Israel reports record immigration of Jews from France in 2015


A record number of French Jews moved to Israel this year, an immigration official said on Thursday, citing anti-Semitic violence and economic insecurity in the European country as causes.

France has the largest Jewish population in Europe, having grown by nearly half since World War Two to some 550,000. The community has been jarred by an increase in security threats and Islamist militant attacks such as January's gun rampage at a Paris kosher market that killed four Jews.

Israel's quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, which encourages immigration, said some 7,900 French Jews had relocated to Israel in 2015, a 10 percent increase from the previous year.

“Each has his or her reason, including the economic crisis, personal security, terrorist attacks, and, in some places and times, an anti-Jewish mood,” agency spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

Though not final, the immigration figure falls short of Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky's prediction after the kosher market attack following the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January that more than 10,000 French Jews would move to Israel this year.

Palmor said wider Jewish immigration to Israel reached a 15-year high in 2015, with around 30,000 new arrivals. He noted a high number of arrivals from economically troubled Russia and civil war-torn Ukraine.

European rabbis: Shechitah could come under legislative attack in EU


A prominent European rabbinical group has warned that kosher slaughter could come under further attack this year in European Union countries.

“Many European Jewish communities are not aware that shechitah could be put in danger,” Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, wrote Tuesday in an email sent to multiple recipients.

The danger, he wrote, stems from governments’ reliance “on deeply flawed, agenda-led research when making policy.”

Goldschmidt pointed out that EU member countries are required to replace domestic laws on religious slaughter by January 2013 with European Regulation 1099, a set of new regulations meant to ensure animals do not experience “unnecessary suffering” at or near the time of the slaughter.

While the regulations allow exception for religious slaughter, they also allow “a certain level of subsidiarity,” or discretion, to each member state.

Goldschmidt noted the planned change in Estonia’s laws on ritual slaughter.

Last week an Estonian government official told JTA that Estonia would change its current laws on religious slaughter because the rituals “do not take new scientific knowledge into account.” There was no plan to ban the practice, she said.

The official added the change would be based on the EU-funded DialRel report of 2010, which states that kosher slaughter, or shechitah, causes higher risk, pain and suffering in animals than methods that involve stunning. Jewish religious law requires animals to be conscious when their necks are cut.

“European governments are increasingly making reference to the DialRel project as part of their implementation of European Regulation 1099,” Goldschmidt said. “Faith communities rejected the methodology and findings of DialRel in 2010 when it failed to properly engage with them.”

The report “was mentioned in the context” of the Dutch Parliament’s 2011 vote to ban shechitah, Goldschmidt noted. The Dutch Senate scrapped the measure in June.

Shechitah is banned in Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland. Along with Estonia, countries that impose post-cut stunning include Finland, Denmark and Austria.

European anti-Semitism and xenophobia are linked, report finds


European anti-Semitism and xenophobia are linked, report finds

March 13, 2011

BERLIN (JTA)—Anti-Semitism and other forms of xenophobia are closely linked among Europeans, and Hungarians and Poles are the most likely to hold extreme anti-Semitic views, according to a new report.

The report, “The State of Intolerance, Prejudices and Discrimination in Europe,” was released March 11 in the framework of a conference by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a think tank associated with the Social Democratic Party in Germany. The foundation commissioned the new evaluation of a 2008 survey by researchers at the University of Bielefeld of about 1,000 people in eight European countries: Germany, Poland, Holland, Great Britain, Italy,  Hungary and Portugal.

Asked whether they agree with the statement that “Jews have too much influence in my country,” 69.2 percent of Hungarians and 49.9 percent of Poles agreed. The lowest levels were in Holland, with 4.6 percent agreeing. Germany, with 19.6 percent, was in the middle, sociologist Beate Kuepper told JTA in a telephone interview.

Kuepper, Andreas Zick and Andreas Hoevermann evaluated the data for the foundation.

Scientists found that those with anti-Semitic tendencies also were likely to be xenophobic against other minority groups, including Muslims, as well as resentful of homosexuals and women, Kuepper said.

