Monday, April 30, 2018

Stanley Milgram and Obedience to Authority

Photo of the Day

Stanley Milgram [born in 1933 in New York City–died in 1984 in New York City], in 1961. Prof. Millgram is a social psychologist best known for his experiment on obedience to authority, which was influenced by the Holocaust and the trial of Adolph Eichmann (1961–1962) in Jerusalem. The experiments, which were first conducted at Yale in 1961, published in an academic journal (Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology) in 1964 and in book form ten years later, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View, published in 1974. Milgram’s family was affected by the Holocaust and Milgram, who was Jewish, had a strong identification with the Jewish People and what they suffered and endured. The experiment was Milgram’s way of trying to understand an aspect of the Holocaust, particularly how far people will go to “follow orders,” even if it means fatally hurting others. The results are well-known (65% gave what they believed was a fatal shock); and they have been repeatable over the years, including most recently in a Polish study (90% of the participants knowingly and willingly gave the highest level of shocks). Can it be that humanity is not progressing at all, that “decent human beings” are no better than 50 years ago?  Real-life results validate this, with sparks of humanity showing here and there. This is the reason why we find goodness so appealing, since it is so rare. We want to believe otherwise, so we seek out goodness where it can be found, including in people, in animals, in art, in music, in literature, and in Nature. It takes a certain kind of person to have faith in “progress,” in  humanity. I am no longer that kind of person. Perhaps I never was. Perhaps it is that the majority of human beings are not really self-regulating, and the people that do good are truly exceptional, the everyday heroes. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Via: CNN & Alexandra Milgram

Lord of the Flies (1963)

Lord of the Flies, the classic 1963 British film adaptation of the 1954 novel by William Golding [1911–1993] and directed by Peter Brook. Golding was a schoolteacher when the book was published; no doubt, his experience with unruly boys gave him much material to draw from and to write this cautionary tale/fable. Penguin Books writes: “When a plane crashes on a remote island, a group of schoolboys are the sole survivors. As the reality of their situation sets in, the boys attempt to establish control and their world gradually descends into brutal savagery.” This was required reading in school in my day (I think it was in Grade 10); and, later, I watched it on TV. This is a horror to watch, and yet it is both necessary and revealing, telling us about something deep in human nature, in the human psyche, in human consciousness, which is why some people can willingly and easily act out their worst most horrific and brutal fantasies, particularly in the absence of legal and moral laws that underpin our civilization. Freedom has too many different shades of meanings today, including for some the “freedom” to act badly, sadistically. The 20th century started off badly with two world wars, and with most of the century in crisis. Is the beginning of the 21st faring any better? For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Via: Youtube

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Norbert Wiener’s Prophetic Warnings of Automation

Photo of the Day

Norbert Wiener [1894–1964], an American mathematician and philosopher, was a professor of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is known as a founder of cybernetics (i.e., “the science of self-controlling mechanisms”) and for his book, The Human Use of Human Beings, published in 1950, which I have read. In this book, although Prof. Wiener advocated that automation would possibly relieve people of drudgery and repetitive tasks, he also warned against reliance on machinery to displace and dehumanize people. Wiener could not foresee that automation (and computerization) would in many ways introduce other drudgery or mundane work, like data entry, call centres, and low-level jobs with mind-numbing keyboarding tasks. How healthy is it to sit in front of the screen all day? As for the prophetic warning about displacement and dehumanization, on that account he was prescient. Millions of people have been displaced by machines as part of technological advancement, many for good measure, some for not. Many of these people will likely never find work, as we advance further in the Digital Revolution, repeating a pattern established during the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. Wiener also wrote a book, God & Golem, Inc.: A Comment on Certain Points Where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion, published in 1964, his last book (which I have not read), and which were based on lectures he gave at Yale in 1962. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Courtesy: The Atlantic & MIT

George Orwell’s ‘1984’ (1954)

George Orwell [1903–1950] and his most famous written work, Nineteen Eighty-Four (also called 1984), in a 1954 Sunday Night Play for the BBC-TV; the novel was adapted by Nigel Kneale and starred Peter Cushing as “Smith,” André Morell as “O’Brien” and Yvonne Mitchell as ”Julia.”

The novel’s dystopian view of the world was formed even before the Second World War and the Allied Powers fight against fascism, but as far back as 1936 Spain and his commitment to the Spanish Republic against Franco and fascism, which Orwell viewed as a moral fight. His side lost and Spain became fascist. Then WWII. Combined with the horrors of war, many personal tragedies befell George Orwell, including the death of his wife, the destruction of his flat by a German V-1 flying bomb (a “doodlebug”), and his declining poor health.

Orwell was a writer who was always interested in language. This is a novel that looks at the morality of language, where language is twisted and distorted, where fact becomes fiction and fiction becomes fact, and in the novel’s case serving the nefarious purposes of a fictional totalitarian state, “Oceania.” Language in such a case becomes captive, and in the service of evil ends.

There are no shortage of totalitarian states that were created in the 20th century: Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Imperial Japan, Franco’s Spain, the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, North Korea, Syria, to name only the most well-known and cited. Such are places where citizens have (had) little freedom to exercise any dissenting political views. In totalitarian regimes, citizens have less ability than in democracies to access information, where censorship is comprehensive, persistent and pernicious.

While communication technology today makes it easier and quicker to spread propaganda, information technology and the Internet also helps citizens “get at the truth.” Democracy is always preferable to totalitarianism. Thus, George Orwell’s novel is important to read or watch, since it gives us a clear warning of what happens when democracy veers into totalitarianism, first by misusing and abusing language, by disguising itself as people’s democracy, when it is not. Always Important Knowledge.

And such knowledge can help citizens build a strong interior life, even (or especially) when the world around them seems without meaning or without sense. The novel was originally published in 1949, after the end of the Second World War, and shortly before Orwell died. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].

