Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Remembering Adrienne Cooper, mother of the Klezmer/Yiddish revival

Adrienne Cooper passed away on Sunday evening at the age of 65 after a long fight with cancer. Famous primarily for her extraordinary voice and ability to make Yiddish song clear to all, regardless of whether or not the listener understood the language, Cooper was, in many ways, the mother of the Klezmer/Yiddish revival of the 1980s. Her vision of "revival" was based in her own strong commitment to social justice and lay not in nostalgia for Anatevka but in the idea of Yiddish as a language in which one fights for social justice.

It is fitting that just last year she was honored by Jews for Racial & Economic Justice with its Marshall T. Meyer Risk-Taker Award. And equally fitting that Sunday saw the opening of the 27th Annual KlezKamp, an annual week of Yiddish Culture immersion that she co-founded with Henry Sapoznik.

I have thought of both threads as I reflect on the avant garde art song in which she and her partner, the brilliant pianist Marilyn Lerner, made the Yiddish poetry of Anna Margolin accessible to those of us who are Yiddish-disabled. Just a few years earlier, as the Bush administration pushed for war in Iraq, Adrienne and Marilyn gathered English, Spanish, Yiddish, and Hebrew songs for peace and tried to stop a war that has only now (at least on paper) ended.

Of all her projects, however, the one that was perhaps most exciting was an all-women’s ensemble from the late 1990s. Mikveh was one of the first revival groups that went beyond presenting music and poems that might have been played 100 years ago. Among the groups' carefully chosen repertoire were a raucous celebration of "Bas Mitzvah" and new Yiddish poems written by her daughter, Sarah Mina Gordon, including what was probably the first song grappling with abortion. Watching her glow while singing with Mikveh is how I remember Adrienne most vividly. She re-set wonderful old songs so that one walked out of the concerts not only entertained but energized and ready to fight for change in the world.

In the 15 years that I knew her, I was privileged to see her in many of her roles--from performer to KlezKamp teacher, from singer to administrator and planner—for many of those years, at Workmen's Circle, where she pioneered groundbreaking programs, reinvigorating the organization and exciting a new generation with the possibilities of Yiddish, song, and social justice. I also treasure the times we got to just sit and talk (or more often, stand and talk). In my role at the Jewish Women's Archive, I had the opportunity to work with her on projects beyond music—getting her to write a "We Remember" piece for Yiddish theatre icon Mina Bern; or in our last conversation, just last month, planning ways to gather oral histories for a new Workmen's Circle project.

Last year she released a new recording, Enchanted, which pulled many of the threads of her life together. There were songs from her production, with Jenny Romaine, of "The Memoir of Glikl of Hameln;" songs from the Peace show; and from Esn, a program about that most Jewish of subjects, food. There were old Yiddish poets set to new music, and new Yiddish poets, including her daughter. The centerpiece incorporated the sounds from a wax cylinder, lovingly digitized, that had captured her grandfather, the cantor, singing, while a baby Adrienne Cooper laughed and played in the background.

To listen to the adult Adrienne Cooper sing, accompanied by her grandfather and herself as a child, illuminates the accomplishment of her life—to create bridges to a culture that had been thought lost. She leaves us with a present touched by grace, and having known her, a future that includes hope. But her passing, like the passing of too many other "mothers" this year: Debbie Friedman, Esther Bronner, Paula Hyman, leaves us also diminished.

Adrienne Cooper, Yiddish Singer, Dies at 65

Adrienne Cooper, an American-born singer, teacher and curator of Yiddish music who was a pioneer in the effort to keep the embers of that language smoldering for newer generations, died on Sunday in Manhattan. She was 65.

The cause was adrenal cancer, said her daughter, Sarah Mina Gordon, who is also a Yiddish singer.

Though the movement Ms. Cooper helped start in the 1970s and ’80s was often described as a Yiddish revival, less sentimental observers acknowledged that a true revival of the spoken language among secular Jews was unlikely, given that people who had learned it in their homes, like Holocaust survivors and children of turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrants, were dying out. But because of the teaching and organizational work of Ms. Cooper and a handful of others, klezmer has become a popular current of the music mainstream and Yiddish courses are given at scores of colleges.

“She was in a way the mother of the revival,” said her friend Alicia Svigals, a klezmer violinist.

