By Ralph Shapiro
1Q. Why has the survival of the Jewish people been described as “stranger than fiction”?
1A. In all world history, after about two generations (e.g., two hundred years) since a group of people were displaced from their homeland did these people continue to follow their old traditions and practices; they assimilated into their new ruler’s practices. Not so for the Jewish people.
The biblical Jewish people having lived essentially as slaves in Egypt for more than 100 years were able to survive the trip back through the desert to their homeland in Canaan and established a united Jewish Kingdom. After King Solomon’s rule, in 933 B.C.E. the kingdom was split into the southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel. These two kingdoms periodically fought each other. The Kingdom of Israel, which developed Baal idol worship under Queen Jezebel’s promotion, lasted about 200 years (destroyed by the Assyrians), with its inhabitants scattered throughout Asia, e.g., Hebrews of India thought to be descendants of the 10 lost tribes of Israel, and possibly throughout Africa, e.g., African communities practicing Jewish customs found by the Kulanu organization—possible descendents of the 10 lost tribes of Israel or from Jewish King Solomon’s African family.
Initially, shortly after the first Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C.E. by the Babylonians, the Jewish people living in the Jewish Kingdom of Judah were exiled to Babylonia, and the Kingdom of Judah ended. In time, the Jewish people found their way back to their homeland. Under the Maccabees they revolted against Syria, which had taken over Palestine, to establish the Second Jewish Commonwealth with a rededicated Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E. The miracle of the one day supply of oil burning in the menorah for eight days that is the basis of Chanukah stems, as told in the Talmud, from this Temple rededication.
The Second Jewish Commonwealth, which lasted about 100 years, ended in 39 B.C.E. under the might of the Roman Empire. There was an unsuccessful rebellion against Roman rule starting in 67 C.E., that ended in 70 C.E. with the second Holy Temple also destroyed; the only structure remaining was the western wall of the Temple mount. Many thousand of Jews died in the rebellion and thousands were sold as slaves. The rest were expelled from Judea.
The displaced Palestinian Jewish people continued to live around the world as the Jewish People with a common Judaic type religion but without a homeland. Starting in 1948, after almost 2,000 years without a homeland, the Jewish people regained their homeland in the State of Israel (Eretz Yisrael)—truly, a story, an accomplishment that is “stranger than fiction”.
2Q. Belief in miracles is generally held only by the religious community. What Jewish accomplishment occurred in 1948/49 that can be considered a miracle by almost everyone?
2A. The Arab countries had expressed their intention of not accepting the 1947 UN Palestine Partition Plan and on May 15, 1948, the day Israel declared its independence, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq immediately invaded the areas of Palestine where the Jews lived. Their aim was to destroy or starve into submission the isolated Jewish settlements. These Arab countries with large formally trained armies having modern tanks, artillery pieces, fighter planes and bombers were opposed by an irregular Jewish army with no military airplanes and minor artillery pieces. A major difference was that the Jews were fighting for survival.
On July 20, 1949 the armistice with the last Arab country still fighting Israel was signed. The area of Israel was almost twice the Partition Plan size but the Jerusalem Old City including the Wailing Wall remained in the hands of Jordan. An Arab State formal recognition of the Jewish State of Israel had to wait until 1977 when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat recognized the State of Israel and signed a peace accord.
This ability of the untrained Jewish army of settlers with meager equipment to defeat the larger formally trained Arabian armies with modern military weapons and warplanes is certainly a miracle. How else could it have happened?
3Q. Who in the U.S. was most significant in getting the United Nations to approve the Palestine Partition Plan in 1947?
3A. In 1947 the United Nations (UN) deliberated over what to do when the British mandate authority over Palestine, declared by the League of Nations in 1920, ended. This mandate authority was initially set up to enable Great Britain to implement their 1917 Balfour Declaration which had the goal of establishing a Jewish homeland. This goal not only didn’t materialize, during Hitler’s timeframe the British issued White Papers preventing Jews who were trying to escape from Europe’s devastation of Jews from entering Palestine. The UN considered a Palestinian Partition Plan that involved establishing a Jewish State alongside a Palestinian State. It took the work of many people for this to happen.
The most significant player was President Harry Truman, who overrode the U.S. State Department official who intended to have the UN ambassador veto the Partition Plan. It took several diverse people to get Truman’s final approval vote, especially White House liaison official David Niles who finally convinced Truman to override the State Department negative intention. It took frantic lobbying of many Jews to convince several smaller countries (e.g., Philippines, Liberia, and Haiti) that were inclined to reject the Palestine Partition Plan to accept the Partition Plan.
Earlier, Truman’s former haberdashery business partner Edward Jacobson arranged to have influential Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld brief Truman on the importance of a Jewish Palestine to the Jewish people. Jacobson then convinced Truman to meet with British Chief Zionist Chaim Weizmann. After this meeting, Truman promised to support any UN Palestine Partition Plan and recognize a Jewish State that would result.
In 1948 Clark Clifford, President Truman’s special counsel convinced Truman to move ahead with the U.S. approval of the new Jewish State to be established, overriding Secretary of State George Marshall’s position to withhold recognition of a new Jewish State. On May15, 1948, the declaration of the State of Israel was announced at 6:00 P.M. The official White House recognition of the State of Israel was announced at 6:11 P.M.
4Q. Who were the earliest Jews to arrive in the Americas?
4A. Spanish and Portuguese Marrano Jews (i.e., Christians who practiced some form of Judaism, thought to be descendents of Spanish Jews who converted to Catholicism after the 1479 Spanish Inquisition but secretly practiced some form of Judaism) joined the early Spanish and Portuguese invaders of America. They settled in the conquered territories covering the Caribbean, South America, and Mexico. They suffered in South America when the Spanish Inquisition hunted down these Marranos in the New World. They lived comfortably in the Caribbean where they started to live openly as Jews, establishing many synagogues. They also lived in the southwestern United States where they were forced to hide their connection with Judaism. Even today, remnants of these Marranos have been found clinging to traces of Jewish practices, such as treating the Friday night dinner as a special family occasion with candle lighting, but with no religious significance. They are now referred to as Conversos.
5Q. Who were the earliest Jews in the United States? How did these Jews support the development of the United States?
5A. A group of twenty-three Jews fleeing from Portuguese intolerance towards Jews in Recife, Brazil arrived in New Amsterdam (later known as New York City) in 1654. Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant didn’t want to let them in (they also were too poor to pay the boat fee) but was ordered to do so by the parent Dutch East India Company (thanks to Jewish members of the East India Company Board of Directors). Later, mostly Spanish and Portuguese Marrano Jews who returned to Judaism started living in New England and in Georgia. Much later, Jews immigrated from Germany and Russia.
In the colonial days adventurous German Jews became Indian traders, supporting the westward expansion of the colonies. These peddlers served as the commercial link between the farmers and the trade centers. As the peddlers prospered they opened up country stores, general stores and department stores that became well-known family operations. Later they were involved in civic duties during the Gold Rush days. The eastern European Jews concentrated in living in the large eastern cities and were employed mostly in the clothing industry. They influenced this field as entrepreneurs who advanced the productivity of the industry, and as labor leaders who developed labor unions and were advocates of improved working conditions.
6Q. What was the most significant Jewish support of the Revolutionary War effort?
6A. Because the 2,500 Jews in the colonies had no ties to England they had no dual loyalty problem as other Colonists had. The Jews welcomed the religious and economic freedom principles of the Revolution. Jews who already became wealthy used their resources to finance and support the Revolution in many ways. Jewish Indian-traders outfitted the civilian army. Jewish financiers advanced money to pay the soldiers. Some Jewish traders ended trading with the British and even armed their vessels with cannons to destroy British shipping.
The most notable Jewish figure was Haym Solomon. An immigrant from Poland, he joined the Sons of Liberty organization to help prepare for the Revolution. In 1776, the British arrested and condemned him to die for his involvement in destroying British arms in New York City. He escaped to Philadelphia where he became successful as a skillful currency trader. He became the official paymaster of the French troops supporting the Revolution and then the semi-official financier of the Revolutionary effort. Solomon helped finance the first synagogue in Philadelphia. He fought to repeal the Pennsylvania law requiring all office seekers to swear they believed in the Old and New Testament, which effectively kept Jews out of office.
