Monday, March 31, 2008


Crash Course in Jewish History Part 55 - Jews and the Founding of America
by Rabbi Ken Spiro
The amazing story of Jewish influence on the founding of American democracy is a well-kept secret.

The creation of the United States of America represented a unique event in world history - founded as a modern republic, it was rooted in the Bible, and one of its earliest tenets was religious tolerance.

This is because many of the earliest pilgrims who settled the "New England" of America in early 17th century were Puritan refugees escaping religious persecutions in Europe.

These Puritans viewed their emigration from England as a virtual re-enactment of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. To them, England was Egypt, the king was Pharaoh, the Atlantic Ocean was the Red Sea, America was the Land of Israel, and the Indians were the ancient Canaanites. They were the new Israelites, entering into a new covenant with God in a new Promised Land.

Thanksgiving -- first celebrated in 1621, a year after the Mayflower landed -- was initially conceived as a day parallel to the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur; it was to be a day of fasting, introspection and prayer.

Writes Gabriel Sivan in The Bible and Civilization (p. 236):

"No Christian community in history identified more with the People of the Book than did the early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who believed their own lives to be a literal reenactment of the Biblical drama of the Hebrew nation ... these émigré Puritans dramatized their own situation as the righteous remnant of the Church corrupted by the 'Babylonian woe,' and saw themselves as instruments of Divine Providence, a people chosen to build their new commonwealth on the Covenant entered into at Mount Sinai."

Previously, during the Puritan Revolution in England, (1642-1648) some Puritan extremists had even sought to replace English common law with Biblical laws of the Old Testament, but were prevented from doing so. In America, however, there was far more freedom to experiment with the use of Biblical law in the legal codes of the colonies and this was exactly what these early colonists set out to do.

The earliest legislation of the colonies of New England was all determined by Scripture. At the first assembly of New Haven in 1639, John Davenport clearly stated the primacy of the Bible as the legal and moral foundation of the colony:

"Scriptures do hold forth a perfect rule for the direction and government of all men in all duties which they are to perform to God and men as well as in the government of families and commonwealth as in matters of the Church ... the Word of God shall be the only rule to be attended unto in organizing the affairs of government in this plantation." (1)

Subsequently, the New Haven legislators adopted a legal code -- the Code of 1655 -- which contained some 79 statutes, half of which contained Biblical references, virtually all from the Hebrew Bible. The Plymouth Colony had a similar law code as did the Massachusetts assembly, which, in 1641 adopted the so-called "Capitall Laws of New England" based almost entirely on Mosaic law.

Of course, without a Jewish Oral Tradition, which helped the Jews understand the Bible, the Puritans were left to their own devices and tended toward a literal interpretation. This led in some instances to a stricter, more fundamentalist observance than Judaism had ever seen.


The Hebrew Bible also played a central role in the founding of various educational institutions including Harvard, Yale, William and Mary, Rutgers, Princeton, Brown, Kings College (later to be known as Columbia), Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth etc.

Many of these colleges even adopted some Hebrew word or phrase as part of their official emblem or seal. Beneath the banner containing the Latin "Lux et Veritas," the Yale seal shows an open book with the Hebrew "Urim V'Timum," which was a part of the breastplate of the High Priest in the days of the Temple. The Columbia seal has the Hebrew name for God at the top center, with the Hebrew name for one of the angels on a banner toward the middle. Dartmouth uses the Hebrew words meaning "God Almighty" in a triangle in the upper center of its seal.

So popular was the Hebrew Language in the late 16th and early 17th centuries that several students at Yale delivered their commencement orations in Hebrew. Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Pennsylvania taught courses in Hebrew - all the more remarkable because no university in England at the time offered it. (In America, Bible study and Hebrew were course requirements in virtually all these colleges and students had the option of delivering commencement speeches in either Hebrew, Latin or Greek.)(2)

Many of the population, including a significant number of the Founding Fathers of America, were products of these American Universities - for example, Thomas Jefferson attended William and Mary, James Madison Princeton, Alexander Hamilton King's College (i.e. Columbia). Thus, we can be sure that a majority of these political leaders were not only well acquainted with the contents of both the New and Old Testaments, but also had some working knowledge of Hebrew.

Notes Abraham Katsch in The Biblical Heritage of American Democracy (p. 70):

"At the time of the American Revolution, the interest in the knowledge of Hebrew was so widespread as to allow the circulation of the story that 'certain members of Congress proposed that the use of English be formally prohibited in the United States, and Hebrew substituted for it.'"


Their Biblical education colored the American founders' attitude toward not only religion and ethics, but most significantly, politics. We see them adopting the biblical motifs of the Puritans for political reasons. For example, the struggle of the ancient Hebrews against the wicked Pharaoh came to embody the struggle of the colonists against English tyranny. Numerous examples can be found which clearly illustrate to what a significant extent the political struggles of the colonies were identified with the ancient Hebrews.

* The first design for the official seal of the United States recommended by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas in 1776 depicts the Jews crossing the Red Sea. The motto around the seal read: "Resistance to Tyrants is Obedience to God."

* The inscription on the Liberty Bell at Independence Hall in Philadelphia is a direct quote from Leviticus (25:10): "Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof."

* Patriotic speeches and publications during the period of the struggle for independence were often infused with Biblical motifs and quotations. Even the basic framework of America clearly reflects the influence of the Bible and power of Jewish ideas in shaping the political development of America. Nowhere is this more evident than in the opening sentences of the Declaration of Independence:

* "We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Whereas, these words echo the ideas of the Enlightenment (see Part 53), without a doubt, the concept that these rights come from God is of Biblical origin.

This and the other documents of early America make it clear that the concept of a God-given standard of morality is a central pillar of American democracy. The motto "IN GOD WE TRUST" first appeared on U. S. currency in 1864 and an a 1956 Act of Congress (largely passed as a counterforce to Godless communism) made it the official motto if the United States.

Many more things can be said about the Jewish influence on the values of America, but this is, after all, a crash course. We next turn to the Jews themselves.


The history of Jews in America begins before the United States was an independent country.

The first Jews arrived in America with Columbus in 1492, and we also know that Jews newly-converted to Christianity were among the first Spaniards to arrive in Mexico with Conquistador Hernando Cortez in 1519.

In fact, so many Jewish conversos came to Mexico that the Spanish made a rule precluding anyone who could not prove Catholic ancestry for four generations back from migrating there. Needless to say, the Inquisition soon followed to make sure these Jewish conversos were not really heretics, and burnings at the stake became a regular feature of life in Mexico City.

As for North America, the recorded Jewish history there begins in 1654 with the arrival in New Amsterdam (later to be known as New York) of 23 Jewish refugees from Recife, Brazil (where the Dutch had just lost their possessions to the Portuguese). New Amsterdam was also a Dutch possession, but the governor Peter Stuyvesant did not want them there. Writes Arthur Hertzberg in The Jews in America (p. 21):

"Two weeks after they landed, Stuyvesant heard the complaint from the local merchants and from the Church that 'the Jews who had arrived would nearly all like to remain here.' Stuyvesant decided to chase them out. Using the usual formulas of religious invective -- he called the Jews 'repugnant,' 'deceitful,' and 'enemies and blasphemers of Christ' - Stuyvesant recommended to his directors ... 'to require them in a friendly way to depart.'"

The only reasons the Jews were not turned out was that the Dutch West Indian Company, which was heavily depended on Jewish investments, blocked it.


By 1776 and the War of Independence, there were an estimated 2,000 (mostly Sephardic) Jews (men, women and children) living in America, yet their contribution to the cause was significant. For example, in Charleston, South Carolina, almost every adult Jewish male fought on the side of freedom. In Georgia, the first patriot to be killed was a Jew (Francis Salvador). And additionally, the Jews provided significant financing for the patriots.

The most important of the financiers was Haym Salomon who lent a great deal of money to the Continental Congress. In the last days of the war, Salomon advanced the American government $200,000. He was never paid back and died bankrupt.

President George Washington remembered the Jewish contribution when the first synagogue opened in Newport, Rhode Island in 1790. (It was called the Touro Synagogue and it was Sephardic.) He sent this letter, dated August 17, 1790:

"May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in the land continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants. While everyone shall sit safely under his own vine and fig-tree and there shall be none to make him afraid."

Note the reference to the "vine and fig-tree." That unique phrase is a reference to the words of Prophet Michah prophesying the Messianic utopia:

But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow to it. And many nations shall come, and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for Torah shall go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.' And he shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide concerning far away strong nations; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken it.

This was an interesting choice of words on the part of Washington, but, as noted above, it is not surprising in light of the enormous influence that the Hebrew Bible had on the pilgrims and on the founding fathers of the new nation.


It must be noted however that some of the other founding fathers were a bit more ambivalent about the Jews than was Washington.

John Adams, who said some highly complimentary things about the Jews,(3) also noted that "it is very hard work to love most of them [the Jews]. And he looked forward to the day when "the asperities and peculiarities of their character" would be worn away and they would become "liberal Unitarian Christians."

Thomas Jefferson thought Jews needed more secular learning so that "they will become equal object of respect and favor," implying that without such learning they could not expect to be respected. Writes Arthur Hertzberg in The Jews in America (p. 87):

"Jefferson was thus expressing the view of the mainstream of the Enlightenment, that all men could attain equal place in society, but the 'entrance fee' was that they should adopt the ways and the outlook of the 'enlightened.' Jefferson did not consider that a Yiddish-speaking Jew who knew the Talmud was equal in usefulness to society with a classically trained thinker like himself."

