Category Archives: Israel

(Algemeiner) German Government Records 60% Surge in Violent Attacks Targeting Jews During 2018

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Demonstrators in Berlin brandish Turkish and Palestinian flags as they burn an Israeli flag. Photo: Jüdisches Forum für Demokratie und gegen Antisemitismus.

In yet another dramatic sign of rising antisemitism on the European continent, Germany’s government disclosed on Wednesday that violent attacks against Jews in the country surged by 60 percent during 2018.

The numbers were published in answer to a request for information from German parliamentarian Petra Pau, a prominent leader of the left-wing socialist party Die Linke (“The Left”). Figures gathered by the German authorities showed an overall rise of 10 percent in antisemitic incidents compared to 2017, with 1,646 offenses reported last year.

Of those, 62 were classified as “violent crimes,” compared with 37 crimes in the same category in 2017.

A total of 43 people were injured in 2018’s violent incidents, while police said they had identified 857 suspects and made 19 arrests.

About two dozen offensive posters were found outside the Hillel building at Tufts University in Massachusetts on Tuesday morning, including one calling…

Germany’s government again reiterated its firm opposition to antisemitism in its response to the numbers. Ulrike Demmer — a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel — emphasized that “there is no place for antisemitism in Germany.”

Jewish life in Germany must be allowed to “develop freely and safely,” Demmer stated.

Josef Schuster — president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany — remarked in an interview with the BBC that what “had already solidified as a subjective impression among Jews is now confirmed in the statistics.”

“The latest numbers are not yet official, but at least they reflect a tendency — and that’s scary,” Schuster said.

“Considering that acts below the threshold for criminal liability are not covered, the picture becomes even darker,” he added.

Last April, the German government appointed career diplomat Felix Klein as the country’s first federal commissioner charged with combating antisemitism. In successive interviews, Klein identified both the far right and elements within Germany’s various Muslim communities as responsible for the increase in offenses against Jews.

Additional government statistics made public on Wednesday showed that more than 19,000 hate crimes were carried out by German far-right extremists in 2018, of which nearly 1,100 involved violence.

News of last year’s precipitate increase in Germany came one day after the French government announced a shocking rise of 74 percent in antisemitic crimes committed last year.

Last week, the Community Security Trust —  the UK Jewish community’s security body — published its highest ever annual toll of antisemitic incidents, with 1,652 offenses targeting British Jews in 2018, more than 100 of which involved violence.

About 100,000 Jews live in Germany, a community swelled in recent years by the arrival of thousands of young Israelis.

(Forward) 52 Iraqi Jews Were Killed By The Secret Police. 50 Years Later, Their Descendants Come Forward.


The men in the back asked for silence, and then one began to read the names of the Iraqi Jews killed half a century ago. There were 52 in all: nine hanged in a public square after a show trial in 1969, the rest disappeared by the secret police. The hangings were a de facto death sentence for Iraq’s 2,500-year-old Jewish community, pushing those who had not already fled to Israel to begin smuggling themselves out of their homeland.

About 150 people gathered Sunday at Congregation Bene Naharayim, the Iraqi synagogue in suburban Queens, for a commemoration of the hangings and the kidnappings. Old and young, refugees and their descendants, mingled in a mix of English and Hebrew with a Mizrahi, or Eastern, accent. They spoke of the significance of this milestone, and the long decline of Iraq’s Jewish community and its American diaspora.

“This oldest and proud Jewish community into which we were born is now all but gone, probably forever, sadly,” said Rita Katz, a private terrorism investigator, told the assembled. Katz’s father was one of the nine men hanged; her family escaped to Israel several months later.

“I’m sure that all of you here never forgot, and will never forgive,” she said. “And we will never, ever will stop loving and missing them, all of them.”

Iraqi Jewish synagogue remembers 1969 Baghdad hangings by the Forward
Raphael AbadaShlomo Yadoo reading the names of the killed or disappeared Iraqi Jews.

Congregation Bene Naharayim, located in the Jamaica Estates section of Queens, was founded in 1984. From the street it looks like one of the larger houses that dot the neighborhood. Inside, its walls are covered in photographs of Jews in Baghdad and Basra, maps of Iraq and plaques of deceased members. It has 300 families paying dues, and 100 active members, according to Shlomo Yadoo, the synagogue’s president.

The community it serves is a minority of a minority in American Jewish culture: Iraqi Jews and their descendants, who are part of the diverse world of Sephardic Judaism, which broadly encompasses the Jewish communities whose roots lie from Spain and Morocco to Iran. In the years after the establishment of the State of Israel, in 1948, many Jewish communities were expelled from the Arab or Muslim countries they had called home for 2,000 years or more.

In 1968, the Ba’ath party rose to power in Iraq, in large part through the efforts of Saddam Hussein, who would go on to lead the party, and be dictator of Iraq, for 24 years. The Jewish community had already largely fled for Israel; its population in Iraq had gone from 130,000 in 1950 to less than 3,000 by 1969.

That was the year the regime hung 14 people accused of being spies: nine Jews, three Muslims and two Christians. Iraqi citizens held cookouts in the Baghdad square where the hangings occurred. In the early 1970s, the regime allowed the rest of the Jews to leave, and by the 21st century fewer than a few dozen Jews remained in the country.

Iraqi Jewish synagogue remembers 1969 Baghdad hangings by the Forward
Raphael AbadaRita Katz, left, and her mother Salima Gabbai.

