Honoring Our Veterans


— by Hannah Lee

Today we observe Veterans Day.  May we all remember and honor the service given to our country by these brave men and women in uniform.  They upheld the values of our country and, as young as they were when sent into service, they gave it all they had.  We owe it to them to remember their service.

On October 18th, I attended a ceremony dedicated to the 14 Jewish chaplains who’d fallen during service to the United States.  Their names are engraved on a plaque that was on exhibit that day at the National Museum of American Jewish History and a week later was installed on Chaplains Hill at Arlington National Cemetery.  The moving moment for me was the sight of the aged veterans, in full military regalia, snap to attention and salute the flag while we recited the Pledge of Allegiance.  Being a child of the 60’s, I grew up in an era when we distrusted authority (and anyone over 30).  Saying the Pledge was perfunctory and maybe also ironic.  Singing the national anthem invariably induced some jokester to call out, “Play ball.”  But it was no joke for these veterans of America’s wars.  They remember their fallen comrades and why they were posted to foreign lands, regardless of whether it was the right strategic move.  The values they upheld were of civic and religious freedom (and the “pursuit of happiness” which our religious forefathers did not mean the right to shop until we drop).

More after the jump.

The 14 Jewish chaplains include:

  • World War II: Rabbi Alexander Goode; Rabbi Herman L. Rosen; Rabbi Henry Goody; Rabbi Samuel D. Hurwitz; Rabbi Louis Werfel; Rabbi Irving Tepper; Rabbi Nachman S. Arnoff; and Rabbi Frank Goldenberg;
  • Cold War Era: Rabbi Solomon Rosen; Rabbi Samuel Rosen;
  • Vietnam and Southeast Asia: Rabbi Meir Engel; Rabbi Joseph Hoenig; Rabbi Morton H. Singer; Rabbi David Sobel.

Recently, when I attended a private tour, “Journey on the Silk Road” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Cynthia John, who’d created this tour, referred to the Holy Roman Empire (quoting Voltaire, says my young friend) as “not holy, not Roman, and not even an empire.”  Later, I asked John to elaborate but she only had time to say that the Mongols, who’d transformed far-flung agrarian societies into an urban one based on commerce, were an example of a real empire.  Nobody loves his emperor, but people have managed to forge strong allegiances to other entities, whether a religious icon, a culture, or a sports team.

My Rabbi has said that one can deduce much about other people’s values by their passions.  So, what do we know about people who wear apparel– even religious garb– emblazoned with an athletic team’s name? That they value sportsmanship or the thrill of victory (or maybe the agony of supporting the underdog team)?  Just how different are the various teams from each other?  A similar example of artificial distinction occurred during the recent political discussions about gerrymandering in my state, when I heard one woman express her wishes thus: we should just use rectangles in drawing our electoral districts, because then we would be sure that they are fair (or at least, not subject to political jockeying for power).  When I was first introduced to maps as a child, the states with the straight lines were the easiest to remember and to draw.  But, they do not connote any real distinction between the bordering states.  More socially relevant were the rivers and mountains which may have contributed to variations in dialect, climate, and terrain.  

At the museum ceremony, Rabbi Lance Sussman of Keneseth Israel Congregation spoke about the historical role of Jews in the American military, from Asher Levy petitioning to serve in the militia in New Amsterdam in 1657 (appeal initially denied, later granted) to the Jews who served in the American Revolution to a Jew being in the first graduating class at West Point (one of two graduates!).  In World War II, there were 500,000 Jews in the American Army, compared to a half million Jews who were conscripted in the Soviet Army.  One overlooked fact by revisionists who question the minor public role of American Jewry in the rescue of Jews from Nazi-controlled lands is that American Jews served at double the percentage of its share of the national population.  Their view was that the best way to help was to ensure victory for the Allieds, to defeat the Nazis.  These Jews served with bravery and distinction.  Of the 14 rabbis honored, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode was one of four chaplains (including Reverend George L. Fox, Reverend Clark V. Poling, and Father John P. Washington) who gave up their lifejackets when their ship, the USS Dorchester foundered and later sank in 1943.  They were honored as “the Four Immortal Chaplains” and were depicted on a U.S. postal stamp in 1943.

We do not have mandatory military service, so most Americans feel distant from our soldiers and other members of the armed forces.  A contrasting case in point was the Israeli public’s view of the release of Gilad Shalit, held captive as a political prisoner in Gaza for 5 1/2 years by Hamas militants.  Israelis overwhelmingly approved of the deal that exchanged one Israeli soldier for 1,027 Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners.  With mandatory national service, every Israeli is but one degree of separation from an active Israeli soldier.  The negotiations for Shalit’s release were based on a tacit promise to all Israeli parents that their government would watch over their soldiers.  Their government would not forget them in captivity or in memorial.  

How Does Jesus Look to You?