In appreciation of Solomon’s and other Jewish contributions to the Revolutionary cause, Madison and Jefferson were instrumental in defining religious rights embedded in the United States Constitution.
7Q. How did the medieval Arab world strengthen the early Jewish Talmudic Judaism practice in the European community?
7A. Copies of the Talmud written in Babylon and completed in the fifth century made their way to the European Jews. They had raised many questions about the Talmud over the next few hundred years, which remained unanswered because there was no central religious authority to resolve Jewish religious issues since the end of the Bet Din in Palestine in the third century. A large number of Jewish international traders developed under the benevolent Arab rulers of that period. (Arab rulers considered Jews “protected people”, allowing them to be merchants.) They traveled with the Arab shipping that prevailed in that time period. They carried messages between the rabbis in the western European areas and the rabbis in the Middle Eastern Babylonian religious centers, resolving Talmudic issues.
By the eighth century, approximately seventy percent of the Jewish population lived in countries under Arab rule, including the lower part of Spain, North Africa, Turkey, Persia and the Middle East. When the Persian (previously Babylonia) rulers and the rulers of these other Arab countries recognized the Exilarch position (Persian term for religious leader of Jewish people in Persia) to be the highest authority in the Babylonian Jewish community, the large number of European Jews living under Arab rule began to respect the Babylonian Exilarch as their religious authority, strengthening Talmudic Judaism.
8Q. What was the Jewish involvement in the Civil War?
8A. The estimated 150,000 Jews living in the United States at the start of the Civil War were as divided as the rest of the country. Jews were mainly loyal to the side where they lived and fought on both sides. There were vocal Jewish abolitionists and slavery defenders; about twenty-five percent of the Southern Jewish population owned slaves. There were Jewish generals on both sides. The majority of the Jewish soldiers fought for the North, with several all-Jewish regiments and seven Jewish enlisted men earning the Medal of Honor.
A Jew, Judah Benjamin, was the trusted advisor to Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States. Jews were friends of President Lincoln. The entire Jewish population mourned his death through special synagogue services.
9Q. What were the Jewish involvements in World War I and in World War II?
9A. The percentage of Jews that served in the armed forces in both wars was higher than the percentage of the population they represented. President Wilson appointed Jewish financial advisor Bernard Baruch to head the War Industries Board. His success at developing the U.S. industry capability to meet the wartime needs earned him the nation’s respect. There were high Jewish casualties in both wars. Six hundred thousand Jews fought on all fronts in World War II. Thirty-six thousand Jews were decorated; sixteen Jews became generals or admirals.
Early on, American Jews recognized the dangers to the world that Hitler represented. They were strong supporters of Roosevelt’s efforts to aid Great Britain when it became the sole country opposing Hitler after the fall of France to Germany, while at the same time, half the country was isolationist opposing Roosevelt’s activist support program. Jews were accused of dragging the U.S. into World War II by the isolationists, which consisted of about half the country. Anti-Semitic remarks by distinguished people became common. Automaker Henry Ford and aviator Charles Lindbergh were the prominent isolationists and anti-Semites.
The notable Jewish scientist, Albert Einstein, who became a Jewish community leader after arriving in this country from Germany, joined two other refugee Jewish physicists, Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner, in encouraging President Roosevelt to develop the atomic bomb in order to beat the German effort to develop one. Jewish physicists led by J. Robert Oppenheimer played a leading role in developing the U.S. atomic energy program supporting the war effort. Oppenheimer led the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb.
Twenty-six American Jews received the Medal of Honor for their heroic actions during World War I through the Vietnam War.
10Q. Which American Jew made unmatched large philanthropic contributions to Jewish charities and to the African-American community?
10A. Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932) worked his way up from clerk to become the President of Sears Roebuck. He amassed a large fortune and became a contributor to many Jewish and Christian charities, and to many civic and social causes. He gave money to Jewish war relief efforts during World War I, money to promote Jewish agricultural settlements in the Soviet Union, and supported the Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Living in Chicago, he contributed millions to the Chicago University and to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.
Julius Rosenwald included one additional beneficiary category to his philanthropic generosity, the African-American community, which received a large share of the $63 million he donated to charities. Starting in 1910, he subsidized the erection of YMCA buildings for blacks in twenty-five cities, established thousands of rural black schools in the South, and supported black health-care facilities and black cultural activities. He gave $2.7 million for the construction of model-housing for blacks in Chicago. Rosenwald’s philanthropy to black institutions remains unmatched.
11Q. How did Jews support the development of the NAACP movement?
11A. In 1909 a small group of Jews helped establish the NAACP. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise was a leading fundraiser. Jewish lawyer Joel Spingarn served as an effective chairman for the next 10 years. He worked with black leader W.E.B. DuBois to make the NAACP the most forceful organization for black civil rights at that time. He got the U.S. army to establish a separate training camp for World War I black soldiers so they would have better opportunities to get commissions—it was almost impossible for blacks to get commissions with the bigotry that existed in the regular U.S. Army training camps. His brother, Arthur Spingarn, was the NAACP legal counsel for many years and was the NAACP President when the NAACP won the landmark Supreme Court case outlawing school segregation in 1954. Louis Marshall, the leading Jewish civil rights activist at that time, also supported the NAACP on legal matters.
Industrialist Kivie Kaplan, a leading Jewish philanthropist at that time, was the NAACP President for over 10 years. He served as a fundraiser for the NAACP and was a major contributor to the organization. Jews sat on the NAACP Board of Directors since its founding until black militants took over the NAACP and excluded white participants from helping to run the organization.
12Q. What was the highlight Jewish support of the Civil Rights movement?
12A. The Jewish people came to this country to escape intolerance, bigotry and persecution. Throughout Europe, Jews were denied basic civil rights. This background made them very sensitive to the occurrence of civil rights abuses. Starting with their arrival in New Amsterdam (old New York City) when they fought against Peter Stuyvesant to obtain religious and economic freedom, Jews were in the forefront of American civil rights battles for the Jewish people and for the non-Jews. Rabbis pursued the Judaic principle of social justice for all people. Jewish organizations devoted their efforts to civil rights issues. Jewish social welfare organizations and many individual Jews, acting on a non-sectarian basis expressed concern about social injustice issues.
The Jewish people’s Judaic culture and their heritage of being denied civil rights unified the Jewish people in support of civil rights for all in this country. Several prominent Jews stand out as civil rights advocates. Lawyer Louis Marshall, the “spokesman” for the German-Jewish community, was the leading Jewish civil rights activist in the 1920s and 30s. Herbert Lehman gave up his relationship with his family banking business to go into Jewish communal affairs and then into politics. From his position as N.Y. Lieutenant Governor under Governor Franklin Roosevelt, and then as Governor of New York, Lehman was a strong advocate of civil rights. In the 40s and 50s, Congressman Jacob Javits as a liberal Republican congressman and later as a Senator from New York was a leading civil-rights and labor-rights advocate.
The greatest rabbinical fighter for social justice was Rabbi Stephen S. Wise. He believed that Jews were divinely dedicated to seek justice for all people (now explicitly included in Conservative Jewish prayers). He transformed this ideal into the principles of the “Free Synagogue” he established in New York City. He responded to every social issue that arose in his day and became one of the major outspoken civil reform leaders. He spoke forcefully for Jewish rights, labor rights, and justice for blacks. He helped organize the NAACP and lent his prestige to raise funds for that organization.
13Q. Which American nineteenth century Jew became the first philanthropist in this country to give large donations to Jewish and other charities, and gave to Jewish religious institutions?
13A. Judah Touro became wealthy while living in New Orleans at the start of the nineteenth century. He gave money to many Jewish institutions, including almost every synagogue in the country, the Jewish hospital in New Orleans and a hospital in Palestine. He also gave to American and Palestinian Jewish charities. In 1812, as a volunteer in the American army, he was severely wounded in the Battle of New Orleans. A Christian soldier saved him and became a friend of his for life. In appreciation, Judah Touro gave money to many Christian institutions and charities both in New Orleans and around the country. He left money for the famous Newport, Rhode Island Touro Synagogue where his father was cantor, and which was renamed in his honor.
14Q. Who led the early American Zionist movement before becoming a Supreme Court Justice?
