Category Archives: Israel

(JTA) Portugal’s only rural Jewish community seeks a seat at the table

(JTA)

A view of Pelourinho Square in Belmonte, Portugal. (Filipe Rocha/Wikmedia Commons)ADVERTISEMENT

BELMONTE, Portugal (JTA) — To a casual observer, the weekend routines of the Jewish community of this placid town of about 6,000 in eastern Portugal are deceptively normal.

There are Shabbat services at the local synagogue on Friday night and Saturday morning, and receptions at the local Jewish museum. Once a year, a small Sunday kosher market is held by the approximately 70 members of its Jewish community of Belmonte — the only one in Portugal outside the larger cities of Lisbon and Porto.

But the community here is the only one on the Iberian Peninsula that has retained rituals and other quirky elements of its identity that date back to the Spanish Inquisition, thanks to the sacrifices and commitment of successive generations of crypto-Jews — Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity under the Inquisition but continued to practice Judaism in secret.

This year, the Jewish Community of Belmonte is for the first time seeking from the government equal status and access to funding as those enjoyed by Portugal’s two larger Jewish communities of Lisbon and Porto.

The post-Inquisition Jewish presence in Belmonte was first documented in 1917 by Samuel Schwarz, a Jewish engineer from Poland who was working at a nearby tin mine when he noticed peculiar habits of certain families in the town.

In a 1925 book titled “New Christians in Portugal in the 20th Century,” he chronicled how only three Jewish holidays were observed in Belmonte: Passover, the Fast of Esther — part of the Purim holiday — and Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, Jews would meet to play cards so as not to appear to be worshipping, and they’re still following the custom today.

Belmonte Jews browse the annual kosher market there, Oct. 14, 2018. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

Shabbat was regularly observed, featuring three daily prayers, Schwarz wrote. On that day, Belmonte’s crypto-Jews did not eat pork. Today, pork is off the menu for most Belmonte Jews, who eat mostly kosher food — some of it even locally produced, including two types of beer and several kinds of cheese.

The food is on display at the annual kosher market during the High Holidays period, where actors dressed in medieval costumes regale visitors with scenes from that period. Some of the enactments show Jews sobbing upon learning of the Inquisition’s arrival in Portugal and Jewish merchants haggling while peddling textiles. The members of the Jewish community don’t seem to mind the humorous approach, playing along with the acts.

“The story of Belmonte’s Jews is like something out of a fairy tale or science fiction series,” Eliyahu Birenboim, a former chief rabbi of Uruguay and the head of Israel’s Strauss-Amiel Rabbinical Seminary, wrote in a 2012 essay detailing his research of the place.

There are darker sides to the community’s strict adherence to centuries-old customs. It’s so old and tight knit that the inmarriage that helped sustain the community at one point has created endemic health problems to many of its members. Many community members suffer from night blindness, among other afflictions. One family has a gravely ill daughter due to genetic complications, said Elisha Salas, a Chile-born rabbi who led the Belmonte Jewish community for eight years before leaving for El Salvador in 2018.

This issue exposes Belmonte Jews to ridicule by some of their coreligionists from elsewhere in Portugal.

“They are all pretty much married to their cousin,” Salas said of his previous congregation.

Actors re-enact scenes from the Inquisition period outside Belmonte’s Jewish museum, Oct. 14, 2018. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

Then there are the normal challenges of life in a small and remote Jewish community. Belmonte’s rural area offers few employment opportunities, and there are only a handful of Jewish children there, raising concerns about the community’s long-term viability. Several dozen people have left for Israel in recent years.

Salas said the effects of this depletion has deepened the impact that old family feuds have on communal life.

“There are whole families who are not on speaking terms not because of something that went on recently,” but due to fights over unrequited marriage proposals from decades ago, he said.

The Jewish communities in Lisbon and Porto announced last year with a Chabad rabbi the formation of a national rabbinical council, omitting Belmonte. In fact, the community wasn’t even informed in advance of the council’s creation, Salas said.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” said Jaime Henrique Rodrigo, a Belmonte Jew. “Porto and Lisbon are trying to protect their monopoly. They don’t want us taking a seat at the table, so they try to exclude us.”

Belmonte also is not recognized by the state as qualified to vet citizenship applications by descendants of Sephardic Jews. (Portugal passed a law in 2015 that said it will aim to naturalize descendants of Sephardic Jews who can prove their heritage.) This owed to the fact that at the time of the law’s passage, the community had not yet been officially registered with the state for a required minimum period of 30 years. But the community will hit the mandated mark later this year.

It will be at the Justice Ministry’s discretion to recognize Belmonte as vetters once its application is complete; the application is in its early stages.

Rabbi Elisha Salas, wearing kippah, celebrates Tu b’Shvat with Belmonte Jews, Feb. 10, 2017. (Courtesy of Shavei Israel)

When asked, representatives from the communities in Lisbon and Porto would not explain why they excluded Belmonte from the rabbinical council.

Gabriel Szary Steinhardt, the president of the board of directors of the Jewish Community of Lisbon, said JTA’s questions on the matter “do not deserve any response at all.” Meanwhile, the Jewish Community of Porto accused a JTA reporter of working “for proselytizing organizations,” which it did not specify.

The vetting issue is more than about prestige. It has been an unexpected cash cow for the two larger communities, which charge hundreds of dollars for each application, of which there have been hundreds. Salas said the Jewish Community of Belmonte has hired a lawyer and is taking legal action to obtain recognition as a certified vetter.

The dispute underscores the historical differences between the community in Belmonte and those in Lisbon and Porto. While Belmonte Jews are the descendants of those who steadfastly stuck to tradition in secrecy, and against harsh odds, the two others are made up of a mix of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews who immigrated in or after the 19th century, and bnei anusim (or forced converts) who converted back to Judaism as individuals.

Despite the challenges, the Belmonte Jewish community may cheat death yet again, Salas suggested.

The Sephardic citizenship law is bringing dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of Jewish immigrants to Portugal, primarily from Latin America and Israel. At least three Jewish families have bought homes in Belmonte in recent years. There are also hopes that this trend will increase with the completion of the first train station here, connecting it with major cities.

And if Portugal allows Belmonte to vet citizenship applications, its Jewish community would come by a substantial source of income for communal activities and institutions, such as a school, which the community does not have.

“It could go either way for Belmonte’s Jewish community,” Salas said. “But if there’s one thing we do know, it’s that it has a pretty good track record of surviving.”

(BBC) The European capital cobbled with Jewish gravestones

(BBC)

Prague cobblestones

Each year millions of visitors walk through the cobbled streets of Prague’s Old Town – without realising, most likely, that many of the stones below their feet have been looted from what was meant to be sacred ground. The BBC’s Rob Cameron only recently learned their secret.

We stood, blocking the pedestrian traffic, on one of the busiest streets in the Czech capital. A steady stream of people pushed by us muttering as they clutched bags of Christmas shopping and souvenirs and we peered at the ground.

In the distance, at the bottom of Wenceslas Square, crowds congregated around street performers and kiosks selling sausages and beer.

“There,” said Leo Pavlat, the owlish, bearded director of the Prague Jewish Museum, pointing at a thin strip of dark, square cobblestones at our feet. “There! You see? All along there.” He looked up, his eyes following the strip as it ran along the short pedestrianised street.

He delved into a plastic bag and brought out two cobblestones. They were almost identical to those embedded in the ground below us. But these ones you could turn over in your fingers, revealing a single smooth side of polished granite that would otherwise have been hidden face down.

One bore fragments of a date, 1895. The other featured three letters of the Hebrew alphabet – he, vav, bet, the gold paint which lined the chiselled inscriptions glinting in the winter sun.

“What does it mean?” I asked. “Is it part of a name?” Leo frowned. “No idea. It’s not enough to tell. Possibly it’s part of a eulogy.”

Leo Pavlat with his cobblestones made from gravestones

Leo Pavlat has owned these stones for more than 30 years, ever since he slipped them into his pocket one spring morning some time in the late 1980s.

“It must have been shortly before Gorbachev came, because I remember they redid the cobblestones here especially for his visit,” he said.

Later I looked online and discovered that the Soviet leader first visited Prague in April 1987, and the trip had indeed included an hour-long walkabout at the bottom of Wenceslas Square.

But back to Leo and his cobblestones. On that spring morning just over 30 years ago he was on his way to work in the Albatros children’s publishing house, a short distance from where we now stood. He’d passed a sight that’s still familiar in Prague today – piles of new cobbles waiting to be laid by workers in overalls and kneepads.


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Something about them caught his eye, and he bent down for a closer look. They were fragments of Jewish tombstones that had been cut into perfect cubes of granite. Judging by the dates, they’d been taken from a 19th Century cemetery. Shocked, Leo pocketed a few and walked briskly away.

“It wasn’t easy being Jewish back then,” he told me. “I was an active member of the community, though not in the official circles. And I wasn’t a member of the Communist Party.”

Even attending the officially-sanctioned weekly service in one of the few functioning synagogues was enough to prompt a chat with the secret police, he said.

“There were no publications, no education. I think the regime just wanted the Jewish community to slowly die.”

The old Jewish cemetery in Prague, in 1904 (Scheufler collection)
Image captionThe old Jewish cemetery in Prague, in 1904 (Scheufler collection)

Czechoslovakia’s Jewish population of some 350,000 people before World War Two, was reduced to about 50,000 in 1946 – including the few who had staggered back from the concentration camps.

Official anti-Semitism and voluntary emigration followed during the decades of communism. By the late 1980s, the population barely numbered 8,000.

I don’t think it was done deliberately by the Communists, to offend Jews – but it is insensitiveLeo Pavlat, Prague Jewish Museum

And across the country, on the edges of villages and towns, some 600 Jewish cemeteries lay untended and forgotten. The Communist authorities – and, it seems, the leaders of the Jewish community too – saw them as repositories of valuable building material that would otherwise go to waste.

Leo Pavlat couldn’t remember where his stones had come from, but directed me to an article he’d written several years before. His cobbles, it seems, were cut from tombstones taken from a Jewish cemetery established in 1864 in the town of Udlice in North Bohemia.

There’d been a Jewish community there since the 17th Century, with a synagogue, yeshiva (a religious school) and two cemeteries. By 1930, the Jewish population of Udlice had fallen to 13. By the 1980s, when its cemetery was looted, it was – presumably – zero.

After a few minutes’ walk, we reached the end of the granite line, at the bottom of Wenceslas Square. Tourists and locals jostled past us.

The cobbles of Wenceslas Square

I asked Leo what he wanted the city to do.

“It’s not easy. The gravestones can never be put back together, and laying new cobbles would cost millions,” he said.

“I don’t think it was done deliberately by the Communists, to offend us Jews. But it is insensitive.”

He’d like the city to put up a small plaque. A plaque that would remind people, he said, of the once vibrant Jewish life here. And the barbarism of the Communist regime.

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(JTA) Belgian ban on kosher slaughter has Jews worried about what comes next

(JTA)

Belgium has banned a certain form of ritual slaughter practiced by Jews and Muslims. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)ADVERTISEMENT

(JTA) — Antwerp’s Jewish community was still recovering from its Holocaust-era devastation when Wim van den Brande’s grandfather opened one of Europe’s largest kosher slaughterhouses.

Since its establishment in 1966, the Kosher Poultry factory grew together with the local Jewish community, which numbered only a few thousand people after Nazis and their collaborators murdered most of the Jews in Flanders — the Belgian region whose capital is Antwerp.

By the end of last year, van den Brande’s factory was processing 80,000 chickens a month — a testament to how the region’s Jewish population has more than quadrupled to 20,000 since 1945.

But all that ended last month, when a law banning methods used in ritual slaughter went into effect, forcing van den Brande, who is not Jewish, to fire his 10 employees and close up shop, in the hope of moving his factory to Hungary.

For van den Brande, 42, and hundreds of meat industry professionals, it means “an attack on traditions and on an entire industry,” he told JTA.

It has less immediate implications for Antwerp’s Jews — who can simply switch to importing customs-free kosher meat from elsewhere within the European Union trading bloc. Yet many of them view the law both as a declaration that they are not wanted in Belgium, and as the opening shot of further hostile action.

“On the ground, it makes little difference. We still have meat,” said Nechemiah Schuldiner, a leader of the Shomre Hadas Orthodox Jewish community of Antwerp. “The problem is the message it sends. It tells Jews: We don’t want you here.”

Schuldiner fears the law, which he considers a ban, is a “prelude to a ban on importing kosher meat,” and a move heralding “new restrictions, be in on milah or other elements of Jewish life.” Milah is the Hebrew word for circumcision of men.

The new law requires all animals be stunned before they are slaughtered. Jewish and Muslim religious laws require animals be conscious at the time of their slaughter. Jewish leaders also fear the same political forces — animal and child welfare activists, in league with anti-immigration groups — will move to ban ritual circumcision, performed by Jews and Muslims.

Michael Freilich, editor in chief of the Antwerp-based Joods Actueel Jewish magazine, disagrees that the law is a sign Belgian Jews were unwanted. The Flemish authorities, he said, have paid “a great deal of attention to the Jewish community and its needs.” But, he added, the methods for ritual slaughter are “too unpopular” in Flanders for the government to ignore.

The law in Flanders was born of a 2014 public debate about the slaughter of animals by Muslims in unregulated slaughterhouses. In Western Europe recently, animal welfare and child welfare activists have found unlikely allies in individuals and politicians critical of the impact of mass immigration to Europe by Muslims.

Jewish customs, similar to Muslim ones but ignored or tolerated for decades, have become collateral damage of this alliance.

In the Netherlands, a fringe animal welfare party in 2011 submitted a bill proposing a ban on all slaughter performed without stunning. It passed in the lower house, largely thanks to the support of the anti-Islam Party for Freedom. The Dutch senate reversed the ban in 2012.

Members of the Belgian Jewish community walking on the streets of the Jewish quarter in Antwerp, Belgium, Aug. 7, 2014. (Johanna Geron/Flash90)

In 2013, Poland’s parliament passed a similar ban amid growing discontent in the predominantly-Catholic nation over the arrival of millions of Muslims into the European Union, of which Poland is a member. The Polish High Court reversed the ban in 2014.

Meanwhile, Denmark’s parliament is preparing to vote on a resolution calling to ban non-medical circumcision of boys. The resolution began as a petition started by a small group of anti-circumcision activists but gathered tens of thousands of signatures in the kingdom, whose government has one of Western Europe’s most restrictive policies on immigration from the Middle East.

