OTD in History… May 13-June 20, 1939, the ill-fated St Louis filled with German Jewish refugees is refused entry into the Americas

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OTD in History… May 13-June 20, 1939, the ill-fated St Louis filled with German Jewish refugees is refused entry into the Americas

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Source: Washington Post

Eighty years ago on this day in history, May 27, 1939, 937 Jewish refugees passengers aboard the ship the S.S. St. Louis later known as “the Voyage of the Damned” reach their destination of Havana, Cuba after departing from Hamburg, Germany two weeks earlier on May 13, 1939. Cuba, the United States, and Canada would refuse entry to the Jewish refugees as anti-immigration sentiment, isolationism, and anti-Semitism would prevail in as the American countries that already instituted tight laws to prevent immigration. Cuba made its final decision to refuse the refugees entry on June 5, sending them away from the Havana on June 2, where they were never allowed to disembark. Between June 2 and June 5 as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) attempted to broker deals with Cuba and the US, the St. Louis lingered by the Miami, Florida shoreline as the refugees desperately cabled for entry to the American shores they saw longingly.

On June 5, the final word came the US State Department and the US Coast Guard escorted the St. Louis away from the US shores. They began their slow trip back to Europe on June 6, fearful they would return to Germany and certain death. The JDC and advocates continued negotiating for the refugees’ disembarkment but on June 7, Canada refused the refugees entry. The JDC turned to Western Europe as the St. Louis crawled back towards Great Britain. On June 11, The JDC would hear good news, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Britain would divide-up the refugees. They would reach their destinations between June 16 and 20, 1939, however, within a year two-thirds would end up under Nazi-controlled territories and a quarter would die in the Holocaust. The global reaction and treatment of the Jewish refugees on the St. Louis was a defining moment and turning point demonstrating that the world’s scales tipped towards anti-Semitism.

After the Kristallnacht on November 9–10, 1938, Germany’s Jews were looking for a way out of the country, while Germany was looking to rid the country of Jews. However, European transit countries were no longer taking in Jewish immigrants and after Arab protests, Britain tightened immigration to Eretz Israel/Palestine. Latin America with a plan of later entry to the United States was the last hope for many Jewish refugees in Germany. Cuba was one of the destinations because of its proximity to the US and agreement with Germany. Cuba would end up revoking their landing permits and in the end, only let a handful of Jewish refugees remain. Nowhere in the Americas would neither the United States nor Canada would accept the refugees. Both countries had immigration quota systems and strict restrictive laws in place, as isolationist and anti-immigration policies were in the norm in the interwar years.

Source: JTA

The majority of the refugees were German citizens, while a few were from Eastern European countries, practically all aboard applied for US visas and only intended to stay in Cuba while they awaited US immigration’s approval on their visas. Havana, Cuba had been the safe haven previously for refugees but not for the over 900 Jews on the St. Louis. Over 2,500 Jews already found saftey in immigrating to Cuba. News of the ship’s arrival put the Cuban left in motion; they wanted the government to stop the Jewish refugees from arriving. As the St. Louis set sail, however, there were already issues the Hamburg-Amerika Line that owned the St. Louis, kept the information hidden from the passengers.

The St. Louis’ captain Gustav Schroeder, a German sympathetic to his Jewish passengers already suspected there might be problems with the landing permits. The Director-General of the Cuban immigration office, Manuel Benitez Gonzalez had been making a very profitable business from selling landing certificates. Gonzalez took advantage of a loophole in the law, which stated tourists, and those “transiting” through Cuba going to other countries did not need to buy the $500 a person bond required in Decree 55. Gonzalez had an arrangement with the Hamburg-Amerika Line he sold them landing permits and the company, in turn, sold them for $235 to their desperate Jewish passengers. Gonsalez’s corruption led to the Cuban government to force him to resign.