This idea that there was freedom for you in America as long as you were not "too Jewish," kept most Jews away. Until 1820, the Jewish population of America was only about 6,000!

This changed in the 1830s when Reform German Jews, who had scrapped traditional Judaism and were not "too Jewish," began to arrive. The great migrations of poor, oppressed Jews from Eastern Europe would follow near the turn of the century. But before we take up that story, we must look to see what was happening to the Jews of Europe.

(1)Abraham Katsh, The Biblical Heritage of American Democracy, (New York, 1977), p.97.
(2)Ibid., 51-72.
(3)John Adams in a letter to F.A. Van Der Kemp, 16 February 1809: "... I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. If I were an atheist of another sect...I should still believe that chance had ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate for all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise almighty sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be the great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization... They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this earth. The Romans and their Empire were but a bauble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more, and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern." As quoted in: Allan Gould, What Did They Think of the Jews,(New Jersey, 1997), pp.71-72.

Orphaned Art: Looted Art from the Holocaust Featured at the Israel Museum Through June

Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, Marriage Portrait of Charlotte von Rothschild (detail), 1836. Oil on canvas. Received through JRSO

JERUSALEM.- The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, presents Orphaned Art: Looted Art from the Holocaust in the Israel Museum, an exhibition exploring the fate of works of art looted during World War II that were subsequently brought to Israel. Culled from 1,200 such works held in custody by the Israel Museum, all of which lack clear ownership history, Orphaned Art features over fifty paintings, drawings, prints, and books, together with a selection of Jewish ceremonial objects, and includes such artists as Jan Both, Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, Marc Chagall, Egon Schiele, and Alfred Sisley.

On view through June 3, 2008, Orphaned Art presents a companion story to Looking for Owners: Custody, Research, and Restitution of Art Stolen in France during World War II, an exhibition on view concurrently at the Israel Museum that is drawn from the collection of stolen art in France known as Musées Nationaux Récupération (MNR).

“Orphaned Art offers an important opportunity to explore one dimension of the story of art looted during World War II, focusing specifically on those works whose histories vanished completely and which arrived in Israel during the early 1950s,” said James S. Snyder, the Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum. “In presenting this exhibition concurrently with Looking for Owners, we hope to illuminate the range of ongoing efforts to conclude the saga of lost art and artifacts of World War II and to highlight the shared significance of this process within the international museum community.”

In 1948, works of art and Judaica that were identified as having been looted from Jews or Jewish communities but were heirless and unclaimed were released from their central collecting points in Germany and given to the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization (JRSO). JRSO subsequently undertook a systematic program to distribute these orphaned objects among museums, synagogues, and other Jewish organizations in Israel and worldwide through the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction (JCR). Some of these objects were deposited for safekeeping at the Bezalel National Museum, predecessor to the Israel Museum, which, following its establishment in 1965, became the custodian of some 250 paintings, 250 works on paper, and 700 objects of Judaica, all received through JRSO-JCR.

Most of the JRSO works that arrived at the Israel Museum had no prior ownership history or basic catalogue information, and many came in poor condition, making conservation, restoration, and research an extensive undertaking, which is ongoing today. While these works have great emotional and sentimental value, many are of lesser art historical importance. At the same time, objects of significant artistic quality have been displayed regularly in the Museum’s galleries and exhibited and published worldwide. Beginning as early as 1950, individuals have come forward to claim JRSO works, with the most recent claims honored in 2006 and 2007.

Orphaned Art, organized by the Israel Museum, is part of the continuing cooperation between the Museum and the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims' Assets, which acts to locate the property of victims of the Holocaust and return it to their heirs.

The Looting of Art during World War II - Before the beginning of World War II, Adolf Hitler declared his wish to transform his hometown of Linz, Austria, into the Third Reich’s art capital, where all of the treasures of Europe would be exhibited. As a means to this end, Hitler recruited leading art experts to compile a secret “wish list” of works of art by so-called Aryan masters or works that had left German collections after the year 1500, to be “repatriated” to Germany. Plundering of public and private property, and especially of Jewish property, began in 1938 and reached a climax with the Final Solution. Major art collections were confiscated systematically throughout Europe, accompanied by other forms of looting, which included theft of works by Nazi soldiers and officers to give as gifts or for their own private collections, as well as forced sales of inventories from prominent art dealers.

At the end of the war a staggering volume of artworks, books, archival materials, and other cultural artifacts was discovered in hiding places throughout Germany and Austria – in depots, salt mines, castles, museum storerooms, and even private homes – and the arduous task of relocating rightful owners and returning treasures to their owners or legitimate heirs began. Orphaned Art and Looking for Owners reflect aspects of this ongoing effort.

A Jewish feel good story


This is rather long but it is a beautiful Jewish/feel
good story.

On his way out from shul in Jerusalem, Dan approached
a young man
in jeans, backpack, dark skin, curly black hair, he
looked Sephardi,
maybe Moroccan.

"Good Shabbos. My name is Dan Eisenblatt. Would you
like to eat at
my house tonight?"

The young man's face broke in an instant from a
worried look to a
smile. "Yeah, thanks. My name is Machi."

Together they walked out of the shul. A few minutes
later they were
all standing around Dan's Shabbos table. Dan noticed
his guest
fidgeting and leafing through his songbook, apparently
looking for
something. He asked with a smile, "Is there a song you
want to sing?
I can help if you're not sure about the tune."

The guest's face lit up. "There is a song I'd like to
sing, but I
can't find it here. I really liked what we sang in the
tonight. What was it called? Something 'dodi.'"

Dan paused for a moment, on the verge of saying, "It's
not usually
sung at the table," but then he caught himself. "If
that's what the
kid wants," he thought, "what's the harm?" Aloud he
said, "You mean
Lecha Dodi. Wait, let me get you a siddur."

Once they had sung Lecha Dodi, the young man resumed
his silence
until after the soup, when Dan asked him, "Which song
now?" The
guest looked embarrassed, but after a bit of
encouragement said
firmly, "I'd really like to sing Lecha Dodi again."

Dan was not really all that surprised when, after the
chicken, he
asked his guest what song now, and the young man said,
"Lecha Dodi,
please." Dan almost blurted out, "Let's sing it a
little softer this time,
the neighbors are going to think I'm nuts." He finally
said, "Don't
you want to sing something else?"

His guest blushed and looked down. "I just really like
that one,"
he mumbled. "Just something about it - I really like
it." In all,
they must have sung "The Song" eight or nine times.
Dan wasn't
sure -- he lost count. Later Dan asked, "Where are you
The boy looked pained, then stared down at the floor
and said
softly, "Ramallah."

Dan's was sure he'd heard the boy say "Ramallah," a
large Arab city
on the West Bank. Quickly he caught himself, and then
realized that
he must have said Ramleh, an Israeli city. Dan said,
"Oh, I have a
cousin there. Do you know Ephraim Warner? He lives on
Herzl Street."

The young man shook his head sadly. "There are no Jews
in Ramallah."

Dan gasped. He really had said "Ramallah"! His
thoughts were racing.
Did he just spend Shabbos with an Arab? He told the
boy, "I'm sorry,
I'm a bit confused. And now that I think of it, I
haven't even asked your
full name. What is it, please?"

The boy looked nervous for a moment, then squared his
shoulders and
said quietly, "Machmud Ibn-esh-Sharif." Dan stood
there speechless.
What could he say? Machmud broke the silence
hesitantly: "I was
born and grew up in Ramallah. I was taught to hate my
oppressors, and to think about killing them would make
me a

But I always had my doubts. I mean, we were taught
that the Sunna,
the tradition, says, 'No one of you is a believer
until he desires for his
brother that which he desires for himself.' I used to
sit and wonder,
Weren't the Yahud (Jews) people, too? Didn't they have
the right to
live the same as us? If we're supposed to be good to
everyone, how
come nobody includes Jews in that? "I put these
questions to my
father, and he threw me out of the house. By now my
mind was made
up: I was going to run away and live with the Yahud,
until I could find
out what they were really like. I snuck back into the
house that night,
to get my things and my backpack.

My mother caught me in the middle of packing. I told
her that I wanted
to go live with the Jews for a while and find out what
they are really like
and maybe I would even want to convert.

She was turning more and more pale while I said all
this, and I thought
she was angry, but that wasn't it. Something else was
hurting her and
she whispered gently, 'You don't have to convert. You
already are a Jew.'
"I was shocked. My head started spinning, and for a
moment I couldn't
speak. Then I stammered, 'What do you mean?' 'In
Judaism,' she told me,
'the religion goes according to the mother.

I'm Jewish, so that means you're Jewish.' "I never had
any idea my mother
was Jewish. I guess she didn't want anyone to know.
She whispered
suddenly, 'I made a mistake by marrying an Arab man.
In you, my mistake
will be redeemed.' "My mother always talked that way,
poetic-like. She
went and dug out some old documents, and handed them
to me: things
like my birth certificate and her old Israeli ID card,
so I could prove I was
a Jew.

I've got them here, but I don't know what to do with
them. "My mother
hesitated about one piece of paper. Then she said,
'You may as well
take this. It is an old photograph of my grand-parents
which was taken
when they went visiting the grave of some great
ancestor of ours.' "Now
I have traveled here to Israel. I'm just trying to
find out where I belong."

