How American Independence Democratized Judaism, Too |

How American Independence Democratized Judaism, Too |

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.

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.,7340,L-4972258,00.html

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Can an alphabet merging Hebrew and Arabic promote coexistence? – Israel News –

Can an alphabet merging Hebrew and Arabic promote coexistence? – Israel News –

Middle East peace may remain out of reach, but at least the Hebrew and Arabic languages have found a compromise.
Israeli typography designer Liron Lavi Turkenich has created a stylized writing system that merges the two ancient alphabets, allowing Hebrew and Arabic speakers to read the same words. Her hope is that Aravrit will promote coexistence in Israel and beyond.
“I believe Aravrit sends a message that we’re both here, and we might as well acknowledge each other,” Turkenich told JTA. “That applies to Jews and Arab Israelis, but also to Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and the Arab world.”

Israelis have been receptive. Over 1 million people have watched a Hebrew-language video introducing Aravrit since it was posted last week on Facebook by Kan, Israel’s new broadcasting authority. Dozens left positive comments. A version of the video with English subtitles was released Monday.
“I think maybe this explains the crazy success of the Hebrew video: We can do something caring for the other side just by reading, without having a solution,” Turkenich said.

Turkenich, 32, was inspired to create Aravrit by the road signs in Haifa, the mixed Jewish and Arab city where she was born and has lived most of her life. Although many of the signs feature Arabic — along with Hebrew and English — she realized that she had always ignored the lettering, which like most Israeli Jews she cannot read.

For her final undergraduate project, Turkenich set out to combine Hebrew and Arabic lettering in a way that would allow them to “live together,” as she put it. She started by revisiting the work of French ophthalmologist Louis Émile Javal, who in the late 19th century found that people can read pretty well using only the top half of Latin letters. With some experimenting, Turkenich discovered that the same is true of Arabic — and by happy coincidence, the opposite holds for Hebrew.

“In Hebrew, most of the identifying characteristics of letters’ forms are near the bottom part,” she said. “When I went to check Arabic, I crossed my fingers that they would be on the top half — and they were!”

Based on this insight, Turkenich combined each of the 22 letters in Hebrew with each of the 29 in Arabic to create an Aravrit alphabet with 638 characters. Vowels are used as needed for legibility — below the Hebrew letters and above the Arabic ones, per the languages’ respective rules. Turkenich tested the Hebrew elements on herself and her friends. For advice on the Arabic, she turned to Arab-Israeli commuters on her daily train ride from Haifa to Tel Aviv.

“Whenever I heard someone speaking Arabic, I would ask them if they had time to answer a few questions. They always said yes,” she recalled, noting that she now has Arab friends who help.
Aravrit’s letters can be combined to form words or sentences. A Hebrew-speaker should be able to read the bottom half or the words, and an Arabic-speaker should be able to read the top half. For example, the Aravrit word for “peace” would say “salaam” on top and “shalom” on the bottom.

Since graduating in 2012 from Shenkar, a college of engineering, design and art in Ramat Gan, Turkenich has further developed Aravit into a writing system. She has incorporated alternative forms of letters in both languages — some Hebrew letters take on a different form at the end of words — and connected the Arabic elements in traditional cursive style. The changes have given her the flexibility to craft each word in a unique way, and she is working on writing down the rules.

Turkenich said she gets lots of requests to write Aravrit, including recently from the head of a small mostly Jewish city in Israel that she declined to name. She also teaches and gives lectures about her work in Israel and around the world. Aravrit is currently on exhibit at The Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures in Beersheba.

Language of course can be a political issue in the Jewish state. Hebrew and Arabic both have sacred roots, and are central to the identities at stake in the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Earlier this month, Israeli ministers backed a bill that would constitutionally enshrine the country’s Jewish status and make Hebrew the only official language, demoting Arabic from that status — and, critics say, further marginalizing the 20 percent of Israelis who are Arab.

But Turkenich said her goal is to build on the languages, not subvert them. In Aravrit — itself a hybrid of the Hebrew words for Arabic and Hebrew — sentences follow the grammar rules of Arabic on top and Hebrew on the bottom, she noted, and the lettering retains the most prominent features of each script. A word like “peace,” for example, would read as “salaam” on top and “shalom” on bottom.