On May 8, Cuban leftist protesters headed by former president Grau San Martin took the streets of Havana objecting to the arrival of more Jewish refugees in the country. Although Cubans worried about the refugees taking away jobs from them during the Depression, the motivation behind this huge rally was anti-Semitism aiming to “fight the Jews until the last one is driven out.” Over 40,000 attended the rally, which was also broadcast on radio. The newspapers in Havana and the province argued Jews were Communists to feed the frenzy, while the Cuban Nazi Party spread “anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic” propaganda. (Ogilvie & Miller, 18)

The rally convinced the Cuban government to change their minds about accepting the refugees. The week before their arrival Cuban President Federico Laredo Bru decided to invalidate all the landing certificates and transit, which the Cuban Director-General of Immigration granted the St Louis’ refugees. The new law Decree 937 would close the loophole and it would require the Cuban Secretaries of State and Labor to personally write and sign permissions to anyone entering the country, and each individual with the exception of American citizens would be required to post $500 in bond. Bru caved to the pressure to turn away the St. Louis’ refugees from Cuba.

Sarah A. Ogilvie and Scott Miller in their book Refuge Denied, The St. Louis Passengers and the Holocaust point out, “But now, quite suddenly, a convergence of factors — including greed, political infighting, public agitation against immigration, fascist influences, and anti-Semitism — changed that equation, making the majority of those aboard the St. Louis unwelcome on Cuban soil.” With Cuba added to the list of countries unwilling to accept Jewish refugees, the German Foreign Office and the Propaganda Ministry were able to use it to their advantage proving nowhere n the world wanted Jews and that they were letting their Jewish population go free.

Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts recount in their book, Voyage of the Damned, A Shocking True Story of Hope, Betrayal, and Nazi Terror, “The voyage could be exploited to the full for propaganda purposes: the German nation could be told that it was part of the general “housecleaning” operation; the world at large could be told that there was clear evidence that Germany was allowing Jews to leave unharmed and unimpeded.” (Thomas & Morgan Witts, 17) The Jews leaving Germany paid a heavy price to leave; they could only take four dollars and personal clothing and effects, giving up any other belongings they owned. The St. Louis would be one of the last ships to leave Germany with refugees before World War II commenced.

On May 23, Captain Schroeder was notified that the passengers might not be allowed to disembark because of the change in Cuban laws. The Hamburg-Amerika line sent Schroeder a cable saying, “MAJORITY OF YOUR PASSENGERS “IN CONTRAVENTION OF NEW CUBAN LAW 937 AND MAY NOT BE GIVEN PERMISSION TO DISEMBARK. . . . YOU WILL MAINTAIN SPEED AND COURSE, AS SITUATION IS NOT COMPLETELY CLEAR BUT CERTAINLY CRITICAL IF NOT RESOLVED BEFORE YOUR ARRIVAL.” Schroeder recruited five of the male passengers to deal with the permits crisis. The passengers’ committee was led by lawyer Josef Joseph and included Max Weiss, Max Zellner, Arthur Hausdorff, and Herbert Manassee. (Ogilvie & Miller, 15–16) The committee served as the spokesman for the refugees and would “play a key role in communicating with international relief agencies and advocating on behalf of the passengers.” (Ogilvie & Miller, 15–16)

The St. Louis reached Havana on Saturday, May 27, docking in the middle of the harbor. The Havana police came aboard and marked R for return on the majority of the refugees’ passports. Family members waiting at the harbor were not allowed to go see their loved ones on the ship. Later in the day, the police permitted only 22 of the 936 Jewish refugees, who had valid US visas and secured the bond to go to land (one refugee died during the trip and had been buried a sea). Additionally, Cuba let in six other passengers, “four Spanish citizens and two Cuban nationals.” On May 30, another passenger Max Loewe attempted suicide slitting his wrists and jumping overboard and was able to stay because he was hospitalized, he later was sent to Britain. The remaining 908 passengers were refused entry neither were they allowed to disembark based on Gonzalez’s permits. The ship and its refugees became the story in the European and American press, however, American journalists did not consider that the refugees be allowed entry into the US, their sympathy only went so far.

Source: The Globe & Mail

On May 28, Lawrence Berenson, who was a lawyer and representative from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) arrived from the US to Havana to attempt to negotiate the St. Louis’ passengers’ entry. Berenson had ties to Cuba having served as the president of the Cuban-American Chamber of Commerce. Berenson personally met with President Bru, who was adamant against allowed the refugees to enter, and on June 2, he demanded they leave Havana. After the St. Louis departed Berenson and JDC kept negotiating with the Cuban government. JDC and Berenson offered $125,000 and promised none of the refugees would seek employment in Cuba and would just stay there as they wait for the US visas. The Cuban government wanted the JDC to post the $500 a passenger bond, a staggering $453,500. According to historian Howard Sachar in his book A History of Jews in America, Bru demanded the JDC post a million dollar bond for the refugees, an amount beyond their reach still, Berenson and the JDC asked for more time. Bru refused, ending the Jewish passengers’ chances to find refuge in Cuba. On June 5, Berenson secured $500,000 in cash and deposited in a Havana bank but Bru was unable to agree to allow the refugees in bowing to public pressure. (Sachar, 493)