Dan gently put his hand on Machmud's shoulder. Machmud
looked up,
scared and hopeful at the same time. Dan asked, "Do
you have the
photo here?"

The boy's face lit up. ""Sure! I always carry it with
me." He reached in
his backpack and pulled out an old, tattered envelope.

When Dan read the gravestone inscription, he nearly
dropped the photo.
He rubbed his eyes to make sure. There was no doubt.
This was a grave
in the old cemetery in Tzfat, and the inscription
identified it as the grave
of the great Kabbalist and tzaddik Rabbi Shlomo

Dan's voice quivered with excitement as he explained
to Machmud who
his ancestor was. "He was a friend of the Arizal, a
great Torah cholar,
a tzaddik, a mystic. And, Machmud, your ancestor wrote
that song we
were singing all Shabbos: Lecha Dodi!"

This time it was Machmud's turn to be struck
speechless. Dan extended
his trembling hand and said, "Welcome home, Machmud."

This true story, submitted by Nechama Goodman, is
documented in
"Monsey, Kiryat Sefer and Beyond" by Zev Roth.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


It all started when my friend Doodie Miller-- who wears a kippah -- was back in college and suffering through a tedious lecture. As the professor droned on, a previously-unknown young woman leaned over and whispered in his ear:

'This class is as boring as my Zayde's seder.'

You see, the woman knew that she did not 'look' Jewish, nor did she wear any identifying signs like a Star of David. So foregoing the awkward declaration, 'I'm Jewish,' the girl devised a more nuanced -- and frankly, cuter -- way of heralding her heritage.

This incident launched a hypothesis which would henceforth be known as the Bagel Theory.

The Bagel Theory stands for the principle that we Jews, regardless of how observant or affiliated we are, have a powerful need to connect with one another. To that end, we find ways to 'bagel' each other -- basically, to 'out' ourselves to fellow Jews.

There are two ways to bagel. The brave or simply unimaginative will tell you st raight out that they are Jewish (a plain bagel). But the more creative will concoct subtler and even sublime ways to let you know that they, too, are in the know. (These bagels are often the best; like their doughy counterparts, cultural bagels are more flavorful when there is more to chew on.)

Bageled at Boggle

I suspect that Jews have been bageling even before real bagels were invented. And while my husband and I may not have invented bageling, we do seem to have a steady diet of bagel encounters.

An early bagel favorite occurred when my kippah-wearing husband and I were dating, and we spent a Saturday evening at a funky coffee house with friends. We engaged in a few boisterous rounds of Boggle, the game where you must quickly make words out of jumbled lettered cubes. Observing our fun, a couple of college students at a nearby table asked if they could play too. After we rattled the tray and furiously scribbled our words, it was time to read our lists aloud . One of the students, who sported a rasta hat and goatee, proudly listed the word 'yad.' Unsuspecting, we inquired, 'What's a yad?' He said with a smirk, 'You know, that pointer you read the Torah with.' Yes, we were bageled at Boggle.

On our honeymoon in Rome, we were standing at the top of the Spanish steps next to a middle-aged couple holding a map. The husband piped up in an obvious voice, 'I wonder where the synagogue is.' My husband and I exchanged a knowing look at this classic Roman bagel and proceeded to strike up a conversation with this lovely couple from Chicago. After we took them to the synagogue, they asked to join us at the kosher pizza shop. As we savored the cheeseless arugula and shaved beef pizza -- to this day the best pizza I have ever had -- this non-religious couple marveled at traveling kosher and declared they would do so in the future. A satisfying bagel to be sure.

Holy Bagel

In the years since, our bagel encounters have become pr ecious souvenirs, yiddishe knick-knacks from our family adventures in smaller Jewish communities. Like the time the little boy at the Coffee Bean in Pasadena, California, walked up to my husband, pulled out a mezuzah from around his neck, smiled and ran away. (A non-verbal bagel!) Or our day trip to the pier in San Clemente, California when an impish girl in cornrows and bikini scampered over to say 'Good Shabbos.'

We have been bageled waiting at airline ticket counters, in elevators, at the supermarket checkout. And I myself have been known to bagel when the situation calls for it, like the time I asked the chassid seated a few rows up on an airplane if I could borrow a siddur.

On a recent trip abroad, however, we did not get bageled even once. That was in Israel where, thankfully, there is just no need.

We bagel in a quest to feel whole.

Ultimately, why do we feel this need to bagel? Does it stem from our shared patriarchs, our pedigree of discrimination and isolation, a common love of latkes or just the human predisposition to be cliquey? I maintain it is something more. Our sages say that all Jews were originally one interconnected soul which stood in unison at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. Now scattered across the Earth, as we encounter each other's Jewish souls, we recognize and reconnect with a piece of our divine selves. The bagel may have a hole, but we bagel in a quest to feel whole.

So the next time a sweaty stranger at the gym says to you, 'I haven't been this thirsty since Yom Kippur,' smile. You've just been bageled -- adding another link in the Jewish circle of connection.

A story of Jewish nostalgia and British betrayal

The Haaretz columnist and 'new' historian Tom Segev reviews the late Violette Shamash's newly-published Memories of Eden:

"June 1, 1941 was the date of the festival of Shavuot. On that day, Arab hoodlums burst into the Jewish neighborhoods of Baghdad. The riots continued the next day, too. The rioters raided the houses, murdered, raped, looted, burned a synagogue and shops. Nobody knows for certain how many Jewish residents were killed; their number is generally estimated at over 150. Many hundreds were wounded. The pogrom, which is known as the Farhud, was stopped by the Baghdad police. Arabs, too, were killed and wounded.

"Less than 24 hours earlier, Baghdad had been transferred to British rule. Churchill ordered that the short-lived regime of Rashid Ali al-Gilani, who had seized power with the help of the Nazis, be brought down. The British entry into Iraq was considered part of World War II. The Farhud of Baghdad marked the beginning of the end of the most ancient Jewish community in the world, and some compare it to Kristallnacht in Germany and Austria 70 years ago.

"A young couple, Violette and David Shamash, were celebrating the holiday with relatives; they had left their baby, Mira, with an Arab nanny. They experienced hours of terrible anxiety until the nanny brought the child to them. Meanwhile they began to move the furniture, in order to block the doors. Violette heard women's screams from the neighboring houses. Afterward she discovered that many of the Arab neighbors had volunteered to protect the Jews.

"This is a very Jewish story, not a Zionist one. Violette and David Shamash described themselves as Arabic Jews. The Farhud spurred them to leave their country. Like many Iraqi Jews, they settled at first in Bombay, but the British were about to leave India; Violette and David Shamash came to Jerusalem. The British were about to leave the Land of Israel as well, so the Shamashes settled in Cyprus. After the British left there, too, the couple moved to London.

"Violette Shamash liked to write. When she died about two years ago at the age of 94, she left behind a large collection of letters and diary entries that describe the daily routine of the last generation of a community that had lived in Iraq consecutively for 2,500 years: What they ate and what they wore, how they fell in love and how they mourned. Aware of the changing times, she wrote about the appearance of the first matches and the first wristwatches, and also diligently recorded what happened to the Jews of Baghdad whenever a new ruler came to power.

"Mira, the baby, grew up and married Tony Rocca, who was a Sunday Times correspondent, and the two edited Violette Shamash's letters and diary entries into a captivating autobiography; shortly before her death, she managed to witness the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue. The book, which has just been published, broadcasts nostalgia; it is entitled "Memories of Eden."

"Rocca researched the events of that day and for the first time suggests a fully documented answer to the question of why the British did not act to prevent the Farhud. Its essence: The British ambassador, Kinahan Cornwallis, did not obey the instructions he received from London; he did what he wanted. As one of those who had invented the Iraqi nation, the ambassador thought that the residents of Baghdad should not be angered and should not be given a feeling that the British were imposing a puppet government on them. Therefore he left the army outside the center of Baghdad and allowed the Arabs to harm the Jews. The Arabs hated them, one reason being that they were considered allies of the British in Iraq; and they also hated the British, one reason being that they were considered allies of the Jews in the Land of Israel.

"Everyone knew what was about to happen; ambassador Cornwallis didn't care. Lawrence of Arabia described him as a man "forged from one of those incredible metals with a melting point of thousands of degrees." The honorable ambassador spent the hours of the Farhud playing bridge."

The untold story of the Jews of Pakistan

It might come as a surprise to many readers of this blog that the articles that have attracted the most comment have been about the Jews of Pakistan. The vast majority of comments are from Muslims who regret the loss of Pakistan's Jews, or who hark back to an earlier, more tolerant age.

Although Pakistan has never been at war with Israel, it has, a Muslim state, shown a tragic solidarity with its fellow Muslim Arab states by 'ethnically cleansing' its Jews. These numbered several hundred - or even a couple of thousand at the turn of the last century - depending on which estimate you believe. Now the few that remain are terrified of revealing their identity.

Point of No Return received this email from Deborah Dorrian, whose family managed to leave after the 1947 Partition into India and the Muslim State of Pakistan, and who now lives in Australia.

Here is her story:

"My father was born in Karachi in 1927 to Jewish parents. He went to the Karachi grammar school. They all fled Karachi and Pakistan. Why does no one know that there were Jews for centuries in the carpet business living in Karachi?

"An article two years ago featured the woman who was the last custodian of the Magen synagogue. Rachel Joseph was my father's teacher. Rachel still holds the keys to the last synagogue, which was pulled down to make way for a shopping centre. My father was so distressed to read articles in the Indian newspapers and on the Internet describing her fight with developers for compensation.