Iraqi Jews feel that their stories have been broadly forgotten in favor of remembering the tragedies that befell Ashkenazi Jews in Europe, whose descendants now vastly outnumber Sephardic Jewry in America.

“In Israel, and everywhere, they don’t know about Iraqi Jews, or Middle Eastern Jews,” said Ruth Shakarchy, head of Bene Naharayim’s sisterhood group, which organized Sunday’s event. “They know only about the Holocuast.”

Shakarchy said that besides the hangings, many Ashkenazi Jews also don’t know about the Farhud, the Iraqi Kristallnacht in June 1941 when widespread rioting caused the deaths of over 100 Jews and the destruction of over a thousand Jewish homes.

Iraqi Jewish synagogue remembers 1969 Baghdad hangings at lunch by the Forward
Raphael AbadaWomen speaking at lunch after the program.

Jordan Salama’s mother fled Iraq with her family as a teenager. Though raised in Westchester County, Salama, 22, had his bar mitzvah at Bene Naharayim. In high school, he made a half-hour documentary about his grandparents’ journeys in the Mizrahi diaspora, and now hopes to expand his research on his Syrian paternal grandfather’s life in Argentina.

“All these stories keep circulating around in my head, and I think the most important thing is to keep tell them to other people so we don’t forget,” he said.

Part of the reason he wants to tell these stories, Salama said, is because they are often overlooked in the Ashkenazi-dominated American Jewish culture.

“I think it’s important to recognize that there was this time of paradise and coexistence [for Arab Jews], and that maybe hopefully it can happen again, if we’re given the opportunity,” he said.

Iraqi Jewish synagogue remembers 1969 Baghdad hangings by the Forward
Raphael AbadaLighting the memorial candles

After the program, the attendees lined up for an Iraqi and American Jewish spread of lunch fare: bagels and cream cheese; pita, eggplant, roasted eggs and pickled mango sauce (amba) for sabich, the Iraqi-Israeli street food; pound cake and muffins; date cookies and baklava.

Next to the desert buffet, Doris Sheena Zilkha, 66, born in Iraq, recounted how after the 1969 hangings the Jewish community was constantly in fear of disappearances, and fasted on Mondays and Thursdays in a gesture of frantic piety.

“People were landing on the moon, and here we were educated, and sitting ducks,” she said.

Baklava at Iraqi Jewish Baghdad hangings memorial program by the Forward
Raphael AbadaBaklava.

One of the family members of the disappeared men in Iraq was Felix Shamash, who was just a teenager when his father, Shoul, was taken from their home in October 1972.

Shamash said that the manner in which his father was taken away forever was as banal as the other stories mentioned Sunday. He had just come home from school when a member of the secret police arrived to escort his father away. The man promised that Shoul would be home soon. Before he left, Shoul put a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste in his jacket pocket.

“We didn’t even go near him or kiss him,” Shamash recalled. “We were sad. You knew this was goodbye.”

Within six months, they had fled for Athens, where they received U.S. visas and immigrated to New York.

The family never officially learned the fate of Shoul. Shamash said he heard his father’s name once in a radio broadcast from outside Iraq, included in a list of Jews murdered by the regime. But because they didn’t have a date of death, or a grave, Shamash said that no one ever said kaddish for his father.

But a couple years ago, Shamash decided to change course. Now he uses the date of his father’s disappearance as the yartzeit, the anniversary of death.

“I figured I’m getting old, someone has to say kaddish for him,” he said.

Iraqi Jewish synagogue remembers 1969 Baghdad hangings by the Forward
Raphael AbadaListening to Yadoo read the names.

The photographs in this article were taken by Raphael Abada. You can view more of his photographs of the event here.

Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman

This story “Iraqi Jews In America Remember Baghdad Hangings” was written by Ari Feldman.

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(NYT) The Hunt for the Nazi Loot Still Sitting on Library Shelves


The Nazis left the task of creating inventories for the millions of books they seized to a special task force, members of which are seen here in Estonia.CreditYad Vashem Photo Archives

The Nazis left the task of creating inventories for the millions of books they seized to a special task force, members of which are seen here in Estonia.CreditCreditYad Vashem Photo Archives

The hunt for the millions of books stolen by the Nazis during World War II has been pursued quietly and diligently for decades, but it has been largely ignored, even as the search for lost art drew headlines. The plundered volumes seldom carried the same glamour as the looted paintings, which were often masterpieces worth millions of dollars.

But recently, with little fanfare, the search for the books has intensified, driven by researchers in America and Europe who have developed a road map of sorts to track the stolen books, many of which are still hiding in plain sight on library shelves throughout Europe.

Their work has been aided by newly opened archives, the internet, and the growing number of European librarians who have made such searches a priority, researchers say.

“People have looked away for so long,” said Anders Rydell, author of “The Book Thieves: The Nazi Looting of Europe’s Libraries and the Race to Return a Literary Inheritance,” “but I don’t think they can anymore.”

Given the scope of the looting, the task ahead remains mountainous. In Berlin, for example, at the Central and Regional Library, almost a third of the 3.5 million books are suspected to have been looted by the Nazis, according to Sebastian Finsterwalder, a provenance researcher there.

“Most major German libraries have books stolen by the Nazis,” he said.

But researchers say there are signs they may be on the brink of making measurable progress in restitutions.You have 4 free articles remaining.Subscribe to The Times

In the last 10 years, for example, libraries in Germany and Austria have returned about 30,000 books to 600 owners, heirs and institutions, according to researchers. In one instance in 2015, almost 700 books stolen from the library of Leopold Singer, an expert in the field of petroleum engineering, were returned to his heirs by the library of the Vienna University of Economics and Business.

