History February 14, 2020: Sanders’s views on Judaism similar to the last Jew as close to presidency Judah Benjamin

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Sanders’s views on Judaism similar to the last Jew as close to presidency Judah Benjamin

Bonnie K. Goodman

Bonnie K. Goodman Feb 14

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

In an unfamiliar sight, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders lights a Hanukkah menorah wearing a kippah at a Des Moines, Iowa event, December 29, 2019. Kelsey Kremer/The Register

With his victory in the New Hampshire primary, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders became the frontrunner for the Democratic Presidential nomination.[1] Sanders would become the first Jew to hold the distinction and become that close to capturing the presidency. Sanders is not a practicing Jew and withheld from discussing his Judaism during his 2016 run for the Democratic nomination and only recently he has made his religious identity a central focus in his campaign. In a January 2020 New York Times interview with Sanders, when asked about believing in God Sanders declared, “I am Jewish, I am proud to be Jewish. I was bar mitzvahed from the Kings Highway Jewish Center, a long time ago. I am not actively involved in organized religion. I believe in God. I believe in the universality of people. That what happens to you impacts me. And I certainly believe in the constitutional right of freedom of religion. And I will strongly defend that.”[2] In 2015, in an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Kimmel asked Sanders the same question, to which he replied, “I am what I am. And what I believe in, and what my spirituality is about, is that we’re all in this together.” [3] Sanders’s Jewish co-religionists are not enthusiastic about the prospect of him becoming the first Jewish Democratic nominee and he is their fourth choice among the Democratic presidential candidates.

In American history, only one other Jew has come so close to the presidency, Judah P. Benjamin. Benjamin served in three cabinet posts in the Confederate States of America government; the country formed with the Southern states seceded from the Union, a catalyst for the Civil War to preserve the union. The wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Varina Davis in her memoirs acknowledged Benjamin, “The President promoted him to the State Department with a personal and aggrieved sense of injustice done to the man who had now become his friend and right hand.” [4] Benjamin was indispensable to Davis, working ten to twelve hours a day by his side, serving as a speechwriter and trusted confident. Benjamin biographer Eli N. Evans author of Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate went as far as to claim Benjamin sometimes served as a surrogate or acting president of the Confederacy.

Benjamin was the first Jewish Senator, the first Jew nominated and confirmed to the Supreme Court, and he was nominated to be the Ambassador to Spain an honor for a Jew, who came from a prominent Spanish Jewish family, and who traced their lineage to before the expulsion. The Confederacy had been welcoming to religious minorities, Benjamin, who was Jewish married into a successful Louisiana Creole and Catholic family excelled in an increasingly Protestant Christian evangelical majority. In the South and the Senate, Benjamin was a brilliant jurist, orator, a plantation owner, and a sugar cane cultivator. During the Civil War, Benjamin was “the brains of the Confederacy,” the Jew at “the very center of Southern history,” “in the eye of the storm that was the Civil War,” who remained in the “shadow” but took the fall as the Confederacy failed in the war. [5] Through it, all Benjamin refused to discuss his Jewish identity, anti-Semitism followed him throughout his political career and his actions in the Confederate cabinet caused an eruption of anti-Jewish prejudice in the North and mostly in the South, where the Jewish population had lived in harmony with their Christian neighbors.

Sanders also shares with Benjamin a reluctance to discuss his Jewish identity, which involved a religious childhood followed filled with Hebrew school and a Bar Mitzvah to marrying into a Catholic family and remaining Jewish in name only as a way to advance his political career in a Christian America. Sanders left out his Judaism, throughout the 2016 presidential campaign against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, only to be trounced by Jewish voters. Sanders addressed his Judaism on the 2020-campaign trail in November 2019 with an article in the leftist Jewish publication the Jewish Currants “How to Fight Antisemitism,” Sanders declared, “I am a proud Jewish American.”

The threat of antisemitism is not some abstract idea to me. It is very personal. It destroyed a large part of my family. I am not someone who spends a lot of time talking about my personal background because I believe political leaders should focus their attention on a vision and agenda for others, rather than themselves. But I also appreciate that it’s important to talk about how our backgrounds have informed our ideas, our principles, and our values.

I am a proud Jewish American. My father emigrated from Poland to the United States in 1921 at the age of 17 to escape the poverty and widespread antisemitism of his home country. Those in his family who remained in Poland after Hitler came to power were murdered by the Nazis. I know very well where white supremacist politics leads, and what can happen when people do not speak up against it. [6]

Sanders has increasingly discussed his Judaism in the weeks leading up to the all-important Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary turning his religion from a negative into a positive. Then Sanders debuted a new image at a Hanukkah celebration at the Brenton Skating Plaza in Des Moines, Iowa, the site of the first nominating contest, where Sanders would go to come-in a close second in a dead heat race against Pete Buttigieg, the Former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. On December 29, 2019, at the event Sanders denounced the recent anti-Semitic attack at a New York rabbi’s home in Monsey, lite the giant Hanukkah menorah, sang Hanukkah songs, and most startling wore a kippah.[7] In his remarks, Sanders discussed anti-Semitism a new staple on the campaign trail:

“What we are seeing right now — we’re seeing it in America and we’re seeing it all over the world — is a rise in anti-Semitism. We’re seeing a rise in hate crimes in this country. We’re seeing somebody run into a kid here in Des Moines because that child was a Latino. We’re seeing people being stabbed yesterday in New York City because they were Jewish. We are seeing people being assaulted because they are Muslim. … If there was ever a time in American history where we say no to religious bigotry, now is the time. If there was ever a time where we say no to divisiveness, now is the moment.”[8]

On January 25, 2020, Sanders’s campaign released a four-minute video on his Twitter feed about his Jewish identity, it included excerpts from Sanders’s October 2019 speech to J Street, “the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group,” annual conference and his campaign’s Jewish outreach director Joel Rubin, a former Barack Obama official, commentating. The video complete with Yiddish slang, “kishkes,” begins with Sanders declaring; “I’m very proud to be Jewish and look forward to becoming the first Jewish president in the history of this country.” [9]

The video was meant to contrast Sanders with Republican President Donald Trump’s tolerance of white nationalism and anti-Semitism. Rubin narrates, “We live in a perilous time where not only are white nationalists attacking our synagogues and raising hate speech on the internet, we have a white nationalist right now sitting in the White House. We need to have someone in office who gets it, gets it in his kishkes, understands what it really means to ensure that we are healing our world.” [10] At the J-Street conference, Sanders also referenced anti-Semitism, saying, “If there is any people on Earth who understands the dangers of racism and white nationalism, it is certainly the Jewish people. And if there is any people on Earth who should do everything humanly possible to fight against Trump’s efforts to try to divide us up … and bring people together around a common and progressive agenda, it is the Jewish people.”[11]

On Thursday, February 6, 2020, speaking at a CNN town hall for Democratic presidential candidates in New Hampshire, Sanders answered an audience question about his Jewish identity being “a help or a hindrance” as he runs for the presidency. Sanders responded to his Judaism, “impacts me very profoundly. When I try to think about the views that I came to hold there are two factors. One I grew up in a family that didn’t have a lot of money … and the second one is being Jewish…. At a very early age, even before my political thoughts were developed, I was aware of the horrible things that human beings can do to other people in the name of racism or white nationalism, or in this case Nazism.”[12]

On the campaign trail, the most surprising Sanders’s allies and shave been touting his Judaism, among them Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Professor Cornel West. At a September 2019 campaign rally, Sarsour declared, “I would be so proud to win, but also to make history and elect the first Jewish American president this country has ever seen and for his name to be Bernard Sanders.” [13] At a pre-New Hampshire primary event on Monday, February 10, 2020, West, expressed, “We got a deep Jewish brother named Bernie Sanders who is bringing us together.” West supports the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and questions the Jewish historical claim to Israel.[14]