"We now live in Sydney, Australia. A mother I know and her son fled Karachi when India was partitioned in 1947. Five brothers could not get out: they left in 1960 as they could not sell their property. The Pakistani government insisted that they leave without compensation. All money left behind had to be ploughed back into the Islamic community.

"Only two years ago, General Musharraf became the first leader of Pakistan to recognise the Jews of Karachi on his trip to New York City."

The Persian path through Los Angeles

The Persian path through LA

The Persian Jewish community in Los Angeles, the largest outside Israel, is in the midst of a transition, from odd and somewhat suspect outsiders to integral - though still distinctive - members of the larger civic and Jewish entities.

A little historical anecdote illustrates the change since the first large-scale arrival of Persian Jews in the late 1970s and early 1980s, following the fall of the shah's regime and the takeover by the Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic Revolution.

Without their own places of worship, many of the new immigrants chose Sinai Temple, a Conservative synagogue on the city's affluent Westside, as their Shabbat gathering place. Soon their large, extended families, all speaking Farsi, socialized in the lobby on Friday evenings while munching oneg Shabbat cookies, and attended services the following morning.

Ashkenazi old-timers started grumbling about "free rides" for the newcomers, naturally unaware that, to the Persians, dues-paying membership in synagogues was an unknown concept and that it was considered a blessing for guests to take home some cookies and candy after a bar mitzva or wedding.

Tensions reached a point where a new and inexperienced temple president "solved" the cookie confrontation by canceling oneg Shabbat refreshments after Friday evening services.

Eventually, cooler and more perceptive heads prevailed as both sides came to understand each other's backgrounds and customs. These days, Sinai Temple is a model of "integration," with Persians representing about half of the membership, some 40 percent of the board of directors and even a former president.

There is no detailed demographic study of the Persian Jewish community in Los Angeles, though its size is generally given as 30,000, including the American-born children of the original immigrants. This figure is well below the 200,000 in Israel, but ahead of New York City's 12,000 - the only other large concentration in the US - and bigger than the 25,000 Jews remaining in Iran itself.

There is no single Persian enclave in Los Angeles, but the main concentrations are in the Westside and Beverly Hills, and the more middle-class San Fernando Valley. Their combined presence and impact are frequently dubbed "Irangeles," or more popularly "Teherangeles." The network of institutions in Teherangeles now consists of some 40 organizations (including the multiservice Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in the San Fernando Valley), 19 synagogues, ranging from small prayer rooms to mega-centers, six magazines and one television station.

A word about the terms "Persian" and "Iranian," which are largely interchangeable, with the chief umbrella organization going by the name of Iranian American Jewish Federation. Among the younger generation, "Persian" is finding greater favor, to distance itself from the misdeeds of the present Iranian regime and from the roughly 500,000 Iranian immigrants in Southern California, made up of Shi'ite Muslims, Armenians, Assyrian Christians, Baha'is, Kurds and Zoroastrians, who are generally on good terms with their Jewish compatriots.

The Persian Jews of Beverly Hills, some 8,000 strong, tend to get special international media attention, due to the name recognition of the golden enclave embedded within the city of Los Angeles, as well as their wealth - ostentatious wealth, say detractors - and their "palaces." In recent months, these residents have had cause to celebrate the victory of one of their own and mourn the disgrace of another.

The good news was the inauguration of Jimmy (Jamshid) Delshad as mayor of Beverly Hills, hailed as the top Iranian-born public official in the United States. "As a Jewish youngster in Iran, I was a second-class citizen and kept running into closed doors," Delshad told The Jerusalem Post. "Through my example, I hope to open the doors in America for other people like me."

The bad news was the downfall of Israel's president Moshe Katsav, who resigned after pleading guilty to charges of repeated sexual harassment of female employees. Katsav, born in Iran, had been a special hero to his landsmen here, who saw in him the incarnation of the Iranian Jewish success story.

The letdown has been correspondingly hard. One local businessman, who tried to set up a legal defense fund for Katsav, told journalist Karmel Melamed, "I was surprised that after members of our own community were once fighting to be photographed with Moshe Katsav and shake his hand [during a visit to Los Angeles in 2001] - but now that he has fallen, no one was willing to come to his aid."

THE FIRST identifiable Jew arrived in Los Angeles a mere 160 years ago, so the city's newcomers take a certain pride in their 2,500-year history in Persia as the world's oldest Diaspora community.

Though treated as second-class, ghetto-bound citizens throughout much of that history, Persian Jews enjoyed considerable prosperity under the shah's rule. They were deeply attached to their lifestyle and homeland, and their flight after the Islamic Revolution left no family unscarred.

Reversing the traditional patterns of immigration to the US, in which the poor and proverbial "huddled masses" came first, the initial Persian Jewish influx to Los Angeles between 1979 and 1984 was spearheaded by the wealthiest members, who had the liquid cash and foresight to get out early. The middle class and the poor followed later.

In the early years, widely circulated anecdotes and urban legends told of the new immigrants ringing the doorbells of million-dollar Beverly Hills mansions, asking the price of the house, and then opening dollar-stuffed suitcases to pay the entire cost in cash.

This stereotype of Iranian Jews survives to some extent, as do tales of their legendary bargaining power and persistence. No reliable income statistics exist, but the generally understated Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, describes his constituency as economically "extremely successful." Some 80% of Persian Jews are self-employed, from billionaires ruling over real estate and financial empires, to affluent professionals and small businessmen working in the downtown jewelry and textile districts, where they compete fiercely with Israeli expatriates.

There are, indeed, poor Iranian Jews, especially among more recent immigrants. But they are not publicly visible, because they are generally kept afloat through an extended and extremely tight-knit family structure, one of the chief hallmarks of the community.

One such family network is the Nazarian clan, in which the accomplishments and wealth of individual brothers, sons, daughters, in-laws, nephews and cousins combine to make the overall family clout and assets bigger than the sum of its parts.

The family patriarch is Izak Parvis Nazarian, who was born in Teheran 78 years ago into an impoverished family and went to work as a youngster after his father died when Nazarian was five years old. Arriving in Israel in time to fight, and suffer serious wounds, in the War of Independence, he spent the next 30 years establishing enterprises in the construction equipment, electronic and sheet metal industries in both Israel and Iran.

In 1979, Nazarian, his wife Pouran and their three daughters and one son left for the US, settled in Los Angeles, and, hardly pausing for breath, he resumed his business career. He took over, expanded and still chairs Stadco, a leading producer of high-precision tooling and parts for the aerospace industry. In 1985, Nazarian founded Omninet to develop the first satellite-based data communication system, and when Omninet merged with Qualcomm in San Diego, Nazarian became a major stockholder in the pioneering cellphone company. Currently, Nazarian chairs Omninet Capital, a diversified investment firm in the fields of private equity, real estate and venture capital.

As a community activist and philanthropist, he helped organize the secret emigration of Soviet Jews through Armenia to Israel. He co-founded the Magbit Foundation, which has provided $6.5 million to more than 5,000 students in Israel. He is a supporter of Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University, the Technion and the Weizmann Institute of Science.

The total wealth of Nazarian and his extended family is estimated at $1.5 billion to $2b. Typically, Nazarian does not figure his wealth in personal terms but as the total of his extended family's holdings, including his brother Younes Nazarian, son-in-law Neil Kadisha and nephew Sam Nazarian, Tinseltown's leading nightclub impresario.

Currently, Nazarian is focusing much of his considerable energy on the Citizen Empowerment Center in Israel, which seeks to educate the country's citizens toward the goal of adopting a more functional electoral system.

Holidays are celebrated by the entire clan, with Parvis and Pouran Nazarian hosting around 50 family members for Pessah Seders, and 25 for Shabbat, including 10 grandchildren.

While in their occupations Iranian Jews are full participants in the business and professional life of this city, in their private social lives the Iranians form pretty much a self-contained circle. Even as worldly a man as the 50-year-old Kermanian said that among his close friends, two-thirds are Iranian, and the proportion is higher among other families.

In social groupings including English-only speakers, Iranians tend to talk in Farsi, to the annoyance of Gina Nahai. The Iran-born author of three English-language novels, which have enjoyed impressive critical and commercial success, recalled an occasion when she approached a group of Farsi-speaking women, one accompanied by her American husband. Nahai pointed out that her husband couldn't follow the conversation, at which the woman shrugged and replied, "Oh, he's used to it."

THE PERSIAN Jewish community in Los Angeles is now some 28 years old and analysts of its evolution, such as organization development psychologist Dr. Morgan Hakimi, speak of three different generations. The first consists of the founding fathers and mothers, who came here as adults in the 1970s and '80s and are now the community elders. The second generation is represented by those who were born in Iran but arrived as children or teenagers, and are now in their 40s and 50s. Their children, born in Los Angeles, and now in their teens and 20s, make up the third generation.

There are, of course, generational differences and varying degrees of assimilation, but what is remarkable is the cohesion of family life and loyalty to traditions, even into the third generation. This is in sharp contrast to, say, the descendants of East European immigrants at the turn of the 20th century, who have filled American bookshelves with traumatic recollections of suffocating Jewish mothers and meaningless religious rituals.

Persian Jewish parents may no longer have the unquestioned authority to determine the choice of marriage partners for their offspring, but in talking to some 40 members of the community, spanning all ages, we heard no stories of outright rebellion against parental guidance or their religious faith and ardent support for Israel.