In this context, the law passed in Belgium “is clearly only the beginning,” said Ari Mandel, an Antwerp Jew who in 2011 opened Kosher4U, an online store that specializes in shipping kosher products to remote European Jewish communities, such as in Sweden and Norway.

“We’re talking about a domino effect. Kosher slaughterhouses can move but moving appears to be a temporary solution, a stay of execution,” he added.

Mandel also noted that Antwerp’s Orthodox communities have some of the world’s strictest kashrut standards, making their rabbis and congregants distrust foreign labels.

Ritual slaughter of animals is allowed in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and Russia, where the vast majority of Europe’s Jews live.

Five European Union member states — Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania and Slovenia — have blanket bans on ritual slaughter. So too do three other non-EU countries in Western Europe: Norway, Switzerland and Iceland.

In Belgium, it is currently illegal only in Flanders, or the Flemish Region, which is one of three states that make up the federal kingdom. Another region, Wallonia, will impose a ban in September. Austria and Estonia also enforce strict supervision of the custom that some Jews there say makes it nearly impossible.

No country in Europe currently forbids nonmedical circumcision of boys.

If Europe is seeing a domino effect where Jewish customs are collateral damage, then communities should consider adapting some of those customs to weather the storm, suggested Michael Freilich, the Jewish paper’s editor.

“There is halacha, and Jews are beholden to it,” he told JTA, referring to rabbinic law. But some kosher practices also stem from “customs and rabbinical politics” and can be adapted or reformed.

Notably, some Orthodox rabbis permit post-cut stunning – a technique in which animals’ necks are cut almost at the same time as they are knocked unconscious. Another potential concession may come from modern stunning methods, including carbon dioxide, that do not injure the animal in ways prohibited by Jewish law.

“Honestly, I’ve not been able to get rabbis to give me very compelling explanations as to why some of these solutions aren’t halakhically acceptable,” said Freilich, who is Orthodox and who opposes government restrictions on ritual slaughter.

But some of the rabbis, he said, “told me that they couldn’t sanction certain solutions because doing so would expose them to attack from hardliners.”

These talks “changed my way of thinking about the kosher meat issue,” Freilich added.

As more and more European governments restrict kosher slaughter, Freilich said “the need to adapt Jewish customs to the new reality will grow, and I think we’ll see movement.”

(JTA) In repressive Myanmar, a tiny Jewish community hangs on to the past

(JTA)

Myanmar cemetery

Over 20 years ago, Myanmar announced it would move its Jewish cemetery out of the capital Yangon. It’s still there. (Charles Dunst)ADVERTISEMENT

This is the first article in a series about the Jews of Southeast Asia.

YANGON, Myanmar (JTA) – There was a Hanukkah party last month in this former capital city and enough guests — over 200 — to surprise an uninvited tourist.

“They’re no Jews here anymore,” the tourist proclaims, confused about the celebration at Yangon’s regal Chatrium Hotel.

“Yes there are,” replies Ari Solomon, a guest from Australia.

“No, they said there are 10 families,” the tourist responds.

“Well, that’s not nothing – that’s 10 families,” Solomon counters. “That’s a lot. You go back to my hometown, Calcutta, and there are lucky to be 16 Jews, let alone 10 families.”

Indeed, Myanmar’s Jewish community has dwindled to about 20 people. Most of the Jews had fled when Japan invaded the country in World War II, as the Axis power distrusted them for their perceived political alignment with the British. The majority who remained left in the mid-1960s, when the new regime nationalized businesses as part of a socialist agenda that would soon run the country into the ground.

Still, Sammy Samuels, 38, the de facto leader of this Southeast Asian nation’s remaining Jewish community, has held out hope for its future, if not a revival. In recent years his father, Moses, had maintained the community, opening the door of Yangon’s sole synagogue daily in the hopes of welcoming tourists.

The Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue in Yangon dates back to the 19th century. (Charles Dunst)

Following his father’s death in 2015, Samuels has taken over, embracing social media and tourism to keep the community alive. But while he has replenished the dried-up well of history with the fresh water of modernity, Myanmar’s fraught politics – most notably the crime perpetrated by its military against the Rohingya Muslims – are bringing a downturn in tourism and putting those gains at risk. 

“[Everyone] thinks that we’re small community [and that there’s] nothing going on,” Samuels says at the Dec. 7 Hanukkah celebration. “But we have this kind of event, the government people come — the embassy, friends and family, too.”

The Jewish community here grew rapidly from the mid-1800s through 1942. At its peak, 3,000 Jews called Myanmar home when it was still known as Burma. Some rose to local power, like David Sofaer, who in the 1930s served as the mayor of Yangon, then known as Rangoon. Myanmar at the time was still a component of the British Empire.

Jewish restaurants, pharmacies and schools once marked the city’s streets. While these businesses have dissipated, Stars of David still adorn some buildings in Yangon: a school nearly 40 minutes from downtown; a skincare shop in the heart of downtown; a paint store across the street from the synagogue.

Sammy Samuels, the de facto leader of Myanmar’s remaining Jewish community, inside Yangon’s synagogue. (Charles Dunst)

In the 1920s, the famed British author George Orwell, then a colonial police officer in Burma, recognized the Jewish presence there, albeit cynically. He condemned British operations in the country for being “a device for giving trade monopolies to the English – or rather to gangs of Jews and Scotchmen.”

“My great-grandfather came to Rangoon around the mid-19th century,” Samuels tells JTA in an interview. A Jewish community – Orwell’s “gangs” – soon began to flourish, with many, like the Samuels family, coming from Baghdad, Iraq, in search of economic prosperity.

Today, the 19th century Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue in Yangon sits solitary in this land of golden pagodas and remains wholly unguarded in the city’s main Muslim neighborhood.

“People [here] would not understand what is ‘anti-Semitism,’” says Samuels, whose Burmese name is Aung Soe Lwin. “Thank God, there’s no such a word here.”

The owners of the shops surrounding the synagogue – mostly men wearing traditional Burmese longyi and Muslim kufi and thawb – are not hawking Judaica but superglue and paint, among other utility products. Spitting the residue from their chewed betel nut, these shopkeepers — teenagers, middle-aged and elderly — stain the street a crimson red.

“Five buildings away, we have a mosque. And then right in front of us is the Buddhist temple,” Samuels says. “What a combination.”

Samuels credits this respect across Myanmar’s ethnic and religious groups as directly tied to Israel. Joe Freeman explains in Tablet magazine that Burma was Israel’s “first friend” in Asia, as both countries secured independence from the British in 1948. Burma’s first prime minister, U Nu, had a “soft spot for Israel” and was close with David Ben-Gurion, his Israeli counterpart. U Nu was the first prime minister of any country to visit the Jewish state.

David Ben-Gurion, left, meets with General Ne Win, then-prime minister of Burma, as it was called, in 1959. (Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

“The Burmese population, if you tell them ‘Judaism’ they don’t know, but if you tell ‘Israel,’ they feel like Israel is a religion,” Samuels says. “They fully respect Israel.”

But Yangon’s religious diversity, which has long bestowed Jews with safety, is not reflective of Myanmar at large. The majority of the country remains off limits for touristsdue to raging ethnic conflicts; Jews historically lived mostly in Yangon and Mandalay.

In 2016, the Myanmar military ramped up its long-running persecution of the Rohingya Muslims, whom most Burmese regard as outsiders and some as terrorists. The military’s barbarism of the community includes torching villages, throwing babies into fires, decapitating young boys and mass rape. Some 1.1 million Rohingya have fled Myanmar; thousands are believed to have been killed in what a United Nations investigator called an ongoing genocide.

People in Yangon, from the Bamar ethnic majority to its Muslims, are disconnected from if not outwardly antagonistic toward the Rohingya in the Rakhine State. Burmese social media is awash with anti-Rohingya posts.

Samuels, perhaps due to his Western education and Jewish understanding of the horrors of ethnic scapegoating, speaks more empathetically about the Rohingya. He even uses the word “Rohingya,” although the Israeli government, in line with Myanmar’s government’s preference, refuses to do the same. 

Israel allowed its arms firms to sell weapons to Myanmar’s military through the fall of 2017. During an interview, Ronen Gilor, the Israeli ambassador to Myanmar, declines to comment on this issue.

“It’s an unfortunate event what happened in the Rakhine State,” Samuels says cautiously, likely because of Myanmar’s limited freedom of speech. “We really sympathize with them.”

The U.S. Holocaust Museum recently classified the crimes against the Rohingya as genocide.

The Jewish cemetery in Yangon remains hidden on a hill that some stray dogs have clearly claimed as their territory. (Charles Dunst)

Samuels politely opts not to comment on Israel’s arming of Myanmar’s military as well. He does say, however, that the military’s campaign has caused a decline in tourism.

“A lot of people start to boycott traveling to Myanmar, but when we say tourism, it’s not just about us, a tour company, or the hotel or airline. It involves the tour guide, taxi driver, hotel bellman,” he says. “They should not be punished for what happened.”

“When you come here as a tourist, you see things different.”

Even when Myanmar was a pariah state, Moses Samuels had long helped Jewish tourists interested in visiting the country, answering their queries regarding accommodations, flights and restaurants. Father and son eventually turned it into a business: Myanmar Shalom Travel and Tours.

“Thank God, since 2011, the country start[ed] changing unbelievably” and business began “booming,” the younger Samuels says.

This increased business corresponded with a series of political, economic and administrative reforms pursued by Myanmar’s military junta. The junta even released from house arrest Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize-winning human rights advocate who spent nearly 15 years in some form of imprisonment and now runs the country’s civilian government. (She has since drawn criticism for her unwillingness to stand up for the Rohingya, although she has no control over the military.) A photo of Sammy Samuels and his family with Suu Kyi remains part of a photo display outside the synagogue.

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of Myanmar’s government, speaks at a business summit in Singapore, Nov. 12, 2018. The former political prisoner and Nobel Peace Prize winner has been criticized for her government’s treatment of its Rohingya Muslim population. (Ore Huiying/Getty Images)

Samuels says that since 2011, social media has played a key role in strengthening his community.

“We have a WhatsApp group, ‘Yangon Jews,’” he says. While others in Myanmar have used WhatsApp to encourage violence against Rohingya (the United Nations said it played “a determining role”), Samuels has used the platform for good.

And beyond social media, Samuels praises the Israeli Embassy for contributing to Yangon’s Jewish community.

“The Israeli Embassy and us – I would even say it’s a family,” he says.

Gilor echoed those thoughts in an interview.

“It’s a very good thing to have collaboration with Sammy and the Jewish community,” the ambassador tells JTA, calling the community “a bridge” among Myanmar, Israel and the Jewish world.

Gilor is among the Hanukkah celebration’s VIP guests, as is Phyo Min Thein, the chief minister of Yangon. Other leaders, including those from the local interfaith dialogue and Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Baha’i, and Hindu communities, are on hand, too. Two Myanmar Shalom-organized tour groups – one of Israelis and one of Jews with familial histories in Myanmar – account for the overwhelming majority of the night’s Jewry.

Sammy Samuels, second from right, sings at a Hanukkah event with Burmese leaders. Israel’s ambassador to Myanmar, Ronen Gilor, is third from left; between them is Phyo Min Thein, the chief minister of the Yangon region, Dec. 7, 2018. (Charles Dunst)

Solomon, the Australian guest who appeared to be in his 60s, tells JTA in an interview that his mother was born in Burma. During the Japanese invasion she fled to Kolkata, India. Solomon was born in Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, and neither his mother nor anyone from his immediate family had ever returned to Burma.

“My father forbade us from coming back because of the military junta,” Solomon says. Solomon’s mother is 90, so his father finally concedes – partially due to the Samuels-organized tour.

“This my last chance to come and take back videos and pictures while she can still appreciate them,” Solomon says when asked if he had reservations about visiting Myanmar. “This is my only chance. … She came alive once I arrived in Burma and rang back.” Her caretakers “wheeled her around to Dad’s iPad, and we spoke and she was so happy.”

Samuels once pursued opportunities beyond Myanmar’s stifled borders, attending Yeshiva University and working for the American Jewish Congress in New York City. A Jewish visitor to Yangon had helped him get into Y.U. and obtain a full scholarship. Samuels would have been unable to obtain such an education in Myanmar, as the nation’s universities were closed intermittently for years as part of a military effort to bulwark repeated student revolutions.

“I could’ve moved to U.S. and lived a better life,” Samuels says, explaining why he returned home following his father’s 2015 death. “But our main mission here is very simple: We don’t want any Jewish visitor coming to this country to be a stranger.”

By that measure, the Hanukkah event was a coup for Samuels.

“Things change,” he says, recalling years when he celebrated the Festival of Lights with fewer than 20 people. “A few years ago, no Burmese people knew of Hanukkah. Now the Buddhists wish me on Facebook ‘happy Hanukkah Sammy!’”

And while the synagogue is ranked third on TripAdvisor among Yangon’s “things to do,” Samuels remains incapable of securing a minyan without assistance from tourists.

Another sign of decay is Yangon’s Jewish cemetery: Unlike its counterpart in Kolkata, it is neither computerized nor indexed, Solomon complains.

A sign outside the Jewish cemetery in Yangon (Charles Dunst)

In 1997, the Myanmar government announced its intentions to move the cemetery out of Yangon but never followed through. The cemetery remains hidden on a hill that some stray dogs have clearly claimed as their territory; a sign outside proclaims it to be only accessible “with permission from Myanmar Jewish Community.” Samuels gives me such permission by jotting down a phrase in Burmese on a business card, which I hand to the elderly woman who guards the cemetery and appears to live on its grounds.

Modernity pokes through the cemetery’s historical veneer: A TV satellite protrudes from the caretaker’s home above the graves, and her young associate, who smiles and casually watches me as I wander the grounds, plays Burmese pop music from his smartphone while smoking a cigarette.

Instead of stones placed by visitors, debris comprised largely of shattered Hebrew-lettered gravestones sits atop the few intact graves. As Samuels creates a modern community in Myanmar, the physical memory of its Burmese predecessor continues to crumble.

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(JTA) Why most recent immigrants to Israel aren’t considered Jewish

(JTA)

Berta, who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine, seen in Jerusalem in 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)ADVERTISEMENT

JERUSALEM (JTA) — For the first time, Israel announced that Jewish immigrants to Israel were outnumbered by non-Jewish immigrants.

The headlines might suggest that Christians and perhaps Muslims have been moving to the Jewish state in significant numbers, but the truth is more complicated: According to numbers released Monday by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, 17,700 of the 32,600 migrants who moved to Israel in 2018 came under the Law of Return but were listed as “having no religion.”

