Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sayings for T shirts

Jews for Cheeses
Chai Roller
moses is my homeboy
Let's Get Chai
talk to the hand (yad)
I'm Jewish, Wanna Check?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Holocaust survivor prepares for bar mitzvah

A little nervous and plenty excited, Bernie Marks practiced Torah chanting Tuesday for his upcoming bar mitzvah ceremony, the symbolic Jewish passage into manhood.

Marks stood at the bimah, or stage, at Sacramento's Congregation B'Nai Israel, chanting the Torah in a deep, beautifully haunting voice quite different than the 13-year-olds also preparing for their passage.

Marks is 78 – a Holocaust survivor. When he was 13 – before the family was taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp – they lived in a Jewish ghetto in Poland under the rule of Nazi soldiers, who forbid Jewish religious practices.

Reading Tuesday from a Torah that also survived the Holocaust, a moist-eyed Marks chanted to a soulful melody taught him by his late grandfather, Jakub Menachem Makowski.

"He said, 'If you're going to chant the Torah, it should be like an opera – with feeling, Torah is poetry,'" Marks said.

A delighted Rabbi Mona Alfi remarked, "It has an old world feel to it. It's a way to pay tribute to the community Bernie came from, and that we stand on their shoulders as well."

"We're having him do what our 13-year-olds do," Alfi said, "But Bernie was doing things the rest of us shudder to imagine when he was 13."

Last February, Marks, a 54-year member of the synagogue, remarked to Alfi, "You know I never had my bar mitzvah."

Alfi told him, "It's never too late – why not now?"

"It was always my desire to fulfill the dream that my father and grandfathers had," Marks said. "For years, older men weren't afforded the opportunity because it wasn't traditional. But times have changed, and Rabbi Alfi is more progressive."

So Marks, who speaks 10 languages and was trained by his grandfathers who were both rabbis, is scheduled to be bar mitzvahed Sept. 20.

"He's definitely the oldest," said Alfi. And she's never heard of a Holocaust survivor having a bar mitzvah.

The son of Josef Makowski, a master clothing designer, Marks was born Ber – which means bear – Makowski on Sept. 17, 1929 in Lodz, Poland. By age 3 his religious training began.

But in September 1939 the Nazis invaded Poland. Lodz became a ghetto, surrounded with barbed wire.

In early 1940, "they constructed a gallows and hung 40 people in one day – teachers, doctors, lawyers and judges – and we all had to stand there and watch them," Marks recalled. "They left the corpses hanging for 24 hours. One of the ladies was my teacher."

Surviving mainly on yellow turnips, Marks worked as a cloth cutter in the ghetto while his family and other Jews worked in factories making shoes, uniforms and shell casings for the Nazis.

In August 1944, the Germans shut down the Lodz ghetto and told the Jews they were being relocated to Germany "to get better food, better housing," Marks said. "We had no idea there were concentration camps."

His family and others from the ghetto were shipped in cattle cars to Auschwitz, where more than a million Jews died – most of them in the gas chambers.

"When we got off the transport, I was selected to go with my mother and younger brother, but my father spoke to an officer in his excellent German and asked if I could go with the men," said Marks.

His father's quick thinking saved his life – he never saw his mother and brother again.

Marks and his father were transferred to Dachau and then Hurlauch, one of Dachau's 11 slave labor camps. They worked in a gravel pit to build an underground bunker where the Nazis planned to manufacture Messerschmitt ME 262 jets, Marks said. "You were allowed 500 calories a day, usually a lousy slice of bread, and you didn't get that until you came back from work."

The boy's spirits were lifted by his father, who'd say, "God will help, trust God, conditions will improve, look ahead."

To survive, Marks would imagine attending birthday parties and discuss the various outfits he would wear with his father. They had to hide the fact they were related from the Nazis.

"Some people couldn't take it," said Marks, who saw others commit suicide by running into the electrified fences or jumping into the latrine pits to drown.
In April 1945, Marks was suffering typhoid fever when he and his father jumped from a train going back to Dachau. The Nazis opened fire with machine guns and both were wounded.

"We never lost faith that freedom would come, and it did on April 27, 1945," said Marks, who was rescued with his father by the U.S. Army's 12th Armored Division.