This ethnic and familial togetherness has its downside and upside. Parents tend to send their children to private Jewish day schools or top public schools in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, and their "old" American classmates frequently complain about the self-segregation of the Iranian kids, who tend to socialize in self-contained, Farsi-speaking groups.

Kermanian notes that the problem cuts two ways and that the Iranian students are sometimes put down by their classmates for their darker skin and hairiness.

The upside of this social semi-isolation, combined with the religious solidarity and social conservatism of the community, is that intermarriage, once all but unknown, is still a rarity. Rabbi David Shofet, the community's most prominent spiritual leader and son of Teheran's last chief rabbi, estimates that about 5% of marriages are with non-Jewish partners, compared to 50% or higher in the general Jewish community.

Until about 10 years ago, the term "intermarriage" included unions with non-Persian partners from the "outside" Jewish community, but that social barrier, at least, seems to be gradually disappearing.

Perhaps no transition within the community has been more marked than in the role and standing of women over the last three decades. The early immigrants brought with them the old country's social standards that wives did not work outside the home. If the rule was broken, "it proved a great embarrassment to the husband, because it meant that he couldn't support, or control, his wife," said novelist Gina Nahai, the 46-year old mother of three children.

With shifting economic and social times, this attitude is changing, though a wife's desire to work can still cause family friction, said Nahai. "You still have some men grumbling about women getting too uppity, but more and more of us are becoming empowered."

Psychologist Morgan Hakimi has achieved the previously unthinkable by becoming the first woman president of the Nessah Educational and Cultural Center in Beverly Hills - with 1,000 families, the largest Persian synagogue in the US, if not the world.

"When I was elected for the first time in 2004, it was a revolution," Hakimi said. One of the strongest points in her favor, she believes, is that through her professional work she had established many ties with the general Jewish community, at a time when both sides were trying to reach out to each other.

Hakimi came to Los Angeles in 1979, when she was 14, received an American college education, married a fellow Iranian Jew, and is the mother of two sons. "We have reduced the level of machismo and patriarchal prerogative in our community, which has brought about a more balanced attitude toward our children," she said.

Now in her second two-year term as president, Hakimi has introduced such innovations as women's participation in prayer services, support groups for single mothers, who were previously shunned, and programs for young parents to show that child raising is also the father's responsibility. Still, Hakimi acknowledged, she has some way to go. "There remains a duality, a sense that a woman must choose between being a wife or having a career, there are still serious identity struggles among our young women and girls."

Relations between the Los Angeles expatriates and the remnants of the Jewish community in Iran remain very close, and following the show trials and imprisonment of Jews under the ayatollahs, advocates of two different responses have vied for community support. The "establishment," represented mainly by the Iranian American Jewish Federation, has generally opted for behind-the-scenes, low-profile diplomacy to avoid worsening the situation for their brethren in Iran.

Smaller opposition groups have advocated a more militant, public protest approach. In the face of the blatant Holocaust denial and threats against Israel by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the whole community is shifting toward a more outspoken opposition, said Frank Nikbakht, one of the early "militants."

Having achieved economic security and increased social acceptance in the general community, some Persian Jews now want to translate these strengths into political clout, said H. David Nahai. A lawyer and husband of Gina Nahai, he is an ardent environmentalist, serves as president of the Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commissioners, and is a member of the Regional Water Quality Control Board, both powerful entities in Southern California.

A longtime Democratic Party stalwart, Nahai said that in the early years the Iranian Jewish community was largely Republican, based on its inherent social conservatism and overwhelming antipathy to president Jimmy Carter for his failed policy during the Islamic Revolution.

Nahai had some success in organizing support for Al Gore and John Kerry in the last two presidential elections, "something that would have been impossible 20 years earlier," he said.

Now, with its considerable wealth, the community is becoming a tempting target for political candidates on the local, state and national levels eager to till the "virgin territory," but, Nahai believes, "the impetus for political action has to come from within the community."

He does not rule out a future run for political office, and, with Beverly Hills Mayor Delshad as the pathbreaker, Nahai has no doubt that "the community will become politically powerful in the future."

How Jewish life in Baghdad ended

City of Dreams
A memoirist recalls what came after the thriving Baghdad of his youth
by Lee Smith
Sasson Somekh is the dean of Arabic studies in Israel, where knowledge of the language is a skill prized in the military, security, and intelligence establishment. And even in that hard-charging community, accustomed to regarding the Arabs as enemies, Somekh is a legend, whose love of Arabic literature has touched more than a few sensibilities, such as the Lebanon desk officer at the Defense Ministry who fondly recalls his classes with the seventy-four-year-old professor. “Somekh,” says the man from military intelligence, “is the master.”

Sasson Somekh
Sasson Somekh in 1997, when he was director of Israel’s cultural center in Cairo
Sasson Somekh was born in Baghdad in 1934 to a well-off middle-class Jewish family. As he explains in the first volume of his memoirs, Baghdad, Yesterday: The Making of an Arab Jew, published by Ibis Editions, he spent most of his childhood wanting to become a poet. Baghdad at the time was an important center of Middle Eastern literary modernism, but though the young Somekh had meant to climb the Arabic Parnassus, history and politics got in the way.

With the founding of the state of Israel and the rise of Arab nationalism, life in the Arab world became untenable for Oriental Jews, and no community suffered more than the Jews of Baghdad, where the farhoud of 1941 claimed 180 lives. As tensions increased over the following decade, the city’s Jews scattered, some—such as the father of the two boys who would go on to build one of the world’s most famous advertising firms, Saatchi and Saatchi—made their way to London, others to the United States, and many, like Somekh, to Israel.

He landed in 1951 at the age of seventeen and quickly mastered Hebrew, which earned him his first academic job at the Academy of the Hebrew Language. Somekh continued his studies at Oxford, where he earned a PhD in Arabic Literature with the famous Egyptian scholar Mustafa Badawi. As Somekh explains, with a smile, “I told Badawi right off that I was an Israeli, and he said, ‘Who asked you?’”

His 1968 dissertation was on the Egyptian novelist—and only Arab ever to win the Nobel Prize for Literature—Naguib Mahfouz. During Somekh’s tenure in Cairo as head of the Israeli Academic Center (1995–1998), he and the novelist solidified a friendship that had begun fifteen years before and would come to cost Mahfouz much criticism in Arab nationalist intellectual circles. “He alienated all the Egyptian critics by saying the only person who understood him is this Israeli,” Somekh says.

Save for a stint at Princeton during the 1980s, Somekh has taught for more than thirty years at Tel Aviv University, where I sat down with him recently on a warm January afternoon to talk to him about Iraq, Iraqi Jews, and his life in Israel.

What do you remember about the Baghdad of your youth and the Jewish community there?

It wasn’t a big city, maybe half a million, but it was a bustling city with the Jews very much in evidence, active in banking, export and import, and railroad station masters—most station masters were Jewish. The Jews learned French and English and this made them useful to the British. English was regarded by the middle class as more important than Arabic, and I was so fascinated by the beauty of British books, the windows of the English bookstores, like Mackenzie’s. So, the British looked for people to work with and they found the Jews, which I don’t think ever really caused problems with Muslims. I never heard this—that we were considered lackeys of the British.

As for the Muslims, the Jews were closer to the Shia in many ways. The Shia have a thing about all non-Muslims, they will touch nothing that has been touched by a non-Muslim, but the Jews used to work with the Shia and employed them. So some of the Shia wouldn’t go to the mosque on Fridays, which is the customary day for Muslims to go to prayer, because the Jews needed them. For instance, the Shia would light fires for Jews on Friday nights—so the Shia went to the mosque Saturday instead.

What I’m trying to say is that there was a modus vivendi between Muslims and non-Muslim minorities. We knew things had changed when you would walk through the streets and they started to say “Zionist” instead of “Jew.”

There was really no strong Zionist movement in Iraq. Some young Jews drifted towards communism, and a few others to Zionism, but these slogans about building a new life on a kibbutz didn’t impress me. If anyone ever thought of leaving, it was to the U.S. or England.

Then what made you move to Israel in 1951?

I went to Israel because I was afraid the police were going to take me away. I wasn’t a communist but I had leanings that way and my friends were, and the police had taken some of them away. I was only seventeen, so I went to court to say I was eighteen and was allowed to go to Israel and my parents arrived three months later. Iraq was very much changing at the time.

This was a decade after the farhoud?

Yes, 1941 was a real massacre, it was horrible. The Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, had come to Baghdad that year and lived not far from us; I used to see him and his men. He incited everyone against the Jews of Baghdad, who were not Zionists. He would appear on radio—“you Jews are snakes,” etcetera—and the simple people believed him. There were lots of Palestinians who had come to teach in Iraq, we needed so many teachers, and these were often under the guidance of the Mufti and his men, and this poisoned the atmosphere further. So, in 1941 there were 100,000 Jews in Baghdad and possibly 20,000 whose houses were attacked. But during the war, the British brought prosperity and the Jewish community forgot about that pogrom. That started to change in 1948 because of tensions over the war in Palestine when soldiers came back angry at Jews. With these new tensions in the air, the Jews remembered those days of the farhoud. The pro-Nazi party, al-Istiqlal (Independence) hinted at another farhoud, saying the Jews should get out before it happened to them again. It was not their official policy, but we heard it.