Such immigrants, hailing largely from the former Soviet Union and Baltic states, count Jewish ancestry but are ineligible to marry as Jews, for example, under the state-controlled rabbinic court system. In 2017, there were 11,400 such immigrants out of a migratory population of 29,100.

The result is a heated debate over Jewish identity, the country’s strict Orthodox standards for converting to Judaism and how to best integrate new immigrants into the life of a Jewish state.

All told, there are already some 400,000 people, mostly from the former Soviet Union, living in Israel who are not considered Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate. Such immigrants and their children are “caught in a bureaucratic void, unable to marry in State-sanctioned weddings, and to partake in other basic rights of Jewish citizenry,” according to Itim, an advocacy group that works to help Israelis navigate the country’s religious bureaucracy.

Itim calls the situation “unacceptable, particularly given the dysfunctional and inadequate State conversion system, which converts a mere 2,000 Israeli citizens to Judaism each year.”

The Law of Return grants near-automatic citizenship to those with at least one Jewish grandparent. The Chief Rabbinate only recognizes them as Jews under the standards of halacha, or Jewish law: They must have a Jewish mother or have been converted to Judaism under Orthodox authorities approved by the Chief Rabbinate.

For the past several years, immigration from the former Soviet Union has again been on the rise, edging France and other Western European nations as the source for the largest number of new immigrants. Russians, many with Jewish roots, are fleeing their country’s economic stagnation. Many Ukrainians have fled from the Russia-backed military conflict convulsing the east of their country. According to Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, more than 30,000 people emigrated from Ukraine between 2014 and October 2018.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, second from left; Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, third from left; and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau at a special meeting of the Israeli Rabbinate Council at the Western Wall tunnels in Jerusalem’s Old City, May 24, 2017. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)

According to a 2014 report by Vladimir Khanin, the chief scientist of the Israeli Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, the proportion of non-Jews among those arriving from the former Soviet and present-day Baltic states has been increasing for decades. While only between 12 and 20 percent of immigrants were considered non-Jews when immigration started in earnest following the Cold War, their numbers rose to between 40 percent and half in the late 1990s. By the first decade of the 2000s, the share of those designated as non-Jewish was between 56 and 60 percent.

In a country where demographic arguments carry political weight from everything to issues of religion and state to the peace process, accurate numbers are critical, said Israeli demographer Sergio DellaPergolla. He said the new figures stand at odds with some of the rhetoric being employed in Israel’s public policy debates.

“Considering that Jews compose 75 percent of the total Israeli population, the growth of the non-Jewish components was faster and therefore the Jewishness of Israel diminished — in spite of the triumphalist declarations by certain political circles that the Arab fertility rate has diminished,” he said.

Itim’s founder, Rabbi Seth Farber, said the numbers suggest the need to loosen Israel’s cumbersome process for converting to Judaism.

While some three quarters of Israel’s current population is considered Jewish to one degree or another, “if we were to take out from that [total] all the people who made aliyah who aren’t halachically Jewish, the number of Jews would go down to less than 65 percent,” Farber told JTA. “It would essentially destroy the Jewish State of Israel.

“Israel is doing a decent job of bringing people here but a terrible job of bringing these immigrants fully into the fold of the Jewish people. Because the only way to do that is to guarantee their full rights here in Israel and particularly to be married. And the only way to do that is to provide a system of conversion that would be accessible and traversable and unquestioned down the road. The Rabbinate is putting its head in the sand regarding a demographic time bomb for the people of Israel.”

Farber insists that given their Jewish ancestry and desire to become part of the Jewish political and cultural collective in Israel, it would be immoral to deny the newcomers entrance in the first place, as some among the haredi Orthodox have suggested.

“It’s not reasonable from a moral and family perspective,” he said. “A lot of these people suffered as Jews and have firm and strong Jewish identities, not necessarily religious identities, but they are part of the body of the Jewish people.”

Rabbi David Stav of Tzohar, an Israeli Modern Orthodox rabbinical organization, also seeks an overhaul of the country’s strict conversion process.

“I think that we know already as a fact for the last two to three years that most of the immigrants that arrived from Ukraine are not halachically Jewish,” he said.

In Ukraine, his organization opened an office several years ago to help prospective immigrants to Israel prove they are Jewish.

“The change should be simple,” Stav said. “We offered this years ago: Convert the kids while they are minors.”

However, without an overhaul, interfaith marriage and assimilation will increase significantly, he warned.

For his part, Farber said that his organization had been working outside the official rabbinical court system to convert children, who, unlike adults, are not required to accept religious observance as part of the process. This year would mark the 1,000th such conversion his organization has facilitated, he said.

“Our goal,” Farber said, “is [for this] to become the policy of the State of Israel.”

(WP) Art stolen by the Nazis is still missing. Here’s how we can recover it.

(WP)

“Monuments Man” James Rorimer, with notepad, supervises U.S. soldiers as they carry paintings down the steps of the castle in Neuschwanstein, Germany, in May 1945. (AP)By Stuart E. EizenstatJanuary 2 at 6:06 PM

Stuart E. Eizenstat was under secretary of state and special representative of the president and secretary of state on Holocaust-era issues in the Clinton administration and is expert adviser to the State Department on Holocaust-era issues in the Trump administration.

During World War II, the Nazis looted some 600,000 paintings from Jews, at least 100,000 of which are still missing. The looting was not only designed to enrich the Third Reich but also integral to the Holocaust’s goal of eliminating all vestiges of Jewish identity and culture. The Allies warned neutral nations in the 1943 London Declaration against trafficking in Nazi-looted art. Art experts, the storied “ Monuments Men ,” were embedded in the liberating U.S. Army. The looted wealth they preserved was returned to the countries where it had been stolen in the expectation that the original owners or their heirs would receive it. That hope was misplaced: Most items were sold or incorporated into public and private collections, lost to their rightful owners.

Decades later, in December 1998, we started to change that. Forty-four countries committed to the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Artthat I negotiated for identifying, publishing and ultimately restoring the looted art through negotiation. To achieve a consensus, we had to permit nations to act within their own laws, and appealed to their moral conscience to adopt a “just and fair solution.” Many felt these nonbinding principles would be ineffectual. They were wrong, but the lack of legal requirement has created barriers we have yet to fully overcome.

The principles were an overdue but vital first step. Philippe de Montebello, then-head of New York’s Metropolitan Museum, correctly forecast that after the Washington Principles “the art world would never be the same.” During the past 20 years, galleries, dealers and museums began researching paintings that had passed through European hands between 1933 and 1945 to spot suspicious gaps in their provenance or chain of ownership. With the Internet, suspected Nazi-looted art is increasingly being posted on websites. Almost 30,000 works from their collections have been posted by 179 members of the American Alliance of Museums on a portal, a single point of contact for potential claimants to find their Nazi-looted art.

Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain have created advisory commissions to resolve disputed claims. Austria has returned more than 30,000 artworks, books and cultural objects, and Germany has restituted more than 16,000 from its public museums and libraries. Christie’s and Sotheby’s maintain full-time staffs to implement the Washington Principles, and both auction houses decline to deal in art with suspicious Holocaust-era histories. Christie’s has successfully resolved more than 200 claims over the past 20 years. In 2009, the principles were strengthened by the Terezin Declaration, when 46 countries, led by the United States, agreed to extend the Washington Principles to include “public and private institutions” and broaden the meaning of confiscated art to include “forced sales and sales under duress” for Jewish families desperately needing money to escape Nazi Germany.

There have been painful disappointments. Russia and a handful of other European nations that supported the Washington Principles have largely ignored or barely implemented them. Provenance research is a low priority in Europe’s public museums and nonxistent in its private collections; looted art still trades in the European market with little hindrance. Deaccession laws prevent public museums from returning art under any circumstances.

Fortunately, the Washington Principles continue to exert a moral force. With bipartisan support, Congress in 2016 created a unique federal statute of limitations preempting other defenses related to the passage of time and providing six years to file a claim only after a claimant has discovered the identity and location of the artwork. In 2018, Congress passed another law instructing the State Department to report on the restitution record of all 46 countries that endorsed the Terezin Declaration. And in late November, more than 1,000 representatives and stakeholders from more than 10 countries gathered in Berlin for three days to measure our progress after 20 years and chart a road map for next steps. The Trump administration sent Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Thomas Yazdgerdi and me to recommit to the international effort to return these personal and cultural treasures to the families to which they belong. We know this is the work of more than any single administration, indeed more than any single generation.

France has just given the prime minister’s office new authority to resolve claims and facilitate restitution. Cooperation has begun between major German and American museums. Germany has significantly increased funding for provenance research and set a goal to complete a comprehensive database of its federal museums by 2020. Germany will no longer permit its federal museums to block claims for restitution simply by refusing to participate in mediation. Germany and France announced initiatives to review art taken from their former colonies, and the European Parliament is considering legislation to endorse the Washington Principles and develop rules for cultural objects stolen in future conflicts.

No self-respecting government, art dealer, private collector, museum or auction house should trade in or possess art stolen by the Nazis. We must all recommit to faithfully implementing the Washington Principles before Holocaust survivors breathe their last breath. We owe it not only to those who lost so much in the Holocaust but also to our own sense of moral justice.

(JewishVoice) Exploring Alentejo: A Window into Portugal’s Jewish Past

(JewishVoice)

Old Roman Bridge, Marvao- New York Jewish Travel Guide

The Alentejo is the beautiful region of Portugal that lies between the Algarve and central Lisbon region. This vast and sparsely populated area covers over 30 percent of Portugal and is characterized by its rolling hills and historic fortified towns. Alentejo, Portuguese for “beyond the Tagus River,” is the world’s largest producer of cork, and forests of cork trees are all over the countryside. Their bark is carefully peeled back once every nine years, and the trunks are painted white with a number designating the last harvest. The region has a raw rural beauty, with extensive undulating plains, fields of cork trees and numerous vineyards.

The government allocated approximately $6 million to the Portuguese Jewish Network-Sefarad Routes – a state-funded project for preservation and commemoration works at sites connected to the country’s Jewish past. So far, it encompasses approximately 30 municipalities in the country’s center and north, which includes the towns of Castelo de Vide, Elvas, and Evora.

Castelo de Vide

Scenic and charming, the town of Castelo de Vide welcomes the visitor with clusters of white houses leading up to a castle on a hill. Thirty years ago it discovered what is thought to be a medieval synagogue with a street laid out that had a Jewish influence on their names: Rua da Judiaria (Street of Jews) and Rua Nova (New Street), where Jews converting to Christianity had lived. In many nearby houses, there are markings or mezuzah slots on the doors as evidence to their former Jewish owners. On the right doorpost of one door there, visitors can find small indentations of around 10 centimeters. In Jewish tradition, before a Jew steps into the house he touches the mezuzah and then kisses his hand as an expression of faith.

A plaque beside the 2,000-year-old bridge commemorates the painful exodus- Castelo de Vide – New York Jewish Travel Guide

Castelo de Vide was close to the Spanish border and was inundated with Jewish refugees at the time of the Spanish Expulsion in 1492, with some 4,000 Spanish-Jewish refugees settling in this town. Prior to that, 800 inhabitants lived in the village, including a tiny Jewish community. They streamed across the border and over the Old Roman Bridge in Marvao, where a toll was collected from the Jews. A plaque beside the 2,000-year-old bridge commemorates the painful exodus. Ruben Obadia, communications manager of the Regional Agency of Tourism Promotion of Alentejo, told NYJTG, “The Jewish Community decided to mark this location as a memorial place of the Bridge of Portagem, as a memorial for the 500 years of dispel of the Jews of Portugal”.

In 1497 the town’s Jewish community was forcibly marched down the hill from Rua da Judiaria to Rua da Fonte to the town’s fountain, which served as the baptismal site for conversion. Centuries later from here, Mario Soares, the former president of Portugal, issued an official apology to the Jewish people in 1986. Today, Portugal grants citizenship to the descendants of those Conversos who fled (who can demonstrate their Sephardic ancestry) from all over the world — across the Mediterranean, Turkey, Brazil, Israel, India and the United States.

The municipality has since used the synagogue to create a modern and impressive museum. It serves as a memorial to the town’s Jews who suffered through the forced conversions of 1497 and the ensuing Inquisition. The museum consists of the original synagogue, two rooms (one for women and one for men), a wooden tabernacle and 14th-century stone Ark for Torah scrolls, and the ancient baths. According to Jewish practice, a lamp or candles are lit for Sabbath every Friday at sunset. But during the Inquisition, the Jews couldn’t do so openly, so they lit a candle inside a pot with a small opening to follow the customs secretly. At the museum, you can see one such earthen pot used by the New Christians (those forced to convert to the Catholic Church).

In addition, these Anusim (secret Jews) were believed to eat pork (not kosher), but the clever Jews found an ingenious method of using lamb meat as sausages. The practices of the new religion meant cooking using lard, the fat from the abdomen of the pig. To escape persecution and detection, Jewish women cleverly fried onions in olive oil using herbs and spices that perfectly disguised the anomaly.

In one of the rooms of the synagogue, we can find the names of the New Christians who were executed during the Inquisition for allegedly following Judaism clandestinely. A name that has Indian connections is the famous Portuguese botanist and physician, Garcia de Orta, who produced the masterpiece “Coloquios dos Simples e Drogas e Cousas Medicinais da India” (roughly translated as “Conversations on the Simple and Drug Colloquia and Medicinal Things of India”).

In 1534, he went to Goa, a former Portuguese territory in India, to study and residing there until his death in 1568. It was believed that despite being obligated to follow the Christian faith, he practiced Judaism in secrecy. In the same year, his sister was burnt at the stake for being a secret Jew and based on her confession Garcia’s mortal remains were later exhumed by the religious fanatics and burnt along with an effigy. There are memorials recognizing his outstanding contributions in tropical medicine built both in Portugal and India.

Synagogue Museum, Castelo de Vide – New York Jewish Travel Guide

An interesting story was told about an elderly woman from Netanya, Israel, named Esther Cohen. Her family lived in Castelo de Vide before escaping to Constantinople in the early 16th century. Her family left in 1507 when the ports were opened to New Christians wishing to emigrate, following the massacre of 3,000 New Christians in Lisbon in 1506. Esther had the two keys from her ancestors of her former home in Castelo de Vide, which were held in her family’s possession for over 500 years. The keys are now on display in the synagogue museum.