One of their liberators, Marvin Bertelson of Sunnyvale, has been invited to attend Marks' bar mitzvah.

"We saw hundreds of corpses around the compound," Bertelson recalled. Those who had survived "were human skeletons."

Marks said he was nursed back to health at a Franciscan monastery. He lived in Germany with his father until 1947, when he and other child survivors were allowed to come to the United States.

He moved to Kansas City, Mo., where he met his future wife, Eleanor Cohen. He served in the Korean War and returned to Kansas City to get his degree in electrical engineering.

In 1954 he got a job with Aerojet and moved to Sacramento, where he and his wife raised two daughters.

He has given hundreds of presentations throughout the United States and Germany about his experiences. Sometimes, he said, students ask him who Hitler is or what concentration camps are.

Two weeks ago, he suffered a mild stroke, and isn't permitted to drive, but his spirit – and his voice – remain strong.

"In my Torah portion, God tells his people I have taken you from slavery out of Egypt and gave you the Land of Milk and Honey – in this land you shall settle permanently, multiply and cultivate," Marks explained.

At his ceremony, the youngest of his four grandchildren, 7-year-old Ariana, will pass the Torah – rescued from a museum that Hitler established in Prague – to Marks' three older grandchildren. They will pass it to Marks' two daughters, who will pass it to him.

It's a twist on the usual passing of the Torah from grandparents to parents to children, "signifying the passing of the Torah from the generation that stood at Mount Sinai 4,000 years ago with Moses," Alfi said.

Marks has been tuning up for the big event with the temple's music education specialist, Julie Steinberg.

"He sounds like the cantors of Eastern Europe," Steinberg said. "Of all my students, I don't think I've had somebody so nervous – or so joyful."

She turned Tuesday to Marks and smiled, "You're going to be so fine!'"

"Age is only a state of mind," Marks said. "The bar mitzvah was something I was supposed to have in 1942. For years I had this desire – this is my destiny."

Monday, September 8, 2008

Group dangles $50K for Jews who move to Ala. town

DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) - Larry Blumberg is looking for a few good Jews to move to his corner of the Bible Belt.

Blumberg is chairman of the Blumberg Family Relocation Fund, which is offering Jewish families as much as $50,000 to relocate to Dothan, an overwhelmingly Christian town of 58,000 that calls itself the Peanut Capital of the World. Get involved at Temple Emanu-El and stay at least five years, the group's leaders say, and the money doesn't have to be repaid.

More Jews are living in the South than ever—about 386,00 at last count in 2001, according to Stuart Rockoff, historian at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, Miss. But young Jews are leaving small places like Dothan in favor of cities like Atlanta and Birmingham, Rockoff said, and dozens of small-town synagogues have closed.

"A lot of the older people have died, and not many of the younger ones have stayed," said Thelma Nomberg, a member of the Dothan temple who grew up in nearby Ozark, where she was the only Jewish student in public school in the 1940s. "We are dying."

Being outside the Christian majority was never a problem, Nomberg said, even six decades ago: She won the Miss Ozark beauty pageant at 14 and sometimes attended church with friends after sleep-overs.

Now a widow, Nomberg has watched two of her four adult children leave for Florida as Temple Emanu-El lost nearly half its membership, down to about 50 families. She can only hope the recruitment plan works for her synagogue.

Launched in June, the Blumberg program has put advertisements in Jewish newspapers in Boston, Miami, Providence, R.I., and Washington, and it plans to expand the campaign.

"I think it's important that we try to find young people that we could use in our religious school, our Sunday school and help in the way of trying to create more of a family-type atmosphere in our temple," Blumberg said.

Groups offered financial aid for Jews to return to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and Jewish organizations around the country offer moving assistance for relocating families. A congregation has loans and other benefits for Jewish families moving into an area near Boston.

"Our program is distinctive because it's Dothan, but it's also distinctive because of the type of financial assistance," said Rob Goldsmith, executive director of Blumberg Family Jewish Community Services, which will screen applicants and administer the grant program.

Trying to lure Jewish families to a quiet Southern town in a state with a reputation for hard-right politics and racial intolerance might be difficult. About 20 Jewish families have sought information about Dothan, though none has made the move.

