World’s Largest Online Database of Jewish Art Preserves At-Risk Heritage Objects | Smart News | Smithsonian

World’s Largest Online Database of Jewish Art Preserves At-Risk Heritage Objects | Smart News | Smithsonian

The vast landscape of Siberia is dotted with long-abandoned synagogues, the crumbling relics of Jewish communities that once lived there. In 2015, Vladimir Levin, acting director of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Center for Jewish Art, embarked on a mission to document these historic buildings. Accompanied by a team of researchers, Levin traveled by car, train and plane across the hundreds of miles that lay between the synagogues. Many were on the verge of disappearing; they had gone unused for decades, or had been repurposed by local communities, or had been partially dismantled for their construction materials.

Levin knew that he couldn’t save every synagogue he encountered, but he and his team set about photographing and describing the buildings to create a permanent record of their existence. Afterward, they uploaded the information to the Bezalel Narkiss Index of Jewish Art, a new online database that catalogues a vast array of Jewish art and architecture from across the globe.

“Jewish people are moving from one place to another, it’s part of our history,” Levin tells Smithsonian.com when describing the purpose of the index, which launched in August. “After us remains a lot of built heritage and other heritage which we will never use again … We believe that it is impossible to [physically] preserve everything, but it is possible to preserve it through documentation.”

With more than 260,000 entries, the index is the world’s largest digital collection of Jewish art, according to Claire Voon of Hyperallergic, who first reported on the project. Spanning from antiquity to the present day, the index catalogues everything from ancient Judean coins, to 14th-century Hebrew manuscripts, to drawings by contemporary Israeli artists. The index is divided into six categories—Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts, Sacred and Ritual Objects, Jewish Funerary Art, Ancient Jewish Art, Modern Jewish Art and Jewish Ritual Architecture—but it is also searchable by object, artist, collection, location and community.

Hebrew University researchers have been building this expansive repository for more than 30 years. The project was established in the 1970s by the late Bezalel Narkiss, an Israeli art historian who wanted to create a catalogue of Jewish iconography similar to Princeton University’s Index of Christian Art (now known as the Index of Medieval Art).

In total, the Index features items from 41 countries, and for decades now, the Center for Jewish Art has been sending groups of researchers and graduate students on documentation trips around the world. After Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, for instance, Israeli researchers raced to Cairo and Alexandria to catalogue the synagogues and ritual objects used by Jewish communities that once thrived there. When the Iron Curtain fell, teams were deployed to previously inaccessible areas of Eastern Europe.

Over the years, the project has expanded—“It’s not only an iconographical index,” Levin explains, “it’s also a repository for Jewish built and visual heritage in general”—and taken on an increased sense of urgency.

“Our center is running against time,” Levin says, “because we try to catch up with things that are in danger of disappearing.”

Although the documentation teams primarily focus on photographing, sketching and detailing at-risk structures and sites, researchers sometimes work with local communities to encourage the preservation of Jewish historic objects. When Levin traveled to Siberia in 2015, for instance, he came across a small museum in the remote republic of Buryatia that housed a substantial collection of Jewish ritual objects.

“They never understood what to do with them,” Levin says. So he visited the museum on three separate occasions to educate staff about what the objects were, and how they functioned. After Levin went back to Israel, the museum staged a small exhibition of Judaica.

“Jewish heritage belongs not only to Jews,” Levin says. “[I]t’s part of the local landscape, it’s part of the local culture.”

Local culture has a significant influence on historic Jewish communities, as the index shows. Browsing through the database reveals synagogues, cemeteries and artworks modeled after a range of artistic and architectural traditions, such as Byzantine, Gothic, and Baroque.

“Every object is connected to its place of production, and to the stylistic developments in this place,” Levin says, but adds that Jewish art is also “influenced by Jewish objects from other places.” Religious spaces built in the style of Portuguese synagogues crop up in Amsterdam, London and the Caribbean, Levin notes, and Hebrew texts printed in Amsterdam can be found across Eastern Europe.