Kuepper said she was most surprised by the fact that Germany’s level of anti-Semitism was about average, given the strong public message against anti-Semitism, including the emphasis on Holocaust education. She also said that the results for Poland bore out those of previous studies, which show that religious-based anti-Semitism is extremely high there, at 70 percent.

Researchers find, she said, that “lots of Poles will agree” with the statement that Jews today can be blamed for the death of Jesus, “whereas in the Netherlands people would jump out of the phone if you ask them something like that.”

MUSIC: A klezmer wedding in a European shetl circa 1910



Former Cal student radio host (KALX) Eric Fixler writes:

This is the Oy Mendele! episode from December 2004, when we were still on KALX. It features music historian Craig Harwood and myself walking through the sequence of a traditional Eastern European Jewish wedding, with music of then and now.

It’s worth listening to just to hear Craig say ‘groovin’

This audio is part of the collection: Ourmedia

Author: Eric Fixler and Craig Harwood
Keywords: klezmer; wedding; jewish; yiddish; socalled
Creative Commons license: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

Satan in the Shtetl


“Great-grandma was a naughty girl,” says British filmmaker Ben Hopkins, whose feature debut, “Simon Magus,” is the tale of a Polish shtetl in peril.

The iconoclastic director’s single Jewish ancestor was the Eastern European mistress of an English gentleman in Vienna; in the 1910s, she moved to England to live with him and bear him (and other men) children. Her convent-educated daughter did not learn she was Jewish until she planned to marry. “Great-grandma told her she couldn’t wed in church, because she was Jewish,” says the Oxford graduate, who was raised as an atheist.

Nevertheless, around 1990, Hopkins says, “the Jews sitting around the samovar in our collective DNA came to life.” Grandmother began referring to herself as a Jew; father, an ancient historian, immersed himself in studies about first- and second-century Judaism; and Hopkins made an unexpected entry in his journal: “Make ‘Simon Magus’ a Jewish story.” “It was obviously written when I was drunk, as it is very scribbly,”confides the irreverent, award-winning filmmaker.

“Simon Magus,” the tale of a visionary outcast (Noah Taylor) who becomes a pawn in an anti-Semitic plot against his Jewish community, has an eerie, magical atmosphere reminiscent of the works of Yiddish author I.B. Singer. The movie, which stars Rutger Hauer and Embeth Davidtz (“Schindler’s List”) was inspired by the early Christian legend of Simon Magus, the Samaritan magician who attempted to buy himself a place among Christ’s disciples after Judas’s death. Hopkins, the struggling director, identified with the failed magician: “It quite accurately described my life at the time,” he says.

A coup for the director was casting prominent British thespian Ian Holm as Satan, a part that was relatively simple to write, Hopkins says.

“The devil is a fantastic character,” he explains. “God is a bit boring.”

“Stuart Magus” opens today at the Nuart in Los Angeles.

‘Haven’ for Sweeps


“Haven” is an intriguing but seriously flawed depiction of how nearly 1,000 European refugees were transported and admitted to the United States in 1944, which CBS-TV will present as a four-hour miniseries on Feb. 11 and 14 at 9 p.m.

The film is based on the remarkable experiences of Ruth Gruber and her book “Haven.” Gruber, now a vigorous 89, is a phenomenon who got her Ph.D. at 20, did stints as an Arctic explorer and foreign correspondent, and became special assistant to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes during the Roosevelt administration.

In June 1944, Ickes asked Gruber to fly to Naples, recently taken by the U.S. army, and escort the predominantly Jewish refugees, who were being admitted to the United States as a one-time gesture by Washington.

The first part of the miniseries chronicles the refugees’ 13-day voyage, threatened by Nazi air and submarine attacks and marked by friction with wounded GIs sharing the ship, as well as among the Jews from 18 different countries.

The second part shows the refugees after their arrival in a former army camp in Oswego, N.Y., where they are held for 18 months. Gruber fights doggedly with the Washington bureaucracies to grant more freedom to the refugees and allow them to stay in the United States after the war.