Rembrandt’s
Head of Christ
Philadelphia Museum of Art

— By Hannah Lee

When I learned that the National Museum of American Jewish History would be collaborating with the Philadelphia Museum of Art on an interfaith forum and conversation about the Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus exhibit at the art museum, I was eager to sign up.  So much has been written about this exhibit, both in secular press (New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer) as well as the Jewish press (Tablet and Forward).  It is a topic that is not surprisingly fascinating to Jews, as Jesus was born of Jewish parents and so much strife over the centuries have been waged in his name by descendants of his apostles.  It was thrilling to be in the audience  with members of the other faiths, in a harmonious conversation about a religious icon and symbol, because we usually only are taught by members of our own faiths.

Larry Silver, Professor of Art History at the University of Pennsylvania, moderated the interfaith panel discussion, and he launched it with a query from his curator friend who asked, “why not the head of Christ?”  He proceeded to answer it himself by pointing out the works of Rembrandt represented a movement away from iconography towards a more human portrayal of Jesus, and the face is the window onto the human soul.  He then presented to us in the audience and the panel members (on a separate monitor) about 13 paintings of Jesus, only one of which was by Rembrandt.  

More after the jump.
Regarding Matthias Grünewald’s The Crucifixion, from 1515, Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, noted that it was not beautiful in the same way that the Holocaust is too grotesque, too harsh for beauty.  Professor Silver commented that Jesus was twice the size of every other figure in the painting and Jayne Oasin, Associate Priest of the Associated Parishes of Saint Stephen in Riverside and Beverly in New Jersey pointed out that the light highlighted the darkness.


Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion, Art Institute of Chicago

Regarding Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion, from 1938, Reverend Oasin noted that the painting has all the woes of mankind, and it reminds her of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Chancellor Eisen taught that at the turn of the 20th century, there was much identification by Jews with the life and death of Jesus.  This was exhibited by Martin Buber and later by Elie Wiesel who wrote about Jesus in the Holocaust.  “Jesus had become the universal figure of suffering,” not as Savior.  The figure in green in the right foreground is often depicted by Chagall as the Wandering Jew who needs to flee from calamity.  Zakiya Islam, a Muslim woman and a Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies at Temple University taught that a tenet of Islam is that in times of suffering, one is to run away.

Regarding a local painting by Thomas Eakins, The Crucifixion, from 1880, Chancellor Eisen noted that Jesus has no face, because the human soul is no longer there and because of the failure of ethics and goodness.  Reverend Oasin said that we can no longer turn our face away — the viewer’s eyes are riveted  to Jesus in the middle ground — reminding us of our sin, our inhumanity.  James Redington, a Catholic and Jesuit priest, pointed out that death had occurred through strangulation, as Jesus in the painting has pushed his back up against the cross in an attempt to breathe.  Ms. Islam said that there is no mention of the Crucifixion in the Koran.  There is suffering and struggle, but there is no focus on any specific suffering.  While Jesus, called the Spirit of God, and Mary are much beloved in Islam, there are no images in the Muslim religion.  Chancellor Eisen taught that while moderns refer to the Enlightenment as bringing light into the world, the previous Dark Ages, to the pre-moderns, their religions had already brought light into the darkness of the world.  In fact, to the religious, the modern world contains a little less light than much earlier in our history.

Regarding William Holman Hunt’s Jesus, Light of the World, from 1854, Reverend Oasin asked if Jesus is knocking on a door?  Ms. Islam said that this painting resonated with her, as Jesus is depicted with a mystical air (unlike the later, more human depictions of Jesus).

An amazing painting for the Jews in the audience was Maurycy Gottlieb’s Christ Preaching at Capernaum, from 1879, because Jesus is a Rabbi who is preaching at a recognizable synagogue (Capernum is on the Sea of Galilee in Israel).  Reverend Oasin pointed out that Jesus has his arms outstretched, as Christians do to celebrate the Eucharist (unlike the Kohanim’s spread-finger stance for blessing the congregation).

Regarding Caravaggio’s The Supper at Emmaus, from 1601 (a favorite scene of Jesus appearing three days after Resurrection at an inn in Emmaus), Reverend Oasin noted that Jesus is beardless, fuller than to be expected (for someone recently back from the dead), and on the whole, fairly feminine.  Jesus is a woman, she exulted!  Ms. Islam said that the Ascension is very important in Islam, quoting from the Koran, “God said, ‘I have brought him to me.'”

Warner Sallman’s Head of Christ, from 1940, would be recognizable to just about any modern-day person, even one who is not a Christian.  It is the most popular depiction of Jesus.  Reverend Oasin, who is black, reminisced that when she was a girl, this painting showed her that Jesus does not look like her, does not look at her.  Father Redington called this the Protestant Jesus.