Rockoff credits Blumberg and the rest of the congregation with fighting to remain in Dothan, where the synagogue has a full-time rabbi and the temple, which is aligned with the reform movement, hasn't missed having a Friday night service in decades.

"It is a small community, but they have some deep pockets to be able to do this," said Rockoff. "As a historian it is fascinating to see them trying to buck this trend."

Dothan lies at the heart of the South's peanut region, in Alabama's southeastern corner just minutes from Florida and Georgia. It's dotted with big fiberglass peanuts painted to resemble characters and people—there's even an Elvis peanut.

Little things are big here: The city boasts what it calls the world's smallest city block, a triangular traffic island near the civic center.

But the Blumberg foundation is selling prospective Jewish residents on Dothan's quality of life—its low cost of living, the heritage of its synagogue and its proximity to Florida beaches, about 80 miles away.

The city is the site of the down-home National Peanut Festival each fall, and it has a full schedule of community cultural events. It has two hospitals, a branch of Troy University and is just a short drive from Fort Rucker, the Army's main helicopter training base.

Downtown is filled with quaint red-brick buildings and colorful murals, and traffic never gets too bad on Ross Clark Circle, the perimeter road.

"We have Friday afternoon rush minute, and that's about it," said manufacturing executive Ed Marbletree, 69, who grew up Jewish in Texas but married a Dothan girl and has lived in the town since 1961.

Valerie Barnes grew up in Panama and moved several times before settling 20 years ago in Dothan and becoming active at the synagogue. She's never experienced any anti-Semitism and can't imagine living anywhere else.

"The biggest thing Dothan has to offer is that it's just a very family-oriented community," said Barnes, who directs a hospital foundation. "Our congregation is very vibrant, and we have a lot of things that we get involved in."

Rabbi Lynne Goldsmith didn't know quite what to expect when she moved to Dothan a year ago to lead the congregation at Temple Emanu-El, which was founded in 1929. She came with her husband, who directs the Jewish community services group.

A Connecticut native, the rabbi halfway expected the Alabama of old with wide-open racism and dirt roads.

"The Northeast has a really warped perception of what the South is all about, and I found out it was all wrong," she said. "The South is a wonderful place to be. The people are warm and friendly. There's very little traffic. And best of all, there's no snow."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Jewish Impact on US Democracy

By Ted Belman on Front Page

Yoram Ettinger, Ynet,

Intense Jewish participation in US elections has been nurtured by home-court conditions: The US considers Judaism a key factor in the foundation of its cultural, ideological, legal and political systems. The trilateral covenant among the US, the Jewish People and the Jewish State was established by the Puritans during the 17th century, expanded by the Founding Fathers and sustained until today.

A marble replica of Moses’ head is featured at the House Chamber on Capitol Hill, facing the seat of the House Speaker. The sculpture of Moses, holding the Tablets, hangs above the table of the US Supreme Court Justices. A granite rock, shaped like the Two Tablets, welcomes visitors to the Texas Legislature in Austin. In fact, a US Federal Judge rejected an appeal to relocate the rock (lest it violate, supposedly, separation of Church & State), contending that it was not a religious monument, but rather an evidence of the moral-cultural foundation of Texas and the USA.

The Bible in particular, and Judaism in general, have inspired the US Constitution, the centrality of Liberty and the Bill of Rights, as well as Western democracy. The Puritans, who founded the 13 Colonies, highlighted the legacy of The Exodus. They considered Britain, the Atlantic Ocean and America to be modern-day Egypt, Red Sea and the Promised Land. The authors of the Constitution were inspired by the political structure of the 12 Jewish Tribes in the desert, who were governed by Moses the Executive, Aharon, the Priests and the Legislature of 70 elders. They regarded themselves as “the modern-day People of the Covenant.” Hence, the term “Federalism,” a derivative of the Latin word for “Covenant” – Foedus. Thomas Paine the author of “Common Sense”, the 1776 moral and intellectual touchstone, articulating the case against British Monarchy, referred to the Prophet Samuel and to the Judge Gideon (e.g. “For the will of the Almighty as declared by Gideon, and the Prophet Samuel, expressly disapproves of government by kings.”).