Sanders’s position on Israel is also troubling and he is overtly critical especially of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Sanders declares he is pro-Israel, writing, “I have a connection to Israel going back many years. In 1963, I lived on a kibbutz near Haifa. It was there that I saw and experienced for myself many of the progressive values upon which Israel was founded.” However, Sanders has sympathies with the Palestinians’ viewpoint, rights and “their displacement,” calling the Israeli settlements an occupation. Sanders’s plans threaten American military aid and funding to Israel making it contingent on their treatment of Palestinians, justifying it by saying, “$3.8 billion is a lot of money, and we cannot give it carte blanche to the Israeli government.” [15] Sanders claims that kind of criticism “does not “delegitimize” Israel any more than acknowledging the sober facts of America’s own founding delegitimizes the United States.” [16] At the J-Street conference, Sanders justified his criticism, claiming, “It’s going to be very hard for anybody to call me — whose father’s family was wiped out by Hitler — anti-Semitic.”[17]

American Jews have reluctant to support Sanders partially because of his campaign surrogates who have a history of making anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks and Sanders’s position on Israel. A January 2020, Pew Research Center poll finds that only 11 percent of Jewish members of the Democratic Party intends to vote for Sanders in the primaries. Sanders garners most of his support from “religiously unaffiliated Democrats, self-described atheists and agnostics,” and from Muslims than he does from Jewish Democrats. [18] Jewish Journal Political Editor Shmuel Rosner points out, “Still, it is clear that he is not the Jews’ preferred cup of tea. For many Israelis, a Sanders presidency seems like a nightmare. Sanders says he is “proud to be Jewish” but many Jews find it hard to feel the same pride as they look at him.” [19] The New York Times in their interview with Sanders noted his different views on his religion and his place in history. The Editorial Board indicated, “Senator Sanders is religiously an anomaly among the candidates, for several reasons — if elected, he would be the first Jewish president, and also one of few who have openly discussed a disconnect from organized religion. He attended Hebrew school as a boy and spent time in Israel on a kibbutz, but has said he does not have a regular religious practice.” [20]

In contrast, to Sanders’s recent declaration about his Jewish identity, Judah Benjamin supposedly only once declared his Jewishness in his political career on the Senate floor; however, historians dispute the occurrences since it was out of caricature for Benjamin. Benjamin chose not to discuss his Judaism but it followed him and he was the target of anti-Semitic attacks from colleagues and political enemies alike. Benjamin was the consummate insider and outsider as a Jew at both times. Sanders too shares the distinction of being an outsider in the American Jewish community and among Jewish voters.

Judah P. Benjamin

In March 1858, while Benjamin delivered a speech supporting Kansas being admitted to the Union as a slave state supposedly, Republican Senator Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio “denounced” Benjamin on the Senate floor calling him, “an Israelite with Egyptian principle.” Wade stated, “Why sir, when old Moses, under immediate inspiration of God Almighty, enticed a whole nation of slaves, and ran away, not to Canada to old Canaan, I suppose Pharaoh and all the chivalry of old Egypt denounced him as a most furious abolitionist… there were not those who loved Egypt better than they loved liberty… They were not exactly Northern men with Southern principles, but they were Israelites with Egyptian principles.”

To which Benjamin supposedly responded, “It is true that I am a Jew, and when my ancestors were receiving their Ten Commandments from the immediate Deity, amidst the thundering and lightning of Mt. Sinai, the ancestors of my opponent were herding swine in the forests of Great Britain.” [21] Although attributed to Benjamin, Benjamin never acknowledged his Jewishness in issues in the Senate that affected American Jews. Historian Bertram W. Korn does not believe that Benjamin delivered this remark. According to Korn, “The fact that Benjamin did not feel obliged, in either of these cases, to register himself as a Jew would appear to be much more significant than any of the questionable traditions and legends concerning allegedly defiant answers to which he is purported to have made to any anti-Jewish attacks upon himself.” [22] Evans also questions Benjamin’s declaration, since historians have told “ four different versions” of the anecdote and “the quote cannot be verified.” Still, Evans notes “the statement remains a part of the legend of Judah P. Benjamin, even though it indicates an uncharacteristic acknowledgment in public of his Jewishness.”[23]

The Benjamin family was not Orthodox and kept their store open on the Sabbath, and they did adhere to the daily religious rituals. Judah’s father Phillip Benjamin “was an intellectual” and “well versed in Jewish law.” Phillip was one of the founders of Charleston’s first Reform synagogue, the Reform Society of Israelites after he and 46 other members of Congregation Beth Elohim petitioned the synagogue to among other reforms modernize prayers using English, shorten the prayers, and include an English sermon in the service. The petitioners looked to anglicize Judaism in Protestant Charleston. Evans indicates, “As a son of one of the leaders of the society Judah understandably would have been deeply affected by the religious divisions. The reform movement was not just for adults, it sought to influence history through the children of its members and the generations to come.”[24] When Judah turned thirteen in 1824, he participated in a confirmation ceremony rather than a bar mitzvah. Phillip Benjamin served on the committee of correspondence of the new congregation. The family’s religious observance was lax, especially because of financial needs Phillip kept his store open on the Sabbath. In 1827, even under reform rules the new congregation “ousted” the Benjamins from the synagogue for not observing the Sabbath.[25]

Despite his non-observance, Benjamin remained a Jew his whole life although he was never attended or a member in a synagogue or involved in the Jewish community of any city he lived throughout his adult life in America or Britain. According to Korn in his article, “Judah P. Benjamin as a Jew,” “Altogether it would appear that Benjamin had no positive or active interest in Jews or Judaism. The only known facts are that he was born into a Jewish family… that he never denied being Jewish or sought to escape his background through conversion to the Catholic faith of his wife and daughter.” [26] “More recently Evans claims, “To presume Benjamin a nonbeliever by his public acts represents a fundamental error in Southern history.” Evans believes Benjamin could not cut ties completely with his Judaism after his religious upbringing, arguing, “No Jew can make the leap from a childhood with religious immigrant parents to an assimilated Southern leader in twenty years, without retaining psychological ties to his Jewish past.” [27]

The lack of personal sources about Benjamin makes it even more difficult to analyze his personal feelings about his Jewish identity as opposed to the public reticence available from the scarce sources. To Catharine MacMillan, in her article, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” “This failure is significant not only in the understanding of Benjamin’s life but also in a greater understanding of one of the most prominent Jewish figures in the nineteenth-century English speaking world. This prevents a greater understanding of the acceptance of Jewish people in America and the United Kingdom.” [28] Benjamin’s success was because of his passionate loyalty to Southern issues and his ability to downplay his religion. Despite Benjamin assimilating to Southern white Christian society, the anti-Semitic attacks towards Benjamin both before and especially during the Civil War gave rise to widespread anti-Jewish prejudice in the South. Historians will never know how he felt about the personal attacks or how he felt about his actions in the cabinet were affecting the wider Jewish community in the South.