The Passenger committee chairman Josef Joseph described the site as the St. Louis left the Havana harbor:

The sirens signaled the engines and we were moving out of Havana into the sunlit blue Caribbean. To our right, we passed the lush colors of tropical gardens, blossoming trees, and exciting flora. To the left, the docks were bordered by the ostentatiously ornate buildings of a tropical metropolis. . . . Crowds filled every space along the shoreline, waving, weeping, and watching with great sadness. Automobiles accompanied us as far as the roadway permitted. And alongside a motorboat with a gentleman from the Joint Distribution Committee as well as a HAPAG [Hamburg-America Line] official who all shouted continuous encouragement and hopes for a speedy “Wiedersehen,” see you soon. A harbor patrol boat followed them and us. It was their duty to see that we moved swiftly out of the harbor. But the officer in sight managed to convey his sympathy for our plight. An indescribable drama of human concern and despair played on us as we sailed into the twilight of uncertainty. This is one of the most tragic days on board because we feel cheated for the freedom we had hoped for. What started as a voyage of freedom is now a voyage of doom.” (Ogilvie & Miller, 18–19)

As they left Cuba, Captain Schroeder slowly steered the boat north close to the coast of Florida, even docking close to Miami on June 3. Schroeder hoped the US would take the refugees since they already have filed the necessary immigration documents. To the St. Louis’ passengers, “America was a magic word. It was the be-all and end-all. We knew America would not let us down.” (Ogilvie & Miller, 19) The JDC and the committee attempted to negotiate a possible docking in the US. On June 5, the US Coast Guard guarding Miami ports to ensure that the ship would not dock or any refugees would attempt to swim to shore and military planes flew overhead. They used a cutter to force the St. Louis away from the shoreline and go north away from American shorelines. The Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis could see Miami and the freedom they craved in the US but were not allowed to enter. A number of the passengers cabled President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the White House, while the children wrote letters to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

The White House did not respond and the State Department’s only response came from A. M. Warren of the State Department’s Visa Division who cabled on June 4, “The German refugees… must await their turns on the waiting list and qualify for and obtain immigration visas before they may be admissible into the United States.” The St. Louis lingering around Miami became a tragic news story. Only Hollywood stars, which included a number of American Jews cabled Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull to no avail but that was as far as American sympathy went. (Ogilvie & Miller, 20)

The United States and President Franklin Roosevelt refused to accept the refugees. Since 1924, when the Republican-controlled Congress US Immigration and Nationality Act of 1924, quotas were put in place limiting the number of immigrants allowed to come from a given country. In 1939, only 27,370 immigrants Germany and Austria were allowed to enter the US and each year thousands were waitlisted waiting for maybe three years or more until they could enter depending on the country. Although a large number in peacetime, the US government further limited the number of Jews to be included in the quota making it a quota within a quota. Historians and Jewish leaders have criticized Roosevelt primarily on two inactions, not admitting the refugees aboard the St. Louis and later not bombing the gas chambers and crematoriums at Auschwitz. Roosevelt heeded to the anti-immigrant lobby in not allowing the St. Louis refugees into America. The president viewed it unfair to the other Jewish refugees in Cuba and Europe, who were awaiting entry to the U.S. to have the St. Louis circumvent the system, and giving a bad example to other ships.

Although, Americans were sympathetic to the refugees’ story, not enough to overcome their deep resentment for immigrants. An April 1939 Fortune poll showed an overwhelming 83 percent of Americans opposed increasing immigration in March 1939, rising from 67 percent the previous year. Roosevelt’s decision not to admit the St. Louis refugees was politically motivated. In the 1938 midterm election Republicans and their promises of increased and sustained isolationism, gained seats in Congress. At that, point if Roosevelt even thought of running for a third presidential term he had to consider the mood of the country. The country was fiercely isolationist and opposed to immigrants entering. While “middle blue-collar Americans” were mostly anti-Semitic adherent to Father Charles E. Coughlin whose radio show reached millions and preached “Nazi anti-Semitic principles.” (Thomas, Morgan-Witts, 16) Roosevelt, the State Department, the FBI, and the country also had a mostly unfounded fear that refugees including Jews from Germany were spies.

