In his new book, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn, Israeli scholar and author Daniel Gordis, traces the remarkable history of a people’s 3,700 year attachment to the soil and soul of their historic homeland, Israel. [Read more…]
Hillary Clinton will make history tonight by being the first woman to accept the presidential nomination from a major political party.
The Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) announced the program for the final day of the Democratic National Convention being held in Philadelphia from July 25 to July 28. The night will end with Hillary Clinton’s acceptance of the Democratic Party’s nomination. [Read more…]
Professor James Morone of Brown University’s Department of Political Science spoke on “Why is American Politics So Loud And What Can We Do About It?” earlier this year in Philadelphia. He is the author of The Devils We Know: Us and Them in America’s Raucous Political Culture.
Congregation Hesed Shel Emet in Pottstown, PA presents its 2nd Annual Jewish Heritage Festival – Sunday, May 22, 2016 from 11 am – 5 pm. The Festival features kosher favorites such as brisket, corned beef, hot dogs, knishes etc. We also offer dairy favorites such as kugel, lox and bagels, and blintzes.
Admission and parking are free. Enjoy entertainment for kids by Music Monkey Jungle, and for all ages – back by popular demand – Klezmer with Class. Rabbi Ira Flax will offer Torah Talks and Jack Wolf will present a history of the Jewish Community of Pottstown.
Vendors and crafters will also be on site, as well as a robust basket raffle, and lots of goodies to take home from our bake sale.
— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram
The President of France, François Hollande, explained to his own citizens this week that: the roundup of thousands of Jews in Paris during World War II was a crime “committed in France, by France… Not one German soldier, not one was mobilized during this entire operation.” (JTA) It happens that this year my Hubbatzin Barry Bub and I visited Rivesaltes, the detention camp in France where my teacher, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (Reb Zalman), was imprisoned for a time during World War II. Many Vichy French policies and practices imitated those of the German Third Reich; they even sought to revive some imagined “French race.” Knowledge of this is being lost, studies show over 40% of French young adults are unaware that on July 16-17, 1942 the French police rounded up 13,000 Parisian Jews of all ages, they were held near the Eiffel Tower and then deported and murdered at Auschwitz. I dedicate this article to their memory.
Numerous Rivesaltes prisoners died of the work, treatment and residential conditions, including Jews, métèques (immigrants from North Africa), Tsingales (Roma/Gypsies), Freemasons, Communists, children, and others such as homosexuals and those mentally ill or disabled.
More after the jump.
Rivesaltes was also used to imprison Spanish freedom fighters. Between six and seven thousand exiles from Spain were murdered in the Mauthausen concentration camp. When the German occupation advanced, the Vichy government and its local workers ensured efficient transport of those held there to death camps, including a great many Jews. One of several clustered roadside Rivesaltes monuments reads: “Only the rare person survived.”
Reb Zalman essentially survived because it was confirmed that proper emigration papers were awaiting him. This year, upon hearing we’d be in France, he suggested a ritual be done in memory of the Spanish fighters. He recommended this be in the local river under an aqueduct where the Rivesaltes prison guards would sometimes let him wash. We did so this past fall, the impact has taken time to integrate, and in view of the 70th anniversary of “all this,” and the scenes of atrocities from the Middle East and beyond, it’s time to try again; to write this as it came to be, an affirmation of the Shmei Rabbah, the Great Name of which we speak when saying Kaddish.
Ironically, Rivesaltes is within the land of the original Kabbalists, not far from the charming walled city of Pezanne where “Ghetto” is honestly emblazoned above the small street sign Rue des Juifs (Jew Street). A municipal plaque explains that a mikveh was once located in the cul-de-sac where we stood and that “for their safety” the Jews were locked into the Ghetto each night.
A short drive and we are in beautiful Perpignan. Unabashed signage relates that monks supervised the lives of “converted Jews who lived in the houses on the square.” Fartiq, my mother would have said in Yiddish at this point, “nothing more” did the municipality signage offer by way of clarification.