The very little record does not indicate if he had any pride in being Jewish or involvement after his childhood. Whitaker in his Sketches of Life and Character in Louisiana, The Portraits Selected Principally from the Bench and Bar noted in 1847 that the public was aware that Benjamin was Jewish, writing, “Mr. Benjamin is by birth, and as his names imports, an Israelite. Yet how far he still adheres to the religion of his fathers, I cannot tell, though I should doubt whether the matter troubled him much.” [29] One incident indicates that Benjamin took an interest in the community; he purchased a subscription to the Philadelphia Rabbi Isaac Leeser’s newspaper The Occident and American Jewish Advocate. On March 20, 1848, Gershom Kursheedt, the leader of the New Orleans Jewish community notified Leeser in a letter that “Before I forget it let me state on Friday last Mr. J.P. Benjamin handed me $5.50 for you.” In 1843, Leeser sent free copies to influential Jews so they would purchase a subscription to his magazine. Benjamin was not as distanced to know the leader of the community and his connection to Leeser and to want to be current on Jewish issues.

Jewish leaders looked to claim Benjamin as a member of the Jewish community more than Benjamin wished to identify publicly with his religion. Two stories circulated that embellished his involvement. The first attributed to Isaac Mayer Wise, who claimed in the fall of 1850 to have had two discussions with Benjamin, Secretary of State Daniel Webster and Lieutenant Matthew F. Maury. In 1874, Wise recounts in his memoir, Reminisces he discussed religion and Judaism with Benjamin in the two meetings, the first in Webster’s office then later at dinner. Korn believes the discussions did not occur because Benjamin became a Senator in 1853, while Webster died in 1852, and Benjamin did not visit Washington in the fall of 1850 but July 1851. Wise contradicted his story in a response to a Boston Transcript editorial from January 5, 1861, which criticized Jews, Benjamin, Senator David (Levy) Yulee and Benjamin Mordecai of Charleston for contributing to the secession crisis, Benjamin and Yulee through their Senate actions and Mordecai with a monetary contribution. Wise responded Jews were divided politically and that he had only met Mordecai. Neither did Wise mention meeting Benjamin in his obituary for Benjamin in the Israelite.

Years later, Herbert Ezekiel author of the book The History of the Jews of Richmond from 1769 to 1917 (1917) claimed in 1860 that while Benjamin was in San Francisco arguing the mining case United States V. Castillero, he delivered a sermon at a San Francisco synagogue for Yom Kippur, on September 26. The United States V. Castillero was one of Benjamin’s most important cases in front of the Supreme Court concerned with “the ownership of the New Almaden quicksilver mine in California.” [30] Ezekiel quoted Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise of Cincinnati. Wise had not been San Francisco that year and neither did the only Jewish paper The Weekly Gleaner claim Benjamin was anywhere near a synagogue let alone deliver a Yom Kippur sermon.

Two days earlier Rev, Julius Eckman of The Weekly Gleaner reported Benjamin delivered a lecture on politics and government at Tucker’s Academy for an Episcopal Church. The speech, however, did mention American Jewry, Eckman reported Benjamin made rare comments speaking out against political discrimination. Gleaner wrote, “He next referred in a very happy manner to the injustice in the distribution of offices and asked why the citizens of his religious tenets were not favored by those who have it in their power to bestow offices of emolument and trust. In a very pathetic manner, he asked ‘Would the great Washington have excluded a citizen from holding federal appointment because of his religion.’” [31]

Ezekiel believed Benjamin’s speech was delivered as a Yom Kippur sermon, Korn, however, indicates the speech must have been one Benjamin delivered to the Church of Advent. Korn claims the official printed version of the speech referred to “the spoils system and political prejudice, not religious prejudice.” Korn argues Eckman was either drowsy that evening and did not hear Benjamin right, or he was so eager to identify Benjamin as a positive Jew that he misinterpreted what the Louisiana Senator did say.” [32] Korn’s basis for his analysis was because Benjamin never spoke about himself in his address or anything related to Judaism in his addresses, quoting Jefferson Davis who claimed, “No more reticent man ever lived where it was possible to be silent.”

Without many records, it is difficult to say for certain. Despite Korn debunking the Benjamin quote, Eckman’s paraphrasing of Benjamin speaks volumes on why he, for the most part, stayed away from Judaism in his public life, his fear his religion would hold his ambition back from political advancement. Historian Diane Ashton explains the situation for Southern Jews during the Civil War in her article “Shifting Veils: Religion, Politics, and Womanhood Among Jewish Women During the Civil War.” Ashton writes, “When the determination of friend or foe was the degree to which an individual displayed shared values and commitments and when religion was made to serve political causes, Jewish identity could be a liability or an asset.” [33] With the array of anti-Semitic attacks on Benjamin from his political foes, he long learned that assimilation and keeping his religious difference private was best for his political advancement.

Two later incidents while Benjamin served in the Senate, however, demonstrated just how distanced publicly he was from his religion. In 1850, the “American Minster to Switzerland” A. Dudley Moore negotiated a commercial treaty with the Swiss Confederation. An article in the treaty allowed Swiss cantons the right to refuse Jews’ entry and not allow them to benefit from the treaty, only Christians, and included the ability to expel any Jew conducting business in their canton. Secretary of State Daniel Webster and Senator Henry Clay opposed the clause and President Millard Fillmore wanted the clause removed from the treaty.

The controversy became known as L’Affaire Swiss. Rabbinical leaders in both North and South opposed the anti-Semitic clause and lobbied the government to advocate religious tolerance abroad. Among those leading the movement were “Rabbis Isaac Leeser of Philadelphia, David Einhorn of Baltimore, J. M. Cardozo of Charleston, and Capt. Jonas Phillips Levy of New York.” Former Representative Phillip Phillips of Alabama and Jonas Levy advocated the government on behalf of American Jews. In the Senate, Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan led a movement opposed to ratifying the treaty. Cass would later become Secretary of State and notably delivered a speech on the Senate floor on April 19, 1854, placing his support in America’s Jewish population.

Benjamin, however, refused to be involved in the Senate floor debate; instead, he did not identify himself as a Jew that would have been subjected to the treaty’s exemption. Benjamin presented the petition on May 10, 1854, on the Senate floor, he advocated for equality in the treaty but Benjamin chose not to include that he too was a Jew, excluding himself from his coreligionists. According to the Congressional Globe from the day, “Mr. Benjamin resented… a petition of citizens of the United States, professing the Jewish religion, praying that measures be taken to secure to American citizens of every religious creed, residing or traveling abroad, their civil and religious rights; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.” [34] The clause was rewritten but it still allowed the Swiss to discriminate against Jews. What had been an objection became a protest movement by American Jews, the situation only grew when an American citizen and Jew, A. H. Gootman, who conducted commercial business for five years was forced to leave La Chaux-de-Fonds, in Neuchâtel in 1856.

Except for presenting the petition, Benjamin chose not to take on a leadership role; historians suggest he felt it better for non-Jewish Senate members to take on that position. However, it was often the practice of some Jews in the South to “veil” as historian Diane Ashton called it, their religion in front of their Christian neighbors. If he would have taken on a leadership role he would have been known as the “Jewish Senator,” and he worked his whole career not to be defined or hindered by his Judaism. [35] In 1860, Benjamin remained just as detached, when China and Japan put similar clauses in their treaties with America only allowing Christians to worship freely. Again, Jewish leaders objected to the included clauses and lobbied that any American of any faith should have their right. Rabbi Max Lilienthal wrote to Benjamin looking for him to advocate in the Senate on American Jewry’s behalf. Benjamin replied:

Washington, March 24, 1860

My dear Sir:

I have received your favor of the 21st inst., and shall be watchful of the China treaty, in order to take care that by no omission shall the Israelites of the United States be debarred the privilege secured by the treaty to their Christian fellow citizens.

Thank you for your complimentary expression toward myself, I remain,

Yours with great respect,

J.P. Benjamin.

Rev. Dr. Lilienthal.

Benjamin’s reply was detached from the situation, although he agreed to advocate, he did not include himself as one of the aggrieved Jews.