One member of the audience commented that Rembrandt’s compatriots were the early readers of the Bible. No, said Professor Silver, the Gutenberg Bible was printed in 1450 and by 1637, there was already the Dutch State Bible in translation.  He added that by the 1520s, Martin Luther had already translated the Bible into German and today, we are witnessing the 400th anniversary of the King James’ edition of the Bible.  Chancellor Eisen taught us that the Calvinists loved the Old Testament and Rembrandt had lived around the block from Spinoza and Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel.  Another person from the audience noted that Grunewald had the rare blend of symbolism and realism and Professor Silver concurred that it was a blend of the glorious and the suffering.  Reverend Oasin pointed out that people come to religion for comfort, so they do not relish a focus on harshness.  Chancellor Eisen taught that the artist acts in the role of spiritual narrator, thus art is a gift from God.


Rembrandt’s Head of Christ,
Philadelphia Museum of Art

A Jewish member from the audience asked about the depiction of challah in the scenes with Jesus’s final days. Wasn’t it Passover?  “No,” said Professor Silver, “by the second century, the Last Supper had been uncoupled from the Passover Seder.”  John, the most anti-Semitic of the Gospels ensured that references to Jesus’s Jewish roots were eradicated  or at least minimized.  Reverend Oasin added that John was also the most anti-dark of the Gospels, with his numerous equations of whiteness to goodness.  When she teaches her seminarian students, she tells them they can teach about John, but they have to unpack him (of his baggage).  Professor Silver proclaimed the Dutch of Rembrandt’s day very inclusive.  The artist even painted the Ethiopian convert with Jesus, not just once, but twice.

Another member of the audience asked about the ladder in Chagall’s painting and was it a sign of hope, amidst the dire symbols in the rest of the painting.  Well, replied Professor Silver, a ladder can go down as well as up and a ladder usually is simply the means to remove the mortal remains.

After a brief intermission, there was the keynote lecture by David Morgan, who has a dual appointment in the departments of religion and art, art history and visual studies at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.  He commenced with a rhetorical question: what does it say that a painting is of Jesus? Does he look like us? A likeness can be the resemblance of an image to an original  based on features they share.  Drawing on neuroscience, our brain looks for resemblances, matches in our surroundings– “our brain wants to see order in the world.”  A likeness is also the result of a powerful drive to emulate an archetype, such as a baby swan that mimics the preening of its parent or a pedestrian to a store mannequin.  The engine is the desire.  Third, to Christians, the image of Jesus presents what he was like, a recognition of an affinity between his appearance and what the faithful believes, knows, feels, and sees within themselves about him.  It is an intimate connection that the devout viewers feel between Jesus and themselves.  The basis of likeness is an archive of images composed of all the images people have ever seen in an endless chain of reference.

The Gr&uumlnewald paintings we’d examined earlier in the program were unique in balancing the majesty and the personal. Traditionally, artists relied on iconography– the halo, cross, banner, book, instruments of his passion or other references to biblical narratives or events- to identify Jesus and his power.  In contrast, Rembrandt focused on the face in painting a modern portrait.  The artist takes his historicity seriously, endowing Jesus with a new kind of reality, as a personification of humanity.  The facial features included: a broad forehead, shoulder-length hair that is parted in the middle, a long, symmetrical nose, a short, cropped beard, widely-set eyes, the appearance of ears, and a solemn, serious expression.  Rembrandt appropriated a contemporary trend in depicting Jesus close-up, in a head-and-shoulders pose, and with eyes that address the viewer.  He also “located Jesus before the viewer as a contemporary person.”    The artist may be said to have contributed to the 20th century preference for portraying Christ in poses that highlight a direct engagement of the personality over the traditional symbolic devices used to convey theological meaning.


Janet McKenzie’s
Jesus of the People,
Haggerty Museum of Art

Professor Morgan then displayed a variety of paintings of Jesus from the Warner Sallman iconic image of 1940, to the 1977 Zeffirelli mini-series, Jesus of Nazareth (in which the actor portraying Jesus looked like my brother-in-law).   In recent decades, the likeness of Jesus is no longer asserted as a universal type, but as ethnically specific.  We now have the Korean Jesus in traditional Korean garb (dopo overcoat and gat top hat); the Asian Indian Jesus with transfigurative blue skin, the beach bum Jesus, and the dark-skinned, female Jesus, the winning entry in a cover art contest conducted by National Catholic Reporter an independent newsweekly and one of the best-known Catholic publications in the country, at the advent of the 21st century.  Painted by Janet McKenzie of Island Pond, Vermont, the winning painting of Jesus of the People, shows “a robed and haloed Jesus.  Against a pale pink background are a yin-yang symbol, intended to represent perfect balance, and a feather, symbolizing the American Indian spirituality…”

The visual archive that Professor Morgan referenced earlier is so strongly entrenched that when he displays iconoclastic images of Jesus–  such as an obese Jesus-  even hard-core Calvinists (with presumably less fixation on imagery) reject them.  “We have our own images, even if they’re suppressed.”  Ms. Islam noted that Muslims do not have a tradition of imagery, but they do have the narrative.  When they come to the West, they too become influenced by the archive of imagery.

