Integration of American Jews Through Journalism

March 9, 2020

Neville Teller ● Jerusalem Post

Ron Rubin is an avid collector of American newspapers stretching right back to the early 18th century. A professor of political science at the University of New York for more than 50 years, Rubin retired in 2016 and devised the idea of telling the story of America’s Jews through what appeared in the newspapers of the time. In Strangers and Natives he brings the concept to brilliant realization, hence his book’s subtitle: A Newspaper Narrative of Early Jewish America 1734-1869.

Turning the pages of this book is a continuous delight to the eye, for throughout the volume, the selected news items and articles are illustrated by reproductions of the originals. So as a by-product of the history, we also see how American journalism developed over the centuries. This triumph of book design is the work of the highly experienced Peri Devaney, who is rightfully credited on the cover.

Strangers and Natives tackles the development of the Jewish community in America from a variety of angles, starting back in 1734, some 60 years before the Declaration of Independence. On March 25 of that year, The New York Weekly Journal carried an advertisement urging anyone who believed they were owed anything by the late Benjamin Elias to come forward. Elias had been a merchant as well as a Hebrew teacher and shochet (ritual slaughterer) at Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue that was the first Jewish congregation in North America.

Rubin ends his story, except for an additional item or two, with The Alexandria Gazette’s account of the first Rosh Hashanah after the end of the Civil War in 1865 – the Jewish New Year of 5626. Jews featured prominently on both sides of that conflict. The secretary of state of the Confederate States of America – the 11 breakaway states opposed to ending slavery – was Judah P Benjamin. In February 1865, with the South fast crumbling and already thinking of suing for peace, The Baltimore Clipper carried a front-page account of a speech by Benjamin advocating what must have seemed a radical proposal to the South generally. He proposed freeing African American slaves as a way of enhancing the manpower of the Confederate Army. Such a move, he said, would add 680,000 additional troops.

On the other hand, in April 1865, one week after President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated, The Pittsburgh Commercial ran an article praising the Jewish contribution to the Union cause. It set out the numbers of enlisted Jews from the different states of the Union, calculating that a total of 40,000 Jewish soldiers had, in its own words, “shown a full share of patriotism since the war began.”

Across 12 chapters, Rubin traces the saga of how Jews slowly became integrated into the American way of life. He covers the development of Jewish communal affairs, including the expansion of synagogues across the growing country, and the part played by Jews in the fields of education and literature, in journalism, business, politics and various other aspects of the rapidly growing nation. He does not omit the obstacles placed in their way from time to time.

For example, antisemitism reared its ugly head quite early on, and Rubin records instances in The New York Gazette in 1746, and The Pennsylvania Gazette in 1751, of the offer of rewards following the vandalism of Jewish burial grounds. Against this, the philo-semitism of Benjamin Franklin is well documented. As The Pennsylvania Gazette records, well ahead of the British Parliament, Franklin’s so-called Jew Bill of 1753 proposed allowing foreign-born Jews to obtain English citizenship, bypassing the required oath of loyalty to the Church of England. To its credit, the Gazette was strongly in support if the bill, but it was a proposal well ahead of its time, and popular opposition proved too strong.

A century later, the American press followed the long and intense struggle within the British Parliament on the related issue of permitting a practicing Jew to sit in the House of Commons without swearing loyalty to the Church of England.

In 1847, Baron Lionel de Rothschild was elected to Parliament as an MP for the City of London. As The New York Herald reported, he refused to take his seat because he was required to take an oath to the Christian faith. When he was reelected in 1849, the paper noted that he had won “by an overwhelming majority,” and commented that “the event is regarded as an unmistakable sign of the determination of the citizens to secure what is termed full religious liberty.” In point of fact, the impasse continued, as Rothschild won his seat again in 1852 and then in 1857. It was not until 1858, after the provision of Christian affirmation was removed, that he finally entered the House of Commons.

