Rambling ...

I'm an Irish Girl, A Dubliner, with the 'Gift of the Gab' ... I like to talk & to tell you things. In Celtic times news, views and comment were carried from place to place by wandering Seanachaí ~ Storytellers ~ who relied on their host's hospitality and appreciation. I will need that from you too, as I venture to share Politics, Poetry, Laughter, Love, Life & everything in-between ... from Bog to Blog!!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Warsaw Ghetto, 1943 .... The Jewish Uprising!!

 SS Major General Jürgen Stroop watches the Warsaw Ghetto burn.
On Thursday, Yom Ha'Shoah, it was also by Hebrew Date the Anniversary of the beginning of the Uprising in what is historically termed the Warsaw Ghetto.  This uprising  by Jewish fighting units was the first major organized resistance to German occupation throughout Europe.  On April 19th, 1943,  hundreds of Jewish men, women and children of the Warsaw Ghetto launched an Uprising against heavily armed Nazi Stormtroopers.  For twenty-seven days,  Jews fought bravely bearing what few weapons and arms they had against the overwhelming Aktion of the German Wehrmacht and specialised SS units. It was the largest Jewish resistance movement of World War Two.  But it was more than that.  More than the first body blow to the Nazi Genocide Machine's supposed invincibility.

It was the first piece of land under Jewish Rule in the third reich.  It was a Beacon of the Future in Nazi occupied Europe.  An Island of Defiant Rebellious Jewry admist a sea of indifference to Nazi genocide.  The Jewish Magen David or Star of David, that became the flag of the State of Israel was raised over this portion of Jewish Europe.  It deserves to go down in history as a foundational event of the State of Israel itself & be remembered not only on Yom Ha'Shoah, (Holocaust Remembrance Day) but also on Yom Ha'Zikaron (Israel's Memorial Day ~ next Wednesday) & on Yom Ha'Atzmaut (Israeli Independance Day ~ next Thursday).  All of which occur this coming week, B"H.

Fighters Unearthed from Bunkers

The Warsaw Ghetto was established on October 2nd, 1940 by Dr. Fischer, Governor and Head of the Warsaw District. All Jews in the surrounding area were ordered to move to residences within the designated areas by the end of the month. For the next year and a half thousands of Jews were deported from nearby cities and towns and herded into the ghetto until eventually there were from 300,000 to 400,000 Jews crowded into an area of only 1.3 square miles. (3.4 square kms).   On November 16th,1940, the Germans sealed the Ghetto by building a high wall around it, topped by barbed wire and guarded by armed sentries. Any Jew caught leaving the ghetto compound was shot on sight. Living conditions were deplorable .... typhus was rampant, and food limited to barely 184 calories per day per person.  Jews were being starved slowly to death & indeed Over 100,000 Jewish ghetto prisoners died.

The first deportations began on July 23rd, 1942 and lasted until September of that year, carried out on the pretext of "relocating"  Jews to "work camps", but instead they were being exterminated at the Death camp of Treblinka. From 254,000 to 300,000 Jews were exterminated there.  By the end of the year it became apparent to Jews that the so-called deportations were a ruse.  By then, the remaining Jews were becoming determined to fight to the death, despite woefully insufficent arms.  It seems neither the goyim of the Polish Home Army nor the Allied forces in general thought it a war aim,  or even a war priority,  to prevent Jewish genocide by supply of arms, food nor assistance of any kind no matter the increasingly desperate circumstances for Jews.

Daily Deportations
In January 1943, Warsaw ghetto fighters fired upon German troops as they tried to round up yet another group of ghetto inhabitants for deportation. Fighters used a small supply of weapons that had been smuggled into the ghetto. After a few days, the germans retreated. This small victory inspired the ghetto fighters to prepare for future resistance.  After the January battle, the Jews spent the following weeks training, acquiring weapons, and making plans to defend of the ghetto. The Germans also prepared for the possibility of a fight. On the eve of the final deportation, Heinrich Himmler replaced the chief of the SS and police in the Warsaw district, Obergruppenfuhrer Ferdinand von Sammern-Frankenegg, with SS und Polizeifuhrer (SS and Police Leader) Jurgen Stroop, an officer who had experience fighting partisans. 

