Posts on the topic of "World Jewry"
Brit Milah has been the hallmark of Jewish identification for millennia. This issue was particularly relevant in Nazi Germany when men were often made to strip down to determine their Jewish identity.
The point was made quite powerfully in a movie called "Europa Europa," the true story about a young Jewish boy trying to escape detection by the Nazis. The boy resembles an Aryan and speaks German fluently, so he poses as a non-Jew and is eventually recruited into an elite training program for the next generation of SS officers. Only his circumcision, which he couldn't hide, kept him Jewish. The man survived the war, and made a new life for himself in Israel. Instead, he may have ended up becoming a Nazi officer. It all depended on the Bris.
That's why so many are shocked at the ruling this week by a German court that renders religious circumcisions performed by Jews and Muslims a crime. Germany is home to an estimated 4 million Muslims and 100,000 Jews.
According to a report in Germany's Financial Times, the Cologne District Court declared circumcision is a "serious and irreversible interference in the integrity of the human body." The court also ruled that freedom of religion and the rights of parents cannot justify the practice.
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Not long ago I picked up a hitchhiker in Israel. I don't usually do so randomly, but this guy had a sincere look about him. He got in and I started the conversation.
"Where are you from?" I asked.
"I was born in Yemen," he answered.
I thought that all the Yemenite Jews had come to Israel on Operation Magic Carpet in 1950. He looked about 18 years old, and my brain quickly calculated that something didn't jive here.
"If you were born in Yemen, when did you come to Israel?" I asked.
"Two weeks ago," he said.
I was shocked. He then told me all about life in Yemen, and about his transition to a far more Western culture. (He was wielding a smartphone and seemed to fit right in.)
It turns out there are about 130 Jews still living in Yemen today. The hitchhiker told me that his family had stayed so long because of business reasons; they left because Yemen has seen a rise in radical Islamic fervor (think USS Cole) and threats against Jews. In 2008, a 30-year-old rabbi was killed when a Yemenite air force pilot told him, "Jew, accept Islam's message" and then shot him five times.
Just this month Aharon Zindani, a 49-year-old Yemenite man, was tragically stabbed to death in what is being described as an anti-Semitic incident. He was buried in Israel on Thursday.
Jews have lived in Yemen uninterrupted for nearly 3,000 years. It's incredible to think that may soon come to an end.
My visit to Poland in 2006 was filled with great pain ― the overwhelming sense of destruction, emptiness and loss. But one spot that carried a sense of hope was Krakow.
Prior to World War II, Krakow was a burgeoning Jewish center that comprised 30 percent of the city's population, with 100 synagogues and a rich rabbinic tradition dating back to the 12th century.
During the Holocaust, like the rest of Poland, the Jews of Krakow were confined to a ghetto and then murdered in concentration camps.
The physical infrastructure of Jewish Krakow, however, remained largely intact. Following the Nazi invasion in September 1939, the Germans turned Krakow into their regional headquarters. So unlike the rest of Poland, Krakow was not subject to devastating bombings. Many of the synagogues were used as warehouses, and emerged from the war relatively undamaged. This preserved Krakow's Jewish historical and architectural legacy, and the synagogues stand today as a testimony to the grandeur that once was.
My visit to Krakow coincided with the annual Jewish Cultural Festival, a week-long summer event focusing on Jewish culture, history and religion that flourished in Poland before the Holocaust. It is fascinating to see tens of thousands of Poles converge on Krakow's old Jewish district, Kazimierz, looking to discover and experience the Jewish life that was so brutally snuffed out.
Now, a new Jewish institution is thriving in Krakow ― an American-style Jewish Community Centre. The local Jewish population, numbering around 500, partakes in Hebrew classes, lifecycle events, and weekly Shabbat dinners. There is even a staff genealogist to assist those seeking to uncover their long-dormant Jewish roots.
I've often thought that if given the opportunity to spend a month of quiet writing and study, the location I'd choose is Krakow. Walking the cobbled alleys of Kazimierz hearkens back to the life my own ancestors must have led in Eastern Europe. There is the original Beis Yaakov building founded by Sara Schenirer; the old cemetery where Rabbi Moshe Isserles (the Remah) and the Tosfos Yom Tov are buried; and some of the grandest synagogues you could imagine. As strange as it may sound, Krakow ― though steeped in Jewish suffering ― remains full of Jewish inspiration.
When Venezuelans head to the polls for a presidential election this October, a new rising star will be opposing Hugo Chavez, the socialist firebrand who has held power for the past 13 years.
The opponent is 39-year-old Henrique Capriles Radonski, whose Jewish descent has become a hallmark of his political career. His maternal grandparents were Jewish refugees from Russia and Poland who fled during World War II, arriving in Venezuela with nothing but “a suitcase full of clothes.” His grandmother's parents were in the Warsaw Ghetto and murdered by the Nazis in Treblinka.
Though Capriles describes himself as a "fervent Catholic," he is proud of his Jewish ancestry and doesn’t shy away from it. “Because of my mother and grandmother, for Jews I’m Jewish…” he said. Indeed, the Venezuelan media won’t let Capriles forget those roots: A popular magazine recently depicted a Star of David superimposed on his photo.
Additionally, Capriles’ enemies have used anti-Semitic rhetoric against him and accused him of being part of a Jewish conspiracy. In 2009 pro-Chavez activists ransacked his office, spraying swastikas on the wall and (ironically) calling him a “Nazi.”
Anti-Israel fervor has risen sharply during the Chavez presidency. In December 2007, after Chavez pushed through a constitutional referendum to abolish term limits, masked and armed police raided the Jewish Center in Caracas. A year later, a dozen assailants broke into the Grand Synagogue of Caracas, where they bound and gagged security guards, tore open the Holy Ark, scattered its contents irreverently across the floor, destroyed administrative files, and spray-painted the walls with horned devils and “Death Now.”