Despite the despair depicted by Chagall in his White Crucifixion, Chancellor Eisen in his parting remark said that it is hopeful that we can have an interfaith conversation about Jesus.  May the harmony and respect on display at the program carry forward into other realms of our contemporary world.

The Ten Days of Repentence: Don’t Tweet it, 10Q it!


Reflect. React Renew
Life’s Biggest Questions. Answered by you.

— by Tanya Schevitz

In an era where most reflection happens publicly in 140 characters or less, the 10Q project provides a private, deeper online forum for personal reflection beyond the waffles you had for breakfast.

Timed to coincide with the Jewish New Year, traditionally a time of introspection and self-reflection, 10Q is a unique project that, started today, will email participants of all backgrounds a question a day about the year that’s past and the year to come. After the 10-day period, the answers are sent into a digital vault. A year later, the answers are returned to participants and the process begins again.

“Thanks to new technologies like texting and Twitter, people have more opportunities than ever to express themselves, but fewer than ever to express themselves well,” said 10Q co-founder Ben Greenman, a New Yorker editor. “What 10Q wants people to do is what people should want to do for themselves — to reflect on life without worrying about status updates.”

Last Thursday, 10Q partnered with the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia  on a roundtable discussion at the Museum on reflection. 10Q’s Greenman moderated a panel including the Hebrew Mamita, Vanessa Hidary, and authors Charles London and Matthue Roth.

While the 10Q project is a reinvention of the ancient ritual of reflection between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and occurs during the Jewish High Holidays, it is intended for people of all backgrounds and has attracted participation of people of many denominations, including Catholics, Episcopalians, Buddhists and Muslims. The 10Q questions are about your place on the planet, and the planet’s place within you.

And regrets are universal, so the events are intended for people to absolve themselves of everything from skipping services to that tweet you wish you never posted.

About 10Q
The 10Q website launched in 2008 and garnered more than 80,000 visitors of all backgrounds last year. Glee’s Jane Lynch, Harry Potter’s Tom Felton and Oscar winning screenwriter Diablo Cody all participated in 10Q last year, and beginning on September 28th, the first of the series of 10 questions will again be sent out to those who sign up at http://DoYou10Q.com. 10Q can also be found on Facebook and Twitter: @10_Q. 10Q is a partnership between Nicola Behrman, Ben Greenman, and Reboot’s Acting Executive Director Amelia Klein.

About Reboot.
Reboot is a catalyst to catalysts – a growing network of thought-leaders and tastemakers who work toward a common goal: to “reboot” the culture, rituals, and traditions we’ve inherited and make them vital and resonant in today’s world. In partnership with the Reboot network, we create opportunities for our peers to gather, engage, question, and self-organize with their own networks, in their own way, in their own time, using the magazines, books, films, records, local salons, gatherings, and events we develop together. Reboot has a track record of reinventing Jewishrituals for a broad audience, including the Sabbath Manifesto project that had Katie Couric telling the nation to unplug, the Sukkah City project that had New Yorkers paying attention to 12 re-imagined Sukkahs in the City’s Union Square Park and DAWN, a revision of the traditional holiday of Shavuot as a cultural arts festival at the California Academy of Science in San Francisco.

10Q 2011 Questions:

  1. Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you? Are you grateful? Relieved? Resentful? Inspired?
  2. Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year? Alternatively, is there something you’re especially proud of from this past year?
  3. Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?
  4. Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?
  5. Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year? How has this experience affected you? “Spiritual” can be broadly defined to include secular spiritual experiences: artistic, cultural, and so forth.
  6. Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?
  7. How would you like to improve yourself and your life next year? Is there a piece of advice or counsel you received in the past year that could guide you in this project?
  8. Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully in 2011?
  9. What is a fear that you have and how has it limited you? How do you plan on letting it go or overcoming it in the coming year?
  10. When September 2011 rolls around and you receive your answers to your 10Q questions, how do you think you’ll feel? What do you think/hope might be different about your life and where you’re at as a result of thinking about and answering these questions?

Go The F**k to Sleep at the Nat’l Museum of Amer. Jewish History

Join popular author of Go the F-k to Sleep and critically acclaimed novelist Adam Mansbach in a conversation about his ongoing journey as a young writer, the intersection of Black and Jewish cultures… and, of course, his reaction to the success of his recent non-traditional parenting book.  