Ms. Cooper, blessed with a lush, expressive mezzo-soprano and a crusader’s fervor, shepherded dozens of young performers into Yiddish music and its bedrock culture.

She taught Yiddish songs — obscure ones she unearthed, not just beloved chestnuts like “Raisins and Almonds” — to students in a Yiddish program given at Columbia University by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and in programs she arranged through her most recent position as a cultural executive at the Workmen’s Circle, the Jewish social welfare organization. Her interpretations were enriched by the context she brought as a onetime history student.

“Her performance has a depth and emotional fire that made it clear she understood where these songs came from,” said Samuel Norich, publisher of The Forward, the Jewish newspaper.

She was one of the two founders of KlezKamp, which since 1985 has convened annually in late December in the Catskills and become an incubator of klezmer musicians like the clarinetist Michael Winograd and a floating academy of Yiddish culture. It draws hundreds of musicians, connoisseurs of Yiddish language and amateur anthropologists eager to delve into the extinguished Jewish cultures of Eastern Europe.

Ms. Cooper, who called the gathering “a flying shtetl” and taught there, was the associate director of YIVO in the early 1980s when she turned a notion brought to her by an archivist of hillbilly music into reality, persuading officials like Mr. Norich, then YIVO’s executive director, to finance it.

News of Ms. Cooper’s death came just as KlezKamp was gathering in Kerhonkson, N.Y. Henry Sapoznik, a Ukrainian cantor’s son and the archivist who was the other founder, said the news “cast a pall, but at the same time people realize that her contributions are really present.”

On the liner notes of her last album, “Enchanted,” Ms. Cooper wrote that she and her friends embraced Yiddish for its “hard-to-describe delights, for the rage it brings to injustice, for its wonderful weight on the tongue, for the arc it forms between poles of Jewish identity — from otherworldly to this worldly, from grit to grace — and for the astonishing ushpizin, unexpected guest spirits, who show up and have what to say.”

Ms. Cooper was an inveterate performer, singing about vagabond peddlers, Yiddish poets, labor leaders, Hasidic masters, even gefilte fish. As an ardent feminist, she often sang about the struggles of women.

She sang and recorded with klezmer performers like Ms. Svigals and bands like Kapelye, the Klezmatics, the Klezmer Brass All-Stars and the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band. She brought music about tenements and ghettos to Carnegie Hall and European concert halls.

She also composed Yiddish music with her partner, the pianist Marilyn Lerner, and the poet Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, and created several musical works: “The Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln”; “Esn: Songs From the Kitchen,” where a feast was cooked onstage; and “Ghetto Tango,” which she wrote with Zalmen Mlotek, artistic director of the National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene.

Ms. Cooper was born on Sept. 1, 1946, in Oakland, Calif. Unlike Mr. Norich and Mr. Sapoznik, who grew up in the Yiddish-speaking homes of Holocaust refugees, Ms. Cooper was reared in an English-speaking household. But she was surrounded by Jewish music — her mother, Buni, performed in opera and musical theater, her grandfather was a synagogue prayer leader and her grandmother made wax discs of Yiddish folk songs.

She studied vocal music with her mother’s teacher and then in Jerusalem, where at Hebrew University she also completed her undergraduate studies. She received her M.A. in history from the University of Chicago and then in New York studied with Lazar Weiner, a composer of Yiddish songs, and Wolf Younin, a poet and lyricist.

In addition to her daughter and Ms. Lerner, she is survived by her mother and her brothers, Michael and Stephen. Ms. Cooper was divorced from Jonathan Gordon in 1984.

While many looked on the revival efforts as quixotic, Ms. Cooper, her daughter said, “was fearless” and was “not burdened by counting numbers.”

“She was interested in people expressing their Judaism through their language and their culture,” Ms. Gordon said. “She taught people how to do that.”

