Archive | Historical Perspective

Don’t forget Muslims who saved Jews’ lives

Posted on 27 April 2017 by admin

You may have already attended a Yom HaShoah service this week, to honor the memory of the 6 million Jews consumed in the Holocaust.
At the same time we should also remember and give praise to those righteous non-Jews who, at the risk of their lives, hid and protected Jews in their midst who would have otherwise been lost to the Nazis.
Some of you may be surprised to learn that besides Christians, there were many Muslims who also were among the “righteous,” hiding and protecting hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Jews from the Nazis.
Albania, the largest Muslim-populated country in Europe, was also the only nation occupied by the Germans and Italians that refused to provide the names of its Jews.
A tradition long held by Albanians is Besa, a belief in care and concern. In World War II, it meant taking care of its Jews. Its Christian and Muslim citizens absorbed 2,000 Jews into their homes and workplaces, giving them Albanian names and making them part of their families. Amazingly, not one Jew was lost to the Nazis in Albania.
Another Muslim country whose citizens helped save Jews from the clutches of the Nazis was Iran.
An Iranian diplomat, Abdol-Hossein Sardari, chief consul in Paris, France when the Nazis marched in, convinced the occupiers that Iranians were Aryans, including its Jewish citizens, who were “unlike European Jews” and therefore should not be included in the roundup.
Iran had declared its neutrality and Hitler sought trade favors with the shah, so the Iranian consul was able to save not only Iranian Jews, but many European Jews to whom he illegally issued Iranian passports.
The stories of Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg saving so many Jewish lives have been well publicized, yet the heroism of Consul Sardari, an Iranian Muslim who probably saved even more Jews than Schindler, needs to be honored as well.
While many individual Muslims are honored by Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations, too few American Jews realize this fact.
Now, at a time when American Muslims are under scrutiny and suspicion by the ignorant who are suspicious of all Muslims, we as Jews should stand with them as they stood with us not that many years ago.

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Jewish soldiers fight for freedom at Iwo Jima

Posted on 13 April 2017 by admin

We should never forget the sacrifices that members of our armed forces make, past, present or future.
Now, so many years later. I can still remember sitting in that movie theater as a 12 year old, watching the news film footage of our Marine’s invasion of the Japanese island of Iwo Jima.
The island’s importance lay in its closeness to the Japanese mainland. Its airstrip would allow our planes to better carry out bombing missions before the probable invasion of Japan itself.
Bodies floating near the beach, many more on the beach, so many wounded. The enemy lay hidden, in caves, tunnels, behind rocks and trees, just waiting for our boys to show themselves.
It was gruesome to watch our flame-throwers forcing the burning enemy out of their hiding places, images I will never forget.
For over a month the battle waged on, almost incessant firing until all bombing, shelling and shooting finally ended. American casualties were high. This had been the only battle of WWII where more Marines were killed than enemy soldiers.
Of the approximately 1,500 marines who were Jewish, 150 had been killed and 400 were wounded. One of the Jewish marines was Rabbi R.B. Gittelsohn, the first Jewish chaplain ever assigned to the Fifth Marine Division.
Chaplain Gittelsohn was one of the many courageous marines, but unlike the other soldiers firing at the enemy, he ministered to many needing emotional support and faith during the “hell” of battle.
He comforted every soldier he could find, no matter what their skin color or faith. In recognition of his exemplary courage, he received three battle ribbons.
No matter how Hollywood glamorizes war, reality must be frightening. The fear of pending death as bullets whiz by while the dead and dying lay all around can never be enjoyable to experience in real life.
After the fighting ended, the new Fifth Marine Division Cemetery was to be dedicated. In recognition of the rabbi’s outstanding courage and battlefield service, he was asked by the supervisory chaplain to present the memorial sermon at a combined religious service of all faiths.
All fallen Marines; black, brown, white, Catholic, Jew, Protestant, were to be honored in one nondenominational service.
Because of the objections of some of the other chaplains to having a non-Christian deliver the sermon over mostly Christian graves, they would not attend, but instead hold their own services.
Racial and religious prejudice still prevailed in American society, which was reflected in the military as well.
In order to prevent any further disharmony, Rabbi Gittlesohn decided to change his plans by holding a separate religious service for Jewish personnel instead of the originally planed unified one.
To their credit, a few Protestant chaplains chose to attend the Jewish service to show their solidarity with the rabbi and their disdain for the prejudice expressed by the other chaplains.
This was Passover, 1945 on Iwo Jima and we were fighting for freedom.

