Sobibór Revolt

On this day in 1943 prisoners at the Sobibór extermination camp in Poland revolt against the Germans.

Sobibor is notable for the prisoner revolt which took place on 14 October 1943. The plan for the revolt, developed by Alexander Pechersky and Leon Feldhendler, involved two phases. In the first phase, teams of prisoners were to assassinate all of the on-duty SS officers in discreet locations. Then in the second phase, all 600 prisoners would assemble for roll call and walk to freedom out the front gate. However, the revolt did not go as planned. The operation was discovered while several SS officers were still alive and prisoners ended up having to escape by climbing over barbed wire fences and running through a mine field under heavy machine gun fire. Even so, about 300 prisoners made it out of the camp, of whom roughly 60 survived to the end of the war. Thus the Sobibor revolt is often described as the most successful to take place in any Nazi camp.

After the revolt, the Nazis demolished the camp and planted it over with pine trees to conceal the evidence of what had happened there. In the first decades after World War Two, Sobibor was not well known and the site was rarely visited except by locals digging for buried valuables. Since then, it has become better known through its depictions in the TV miniseries Holocaust and the film Escape from Sobibor. The site now hosts the Sobibor Museum as well as ongoing archaeological excavations.

Above a few of the survivors.

Sonderkommando Auschwitz Revolt

Today in Holocaust History —> On this day in 1944, the Sonderkommando of Auschwitz-Birkenau—a group of Jewish prisoners tasked with removing corpses from gas chambers and burning them—rose up against their Nazi captors. Using gunpowder smuggled by young Jewish women forced to work in munitions factories, a group of Sonderkommando prisoners blew up one crematorium and killed some of the guards.

250 of the revolt’s participants died fighting the SS and police, and 200 more were shot by the SS after the fighting ended. Although the SS quashed the uprising, the Auschwitz-Birkenau revolt remains an example of bravery in the face of extraordinary oppression.

#AuschwitzRevolt #Resistance

Lilith

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In Jewish folklore, Lilith was thought to be Adam’s first wife in Eden. She refused to be subservient to him and left the garden. She “coupled” with the archangel Samael and became a demon of the night.

(John Collier painting)

#FolkloreThursday #Lilith #JewishFolklore

Babi Yar

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Today in Holocaust History —> Today, we remember one of the largest single mass murders of the Holocaust. Beginning on September 29, 1941, German forces and their auxiliaries rounded up and killed the Jews of Kiev, Ukraine, at a ravine called Babi Yar. In just two days, 33,771 Jewish men, women, and children were shot.

The Babi Yar massacre remains a harrowing example of Nazi atrocities during the invasion of the Soviet Union. In the months following the massacre, German authorities stationed at Kiev killed thousands more Jews at Babi Yar, as well as non-Jews including Roma (Gypsies), Communists, and Soviet prisoners of war. It is estimated that some 100,000 people were murdered at Babi Yar.

#Holocaust #Remembrance #BabiYar

Easy Latkes

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This recipe is for a classic, unadorned latkes.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large Russet potatoes (about 1 pound), scrubbed and cut lengthwise into quarters
  • 1 large onion (8 ounces), peeled and cut into quarters
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt (or 1 teaspoon fine sea salt), plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Safflower or other oil, for frying

Preparation:

  1. Using a food processor with a coarse grating disc, grate the potatoes and onion. Transfer the mixture to a clean dishtowel and squeeze and wring out as much of the liquid as possible.
  2. Working quickly, transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Add the eggs, flour, salt, baking powder and pepper, and mix until the flour is absorbed.
  3. In a medium heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat, pour in about 1/4 inch of the oil. Once the oil is hot (a drop of batter placed in the pan should sizzle), use a heaping tablespoon to drop the batter into the hot pan, cooking in batches. Use a spatula to flatten and shape the drops into discs. When the edges of the latkes are brown and crispy, about 5 minutes, flip. Cook until the second side is deeply browned, about another 5 minutes. Transfer the latkes to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and sprinkle with salt while still warm. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Israeli Style Hummus

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** Tehina is the Israeli word for the Greek word tahini.  **

1 cup dried chickpeas
1 teaspoons baking soda
1½ cups Tehina Sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Paprika
Chopped fresh parsley
Olive oil, for drizzling

Tehina Sauce:

¾ cup lemon juice
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
2 generous cups tehina
½ teaspoon ground cumin

Add the tehina to the lemon juice in the bowl, along with the cumin and 1 teaspoon of the salt.  Whisk the mixture together until smooth adding water slowly to thin it out. Whish until you have a perfectly smooth, creamy, thick sauce.  Add more cumin and salt to taste.