The castles and walled towns of Southern France are fairytale-beautiful despite the horrors that occurred in every period within, around and beyond. Before arriving at Rivesaltes, we stayed with a friend, a Dutch Reform priest friend married to a woman who was a “hidden Jewish child” during the war. Their lovely walled, artist-filled, village of Minerva sits at the intersection of two gorges. The signage at the gorges? “On this spot” were numerous Cathars burned at the stake as part of the Catholic Church’s completely successful annihilation of a Christian variant in Southern France. The Cathar heresy? Dedication to living modestly, helping the poor, telling no lies… and not following orders of those differently inclined.
Reb Zalman asked us to create a memorial ritual for the young Spanish freedom fighters at the bridge or aqueduct “where they sometimes took us to wash.” It is unclear whether the camp itself can be found though a friend has given us directions taken from a book about all the internment camps. So we follow what we think is the correct river, seemingly forever; it is only a mud river bed in most places. No Rivesaltes Camp appears. But suddenly — there! A billboard for some nice-looking Rivesaltes Condos, how odd. We ask two men walking along the road for the bridge and the camp, they guide us to what they are sure is the spot.
“Non-non,” says an old man smoking on the embankment, he points to the highway, “nord — north.” Why, I ask him, were the young Spanish men interned and murdered en masse? He was quick to reply, and in decent English: “The Allies feared these young men would take down Franco’s government and institute socialism; Franco had put down the socialist revolution of 1934.”
Beyond Wine Country
Soon the lush terrain of wine country is no more. We move beyond the river, searching rotary after rotary (traffic circles) outside the town until, flanked by 16 wheelers heading to Spain, we reach a scorched barren arid plain with vast sharply peaked mountains beyond barely visible through roiling waves of heat. A camp — there! Flags flying.
A young soldier with peach fuzz over his lip halts our entry with his inquiry:
“Mais non, ce n’est pas Rivesaltes. Ici, nous avons beaucoup de personnes indésirables. Il… nouveau camp; pas Rivesaltes. Les conditions sont très différentes ici…hmm …Rivesaltes, ma famille a travaillé à Rivesaltes très longtemps –terrible. Je suis désolé mais c’est vrai, ils étaient employés par le camp.
Meaning: “This is not Rivesaltes. Here we have many undesirables (North African refugees (some call them infiltrators). Conditions are very different here … My family worked at Rivesaltes — it was terrible. I am sorry, but it’s true. They were employed by the camp.”
We continue through the rotaries to – is that – a – windmill farm? The huge installation as far as the eye can see looms higher than those we know in the states, and at its foot, a small sign: Rivesaltes Museum. It takes us a few stunned moments to look across the “highway”, and there are the monuments with hearts drawn from the abundant white gravel — the word zachor, “remember” inside of one heart; and desiccated flowers left by those who pause to remember or try to understand. Wind gusts toss burning sand at us that quickly leeches dry our skin, lips and eyes. I can’t help but cringe at Reb Zalman baking in this hell. Wreathes have been laid, each perfectly dried to pallor, flaking away bit by bit.
After adding our own gravel memorial thoughts, we turn and wonder does the museum sign arrow point down the deep sandy road that runs in front of the windmill farm? Despite fearing entrapment in the sand, and our water supply down to a few ounces, we decide to persist, thinking we might not easily find this spot again. About twenty minutes along, another tiny musée sign obscured by scrub points across the way. We drive through taller scrub and then, there it is. The camp itself is the musée — broken open crude concrete prison bunks, many graffittied, and rows of roofless privies — waves of heat rising from the fractured baking decay — for as far as the eye can see.
Barry and I walk among the concrete fragments very separately, in silence. I was among those who took depositions of Holocaust survivors and Allied soldiers some decades back, so storied ghosts are re-triggered to scrape their nails along the surface of my soul. In-woven are thoughts about Reb Zalman.
An engine sound startles and is fear-filling in this utter isolation. An unmarked white van — there, parking. Who? Why? A man and a reluctant girl pulled by the wrist emerge and head toward a section in the other direction. Does she need help? Who would knowingly come here in this heat?
