Tomb of courageous Polish non-Jew is rededicated


The tombstone of a Polish woman who saved a Jewish woman by hiding her in the roof of her barn for two years during the Holocaust was rededicated with a Talmudic inscription.

Maria Jalowiec, who died in 1979, hid her neighbor Regina (Rivka) Wallach, who had managed to jump off a wagon after being rounded up by the Nazis, from 1942 to 1944.

Rivka’s son, Irving Wallach, who lives in Sydney, and her daughter, Sabina, of California, were present at the ceremony Sunday in Brzostek, Poland. They sponsored the renovation of the tomb after discovering it by chance last year.

Other family members traveled from Israel, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands to witness the event, which also marked the 70th anniversary of the roundup by the Nazis of the Jews of Brzostek. Most were shot in a mass grave.

A new memorial to the Jews of Brzostek and nearby villages who were shot by the Nazis also opened in the presence of the chief rabbi of Poland and Australia’s ambassador to Poland.

Irving Wallach said of the event, “It marks the righteousness and courage in saving life, that of a Jewish neighbor. Maria Jalowiec’s courage and her decision to save my mother’s life came at the risk of possibly sacrificing her family’s and her own life. Such people deserve to have their names and deeds shouted from the rooftops.”

Wallach and his sister included on Jalowiec’s tombstone the Talmudic dictum “Whoever saves one life, it as if he saved the whole world.”

He said he hoped to have Jalowiec included as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

Israeli yeshiva student drowns during Uman pilgrimage


An Israeli yeshiva student drowned on a pilgrimage to the grave of a Chasidic rabbi in the central Ukrainian city of Uman.

Eli Eliah, 19, drowned on Sept. 29, the first day of Rosh Hashanah, before the traditional Tashlich ceremony in a river that runs through the city, according to reports. Some reports said that he was immersing himself in the water to take a ritual bath before the ceremony, which is said to symbolically carry away one’s sins.

Some 32,000 Jews visited the grave of Reb Nachman of Bratslav, the founder and spiritual leader of the Bratslav Chasidic movement, in Uman this year to celebrate the Jewish New Year in an annual rite.

The Israel-based ZAKA Rescue and Recovery Organization, which was on call for medical emergencies in Uman, said in a news release that it attempted to resuscitate Eliah after one of the pilgrims, a former Israeli Navy SEAL, pulled the body from the icy water. ZAKA said it had tried for an hour to find the missing man.

The organization was working Sunday to have the body released for burial in Israel and to prevent an autopsy, which is against religious Jewish law.

Thousands of Jews from around the world flock to Uman each year to visit the grave of Reb Nachman, who was born in the city of Medzhybizh in 1772 and died in 1810 in Uman, which has become a mecca for Bratslavers, particularly on Rosh Hashanah.

Last year a 19-year-old Israeli yeshiva student was stabbed to death during a brawl during the pilgrimage.

Electricity cut to Rambam’s tomb


Visitors to the tomb of Jewish scholar and philosopher Moses Maimonides have been left in the dark.

That’s because the rabbis who manage the site in the Israeli city of Tiberias neglected to pay the electric bills over a long period of time.

The Israel Electric Corp. cut electricity to the site after the mounting bills passed the $11,500 mark.

Visitors usually come to pray at the tomb around the clock. The tomb currently is closed to night visitors due to what a sign on the tomb is calling “a power glitch.”

Maimonides, known as the Rambam, was born in Spain around 1138, where he wrote famous works of Jewish law, philosophy and medicine.

He died in Cairo in 1204 and his remains were said to be reburied in Tiberias, on the banks of the Sea of Galilee.

Iranian Islamicists threaten to destroy Esther’s tomb


A group of Islamists have threatened to destroy the tomb of Queen Esther in western Iran if Israel damages the al-Aksa mosque in Jerusalem.

