the facts that in 1938, Mussolini passed anti-Semitic laws banning Jews from Italian public life and banning intermarriage and that the Italian Fascist militia collaborated with the Nazis in hunting down Jews, this high survival rate is remarkable. Another reason for the high survival rate of Italian Jews must be attributed to the Catholic Church. Pope Pius XII is frequently presented as Hitlers pope or as the silent pope. The truth of the matter is that Pius XII appealed to the Italian monasteries to hide Jewish children and himself hid several thousand Jews in Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence, and in the Vatican itself. Reading the testimonies of Italian Holocaust survivors, it is clear that many Italian Jews were rescued by priests or nuns. Additionally, Pius sent protests to the pro-Nazi governments of Hungary and Slovakia, begging them to halt the deportations of Jews to concentration camps (tragically, without effect). Pius XII used a network of his papal nuncios across Europe to help persecuted Jews flee to Latin America or neutral countries and to secure hiding places; the most famous were Monsignors Angelo Rotta, papal nuncio to Hungary, and Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, Vatican ambassador to Greece and Turkey. Pius XIIs record is imperfect. Before World War II, he pressured Poland to give the Free City of Danzig to Nazi Germany to avoid military conflict. After the war, the Vatican assisted some Nazi criminals in fleeing to Argentina; was Pius unaware of this? He also did not condemn the post-war pogroms against Jews that occurred across Eastern Europe. However, Pius record regarding the Jews is certainly better than that of President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, who as Jewish historian Walter Laqueur has chronicled in extensive detail, were well-informed about the Holocaust. However, they did not intervene, despite the fact that, unlike Pius XII, they had the military capacities to do so. For example, President Roosevelt refused to increase immigration quotas to allow more Jewish refugees from Europe to seek asylum in the United States, while his Department of War decided to not bomb the death camp crematoria. It is true that when Pius XII condemned the Holocaust (on Vatican Radio, for instance), he used generic terms rather than referring to specific atrocities. Still, we must remember that Pius previously was a Vatican diplomat. He likely knew that speaking out too forcefully could have unintended tragic consequences; the abovementioned example of the increased deportations of Jews following the Dutch bishops letter shows this. The fact is that Pius XII saved thousands of Jews, including a great many Italian Jews, by hiding them in the Vatican, securing hiding places for them in Italian convents, and helping Jews through to his network of papal diplomats. Pius compares favorably not only to the wartime leaders of the United States and Britain, but above all to another prominent cleric, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem who openly supported Nazi Germanys Jewish policy. The historical relationship between Catholics and Jews has frequently been portrayed in a negative light. The fact that Catholics did commit many transgressions against their elder brothers in the faith over the past two millennia is a historic fact. However, as we have seen, this relationship has often been portrayed in a one-sided way. Alongside genuine examples of Catholic mistreatment of Jews, such as the Fourth Lateran Council, we have examples of medieval bishops condemning anti-Semitic canards. In addition to perverted priests like Tiso, there were many Catholic bishops, priests, and nuns in every European country who helped Jews. Before making a judgment on the relationship between Catholicism and the Holocaust, it is worth asking: Which group of Catholics truly lived out the Churchs teachings on the Jews? In Catholicism, the doctrine of mortal sin, the notion that all humans have an inherent tendency to commit wrong, is strong. This is why the sacrament of reconciliation is so important in Catholicism. Even very saintly men and women confess their sins (in fact, they do so more frequently than ordinary mortals). Were Catholics who harmed Jews acting out of their own iniquity, or because of their faith? Unique among most of the worlds great religions, Christianity proposes a system of ethical universalism. As St. Paul said, there is no man or woman, Greek or Jew, slave or free. The parable of the Good Samaritan shows that the Church eschews any primitive tribalism; all are to be treated equally. Nowhere in the New Testament is it said that Jews (or any other ethnic or religious group, for that matter) are somehow inferior. And with the exception of the Fourth Lateran Council, never did the official teachings of the Church promote any discrimination against Jews. In addition to human corruptibility, is there any other origin of this well-documented, long-standing tradition of Christian hostility towards Jews and Judaism? In my opinion, two additional factors were at work. First, there is the fact that Christianity was born of Judaism, and so the two religions began as competitors. In addition to the battle for souls, many Christians have traditionally been disappointed that Jews refused to accept their Messiah. Meanwhile, Jews have themselves often been mistrustful towards Judaism. The Talmud presents Jesus Christ in an extremely negative light, while in Israel Jewish fundamentalists have set fire to churches, and Christiansboth ethnically Jewish ones and Palestinian Christiansare treated as second-class citizens (and sometimes not citizens at all) in Israel. I mention these facts not to suggest equivalence between Christian mistreatment of Jews and Jewish prejudice against Christiansthroughout the ages, Christian atrocities against Jews have been far more numerousbut to instead show how a certain mutual distrust often results from religions with a similar origin. Second, there is the fact that human beings seem to have an inherent nasty tendency towards tribalism. Throughout most of European history, Jews have dressed differently, worshipped differently, spoken a different language (Ladino or Yiddish as opposed to the local language), and looked different in terms of physiognomy. Unfortunately, people often dont like those who are different. This is reflected in the fact that the Nazi ideology singled out the Roma and Sinti peoples for extermination, just as it did the Jews. Like Jews, Gypsies are of non-European origin and, like the Jews prior to 1948, have no state. Anti-Roma prejudice, both popular and institutional, is still strong today across Europe. In conclusion, the historic relationship between Catholics and Jews has often been fraught. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of recent popes, anti-Judaism is marginalized within the Catholic Church. It is quite telling that the most anti-Semitic faction within the Church today is a schismatic one, the Society of St. Pius X started by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. However, the history of Catholic-Jewish relations has often been told in a one-sided way. In particular, the Holocaust is not an extension of Catholic tradition, and the attitudes of the Church towards Jews during that period must be presented in a more nuanced light. Catholics have every right to protest when the history of their Church is presented in a distorted fashion. The historical legacy of anti-Semitism is not limited to the Christian world, and in addition to Catholics acting ignobly towards Jews, there were many Catholic protectors of them. Books on the topic of this essay may be found inThe Imaginative ConservativeBookstore.The Imaginative Conservativeapplies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politicswe approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please considerdonating now. “All comments are subject to moderation. We welcome the comments of those who disagree, but not those who are disagreeable.”