  • Tuesday, September 20, 2011, 7:00pm
  • National Museum of American Jewish History, 101 S. Independence Mall East, Philadelphia, PA.
  • Members $10, Non-members $12

Adam’s novels include The End of the Jews: A Novel, winner of the California Book Award, and the best-selling Angry Black White Boy: A Novel, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2005.  His fiction and essays have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Believer, Granta, the Los Angeles Times, and many other publications.

For details see the Philadelphia Jewish Voice Community Calendar.

What Do We Need From Our Jewish Leaders?

— By Hannah Lee

As part of a lecture series at the National Museum of American Jewish History, this past Tuesday evening was a session titled, “Challenges to American Jewish Leaders Today.” The featured panelists were Dr. Erica Brown, scholar-in-residence at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and winner of the esteemed Covenant Award for her work in Jewish education, and Dr. Steven Cohen, research professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College and director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU.

More after the jump.
Brown started the conversation with a quote from Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic: “American Jews are the spoiled brats of the 20th century.”  Cohen explained that viewpoint as such: American Jews are ignorant and they don’t even know it.  But he, Cohen, is not as concerned about Jewish literacy–  as defined by the ancient rabbinic texts– but chooses to define and measure Jewish engagement and identity.  Brown declared that American Jews have accomplished a tremendous amount for American culture, but less for the legacy of Judaism.  Once they are finally introduced to their Jewish legacy, they do learn to appreciate the reservoir of Jewish wisdom that is applicable and relevant to their communal roles.  Cohen countered thus: Jewish knowledge comes from being effective.  It’s not essential to know the rabbinic texts.  Furthermore, he said, Jewish knowledge also includes cooking skills.  So, would you come to a program on chicken soup? quipped Brown.  Yes, but only to taste, retorted Cohen, I cannot cook and that makes me a deficient Jew.

Turning to Israel as another indicator of Jewish identity, Brown noted with dismay that American Jews cannot have a civil discourse over issues these days.  Cohen, who’d made aliyah (emigrated to Israel) in 1992, considers  himself  a learned Jew because of his intimate knowledge of Israeli life and politics.  He outlined the two camps of Jews in America thus: one that feels an obligation of loyalty to Israel and the other that is concerned primarily with human rights.  The former is concerned that the human-rights camp undermines the security of Israel while the latter camp is worried that the Zionist hawks undermine the democratic and moral character of Israel.  (Cohen considers himself  a security-driven dove.)  Brown regards incivility as representative of American politics today, as shown in vituperous anonymous exchanges on the Internet and sometimes even in person.  Cohen was more concerned about the lack of knowledge of policies than incivility.  Later, he noted that three comparison groups- American Jews of old (early 20th century), the Orthodox, and Israelis– are all defined by strong passion.  It’s not incivil to be passionate about an issue.

In Cohen’s 2000 book, The Jew Within: Self, Family, and Community in America, he refers to “sheilaism,” a term coined by Robert Bellah and Richard Madsen in their monumental study, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life to encapsulate the egoistic adoption of ritual– Brown called it “the religion of one”– and the resultant breakdown of communal religious life.  Another term they bandied was “journeyism,” to refer to the expectations of the disaffected to be supported in their journeys of spiritual exploration.  They, and we, lose the communal and social reasons for religion.  So, how do we create community for these disaffected youth?  Cohen advocates the growing success the Jewish community has achieved in delivering personal meaning through new venues, such as minyanim and havurot.  Drawing upon semantics, he noted that observant Jews used to greet each other with chag kasher v’sameach for Pesach (Passover), but now we tell each other, “Have a meaningful fast.”  He was wowed by the inclusion of “meaningful” in the Artscroll machzor (High Holiday prayer book) that is widely accepted in the Orthodox community.    According to Cohen, we have moved from the normative system of “This is the right way to live” to an aesthetic system with an enriching culture.

A hot topic is conversion; current debates focus more on who has the right to determine who is a Jew than who is Jewish.  Brown cited Joseph Caro’s 16th century seminal work in traditional Judaism, The Shulhan Aruch, for posing the test question: Are you willing to accept the fate of the Jewish people?  If so, then the proselyte can be taught the mitzvot (commandments).  She claimed  that there is a big price to be paid for taking out the Jewish content.  Cohen said that we should welcome more converts.  He estimated that 10% of intermarried couples will have grandchildren who identify as Jews and only 50% of Gentile inter-married partners do convert.   He proposed cultivating conversionary-minded rabbis.  Brown retorted that a lack of teachers was not the obstruction but communal lack of acceptance.  She taught that the Biblical Ruth was ignored by the women of Bethlehem when she arrived there with her mother-in-law Naomi– and this was after Ruth’s dramatic and poetic declaration of faith.  Cohen agreed that prejudice against converts was morally wrong but its removal would be insufficient to increasing the incentive for conversion.  He thinks there is a sizeable cohort of non-Jews who are connected but would not convert.