The Islamists, members of the student Islamist militia at Bu-Ali-Sina university of Hamedan, were identified by the Iranian Mehr news agency, according to the French news agency AFP. They demonstrated Sunday at the tomb.

“Muslims beware that they have started the destruction of Al-Aksa mosque while their second sacred site in Iran, the Esther and Mordecai tomb, is at peace and no Muslims make a sound,” the protesters said in a statement.

Several construction and archeological projects on the Temple Mount have led Muslims to charge that Israel is purposely putting the al-Aksa Mosque in danger.

Up to 25,000 Jews live in Iran. Pilgrims regularly visit the Esther shrine.

Esther is the heroine of the Purim story, where she convinces her husband, King Achashverosh, to allow the Jews to defend themselves and live throughout the Persian Empire.

Dig this! Herod’s tomb found after 3-decade hunt


Ruthlessly lavish in his lifetime and a villain of Jewish and Christian narratives alike, the biblical King Herod has captured the world’s imagination anew with the discovery of his tomb outside Jerusalem.

Hebrew University archeologists on May 8 announced the find of the first century B.C.E. monarch’s grave, sarcophagus and mausoleum at the Herodium ruins in the Judean Desert after more than three decades of digging.

“This is the only site that carries his name, and the site where he chose to be buried and to memorialize himself — all of this with the integration of a huge, unique palace at the fringe of the desert,” said professor Ehud Netzer, team leader. “Therefore, the unearthing of his tomb marks the climax of research at this site.”

No human remains were among the relics, possibly due to grave robbers or what the university described as “nationalist vandalism” in ancient Judea. It said the sarcophagus and mausoleum had suffered extensive damage, apparently by Jewish zealots who waged a revolt against Roman occupiers in 66-72 C.E.

“The rebels were known for their hatred of Herod and all that he stood for as a ‘puppet ruler’ for the Romans,” the university said in a statement.

Herod, a convert to Judaism whom the Romans appointed king of Judea, was considered a great builder and administrator who dramatically expanded and renovated the Second Temple, refurbished the fortress at Masada, rebuilt water supplies for Jerusalem and built the cities of Caesarea and Herodium. He also is remembered as a ruthless ruler who did not hesitate to eliminate potential rivals, including one of his many wives and two of his children.

Herod’s outsized ego has an especially grim resonance for Christians: The New Testament records that upon hearing that a new messiah, or “King of the Jews,” would be born in Bethlehem, Herod ordered the slaughter of the town’s male children. Jesus survived, according to the Christian narrative, because his parents escaped to Egypt.

Herodium, which included a huge palace at the edge of the desert near Bethlehem, is where the king chose to be buried and memorialized.

Netzer, considered a world expert on Herodian architecture, began his search for Herod’s tomb more than three decades ago. After digging in various spots on Mount Herodium, Netzer said the team knew it was close to the tomb when they found the first pieces of a “monumental” sarcophagus made of hard limestone during excavations on the northeastern slope.

“There is only one or two of its kind found so far” in the country, Netzer said. “It’s not that every rich Jew or citizen of this time could afford it. It’s really a royal one.”

Netzer’s team of archeologists, Ya’akov Kalman, Roi Porath and local Bedouins, also unearthed part of a platform of dressed limestone — about 30-by-30 feet — that belonged to the mausoleum. Other “high-quality” artifacts found at the site included decorated urns similar to those found on burial monuments of the Nabatean culture.

No inscriptions have been found, but the team says circumstantial evidence — an account of Herod’s funeral at the site by the historian Josephus Flavius, the lucrative artifacts and remnants found and historical records indicating Herod’s decision to be buried there — points to this being the king’s burial site.

According to the archeologists, Herodium included a prefabricated “tomb estate” for the king, with a mikvah for ritual purification of the corpse. There also was a “monumental” flight of stairs — 20 feet wide — up which the bier was carried.