Benjamin would the ultimate political insider but he spent his life as a Jew on the outside from his religion and community. Benjamin remained an outsider as a Jew, who like the rest of the Southern Jewish population tried to be more devoted, loyal and fervent in all the South’s institutions and social constructs to avoid anti-Jewish prejudice. Legal scholar Catharine MacMillan even concurs, “Benjamin’s life, it is also argued, demonstrates how some individuals can ‘overcome’ the initial marginalization which attends the circumstances of their birth to move within the mainstream of society.”[36] Historians agree that Benjamin’s ability to turn his “weakness into strength” led to his success and his “perseverance in the face of adversity.” [37] Benjamin died on May 6, 1884, although he remained a non-observant Jew, his wife Natalie St-Martin Benjamin had a Catholic priest administer last rites on Benjamin before he died, had his funeral services in a church and buried him at the St Martin family crypt at Père Lachaise Cemetery.

The United States is probably the most polarized politically it has been since before the Civil War, the ideological war between the left and right has widened into a chasm. Sanders has found being a Democratic socialist his new religion, his adherence to the ideology has helped him propel to the top of the candidates and gained him popularity among the growing progressives within the party. Benjamin too molded to the Southern social and political norms to rise the political ladder, he supported and defended slavery, states’ rights, and then secession to reach the heights of power in the South. Evans describes, “Benjamin as a Jew would have to be more loyal to the Cause than anyone else — more outspoken in the Cabinet, more courageous, and willing to wage war with the energy that total war demanded. And if he understood Jefferson Davis, loyalty to the President as the symbol to the Cause was the measure of a man’s worth to the Confederacy.” [38] Loyalty and adherence to America’s new political norms and downplaying their Judaism are the reasons both Benjamin and Sanders were able to advance in their political career despite their religion, now Sanders has the chance to use Benjamin’s strategy to reach what has until now elusive for Jews, the pinnacle of power in the U.S, the presidency.

SOURCES

Downey, Arthur T. The Creole Affair: The Slave Rebellion That Led the U.S. and Great Britain to the Brink of War. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

Evans, Eli N. Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate. New York: Free Press, 1989.

Korn, Bertram W. “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, vol. 38, no. 3, 1949, pp. 153–171. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43059749.

MacMillan, Catharine. “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?” Journal of Law and Society, 42 (1), 2015, pp. 150–172. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.14676478.2015.00702.

Nadell, Pamela S. and Jonathan D. Sarna, eds. Women and American Judaism: Historical Perspectives. Hanover N.H.: University Press of New England, 2001.

Singer, Jane. The Confederate Dirty War: Arson, Bombings, Assassination, and Plots for Chemical and Germ Attacks on the Union. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co, 2005.

Stone, Kurt F. The Jews of Capitol Hill: A Compendium of Jewish Congressional Members. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, Inc, 2011.

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS is a journalist, librarian, and historian. She has a BA in History & Art History, and an MLIS, Masters in Library and Information Studies both from McGill University. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She is currently expanding her article about Confederate cabinet secretary Judah Benjamin “The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish goal of whiteness in the South” into a full-length biography.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/11/opinion/bernie-sanders-election.html

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/01/13/opinion/bernie-sanders-nytimes-interview.html

[3] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/01/bloomberg-and-sanders-embrace-judaism-not-each-other/605503/

[4] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 149.

[5] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xiii.

[6] https://jewishcurrents.org/how-to-fight-antisemitism/

[7] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/01/bloomberg-and-sanders-embrace-judaism-not-each-other/605503/

[8] https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/elections/presidential/caucus/2019/12/29/bernie-sanders-celebrates-hanukkah-des-moines-menorah-lighting/2772165001/

[9] https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/bernie-sanders-rolls-out-his-jewish-bernie-campaign-video

[10] https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/bernie-sanders-rolls-out-his-jewish-bernie-campaign-video

[11] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/01/bloomberg-and-sanders-embrace-judaism-not-each-other/605503/

[12] https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/bernie-sanders-being-jewish-is-one-of-two-factors-that-shaped-his-outlook

[13] https://twitter.com/berniesanders/status/1170120494017740801?lang=en

[14] https://www.jta.org/2020/02/13/politics/cornel-west-uses-hebrew-word-chesed-at-bernie-sanders-rally

[15] https://jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain/310299/bernie-sanders-and-the-jews/

[16] https://jewishcurrents.org/how-to-fight-antisemitism/

[17] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/01/bloomberg-and-sanders-embrace-judaism-not-each-other/605503/

[18] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/01/31/among-democrats-christians-lean-toward-biden-while-nones-prefer-sanders/

[19] https://jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain/310299/bernie-sanders-and-the-jews/

[20] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/01/13/opinion/bernie-sanders-nytimes-interview.html

[21] Arthur T. Downey, The Creole Affair: The Slave Rebellion That Led the U.S. and Great Britain to the Brink of War, (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), 160.

[22] Bertram W. Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, vol. 38, no. 3, 1949, 168. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43059749.

[23] Eli N. Evans, Judah P. Benjamin: The Jewish Confederate, (New York: Free Press, 1988), 97.

[24] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 10.

[25] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 11.

[26] Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW”

[27] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xvii.

[28] Catharine MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?” Journal of Law and Society, 42 (1), 2015, 2. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.14676478.2015.00702

[29] Whitaker, Sketches of Life and Character in Louisiana, 28.

[30] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 11.

[31] Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” 156.

[32] Ibid., Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” 157.

[33] Pamela S. Nadell and Jonathan D. Sarna, eds. Women and American Judaism: Historical Perspectives, (Hanover N.H.: University Press of New England, 2001), 84.

[34] Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” 167.

[35] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 41.

[36] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 18–19.

[37] Ibid., MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 18–19.

[38] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 121.

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS is a journalist, librarian, and historian. She has a BA in History & Art History, and an MLIS, Masters in Library and Information Studies both from McGill University. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She is currently expanding her article about Confederate cabinet secretary Judah Benjamin “The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish Goal of Whiteness in the South” into a full-length biography.

Judaism December 31, 2017: Adventures and disasters in online Jewish dating for marriage

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EDUCATION

Adventures and disasters in online Jewish dating for marriage

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

The Jewish community is always lamenting the high intermarriage rates especially in the United States and Canada destroying the continuity of the Jewish religion, but there are deeper reasons why the rate continues to get higher. Enter the world of Jewish online dating for marriage, the last hope to find your Jewish soul mate, beshert or simply marry within the religion. The various websites include those that allow the single to meet individually other eligible singles. Others have personal matchmakers working to find you a potential match based on a set of criteria you provide. Both kinds of sites boast their success rates and the number of matches. What they never boast or advertise is the numerous horror stories that make any Jewish single understand why nearly half of North Americans choose intermarriage.

Intermarriage has increasingly become a problem in North America. The most recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project published in the fall of 2013 determined that 44 percent of American Jewish choose to marry someone outside the faith. The poll claimed the rates were higher for Jews who identified with the Reform or Reconstructionist movements, much less among Conservative Jews and almost non-existent in the Orthodox community. In Canada, the community likes to believe the rate is lower than their American counterparts, but not really. According to the Jewish Federations of Canada — UIA’s 2011 National Household Survey, “The intermarriage rate for couples under 30 years of age is 43 percent. More than 72,000 Jews live in intermarried households in Canada, including 15,490 children, more than half of whom are being raised without any religious affiliation.”