14A. Louis Brandeis became the first American Jewish leader to embrace Zionism. Working to resolve garment industry problems, he interacted with several European Zionists and learned to appreciate the problems Jews around the world Jews had. He induced prominent and wealthy Jews to support Zionism by assuring them it would not affect their loyalty to this country and by giving them the opportunity to contribute philanthropically to the poor in Palestine. He recruited Rabbi Stephen S. Wise to join him as the two powerful co-leaders of the American Zionist movement.
Brandeis bowed out of the Zionist movement after being appointed a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Brandeis’s motto was “To be good Americans, we must be better Jews, and to be better Jews, we must become Zionist.” The small American Zionist movement grew thirteen fold in five years thanks to his inspiration and recruiting efforts.
15Q. Which Rabbi became the militant Zionist orator towards the end of World War II?
15A. At the end of World War II, Jewish Zionists were planning for the Holocaust survivor needs that would be required when Hitler was defeated. At these Zionist conferences, Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver was the strongest advocate of an independent Jewish commonwealth as the only guarantee of free immigration. Rabbi Silver replaced Rabbi Wise as the leading Zionist spokesman. He was appointed chairman of the American unit of the Jewish Agency that represented the Palestinian Jews in negotiations regarding Palestine and refugees. He became a fiery preacher of Zionism from his Cleveland pulpit and around the nation. In 1948, he led the campaign to put pressure on President Truman to end the arms embargo on the new Israeli government, which failed.
16Q. In May 1939 the St. Louis was the last ship to leave Germany with 930 Jewish refugees destined for Cuba. The U.S. government handling of the St. Louis is still debatable. What happened?
16A. In May 1939, the St. Louis was then the last ship to leave Germany with Jewish refugees. It had onboard 930 Jews who scraped up money to pay the passage and the Cuban entry-permit fee. Most of them had American quota numbers enabling them to enter the U.S. in one to three years. When the St. Louis reached Havana, the ship had no landing rights. The sympathetic captain, knowing what would happen to the Jews if they returned to Germany, took the ship to Miami hoping the U.S. would let them in. The State Department ordered the Coast Guard to chase the boat away. Canada then also turned the ship away. After the ship landed in Antwerp, Belgium, the Joint Distribution Committee did manage to make a deal with England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands to take some passengers in, posting bonds for them. Unfortunately, those who remained in France, Belgium and the Netherlands were caught in the German occupation of these countries and, except for a few, perished in the death camps.
Why the Jewish advisors to President Roosevelt didn’t try to persuade him to override the State Department has been debatable ever since. No word on this subject was heard from these advisors.
17Q. There was an amazing airplane raid on Entebbe, Uganda; what prompted it; who conducted it; what did it accomplish; who was the only (high–level) fatality?
17A. In 1976, Palestinian and German terrorists hijacked a French passenger plane that left Israel with 98 Israelis on board and took them to Entebbe, Uganda. They wanted the release of Arab prisoners in Israel in exchange for the release of the Israelis. The Israeli government rejected this request. With the assistance of the Kenyan government, who gave them landing rights and helped with refueling, four Israeli planes including a large Hercules rescue vehicle landed in the dark at Entebbe. The commandos stormed the airport and killed the 13 terrorists. After fighting off several hundred Ugandan soldiers, they rescued all the passengers except one, and left Entebbe with the 98 former Israeli hostages aboard the recue plane.
The only Israeli fatality was the commando leader, Israeli Lieutenant Colonel Joni Netanyahu, the older brother of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The success of this daring raid, which took painstaking preparation, won the admiration of the Israeli public and the world at large.
18Q. What is the basis for some Jewish and other scholars suggesting that the complete Torah was written by humans, and not by God according to Jewish religious belief?
18A. Many Jewish scholars who analyzed the wording of the Torah sections offered two main reasons for human authorship of the Bible. One relates to the term for God in the Torah. Sometimes it is Yahweh, the term for God in the southern Kingdom of Judah, and sometimes it is Elohim, the popular name for God in the northern Kingdom of Israel. The other reason stressed the simpler writing style in Deuteronomy compared to the other books. Analysts also suggested that the stronger words in Deuteronomy to follow God’s Ten Commandments were introduced later by young King Josiah of Judah to convince the Judean people to adhere to the Torah after they strayed under his predecessor, his grandfather King Manasseh, whose fifty-five year rule of Judah involved extensive idol worship.
Deuteronomy ends with the statement “There hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face-to-face.” These words that look ahead many years after the actual death described in the Bible, which ended the Bible, had to have been offered many years after the death of Moses.
The quote of 600,000 males leaving Egypt during the Exodus, as quoted in the Exodus and Numbers Torah sections, is referenced as examples of human Torah fabrication by many doubters of God’s Torah authorship. There is no way for the few hundred Israeli males who left Canaan for Egypt could have multiplied in the 400 years (five generations) since then to reach 600,000 males. Recently it has been attributed to erroneously using an incorrect large unit of measure when writing the new Torah from the old biblical version.
Other Jewish scholars maintain there were multiple authors of sections of today’s version of the Torah based on the writing style differences in the five books. They suggest it was the fifth century B.C.E. Jewish Scribe Ezra who put it all together, including the comment about there being no prophet after Moses described above.
19Q. As written in the Bible, God did not permit the biblical Prophet Moses who led the Israelite exodus from Egypt to get to the Promised Land of Israel. Why? How close did Moses get?
19A. While wandering in the desert after leaving Egypt, the Israelites led by Moses and Aaron questioned God’s good intentions for them because there was no water for them. God instructed Moses to speak to a rock and water would flow. Moses and Aaron didn’t believe this would happen so God instructed Moses to strike the rock with a stick, and water flowed. God punished both of these leaders for this disbelief in God’s capability and indicated he would not permit them to enter the Promised Land. Aaron died in the desert on the way to the Promised Land.
Years later, as they got near to the Promised Land, Moses went up to a high mountain top, Mt. Nebo, on the east side of the Dead Sea, which was not to be Israeli country. He could see westward to the ocean and the main areas in-between to become Israeli, and could see far northward to the top of Mt. Herman which was beyond the land to be Israeli. While there, Moses died according to God’s earlier plan for Moses’ death and Moses was given the Jewish 30-day mourning period respect. His burial place was not recorded in the Bible and is unknown.
20Q. Learning was the pillar of strength for the Jewish people during the dark days of the Middle-Ages and into the twentieth century. Which eleventh-century scholar wrote a complete set of commentaries on the Bible and Talmud?
20A. The name of Rabbi Shlomo ben Itzchak, known as Rashi, is not too familiar to the typical Jew today. This rabbi who lived in Troyes, France, was a brilliant interpreter of Jewish religious documents and one of the greatest educators. His complete set of commentaries on the Bible and Talmud became a standard addition to all printed versions of these two documents. His commentaries enabled the average Jewish religious student to fully understand the Scriptures and the Talmud. Written in a clear and concise manner that was easy for all to understand, his commentaries were accepted by his contemporaries without challenge. His commentaries, which were integrated into the Talmud text, gave life to the Talmud which was written in Aramaic and difficult to follow. Rashi’s study technique was to have the student enjoy learning, stimulating the students to arrive at their own answers. “Rashi” became the important tool for teaching Bible and Talmud in all the academies of Jewish learning.
21Q. The earlier European Jewish community had the saying “From Moses to Moses, there arose none like Moses.” What modern Moses does this Moses quote refer to? What did he accomplish?
21A. The foremost Jew of the Middle-Ages was Moses ben Maimon–called Rambam (abbreviation of his name) by Jews and known as Maimonides to the world. Forced to leave his home in Cordoba, Spain at the age of 13, he went to North Africa where he continued his studies with his father. From these hostile surroundings he went on to become a master of so many subjects that he became the marvel of the world. Maimonides became a physician of such capability he was appointed as physician to the vizier of Egypt and consultant to the famous Saladin family that ruled Egypt. While conducting this work, he found time to be the leader of the Jewish Egyptian community, to continue his studies, to write his many religious, scientific and philosophical books, and become a jurist and legal philosopher. His works made a major impact on Judaism and had a strong influence on European philosophy.
His major religious book was the Mishneh Torah which codified all the laws of the Talmud in a way that a lay person could understand the laws without having to deal with the massive Talmudic commentaries. He formulated the Thirteen Principles of Faith that has been incorporated into the Orthodox and Conservative daily prayers and has essentially become the Jewish creed.