Mayor Antonio Pita of Castelo de Vide told NYJTG that there are three new projects underway now focusing on the history of the synagogue, which has received over 30,000 visitors. The first is what will be known as the “Inquisition House, which will be open to the public by March 2019 by the President of Portugal.” It will tell the story of the Inquisition “process” experienced by 300 families that “lived here from prison to persecution to their death”… To accommodate the visitors, the municipality will open a kosher hotel and other services for observant travelers. Second, he said, “there will also be a study on genealogy of the new “Christians” and the dissemination of these families, tracking their families and where they are now throughout the world,” he said. Finally, there will be a dedicated space for the House of Dr. Garcia de Orta, to open in October 2019 near the villa’s fountain.

Evora

Evora is a tourist destination South of Portugal. It is a delightful city that exudes Portuguese charm and boasts a vast array of fascinating historical monuments — in no way should it be mistaken for a sleepy old relic that is reliant upon its glorious past. The city is young and vibrant, with a large student population who attend one of the world’s oldest universities. Evora may not be as famous or instantly recognizable as other larger Portuguese cities, but it is a destination that should be high on your list while in Portugal for a Jewish heritage tour.

The Jewish Quarter is known as Fonte da Vila – New York Jewish Travel Guide

Evora is an ancient city of narrow streets, unforgettable monuments and white, sun-washed houses; left undamaged by the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1986. The monuments of the historic center bear witness to a profound influence on Portuguese architecture in Brazil. In the Middle Ages, Evora was the second largest city of Portugal and had one of the most extensive Jewish quarters, with approximately 150 Jewish communities. Within a small group of streets and alleyways were believed to be two synagogues, a Jewish school, a hospital, a mikveh (ritual bath) and even a leprosarium (leprosy hospital). The Public Library also presents a rarity, the famous Almanach Perpetuum by a Jew, Abraham Zacuto, which was printed in 1496 and then translated by Master José Neighbor and the Nautical Guide Evora I in 1516.

Some recommendations of places to visit and things to do in Evora:

Praça do Giraldo, Evora – New York Jewish Travel Guide

Praça do Giraldo: This square is a place of the Portuguese Inquisition court that handed out thousands of brutal sentences. There are eight spouts in the fountain, each for one of the streets branching off the square. The north side has a striking facade of the Church of Santo Antão, while all down the east side there are cafes and specialty shops.

The Evora Cathedral is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture, which closely resembles the fortified cathedral in Lisbon.

The Templo de Diana – New York Jewish Travel Guide

Roman Temple of Evora: One of the most important landmarks of the city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is also known as the Templo de Diana. Situated in the historic center, it is believed to have been constructed in the first century in honor of Augustus, the first emperor of the Roman Empire.

Aqueduto de Agua de Prata: One of the most striking sights around Évora is this 16th-century aqueduct, channeling water to the city for almost 20 kilometers. The aqueduct ensured that there was a constant supply of water to the city and is connected to the constant water springs in Graça do Divor, 18 km to the north. Outside of the city walls the aqueduct forms imposing arches, while inside the city limits, houses and shops have been constructed beneath the arches.

Museum de Evora: The city’s museum is set up in the old Episcopal palace, which dates to the 1500s and has gathered some 20,000 items relating to Évora’s history. On show are paintings, sculpture, jewelry, furniture, textiles, gold work, and ceramics.

(JTA) A pioneering Polish Jewish children’s rights advocate and author is honored 70 years after his murder

(JTA)

Janusz Korsczak (Screenshot from YouTube)ADVERTISEMENT

In 2013, Nashville puppeteer Brian Hull was browsing through the stacks at the Nashville Public Library when he came across an obscure Polish children’s book with a wizard on the cover.

“When I saw the book, I thought, what is this, some Harry Potter ripoff?” said Hull, who runs the library’s resident puppet troupe and produces independent puppet shows through his company, BriAnimations Living Entertainment. “Then I saw it was copyrighted 1933.”

“Kaytek the Wizard” is the work of Janusz Korczak, a Polish Jewish pediatrician and author best known for refusing to abandon the children of his Warsaw orphanage when they were deported to Treblinka, despite offers of refuge that might have saved his life. The book became available in English only in 2012.

“I started reading it and I just became obsessed with it,” Hull said. “I just thought: What is this man doing? This is like no other children’s book I’ve ever read.”

Hull went to work in his basement adapting the novel as a puppet show, complete with original music and drawn animations. The show premiered to a sold-out audience at the 2016 Nashville International Puppet Festival. Hull has scarcely stopped performing it ever since, staging it at theaters, festivals and schools across the country.

“As I learned more about Janusz Korczak,” Hull wrote in an educational pamphlet distributed by the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, “I couldn’t believe I had never heard of him.”

Killed by the Nazis in 1942, Korczak left behind a small but formidable body of novels, poems and pedagogical insights that continue to inspire readers, educators and activists more than seven decades after his death. His ideas live on not just in educational circles, but in international law.

Korczak was among the earliest supporters of the notion that children have rights, an idea he promoted on a radio program he hosted before the war and as a signatory to the 1924 Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

Born Henryk Goldszmit in Warsaw in the late 1870s (the exact year isn’t known), Korczak was raised in an affluent Jewish family whose fortunes faded after his father took ill and died. Korczak studied medicine at the University of Warsaw and became a pediatrician. But in his 30s he abandoned the practice of medicine to become the head of a Jewish orphanage, where he began to put his ideas about children’s education into practice.

Nashville Puppeteer Brian Hull’s adaptation of Janusz Korsczak’s children’s book “Kaytek the Wizard” has played across the country. (BriAnimations Living Entertainment)

A firm believer in children’s rights, Korczak instituted democratic governance in the orphanage, including establishing a parliament where the children set their own rules and administered their own affairs. If a rule was broken, the offender could be brought before a children’s court overseen by a rotating group of judges. Korczak also founded the first national children’s newspaper and wrote more than two dozen books.

“Many of his actions with the children I would say are now considered social and emotional learning, which is now the in-word in education,” said Sara Efrat Efron, an education professor at National Louis University in Chicago. “There is a lot of effort now to find ways of focusing on emotional and social growth, and the methods that are recommended are things that Korczak did day in and day out. So he was really ahead of his time, and maybe ahead of our time.”

Today, societies dedicated to Korczak’s legacy are active in more than a dozen countries. Schools inspired by his pedagogical ideas exist in Germany, Holland, Poland and Russia. His teachings are the basis of a summer camp in Poland, and his life is the inspiration for the song “The Little Review,” by the Canadian folk singer Awna Teixeira. In 2012, a bronze relief of Korczak was unveiled at the University of British Columbia. Translations of Korczak’s s writings continue to be published, including a 2013 Chinese edition of his children’s book “King Matt the First.”

Korczak’s efforts on behalf of children were all the more remarkable, Efron says, because they were undertaken amidst the most trying of conditions.

With the Nazi occupation of Poland, Korczak was forced to relocate his orphanage to the Warsaw Ghetto. As the moral condition of the surrounding culture deteriorated, Korczak declined to delude the youngsters in his care about the realities of the world, yet neither would he succumb to despair, continuing to believe that children were the best hope for humanity.

That conviction was severely tested in August 1942, when the Nazis came to collect the 190 children in the orphanage. In what would come to be the story by which he is best remembered, Korczak, by then a prominent figure in Poland, declined offers that might have enabled his escape. Instead, he dressed his charges in their finest clothes and led them through the streets to the deportation point, where they were placed on trains to Treblinka.

“Korczak’s clinging to hope did not stem from naivety or blindness,” Efron wrote in a 2016 article, “but from a calculated choice, an existential understanding that despair means giving up on change, thus conceding the future.”

Decades after his death, Korczak’s ideas would be promoted by Poland’s postwar government.

The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the General Assembly in 1989, was first proposed by Poland in 1978. The Order of the Smile, an international award given by children to adults distinguished in promoting their interests, was started in Poland in 1968 and recognized by the U.N. secretary-general in 1979.

This year, the award went to Marta Santo Pais, the U.N. special representative on violence against children, who delivered the keynote address at a November conference on Korczak’s legacy, pedagogy and advocacy for children’s rights held at Columbia University. The conference was sponsored by the Polish Cultural Institute New York, among others.

“Korczak’s main idea is that a child is a human, only a small human, and therefore his or her rights cannot be treated differently from adult rights. That was revolutionary for his time,” said Anna Domanska, acting director of the institute. “So was his innovative way of running a center for orphaned children. Korczak’s activity was also made possible by the general social climate of interwar Poland, where citizens, enjoying their freedom after 123 years of foreign domination, wanted to express that freedom as fully as possible.”

In 2012, the lower house of Poland’s parliament, the Sejm, declared the Year of Janusz Korczak, marking 70 years since his death and 100 since he founded his orphans’ home.

“This allowed us to commemorate the old doctor and fix his memory not only in Polish reality, but the world’s,” said Marek Michalak, Poland’s Children’s Rights Ombudsman from 2008 to 2018, chancellor of the International Chapter of the Order of the Smile, and president of the International Janusz Korczak Association. “Korczak was not just as a victim of the Holocaust, but also as the first spokesman for children’s rights, an outstanding pedagogue and author.”

(JTA) Amos Oz, a ‘saintly intellectual’ who turned Israel’s national reality into art

(JTA)

Amos Oz

Amos Oz, shown here in 2015, often blurred the personal and the political in his writing. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images)ADVERTISEMENT

(JTA) — Amos Oz would often speak in the kind of tossed-off epigrams that come only with a lot of practice. But just when you wanted to smack him for his breezy erudition, he would redeem himself with a flash of spot-on — and hilarious — self-awareness.

In 2011, speaking at the 92nd Street Y about the novel he’d just published in English, “Scenes From Village Life,” Oz said that 99 percent of the typical media coverage of Israel involves extremist settlers, ultra-Orthodox fanatics and brutal soldiers, “and 1 percent saintly intellectuals like myself.”

Oz died Friday at age 79, having won nearly every literary prize short of the Nobel and having become perhaps Israel’s most widely translated author. If Jews were in the canonization business, Oz would have earned his wings (halo? robe? my theology is shaky) on the basis of “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” his 2002 novel cum memoir. Like so much of what he wrote, the book is not just autobiographical, but a biography of Israel itself. Although his story ends before he is out of his teens, the young Amos bears witness to the destruction of European Jewry, the height of the British mandate, a Hebrew renaissance in Jerusalem, the great Zionist debates (and debaters) of the day, the rise of the kibbutz movement and the birth of the state.

The book’s brilliance is its blurring of personal memoir and national drama, as in an unforgettable description of the night in 1947 when the United Nations voted to partition Mandatory Palestine, giving international legitimacy to a Jewish state. His father, Yehuda Klausner, still “drenched in sweat from the crush of the crowds” celebrating the U.N. vote, crawls into bed with the young narrator. He tells the boy of the “hooligans” who tormented him and his brother back in Odessa and Vilna, and how the bullies forced the boy’s grandfather “down on the paving stones and removed his trousers too in the middle of the playground.”

Oz continues:

And still in a voice of darkness with his hand still losing its way in my hair (because he was not used to stroking me) my father told me under my blanket in the early hours of November 30, 1947, “Bullies may well bother you in the street or at school some day. They may do it precisely because you are a bit like me. But from now on, from the moment we have our own state, you will never be bullied just because you are a Jew and because Jews are so-and-sos. Not that. Never again. From tonight that’s finished here. Forever.”

In his 92Y talk, Oz explained that the book was neither a memoir nor a novel, but in fact a “tale,” a designation that unfortunately has no category in the Library of Congress. Instead, “A Tale of Love and Darkness” combines Oz’s strengths as both a novelist and a writer of impassioned political nonfiction — as he often would put it, he had two pens on his desk, “one pen to tell stories and another pen to tell the government to go to hell.”

If quips like that sound rehearsed — well, considering his body of work, Oz earned a pass. Besides, you can’t plagiarize yourself. And what quips they were! Asked why so many of his stories seemed so downbeat, he would reply, “If I were to sum up my books in one word, I would say they are about ‘families.’ If you gave me two words, I would say ‘unhappy families.’” Explaining what makes for a good story, Oz would say that a bridge that carries thousands of cars each day is no story at all.

“It is only when the bridge collapses that the story begins,” he said.

Oz also would distinguish Israel from other countries in the way it came into being: Other countries were born out of geography, history, politics or demography, he’d say. Unfortunately for Israel, it was born out of a dream.

“The only way to keep a dream intact is never to live it out,” he said. “Israel is a dream come true, and therefore it is disappointing.”

Inevitably with Oz, Israel’s left-wing conscience as well as perhaps its greatest writer of fiction, there was the temptation to read politics into his prose.

“There are political overtones,” he would acknowledge when asked whether this character or that setting was meant to be a stand-in for one Israeli crisis or another. When he tried to deny such meanings, he said, “I am wasting my time. People will see it as an allegory.”

Oz died at a time when so many of the things he stood for — a vital Israeli left, a robust peace process, a vision for sharing the land — are in retreat, if not dead and buried. But even until the end, he never gave up trying. His latest book, “Dear Zealots: Letters from a Divided Land,” published last month in English, contained essays on the rise of zealotry in Israel and around the world.

Discussing it with The Washington Post, Oz insisted that neither he nor the book was pessimistic. And in doing so, he seemed to be passing a baton.

“Politically speaking, I have been engaged and involved in writing articles, making speeches for 60 years,” he said. “Now it is my time, not to retire but to provide my ammunition, my experience to the younger generation and let them take it from here.”

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(DN) “Portugal, ao expulsar os judeus, deu mundos ao mundo. E ficou a perder”

(DN) Entrevista aos rabinos Eli Rosenfeld, americano a viver há oito anos em Portugal, e Shlomo Pereira, português que é professor de Economia nos Estados Unidos. São os autores de Vozes Judaicas de Portugal. (Publicado originalmente a 21 de novembro de 2018)

Leonídio Paulo Ferreira21 Novembro 2018 — 10:18

Estas seis figuras que estão no vosso livro editado em português e inglês, posso chamá-los seis judeus portugueses? Alguns destes rabinos não nasceram cá mas tiveram uma ligação forte a Portugal, a ponto de o descrever com saudade quando estavam longe.

Shlomo Pereira: Sim. O que distingue estes judeus é terem todos em comum o facto de ou serem nascidos em Portugal, ou morreram em Portugal, ou viveram em Portugal. Dos seis, o que é interessante ver é que nenhum deles nasceu, viveu e morreu em Portugal, porque eram períodos muito difíceis e eles tinham de andar por tudo o que era sítio. Mas todos eles têm uma ligação forte a Portugal. Três deles eram cidadãos portugueses, José Chaion, Isaac Abravanel e Manassés Ben Israel, mas os outros, Isaac Aboab, Abraão Sabá e Isaac Caro, eram cidadãos espanhóis, meios espanhóis, meios portugueses, que vieram na sequência da expulsão de Espanha. São todas pessoas com uma referência clara a uma vida em Portugal, reconhecida pela coroa portuguesa.