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Secret Jewish treasures found in the Caribbean

Secret Jewish treasures found in the Caribbean

Posted on 30 March 2017 by admin

Caribbean_general_map2Just about everyone enjoys going on a treasure hunt. So if you’re Jewish and possibly thinking of a future cruise, why not plan a trip to the Caribbean which includes stops at one or more of nine Jewish “treasure” locations?
Unlike the storied pirate’s treasure of chests overflowing with shining gold coins, brilliant gems and jewelry, you will find instead evidence of what remains, including cemeteries and synagogues, of the earliest Jews of the Americas, the “New World.”
As a result of the forced conversions and expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal starting in 1492, many Jewish families migrated to the new world of the Americas, searching for religious and economic freedom. My wife and I recently returned from a cruise which included a stop at one of those Caribbean islands of Jewish refuge. Originally colonized by Denmark, Saint Thomas was sold to the United States in 1917 for $25 million.
Opting out of the cruise company’s excursions in St. Thomas, which included “swimming with the sharks” (who needs such excitement?), we instead took a short cab ride to the front entrance of the beautiful St. Thomas Synagogue, rebuilt in 1833.
Unlike our first visit many years ago when we found it open, but dark and unattended, there was a friendly and informative congregant-volunteer. The beautiful hanging lights were aglow as we received a very informative tour.
Like our first visit, the floor was covered in sand. We were informed that the sand floor tended to muffle the voices, lessening the volume of interior sounds which might be heard outside the building.
While in their little gift shop next door, I read a flier about a young photographer who was traveling the Caribbean, visiting and photographing locations of the earliest Jewish settlements, buildings and cemeteries, of which St. Thomas was one.
I wished that our ship would also be visiting those other Jewish heritage sites, but no such luck. Instead, I would have to contend with doing the necessary research after we got back to Dallas.
To my pleasurable surprise as I searched for information on the “Jewish Caribbean,” I found that the photographer I had read about in the St. Thomas Synagogue’s gift shop had indeed completed his project and with the aid of two highly qualified historians of Jewish history, had recently published the results of his Caribbean photographic “treasure hunt.”
The book, Jewish Treasures of the Caribbean, The Legacy of Judaism in the New World, by Wyatt Gallery, is newly available at the Tycher Library at the Dallas JCC.
The Jewish historical treasure locations can be found in Curacao, Aruba, Suriname, Barbados, Jamaica, Nevis, St. Thomas and St. Croix. Some of their cemeteries and structures are deteriorating and in need of care, protection and supervision.
According to Wyatt Gallery, as evidenced by some of his photographs, a number of sites are deteriorating, are unsupervised because of a lack of Jewish residents, and — having no protection — are open to weathering, pollution, and possible vandalism.
Before Jews came to colonial America, they pioneered and struggled to make a life in the New World. Take a look at Jewish life in the Caribbean by reading Wyatt Gallery’s excellent photographic history.

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‘Hidden’ Jewish hero of American history

Posted on 16 March 2017 by admin

In my opinion, one of the great weaknesses of American history textbooks, at least the ones traditionally issued in Texas public schools, has been the omission of those “common” people who took an unpopular position to do the “right” thing.
One such person was Dr. Herman Bendell of Albany, New York, who served as a field surgeon on various battlefields throughout the Civil War, and was even present at Lee’s surrender to General Grant at Appomattox.
After providing four years of outstanding combat medical services as a field surgeon, Dr. Bedell, at the war’s end, left active duty with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Five years later, Dr. Bendell was called back into government service by his old commander, Ulysses S. Grant, who was now the president of the United States.
Bendell became the only Jew ever appointed into what had been an all-Christian Bureau of Indian Commissioners. His job was to manage supplies for the native population in Arizona Territory, as well as to establish and maintain positive relations with the tribal leaders.
After almost two years of his conscientious effort, helping to establish a good working relationship with the tribes, his fellow commissioners recognized and praised his accomplishments.
They felt he was deficient in one category: religion. They felt that Indians becoming Christian was an important step in their “civilizing process.”
They petitioned the president: “Dr. Herman Bendell, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Arizona, is a most excellent official, a man of splendid judgment, strict integrity, who has managed the affairs of the office to entire satisfaction, but unfortunately he is not a Christian.”
Bendell was asked to step down, but in consolation for his efforts, President Grant appointed him for a short-term as consul to Denmark.
Following his stint in Denmark, Bendell returned to the States.
And so, “The Jewish Chief of the Indians of Arizona, 1871-1873” married, had four children, and finally settled down to a normal life as a physician in Albany, New York, one of the unsung (Jewish) heroes in American history.