Maimonides attempted to apply reason to Judaic principles and reconcile Jewish faith with scientific principles. This thinking was opposed by many rabbis of that period who held to the traditional view of the Bible. Maimonides’s major philosophical work is the Guide for the Perplexed. It attempted to show the compatibility of Judaism with Aristotelian logic. He provided a rational interpretation of the biblical miracles, sacrificial system, and prophecy, eliminating many of the superstitions that prevailed.
22Q. Who founded Hadassah, the largest Zionist and Jewish woman’s organization in America? What famous Israeli medical facility is associated with this organization?
22A. Henrietta Szold founded Hadassah in 1912 as a woman’s Zionist organization dedicated to providing high-quality health care to the Palestinian Jews and to the Palestinian Arabs as well. She went to Palestine in 1920 and remained there until her death twenty-five years later, personally directing the Hadassah-funded medical activities and serving as Hadassah President.
In 1940, the Hadassah organization joined other pro-Zionists in pressing the U.S. and other free countries around the world to aid escapees from the German terror. Hadassah has been a vigorous supporter of the State of Israel since it was established.
Hadassah established two hospitals and several medical facilities around Palestine; the most important one is the large Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. It became the premier hospital in the Middle East, providing expert health care to Jews and Arabs alike, and to people from undeveloped countries that lacked adequate medical facilities.
23Q. What prompted the 1967 Israeli Six Day War and what strategy made it successful for Israel?
23A. After a relatively peaceful period, Egyptian President Nasser mobilized a large Egyptian army equipped with modern Soviet arms on Israel’s southern border and told the Arab world he intended to destroy Israel. Troops, tanks and airplanes from other Arab countries in the area joined his military ring around Israel. Then he closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping.
The Israelis concluded that a preemptive, well planned attack was necessary to be successful in stopping the Arab nations’ goal of destroying Israel. The Israeli air force first launched a surprise attack on the Egyptian air force, destroying most of Egypt’s 300 military planes on the ground and then attacked the Jordanian, Iraqi and Syrian planes, destroying most of them as well. The Israeli tank forces then devastated the Egyptian tank forces that now had no air support and reached the Suez Canal on the fifth day. Jerusalem was overtaken after house-to-house battles with the Jordanians, putting Jews in control of their holy shrine, the Temple Western Wall, for the first time in almost two-thousand years.
24Q. What prompted Muhammad, founder of the Islamic religion, to turn against the Jewish people?
24A. The Arabian Jews mostly resisted Muhammad’s initial advances to accept his new religion (as did most Arabs at that period). A Jewish tribe near the city of Medina joined the Medina Arabs in fighting Muhammad’s forces, and then other Arabian Jewish tribes joined other Arab tribes fighting Muhammad’s forces elsewhere—this of course angered Muhammad.
Muhammad then tried to conquer the large Arabian city of Mecca, which had a large black stone, the Ka’aba, which was very important to the pagan Arabian community. After Muhammad’s forces succeeded in overtaking Mecca, Muhammad adapted the Ka’aba as his own shrine, which helped him win over many Arab adherents to his new religion. He then gave up trying to get the Arabian Jews to adapt his religion and changed the Islamic laws to eliminate similarities to Judaism; e.g., highlight, Muslims were required to face Mecca instead of facing Jerusalem when praying.
25Q. Who became the first modern woman to lead a nation and what was the nation that she led? What was her background?
25A. Golda Meir, formerly Golda Meyerson, had been an American school teacher who as an elderly grandmother came out of retirement to live in Israel as part of the third Aliyah movement. She became active in the Israeli labor movement and helped to keep the Israeli Labor Party together.
Golda Meir was a signatory of the Declaration of the State of Israel in May, 1948. She met secretly with Jordanian King Abdulla in an attempt to persuade him to accept the new State of Israel. She became the Head of the Israeli legation in Moscow. In October 1948, although Zionism had been banished for twenty-five years, a sense of solidarity with the Jews of Israel was shown by thousands of Jews outside a Moscow synagogue as they greeted Golda Meir, the head of the new Israeli legation in Moscow. She was an effective Israeli fundraiser in the United States after that. Her main theme was solidarity of Israel with the Soviet Jews who were struggling for the right to emigrate to Israel. She was instrumental in convincing President Nixon to grant U.S. aid in the form of military and economic assistance.
In 1969 Golda Meir, formerly a U.S. school teacher, was selected as the fourth Prime Minister of Israel, replacing Levi Eshkol who died of a heart attack. She became the first woman to lead a nation in the modern era. Golda Meir was Prime Minister in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War. She resigned a year later because of her government’s poor recognition of Egypt’s military buildup and Israel’s slow reaction once the war started.
26Q. Stirrings of Zionism started in Europe in the early nineteenth century, but faded. Who in the late nineteenth century revived the Zionist movement? What fund did he establish? Where is he buried?
26A. The first stirrings of Jewish nationalism came from a German Jewish Socialist, Moses Hess in the middle of the nineteenth century. He rationalized the logic of Jewish nationalism, underscoring its importance to Jewish emancipation, and followed later by the Russian Jew Leo Pinsker.
| The poor conditions in Palestine dampened any Zionist enthusiasm until Theodor Herzl made his impact. As an Austrian newspaper writer in Paris, France, Theodor Herzl was exposed to several anti-Semitic incidents that rocked the French nation—false claims of Jewish involvement in French national scandals. He developed his Zionist outlook as expressed in his 1895 book, The Jewish State, which essentially fathered the Zionist movements with the First Zionist Congress, held in Basel, Switzerland in 1897. He established the world-wide voluntary Jewish National Fund to buy land in Palestine for the entire Jewish people. As per his dying wish in 1904, in 1949 his remains were transferred from Vienna, Austria to Mount Herzl outside of Jerusalem where there is now a Herzl Museum.
27Q. Who wrote the poem, “The New Colossus” that is inscribed on a plaque that is on the N.Y. Statue of Liberty pedestal?
27A. In 1883 Emma Lazarus was asked to compose a sonnet for the “Art Loan Fund Exhibition in aid of the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund for the Statue of Liberty” – an art and literary auction to raise funds for the Statue’s pedestal run by the American Committee for the Statue of Liberty. In response, Lazarus, inspired by her own Sephardic Jewish heritage, her experiences working with refugees on Ward’s Island and the plight of the immigrants, wrote “The New Colossus” sonnet on November 2, 1883. Aside from writing, Lazarus was also involved in charitable work for refugees. At NY Ward’s Island destitute housing facility, she worked as an aide for Jewish immigrants who had been detained by the immigration officials at Castle Garden (in lower Manhattan), before Ellis Island was set up). She was deeply moved by the plight of the Russian Jews she met there, and these experiences influenced her writing.
However, after its initial popularity, the sonnet slowly faded from public memory. It was not until 1901, seventeen years after Lazarus’s death, that Georgina Schuyler, a friend of hers, found a book containing the sonnet in a bookshop and organized a civic effort to resurrect the lost work. Her efforts paid off and in 1903 words from the sonnet were inscribed on a plaque and placed on the inner wall of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Today, the plaque is on display in the Statue of Liberty Exhibit in the Statue’s pedestal.
28Q. Who became the first Prime Minister of Israel; what was his role in Israel’s development?
28A. As an early Zionist, David Ben-Gurion arrived in Palestine from Russia in 1906 and spent the next forty years guiding and preparing the Jewish people in Palestine to have their own Jewish state that would open the door to Jewish immigration. Before the State of Israel was created, as an active Zionist, Ben-Gurion urged a militant approach of battling the Arabs and the British as opposed to the political approach of negotiating with Great Britain urged by Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann.
In 1948 during the battles for independence there was a Jewish extremist organization attack on the Arab village of Deir Yassin near Jerusalem in which many civilians were killed. Ben-Gurion and the Haganah leadership immediately recognized this incident to be an unfortunate improper attack on civilians that violated the Israeli military code of avoiding attacks on civilians. They quickly denounced the extremist behavior at Deir Yassin and arrested the leaders of the attack.
In 1949, fifty-two years after the first World Zionist Congress, the first Jewish parliament in two thousand years elected David Ben-Gurion as the first Prime Minister of the new State of Israel. He led a coalition of four Israeli parties with different aspirations for the new State of Israel to accomplish an effective new government. In 1950, David Ben-Gurion gave the reason for the creation of the State of Israel: “The State of Israel has served as one nation for all Jews.”