Friday, April 27, 2018

Roger Shattuck, the Setting of Reasonable Limits

Photo of the Day

University Professor Emeritus Roger Shattuck dies at 82 | BU Today | Boston  University
Roger Shattuck [born in 1923 in New York City, New York–died in 2005 in Lincoln, Vermont], a professor emeritus in the University Professors Program at Boston University, died at the age of 82—after a lifetime devoted to literary studies and literary criticism. I have read only one book by Prof. Shattuck, Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography, published in 1996, but it was a good one. Prof Shattuck’s advice that not all knowledge is equal or necessarily good to explore, let alone embrace, is worth considering. Arriving at this point, however, does require much analysis and deep thought, and it takes the reading of much literature, philosophy and religious texts. The book is liked by those who believe such moral limits are good and disliked by those who do not hold such views. It is easy to find fault with someone who says or writes that what you are doing is not good, harmful or immoral; it takes a certain human quality to consider its validity. Twenty years later, one can conclude it has generally been disregarded, seen today as quaint moralizing. That is, if it is even considered today at all by a generation of young academic post-modernists (and old ones, too, who led them on this path), who rush like lemmings over the cliff of the brave new world of amorality, doing what is right in their eyes, blithely ignorant that such a world would ultimately judge and condemn them—if not now later. They are championing their own downfall. Heaven help us! For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Photo Credit: Boston University

The World of Jewish Montreal (1900–1920)

Immigrant Life

Montreal of Yesterday: Jewish Montreal, 1900–1920, by Israel Medres [1894–1964] and an Introduction by J.I. Segal [1896–1954]. This cover photo is of a Russian-Jewish family in front of Bonsecours Market in 1915. The book contains 54 short chapters that cover a wide range of topics, including class divisions, the first socialists, the first Jewish bookstore, Canadian life, the press, art, politics, business and citizenship.
Photo Credit: ©2018. Perry J. Greenbaum

his book was originally published in Yiddish, in 1947, as Montreal fun Nekhtn; it was translated by Vivian Felsen, Medres’ grandaughter, and 
published in English in 2000. It had earlier appeared in serialized form in the Keneder Adler (1907–1988 ), the Canadian Eagle, Montreal’s only Yiddish-language daily. Israel Medres wrote for the daily for more than 40 years, from 1922 until his death in 1964. 

The newspaper served as a source of information for newly arrived immigrants of what was happening in Montreal and in Canada; it broadened their knowledge beyond the neighbourhoods in which they worked and lived. As an example, Medres writes: “They discovered that here in Montreal besides workers and bosses, foremen and designers, peddlers and grocers, there were lawyers and judges, a city mayor and aldermen, elected members of the Quebec Legislative assembly and members of the federal parliament in Ottawa” (80).

From there, the children of immigrants, many of whom were born in Montreal or came at a young age, went to university and became the doctors, lawyers, judges, politicians, professors, engineers and business-people their parents had read about. Except in this case, they were all Jewish; and their parents’ sacrifices and hard work helped make them, along with their own desires, diligence and hard work, the mensches and machers they eventually became. This is all the more noteworthy, since this took place within one generation.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Gustav Mahler as a Middle-Aged Man

Photo of the Day

Gustav Mahler [1860-1911]: Gustav Mahler, photographed in 1907 at the end of his period as director of the Vienna Hofoper. Although Mahler converted to Christianity to obtain this position, he was ever much a Jew in his sympathies and in his music. Gustav Mahler was born on July 7, 1860, into a Jewish family in Kaliste, Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and now part of the Czech Republic. In February 1897, at age 36, Mahler converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism, chiefly to secure a post as artistic director of the prestigious Vienna Court Opera. It was a procedural necessity at a time when Christian Europe was highly discriminatory in its practices. Nevertheless, his music retained his Jewish heritage and influences, and if there was any doubt that Mahler owed his allegiances to his Jewish origins, they need be dispelled. “This, in the eyes of those who hated his innovations, far from removing his Jewish stigma, drew attention to it,” Paul Johnson, a historian writes in A History of the Jews, quoting from Alma Mahler’s book Gustav Mahler: Letters and Memories (1946). The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research writes: “In spite of his conversion, the antisemitic press lambasted Mahler’s work, asserting that his music “speaks German with a Yiddish accent.’ ”— a way of saying his music was too Jewish. Well, what could the man do but be himself, both as an artist and as a human being. As Mahler once said: “The point is not to take the world’s opinion as a guiding star but to go one’s way in life and working unerringly, neither depressed by failure nor seduced by applause.” Leonard Bernstein is credited with bringing Mahler to wide public acceptance. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here].
Photo Credit: Moriz Nähr (1859–1945)

Leonard Bernstein on The 20th Century Crisis (1973)

The Unanswered Question

Leonard Bernstein [1918–1990] delivering the fifth of sixth musical lectures at Harvard University, which includes a discussion on Mahler’s 9th Symphony, his last, which is discussed in this video.

This lecture, called “The 20th Century Crisis,” is part of the lecture series The Unanswered Question, which Bernstein delivered in the Fall of 1973 as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry, with poetry having as broad a definition as possible.

As the website Leonard Bernstein at 100 writes: The fifth lecture (‘The Twentieth Century Crisis’) outlined the movement toward atonality and the crisis provoked by this crucial change in our musical language. Charles Ives’ “The Unanswered Question,” one of the primary musical examples, became Bernstein’s title for the entire series of lectures.” 

It is noteworthy that Bernstein, more than anyone else in America, made the work of Gustav Mahler [1860–1911] better known to the general public, with good reason, since Bernstein considers Mahler a prophet of anguish and death, whose last symphony foretells the message of future despair—too dreadful to hear in his time and, for that matter, for the next 50 years. Bernstein calls the 20th century “the age of death; the end of faith.”