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Second Temple Era Seal Discovered

The Israel Antiquities Authority unveiled a rare ancient seal that underscores the bond of the Jewish people to Jerusalem. The tiny seal, that likely certified the purity of ritual objects used in the Second Temple, was discovered in an excavation near the Temple Mount.
December 25, 2011

The Israel Antiquities Authority press release:
A first of its kind find, indicative of activity in the Temple, was recently discovered: a tiny item that was probably used as a "voucher" certifying the ritual purity of an object or food in the Temple Mount compound and in the Second Temple
The discovery was presented at a press conference at which the Minister of Culture Limor Livnat and Minister of Education Gideon Sa'ar participated
Layers of soil covering the foundations of the Western Wall, c. 15 meters north of the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, were excavated beneath Robinson’s Arch in archaeological excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden. On top of these layers, dating to the first century CE (the late Second Temple period), was paved the Herodian street which was the main road of Jerusalem at that time. From the very start of the excavations in this area the archaeologists decided that all of the soil removed from there would be meticulously sifted (including wet-sifting and thorough sorting of the material remnants left in the sieve). This scientific measure is being done in cooperation with thousands of pupils in the Tzurim Valley National Park, and is underwritten by the Ir David Association. It was during the sieving process that a tiny object of fired clay, the size of a button (c. 2 centimeter in diameter) was discovered. The item is stamped with an Aramaic inscription consisting of two lines - in the upper line or in Aramaic means pure and below it
Following the preposition in the word is the shortened form (two of the four letters) for the name of the G-d of Israel.
According to the excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, archaeologists Eli Shukron of the IAA and Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa:
"The meaning of the inscription is "Pure for G-d".
It seems that the inscribed object was used to mark products or objects that were brought to the Temple, and it was imperative they be ritually pure. This stamped impression is probably the kind referred to in the Mishnah (Tractate Shekalim 5: 1-5) as a (seal). To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that such an object or anything similar to it was discovered in an archaeological excavation and it constitutes direct archaeological evidence of the activity on the Temple Mount and the workings of the Temple during the Second Temple period".
Tractate Shekalim tells of the administration procedures on the Temple Mount in which our object was used, "Whoever required libations would go to Yohanan who was in charge of the stamps give him [the appropriate amount of] money and would receive a stamp from him in return. He would then go to Ahiyah who was in charge over the libations, give him the stamp and receive the libations from him". There can be no doubt that this is a very exciting find.
The Mishnah also mentions in Tractate Shekalim, "There were four tokens in the Temple and on them were inscribed; calf, ram, kid and sinner [which were issued as a receipt to those who deposited the appropriate funds]. Ben Azzai says: There were five; and they were inscribed in Aramaic." Our object does not belong to this group. It shows that not all of the details concerning the administration procedures of the Temple Mount have come to us by way of the rabbinic literature. Here an artifact from an archaeological excavation supplements our knowledge with a previously unknown detail.
It is in this context and the spirit of Hanukkah that the Jerusalem District Archaeologist, Dr. Yuval Baruch, mentioned, "It is written in the Gemara (Talmud Bavli, Tractate Shabbat Chapter 2: Page 21) that the only cruse of oil that was discovered in the Temple after the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks, "lay with the seal of the High Priest" - that is: the seal indicated that the oil is pure and can be used in the Temple. Remember, this cruse of oil was the basis for the miracle of Hanukkah that managed to keep the menorah lit for eight days".
In addition to this item, other artifacts dating to the Second Temple period were discovered. Some are even earlier and date to the time of the Hasmoneans, such as oil lamps, ceramic cooking pots and a fusiform juglet that may have contained oils and perfume, as well as coins of the Hasmonean kings, such as Alexander Jannaeus and John Hyrcanus.
Photographic credit - Vladimir Naykhin

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Vaxil’s vaccine could keep about 90 percent of cancers from coming back.

Vaxil’s groundbreaking therapeutic vaccine, developed in Israel, could keep about 90 percent of cancers from coming back.

As the world’s population lives longer than ever, if we don’t succumb to heart disease, strokes or accidents, it is more likely that cancer will get us one way or another. Cancer is tough to fight, as the body learns how to outsmart medical approaches that often kill normal cells while targeting the malignant ones.

Hadassah HospitalIn a breakthrough development, the Israeli company Vaxil BioTherapeutics has formulated a therapeutic cancer vaccine, now in clinical trials at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem. If all goes well, the vaccine could be available about six years down the road, to administer on a regular basis not only to help treat cancer but in order to keep the disease from recurring.