On the morning of April 19th, 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began after German troops and police entered the ghetto to liquidate its surviving 35,000 inhabitants.  Seven hundred and fifty fighters armed with a handful of pistols, 17 rifles, and Molotov cocktails faced more than 2,000 heavily armed and well-trained German troops supported by tanks and flamethrowers.  The Germans were apparently 'surprised' by fierce resistance from Jewish Fighters & the next day brought in tanks and armoured cars in an effort to quash the revolt but the Ghetto Jews valiantly continued the fight back.   The entire Jewish population went into hiding in the ghetto itself.   For the days and weeks which followed there were gunshots, explosions and grenades. By the 28th of April the Germans began to set fires to the houses in the Ghetto, systematically, one by one, block by block until the entire Warsaw Ghetto was engulfed in flames.  The Jewish fighters suffered heavy casualties, but continued to fight heroically, weapons in hand. They managed to kill over 300 Germans and wounded 1,000 more. What a magnificent achievement, unequalled in WWII and a firm testament to Jewish tenacity, Baruch Ha'Shem!!!!

Block by Block Burns

The Germans were mortified that they could not take the Ghetto, and fighting continued for nearly a month, until finally the Germans burnt the Ghetto to the ground, building by building. On May 8th, the headquarters bunker of the Fighters at 18, Mila Street was captured.  On May 10th,  the history of the Warsaw Jews, came to an end.  The site where the buildings of the ghetto had once stood became a ragged heap of rubble reaching three storeys high.   On May 16th,  Stroop announced the fighting was over.  He said his forces had captured 56,065 Jews and announced that he was going to blow up the Great Synagogue on Tlomack Street (which was outside the ghetto) as a symbol of victory and of the fact that “the Jewish quarter of Warsaw no longer exists.”

Seven thousand Jews were killed in the Uprising,  HY"D.   Those who were killed in action had done their duty to the end, to the last drop of blood that soaked into the pavements of the Warsaw ghetto. 
We, who have not perished, have a duty of Zakhor,  of Remembrance,  a duty to keep the memory of those Jews & their Resistance alive ~ Forever!!!!!

The video below relates to the movie "Uprising" based on Leon Uris's Novel, "Mila 18".

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Yom Ha'Shoah ..... Cherish Our Children !!!

"The first to perish were the children, abandoned orphans
The world's best, the bleak earth's brightest
These children might have been our comfort
From these sad, mute, bleak faces
Our new dawn might have risen"

~ From "Song of the Murdered Jewish People" by Yitzhak Katzenelson, murdered with his son Zvi on May 1st, 1944 in Auschwitz Camp ~

An Ancient Yiddish Maxim declares that "Those who are Remembered Do Not Die" ...  and on this Memorial day my blog is in Honour of the more than 1.5 Million Children (under 12 years of age) murdered in the Shoah.  

One and a half million Jewish children were murdered in the Holocaust and were thus prevented from growing up and fulfilling their basic lives: to live, dream, love, play and laugh. Some faded photographs of children under the Nazi regime remain, and their questioning, accusing eyes cry out. And I challenge you to remain dry eyed as you look at them.

From the day the Nazis came to power, Jewish children became acquainted with cruelty, first in Germany and, as time passed, in every other country the Germans conquered or forged an alliance. The parents and families of these children were unable to grant them the security and protection they needed. Jewish children were separated from their non-Jewish playmates and expelled from state sponsored schools. They saw their parents lose the right to support their families, and often witnessed the descent of the family unit into an abyss of despair.


Eva Munzer ~ Murdered inAuschwitz

As war broke out and anti-semitic policies worsened, the suffering of Jewish children increased: many were doomed to the horrific suffering of life in a ghetto ~ the bitter cold, the never-ending hunger and a multitude of dangerous diseases. There, cut off from the world, they lived in the shadow of endless terror and violence. As smuggling was central to survival in the ghettos, they were often forced to assume the new role of breadwinner for their disintegrating families. 

Henrika Lazobert,  a Jewish poet, wrote a paean to a daring young smuggler who, despite the risks, persevered in finding food for his family.  The poem ends .....

I shall no longer come back to you  (mother)
… and only on my lips
will one worry freeze fast:
My beloved mother, tomorrow who’ll bring you
your piece of bread as in the past?

Henia Wisgardisky ~ Died in Auschwitz

Still, children in the Holocaust remained children, desiring only to partake in activities beloved by all their contemporaries.  In August 1940 David Rabinowitz, a young boy from a village near Kielce, Poland, wrote in his diary:

“During the war, I’ve been studying by myself, at home. When I remember that I used to go to school, I feel like crying.”

