Archive | Historical Perspective by Jerry Kasten

Military’s expanded recognized religions list worthwhile challenge

Posted on 20 July 2017 by admin

I vaguely recall in filling out my Army enlistment papers in the 1950s, being asked to either check one of the six or so religions shown, check no preference, or to write one in on the blank line provided.
Fast-forward to the present, when I recently received a government news release announcing the Department of Defense increasing its list of recognized faiths and belief systems from a little over 100 to an expanded list of 221.
Some of the faiths I had never heard of included; Eckankar, Heathen, Church of the Spiral Tree, Troth, Wicca, Pagan, Deism and Asatru.
What a shocker! Obviously I have not been following developments in this area. It seems that there have been growing numbers of military enlistees whose faiths and belief systems were not among the mainstream and not officially recognized.
So, how does this recognition of religious belief systems outside the traditional mainstream faiths help the military and its members?
The Chaplains Corps believes that by being all-inclusive, service members of the non-mainstream faiths will now feel more accepted and will be more willing to approach Chaplains of any faith with the expectation that they will be heard and helped.
For incoming Jewish military, they can still choose “Jewish” or one of the three (Orthodox, Conservative or Reform), bringing the number of Jewish choices to four.
Before one criticizes our military leaders for possibly making things more complicated and confusing than they need to be, consider the following.
There is a rational justification for developing a more accurate, complete list of faith groups to which a military member may belong.
This change means that servicemen and -women who are members of small faith groups will now have the same rights and protections granted to service members of the larger, traditional faith groups.
Before the faith group list was expanded, there were some military who were refused time off for religious observances because their faith was not listed. Some service-members were even punished and given extra duty for requesting time off.
Our military now recognizes the 200-plus listed faiths, allowing all service-members to attend and/or observe legitimate holidays, if possible. Of course, the needs of the military always come first, no matter what the religion or holiday.
On one hand, this expanded list of recognized faiths by the U.S. Military sounds fair, democratic and inclusive, but at the same time it must present a challenge to the Chaplain Corps who are generally not members of those sects.
Let us wish them well. Hopefully this expansion of faith acceptance will serve to further strengthen the unity of the men and women of our military.
Bless them all, whatever their faith.

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Brief chapter of Old West’s Jewish chief

Posted on 06 July 2017 by admin

In case you thought that the only Jewish Native American Indian chief was the Yiddish-speaking one portrayed by Mel Brooks in that hilarious film, Blazing Saddles, you are mistaken.
Among the European immigrants who came to “America, the land of opportunity,” was a Jew, destined to play an important leadership role in America’s Indian Southwest.
Sixteen-year-old Solomon Bibo decided in 1869 to join his two older brothers who had emigrated years earlier.
With America’s Civil War over, the transcontinental railroad completed, free farmland available under the Homestead Act, and sporadic announcements of gold and silver strikes out west, European immigrants surged across America’s West seeking a better future.
While his brothers were building a trading business in the New Mexico territory, Solomon, at first, stayed in the East, finding work and learning English before eventually joining them.
While hard-working European immigrants like the Bibos envisioned a better life, Native Americans were facing a losing battle: loss of ancestral lands and traditional lifestyle, broken treaties, and an ever-uncertain future.
Bibo and his brothers became successful traders and transporters of goods, earning a reputation for honesty and fairness.
Other traders often treated Native Americans unfairly, taking advantage of their English-language deficiencies in the signing of contracts and agreements, often cheating the Indians.
The Acoma Pueblo of New Mexico came to accept the Bibos as honest and fair. Solomon had learned their language and, with their permission, he became their spokesperson in a land dispute with a neighboring tribe.
The disputed survey would give the Acoma people less land than they felt they historically owned.
Letters to the Department of the Interior by Solomon and his brother Simon resulted in the victory of a second survey being taken, but in the end the agency ruled against the Acomas.
The Acomas were disappointed to have lost their case, but they appreciated the Bibos’ effort to win their case.
Solomon Bibo endeared himself even further when he announced his forthcoming marriage to Juana Valle, the granddaughter of a former Acoma governor.
No rabbi was to be found in the New Mexico Territory so two weddings took place.
The first wedding was a traditional Indian ceremony supervised by a Catholic priest, automatically making Solomon a member of the tribe.
The second ceremony, four months later, was before a JP. Juana had renounced her Catholic faith and converted to Judaism.
That same year, 1885, Solomon Bibo was elected by the Acoma Indians as their governor (the equivalent of chief) and was re-elected three more times for eight straight years.
The highlight of Governor Bibo’s leadership was his overseeing of the installation of the federal government’s mandated educational system for the Pueblo’s children.
Showing support for the educational initiative, Bibo turned one of his buildings into a school for the educators’ use until the new school under construction was completed.
In supporting the new educational program, Bibo soon ran into opposition by parents who complained that their children were being taught to give up traditional tribal beliefs. So Solomon began to feel unwelcome as a supporter of the government’s program.
In 1889, after his governorship was over, Solomon decided it would be a good time to move his family to San Francisco, where his businesses were expanding and his children could get a Jewish education.
Solomon would make occasional return visits, but the era of the Jewish Indian Chief had passed, a most unusual but proud chapter in America’s Jewish pioneer history.