However, reluctant Americans were they were not supportive of the opposite extreme total restrictionism. Three restrictionist bills were introduced in Congress in 1939. Senator Robert Reynolds and Representative Joseph Starnes of Alabama introduced a bill intended to stop all immigration for 10 years or until only three million Americans were unemployed, it also would have fingerprinted and registered all immigrants in a database, and deport any “inimical to the public interest.” (Sachar, 491) This bill also died in the committee stage despite outside support from restrictionist groups including the American Legion and a public wary of admitting immigrants into the country.

Changes in immigration could not pass through Congress. After the Anschluss in 1938, Congressional Representatives Samuel Dickstein and Emanuel Celler both of New York introduced a bill allowing refugees to immigrate by using the combined unused country immigration quotas and “forgo the application of the ‘public charge’ provision.” (Sachar, 490) The bill was set for hearings when the restrictionists threatened to retaliate and the White House advised the Dickstein and Celler the bill would interfere in foreign policy. Celler reintroduced the bill in January 1939 allowing refugees to enter on a five-year probationary period. The bill died in the Ways and Means Committee.

In 1939, Congress again attempted to admit Jewish refugees, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senator Robert Wagner (D-N.Y.) and Representative Edith Rogers (R-Mass.) would have allowed 20,000 Jewish child refugees to immigrate to the US, both parties refused to take up the Wagner-Rogers Bill to a House or Senate vote and it languished in committee. The bill received support from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. The first lady was supportive of Jewish refugees but could not sway the president. The American Jewish Committee mounted a campaign in support of the Wagner-Rogers Bill and journalists and newspapers supported the bill to allow refugee children. (Sachar, 491)

However, nativist groups used anti-Semitic propaganda calling it a “Jew Bill” and trying to scare the American public that the refugees would take away food from American children and it might lead to other immigrant children including the much disliked at the time Chinese. The biggest problem was the Roosevelt administration would not support the bill, with Secretary of State Cordell Hull afraid it would open a “Pandora’s box” in immigration requests. Had Roosevelt spoke out in favor of the bill it might have had a chance to pass in Congress. However, according to Thomas and Morgan-Witts, “The message was clear: any president would change the American immigration laws at his peril.” (Thomas & Morgan-Witts, 16)

In general, Americans and Congress wanted Jewish refugees to find a place but not in America, the right-wing wanted to resettle European Jews in “British or French Guiana or Kenya.” (Sachar, 493) While President Roosevelt “appealed to the world for a suitable area ‘to which refugees could be admitted in almost unlimited numbers.’” (Thomas & Morgan-Witts, 14) The world played ping-pong with European Jewish refugees as their lives hung in the balance. The US wanted to find a place for Jews in Central Africa, with Roosevelt advocating Ethiopia. The Soviet Union wanted Alaska. Thomas and Morgan-Witts recount, “The Orinoco River valley in Venezuela, Mexico, the plateaus of southwestern Africa, Tanganyika, Kenya, Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland — the entire confusing collection of suggested sites were discussed, investigated, and dismissed, either by Jewish organizations or by national governments.” (Thomas & Morgan-Witts, 14) Most Jews wanted to go to America, however, the American public, government, and Roosevelt refused.

As historians, Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman analyze in their book, FDR and the Jews, that before and during World War II and the Holocaust Roosevelt’s actions towards Europe’s Jews were conflicting. Breitman and Lichtman explain, “For most of his presidency Roosevelt did little to aid the imperiled Jews of Germany and Europe. He put other policy priorities well ahead of saving Jews and deferred to fears of an anti-Semitic backlash at home. He worried that measures to assist European Jews might endanger his political coalition at home and then a wartime alliance abroad.” … Still, at times Roosevelt acted decisively to rescue Jews, often withstanding contrary pressures from the American public, Congress, and his own State Department. Oddly enough, he did more for the Jews than any other world figure, even if his efforts seem deficient in retrospect. He was a far better president for Jews than any of his political adversaries would have been.” (Breitman & Lichtman, 8)