When the deportations to the extermination camps began, a chasm opened up in the lives of Jewish children. Throughout Nazi Europe, they fled and hid, separated from their parents and loved ones. Some of them found refuge in the homes of decent people whose conscience would not allow them to remain passive; several were hidden in convents and monasteries and boarding schools; others were forced to roam through forests and villages, hunting for food like wild animals and relying entirely on their own ingenuity and resourcefulness. Many were forced to live under assumed identities, longingly anticipating the return of their father and mother. Some were so young when separated from their parents that they forgot their real names and Jewish identity. Many were forced to train themselves not to move, laugh or cry, or even talk. Upon liberation from Auschwitz, one little girl asked her mother, “Mommy, may I cry now?” (A Personal Oral recollection of my Grandmother who survived Auschwitz).

Felice and Beate Zimmern

Of course, not all Jewish children were lucky enough to find a place of refuge, and many tens of thousands of children were caught and sent to the death camps. Their young age made most the first prey of the Nazi killing machine. More than a million Jewish children were lost in those years, a whole murdered generation. At first children were given lethal injections. Later they were starved or shot or bayoneted or strangled. Or used for mid-air target practice for snipers. These methods proved too much for some soldiers and too slow for the projected 'Final Solution.' Thus were born the extermination camps with their gas chambers disguised as showers. A guard at Auschwitz, testifying at the Nuremburg trial, admitted that at the height of the genocide, when the camp was killing ten thousand Jews a day, children were thrown into the furnaces alive. Never has humanity come closer to evil for evil's sake.

Yet there were other stories too. There were the almost ten thousand children brought, mainly to Britain, through Kindertransport.   Nicholas Winton, then a Stock Exchange clerk in London, organized eight trains from Prague, saving 669 children whose descendants ~ numbering 5,000 today ~ owe their existence to him. In mainland Europe itself thousands of children were adopted, hidden and rescued in orphanages, convents, monasteries and by men and women driven by ordinary humanity to extraordinary acts of courage, knowing that by saving a Jewish life they were risking their own.

Izabel and Solly Marton~ killed in Auschwitz

Yet wherever they were ~ in the ghettos, in hiding and even in the camps ~ they did not surrender moments of childish playfulness. A short break in a daily routine of hunger and dread was enough to summon gales of joyous laughter, childish brawls, and games with toys made of rags and scraps of paper. Together with their beloved dolls, the children could dream of a better world, of returning to their family and lost childhood; and only to these dolls could they open their aching hearts. My Mom had many such tales (she survived Terezin, Czechoslovakia).

At the end of the war, a new chapter began, one of both hope and pain for the life that was gone, never to return. Many children were lost to their families and their Jewish heritage forever. For others, the war’s end marked a beginning of their return to their real selves, a process filled with difficulties and torment. Very slowly, they emerged from hiding, from the forests and the camps, and began the long and painful process of rehabilitation. Despite the scars, they sought to rebuild their lives anew. Some did. Some did not.

Children ~ dependent, vulnerable, defenseless ~ are the litmus test of our humanity. Not by accident does the Hebrew word for compassion,  rachamim,  come from rechem,  meaning a womb. Will we continue to sacrifice our children for the sake of our hatreds, or will we finally learn to sacrifice our hatreds for the sake of our children? On that question, the fate of humanity may turn. We cannot write the future. Only our children can do that. But we can teach them to create a world of respect for difference and to remember the indifferences that allowed the Holocaust to claim 1,500, 000 million childrens lives. An Old Jewish proverb says 'Those who are Remembered do not Die'. Let's Remember  those who did and  those who didn't make it.  All deserve to be at least Remembered!!!! 

ALL OF THE CHILDREN ABOVE AND IN THE VIDEO WERE MURDERED IN THE HOLOCAUST ~ And there are 1.5 million more Stories just like this one out there to be told.  It is Yom Ha'Shoah & today we Remember.  When We Say NEVER AGAIN ... We MUST MEAN IT !!!!!

"Never again will Jewish children stare in fear begging to be spared. Never again will we let our enemies determine the fate of the Jewish people and we will able to protect our sons." ~ IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Triumph to Tragedy .... Titanic's Jews!!

Today,  Sunday 15th April 2012,  the world will mark a Century ~ 100 years  ~ since the sinking of the Infamous Cruise Liner, Titanic.   Of the 2,225 people aboard Titanic on its only voyage, 1,512 perished in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic when the ship went down in the early hours of April 15th, 1912, (about 2.40am to be precise).    But what of Jewish interest on Titanic??    What do we know of Jews who were aboard that fateful ship?  Today I shall explore the heretofore largely unexplored question.  How many Jews were aboard?  How many survived??  How do we know that Jews were aboard??  