Estamos a falar dos séculos XV e XVI?

S.P.:Sim. Grosso modo estamos a falar dos reinados de D. Afonso V, D. João II e D. Manuel I.

Tanto antes como depois da expulsão ordenará por D. Manuel I?

S.P: Depois da expulsão, por definição, nenhum deles já cá estava. Uma coisa que é interessante ver é que os livros que eles publicaram, mesmo apesar de uma parte deles ter sido feito em Portugal, já são publicados ou em Itália ou no Império Otomano, por volta de 1520/1530.

É interessante que diga Itália e Império otomano porque muitas vezes se fala das províncias unidas, da futura Holanda como o primeiro refúgio.

S.P: Exatamente. Primeiro Itália e Império Otomano. O último rabino que mencionamos, que já é fora deste período, do período filipino, esse de facto sai de Portugal e vai para a Holanda já nessa altura, mas as primeiras saídas de Portugal nessa fase são para o Império Otomano e Itália. É claro hoje que na história turca houve coisas fundamentais que os judeus portugueses levaram da Península Ibérica. Por exemplo, a imprensa foi introduzida no Império Otomano por judeus portugueses, como em Portugal também. A pólvora foi levada para o Império otomano pelos judeus portugueses, o que depois levou a alguns desequilíbrios nas relações internacionais.

Eli Rosenfeld: Às vezes o metal dos livros da casa da imprensa de Portugal, depois o mesmo tipo de metal para a impressão em Portugal, eles usaram na Turquia.

Está-me a falar que os que foram usados em Portugal para imprimir livros foram depois usados mais tarde no Império Otomano?

E.R.: Sim, os mesmos tipos.

S.P.: De facto, o ciclo dos seis rabinos, que é o grosso destes, são desse período, ou seja, ou morreram mesmo antes da expulsão de Portugal ou depois, é tudo contemporâneo dessa altura. Uma das razões que abordamos é a pergunta “porque é que escolhemos estes?”. O próprio facto de eles serem todos contemporâneos já depois da invenção da imprensa tem muito a ver, quer dizer que os trabalhos foram impressos, haverá muita coisa mais difícil de encontrar. Esta é a primeira geração de rabinos portugueses que escreve sobre estas coisas e que deixou escrito e impresso.

Percebo que um judeu português se interesse por este tema, como é o caso do rabino Shlomo Pereira. No seu caso, é americano, está em Portugal há oito anos e já tem filhos nascidos cá. Isto que está aqui no livro é uma descoberta recente ou antes de vir para Portugal já tinha noção da importância do judaísmo português?

E.R.: Mudei-me para Portugal há oito anos como rabino para ensinar a tradição judaica aos portugueses. Vim porque sabia que Portugal tem uma ligação tremenda à história judaica, por isso, tendo em conta que vim para ensinar sobre o judaísmo, decidi que ia tentar usar material não só de rabinos da América e de Israel mas também de Portugal. Quando vim só sabia de um rabino que tinha escrito algumas coisas, hoje conheço perto de 40 e os seus livros. E tenho quase todos os seus livros e quando me junto com as pessoas durante a semana para estudar, que é esse o trabalho do rabino, tento sempre dar uma voz a esses rabinos. Isto transformou-se num produto que não é apenas histórico mas que revela a forma como vivemos hoje em dia. Não se trata apenas de dizer “isto aconteceu no passado”, mas ao usar a sua voz nas aulas é inspirador. Quando um português ouve que aquilo que está a aprender foi dito por um rabino português, o conhecimento entra de forma mais profunda e há uma maior conexão com o que foi dito.

O judaísmo que encontra em Portugal hoje tem diferenças do judaísmo que é praticado no mundo inteiro?

E.R.: Os judeus portugueses são muito orgulhosos do seu país e orgulhosos do seu judaísmo. Quando temos o privilégio de poder apresentar o trabalho de um rabino português, não há nada melhor. Portugal é um país relativamente pequeno quando comparado com outros no mundo. O que é diferente em Portugal é a proximidade – eu cresci em Nona Iorque, onde há uma comunidade judaica enorme, com tanta variedade – e em Portugal é agradável, há uma maior proximidade de todos, tanto que sempre que partilhamos qualquer coisa dita por um rabino português é quase como se tivéssemos a partilhar uma coisa que nos disse o nosso próprio avô. É uma família.

Sei rabino Shlomo Pereira que vive há muitos anos nos Estados Unidos. Os primeiros judeus que chegaram a Nova Amesterdão, futtura Nova Iorque, também eram judeus portugueses. Essa consciência existe nos judeus americanos?

S.P.: Existe a consciência que eram sefarditas. Existe também a ideia que a comunidade mais antiga nos EUA é portuguesa, que a sinagoga mais antiga de Nova Iorque é portuguesa mas hoje em dia a presença sefardita nos EUA é muito mais fraca, há mais asquenazes.

Se lhe perguntar rabino Shlomo Pereira se é sefardita ou asquenaze, o que é que me responde?

S.P.: É uma resposta muito mais difícil do que parece porque culturalmente falando eu sou sefardita. Sefarade de Espanha, no sentido de Península Ibérica, mas por outro lado adotei muitos costumes asquenazes ou da Europa Oriental mas isso diz muito pouco hoje.

Isso tem a ver com a sua experiência americana?

S.P.: Exatamente. Uma coisa de que as pessoas não se apercebem no geral é que a Península Ibérica nos anos 1400 era o centro do judaísmo no mundo… em tudo, e portanto como estamos a falar da produção dos judeus portugueses ou dos espanhóis estamos a falar quase comparativamente com a presença hoje dos judeus nos EUA, em Israel ou em França, que é uma presença muito forte. O centro do mundo judaico era Portugal e Espanha nessa altura e houve uma produção muito grande dos judeus portugueses e o que achamos que é fundamental é a recuperar essa produção porque como a maior parte dela foi feita em hebraico, em Portugal ninguém conhece. Por exemplo, em Portugal toda a gente ouviu falar dos sermões do Padre António Vieira mas ninguém sabe que existem 20 rabinos que têm uma produção enorme do que é equivalente a isso, que são comentários sobre a Bíblia… e as pessoas não conhecem porque está em hebraico.

Daquilo que conhece da produção de grandes pensadores judeus, quando lê esses judeus portugueses confirma essa ideia de que eles eram do melhor que havia naquela altura do mundo judaico?

E.R.: Há uma frase que descreve Portugal e que foi escrita por rabinos portugueses depois de saírem de Portugal em circunstâncias muito tristes. Quando eles escrevem sobre Portugal e sobre as suas cidades, as formas como descrevem Portugal e Lisboa, é uma coisa incrível de ver, essa de descrever Lisboa como a melhor cidade judaica do mundo. A frase é: “nunca vi em toda a minha vida uma cidade tão bonita, tão estudiosa e tão bondosa como Lisboa”.

Estamos a falar de pessoas que usavam o hebraico na escrita, mas falavam português e dominavam o português?

S.P.: Estavam completamente enquadradas na sociedade. Todas estas pessoas não só estavam enquadradas como muitas delas tinham posições de grande relevo na sociedade portuguesa. Um dos rabinos era médico, outro, o Isaac Abravanel , era um estadista. A história dele é muito interessante porque temos histórias de vários rabinos que foram expulsos de Espanha e vieram para Portugal em 1492 e este foi expulso de Portugal e foi para Espanha em 1481 e aconteceu que foi na altura em que D. João II subiu ao trono, Isaac Abravanel estava muito bem localizado na corte de D. Afonso V e era amigo íntimo dos duques de Bragança. D. João II quando toma o poder a primeira coisa que quer fazer é eliminar a casa de Bragança, que tinha o poder económico na altura. Ele aprisionou toda a família e tentou aprisionar Abravanel, que fugiu para Espanha e tornou-se um dos grandes financeiros da corte espanhola. Depois acabou por ser expulso de Espanha outra vez e já não deu para vir para Portugal porque ainda estava D. João II no poder. Isto eram pessoas muito bem integradas na sociedade. Os judeus não vivam em Portugal num gueto.

Isaac Abravanel

Até à expulsão por D. Manuel I em 1497?

S.P.: Até esse momento não havia guetos. O facto de dizer que se vivia em guetos não quer dizer que não houvesse problemas antes – e houve vários. Mas o ponto é dizer que os judeus portugueses na altura estavam completamente integrados na sociedade. Dou outro exemplo que mencionamos de raspão no livro, que é o rabino Abraão Zacuto, que era o astrónomo-mor do reino, ele era a pessoa que estava encarregado de escrever os mapas de navegação.

Estamos a falar da comunidade judaica como importante para as descobertas?

S.P.: Exatamente. As descobertas não podiam ter acontecido sem o dinheiro e sem a ciência judaica. Da mesmíssima maneira que o declínio a seguir – hoje em dia muitos historiadores portugueses admitem que o retrocesso da expansão portuguesa vem quando se elimina o capital financeiro e o capital humano e deixa de haver base para…

Estamos a falar de que percentagem de população judaica em Portugal no momento da expulsão? Há quem diga 20% contando com os espanhóis recém-chegados.

E.R.: Historicamente é muito difícil apurar esses números. Vários rabinos apresentam números diferentes, é difícil saber qual é o certo, mas é um número enorme.

A ideia do regresso a Jerusalém era uma coisa importante ou eles já achavam que a vida deles era Portugal, Espanha ou o país onde nasceram? Ou é impossível um judeu não ter sempre essa ideia do regresso a Jerusalém?

E. R.Isaac Abravanel escreveu em Portugal, e depois outros livros foram escritos já depois de ter sido expulso e nesses sente-se a saudade que ele tinha de Portugal. Sente-se a falta que Portugal lhe faz. Claro que qualquer judeu tem uma ligação única à terra de Israel, mas ele fala sempre da sua infância e do amor que tem pelo país onde nasceu. Depois de os judeus portugueses terem sido expulsos, o que é que lhes vai no coração.

Não há ressentimento?

S.P.: Há um ressentimento, mas não apaga o amor ao país. Vou dar um exemplo, e por favor não se faça conotação política com coisa nenhuma: eu estava em Portugal em 1974, assisti às dezenas e dezenas de portugueses que voltaram do exílio político e eles estavam desejosos de vir para Portugal. Eles foram perseguidos, foram expulsos. Lembro-me de ver em Santa Apolónia quando eles chegaram… eram pessoas que sofreram imenso com o regime mas nunca puseram, pelo menos a maior parte delas, o regime e o país no mesmo saco. Os judeus portugueses obviamente que não gostavam de ser expulsos mas o sentimento dominante era o de voltarem ao seu país.

De qualquer forma, pegando nessa comparação, há uma decisão de expulsão por parte da Coroa mas também há um sentimento anti-semita em Portugal naquela época.

S.P.: Acho que a resposta é sim e não, como em tudo. Eu gostava de redirecionar a resposta e a conversa. O nosso ponto de partida para este livro é muito simples: todos os portugueses sabem que houve uma série de injustiças e perseguições feitas aos judeus. Está reconhecido, ponto final. O que nós queremos é dar o outro lado da moeda, que é dizer que todas as pessoas que foram perseguidas tiveram um contributo importantíssimo para o país, um amor para o país, é isso que queremos salientar.

Independentemente da hostilidade eles mantiveram esse amor por Portugal.

S.P.: Exatamente. Muita gente me tem perguntado para quem é que este livro é. É para duas audiências: obviamente é para os judeus de fala portuguesa, obviamente, e é para todos os portugueses porque faz parte da nossa História. É uma História comum, em que da mesma maneira que se fala das coisas más se deve falar das coisas boas. Estou farto de ouvir dizer que expulsaram os judeus. Sim, já sabemos isso. Mas olhem para estes contribuições, para a civilização e para a cultura portuguesa, olhem para o Zacuto, o rabino mor, para o financeiro mor, para o Pedro Nunes, vamos olhar para a dedicação e o amor que eles tiveram.

Uma das coisas que passa muito da história é que depois de serem expulsos muitos dos judeus expulsos puseram-se ao serviço de outras nações. Portugal fez uma estupidez e beneficiou os rivais.

S.P.: Portugal deu novos mundos aos mundos com as suas descobertas. E Portugal também, ao expulsar os judeus, deu mundos ao mundo. Mas ficou a perder. Todo o processo da expansão marítima espanhola só é possível porque tem uma série de judeus que foram expulsos que financiaram, maciçamente por Isaac Abravanel. Claramente que o facto de os judeus portugueses terem sido expulsos acabou por fertilizar uma série de outros sítios, como a Holanda também.

E.R.Há pouco perguntou sobre ser sefardita ou asquenaze. Os avós da minha mulher nasceram na Rússia, portanto seriam classificados imediatamente como uma família asquenaze. Aqui em Portugal descobrimos árvores genealógicas que nos levaram a um antepassado que tinha como sobrenome Portugale. Agora percebo que andando 40 gerações para trás, nós somos claramente descendentes de portugueses.

S.P.: Para ver a importância disso, o movimento a que estamos ligados, é de origem asquenaze mas o fundador do movimento Chabad vivia numa rua na Polónia que se chamava Rua de Portugal, que era onde os judeus portugueses viviam. A presença dos judeus portugueses em todo o mundo é impressionante.

Não me explicou ainda é porque é que Portugal e Espanha eram o centro do judaísmo mundial nos século XV.

S.P.: Essa é uma questão muito interessante: se formos olhar para a história do judaísmo, este sempre teve pontos centrais… durante os primeiros cinco séculos da era comum, o centro da vida judaica era em Israel, depois passou para o Iraque, para a Babilónia, depois à volta do ano 1000 para o Norte de África, Egito e Marrocos. Entretanto, na Península Ibérica, durante o período da ocupação muçulmana, que é muito avançada do ponto de vista político e civilizacional, os judeus tiveram uma posição fortíssima nessa altura. Como todo o período da reconquista da Península Ibérica, os judeus tiveram o papel central porque eram os únicos que falavam espanhol e português e árabe ao mesmo tempo. Quando a entrada dos muçulmanos passa pelo Norte de África, no início dos anos 700 começa a haver um fluxo muito grande de judeus para a Península Ibérica. Obviamente que acabavam por levar na cara de ambos lados porque quando você faz um tratado de rendição entre duas partes, não fica num papel muito bom. Havia uma presença até aos anos 1100, 1200 absolutamente gloriosa na Península Ibérica, que coincide com a época de ouro do Islão na Península Ibérica.