“Both Hebrew and Arabic have incredible histories. We should not erase them,” she said. “It’s the same as the political situation: We can’t start from scratch.”

Arabs are not the only Israeli minority group Turkenich is interested in. While earning a master’s degree in typeface design from England’s University of Reading in 2015, she developed a typeface called Makeda, the name Ethiopians use for the Queen of Sheba, which works for Amharic, Hebrew and Latin letters. She hopes it will be used for Israeli government and legal documents relevant to the country’s 135,000 Ethiopian Jews.

“Makeda is a little less idealistic than Aravrit,” Turkenich said, laughing. “That was me growing up.”

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Books, khaki shorts and falafel: The life of young Israelis in the state’s first decade

Books, khaki shorts and falafel: The life of young Israelis in the state’s first decade

There was no television, but the radio was very popular; there wasn’t much to eat except for the national dish; people didn’t go on dates and were married at a very young age; between the growing pains and initial exposure to Americanization in the State of Israel’s first years, the young generation made the most of a confusing reality of shortages and new hope.

Forget about clubs, bars, Tinder, restaurants, after-army trips abroad, joints or living with roommates. Israel in its first decade was a poor country in a tough austerity period whose young residents were shaped according to split norms: On one hand, the state was in its infancy and was experiencing growing pains.

On the other hand, society was in the initial stages of exposure to Americanization and was developing trends and a character of its own, blending values of populations from a variety of places around the world.

The young people of Israel at the time made the most of a confusing reality of shortages and new hope. With Israel’s recently having celebrated its 69th birthday and based on conversations with experts in the field, here are the stories of a poor and undoubtedly more naïve youth in a country that was just getting started.

Culture, recreation and leisure
“When it comes to the culture of recreation, that varied from one neighborhood to the next,” said professor Orit Rozin, a senior lecturer at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Jewish History, “and it’s also a matter of social class. In the 1950s, there were bourgeois societies—members of the middle class who met on Fridays to listen and dance to Western music from gramophones. Pioneering youth groups had different patterns. They got together to dance, but it was folk dancing. They had reading groups, and they discussed new books and songs.”

Prose and poetry played an important part in leisure. Authors and poets were more important people at the time, and so people (not just young ones) spent time discussing Hebrew literature. Youth always review ideas, as well as each other—on issues related to clothing, self-fulfillment or moving to a kibbutz.

Many of them left their social circles to pursue higher education, following pressure from their parents, and moved to Tel Aviv—where American films arrived first and where the cinemas were packed.

Everyone flocked to the cinemas. Often, it was hard to get tickets to certain movies because of the high demand, but there were always scalpers selling tickets for a profit. Israeli films were hardly produced in the country until the early 1960s, when the country’s film industry began developing.

Those who didn’t go to the cinema hung out on the street. The young ones went out to buy a glass of locally made soda at the corner store or check out display windows. In complete contradiction to today, cafés were frequented predominately by adults.

There was no television at the time, but lots of people had radios. Those who didn’t went to neighbors’ houses to listen, thanks to the importance of good relations with the community.

Community activity was an important thing, both for adults and for the younger generation. Belonging to a youth group helped reduce feelings of loneliness and exclusion and facilitated a social life.

Work or school?
In the 1950s, high school wasn’t funded by the state. Those who enrolled had the money and the means to do so. Others started working at the early age of 14.

Due to the mass immigration at the beginning of the decade, poor families preferred to send their children to work rather than provide them with an education. Waiting tables was a serious profession reserved for adults. The youth worked as salespeople, switchboard operators and newspaper sellers. Others trained in manual labor like metalworking.

“The situation was slightly more similar to India than to Israel today,” said Rozin. “Children carrying baskets in the market, working in the morning and studying in the afternoon. The gaps between the children of Tel Aviv and elsewhere were very big. Laws were enacted in the 1950s to regulate child labor and apprenticeship. There were many laws protecting children in terms of labor.

“Waking up every morning and sending the child to school was considered a Western practice. It all depended on the immigrants’ socioeconomic background and where they came from. It was clear that families from Baghdad or Basra would send their children to school, while families from non-central communities or villages in the East would raise illiterate children.

“The Yemenite community is a more unusual case in which the girls didn’t learn to read or write. It was a small group, which did not reflect the entire group of immigrants, but there was great economic distress and very little assistance. It was more important for the parents to send their child to work.”