Well, we know there were Jews on board because some important 'society' Jews were documented as passangers & amongst  the dead and also because Titanic had kosher food service for the voyage.   Titanic also had a
“Hebrew cook” named Charles Kennell.    Born in Cape Town, South Africa,  the 30-year-old Kennell signed on to the White Star Line’s Titanic on April 4th, 1912. He listed his address as 6,  Park View, Southampton, the port city in southeast England from which the Titanic would embark. Kennell had already served on the Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic, which took its maiden voyage in 1911. Now he came aboard the larger, more luxurious Titanic for wages of four pounds a month. Kennell was the ship’s “Hebrew cook.”   Charles Kennell was among the nearly 700 crew members to die that night.
Midway through the great wave of Eastern European Jewish immigration to America that brought 2 million Jews to the United States between 1881 and 1924, major passenger lines crossing the Atlantic began instituting kosher food service for their Jewish passengers,  mainly immigrants in third-class steerage.  Although Titanic had Jews among its First class passangers too.  The White Star and Cunard lines, as well as the German lines, all had kosher facilities by the time Titanic sailed. But historians who explore and preserve the body of knowledge about Titanic know little about kosher food and Jewish life aboard the ill-fated liner.  We just don't know how many dined "Kosher" or adhered to Jewish life on board for example, especially amongst the Jewish steerage passengers on Titanic.

One of the earliest printed references to 'kosher' service on an ocean liner dates to June 1904, when the Trenton Times reported that “American Line officials arranged another innovation in the form of special kosher cooks for the Jews. The English will have their meals served separately and their cabins will also be separate from those of the Jews.”  That ship was the S.S. Philadelphia.

One of the big names in shipbuilding at that time was Albert Ballin, chairman of the Hamburg-American Line. In 1905, Ballin, who was Jewish, decided to place separate kosher facilities on all of his steamships between New York and Bremen.  According to a contemporary news article about the Hamburg-American line, the addition of kosher service was “in accordance with a request from a number of representative Jewish organizations.”   Valery Bazarov, director of family history and location services for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, said that HIAS, which continues to help resettle Jewish refugees to the United States, established a kosher kitchen at Ellis Island in 1911.  

Jewish steerage passengers on Titanic were primarily refugees from Eastern Europe. Why would they stop over in England first?   Many couldn’t afford nonstop passage to New York. “Even at that time, two stopovers cost less than a ‘direct flight,’ like now,” Bazarov said.  
England’s National Archives estimate that between 1881 and 1905, up to 100,000 Eastern European Jews settled in England.  Parliament curtailed this immigration in 1905 with the Aliens act.  Most Eastern European Jews could then only stop over in England as “transmigrants,” on their way to other destinations.  The British National Archives estimate that between 1880 and 1914,  approximately 1 million Jewish transmigrants arrived at England’s eastern ports, crossed the country “quickly” and departed via England’s western ports.   But that wasn't the only reason .... Oft times (as with my own family) it  was to get out of immediate danger ....  It was not only immediate danger like a pogrom, and they were plentiful.  It was also immediate danger if someone was drafted to the Russian army, another habitation of hate for Jews.  A century ago, the term of conscription to the Russian army was three mandatory years. betimes referred to as “the underground pogrom, only much longer and much more painful.”  

The Jews of Eastern Europe were limited in their lives & successes because of pervasive antisemitism. It was not just immediate danger but just the quality of life as a whole that also led them to flee.  “To travel abroad, all Russians, not only Jews, needed foreign passports,” Bazarov said. “And to get it, they wrote a petition to the local authorities. They needed to bring the certificate about their relationship to the military service. Without that, they wouldn’t be allowed.”   That’s why so many Eastern European Jews forged or purchased forged passports, he said. Some Jews fled to England because they couldn’t afford the ocean passage, some tried to make lives for themselves there or in Ireland, like my family.

Before liners offered kosher meals,  Jews who kept to the laws of Kashrut had to fend for themselves, bringing their own food.  Some didn’t survive.  A Washington Post article from Nov. 2nd, 1909,  details Gisella Greiner, a “young Hebrew immigrant,” who died of starvation in Ellis Island’s hospital.  Kosher food was not available during her nine-day voyage across the Atlantic, she chose to fast rather than eat 'goy' food.  Even for passengers who didn’t keep kosher, food service in the old steerage system could be a vile experience.  There were no regular dining rooms for steerage class.  A minimum number of tables and seats were set in common areas.  In December 1909, the U.S. Immigration Commission reported on steerage conditions to Congress.  The report described the “disgusting and demoralizing conditions of the old steerage,” in which 300 or more people would sleep in large compartments. Many 'famine' or 'coffin' ships left Ireland and the UK for American ports during the previous century to this and about one third of travellers died.  It was competition for steerage passengers, the 1909 report continued, that led the major lines to develop improved steerage conditions, including the provison of meals for third class passangers.