Natasha Richardson (Vanessa Redgrave’s beautiful daughter) acquits herself well in the demanding role of Gruber. Her screen mother is Anne Bancroft, forced to play the stereotypical Jewish mama, always worried about her daughter’s travel and eating habits, wondering aloud when she’ll get married.

Martin Landau plays Gruber’s father, a quiet man (no wonder), but a devoted husband and pal to his daughter. Hal Holbrook is Ickes and Henry Czerny, Colm Feore and Tamara Gorski are among the more noticeable refugees.

Outstanding in a minor role is Luke Kirby as a refugee boy who quickly adjusts to American ways.So much for the good news.

On the downside, screenwriter Suzette Couture and director John Gray apparently could not resist the temptation to insert gratuitous flashbacks of a torrid love affair between Gruber and a German student, which Gruber herself describes as more innocent. But that’s show biz.

Also annoying is the advertising campaign for “Haven,” which features a determined-looking Natasha, surmounted by the words “Her Courage Saved a Thousand Lives.”

As Gruber is the first to acknowledge, she escorted the preselected refugees from Naples, she did not save them. Again, the usual Hollywood hype, which does no harm, except to cheapen the deeds of those who actually risked their and their families’ lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.

But there are deeper flaws. The most puzzling one is the apparent decision by the filmmakers to initially portray almost all the U.S. soldiers and the people of Oswego as a bunch of anti-Semites.

Sure, there was lots of prejudice against Jews, both as refugees and within the U.S. army — to both of which I can testify. But to smear almost all Americans of that generation with the broad brush of anti-Semitism is not only inaccurate but finds no justification in Gruber’s book.

In addition to numerous acts of personal kindness by both soldiers and townspeople, Gruber reports in her book the words of one of Oswego’s leading Jewish citizens that with few exceptions, “the town’s reaction to the refugees has been nearly one hundred percent favorable.”

The kindest explanation one can give for this unfair slanting is that the filmmakers wanted to dramatize the later “conversion” by once hostile soldiers and civilians as they got to know the refugees better.CBS will air “Haven” in two-hour installments, starting at 9 p.m. Sun., Feb. 11, and continuing Wed., Feb. 14.

Tropical Transplants


Though Christopher Columbus stumbled onto the shores of the Dominican Republic more than 500 years ago, the city of Sosua, only a few miles from where he landed, is about to celebrate its 60th anniversary.
When a group of 40 Jews climbed ashore, bereft of their possessions and loved ones and surrounded by jungle, they couldn’t help but wonder what was in store.

“I could see some houses. I was surprised when I saw lights,” said Martin Katz, 82, one of the original Jews to settle in Sosua, along the north coast of the Dominican Republic, in 1940.

Two years earlier, while the Evian Conference on Refugees was taking place in France, ships carrying fleeing European Jews were being turned away from safe harbors, and the doors of asylum were slamming shut around the world.

Within a month after the conference, during which delegates from 32 countries expressed sympathy for refugees but few opened their doors to them, the Dominican Republic’s dictator, Gen. Rafael Trujillo, offered to issue visas and resettle up to 100,000 Jewish refugees.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee helped organize resettlement efforts and made an initial investment of $200,000, which was to be paid back as the community became self-supporting. The purchase agreement with Trujillo, transferring the land to the settlement association and granting citizenship and religious freedom to all refugees, was signed in January 1940.

Over the next few years, more than 600 Jews came to Sosua, mainly from Germany and Austria. After learning the basics of farming, settlers were given opportunity to purchase 80 acres of land, 10 cows, a mule and a horse, explained Katz, who recalled paying $10 per month for his low-interest homestead loan.
The Sosua Jews built workshops, a sanitation system and a clinic. They established a school and a dairy, Productos Sosuas, both of which are still in use today. They brought malaria under control too, said Katz, who managed the dairy for 29 years and “made very good cheese.”