Hummus Directions:

Place the chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with water. Soak the chickpeas overnight at room temperature. Drain the chickpeas and rinse.

Place the chickpeas in a large pot with 1 teaspoon of baking soda and add cold water to cover by at least a few inches. Bring the chickpeas to a boil over high heat, skimming off any impurities  that rises to the surface. Lower the heat to medium, cover the pot, and simmer for about 1 hour, until they are a bit overcooked and a little mushy.  Drain.

Combine the chickpeas, tehina sauce, salt, and cumin in a food processor. Puree the hummus for several minutes, until it is smooth and  creamy.

Serve with a drizzle of good olive oil, cumin and fresh parsley to taste.

Most Admired: Herman Wouk (Author)

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Author profile –> Herman Wouk (May 27th, 1915 – May 17th, 2019)

I was reading about Jewish novelists (Franz Kafka, Phillip Roth, Saul Bellow, Joseph Heller, Elie Wiesel) last night when I realized Herman Wouk is still alive at 103 years old.  Was I the only one who assumed he had passed away long ago?  I have to admit I’ve read a fair amount of his books and have always considered them a “guilty pleasure.”

Herman Wouk is an American author. His 1951 novel “The Caine Mutiny” won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. His other works include “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance,” historical novels about World War II. “The Hope,” and “The Glory,” historical novels about the founding of Israel.  He also wrote non-fiction such as “This Is My God,” a popular explanation of Judaism from a Modern Orthodox perspective, written for Jewish and non-Jewish audiences.  In 2010 he wrote “The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion.”  His books have been translated into 27 languages.  The Washington Post called Wouk, who cherishes his privacy, “the reclusive dean of American historical novelists.” Historians, novelists, publishers, and critics who gathered at the Library of Congress in 1995 to mark Wouk’s 80th birthday described him as an American Tolstoy.

Wouk was born in the Bronx, the second of three children born to Esther and Abraham Isaac Wouk, Russian Jewish immigrants from what is today Belarus.  When Wouk was 13, his maternal grandfather, Mendel Leib Levine, came from Minsk to live with them and took charge of his grandson’s Jewish education. Wouk was frustrated by the amount of time he was expected to study the Talmud, but his father told him, “if I were on my deathbed, and I had breath to say one more thing to you, I would say ‘Study the Talmud.’” Eventually Wouk took this advice to heart. After a brief period as a young adult during which he lived a secular life, he returned to religious practice. Judaism would become integral to both his personal life and his career. He would later say that his grandfather and the United States Navy were the two most important influences on his life.

After his childhood and adolescence in the Bronx and a high school diploma from Townsend Harris High School in Manhattan, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the age of 19 from Columbia University in 1934, and served as editor of the university’s humor magazine, “Columbia Jester,” and wrote two of its annual variety shows. Soon thereafter, he became a radio dramatist, working in David Freedman’s “Joke Factory” and later with Fred Allen for five years.  In 1941, he began working for the United States government, writing radio spots to sell war bonds.

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Wouk joined the U.S Navy following the attack on Pearl Harbor and served in the Pacific Theater during World War II, an experience he later characterized as educational: “I learned about machinery, I learned how men behaved under pressure, and I learned about Americans.” Wouk served as an officer aboard two destroyer minesweepers (DMS). During off-duty hours aboard ship he started writing a novel, “Aurora Dawn.”  Wouk sent a copy of the opening chapters to philosophy professor Irwin Edman, under whom he studied at Columbia, who quoted a few pages verbatim to a New York editor. The result was a publisher’s contract sent to Wouk’s ship, then off the coast of Okinawa. The novel was published in 1947 and became a Book of the Month Club main selection. His second novel, “City Boy,” proved to be a commercial disappointment at the time of its initial publication in 1948.  While writing his next novel, Wouk read each chapter to his wife as it was completed. At one point she remarked that if they did not like this one, he had better take up another line of work (a line he would give to the character of the editor Jeannie Fry in his 1962 novel “Youngblood Hawke”). The novel, “The Caine Mutiny” (1951), went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. A best-seller, drawing from his wartime experiences aboard minesweepers during World War II, The Caine Mutiny was adapted by the author into a Broadway play called “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial” and, in 1954, Columbia Pictures released a film version with Humphrey Bogart portraying Lt. Commander Philip Francis Queeg, captain of the fictional USS Caine.