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August 11, 2017   Posted in: Jews  Comments Closed

French Jews Demand Extradition of Suspects in Deadly 1982 Paris Deli Terror Attack – Algemeiner

Email a copy of “French Jews Demand Extradition of Suspects in Deadly 1982 Paris Deli Terror Attack” to a friend The site of the 1982 attack. Photo: David Monniaux via Wikimedia Commons. Thirty-five years after a deadly terrorist attack at a Jewish deli in Paris, French Jews are calling for the three suspects still at large to be extradited to France. The Chez Jo Goldenberg attack was the deadliest atrocity committed against French Jews since the Holocaust. On August 9, 1982, a group of terrorists burst into the restaurant, threw a grenade, and began randomly firing at the patrons. Six were killed, including two American citizens. All the attackers escaped, but as a statement on the matter from the French-Jewish umbrella organization CRIF relates, the investigating judge at the time, Jean-Louis Bruguire, found that the attack was planned and carried out by followers of Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal. The investigation was stalled completely until 2007, when a new probe was launched by Judge Marc Trvidic, eventually leading to the identification of two of the suspects. In 2015, this finally resulted in international arrest warrants being issued for three individuals two for involvement in the attack and one for organizing it. August 11, 2017 1:53 pm The current locations of the suspects are known: Mohamed Souhair al-Abassi, the suspected mastermind, resides in Jordan; Mahmoud Khader Abed lives in the West Bank city of Ramallah; and Walid Abdulrahman is in Norway. In June 2015, al-Abassi was arrested and held by Jordanian authorities in connection with the matter. At the time, Judge Trvidic stated, In all likelihood, there will be a trial. Thus far, however, Jordan has refused to extradite al-Abassi to France. Norway has steadfastly refused to extradite Abdulrahman. Francis Kalifat, president of the French-Jewish umbrella group CRIF, marked the 35th anniversary of the attack by criticizing France and the worlds indifference to the victims. How can such a crime go unpunished? he asked. Can terrorists continue to enjoy happy days while the victims are waiting for a trial where they can receive justice? One can only regret that France has accommodated itself to the situation and has never asked the Palestinian Authority to hand Mahmoud Khader Abed over to the French court. Thirty-five years later, the victims and their families can no longer wait, they need to rebuild, we have to help them.

