Tag: Jews indigenous people

Jay Corwin: The Convergence of the Native American and Jewish Narratives in our Times

 

From Israzine Nov., 2014: "Zionism, An Indigenous Struggle: Aboriginal Americans and the Jewish State"

 

 

In considering the convergence of Jewish and Native American experiences, I may be uniquely suited to this task because my mother was Tlingit of the eagle moiety and the kaayaash keiditaan clan, and my father was Jewish.  His father was from Brzesko and his mother from Sniatyn in Galitzia.  I am acquainted with both cultures but was born and brought up in Lingít áani, Tlingit territory in Alaska, with my maternal family, and that is my home.  I have deep feelings for Jews and for Israel, as relatives and as part of my ancestry.  I am also an academic, specialized in Spanish and Latin American literature, and it is from a literary sense that I view these convergences of culture and experience.

 

The first commonalities that come to mind naturally are mass deportations, genocide, harassment and victimization of all types.  Native Americans have for some time been projected as exotic philosophical victims of their own timeless reality.  According to a student of mine at University of Cape Town, Native Americans perceive time differently from Europeans.  His professor of Anthropology had stated as much, quoting from some particular expert on the subject.  I mentioned that the Mayan calendar is more accurate than any other, which contradicted his professor’s idiotic visions of a people living in a time zone that doesn’t exist.  I mentioned that my mother and my grandmother didn’t have that peculiar perception of time, to which he answered that that they must have been westernised.   It took me a few minutes to understand how he could have been so lacking in scepticism and reason that he could look at someone with obvious Native American features but deny him his personal experience.  It was because he was misled by the romantic fantasies of a third-rate thinker with the title “professor.”  It is on this point that contemporary Jewish and Native American experiences converge wherein professors, journalists and politicians present a condescending pseudo-anthropological vision of both groups without questioning their presumed unspoken right to pontificate about every aspect of both peoples’ existence, including where they should and should not live.  I believe the real nature of this pathological desire to issue decrees stems from a simple religious narrative, the Christian depiction of Jesus, and the subsequent roles assigned by Europeans to themselves and others in our contemporary political reality.

 

Native Americans are seen by liberals as the perpetual victim, the sob story of the Americas, the gentle red-skinned people who met Columbus and the Mayflower Pilgrims, whose hospitality was recompensed with treachery and violence, the long dead heroes of Thanksgiving.  And then there is the grand Hollywood narrative of the Great Plains, replete with Italians in cheap wigs and bad makeup that evolved into the equally dreadful “Dances with Wolves,” that self-serving fantasy of “the Good White Man” who has come to save the people.  Transfer the characters to another place and time, and we have “Lawrence of Arabia,” the British equivalent.   Both are recycled Lord Jim fantasies wherein a god-like European finds himself revered by little brown people.  And both are reinventions of the Jesus story, European style, in which the blonde haired, blue eyed Jesus is killed by the people he has tried to save.

 

Martyrdom is evident in the story of Jesus, and it has crept into fiction, where it is a sin that condemns a novel or short story to second rate status.   It also constitutes a kind of generic formula in the media.  There are probably many reasons for that. I suspect that the main one is that media moguls and journalists understand that to make money their task is to manipulate the naïve, not to record history as it occurs. It is an infantile polarization of Good and Evil, a reductionist, condescending narrative technique that serves as a basis for mass media reports.   One may only be a hero, a victim or a villain in the comic book realm.  In popular media, victims and perpetrators are presented, and the journalist and activists assume the role of Superman.  And the media is well aware of it.  It feeds on the public’s longing for a dark, simplistic narrative strategy, inducing in the audience the cheap middle class thrill of righteous indignation.