Josephus’ book, “The Jewish Wars,” describes the funeral at Herodium in detail. Herod’s son, Archelaus, Josephus wrote, “brought forth all the royal ornaments to accompany the procession in honor of the deceased. The bier was of solid gold, studded with precious stones and had a covering of purple, embroidered with various colors; on this lay the body enveloped in purple robe, a diadem encircling the head and surmounted by a crown of gold, the scepter beside his right hand.”

The find is one of the most important discoveries from the Second Temple period, said Oren Gutfeld, professor of classical archeology at the Hebrew University Institute of Archeology.
“Someone so famous, like Herod the Great, Herod the Builder, a dominant person in the history of Israel and who we know about so much from literary sources — from Josephus Flavius — and archaeological finds all over Israel and outside, it’s a diamond in the crown,” said Gutfeld, who had worked with Netzer at Herodium for three years and has seen the tomb remnants.

Stephen Pfann, president of the University of the Holy Land and a specialist in inscription studies and Second Temple historiography, said Netzer should be congratulated for finding sarcophagus fragments, which indicate “a tomb of someone on the ground who was very rich, affluent, perhaps of great honor.”

But “we don’t know whether Archelaus or one of the other sons was buried there with him,” Pfann said. “We don’t know whether the fragments of the sarcophagus might be of someone else. All we know from history is that he is the only one mentioned as being buried there.”

Ze’ev Weiss, also an archeology professor at the Institute of Archeology, said it seems logical that the tomb belonged to Herod, based on the discovery of the podium and pieces of the sarcophagus, combined with accounts of the funeral taking place at Herodium.

However, the archeological team and other experts say much excavation work still remains to be done at the site.

“In my mind, as an archeologist, there is nothing 100 percent,” said Weiss, who worked with Netzer in the 1980s in the Herodium area. “We have to work; we have to prove it, but still, when we take all the details, I would say there is a high percentage that this is Herod’s tomb.”

The Amazon’s magical mystery rabbi


Details of Rabbi Shalom Emmanuel Muyal’s mission and death in the Amazon remain obscure, but that’s nothing compared to the mystery of his afterlife.

Local Catholics have named him the Santo Judeu Milagreiro de Manaus, or the Holy Jewish Miracle Worker of Manaus. His tomb receives regular visits from Christians who attribute magic to his spirit.

Nobody can say for sure why Muyal set off from Morocco to the Brazilian Amazon in 1908. The most likely story seems to be that he was sent by Morocco’s chief rabbi to touch base with the rain forest faithful.

Like all travelers back then, Muyal began his Amazon expedition near the mouth of the river in the city of Belm, and worked his way upriver. By 1910, he had traversed the nearly 1,000 miles to Manaus, then a city of 50,000.

In his book, “Two Years Among the Indians,” German anthropologist Theodor Koch-Grunberg, who passed through the town a few years before the rabbi, warned of a “dangerous ‘Manaus fever,’ that nearly every year kills a quantity of foreigners.” Muyal caught something, probably yellow fever, and died on March 10, 1910.

Manaus didn’t have a Jewish cemetery until the 1920s, so Muyal was buried with non-Jews in the Sâo Joâo Batista Municipal Cemetery. In keeping with tradition, members of the Jewish community built a small wall around the tomb. The headstone featured inscriptions in Hebrew and Portuguese.

By all accounts, nobody really wanted to hang out at the rabbi’s deathbed — nobody except a woman named Cota Israel, who faithfully attended to Muyal until he died.

After the rabbi’s death, Israel developed a knack for helping people iron out kinks — muscle pulls, twisted ankles and knees, fractures and back problems.

“Just a common woman, she began to treat people as would a physical therapist today,” said Isaac Dahan, a doctor who also serves as the Jewish community’s prayer leader in Manaus.

There’s no record of when Muyal himself was first credited with miracles, but members of Manaus’ Jewish community born in the 1930s remember hearing stories about him when they were children.