The last hope for docking in the Americas was Canada, whose immigration policy was even tighter and crueler than the US. As historians Irving Abella and Harold Troper argue in their book, None Is Too Many, Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933–1948, “Once Canada’s door was shut to Jews, it stayed shut. Even while the Nazis slaughter of European Jewry was taking place, the determination of immigration officials to withhold entry to those few Jews who might yet be rescued never wavered.” (Abella & Troper, 17) On June 7, 1939, a number of Canadians looked to have the Canadian government accept the St. Louis refugees. George Wrong led among those who advocated including “B.K. Sandwell of Saturday Night, Robert Falconer, past-president of the University of Toronto and Ellsworth Flavelle, a wealthy businessman.” (Abella & Troper, 64) They sent a telegram to Prime Minister Mackenzie King asking to “show true Christian charity.”

King was not interested in the plight of Jewish refugees he was hosting the royal family and “accompanying” them as their toured Washington, DC. King asked the Minister of Justice Ernest Lapointe and director of the Immigration Branch of the Department of Mines and Resources Charles Blair on the idea both were against it with Lapointe from French Quebec, “emphatically opposed.” Blair believed the Canadian government had already done enough for Jewish refugees from Europe, responding, Canada could “open its doors wide enough to take in the hundreds of thousands of Jewish people who want to leave Europe: the line has to be drawn somewhere.” (Abella & Troper, 64)

With the US and Canada refusing to take in the St. Louis refugees that only left the possibility of Western European countries and Great Britain. On June 6, 1939, the St. Louis started its return trip to Europe. The JDC turned its attention to finding the refugees a place in Europe away from Germany and Austria. The JDC’s European director Morris Troper “frantically” negotiated with European governments, offering to pay for the refugees “board and lodging.” None of the countries seemed receptive, Schroeder to ask his boss the Hamburg-Amerika Line in Berlin if they would allow him to sail to Shanghai, China, a location willing to accept Jewish refugees but they refused such an expense on Jews.

Instead, Schroeder slowly steered the St. Louis towards Europe and Great Britain to buy the JDC time. On the ship, desperation had seeped through with many of the passengers considering suicide. Schroeder devised a contingency plan somehow to crash the ship along the coast of Britain, with it shipwrecked; Britain would have to the Jewish refugees onto land. On June 11, Troper received a response, the Netherlands, Belgium, Britain, and France would take in the refugees. Troper sent news to Schroeder and the St. Louis on June 13, where they would first arrive at the dock in Antwerp, Belgium. On June 17, the St. Louis reached Antwerp by June 20 they would all reach their destination countries. In 1993, the Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel named Schroeder as Righteous Among the Nations.

There seems to be a historical disagreement on the number of each country accepted and how many died under the Nazis. The historian Howard Sachar noted in his book A History of the Jews in America, that the Netherlands accepted 194 refugees; Belgium and France admitted “250 refugees each,” while Britain took the remaining passengers. The United States Holocaust Museum Museum claims, “Great Britain took 288 passengers, the Netherlands admitted 181 passengers, Belgium took in 214 passengers, and 224 passengers found at least temporary refuge in France.” Sachar indicates that 617 out of the 621 who ended up on mainland Europe died within the year. The USHMM says, by May 1940 when Germany conquered Europe, 532 passengers remained on mainland Europe. Of them, 284 “survived” through the Holocaust, while 254 of the St. Louis refugees died in the Holocaust, “84 who had been in Belgium, 84 who had found refuge in Holland, and 86 who had been admitted to France.” Ogilvie and Miller recount, “While a significant number wound up in the relative safety of Great Britain, the rest found themselves embarking — although they at first might not have realized it — upon yet another perilous journey. In less than a year’s time, Germany would control much of Europe, and more than six hundred veterans of the St. Louis trapped on the Continent would once again be in the crosshairs of Nazi terror.” (Ogilvie & Miller, 25)

Had the United States or Canada acted taking a stand against anti-immigrationalists and taken a humanitarian position, all the 936 passengers aboard the St. Louis, who arrived in Havana would have survived and thrived in freedom. The world and Europe’s Jews always viewed the US as a leader and beacon of hope for those in danger, President Roosevelt and the country let them down. Ogilvie and Miller indicate, “The St. Louis affair has come to symbolize the world’s indifference to the plight of European Jewry on the eve of World War II. The episode speaks directly to contradictions in American society when it was faced with the increasingly alarming effects of Hitler’s totalitarian regime. On the one hand, there was widespread disapproval of Nazi brutality and persecution of Jews and other minorities. On the other hand, tough economic times, isolationism, and anti-Semitism hindered any moves to let more refugees in. In the end, the resulting gap — “between sympathy and action” — proved too great to overcome.” (Ogilvie & Miller, 1)

SOURCES AND READ MORE

Abella, Irving M, and Harold M. Troper. None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933–1948. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012.

