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.


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

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

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.


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The Rabbi Who Tracked Down Nazis

The Rabbi Who Tracked Down Nazis

In the spring of 1965, about 30 members of the 500-person strong American Nazi Party discreetly met in a cramped apartment on 114th Street and Broadway in New York City. It had been two decades since the liberation of death camps throughout Eastern Europe and the horrifying apprehension of a lost six million. Nazis, their conspirators, sympathizers and passive supporters were alive and well, either in hiding and trying to avoid punishment, or—more often than not—slithering seamlessly back into society. While a handful of authentic former Nazis were gathered at the New York meeting along with like-minded individuals, so was a Jew. In fact, it was a rabbinical student—preparing to receive his ordination no more than 12 blocks away at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS)—who moved inconspicuously among them. Naturally, Barry Dov Schwartz had delivered a false name at the door while dressed in the detective’s trench coat he had purchased expressly for the occasion. To avoid eating the sandwiches and drinks he was offered, Schwartz feigned a stomach ailment, lingered in the back and waited for his moment.

When all were deemed present and the group moved to the living room to discuss the evening’s agenda, Schwartz snuck into the coat closet and rifled through each and every pocket. Opening wallets and scanning identification cards, Schwartz took down names, addresses and any other bit of information that could later help identify and track Nazis. He slipped out of the apartment unnoticed, immediately typed up a letter, and mailed the data to the man who had initially tipped him off about the meeting: Simon Wiesenthal.

“I always had a deep seeded hatred for Nazis,” Schwartz, 76 and retired after 50 years leading synagogues in New Jersey and Long Island, told me from his home in North Woodmere, New York. “I don’t know where that feeling came from. My parents were not Holocaust survivors. But ever since I was little, I was instilled with this flaming desire—not just to remember the Holocaust—I wanted to catch Nazis.” When pressed to further explain his motivation for taking such extreme actions at great personal risk, the signature smile, which perpetually plays across Schwartz’s face, disappeared. “Because, until this day,” he said, “I can’t conceive of how they got away with what they did.” After a short pause, he continued, “And when it came to anything related to Israel or defending Jews…I had no fear.” It was this innate boldness that lead Schwartz to Wiesenthal in the first place.

A year earlier, Rolf Hochhuth’s German drama, The Deputy, about Pope Pius XII’s relative ineffectiveness in protecting Jews being slaughtered “underneath his windows,” came to Broadway (eventually earning the 1964 Tony Award for best producer). Schwartz was then in his second year at JTS and had come into his own as a gifted writer, regularly publishing in newspapers, journals, and magazines. His topic of choice was the ongoing failure of international justice departments to locate, prosecute and hold Nazi war criminals accountable. Schwartz was breathless to expose the ongoing travesty of mass murderers walking free. One such article called The Vatican and The Holocaust, written in conjunction with acclaimed Columbia University Professor Salo Baron and published in the summer of 1964, centered on themes similar to The Deputy. “The fact that he did something,” Schwartz remarked, referring to Pope Pius, “meant that he could have done more. His defenders say he couldn’t make a public statement against the Nazis because it would jeopardize his ability to save people. They claim he hid some Jews in the Vatican. I say he could have hid more. A public statement would have saved hundreds of thousands.”

One day, shortly after the article began circulating, the phone rang. It was Zvi Kolitz, co-producer of The Deputy, with a proposal. In order to enhance and constructively focus the controversy surrounding the play, would Schwartz allow his article to be included in the playbill distributed at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre? Schwartz said of course and met Kolitz at the producer’s lavish West End Avenue apartment. Seeing how passionate and sincere Schwartz was about Nazis receiving retribution in full, Kolitz offered to connect the soon-to-be rabbi with Simon Wiesenthal, an acquaintance of Kolitz who also happened to be Schwartz’s hero.

“For someone who dreamed about hunting Nazis,” Schwartz told me, “finding out there was someone like Wiesenthal was a revelation. There was this guy—an everyman architect who left his business and wanted to devote his time to catching Nazis. Not out of revenge, but out of a sense of justice. And I had that same feeling.”

Schwartz was about to graduate JTS with excellent prospects, having been the 1965 Cyrus Adler Scholar; the award given to the top student at the seminary. Yet he wrote to Wiesenthal and offered to—at the very least—push off his rabbinical career and assist in the effort to capture Nazis.

“One day, I got a letter back,” Schwartz recalled. “[Wiesenthal] told me: ‘You continue to study Torah. We don’t need rabbis running around finding Nazis. I have people who do the capturing. But I do need people to take witness statements.’ And the term witness included both victim and perpetrator.”