Dozens of beneficiaries have attached plaques to the rabbi’s tomb. Most simply announce a “graãa alcanãada,” or miracle performed, without specifying the details. Most are not dated, but the oldest with a date is from July 18, 1975.

A few years later, around 1980, a member of Israel’s Parliament named Eliahu Moyal learned from a friend of the late miracle-performing rabbi in Brazil. Muyal determined that the man had been his long-lost uncle.

He sent a letter to the Amazonas Israelite Committee in Manaus asking whether the remains could be sent to Israel for reburial. After some soul searching, community leaders regretfully denied Moyal’s request.

“How could we? He’d become a saint,” Dahan said. “We can’t even move him to our cemetery nearby.”

Christians continued their pilgrimages to the tomb, lighting candles and leaving offerings.

Many members of the 200-family Manaus community find the phenomenon a bit curious, but they don’t begrudge the Catholics their Holy Rabbi.

“Nobody can disrespect the beliefs of the city where we live,” Dahan said.

— Bill Hinchberger, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Love ‘n’ Bloomers


The tomb of a venerated rabbi has become the apparent final resting place for the underwear of hundreds of Israeli women looking for husbands.

Israel’s Maariv newspaper reports that authorities have collected around 400 pairs of knickers and bras from the grilles of the tomb’s window and on nearby trees.

According to believers, an unmarried person will meet his or her soulmate and marry within a year after visiting the grave of Rabbi Yenothan Ben Uziel in northern Israel.

But as for leaving undies behind at the tomb, that’s going way too far, say local clerics, who want to nix that ritual.

In fact, Rabbi Israel Deri, who has jurisdiction over protecting holy sites in the north, suggested to Maariv that would-be romantics risk a sort of love curse if they insist on dropping off their unmentionables.

“Having consulted with the chief rabbis, I can say with certainty that not only are these women guilty of a profanity, but they will also never gain benediction,” Deri said.

 

Jewish History Draws in Bratislava


Once we declared here that we would visit Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, we expected people to say, “How quaint! How interesting! What an unusual place to visit.” Instead, we invariably heard, “Why Bratislava?” And in Prague, when we announced our next stop, the reaction was, “Why do you want to go there?” Amazingly, even in beautiful Bratislava itself, residents asked in wonder and bemusement, with no hint of being impolite: “Why would you want to come here?”

Folks in Bratislava are not used to tourists. It is not, as they say in the travel trade, a “destination.” No tourist buses crowd the streets like in Prague. No Israelis swarm here. And even if tourists come, we were told, they are ultra-Orthodox Jewish tourists visiting Budapest who take a taxi to Bratislava for a quick visit to the tomb of the revered early 19th century sage Rabbi Moshe Sofer (the Chatam Sofer), and then scoot back to Budapest without so much as a backward glance.

Which is too bad, for Bratislava is a lovely place to behold — despite a long-time resident’s semi-jocular remark: “It’s a pleasant town to live in, but not to visit.”

Known also as Pressburg, Bratislava has a special place in Jewish history. Jews have been connected to this city for more than 800 years, and may even have been here (like in Budapest) with the Roman legions. Since the 1700s it has been an important center for organized Jewish life. Hebrew and Yiddish book printing thrived — always a mark of a community’s importance. In the 100 years between 1830 and 1930, about 340 Jewish books appeared, as well as Hebrew and Yiddish newspapers and magazines.

In 1940, nearly 15,000 Jews lived in Bratislava, about 12 percent of the general population. Services were held in three shuls and in 14 Chasidic shtibls (prayer rooms). During World War II, few of the Bratislava Jews survived the combination of German racial laws and Slovak state anti-Semitism, sponsored by the fascist leader/priest, Father Tiso, and other church leaders who cooperated with the Germans. Of the 90,000 Jews in pre-War Slovakia, only 15,000 survived.