The vaccine is being tested against a type of blood cancer called multiple myeloma. If the substance works as hoped — and it looks like all arrows are pointing that way — its platform technology VaxHit could be applied to 90 percent of all known cancers, including prostate and breast cancer, solid and non-solid tumors.

“In cancer, the body knows something is not quite right but the immune system doesn’t know how to protect itself against the tumor like it does against an infection or virus. This is because cancer cells are the body’s own cells gone wrong,” says Julian Levy, the company’s CFO. “Coupled with that, a cancer patient has a depressed immune system, caused both by the illness and by the treatment.”

The trick is to activate a compromised immune system to mobilize against the threat.

A vaccine that works like a drug

A traditional vaccine helps the body’s immune system fend off foreign invaders such as bacteria or viruses, and is administered to people who have not yet had the ailment. Therapeutic vaccines, like the one Vaxil has developed, are given to sick people, and work more like a drug.

Vaxil’s lead product, ImMucin, activates the immune system by “training” T-cells –– the immune cells that protect the body by searching out and destroying cells that display a specific molecule (or marker) called MUC1. MUC1 is typically found only on cancer cells and not on healthy cells. The T-cells don’t attack any cells without MUC1, meaning there are no side effects unlike traditional cancer treatments. More than 90% of different cancers have MUC1 on their cells, which indicates the potential for this vaccine.

“It’s a really big thing,” says Levy, a biotechnology entrepreneur who was formerly CEO for Biokine Therapeutics. “If you give chemo, apart from the really nasty side effects, what often happens is that cancer becomes immune [to it]. The tumor likes to mutate and develops an ability to hide from the treatment. Our vaccines are also designed to overcome that problem.”

For cancers in an advanced stage, treatments like chemo or surgery to remove a large tumor will still be needed, but if the cancer can be brought down to scale, the body is then able to deal with it, Levy explains. ImMucin is foreseen as a long-term strategy — a shot every few months, with no side effects — to stop the cancer from reoccurring after initial treatments, by ensuring that the patient’s own immune system keeps it under control.

In parallel, the company is also working on a vaccine that treats tuberculosis, a disease that’s increasing worldwide, including in the developed world, and for which the current vaccine is often ineffective and treatment is problematic.

cancerours cellBased in Ness Ziona, Vaxil was founded in 2006 by Dr. Lior Carmon, a biotechnology entrepreneur with a doctorate in immunology from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. In June, Vaxil signed a memorandum of understanding to merge its activities into Sheldonco, a company traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sunday, October 2, 2011

L’ Shana Tova

L’ Shana Tova

> May your hair, your teeth, your face-lift, your abs, and your stocks not fall .

And may your blood pressure, your triglycerides, your cholesterol, your white blood count and your mortgage interest not rise.

May you get a clean bill of health from your dentist, your cardiologist, your gastroenterologist, your urologist, your proctologist, your podiatrist, your psychiatrist, your plumber, and the IRS.

May you find a way to travel from anywhere to anywhere during rush hour in less than an hour, and when you get there may you find a parking space.

May this Yom Tov, find you seated around the dinner table, together with your beloved family and cherished friends, ushering in the Jewish New Year ahead.

May what you see in the mirror delight you, and what others see in you delight them.

May the telemarketers wait to make their sales calls until you finish dinner, may your checkbook and your budget balance, and may they include generous amounts for charity.

May you remember to say "I love you" at least once a day to your partner, your child, and your parent(s). You can say it to your secretary, your nurse, your butcher, your photographer, your masseuse, your seamstress, your hairdresser or your gym instructor, but not with a "twinkle" in your eye.

May we live as intended, in a world at peace with the awareness of the beauty in every sunset, every flower's unfolding petals, every baby's smile and every wonderful, astonishing, miraculous part of ourselves.

And most importantly, May G-d bless you with every happiness, great health, peace and much love during the next year and all those that follow.