29Q. Who did the first Israeli Knesset (Parliament) elect as the first President of the State of Israel; what was the President’s background?
29A. The Knesset elected Chaim Weizmann to the mostly ceremonial position of President of the State of Israel. He was honored for his significant contributions to Zionism and for the impact he had on the creation of the State of Israel.
Chaim Weizmann was an early forceful British Zionist. In 1918 he led a Zionist commission to work with the British in their takeover of Palestine to be constructive for the Jewish residents; he laid the cornerstone for the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem.
Chaim Weizmann had a very significant role in the creation of the new State of Israel. In March 1948 when the previously approved United Nations Palestine Partition Plan was starting to fall apart, he met with President Truman (meeting suggested to Truman by his old friend Edward Jacobson) and convinced Truman about the importance of supporting the Partition Plan. President Truman then supported the Plan and overrode the U.S. UN Ambassador’s intention to support repealing the Partition Plan. On May 15, 1948, at 6:00 PM, the Jerusalem Jewish Agency organization involved in creating the Jewish State of Israel declared the State of Israel. The official White House recognition was announced at 6:11 P.M.
30Q. What was “Operation Magic Carpet”? What was the major challenge?
30A. In 1950, in an around the clock airlift campaign, 47,000 Yemenite Jews and 3,000 Jews from Aden, many of whom never saw an airplane before, were flown to Israel to escape the repression that was the aftermath of the Arab defeat in Palestine. The major challenge for the mostly illiterate Yemenite immigrants was their integration into the life style of the modern world that Israel represented. They had to transform from living in a primitive, backwards society without modern amenities to the lifestyle and the different culture of a Western society.
The absorption of the Yemenite Jews represented a major administrative and financial burden to the young State of Israel. Housing had to be provided and Hebrew taught to the mostly illiterate Yemenites. The Yemenites needed aid in applying their old-world personal craftsmanship to make a livelihood in the modern Israeli commercial industrial environment.
31Q. Who was the leader of Warsaw Ghetto uprising during the Holocaust?
31A. In 1942, two Jews who escaped from the Chelmno concentration camp advised the Warsaw ghetto about the horrible, massive gas chamber killings of Jews. The activists in the Warsaw ghetto decided to put up resistance to further German shipment of Jews to the death camps. The underground organizations united to form the Jewish Fighting Organization, the ZOB (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa), led by twenty-three year old Mordechai Anielewiecz. They fought the Germans in the process of taking away Jews for the concentration camps, which temporarily ended the liquidation process. The ZOB received arms from the Warsaw underground to fight the next Nazi Jewish deportation/extermination effort. They fought hard for 21 days before giving up. Many Jews including Anielewiecz committed suicide rather than being captured.
32Q. What was the small Israeli Kibbutz Yad Mordechai’s very significant accomplishment?
32A. In 1948, at the start of the Israeli War of Independence the Egyptian army trying to quickly advance along the coast to capture Tel Aviv was held up by the heroic efforts of the poorly-equipped defenders of the small Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, named after Warsaw ghetto leader Mordechai Anielewiecz (see Q/A 31). They held out for five days, enabling the young Israeli army to build up arms and further stop the Egyptian army advance to Tel Aviv, and then to defeat all the Arab armies. This Kibbutz action plus the ability of another Kibbutz (small Kibbutz Negba with 144 defenders) to hold back the Egyptians from entering Jerusalem bolstered the spirit of the Jewish people to fight and defeat the six Arab armies invading the areas occupied by the Jews.
33Q. Who were the developers of the Jewish Reform Movement?
33A. Initially it was German Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), a highly intellectual Jew, who developed the basics of the Jewish Reform Movement. This highly literate Jew defended Judaism against attacks by Swiss preacher Johann Lavater, explaining Judaism had more merits over Christianity. He fought for Jewish civil rights throughout Europe. He encouraged Jews to stop using Yiddish and had the bible translated into German. This was followed by similar translations in France, Italy, Poland and other countries, contributing to the religious enlightenment in these countries. He was followed by German Chief Rabbi Abraham Geiger who in 1840 established the formal German Jewish Reform movement that eliminated the adherence to the kosher-eating rules, the practice of wearing phylacteries (tefillin) during morning religious services, keeping separate Passover dishes, and other Orthodox religious customs and practices. However the follow-up attempts to organize a worldly Reform Judaism Movement failed.
The Jewish Reform Movement in the United States was later promoted and organized by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise. He advocated changing the religious practices through flexibility in applying the Orthodox rules for controlling change. The changes he proposed were in the context of continuity with the Judaic past history, its Bible, and Talmud. However, keeping kosher (kashrut) was dropped because some elements of this practice were extrapolated from vague statements in the Bible that did not contain any specific reference to this requirement, whereas the specific biblical mandate to honor the Sabbath caused him to retain Saturday prayer services. He introduced his reforms in his own Cincinnati congregation. The most innovative change was the introduction of mixed men and women seating, recently adopted by most Conservative Jewish synagogues. Because of Rabbi Wise’s efforts, in 1873 the Jewish Reform Movement Union of American Hebrew Congregations was established.
34Q. What were two major Peace Accords between the Israelis and their adversaries that earned the major participants the Nobel Peace Prizes? Who were the participants? What did they accomplish?
34A. In 1977, after Egyptian Leader Anwar Sadat indicated his willingness to discuss peace with Israel Israeli, Prime Minister Begin invited Sadat to visit Jerusalem and speak to the Knesset. In November 1997 Sadat came to Israel for a dramatic visit, addressing the Knesset with the hope for peace between Egypt and Israel. When the follow-on discussions broke down President Jimmy Carter, as a friend of the Jewish people who was anxious to see Israel achieve peace with its Arab neighbors, invited Begin and Sadat to join him at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland. After they worked out the major Sadat objective—the restoration of Sinai sovereignty to Egypt—they reached compromise agreements on other issues and signed the Camp David Agreement, with a signed peace treaty between the two nations achieved on March 26, 1979, thirty years after the end of the Israeli War of Independence. This peace has lasted until today.
In 1992 Yitzhak Rabin became Israeli Prime Minister again and promised to seek peace with the Palestinians. He authorized his Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to have secret peace talks with the Palestinians, which were held secretly in Oslo, Norway. An accord for the framework of peace between the two was reached. Israel was to trade land for security. The PLO was to take steps to improve the security of Israel. One major step was to remove the twenty-six clauses in the Palestinian National Charter that calls for the destruction and elimination of the State of Israel. Five years were allowed for the implementation of a peace arrangement. The Oslo Accord was signed on September 13, 1993. At the signing, Prime Minister Rabin offered encouraging words to the Palestinians, that Israelis and Palestinians can live together on the same soil in the same land. Arafat responded positively, pledging that Palestinian self-determination would not infringe on Israeli security.
Unfortunately both Sadat and Rabin were assassinated by extremists who objected to their societal accommodation dealings (peace plans). Rabin had made this profound statement to explain how he could deal with Arafat, who had been hostile towards the Jews–I need to make peace with my enemies, not with my friends.”
35Q. What are the major sites to see in the State of Israel and in the adjacent areas?
35A. There are many categories of sites and facilities for Jewish visitors to see that:
1) Go back to biblical history, e.g., the tombs of the patriarchs and their wives in the Cave of Machpelah located in Hebron; the fortress Masada were Jewish Zealots held out against the Romans for three years; and the Western Wall remains of the old Jewish Holy Temple in Jerusalem at Mount Moriah.
2) Reflect the challenges and battles associated with protecting/creating the current State of Israel, e.g., Yad Mordechi, a small kibbutz below Tel Aviv that delayed the Egyptian invasion of Israel, avoiding the capture of Tel Aviv during the War of Independence in 1948; the Golan Heights, where severe battles were fought during the 1967 Six Day War, resulting in Israel taking over the Golan Heights that had been a source of severe shelling of Israel.
3) Honor Jews who helped create the State of Israel.
4) Honor Christian friends who helped develop of the State of Israel.
5) Reflect the modern Israeli culture.
6) Reflect the Israeli medical and technical accomplishments.
7) Remember the Holocaust, e.g. Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
Sites of particular interest to Christians include: the churches in Bethlehem and Nazareth that are two places considered as the likely place where Jesus was born; the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Old Jerusalem where Christians believe Jesus was buried after his Crucifixion before going to heaven.