 

In today’s narrative, Native Americans are placed on the margins, perhaps beyond victimhood.  Native Americans are not allowed an equal voice, and never equal footing.  I recall a conference in Spain on the indigenous mythology in Latin American fiction, my precise field of expertise.  A professor and keynote speaker, a European, had in the course of his presentation presented an analysis of an aboriginal work of literature, most of which hinged on the meaning of a Quechua word.  After he finished speaking, a Peruvian professor challenged his interpretation, explaining that the Quechua word, upon which it was based, had more than one meaning.  Another Peruvian concurred and the two began discussing the point in Quechua, their native language.  The keynote lecturer turned red and in an angry hostile tone rejected their correction, stating that he had worked with “those people” for over ten years, of course taking ownership of the word and the people.  He had probably not counted on the presence of native Quechua speakers in the audience, for how could such humble people be educated, let alone equal to other literary scholars such as himself?  I was disappointed to find at such a conference that not one of the keynote speakers was indigenous.  What I witnessed was likely a direct result of the European narrative, possibly because that speaker had been induced into this version of literary reality as a child through Karl May’s eponymous fantasy novels of a romanticized Navaho named Winnetou.

 

I am certain that the man who offered the correction was aware of my unique background.  Just after this exchange and without his having asked, I brought him a bottle of water from a vending machine.  That isn’t something a European would very likely do.  (For aboriginals, doing so is a sign of respect for someone who is older as well as an acknowledgement of his linguistic expertise and his rank as a distinguished professor and authority on his language (Quechua).  Simply nodding is not enough whereas bringing someone a drink in this context is a sign of servitude.)  This was also a subtle nod to him that I also acknowledged his victory over an under-prepared opponent.

 

That anecdote is also illustrative of the victim/perpetrator narrative.   Because, while the victim is pitied, he may never be equal, and for him to ask for or demand equality means the end of victimhood.  The speaker’s refusal to acknowledge the correction was not just an indication of his arrogance (after all, how could he be wrong, as he had studied and therefore owned those people) but a reminder to us aboriginals that we are only to be pitied.  In a sense, this is a repetition of the story of the crucifixion, the religious subtext to all contemporary European political thought.  In other words it is simply not possible for ethnic Europeans to remove themselves from their depiction of Jesus.  Victims are not allowed to play any other role, because then it spoils the entire fantasy, and moreover, he is not entitled to be Jewish: to skirt that minor problem he is relegated like Native Americans to the mythological realm of a non-existent time zone, ascending to Heaven and returning, and presented as one who is closer to God than others and therefore no longer human.   The image of the crucified Christ, a misunderstood philosophical being who lived in his own timelessness, is identical to the insulting mythologized cliché of Chief Joseph, who said “I will fight no more forever.”  The false ascription of a lyrical philosopher comes through people too thick to understand that the man was only saying “I will not fight any longer” in a language he hadn’t mastered.

 

Of course in this narrative and in European passion plays evil is incarnate in the Jews.  It is the basis of much small-minded European racism.   Europe could not have Jews in it, and now, since the establishment of the State of Israel, it cannot allow Jews the sense of equality that all people who live independently in their own land must have.  It sometimes seems as if the entire planet has been given carte blanche by Europeans to express its opinions about Israel. The subtext to those who live in the Diaspora is, “We will only like you and let you into our social circles, you bad Jews, if you condemn Israel.”  This, though, is reminiscent of the hollow promises of the Spanish Inquisition: you will only be equal if you accept our religion and condemn your people.  It is an empty promise, of course, but foolish people still fall for that promise, which is very close the Euro-American history of broken treaties with Native Americans.  After the Spanish Inquisition and over three hundred broken treaties one would expect us all to wake up and reject the tainted promises of European racists.

 

The condescending treatment of Jews, forged in Europe, was passed from European Socialists and the All-Embracing emancipated promises of Soviet Socialism to academics and journalists all over the world.  In place of Christianity there is a false, comic-book version of humanism that is broadcast via the mass media that seeks to convert its readers and viewers into the Cult of Righteous Indignation.