Now that the index is online and its entries are easily accessible, Levin says he hopes visitors to the website will be “impressed by the richness of Jewish culture, and by interconnection between different Jewish diasporas.” Levin also plans to continue expanding the database through additional documentation trips, along with some other, less conventional methods.

“I tried to convince somebody that illustrations from Hebrew manuscripts can be good [inspiration for] tattoos,” Levin says with a laugh. “They didn’t do it— unfortunately, because I [wanted to] document this person as an object of Jewish art.”

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/worlds-largest-database-jewish-art-preserves-risk-heritage-objects-180965103/

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Investigators Are Turning to Big Data to Find Who Betrayed Anne Frank | Smart News | Smithsonian

Investigators Are Turning to Big Data to Find Who Betrayed Anne Frank | Smart News | Smithsonian

On a warm August morning in 1944, SS officers stormed into an Amsterdam warehouse and arrested Anne Frank, her parents, her sister and four other Jews who had been hiding in a secret annex at the back of the building. Many experts believe that someone alerted Nazi authorities to the hiding place, but the identity of the culprit has never been conclusively determined. Now, according to Daniel Boffey of the Guardian, a retired FBI agent has launched an investigation into the enduring historical mystery, hoping to find out once and for all who betrayed the young diarist.

Vince Pankoke, who tracked Colombian drug traffickers in recent years at the FBI, will lead a multidisciplinary team of experts, among them historians, psychological profilers and police detectives. But the most innovative aspect of the investigation is its use of big data analysis—a technology that has only emerged within the past decade—to comb through reams of documents relevant to the case.

In theory, as Cleve R. Wootson Jr. notes in the Washington Post, the betrayer of the Frank family shouldn’t be hard to find; Nazis kept detailed records of all arrests and informants. It is believed, however, that documents pertaining to Anne Frank and other residents of the annex were destroyed in a 1940s bombing. Pankoke and his team are compiling a huge database of other documents that may contain information relevant to the Frank case: lists of Nazi informants, lists of Jews who were turned over to the authorities, names of Gestapo agents who lived in Amsterdam, police records and so on.

The trove of information is so large that “a human in their lifetime might not be able to review” it, Pankoke tells Stephanie van den Berg and Anthony Deutsch of Reuters. So the team has enlisted the Amsterdam-based data company Xomnia to develop algorithms that will analyze the documents, and perhaps reveal connections that have never been noticed before.

Titled “Anne Frank: A Cold Case Diary,” the investigative project was initiated by filmmaker Thijs Bayens and supported through crowd funding. Wootson Jr. of the Post reports that the team’s work will be chronicled in a podcast and, possibly, a documentary.

For more than seven decades, investigators, researchers and journalists have been trying to shed light on the mysterious circumstances surrounding the arrest of Anne Frank, who famously captured the rise of Nazism in her poignant, posthumously published diary. Fifteen-year-old Anne, her sister Margot and her mother Edith died in Nazi concentration camps. Her father, Otto Frank, survived, and spent the rest of his life trying to discover who had betrayed his family. He strongly suspected a warehouse employee named Willem van Maaren, who had sparked concerns among the Franks and the people who helped them hide.

“He places books and bits of paper on the very edges of things in the warehouse so that if anyone walks by they fall off,” Anne wrote in her diary in April of 1944. She added that the people who were helping to hide the Frank family had “been looking into the question of how to get this fellow out of the place from every possible angle. Downstairs they think it is too risky. But isn’t it even riskier to leave things as they are?”

Dutch police launched two separate investigations focusing on van Maaren, but did not uncover any conclusive evidence. Over the years, some 30 different suspects have been suggested as the possible culprit, from the wife of a warehouse employee, to the sister of Otto Frank’s typist, to Anton Ahlers, a business associate of Otto Frank who was active in the Dutch Nazi party.

Last year, the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam floated a new theory: Nazi officers who were investigating illegal work and ration fraud at the warehouse accidentally stumbled upon the Jews hiding in the annex. Still, Ronald Leopold, executive director of the museum, notes that the new investigation did not “refute the possibility that the people in hiding were betrayed,” but instead illustrated “that other scenarios should also be considered.”