The “new steerage” arrangements of the White Star Line,  particularly those of Olympic and Titanic, provided third-class passengers with foods they had neither seen nor could ever afford before,  such as Oranges.  “ The White Star Line, although we tend to think of them as the steamship line of luxury, they really catered to the third class, because they made more per head on the third class tickets than they did on a first-class.”   On Titanic, all china, stoneware and silver-plate or other serving utensils were marked in both Hebrew and English as either ‘meat’ or ‘milk.’  The same standards applied for all classes ....  and even first-class silver-plate was marked ‘milk’ or ‘meat.’  Rabbis regularly inspected the liners’ catering departments in both Southampton and New York it seems.   In terms of artifacts that have been retrieved from the ocean floor,  there has not been  any kosher service dinnerware,  but at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Northern Ireland,  there is on display a Titanic deck plan that includes a space indicated by an arrow for kosher service.  It was a small space as I recall.  It was not the size of a full installation of ranges and sinks,  but is significant as it corroborates at least the nominal observance of kosher dietry catering aboard. 

Kosher Kitchen on Olympic

 The 1909 Immigration Commission report on steerage conditions may give an indication of the role of Titanic’s Hebrew cook .....   “The Hebrew steerage passengers were looked after by a Hebrew who is employed by the company as a cook, and is at the same time appointed by Rabbi as guardian of such passengers. This particular man told me that he is a pioneer in this work. He was the first to receive such an appointment. It is his duty to see that all the Jewish passengers are assigned to sleeping quarters that are as comfortable and as good as any; to see that kosher food is provided and to prepare it. He has done duty on most of the ships of the White Star Line. On each he has instituted this system of caring for the Hebrews and then has left it to be looked after by some successor.”   It was also noted that  “the few Jewish passengers were assigned staterooms distantly removed from all others" to allow them to be properly Torah observant. 

Yet all of these upgraded accommodations for steerage passengers in general and Jewish immigrants in particular couldn’t substitute for the absence of commonsense safety measures on Titanic.  Speeding through a North Atlantic ice field, Titanic struck an iceberg at 11:40p.m. on April 14th and sank at 2:20a.m. on April 15th.  Of the 710 third-class passengers on board, only 174 escaped death.  Most died of hypothermia in the freezing ocean.  The survivors arrived at New York’s Pier 54 at 9:30p.m. on April 18th aboard their rescue ship, the Cunard liner Carpathia.   The New York Times reported the following day that “a score of the Titanic’s steerage were taken to the Hebrew Sheltering Home and Immigrant Aid Society, 229 East Broadway for the night.” According to HIAS records, the agency assisted 27 Titanic survivors.  If the body of Charles Kennell was ever retrieved, his remains were never identified. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Primo Levi ..... Author & Auschwitz Survivor!!

Yesterday, 11th April, 2012 was the 25th Yahrzeit of Primo Levi. Italian Poet, Author, Auschwicz Survivor, Jew and Chemist of Note.  He was the author of two novels and several collections of short stories, essays, and poems.  His best-known works include 'If This Is a Man' (1947), which is  his account of the year he spent as a prisoner in the Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland,  and The Periodic Table (1975) which the Royal Institution of Great Britain named the best science book ever written!!

I like him best as a Poet ~ although his 'Survival in Auschwitz'   (1947) is essential reading  ~ and so I am reproducing below some favourites in his memory.  We have a duty of Zakor ~  remembrance ~  of the lives and endeavours of our people.  And apart from his poetry, the survival and return to his native Turin of Primo Levi deserve remembering, especially so as Europe is once again in the ever tightening grip of growing Anti-Semitism.

On 21st February, 1944, the inmates of the camp were transported in twelve cramped cattle trucks to Monowitz, one of the three main camps in the Auschwitz concentration camp complex (his record number was 174,517). Levi spent eleven months there before the camp was liberated by the Red Army on January 18th, 1945. Of the 650 Italian Jews in his shipment, Levi was one of only twenty who left the camps alive. The average life expectancy of a new entrant was three months.   Levi knew some German from reading German publications on chemistry, as a science graduate, and he quickly oriented himself to life in the camp without attracting the attention of the privileged inmates.   He used bread to pay a more experienced Italian prisoner for German lessons and orientation in Auschwitz, and he received a smuggled soup ration each day from Lorenzo Perrone hurriedly evacuated the camp as the Red Army approached, forcing all but the gravely ill on a long , an Italian civilian bricklayer, working as a forced labourer. His professional qualifications were also useful,  and in mid-November 1944 he was able to secure a position as an assistant in IG Farben's Buna Werke laboratory that was intended to produce synthetic rubber, thereby avoiding the  hard labour in freezing outdoor temperatures. Shortly before the camp was liberated by the Red Army, he fell ill with scarlet fever and was placed in the camp's Sanatorium. On January 18th, 1945, the SS death march that led to the death of the vast majority of the remaining prisoners.  Levi's illness spared him this fate, B"H.