Cohen then proposed the radical idea of dropping the God part of Ruth’s oath and calling for Jewish affirmation, not conversion.  Brown protested that this would unfairly narrow the definition of who is a Jew.  Cohen said that it would be gambling a loss of people choosing the cheaper, more accessible product– Birthright, for instance, instead of the more intensive and demanding six-weeks’ stay in Israel– but we’ll be compensated by a wider reach to those who would not have been tempted outright.  Brown quipped that he was offering wholesale instead of retail.  Cohen admitted  it’s a half step toward conversion.  It’s thus not a burden for rabbis and teachers, but we have not yet shown the love to motivate these non-Jewish partners for further engagement.   What is most important is inclusion, to keeping the tent opened wide.  Brown bemoaned the current culture of self-esteem and consumerism, in which our youth do not see themselves as stakeholders, but treat Judaism as “fee for service.”  They will attend High Holiday services but they would not pay dues, which cover the rabbi’s salary and the utility bills.

Regarding Jewish leaders under the age of 40, Cohen noted a major shift from people to purpose, from belonging to judging everything–  family, institutions, Israel–  according to our interests and passions.  

What does it mean to be a Jewish leader nowadays?  Without minimizing Jewish literacy, Cohen extorted us to also recognize other forms of Jewish knowledge.  More than the rabbinic texts, there is an additional corpus of knowledge not recognized by our Biblical scholars and seminarians, but is represented within the gallery space of the new National Museum of American Jewish History. That is also Jewish content, Jewish knowledge.

Israel 63rd Anniversary at National Museum of American Jewish History


— by Bonnie Squires

Philadelphia Israeli Consul General Daniel Kutner held a celebration of Israel’s 63rd anniversary at the National Museum of American Jewish History, and hundreds of area residents and VIPs turned out.


Mayor Michael A. Nutter (left) joined Consul General Daniel Kutner (right) for the celebration.

Sam Katz, Rabbi Aaron Landis, Councilman Jim Kenney, and Joseph Zuritsky (left to right) were among the people who came to the National Museum of American Jewish History to celebrate Israel’s 63rd anniversary.

More after the jump.

The Honorable Daniel Kutner (left) welcomes Dean Moshe Porat of Temple University’s Fox School of Business  (right) to the reception. Mayor Michael Nutter offered his well wishes to Israel on the occasion of its 63rd anniversary. (Left to right) Rabbi Eliseo Rosenwasser, of Har Zion Temple, and Liliana Elkouss were pleased to see former Congressman Patrick Murphy at the celebration.

Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Grey


To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, the National Museum of American Jewish History presented Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Gray,  a first-of-its-kind documentary that reveals the little-known struggles that faced Jewish-Americans both in battle and on the home front during the Civil War. This film reveals an unknown chapter in American history when allegiances during the War Between the States deeply split the Jewish community. It examines a time when approximately 10,000 Jewish soldiers fought on both sides; 7,000 Union and 3,000 Confederate. It exposes General Ulysses Grant’s controversial decision to expel all Jews from his territory, and tells the stories of President Lincoln’s Jewish doctor who serve as a spy in the South and how five Union Jewish soldiers received the Congressional Medal of Honor. It features commentary by noted historians, with Sam Waterston as the voice of Abraham Lincoln and narration by Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Milius (Apocalypse Now).

This moving film allowed me to discover many surprising facts about American Jews during the Civil War.

More after the jump.
Various rabbis argued both for and against slavery. Rabbi David Einhorn of Baltimore wrote in support of abolitionism in his German-language newspaper “Sinai”. In 1861, he was run out of town by the local pro-slavery community. Imagine how differently the Civil War would have played out had Gov. Thomas Hicks allowed Maryland to join the Confederacy.

The word Jew was used mostly as a verb with a negative connotation at that time, so the Jews in the film mostly referred to themselves as following the Mosaic tradition, as Israelites or as Hebrews. This latent anti-Semitism was probably a factor in Jews being excluded from the Chaplaincy in the Army and Gen. Grant’s infamous General Order 11 which expelled all Jews from the Tennessee Territory – the only expulsion of Jews in American history.

Jews were loyal patriots and began to expect fair treatment in return. The Jewish community directly petitioned President Lincoln in both of these cases, and Lincoln was quite understanding. Lincoln appointed our countries first Jewish chaplain, setting the stage for Jewish observances during all future U.S. conflicts. Lincoln also reversed General Order 11. During the 1868 Presidential election, the question of General Order 11 was raised by the secular press; Grant repudiated the controversial order, asserting it had been drafted by a subordinate and he signed the document without reading. Grant won the election, receiving the majority of the Jewish vote. In fact, Grant participated in the dedication of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC becoming the first American President to attend a synagogue service.