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How the Jews nearly wiped out Tay-Sachs – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Widespread testing is credited with helping reduce the incidence of Tay-Sachs among Jews by more than 90 percent since screenings began in the early 1970s. (Courtesy of National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases Association) This story issponsoredby JScreen. Parents of children born with Tay-Sachs disease talk about three deaths. There is the moment when parents first learn that their child has been diagnosed with the fatal disease. Then there is the moment when the childs condition has deteriorated so badly blind, paralyzed, non-responsive that he or she has to be hospitalized. Then theres the moment, usually by age 5, when the child finally dies. There used to be an entire hospital unit 16 or 17 beds at Kingsbook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn devoted to taking care of these children. It was often full, with a waiting list that admitted new patients only when someone elses child had died. But by the late 1990s that unit was totally empty, and it eventually shut down. Its closure was a visible symbol of one of the most dramatic Jewish success stories of the past 50 years: the near-eradication of a deadly genetic disease. Since the 70s, the incidence of Tay-Sachs has fallen by more than 90 percent among Jews, thanks to a combination of scientific advances and volunteer community activism that brought screening for the disease into synagogues, Jewish community centers and, eventually, routine medical care. Until 1969, when doctors discovered the enzyme that made testing possible to determine whether parents were carriers of Tay-Sachs, 50 to 60 affected Jewish children were born each year in the United States and Canada. After mass screenings began in 1971, the numbers declined to two to five Jewish births a year, said Karen Zeiger, whose first child died of Tay-Sachs. It had decreased significantly, said Zeiger, who until her retirement in 2000 was the State of Californias Tay-Sachs prevention coordinator. Between 1976 and 1989, there wasnt a single Jewish Tay-Sachs birth in the entire state, she said. The first mass screening was held on a rainy Sunday afternoon in May 1971 at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, Maryland. The site was chosen in part for its proximity to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. One of the two doctors who discovered the missing hexosaminidase A enzyme, John OBrien, was visiting a lab there, and another Johns Hopkins doctor, Michael Kaback, had recently treated two Jewish couples with Tay-Sachs children, including Zeigers. Zeigers husband, Bob, was also a doctor at Johns Hopkins. The screenings used blood tests to check for the missing enzyme that identified a parent as a Tay-Sachs carrier. With the help of 40 trained lay volunteers and 15 physicians, more than 1,500 people volunteered for testing and were processed through the system in about 5 hours, Dr. Kaback later recalled in an article in the journal Genetics in Medicine. For me, it was like having written a symphony and hearing it for the first timeand it went beautifully, without glitches. A machine to process the tests cost $15,000. We had bazaars, cake sales, sold stockings, and thats how we raised money for the machine, Zeiger said. In the days before Facebook or email, activists and organizers spread the word about mass Tay-Sachs screenings through newspaper and magazine articles, posters at synagogues, and items in Jewish organizational newsletters. (Courtesy of National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases Association) Before screening, couples in which both parents were Tay-Sachs carriers almost always stopped having children after they had one child with Tay-Sachs, for fear of having another, Ruth Schwartz Cowan wrote in her book Heredity and Hope: The Case for Genetic Screening. But with screening, Tay-Sachs could be detected before birth, and carrier couples felt encouraged to have children, she wrote. Dr. Kabacks work helped enable thousands of parents who were Tay-Sachs carriers to have other, healthy children. What he did for Tay-Sachs and how he helped so many families was amazing, Zeiger said. People named their kids after him. The screenings were transformative, and the campaign to get Jews tested for Tay-Sachs took off. This was the days before Facebook or email, so activists and organizers spread the word about screenings through newspaper and magazine articles, posters at synagogues, and items in Jewish organizational newsletters. Volunteers and medical professionals spoke on college campuses and sent promotional prescription pads to rabbis, obstetricians, and gynecologists. Doctors and activists enlisted rabbis and community leaders to encourage couples to be tested before getting married. Another early mass screening event was held at a school in Waltham, Massachusetts, guided by Edwin Kolodny, a professor at New York University medical school. The first mass screening in the Philadelphia area was on Nov. 12, 1972, at the Germantown Jewish Center, and drew 800 people, according to a Yale senior thesis by David Gerber, Genetics for the Community: The Organized Response To Tay-Sachs Disease, 1955-1995. Nearly half a century later, the Tay-Sachs screening effort remains a model for mobilizing a community against genetic disease. Parent activists, scientists and doctors are trying to emulate that model with other diseases and other populations. You cant be complacent, because now there are 200 diseases you can test for, said Kevin Romer, president of the Matthew Forbes Romer Foundation and a past president of the National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases Association. The foundation is named for Romers son Matthew, who died of Tay-Sachs in 1996. Romer and others involved with this issue stress the importance of screening interfaith couples, too. Non-Jews may also benefit from pre-conception screening for Tay-Sachs and other diseases. Some research indicates, for example, that Louisiana Cajuns, French Canadians and individuals with Irish lineage may also have an elevated incidence of Tay-Sachs. Scientific progress means that Jews can now be screened for over 200 diseases with an at-home, mail-in test offered by JScreen. The four-year-old nonprofit affiliated with Emory Universitys Department of Human Genetics has screened thousands of people, and the subsidized fee for the test about $150 includes genetic counseling. While some genetic tests are standard doctors office procedure for pregnant women or couples trying to get pregnant with a doctors help, JScreen aims for pre-conception screening. The test includes diseases common in those with Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrahi backgrounds as well as general population diseases, making it relevant for Jewish couples and interfaith couples. Carrier screening gives people an opportunity to plan ahead for the health of their future families. We are taking lessons learned from earlier screening initiatives and bringing the benefits of screening to a new generation, said Karen Arnovitz Grinzaid, executive director of JScreen. It was a path pioneered by the Tay-Sachs screening that began in 1971. In Cowans book, she mentions a chart prepared by Dr. Kaback reporting on 30 years of screening: 1.3 million people screened, 48,000 carriers detected, 1,350 carrier couples detected, 3,146 pregnancies monitored. Kaback and his colleagues could well have stopped there, she wrote. But they did not. There is one more figure, the one that matters most and that goes the furthest in explaining why Ashkenazi Jews accept carrier screening after monitoring with pre-natal diagnosis, 2,466 unaffected offspring were born to parents who were both Tay-Sachs carriers. (This article wassponsoredby and produced in partnership withJScreen,whosegoal of making genetic screening as simple, accessible, and affordable as possiblehas helped couples across the country have healthy babies. To access testing 24/7, request a kit at JScreen.org or gift a JScreen test as a wedding present. This article was produced by JTAs native content team.)