Sites of particular interest to Muslims include the Dome of the Rock and the Al Al-Aqsa Mosque, both located near each other on Mount Moriah above the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
The most amusing visit is to go swimming in the Dead Sea in southern Israel and float on your back while reading a newspaper.
The most emotional rewarding visit to people of all faiths is to pray at the Western Wall and put a note with a prayer for the family into a crack in the Western Wall.
36Q. Who were the extraordinary gentile friends of the State of Israel? Which U.S. Presidents were outstanding in friends of the Jewish people by helping the State of Israel?
36A. Three gentiles stand out as significant friends of the State of Israel for their outstanding contributions during the early stages of Israel’s development.
Scottish Orde Wingate became an ardent Zionist three months after being assigned in 1936 as an officer in the British army sent to Palestine to enforce the British Mandate that was oppressive to the Jewish residents. He convinced the Jewish settlers to change from their passive self-defense posture to an aggressive approach of attacking Jewish settlement infiltrators. His tactical training enabled the Israeli Haganah military forces to be successful fighting the larger, well-equipped Arab armies during the War of Independence. His tactics were used by his Israeli disciples to fight the Six Day War. Wingate was called “The Friend” by the appreciative and admiring Israelis. The sports training and military rehabilitation center in Netanya, Israel is named the Wingate Institute in his honor.
Pierre van Paassen, a Dutch correspondent, after seeing the rise of Hitler started warning the world in the early thirties about Hitler’s dangers. He decried the bigoted world community for not reacting to how the Polish Jews were turned from middle class citizens to paupers and then the killing of Jews by the Nazis. He constantly spoke forcefully for Britain to honor their 1917 Balfour Declaration which called for a Jewish national home in Palestine.
Robert St. John, a correspondent in Palestine watching the creation of the State of Israel and admiring Israel’s accomplishments, pleaded for their financial aid and became a strong Israel Bond spokesman in the United States and throughout the world. He described Israel’s accomplishments and forcefully explained that Israel needed the money to absorb the Holocaust survivors and other destitute Jewish immigrants in Israel expelled from Arab countries.
The two U.S. Presidents that stand out as extraordinary friends of the Jewish peoples are: 1) President Harry Truman, for stepping in to get the U.S. Army to bring relief to the Jewish concentration camp survivors after the U.S. military freed the camps at the end of World War II, and for stepping in to have the U.S. approve the United Nation Resolution establishing the State of Israel. 2) President Richard Nixon, for authorizing the emergency airlift of tanks, ammunitions and airplanes to Israel during the Yom Kippur war in 1973, that undoubtedly saved the State of Israel from destruction.
37Q. How did the Catholic Church in Rome, Italy save 200 Jews from being sent to death camps during World War II?
37A. Near the end of the war, when Italian Jews were starting to be sent to the European concentration camps, approximately 200 healthy senior male Jews living in Rome, Italy were taken into the Catholic Church medical facility on the Tigris River outside of Rome for safekeeping. The Church leaders used a clever ruse. They put posters outside of the rooms where the Jews were kept, stating “Keep Out, Very Contagious Diseases Inside”. The Gestapo respected these phony warnings and never entered the rooms. These 200 Jews survived the war safely in this facility.
38Q. How did the two gentiles Raoul Wallenburg and Oskar Schindler save many Jewish lives during the Holocaust?
38A. In 1945, Raul Wallenburg, an aristocratic from neutral Sweden, answered the call from the U.S. War Refugee Board to aid in the Jewish relief effort in Hungary. Without any guidance, he went to Hungary as the first secretary of the Swedish legation and used the full diplomatic weight of a neutral country to save many Jewish lives. He pulled Jews out of ghetto death marches and gave them visas. He assisted the International Red Cross in keeping thousands of orphaned Jewish children out of the Nazi hands—he provided money, food and shelter.
Oskar Schindler was an aggressive German who bribed German army officials to allow him to select almost 1,000 Jews from the concentration camps to work in his factories. In appreciation for having saved their lives, several Jews shielded Schindler from being captured by the Russians. In later years, several Jews who had been saved by Oskar Schindler tried to repay him; they contributed to his support when he became destitute while living in New York City.
39Q. Why were Jews, for centuries, erroneously blamed for the death of Jesus? What biblical quote had until recently been erroneously attributed to Jesus?
39A. Up until recently, the Christian Church blamed the Jews for crucifying Jesus. Church authorities have now stopped blaming Jews for the death of Jesus, recognizing that it was Roman law that considered messianic claims to be unlawful and subject to the death penalty. Therefore it was the Roman ruler of Palestine, Pontius Pilate, who was responsible for dealing with such crimes and therefore had Jesus crucified, as he did to many other Jews who violated Roman laws.
Jesus was evidently influenced by the teachings of the great Jewish sage of that period, Hillel. It was Hillel who stressed the practice of the biblical Leviticus statement, “Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.” The early Christian Gospels and therefore the later Christian Church had erroneously attributed this statement to Jesus.
40Q. What historical facts suggest that Christopher Columbus had a Jewish background?
40A. Columbus is a Latin name for Colombo, which is of Spanish-Jewish heritage; suggesting his grandfather was a Converso (forced convert). This Spanish background presumably enabled him to learn Spanish fluently before he left Italy at the age of 25. Columbus spoke and wrote in Spanish; he never wrote in Italian. Earlier he tried to adopt the name Colon which was a common family name adapted by Conversos in order to be accepted by the Spanish Inquisitors as converted Jews.
Columbus was an adventurer intent on finding a new route to India by sailing west. This pursuit initially involved discussions with wealthy Jews to get the King of Portugal to relax laws against Jews; which failed because the king was killed. He later got the backing of Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella for his trip to America when he got two wealthy Spanish Jews to contribute most of the required funds. He wrote in his log, “After the Spanish monarchs expelled all Jews from their kingdom and lands in the same month they commissioned me to undertake a voyage to India.” Columbus delayed his voyage one day after Tisha B’Av, a day Jews fast and do not travel in commemoration of the day when the first and second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed.
Presumably a practicing Catholic, Columbus did not take a priest on his voyage. Several Jews were involved in his voyage to America. A Jewish astronomer provided the navigation tables. Five recent Conversos accompanied him on his first trip to the new world; they seemed to be his most trusted aides. The first to set foot on American soil was a known Marrano (a Jewish convert that secretly kept ties to Judaism), Luis de Torres, who joined the crew to serve as the interpreter for the East Indians they expected to find. After returning to Spain, instead of writing about the trip to Queen Isabella, Columbus wrote about his discovery to a Jewish friend who was his supporter.
41Q. In 1831 England was ahead of the rest of Europe in granting rights to Jews, enabling Moses Montefiore to be a London sheriff and later being knighted by Queen Victoria. What were his major contributions to the Jewish people?
41A. Achieving these positions was the start of fifty years of public service to Britain and humanitarian services to the worldly Jewish community conducted by Moses Montefiore.
Moses Montefiore was an early Zionist, applying his wealth to promote his ideals, i.e., “Palestine must belong to the Jews, and Jerusalem is destined to be the seat of the Jewish empire.” As early as 1836 he had plans for establishing Jewish agricultural colonies in Palestine, which the authorities initially considered but rejected. He made several visits to Palestine in later years, during which time he instituted agricultural and industrial undertakings to improve the economic life and morale of the small Jewish community in Palestine.
Montefiore interceded to obtain the freedom of Jews unjustly held for crimes based on false anti-Semitic accusations in Syria, Italy and Morocco. His mission in Damascus in 1840 succeeded in obtaining the release of several imprisoned Jews falsely accused of killing a monk for religious reasons. This was the first instance where Jewish political strength could help fellow Jews in trouble. He gained sufficient stature to have an audience with Russian and Rumanian authorities, pleading for improving the deplorable conditions the Jewish people in these countries were under.
42Q. What was the 1894 French anti-Semitic Alfred Dreyfus Case and what was its impact?
42A. Alfred Dreyfus, the only Jewish officer on the French Army general staff, was falsely accused of selling military secrets to the German government. He was sentenced to solitary confinement on Devil’s Island in the Caribbean. Even after accusations against him were revealed to be forgeries, frenzied mobs in the streets of Paris shouted “death to the Jews”. Emile Zola, Anatole France, and Georges Clemenceau rallied to Dreyfus’s defense to get him a retrial. The case dragged on for years while the army officers in charge refused to accept the uncontestable evidence of Dreyfus’s innocence. The overt and widespread anti-Semitism that prevailed in public places aroused many liberal forces. It had a pronounced affect on many Jews in Russia and other central European countries, stimulating their Jewish nationalism and Zionism.
