NMAJH Exhibition: Jewish Refugee Scholars At Black Colleges

— by Ilana Blumenthal

The National Museum of American Jewish History kicks off an exciting January-February programs calendar with the upcoming special exhibition, opening January 15 — Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges.

This moving exhibition tells the little-known story of Jewish academics who came to America in the 1930s as refugees and found homes, work, and community at historically black colleges in the segregated South.  

The following public programs held in conjunction with this exhibition provide an opportunity to further explore the themes found in the exhibition such as mentorship, leadership, identity, and cross-cultural understanding through music, film, theater, and great conversation. The season begins with our annual free Martin Luther King Family Day on Monday, January 21.

Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries Deserve Recognition

B’nai B’rith Plays Key Role in Bipartisan Congressional Action

(B’nai B’rith International) Shortly before the recess a bipartisan bill  was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would recognize the nearly 1 million Jews displaced from their homes in Arab nations due to the Middle East conflict. Under the bill, the president and other government officials would be urged to note Jewish refugees each time a reference to Palestinian refugees is made at international events.

This new bill takes a 2008 House resolution on the matter a step further, requiring the president to report on how the original resolution is being implemented. The State Department would be required to issue a report every two years explaining what the administration has done to advance the issue and offering recommendations for future action.

The plight of Jewish refugees is often overlooked.  Jews living in Arab countries have had their human rights violated, their property and businesses confiscated and have been displaced from their homes.  By most estimates, fewer than 5,000 Jews remain in Arab countries. Not one of the more than 100 United Nations resolutions that refer to Palestinian refugees mentions Jewish refugees.

More after the jump.
“We want to ensure that the United States makes the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab nations a priority in multilateral discussions about the Middle East conflict. Any time refugee issues are discussed in the context of the peace negotiations, the rights of Jewish refugees need to be given their proper place,” B’nai B’rith International Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Fusfield said.

B’nai B’rith wishes to thank the sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and the co-sponsors:  Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.),  Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R-Fla.) and Rep. Bob Turner (D-N.Y.).  

How the Israel Philharmonic Saved Jews From the Nazis

— by Hannah Lee
I did not hear of this in time to write about it for Yom HaShoah or Yom Ha’Atzmaut, but I didn’t want to sit on it for a whole year.  It was aired on Israel’s Channel 2 in April.  My husband’s maternal uncle, Yaacov Mishori, emeritus principal horn player of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and a former member of the orchestra management team, appears on-camera as one of the commentators.  The two video clips together total one hour of viewing; they are in Hebrew with Hebrew subtitles, but some of the people interviewed speak in English.

When you search the origins of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), you get a brief paragraph on Wikipedia:

The IPO was founded by violinist Bronisław Huberman in 1936, at a time when many Jewish musicians were being fired from European orchestras. Its inaugural concert took place in Tel Aviv on December 26, 1936, and was conducted by Arturo Toscanini.

However, the full story is much more heartbreaking.  

More after the jump.

Bronislaw Huberman, born in Częstochowa, Poland in 1882, was a child prodigy on the violin.  At the tender age of 14, he performed the violin concerto of Johannes Brahms in the presence of the composer, who cried and was “stunned by the quality of his playing.”  [“Around this time the six-year- old Arthur Rubinstein saw one of Huberman’s concerts.  Rubinstein’s parents invited Huberman back to their house and the two boys struck up what would become a lifetime friendship.”]  

During the ’30s, Huberman sought a way to help his fellow musicians who were facing persecution and murder at the hands of the Nazis.  He devised a plan that used the guise of recruiting musicians for a newly created Palestine Orchestra, funding the effort with his own money.  There were only 72 spots in the orchestra.  He auditioned his musicians, standing with his back to the musicians, because he knew that anyone he did not select would most likely perish during wartime Europe.  The chosen ones were all excellent musicians of high-standing.  Some even defected to the kibbutzim shortly after arriving, allowing Huberman the opportunity to recruit additional Jews.  The languages spoken by the early members of the orchestra were German, Polish, Hungarian, and Russian.  The orchestra later changed its name to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and it played “Hatikvah” at the Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948 at the Tel Aviv Museum.

In a similar manner was the welcome offered in American academia, including the creation of the Committee on Social Thought in 1941 at the University of Chicago by the historian John U. Nef, the economist Frank Knight, the anthropologist Robert Redfield, and Robert M. Hutchins, then President of the university.   Lore passed down by the students say that the new department was created to provide a convenient haven for refugees fleeing from wartime Europe.  Over the years, temporary and permanent refugee members of the Committee have included Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Allan Bloom, Friederich Hayek, Leszek Kolakowski, Edward Levi, Paul Ricoeur, and Karl J. Weintraub.