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See something wrong? Do something right

Posted on 22 June 2017 by admin

It was another insightful Torah study lesson recently coming to a close when the question arose, “What obligation do we have when it comes to witnessing a wrong being committed against someone, perhaps a person we don’t even know?”
Of course, as you might expect, everyone seemed supportive of the mitzvah of aiding a person in need.
“In real life, that doesn’t always happen,” I thought to myself … and instantly knew the subject of my next article.
Just before the Bible study group broke up, someone mentioned the tragic Kitty Genovese case of 1964, wherein late one night, “38 apartment dwellers in Kew Gardens, Queens, New York, witnessed the assault and murder of a young woman and not one person bothered to call the police or come to the victim’s aid.”
At least that was the story appearing in the highly respected New York Times — “If it’s in the Times, it must be true” — but it was not completely true.
By the time the police investigation had been completed, and The New York Times had admitted gross inaccuracies in its earlier story, it was too late. Everyone already believed that no one called police or tried to help, which was untrue.
The belief had been planted that people living in densely populated centers were becoming indifferent to the needs of others, thinking of themselves as “bystanders.”
If you wish to learn more about the truth of the Kitty Genovese case, the Dallas Public Library has an excellent book, No One Helped by Marcia Gallo. Also, a prize-winning 2015 documentary, The Witness, can be found on Netflix.
In today’s real world, given the easy access to weapons as well as those individuals and groups willing to use them, we have no choice but to follow the advice of law enforcement: “If you see something, say something.”
This rings especially true in light of the recent gunman’s attack at a Congressional baseball practice in an Alexandria, Virginia park.
The question, as always, will be asked, “Did anyone see or hear something before the attack?” If so, was it reported?
While we may feel that it is highly unlikely that we would ever be caught up in a terrorist attack, there is a greater possibility that we will see or hear something, as we go about our daily lives, that we know is wrong, but will we do or say something about it?
John Quinones of ABC’s What Would You Do has a program setting up situations in public, using actors to simulate abusive or immoral behavior against another person.
How will unknowing onlookers react to the public display of mistreatment or cruelty? Will they look on, but say nothing, or will they do something by confronting the guilty?
The next time you see something suspicious or someone being unkind, what will you do?

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Rediscovering Jewish pioneers of Old West

Posted on 08 June 2017 by admin

Recently, a Nevada news item popped out at me as I searched the web for the latest news, a controversial silver and gold mining operation that was “possibly endangering nearby historic Virginia City, Nevada.”
I didn’t realize that the old 19th century silver and gold mining activity had been renewed. Perhaps the use of modern technology has led to discovery of previously hidden rich veins of ore.
The brief news item reminded me of a ’90s road trip Deanna and I took out of Las Vegas. Since neither of us are gamblers, we rented a car and hit the open road, stopping six hours later in the old mining town of Virginia City, Nevada.
As we entered what looked just like the main street of Hollywood’s version of the Old West, movies I had enjoyed as a child, I wondered out loud, “Do you think any Jews lived here back then?”
Starting with the first building, the Fourth Ward School, we walked through town visiting old saloons, boarding houses, the opera house, mercantile stores, cafés, hotels, museums and old homes.
Picking up a brochure at the visitors’ center, I took time during lunch to read about the different people who lived in and around town during its glory days.
And yes, there were Jews!
Many came from the overflow of the earlier California gold rush, seeking fresh opportunities in neighboring Nevada Territory.
In addition to those involved in mining, there were also Jewish doctors, engineers, storekeepers and fortune seekers.
By 1862, Nevada’s Directory listed 200 Jews in the Virginia City area. One Jewish child who attended the Fourth Ward school was born into a Jewish family and became famous in later life after moving to California by becoming the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Physics.
Albert Abraham Michelson is known for formulating the experiment to measure the speed of light. His storekeeper parents were not religious Jews and he considered himself an agnostic.
The first Jewish school in Virginia City was started by Rabbi Herman Bien in 1861 and he was one of four Jewish members of the state’s constitutional convention.
Another notable Jewish resident was Joseph Goodman, a writer and co-owner of the first printed newspaper in Nevada, The Territorial Enterprise.
Goodman gets credit for recognizing the talent of a young then unknown reporter, hiring Samuel Clemens, writing under the name of Mark Twain.
Goodman’s paper became so popular that he allegedly had more subscribers in California than in Nevada.
In a short time, I found some interesting information about just a few of the many Jewish pioneers in the Old West.
We Jewish people are contributors to our country wherever we land. More about the “Jewish West” to come.