 

A good academic might rather question why others are trying to press a particular agenda and then consult histories.   My impression is that today’s journalists have no concept of world history, nor do left-leaning University professors.  Instead of reading canonical works they, like Soviet socialists, have created new versions of history, and cite from the babbling brook of postmodern-speak in, like the works of professors who oddly have no formal training in history.  Citing them, the academic left adorn themselves with the socialist Rosary in the face of the vampire Zionist: “How can you say we are anti-Semitic when the people we are quoting are Jews?”  Similarly, the Crow were used by Europeans who knew they would gladly help defeat their enemy, the Sioux.  These tacticians understand that Jews also have their philosophical divisions and employ the likes of Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler to cite as righteous Jews.   And their new faith of Righteous Indignation allows them a platform to unleash ethnic hatred, as long as it masquerades as criticism of Israel.  I have noticed that the word “Zionist” is used by cult members as a curse and an insult.

 

In North America, anti-Israel demonstrations are all the more absurd.  To hear people scream things such as, “Get off their land!” makes me wonder how these people could not be aware of whose land “they” are on.  Has post-modern education erased pre-contact American history? A prime example of this sort of blind hypocrisy can be found in the drama of Rachel Corrie, the American anti-Israel activist who fell under an IDF bulldozer on March 16, 2003. Rachel Corrie lived in Olympia, Washington and attended Evergreen College.  Her professors had obviously encouraged her misconceptions and half-cooked visions of Righteous Indignation and social justice, revolving around a notion of occupation and stolen land.  Some of them have publicly claimed she was murdered by Israel.   In other words the Jesus narrative is their way of understanding the zoned-out girl whose friends had time to snap photographs of her falling under a heap of earth as a bulldozer ploughed over her, but didn’t have time to pull her to safety.  Without the crucifixion there is no passion play, no climax to the narrative, and no means of blaming Jews for the murder of a Holy Martyr.    The best analogy I have read compares Corrie with Mary McGregor, the dim-witted school girl in Muriel Sparks’ novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brody, who is brainwashed by her teacher and dies volunteering in the Spanish Civil War, for the wrong side. 

 

I see Rachel Corrie, her professors and allies as hypocrites of the greatest magnitude, as Olympia, Washington was ceded by treaties backed by false promises and lies.  In short, the Coastal Salish were defrauded of their land in the 1850s.  On that land sits the Corrie family and Evergreen State College where Rachel Corrie was a student.    As far as I am aware, no one has yet made this point.  While screaming about how Israel mistreats Gazans, Corrie’s mere presence on requisitioned (stolen) Coastal Salish land invalidates any claims to martyrdom that her family, political cohort or Arab Nationalists may proclaim.

 

I often suspect that such people understand fully that they are guilty of land theft, or at the very least know they are benefiting from bartering in stolen property.  To attenuate their guilt they divert their attention and the attention of others to a mythological version of Gaza. It is much easier to live in a comic book fantasy than to reconcile oneself to the most difficult questions of justice in the present. For me, the Rachel Corrie story represents the convergence of the Native American and Jewish narratives in our times.  It is the point at which European myth-making has reached its climax and implodes under the weight of its own stupidity.  It is a story of media generated heroes, villains, and victims, which to any thinking person should recognize as hollow and transparently stale as a Hallmark card.

 

Much of academia is perverted by left-leaning social activism whose proponents have been busy rewriting history or reinterpreting it according to a Soviet-style party line.  It calls to mind the anger I felt when reading Tzvetan Todorov’s Conquest of America, which alludes to European cultural superiority during the fall of Tenochtitlán by conveniently ignoring the fact that Tenochtitlán (now Mexico City) was not conquered, as is claimed, but was abandoned by its population who fled a horrific plague, probably smallpox, that ran rampant and killed people in droves.  It was likely carried by one of Cortes’ co-conspirators.  It was an accident of nature and not a victory of superior technology or martial tactics that allowed history to unfold as it has, and to claim otherwise is simply a lie.

 

The Leftist Academic narrative which serves as the intellectual force behind BDS is trapped in an infantile phase of development.  Leftist academics pretend to reject Christianity while stuck in its mythological mind set, and its need for Jewish villains only reassures us that they are Christians without God, who maintain their form while rejecting the spiritual content and replacing it with a false humanism (though maintaining an overtly Calvinist brand of sanctimonious grandstanding).  Replace “Jesus” with “Palestine” and voila, the new religion! I would suggest that the real centre of academic leftism is its propensity for dispensing pity to the victims it creates, for without those victims there can be no object for their pity and no feeling of superiority issues as a by-product of acts of Righteous Indignation, like the bad aftertaste of an artificial sweetener.