And, Although liberated on 27th January 1945, Levi did not reach Turin until 19th October 1945. After spending some time in a Soviet camp for former concentration camp inmates, as a result of the Armistice between Italy and Allied armed forces he embarked on an arduous journey home in the company of former pre-1946 Italian prisoners of war from the Royal Italian Army in Russia. His long railway journey home to Turin took him on a circuitous route from Poland, through Bielorussia, Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Austria and Germany.

The Survivor

Once more he sees his companions' faces
Livid in the first faint light,
Gray with cement dust,
Nebulous in the mist,
Tinged with death in their uneasy sleep.
At night, under the heavy burden
Of their dreams, their jaws move,
Chewing a non-existant turnip.
'Stand back, leave me alone, submerged people,
Go away. I haven't dispossessed anyone,
Haven't usurped anyone's bread.
No one died in my place. No one.
Go back into your mist.
It's not my fault if I live and breathe,
Eat, drink, sleep and put on clothes.'



In the brutal nights we used to dream
Dense violent dreams,
Dreamed with soul and body:
To return; to eat; to tell the story.
Until the dawn command
Sounded brief, low
And the heart cracked in the breast.

Now we have found our homes again,
Our bellies are full,
We're through telling the story.
It's time. Soon we'll hear again
The strange command:


You who live secure
In your warm houses
Who return at evening to find
Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider whether this is a man,
Who labours in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or a no.
Consider whether this is a woman,
Without hair or name
With no more strength to remember
Eyes empty and womb cold
As a frog in winter.

Consider that this has been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,
When you go to bed, when you rise.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you.
 Please Note that the Above Poems were originally written in Italian!!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Let My People Go!!

And thou shalt say unto him ...  Ha'Shem, the G*d of the Hebrews, hath sent me unto thee, saying " Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness,  and, behold, hitherto thou hast not hearkened"
 ~ Shemot 7.16 ~

My Mom (OBM) loved Louis Armstrong & I grew up listening to Louis a lot.  I don't remember the first time I heard this track, but over the years I've become acquainted with the tale behind it.  It is perfect for Pesach (and Pollard's continued unjust  incarceration in 'the land of the free' ensure it's topicality!).  

 "Go Down Moses" is what used to be known as an American 'Negro Spiritual', popularised not only by Louis Armstrong but others too.  The opening verse as published by the Jubilee Singers in 1872 is ....
When Israel was in Egypt's land: Let my people go,
Oppress'd so hard they could not stand, Let my People go.
Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt's land,
Tell old Pharaoh,
Let my people go.
In this version of the song "Israel" represents the African-American slaves while "Egypt" and "Pharaoh" represent the Slavemaster.  The song is based on the story of Moses yes, but really, this is an old slave song sung during the days of slavery to instill hope.  Pharaoh represents the masters, and freedom land represented the North where there was no slavery. The slaves would sing the song to express their hope for freedom but hid it metaphorically so the slave masters would not connect it with their 'freedom struggle'.   In the context of American slavery, this ancient sense of  the word "down" converged with the concept of "down the river" (the Mississippi), where slaves' conditions were notoriously worse than elsewhere in the South, a situation which led to the idiom "to sell someone down the river" in present-day English useage.   And on February 7th, 1958, the song was recorded in New York City  by Louis Armstrong with Sy Oliver's Orchestra.   The Youtube video is below.

But that is not the tale I want to concentrate on this Pesach.  I want to focus on Louis Armstrongs attitude to Anti Semitism in America, which I originally gleaned from the history of this song itself.   
If you haven’t seen it, there is a highly fascinating article that appeared in Commentary  in 2009 entitled  “Satchmo and the Jews.”     Observing that Louis Armstrong was equally beloved as a man by those who knew him as he was admired for his monumental contribution to American music,  his biographer Teachout also notes that he was apparently “devoid of personal prejudice.”     As a Jew who has known 'predjudice'  I would go further.


Armstrong’s lack of prejudice extended to Jews, an attitude that was comparatively rare among blacks of his generation. Outside his marriages, his closest adult relationship was with Joe Glaser, a Jewish 'gangster' from Chicago who became his manager in 1935 and with whom he was intimately associated from then on. Armstrong described Glaser as “my dearest friend,” and those who knew both men well agreed that this was nothing more than the truth.