I am a Jewish woman in her mid-thirties, who for various reasons chose not to get married as the stereotypical 26-year-old as the majority of my peers did so conveniently many within weeks of each other. I wanted more in my 20s; I wanted graduate degrees, I wanted a career, professional notoriety, and for a while achieved the influence, I wanted. I also experienced personal disappointments, mental abuse, sexual harassment, and the dark sides of interpersonal and professional relationships, unfortunately in the hands of Jewish men. The bad experiences only pushed me further away from pursuing marriage.

There is something about the mid-thirties that makes every woman desperate to find a man to marry, to have children, even if that was never their priority. Opportunities were more tempting to date outside the religion, but as someone who came from a traditional Jewish home, went through the Jewish school system and even pursued graduate work in Judaic Studies, it never seemed an option I wanted to explore. For the past few months, I sunk so desperate as to attempt online Jewish dating for marriage and Jewish matchmaking services, with deep reluctance and not much hope and for good reason. In my journey, I met Jewish men from around the world, but particularly the US, New York, and Canada. I will be blunt you hear horror stories about online dating, and I believe I experienced some of the worst because the experience nearly killed me.

At the matchmaking site, I first encountered a matchmaker who found everything about my profile wrong, from my photo to my about me section and even my instructions to the matchmakers as to my criteria for a potential match. The matchmakers volunteer and come from a variety of professions one of mine was a lawyer, who approached matchmaking as only a lawyer could. From the start, she sent me potential matches without any thought to my criteria, a first look that makes you question the whole dating pool.

When I talked with my matchmaker in the mandatory phone interview I had bad flashbacks as a novice undergraduate having my papers reviewed by my professors explaining why I received that bad grade, but this was my dating profile and my personal views about my life. First, she told me I had to get my hair and makeup professionally done and have a professional photographer take the photos. She told me I was not getting a good response from my photo, ironically she did not realize the photos were from my 20s, I really do not look that different except for my hairstyle, and it was probably me at my peak and at the time I paid the most attention to applying a lot of makeup. She called my profile too arrogant for its bluntness, which was meant to weed out the weak and abusive men, and for my academic and career-mindedness. In other words, she wanted me to entirely dumb myself down for these men and bimbo myself to please them.

Our society frowns at body shaming of this sort, most advice tells women to be themselves, and definitely not change physically, intellectually or belief wise for any man. Jewish matchmakers, however, believe in the backdated notion that women need to sacrifice their integrity to get a man. To please her, as a writer I channeled my inner sarcasm and came up with a profile that included flippant lines like “Gone With The Wind inspired me to study real Jewish southern belles during the Civil War, the Jewish Scarletts, and Melanies. As for me as I am as fiery and determined as Scarlett, but as sweet, caring, and compassionate as Melanie.” With a sappy conclusion, I wrote “I am looking for my own bashert to make this journey through life even more meaningful,” although feminism teaches young women that life can be complete without a man.

All this to the please the males on the site, and what a dating pool it was, in a complete double standard the men were not forced to adhere to the physical ridicule the women were. I was looking for men older than me primarily. I was sent men upward to 50 who had never been married, who looked much older and generally creeped me out. The ones who were divorced and with children were even worse, one claimed to be very religious but had left his wife with five children under age 13 and was now looking to marry another woman and have more children with and then repeat the cycle.

The younger ones in the later thirties and early forties had secrets in their backgrounds; if you did a background search, they either were listed as married or had criminal records or families with ones. Many routinely lied about their professional degrees and jobs. One guy, who was one of six siblings from a religious family, had three of the siblings with criminal records. None of the men were lookers, and most of were not even interested in accepting a potential match, even when on paper it seemed perfect they refused, making a woman question them, their motives for being on the site and even their sexuality.

My worst encounter was with a local man who I previously encountered on another matchmaking site. Months earlier I initially refused him after his acceptance because he lied about his looks, weight, jobs and that he was a fulltime undergraduate student again as he was approaching his mid-forties. Here again, matchmakers other than my own were suggesting this same guy. I thought I had been too shallow the first time, and I thought I should have given him the benefit of the doubt I was wrong.

He was still lying about being over 300 lbs, and that he now needs two years to graduate. With talking to him I found out he been fired from a job that he had no qualifications for and should have been grateful to have instead he challenged every one of the institutions time-honored traditions. He failed to see he was wrong at all ever, just talked about himself and pretty much to himself. Two phone calls and emails were enough, but his matchmakers misinterpreted talking twice on the phone as a reason to be roped into marriage and started to stalk me and call me at all hours to force me to go with him. When I complained about it to the site’s support, I was the one kicked off the site, because one can never complain about the amazing Jewish men and their matchmakers.

The second dating website eliminated the headache of matchmakers but left one more vulnerable to the crazies. From the start, I met one man who lied about being disabled and claimed he wanted to marry me but conveniently wanted me to pay for everything. Another man was a grieving overweight widower with children in his mid-forties, who thought I was older than I claimed by a year made an issue about it even though he was still 10 years older than I no matter what, and he was hiding a criminal past. I met another local guy, who knew all my peers from school, which goes against one of my rules of dating, he kept pursuing me by email even though I was not interested, and when I said we knew too many common people he flipped out and had a meltdown practically confessing his past sins on my email account. Never mind, discussing the countless other men whose stories and encounters I experienced that are not worth repeating.

Beware, however, the guy who pretends to be sweet complimentary and flattering. He contacted me the moment I started on the site literally. He was a little younger than me, which goes against another dating rule of mine, but seemed too nice not to talk to, we shared similar academic interests, he was religious, had attended a Yeshiva, made aliyah in his 20s, served in the IDF, but from the start there were red signs. He Facebook friended me after the first call, was telling me he loved me in the first week and saying he wanted to marry me within days. He was showing me all his graduate school essays for my critic, and I also suspected my rewrites. Soon, however, his multiple daily emails were becoming too demanding and time-consuming. For the first month, I kept him at bay, while I searched for someone more worthy and more compatible with me.

Getting kicked off of the matchmaking site, somewhat made me more desperate suddenly I was taking seriously the love declarations of the younger graduate student lothario who claimed to want marriage but seemed to be only desperate for sex. I committed to him, and he even bought me an engagement ring, we started planning a spring wedding, but the early issues only increased. He would email non-stop during the day, while he was at work, even while was in class and expected me to babysit him as he went home each night and then talk to him on the phone each evening. He had hissy fits if I did not answer within minutes. I was soon accounting for every break. My life was not my own, my work was going to the wayside, everything I built up my entire adult professional life. I had no time watch TV, to eat, or even shower.

Years before I knew a man who thought, I was unreasonable when I wanted a response to a single email within the professional 24-hour period or at least 48 hours and got annoyed if I emailed after 48 or 72 hours again. He was oversensitive as to what boundaries were; he should have known and experienced the chocking control I was without barely a minute to myself than he would have known the definition of harassment. I looked forward to Shabbat, not for the religious joys of the day, but because it gave me 25 hours of peace and not hearing from the guy I now felt trapped with.

It was not only his time control, the guy had sexual fetishes, he would not stop bothering me with, and drove me crazy explaining and talking about them. As I got deeper, his control extended to his sexual overtures. In the era of the #MeToo movement, he forced me to send explicit photos over the internet he used for a sexual act, or else he threatened to break up with me and end our engagement. It was my main boundary he crossed it, I never forgave him for it, and began distancing myself from him. I felt sexually assaulted and abused, and still, he was trying to force me to send more photos. The whole short and the now abusive relationship was taking a serious toll on my health. Finally, after one recent Shabbat he told me erev Shabbat he returned my ring for financial reasons, a ring that cost less than $2000, to begin with. Enough was enough, returning my engagement ring behind my back was the last straw. Over two months and 5000 emails later I ended it, but I remain with a deteriorated health, physically bruised and hurt by his deceit and abuse.