Mahler with his sensitive spirit felt this intently and with great urgency. All this, who want to listen intently, is found in Mahler’s last symphony. Yet, despite the tortured and terrifying music, interspersed with prayer and submission, we come out of it with renewed understanding. The full lecture on video can be found [here]. For more on the subject, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Albert Einstein with David Ben-Gurion in Princeton, NJ

Photo of the Day

Albert Einstein [1879–1955] shares a joke with Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion [1886–1973] when the two men met at Einstein’s home on Mercer Street in Princeton, N.J., on May 13, 1951. The JTA writes about their private talk: “Israel’s Premier David Ben Gurion today sited Prof. Albert Einstein here at the latter’s residence and spent about two hours with him. No one else was present during their talk. Emerging from Prof. Einstein’s home, Mr. Ben Gurion told reporters that they discussed relativity, freedom, Greek philosophy, Spinoza and similar subjects. “We discussed no politics,” he stated. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Photo Courtesy: Tablet Magazine & AFP/Getty Images

The Great Math Mystery (2015)

Mathematical Mysteries

“Why does this work? How can mathematics be so powerful? Is mathematics, you know, a truth of nature, or does it have something to do with the way that we, as humans, perceive nature? To me this is just a fascinating puzzle. I don't know the answer.”
Andrew J. Lankford, Professor of Physics & Astronomy, 
University of California, Irvine

The Great Math Mystery, shown on NOVA (PBS-TV; original broadcast date: April 15, 2015), a science show on the American public broadcast channel.

This science show gives some very good examples on how math informs our thinking on everything from music to flowers to modern technologies to space exploration. For example, the mathematical symbol, π (pi), is all around us in nature. Math is used by mathematicians, physicists, engineers and all scientists, and although much is known about the predictive powers of math, essentially as it pertains to the fundamental particles of nature, there are current limitations in our understanding.

Math is not entirely predictive or understood in areas of human biology and neuroscience and, of course, in long-term weather forecasting. This documentary posits that math explains many areas of our existence, and that math is both invented and discovered, that is, math is a mystery to be discovered, to unlock the secrets of the universe and/or that humans have invented math to make sense of the natural world around us.

Or, perhaps, even of the unseen world, as math is used to look at patterns of words in the Bible, which is found in the use of gematria (in which Hebrew letters correspond to numbers), which forms a part of the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition. Such is the mystery of math; it is used as a tool to unlock the mysteries of the universe, which means the mysteries, for us here on earth, of the known world. It is human nature to want to know, to understand, and math helps us in this quest.

There have been a number of great mathematicians in the modern era, including Albert Einstein [1879–1955], Emmy Noether [1882-1935], John von Neumann [1903-1957], and Paul Erdös [1913-1996], to name only a few that quickly come to mind. The transcript of the show can be found [here]. For more on mathematics and mathematicians, go [here] and [here] and [here].

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Violinist Ida Haendel Around Age 20

Photo of the Day

Ida Haendel [born as Ida Hendel in 1928 in Chelm, eastern Poland] is here shown around age 20, which makes this photo dated to circa 1948. Haendel writes:  “I gave my first public performance of Brahms’s Violin Concerto when I was nine years old. It was in September 1938, at a Proms concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Henry Wood. I probably didn’t understand it: you can’t expect a child to understand a genius like Brahms. I was using pure instinct, and that is exactly what you need to play his works. It’s something you are born with. If you don’t feel it in your soul, on an emotional and intellectual level, then it can’t be taught. You can’t tell anyone how to do it if they don’t have the right capacity and instinct.” Haendel was a child prodigy; Ruth Rosenfelder writes for the Jewish Women’s Archive: “In 1935, aged seven, she won the Polish Prize at the first Wieniawski Competition in Warsaw, gaining seventh place overall.” In 1937, Haendel and her family moved to England, then to Montreal from 1952 to 1979, and then she moved to Miami, where she currently resides. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here].
Photo Courtesy: The Strad & Giselle Brodsky

Abraham Sutzkever, A Portrait Poem by Seymour Mayne

Di Yidisher Velt

It is about continuing; it is about legacy; it is about passing on the words of Jewish tradition, even when death is all around, the words resist an easy death or, for that matter, any death. They live. Davka, they live, and they live long in unexpected, unforeseen places. 

Seymour Mayne [born in 1944 in Montreal] is a well-known Canadian poet, editor and translator. He met Abraham Sutzkever [born in 1913 in Smorgon–died in 2010 in Tel Aviv] while still in high school in Montreal, while the great Yiddish poet was speaking at the Jewish Public Library (Yidishe Folks biblyotek) at 4499 Esplanade Avenue at the corner of Mont-Royal Avenue, across the road from Fletcher’s Field—a venerable institution in Montreal.

Twenty years later they met regularly in Tel Aviv, Seymour Mayne writes (on page 12) in Prism: an Interdisciplinary Journal for Holocaust Education (Spring 2018: Volume 10)
In our meetings, Sutzkever was always glad to parse words and phrases with me, but generally we did not engage in literary criticism or theory. We focused on the poems ofthe ghetto period and the time he had spent in the Narocz Woods with his fellow partisans. As translator, I noted from the start that his sharp focus on the concrete word and image gives a clear urgency to his poems, so that when readers engage them decades after they were written, the works are as immediate and vivid as if they had just been spoken.
In a dedication for Sutkever, Mayne writes (on page 13): “The Jewish present and past, no matter the destructive onslaught of enemies, find strength and hope in the Yiddish word. All who touch and are touched by Sutzkever’s consummate art carry the vibrant legacy of his words into the cultural renewal of the Jewish People. This poem is for him.” The legacy continues; I got in touch with Mayne last year, and we correspond by e-mail and here is his poem, capturing an essence of a man, who moves from one place to another.