The real turning point was in 1948 with the hanging of Shafiq Adas, a rich Jew who was a friend of the Prince Regent. He was hanged in Basra, accused of buying scrap from the British and sending it to Israel. So Jews started to leave and the Muslims who were partners with Jews before were scared now, and a good life for the Jews was no more in the offing. Most of our neighbors were leaving and selling their property. My parents were not crazy about the idea of moving to Israel. My father was fifty and didn’t like the idea of such an adventure.You got to Israel and had to master a new language. Is this what derailed your career as a poet?

No, I read Gershom Scholem’s book on Sabbatai Zevi. Up until then I wanted to be a poet, but this book made me want to become a scholar. The story was exciting—the whole Jewish nation had been excited by this seventeenth-century messiah—but it was the scholarship that excited me. This man Scholem picked up all sorts of secondary material and from this made the greatest story I ever read in my life. So I became a scholar. My first job was as scientific secretary to the Academy of the Hebrew Language. They advertised for a secretary in the paper, after I had just finished a degree in Hebrew linguistics. It was the greatest day in my life, an A+ in that subject. And in my interview they wanted to know how I managed it. They asked, “How did a newcomer master the language like that?” So I got the job, ten years exactly after I first came to Israel.

After a few years, they sent me to Oxford because Israel needed Arabic professors and I was chosen.

What can you tell us about contemporary Iraq and the Americans’ project to bring democracy to the Middle East?

To say that Iraq is like this or that is beyond me at this point; it all changed. During my time, the Shia intelligentsia were largely secular. They were either communists or secular. I believe these people still exist, these critical minds, but the dilemma is that for the first time in history the Shia are ruling the country, and they are opposed by the Sunnis, including al-Qaeda, so the Shia can’t be against the Iraqi government, even if they want to, and they have to abide by compromises with the religious establishment all the time.

Do the Arabs want democracy? I know that when they come to Israel they are stunned by this country, how it works. When Sadat came to Jerusalem, he went and spoke to all the factions in the Knesset, including the communist faction that had one Arab and one Jewish member, and both complained to him about Israel. Sadat put his pipe in his mouth and said, “How beautiful is democracy.”

I am sure the U.S. has made mistakes, but no one could avoid them in Iraq. Some Iraqi intellectuals, in the U.S. and elsewhere, did their best, but they didn’t understand the structure of that society now. My friend Khaled Kishtainy wrote an article in al-Hayat saying that maybe we have to encourage the Jews to come back to Iraq because when they left Baghdad went into ruins and Israel took advantage of their talents. I wrote him and said, “I admire you, but who will come back?” My children don’t know Arabic, like most of the children of Iraqi Jews. So, who is there? Where are all the Baghdadi Jews?

Lee Smith has lived and traveled extensively across the Middle East. He is a visiting fellow at Hudson Institute and the author of a book on Arab politics and society forthcoming from Doubleday.

Yemenite Jewish flight led to loss of dress heritage

Not all Yemenite brides need to look the same
By Ofri Ilani
Tags: Israel

In 1949, tens of thousands of Jews from all over Yemen gathered in the southern city of Aden and waited there two months for planes that would take them to Israel as part of Operation Magic Carpet. Many of them brought with them from their homes their families' traditional bridal garments and valuable jewelry. But as they were about to board the plane, many found that they could not bring these items to Israel due to their weight. And so when the Yemenite Jews came to Israel, they left behind their local traditional garments.

"People said they just took off the garments, left them in bath houses and were left wearing lighter garments," says Dr. Carmela Abder, a folklore researcher who specializes in the culture of Yemenite Jewry. "But even if the reasons for removing the garments were technical, I see it as a kind of stripping of identity. A woman in Yemen had a very deep attachment to this garb, and she was familiar with each and every detail of her jewelry and clothing. And suddenly they were willing to part with the dresses and jewels that they were so attached to."

None of this prevented Yemenite bridal jewelry from becoming a kind of Israeli brand, one of the symbols of the fulfillment of the ideology of the ingathering of the exiles. Yemenite embroidery and jewelry went through a process of preservation and change at the hands of commercial and ideological groups, and of the Yemenite community as well. According to Dr. Abder, in the Israeli melting pot, the variety of regional traditions was replaced by a uniform item that became most identified with the community: the splendid bridal garb of Sana'a, the capital of Yemen.
"Everyone is familiar with the magnificent garments of the Sana'a bride, with the crown of pearls and silver and gold jewels," she says. "Yemenite women adopted this garment, mainly at henna ceremonies, even when their parents came from another area with a different tradition."

In effect, the original garment of Yemenite women looked quite different, depending on the area where they came from. Women from Hidan, in the north, were distinguished by a black head covering (shila) and indigo-dyed dress; women in Al-Sharaf, west of Sana'a, wore an asymmetrical, tightly-embroidered garment whose patterns resemble Ethiopian embroidery; women in the region of Bihan and Haban were known for their silver belts and multiple braids. And these are only a few of the clothing styles that existed in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula.

Dr. Abder spoke yesterday at a conference at Bar-Ilan University in honor of the 60th anniversary of the "On the Wings of Eagles" wave of immigration from Yemen. According to Abder, "Israeli society was very warm to the Yemenites - at least until Uzi Meshulam and Yigal Amir. They had a reputation of being the nice Jews, relaxed, and also of a community frozen in time that had preserved the culture of the Hebrews from the Biblical era. But as the Yemenite Jews adapted to being Israeli, they went through an interesting process: They created for themselves a kind of general Yemenite, Israeli identity. So they adopted the custom of wearing the traditional Sana'a bridal garments, with the high crown of pearls, and it became an icon with an exotic air.

"Even though in Yemen less than a fifth of the Jews wore it, in Israel all of the families adopted this garb, and it became associated with the henna ceremony. It became 'the new Yemenite-ness.' This image appeared on posters, in encyclopedias, and even in Ofra Haza's music videos. All of this helped to publicize this image."

And so the Sana'a bridal garments became a symbol for all Yemenite Jews. Yet according to Abder, "The origin of some of these components is not necessarily typically Jewish. In part, it is borrowed from the Muslims. Only in Israel did it become a Jewish symbol. This is an example of utilizing existing elements within a new framework."

'It wasn't this way'

Dr. Abder, who teaches at the Hebrew University and at Ben-Gurion University, is the daughter of parents from the area of Bihan in the southeast of Yemen.

"My father very quickly wanted to be Israeli in every respect, and therefore these subjects didn't interest him a lot," she says.

As she tells it, her interest in the traditions of that area started at her sister's henna ceremony. "At the henna, Rabbanit Bracha Kapach, the wife of Rabbi Yosef Kapach and the chief dresser of the community, dressed her sister in the garments identified with Sana'a. I remember that my mother said: 'By us, it wasn't this way.' This sparked my curiosity and I became interested in the garments of Bihan."

Abder is not the only one. In the late 1970s, when the Israeli melting pot began to disintegrate, Yemenite families also started showing growing interest in the traditional garments of their forefathers' homes. In recent years, a new tradition has emerged at weddings and henna ceremonies: Throughout the evening, the brides change into the garments from different regions.

"At the start of the evening, the bride is wearing the familiar dress from Sana'a," says Abder. "Afterward, she changes into garments from Hidan in the north, and then into garments from Haban in the south."

Abder is amazed by the variations Yemenite garments have undergone in Israel. "I started studying this subject in order to keep alive my parents' tradition," she says. "But I don't think that the contemporary garments are less authentic or that there is something to mourn."

However, according to her, the wedding garments have over the past decade become a real industry. "The bridal wear industry is flourishing," she notes. "The henna ceremony is being transformed into a festival of garments, and sometimes not only the bride but also the entire family gets dressed up. It is happening in other communities, too; for example, among the Moroccans. In a certain sense, the Mizrahi Jews (Jews of Middle Eastern origin) are romanticizing the East."

How Jews find asylum in a Glasgow high-rise

How Jews find asylum in a Glasgow high-rise
By Leon Symons
When Russian and Middle-Eastern Jews flee to the UK

to escape persecution, they are sent to Scotland’s biggest city. Leon Symons meets the refugees building a new life on a tough council estate

In the past eight years, 10 families officially identified as Jewish have sought asylum in the UK. These families have fled persecution and fear of death in countries such as Iran, Iraq and the former Soviet Union. They arrive here typically having made perilous journeys of thousands of miles. They are afraid, confused, disorientated. And then they get sent to Glasgow.

The city is a designated dispersal centre for asylum-seekers who come to Britain, and up to 4,000 are housed there. Glasgow is also home to Jewish Care Scotland (JCS), which has taken responsibility for looking after refugees who say they are Jewish while their cases are processed by the Home Office.

As they wait for the bureaucrats to decide their fate, they are left in limbo — deposited in flats in the city’s tower blocks, struggling to acclimatise to a strange new language and unfamiliar new customs, — and hoping that they will be allowed to stay.

So what is life like for the Jewish asylum-seekers in Scotland?

Parham and Leila

Parham is a 50-year-old former samovar manufacturer from Tehran. He brought his wife Leila, who is 43, and their two young daughters to Britain in 2002 to avoid being arrested by the Iranian authorities for helping to smuggle fellow Jews out of the country.

The family were granted residents status by the Home Office last summer and can remain in Britain. Parham says their lives have changed dramatically — for good and bad — since they made it over the border to Turkey, the first step on the road that has taken them to Scotland.