“There’s definitely progress, but slow progress,” said Patricia Kennedy Grimsted, senior research associate at the Ukrainian Research Institute of Harvard University and one of the world’s foremost experts on the libraries and archives stolen during World War II.

Patricia Kennedy Grimsted of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard is one of the leading researchers on tracking the millions of books that were stolen by the Nazis.CreditYakub Kolas Central Scientific Library of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus

The numbers alone often do not do justice to what a single returned piece of Judaica, or even a more prosaic volume, can mean to a family.


In Germany last year, the University of Potsdam library gave an important 16th-century volume back to the family of its owner, a man killed in a concentration camp in 1943. The book, written by a rabbi in 1564 and later looted, explains the fundamentals of the Torah’s 613 commandments. The owner’s grandson identified it from a list of looted works that had been posted online. Then he and his father, a Holocaust survivor, flew from Israel to Germany to retrieve it.

“It was quite an emotional experience for my father and myself,” said the grandson, David Schor.Berl Schor, 91, and his son, David, 52, reviewing a 16th-century book once owned by Berl’s father, who died in a concentration camp. It was returned by a German university after David Schor spotted it online.CreditCorinna Kern for The New York Times

Berl Schor, 91, and his son, David, 52, reviewing a 16th-century book once owned by Berl’s father, who died in a concentration camp. It was returned by a German university after David Schor spotted it online.CreditCorinna Kern for The New York Times

The distinctive stamps on the 16th century book, written by a rabbi about the Torah, helped David Schor identify it online and reclaim it.CreditCorinna Kern for The New York Times

The distinctive stamps on the 16th century book, written by a rabbi about the Torah, helped David Schor identify it online and reclaim it.CreditCorinna Kern for The New York Times

Ms. Grimsted’s work in tracking the lost volumes has advanced considerably since 1990, when she discovered 10 lists of items looted from libraries in France by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, a task force headed by the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg. The task force plundered more than 6,000 libraries and archives all over Europe but left behind the sort of detailed records that have proved invaluable in tracing what was stolen.

Hundreds of thousands of records from the task force and other sources have been posted online in recent years, part of an effort by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the World Jewish Restitution Organization and others to ease the path for researchers, libraries, museums, historians and families tracing the works. Ms. Grimsted’s work has been central to the task, and her publication, “Reconstructing the Record of Nazi Cultural Plunder: A Guide to the Dispersed Archives of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) and the Postwar Retrieval of ERR Loot” is, among other things, an inventory of where the many documents can be found.

The National Library of Israel has also stepped forward to help catalog and identify stolen books from Croatia and make the lists accessible to people who speak Hebrew, Ladino, Yiddish and other languages.

Though Rosenberg, who was hanged as a war criminal in 1946, was the major force behind the seizure of books, he had something of a competitor in Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, whose agents also collected books, particularly those associated with Freemasonry.

The Nazi targets were mainly the families, libraries and institutions of Jews but also included the Masons, Catholics, Communists, Socialists, Slavs and critics of the Nazi regime. Though libraries were destroyed and some books were burned by the Nazis early on, they later came to transfer many of the works to libraries and to the Institute for Study of the Jewish Question, which was established by the task force in Frankfurt in 1941.

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“They hoped to utilize the books after the war was won to study their enemies and their culture so as to protect future Nazis from the Jews who were their enemies,” Ms. Grimsted said.Many of the looted books recovered after the war ended up at a depot outside Frankfurt where the United States Army unit popularly known as the Monuments Men attempted to process them for return.CreditYad Vashem Photo Archives

Many of the looted books recovered after the war ended up at a depot outside Frankfurt where the United States Army unit popularly known as the Monuments Men attempted to process them for return.CreditYad Vashem Photo Archives

After the war, the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives unit of the United States Army, better known as the “Monuments Men” and famed for the return of looted art, also saved millions of books. Its main book collection point, the Offenbach Archival Depot outside Frankfurt, was the former headquarters of IG Farben, a chemical company whose subsidiary had produced a poison gas used in the death camps. The Army unit processed nearly three million books and manuscripts, which were returned, mainly to their countries of origin.

The first director of the depot, Col. Seymour J. Pomrenze, arranged for archives that the Nazis had stolen from a prominent European Yiddish organization in Vilna, then part of Poland, to be shipped to Manhattan, where the group had moved. The organization, now known as the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, houses what is considered one of the world’s foremost collections of Yiddish books and artifacts.Books and papers at the Yiddish Scientific Institute in 1943 in what was then Vilna, Poland (now the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City).CreditYad Vashem Photo Archives

Books and papers at the Yiddish Scientific Institute in 1943 in what was then Vilna, Poland (now the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City).CreditYad Vashem Photo Archives

Many of the stolen books now reside in Russia where, still bitter about their own losses from the war, the Russians have resisted efforts to return items they took from the Nazis, researchers said.

“They stole millions of books looted by the Nazis that are now in libraries from Moscow to Vladivostok,” said Ms. Grimsted. “Many are now in Minsk — but the Russians refuse to do anything. In Belarus, they talk about possible book exchanges with Germany but nothing is happening.”

In Germany, Berlin’s Central Library created a database to help with the restitution effort in 2012. The researchers there studied 100,000 books and found that 29,000 of them had been stolen and still had some mark that identified an earlier owner. But locating those owners is a second, labor-intensive task.