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Good, bad of US democracy

Posted on 02 March 2017 by admin

People are protesting many of the actions of our new president’s administration, while he has been attacking the credibility of the press. That is “only the tip of the iceberg.”
People are rightfully concerned and many are questioning his actions.
Can a U.S. president do whatever he pleases? What about Congress and the courts? We should all know the answers to these questions, but many of us do not.
Studies taken by various professional education organizations show that only 25-30 percent of America’s high school students are proficient in U.S. history, civics and geography.
In spite of these alarming statistics, many of our nation’s top universities may actually be contributing to this problem.
A recent national study reveals that of the 76 most highly rated universities, only 23 require history majors to take at least one U.S. history course.
Remember that these are “leading” universities that other schools tend to emulate.
This de-emphasis of U.S. history and U.S. government at the college level may help to, at least partially, explain the problem of today’s ill-prepared high school students whose history and government teachers may be as ill-prepared as they.
In addition, state- or federally-mandated tests at public schools often pressure teachers to teach to the expected test items in the form of short-answer-type questions, such as true-or-false, multiple-choice, matching and fill-in-the blanks. None of these determines a student’s understanding of government and history as would essay questions, which require more complex thinking and general knowledge.
The good news is that we have the U.S. Constitution, which defines the specific powers of each branch of government and the rights of the people as specified in the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, otherwise known as the Bill of Rights.
No matter what your level of knowledge may be of the Bill of Rights, I highly recommend that TJP readers of all ages make their way to the Bill of Rights exhibit, currently running through March 16 at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, in downtown Dallas.
The Dallas Holocaust Museum, which is just around the corner from the Sixth Floor Museum, has a special exhibit, Filming the Camps.
A daylong visit to both exhibits will be a meaningful learning experience for anyone concerned about people’s rights in our nation.
A supposed Thomas Jefferson quotation says it all. “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.”

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Double celebration of love: Tu B’Av, Valentine’s Day

Posted on 16 February 2017 by admin

I am watching the 5:30 p.m. news when a colorfully red commercial pops up advertising Valentine’s Day with a jewelry store’s array of diamonds, which of course “would make wonderful gifts for your loved ones on Valentine’s Day.”
It really got my attention because I am writing this on Jan. 31 and Valentine’s Day is still two weeks away. Maybe it will take that long to float a loan to pay for those expensive jewelry items.
By the time you read this, Valentine’s Day, 2017, will have passed, but after seeing that ad, I recalled that growing up in a primarily Jewish neighborhood in The Bronx during the 1940s and early ’50s, Valentine’s Day was still called by many adults “Saint Valentine’s Day,” a goyishe holiday.
Times were changing, however, and many Jewish and non-Jewish youth seized the day as an opportunity to express their romantic feelings by giving Hallmark or homemade heart cards to the girl of their dreams. Valentine’s Day had no aspects of religion attached to it at all.
As far as religion is concerned, what may have begun as a pagan purification ritual in ancient Rome was introduced into the Catholic church’s rites of purification, honoring two or three saints, all named Valentine.
Because of the confusion surrounding the true identity of Saint Valentine, Pope Paul VI removed him from the Catholic calendar of saints in 1969.
For those Jews who still think of Valentine’s Day as a Christian belief, there is always Tu B’Av (15th of Av), falling this year on Aug. 7.
Historically, Tu B’Av was a celebration of the grape harvest in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, which included unmarried girls dressed in white, dancing in the vineyards.
In modern Israel, Tu B’Av has great similarities to Valentine’s Day, a day of engagements, weddings, renewal of vows and a general celebration of love.
So, if you are really serious about the one you love, remember that you will have another opportunity to express your feelings on Tu B’Av,  Aug. 7.

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Government designed to check, balance power