Though Wiesenthal had warned the determined young rabbi to stay out of trouble, Schwartz occasionally found himself pushing the boundaries of his job description. Like on the night he infiltrated the American Nazi Party summit in New York City. And a few years later, when Schwartz traveled to New Brunswick to confront a “witness” whose name was supplied by Wiesenthal. By then, Schwartz was already serving as spiritual leader at Congregation Beth Mordecai in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Under pointed questioning from Rabbi Schwartz, the man admitted to his Nazi past.

“His name was Hyrsnik,” Schwartz proudly recollected. “I was one of the chaplains at nearby Rutgers University, so I knew the area and felt comfortable going. Years later, I got a call from the FBI asking me if it was true that I interviewed Hyrsnik. Asking me what my motive was. I was happy to tell them my motive as well as supplying a recording of the interview. They finally returned the tape to me many years later.”

Schwartz and Wiesenthal kept up their unlikely friendship until Wiesenthal passed away in 2005. “I remember the first time I met him,” Schwartz said, smiling at the memory. “It was 1966 and he told me he was coming to America. It was my first year in the military and I was driving a 1966 Mustang to get around the base—which was cool. I picked him up and took him to his hotel.”

Wiesenthal rewarded Schwartz’s commitment to the cause (and the friendship) by asking Schwartz to write the foreword to the 1976 edition of Wiesenthal’s book The Sunflower, first published in 1970. The book poses a moral and ethical question based on Wiesenthal’s life experience as a prisoner at the Lemberg Concentration Camp. A dying Nazi soldier’s final request was that a Jew be brought before him so he could ask forgiveness for his terrible crimes. The Jew randomly selected was Simon Wiesenthal and his response was silence. In the book, Wiesenthal wrestles with whether he did the right thing by walking away from the pathetic figure without answering. Was his silence too generous? Too cruel? Or the only reasonable reaction?

The current edition contains 53 responses to the dilemma from various thinkers, theologians, activists, and clergy of all religions and backgrounds.

In the foreword, Schwartz wrote:

The Sunflower is a question. It leaves us precisely where the fate of European Jewry must leave us: in a state of quandary, of bewildered uncertainty.


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From Blasphemy to Blasphemous: An Instructive Transition | ReformJudaism.org

From Blasphemy to Blasphemous: An Instructive Transition | ReformJudaism.org

On January 24, 1656, Jacob Lumbrozo, a Portuguese-born doctor and businessman, became the first documented Jew to settle in the Catholic colony of Maryland. Two years later, under provisions of the colony’s ironically named Toleration Act of 1649, which extended freedom of religion exclusively to Trinitarian Christians, Lumbrozo, himself a litigious person, was charged with blasphemy. He faced both severe economic sanctions and even punishment by death. Ten days after his trial began a general amnesty on such matters was proclaimed in England by the government of Richard Cromwell. The proceedings in Maryland were immediately terminated and the doctor was allowed to go free.

Blasphemy, however, was not outlawed in the colonies — or later in the United States — until the Supreme Court ruled in 1952 in Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson “that it is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine, whether they appear in publications, speeches or motion pictures.” Questions about the extent of freedom of religion remain unresolved to this day in United States and Jewish law with respect both to disestablishment and free exercise.

The Judaic concept of blasphemy, the basis for charges against Dr. Lumbrozo, can be traced back to this week’s Torah portion, Emor, in Leviticus 24:10-16. Here the Torah reports that during the Exodus, a man born of mixed Israelite-Egyptian descent “blasphemed the Name [of God],” was placed on trial, and was stoned to death. A law was then immediately promulgated that anyone, Jew or gentile, who blasphemed the name of God shall be put to death. However, in I Kings 21 we read a cautionary tale about how Queen Jezebel was responsible for having false charges of blasphemy fabricated to illegally obtain for her husband, King Ahab, a vineyard owned by a man named Nabot. Blasphemy, in the Hebrew Bible, is shown to be both a serious religious offence and a threat to the well-being of society.

In the early Rabbinic tradition an equally ambivalent view of blasphemy is evident. On the one hand, a prohibition against blasphemy is included as one of the Seven Laws of Noah (the Noahide laws), and therefore viewed as a cardinal offence for all of humanity and not just Jews alone. On the other hand, we read in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 7:5) that the penalty of stoning for the blasphemer applies only where he specifically used the Tetragrammaton (the four-letter name of God) to curse God. For both historical and theological reasons, the Rabbis desisted from prosecuting blasphemy as a capital crime, and instead evolved a system of public censure for a total of 25 serious religious offences and their proportionate punishments. For example, punishments such as nezifah, “verbal rebuke,”or niddui, “a seven-day period of limited social banishment or quarantine,” could be applied, and more familiarly, cherem, “lifelong excommunication,” could be imposed. Today, when we hear of anything from a simple act of impiety to gross misbehavior labeled as chilul HaShem, “desecration of the Name [of God],” it is an echo of an ancient, problematic biblical practice. Cherem continues to be widely practiced today, especially among various Orthodox groups.