They haven’t seen us. We stalk them quietly. Rounding a corner we see them 30 feet away, beside the remains of a wooden hall. They spot us and turn away so as to not intersect paths. Worried for the girl, I call out a greeting as we hasten toward them. They turn away from us, Barry shouts to wait, and then they do pause until we catch up.
“Pourquoi êtes vous ici? Why are you here?” We demand. The man answers in French, roughly meaning: “We live in a nearby village. My grandfather worked as a Vichy prisoner guard and others in the family served Vichy policies enthusiastically. I want my daughter to understand this sin. She and her friends often make war humor; sometimes I catch them in burnt Jew humor. I have brought her to make her aware there is nothing funny here.”
“Papa says the school presents the matter improperly, that they wash over hard truths. So he brings me here. I so very much did not want to come.”
“She must,” he says, “understand our family’s place in this matter. We were several French police in our family. I tell you the job of police is to defend all the people of the land; not entrap them, send them to work camps and escort them to be murdered.” He is literally tearing at his hair in distress, scraping his arms with his nails. Old scabs and scars abound. “Stop!” She implores him and assures: “I and my friends will never do such things. Nous sommes civilisés — We are civilized people.” Silence.
The father stares at his daughter and finally spits out: “Civilisée est une illusion — Civilized is an illusion. People act like animals to each other; it takes so little pressure for this to happen. Did you know I was in a gang in my youth? No? We have much more to discuss.”
The father turns to ask me, I think hinting it would be nice to have the place to themselves: “Are you leaving? Where will you go from here?” In my simple French I explain: “My teacher, now a wise rabbi, was a prisoner in this camp. We two — me and my husband, we are also Jews. Those young Spanish freedom fighters mentioned on the sign, were murdered by the thousands; they were the ages of your daughter and my two sons. My teacher bids us to do some ritual for them, to look beyond the Jewish experience.” The young girl’s eyes go wide at this, her posture changes from truculent to pensive. We all fall silent.
The father suddenly raises his fist and face rather to heaven and turns towards me: “Je suis un homme laïc, mais vous pouvez dire à Dieu pour moi que j’expie les actions de ma famille, eh?- I am a secular man, but you can tell God for me that I atone the acts of my family, hein?” Silence.
He turns to hug his daughter, ” You know, I am proud of what you say. Eh? At the very least we must try not to be like them.”
The daughter’s only rejoinder is: “Il fait trop chaud. – It’s too hot.”
”Bonne chance (good luck), Madame, monsieur.” They walk off hand-in-hand. What kind of gang was he in? I wonder.
We ask a lineman working on the windmills to tilt us toward a river. “Left, left and right.” It must be an inside joke, why do all directions given by French people seem the same in this country? He, too, instantly confesses his family worked at the camp, taking my hand as he does, with imploring eyes. What to say? I bless him and those of his town and family with an ever-expanding capacity for kindness. “Oui. Vraiment.” “Yes. Truly.” I am an insecure one with spontaneous blessings, no less trying to do so in French.
We are blessed to leave the ever-sand-entrapping road and heated pauses and pushes, as one steers and the other of us alternately shoves, and we reach tarmac. Some ways along appears a military training camp, open-gated for a visitors day. Maybe this is it?! There we inquire of a young officer-in-training who does not think there is any safe place to enter the river and asks why we seek it. When we explain our mission, he too, says his family were engaged by the Vichy government and worked at the camp, adding, “I am sorry if you had family perhaps die or work there. Such an unforgivable thing.”
What is the purpose of this camp where you work now? Turns out to be the detainment of North African refugees/infiltrators (depending how you see it.) He points the way to a river and “the arch,” which he thinks is what remains of the aqueduct or bridge Reb Zalman so clearly recalled.
Drained from heat and emotion, out of drinking water and no shop in sight, we know we won’t die from persisting, soon find ourselves driving along steeply banked dikes. Finally, indeed near an arching bridge across the river, we park. This is a marshy portion of river, with a low eroded river bank of mud and water pooled only in the riverbed center. Young sun bathers abound, and a few elder fisherman.