Happy New Year

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Monday, September 5, 2011

Famous Jews who used to be Gentiles -


Tom Arnold, actor
Polly Bergen, an American Emmy Award-winning actress, singer, and entrepreneur
May Britt, actress
Geraldine Brooks ,a Pulitzer Prize-winner, Australian-American journalist and author
Campbell Brown, an American television news reporter
Drew Bundini Brown, assistant trainer of former heavyweight boxing champion, Muhammad Ali
Sarah Brown, actress
Kate Capshaw, actress
Nell Carter, singer and actress
Connie Chung, American journalist who has been an anchor and reporter for several U.S. television news networks
Jim Croce, singer/songwriter
Sammy Davis, Jr., entertainer
Mary Hart, American television personality, long-time host of the entertainment program Entertainment Tonight
Carolyn Jones, actress
Julius Lester, son of a Methodist minister and a children's author
Little Richard , an American singer, important in the transition of rhythm and blues into soul
Anne Meara, American comedienne and actress, wife of Jerry Stiller
Marilyn Monroe, actress
Norma Shearer, actress
Kim Stanley, actress
Elizabeth Taylor, actress
Ivanka Trump, daughter of the Donald
Ike Turner, an American musician, bandleader, talent scout, and record producer
Mare Winningham, actress-singer
Jackie Wilson, another American singer, important in the transition of rhythm and blues into soul

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lawrence of Judea

Lawrence of Judea
by Sir Martin Gilbert
The champion of the Arab cause and his little-known romance with Zionism.

T.E. Lawrence - better known in Britain and throughout the Middle East as Lawrence of Arabia - was a lifelong friend of Arab national aspirations. In 1917 and 1918 he participated as a British officer in the Arab revolt against the Turks, a revolt led by Sharif Hussein, later King of the Hedjaz. He was also an adviser to Hussein’s son Feisal, whom he hoped to see on the throne of Syria. For generations of British Arabists, Lawrence was and remains a symbol of British understanding of and support for the Arab cause. Virtually unknown, however, is his understanding of and support for Jewish national aspirations in the same era.

In mid-December 1918, a month after the end of World War I, Lawrence was instrumental in securing an agreement between Emir Feisal and the Zionist leader Dr. Chaim Weizmann. The meeting was held at the Carlton Hotel in London (a building subsequently destroyed in the London Blitz). At this meeting, Lawrence acted as the interpreter. Weizmann assured Feisal that the Zionists in Palestine should be able “to carry out public works of a far-reaching character” and that the country “could be so improved that it would have room for four or five million Jews, without encroaching on the ownership rights of Arab peasantry.”[1]

As Weizmann wrote in his notes on the meeting, Feisal explained that “it was curious there should be friction between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. There was no friction in any other country where Jews lived together with Arabs…. He [Feisal] did not think for a moment that there was any scarcity of land in Palestine. The population would always have enough, especially if the country were developed. Besides, there was plenty of land in his district.”[2]

On January 3, 1919, Feisal and Weizmann met again in London, to sign an “Agreement between the King of the Hedjaz and the Zionists.” Lawrence, who was once again the guiding hand in this agreement, hoped that it would ensure what he, Lawrence, termed “the lines of Arab and Zionist policy converging in the not distant future.”[3]

“We Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement.”
On March 1, 1919 Lawrence, while in Paris as the senior British representative with the Hedjaz Delegation, drafted and then wrote out in his own hand a letter from Feisal to the American Zionist Felix Frankfurter. In this letter, Feisal declared, “We Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement.” Feisal went on to say that Weizmann “has been a great helper of our cause, and I hope the Arabs may soon be in a position to make the Jews some return for their kindness. We are working together for a reformed and revived Near East, and our two movements complete one another.” The Jewish movement, Feisal continued, “is national, and not imperialist: our movement is national and not imperialist, and there is room in Syria for us both. Indeed I think that neither can be a real success without the other.” Feisal then added, in strong, optimistic words: “I look forward, and my people with me look forward to a future in which we will help you and you will help us, so that the countries in which we are mutually interested may once again take their place in the community of the civilized peoples of the world.”[4]

Related Article: Why Jerusalem Matters

If Lawrence’s support for Jewish national aspirations was not known to his contemporaries, it was perhaps suspected. In early 1920, as Lawrence prepared his wartime experiences of the Arab Revolt for publication, he wrote to the author Rudyard Kipling to ask if he would read the proofs of his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Kipling replied that he would be glad to see the proofs, but that, if it emerged from them that Lawrence was “pro-Yid,” he would send the proofs back to him untouched.[5]