“Glasgow is certainly very different from when we were in Iran,” says Parham. “We had a good life economically there, but there was no freedom. Here there is democracy and freedom. That is the good side. But there is another side which is not so good, because this is not my homeland and my family is not here, so that makes it much harder.

“After we escaped, my father was taken in several times for questioning by the police, and they kept him for half a day. He was 86 years old, and after one visit he had a heart attack and died. But we were here, and there was nothing I could do. It was also very difficult because for five years I could not work.

“I used to go to the library to read, or do exercise, because I could not do anything else until we had the right permission to stay here. Now we have been allowed to stay, and I am trying to get a qualification so that I can work for myself. I want to train as an electrician.”

Parham assumed the family would be housed in London, and was “surprised” when they were made to settle north of the border. “We knew nothing about Scotland apart from one thing — it was the place where whisky came from. But we have been here for over five years, and we have made some friends, so we would not want to go anywhere else.”

Now they have been granted leave to remain, they are relieved they can now move out of the “high flats”, the local term for the tower blocks where asylum-seekers are placed. “It was not a very nice place to live, compared to our life in Iran. I had a mezuzah on the door, and once someone tried to burn it off, but it was made of stone so they could not do it.”

For Leila, who is taking English and computer studies at a local college, the fear that surrounded their life in Iran still lingers. “Even here, I tell my children who go to school here not to say they are Jewish; we cannot say we are Jewish because there are many refugees and many of them are Muslims. I worry about it more than my husband. He tells everyone he is Jewish, but I am still nervous about it.”

Mikhail and Sofia

Mikhail, 35, an accountant, and 27-year-old Sofia, a lawyer, were born and raised in the Northern Caucasus region in Russia. They have two sons, the elder of whom goes to primary school. They came to the UK in 2004, fleeing their homeland after they were threatened for being members of a human-rights group strongly critical of the Russian government.

The couple fled to Moscow by taxi — the safest and most anonymous way to travel. They spent a month hidden in a flat while Mikhail made the arrangements for them to leave the country. Their new passports, air tickets and bribes to officials cost them $20,000 from their savings. They bought plane tickets to Brazil with a stopover in London. Once in Britain, they stayed. They were granted residency last year.

Talking in the living-room of their ninth-floor flat in a high-rise block, the couple appear relaxed and content.They say the are happy to be in a place where there ethnic origin and political convictions do not put them at risk.

“We got our residents’ permit in July 2007 and life has changed considerably for the better for us,” says Sofia. “We don’t worry any more that we may be deported to our country. We have got lots of rights here.

“To be an asylum-seeker is not good, because some people in this country don’t like them. I understand why. Some people have a strong misconception about asylum-seekers. Many people think all asylum-seekers come because of economic reasons, which is wrong. Some people, like us, came because of circumstances. Now we are free, now we have our lives back. We can travel, work and do whatever we want.”

Mikhail is training as a bookkeeper while Sofia looks after their two children. She has also worked for the British Red Cross and Jewish Care Scotland as a volunteer helping other asylum-seekers. She is keen to express her gratitude for the help the family has received from JCS.

“They have been so helpful because life has been so difficult. We have no family or friends here to help us. I don’t have enough words to say how grateful I am for what JCS has done. That is from the heart.”

The couple are now looking forward to moving to a new flat in Giffnock, the suburb where many of Glasgow’s Jewish families live.

“We asked to move because we wanted to live near the shul and the Jewish school where our son goes. It will make our lives here so much easier,” says Sofia.

The family decided to leave their home in Russia after they received threatening, antisemitic phone calls. Mikhail and Sofia are still angry about the persecution they experienced.

“In 2002, I joined a human-rights organisation very critical of the government’s policy — Russia for the ethnic Russians,” says Sofia.

“The human rights of all ethnic minorities were regularly broken by the authorities, so people didn’t have rights or dignity. I wanted to help. People with dark skin were abused in the streets because they were not Russians.

“Every member of the organisation I worked for became a target for the authorities and was persecuted. The manager of our organisation went into hiding because he was wanted by the police, and they questioned us repeatedly to find out where he was.

“When people telephoned and threatened our child and our family, I knew it was time for us to go. We could have lived a lie in Russia, but it’s not what I wanted for myself, my husband and my children. They knew I was Jewish because, when some people called, they said very nasty things.”

Mikhail adds: “These people were extremists. Why did they know about us? Where does the information come from? This comes from particular sources like the authorities; it was not a secret. They created the skinhead gangs. Russian people mostly are ready to be involved in this type of activity.”

The couple considered going to Israel, but the immigration process would have taken too long.

“We felt we were at risk. They wanted many official documents and it would have taken months to process visas. That was why we decided just to come to Britain [and seek asylum]. We did not have time to wait,” says Sofia.

“We wanted to go to a country with democratic beliefs, a country that would protect us.”

After four years in Scotland, they are beginning to feel at home. Even the local diet is a source of comfort.

“So many people [in the city’s Jewish community] come from a Russian background, and the food is the same.”

Lev and Anna

Lev and Anna have been in Britain since 2005, and do not yet know whether the government will allow them to stay. The spectre of deportation haunts them.

Like Mikhail and Sofia, they are from Russia. They fled because rising antisemtism made them fear for their lives. Anna speaks some English — both she and Lev attend language classes every morning.

“We feel protected and much safer here in the UK, but we don’t have refugee status yet,” says Anna through an interpreter.

“We are still very nervous because we could be deported to Russia at any time. Only when the Home Office makes its decision will we feel better, and we don’t know how long that will take. Until then we cannot work or anything like that, so we learn English every day.”

She explains what made the couple leave their homeland. “We came here because of rising persecution by extremist nationalists in our town and region. My husband worked in a family-owned business selling cars. We lived on the island of Sakhalin, between Russia and Japan, for some time. I worked as a mortgage and travel consultant. My husband had a typical Jewish surname and it led to the start of our problems.

“After the break-up of the Soviet Union, America tried to improve Jewish life in Russia, by opening up communities and educating Jewish people.

“My husband was asked to help set up an office for a local Jewish community. An extremist antisemitic party found out. This group did not want a Jewish community in the town, so they asked my husband to give the office space to them instead. Naturally, he refused.

“A few days later, my husband and his partner were driving home when they were attacked by gunmen. My husband was shot in the arm and his partner killed. He has a large scar and a piece of the bullet is still in his arm.

“The police said it was the mafia. We knew that was a lie because my husband was never involved with them.

“We had to leave, and went 12,000km west to Kaliningrad [Russia’s smallest region, lying between Poland and Lithuania].

“Unfortunately, because of our name, we were singled out again. At first we had little problems, like difficulty registering our son at nursery.

“Then one night we went to bed as normal when there was a huge explosion. Our family’s minibus had blown up. Someone had put a bomb underneath it. We reported it to the police, but they said it was an electrical fault.

“In September 2005 came the incident that made us leave. My husband’s driver came to collect him for work one morning. When my husband opened the door, there was an explosion. Someone had left a bomb by our front door, rigged to explode when it opened. The driver was hurt. My husband was lucky that he was inside and was blown backwards.

“We were absolutely terrified. We were frightened that if we did not leave then, we would all be killed — and all because we are Jews.

“We are only 36 years old, yet we both have grey hair and look years older because of all the troubles we have had. I do not want to say how we got out because there might be other people who will do the same as us.”

The names of the people interviewed have been changed to protect family members still living in their homelands

Coping with a 21st-century exodus — how Glasgow cares for the new refugee Diaspora

Anyone who arrives at a British port of entry – Heathrow or Dover, for example — and declares that they are seeking asylum and are Jewish will eventually be sent to Glasgow.

Once there, they will be put into the hands of Jewish Care Scotland, the country’s leading Jewish social-welfare agency (not connected in any way to Jewish Care). JCS, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, works closely with Glasgow City Council, which has agreed to receive up to 4,000 asylum-seekers under the government’s dispersal programme.

JCS has dealt with 10 Jewish families since assuming responsibility for asylum-seekers in 2000. The organisation got involved after a council social-services project worker asked for help in dealing with a Jewish asylum family.

“The project worker contacted us to ask if we could support them. That was our first asylum family,” says JCS chair Maureen Solomons.

Families are usually referred to the JCS by Glasgow council.

“They are placed in asylum support housing in which they must remain until a decision is made about whether or not they can stay,” says Ms Solomons.

“Glasgow Council pays all the bills for that because these families usually come with very little or nothing at all. We do try to ensure the people who are referred to us are Jewish. Some have brought a copy of their grandparents’ ketubah [marriage certificate] with them. We are allowed to help them with a small amount of money.

“The process of applying for legal status to remain here in the UK is very lengthy and can take years, with successive appeals. We have dealt with half a dozen families since that first one, but it seems like more because it takes so long. So far, two families have been given full status and can remain here, and a third has been given discretionary leave to stay.”

Moroccan film focuses on mass Jewish exodus

When Moroccan filmmaker Hassan Benjelloun was a boy, he went out in the street one day to discover that half his neighbours had disappeared. Their doors were all shuttered. "I ran to my mother and asked, 'Why are the doors shut?' " he recalled in a recent interview, in French, from Casablanca. "She told me, 'They have all gone to Palestine.' It was the first time I had ever heard of Palestine."

The Jewish exodus from Morocco in the 1960s, which decimated an ancient community, and separated friends, neighbours and business partners, has rankled Benjelloun ever since. As Morocco became increasingly liberalized in the 1990s, the filmmaker worked his way through the sore spots of his country's recent history, making feature films about the brutal political repression of the 1970s and the subjugation of women.