Abraham Sutzkever, A Portrait Poem
by Seymour Mayne

Tired and bloodshot
your aging eyes
match your bald
pate and full moustache
memento of your girth
and Partisan strength.

You speak and sing
always of some past’s
indefinite future
which is not the present
ever but that frozen
waste where unpeopled
the ghosts of millions
wind into the snow
and darkening light —
northern hell
of the world, Siberia
where history
is grimly imminent.

Surrounded by paintings
Vilna mementos and nameplates
here in your flat
over lightwashed Tel Aviv —
here you say
you never write
but only find yourself reflected
in the books and portraits.

Hurrying you seem
always rushing and writing
poems as all poets now do
in haste, secretly,
unseen in no man’s
land, invisible place,
the impossible promised land
where all the refugee words
are gathered and make shelter.

The “promised land” is the place where the impossible takes place, where the impossible for some borders on miraculous and for others is miraculous, and while others is awaiting the miraculous. A regular everyday miracle are the words of “an outsider” finding a home in an ancient land; even so, this might be the only ancient land where such “refugee words” can make sense and where the light can be easily reflected back to meaning. Tel Aviv is as different from Siberia as one place on earth can be as different from another. There is more than geographical distance. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].

Monday, April 23, 2018

Abraham Sutzkever & Samuel Bak After Liberation

Photo of the Day

Abraham Sutzkever [born in 1913 in Smorgon, Rusian Empire; now Smarhon, Belarus–died in 2010 in Tel Aviv] posing with child artist Samuel Bak [born in 1933 in Vilna, Poland, now Vilnius, Lithuania] shortly after the liberation in 1945. Renee Ghert-Zand writes for The Forward: “Abraham (Avrom) Sutzkever was born in 1913 in what is now Belarus. His family fled to Siberia during World War I, and later settled in Vilnius (Vilna), where Sutzkever grew up and went on to study literary criticism at the University of Vilna. His poetry chronicled his Vilna childhood, his time in the city’s ghetto during World War II, and his and his wife’s escape to the forest to join Jewish partisans under the command of Moshe Judka Rudnitski. After the war, Sutzkever testified at the Nuremberg Trials and immigrated with his wife to pre-State Israel in 1947. He died in Tel Aviv in 2010 at the age of 96.” Bak’s artistic talent was first recognized in the Vilna Ghetto, when he was nine. After the war, and after spending time in a DP Camp (Landsberg in the American zone), Bak and his mother immigrated to Israel in 1948; he eventually settled in the United States, in 1993, and resides in Weston, part of the Boston metro area. The Pucker Gallery in Boston writes: “Bak’s work weaves together personal history and Jewish history to articulate an iconography of his Holocaust experience.” For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Photo Credit: Facing History & YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York.

Maria Grinberg: Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words

Maria Grinberg [1908–1978]: Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words” (Lieder ohne Worte) are  short lyrical piano pieces by the Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn, written between 1829 and 1845. Grinberg’s playing was recorded on radio in 1967–8. There is no known archival footage of Grinberg, despite her great musical talent. Grinberg was set aside by the Soviet Union during a good part of her adult years; in 1937, her father and husband were arrested and executed as “enemies of the people” in one of Stalin’s many purges.  After Stalin's death, she was given a little more freedom, in that she was able to travel outside the Soviet Union. For more on Maria Israelevna Grinberg, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Jewish Refugees Arrive in Canada After WWII

Photo of the Day

Jewish Refugees from post-war Europe arrive in Canada via Halifax’s Pier 21, circa 1948. These were the fortunate or lucky ones and they show their appreciation in this photo. They had an opportunity to build a better life in Canada, which they undoubtedly did with much gratefulness and gratitude. Between 1946 and 1952, during the post-war period, Canada received about 160,000 displaced persons from Europe, or about 16% of the one million DPs post-1945 who were not repatriated to their native lands.; 20,000 were Jews. If the numbers seem small for a people who suffered so much, it is because there was already a precedent in place. Between 1933 and 1945, for example, Canada accepted only 5,000 Jews from Europe, and even then did so with stringent economic conditions. Canada was a different country then, not as welcoming as it is today, and perhaps not as prosperous; and, yet, they did welcome my father in 1951. He was ever grateful. For more go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Courtesy: The Canadian Jewish News and the Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives

Daliah Lavi: Erev Shel Shoshanim (1974)

Israeli Poetry/Music

Daliah Lavi [1942–2017] דליה לביא: Erev Shel Shoshanim ערב של שושנים (“Evening of Roses”), a poetic love song often sung or played at weddings. The music is by Yosef Hadar [1926–2006], the lyrics are by Moshe Dor [1932–2016], one of the founding fathers of Israeli poetry. The song was first recorded by Yafa Yarkoni [1925–2012 ] in 1957. Truly, there is a lot of history packed into one song.
Via: Youtube

Friday, April 20, 2018

Leonard Bernstein in Beersheba, Israel

Photo of the Day

Leonard Bernstein [1918–1990] in Beersheba, Israel (also Be’er Sheva; בְּאֵר שֶׁבַע) on November 20, 1948). It was Bernstein’s second visit to the Land in less than two years. During Israel’s War of Independence (1947–49), Bernstein, aged 30, performed all over Israel—forty concerts in sixty days– with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, including here in the midst of the Negev, in Beersheba. Susan Gold writes: “There in the desert, an archaeological dig served as the concert venue, its high walls creating a three-sided amphitheater, and a makeshift stage was constructed. As reported by the South African writer Colin Legum: ‘The well of the amphitheater is alive with chattering soldiers–men and women of the front-line army, Jews from Palestine and the British Commonwealth and U.S., Morocco, Iraq, Afghanistan, China, the Balkans, the Baltic, even one from Lapland." Local residents arrived, and some wounded soldiers were transported by ambulance from the hospital nearby. At 3:30 PM, the concert began. Bernstein played three concerti in a row, not only a bonanza for his listeners, but also a first for him: Mozart’s K. 450 in B flat, Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto, and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, a most extraordinary and ambitious encore! A violinist supported Bernstein's chair when it began slipping along the precarious platform.’ ” For more go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].