Chavez himself has accused Israel of committing "genocide" and a "new Holocaust" against the Palestinians. He claimed that "Israeli Mossad terrorists" have tried to kill him, and in 2009 broke all diplomatic ties with Israel.
In recent years, life has been become increasingly difficult for the Jewish community of Venezuela. Many Jews have emigrated due to a rise in violent crime, an anti-Israel atmosphere, and economic hardship. (Chavez has nationalized the cement, steel, banking and lucrative oil industries, stripping many upper-class Jews of their wealth.) The Jewish population of Venezuela, which once numbered in the tens of thousands, has dropped to less than 10,000.
In the meantime, Chavez has become chummy with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, commiserating about having atomic bombs at their disposal. Chavez hosted Ahmadinejad (as well as Syrian dictator Bashar Assad) on a recent trip to Venezuela and has declared an "axis of unity" against the United States.
Come October, world attention will be focused on Venezuela, with the hope that Capriles can defeat Chavez and usher in a new era of moderation and normalcy.
The story is told of the Vilna Gaon ― one of the greatest rabbis of the past 500 years ― who lay on his deathbed and began to cry. He held his tzitzit close to his heart and bemoaned: "In this world, we can attain great riches with every mitzvah. But where I am going, I can no longer even wear tzitzit!"
I was thinking of this story as I returned today from the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg. Rabbi Scheinberg was the leader of the American community in Israel for nearly 50 years, whose home and heart was always open to dispense advice, answer complex halachic questions, and guide his thousands of students.
Rabbi Scheinberg was a brilliant and diligent scholar who completed the entire Talmud by age 16.
After his marriage at age 19, the young couple journeyed across the ocean ― from the material riches of America to the impoverished lifestyle of rural Poland ― so that Rabbi Scheinberg could immerse in the lofty scholarship of the Mir Yeshiva. It was this unwavering devotion to Torah study that propelled Rabbi Scheinberg to a lifelong leadership role.
Rabbi Scheinberg was known to never waste a minute. He once asked someone to buy him a certain brand of bath soap, because he'd heard that it lathers quicker and thus could save him precious moments.
In 1965, Rabbi Scheinberg and his family moved into the new Jerusalem neighborhood of Mattersdorf, which was then located on the Jordanian border. Shortly thereafter he opened the Torah Ohr Yeshiva, which today stands as a Jerusalem landmark and has produced thousands of Torah scholars. He was fully accessible to the public, no bodyguards, 24/7.
Rabbi Scheinberg died this week at age 101. When his wife Bessie died in 2009, they had been married just shy of 80 years.
So why was I reminded of the story of the Vilna Gaon holding his tzitzit? because Rabbi Scheinberg was known to wear dozens of pairs of tzitzit at a time. (In the past he wore approximately 150 pairs, but in later years 70 pairs.) Some say he wore so many after taking a vow to do so when one of his children became very ill. But when asked, Rabbi Scheinberg said he wore so many pairs because "each one is a mitzvah."
Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg lived an illustrious life and will be sorely missed. The tens of thousands who attended his funeral attest to this greatness. May his memory be for a blessing.
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The world is recoiling from the horrific slaughter at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France that killed Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his two sons, and a young girl.
Rabbi Sandler, age 30, was sent from Israel to strengthen the Jewish community in France. He was teaching at the same Ozar HaTorah School that he attended as a child.
We now know this was an anti-Semitic act. Which means this is a wake-up call for Jews worldwide.
Some mistakenly think that only the Jews of Israel are in danger ― from Hezbollah in the north, Hamas in the south, and Iran in the nuclear skies above.
Yet while Israel does indeed bear the brunt of anti-Semitism, the fact is that Ahmadinejad and his cohorts view all Jews as equally valid targets. As Hezbollah leader Sheikh Nasrallah so bluntly put it: "If the Jews all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide." (Lebanon Daily Star, October 23, 2002)
One chilling detail being reported is that 3-year-old Gabriel Sandler, gunned down at point blank range in Toulouse, was named after Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, the Chabad emissary who was murdered by terrorists in Mumbai, India, in 2008.
Here in Israel, we are living under tremendous pressure as the threat of nuclear annihilation looms. Yet sometimes I get the feeling that Jews abroad still perceive the threat as "somewhere out there."
In truth, it is right in your backyard.
Rafah, the Iranian news site affiliated with Ahmadinejad, has threatened to "take the war beyond the borders of Iran, and beyond the borders of the region." Last month, Islamists hit Jewish targets in Georgia and India, plus two Iranian-perpetrated blasts in Bangkok, Thailand.
So what's the solution? Can we expect much in the way of international protection (an element which was sorely lacking during the Holocaust)? No, not if the United Nations is any indication. It is the U.N. Human Rights Council that originally scheduled a speech ― today, the very day of the Toulouse slaughter ― by Ismail al-Ashqar, the same senior Hamas official who described the killing of Osama Bin Laden as "state terrorism that America carries out against Muslims."
And in a speech just hours after the murders, Catherine Ashton, one of the highest-ranking European Union officials, juxtaposed "what happened in Toulouse" with "what is happening in Gaza..."
The world is descending into a new round of moral confusion and chaos. The sooner we realize one inalienable truth, the better off we will all be:
Every Jew, no matter where s/he is, cannot separate himself from Israel. We are all one, intrinsically bound for eternity.
Today, let us join together to mourn the murder of Rabbi Sandler and three young children.
And let us feel the pain of the bereaved widow who moved to France with the purest of intentions, and now returns to Israel to bury her husband and two sons.
And let us pledge to take the plight of every Jew fully to heart.