Breitman, Richard, and Allan J. Lichtman. FDR and the Jews. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013.

Ogilvie, Sarah A, and Scott Miller. Refuge Denied: The St. Louis Passengers and the Holocaust. Madison, Wis: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006.

Sachar, Howard M. A History of the Jews in America. New York: Knopf, 1992.

Thomas, Gordon, and Max Morgan-Witts. Voyage of the Damned: A Shocking True Story of Hope, Betrayal and Nazi Terror. New York, N.Y: Skyhorse, 2010.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Voyage of the St. Louis,” The Holocaust Encyclopediahttps://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/voyage-of-the-st-louis

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in Judaic Studies at Concordia University. She is the author of “Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896,” and contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is a journalist, librarian, and historian and a former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, Judaism, and news. She has a dozen years of experience in education and political journalism.

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

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HISTORY

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.

OTD in History… June 10, 1967, Israel’s Triumphant Six-Day War Victory

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

HISTORY FEATURES

OTD in History… June 10, 1967, Israel’s Triumphant Six-Day War Victory

Bonnie K. Goodman

Bonnie K. Goodman Jun 11, 2019

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Israeli soldiers in front of the Kotel after liberating the Old City of Jerusalem, June 7, 1967. Source: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

On this day in history June 10, 1967, the Six-Day War ends with Israel victorious and tripling their territory capturing the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the old city of Jerusalem. Both Israel and the Arab nations involved; Egypt (the United Arab Republic), Jordan, and Syria agreed to a United Nations ceasefire to broker an end of the war. In addition, to the territory, Israel also gained a population of hundreds of thousands of Arabs. Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren writing in his book, Six Days of War, June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, considers the Six-Day War, “as the single most transformative event in the making of the modern Middle East.”

In the first months of 1967, Syria ramped up their civilian bombing attacks against Israelis in the northern kibbutzim, agricultural villages. Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol warned Syria they would retaliate. Syria would not listen, and On April 7, Israel provoked a Syrian attack along the border in order to fire back, then the Israeli Air Force (IAF) barraged Syria and shot down six Syrian MIG jets given by Russia. Russia accused Israel of gathering their troops at the Syrian border for an attack, which was not true. Russia fearful they would appear as supporting Syria’s Ba’ath regime, which they did, escalated the situation. On May 11, 1967, Eshkol notified the United Nations Security Council, Israel’s decision “to act in self-defense” in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. (Sachar, 772) On May 12, the Soviet ambassador to Egypt claimed Israel was mobilizing the army on the Syrian border, which they were not, and Egypt realized.

Egypt’s President Gamal Abed al-Nassar purposely sent troops and again escalated the situation, which was politically motivated by their domestic unrest and economic troubles, and taunting by the Saudia Arabia. Nasser too wanted to “shore up the Ba’athist cabal in Damascus.” (Sachar, 773) On May 15, Egypt moved troops forward into the Sinai and on May 17, asked the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) to vacate their 3,400 troops from the border and Gaza. On May 19, the UN Secretary General U-Thant complied without an emergency meeting of the General Assembly. On May 18, Nasser ordered UNEF troops to leave Sharm es-Sheikh, “guarding the Straits of Tiran.” (Sachar, 773)

Three days later on May 22, Egypt cut off Israel’s shipping access to the Straits of Tiran, an act tantamount to war. According to historian Howard M. Sachar in his book The Course of Modern Jewish History, the moves allowed Nassar “regained his status as the decisive leader of the Arab world.” Nassar was preparing the Arab world for “a jihad against Israel,” with Nassar declaring on May 21, “The Strait of Tiran is part of our territorial waters. No Israeli ship will navigate it again.” (Sachar, 773) On May 30, the Arab alliance of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan and the Republic of Yemen, as well as coalition partners Iraq, Kuwait, and Algeria, signed a pact. Jordan’s King Hussein agreed to take command of the military forces. The public in the Arab nations held massive demonstrations in support of the holy war their countries were embarking on. By June 4, the Arab alliance was set for war with 230,000 troops mobilized; seven Egyptian divisions consisting of 120,000 soldiers were along the border along with 1,000 guns and 2,000 tanks. (Sachar, 774)

Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban began looking for western assurances that the Gulf of Aqaba would not fall to the Arabs, and an international naval flotilla could be devised to protect it. (Sachar, 773) The United States had yet to develop the close rapport of the post-six-day years and President Lyndon Johnson mired in the Vietnam War could not get Congress to guarantee any assistance. Without the US, the rest of the Western world refused to follow, Britain refused, while France did the opposite to help the Arabs De Gaulle “terminated all military shipments to Israel.” (Sachar, 773) The UN or its Security Council also was not helpful to Israel.

With little help from the outside, Israel began war preparations, calling up reservists and instituting a state of emergency. Israel’s Defenses forces learned through intelligence the Egyptian army would be using Soviet maneuvers and they prepared for it. IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin ensured Israel was prepared, acquiring in advance equipment France, West Germany, and the US, while Israel’s soldiers went through intensive training. (Sachar, 774) Prime Minister Eshkol bowed to pressure, permitted Herut to join the government to form a unity government, and gave the Defense Ministry post to Moshe Dayan.

By June 3, Israel realized there would be no diplomatic solution and no aid from the west. On June 4, the Israeli cabinet voted to give the Defense Ministry the decision making power to strike. Israel decided on a preemptive defensive strike on June 5, commencing the war with Jordan, Syria, and Iraq joining in the attack on Israel. Israel’s air force began their surprise attack 7:10 a.m. and in 170 minutes, they destroyed Egypt’s air force, 300 out of 340 planes. (Sachar, 775) Israel’s air force continued throughout the day to destroy “Egyptian armor and other vehicles” and additionally, they nearly destroyed all of the “Jordanian, Syrian and Iraqi air forces.” (Sachar, 775) Israel was fighting on three fronts, Egypt in the West, Syria in the North and Jordan from the East.

An hour after launching their air offensive on June at 8:15 a.m. Israel began their assault by land. They attacked the Sinai; General Yisreal Tal attacked the Northern Sinai, while General Ariel Sharon “overran, Um Cataf, the linchpin of the Abu Aghelia network of defenses across the Nitzana-Ismailia axis.” On a third front, after a thirteen-hour battle Brigadier Avraham Yoffe reached the Mitla Pass “blocking the enemy line of retreat.” (Sachar, 775) On the first day of battle, the Israeli army was able to “trap” the Egyptian army within the Sinai.

Egypt wanted their army to look good so they lied about the battles and the rest of the Arab nations believed it and it affected how they proceeded, allowing them to make costly miscalculations that would help Israel. The false news reports prevented Syria from mounting an offensive; instead, they just “bombarded” the Galilee settlements rather than mounting an attack. Hussein used the same strategy when he “shelled” Jerusalem attacking the new city and towns beyond it. The Jordanians, however, made a mistake at 1 p.m. they decided on a land assault and occupied “the United Nations headquarters on the Hill of Evil Counsel.” (Sachar, 776)

Late in the afternoon on June 5, Egypt and Nassar finally heard the news about their devasting losses and the situation in the Sinai. When the Soviets and Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin heard the news, he called President Johnson directly through their hotline asking him to stop Israel. Johnson was pleased with Israel resolving the mounting problem in the Middle East and he refused to interfere. Johnson, however, “ordered the United States Sixth Fleet toward the fighting zone.” (Sachar, 776)

By June 7, in the evening Israel Tal and Yoffe were able to ensure they blocked the Gidi and Mitla exits in the Sinai, while Sharon was able to trap the Egyptian army. Doing so the Israel army was able to “destroy or capture” 800 Egyptian tanks. (Sachar, 776) On June 8, Israel reached the “eastern shore of the Suez Canal,” and gained control of the Sharm es-Sheikh. By the end of the day, Israel had Egypt at their knees and “at 8:00 p.m. Nassar accepted Israel’s demand for unconditional cease-fire.” (Sachar, 776)