In a mere few months of online Jewish dating, I feel more beaten up then the years of normal dating. I always questioned privately intermarriage even as some of my peers from Jewish school chose that route. I was equally appalled at the intermarriage rate from the 2013 Pew poll as I reported about it in an article. I firmly believed in Jewish continuity through marriage, after my experiences I have greater sympathy and understanding for intermarriage, as see my peers who intermarried are happier than I am or even my peers who married within the religion and maintain a hypocritical showbiz relationship with Judaism.

My foray shows there are problems with the Jewish dating pool, abuse, insanity, and criminality, much can be attributed to the men as much as their parents especially the mothers who raised them to treat a woman as objects without any respect. Equally at fault are the matchmakers, whose mindsets are back 100 years before the emergence of the feminist movement and Betty Friedan’s “The Problem That Has No Name.”

I begin to question the commitment of Orthodox rabbis to Jewish continuity, when the rabbi I contacted after being kicked off the matchmaker site, never responded to me although I pleaded and pledged my dedication to marrying Jewish, but was now without options to find a Jewish mate and needed his help. The community, the rabbis, the matchmakers, the parents not only educators are responsible for the rising intermarriage rate. When they make it unappealing and impossible for a Jewish single to find a Jewish mate, the single Jew stops caring and dealing with the problems and decides on the easier route intermarriage rather than remain single trying to find another Jew.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Judaism April 16, 2017: Valmadonna Trust Library finds permanent home at National Library of Israel

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JUDAISM

Valmadonna Trust Library finds permanent home at National Library of Israel

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

After nearly eight years of uncertainty, the Valmadonna Trust Library has found a permanent home. The National Library of Israel announced in a press release on Wednesday, January 18, 2017, that they purchased from Sotheby’s Auction House 8,000 rare books and manuscripts that were a part of the Valmadonna Trust Library; the largest private collection of rare Jewish books. The National Library bought the collection with the help of two private collectors, couple Dr. David and Jemima Jeselsohn. Neither the Library or Sotheby’s disclosed the purchase price, but the sale ensures a majority of these rare invaluable books to Jewish history will permanently be available to scholars. The collection was considered “the most important private library of Hebrew books and manuscripts in the world.”

The National Library of Israel announced the acquisition in a press release. The director of the National Library of Israel, Oren Weinberg made the announcement. Weinberg expressed, “The acquisition of the Valmadonna and its arrival in Jerusalem present a tremendous opportunity for the National Library of Israel to further realize the vision of its renewal, as we will open access to these exquisite cultural treasures for researchers and the general public in Israel and across the globe.”

David Jeselsohn, the private collector, who jointly purchased the collection, also issued a statement. Jeselsohn wrote, “This joint acquisition was done primarily to ensure that the outstanding collection of Hebrew books will find a home in the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, and be made available and accessible to anyone interested in the treasures.”

Unfortunately, The National Library did not purchase the entire 13,000-book and 300-document collection; they only received approximately 10,000 of the books and manuscripts. In 2015, Sotheby’s auctioned off nine items in a highly-publicized auction. Additionally, according to the Israeli paper Haaretz, the deal with the private collector gives the National Library only 80 percent of the Valmadonna Library, while the Jeselsohns’ will receive the remaining 20 percent of the collection.

The collector and custodian, Jack Lunzer had always hoped the collection would be sold as a unit, but the price was too high and twice before the collection was divided it could not garner a sale at auction. Lunzer told the New York Times, “These are my friends. I’ll be happy if they are well-kept and respected. Every one of these books is crying its own tears.”

Among the nine items sold in the December 2015 auction include the cornerstone of the collection, the early 16th century Complete Babylonian Talmud printed by Daniel Bomberg in Venice that brought in just over $9 million alone and purchased by Leon Black, “the founder of Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm.” Additionally, the second most prized book of the collection was sold, the Hebrew Bible from England the Pentateuch with Haftarot and the Five Scrolls, a manuscript from 1189 was sold for $3.6 million.

The Bomberg Talmud is from 1519 to 1539 and one of 14 sets surviving, and Daniel Bomberg, a Christian from Venice printed the first complete sets of Babylonian Talmuds. The Bomberg Talmud “is considered to be one of the most important documents in the history of Hebrew printing.” Stern commented that the Talmud “changed and revolutionized the way Jews studied this book.” The Talmud was the treasure of Lunzer’s collection; it took him 25 years to convince Westminster Abbey in London, who owned it for centuries to sell it.

Lunzer first discovered the set in 1956 during an exhibit at the Victoria and Albert museum celebrating the 300th anniversary of Jews returning to Britain however, Westminster was unwilling to sell the Talmud set. The British government, however, was trying to block the sale by a New York auction house of the Abbey’s 900-year-old charter dated December 28, 1065. Lunzer was able to purchase the copy of the charter, and he offered it up as a trade to which Westminster Abbey agreed. Lunzer finally acquired the Talmud set in 1980, and there had been a ceremony celebrating the occasion in the Abbey’s Jerusalem Chamber. The Talmud is valued at $5.7 million, but it was sold for $9.3 million, Sotheby’s said it was “a new world auction record for any piece of Judaica.”

The second most valuable item in the collection and was sold in the Dec. 22 auction was the Hebrew Bible from England, the Pentateuch with Haftarot and the Five Scrolls, called by Lunzer Codex Valmadonna I. The handwritten text was created in 1189 in York, a year before the destruction of the Jewish community there were most of their books were looted and sold to Jews abroad. After the coronation of Richard I in September 1189, first Christians began rioting against the Jewish community in London and then spreading all throughout the country, York being the “culmination.” The Pentateuch is the only known surviving Hebrew text from the time before King Edward I expelled the Jewish community from the country in 1290. The text was dated 15 Tammuz 4949, 2 July 1189. The Bible was estimated to sell for between $2 and $4 million and did not disappoint selling at a just over $3.6 million.

Still, the Library acquired many important and rare books from the collection. According to the National Library, part of their collection will be “an incunabula of the Pentateuch, printed in Lisbon in 1491; one of only two surviving copies of a Passover Haggadah printed in Prague in 1556; An Ashkenaz Siddur printed in Venice on parchment in 1549; The Plantin Polyglot or “King’s Bible,” printed in Antwerp between 1568 and 1573; and more than 550 broadsheets dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries.”

The collector Jack Lunzer was a British industrial diamond merchant. Lunzer was born in 1924 in Antwerp, Belgium, but he grew up in London, England. Lunzer had been suffering dementia for years, and he died in December 2016 at 92. Lunzer amassed the single largest library of Hebrew manuscripts during the last seven decades; no other collection at any institution rivals it. Lunzer was not the originator of the library, his wife Ruth Zippel’s family was, and they acquired almost all the Hebrew books printed in 16th century Italy in the early 20th century. Lunzer and his wife took the collection hidden in a Milan basement during World War II to London in 1948 after they married.

The trust incorporated in Liechtenstein technically owns and controls the collection. Since Lunzer started suffering dementia, the trustees have control of the collection. His eldest daughter, Margaret Rothem and his other four grown daughters are the beneficiaries, but they did not have an official say as to the library’s fate.

At the end of World War II, when Lunzer started to build and expand the library, there were only a few hundred books. At the time, Lunzer collected the books, mostly in the 1960s and 70s, they were quite cheap, he amassed them through auctions, book sales, and many came from purchasing the collection of his former liturgy teacher, Solomon Sassoon. The library is named after a small Italian town with a connection to the Zippel family. Italy is considered “the cradle of Hebrew printing.” Lunzer took 50 years to create his collection that he kept in his London home and organized by region published, before their 2009 move to Sotheby’s.