The USA is the most religious Western country, which views the Old and the New Testaments as civilian cornerstones. Over 1,000 towns and other locations bear biblical names, such as Salem (JeruSalem), Zion, Beth El, Dothan, Efrata, Hebron, Jericho, Canaan, Pisgah, etc. 90% of Americans believe in G-D, 80% hold Judeo-Christian beliefs, 86% wish to keep “In God We Trust” on US currency, “Endowed by the Creator” in the Declaration of Independence and “One Nation Under God” in the “Pledge of Allegiance.” Over 40% frequent church on Sundays, exposed to biblical sermons, and 15 million copies of the Bible are sold annually in the USA. The Liberty Bell bears an inscription from Leviticus 25:10: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof,” which inspired the anti-slavery movement in general and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in particular. Lowell Thomas, the US radio icon, told his listeners on May 14, 1948: Today, as the Jewish State is established, Americans read through the Bible as a historical reference book.

American leaders often quote from the Bible on the merit of the Bible and on the merit of politics, since the US public respects the Bible. For instance, FDR stated, during a 1935 Fireside Chat: “We cannot read the history of our rise and development as a nation without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic.” In January 2001, Senator Mitch McConnell introduced President Bush at a Senate luncheon: “We trust that you shall lead us in the best tradition of Joshua and Caleb.” David’s lamentation featured prominently during the eulogies for George Washington and Lincoln, and President Bush mentioned Abraham, Moses, David and Jeremiah during his May 2008 speech at the Knesset.

In contrast with Europe’s Christianity, which considers Judaism a competitor at best and a foe at worst, US Christianity consider Judaism an ally in principles and values. Such a state-of-mind has facilitated a most successful integration of Jews into every aspect of US society, including the political arena. Such a reality has maximized Jewish voting turnout and has enhanced political participation by Jewish voters, advisors, contributors and publicists, much more than displayed by any Jewish European community.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

August 25, 2008
Psychedelic Judaism: Daniel Weinstein's Art
Menachem Wecker

"Viewers who read Daniel Weinstein's list of artistic influences on his website will get the impression they are dealing with an unusual sort of Judaica, even before they see the art. The "menagerie of sights and sounds" in Weinstein's work draws upon the sacred and the secular: Hallel, Tehillim (Psalms), Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), the Israeli city Tsfat (Safed), South Beach, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, the Breslov singer Yosef Karduner, Rastafarian reggae musician Bob Marley, American rock band Alice in Chains, Chassidut, Dr. Seuss, Israel-based Lubavitcher painter Baruch Nachshon, the 1998 comedy "The Big Lebowski," and Weinstein's wife Leah Malka and son Aron."


Received from Shimon Ouziel


The writer of this brilliant piece remains unknown. It was posted to a blog

The Jews settled the moon in 2053, just about five years after the end of the Islamic Wars of the 40's, where the Middle East, and Israel, of course, had been obliterated by nuclear weapons.

The two million Jews remaining throughout the rest of the world - less than 100,000 total in all the Islamic countries - banded together and purchased the dark side of the moon, which no other companies or people wished to colonize. Great transports were arranged via the 62,000 mile space elevator and the Space Shuttle and every Jew on Earth - including anyone who claimed any Jewish heritage whatsoever - left to go to a place where no one could blame
them for anything.

The Earth rejoiced - happily rid of all Jews. There were huge parties throughout all of Sweden and the rest of Europe, Africa, Asia, South America, and North America. (Now known as the Northern Alliance of Islamic States after the United States was taken over peacefully in the elections of 2040 by a predominantly Muslim Congress and President, who immediately
passed amendments making Islam the main religion of the United States and the world.) After the last Jew entered the elevator (a David Goldstein, 62, formerly of New York), the Earth was officially declared Judenrein by Hans Ibn Hitler, a great, great-grandson of Hitler who had been raised in Brazil and hidden by Nazis until this precious moment.

It was not an easy move for the Jews but, in some ways, it was no different from all their moves of previous eras. Some former Israelis (still alive because they were out of Israel when the bombs dropped) claimed that the moon was easier to deal with because there were no Extremist Muslims. Of course, this precipitated a huge argument with some Jews, who felt not
having the Radical Muslims nearby was not enough challenge.