“We have a small team of researchers and, since we started 10 years ago, we have returned 900 books to 20 countries,” Mr. Finsterwalder, the researcher, said.

“Thousands of books were marked by the Nazis with the letter J, an abbreviation for Judenbücher — Jewish books,” he said. “These were erased after the war and replaced with the letter G, as in Geschenk — gifts.”

Overall, libraries in Germany have returned about 15,000 books since 2005, Maria Kesting, a provenance researcher at the Hamburg State and University Library, said. “I have returned books to about 360 heirs, owners and institutions in the United States, Britain, Germany, Israel, South Africa, France and other countries,” she said.

Researchers say the process can be complicated because libraries across a country like Germany will often lack a central database of their holdings or the money to do more than minimal provenance research. Since 2008, the German Lost Art Foundation, which is funded by the federal government there, has provided $5.6 million for provenance research on books “and related items” in German libraries. The foundation publishes descriptions of books with photos in its database when owners or their heirs cannot be located.

Wesley Fisher, research director of the Claims Conference, said that it and the World Jewish Restitution Organization have helped train 180 provenance researchers in Germany, Lithuania, Greece, Italy and Croatia.

In the absence of a coordinated government effort, researchers from libraries in nine German cities have organized to trade notes, according to Ms. Kesting, who said they meet twice a year. Among the problems they have found is that the Gestapo often distributed looted works to multiple libraries.

“The books from the library of one collector were found in seven different cities,” she said.

Markus Stumpf, a provenance researcher at the University of Vienna Library, said that about 15 Austrian libraries have returned at least 15,000 books since 2009.Books owned by Leopold Singer, an Austrian engineer whose library was looted by the Nazis, were returned to his family, who donated them to the Vienna Technical Museum.CreditTechnisches Museum Wien

Books owned by Leopold Singer, an Austrian engineer whose library was looted by the Nazis, were returned to his family, who donated them to the Vienna Technical Museum.CreditTechnisches Museum Wien

“The most difficult part of the work is tracking down owners or descendants,” he said. “Some come easy. Some take years if there are no heirs. With many books, the nameplates, stamps or signatures have been torn out. Names are sometimes unreadable.

“Sometimes,” Mr. Stumpf continued, “it’s difficult to decide who gets the book back if you have one book and five family members. In one case involving one book, we found one family member who lives in the United States and the other in Germany. One didn’t know the other existed. But they talked and decided that the family member who lives in Germany gets the book.”

Ms. Kesting said: “Reaching out to the heirs is always a sensitive issue. For the heirs, it very often is painful to be confronted with their family history, a history of persecution and death and loss. For us as provenance researchers, restitutions are always very special and moving moments.”

Mr. Finsterwalder recalled an experience from 2009 when he returned a book to a man who had survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp as a teenager and emigrated to California. His teacher had given him the child’s activity book as a Hanukkah gift.

The concentration camp survivor, who had been reluctant to recount his wartime experience, began giving talks to students in high schools.

“When he got the book back, Mr. Finsterwalder said, “it completely changed him.”

(JewishNews) Travel: Why Portugal’s the most wanted destination post-Brexit


A timely initiative by the Portuguese makes their country the place to go for Passover

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Real Marina kosher Hotel & Spa

Real Marina kosher Hotel & Spa

While other countries deliberate over their post-Brexit relationship with the UK, Portugal has thrown down the welcome mat.

Irrespective of deal or no deal, the Portuguese have decided to embrace rather than conspire against us by announcing plans for dedicated fast-track access in their airports to British tourists.

Instead of devising ways to make it difficult, they will be creating special lanes for the millions of Brits who visit Portugal every year and in addition the 23,000 ex-pats will be able to retain their residence, state healthcare and recognition of UK academic qualifications.

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At last a chink of optimism on the bleak horizon at a time when many are tracing European relatives for alternative passport options (try Passportia.)

This is exceptionally good news for those looking to have future hols in a country that still has temperatures of 22 degrees right now and what better time to start than by celebrating Passover at the 5 * Real Marina Hotel & Spa in Olhao.

Real Marina Hotel & Spa

Pesach in the Algarve 2019 as it is officially known will start on Friday April 19 with a week-long programme that will keep all guests happy and occupied be they Ashkenazi or Sephardi, young or old.

Named after the marina it overlooks, the hotel is a bright, well-lit contemporary property with marble entrance that is 15 minutes from the airport and within easy access of great shopping and lots of must-see destinations such as  Faro, Tavira and Olhao itself which can be toured by Tuk Tuk.


Guests coming for the chagim will have exclusive use of the hotel, the pools inside and heated outside, the luxury spa and the dining-rooms which will be under Glatt Kosher, Halak Bet Yosef supervision of the Manchester Beth Din for the duration. Be prepared for lots of food as there will be three lavish meals served a day with menus prepared by talented chefs led by celebrated caterer Rochelle Sassoon. To satisfy swimmers and those who like to eat there will be poolside shwarma and salads on Chol Hamoed and if you are still hungry, the generously-stocked snack and soft drink bar will be open throughout the day.

For spiritual fulfillment Minyanim will be available three times a day with inspirational talks from Rabbi and Rebetzin Jonathan and Raaya Tawil and Rabbi and Rebetzin Jonathan and Joanne Dove of SEED.

The entertainment will be non-stop, notably for the children who will be Dancing with Louise and enjoying ther dance, drama, craft and superhero workshops.