As is well-known, anti-blasphemy laws also developed in Christianity and Islam, and punishments including the death penalty remain “on the books” in numerous countries. While the Torah defines blasphemy narrowly as “cursing God,” blasphemy rulings also came to include both laws that give redress to those who feel insulted because of their religion, and laws implicating those who denigrate or vilify religion in faiths that arose subsequent to Judaism. In some jurisdictions and traditions, the prohibition against blasphemy includes “hate speech” laws that extend beyond the imminent incitement of hatred and violence. On the other hand, blasphemy may or may not be invoked in the prosecution or refutation of heresy or heterodoxy. In some Christian circles, simply cursing or swearing is considered blasphemous. In some sectors of Islam, insults — or perceived insults — to the prophet Muhammad are considered blasphemy whether in word, deed, or image, including cartoons.

Accusations and the prosecution of blasphemy have also remained a part of Jewish life in the modern world. Perhaps the best-known case of blasphemy in its broadest sense in modern Jewish history was the excommunication of Baruch Spinoza on July 27, 1656 by the Talmud Torah congregation of Amsterdam at almost the same time Dr. Lumbrozo first settled in Maryland. Spinoza, then only 23 years old, was accused of “abominable heresies which he practiced and taught and about his monstrous deeds.” Reports of an apology by the young Spinoza have never been documented and he remains under cherem to this day.

Spinoza’s excommunication was hardly the last use of punitive ecclesiastical power in Jewish history. In the 18th century, the scholarly leader of the Lithuanian yeshivot, the Vilna Gaon, placed at least two Chasidic groups under cherem. In 1918, while under German control, rabbis in the Ukraine excommunicated Leon Trotsky, a Jewish-born Bolshevik and founder of the Red Army. On June 12, 1945 in New York City, the Agudat HaRabbanim formally excommunicated Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, and publicly burned copies of his prayer book. In 2006, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel placed the anti-Zionist group Neturei Karta under cherem for supporting an Iranian Holocaust denial effort. More recently, in February 2016 a Jerusalem rabbinic court excommunicated an Israeli scientist who refused to issue a get or “writ of divorce.” This is an important case because it goes beyond theological and ritual issues, and includes areas of domestic law and possibly domestic abuse, a civil offense.

Although little studied, there are also formal methods of punishment, shaming, and expulsion in general, non-halachic American Jewish life as well. Early in American Jewish history, synagogues regularly levied fines and even forbade membership either for “bad behavior” or failure to pay fines or dues. In the 19th century, traditional American rabbis were removed from their pulpits on suspicion of eating nonkosher food, holding unusual theological views (for example, Unitarian views), lack of responsiveness to lay authority, and general unpleasantness. Conservative rabbis have been banished from their rabbinic organization for officiating at mixed marriages and Reform rabbis have been suspended and expelled for a variety of offences including sexually predatory behavior and, in one case, murder.

Although at first blush, it would seem that we are culturally light years away from this week’s portion’s report of the first blasphemy case in Jewish history, and that charges of blasphemy are themselves blasphemous in the modern world, questions about religious norms and deviance persist in every aspect of life. Somewhere between “pick up the rocks and stone him to death” and “everything goes” there are paths appropriate for our time, place, and tradition. Figuring out the golden mean between justice and mercy, punishment and rehabilitation, and privacy and shame will never be easy but will always be necessary. Most importantly, how we enforce the borders of our beliefs and actions will ultimately reflect on who we really are as much as the nature of our ultimate values and the holiness of our most sacred traditions.


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i24NEWS – The dead live long

i24NEWS – The dead live long

‘Ownership’ of the Holocaust is a contentious issue in a country where all sectors compete over victimhood

“The dead live long,” says 88-year-old Ziuta Hartman in a new documentary retelling a relatively unknown chapter of the story of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. This heroic, but brief moment in Jewish history is of monumental importance, and the date it started was selected by the nascent State of Israel as the date on which the country would mark Holocaust Memorial Day, with a focus on the legacy to remember. But the question of who is to be remembered, remains.

Hartman’s cynical remark about the living dead came after she found out, shortly before her death, that for her whole life she had been registered as dead in the archives of the first Holocaust Museum in Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot (“Ghetto fighters”), established by the survivors of the uprising. The reason – Hartman, who was very much alive, belonged to the wrong political underground movement of Jewish fighters in the ghetto.

This was due to the deep divide between the two ideological groups in Poland – the left-affiliated youth movements, and the right-wingers who they viewed as fascists. Not even common faith in the ghetto and the looming danger of extermination were strong enough to bring those two together. Not for over 70 years.