The video clips are bracketed by the playing of Brahms in Częstochowa’s synagogue (now a concert hall) by Joshua Bell, an American with Jewish maternal ancestry.  There were dual historical and personal connections, because Bell now plays on a Stradivarius violin called the Gibson ex Huberman (the names of its first two owners), which was made in 1713.  It had been stolen twice in its lifetime: once for three days in 1919 and the second time on February 28, 1936 from the dressing room of Carnegie Hall.  Huberman never saw it again in his lifetime.  The violin only re-surfaced in 1985 with the deathbed confession of the thief, a former nightclub musician named Julian Altman.  Bell was able to buy the violin for just under $4 million dollars, right before it was to be sold to a German industrialist to become part of a collection.   Bell’s maternal grandmother was from Minsk and his maternal grandfather was born in Israel, so Bell mused on the video that “he might have listened to Huberman play.”

Israel Palestinian Conflict: The Truth About the Refugees

Israel’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Danny Ayalon explains the historical facts relating to the issue of refugees in the Israeli Palestinian conflict. The video explains the reason there are still refugees after more than six decades is because of Arab leaders’ recalcitrance to accept their brethren and the United Nations which created a separate agency with unique principles and criteria. The video also highlights the issue of the Jewish refugees who were forced out of their homes in the Arab world, and were subsequently absorbed by the State of Israel.

Survival of the Fittest?

By Hannah Lee

This past weekend, my father-in-law startled me by saying that the assistance that I provide to my refugee clients may not be in their best interest, that it may even hamper the development of their own independence.  He urged me to interview my parents and ask them about the difficulties in their first year in the United States as immigrants.  No one helped them, did they?  No, no one or any agency did.  He continued: This country is great because of the immigrants who’ve come and succeeded– on their own.  We do a disservice to them when we pamper them to the extent of inhibiting their own initiative.

I was so perturbed by this conversation that I sought out my Rabbi for a perspective based more on ethics than on Darwinism.  How could I be doing wrong by my refugees?

More after the jump.
           
His teshuvah (halachic response) is that there must be a balance.  Historically, the immigrants who have succeeded the most– the Jews, the Irish, the Koreans– did benefit from the assistance of their own communities.  They did not wait for government handouts.  Their brethren provided valuable resource in the guise of networking, interest-free loans, and employment opportunities.  Everyone had to undergo the agony of cultural assimilation and the foibles of alienation.  A family tale: My husband’s aunt came to visit her daughter in New York and because her Israeli accent was thick, the driver (who may have also been an immigrant and burdened with an accent of his own) did not understand her stated destination of Roosevelt Island, so he drove her to Riker’s Island, where the main prison is located and from where no taxis can be hailed!  No, no agency could have helped her with her situation.

During this graduation season, I am witness to the different kinds of parenting among my friends and acquaintances.  A woman from my shul told me she was renting a van to drive her daughter to Chicago and would I need anything brought home?  No, I don’t want anything brought back home!  Then, a dear friend told me she’d brought her housekeeper along to clean her son’s quarters upon graduation.  By dint of unusual circumstances as well as personal choice, my daughter left for college by herself with only two bags and she has never asked us to drive her to or back from Chicago.  She will be moving to her new apartment without our assistance.  Her father has given her money for her living expenses, but we have friends who told their children that they are on their own after college (or they could move back home).  I’m glad our daughter is motivated to being independent.

Babies thrive best when they have a safe and stable environment with nurturing caregivers.  We endow our children with the resources of our families.  They proceed to negotiate with the outside world on their own terms, drawing upon the family capital but also drawing on their own strengths and talents.

Immigrants are motivated for success by choosing to leave their families, their people, their land.  You could say that they are pre-selected for success.  However, as my Rabbi has noted, even individual hard work needs the benefit of siyatah d’shmayah (Heavenly assistance).  So, I am relieved to conclude thus: my refugees do need help while they are learning the language and mores of our culture (and more than the 180 days that HIAS is contracted to provide).  The Social Worker had cautioned me about not beguiling them with American generosity; however, she’s met refugees who came off the plane with so few possessions that they filled only two rice sacks!  So, I’ll try hard not to pamper them needlessly.  They will land on their feet and succeed, and I serve as their Advocate, the “angel” (if I could be so bold to say so) who could give them some assistance along the way.