Rothschild’s struggle, reported in the American press, was carefully followed by American Jews. It may well have played a part in ensuring the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, 10 years later, which finally removed religious restrictions on holding any political office in the United States.

Strangers and Natives provides a unique perspective on American-Jewish history – the first account to draw its material solely from contemporary newspapers. By doing so, and because of Peri Devaney’s fascinating design, which shows the actual items in print, we are able to see history unfold as it was happening. The book goes well beyond news stories. We see also advertisements, announcements, obituaries and accounts charting the changing pattern of Jewish life and achievement. It is highly recommended.


BD”E Leila Leah Bronner

July 25, 2019

Julie Gruenbaum Fax ● Jewish Journal

Leila Leah Bronner, a Jewish history and Bible scholar died in Los Angeles on July 2. She was 89.

Bronner was a community leader and Orthodox feminist and the first woman to receive a doctorate in Bible and Jewish studies in South Africa. The author of eight books, Bronner contributed hundreds of articles to scholarly and popular publications. She was an assistant professor at the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University) in Los Angeles, a visiting professor at Harvard University, Bar Ilan University in Israel and USC, and a frequent presenter at academic conferences around the world. A resident of Hancock Park for the past 35 years, Bronner also taught Shabbat afternoon Torah classes for women out of her home. 

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Bd”H – Father of ‘Lone Soldiers’

January 9, 2019

Times of Israel

Zvika Levy, Israel Prize-winning ‘father of lone soldiers,’ dies aged 70

Zvika (Zvi) Levy, an Israel Prize-winning social activist known as “the father of lone soldiers” in Israel, passed away on Saturday at age 70 after years of suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a muscular disease.


Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin with Zvi Levy, recipient of an Israel Prize for lifetime achievement, at the International Conference Center (ICC) in Jerusalem on May 2, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Levy founded the Lone Soldiers organization in 1997, which supports some 3,500 young people annually who leave their families, usually abroad, to volunteer for Israeli army service. The organization also serves more than 1,500 Israeli soldiers who come from disadvantaged backgrounds or are estranged from their parents.

After a long career in the paratroopers unit, he has looked after lone soldiers from more than 40 countries, with most coming from the former Soviet Union, the US, Europe, Ethiopia, and South America.

In the ceremony for the Israel Prize in 2017, Levy accepted his award from a wheelchair, to a standing ovation.

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A Pioneer of the Jewish publishing Industry – Bernie Scharfstein z”l of Ktav

October 14, 2018

The New York Times

SCHARFSTEIN–Bernard, passed away peacefully at home in the loving embrace of his family on October 4, 2018 at age 92. Bernie devoted his professional life to Jewish scholarship and education. In close collaboration with his late brother, Sol, he published Jewish scholarly books and educational material at KTAV Publishing House, which was founded by his parents, Asher and Fannie in the 1940s. He was recognized for his impact on Jewish scholarship and learning with an honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University in 1997.

Born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Bernie attended Yeshiva College, where he starred on the basketball team, which in its day competed against leading college teams. He graduated from New York University and received a law degree from Brooklyn Law School. He was an avid reader of The New York Times, where many of his letters to the editor were published. He is survived by his wife, Barbara, to whom he was devoted for 59 years and their three sons, David (Sarah), Jonathan (Suzanne) and Daniel (Julie). He is also survived by nine loving grandchildren (Allison, Rebecca, Michelle, Benjamin, Julia, Kayla, Eliza, Ava and Nadia). It gave him great joy that all of his children and grandchildren were educated at Jewish day schools, where they learned from many KTAV books, and that they continue to have a deep appreciation for Judaism.

Contributions may be made to the Fannie and Asher Gemilus Chessed Fund at Yeshiva University c/o Rabbi Dr. Herbert Dobrinsky, 500 W. 185th St., BH312, NY, NY 10033.