His first novel after “The Caine Mutiny” was “Marjorie Morningstar” (1955), which earned him a Time magazine cover story. Three years later Warner Brothers made it into a movie starring Natalie Wood, Gene Kelly and Claire Trevor. His next novel, a paperback, was “Slattery’s Hurricane” (1956), which he had written in 1948 as the basis for the screenplay for the film of the same name. Wouk’s first work of non-fiction was 1959’s “This is My God: The Jewish Way of Life,” a primer on the beliefs and practices of Orthodox Judaism.

In the 1960s he authored Youngblood Hawke (1962), a drama about the rise and fall of a young writer modeled on the life of Thomas Wolfe, and “Don’t Stop the Carnival” (1965), a comedy about escaping mid-life crisis by moving to the Caribbean (loosely based on Wouk’s own experience). “Youngblood Hawke” was serialized in McCall’s magazine from March to July 1962. A movie version starred James Franciscus and Suzanne Pleshette, which was released by Warner Brothers in 1964. “Don’t Stop the Carnival”” was turned into a short-lived musical by Jimmy Buffett in 1997.

In the 1970s Wouk published two monumental novels, “The Winds of War” (1971) and its sequel, “War and Remembrance” (1978). He described the latter, which included a devastating depiction of the Holocaust, as “the main tale I have to tell.” Both were made into popular TV miniseries, the first in 1983 and the second in 1988. Although they were made several years apart, both were directed by Dan Curtis and both starred Robert Mitchum as Captain Victor “Pug” Henry, the main character. The novels are historical fiction. Each has three layers: the story told from the viewpoints of Captain Henry and his circle of family and friends; a more or less straightforward historical account of the events of the war; and an analysis by a member of Hitler’s military staff, the insightful fictional General Armin von Roon. Wouk devoted “thirteen years of extraordinary research and long, arduous composition” to these two novels, noted Arnold Beichman. “The seriousness with which Wouk has dealt with the war can be seen in the prodigious amount of research, reading, travel and conferring with experts, the evidence of which may be found in the uncatalogued boxes at Columbia University” that contain the author’s papers.

Wouk would spend the next several decades of his literary career writing about Jews, Israel, Judaism, and, for the first time, science. “Inside, Outside” (1985) is the story of four generations of a Russian Jewish family and its travails in Russia, the U.S. and Israel. “The Hope” (1993) and its sequel, “The Glory” (1994), are historical novels about the first 33 years of Israel’s history. They were followed by “The Will to Live On: This is Our Heritage” (2000), a whirlwind tour of Jewish history and sacred texts and companion volume to “This is My God.”  “A Hole in Texas” (2004) is a novel about the discovery of the Higgs boson (whose existence was proven nine years later), while “The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion” (2010) is an exploration into the tension between religion and science that originated in a discussion Wouk had with the theoretical physicist Richard Feynman. “The Lawgiver” (2012) is an epistolary novel about a contemporary Hollywood writer of a movie script about Moses – with the consulting help of a nonfictional character: Herman Wouk himself, a “mulish ancient” who gets involved despite the strong misgivings of his wife.

Seven Important Post-1900 Jewish Novels

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“What a fate: to be condemned to work for a firm where the slightest negligence at once gave rise to the gravest suspicion! Were all the employees nothing but a bunch of scoundrels, was there not among them one single loyal devoted man who, had he wasted only an hour or so of the firm’s time in the morning, was so tormented by conscience as to be driven out of his mind and actually incapable of leaving his bed?”
~ Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

  1. The Metamorphosis (1915) by Franz Kafka

One of Kafka’s best-known works, The Metamorphosis tells the story of salesman Gregor Samsa who wakes one morning to find himself inexplicably transformed into a huge insect and subsequently struggling to adjust to this new condition. The novella has been widely discussed among literary critics, with differing interpretations being offered.

  1. In Search of Lost Time (1913) by Marcel Proust

It is considered to be his most prominent work, known both for its length and its theme of involuntary memory, the most famous example being the “episode of the madeleine.” It gained fame in English in translations by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin as “Remembrance of Things Past”, but the title In Search of Lost Time, a literal rendering of the French, has gained usage since D. J. Enright adopted it for his revised translation published in 1992.