Spielberg Jewish Film Archive: Hasidic Music (1994)

Hasidic Music (1994) is a film that is part of the Israel Music Heritage Project. The Spielberg Jewish Film Archive, “dedicated to the preservation and research of Jewish documentary films,” holds approximately 16,000 titles: about 4,500 films, over 9,000 videos in various formats and roughly 600 DVDs. A subsection of this is the virtual cinema (that is, available for online viewing), which contains more than 600 films, including this one—dating from 1911 to the present. This wonderful  archive of modern Jewish history is housed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For more, go [here].
Via: The Spielberg Jewish Film Archive

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Israel Declaration of Independence

Photo of the Day

Israel Declaration of Independence (Yom Ha’atzmaut; יום העצמאות‎): Israelis take to the streets to celebrate on May 14, 1948, or 5 Iyar 5708—seventy years ago today in the Jewish calendar. The Jewish Chronicle writes: “On May 14th, 1948, Israel’s Declaration of Independence was made in Tel Aviv, a few hours before the British Mandate was set to expire. At midnight the British Mandate of Palestine was officially terminated and the State of Israel came into being.” After 2,000 years, the Jews were back in their historic homeland as a majority people and not under another nation’s thumb (as was the case with the ancient Romans and their brutal rule), but as a people who would determine their own destiny, their own future and make their own laws and be “the masters of their own fate”—what in politics is called self-determination. Israel is the world’s only Jewish-majority state, and this fact should never be minimized or forgotten. Happy 70th birthday ארץ ישראל‬ (Eretz Yisrael). For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Courtesy: YNet News

Huberman and Friedman: Beethoven ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata

Yom Ha’atzmaut

Bronislaw Huberman [1882–1947] & Ignaz Friedman [1882–1948] perform Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata, known as Violin Sonata No. 9, opus 47, published in 1803. Both were born in Poland; both were Jewish.
Via: Youtube

You can enjoy the music, which is wonderful, but there is also something more important that needs to be said to set the record straight. Huberman was and is a great humanitarian who acted courageously in the face of tyranny, totalitarianism and evil, doing what good men always do. Huberman founded the Palestine Symphony Orchestra in 1936. This orchestra became the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1948 after the founding of the State of Israel, on May 14, 1948, or 5 Iyar 5708, Yom HaAtzmaut. Huberman’s dream not only produced a world-class orchestra, but resulted in the rescue of nearly 1,000 European Jewish musicians and their families from the Nazi death machine. The first concert was on December 26, 1936 (you can listen here to a rare clip); it was conducted by Arturo Toscanini, who was fiercely anti-fascist, who was fiercely humane. “I am doing this for humanity,” Toscanini said, declining any fee. That a small nation wanted an orchestra says  much about that nation. The story is told in “Orchestra of Exiles,” a 2012 documentary by Josh Aronson; you can view a trailer [here]. For more on the Jewish People’s fight for freedom and independence, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A.M. Klein at the Jewish Public Library in Montreal

Photo of the Day

“There is nothing more wholesome in the entire world than a broken Jewish heart.”
Rabbi Menachem Mendl of Kotsk [1787–1859],
cited in Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust (1982) by Yaffa Eliach

A.M. Klein [1909–1972] (standing in the center): at the Jewish Public Library in Montreal, on November 25, 1945. Valérie Beauchemin and David Gilbert for the Museum of Jewish Montreal write: “Group portrait, including Maurice Hartt (at that time a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Quebec, later a federal MP), Pierre Van Paasen, Michael Becker, and A. M. Klein, upon the occasion of the visit of Pierre Van Paasen (a Dutch-Canadian journalist who supported Zionism) to the Jewish Public Library, November 25, 1945. Standing centre is A. M. Klein.” This would be at the time that the facts of the Holocaust and of the 250,000 Jews in DP camps in war-ravaged Europe have become more widely known—it would take years for most of these Jewish war refugees to be resettled. Klein was deeply affected by the Holocaust: as a Jew, as a poet and as human being. For more, go [here], [here] and [here].
Courtesy: Museum of Jewish Montreal; Jewish Public Library Archives; Montreal

Leo Fuld: Vi Ahin Zol Ich Geyn? (1948)

The Jewish Homeland

Vi Ahin Zol Ich Geyn? (1948) by Leo Fuld [born in 1912 in Rotterdam–died in 1977 in Amsterdam], a Dutch-Jewish singer who made the song famous to English audiences.
Via: Youtube

The lyrics to this song were written by Igor S. Korntayer [also known as S. Korn-Teuer; 1890–1941], who was born and lived in Poland, his first language being Yiddish. He died in Auschwitz in 1941 or 1942 during the Holocaust of the Second World War. The music was composed by Oskar (Leib) Strok [1893–1975), who was born into a Jewish family in Dinaburg, Latvia (nowadays Daugavpils), a very famous composer between the two world wars, called “the King of Tango.”

Just before the start of the Second World War [September 1, 1939], Leo Fuld left for America, where he became a well-known singer of Yiddish songsWhen Fuld returned to Rotterdam, the Netherlands, after the war, in 1948, he found out, like so many of his time, that his entire family—with the exception of one sister—had been murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators in the Holocaust. As the story goes, Fuld first heard the song at a Yiddish nightclub in Paris, sung by a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto. He vowed to make the song famous, which it became.

Without saying it by name, the song is about the hundreds of thousands of Jews, survivors of the Holocaust, who were languishing in DP camps, who were waiting for a country to call home, where they could/would start a new life. Where to go, where to go/Every door is closed to me/To the left, to the right/It's the same in every land.