Este livro tem o objetivo de reconciliar os portugueses judeus e não judeus com esta parte da História. Nestes anos em que vive em Portugal sente que esta reconciliação foi feita?

E.R.: Vou responder dizendo como me sinto, não posso falar pelos outros. Como judeu e rabino, é uma bênção viver em Portugal. Quando alguém me pergunta se sou judeu, a pergunta é sempre seguida de uma expressão de acolhimento. Quando me perguntam como é ser judeu num país onde não nasci e cresci, esperam sempre ouvir sobre antissemitismo. O que sinto é que quando as pessoas percebem que sou judeu há sempre uma atitude de camaradagem, falam-me sempre das ligações familiares ao judaísmo, dizem-me sempre com muito orgulho que há uma história judaica forte em Portugal. É por isso que acho que este livro vai preencher um vazio de conhecimento sobre a beleza da herança judaica de pensamento.

Acham possível que depois deste livro e de dar a conhecer estes rabinos um destes nomes consiga afirmar-se como um grande pensador português?

S.P.: É possível e é desejável porque, como digo, isto faz parte da minha herança mas também da nossa herança. É de todos. Há uma herança comum e desse ponto de vista, pessoas com o Isaac Abravanel , que tem uma produção literária e filosófica incrível, é um dos grandes pensadores do tempo dele.

Está a destacá-lo neste livro conscientemente?

S.P.: Sim, sim. O facto de em Portugal termos um português que escreveu imensas coisas e nós não reivindicarmos esta pessoa como nossa e deixarmos que os italiano, porque ele morreu lá, façam a festa… não faz sentido nenhum. Há relativamente pouco tempo houve um artigo de jornal em que fazia exatamente este ponto – não tinha a ver com o judaísmo – que dizia que temos de ultrapassar a fase… só porque essas pessoas eram judeus ou muçulmanos não quer dizer que não devam ser considerados como as outras pessoas. Devemos considerar também a experiência e contribuição destas pessoas nessa altura, neste caso os judeus portugueses tiveram uma grande contribuição. O caso do Isaac Abravanel é absolutamente paradigmático porque ele era um grande estadista. Em 1935 os ingleses reconheciam a importância do quinto centenário do nascimento de Abravanel . Em Portugal não sabíamos.

Mas ao mesmo tempo sente que os portugueses de hoje dizem facilmente que têm sangue judeu. Têm certo orgulho.

E.R.: Depois de oito anos neste trabalho, no fim das aulas perguntavam muitas vezes: O que diria Isaac Abravanel ? Agora já sabem, estão em Portugal, pensam como ele. Estão ligados ao seu passado.

S.P.: Este livro tem dois objetivos diferentes: um que é muito utilitário e muito judaico, que é nós na nossa tradição inspiramo-nos na Bíblia e na Tora para viver a nossa vida e portanto todas as semanas aprendemos novos episódios. E há outra função muito diferente que é: o que é que tudo isso nos diz sobre a cultura dos judeus portugueses na altura, as contribuições do que eles escreviam. Dos anos 1500, de que autores portugueses é que alguém consegue falar? Estamos aqui a apresentar seis porque o nível de literacia dos judeus portugueses era muito alto, e estamos a esquecer uma parte da cultura portuguesa ao ignorar o que estas pessoas fizeram. O nosso objetivo é encontrar pontos, temos aqui uma ponte que nos liga. De alguma maneira, o que estamos a dizer… estamos a usar o Hino Nacional no livro para dizer que estes também são “os teus egrégios avós”.

Sendo judeu português a viver na América, quando está em Lisboa sente que o olham diferente no seu dia a dia?

S.P.: Tenho tido experiências, boas e más, mas eu prefiro focar-me nas boas. A minha casa cá é na Costa de Caparica, tenho tido imensos teenagers que querem tirar selfies comigo.

A sua carreira académica não tinha de ser na América, podia ter sido em Portugal. Não tem nada a ver com o facto de ser judeu?

S.P.: Não tem nada a ver. Faço a minha carreira na América mais de 90% do meu trabalho é dedicado a coisas portuguesas. Tenho tido a política de não confundir o meu chapéu de economista com o meu chapéu de judeu, embora não seja fácil. Quando fiz palestras no DN, a conversa é sobre economia. Se as pessoas me fazem perguntas é porque têm curiosidade, querem saber. Mas mesmo isso, consigo mover-me em todo o âmbito de política económica sem sentir a menor preocupação de coisa nenhuma. Aqui há uns anos um ministro convida-me para participar numas negociações na UE, antes do início do Euro. Havia uma avião do governo que ia seguir que era suposto sair na sexta de amanhã e o voo foi atrasado para sexta à tarde e eu disse que já não podia ir. E o ministro disse que abria a porta por mim, que fazia o que tivesse de ser…

Já agora, era possível respeitar o Shabbat assim?

S.P.: Não era, e eu não fui. Mas o ponto não é esse, é estar ali uma pessoa que não tinha nada de estar com essa disponibilidade… há uma disponibilidade muito grande. Não sinto desconforto nenhum.

É mais por não ser a norma, com a barba e a kippa, do que ser judeu?

S.P.: Completamente. Há uns anos, na Costa a coisa mais popular que os miúdos lá faziam era chamar-me Bin Laden. São brincadeiras.

E.R.: A mim perguntam-me se sou judeu e a conversa é sempre muito calorosa, isso é uma coisa única em Portugal.

(SAPO) Morreu o último combatente judeu da revolta do gueto de Varsóvia

(SAPO) O último combatente judeu da revolta do gueto de Varsóvia contra os nazis durante a Segunda Guerra Mundial, Simcha Rotem, morreu aos 94 anos de doença prolongada, anunciou o presidente israelita, Reuven Rivlin, em comunicado.

Morreu o último combatente judeu da revolta do gueto de Varsóvia
EPA/ABIR SULTAN

Simcha Rotem, cujo nome de guerra era “Kazik”, foi um dos encarregados da Organização de Combate Judaica, que planeou o levantamento no gueto de Varsóvia em 1943, quando as forças nazis decidiram deportar os últimos judeus da capital polaca para os campos de morte

Apesar de ser um plano destinado a falhar dada a supremacia militar alemã, a campanha de revolta simbolizou a recusa dos judeus de sucumbirem às atrocidades dos nazis e inspiraram outras manobras de resistência por judeus e não judeus.

“Ele aderiu ao levantamento e ajudou a salvar dezenas de combatentes”, informou o presidente Rivlin numa mensagem de condolências. Após o final da Segunda Guerra Mundial, Simcha Rotem instalou-se em Israel.

A revolta do gueto de Varsóvia, de 19 de abril a 16 de maio de 1943, foi o facto mais conhecido da resistência judaica contra os nazis. Simcha Rotem participou em operações de combate e salvamento de judeus pela rede de esgotos enquanto a cidade ardia.

A situação em que Varsóvia descambou era muito diferente aquando ao nascimento de Rotem, em 1924, quanto um terço da população da cidade era composto por uma vibrante comunidade judaica. Quando os confrontos começaram, o combatente foi ferido num bombardeamento alemão que destruiu a sua casa e matou o seu irmão, assim como outros parentes próximos.

O gueto de Varsóvia inicialmente continha 380 mil judeus, mas no seu pico este número chegou a meio milhão, condenado a uma vida miserável de fome, doença e sujeição a rusgas, confiscações e raptos pelas autoridades nazis.

A resistência começou a crescer depois de um ato de deportação massiva a 22 de julho de 1942, quando as autoridades levaram 265 mil homens, mulheres e crianças para o campo de morte de Treblinka. Anteriormente convencidos que o seu destino eram campos de trabalho, os judeus começaram a tomar consciência de que o que os esperava era o genocídio, formando-se pequenos grupos de rebeldes que empreenderam em atos de sabotagem e ataques isolados.

Dois mil polícias alemães e as forças especiais SS entraram no gueto em abril de 1943 para deter dezenas de milhares de sobreviventes que tinham escapado até então à deportação para os campos de morte, isto depois de incendiar a cidade.

A operação devia durar apenas três dias, mas os nazis foram surpreendidos com uma dura resistência, que os obrigou a mobilizar importantes reforços. Os resistentes aguentaram-se fortificados em bunkers, conseguindo matar 16 soldados nazis e ferir perto de 100, mas, no total, 13.000 judeus morreram, queimados ou em câmaras de gás nesta operação. Os outros foram deportados.

Simcha Rotem, que conseguiu escapar, participou na guerra depois do levantamento de Varsóvia, em agosto de 1944, lutando ao lado da Resistência polaca. Depois disso, quando se dirigiu para o território de Israel antes deste se tornar um estado, lutou na sua Guerra da Independência. Morreu de doença prolongada.

Mais tarde, tornou-se membro do comité Yad Vashem, a Autoridade de Recordação dos Mártires e Heróis do Holocausto, sendo responsável por escolher os “Justos entre as Nações”, os não judeus que arriscaram as suas vidas durante o Holocausto para salvar judeus.

(ArutzSheva) It’s final: 20th Knesset dissolved, Israel heading to elections

(ArutzSheva) Knesset passes in final reading bill on its dissolution ahead of elections on April 9. Bill passed with 102 in favor, 2 against.Arutz Sheva Staff, 26/12/18 22:25Share

Full Knesset session

Full Knesset sessionYonatan Sindel/Flash 90

The bill to dissolve the 20th Knesset passed its second and third readings Wednesday evening, shortly after it had passed its first reading. The bill passed its third reading with 102 MKs favor, 2 against – Likud MKs Yehuda Glick and Yaron Mazuz.

The bill establishes the dissolution of the 20th Knesset and sets elections for the 21st Knesset on April 9.

Though legally dissolved, the Knesset will continue passing laws next week, but only those agreed upon by both the coalition and opposition.

The passage of the bill comes after the coalition on Monday agreed to dissolve the Knesset and go to early elections, after a failure to reach agreement on a bill regulating the draft of haredim. The coalition had been left with a shaky one-seat majority since the resignation of former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and the departure of his Yisrael Beytenu party from the coalition.

A poll taken after the coalition decision found Netanyahu likely to win reelection.

Tourism Minister Yarv Levin, who serves as the liaison between the government and Knesset, said this morning upon the opening of the Knesset hearing, “We are completing a full four-year term here, four years of great momentum, of great work, of tremendous achievements, both by the government and by the entire coalition that operated here in the Knesset.”

“I want to recall the Nationality Law, one of the most important laws ever enacted by the Knesset, is a foundation for the existence of the state and its character as the national home of the Jewish people,” Levin added.

He noted that “the past four years have been characterized by extensive activity in all areas of life, and an exceptional achievement was the historic event of the transfer of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, which we have been wishing for for many years. Along with this tremendous political achievement, very important and unprecedented achievements were achieved in promoting bilateral relations between Israel and a long list of countries in the world.”

“This was four years of unprecedented economic growth that benefited all sectors of the population, especially the weaker populations in need of assistance and support, and this government has invested extraordinary efforts in strengthening and narrowing the gaps. I am convinced and hopeful that we will be able to see the next government take office as soon as possible and continue on the way, with the achievements of the current government.”

On the other hand, opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni said, “This is an emergency for the State of Israel, and Israel needs a reversal. It is possible and it is critical to the future of the State of Israel in order to save the country from the government that ruled here in recent years.”

“For 70 years there has never been a dispute about democracy itself. I have seen the government mocking everything that democracy represents: We need to join forces and work together and connect to the common denominator and connect those who sit on the opposition side from different parties as well as the new forces that want to come to the Knesset, and form a government with all the forces that will join us,” Livni said.

(MondoWeiss) From Portugal to Israel: You too can dream of a post-colonial future

(MondoWeiss)

The ‘Moorish Castle’ in Sintra, about 20 km from Lisbon. Photo by Jonathan Ofir.

I’m spending a vacation in Portugal with my girlfriend. Having posted various photos and videos on social media, the responses are basically all positive and endearing. “I love Portugal”, “what a place”, they write etc.

I’m from Israel, and with my political involvement and historical awareness, this immediately throws me into comparisons. I can’t help it. And the striking comparison here is that of Portugal as a past colonialist empire, as opposed to Israel, a current and continuing settler-colonialist venture.

It appears many are not that aware of how big a colonialist force Portugal was – its current size may be misleading. It was the largest and longest standing colonialist empire, starting in 1415 and ending only in 1999 (with the handing over of Macau to China). Stretching from Asia to South America, it was the leading player in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, transporting an estimated 6 million African slaves. The British were a distant 2nd place, transporting an estimated 3.2 million African slaves.

Unsurprisingly, the debate about the framing of this horrid past is still ongoing. Just this year, the Lisbon incumbent Socialist mayor wanted to establish a “Museum of the Discoveries”, and the name alone stirred a fierce debate about the whitewashing and glorification of this past.

“It would only reinforce Portuguese colonial ideology, which portrays that period as heroic and simply glosses over the glaring issues of slavery, mass killings and other abuses,” said Joacine Katar-Moreira, a researcher at the University Institute of Lisbon and co-author of an open letter criticising the proposal that was signed by 100 black activists.

Katar-Moreira went on:

“There are already so many statues and monuments paying homage to that moment in history. We don’t need another one, which, like the others, would be an instrument for stroking national self-esteem.”

But I don’t want to delve too deeply into the Portuguese colonialist past right now, because my point is really more comparative – comparing it to Israel.

The point is, I can now easily wander around in Portugal and enjoy it, appreciate its nature, its people, its current culture. Sure, I’m aware of that past, but I’m also aware that it’s a past.

With Israel, it’s different. I visit Israel because I have family there. But if I were a tourist, this would be a whole other story. Being a tourist in Israel would be visiting an Apartheid state, with a current and active settler-colonialist reality. Visiting it just for pleasure, as a tourist, would be immoral.

But Portugal gives me hope. It’s a national story that says that it is indeed possible to abolish colonialism, and to move on to a future of freedom, justice and equality. Sure, there will be ongoing debates about the past – but it would be a past. In Israel, it’s a present.

When I’m in Israel, I don’t post photos and videos as I do here in Portugal, even though my visits to Israel are in a way ‘touristic’, since I don’t live there, and I travel around with family etc. I simply do not want to help ‘market’ Israel and assist its ‘branding’. For me, this is a rather simple moral issue. It’s one thing if one is actively assisting the oppressed Palestinians, and is there for that purpose (which Israel seeks to prevent). Israel is simply so immersed in this colonial, oppressive and murderous present, that any mentioning of it is political. You are either fighting it, or you are endorsing it by promoting it.

Portugal offers me the reflection of how liberating it can be to end colonization.