The Anne Frank House has opened its archives to Pankoke and his team, and, according to Boffey of the Guardian, welcomes the new research initiative.

It is still early days for the investigation, but Pankoke told Wootson Jr. of the Post that the team has already produced some interesting information. Experts have discovered, for instance, the identity of a person who betrayed at least one other family to the Nazis. Anne Frank “is a symbol of the youth and what the people who were in hiding went through,” Pankoke said. “But all of the other people who were in hiding, and their collaborators, they’re just as important; they’re just not as famous.”

Still, experts remain focused on the fate of the teenage diarist whose life was cut tragically short. The team hopes to reveal the results of its investigation on August 4, 2019—the 75th anniversary of Anne Frank’s arrest.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/investigators-are-using-big-data-analysis-find-out-who-betrayed-anne-frank-180965117/

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How American Independence Democratized Judaism, Too | ReformJudaism.org

How American Independence Democratized Judaism, Too | ReformJudaism.org

The values of the American Revolution – liberty, freedom, and especially democracy – profoundly affected the small colonial Jewish community and laid the groundwork for the emergence of Reform Judaism in America.

Communal change often begins with the actions of strong-minded individuals. So it was with Jacob I. Cohen, one of the earliest known Jewish residents of Richmond, VA. He had fought bravely in the Revolutionary War as part of the Charleston Regiment of Militia, known at the time as the “Jew Company,” although a minority of its members were actually Jewish. After the war he opened a store with a fellow Jewish militiaman, Isaiah Isaacs.

A year later, in 1782, Cohen traveled to Philadelphia on a prolonged buying trip and applied to join Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel synagogue. At age 38, he may also have been looking for a wife. Within three months he had fallen in love with a recently widowed woman of his own age, Esther Mordecai, whose husband’s death had left her impoverished and with three children.

But then a problem arose. Esther was a convert to Judaism and Jacob was a kohein, a Jew of priestly descent – and according to halachah (Jewish law), a kohein is prohibited from marrying a convert. In an act of public defiance, Cohen spurned the law and dictates of the synagogue, which ran counter to his newfound sense of democracy and freedom.

Mikveh Israel prohibited its chazan (minister) from conducting the marriage, but its leading members – Haym Salomon, Revolutionary War hero Mordecai Sheftall, and the well-respected Philadelphian Israel Jacobs – privately conducted the wedding ceremony. In knowingly placing personal liberty above the synagogue’s dictates, the three were serving notice that times had changed and the congregation’s power to regulate Jewish life was waning.

Mordecai M. Mordecai, one of Mikveh Israel’s most learned lay members and the son of a rabbi, similarly flouted synagogue authority on two subsequent occasions. First, he took the law into his own hands when, in an apparent attempt to reconcile members of his extended family, he performed an unauthorized Jewish marriage ceremony for his niece, Judith Hart, and her unconverted husband, Lt. James Pettigrew. On another occasion, he performed the traditional last rites on Benjamin Clava, an identifying but intermarried Jew whom the synagogue, as a warning to others, had ordered buried “without ritual ablution, without shrouds and without funeral rites.”

On both occasions, Mordecai vigorously defended his actions, insisting that he knew Jewish law better than those who judged him.

Clearly, the real question here had less to do with Jewish law than with the limits of Jewish religious authority in a new democratic age. The problem, from the perspective of Mikveh Israel, was that Jews in post-Revolutionary America were making their own rules about how to live Jewishly, and there was little the synagogue could do about it.

This trend toward “democratization” of Jewish life was evident as well in Richmond, VA’s first synagogue, Beth Shalome. In 1789, the congregation took the innovative step of adopting a “constitution,” which: outlawed as undemocratic the traditional practice of having only wealthy families run the synagogue; promoted the goal of communal consensus; and offered dissenters the unprecedented opportunity to have their views heard.

In 1824-1825, a revolt of young people at Charleston, S.C.’s Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim led to a split in the congregation and the establishment of the Reformed Society of Israelites. The Reformers expressed dissatisfaction with the “apathy and neglect which have been manifested towards our holy religion.” Fearful that Judaism would not survive unless it changed, they advocated, among other things, for an abbreviated worship service, vernacular prayers, and a weekly sermon.