 

I would contend that Native Americans and Jews have been victimized in the same terms by Europeans who are unable to extract themselves from the perversion of their desire to be good human beings.  This desire has been manipulated by the media, by the socialist inheritors of Soviet anti-Israel propaganda and by Arab nationalists, who along with the Soviets invented a false analogy to Native Americans, based on a desire to dominate Jews rather than coexist.   In these terms our peoples are inextricably bound until we are able to abate the mythologies that fuel the false Righteous Indignation that impedes us all from progress in the modern world.

 

Born in Wrangell, Alaska, Jay Corwin has a doctorate in Spanish and Latin American literature from the Florida State University and is author of many pieces of criticism of Latin-American fiction. He is currently head of the Spanish programme at the University of Cape Town.

ZACHOR, REMEMBER: THE ROMANIAN HOLOCAUST, THE JEWS OF ITALY AND GREECE, & POLLARD ROTTING WHILE OBAMA & KERRY PRESSURE ISRAEL TO RELEASE MURDERERS

We welcome your comments to this and any other CIJR publication. Please address your response to:  Ber Lazarus, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, PO Box 175, Station  H, Montreal QC H3G 2K7 – Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284; E-mail:  ber@isranet.org

 

 

 Download an abbreviated version of today's Daily Briefing.

 

That Sunday— Romania, June 29, 1941- July 6 1941: Baruch Cohen, Aug. 9, 2013—The Yassi pogrom horrors should never be forgotten, no matter how many years have passed since then: June 29, 1941, That Sunday, will forever remain inscribed in the history of Romanian Jewry and of the Holocaust.

 

United Jewish Declaration: Jews Are Indigenous To The Land Of Israel: Yosef Rabin, GoPetitions, June 24, 2013

The Land of Israel fits all the criteria to be recognized internationally as the land in which Jews are indigenous natives, and the only current requirement is a public declaration from a representative body of the Jewish people.

 

Prisoner Release Highlights Erosion of Israel’s Will: Morton A. Klein and Dr. Daniel Mandel , The Jewish Press, Aug. 8, 2013—Under pressure to restart talks with Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, Israel has diverged from its refusal to accede to Palestinian preconditions and agreed to free 104 Palestinian terrorists from its jails. It’s a mistake. Israel should withstand the pressure and say no.

 

What about Pollard, Mr. President?: Ben Caspit, Jerusalem Post, July 23, 2013—The United States is the leader of the free world, the strongest democracy on the face of the earth, the cradle of human rights and freedom. But these bombastic titles are worthless when the US acts cruelly, hypocritically and according to double standards.

 

An Accidental Odyssey: Jews In The Mediterranean: Ilana Brown, eJewish Philanthropy, June 25, 2013—I had been to Italy and Greece fifteen years before, but in those days I was not interested in finding remnants of Jewish communities and exploring the Jewish past of the area. This summer I had the opportunity to take a whirlwind tour of a few locations in Italy and Greece. Having lived in Israel for the past 11 years, I was now much more curious about Jewish communities.

 

On Topic Links

 

Former-American Mks Disappointed Pollard Not Free: Gil Hoffman, Jerusalem Post, July 30, 2013

For Zion's Sake: Not in Our Vital Interest: Daniel Tauber, Jerusalem Post, July 23, 2013

Top 10 Ways Israel Fights Desertification: Karin Kloosterman, Israel21c, July 15, 2012

 

 

THAT SUNDAY— ROMANIA,
JUNE 29, 1941- JULY 6 1941

Baruch Cohen

                                                                             In memory of beloved Malca z’l

 

The Yassi pogrom horrors should never be forgotten, no matter how many years have passed since then: June 29, 1941, That Sunday, will forever remain inscribed in the history of Romanian Jewry and of the Holocaust.

