Archive | Historical Perspective by Jerry Kasten

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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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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