I undress down to a bath suit, Barry takes my clothes and settles on the river bank with camera in hand. Gingerly stepping on reeds, I find it difficult to walk in the rich, black, thick mud that threatens to swallow all that has weight. Easily hundreds, perhaps thousands of silent frogs arise at my tread, all bulging eyes, their bodies immersed to stay wet and cool. I continue past their evident niche, toward reflective water. The fishermen and Barry call out, frantically motioning for me to return to the shore.
No, this ritual must be more than a mud bath. I wave to them that it’s OK; though I’m not really so sure. Half way across, the water is about eight inches deep, blessedly clear, soothing and cool against the relentless sun and now blistering skin. My soul breaks through before thought arises: “Holy One, please, though I have no merit for your attention, S’il vous plait, faites attention (be careful please), and with bitterness, I call out: Shema Adonai!”
Instead of the rage I’d been carrying along with the Kaddish of Reb Levi Yitzchok since the camp, as I began lifting and splashing the river water upward, a river of gratitude came flowing instead — for Reb Zalman’s survival. And more, for my precious father’s survival, albeit disabled for life, as an Allied soldier. Yes, dear God, such gratitude for all who helped effect liberation, and for all those persecuted and war-deluded aggressors on all sides who attained the awesome, improbable gift of survival.”
Suddenly frogs grab my foreground, as one kicks off against my left leg, and an involuntary “ick” response within leads me to slip and bump into more frogs, and so begins a sinking flailing, until a few staggered steps lead to a bit of surprisingly accessible bedrock.
Floating frogs now pop into view and begin to flicker like holograms as I peer at their faces in trumulant disbelief…hauntingly empty dark eyed, sharp thin noses, dark hair and unpruned gaunt bearded Spaniard twenty-somethings, frogs, Spaniards, frogs…Daring stares. Yearning stares. Vacant stares. Blinking stares. Tears are streaming down my face at their lost youth and the unbearability of retroactive impotence.
A blessing arises unbidden: “May your souls be blessed to break free of this place, of the torment and memories of the horrors you experienced. If souls do return or travel to new destinies or realms beyond this life, may you know and create joy, kindness and peace.” Splashing handfuls of hessed — lovingkindness, up and over the alternating faces and as they dive, only to resurface as I become still and… know Love… different to any form of love ever in my life. A Love that slakes all possible pain and thirst — a Love inside of everything suddenly palpable, flowing in my every cell.
There in the water, the interpenetrated knowing yields … joy?! What is that? I hear Reb Zalman praying Reb Levi Yitzhok’s Dudele for us.
Mailoh du, matoh du. Mizroch du, mayrov du, dorem du, Tzofen du, Du du, du du, DU!! du du du, du, du, DU DU DU!!!, DU DU DU!!!
I dance and sing it slipping about in the river and an up-rushing of relieved souls join in.
This intimate Love pours through all form, space, song is love, light is love, water is love, mud is love… much as water frees the sometimes lingering soul during taharah… the released up-rushing souls spin in the Love and even seem to pass through my molecular body in their dance of ascent…
Finally, a soft breeze on wet skin beckons me back from the inter-loving, amazing reciprocity of the Dudele. Y’hei shmei rabba m’vorach. “May the Great Name be blessed. (from Kaddish, this is the a sense, for me, of the mitzvah of yirah, awe.)
Barry beckons from the river bank, holding a water bottle aloft. Someone has been kind.
— President Barack Obama
Sixty-three years ago, when Israel declared its independence, the dream of a state for the Jewish people in their historic homeland was finally realized. On that same day, the United States became the first country in the world to recognize the State of Israel. As Israelis celebrate their hard-won independence, it gives me great pleasure to extend the best wishes of the American people to the people of Israel and to honor their remarkable achievements over the past six decades. Our two nations share a unique and unbreakable bond of friendship that is anchored in common interests and shared values, and the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security. I have every confidence that the strong relationship between our countries will grow deeper with each passing year.