 

The Sunday that Was became known as the bloodiest day in the history of Romanian Jewry. The Yassi pogrom was the first huge planned massacre, heralding the horrors to come during the years 1940-1943. 14,850 Jews were killed in Yassi. Ultimately, over 200,000 Romanian Jews would be murdered.

 

“By the number of its victims, by the bestiality of the means used to torture and kill, by the vast scope of killing; the pillaging and destruction, by the participation of the agents of the public authorities to whom the life and property of the citizens were entrusted, the pogrom of Yassi marked at the local level the crowning of an accursed, injurious effort which violated the Romanian conscience for a period of the three quarters of a century, and it opens at the worldwide level the most tragic chapter in history,” writes Matatias Carp in Cartea Neagra—The Black Book. June 29, 1941, That Sunday, remains forever the blackest day in the history of Romanian Jewry.

 

In his book, Kaput, Italian journalist Curzio Malaparte described the scene with a sharp pen dipped in gall and disgust! In the summer of 1941, black was the predominant color in Yassi, and yellow was the color of the stars sewn onto the clothing of all Jews.

 

Contents

 

 

UNITED JEWISH DECLARATION:
JEWS ARE INDIGENOUS TO THE LAND OF ISRAEL

Yosef Rabin

GoPetitions, June 24, 2013

 

Target: United Nation's, Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon

Petition Background (Preamble):

The United Nations currently recognizes as indigenous any nation that declares itself as such, and according to section 10 of the UN General Assembly’s 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, “indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.”

 

The Land of Israel fits all the criteria to be recognized internationally as the land in which Jews are indigenous natives, and the only current requirement is a public declaration from a representative body of the Jewish people, whether it be from Israel’s Knesset, the WZO or even the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria.    Sign the petition

 

Contents

 

 

PRISONER RELEASE HIGHLIGHTS EROSION OF ISRAEL’S WILL

Morton A. Klein and Dr. Daniel Mandel

Jewish Press, Aug. 8, 2013

 

Under pressure to restart talks with Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, Israel has diverged from its refusal to accede to Palestinian preconditions and agreed to free 104 Palestinian terrorists from its jails. It’s a mistake. Israel should withstand the pressure and say no. Why? Because it makes a mockery of justice – and inflicts unimaginable pain on families of the victims – when multiple murderers walk free.

 

It also boosts the standing of terrorist groups; encourages the kidnapping of Israelis for the purpose of extorting the release of further terrorists; demoralizes Israeli counter-terrorism personnel who risk life and limb to capture these murderers; erodes Israeli deterrence to vanishing point when the most bloodthirsty murderers know they are likely to be freed early; and, above all, results in the subsequent murder of additional Israelis by terrorists freed under such deals. In short, we’ve been here before and the results have been tragic.

 

The Almagor Terrorist Victims Association (ATVA) disclosed in April 2007 that 177 Israelis killed in terror attacks in the previous five years had been killed by terrorists who had been previously freed from Israeli jails. An earlier ATVA report showed that 123 Israelis had been murdered by terrorists freed during the period 1993-99. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan has observed that the terrorists released in the 2004 Elhanan Tenenbaum prisoner exchange deal caused the death of 231 Israelis. In agreeing to this morally unjust, tactically unwise, strategically harmful, militarily hazardous and life-endangering unilateral concession, we see the profound and purposeless erosion of Israeli will. In the past, Israel at least scrupled not to free those with “blood on their hands” and demanded the return of living Israelis, however lopsided the exchange.

 

In July 2008, however, Israel agreed to release to Hizbullah a gruesome murderer, Samir Kuntar, and four others prisoners in return for merely the corpses of two kidnapped Israelis. In August 2008, Israel freed 198 jailed terrorists, including two with blood on their hands and 149 others guilty of attempted murder, as a “confidence-building measure.” In October 2009, Israel freed 20 Palestinian terrorists – not for a life or a corpse, but for a video of a kidnapped Israeli. And in October 2011, Israel freed 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, including hundreds of convicted terrorists, in exchange for a single kidnapped Israeli serviceman, Gilad Shalit, leading Hamas’s Khaled Meshaal to crow that “This is a national achievement for the Palestinian people…we promise the rest of the Palestinian detainees to liberate them…. Those released will return to armed struggle.”