In addition to ritual reform, the new congregation also provided for a good deal more democracy and equal rights, rejecting the plutocracy and authoritarianism of Beth Elohim. This development is often recalled as the beginning of Reform Judaism in the United States – which, in many ways, it was.

It also signaled that a new and more democratic Judaism had arrived in America.

http://reformjudaism.org/blog/2017/07/04/how-american-independence-democratized-judaism-too

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The more Americans learn about Israel, the less they like it, study suggests – U.S. News – Haaretz.com

The more Americans learn about Israel, the less they like it, study suggests – U.S. News – Haaretz.com

What do you think of when you think of Italy?

Maybe you picture beautiful works of art set against rolling Tuscan hills. Maybe a steaming plate of spaghetti topped with creamy marinara sauce, served with a deep red wine.

Now what do you think of when you think of Israel? If you’re like most Americans, you picture walls of concrete enclosing an austere and strict country. The men wear black hats, the women long skirts. Everyone looks pretty serious.

That’s what Brand Israel Group, a group of former advertising professionals who set out to sell Israel to Americans, found in a series of focus groups beginning in 2005. The group has since commissioned two surveys of the American public — in 2010 and 2016 — and didn’t like what it found.

According to the surveys, Israel has pretty broad backing among American citizens, but is losing support among a range of growing demographics. As pro-Israel advocates tout “shared values” between the United States and Israel, fewer and fewer Americans actually think they believe the same things as Israelis.

“Shared values are the bedrock of our relationship, and young Americans do not believe Israel shares our values,” said Fern Oppenheim, one of the group’s co-founders. “That’s a huge issue. We have to have a narrative about the heart and soul and humanity of the Israelis.”

The survey was conducted online in September and October 2016 by the polling firm Global Strategy Group, and sampled 2,600 Americans among a range of demographic groups.

Knowledge of Israel has gone up — but favorability is down
More people say they know about Israel now than they did in 2010. While only 23 percent of Americans said they know at least a fair amount about Israel in 2010, the number rose to 37 percent in 2016.

Knowledge of Israel grew among every demographic group except college students, where it fell precipitously — from 50 percent to just 34 percent, a number on par with the national average.

But it appears that the more Americans learn about Israel, the less they like it. In 2010, 76 percent of Americans viewed Israel favorably. In 2016, the number had fallen to 62 percent. Levels of support have dropped as well. In 2010, the study found that 22 percent of Americans were “core” supporters of Israel, which dropped to 15 percent by 2016.

Israel is losing out among a range of growing demographics — from Latinos to millennials

The groups with relatively high levels of favorability toward Israel, according to the study, included men, Republicans and older Americans. The groups that like Israel less are the mirror image: women, Democrats and millennials, along with African-Americans and Latinos. And those population groups are all growing.

A majority of all of these groups still sees Israel favorably, but the numbers are falling. Favorability among Democrats dropped 13 points, from 73 percent to 60 percent. Among women, it dropped from 74 percent to 57 percent.

Among African-Americans and Latinos, favorability toward Israel fell 20 points each, from about three-quarters each to just over half. Fewer than half of African Americans and Latinos believe “Israel shares my values.”

Most college students hardly hear about Israel at all

Colleges are hotbeds of anti-Israel fervor, right? Not so much. The study found declining results for Israel among college students, but a majority still view Israel favorably. Moreover, contrary to what some advocacy groups might say, most college students hardly encounter the Israel debate at all.

Favorability toward Israel fell 17 points among college students between 2010 and last year, but still stands at 54 percent. Nearly all Jewish college students used to view Israel favorably, but even after a 13-point drop, the favorability stat still stands at 82 percent.

Still, Oppenheim noted a shifting picture among Jewish college kids. While 84 percent of Jewish college students leaned toward the Israeli side of the conflict in 2010, only 57 percent do now. Support for the Palestinian side, meanwhile, grew six fold, from two percent to 13 percent.

Notably, nearly a third of Jewish college students said they experience anti-Semitism on campus. Of those, more than 40 percent said the anti-Semitism wasn’t connected to Israel.