Posted on 02 February 2017 by admin

Worried about the election results? Have no fear, “checks and balances” are still here!
As the Republican presidential primary campaign rocked along, the candidate least expected to win among an original field of 17, Donald Trump, won. He made what many considered to be “outlandish” promises if he were elected; as we know, he succeeded in both the Republican primary and in the general electoral balloting, becoming our 45th president.
Now many Americans are concerned, some even frightened, by many of the future actions the new president might take which could adversely affect civil liberties.
Given the fact that the revamped American Nazi Party, David Duke, the Ku Klux Klan and Richard Spencer’s “Alt-Right” (supremacist) group all supported Trump’s election, many Jews and other minorities are especially concerned with what future developments might occur.
Do you remember what you were probably taught at least as early as the ninth grade, the concept of “checks and balances”?
That is, under the U.S. Constitution, each of the three branches has a primary purpose: Congress makes laws, Executive enforces laws and Judicial interprets laws.
In addition, each branch has “checks” on the powers of the other two branches. For example, the president can issue executive orders, but Congress can refuse to pay for their cost.
Given the fact that the majority of members of both houses of Congress and the president of the United States are members of the same political party (Republican), you might think that the president has carte blanche to do whatever he wishes. … Not so!
Actions deemed “unconstitutional” could be brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. Also remember that not all congressional Republicans may agree with the president on each and every issue. They may withhold funding, and often there are disagreements within each party on various issues.
Other protections against possible presidential or congressional abuse include the people’s right of protest (freedom of speech) and news sources’ right to inform (freedom of the press).
The next four years may be some of the most interesting in our lifetime. Whatever may happen, be sure to keep those U.S. Constitutional checks and balances in your thoughts.
Let’s not forget that as good citizens, we have a responsibility not only to stay informed, but also to communicate with our representatives by writing or calling our congressmen, our senators and the president to express our views on the issues which most concern us.
Remember that We the People are the most important part of our “checks and balances” system.

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Why DFW Jews need to fight anti-Semitism in Montana — and everywhere else, too

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

Whenever and wherever anti-Semitism appears, we must do what we can to help stop it.
Case in point: Whitefish, Montana, a lovely small town of 6,500. In the summer, a gateway city to Glacier National Park. In the winter it transforms to a busy ski resort town.
Among Whitefish’s citizens, there are some half-dozen or more Jewish families, including one rabbi. Historically, there have not been any acts of religious bias.
“People have always gotten along,” said an unidentified member of local anti-discrimination group Love Lives Here.
That is, until recently. One of its part-time residents is Richard Spencer, leader of the Alt-Right (neo-Nazi) Movement which supported President-elect Donald Trump. The Anti-Defamation League has identified him as a leader in white supremacist circles.
Spencer’s mother, a longtime Whitefish resident, purchased and developed a property in the downtown area.
Now that her son has returned to Whitefish as head of the National Policy Institute, local residents fear that Spencer would use part of his mother’s property to “grow” his organization, attracting other white supremacists and neo-Nazis to Whitefish.
In 2014, residents of Whitefish, through its City Council, spoke out against discrimination, forming Love Lives Here, and held rallies against Richard Spencer and his organization.
In reacting to local citizens’ moves to pressure his mother to sell her downtown property, Spencer recently turned to a national neo-Nazi group for support and assistance.
The Nazis have reacted by publishing the names and addresses of Whitefish’s Jewish families and they promised to “march 200 strong with weapons through the streets of Whitefish on Martin Luther King Day — Jan. 16.”
Local and state police as well as the FBI are involved in ensuring the protection of people and property in Whitefish.
Hopefully, if the Nazis should show up, they will have no audience other than law enforcement. They want publicity so they really wish as many protestors as possible. Such confrontations would mean news photos and stories. The lack of an audience would make these neo-Nazis appear foolish, which is what they deserve.
The best way, in my opinion, that we can support the good citizens of Whitefish in their struggle against the anti-Semites is to let them know they are not alone. Even if this march does not take place, new maneuvers will probably be planned.
The following is a copy of my note to Mayor John Muhlfeld, city of Whitefish, Montana:
“Many thanks to you and those in your community who have stood tall and strong in the support of those residents threatened by extremist bigots. Please feel reassured that you are not alone. — Sincerely, Jerry Kasten”
By the time TJP readers see this column, we will know what happened in Whitefish on Martin Luther King Day 2017. Whatever occurs, we should not dismiss the Whitefish scenario as unimportant.
Jewish people need to be alert to threats against Jews anywhere in the world.

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Jewish science fiction: Can you believe it?