 

On this occasion, however, Israelis cannot even take refuge in the consolation that they freed a loved one, retrieved a corpse or even obtained a video. They cannot even say that they exacted any concession from the PA. To the contrary, Mahmoud Abbas just reiterated that he will not permit “the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands.” Prime Minister Netanyahu is not unaware of the danger; to the contrary, he once warned against the very thing he now intends to do.

 

In his 1995 book Fighting Terrorism, Netanyahu observed that refusing to release terrorists was “among the most important policies that must be adopted in the face of terrorism.” With this release, he erodes his credibility by dishonoring his pledge to withstand Palestinian preconditions. U.S. pressure alone explains Netanyahu’s decision, not some valuable quid pro quo. How else to account for a decision opposed by 85 percent of the Israeli public and the Shin Bet head, Yoram Cohen? The Obama administration has not expressed a new determination to see Iran cross no red lines in its march to a nuclear weapon….

 

The idea that the U.S. needs some Israeli concession to unify its Arab allies against the Iranian nuclear threat is in any case absurd, given the imploring of Arab leaders for Washington to deal with the problem, as revealed by the Wikileaks documents. The Obama administration has made Israel no secret promise of action on Iran, military or otherwise – top Israeli officials have privately told us as much, and it is hard for any country to insist on secret commitments of this type anyway. All of which suggests that Israel will rue this decision. The U.S. would never release Guantanamo detainees because the Taliban demanded it in return for talks. Why should Israel? It is still not too late for Jerusalem to refuse to release the terrorists – and say why.

 

Contents

 

 

WHAT ABOUT POLLARD, MR. PRESIDENT?

Ben Caspit

Jerusalem Post, July 23, 2013

 

The United States is the leader of the free world, the strongest democracy on the face of the earth, the cradle of human rights and freedom. But these bombastic titles are worthless when the US acts cruelly, hypocritically and according to double standards. Yesterday, Udi Segal of Channel 2 TV announced that the US had rejected Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s proposal that Jonathan Pollard also be released when Israel releases dozens of murderers serving life sentences.

 

The Americans have no problem asking Israel to release savages who’ve slaughtered innocent civilians. This is a no-brainer for them. They urge Israel to make “gestures” toward Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to promote peace, to strengthen the moderates, to help calm things down and to get the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. But then, when in return we ask for one basic humanitarian gesture – for Pollard to be released – the Americans are horrified.

 

We should release Pollard? What the heck are you talking about? Where did this come from? Did Pollard kill anyone? No. Was he responsible for someone’s death? Absolutely not (despite the fact that they did try to pin this on him, too). Pollard passed on classified information to Israel. This offense usually comes with a relatively light sentence; many people indicted for such offenses in the US have been sent home after serving for just a few years. Pollard has been sitting in jail for almost 30 years. That’s three decades. Pollard has spent most of his life in prison. He has been deprived of a family life and was not allowed to attend either his mother’s or his father’s funeral.

 

I understand, my dear Americans, that you need to prove a point, to set a precedent for other American Jews who might also feel a dual loyalty. But I think we passed that point a long time ago, and that now it is time for you to go back to being civilized and to make amends for your vindictiveness and recklessness by releasing Pollard.

 

It must be said – to Netanyahu’s credit – that of all of Israel’s leaders, he has been the only one to consistently fight for Pollard’s release (not that it’s done us or Pollard any good.) At the Wye Plantation conference, president Bill Clinton promised Netanyahu Pollard would be released, but reneged at the last minute (due to pressure from the CIA.) Netanyahu tried again with George Bush and Barack Obama – and now once again with Obama.

 

But when it comes to its own prisoners, the US is much less flexible. When it concerns prisoners sitting in Israeli jails who’ve murdered innocent citizens and who still swear every morning to continue to fight until Israel is completely destroyed, they are flexible. Israel is expected to release these prisoners, many of whom will go on to carry out additional terrorist attacks, while the Americans continue with their own style of cruelty by keeping Pollard locked up. This is a morality lesson, American style.