But what college students can agree on most regarding Israel is that they barely hear about it. More than three-quarters of college kids said Israel rarely or never comes up. On college campuses with an organized pro-Palestinian presence, the number drops only slightly, to 70 percent.

Americans see Israel as ultra-religious and war-torn
Israel has spent years and millions of dollars trying to portray itself as the place where Gal Gadot invented the cherry tomato on the beach using Waze. Or something.

Israel’s touting of its tech industry, warm climate and Mediterranean food may have worked a bit on Americans, who view Israel as innovative (78 percent) and cool (63 percent). But around three-quarters of Americans still see Israel as dominated by conflict. And though only 10 percent of Israeli Jews are Haredi Orthodox, 73 percent of Americans view Israel as ultra-religious.

So while American Jewish leaders have protested this week that a small Haredi minority dominates Israel, that minority, for many Americans, is the image of the Jewish state.

http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/1.798794

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Netanyahu must choose between ultra-Orthodox and US Jews

Netanyahu must choose between ultra-Orthodox and US Jews

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to beat a hasty retreat from the Conversion Law (rejecting Reform and Conservative conversions) after it was passed by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on June 26. At a tense meeting with the leaders of the coalition parties on June 30, Netanyahu announced that he was putting the law on hold for six months and forming a committee to study it further. The ultra-Orthodox ministers stormed out of the meeting but later reached an agreement with the prime minister. But the affair is far from being over; Netanyahu will yet hear from them. It is safe to assume that the suspension of the Western Wall compromise, which provided non-Orthodox Jews with a separate prayer space along the southern part of the Western Wall, will be reconsidered now, too.

As a result of these two decisions, the Israeli government was inundated last week by a Jewish tsunami that no one could have anticipated. It involved everyone from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to the Jewish Federations of North America to the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations to heads of various communities and denominations. Jews around the world were up in arms. They lambasted Netanyahu and his right-wing-Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox coalition and set boundaries for it.

On June 29, the leaders of AIPAC, Washington’s powerful pro-Israel lobby, arrived in Israel on an urgent flight from the United States. Its outgoing President Lillian Pinkus, its incoming President Mort Fridman, and deputy directors Richard Fishman and Cameron Brown held a series of tough meetings with various ministers and eventually with the prime minister himself. Their message was clear and succinct: Suspending the Western Wall compromise and passing the Conversion Law constitutes a bill of divorce that Israel is handing to the Jewish communities of North America. What they were effectively telling Israel was this: You’re not only harming the Reform and Conservative communities, you are also damaging your alliance with diaspora Jewry as a whole and, indirectly, you are putting Israel’s interests in Washington at risk. This decision can even impact the US sale of F-35 jets to Israel and other strategic issues.

AIPAC is Israel’s “Iron Dome” in Washington’s corridors of power, but now AIPAC’s leaders made it clear to the Israelis that this protective dome is in danger. “Activists, donors and chapter heads have been calling us en masse since the beginning of the week,” one AIPAC member told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “They want to quit. They are bitter. No one will continue to work on behalf of Israel if it continues along this path and cuts itself off from the international Jewish community.”

AIPAC is a disciplined lobby. It is hard to remember the last time it opposed the position of a serving Israeli government. No more. By choosing to appease the ultra-Orthodox Knesset members in the coalition rather than advancing the integrity and unity of the Jewish people, they set off a nuclear explosion that reached across the length and breadth of America. Similar criticism could also be heard from the sizable Jewish community of France and from other places, too. Netanyahu realized that this time he had gone too far, but it was already too late.

The revolt expanded inwardly, too. Israeli ambassadors and diplomats across North America sent a series of urgent messages and memos to Jerusalem, explicitly warning about a real existential crisis facing Israel’s relationship with their Jewish communities as a result of this new policy. One night at the end of June, Jonathan Schachter, the foreign policy adviser to the prime minister, held a conference call with all of Israel’s diplomatic representatives in North America. When asked by one diplomat what to tell the leaders of the local Jewish communities, he said that they should explain to them that the people truly responsible for the crisis and ensuing rift are the “denominations,” or, in other words, the Reform and Conservative communities, which do not understand the constraints under which the Israeli government operates. He then went on to say that they are blowing the story out of proportion.