The 132 hotel rooms and 12 deluxe suites are large, comfortable and perfect for those with little ones in tow and the exciting opportunities outside of Real Marina include  , water sports, swimming with Dolphins, Go Karting, Bike Tours and the shopping mentioned earlier. And with the Portuguese throwing down the welcome mat, this is the place to spend Passover.

For more information visit: Or call 020 7101 4068

Why Portugal?

With the Portuguese keen to keep us visiting, it seems only right to give you 10 reasons to do so…

1. To stay at the Pine Cliffs Resort in the Algarve which is part of Luxury Hotels and even at the height of summer remains a haven of tranquility.

Pine Cliffs Resort

2. To Explore Ria Formosa Natural Park near Olhau which is made up of a large lagoon and coastline of marshes, salt pans, inlets and lakes that stretches for 60 kilometers.

Ria Formosa

3. For drinking port at the Porto Calem the oldest winery in the Vila Nova de Gaia which hugs the bank of the Duoro River in Porto.

4. To attend the Medieval Festival every August at Silves Castle in Xelb which used to be the capital of the Moorish Algarve.

5. To enjoy the art and sculpture created in the Algarve by ex-pats Jessica Dunn (jessicadunnart.comToin Adams ( and Mondo Pena.

Toin Adams

6. Canoe on Furnas Lake in the Azores, a Crater Lake known for its green tinged blue waters that sits between hills covered in mud volcanoes and hot springs.

7. Spend a Sunday afternoon dancing and watching the sunset at the Thai Beach café on Rocha Baixinha, close to Vila Moura. (

Beach café

8. Take the whole family in fact  to Algoz to spend the day at Krazy World the cutest little zoo with animal shows, bird-feeding, swimming pool and zip lining. (

9. Try the best falafels outside Israel at Shalom in Albufeira

10.  Stay at one of the three self-contained chalets at Casa De Mondo in Bouliqueme and sign up for a cookery course or some comedy writing.(

Krazy World

(NYT) He Helped Jews Escape the Holocaust. He Died Unknown.

(NYT) Aristides de Sousa Mendes was his name. We should remember his courage.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes in 1940.CreditSousa Mendes Foundation

Anyone who has seen “Casablanca”knows the connection between Portugal and World War II refugees. But few know the story of the Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who in 1940 saved tens of thousands of lives only to be punished for this heroism by his own government. As we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday, we should honor this man who engaged in what one historiancalled “perhaps the largest rescue action by a single individual during the Holocaust.”

An aristocratic scion, Mr. Sousa Mendes entered the foreign service after law school and spent years on a whirlwind diplomatic tour taking him from Zanzibar to San Francisco before arriving in the south of France in 1938. Mr. Sousa Mendes was a bon vivant and excelled as a diplomatic host, entertaining luminaries famous across the world like Albert Einstein and King Alfonso XIII of Spain. But with his posting as consul-general in Bordeaux, things took a more serious turn.

As the winds of war swept across Europe, Portugal’s autocratic prime minister, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, was determined to maintain a strict neutrality. So in late 1939, a couple of months after the German invasion of Poland, the Portuguese Foreign Ministry issued its infamous Circular 14 to all embassies and consulates, announcing new regulations concerning categories of people who would not be issued visas without direct approval from the Foreign Ministry. Those “of undetermined, contested or disputed nationality” were excluded, as were those unlikely to be able to freely return to their home country or support themselves. One category was stark: “Jews expelled from the countries of their nationality.” Circular 14 covered the very refugees for whom passage was a matter of life and death.

Mr. Sousa Mendes resisted this order from the start. Then in May 1940, the Nazi blitzkrieg swept into France. Tens of thousands of people descended on Bordeaux by train, car, bicycle and even foot. Crowds formed at the Portuguese consulate. Mr. Sousa Mendes cabled Lisbon for instructions. The response: enforce Circular 14.


On June 17, Paris fell. Mr. Sousa Mendes became more and more tortured by what he saw. In front of the great synagogue of Bordeaux, he met Chaim Kruger, a young Polish rabbi with his family crowded along with thousands of Jews in the square. Mr. Sousa Mendes offered to help, but his request for visas for Mr. Kruger and his family was rejected. Mr. Sousa Mendes assured the rabbi he would do everything in his power to get the necessary papers.

“It’s not just me that needs help,” the rabbi told him, “but all my fellow Jews who are in danger of their lives.”Opinion | David WolpeThe Japanese Man Who Saved 6,000 Jews With His HandwritingOct. 15, 2018

The words hit Mr. Sousa Mendes like a thunderbolt. For three days, he took to his bed in despair, according to a fine biography by Jose-Alain Fralon, “A Good Man in Evil Times: The Story of Aristides de Sousa Mendes.” Then he emerged full of energy. “From now on I’m giving everyone visas,” the diplomat declared. “There will be no more nationalities, races or religion.”

“I cannot allow all you people to die,” he told the refugees.

Mr. Kruger collected the passports of the Jews in the square. Mr. Sousa Mendes signed them all. Indeed he reportedly proceeded to sign every visa put in front of him, setting up a veritable assembly line. His two sons along with other members of the family and Mr. Kruger prepared the passports and visas for signature, while his deputy, 32-year-old Jose Seabra, dutifully stamped them.

News quickly spread and the consulate was suddenly filled to capacity. The consul himself worked well into the night signing visas, his signature morphing from “Aristides de Sousa Mendes” to “Mendes” as his hand tired. Mr. Seabra desperately tried to maintain order, begging applicants to come only during normal hours. “Come back when the dictator is not here!” Mr. Sousa Mendes joked to them.