Kipling was distressed at the thought that Lawrence might be pro-Jewish. And indeed, Lawrence’s view of the potential evolution of the Jewish National Home in British Mandate Palestine was far from hostile to Jewish hopes. In an article entitled “The Changing East,” published in the influential Round Table magazine in 1920, Lawrence wrote of “the Jewish experiment” in Palestine that it was “a conscious effort, on the part of the least European people in Europe, to make head against the drift of the ages, and return once more to the Orient from which they came.”[6]

Lawrence noted of the new Jewish immigrants: “The colonists will take back with them to the land which they occupied for some centuries before the Christian era samples of all the knowledge and technique of Europe. They propose to settle down amongst the existing Arabic-speaking population of the country, a people of kindred origin, but far different social condition. They hope to adjust their mode of life to the climate of Palestine, and by the exercise of their skill and capital to make it as highly organized as a European state.”[7]

As Lawrence envisaged it in his Round Table article, this settlement would be done in a way that would be beneficial to the Arabs. “The success of their scheme,” he wrote of the Zionists, “will involve inevitably the raising of the present Arab population to their own material level, only a little after themselves in point of time, and the consequences might be of the highest importance for the future of the Arab world. It might well prove a source of technical supply rendering them independent of industrial Europe, and in that case the new confederation might become a formidable element of world power.”[8]

It seemed to Lawrence - as it did to Winston Churchill when he discussed the question of eventual Jewish sovereignty with the Peel Commissioners in 1937, shortly after Lawrence’s death - that it would take a long time before a Jewish majority would come into being. Such a contingency, Lawrence had written in his Round Table article, “will not be for the first or even for the second generation, but it must be borne in mind in any laying out of foundations of empire in Western Asia.” These, to a very large extent, “must stand or fall by the course of the Zionist effort.”[9]

When Churchill became colonial secretary in January 1921, he appointed Lawrence to be his Arab affairs adviser. At the outset of his appointment, Lawrence held talks with Feisal about Britain’s Balfour-Declaration promise of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. Reporting on these talks to Churchill in a letter dated January 17, 1921, Lawrence was able to assure the new colonial secretary - responsible for finalizing the terms of the Palestine Mandate - that in return for Arab sovereignty in Baghdad, Amman, and Damascus, Feisal “agreed to abandon all claims of his father to Palestine.”[10]

This was welcome news for Churchill, but there was a problem. Since the French were already installed in Damascus, and were not willing to make way for Feisal or any Arab leader, Churchill proposed giving Feisal, instead of the throne of Syria, the throne of Iraq, and at the same time giving Feisal’s brother Abdullah the throne of Transjordan, that part of Britain’s Palestine Mandate lying to the east of the River Jordan. Installing an Arab ruler in Transjordan would enable Western Palestine - the area from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan, which now comprises both Israel and the West Bank - to become the location of the Jewish National Home under British control, in which, in Churchill’s words, the Jews were to go “of right, and not on sufferance.”[11]

“[Churchill] trusted that under the influence of a just policy,” Arab opposition to Zionism “would have decreased, if it had not entirely disappeared.”
Briefed by Lawrence at the March 17, 1921, Cairo Conference, Churchill explained to the senior officials gathered there that the presence of an Arab ruler under British control east of the Jordan would enable Britain to prevent anti-Zionist agitation from the Arab side of the river. In support of this view, Lawrence himself told the conference, as the secret minutes recorded: “He [Churchill] trusted that in four or five years, under the influence of a just policy,” Arab opposition to Zionism “would have decreased, if it had not entirely disappeared.”[12]

Lawrence went on to explain to the conference that “it would be preferable to use Trans-Jordania as a safety valve, by appointing a ruler on whom we could bring pressure to bear, to check anti-Zionism.” The “ideal” ruler would be “a person who was not too powerful, and who was not an inhabitant of Trans-Jordania, but who relied upon His Majesty’s Government for the retention of his office.”[13] That ruler, Lawrence believed, would best be Emir Abdullah, Feisal’s brother.