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In France, a curious fact emerges: Only the insane murder Jews – Arutz Sheva

A Muslim suspect rammed six police officers with his car in the Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret. Two French officers sustained severe injuries. The French media and authorities had no doubt. Terror returned to Paris. A voluntary act. Nobody questioned the motive of the Algerian terrorist who tried to shed the policemen’s blood. No one called him a lunatic. What do you think, should this insane person be put in a psych ward while we contemplate the reasons for his actions? the Crif, the central organization of French Jewry,posted on Facebook about the attacker in Levallois-Perret. It was a provocative but brave reference to the French establishment for its dealing withthe slaying of a Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi, by a Muslim man, Kobili Traore, who was sent to observation as per his insanity plea even though he has no record of mental illness. He shouted Allah Akbar while killing Halimi and throwing her from the window. The judiciarys omission of the aggravated element of a hate crime caused by anti-Semitism, according with CRIF President Francis Kalifat, is a cover up of the anti-Semitic character of the crime. The French media only covered Halimis deathtwo months after it happened. We have seen this mechanism before with another Halimi, Ilan, a beautiful Jewish boy kidnapped at the outskirts of Paris, held prisoner for 24 days, tortured to death just because he was a Jew. The brave French journalist Guy Millire wrote that Ilan ‘s screams were heard by neighbors because they were especially atrocious: the killers disfigured the flesh of the young man, broke his fingers, burned him with acid and eventually with fire. As in the case of Sarah Halimi, anti-Semitism was denied by the political authorities, the police and the media in the death of Ilan. As Francis Szpiner, the lawyer for the family of this boy, said, “the silence killed Ilan Halimi and justice has helped to perpetuate this conspiracy of silence, because the public was not told why he was killed. It seems that in France, as in the rest of Europe, a lunatic is especiallylunatic if he strikes the Jews. I see the same conspiracy of silence fromthe European lites when the Palestinian terrorists strike the Israelis living in Judea and Samaria. The double stigma of settler and Jew makesthem unwhorthy of headlines and truth. Have the European Jews become themselves settlers, unworthy of attention, compassion and justice?