As it was a period of austerity, there wasn’t much to eat. Restaurants didn’t function as a center of recreation, and people didn’t go out to eat in the evenings. Restaurants provided lunch to people who didn’t go home during their workday or to single people who couldn’t cook. Their role was purely practical. Street stands offered hot corn on the cob, and Tel Aviv also had places that sold hot dogs. Pizza was nowhere to be found, and steakhouses arrived only later.

In general, meat was a luxury. People rarely ate meat for lunch and dinner in the same day. Cafés served coffee, tea and cake. There were ice cream stands on the street, but the variety of flavors was limited. The most accessible national food was falafel. It wasn’t hummus at this stage, and there was a clear reason for that.

“In general, Israel’s Jews were introduced to hummus in the 1950s, although there were those who were familiar with it earlier,” said Dr. Dafna Hirsch of the Department of Sociology, Political Science and Communication at the Open University of Israel, who has researched the issue.

“It’s hard to answer the question of how ‘the rest of the population’ saw hummus, because there are always differences in different groups’ attitude to types of food,” she explained, “but I can say that the young ones were the first to take a liking to dishes like falafel and hummus. In the early stage, they were considered as harmful and filthy dishes which one should stay away from, and that made them more tempting, of course. In the 1940s, the Tel Aviv Municipality waged an all-out war on falafel sellers, who used to offer the food near schools.”

In the 1950s, there were already Mizrahi restaurants in Israel owned by immigrants from Arab countries, which served hummus and shish kebab. In the young country, which was dominated by immigrants from Europe, these restaurants were seen as dirty and noisy places. The hummus restaurants’ clientele was comprised of men, mostly those who worked far from home.

“Falafel was considered a ‘national dish’ way before hummus,” said Hirsch. “The ‘Falafel Song’ was written in 1957, although it doesn’t refer to it as a national dish. We should make a distinction between popularity and the definition of a certain dish as a national dish.

“From the early 1950s, the food industry began producing canned hummus and falafel powder, explicitly defining them as national dishes as part of its marketing efforts. But at least until the 1980s, falafel—rather than hummus—was considered the Israeli national dish. It may be because it was popular among the Jewish public way before hummus—in as early as the 1930s. I assume it has to do with the fact that it was often sold by Mizrahi Jews, who learned how to make it from the Arabs.

“In Tel Aviv, for example, in the British Mandate era, there were already quite a few men who were selling falafel from a street cart or stand—both Arabs and Jews. Hummus began receiving its proper place and status towards the end of the 1950s.”

With the absence of OkCupid, Tinder and other applications, the young citizens of Israel did the impossible and were forced to get acquainted organically. Most of the meet-cutes took place inside a framework, like at school, in the army, in a youth movement or in a kibbutz. The word “dating” did not exist.

As a matter of fact, the concept of going out on a date was quite unclear at the time; “date,” now a crucial part of the Hebrew lexicon, was still a foreign term. A boy invited a girl to the cinema, and after a while they defined themselves as “going steady.”

In more serious cases (like a single 25-year-old woman!), a matchmaker’s help was required. In many cases, the mother would go behind her daughter’s back. The less attractive ones turned to newspaper ads.

The overwhelming majority of young Israelis got married at a young age. Homosexuality was forbidden, and anyone suspected of being gay was socially ostracized.

The parents’ homes were small, and their children who went to university left them in for student dorms, also so that they would have a place for sexual encounters. Not that there were many dorms, as there were not that many universities at the time.

Tel Aviv and Bar-Ilan universities didn’t exist yet, so student life was centered at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The Technion in Haifa already existed—it was the first university in Israel—but there people were busier studying than hooking up—or so people thought.

Alcohol and drugs
It’s hard to define the young Israelis of those days as hard drinkers, especially compared to today’s drinking culture. There were popular bars, but they were considered gloomy, and so was their location.

Decent people didn’t go to bars. Bohemians sat there a lot, actually. It’s not that there was no liking for beer, but it mostly depended on a person’s descent. Immigrants from Germany liked the beverage, and drinking it at home wasn’t considered unusual.

As for drug consumption habits, that was a slightly different story. “Until 1948, hashish dealing and consumption were limited to the Arab Palestinian community,” explained professor Haggai Ram, a historian at Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Middle East Studies.