The transition from urban sophisticate to tropical farmer was not easy, and once the war ended, many Jews emigrated to the United States. Those who stayed have developed Sosua into a thriving tourist center, where the cultures of visitors and locals alike intersect readily – as do streets with names like Calle Dr. Rosenberg and Calle David Stern.

The shul, built by settlers, contrasts rather sharply with Sosua’s barrio of El Batey. The grounds of the temple, shaded by palm fronds and bordered by tall hibiscus, offer respite from the brutal Caribbean sun and incessant buzzing of motorcycle taxis as they weave among cars. The beat of salsa and merengue is palpable everywhere.

The small Jewish community, numbering “a few dozen,” according to one resident, meets occasionally for services and for Chanukah, Purim and Passover celebrations. For the past couple of years – since a visiting rabbi and cantorial student from Buenos Aires returned home after spending a year each with the congregation – lay leaders have conducted services.

Locals are familiar with the synagogue and quickly offer directions when asked. In response to a question about Jews in his country, a non-Jewish Dominican businessman said, “We have Jews,” and rattled off a few names. “Well, they are Dominicans,” he said, “but their roots are Jewish.”

Besides a handful of original settlers, now in their mid-80’s and 90’s, some children and grandchildren of settlers remain and have made their lives in Sosua.

Felix Koch, 82, still runs his guesthouse with his native Dominican wife, Gloria. Of his life he says, “The past is the past. I am here. I am at peace. I am happy.”

Labor Lore


In 1776, printers in New York City organized and declared a strike in support of the newly formed United States of America.

In 1999, New York physicians led the fight to form a national labor organization in their field.Between these dates, millions upon millions of workers built America’s premier city, fought against sweatshops and exploitation, and set the pattern for the nation’s labor union movement.

Throughout the 20th century, as the modern city took shape, waves of cheap immigrant labor built the vast infrastructure of skyscrapers, bridges, subways and factories that undergirded the city’s growth and wealth.Immigrants provided the sinews for the gargantuan effort, with some 17 million newcomers arriving at the port of New York between 1880 and 1919. They came from every European country, but the largest ethnic wave consisted of Russian and other East European Jews, who, by 1920, accounted for one in every four New Yorkers.

They came to play an extraordinary role on the picket line and in the leadership of the labor movement, and later in the struggles for civil and women’s rights.

Among the book’s “resonant voices and images that evoke the chutzpah, tenacity, creativity, and fire of working New Yorkers,” in the authors’ words, are those of many Jews.

First, there is Samuel Gompers, who as a teenager organized his fellow cigar makers in the 1860s and later founded the American Federation of Labor, serving as its president for 37 years.

Another voice is that of Natalie Zuckerman, growing up in a working class home on the Lower East Side in the late 1910s and early 1920s, who recalls that “the toilet was out in the hall, and when you wanted to take a bath, the sink in the kitchen served as a washtub.”

Jewish workers founded their own associations, beginning with the United Hebrew Trades in 1888, which fought for better conditions for fur workers. The Arbeiter Ring (Workmen’s Circle) enshrined in its 1897 constitution the motto, “Let us help one another, while we build a better world for all.”

The Jewish Labor Committee was founded in 1934 by the needle trade unions to educate their fellow Americans about the spreading dangers of Nazism and fascism.

The handsome coffee-table book is profusely illustrated with 170 black-and-white photos, many never published before, and includes the words of hundreds of workers spanning the decades of the 20th century.To the two authors, the book represents a work of professional scholarship and filial devotion. Both work at New York University, Debra Bernhardt as director of the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, and Rachel Bernstein as a teacher in the public history program.

Bernhardt grew up in an extended Michigan family of unionized school teachers and iron miners. Bernstein, a native Angelena, is the daughter of Harry Bernstein, for many years labor editor of the Los Angeles Times, and Joanne Farrell Bernstein, who worked as a labor organizer in the South during the 1950s.

“Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives: A Pictorial History of Working People in New York City” by Debra E. Bernhardt and Rachel Bernstein. New York, New York University Press, 240 pp. $29.95.nIn 1776, printers in New York City organized and declared a strike in support of the newly formed United States of America.