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More Catholics Than Jews Died at Auschwitz Between 19411943 – Church Militant

Today’s the feast day of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, the Jewish-born Edith Stein, who converted to Catholicism, became a Carmelite nun and died in the German prison camp of Auschwitz in 1942. Many people are unaware of original records, showing more Catholics than Jews died from 19411943 at this infamous Nazi prison camp built in Catholic Poland. According to original records titledDeath Books,whichwere captured at Auschwitz prison camp by Russians in 1945 and preserved at the British Library, almost 3,000 more Catholics died during this three-year period than Jews. The records showthat of the 68,864 total people, who died there during that period, 31,814 were Catholic and 29,125 were Jews. During that three-year period, 46 percent of the total number who died at Auschwitz were Catholic compared to 42 percent who were Jewish. Records for the period between 19441945 when the camp was liberated are not accounted for here. It’s telling to note, however, that the percentage of Catholics being killed at that location each year was actually increasing towards the end of that period. During 1943, the last year records were kept in this original source, two and a half times more Catholics than Jews died at Auschwitz. Adding each journal entry for that year shows that 6,869 Jews died in this sector of the Holocaust compared to 16,960 Catholics, whose deaths were recorded that year in this original journal kept at Auschwitz. Watch the panel discuss German persecution of Christians in The DownloadCatholic Martyrs of the Nazis. Have a news tip? Submit news to our tip line. Like our work? Support us with a donation.

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The Young American Jews Finding Spirituality Outside the Synagogue – Haaretz