Inevitably, he turned to the subject of the exodus. The result, surprisingly, is a bittersweet comedy entitled Où vas-tu Moshé? (Where Are You Going, Moshe?), a Moroccan-Canadian co-production. It is one of four Moroccan films in the French-language festival CinéFranco now under way in Toronto, and it will also enjoy a wider release in late April.

The film suggests that both the government of Morocco, independent since 1956, and the young state of Israel were complicit in getting all but a few thousand of Morocco's 260,000 Jews to immigrate clandestinely in the early 1960s. But its story focuses on the little people buffeted by forces larger than themselves: If all the Jews of Bejjad leave town, and the local council succeeds in its program of Islamification, poor Mustapha will lose his bar licence. Luckily for him, the old watchmaker and musician Shlomo can't make up his mind to go, and he soon finds himself courted by the devout and the drinkers alike.
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The film portrays Moroccan Jews and Muslims living side by side, all speaking the mix of Arabic and French that is characteristic of North Africa. In one scene that surely owes much to Benjelloun's childhood memories, a young boy whose family is sneaking away at night runs back upstairs, bursts into the neighbouring apartment, and throws himself into the arms of the little Muslim friend from whom he cannot bear to be parted. "I wanted to remove the confusion of Jew and Zionist," says the filmmaker. "Today, if you say Jewish [in the Arab world], you mean Zionist. ... They were our friends and our neighbours."

If Benjelloun depicts a happy co-existence with which greater powers saw fit to meddle, his fellow filmmaker Mohamed Ismail is more inclined to believe there was prejudice in both communities. His treatment of the exodus is a family melodrama, Adieu mères (Goodbye Mothers), that shows anti-Semitism on the rise, and includes a Jewish-Muslim Romeo and Juliet who meet with disapproval on both sides.

On the other hand, that film's other central characters are the Jewish sawmill operator Henry and his Muslim partner, Brahim, who is tragically forced to keep a promise of eternal friendship when Henry drowns along with a boatload of other immigrants on their way to Israel. "I don't know any other Arab country where you could make a film like this, about tolerance and living together," said Ismail, from Casablanca, and also speaking in French.

"There is no censorship," he added, "but one practises self-censorship." He says his films are never cut or banned, but he thinks no Moroccan filmmaker would attempt a movie critical of Islam or of Morocco's monarchy, which is constitutional but does yield real power.

"One has to be careful how one says things," agrees Anne-Marie Gélinas, the Montrealer who is the Canadian co-producer of Where Are You Going, Moshe? She points out, for example, that Benjelloun was not permitted to call his film My Brother the Jew, the first title he suggested. That said, the Moroccan government is paying the filmmakers' way to Toronto to attend CinéFranco.

"Morocco can't approach globalization without resolving certain things in its memory, without looking into its history," Benjelloun says. That is precisely what various Moroccan filmmakers are doing, profiting from the relative openness of the current regime. The festival also includes the provocative drama Islamour (the title combines Islam and amour, French for love.) It's a new film from Saad Chraibi about a Moroccan émigré and his American wife who return to his homeland in the aftermath of Sept. 11 to discover that, although he suffered from racism in the West, they both encounter problems in the Arab world. Another film on the festival program is Les Jardins de Samira (Samira's Garden), an almost Dickensian tale in which a contemporary young woman agrees to marry a wealthy widower only to find herself trapped in domestic servitude. The film, by director Latif Lahlou, is intended as a critique of arranged marriage and the patriarchal nature of Moroccan society.

Tzena, Tzena, Tzena - The Weavers


Popular Israeli song written by Naomi Shemer in 1967. The original song describes the Jewish people's 2000-year longing to return to Jerusalem;

Performed by Vienna Jewish Choir & Vienna JazzKlez in April 2007. Conducted&arranged by Roman Grinberg.

Judaica Sound Archives

Jewish limericks

There's a young Jewish lady named Carrie
Told her folks she was ready to marry!
Her dad said, "Cor blimey"
"I hope it's a Hymie
And not any Tom, Dick or Harry!!"

When Noah took the pairs to the ark,
Conditions on board were quite stark.
When he sent out a dove
Who brought a sign from above,
He knew he had to find somewhere to park!!

When the girl went to shul in hot pants,
The rabbis where shocked and askance.
The elders, in their turn,
This new fashion did spurn,
The students thought she's worth another glance!!

There's no future for our Motherhood,
As young girls will be misunderstood.
Low cut blouses and short skirts
Make them all look like flirts,
And go against the rules of the Talmud!!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Listen to this Mickey Katz song "Sixteen Tons"

It’s ‘Hide the Matzo,’ for Real: Where Are the Tam Tams?

It’s ‘Hide the Matzo,’ for Real: Where Are the Tam Tams?

By Jonathan Miller
Tam Tam

What will you do in the great Tam Tam shortage of 2008?

It’s true, the unleavened, bite-sized matzo cracker has nearly disappeared from shelves across the country, leaving Jews anguished as the Passover season approaches, and company officials scrambling to explain the situation.

“What we did was put a brand-new oven in our Newark facility,” said David Rossi, a spokesman for Manischewitz, the maker of the cracker. “Much higher speeds, all computer-controlled, a state-of-the-art baking line. That was something we were hoping to have up and running well prior to the Passover baking season. Due to some engineering delays, we missed the window.”

Unfortunately, Newark is the only player in the world that produces Manischewitz matzo and Tam Tam crackers, Mr. Rossi said. In the past few years, the company has consolidated its production plants, which were once in Jersey City and Vineland, N.J.

In December, Mr. Rossi said, company officials were forced to make a hard decision: eliminate some of their products temporarily or make less of all them. They went with the former, which included stopping production on some less popular products, including Passover Thin Tea Matzo, Yolk Free Egg Matzo, White Grape Matzo, Concord Grape Matzo and Spelt Matzo.

But not to worry, Mr. Rossi said. Many other unleavened products will still be available to customers, including those for Passover, which this year begins at sundown on April 19. And Tam Tams — which were first developed in 1940 — will be back on shelves, he estimated, by late April or early May. Annual sales of Tam Tams range between $1 million to $2 million, he said.

After a report today in The Star-Ledger of Newark, the anguish was palpable for a commenter going by the handle “TamTamLover3116” on a blog for JTA, a Jewish news site: “This is the single worst catastrophe … in recent memory,” the commenter wrote. “Tam Tams, in addition to being a fulfilling snack especially satisfying after downing a double-size domestic beer in the parking lot of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Metropolitan Chicago, are a basic human right. Shame on Manischewitz!”

Friday, March 28, 2008

Mezuzas on the Moon?

"And you shall write them on the doorposts of your ... spaceship?" Jewish artist, Laura Cowan, has been making space-travel themed mezuzot for years. She was taken by surprise, however, when she received a call from American Jewish astronaut, Greg Chamitoff, asking if he could bring two of her rocket-inspired ritual objects into outer space. In May, Chamitoff will set off for the International Space Station -- a research facility that orbits the earth -- and during his six month journey, he'll have marked for himself an (unconventional) Jewish home.

Mezuzas in space ... who knew? Laura, I think you've made history!


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Jewish History Moment -- Osiraq Iraq nuclear reactor


Recipe for Fried Meat Kreplach

ime: 1 hour 45 minutes


2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 cup minced onion

1 small clove garlic, minced

1/2 pound ground beef chuck

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For dough:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 extra-large eggs


Vegetable oil, for frying

Applesauce, for serving (optional).

1. For filling: In a small skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, and sauté until well browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Toward end of cooking add garlic, and stir well.

2. Add beef, breaking it up well with side of wooden spoon. Sauté until it has lost its raw color. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, and sauté another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

3. For dough: Mound flour on a wooden board (or in a large mixing bowl). Make a well in center. Break eggs into well, then add 2 tablespoons lukewarm water. With a fork, beat eggs and water together, incorporating a bit of the flour. As liquids blend, continue to push flour into well. Drizzle in 2 more tablespoons water, one at a time, or as needed to make a cohesive dough.

4. When dough is well blended, mix it by hand, then begin to knead it on a flat surface. With a bench scraper, turn dough and press it with your fingertips, then knead a few strokes again. The dough should remain slightly sticky but become smooth and elastic; if dough is very sticky, lightly sprinkle work surface with flour. Form dough into a ball and let rest on the board, covered with a bowl or a piece of plastic wrap, for 30 minutes.

5. Using half the dough at a time, and keeping other half covered, roll out very thin on floured board. You may need to stretch as you roll. Alternately, use a crank-handled pasta machine on thinnest or near thinnest setting.

6. To fill and shape kreplach, cut rolled dough into 3-inch squares. Put 1 rounded teaspoon of filling in center of each square. With a brush or a finger, moisten edges of squares with water. Fold dough from corner to corner, forming a triangle, and seal carefully.

7. To cook kreplach, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Working in batches, if necessary, add kreplach — do not crowd pot — and boil until dough is cooked and tender to taste, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain and cool. (Kreplach can be frozen at this point. To use, thaw in refrigerator or at room temperature.)

8. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add about 1/8-inch vegetable oil. When oil is shimmering, add boiled kreplach and fry until well browned and crispy on both sides. Serve hot, accompanied by applesauce, if desired.

Yield: About 2 dozen.