“Unlike the Jewish population, all members of the new Yishuv who arrived from Europe stayed away from it, mostly because the knowledge on cannabis that they had been exposed to described hashish as an Arab oriental substance that should be avoided, just like white Americans at the exact same time stayed away from marijuana and cannabis because it was associated with minorities like Mexicans and black people.

“In other words, members of the middle class tried to stay away from any Arab characteristic. Moreover, experts believed at the time—whether in Palestine or in other areas like the British Empire—that cannabis had a direct link to violence, madness and crime. So the Jews of Palestine/the Land of Israel made sure to stay away from it.”

Drug dens (which could have also been regular cafés, but were described that way in the press, as it was still considered indecent) were owned by Arabs. Israel’s Arab citizens smoked in the mixed cities of Jaffa and Haifa together with a small number of death camp survivors, who likely turned to drugs following failed treatment.

The situation changed after the state’s establishment upon the arrival of the waves of immigration from Arab countries.

“Jews came here from Arab countries and found out that they were criminals because hashish had always been an inseparable part of their leisure and gastronomic culture,” said Ram. “It wasn’t an epidemic or a mass phenomenon. But even the government in Israel used it as an axe to grind, to create a separation between Jews of European descent and Jews of Mizrahi descent.

“Basically, through hashish, they criminalized … the Mizrahi Jews. The assumption was that it contributed to their laziness and to their insanity, and it was essentially used to reject any expression of dissatisfaction and protest on the immigrants’ part against discrimination and the way they were being treated.”

Openness to hashish arrived only in the 1960s with the beatniks who came to Israel from the United States and Europe and encouraged Israelis to consume the brown substance. Once again, the Tel Aviv bohemia was among the first to join the trend.

In the 1950s, cannabis was considered a hard drug, just like cocaine, morphine or heroin. These drugs were also attainable in Israel of the 1950s, arriving from Turkey, Iran and sometimes Egypt

There were few pets at the time, but they did exist. Cats were not particularly popular household pet at the time, but dogs were. In fact, having a dog was considered part of Hebrew culture in the nascent state, and the British were fond of them too.

The public libraries were very popular, offering books in a variety of languages, but mainly in German, English and Russian. At this stage, many Israelis didn’t speak very good Hebrew yet, and when they had finally learned the language, another wave of immigration would arrive.

Classic literature, like Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway, was translated. More popular literature included comic books and mainly magazines. Cheap paperbacks included westerns, Tarzan and pornographic Stalag fiction.

“Youth and people at military enlistment age were the target audience of all these books,” said Hemi Sheinblat, a researcher of Americanization processes in Israeli culture in the late 1950s and 1960s. “They were read a lot, sold in newspaper stands, and every book was passed from hand to hand until it was worn out.

“It was mostly a business of publishers, not writers. They hired young people to write these books based on very schematic models, through films they watched that were very popular and through magazines. Pulp fiction from Europe was translated.

“The cowboy figure and Tarzan underwent an adaptation. The American ethos of an individual working to serve the public matched the dominant ethos of Israeliness in a way. The books were a very urban phenomenon that spread to other areas, too.”

Similar to today, there was a housing crisis. People would rent a room from a family as subtenants. The homes of deported Palestinians were destroyed during the war. The crisis lasted until the late 1950s.

There were two main styles: bourgeois and simple. Members of the Labor Movement wore khaki shorts and a white shirt. The middle class wore the finest fashions Europe had to offer. Fashion magazines arrived in Israel, and local girls learned how to dress. The problem was austerity, which was why men and women had very few clothes in their closets.

There was a discrepancy between people’s need to look modest and their need to look good when they left the house. Some believed it was more important to dress up and look good than to eat well because while appearance was important—no one knew what they ate at home.

Men had separate suits for weekdays and for Shabbat. Girls who were members of youth groups dressed according to the social code: short pants with bare legs. In 1964, Christian Dior announced the New Look, but in poor and modest Israel people still wore suits from the 1940s because that’s all they had. On the other hand, Israel exported clothes, such as knitwear, furs and swimsuits.

The clean and organized look was prevalent, and elderly people weren’t very fashionable at that point in time. Moustaches, on the other hand, were welcome.,7340,L-4960800,00.html

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