The presence of Lawrence of Arabia at the Cairo Conference was of inestimable benefit to Churchill in his desire to help establish a Jewish National Home in Palestine. Lawrence’s friendship with the Arab leaders, with whom he had fought during the Arab Revolt, and his knowledge of their weaknesses as well as their strengths, was paralleled by his understanding of Zionist aspirations. In November 1918, on the first anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, Lawrence had told a British Jewish newspaper, “Speaking entirely as a non-Jew, I look on the Jews as the natural importers of Western leaven so necessary for countries of the Near East.”[14]

On March 27, 1921, ten days after Lawrence’s suggestions in Cairo, Churchill sent him from Jerusalem to Transjordan to explain to Abdullah that his authority would end at the eastern bank of the River Jordan; that the Jews were to be established in the lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan (“Western Palestine”); and that he, Abdullah, must curb all anti-Zionist activity and agitation among his followers.

The next day, in Jerusalem, Lawrence, Churchill, and Abdullah were photographed at British Government House: Churchill bundled up against the cold, Lawrence in a dark suit and tie, Abdullah in army uniform with Arab headdress. At their meeting that day, Abdullah agreed to limit the area of his control to Transjordan and to refrain from any action against the Jewish National Home provisions of the Palestine Mandate west of the Jordan.

Lawrence had thus helped ensure that the building up of the Jewish National Home could continue. He already knew that national home’s potential: Twelve years before the Cairo Conference, while traveling through the Galilee around Tiberias, he reflected on the glory days of the region in Roman times, and on the Jewish farm settlements he saw on his travels. Writing home on August 2, 1909, he explained, “Galilee was the most Romanized province of Palestine. Also the country was well peopled, and well watered artificially: There were not twenty miles of thistles behind Capernaum! And on the way round the lake they did not come upon dirty, dilapidated Bedouin tents, with the people calling to them to come in and talk, while miserable curs came snapping at their heels: Palestine was a decent country then, and could so easily be made so again. The sooner the Jews farm it all the better: Their colonies are bright spots in a desert.”[15]

The rest is well known: The “bright spots in a desert” evolved into a thriving state on the basis of the skill and capital Lawrence marveled at decades prior. It is hard to know how he would have responded to the Arab world’s growing intransigence toward the Jewish presence in the British Mandate, let alone to its violent attempts to destroy the Jewish State while still in its birth pangs - the same State that he believed held such promise for the Arabs of the region. T.E. Lawrence died in May 1935 of fatal injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident near his cottage in Dorset, at the age of only forty-seven. The accomplishments of his short life have assured his place in the pantheon of modern Arab history. Perhaps it is now time that modern Jewish history paid him homage as well.

This essay originally appeared in Azure 38, Autumn 2009, and is being published with permission. [link to ]


From Chaim Weizmann’s interview with Emir Feisal at the Carlton Hotel, December 11, 1918, archives of the British Foreign Office in the Public Record Office, London, 371/3420.
Text reprinted in David Hunter Miller, My Diaries of the Conference of Paris (New York: Appeal, 1924), vol. 3, pp. 188-189.
T.E. Lawrence Papers, quoted in Martin Gilbert, Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship (New York: Henry Holt, 2007), p. 51.
Letter from Feisal to Frankfurter, March 1, 1919, reprinted in the New York Times on March 5, 1919, the Times (London) on March 6, 1919, and the Jewish Chronicle (London) on March 7, 1919. See Isaiah Friedman, Palestine, a Twice-Promised Land?: The British, Arabs, and Zionism, 1915-1920 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 2000), p. 228.
Kipling to Lawrence, July 20, 1920, The Letters of Rudyard Kipling, vol. 5, 1920-1930, ed. Thomas Pinney (Iowa City: University of Iowa, 2004), p. 126.
T.E. Lawrence, “The Changing East,” The Round Table, September 1920. Available at
Lawrence, “The Changing East.”
Lawrence, “The Changing East.”
Lawrence, “The Changing East.”
Letters from T.E. Lawrence to Churchill’s private secretary, January 17, 1921. Churchill Papers, 17/14.
British White Paper of June 1922, cited in Gilbert, Churchill and the Jews, p. 46.
Colonial Office Papers 935/1/1, cited in Gilbert, Churchill and the Jews, p. 51.
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, vol. 4, 1917-1922 The Stricken World (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975), p. 553.
Message to the Jewish Guardian, November 28, 1918, cited in Gilbert, Churchill and the Jews, p. 51.
David Garnett, ed., The Letters of T.E. Lawrence (New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1938), p. 71.