Civil War historian Gregory J. W. Urwin, professor of history at Temple University, moderated the post-film discussion with Jonathan Gruber, the film’s director, producer and writer, and Rabbi Lance Sussman, Ph.D. and senior rabbi at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, a lecturer and author on Jewish history.      

For a list of showings of to order the DVD, please visit the National Center for Jewish Film website.

Triangle Factory Fire Memorial at Nat’l Museum of Amer. Jewish History

One hundred years ago on March 25th, 1911, the Triangle Waist Company in New York City erupted in flames, and the resulting deaths of 146 people, mostly Jewish and Italian women immigrant workers, many of them teenage girls, galvanized a city and a movement. The Triangle fire was a watershed moment in the history of the American Jewish labor movement and social reform.

On March 24, 2011, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, the Jewish Labor Committee, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN), the Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO and the National Museum of American Jewish History are joining forces to commemorate this tragic event, honor those who gave their lives and discuss the evolution of the labor and reform movements that the Triangle fire inspired.

Join us for this extraordinary program, including a documentary film about the fire and its aftermath and viewing of the first floor exhibit at the new National Museum of American Jewish History. Hear about JSPAN’s new initiative to advance the Kosher Clothes movement here. Tickets are $36 (students $18) but seating is limited. Advance ticket purchase is absolutely necessary from Ruthanne Madway, JSPAN Executive Director, 215-546-3732

More after the jump.

The fire at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City, which claimed the lives of 146 young immigrant workers, is one of the worst disasters since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

This incident has had great significance to this day because it highlights the inhumane working conditions to which industrial workers can be subjected. To many, its horrors epitomize the extremes of industrialism.

The tragedy still dwells in the collective memory of the nation and of the international labor movement. The victims of the tragedy are still celebrated as martyrs at the hands of industrial greed.

The Triangle Waist Company was in many ways a typical sweated factory in the heart of Manhattan, at 23-29 Washington Place, at the northern corner of Washington Square East. Low wages, excessively long hours, and unsanitary and dangerous working conditions were the hallmarks of sweatshops. …

Even today, sweatshops have not disappeared in the United States. They keep attracting workers in desperate need of employment and illegal immigrants, who may be anxious to avoid involvement with governmental agencies. Recent studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor found that 67% of Los Angeles garment factories and 63% of New York garment factories violate minimum wage and overtime laws. Ninety-eight percent of Los Angeles garment factories have workplace health and safety problems serious enough to lead to severe injuries or death.

A Hyphenated Identity

— Hannah Lee

Schoolchildren of the early 19th century were punished for speaking any language other than English.  We’ve come a long way in our tolerance of differences.  (My mother-in-law says that someone who speaks English with an accent knows at least one other language, a dig at the monolingual Americans.)  We’ve changed our perspective in cultural assimilation and the iconic image is no longer of the melting pot, but the salad bowl, in which the ingredients are separate and distinct.

More after the jump.
A running series in the New York Times on racial identity in America highlights the growing comfort that young Americans have in declaring a multiracial background.  According to the Pew Research Center, one in seven new marriages is between spouses of different races or ethnicities.  The latest installment in the series looked at how different institutions tally racial data.  In contrast, I’ll ask the question from the other end: what does it mean when college student Michelle López-Mullins (right) identifies herself as being of “Peruvian, Chinese, Irish, Shawnee, and Cherokee” descent.  How does she honor each of these heritages?

My Rabbi said that Philadelphia’s new National Museum of American Jewish History is very good at depicting how successful Jews have become in America, but it fails at telling how Jews in America are Jewish.  A critic from the New York Times asked at the time of its opening, if this country needed another monument touting the success of Jews (which is better, I say, than another monument about the death of Jews).  So, my friend asked me, are there any U.S. museums that does what my Rabbi thinks the one in Philly should?  Well, the Yeshiva University Museum puts on exhibits that highlight aspects of Jewish history, but it’s an institution that’s not well-known outside of the Orthodox Jewish community.

At least once a year, I love to visit the Museum of the Chinese in America (MoCA) in a tenement building re-designed by Maya Lin, the Chinese-American architect who established her reputation while still at Yale with her design of the Vietnam War Memorial.  It has an extensive permanent display of notable Chinese-Americans, with more details and more personages than in any other setting or book.  There are other informative displays from American history, which are unsettling because of the prejudice the Chinese have faced.  There is also a replica of the historical Chinese store, which once served as a community center for its compatriots.  The current traveling exhibit is on Chinese puzzles-tangrams, linked rings, sliding block puzzles, and Burr puzzles (see www.ChinesePuzzles.org).  The museum succeeds in educating visitors regardless of their background.  The books available for purchase in the gift shop are of particular value to me, as these titles are not promoted in the mainstream media.  