Israel’s diplomatic staff was shocked. A few of them refused to state this as a new policy and demanded instructions in writing. “It is simply unbelievable that after two such decisions, we are being asked to place the onus of responsibility on the denominations here in the US. Someone doesn’t understand how much damage this is causing to the very fabric of the strategic relationship between Israel and diaspora Jewry,” one veteran Israeli diplomat told Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity.

On the night of June 29-30, Netanyahu’s foreign policy adviser had another conference call, this time with the heads of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations of North America. It was no less difficult — perhaps even more difficult — than the previous call. Schachter was forced to spend an hour listening to complaints from the heads of large Jewish organizations. An Israeli diplomatic source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that Schachter tried explaining that “the prime minister is working on behalf of Jewish unity,” but was met with a long, cold shower of reproachful and angry tirades. “He’s doing the exact opposite,” said one of the participants, at least according to one political source speaking on condition of anonymity. “The prime minister is doing everything to sow discord and tear apart the Jewish people.”

Other remarks, according to the political source, included: “You’re deceiving Israelis. … You’re lucky that they don’t really understand exactly what this is all about. … Once they do understand that, and you demand that they stop driving on the Sabbath, it will already be too late.” Then there was this: “The Conversion Law will result in a rift and tear the Jewish people apart. … The fact that you are incapable of standing by an agreement reached by the government concerning our right to pray at the Western Wall is simply shocking.” A representative of the United Jewish Appeal threatened, “We will not only suspend our events. We will also stop inviting Israeli representatives to participate in them and address us.” Another representative added, “Since the days of [Israel’s first Prime Minister] Ben Gurion, there has never been such a callous intrusion by religion into the life of the state.” A representative of the Jewish Federations of North America remarked, “The Conversion Law and suspending the Western Wall compromise are very serious incidents. People call us about them incessantly. The overall feeling is one of betrayal and the abandonment of American Jewry. Netanyahu’s statements about how he is committed to preserving the unity of the Jewish people are barely lip service.”

Netanyahu was forced to stop and come up with a new path. His own defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, is virulently opposed to these moves. Even ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked of national-religious HaBayit HaYehudi have expressed reservations about the recent moves, though they are under heavy pressure from the ultra-Orthodox and have little room to maneuver. Responsibility falls squarely on Netanyahu’s shoulders.

Netanyahu was a little confused by Donald Trump’s victory against all odds in the US election, despite liberal Jews’ support for Hillary Clinton. He is now being forced to learn the hard way that even a Trump Republican government in power in Washington cannot change the fact that the vast majority of American Jews, whether Reform or Conservative, are liberals. Yes, they have a deep commitment to Israel, but it must not be taken for granted. Netanyahu will now be forced to choose between an alliance with them and his alliance with the ultra-Orthodox.

http://al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/07/israel-us-jewry-benjamin-netanyahu-aipac-western-wall.html

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Justice for Shylock: A Mock Appeal Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Venice Ghetto – YouTube

Justice for Shylock: A Mock Appeal Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Venice Ghetto – YouTube

Streamed live on Jun 21, 2017
The program is a mock appeal of Shylock’s case from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, taking place after the play itself ends. Actor Edward Gero will portray Shylock. The appeal will be heard by five judges including Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Professors Suzanne Reynolds and Richard Schneider of Wake Forest University Law School; former U.S. Ambassador to the OECD Connie Morella; and Micaela del Monte from the European Parliament. The case will be argued by Michael Klotz of Jones Day; Law Librarian and Professor Teresa Miguel-Stearns of Yale Law School; and Eugene D. Gulland of Covington LLP. Assistance will be given by James Shapiro of Columbia University and Michael Kahn of the Shakespeare Theatre Company. This event is the last of three events hosted by the Law Library to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish Ghetto in Venice.
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Ynetnews News – The nuclear batteries and the secret listening devices

Ynetnews News – The nuclear batteries and the secret listening devices

His name was Zalman Shapiro, a member of a family of Holocaust survivors living in America; only now, a year after his death, did his great secret see the light of day: nuclear batteries he invented were used to operate secret listening equipment the IDF planted in enemy territory.