  1. Portnoy’s Complaint (1969) by Philip Roth

The novel tells the humorous monologue of “a lust-ridden, mother-addicted young Jewish bachelor,” who confesses to his psychoanalyst in “intimate, shameful detail, and coarse, abusive language.”Many of its characteristics (such as comedic prose, themes of sexual desire and sexual frustration, and a self-conscious literariness) went on to become Roth trademarks.

  1. Death of a Salesman (1949) by Arthur Miller

It won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. The play premiered on Broadway in February 1949, running for 742 performances, and has been revived on Broadway four times,winning three Tony Awards for Best Revival. It is widely considered to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.

  1. The Catcher in the Rye (1951) by J.D. Salinger

A classic novel originally published for adults, it has since become popular with adolescent readers for its themes of teenage angstand alienation. It has been translated into almost all of the world’s major languages. Around 1 million copies are sold each year, with total sales of more than 65 million books. The novel’s protagonist Holden Caulfield has become an icon for teenage rebellion. The novel also deals with complex issues of innocence, identity, belonging, loss, and connection.

  1. The Trial (1925) by Franz Kafka

One of his best-known works, it tells the story of Josef K., a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor to the reader.

  1. Herzog (1964) by Saul Bellow

Herzog is set in 1964 in the United States, and is about the midlife crisis of a Jewish man named Moses E. Herzog. At the age of forty-seven, he is just emerging from his second divorce, this one particularly acrimonious. He has two children, one by each wife, who are growing up without him. His career as a writer and an academic has floundered. He is in a relationship with a vibrant woman, Ramona, but finds himself running away from commitment.

What is a Dreidel and Why?

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What is a Dreidel and why?

The dreidel or sevivon is perhaps the most famous custom associated with Hanukkah.  The dreidel is a type of top with a Hebrew letter on each of its four sides. The four letters are nun (נ), gimel (ג), hei (ה), and shin (ש), which are commonly understood to be an acronym for the phrase נֵס גָדוֹל הָיָה שָׁם, “A great miracle occurred there.”  “There” being the land of Israel.  In Israel, the letter peh (for the Hebrew word “po,” meaning “here”) replaces the letter shin to spell out “A Great Miracle Happened Here.”

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To play dreidel, each player begins with an equal number of games pieces usually ten to fifteen, such as coins, candies, etc. At the beginning of each round, every player puts one game piece into the center pot. Players then take turns spinning the dreidel. Depending on the side it lands on, you give or get game pieces from the pot:

  • Nun means “nisht” or “nothing.” The player does nothing.
  • Gimel means “gantz” or “everything.” The player gets everything in the pot.
  • Hey means “halb” or “half.” The player gets half of the pot. (If there is an odd number of pieces in the pot, the player takes half of the total plus one).
  • Shin (outside of Israel) means “shtel” or “put in.” Peh (in Israel) also means “put in.” The player adds a game piece to the pot.

If you find that you have no game pieces left, you are either “out” or may ask a fellow player for a “loan.”  When one person has won everything, that round of the game is over!

The classical reason given for playing the game of dreidel on Chanukah is that the simple little top was used during the Chanukah era to preserve Judaism. When the Syrian-Greeks ruled over the Holy Land, they outlawed many Jewish practices, such as circumcision, Shabbat observance and Torahlearning. With great self-sacrifice, the Jewish children would hide in caves to learn Torah. When they would see a Greek patrol approaching, they would quickly hide their scrolls and take out spinning tops, pretending to have simply been playing a game.  Despite the ubiquity of this reason, many mystics have ascribed much deeper symbolism to the game of dreidel. In fact, many of them don’t even mention the classic reason for dreidel.

Other explanations for the dreidel include the letters nun, gimmel, hey, shin are supposed to represent the four kingdoms that tried to destroy us [in ancient times]: N = Nebuchadnetzar = Babylon; H = Haman = Persia = Madai; G = Gog = Greece; and S = Seir = Rome.  Others figured out elaborate gematriot [numerological explanations based on the fact that every Hebrew letter has a numerical equivalent] and word plays for the letters nun, gimmel, hey, shin. For example, nun, gimmel, hey, shin in gematria equals 358, which is also the numerical equivalent of mashiach or Messiah!