The difference between MoCA and the National Museum of American Jewish History — or rather the difference between what the latter museum is and what it could be — may lie in the difference between ethnicity and religion.  The donors and board of trustees of the Jewish Museum chose to depict Jewishness as a cultural trait.  My Rabbi defines Jewishness as Yahadut, a religion.  Ergo, it’s a difficult balance to reach out to a wider audience.  My husband noted that the donor list of MoCA included corporate and government sponsors, who were comfortable with the idea of a cultural museum about the Chinese.  Similarly, it seems the sponsors of the new Jewish museum wanted to tell the cultural story of the Jews in America.  

Finally, what is the difference between a Jewish American and an American Jew?  It lies in the value the person places on the relative labels.  Someone who declares herself an American Jew says that being Jewish is more transcendent than being American.  And such as person identifies as a religious Jew.  So, the National Museum of American Jewish History needs to live up to its chosen name.  It needs to also educate the public about the religious history of Jews in America.

“36 Letters, One Family’s Story” by Joan Sohn

— Book review by Ben Burrows

It was a chilly windy Sunday. My wife and I had just spent four hours on the top two floors of the new National Museum of Jewish American History on Independence Mall, reviewing artifacts like a deerskin frontier Torah, relearning timelines of Jewish settlement in Philadelphia, New Orleans, South Carolina and Florida. It was a lot of material to take in and to keep straight. It was in some ways a relief to drive down towards the Franklin Parkway, to attend the book launch I had committed to review for the Philadelphia Jewish Voice, for a very different and much more personal sort of history, at The Jewish Publication Society.

Joan SohnJust finding a place to sit down was something of a relief. Rabbi Barry Schwartz of The Jewish Publication Society, which published Joan Sohn’s 36 Letters, One Family’s Story, gave a brief introduction to JPS’s decision to publish this family history. Rabbi Andrea Merow, currently of Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park, spoke of Temple Sholom’s involvement with the Korman family where she had earlier held the pulpit, and the dedication of its chapel to Sohn’s great-grandfather Rabbi Binyamin Korman. She spoke of her friendship with Sohn and her encouragement for elaborating the family story.

Then Joan Sohn herself was introduced, to present a brief outline of her delightful, focused yet whimsical history of her grandparents’ romance — of their immigration estrangement while Chaim came to New York, and of Yente’s arrival to live first with her uncle’s Philadelphia family, and of their joyous reunion and marriage when Chaim came from New York and established
himself in the community.

More after the jump.
But a publication launch, even with personal conversations with the relatives who knew the couple Yetta and Hyman as the matriarch and patriarch of their family, is not enough to communicate the warmth and love, the schmaltz, the krupnik and kugel recipes, the sheer passion of two Jews, each the children of classical Jewish scholars, who chanced to meet, who fell in love, who convinced their families to approve a long-distance match. Unlike my experience at the museum, where we hurried through two floors of American Jewish history in four hours, 36 Letters is a book to linger over, which I read eagerly for almost three weeks, despite its length, just under 120 pages.

At the most fundamental level, this is a story of discovery. As Sohn explains in her introduction, her parents (Sarah and Barney Moss) went to organize family items from Hyman Korman’s apartment, when he passed away in 1970. At the time, a box of portraits, documents and letters were packed away for her Uncle Sam, but remained at the Moss home unopened. Then, in 1996, Sam Korman too passed away. It was then that Sohn was invited to look through the materials for her own family keepsakes. Looking at the portraits, she was able to guess that the photographs were those of her grandparents.

Curious about the letters, she asked her parents, to see if they knew what they were about, but they were unfamiliar. Apparently, Hyman had never explained their significance. A family friend, Elyce Teitleman, located a translator, Mark Alsher, and Sohn’s parents underwrote the translation which began Sohn’s journey.


What she found was so much more than the photographs and letters. What she found was the autobiographical love story of the author’s grandparents, and it reads well – with aching absence, with a parting for the New World, with the delight of recognition and caring, with the anticipation of reunion, with the consummation, and the success of a life’s work together. On quite another level, this is a love story of the author, rediscovering her grandparents as young adults, and falling in love with them as valued friends. On still another level, it is a self-discovery by Joan Sohn, moved now from Melrose Park to Toronto, of how much she shared with her grandparents, and yet how different their experiences, in their very different migrations.

Sohn does not hesitate to give the reader background, from world history, from family history, from family recipes, in prefaces, in footnotes, in illustrations, in marginal notes. The experience of reading this book brought me back to my experience reading Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice – one of the favorite texts of my young adulthood — where an apparently simple children’s story was revealed for its complex secrets and internal references. Sohn has provided the same sort of illustrations, annotations, and background, lovingly compiled for the reader to understand the world of 1905, and the burgeoning universe that opened for Hyman and Yetta in the wonderland of the New World. I can only hope that you will linger as I did, and make friends with Joan Sohn’s grandparents, and share their love and their success.

All photographs, courtesy of Joan Sohn, with permission.