 

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

Contents

 

AN ACCIDENTAL ODYSSEY:  JEWS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN

Ilana Brown
eJewish Philanthropy, June 25, 2013

 

I had been to Italy and Greece fifteen years before, but in those days I was not interested in finding remnants of Jewish communities and exploring the Jewish past of the area. This summer I had the opportunity to take a whirlwind tour of a few locations in Italy and Greece. Having lived in Israel for the past 11 years, I was now much more curious about Jewish communities.

 

The Jewish Cathedral of Florence

 

My journey began in Florence. My first order of business was to climb to the top of the Duomo and to the top of the campanile. I decided that if I had time, I would also visit the synagogue, which I missed 15 years ago. From both of these high perches, I saw a small, beautiful, green-ish dome in the distance that I knew to be the synagogue. After the 463 steps of the Duomo and the 414 steps of the campanile, I was ready to walk on flat ground to the synagogue and back in order to catch my bus that afternoon.

 

Arriving at the synagogue, the first sight is the high gates and the protective detail guarding the site, but the green-ish dome beckoned from its hiding place. The security is high – no bags, no photos, metal detectors. And the price seems high as well – €6.50 to enter.

 

I entered a pleasant, well-kept, clean courtyard and made my way to the synagogue. I noticed that there were groups of Italian (non-Jewish) schoolchildren visiting, which I thought was a good thing for the Jewish community of Florence. Instead of entering the sanctuary first, I went directly to the museum and viewed the beautiful religious and ritual objects of the synagogue. And then I went into the women’s section, the balcony, of the synagogue. I was overwhelmed by emotion. For a moment, I couldn’t breathe. As much as I had admired cathedrals in the many cities in Europe I had visited, they did not speak to me on a deep level. I have also been to several very beautiful mosques, but again they did not speak to me. Here I was in a cathedral, but it was a Jewish cathedral. David Levi, the man who donated the funds to build it in the late 1870s, said that he wanted to build a synagogue worthy of Florence.

 

Hidden Treasure in Siena

 

My next stop was a visit to my college professor in Siena. As we entered the Campo, the main square of Siena, I thought to ask my professor if he happened to know where the synagogue of Siena was. He did and we went, but it was already closed. The next day, after a climb up another tower (503 steps), I went directly to the synagogue. The synagogue is a hidden synagogue in that there is little outward evidence of its existence. There are opening hours, but the door is not open. I knocked on the door several times and finally someone opened the door.

 

The entrance of the synagogue in Siena

 

“Hello! Where are you from?”

“I live in Israel.”

“Oh! Baruch habah!

And the conversation continued from there in Hebrew. As I was speaking to the enthusiastic woman in Hebrew in the doorway of the synagogue, two more Israelis entered the synagogue. We all went together to tour the museum (€4 or €3 upon showing the ticket from the Florence synagogue) and sat in the sanctuary with our guide who happily chatted in perfectly fluent Hebrew. She has family in Israel and Rome. Sadly, the community in Siena today is approximately 50 people. Yet, the sanctuary has a beautiful marble ahron kodesh in the traditional Italian style and a large bima. The feeling is that there is a rich and deep history, but today it is only an echo of the past. The entrance to the museum contains many pictures of the Jewish community in Siena and our guide would have happily talked through the day about its history. One of the interesting pictures was of a wedding that took place during WWII between a Jewish woman of Siena and a Jew from Britain, who was serving in the Jewish Brigade of the British Army….

 

An Unexpected Encounter in Corfu

 

The next day in Corfu a sign saying “Jewish synagogue” caught my eye. From the main street we followed the signs like clues in a scavenger hunt. In each square, we looked for another sign, until the next square and another sign. At one sign, my mother looked into a store and spoke to the owner, but we went on to the synagogue. The synagogue is a large building and at the entrance, we saw a woman sitting and welcoming guests. My mother and I went in (entrance is free).

 

“Hello! Welcome! Welcome! Where you from?”

“I live in Israel.”

“Yaffe! Baruch habah!”