The collection originally compromised 13,000 books and manuscripts all in Hebrew, and it represents millennia of the history of Hebrew manuscripts. Among the types of manuscripts and books in the library are “Mishnaot, Siddurim, Haggadot, Alef-bet tables, and ephemera,” some of which are printed on rare “blue paper, vellum, and silk.” There are 1,500 different Haggadot alone in the collection. Well used the books and manuscripts were hardly in mint condition when purchased. Lunzer wanted to make his books as perfect, and he purchased multiple copies as possible and rebound them. Sotheby’s described the library as “boasting rarities dating from the 10th century to the early 20th century from Italy, Holland, England, Greece, Eastern Europe, the Ottoman Empire, North Africa, India, and China, documenting the spread of the Hebrew press and the dissemination of Jewish culture around the globe.”

The majority of the books come from Italy, Spain, Turkey, Portugal, and Amsterdam, medieval Jewish centers, where scholarship flowed. Most of the manuscripts were created on vellum or silk paper, the illuminated ones are decorated with gold leaf, have painted scenes or “intricate borders and illustrations.” The earliest codex in the entire collection is a Franco-German copy of the Pentateuch written in an Ashkenazic script during the tenth or eleventh century,” which also happens to be “one of the earliest texts of the Five Books of Moses written anywhere in Europe.” Rothem describes the library as her father’s “life’s work.” Since his wife died in 1978, it preoccupied him for than anything else, and he often studied their meanings.

The books reveal more than just a history of Hebrew manuscript, but also delineate Jewish history for the last thousand years. The gaps in time and geographical areas show as the New York Times pointed out “implicitly mark periods of decline,” where Jewish communities were “exterminated” or their books burned. Lunzer specifically looked to recount Sephardic Jewish history, the expulsion from Spain to Italy and then the Ottoman Empire and Amsterdam. Christopher de Hamel, the former head of Sotheby’s Western Manuscripts division, commented to Tablet in 2009, “You suddenly begin to glimpse what it means to gather the written Jewish heritage.”

The library possessed “nearly half” of the 140 incunable books from early 15th-century printing and two-third of Hebrew books printed in the latter half of the 16th century. Sotheby’s describes, “The term “incunable” comes from the Latin for swaddling clothes or cradle and is applied to books produced during the “infancy” of Western typographic printing.” Although printing began in 15th century Germany, Germans would not allow Jews in the guilds and work the printing presses, and therefore only when printing came to Italy and Rome did Jews began printing Hebrew books using even the “same print shops” as their Christian counterparts.

The early Hebrew printing shops were located in Italy, and the Iberian Peninsula, before the Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492. The early books included primarily religious texts; Bibles, and legal texts and Biblical exegesis, but some secular texts as well. The Valmadonna Library includes the last printed Hebrew Bible in Spain before the expulsion. The library is not just compromised of religious Hebrew texts, but also “Latin books by Jewish authors and Christian texts of Jewish interest.” The majority of Jewish texts, however, were religious, and read and studied often, Jewish texts had an additional problem Christians censored or burned their books, making the sheer number the Valmadonna Library has from that era that more incredible.

The library has been at Sotheby’s since 2009 when Lunzer first tried to sell it as a whole. It was exhibited there and available to scholars organized by country of origin as it had been in Lunzer’s home. At the 2009 exhibit, 4,000 people visited it each day of a 10-day exhibit in February. Sotheby’s tried to auction the entire collection twice before resorting to breaking up the collection and auctioning off the most prized items in December 2015. In 2009, Sotheby’s tried to sell the collection with an asking price of $40 million and again in 2011 for a price of $25 million.

There were two caveats for its sale at the time, the collection could not be broken up, and it had to be accessible to scholars. Lunzer said at the time, “I would like our library to be acquired by the Library of Congress. That would be my great joy.” Lunzer also had expressed, “It would be the crown of the Library of Congress to have these things, and for the Jewish community in America. The world would gasp.”

The collection has always been too expensive and expansive for any person or institution to purchase in its entirety. Sotheby’s came close once to selling the whole collection twice. In 2010, there was an anonymous bidder “who met or exceeded the base asking price of $25 million,” but the sale fell through because they would not abide by the two stipulations. Many institutions have tried over the years to purchase the library. The Library of Congress wanted to purchase the collection back in 2002 offering $20 million just as Lunzer had hoped for the 350th anniversary of Jews arriving in America. Accounts varied about the sale’s collapse, from financial backers withdrawing funds to the trust asking more money.

Individual collectors might have the money, but do not have the space to house such a large library in its entirety. The senior Judaica consultant at Sotheby’s Sharon Liberman Mintz told the Forward the size “has made it difficult for any one person to absorb. And for the institutions, it was a big sum of money.” Sotheby’s and the trustees decided the only way to sell the library was by breaking it up. Redden said, “I think people respect the fact that we tried to sell the collection as a unit.”

Scholars have been worried about the Valmadonna Library since it was transferred to Sotheby’s in 2009. The new sale does nothing to elevate scholars’ concerns, since key items from the collection have been already sold, and it is still broken up in the deal. When Sotheby’s auctioned off some the most important books in the collection, academics were concerned about it being sold separately and saw it as a loss for further research.

Brad Sabin Hill, the curator of the I. Edward Kiev Judaica Collection at George Washington University, spoke to the Forward in December 2015. Sabin Hill lamented, “It would be a terrible loss to the Hebrew booklore to have the rest of the printed book collection dispersed. I would consider that to be unfortunate.” Commenting in 2010 to the Forward David Stern, a professor of Classic Hebrew Literature at the University of Pennsylvania also criticized the dispersion of the collection. Professor Stern said, “While we do not yet know what will happen to the library, its possible disappearance as an integral collection would be a colossal loss to Jewish culture.”

The sale in December 2015 ended the complete access to 12 of the most prized books when nine of the manuscripts were sold. The nine books in Sotheby’s auction represented the “rarest and highest-priced books” of the collection. Scholars, who had been conducting research, lost access to these books, but it is not only a loss to them but also the entire academic community. Although the majority of the collection was sold to the National Library of Israel, a research institution, scholars still lost access to many important and rare books and manuscripts from the collection, severely hampering research into the history of books, but also the Jewish history of the times.

The books have arrived in Israel in February, but will not be visible to the public for another three years. The National Library of Israel plans to put the collection on display in 2020 after their new building is completed. Currently, the new structure is under construction and will be located next to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. Before the collection can be exhibited it will be cataloged in the intervening time. In 2020, the National Library is planning an event for the collection’s opening to the public. Although the library is missing some of the treasures, Lunzer would have found it reassuring that the majority of his collection ended up in a Jewish institution that values the historical relevancy of the books and will make sure future generations of scholars have access to these important books vital to Jewish history.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Judaism August 18, 2016: How a tragedy in Montreal should bring attention to domestic abuse in the Jewish community

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POLITICS

How a tragedy in Montreal should bring attention to domestic abuse in the Jewish community

By Bonnie K. Goodman

On Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016, a chapter in a tragedy in the Montreal Jewish community came to an end, but a discussion and new awareness have to begin. Wednesday, Montreal police arrested 80- year-old Salomon Abeassis for arson and first-degree murder of his longtime wife, Teresa Cohen’s, 75, death. This couple lived in the same rented house for over 30 years on a quiet street in the predominantly Jewish suburb of Cote St Luc. The neighbors’ thought they were such a nice quiet couple but underneath the perfect veneer, this woman presumably lived with the silent problem in the Jewish community, domestic abuse.