He was similarly admiring of the Karnofskys, a family of Jews from Lithuania for whom he had worked as a boy in New Orleans.   In 1969 he wrote a lengthy memoir of his relationship with the Karnofsky's called “Louis Armstrong and the Jewish Family in New Orleans, La., the Year of 1907.”    In it he told of how surprised he had been to discover that they “were having problems of their own ~ [a]long with hard times from the other white folks' nationalities who felt that they were better than the Jewish race. . . . I was only Seven years old but I could easily see the ungodly treatment that the White Folks were handing the poor Jewish family whom I worked for.” 

The young Armstrong saw the Karnofskys’ problems up close, for they took him into their family, treating him almost like a relative. “They were always warm and kind to me, which was very noticeable to me ~ just a kid who could use a little word of kindness,” he recalled. He shared meals with them and borrowed money from them to buy his first Cornet. Thereafter he would identify with the Karnofskys and the Jews of New Orleans so closely that he became an ardent Zionist who always wore a 'Magen David' around his neck (Joe Glaser gave it to him). “I will love the Jewish people, all of my life,” he wrote in “Louis Armstrong and the Jewish Family,” adding that he learned from them “how to live ~ real life and determination.”

And the biography of Louis Armstrong, written by the same Terry Teachout, is inspiring and contains this tale along with other lots of anecdotal information.  It is well worth a read ....   Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong.    And Satchmo  is always a joy to listen to .....   his refreshing Admiration for Judaism and vociferous support for Jews is a welcome respite amisdt the Anti Semitic Avalanche prevalent among 'celebrities'  that we usually face in our days.   Let's emulate Louis Armstrong Loudly.   Let's Agitate for Pollard's release this Pesach. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

It's Pesach .... Free Pollard Now !!!!!!

"When the heart of one Jew beats with pain, the hearts of all the multitudes feel it as well.”
It is Pesach ~ Passover this week, the celebration of Israel's Childrens Freedom from Captivity.  But, this Pesach there is a Child of Israel who remains in CaptivityJonathan Pollard is an American-born Israeli citizen currently in the 27th year of a life sentence in an American prison for his activities on behalf of the security of the State of IsraelThe median sentence for the offence Pollard committed ~ one count of passing classified information to an ally ~ is 2 to 4 years. Yet Pollard remains unjustly incarcerated.  Pollard received his life sentence without a trial, as a result of a plea bargain which he honoured and the U.S. government violated.  Esther Pollard is his wife. 
Jonathan Pollard was a civilian American Naval intelligence analyst. In the mid 1980's he discovered that information vital to Israel's security was being deliberately withheld by certain elements within the U.S. national security establishment. Israel was legally entitled to this vital security information according to a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries. The information being withheld from Israel included Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Iranian nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare capabilities being developed for use against Israel. It also included information on ballistic missile development by these countries and information on planned terrorist attacks against Israeli civilian targets.  When Pollard discovered this suppression of information and asked his superiors about it, he was told to "mind his own business", and that "Jews get nervous talking about poison gas; they don't need to know" !!!!!!!!

He also learned that the objective of cutting off the flow of information to Israel was to severely curtail Israel's ability to act independently in defence of her own interests
Israeli lives were being put in jeopardy as a result of this undeclared intelligence embargo. He did everything he possibly could to stop this covert policy and to have the legal flow of information to Israel restored. When his efforts met no success, he began to give the information to Israel directly. Jonathan Pollard was an ideologue, not a mercenary. The FBI concluded after nine months of polygraphing that Pollard acted for ideological reasons only, not for profit. This fact was recognized by the sentencing judge who declined to fine Pollard.  Furthermore, on May 11th, 1998, Israel formally acknowledged Jonathan Pollard had been a bona fide Israeli agent. This fact wiped out any doubt about Jonathan Pollard's motives. Being an official agent is, by definition, the polar opposite of being a mercenary.

In 1985, his actions were discovered by the U.S. government. His instructions from Israel were to seek refuge in the Israeli embassy in Washington.  Jonathan Pollard never had a trial. At the request of both the U.S. and Israeli governments, he entered into a plea agreement, which spared both governments a long, difficult, expensive and potentially embarrassing trial.  Jonathan Pollard fulfilled his end of the plea agreement, cooperating fully with the prosecution.  evertheless, Pollard received a life sentence and a recommendation that he never be paroled ~ in complete violation of the plea agreement he had reached with the American government!!