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Make this Memorial Day more meaningful

Posted on 25 May 2017 by admin

With Memorial Day weekend just ahead, here are some suggestions to make these three days an opportunity for each of us to perform a mitzvah.
Whether or not you are Jewish, attend your house of worship, paying homage to the sacred memory of those men and women who gave their lives defending our country.
On Sunday morning and early afternoon, members of the Jewish War Veterans and Ladies Auxiliary will be collecting your contribution, handing you a poppy, as they shout, “Please help the hospitalized veterans.”
Combined with funds collected again on Veterans Day in November, the total will help the VA Medical Center in Dallas to purchase one or more needed items which our Congress has not funded.
Past “poppy drives” have helped pay for acupuncture treatment equipment, waiting room furniture, television sets, recreational equipment, an ice machine, an ice cream maker, a miniature golf course, and other items selected from the Dallas VA’s “wish list.”
Then Monday, Memorial Day, take a friend, the family and especially yourself, and attend the very meaningful programs at Restland Cemetery in Richardson or especially at the DFW National Cemetery in Grand Prairie. It will be a learning experience, especially for children, one which they cannot get in the classroom.
While you are at one of these locations, members of The Dr. Harvey J. Bloom Post 256 of the Jewish War Veterans will be placing American flags at grave sites of deceased JWV members at all of the Dallas Jewish cemeteries, to be repeated on Veterans Day in November.
Unlike a number of other veterans groups who often spend time drinking, smoking, playing cards and telling “war stories,” JWV Post 256 and its Auxiliary truly devote their energies to performing mitzvot for our hospitalized veterans.

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‘Other’ Irving Berlin pioneered radio advertising

Posted on 11 May 2017 by admin

It’s May 11th. …
Happy Birthday Irving Berlin!
Your memory lives on in all the beautiful music you created, but if you don’t mind, I want to inform TJP readers on this occasion of a great contribution made by someone few people know of, your nephew, Irving Berlin Kahn.
After World War II, when radio and movies drew the greatest audiences and television was still in its infancy, Irving B. Kahn was pioneering radio advertising for 20th Century-Fox movies.
Those of us old enough to remember either daytime radio soap operas or evening programs such as Gangbusters, The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet and many other shows, knew that with a good script, good actors, a great sound effects person, and the listener’s imagination, this was entertainment at its best.
Once shows moved to television, however, actors couldn’t use scripts. They had to learn their lines, their expressions and movements, just as if they were on Broadway. But unlike Broadway, there was a new set of lines to learn each time.
Shows had to be taped so that retakes could be taken when someone forgot their lines. All-in-all, a costly process, that is until Irving Berlin Kahn and two of his associates — one an actor, Fred Barton, and the other an engineer, Hubert Schlafly — invented a device which revolutionized television.
The teleprompter was born in 1950, first used on the set of a soap opera titled The First Hundred Years; it freed actors from having to memorize their lines.
While the original “prompter” was a mechanical device, today’s prompter is truly electronic, allowing the performer to read the lines on the screen as he or she looks into the lens.
Kahn not only envisioned the teleprompter concept, but he also correctly predicted that cable would eventually deliver most television reception. As a believer, he sold his share of the TelePrompTer business, investing in cable and satellite broadcasting.
Perhaps the reason Irving Berlin Kahn’s name is not usually associated with his famous uncle’s is the fact that Kahn was once convicted for bribery which he claimed was actually extortion committed  by the other party.
To his credit, however, once released from federal prison in 1974, he bought a successful cable franchise, eventually selling it to the New York Times for $82.5 million and becoming their consultant for another $24 million.
The sale included the stipulation that he would never compete against them.
Irving B. Kahn obviously was a success in his own right. There’s no evidence that he ever boasted of his family connection to his more well-known uncle, Irving Berlin.
The Berlin family could well be proud of both Irvings, another Jewish immigrant success story.
“God Bless America,
Land that I love….”

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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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