On a quiet, sunny Sunday, July 10, a fire broke out in the upstairs duplex on Guelph in Cote St Luc. The downstairs neighbor and longtime landlord heard the screams coming from upstairs tried to go upstairs to help first through the front stairs after the husband supposedly buzzed her in and then through the back stairs. It was front the back window, she saw the horrid sight, the wife was on the floor of the kitchen ablaze; there was no way the neighbor could do anything to help. The neighbor called 911, but they took 20 minutes, and in that, the time, the wife suffered alone. Cohen was taken to the hospital, in critical condition with terrible burns all over her body, her life hung in a balance a day later, on Monday, July 11; Teresa Cohen died from her injuries and with her what happened and her true story of suffering.

What set this story apart was how heinous the crime was, police say a liquid accelerant was poured on Cohen supposedly by the accused, her husband, the only other person in the house at the time and then set on fire. The crime first appeared to look like a suicide, because the wife had recently had hip replacement surgery and lost some mobility. The neighbor said they were always so quiet and that Abeassis helped his wife after she broke her hip in March, taking her to doctors’ appointments. For over a month doctors protected the husband preventing the police from questioning him, as he remained an important witness. Abeassis was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation, something people are released from the hospital in a day maximum, but for five weeks, he was kept sheltered, doctors say he was in a coma. In no other case would that happened except he was an eighty-year-old supposedly nice Jewish man with no prior criminal record.

Finally, on Aug. 5, doctors gave police the green light to question Abeassis. Upon his release from the hospital, he was arrested and “escorted” by police to the courthouse where he was formally charged. Abeassis was brought in a wheelchair and had problems hearing the proceedings against him; he seemed confused as he was represented by his legal aid lawyer and charges were formally brought against him. He will be kept in custody until his next court date in October and has conditions; he cannot contact two of his daughters or their families.

As a journalist, I write about the news often, and the news is hardly pretty, but this story hit me hard, partly because it was in my community, practically in my backyard, I know the street well. More importantly, it touched me because it was a tragic story and end to domestic abuse. I was in a relationship where I was mentally abused and controlled for years, everyone around me told to get away from him, that one day he would do real harm to me. Then he tried to, although not the same, I akin what he did to me as a man with the same rage that tries to kill a girlfriend or wife. I occasionally allude to what happened to me in some of my articles. Guess what he was a nice Jewish man, with a good reputation. No one could have ever imagined how he terrorized me and wanted to destroy me, I was even in denial, I could not see what he was doing to me. I came from a good family; I was sheltered, and I was too trusting.

This woman probably suffered for years from her husband’s abuse living with it in silence afraid of the shame it might cause her family, what others might have thought. We will never know if her daughters, knew anything, wanted or did not want her to leave him, what we know is nobody helped her, and she died a horrid death. This man she lived with, was married to maybe 50 years, raised four children is not just accused of killing her, but obliterating her in every way possible.

Living in the community and with many of peers living there as well, possibly even knowing the family, with one of the daughters a teacher at a local Jewish day school, I was shocked that nobody commented on the incident. The local Jewish press also covered the story to a minimum; the mainstream press covered the story because it was a possible murder in a quiet suburb that rarely if ever sees murders, and because of the sensationalism and shock of the crime, the victim, and the suspect.

I had to repost on my social media the local media’s take on the story after the arrest. I was practically stoned for posting. My peers who would comment on everything, every little event, thought it was inappropriate to comment on this incident. They said it was “disrespectful” “not right to comment” “because we don’t exactly know the situation and we can’t speculate,” because it could be “taken out of proportion,” and a “tragic story that does not need people dissecting it.” Irrelevant, was although “They seemed to be very nice people from a nice family,” they were not religious.

This was a heinous, heinous crime. It happened in our backyard literally, in our community. We live in an age where we comment on every tragedy in the news, but they are far away, with the news media defining who is the enemy it is OK to remark and to take sides. We routinely comment on the domestic abuse cases of celebrities taking sides, giving our opinions. If the Jewish community experiences anti-Semitism, there is no stop of responses from the community and the Jewish media. Why do we have to ignore this story, is it because we feel uncomfortable and if we do not talk about it did not happen. Our problem is in when we know the people and they are in our community we do not want take sides, the black and white becomes gray.

Teresa Cohen most probably experienced domestic abuse, she kept silent, and she paid for it in the most horrendous way possible, her life, supposedly by the hands of someone she lived and built a life with for the majority of her life. To keep silent is what is disrespectful, showing neutrality is practically condoning what happened. There is a denial that domestic abuse is not a problem in the Jewish community it is. For Teresa Cohen not to have died totally in vain, we need to do more to make aware and help those suffering domestic violence in the Jewish community, in our community. We need to make sure these women do not end up with the same or similar fate.

Domestic abuse has long been a silent problem in the Jewish community the prevalent attitude is “Oh it doesn’t happen – there’s no abuse in the Jewish community.”  Just last year the Canadian Jewish News did a cover story entitled “Domestic Abuse is a Jewish Issue, Too.” Generally “one in four women experience domestic abuse during their lifetime” and according to the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse’s statistics the rate of abuse in the Jewish community is the same between 15 and 25 percent of women experiencing abuse. At Montreal’s Jewish women’s shelter Auberge Shalom Pour Femmes, 20 percent of those at the shelter are Jewish while 35 percent participate in their “external services” to helped abused women.

Religious reasons are often behind the denial about abuse occurring in the community. Penny Krowitz, the executive director Act To End Violence Against Women (ATEVAW) told CJN, “For most people in our community, they don’t believe it happens to us. They believe the Jewish community is immune to such things, because of our tremendous value on family and shalom bayit.”

The other part of denial comes from the women experiencing it themselves, because Krowitz points out, “women often think that if their husbands aren’t hitting them, they’re not being abused.” Domestic abuse is all encompassing and is “defined as an imbalance of power when one uses threats or physical force to create fear, control or intimidate another.” Krowitz says the majority of domestic abuse in the community is “verbal, emotional, psychological, financial, spiritual, sexual – it’s not visible abuse.” Like me when Krowitz first spoke to a sisterhood about domestic abuse she thought, “The community is going to kill me.”

We have to stop emphasizing the perfect Jewish appearance of being the being the perfect mother, wife, and family living idyllically. The concept and ideal of shalom bayit are often the reason Jewish women do not do anything to get out of their abusive relationships, because as Krowitz indicates, “she is ashamed that her home is not a place of peace, and she feels like it is her fault.” The second obstacle is shandeh – “the shame of admitting, disclosing, that your home is not a happy place. That your husband doesn’t treat you well, that you are frightened, that you walk on eggshells.”

The abuse happens in every socio-economic sphere of the community and among different levels of religious observance, it does not just happen in families where they are not that religious as one of my peers implied. In fact, Orthodox tradition dictates that Jewish women take a submissive role in the patriarchal relationship making the imbalance of power ripe for abuse. Not helping the issue is religious courts most often side with the husband. Jewish women need their husband’s permission to acquire a get a Jewish divorce, if not and a Jewish woman leaves she is considered an “agunah, a chained or anchored woman.”

We still have this belief both religiously and socially that divorce, being single is a stigma, that if we do not have that perfect life, there is no place for Jewish women in the community. Maybe if there was more awareness, less focus on image and less shame associated with leaving than Jewish women would leave their abusive husbands and not end up like Teresa Cohen. She had four grown daughters, and grandchildren, but died alone, and the minute she was set on fire, she was alone with no one to help her. The same way we talk about the larger atrocities that have befallen the Jewish community, we have to speak of the smaller ones to never to forget and never let it happen again.