Mr. Sousa Mendes’s actions were brought to the attention of his superiors by an act of fantastic pettiness. An Englishwoman who had been asked to wait a few hours for an ordinary travel visa stormed out of the consulate and filed a complaint. The British Embassy in Lisbon duly complained to the Portuguese Foreign Ministry that Mr. Sousa Mendes was operating outside of normal business hours and falsely asserted that he was demanding fees for visas.

Mr. Salazar personally ordered Mr. Sousa Mendes to shut down, instructing his ambassador to France to investigate what was going on. Luckily, Mr. Sousa Mendes moved to the consulate he oversaw in Bayonne to continue his work. When the local vice consul arrived, he found Mr. Sousa Mendes ensconced at a desk where he spent three days granting visas.

In June 1940, an armistice between France and Germany was imminent, meaning the border would soon be sealed. It was a race against time. Mr. Salazar ordered that Mr. Sousa Mendes be stripped of his right to issue visas, even as Mr. Sousa Mendes made his way to Hendaye, near the Spanish border. There, Mr. Sousa Mendes explicitly defied the dictator’s orders, signing not only the passports thrust at him by desperate refugees, but also identity cards and random scraps of paper that, marked with his signature, allowed entrance to Portugal.

At the border itself, Mr. Sousa Mendes drove a caravan of refugees to a little-known crossing he often used to avoid traffic back to Lisbon. The Spanish border guards, who had no telephone, had not yet received word from Madrid that the border had been closed. “I’m the Portuguese consul. These people are with me,” Mr. Sousa Mendes told them and escorted the group over the border.

In July, Mr. Sousa Mendes returned to Portugal and the alarming news that Salazar had opened up disciplinary proceedings against him. “My aim was first and foremost humanitarian,” he explained in his response.

The Foreign Ministry concluded that Mr. Sousa Mendes had caused a situation that reflected very badly on Portugal in the eyes of the Spanish authorities and German occupying forces.

“Lives had to be saved, and families prevented from being split up,” Mr. Sousa Mendes said. “I also thought of the fate that would be in store for those people were they to fall into the hands of the enemy. Many of them were Jews who had already been hounded and who were trying to escape from the horror of further persecution.”


At Mr. Salazar’s behest, Mr. Sousa Mendes was removed from his consular position and rank and forced to retire without a pension. At age 55, his career was over.

Mr. Sousa Mendes spent the next decade shunned and in dire financial straits, hobbled by a stroke. Mr. Salazar, meanwhile, boasted of all the things that Portugal had done for those fleeing the Holocaust. “As regards the refugees, we did our duty, though it is a pity we could not do more,” he said, according to Mr. Fralon’s account.

Mr. Sousa Mendes died in obscurity in 1954, blackballed by the government and bombarded by creditors, reduced to being fed by a local Jewish soup kitchen.

“Was he a great man? Was he mad in showing so little instinct for self-preservation?” one of his sons asked. “The answer lies in all of us when we try to pass judgment on him. I am proud of the fact that I was lucky enough to have such a man as my father.”

Tens of thousands today are alive because of his courage.



A 8 de Janeiro, a União Europeia colocou na sua principal lista de entidades e organizações terroristas os dois principais líderes das acções externas dos Guardas Revolucionários Iranianos, bem como a direcção de segurança interna dos serviços secretos do mesmo país.

A República Islâmica tornou-se assim o único país do mundo com dirigentes e departamentos armados estatais reconhecidos como terroristas pela União Europeia. Tudo isto se sucede a uma vaga de expulsões – e num caso mesmo de prisão – de diplomatas iranianos envolvidos em acções terroristas no solo europeu e à prisão de vários operacionais iranianos detidos na fase final da preparação de um ataque bombista em Paris, a 30 de Junho.

A França, entretanto, bloqueou as contas e encerrou associações francesas anti-Israel comandadas pelos guardas revolucionários iranianos; a Alemanha bloqueou os voos de uma das companhias aéreas iranianas envolvidas em acções logísticas armadas no Médio Oriente, enquanto a Polónia está a promover uma cimeira internacional sobre o Médio Oriente que o lóbi iraniano ocidental tem repetidamente atacado como sendo anti-iraniana.

Em quarenta anos o regime iraniano nada mudou na lógica da Jihad mundial que tem inscrita na sua Constituição e que tem aplicado com zelo dentro e além-fronteiras, com uma brutal repressão interna, expansão externa e terror em todas as direcções.

O que parece estar a mudar são no entanto os dirigentes dos principais países europeus, que parecem finalmente entender que a complacência com o terrorismo iraniano põe em causa a segurança não só do Médio Oriente como da Europa ela mesma.

A viragem da política europeia continua no entanto a enfrentar grande resistência dos partidários do apaziguamento e do poderoso lóbi iraniano que insistem em subvenções e dádivas ao regime de Teerão enfraquecendo a postura europeia.

A Europa precisa de ser clara nos seus princípios e capaz de agir com determinação perante a ameaça do Jihadismo orgânico de Teerão.

Bruxelas, 2019-01-23

(SOL) Preconceito contra Israel continua: a Europa tornou-se “terrorists friendly”!


1.A ladainha repete-se: o jornalismo português está rendido ao terrorismo radical islâmico. Já não é uma suspeita; é uma certeza. Já não é uma opinião; é um facto.