Jonathan Pollard was indicted on only one charge .... one count of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States.  Jonathan Pollard was never indicted for harming the United States. Jonathan Pollard was never indicted for compromising codes, agents, or war plans. Jonathan Pollard was never charged with treason, a charge that is only applicable when one spies for an enemy state in time of war.  Five Prime Ministers of Israel and three Presidents of Israel have requested Jonathan Pollard's release from the United States. Israel has pledged to be responsible for its agent who has served many years in prison under harsh conditions, and who has fully and repeatedly expressed his remorse.  The Inescapable conclusion is that Jonathan remains incarcerated because he is a Jew!!


Jonathan Pollard
was admitted to a hospital in North Carolina early last Friday, erev Shabbos, after suffering from extreme pain for days.  Pollard, now 57, was last hospitalized in August last year for emergency kidney surgery and this latest illness has been described as "life-threatening". 
Escorted by MKs Uri Ariel and Ronit Tirosh, Mrs. Esther Pollard on Sunday afternoon first day chol hamoed Pesach in Eretz Yisrael met with President Shimon Peres in his official residence. Mrs. Pollard made an impassioned plea to the president to act on behalf of Jonathan, who remains in critical condition.  “I don’t want to be a widow” Mrs. Pollard was quoted as telling the President, who promised the issue of her husband’s release will remain atop of his list of priorities with the United States.  Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger called upon Jews around the world to pray during the Passover holiday for the health and freedom of Pollard, whose Hebrew name is Yehonatan Ben-Malka.    Please do remember him this Pesach.  Our Festival of Freedom.

 It is not enough for Israel's leaders to say to America "Let Pollard Go!",  as it was not enough  for Moshe Rabbeniu to say to Pharoah "Let my People Go!".    The Mitzvah of Pidyon Shvuyim is to bring about the release of any Jew held captive by the Goyim. And Talmud declares it a “Mitzvah rabbah”, a great mitzvah, as captivity  in the goy world is viewed as even worse than starvation and death (Bava Batra 8b).  Pollard has served his sentence & then some.  We need to demand his immediate release without condition.

 Rav Mordechai Eliyahu zt''l  said that Moshiach cannot come as long as Pollard is in jail he either has to be freed or he has to die (chas v'shalom) before the Geulah can occur .... ''Rabbi Eliyahu visited Jonathan Pollard in prison on most of his visits to the US. Rabbi Eliyahu held that Jonathan's release is also the key to the release of all of Israel's captives and MIAs. Once Jonathan is out, all the captives are all out! Once they are all out, we are all in Redemption! In the same way that Joseph's name became Yehoseph, Joseph with an additional ה, Rabbi Eliyahu wanted for Jonathan Pollard to change his name from Jonathan, יונתן, to Yehonatan, יהונתן, with an additional ה. And indeed in Rabbi Eliyahu's study, Jonathan was referred to as Yehonatan.''

Please Pray over Pesach for Yehonatan Ben-Malka for a Refuah Shlema and his long overdue Release.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Pesach Rhapsody!!

It is a Mitzvah to tell the tale of Pesach. To recite the Haggadah to our Children.  The Haggadah is a vivid narrative set in the context of a parent-child dialogue & the word Haggadah means to tell, or to relate.  To relate to every Jew three things  ..... who we are, where we came from, and what we stand for.   It is our Birth Story. Our Declaration of Independance.
Pesach marks the anniversary of the birth of the Jewish nation,  Am Yisroel.      
Am Yisrael Chai!!

Apologies for the lack of posts recently ... some personal upheaval in real life.  Back to proper posting post Pesach.   
Chag kasher vesame`ah!!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Vehi Sheamda ~ Torah is Triumph!!

Apologies for the lack of posting lately. It has been a time of turmoil in my personal life. Back to 'proper' posting post Pesach.     Chag Pesach Sam'each to All !!!!!

Therefore, all who devour you shall be devoured, and all your adversaries, yea all of them, shall go into captivity, and those who plunder you shall be plunder, and all who prey upon you I will give for prey" 
~ Y'ermiahu 30.16 ~

"For I am with you, says Ha'Shem, to save you, for I will make an end of all the nations where I dispersed you, but of you I will not make an end ..... "   ~ Y'ermiahu 30.11 ~

The Jewish Nation ~ Am Yisrael ~ is indestructible.  Pesach reminds us of this.  The miraculous sweep of Jewish destiny from the Exodus to nuclear Iran ~ and what it means today. The Triumph of Torah learning in Today's Communities. Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Dr. Warren Goldstein's Pesach Message featuring Yaakov Shwekey.  It is Torah that sustains the World &  Torah Judaism is on the increase, B"H!!

Chag kasher vesame`ah!!