Other Jews argued that taming a wilderness with no atmosphere, plant or animal life and freezing temperatures was enough challenge. And yet other Jews argued that arguing was counterproductive. It came as no surprise to anyone that for the two million Jews, there were eventually one million synagogues (with the other million Jews not joining). It was also no surprise that within just three years, the Jews had created a controlled environment that allowed for fantastic plant and animal growth and production. The transports, which had been called the Arks, had also carried two of each animal and plant (remember, Noah), and through the ingenuity of the Jews and cloning, there were now many new species which sped up production of food (cows with six udders, chickens with four legs and so forth). The population had rapidly increased and, due to the amazing collection of scientific and medical minds, most diseases and even aging had been reduced to nil.

There was even a ministry of communication with Earth, consisting of the remains of Hollywood producers and movie makers, who sent back to Earth portraits of life on the moon. Of course, it had been decided when the Jews first got to the moon - based on a six-thousand-year history of people being jealous of Jewish accomplishment - that all news coverage of the moon's population would be 'movie-ized' to show only horrible things. The film industry, led by Jordan Spielberg, went to great lengths to fabricate news clips to show Jews barely surviving in the harsh lunar habitat. Artists and engineers labored to cover over the vast environmental successes with illusionary domes showing massive areas of wasteland - just in case anyone from Earth ever sent a spaceship with cameras to see what was going on.

But no-one ever did, and the years passed rapidly. One decade, then another. Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, brises, all celebrated under the artificial world that the Jews had created - not only had it not been that bad, but by the end of the century, some Jewish authors were calling the moon colony - 'Eden 2'. Of course other Jews disagreed. In fact, much time was spent on disagreeing. There were even contests for arguing but, in general, there was peace. Anyone who threatened the peace was forced to officiate at a contest with people arguing about why that person was wrong. The contests would go on for days (sometimes weeks), until the troublemaker begged for forgiveness. (Many penalties on the moon were similar to this, and were extremely effective.)

Back on Earth, life disintegrated without the Jews. There was a return to Middle Ages thought - only the current religion du jour was valid - all others were kept legislated into poverty until a war erupted and the positions changed for a few years. Another amazing anomaly appeared when there were no longer any Jews on Earth - anti-Semitism actually increased to monumental proportions! Famous orators explained this simply by saying: 'I don't have to have a gun to be afraid of having my brains blown out.'

Additionally, without the presence of the Jew, the world developed incredible evil that had no release. (Previous evil had always focused on the Jews.) One Rabbi on the moon actually said G-d spoke to him, and said that He, G-d, was about to destroy the Earth because everyone on the Earth was evil. The Rabbi begged Him to reconsider, and bargained that if there were 1,000 good people left on Earth, G-d should spare the planet. G-d then told the Rabbi, 'Hey, I was through this before with Abraham and Noah, and I already know the answer because I'm G-d.'

People laughed at the Rabbi, but then, one day, while all the lunar citizens were going about their business, an enormous series of explosions was seen on the Earth. Everyone on the moon stared at the distant fireballs that seemed to engulf the blue planet that was once their home.
Although there had been great anger at being forced to leave the Earth, the true spirit of Judaism was always present on the moon, and no one had wished ill on to their former home. As in the tradition of the Seder (when the wine is spilled because the Egyptians perished, and we do not rejoice fully when even an enemy has died) when the Jews saw what was happening, they began to weep and pray, and watch what was to be the final news broadcast
from Earth. The horror of the apocalypse was videotaped by cameras until all electricity was ionised by the new electron bombs. Entire countries were wiped away in the blink of an ion exploding. And then came the final transmission from the nation that had started the entire mess - it was a desperate headline screamed by a hundred dying newscasters. Their rant
continued until it was just blackness. What were they saying? As the Jews watched, some gasped, others cried, and a few even laughed. For the last words of the disappearing civilization were a condemnation.

'The Jews have caused all our problems - they left us here to face the mess they made. If
the Jews hadn't taken all the best scientists and engineers, we could have defeated our enemies. Our enemies are the Jews! Kill all the Jews.'

