Posts on the topic of "Jewish History"
Back what seems like a lifetime ago, I was making the transition from working in the field of entertainment to working for Jewish causes. The first job I got was as an American liaison for Yitzhak Shamir during his tenure as Israeli Prime Minister (the two of us, pictured here).
Shamir had moved to Israel in 1935, leaving behind his family who were all murdered in the Holocaust. His father had succeeded in escaping from a German death train, only to return to his Polish village where he was promptly beaten to death by childhood friends.
These events greatly informed Shamir's political views, and in the 1940s he became a leader of the Stern Gang whose goal was to drive the British colonialists out of Israel, thus paving the way for Jewish independence.
Yet while Shamir was a firm ideologue, his greatness lay in his ability to be a pragmatist at the same time. Though he was committed to Jewish settlement throughout the Land of Israel, he attended the 1991 Madrid Conference becoming the first Israeli Prime Minister to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians.
On one hand, Shamir was very forthright in Israel's right to defend itself, while on the other hand during the 1991 Gulf War he took the difficult strategic measure of not striking back when Saddam Hussein was hurling scud missiles onto Tel Aviv.
It is these two sides – tough yet compromising – that enabled him to serve so ably.
When he first came to Israel, he changed his family name to Shamir, which is, according to Talmudic lore (Gittin 68b), the name of a worm which can cut through stone. It was used to produce the blocks of the Holy Temple, since metal cutting implements were not appropriate in a place devoted to peace.
To me this sums up Yitzhak Shamir: Firmly devoted to peace, yet stronger than iron and not afraid to use it when necessary.
Yitzhak Shamir has died at age 96, and is being buried today in Jerusalem. He was not a politician who sought glory, fame or riches; he served with modesty and unswerving devotion. May his memory be for a blessing.
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As Jews around the world prepare for Passover ― the celebration of Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt ― Palestinians are working overtime to rewrite history by presenting Moses as "the great Muslim leader who liberated Palestine."
On Palestinian Authority television, Dr. Omar Ja'ara, a lecturer at Al-Najah University in Nablus, declared:
This outrage is the latest Palestinian effort to dismiss Jewish nationhood, a corollary to the repeated denial of any Jewish connection to the Holy Land. "The claims of historic and religious ties between Jews and Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history," reads the Palestinian National Charter (Article 18).
When archaeologists in Jerusalem discovered a small golden bell, possibly from a tunic worn by a high priest during the Second Temple period, Palestinian officials angrily said this "underlines the efforts of the occupation and the extremist Jewish groups to falsify history and plant Jewish history forged in the region." And following the release of an iPhone app that sends prayers to the Western Wall, Palestinians immediately went into protest mode, insisted that "the Wailing Wall is an integral part of the al-Aqsa Mosque, and it is exclusively Islamic… and non-Muslims have no right to it, even to the dust of the Wailing Wall." (Palestine News Network, January 4, 2011)
This deceit goes straight to the top: In the words of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, the Jewish people "claim that 2,000 years ago they had a Temple. I challenge the claim that this is so." (Kul Al-Arab, August 25, 2000) The Palestinian ambassador to Washington, Maen Rashid Areikat, claimed that historically the Jewish presence in Israel "never was in Jerusalem, it never was on the coast, it never was in Hebron."
As detailed in my book, David & Goliath, it's all part of an ongoing deligitimization campaign ― aided by a willing media. Le Monde, the French newspaper of record, quoted PA cabinet minister Yasser Abed Rabbo: "Looking at the situation from an archaeological standpoint, I am sure there is no temple."
Even canonized Jewish writings, accepted for millennia by billions of people worldwide, are targeted for revision. Speaking on Palestinian TV, researcher Dr. Hayel Sanduqa claimed that the well-known verse from Psalm 137, "If I forget thee, oh Jerusalem," is not a Jewish source at all, but rather words uttered by a Christian Crusader, now "falsified in the name of Zionism." And when the iconic 1970s disco group Boney M played a concert in Ramallah, Palestinian organizers demanded that the band not perform one of its biggest hits, "Rivers of Babylon." Why? Because the song's chorus quotes from the Book of Psalms which ― in a brazen act of Zionist propaganda! ― refers to the Jewish yearning for the land of Israel.
Follow the steps: First, Palestinians claim that Moses was a Muslim leader and that Jews never lived in Israel. Then before you know it, standard media references to the Jewish Temple ― accepted as historical fact by every legitimate archaeologist and scholar ― is deemed debatable. London's Daily Telegraph referred to "the Temple Mount, where the two Jewish temples of antiquity are believed to have been built," and Time magazine identified the "Dome of the Rock, where Jews believe Solomon and Herod built the First and Second Temples." Not an indisputable fact of history; just something that "Jews believe."
Beyond the problem of factual inaccuracy, these media manipulations can actually impede the peace process. Invariably, the starting point in any negotiation is whatever is defined in common terms as "normative." With these outrageous pro-Palestinian views reinforced in the media, Palestinians sense the momentum predisposed in their favor, and harbor the illusion of bringing these demands to the negotiating table. Inevitably, Palestinians get a rude awakening every time that Israel ― secure in their 4,000-year history and connection to the land ― refuses to allow these skewed perceptions to dictate terms of an agreement.
Looking at the bright side, this is surely a good conversation starter for this year's Passover Seder.
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Here's an interesting tidbit that caught my attention: two grandchildren of John Tyler ― America's 10th president who was born in 1790 ― are still alive.
How is this possible? Here's the math:
At age 63, John Tyler fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler. Then, in his 70s, Lyon Gardiner Tyler fathered the two sons who are still alive today - now both in their 80s, living in Virginia and Tennessee.
This got me thinking about the Jewish historical chain. We often regard the seminal Jewish event ― the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai 3,300 years ago ― as impossibly far in the distant past.
But if we consider that the average "generational span" - from parent to child - is 35 years, the number of generations from us back to Moses is less than a hundred. That's pretty amazing, and makes the whole idea of an unbroken chain of transmission much more fathomable.
Bonus info for U.S. history buffs: John Tyler was William Henry Harrison's vice president ("Tippecanoe and Tyler too"), and took office a month into the term when Harrison caught pneumonia and died. Tyler's main presidential achievement is pushing through the annexation of Texas. But his political career ended ignobly; he later joined the South's secession efforts and was even elected to the Confederate House of Representatives. Because of his Confederate ties, Tyler's is the only presidential death not officially mourned.