Basta efectuar uma pesquisa rápida pelas notícias para perceber o preconceito pornográfico que a maioria da imprensa portuguesa alimenta contra Israel (confundindo-se muitas vezes com um tom anti-semita, que os próprios não fazem questão de disfarçar) – e a pena, a comiseração que sempre nutre por grupos conhecidos pelos seus actos terroristas. Não se importam de apoiar Estados financiadores do terrorismo que mata na Faixa de Gaza, que já matou nos EUA, que já matou aqui entre nós, em território europeu.

E continuará a matar se nada for feito pelos decisores políticos – importa, pois, que estes nunca se esqueçam de quem verdadeiramente servem: os povos que os elegeram (aqui fica o wishful thinking…).

2.Não admira que assim seja em Portugal: a maioria esmagadora dos jornalistas de política internacional não esconde que são militantes ou simpatizantes do Bloco de Esquerda ou do PCP, encarando o mundo ainda sob a perspectiva do materialismo diláectico, dos “amigos vermelhos” contra os “inimigos capitalistas”.

Estamos em 2019 – contudo, os jornalistas portugueses (fiéis aos seus preconceitos irracionais soixant-huitard) ainda vêem o mundo de acordo com as premissas radicais de esquerda em que foram doutrinados (ou que lhes convém…).

Daí que não surpreenda que, relativamente à tensão que se vive no Médio Oriente, os títulos das notícias apresentam invariavelmente um tom já condenatório de Israel: “ Israel ataca alvos militares na Síria”; “Israel volta a provocar tensões com o Líbano”; “Israel confirma ataque a bases iranianas na Síria”; “Israel pode provocar 3.ª Guerra Mundial” (este último é certamente made in Esquerda. Net).

3.E é isto: a maioria da comunicação social portuguesa foi tomada de assalto por uma esquerda radical, perigosa, que despreza o pluralismo democrático, que ignora a verdade, que manipula o sentido e conteúdo das regras deontológicas  a que está vinculada – tudo para honrar a propaganda aos partidos políticos a que pertencem a maioria dos jornalistas.

E deixem-se de tretas: não nos venham com a história que os jornalistas não têm partido, que não há nenhum jornalista que seja militante de partidos políticos. Formalmente, não o são; todavia, o contacto permanente, as trocas de informações constantes entre políticos do PS, do BE e do PCP e jornalistas é verdadeiramente confrangedor.  

Caríssimas leitoras e caríssimos leitores: não é um mito urbano; é a mais pura das verdades: o jornalismo português foi sequestrado pela esquerda radical.

Por aquela esquerda radical que passeia nas rua defendendo a Palestina, sem saber sequer localizá-la no mapa, muito menos conhecendo a razão da sua própria manifestação. 

Os títulos das notícias atrás citados evidenciam que a narrativa é sempre a mesma: criar o efeito nas leitoras e nos leitores que Israel é o mau da fita, o vilão, o Estado que nasceu apenas para criar guerras, conflitos e desestabilizar a ordem internacional; enquanto que a Palestina, o Irão, a Síria são genuínos paraísos na Terra, países onde a prosperidade reina e a paz, a concórdia e o amor são por demais evidentes em qualquer canto que se visite.

É simplesmente vergonhoso o grau de insídia, de mentira e de falsificação por razões ideológicas a que a maioria dos jornalistas portugueses se presta.

Onde fica o rigor?

Por onde anda a honestidade, a imparcialidade e a verdade que deveriam nortear a actividade jornalística?

Os jornalistas, que se julgam comissários do PCP e do BE (com os novos amigos do PS geringonçado e sem valores de António Costa), são a maior ameaça ao…próprio jornalismo.

E à democracia, pois o jornalismo actual é livre do Estado – mas é dependente dos partidos políticos extremistas de esquerda e dos interesses especiais que a eles se uniram.

4.Dito isto, vejamos, em perspectiva inversa, o que reporta a nossa comunicação social sobre Israel.

Já aqui a conclusão mais saliente – para quem analisa os dados com rigor e honestidade – é a completa omissão dos jornalistas portugueses.

Israel ou é retratado como vilão – ou é ignorado.

Por exemplo, em Novembro de 2018, a maioria dos jornais portugueses deu conta de que sete palestinianos haviam sido mortos na sequência de raide levado a cabo pelo IDF (Isreali Defense Force, o exército israelita): esqueceram-se, porém, de mencionar que tais vítimas eram dirigente de topo da organização terrorista cruel  chamada Hamas.

Fala-se muito dos raides do IDF – porém, ninguém contextualiza tais operações militares. É que os terroristas do Hamas continuam, em termos cada vez mais consistentes e perigosos, a construir túneis subterrâneos para atacar Israel (surpreendendo as forças de segurança israelitas).

Mais: o Hezbollah (outra organização terrorista, barriga de aluguer do terrorismo radical do regime iraniano dos Ayatollahs) segue a mesma estratégia, porventura, com ainda mais sofreguidão e intuito assassino.

Em Dezembro, o IDF lançou uma operação para neutralizar tais túneis, verificando o princípio da proporcionalidade (e proporcionalidade não significa suavidade: significa, isso sim, adequação face ao inimigo terrorista que se combate e que se pretende derrotar clamorosamente) e observando o Direito Internacional – dando, aliás, cumprimento às Resoluções das Nações Unidas n.ºs 1701 e 1559.

Pois bem, a mesma comunidade internacional que, utilizando os mecanismos jurídico-políticos próprios do multilateralismo, condenou o Hezbollah na teoria – na prática, na retórica política quotidiana, resolveu atacar Israel por…executar actos jurídicos da sua autoria! Então, aprova e depois condena Israel por executar as deliberações? Isto é para levar a sério?