 


Rabbi Maurice Lamm – Prominent Spiritual Leader, Author, And Teacher – Passes Away

July 13, 2016

AveilutSmall1by Shlomo Greenwald

Rabbi Maurice Lamm, a major presence in the American Orthodox rabbinate in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, as well as a teacher to hundreds of thousands through his immensely popular Jewish books, died last week. He was 86.

Rabbi Lamm authored The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, on the laws and practices of burial, shiva and mourning, which has sold over 750,000 copies since its first printing in 1969.

Additionally, he wrote The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage, The Power of Hope, Becoming a Jew, and Consolation. Each of these was also a best-seller in the Jewish world.

From 1972 to 1985 Rabbi Lamm served as head rabbi at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills, Calif., one of the largest Orthodox synagogues in America. He also connected with and influenced the Orthodox community at large through his affiliation with the Rabbinical Council of America, the journal Tradition and several other boards and organizations. He was also recognized as a first-class orator, lecturing abroad and overseas, from Israel to Australia to several countries in Europe.

 

Continue reading  here.


‘He Was A Man Capable Of Enormous Happiness’: Remembering Holocaust Survivor And Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel

July 10, 2016

AftertheHolocustWeb1Joseph Polak, author of After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring, remembers his friend Elie Wiesel.  Rabbi Polak joined Morning Edition to remember the legacy and impact of Wiesel.

Listen here.


Female Reactions and Feelings on Saying Kaddish

November 3, 2013

by Israel DrazinkaddishWomensVoicesWeb2

Smart and Ashkenas collected some fifty essays by articulate women of the various Jewish denominations in which they tell poignant emotional tales about relatives who died and their experiences in saying the mourner’s prayer, kaddish, what motivated them to do it, and how they felt doing so. Virtually all the stories are positive. The women derived much from saying the kaddish for eleven months. However some of the women had unfortunate contacts with Orthodox men. Some men felt that saying kaddish is a male prerogative and they mistreated the women who paid honor to deceased relatives by saying the kaddish. The book also includes three short chapters by rabbis concerning the laws of mourning and the saying of kaddish.

Many women reported feeling that saying kaddish provided them with an opportunity to engage others in helping them heal. It also facilitated them in creating new and lasting bonds of friendship in their communities. The kaddish aided them in keeping their relatives alive. It was a special time together with deceased dads, mom, kids. They had a feeling of doing something concrete and appealing. They felt they helped their love ones end their life’s journey. Some accepted the mystical idea that saying kaddish helped elevate their relatives to a higher heavenly level. They knew that the kaddish was a prayer that praised God and this gave meaning to them. Sitting in the services, many developed attachments to certain prayers and their knowledge of Judaism deepened. Some women were so moved by the kaddish that they abandoned Reform and Conservative synagogues and joined traditional Orthodox ones. Read the rest of this entry »


Rav Yehuda Amital Z”L

July 19, 2010

by Alan Brill

This morning we mourn the death of Harav Yehuda Amital zt”l, a truly courageous and moral leader of our time.

Here is the opening of an article that I wrote about him a few years ago in my review of Rav Amital’s book “Worlds Built, Destroyed and Rebuilt: The Religious Thought of R. Yehudah Amital” (the essay originally appeared in the 2006 Edah Journal) :
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Moshe Greenberg, Biblical Scholar, Is Dead at 81

May 24, 2010

Biblical Prose Prayer

Biblical Prose Prayer

by Dennis Hevesi

Moshe Greenberg, one of the most influential Jewish biblical scholars of the 20th century, died Saturday at his home in Jerusalem. He was 81.

Professor Greenberg, who in 1994 won the Israel Prize, that nation’s highest civilian honor, taught Bible and Jewish studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem from 1970 to 1996. But his teaching career began at the University of Pennsylvania in 1954 and constituted something of a breakthrough in American academia.

Before then, most American universities held that biblical study was primarily the domain of Christian scholars, said Jonathan D. Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University.
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