To be sure, most Zionists would not appreciate the notion of colonization as a description of their venture. They consider that name-calling, an application of a generally condemned anachronism that mostly applies to the past, not the present. They do this by various means of denial. These include not only the institutional denial of the 1948 Nakba ethnic cleansing, but also the framing of the 1967 occupation as a temporary response (as the term occupation suggests), rather than an act of ongoing colonization. 

It is becoming increasingly clear to many around the world that the Israeli reality is not a mere set of nationalist military responses to this or that temporary aggression, but rather a premeditated settler-colonialist venture throughout the land, in the name of Zionism.

Right now, Israel is so much in the midst and depth of it, that a future of freedom, justice and equality seems hard to even perceive. That future is the goal of the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and it is something that Israel sees as a strategic threat, because equality is anathema to Zionism.

Of course, the Zionists think that it is necessary, existentially necessary, to keep those Palestinians subdued. Just as the Portuguese colonialists once thought it was necessary to keep the African slaves and the colonies.

(Reuters) Intel to get 700 million shekel grant for Israel expansion

(Reuters) JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel will give Intel Corp (INTC.O) a 700 million shekel ($185 million) grant in return for a planned $5 billion expansion of its production operations in Israel.

Intel is one of the biggest employers and exporters in Israel, where many of its new technologies are developed. Earlier this year it submitted plans to upgrade its Kiryat Gat manufacturing plant in southern Israel.

The Finance Committee in Israel’s parliament has now approved a 700 million shekel grant for the company, a statement from the committee said.

It noted that along with the $5 billion investment, the government expects Intel to hire 250 new employees and make 2.1 billion shekels in local purchases.

Intel may decide to expand its Israeli operations even further in 2019, according to Israel’s economy minister.

“Intel will make, in my estimation, another significant investment in the coming year,” Economy Minister Eli Cohen said last week at a business conference in Jerusalem.

(Algemeiner) IDF Says It Will Continue to Act in Syria to Prevent Iranian Entrenchment and Arming of Hezbollah

(Algemeiner)

Israeli and Russian military officials meet in Moscow. Photo: IDF Twitter account.

An IDF delegation returned home on Wednesday following a one-day visit to Moscow for meetings with Russian military officials.

According to the Israeli military, the group of senior officers — led by Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, the head of the Operations Directorate — briefed their Russian counterparts on the IDF’s ongoing effort to detect and destroy tunnels dug by Hezbollah under the Lebanon border.

Furthermore, the IDF said a “central topic that was discussed was the improvement of the two militaries’ deconfliction system in the northern region.”

“The IDF will continue operating to prevent Iranian entrenchment and the arming of Hezbollah in Syria,” the Israeli military said on Twitter. “The delegations reached an understanding and agreed to continue in their joint work.”

Israel Defense Forces

@IDF

During the day-long visit, the delegation will brief their Russian counterparts on Operation and other operational issues.

Israel Defense Forces

@IDF

The IDF delegation to , led by the Head of the Operations Directorate, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, will return to Israel tonight following meetings between the two militaries’ senior officials. pic.twitter.com/4WEZ6N8bzj

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Following a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin last weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told members of his cabinet he had informed Putin that “we are continuing our policy — we will not allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria.”

“We will continue to take action against the precision weapons in Lebanon, and we will complete the operation to foil the tunnels threat,” Netanyahu added.

Relations between Jerusalem and Moscow have been clouded in recent months by a mid-September incident in which a Russian military plane was accidentally downed by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile over the Mediterranean Sea, near Latakia. Russia indirectly blamed Israel for the mishap, asserting it had not been given enough advance warning of an IAF operation that was taking place in the area at the time.

Israel and Russia have sought to avoid such occurrences since Moscow’s military intervention in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime began in 2015.

(JewishVoice) Discover the Jewish Heritage of Lisbon, Portugal

(JewishVoice) The Jewish presence in the Iberian Peninsula has existed long before Portugal itself became a country. The contribution of Portuguese Jews to the arts, philosophy, commerce and sciences helped create this nation’s rich cultural heritage. This beautiful journey shows a growing interest in Portugal’s Jewish legacy in places such as Lisbon, Porto and many smaller villages and for its Jewish quarters across Portugal that were dormant for 500 years and are now being uncovered and revisited.

With nearly 20 percent of the population believed to have Jewish ancestry, many Portuguese are searching for their Jewish roots. With DNA testing, it is not at all unusual to meet a local who did the family research and became a “Jew by surprise.” For those interested in Jewish history and its communities in Portugal, there are several cities to explore: among them are Elvas, Evora and Castelo de Vide. The Jewish presence in Portugal dates back to a time when the country did not even exist and some documents point out that the sixth century as a probable date that marks the arrival of the first Jews. This fascinating country is filled with places, stories and traditions that keep the Jewish heritage alive, from the streets of historic Jewish quarters, or Judarias, to some of the oldest synagogues in the country, to the present-day synagogues and museums.

Jewish heritage in Lisbon can be traced beginning with the Alfama quarter, a large community which included the Judiaria Grande and included the Rua da Judiaria. These narrow streets still evoke the spirit of the generations of Portuguese Jews who lived and flourished there. As the community grew, more Jewish refugees came to Lisbon, a new Judiaria Pequena was formed in the 13th century near what is today known as the central Praça do Comércio. This entire area was totally destroyed by the 1755 earthquake. The nearby Rossio square, before the earthquake, was the site of the court of the Inquisition. It was there where Jews and other accused heretics were burned at the stake. There is also the National Museum of Ancient Art, where you will find a primitive Portuguese masterpiece, including Jews wearing Stars of David on their clothing and a rabbi opening the Talmud, as well as other paintings with Jewish themes.

Jewish Lisbon Memorial – New York Jewish Travel Guide

Praça do Rossio is the city’s liveliest area, where many locals and tourists meet up. The square and its surrounding streets are packed with some of the city’s most famous restaurants, bars and shops; it’s also the site of the Jewish Lisbon Memorial. This memorial to the victims of the 1506 Jewish Massacre was erected on April 19, 2006 — the 500th anniversary is also known as “Lisbon Massacre,” “Lisbon Pogrom,” or “The 1506 Easter Slaughter” and located at the historic square Largo de Sao Domingos, located by the Church Igreja de Sao Domingos. Explaining this Jewish massacre begins with the inception of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, when 93,000 Sephardic Jews fled Spain and took refuge in Lisbon. In the early 1500s, drought and plague swept through Portugal. Jews preparing Passover feasts (using unleavened bread and bitter herbs) were thought to have caused the plague/drought, with Easter and Passover in close proximity in 1506. It is estimated that between 2,000 to 4,000 Jews who were forced to convert were killed.

The Jewish community of Portugal presented the simple memorial, a perfectly round travertine stone cut in half, on April 19, 2006. On the flat surface there is a bronze Star of David monument, its plaque reading: In memory of the thousands of Jews who were victimized by intolerance and religious fanaticism, killed in the massacre that started on 19 April 1506, on this square. The base has a verse from the Book of Job 16:18 King James version etched into it. “O earth, cover not thou my blood, and let my cry have no place.” Take time to reflect at this memorial about all the death and destruction caused by intolerance. Also note that, the Commerce Square, or Praça do Comércio, a modern-day meeting place for locals and a great spot to bask in the sun along the riverfront, is also where thousands of Jews were forced to be baptized in the 15th century. Along the downtown streets of Lisbon, Baixa, Rossio, Chiado and Bairro Alto, the amazing story of the Cristão-Novos, this Sephardic sub-group, survived over 400 years of persecution in secret.

Lisbon’s modern Jewish community:

Shaare Tikva Synagogue – New York Jewish Travel Guide

Lisbon’s main synagogue called Shaare Tikva, or Gates of Hope, is a historical synagogue in Lisbon. It was built in the early 20th century as Jews, some but not all of Portuguese descent, returned to Portugal from Gibraltar and North Africa. The main facade of the synagogue faces an inner courtyard, since Portuguese law at the time forbade non-Catholic religious institutions from facing the street. Inaugurated in 1904, the Lisbon Synagogue was the first synagogue to be built in Portugal since the late 15th century and was designed by one by one of the country’s best-known architects, Miguel Ventura Terra. The synagogue served as the center of Jewish life in Lisbon and was a sanctuary for the thousands of Jewish refugees who passed through Portugal during World War II. The marble Torah ark is inscribed with the Ten Commandments and encrusted with a gold leaf. It is also the home of a collection of documents dating from the 17th through the 20th centuries

Shaare Tikva Synagogue – New York Jewish Travel Guide

The synagogue symbolizes the re-establishment of a Jewish community in Lisbon. Its president, Mr. Gabriel Steinhardt, estimated that “the Jewish community of Portugal in Lisbon accounts for more or less one thousand people, a very small community, out of which, about 500 are members or at least one of the heads of the family is a member of the community.” And those that are not affiliated are maybe another 500, so altogether the total is about 1,300, with 300 Jews in the northern city of Porto and 35 to 40 people in the small community of Belmonte. He added that “the community is half Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews: Moroccans who arrived at the end of the 19th century, Russians and Poles who escaped the pogroms in the first half of the 20th century.

“So today, we have this very small Jewish community, certainly one of the smallest in Europe,” he said, adding that the synagogue does not offer formal Jewish education, such as Hebrew classes, yet. They have no Sunday school but have classes given by the rabbi. Steinhardt stressed that the population in Portugal today in general is not anti-Semitic, on the contrary, there is more of an air of philo-Semitism, that is, “friends of the Jews.” Steinhardt continued, “One of the reasons for this, besides the tolerance and the history and so on, is precisely because people either are considered Jews or not Jews, they know about their history.” It is safe to wear a Kippah in Portugal unlike in other European cities.

Dr. Steinhardt told NYJTG, “We try to provide our members with the services and needs to our community; a synagogue, a very modern mikvah, a cemetery, a youth movement that meet every week and a community center, tennis court, swimming pool and so on, so the kids can learn a little bit about our tradition and our religion and so on.” While kosher food is lacking, he added that “we’re going to find a solution, we have a brand-new and modern kitchen in the back which is operational but we have no one yet to operate it now and it is challenging.”

It is also important to note that he Portuguese Jews played an important role during World War II in in support of refugees, first through the creation of the “Portuguese Commission for the Assistance of the Jewish Refugees in Portugal” directed by Augusto Esaguy. Jews cannot also forget to the timeless legacy of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux and Portugal’s own Oskar Schindler, a righteous gentile who saved 30,000 Jewish refugees from the horror of the Holocaust. Among those rescued were famous names like Marc Chagall, Max Ernst and many others who contributed to the arts, sciences and politics of the world stage. De Sousa Mendes was recognized in 1966 by Israel, which declared him to be a “Righteous Among the Nations.” In 1986, the United States Congress issued a proclamation honoring his heroic act.

Perhaps the best way to summarize this beautiful journey is through the words of Portugal’s Secretary of State for Tourism, Ana Mendes Godinho, who, in a meeting with Jewish journalists and travel professionals, highlighted the indispensable role of Portuguese Jews in her nation’s history and heritage. Determined to bring Jews to Portugal to experience it for themselves, Mendes Godinho said, “We want a Jewish presence in Portugal,” and called it “the third most peaceful country in the world, where all people can coexist happily and in peace.” She stressed “the importance of bringing Jews to visit to discover the beauty of this country on the Iberian Peninsula” and noted, “The Jews and Portuguese have a bond based on history and we are looking toward the future for Portugal to be seen as a country that is peaceful, good place to live, and welcoming to all religions‎.”

Visitors will enjoy walking through the delightful sights of Lisbon. One could easily spend two full days of solid sightseeing here…if you have time, three or four days would be well spent there and will pass very quickly. Here are some other places to visit and things to do in Lisbon:

 

Belem- The tower of Belem

This civil parish got its name from the Portuguese word for Bethlehem. The Belem District houses many historic buildings that would satisfy anyone, particularly those with an interest in history, architecture, and photography. The Tower of Belem, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stands along the Atlantic Coast. Built in the 15th century, the tower served as a gateway to Lisbon and defended the area against attacks by water

 

Castelo de São Jorge

Towering dramatically above Lisbon, the mid-11th-century hilltop fortifications of Castelo de São Jorge sneak into almost every snapshot of the city. Roam its snaking ramparts and pine-shaded courtyards for superlative views over the city’s red rooftops to the river. Inside the Tower of Ulysses, a camera obscura offers a unique 360-degree view of Lisbon, with demos every 20 minutes. There are also a few galleries displaying relics from past centuries, including traces of the Moorish neighborhood dating from the 11th century at an active archaeological site. But the standout is the view, and its feeling of travelling back in time amid fortified courtyards and towering walls.

 

Alfama

With a history that dates back to the Moors, Alfama is characterized by narrow, cobblestone streets that wind past dozens of quaint shops, cozy little restaurants and traditional Fado clubs, all of which are housed within historic yet well-preserved architecture. You can quickly feel like an intruder if you take a wrong turn into someone’s backyard. Early morning is the best time to catch a more traditional scene such as when women sell fresh fish from their doorways.

 

Sintra

Sintra is a picturesque Portuguese town that is set amidst the pine-covered hills of the Serra de Sintra. This hilly and slightly cooler climate enticed the nobility and elite of Portugal, who constructed exquisite palaces, extravagant mansions and decorative gardens. The variety of fascinating historic buildings and beautiful scenery has established Sintra as a fantastic tourist destination and has since become the most popular day trip from Lisbon. What’s more, the entire city is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site due its artistic, botanical and historic richness. The Jewish Quarter of Sintra, where the Jews lived before the forced conversions of 1497, is still visible today.

 

Cascais

Cascais is the finest resort town of the Lisbon coastline, and makes for an enjoyable destination for a day trip. Cascais is set along a beautiful coastline of sandy beaches and rocky headlands, while within the town are grand mansions, fascinating museums and attractive parks. There is a lot to see and do in Cascais and it is a highly recommended day trip.

 

Estoril

Estoril is a stylish and fashionable Portuguese beach resort that is situated on the beautiful coastline that extends to the west of Lisbon. The town boasts fine restaurants, world-class hotels and the largest casino of the Iberian Peninsula, all of which provide Estoril with a prosperous atmosphere and a reputation for exclusivity. Within the Estoril region, there is a diverse selection of sights and activities; these include glorious beaches, championship grade golf courses and historic towns to explore. During the Second World War it was the refuge of writers, politicians, artists, businessmen and many Jews persecuted by the Third Reich.