In 1947, the Jewish population in Bratislava was 7,000, bolstered by survivors who made their way to the capital from outlying towns and villages where Jewish life was not reconstituted after the war. During the following years, several thousand Jews went to Israel, so by 1969, the population had declined to 1,500. Today, 720 Jews are registered in the Jewish community.

An active synagogue functions under the leadership of a bright, energetic, 38-year-old American Chabad rabbi, Baruch Myers, who is secularly educated (a rarity among Chabadniks, for Lubavitch discourages non-Jewish higher education). The synagogue is part of the modern communal offices complex, and consists of a large, well-lit room, divided partly by a partition to create a woman’s gallery. The kehilla’s kosher kitchen serves meals to the elderly for less than $1. The community also runs a small kindergarten, but admits only children who are halachically Jewish (born of a Jewish mother).

Bratislava’s grand synagogue, built in 1926 in the elaborate 19th century style, with six great white columns, is the only pre-World War II shul still standing in the city. But this imposing edifice, with a beautiful interior, is rarely used nowadays.

At Sabbath services we noticed a mixture of older men, all Holocaust survivors, middle-aged men, and a couple of young adults, about 15-20 in all. All the pain of the Jewish past is borne by these old men. You look around the shul and see, even more than a half-century later, the suffering etched into their faces. At one table, a man in his late 70s looks sadly out the window. Who is he remembering? Another snoozes during the davening, a third man is missing an arm. Some of the middle-aged men sit, but do not participate. Two or three younger men with obviously Slavic faces are either converts or on their way to conversion. No teenagers were present; nor did we see any father-son duos, which is always the hallmark of Jewish continuity.

The only youngster in shul, of any age, was the rabbi’s 6-year-old son, who sat in the hollow of the prayer stand behind which his father was giving the sermon in Slovak. (Yes, Myers took the trouble to learn and master the local language.) No old women were seen in shul, but there were two of college age, one a Jewish teacher from South Africa, the other a gentile from Bratislava who, after working for a Jewish camp, decided to convert.

Like in America, the intermarriage rate is 50 percent. A curious fact: the assimilated Jews in prewar Bratislava married Jews — but the postwar Jewish children intermarry. Still, Myers has performed several marriages during the past few years.

We stayed at the simply appointed, comfortable, community-owned hotel, the Chez David. As spare as its rooms are, so impressive is its kosher restaurant, which is patronized mostly by local Slovaks. The talented and imaginative chef serves meals that are not only delicious, but artistically presented; they could be photographed for Gourmet magazine. The Chez David is ideally located, a few minutes away from the historic Old Town and a short walk from the synagogue.

In the Old Town, accompanied by the president of the
Jewish community, Peter Salner, we noticed a Cafe Mikva. But he told us that neither the owners nor the patrons know what a mikvah is. It is so named because an old mikvah used to be located on that street. The Old Town, with narrow cobblestone streets and a large, imposing square, is an esthetic entity, with fine old buildings, a market on one side, and upscale shops and an elegant cafe on the other. Posters are seen everywhere advertising the many concerts, plays and folklore evenings available almost nightly in Bratislava. A short walk from the Old Town stands a rather large memorial to the Jews killed during the Holocaust.

The dollar in Slovakia makes everything rather inexpensive. The rabbi and members of the community are warm and welcoming. When we arrived at Chez David, Salner was waiting for us to show us around; he returned later that evening to escort us to the shul. And once we met the rabbi, he immediately invited us to his house for the Sabbath meals.

To get to Bratislava we flew with the reliable and efficient British Airways to Vienna. Once there, we used our Eurail Flexipass obtained in the United States. Not only do the passes save you money — more important, they save you the hassle and waste of time in long lines at ticket counters.

So the next time anyone asks you, “Why Bratislava?” tell them it’s a beautiful town in the heart of Europe, with a rich Jewish past.

For information on the Eurail Flexipass, call (888)
342-7245; for information on Bratislava, visit “>www.chaverim.sk or