In the end, there was only one country that could, that had the will and the desire to, accept them all: the Jewish Homeland. Now I know where to go/Where my folks proudly stand/Where to go, where to go/To that precious promised land.

Steve Lawrence, born in 1935 in Brooklyn, New York, sings the song in both English and Yiddish. It is on the album Ramblin’ Rose (side 1; track 3). 
Via: Youtube

For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Exodus 1947 Ship

Photo of the Day

Exodus 1947: at the Haifa Port (in July 1947), after the British takeover. Note the sign “Haganah Ship Exodus 1947.” The story is well known, but as a reminder I cite the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM): “In July 1947, the President Warfield left Sète, France, for Palestine. It carried over 4,500 Jewish men, women, and children, all displaced persons (DPs) or survivors of the Holocaust. Even before the ship (by then renamed the Exodus 1947) reached Palestine’s territorial waters, British destroyers surrounded it. On July 18 a struggle ensued between British naval forces and passengers on the ship. A Jewish crew member and two passengers were killed. Dozens suffered bullet wounds and other injuries. Attempting to make an example of the Exodus 1947, the British towed the ship to Haifa and transferred the passengers onto three navy transports which returned to Europe.” The passengers, deemed illegal, were sent back via three caged prison ships to Germany’s DP camps in Hamburg (which the British controlled assiduously) with its passengers, Jewish Shoah survivors. Undeterred, and driven by a moral imperative, most found a way to reach Palestine by the time Israel declared itself a state less than a year later, in May 1948. For more, go [here], [here] and [here].
Photo Credit: Frank Shershel [1907–1981]
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons & the National Photo Collection of Israel; Photography Department

Kadya Molodowsky: El Khanun (1945)

Yiddish Poetry

Kadya Molodowsky: El Khanun (“God of Mercy”). Merciful God,/Choose another people,/Elect another./We are tired of death and dying,/We have no more prayers.

Kadya Molodowsky [1894–1975], also spelled Kadya Molodovski, was born on May 10th in the shtetl of Bereze (Bereza Kartuska), in Grodno province in what was then the Russian Empire and is now in Belarus. Her poems were initially about the role of women in a modern world, especially working-class women. Her later poems later evolved to discuss the survival of Jews in the modern world, in a world where humanity seemed hopelessly lost.

Such times have always marked the Jewish People. For example, after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, finding herself stuck in Kiev, Ukraine, Molodowsky worked as a private tutor, and, as Kathryn Hellerstein notes in the Jewish Women’s Archive, “in a home for Jewish children displaced by the pogroms in the Ukraine.” There, she met and married Simkhe Lev [1896–1974], a scholar and teacher. The couple then moved to Warsaw in 1921, where she was an active member of the Yiddish Writers’ Union and published four books of poems (she published seven in total).

Then to New York City (by way of Philadelphia, where he father and sisters lived) in 1935. Simkhe Lev, her husband, joined her a few years later (around 1938). In those years she had a active literary life, giving lectures and poetry readings in the U.S. and in Canada. She also wrote a column for the Forverts, under the pen name of Rivke Zilberg.

Then the Khurban in Europe changed everything, and undoubtedly this change lasted for a long, long time for writers, poets, authors, etc. It was in NYC, far removed physically, but not soulfully, from her East European Jewish roots, that she wrote a collection of poems, her sixth, Der melekh David aleyn iz geblibn (Only King David Remained; 1946), which includes this poem. (For biblical passages on El khanun, see, for example, Exodus 34:6-7, Jonah 4:2, and Nehemiah 9:16-17.)

Molodowsky named this collection khurbn lider, or “poems of the Destruction.” In this poem, Molodowsky asks/requests God of Mercy to reconsider His Covenant with the Jewish People, given that having such a distinction is long on suffering and death, and seems more like a curse than a blessing. As much as this poem subverts the relationship, it also, ironically, affirms it. The Jewish People cannot be anything else but a people who have a covenantal relationship with God. In the end this becomes a heartfelt prayer. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here].

Kadya Molodowsky in Israel (circa 1949): Between 1949 and 1952, she and her husband lived in Tel Aviv, where she was editor of the Yiddish journal Di Heym (Home), published by the Working Women’s Council (Moetzet Hapoalot). In 1971, Molodowsky received the Itzik Manger Prize, the most prestigious award for Yiddish letters and literature.
Credit: Epharim Erde; National Library of Israel, Schwadron collection
Courtesy: Wikipedia Commons

Monday, April 16, 2018

Youths Aboard Aliyah Bet Ship ‘Mataroa’

Photo of the Day

Survivor Youth with concentration camp numbers tattooed on their arms aboard Aliyah Bet (“illegal” immigration) ship “Mataroa,” at the Haifa port. They were denied entry and were deported to Cyprus detention camps. Palestine, July 15, 1945. Denied so much in their young lives, they nevertheless persevered. They were, after all is said and done, on a similar journey for freedom and to build a new life in a new land with historical and biblical significance to the Jewish People. Most of its passengers were children: a few hundred survivors of the Buchenwald Camp (one of them was Yizrael Lau, future Chief Rabbi of Israel), and children that were hidden in France and Switzerland. All together, 6,000 orphans were held in detention in Cyprus, part of the 50,000 individuals held in detention in Cyprus. The last prisoners, called detainees, were released by the British on February 11, 1949, nine months after Israel declared its independence in May 1948. Wikipedia writes: “ Following Israeli independence, the British began deporting detainees to Israel at a rate of 1,500 per month. They amounted to 40% of all immigration to Israel during the war months of May–September 1948.[4] The British kept about 11,000 detainees, mainly men of military age, imprisoned throughout most of the war. On January 24, 1949, the British began sending these detainees to Israel, with the last of them departing for Israel on February 11, 1949.” For more, go [here] and [here] and [here].
Courtesy: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum & the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