The known narrative is partial. It glorifies the bravery of the Jewish Combat Organization, led by the legendary Mordechai Anielewicz and his friends, but completely omits the role of the other organization, the Jewish Military Union. Their role in the uprising was underplayed in favor of the socialist Jewish Combat group.

It is a known fact that survivors and winners write history. More of the leftist Jewish Combat survived and came as heroes to the then-new State of Israel, which was established by leaders with a socialist orientation. They were in charge of the narrative and gatekeepers at the doors of the pantheon of collective memory. The others were denied entry. Even after Professor Moshe Arens, former Minister of Defense from the Likud Party, published a book depicting the role of the other, more militant movement.

He had a good source for the book: the daily diary of Jorgen Stroop, the SS commander delegated by Himmler to put down the ghetto uprising. He knew. So did Polish historians. In Israel though, politics trumped all.

It took the makers of the movie, Simon Schechter and Yuval Haimovitch –Zusser seven years to complete their documentary because no foundation was willing to support it.

“The leaders of the Jewish Combat were willing to cooperate in the ghetto with communists, anti-Semites and anti-Zionists; just not with Beitar [the revisionist youth movement] who they defined as fascists,” says Arens, speaking to i24NEWS on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day. He still sounds bitter and angry talking about this distortion of this chapter in history of the Holocaust which is painful to many. And then he quotes George Orwell saying, “he who controls the past, controls the future.” It is not only about the narrative. When the Holocaust becomes a political tool, control of the past is more important than ever.

The underlying assumption that the Holocaust is the unifying factor in an otherwise torn Israeli society, is no longer true. Maybe it never was, but nobody dared talk about it. The sanctity of the Holocaust kept it away from domestic controversy, safely locked under the tight lid of common narrative.

n the age of post-truth, when these narratives disintegrate, an updated version of the Holocaust is being written in Israel. Some myths are undermined, and many options are on the table.

Popular wisdom says that the victims of the Holocaust were European Jews, meaning Jews of Ashkenazi origin. That is not what Sephardi Jews, mainly from North African countries have known for decades. They were also victims of the Nazis. History was on their side of the truth, but nobody listened. For years, Sephardi Jews – first and second generation – felt that Ashkenazi Jews appropriated Holocaust, with all its important symbolic and minor financial benefits.

Some prominent Sephardi voices bitterly reiterated this, saying: “their holocaust” in reference to Ashkenazi Jews. Theirs, i.e. that of Sephardi Jews, was “the forgotten Holocaust.”

Yet “From Benghazi to Bergen-Belsen” is not just a book recently published by Israeli author, Yossi Sucary, depicting the painful fate and extermination of Libyan Jews. It was their fate. Decades earlier, when they tried to claim their part in that tragedy, the Ashkenazi establishment responded saying they were hoping for a free ride by exploiting the Holocaust, and brushed them off.

It took 70 years for this historic distortion to be recognized and rectified by Israeli government. The unrecognized victims are now entitled to modest benefits (that seem to never reach all survivors), and the story of North African and Iraqi Holocaust is to be taught in all schools.

In a country where all sectors compete with each other over victimhood, the recognition means more than just making justice. It carves a new place for the incomers in the Israeli ethos.

But others choose to stay away from it. In an interview with a religious radio station, Aryeh Deri, the leader of the Sephardi orthodox party, recently said that the date chosen by the secular state to mark Holocaust Day, “does not compel us, the orthodox.” He did not mean that they don’t care – he just chose to stay out of the common circle of grief.

This is 2017’s version of Holocaust Memorial Day. In between, 12,000 survivors die every year, most in painful poverty and alone. The memory of the Holocaust is abused by politicians for political gain and often presented as the raison d’etre for the existence of the state. “I want to love this country for its sun and fruits and the Hebrew language,” says Holocaust historian Professor Hanna Yablonka. “I don’t need to love it as an alternative to Holocaust.”

The third and fourth generations will inherit the burden of redefining the commemoration of the Holocaust. One thing is for sure – it will be different.


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Smurfette latest victim of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox modesty wars – Israel News – Haaretz.com

Smurfette latest victim of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox modesty wars – Israel News – Haaretz.com

Apparently, small blue humanoids who live in mushroom-shaped houses are not exempt from the ultra-Orthodox community’s censorship. The latest victim of the bid to remove images of women from billboards in the Haredi-dominated Israeli city of Bnei Brak: A smurf – or, rather, a smurfette.

As part of the publicity campaign for the new film “Smurfs: The Lost Village” launched on Sunday, the PR company Mirka’im – Hutzot Zahav censored the image of a female smurf from billboards in Bnei Brak. The smurfette does appear alongside three male counterparts on other billboards throughout the country.

The company distributing the movie, Forum Film, said that the PR company decided not to hang the original poster in Bnei Brak in order not to harm residents’ sensibilities, adding that it is not accepted practice for images of women to appear on the city’s billboards.


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