 

We could have had the conversation in Hebrew, but we switched to English and my mother and I sat and spoke with this large, friendly woman, who sat with her sunglasses on and unapologetically smoked (on Saturday!) in the community room of the synagogue. Ruti, as we learned her name was, lived in Israel for six years and returned to Corfu to care for her sick father. Eventually, she married and stayed in Corfu. She told us that the Jews of Corfu were taken away in WWII, ten families were hidden. Two thousand Jews left and only about 150 returned. Once there had been three synagogues and now this one was the only one left and was used only during holidays when they brought in a rabbi from Italy, Greece, or Israel. Today there are approximately 50 Jews, eight are children.

 

Dedicated to the Lost

 

On our way back to the main street, we passed the store that my mother had stopped into. The owner called out, “Did you find the synagogue?”

“Yes.” How did he know? Did my mother mention it?

“Where are you from?”

“Israel.”

“Bohenna!”

 

At this Hebrew suggestion, I went right in. “I want to show you something.” He pulled out a package from behind his sales counter. “This is the shirt that my father was wearing when he left Auschwitz and came back to Corfu. From his family of 13, only he and his sister returned. From my mother’s family of 12, only my mother and her sister returned. They met here and made our family.”

 

In shock, I asked his name and if I could take a picture of him with the shirt. Moshe (Zinos in Greek) agreed. During WWII, the island had first been under the control of the Italians and then in late 1943, under the Germans. The story of the Jews of Corfu is that only as late as June 10, 1944 (coincidentally I was there on June 15) the Jews were taken to Auschwitz. Looking around the store, I saw that the back wall had an Israeli flag and Beitar Yerushalayim memorabilia. A quick search on the internet later revealed that Moshe is the President of the Jewish community of Corfu. As we left, we wished each other a Shabbat Shalom.

 

Final Thoughts

 

I went to Italy and Greece for a vacation and to revisit places I had been before to see the sights I had missed. When I entered the synagogue in Florence, I understood that I needed to not only revisit the places I had been before, but revisit them with curiosity about the Jewish community that was there – or in many cases, that was once there. That is what I missed 15 years ago. Living in Israel has blinded me somewhat to the situation outside of Israel for Jewish communities. The Jewish communities are small, but proud. The best surprises were those that in the smallest communities, there was Hebrew, there was pride, there was still a connection. I was saddened a bit by the communities in Rome and Venice. It is expensive to enter the synagogue and the “Ghetto” is a tourist attraction, no more. Hebrew is not spoken and the community is Roman, Venetian or Italian first, with Jewishness as a close second.

 

That is why this was an accidental odyssey. Until I arrived in Italy, I did not know what my quest would be. Now, upon my return, what I went to find was a connection to the Jewish community and to be inspired anew to live in Israel.

 

Ilana Brown lives and works with the Im Tirtzu Zionist-Advocacy Organization in Jerusalem. She is a donor relations professional, editor, Zionist, and intrepid traveler.

 

(This article has been shortened in the interests of space. For the full piece I including photographs please click on the link or download a pdf here – Ed.)

 

Contents

 

Former-American Mks Disappointed Pollard not Free: Gil Hoffman, Jerusalem Post, July 30, 2013—Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman, who both renounced their American citizenship to enter the Knesset, expressed frustration on Tuesday with the American decision to keep Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard in prison while Israel releases more than 100 Palestinians terrorists as a gesture at the start of diplomatic talks.

 

For Zion's Sake: Not in Our Vital Interest: Daniel Tauber, Jerusalem Post, July 23, 2013—In a matter of days, Israel will resume its bad habits: It will begin releasing a large number of convicted terrorists, with reports varying from 82 to up to 350, and it will bar its citizens from building, which for many of them means living, in the communities of their choosing east of the 1949 Armistice Line.

Top 10 Ways Israel Fights Desertification: Karin Kloosterman, Israel21c, July 15, 2012—Israel has gained a worldwide reputation for its ability to turn barren desert into useful and arable land. ISRAEL21c takes a look at the country’s top 10 eco-strategies.

 

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