Yiddish Writers Monologues: Misha Lev

Misha Lev [1917–2003]: A documentary film by Boris Sandler and produced by the Forverts. This is Part 3 of a 10-part series, “Yiddish Writers Monologues” [Monologn fun Yidishe shraybers], which brings to life Yiddish writers of the 20th century to a wider audience.  This is a wonderful series by Sandler, who was then the editor (1998–2016) of the Yiddish Forward.  Sandler is a well-known Yiddish writer, part of a small group from the former Soviet Union that has gone to great lengths to promote and give Yiddish literature new breath and thus increase its breadth. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here].
Via: Youtube

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Rabbi Yisroel Spira, the Rebbe of Bluzhov

Photo of the Day

Rabbi Yisroel Spira [1889–1989], the Rebbe of Bluzhov. (Bluzhov is the Yiddish name of Błażowa, which before the Holocaust was a small shtetl in southeastern Poland populated by 930 Jewish souls.) A good many of the tales in Yuffa Eliach’s Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust are told by Rabbi Spira. He not only survived the Holocaust, he lived to reach almost 100 years of age. Rabbi Eliyahu Safran writes about this zaddik: “After being saved from the Holocaust, he settled in Brooklyn, where the weight of the Holocaust never left him. He believed he survived solely to ensure that neither he nor anyone else ever forgot those dark, dark times. In recounting those dark days, he displayed not only the courage of his character but also his great gift as a storyteller. No one who heard him relate his experiences ever forgot what he shared with them. He truly touched the hearts of his listeners.” He often said, many articles recount: “The reason I remained alive was so that I could continue recounting to future generations what happened to us during those times.” For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Courtesy: Hevrat Pinto

Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust (1982)

Tales of Faith & Belief

“The biggest miracle of all is the one that we, the survivors of the Holocaust, after all that we witnessed and lived through, still believe and have faith in the Almighty God, may his name be blessed. This, my friends, is the miracle of miracles, the greatest miracle ever to have taken place.”

the Klausenberger Rebbe,
Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam [1905–1994]

Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust (1982), by Yaffa Eliach [born as Yaffa Sonenson in 1935 in EishishokPoland–died in 2016] in New York City, is like no other book I have ever read.
Photo: ©2018. Perry J. Greenbaum

Many of the eighty-nine Tales are fabulous, and defy everyday belief.  Yet, such is what I would expect when the abnormal becomes normal, which is what took place during the Shoah; this is also my expectation when reading about the Hasidim. The Tales are never boring, not at all. Quite the contrary. At the centre of these tales is the zaddik, writes Yaffa Eliach in the Foreword: 
The Hasidic tale draws from both European literary tradition and from a variety of Jewish sources—Bible, Midrash, Kabbalah, and others. Central to many Hasidic tales is the singular, almost mythological charismatic personality of the zaddik, the saint. Unlike the Greek or Christian hero, the zaddik possesses a larger-than-life personality and mystical powers which enable him to transcend the historical reality of his surroundings. He can endow the pain and the suffering of his Hasidim (his followers, literally “The Pious”), as individuals or as a multitude, with personal hope, with national and universal meaning. The zaddik struggles to remain optimistic even in the valley of death. His concept of eternal time enables him to surmount the brutal reality of his temporal surroundings. He is determined to believe that evil is transient and good must ultimately triumph. Faith becomes an optimistic link, providing the structural continuity between past and future, while endowing the wretchedness of the present with dignity. (xviii). 
Having dignity is such circumstances is unimaginable today, and, yet, its importance cannot be over-emphasized. It is dignity that kept the souls alive as much as faith and hope in the transcendent, a profound idea that their Nazi persecutors, with their rationalist racist theories, could not (never) apprehend or understand. Suffering without a purpose will defeat you; suffering with a purpose might (perhaps will) help you overcome it. Chaim Potok writes: “Its true stories and fanciful miracle tales are a profound and often poignant insight into the souls of those who suffered terribly at the hands of the Nazis and who managed somehow to use that very suffering as the raw material for their renewed lives.” 

Yaffa Eliach in her “Tower of Faces” exhibition at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. It is now part of  the Yaffa Eliach Shtetl Collection. It writes: “The ‘Tower of Faces’ is a three-floor-high segment of the permanent exhibition at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum devoted to the Jewish community of the Lithuanian town of Eisiskes, which was massacred by units of the German Einsatzgruppe and their Lithuanian auxiliaries in two days of mass shootings on September 25 and 26, 1941. The exhibit consists of approximately 1,000 reproductions of prewar photographs of Jewish life in the town gathered from more than 100 families by Dr. Yaffa Eliach, who spent her early childhood in Eisiskes.” For more on the exhibit, go [here].
Photo CreditThe New York Times via Associated Press

Such people ought to be remembered, and Prof. Eliach has done so in a remarkably good and generous way, an unforgettable way, I might add, with this book, with her research and with the exhibit of photos of Jewish life in the Lithuanian town of Eisiskes. Yaffa Eliach (born Yaffa Sonenson; married Rabbi David Eliach in 1953, and then the couple moved to the United States), a Holocaust survivor and historian, is also an interesting and notable  person, who has done tremendous pioneering work in the field of Holocaust studies; she was Professor in the Dept. of Judaic Studies of Brooklyn College, City University of New York; and Director of the Center for Holocaust Studies, Documentation and Research. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].