Haverá maior hipocrisia que esta? É o cúmulo da cobardia!

5.Mais: o Hezbollah é reconhecido pela União Europeia como uma organização terrorista.

Então, os líderes políticos europeus – com honrosas excepções – vão colocar-se ao lado daqueles que eles próprios consideram ser terroristas?

Daqui só decorre que os políticos europeus são “terrorism friendly” !

E a comunicação social?

Ora, a comunicação social portuguesa do sistema socialista moralmente corrupto, mais uma vez, informou que Israel encetou uma operação militar, escondendo, no entanto, o contexto em que a mesma ocorreu!

Escondendo que se tratava de resposta a uma estratégia meticulosamente planeada (e que continua, com o silêncio conivente da comunidade internacional!) dos terroristas do Hezbollah! 

A comunicação social portuguesa também não lhe contou que o soldade do IDF, Aviv Levi, jovem de vinte e um anos, foi brutalmente assassinado por palestinianos na Faixa de Gaza.

Que Deus o guarde e que descanse, na eternidade, em paz – a paz pela qual lutou na vida terrena e cujo exemplo não deixaremos que seja esquecido. Muito menos permitiremos que o seu esforço tenha sido em vão.

 Ou que um jovem e uma jovem foram brutalmente atacados apenas por conduzirem um carro do IDF à entrada de cidade palestiniana (fará em Fevereiro um ano).

E os casos poderiam multiplicar-se; a maioria das vítimas israelitas é desconhecida por nós porque a comunicação social simplesmente os despreza.

Enquanto que basta uma pesquisa no Google para ler grandes parangonas sobre as “vítimas palestinianas”, já para chegar às vítimas de Israel é preciso despender tempo a confrontar fontes, efectuar pesquisas institucionais, procurar livros e relatórios. É este tipo de parcialidade e desonestidade que importa denunciar e combater.

6.Ao mesmo tempo que a Europa mantém a sua incapacidade crónica de lidar com o problema migratório (que não podemos dissociar de práticas criminosas, quer de terroristas infiltrados, quer de traficantes de seres humanos que financiam o terrorismo), que o nível de alerta terrorista entre nós continua elevado – esta mesma Europa condena o seu aliado democrático e apoia, expressa ou implicitamente, os terroristas que tanto matam na Faixa de Gaza como matam em Paris, Barcelona, Munique ou Berlim.

Os interesses especiais, aliados aos partidos políticos esquerdistas e à comunicação social que lhes presta vassalagem, estão a tornar a Europa um espaço “terrorists friendly”.

Em próxima prosa, prosseguiremos a nossa análise sobre o preconceito anti-Israel e “terrorismo friendly” da nossa classe política do sistema socialista-comunista e dos média que a serve, focando-nos em específico no caso do Irão asfixiado pelo regime bárbaro dos Ayatollah – veremos, enfim, como a Europa trocou Valores (morais e éticos) por valores…monetários, pois claro.

Uma última nota, em tom positivo: apesar da desonestidade da elite política esquerdista e da sua propaganda, a verdade é que os laços entre os povos português e israelita são mais fortes do que nunca. Pense-se no voo directo entre Lisboa e Telavive que a TAP já anunciou e que começará a operar a partir de Abril.

Ou na empresa de Aveiro (só podia ser de Aveiro, sem desprimor para os restantes distritos de Portugal, de que muito gostamos; Aveiro, temos de deixar esta referência, é o melhor) – a OLI – que vai equipar estação de comboios de Telavive.

Ou na crescente interacção académica e cultural entre Portugal e Israel, cada vez mais visível. Ou seja: mesmo quando a elite inventa e deturpa, o povo não vai em cantigas. O povo escolhe bem os seus aliados.

(Algemeiner) Israel Slams The Guardian Over ‘Killing With Impunity’ Allegation


The Guardian newspaper’s London offices. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson slammed the British newspaper The Guardian on Wednesday over an editorial that accused the Jewish state of “killing with impunity” and “lying without consequence.”

In a tweet, Emmanuel Nahshon accused The Guardian — long known for its hostility toward Israel — of engaging in “typical cheap and false moralizing, deliberately ignoring the realities of Hamas terror from Gaza and Palestinian refusal to return to negotiations.”

“One can only assume that left wing antisemites in the UK will be very happy with this editorial,” he added. “Nasty hypocrisy.”View image on Twitter

View image on Twitter

Emmanuel Nahshon@EmmanuelNahshon


.@guardian in typical cheap and false moralizing, deliberately ignoring the realities of #Hamas terror from #Gaza and Palestinian refusal to return to negotiations. One can only assume that left wing antisemites in the UK will be very happy with this editorial. Nasty hypocrisy 1416:53 AM – Jan 23, 201981 people are talking about this

(JTA) Israel takes 5th place in Bloomberg ranking of world’s most innovative nations


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel moved up to fifth place in the 2019 Bloomberg Innovation Index, an annual ranking of the world’s 60 most innovative countries.

The index, unveiled Tuesday, reviews dozens of criteria using seven metrics, including research and development spending, manufacturing capability and concentration of high-tech public companies.

Israel was ranked 10th in 2018. The United States finished eighth after being 11th last year.

South Korea led the index, followed by Germany, Finland and Switzerland.

Israel was ranked first in the R&D intensity category and fell to second place from first last year in research concentration.

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


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


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


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


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


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.


“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


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 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


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


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.