The U.S. has over 100 independent minyans with different styles, customs and demographics Michelle Reyf isnt really a synagogue-goer. Until recently, the 28-year-old New Yorker, who works for a Jewish nonprofit, was perfectly happy to get her spiritual fulfillment at Buddhist prayer services and meditation retreats. Synagogue did not appeal to her for a variety of reasons she found the crowd to be older and the atmosphere to be impersonal. And as someone who identifies as queer, she felt distanced from the traditional values she encountered in many Jewish spaces. But in January, a friend invited her to attend Shir HaMaalot, an independent minyan, or prayer community, in Brooklyn. There, Reyf found a place that had some of the very same qualities as the Buddhist community she was a part of and that she had not found in traditional Jewish settings. Like finding a home It feels like finding a home, and it feels like Im not a bad Jew for wanting different things than were being offered in most synagogues and Jewish communities, said Reyf, a senior digital organizer for the Jewish social justice organization Bend the Arc. We’ve got more newsletters we think you’ll find interesting. Please try again later. This email address has already registered for this newsletter. I thought maybe Judaism isnt for me or maybe Im just not doing it right or maybe Im different or theres something wrong with me that I dont feel like I fit in wherever I go. And then I came to Shir HaMaalot and I was like, These are my people, she told JTA. Shir HaMaalot a volunteer-led, nondenominational minyan that defines itself as a traditional-egalitarian havurah meets once a month in Prospect Heights and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, often in space rented and subsidized by a local Reform synagogue, Union Temple of Brooklyn. Following a musical Shabbat service, participants join together for a vegetarian potluck meal. There is no rabbi, and community members take turns leading the services. Reyf is part of a cohort of millennial Jews finding spiritual fulfillment at independent minyans rather than in the traditional synagogue. Though the groups vary in prayer style, customs and demographics, many are egalitarian or support increased womens participation in services. They tend to draw a younger crowd than the average synagogue. Independent minyans appeal to people looking for a type of religious experience, said Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, author of a book on independent minyans and president of Mechon Hadar, a co-educational, egalitarian institution of Jewish learning based in New York. In my experience the people who are not going to synagogue its not because theyre anti-synagogue its more that theyre looking for something, and if the synagogue has it, theyll go there, and if the synagogue doesnt, they wont. And I think thats where Shir HaMaalot comes in, Kaunfer said. He noted that Shir HaMaalot, founded in 2011, has a reputation for its use of music. I also think a place gets its own reputation just by who starts going there, Kaunfer said, so when people think about Where am I going to go on Friday night? now they know they have an option thats appealing to people in their age demographic, and that can also build on itself. Over 100 nationwide There are over 100 independent minyans across the country, and they are especially accessible to millennials who often have yet to make commitments to Jewish institutions, he added. What it boils down to in large part is that people in their 20s and early 30s have more flexibility in terms of their social groups and commitments, he said. The young crowd at Shir HaMaalot was a draw for Gabriela Geselowitz, a 26-year-old journalist and part-time Hebrew school teacher. Geselowitz knew she wanted to be involved in a Jewish community after college but had assumed she would be the only young person there. When I moved to Brooklyn, I said I wanted to be near a Conservative shul, because that is generally traditional egalitarian, and I was sort of prepared to be the only young person at things. I did go to local synagogue a couple of times, and I was the only young person, said Geselowitz, who started attending Shir HaMaalot three and a half years ago. At the minyan, Geselowitz found both a crowd around her age and an atmosphere she enjoys. This was even better than Hillel in college in terms of enthusiasm and volume of people and what Im looking for. I didnt really expect to find a space that would hit all of my buttons in the way that Shir HaMaalot does, said Geselowitz. Melodies, drums, potluck The mood described by Geselowitz was evident at a recent Friday evening service, which she attended with her husband Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, a 27-year-old working to launch a media startup. Around 75 people, mostly young professionals with a few older people and young families sprinkled in, sat in chairs set up in concentric circles around the prayer leader, who alternated between singing slow, soulful melodies and more upbeat ones. At various points throughout the service, when the tempo quickened, a young man started playing a djembe drum and people clapped along to the beat. Afterward they gathered around tables in an adjacent room for the potluck. The majority of Shir HaMaalot attendees are young, said Russ Agdern, one of the minyans founders and a member of its organizing team. It skews towards 20s and 30s, but its certainly not exclusively that, and thats certainly not our intention, said Agdern, 39, director of recruitment and outreach for the Jewish social justice group Avodah. Community-driven davening space Before the minyan was founded in 2011, there were not really any egalitarian spaces with full Hebrew liturgy in this part of Brooklyn, said Agdern, adding that the founders wanted to create a community-driven davening space. The founders were active participants in the National Havurah Committee, a network of nondenominational grassroots Jewish communities. The organization has its origins in the havurah, or fellowship, movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, when an earlier wave of young people sought to create Jewish prayer experiences outside traditional synagogue settings. Tobin Belzer, a sociologist of American Jewry at the University of Southern California, believes the difference between the havurah movement and the independent minyans is their attitude toward the Jewish mainstream. Because it was purposely positioned outside of mainstream institutions, the havurah phenomenon was often referred to as the Jewish counterculture. Participants published books and articles criticizing American Judaism, she wrote in a study of the two movements. By contrast, minyans represent a subculture, not a counterculture. Independent minyans are not outside of the Jewish mainstream; they are on the margins of it, writes Belzer. In fact, many independent minyans have strong ties with Jewish institutions. Some receive funding from Jewish foundations, others gather in borrowed spaces in synagogues, and still others use Torah scrolls loaned from area congregations. Though communities affiliated with the havurah movement vary in practice and affiliation, they are united in being egalitarian, mostly volunteer-run and promoting wide participation by community members. Spitzer-Rubinstein likened Shir HaMaalots atmosphere to that of services at Jewish summer camps. I went to Reform summer camp in California, and it was a similar sort of joy and celebration in praying, he said. I feel like there are a lot of Jewish spaces where praying isnt seen as something that should be fun, and one of the things that I really like about Shir HaMaalot is that people care about it and make it something significant. Jewish youth group energy For Geselowitz, Shir HaMaalots energy reminded me a little bit of teenage Jewish youth group. The participatory aspect of the minyan appeals to Andrea Birnbaum, a 27-year-old medical student who has been attending Shir HaMaalot for four years. Its not performative in the sense that sometimes you go to synagogue and theres someone on the bimah [podium] who has the most energy, and theyre trying to get the crowd moving but the crowd has a low energy, said Birnbaum. Its not like that. This is participatory we rotate every time someone leads the davening, the prayer. For now, Geselowitz and Spitzer-Rubenstein, who attend other independent minyans in Brooklyn when Shir HaMaalot doesnt meet, dont feel like they are missing anything by not belonging to a synagogue. No dues, just donations Shir Hamaalot is free were happy to donate to it, but there arent synagogue dues. At this point in my life I actually like having a lay-led community rather than a single rabbinic authority, Geselowitz said. Participants are also attracted to Shir HaMaalots progressive values. What also was really cool was that there was a lot of different gender expression, people who werent necessarily [conforming to the gender] binary, and for me as a queer person that was really important to see that it isnt a heteronormative place where the gender binary was being enforced, Reyf said. On its website, Shir HaMaalot encourages people to add your preferred pronouns to your name tag. Pluralism is an important goal for the minyan, said Gregory Frumin, a 35-year-old social worker who serves on the minyans organizing team. One of Shir HaMaalots core values is inclusive pluralism. We want to create an accessible and welcoming space for people of diverse backgrounds, identities, accessibility needs, he said. At the potluck dinner after services, food is served on three different tables vegetarian, vegan and vegetarian cooked in a strictly kosher kitchen. Participants are also asked to list allergens on a spreadsheet prior to services. I think its also important that Shir HaMaalot takes their religious observance seriously while still being welcoming to basically everyone, said Spitzer-Rubinstein. Want to enjoy ‘Zen’ reading – with no ads and just the article? Subscribe today

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