Posted on 05 January 2017 by admin

Growing up as a boy in The Bronx, I ate fatty food, was overweight and had little desire for sports. As a result, I spent too much time reading and listening to the radio and less time running around.
I loved to listen to radio serial shows such as Superman, The Green Hornet, The Shadow
(“… who could cloud men’s minds so that they could not see him”), and any other fantasy shows that were available.
Reading science fiction magazines was a natural “step-up” for me from comic books. The front covers displaying scantily-clad women in their tight-fitting space suits shooting through space or fending off space monsters were a real attention-getter, but I was already “hooked” on those weird interplanetary stories.
It was interesting that I rarely found any stories in those magazines that had any connection to those sexy covers.
Another boy in my apartment building had a huge collection of Astounding Science Fiction magazines which I greatly envied. Little did I know that many of the authors of those sci-fi stories were Jewish, even if their names didn’t at all sound Jewish.
Anti-Semitism was rampant in the 1930s and ’40s, and caused many Jewish writers to submit their work under non-Jewish sounding names in order to get their stories published.
Some examples of those “Jewish Aliases” included Horace Gold, who wrote under the pen names of Clyde Crane Campbell, Dudley Dell, Leigh Keith and Richard Storey. Horace’s brother Floyd was a book reviewer writing under the name Floyd Gale. William Tenn was really Philip Klass, and so on and so on.
By the time World War II was over, attitudes toward Jews improved. There’s no greater equalizer than soldiers fighting side by side against a common enemy.
Isaac Asimov was an exception. He refused to write under an assumed name. He was a successful biochemist; his brilliant mind and talents took him in many directions, one of which was the writing of science fiction. His success became a source of admiration and hope for other Jewish writers trying to make their way in the field of science fiction.
Those were exciting times in science fiction: Items such as helicopters, spaceships, cellphone-like devices, electric ray guns, lasers, virtual worlds, multiple music tracks, space stations, and space travel were all part of the fantasy world of science fiction in those early years.
The vivid imagination of sci-fi writers provided the scientific community with the seeds of potential reality. Examples among many include the Star Trek communicator which became today’s cellphone; Tom Swift’s electric rifle gave physicist Jack Cover the idea for his invention, which is commonly known today as the Taser.
If you’re interested in learning who these Jewish science fiction pioneer writers were and reading their exciting Jewish-themed fantasy stories, check out Wandering Stars, 1974 and More Wandering Stars, 1981, both edited by Jack Dann.
Here’s a closing thought after National Science Fiction Day, Jan. 2. If you think that Star Wars is the ultimate future, think again. Scientists estimate that we currently possess only four percent of space knowledge. You Jewish space scientists and science fiction writers have your work cut out for you.
“May the Force be with you!”

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Recalling ‘Jewish Bird Lady’ of The Bronx

Posted on 22 December 2016 by admin

Rubbing his palms together and with a big smile on his face, the local TV weather forecaster seems all excited about the first winter freeze expected to hit the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
This combination of wintry weather report and the birds at my patio feeder remind me of an unusual experience I had as a youth, growing up in the University Heights area of The Bronx during the ’40s.
The meet-up place in our neighborhood for getting a game together or planning activities was the southeast corner of 181st Street and Grand Avenue. A street light pole and a postal department mail storage box next to it made it an ideal location to sit on or lean against.
As I was waiting there by myself one cold wintry day, my friend Paul came out of his apartment building nearby and asked, “What’s up?”
“Nuthin’,” I said, to which he replied, “Do you want to meet the Jewish Bird Lady?” Jokingly, I asked, “Does she talk or chirp?
“Both!” he answered.
As we walked up the stairs to the second floor, I remembered having seen a thin, elderly white- haired lady feeding pigeons and other birds outside at various times and wondered if she was ”The Bird Lady.”
Paul’s apartment was on the left, but he rang the bell on the right. Introducing me to that same bird-feeding lady I had seen, we entered the apartment. She greeted us in Yiddish, which really wasn’t unusual in my neighborhood.
There was a living room with two bedrooms. The bedroom door on the left was closed. We entered the one on the right. Paul quickly closed the door behind us and, except for an awful smell, the room looked like a Walt Disney movie.
Birds of various colors were flying in and out of the open windows on the right, which faced the churchyard next door. The half-opened windows not only allowed birds to enter and leave at will, but also allowed some of the church tree’s thin, outstretched branches to reach into the room. Bird poop was here and there.
The room felt cold, but was probably warmer than the outside temperature. The stench was getting to me. I was afraid I might have an asthma attack, but I had to check out the two dressers against the wall. They were the only pieces of furniture in the room.
There were a few birds’ nests both on top of the dressers and in many of the open drawers. Some, but not all, of the nests contained eggs. I remember that there were blue eggs and also speckled eggs, but no baby chicks as I had imagined there might be.
As if what I had seen (and smelled) wasn’t unusual enough, I believe that I could hear the “Bird Lady” softly chirping and “talking” to the birds, who seemed to be chirping back. Who would have expected such an experience could occur, let alone in an apartment building, in The Bronx?
Fast-forward to September 2013, when I was a National Park Service volunteer for a month at Gateway National Recreation Area on Staten Island, New York.
On one of my days off, I visited my old neighborhood in The Bronx, which I hardly recognized. My old apartment building was still there, but Paul’s apartment building was gone, as well as the church next door.
In their place was the Grand Playground, but unlike many New York City neighborhood playgrounds, this one had many trees and plants growing, just where the churchyard had been. There was one especially large old tree with branches stretching way out to the sides.
It looked strangely familiar, especially with all the birds flying around. Some things never change.

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