It took a little while, but the electronics experts pieced together what had happened on Earth during its last days. Anti-Semitism, which had grown stronger and stronger since the Jews had left, had reached its pinnacle, and all the countries of the world had decided to launch a massive attack on the moon. The attack had been coordinated by the United Nations and, although all the missiles had been launched properly, there was some sort of glitch in the targeting system, resulting in all the weapons colliding in the upper atmosphere and showering the Earth with a deadly rain of nuclear fire, electronic destruction, and a generally bad day.

The mistake triggered the military response of all the nations (who all had nuclear weapons by then - plus a few other horrid toys), and the result was truly an Armageddon. The Jews on the moon went into a period of deep mourning. The Orthodox rent their clothing and there were mass counseling sessions. And then, about one week after the BIG DAY, as it was now called, a presence was detected heading towards the moon. Had one of the missiles escaped? Were
the Jews doomed after all? The leaders checked with the defense experts - no, this was not a missile, it was an old-style spacecraft, like the ones used in the early seventies. As it approached, the laser defense was trained on the craft. Debates raged as to whether the craft should be destroyed or allowed to get close enough to communicate with.

A message from the ship came just in time. It said, 'We are the last representatives from Earth - two from each country and we come in peace.' Some Jews rejoiced that there were survivors, others demanded isolation or death of the approaching group. The Rabbi who had had the vision of earth's destruction told the leaders that G-d wanted them to have a chance, so they were allowed to circle the moon. When told they could have a section of land to themselves to farm and repopulate, the Earthlings were upset. They told the Jews that they should be allowed to live with the Jews and have all the same privileges - because, after all, in Judaism, the stranger is given the same rights and privileges as the citizen.

Upon hearing this, the leaders went to the Rabbi with the visions, and he offered to guide the visitors to their new home. The leaders allowed him to give the instructions for landing. Of course, not trusting the Rabbi, the commander of the ship didn't listen to his advice, and instead crashed into a lunar crater.

And so we have the final days of the history of the planet Earth, which have been generously shared with us by the Jewish colony of the 453rd Solar System of the M Galaxy. Although the Earth is currently uninhabitable, the head engineer of the Jewish colony on Mars tells us that Venus will be fully colonized by the year 2120, and with continuous replanting, Earth will once
again be ready for Jews returning from other planets in the year 2136.

An interesting side note - inside the wreckage of the rocket with the survivors from Earth was a specially-marked package that had survived which included the following words: 'Once there was a great planet named the Earth. And there were many peoples on this planet, and they all existed peacefully with each other, except for the Jews. Wherever there were Jews, there was trouble. Jews brought dirt and death and hatred and strife. They were finally banished from our planet, only to take with them many great inventors and scientists and doctors, leaving Earth with nothing. We have decided to destroy the remnants of the Jews, and since the first attempt failed, we are the last chance for Earth. Whoever shall find this will know the truth - It was all the Jews' fault.'

This panel has been saved and is on display at the Earth Memorial Museum at Rivka Crater, NW, for all travelers who wish to see the remains of a civilization that did not understand the words - 'He who blesses the Jews, is himself blessed, he who curses the Jews, is himself cursed.' Shalom

The Oldest Sephardic Synagogue in the World is in Dubrovnik

The Oldest Sephardic Synagogue in the World is
in Dubrovnik. This city is on my "A" list, and has been, even before I learned this little fact. Something about Dubrovnik and its history and charm has always beguiled me. Here's an excerpt from Jennifer Baljko's feature in the Jewish Exponent:

"One of these treasures is the Synagogue on "Jewish Street." The building, like the city, has survived its share of natural and human disasters. Established in the 14th century and rebuilt in 1652 after a devastating earthquake, the synagogue has held its ground through two world wars, the Communist regime and, more recently, the Homeland War.

The building, still used by Dubrovnik's small Jewish community -- said to number about 50 people -- is the oldest Sephardic synagogue in the world and the second-oldest in Europe, according to local sources and the Beit Hatfutsot's Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora.

Today, it also houses a museum of valuable artifacts, including Torah scrolls dating back to the 13th or 14th century. The scrolls are thought to have been brought to Dubrovnik by Sephardic exiles expelled from Spain around 1492. These scrolls contain some of the oldest examples of Hebrew script, a calligraphy style that is markedly different from the script found in most Torah scrolls.