He was a Jewish-American scientist, a member of a family of Holocaust survivors who linked his fate with Israel and supplied it with special nuclear batteries that helped win the Six-Day War. On Monday, about a year after his death, the great secret of Prof. Zalman Shapiro was revealed.

The captivating story of Shapiro, who was 96 years old at the time of his death, was revealed Monday in the Tribune Review in a series of interviews with journalist Mary Ann Thomas. Shapiro was the owner of a large nuclear equipment manufacturing company. In the interview, he said that a year before the Six Day War, he supplied Israel with nuclear batteries that were used by its intelligence community. They were intended for long-term operation of sophisticated listening devices deep in the Arab home front.

Thomas claims in the article that the information obtained from the secret facilities operated by the batteries paved the way for Israel’s crushing victory in the Six-Day War. According to her, former Mossad official Rafi Eitan approved the transfer of batteries to Israel.

According to foreign reports, the Sayeret Matkal Special Forces unit was the one that planted the listening devices in the heart of the Arab states. One of the devices, which was set up by Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amiram Levin, is displayed in the Museum of the Yom Kippur War in Cairo.

Many of the details exposed in the article were made known to Yedioth Ahronoth ten years ago, in a series of interviews I had with the late Meir Amit, who was the head of the Mossad during the Six-Day War. The interviews dealt with Israel’s intelligence preparations for the war, but were rejected over the years by censorship.

So who is Zalman Shapiro, the man to whom Israel owes so much? He was an inventor, and a genius in chemistry and physics. He was born in Ohio to a religiously observant family, some of whom perished in the Holocaust. During his scientific career, he was one of the reactor developers of the first nuclear submarine, he developed nuclear fuels of various kinds and registered countless patents. He was the owner of the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp (NUMEC), which operated in the city of Apollo, Pennsylvania, and manufactured nuclear equipment.

In the past, it was suspected that hundreds of kilograms of fissionable material of military quality had disappeared from his company’s warehouses and had been smuggled into Israel. He denied, was not tried, but at the same time, was not cleared of the suspicions until the day of his death.

The special batteries he supplied to the listening facilities were developed at Mound Laboratories in Ohio in 1954 and were considered a scientific revolution. They were used by satellites, spacecrafts and weather monitoring stations in remote and hard-to-reach areas, such as Antarctica. To this day, NASA spacecrafts like Voyager 1 and 2 that departed earth about 40 years ago are still powered by these batteries.

It is a kind of a small nuclear reactor that runs on a material called strontium-90, which can generate a high level of energy over many years. Shapiro’s company developed a tiny version of this mechanism for the operation of pacemakers as well.

Shapiro said in an interview that a year before the Six-Day-War, Mossad chief Meir Amit got in touch with him: “He could feel that Egypt was planning something and therefore, wanted Israel to have the ability to gather intelligence about the Egyptian army.” According to him, Amit asked him to supply the batteries in favor of tiny listening devices that would connect to telephone lines and wireless transmissions. “The batteries had to be strong enough to convey the information and had to have a range to pick up what the Egyptians were saying to their allies.”

Shapiro revealed that his company sent at least one technician to Israel to make sure the batteries were working. He said that he helped Israel not only on this issue, but also on many other issues. At the same time, he refused to elaborate stating they were still classified.

Shapiro said he also had contact with former Mossad senior official Rafi Eitan, whom he met in 1968 during his visit to the US. He said the CIA and the FBI knew about Eitan’s arrival in the United States and the purpose of his visit. “When I visited the factory in the 1960s,” Eitan told the American newspaper, “there were very few people in the world who knew how to produce these batteries.”

Oscar Gray, vice president of NUMEC at the time, approved the supply of batteries to Israel. According to him, the Israelis claimed, at least overtly, that they needed batteries for weather forecasting, but he supposed these were telephone line-tapping devices.

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4972258,00.html

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