The game of dreidel teaches that even when we are playing, we imbue the game with meaning, remembering our heritage and the miraculous salvations that G‑d performed for Jews in the past. It also expresses our longing for the final redemption with the coming of the Moshiach.

Sources: “Essential Judaism,” Robinson, George. 2016. myjeweishlearning.com. chabad.org.

Hannukkah…What Exactly Is It?

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“On the 25th of Kislev are the days of Hanukkah, which are eight… these were appointed a Festival with Hallel [prayers of praise] and thanksgiving.”

~ Shabbat 21b, Babylonian Talmud

Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the festival of lights, is an eight-day festival beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev.  Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its defilement by the Syrian Greeks in 164 BCE.

Hanukkah is probably one, if not the, best-known Jewish holidays, not because of any great religious significance though, but because of its proximity to Christmas. Many non-Jews think of this holiday as the Jewish Christmas, adopting many of the Christmas customs, such as gift-giving and decoration. It is ironic that this holiday, which has its roots in a revolution against assimilation and the suppression of Jewish religion, has become the most assimilated, secular holiday on our calendar.

Orgins:

 The story of Hanukkah begins in the reign of Alexander the Great. Alexander conquered Syria, Egypt and Palestine, but allowed the lands under his control to continue observing their own religions and retain a certain degree of autonomy. Under this relatively benevolent rule, many Jews assimilated much of Hellenistic culture, adopting the language, the customs and the dress of the Greeks, in much the same way that Jews in America today blend into the secular American society.

More than a century latter beginning in 167 BCE, the Jews of Judea rose up in revolt against the oppression of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Seleucid Empire. The military leader of the first phase of the revolt was Judah the Maccabee, the eldest son of the priest Mattityahu. In the autumn of 164, Judah and his followers were able to capture the Temple in Jerusalem, which had been turned into a pagan shrine. They cleansed it and rededicated it to Israel’s God. This event was observed in an eight-day celebration, which was patterned on Sukkot, the autumn festival of huts. Much later rabbinic tradition ascribes the length of the festival to a miraculous small amount of oil that burned for eight days.

Traditions:

“Our rabbis taught the rule of Hanukkah: … on the first day one [candle] is lit and thereafter they are progressively increased … [because] we increase in sanctity but do not reduce.”

~ Shabbat 21b, Babylonian Talmud

 Most of the activity of Hanukkah takes place at home. Central to the holiday is the lighting of the hanukkiah or menorah, an eight-branched candelabrum to which one candle is added on each night of the holiday until it is ablaze with light on the eighth night. The only religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles.  Gift-giving is not a traditional part of the holiday, but has been added in places where Jews have a lot of contact with Christians, as a way of dealing with our children’s jealousy of their Christian friends. It is extremely unusual for Jews to give Hanukkah gifts to anyone other than their own young children. The only traditional gift of the holiday is “gelt,” small amounts of money.

Another tradition of the holiday is playing dreidel, a gambling game played with a square top. Most people play for matchsticks, pennies, M&Ms or chocolate coins. The traditional explanation of this game is that during the time of Antiochus’ oppression, those who wanted to study Torah (an illegal activity) would conceal their activity by playing gambling games with a top (a common and legal activity) whenever an official or inspector was within sight.

In commemoration of the legendary cruse of oil, it is traditional to eat foods fried in oil. The most familiar Hanukkah foods are the European (Ashkenazi) potato pancakes, or latkes, and the Israeli favorite, jelly donuts, or sufganiyot.  The tradition developed in Europe to give small amounts of money as well as nuts and raisins to children at this time. Under the influence of Christmas, which takes place around the same time of year, Hanukkah has evolved into the central gift-giving holiday in the Jewish calendar in the Western world.

Since Hanukkah is not biblically ordained, the liturgy for the holiday is not well developed. It is actually a quite minor festival. However, it has become one of the most beloved of Jewish holidays. In an act of defiance against those in the past and in the present who would root out Jewish practice, the observance of Hanukkah has assumed a visible community aspect.  Jews will often gather for communal celebrations and public candle lighting. At such celebrations, Hanukkah songs are sung and traditional games such as dreidel are played. Like Passover, Hanukkah is a holiday that celebrates the liberation from oppression. It also provides a strong argument in favor of freedom of worship and religion.

Sources: “Essential Judaism” Robinson, George. 2016. Myjewishlearning.com. Chabad.org. jewfaq.org.