This is a period of profound change in the Middle East and North Africa, as people across the region courageously pursue the path of dignity and self-governance. Just as I know that Israel will always be one of our closest allies, I believe that the region can be more peaceful and prosperous when its people are able to fulfill their legitimate aspirations. We will continue our efforts with Israel and others in the region to achieve a comprehensive peace, including a two-state solution, and to working together toward a future of peace, security and dignity for the people of Israel and all the people of the region.
I offer my best wishes to President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the people of Israel as they celebrate their 63rd Independence Day.
Information about the Second Annual White House Jewish American Heritage Month Reception follows the jump.
Reception at the White House
On Tuesday, May 17, President Barack Obama will host a White House reception in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month.
The reception will highlight and celebrate the history and unique identity of Jewish Americans and their profound and ennobling contributions to the American story. Invitees include grassroots Jewish community leaders from across the country, rabbis, Members of Congress, and a broad range of leaders engaged in business, the arts, education, and public and community service.
Since taking office, President Obama has continued the tradition started under the previous Administration of proclaiming May Jewish American Heritage Month. Last year, the President and First Lady hosted the first ever White House reception in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month.
In this year’s proclamation, President Obama said, “Seeking a brighter future, a small band of Jewish refugees came to this land more than three centuries ago, to a place called New Amsterdam…From those first days in New Amsterdam, Jewish Americans have dedicated their innovation, creativity, and hearts to the greater good, contributing scientific accomplishments, pioneering works of literature and musical genius, and performing distinguished service in our Nation’s military.”
Since before our Nation’s founding, America’s shores have been a safe harbor for people seeking shelter, hope, and new lives free from persecution. Here, people of all faiths have broken bread, come together, and built a better future for their families. The Jewish story is intertwined with the American story — one of overcoming great hardship, and one of commitment
to building a more just world. This month, we embrace and celebrate the vast contributions Jewish Americans have made to our country.
Seeking a brighter future, a small band of Jewish refugees came to this land more than three centuries ago, to a place called New Amsterdam. Hundreds of years later, as Holocaust
survivors and families caught behind the Iron Curtain made their way to America, their perseverance in the face of unimaginable tragedy inspired the world and proved that the Jewish people will not be defeated. Many endured bigotry even here, reminding us that we must continue to fight prejudice and violence at home and around the globe. In this spirit, President Truman recognized the small, fledgling nation of Israel within minutes of its creation. To this day, we continue to foster an unbreakable partnership with Israel, and we remain committed to pursuing peace in the region and ensuring Israel’s security.
From those first days in New Amsterdam, Jewish Americans have dedicated their innovation, creativity, and hearts to the greater good — contributing scientific accomplishments, pioneering works of literature and musical genius, and performing distinguished service in our Nation’s military. Jewish Americans have defended our country since the days of the American Revolution as devoted service members and chaplains, and they continue to serve with distinction in our Armed Forces.
Nearly 70 years ago, during World War II, the U.S.A.T. Dorchester suffered an explosion at sea while carrying almost a thousand soldiers and civilian workers. On board were four Army chaplains — two Protestant, one Catholic, and one Jewish. While the ship sank, the four chaplains gave their own life jackets to four men without any, calmed the wounded, and preached strength to the survivors, linking arms and praying together as the ship submerged. In a time of great need, these chaplains showed that their shared commitment to the lives of others was stronger than any division of faith or background.
This same spirit is found in the countless Jewish Americans who, through their every day actions, work to provide a better life for future generations by joining hands with all who seek equality and progress. This month, we remember that the history and unique identity of Jewish Americans is part of the grand narrative of our country, forged in the friendships and shared wisdom between people of different faiths.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 2011 as Jewish American Heritage Month I call upon all Americans to visit www.JewishHeritageMonth.gov to learn more about the heritage and contributions of Jewish Americans and to observe this month with appropriate programs, activities, and ceremonies.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-ninth day of April, in the year two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.