Theodor Herzl, in Paris as an Austrian newspaper correspondent, was exposed to the several anti-Semitic incidents that rocked the French nation. As a result, he developed his Zionist outlook expressed in his 1895 book, “The Jewish State”. The Dreyfus anti-Semitic false accusation case the following year strengthened Herzl’s goal of establishing a Jewish national home in Palestine.
43Q. What was the role of the Jewish War Veterans (JWV) of America in establishing the State of Israel?
43A. Jewish Civil War veterans organized the JWV in 1896 to foster recognition of the role Jews played in the American wars. Membership increased significantly after each of the two World Wars, making the JWV a respected voice on issues affecting veterans and the Jewish community in general. In 1933, the JWV was one of the only two Major Jewish organizations to endorse the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League’s counter boycott of Hitler’s boycott of Jewish businesses in Germany.
In March 1948, the United States UN delegate Warren Austin announced that the United States was backing away from the Palestine Partition Plan that had passed by the United Nations in the previous November. A massive Jewish community protest to President Truman was initiated by the JWV, which paraded 150,000 members down Fifth Avenue in New York City. From the JWV ranks came the pilots and military specialists who volunteered to fight with the Israeli armed forces in the May 15, 1948-July 20, 1949 War of Independence, making a significant addition to the Israeli fighting capability.
44Q. How did the Hebrew language serve as a unifying force in the development of the State of Israel?
44A. Up until 1927, Hebrew had been the religious language for all Jews but not the conversational language. The older Jews from Germany and Russia spoke Yiddish, the Jews of Spanish ancestry spoke Ladino, the French and German Jewish organizations in Palestine preferred to use their native language. A new European language was essentially brought in with each Israeli Aliyah movement. Although Chaim Weizmann pushed the World Zionist organization to accept Hebrew as its language in 1902, it was resisted by the new immigrants to Palestine up until 1927 when it was accepted as the language of the Jewish people in Palestine by both the Zionists and the non-Zionists at the 15th World Zionist Congress.
The process over which language to use got resolved as part of the process to provide educational facilities for the new youngsters in Palestine. Good education in the Judaic tradition became a requisite for every new Jewish community that was established. A uniform language for all teachers and all schools was imperative. Hebrew was selected.
The archaic Hebrew language was modernized by Eliezer ben Yehuda, a Russian Jew, who believed that Hebrew must be the bond that linked all the Jews of Palestine together. He created the modern Hebrew language dictionary that now included terminology for business, science, technology and medicine during the period when the concept of Hebrew as the spoken Israeli language was still being belittled. This Hebrew dictionary was adopted by the new State of Israel.
45Q. It is common practice in Jewish Conservative synagogues to say a memorial prayer for the Jews killed in the Holocaust and to cite some of the major Holocaust death camps. What are the major European Death Camps and their death statistics?
45A. Five million Jews perished in the six large Holocaust extermination camps in Poland. The approximate deaths at each of the camps are shown in the table, which also indicates the closest large Polish City from where most victims in each camp came from. Auschwitz, where a third of the Holocaust killings took place, was the death camp for Jews from most of the European countries in addition to Jews from the two large Polish cities of Lodz and Cracow.
Death Camp (City Location) Deaths
Auschwitz (Lodz, Cracow)…………..2,000,000
Sobibor (Brest Litovsk)………………….250,000
Mass Killings in Russia—Because of the absence of railroad connections between Russia and the Ukraine and Poland, Jews from Russia and te Ukraine were not sent to the Polish death camps. There were no death camps established by the Germans for exterminating the large number of Russian Jews captured by the German army after its invasion of Russia. The Germans just slaughtered them periodically in the ghettos that they established in the large cities and towns. The largest killing spree was at the Babi Yar ravine outside of Kiev, the Ukrainian City with a large Jewish population where 35,000 (probably many more) were killed in one event. Shortly after the Germans occupied Kiev in 1941, the Jews were told to assemble at Babi Yar for resettlement to a work camp. Believing the Germans, they obediently left Kiev for Babi Yar. However, in their production line killing fashion, the Germans marched the Jews into the ravine where they were machine-gunned by German and Ukrainian soldiers. A few miraculously survived to tell the tale.
Vladimir Volynsk (called Ludmir by the very large Jewish population that was almost the entire city population) in the far western Ukraine is another example of how Jews suffered terribly. Without railroad ties to the concentration camps in Poland, its Jewish population of 27,000 and a group of about 10,000 Jews from neighboring towns forced into the Ludmir ghetto were killed by the several thousands once a year by the Ukrainians working for the Nazis. At the war’s end, only 140 survived.
Roughly one million Russian and Baltic country Jews who failed to escape ahead of the German army’s occupation were slaughtered by the Germans in the Russian and Baltic city ghettos that the Germans created after the occupation of these territories.
46Q. The five European Aliyah Movements that ended in 1939 served as the driving forces behind the growth of the Jewish population in Palestine for almost 50 years. How did they function and what did they accomplish?
46A. The wave of Jewish immigrants that periodically came to Palestine was called an Aliyah Movement. Aliyah is a Hebrew term used when being called up to the synagogue Torah reading platform for a Torah reading.
The First Aliyah started in 1882. The movement, funded by British Baron Edmond de Rothschild came from Russia. These pioneers were intent in defining a new image for the Jewish people. They were to be farmers, as were the ancient Jews in Israel. In 25 years they established twenty farming communities throughout Palestine.
The Second Aliyah, also from Russia, came from 1904 and lasted until 1914. Influenced by the Russian social reformers, they established the idealist kibbutz (collective village) located in the Northern Galilee. They believed in the dignity of hard work, approaching it as a holy effort to reestablish Jewish roots on its own soil. David Ben-Gurion was its most prominent member. In 1909 a group of these pioneers founded Tel Aviv on the sandy soil next to the Arab city Jaffa. The Jewish population in Palestine grew from 25,000 to 50,000 prior to the start of WWI.
The Third Aliyah started after WWI ended. It brought dedicated pioneers from throughout the world. They gave impetus to establishing the Jewish National Home, making it a very hospitable place to live in by removing swamps, building roads to interconnect communities and improving commercial traffic.
The Fourth Aliyah, starting in 1925, brought new challenges. Thousands of middle-class Jews, who came from Poland to escape persecution that developed, could not adjust to the agricultural lifestyle that existed for Jews in Palestine at that time. After early disappointments that caused many to leave, they established small businesses and applied themselves as laborers in the new factories and power plants that were established to support the growing agricultural society. After the first year, Tel-Aviv, the first all-Jewish city in Palestine doubled in population.
As part of the Fifth Aliyah, from 1932 to 1939, over 100,000 middle class German Jews escaped from the growing Nazi terror by immigrating to Palestine. They came with little Zionistic enthusiasm but adjusted to the hard life in Palestine, made dangerous by the rise in Arab nationalism. They were able to bring German money with them that was used to buy German machinery that helped expand the Jewish industry in Palestine, strengthening the Yishuv (Jewish controlled regions).
47Q. Why did Hannah Senesh become a heroine to the people of Israel and a symbol of heroism and martyrdom?
47A. Hannah Senesh came from an assimilated Jewish family living in Budapest, Hungary. At seventeen she was disheartened by the growing anti-Semitism in Hungary and became a Zionist. She came to believe that a Jewish homeland in Palestine was the only answer to anti-Semitism. In 1939, at eighteen, she immigrated to Palestine, leaving behind her mother who was convinced that conditions would not get too bad for Jews in Hungary where Jews had achieved a high level of social integration.
Two hundred and forty Palestinian Jews performed extraordinary acts of heroism in 1944 in the service of the British army. Selected because of their ability to speak the language of the country they were planning to enter, they were trained by the British to parachute behind the German lines throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Their primary mission was to arrange escape routes for the downed British airmen by coordinating arrangements between the British and the partisan underground movements through the use of their coded radio transmitters. After accomplishing these objectives, the parachutists were to aid Jews who were seeking to get to Palestine by coordinating their escape with the Jewish underground. Thirty-two of these parachutists were dropped in the Balkans. One of these parachutists was twenty-three year old Hannah Senesh, who had already become an accomplished poetess.