 

Bairro Alto and Chiado

Bairro Alto and Chiado are two closely related districts of Lisbon, with one being fashionable and stylish by day while the other is trendy and cool by night. Chiado is the popular shopping and theatre district of Lisbon, which has a selection of historic monuments, traditional shops and interesting cafes and restaurants. Does Bairro Alto have the best nightlife in Lisbon? Simply put, yes. Bairro Alto is the nightlife hub of the city with countless small bars, trendy intimate venues and restaurants where the haunting sounds of Fado can be heard wafting out. During the weekends, the revelers spill onto the streets and there is a carnival atmosphere along the narrow cobbled streets, filled with people enjoying the night.

 

Cabo da Roca

Cabo da Roca is a wild and rugged headland that marks the most westerly point of mainland Europe. The windswept cliffs of Cabo da Roca were believed to be the edge of the world until the late 14th century and the spectacular, desolate scenery adds to the allure of the location

(JTA) Portugal sets aside a day to remember Inquisition victims

(JTA) A Portugal government committee has approved the creation of a Memorial Day for the Victims of the Inquisition.

The inquisition was formally established in Portugal in 1536.  The date of the memorial day will be held on or around March 31, the official end of the Inquisition in 1821.

Reconectar, the movement to reconnect the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Communities with the Jewish world, welcomed the decision by the Commission for Culture, Communication, Youth and Sports of the Portuguese Parliament.

“This is an extremely important step by the Portuguese Parliament and one that clearly demonstrates the Portuguese authorities’ intention to look critically at its past and show the Jewish world that it is seeking atonement for this reign of terror against our people,” Ashley Perry (Perez), president of Reconectar and the director of the Knesset Caucus for the Reconnection with the Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Communities, said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

Reconectar is assisting in the reconnection of the tens of millions of people in North and Latin America, Europe and elsewhere, who are discovering their Jewish ancestry. Modern technology, Internet, and genealogy and DNA advances have generated interest in discovering hidden Jewish roots.

Nearly 1,800 descendants of Sephardic Jews acquired the Portuguese nationality in 2017 under a law enacted two years earlier, with another 12,000 still in the application process.

The tally for 2017 is six times higher than the total for 2016, during which the application of the law hit bureaucratic snags amid political changes.

The increase in naturalization under the law, which Portugal passed in 2013 and enacted in 2015 as a form of making amends for the persecution of Jews during the Inquisition, comes amid a host of initiatives by the government to strengthen the country’s ties to Jewish audiences and recognition of its Jewish heritage.

(JTA) The latest poll on anti-Semitism in Europe looks bad. Trust me: It’s true.

(JTA

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — The last time that a stranger directed an anti-Semitic insult at me, I was carrying supplies for my son’s birthday party.

It was on a Sunday afternoon on Dam Square. Carrying Star of David party decorations in a see-through bag, I paused to snap some pictures on my cellphone of an anti-Israel rally.

I was busy sending them to a friend who had inquired about such events in the Netherlands when a bearded man sporting a Moroccan accent said loudly in my direction: “Cancer Jew. You’re all made up, you’re fake. You’re fake dogs.”

The incident was far from extraordinary — I have experienced much worse abuse during my years of covering European Jewry and its problems — but I found myself recalling it Monday following the publication of the unsurprisingly grim results from Europe’s largest survey of Jews on anti-Semitism.

About a third of the 16,395 Jews polled this year in 12 countries by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights said they avoid Jewish events or places out of fear for their safety. A similar number said they have considered emigrating in the past five years because they did not feel safe as Jews.

More than 80 percent of respondents said anti-Semitism was “the most pressing problem” facing them. Nearly 40 percent said they had experienced an anti-Semitic incident over the past five years, and of those, 79 percent said they didn’t report it because they thought doing so would be a waste of time.

Vera Jourova, the EU commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, called some of the poll’s data “shocking” in an address she delivered Monday in Brussels during the presentation of the report.

She vowed tougher action on anti-Semitic crimes, especially online, and called on all EU member states to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, which includes some forms of anti-Israel rhetoric, because “you cannot fight it if you can’t define it,” she said.

The respondents appeared more affiliated than the average European Jew, with 45 percent saying they eat kosher at home and 84 percent declaring they fast on Yom Kippur. A sample with more respondents for whom Judaism is a less central element of life may yield different results.

But even for a secular Jew like me, the report was no more shocking than the presence of the armed special forces officers at our children’s Jewish kindergarten, where they block off the entire road twice a day, during pickup and drop-off hours.

My reporting has made me so used to such sights – the result of several terrorist attacks by Islamists on Jewish institutions, including the 2012 bloodbath at a Toulouse school — that I was genuinely surprised by how disturbing this is to my wife, who is Jewish but rarely attends Jewish community events.

Certainly the head of the European Jewish Association wasn’t surprised by the EU report.

Anyone who is shocked, Rabbi Menachem Margolin said in a statement, is ”disconnected from the reality on the ground.”

Like so many of the poll’s respondents, I also brushed off the anti-Semitic incident I had experienced without reporting it to police.

After all, I do not believe Dutch police would have identified the man who accosted me. But if they did, he could have accused me of assaulting him and back his claim with false witnesses from his rally — who would land me in trouble.

The refusal by Dutch police to even investigate a Jewish community leader’s complaint for assault did little to assure me that they have my back.

The Dutch government’s resistance to adopting an internationally accepted definition of anti-Semitism was also of little assurance. Nor was a Dutch court’s failure in July to charge a Syrian man with a hate crime for smashing up a kosher restaurant while waving a Palestinian flag.

EU anti-Semitism conference

European Union officials Frans Timmermans, left, and Vera Jourova at a news conference on the EU’s response to a new survey about anti-Semitism at the body’s headquarters in Brussels, Dec. 10, 2018. (John Thys/AFP/Getty Images)

These problems are not exclusive to the Netherlands.

In France, where half a million Jews live and the volume of anti-Semitic incidents increased by 69 percent in 2018, such occurrences have become a “daily occurrence,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said last month.

In the United Kingdom, the country’s former chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, said that many people in his community feel they are facing ”an existential threat” in the supporters of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Sacks, one of contemporary Judaism’s most eminent representatives, called the far-left politician an anti-Semite. Corbyn, who has called Hamas and Hezbollah his “friends” and who had suggested that British “Zionists” are incapable of irony, has rejected the allegation vociferously.

In Sweden, anti-Semitic harassment by far-right activists led for the first time since World War II to the shuttering of a Jewish community anywhere in the European Union out of security concerns. The dissolution of Umea’s Jewish community was a sad precedent in a country where Jews are regularly assaulted by Muslim extremists, often with Israel as a pretext.

Still, the news out of Brussels isn’t all bad when it comes to the fight against anti-Semitism.

Last week, the European Council — the EU’s executive branch — made a declaration against anti-Semitism, calling on EU member states to shoulder Jewish communities’ security costs and urging coordinated action against anti-Semitism.

And whereas some European governments 20 years ago took pains to deny the resurgence of anti-Semitism after the Holocaust and the reasons driving it forward, mainstream politicians in Europe today seem to be more conscious of the problem’s nature and more interested in confronting it.

Significantly, Jourova mentioned in her address not only anti-Semitism, but also anti-Zionism – a reference that many believe would have been unthinkable only several years ago coming from a high-ranking EU official. She also mentioned “Islamist anti-Semitism.”

Such rhetoric reflects a reluctant acceptance in Europe of the effect of the arrival to the continent of millions of immigrants from anti-Semitic societies in the Muslim world. Whereas many integrated seamlessly into European societies and adopted their values, others have rejected them and reintroduced into the mainstream anti-Semitic sentiments that have been suppressed in Europe as part of the lessons of the Holocaust.

Labeled “new anti-Semitism,” this mutation of Jew hatred has baffled European progressives, who struggled to come to terms with the systemic targeting of one minority group by members of another.

Watchdog groups say that the vast majority of violent attacks on Jews in Western Europe today come from people with Muslim background. But accepting or admitting this has proven difficult for some advocates of Europe’s immigration policies.

Yet last year, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed that France will “not surrender to anti-Zionism because it is a reinvention of anti-Semitism.” It was the first time that a French president made such an equation.

Following France’s lead, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and several other countries mounted formidable efforts to protect Jewish community institutions, in some cases leading to a reduction in incidents.

Yet even under Macron, French authorities, who in the early 2000s downplayed the scale of anti-Semitic crimes, showed signs of relapsing. Last year, France’s National Consultative Commission on Human Rights asserted that it “had no evidence” to support what it called “the new anti-Semitism hypothesis.”

In May, a study published by a German federal entity said that anti-Semitism in Europe is unaffected by recent Muslim immigration, prompting a prominent critic to call the report selective and flawed.

As the debate rages on, many Jews like me are increasingly contemplating their futures in Europe – despite major steps designed to ensure our ability to live freely and safely here.

Because amid polls, reports, discussions and declarations about the need to balance freedoms, for too many European Jews “freedom of belief and the freedom to live without fear remain distant aspirations,” as Michael O’Flaherty, the director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, put it Monday during his address in Brussels.

(EUobserver) Anti-semitism ‘disturbingly normalised’ in Europe

(EUobserver)

  • Commissioner Frans Timmermans said those who want to defend ‘Christian’ values should stay well away from anti-semitism (Photo: European Commission)

Anti-semitism has become “disturbingly normalised” in Europe, as almost 40 percent of the European Jewish community is considering leaving their home countries because they no longer feel safe, according to a survey by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency published on Monday (10 December).

Nearly 90 percent of respondents said that anti-semitism has been on the rise since 2013.

  • A billboard in Hungary on US billionaire Soros: ‘Let’s not allow him to have the last laugh’, with ‘vampire’ daubed sprayed on it (Photo: Lydia Gall/Human Rights Watch)

Some 70 years after six million Jews were murdered in Europe, Jews on the continent once again refrain from wearing their kippa, the religious cap, and hide their mezuzas, usually hung on doorposts, to protect themselves.

The EU’s Vienna-based agency surveyed almost 16,500 individuals who identify as being Jewish in 12 EU countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom, where altogether over 96 percent of the EU’s estimated Jewish population live.

The results are “extremely worrying”, justice commissioner Vera Jourova told journalists on Monday.

Nine in 10 (89 percent) respondents feel that anti-semitism increased in their country in the last five years, more than eight in 10 (85 percent) consider it to be a serious problem and name it as their number one fear ahead of other social or political concerns.

Nine in ten also think anti-semitism is the most problematic on the internet and on social media (89 percent), while 73 percent consider it to be an issue in public spaces, in the media (71 percent) and in political life (70 percent).

Common comments Jews are faced with include: “Jews have too much power” (43 percent) and that “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (35 percent).

People face so much anti-semitic abuse that some of the incidents they experience appear trivial to them.

Physical harassment is also an issue, with 28 percent of respondents have been harassed at least once in the past year.

From those who experienced anti-semitic harassment in the past five years, some 79 percent did not report this to the police or another organisation.

In Germany 41 percent of respondents said they had suffered anti-semitic harassment in the past year.

Seventy percent consider that efforts by EU countries to combat anti-semitism are ineffective.

Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans called anti-semitism a “disease.”

“It is slipping more and more into the political rhetoric, as those who are familiar with that rhetoric in the past are slowly passing away,” he said, calling on member states to do more.

Timmermans, who runs as the lead candidate of the socialists in next year’s European elections, also had a poke at the centre-right, whose lead candidate, Manfred Weber, often refers to Europe’s ‘Christian heritage’.

“Those who appeal all the time to ‘Christian’ values, should understand that part of the Christian values that we forever distance ourselves from anti-semitism,” Timmermans said.

“There is no Europe, if Jews don’t feel safe in Europe,” the Dutch politician added.

Warning for Orban

Asked about Hungarian government’s stance on anti-semitism, Timmermans had a warning for Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban – a hardline anti-migration politician who likes to portray himself as the defender of Christian Europe.

“Since prime minister Orban is so vocal in he wants to combat anti-semitism, and preserve our, as he calls it, Judeo-Christian heritage, I would call upon him to avoid dog-whistle words, to avoid any form of campaigning that could be seen as implicitly anti-semitic,” he said referring to a massive campaign by the Hungarian government accusing, without evidence, US billionaire George Soros, who is Jewish, of wanting to transport a million migrants into Europe.

While the Hungarian government said it had zero tolerance towards anti-semitism, the billboard campaign prompted anti-semitic comments.

“If that is the impression he [Orban] wants to avoid, he should be clearer how he operates, because clearly some of the campaigns he is been doing have led to anti-semitic responses in the Hungarian society,” Timmermans said.

“The campaign against George Soros, although the Hungarian authorities deny that there is any element of anti-semitism in it, the reactions to it by members of the Hungarian public are clearly, strongly anti-semitic,” he added.

Timmermans said his comments were not finger-pointing, but that he wants to highlight that there is a greater responsibility on public authorities in the face of the rise of anti-semitism.

“If identity politics is what is driving your politics, then sooner or later there will be references to minorities, and the first minority to be hit by that will always be Jewish minority,” he said.

Last week Orban refused to condemn a magazine run by one of his allies that featured a cover that has been widely considered anti-semitic.

It featured the president of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities with banknotes floating around him, accompanying an article that accused him of financial irregularities.

After the World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder called on Orban to condemn the cover, the PM responded in a letter in which he said he was surprised at what he called Lauder’s request to limit freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

Israel criticism

The publishing of the survey’s result comes as the EU last week adopted a definition of anti-semitism that critics say could stifle criticism of the policies of the Israeli government.

Timmermans acknowledged that a new form of anti-semitism hides behind anti-zionism, criticism of Israel. But he said that does not mean that criticism of the actions of the Israeli government is illegitimate.

“Everybody has full right to criticise actions of the Israeli government that are incompatible with the values we stand for, with the position with the international community, that there should be a two-state solution, that [Israeli] settlements [on Palestinian territories] are illegal,” he said.

He also warned that other minorities should also be concerned by anti-semitism, saying if one minority is attacked, others will be attacked eventually too.

“Once the idea that you can target a minority is part of politics, all minorities are at risk,” he said, adding: “To mobilise the Jewish community against Muslim community, and vice-versa, runs counter to our principles and create problems for both communities.”

The survey showed that 72 percent of Jews are concerned about increasing intolerance towards Muslims in Europe.

However, in some 30 percent of the cases, respondents said the perpetrator of the most serious incident of anti-semitic harassment in the past five years was someone with Muslim extremist views.

The EU commission has attempted to address the issue in the past by appointing a coordinator on combating anti-semitism in 2016, and establishing in the same year an EU High-Level Group on combating racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance, and making large tech companies adheres to a code of conduct to counter illegal hate speech online.