You'll also find other notable pieces in the museum, such as a Chanukah lamp from Central Europe that dates back to the 18th or 19th century; and historical decrees that limit or restore Jewish civil liberties, depending on the year"

In 1654 They Came to America

Jacob Barsimon, Asser Levy and Solomon Pietersen were the first set of Jews to set foot in New Amsterdam in late August/early September 1654, which would make this the 354th anniversary of the beginning of Jewish settlement in North America. History tells us that these and others who followed came to the new world by choice, and were not fleeing religious persecution. As the records are not completely clear as to who was on what vessel, another man by the name of Jacob Aboaf figures on the passenger list of the Peereboom, a ship that made the voyage between the old and new world quite extensively. Among the Sephardic Jews were also some Ashkenazic Jews (Levy and Pietersen) who were fleeing to the new colonies from the renown Khmelnitzki pogroms. By the end of the century, the Jewish population had grown to 3% of the total, or 6000 people.

Other ships arrived almost concurrently from Brazil, carrying Jewish passengers who were clearly unhappy about Portugal's conquest of the land in 1654. There is some speculation that these passengers may have been forced to leave their belongings behind, as they arrived "weeping and bemoaning their misery" according to an account by New Amsterdam’s resident minister, Domine Johannes Megapolensis, in one of his reports back to the Classis at Amsterdam. Megapolensis did not hide his disdain for the Jews by calling them "godless rascals" whose basic motives were trade and profit. This very specific view of the Jews at the time was utilized as a reason to curb their immigration to the new land.

For example, in 1641, Johan Maurits, governor-general of Dutch Brazil, was told by resident merchants that the colony was being overrun by Jews and “every contract with a Jew ends in bankruptcy of a Christian.” In his reply, however, Maurits stated that Christians should be more careful, avoiding their “lust for speculation.” Besides, he said, Jews deserved and earned more liberties than others as they have always been “reliable political allies.” Obviously, this was a view not held by Megapolensis or Stuyvesant.

Who were these “godless rascals”?

Interestingly, many of them may have originated from Recife, Brazil and some may have found themselves stranded on the island of Jamaica on their way to New Amsterdam, due to unfavorable winds. In November of 1654, a complaint was deposed with the Dutch on behalf of the Sephardic Community protesting the unlawful detention of the Portuguese Jews on the island. As to why they had aspired to settle in the New Netherlands is fairly clear: there existed new opportunities for fur trading and grain products. Following what was termed as Amsterdam's Golden Age, many of its citizens were also infected with an adventurous spirit.

Add to that a string of epidemics took the lives of over 50,000 people between 1636 and 1654. Blessed with the freedom of trade, freedom of ideas and tolerance, there was nothing but a promising future for those who had landed in New Amsterdam.

The rise of this Jewish community parallels the rise of the republic. The histories of the Dutch nation and of Jewish society are remarkably similar. The Netherlands, a small country geographically, achieved greatness, while the Jewish community, small in number, also prospered and contributed significantly to the prosperity and growth of the country. In 1654, the arrival of the Peereboom and the St. Catrina reflected the accomplishments and ambitions of the “Golden Age.”

As early as 1654, the world was already learning that if a community had prosperous Jews in its midst, that the entire nation will benefit. The Dutch knew that the Jews were an important component of their economic success, and were particularly careful to ensure that they would be included in their colonies. Thus, the arrival of Sephardic Jews to the New World was not celebrated, but rather recognized because of the economic potential they brought with them.

Stuyvesant did not allow the Jews to construct a synagogue when they requested it. Thus it was determined later that the Congregation Shearith Israel had not been established by this group. He had an inherent suspicion and dislike of the Jews which was attributed to personal experiences.

What can be said about this first group of "23"? They came to the new land mostly for opportunity rather than to create a community. This would happen later at the turn of the century. They were expert traders and their value was recognized by the Dutch, who were enjoying their "Golden Age". They may not have lived long enough to see New Amsterdam surrender to the English. The Sephardic Jews must have been in South Carolina as early as 1695; I went to visit Beth Elohim a few years ago, a Sephardic synagogue built in 1812. The oldest synagogue that still exists is the Touro Synagogue, in Newport, Rhode Island, built in 1763.