Hannah Senesh volunteered for the British mission because it gave her an opportunity to help Jewish children to escape from Hungary and to rescue her mother. After completing the initial mission in Yugoslavia which involved some heroic actions with the partisans, she continued throughout the Yugoslavian forests on foot to secretly cross into Hungary and conduct her mission there. She was captured on the border by the Hungarian authorities and accused of being a spy because of the radio transmitter she was carrying. After four months of being tortured in prison and refusing to reveal secret information, she was executed as a spy. Shortly afterwards her mother was sent to Auschwitz.
Hannah Senesh became a heroine to the people of Israel, a symbol of heroism and martyrdom. In 1950 she was buried in Israel with full military honors. The Israelis were particularly inspired by the poem “Blessed is the Match” that she wrote in the Balkans on the way to Hungary. Her last poem, “One-Two-Three” was written in the Hungarian prison just before she was executed. The last stanza read:
I could have been twenty-three next July,
I gambled on what mattered the most,
The dice were cast,
48Q. Who operated the Bricha organization? What was its role and accomplishments?
48A. The Bricha (Hebrew term, “flight”, “escape”) organization was established in 1944 by a small group of Zionist survivors of the ghettos in Lithuania and Poland. Their objective was to smuggle Jewish stragglers in the liberated Russian areas into Palestine. After V-E Day their route through Romania closed when the Russians clamped down on this underground activity.
Bricha then shifted its activity to helping survivors get out of Germany and into Palestine. The Mossad organization that was active in smuggling Jews out of Europe before 1942 then sponsored the Bricha organization, strengthening its capacity and enlarging its role. Bricha recruited demobilized soldiers of the Palestinian Jewish Brigade who had been recruited by the British to undertake hazardous military actions in Italy. This group of tough former Jewish soldiers, dedicated to helping the downtrodden Jews, remained in Europe several years working to accomplish the Bricha objective. Using bribery and false papers to cross borders, they took every means available, including mountain trails, to route the survivors from all sections of Europe to boats that left for Palestine from ports in Italy and France.
Bricha was successful in moving 70,000 Jews from Europe to Palestine between 1945 and 1948. The British caught most of them trying to enter Palestine and detained them in Cyprus before they were ultimately allowed to enter Palestine. While in Cyprus they received cultural training from Palestinian Jews that prepared them for living in Palestine. They also got military training by members of the Haganah that was hidden from the British authorities. The training turned out to be very valuable. These illegal immigrants were able to help defend the new State of Israel in the 1948 War of Independence.
49Q. The ship Exodus 1947 became the subject of the very popular movie Exodus 1947. Why was the ship in the limelight in 1947?
49A. The Bricha organization (Item 48) involved in getting displaced European Jews to Palestine before the State of Israel existed used many small ships to transport Jews that survived the concentration camps. For this purpose, the Israeli activist organization Mossad bought the former large elegant Chesapeake Bay steamer, the President Garfield, which was being junked. It was repaired and named Exodus 1947.
The Bricha organization in Germany managed to transport 4,500 Jewish Holocaust survivors by train and motorcade across borders to the French port of Marseilles where they boarded the Exodus for the trip to Palestine. British destroyers shot at the Exodus off the coast of Palestine near Tel Aviv where the illegal entry was planned. The British forces then forced the Exodus to go to Haifa where they rammed it. After a brief battle on the deck, they forced the Jews onto another boat that took them to Hamburg, Germany. The British sailors beat the resistant passengers to force them to leave the ship, a sight that delighted Nazi sympathizers who were there to protest the return of Jews to Germany. The disappointed refugees, having waited two years to get to Palestine, wound up back in British DP camps.
This highly publicized international incident heavily influenced the United Nations resolution authorizing the partitioning of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. Thus, the Exodus 1947 voyage acted as a catalyst in forming the new Jewish nation.
The highly popular 1960 movie, Exodus 1947, depicted this ship Exodus 1947 story.
50Q. What are the 1939-1945 Jewish Holocaust grim statistics?
50A. The Holocaust killings took place primarily in sixteen European countries. As seen from the statistics in the accompanying table, in several countries Hitler almost achieved his goal of eradicating Jews from Europe, with 65% of the 1939 European Jewish population (6 million) having been annihilated for one reason, they were Jews.
When the Holocaust ended the countries of the world offered little aid and few livelihood opportunities to the survivors. Five hundred thousand Jewish survivors had to languish in Displaced Persons Camps for several years before they were allowed permanent refuge away from the scene of the horrors that befell them. The ability of these Holocaust survivors who had lived through hell on Earth to overcome their personal trauma and once again lead productive lives is evidence of what a human’s positive determination can accomplish.
The Holocaust was primarily a Jewish tragedy that offers a lesson to the non-Jewish people of the world who believe in justice and value human life, which is to stand up to oppose current/impending acts of genocide to prevent the slaughter of innocent people.
Country 1939 Jewish Population Annihilated in Holocaust % Annihilated
Poland 3,300,000 3,025,000 92
Germany 300,000 270,000 90
Lithuania 145,000 130,000 90
Austria 90,000 80,000 89
Greece 75,000 65,000 87
Czechoslovakia 315,000 260,000 83
Yugoslavia 75,000 60,000 80
Netherlands 140,000 110,000 79
Latvia 95,000 70,000 74
Belgium 90,000 68,000 74
Hungary 650,000 450,000 69
Romania 800,000 400,000 50
Italy 60,000 30,000 50
Estonia 4,500 2,000 44
France 300,000 100,000 33
Soviet Union 2,800,000 900,000 32
9,229,500 6,020,000 65
51Q. What noble deed is accomplished by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR)?
51A. During the Holocaust there were thousands of non-Jews who refused to be passive in the face of the evil they witnessed, rescuing Jews, often at risk to their own lives and to the lives of their families. In 1986, Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis established The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR) to fulfill the traditional Jewish commitment to hakarat hatov, the searching out and recognition of goodness. To this end, the JFR is committed to assisting those Righteous Gentiles who are in need. They are often reluctant to ask for help; they acted without expecting reward then or now. Rabbi Schulweis realized it is our duty to honor and support them.
The JFR started out funding eight rescuers, and that number quickly grew, reaching 1,800. Now, as the rescuers age and pass on, the number of rescuers receiving their support is declining; however, they continue to receive new applications on behalf of recently recognized rescuers. Currently, the JFR supports aged and needy rescuers in 20 countries. In addition to providing needed financial assistance to rescuers each month, the Foundation preserves the memory and legacy of the rescuers through its national Holocaust education program. The goal of the program is to educate middle and high school teachers about the history of the Holocaust and to provide them with the resources to integrate this knowledge into their classrooms.
52Q. What recent Judaic survivability evidence provides hope for the Judaic future?
52A. When the challenges to survival during the long history of the Jewish people is examined, it is remarkable, if not supernatural, that the Jews have survived as a people for almost 4,000 years. For the first 2,000 B.C.E. years they flirted with disaster internally and externally. The second 2,000 C.E. years included centuries of suffering severe intolerance, mass conversions, and repeated genocide. Thousands of Jews were killed after being falsely accused of causing the Black Death plague (1348-1350). Thousands of Jews were killed during the Spanish Inquisition and many thousands forced into conversion to Christianity. Jews were expelled from England, France, Austria and Germany; they became the “Wandering Jews”. Six million Jews perished in the 1939-1945 Holocaust. Somehow, in spite of all this suffering, most of the survivors retained their faith in God and their belief in Judaism.
The best evidence of the Jewish survivability is the growth of the worldly Jewish population since the devastating 1939-1945 Holocaust. It was recently estimated to be 14.3 million, almost back to the 15 million pre-Holocaust population size. The State of Israel is a haven for Jews expelled from worldly countries and absorbs marginal Jews from many countries (avoiding dropouts from Judaism), and has a high family growth rate. The various Jewish faiths in this country and around the world have taken many progressive steps regarding Judaic religious and living patterns to be followed and addressing worldly societal problems. This has enabled them to retain the affiliation of “progressive” Jews and Jews of mixed marriages, and has encouraged converts to Judaism.
Ralph Shapiro lives in Silver Spring. He is the author of “Jewish History 4,000 Years of Accomplishment, Agony and Survival”