Friday, April 13, 2018

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising & Jewish Resistance

Photo of the Day

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising [April 19th to May 16th 1943]: [R to L]: Małka Zdrojewicz Horenstein (survived internment in the Majdanek camp; moved to Palestine in 1946, where she married, change name to Horenstein, and had four children.); Bluma Wyszogrodzka (shot in Auschwitz); Rachela Wyszogrodzka (gassed in Auschwitz). The Warsaw Ghetto was established by the Germans in the Jewish section of Warsaw on October 16, 1940; it forced more than 400,000 Jews into an area of of 3.4 square kilometres (1.3 sq mi). Needless to say, conditions were inhospitable, appalling and cruel. This act of defiance is considered as the largest single act of resistance by Jews during the Second World War, a heroic defiance in the face of a well-armed enemy: Here are the recollections of Malka Zdrojewicz Horenstein, the only one of the three in the above photo who survived the war: “We went to a neutral place in the ghetto area and climbed down into the underground sewers. Through them, we girls used to carry arms into the ghetto; we hid them in our boots. During the ghetto uprising, we hurled Molotov cocktails at the Germans.After the suppression of the uprising, we went into hiding, taking refuge in an underground shelter where a large quantity of arms was piled up. But the Germans detected us and forced us out. I happened to be there with Rachela and Bluma Wyszogrodzka (and that is how they took our picture) Rachela and I, together with the others, were driven to the Umschlagplatz. They later took us to Majdanek from there.” For more, go [here] and [here] and [here].
Courtesy: Wikipedia Commons

Ani Ma’amin

Yom HaShoah

Ani Ma’amin (אני מאמין, “I Believe”) is a niggun (ניגון‬ ) or a Hasidic melody. Its popularity during the Holocaust is attributed to Reb Azriel David Fastag, a Modzitzer Hasid (a Hasidic group originating in Poland), who, the Zemirot Database writes “was divinely inspired to sing it on a train to Treblinka”—a forced labor camp and killing center.

It eventually made its way to the Modzitzer Rebbe, Shaul Yedidya Elazar, who said: “With this niggun, the Jewish people went to the gas chambers. And with this niggun, the Jews will march to greet Moshiach.” It is based on Rambam’s Shloshah Asar Ikkarim, the twelfth of the “Thirteen Fundamental Principles” of the Jewish faith. Ani ma’in b’emunah sh’eimah b’viat hamashiach, v’af al pi sh’yitmameah, im kol zeh achakeh lo b’chol yom sheyavo.

Ani Ma’amin (“I Believe”) by the Miami Boys Choir. 
Via: Youtube

Ani Ma’amin (“I Believe”) by David Dudu Fisher at the March of the Living, in 2015, at the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau
Via: Youtube

Ani Ma’amin (“I Believe”) with the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, leading the singing at a Farbrengen on 24 Tammuz 5736 (July 22, 1976).
Via: Youtube

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Jewish Children From Poland Orphaned After the War

Photo of the Day

DP Camps: Polish Jewish children, many of whom are orphaned, en route to safety in American Zones of Austria and Germany. Prague, Czechoslovakia. c. 1946. In a post (“No Return”) for the Azrieli Foundation’s Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program, Michael Kutz [born in 1930 in Nieśwież, Poland], a teenager during this time, shares why he wanted to leave the nation of his birth, Poland, a common view of the majority of Jews: “I didn’t believe that there was any future for the surviving Jews in Poland. Before the war, during a thousand years of Jewish life in Poland, the Yiddish language and culture had flourished, and Jews had helped to build the country for the benefit of all the Polish people. Nevertheless, part of that Polish population had helped the Nazis execute their plans to annihilate the Jews. There were, of course, exceptions — during the Warsaw ghetto uprising Jews received support from Polish comrades in the resistance, and some Polish families had hidden Jews, including many children, although some were well paid by those they hid. The Catholic Church in Poland and Pope Pius XII, however, had been silent about the destruction of the Jews of Poland.” The DP camps, notably those administered by the Americans, were better than what preceded it, but this only a temporary measure. It was still in Europe, where memories were easily triggered.  Michael Kutz arrived in Canada on March 21, 1948, at Halifax’s Pier 21, where he started his new life. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].

Shoah by Claude Lanzmann (1985)

Yom HaShoah

Shoah by Claude Lanzmann [born in Paris, France, in 1925], the 1985 epic documentary on the Holocaust (khurbn eyrope, חורבן אײראָפּע, in Yiddish or Shoah, שואה, in Hebrew): Nine hours and 30 minutes was the result of over 300 hours of raw footage and 11 years in the making. Part 2 can be viewed [here]. This might be the greatest documentary made on the greatest evil perpetuated against humanity, whose machinery of destruction started with a profound hatred of Jews. You can also read a 2011 interview of Lanzmann [here].
Via: Youtube

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Reuben Brainin With His Four Sons

Photo of the Day

Reuben Brainin [born in 1862 in Liadi, Byelorussia–died in 1939 in New York City] and his four sons who all enlisted in the Jewish Legion during the First World War. Richard Kreitner for the Museum of Jewish Montreal writes: “In 1912, Brainin moved again to Montreal, where he began a three-year stint editing the Yiddish-language community paper Keneder Adler and thereafter the rival daily Der Veg, which was formed to challenge the more affluent, assimilationist members of the Jewish community, and to support the creation of a national Jewish congress. Brainin became involved in community politics, including labour strife in 1914 (during which he acted as a mediator between the two sides), and refugee relief efforts during World War I. Along with Yehudah Kaufman, Brainin opened a Jewish reading room in 1914, which eventually became Montreal’s renowned Jewish Public Library. In that same year, he also played an important role in creating the Yidishe Folks Shule (Jewish People’s School).” During this time that he resided in Montreal (1912–1917), he lived the latter part at 533 Ave Davaar in the Outremont neighbourhood. He then left for New York City, where he wrote for a number of Jewish journals and newspapers. Although he died in New York City, he requested that he be buried in Montreal, and his books donated to the Jewish Public Library. For more, go [here] and [here].
CourtesyMuseum of Jewish Montreal; JPL-A. Special thanks to Judy King Fonds.