On June 5, on the Jerusalem front, Dayan responded to Hussein’s occupation of the UN with an offensive and quickly regained the Hill of the Evil Counsel. On June 6, in the early morning hours at 2:20 a.m. Colonel Mordecai Gur sent paratroopers, who at first attacked along the Arab City then were able to move to gain control at the top of Mount Scopus. The third part of the attack would be the Old City but Dayan was reluctant. Eshkol, however, was adamant, saying, “the Old City must be taken, to avert the danger of incessant bombardment [on Jewish Jerusalem].” At midnight, Dayan was still concerned about a frontal attack with Eshkol telling Dayan, “The government wants the Old City.” (Sachar, 652) Later on June 6, Israel engaged in armored attack for “control of the entire Jerusalem promontory including Ramallah and Bethlehem.” (Sachar, 776) By late morning on June 7, after the precision bombing and attacks, Israel was in possession of the entire West Bank.

Late on June 6, Dayan finally agreed on the final assault for Jerusalem after the cabinet notified him “that a United Nations cease-fire was imminent; if the Old City were to be taken, it would have to be seized before hostilities ended.” (Sachar, 652) In the morning on June 7, Gur ordered his soldiers to take the last Jordanian stronghold Augusta Victoria Church. Israel’s soldiers enter the Lion’s Gate by noon “rolled up” the Via Dolorosa to the Western Wall. “Within minutes,” Israel had captured the “entire Hashemite West Bank” including the old city of Jerusalem. As Gur proclaimed upon its capture, “Har HaBayit BeYadeinu,” “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”

The most significant territorial acquisition was Eastern Jerusalem, reunifying the city. Israel had control of the Temple Mount, “the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque” Islam’s holiest site, out of good faith they later ceded it to Jordan. Since 1948, when Jordan won Eastern Jerusalem and West Bank, Jews were unable to enter the Old City and visit the holiest of sites, the Kotel, Western Wall. Upon gaining control and access, Israeli soldiers wept, prayed and Rabbi Shlomo Goren, chief chaplain of the Israeli army blew the shofar at the Kotel, the first time in 19 years. Dayan, Rabin, and Eshkol soon arrived. Sachar recounts, “Touching the flagstones of the ancient wall, even hardened veterans wept… the Jews had returned to the cradle of their peoplehood.” (Sachar, 777)

Naomi Shemer, who had just released “Jerusalem the Golden,” “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav,” changed her song adding lyrics:

We have come back to the deep wells

To the marketplace again.

The trumpet sounds on the Mount of the Temple

In the Old City.

In the caverns of the cliff

Glitter a thousand suns.

We shall go down to the Dead Sea again

By the road to Jericho.

The song became the “anthem of the Six-Day War.” (Sachar, 655)

By 3 a.m. on June 9, “the Egyptian and Jordanian ceasefires had come into effect.” (Sachar, 656) The last front was Syria, On June 9, Prime Minister Eshkol and the cabinet voted for an attack on Syria’s “Golan emplacements.” (Sachar, 777) The emplacements were “fortified redoubts hundreds of feet above the Israeli valley floor.” General David Elazar decided the best approach was to attack the emplacements from the Golan with a “frontal assault.” At noon on June 9, the Israeli army first used bulldozers to clear the rocks, and then attacked first with tanks then soldiers and at the same time, there was an air bombardment. The attack was costly with “heavy casualties” but the plan of attack worked the Syrians were surprised and soon Israel reached the emplacements. By early June 10, Israel was capturing village by village and the Golan capital, Quneitra. Sachar recounts, “Elazar’s strategy had been proved right: crack the main fortifications, move onto the roads behind the Syrians, and the enemy will panic.” (Sachar, 657) By noon, Israel had the Syrians pushed back to Damascus, desperate at 5:30 p.m. Syria agreed to a cease-fire.

On June 9, at 5:30 p.m. the United Nations was starting to pressure Israel to end the war, Israel’s UN delegate, Gideon Rafael notified the UN security council that direction was being sent to Israel’s troops. Israel had to race to gain the Golan before the UN’s cease-fire. In the morning on June 10, the Soviets became involved; Kosygin phoned President Johnson over the hotline demanding Israel stop their assault. The US then sent three task forces towards Syria including aircraft carriers Saratoga and America. Secretary of State Dean Rusk told Israeli Ambassador Avraham Harman that Israel needs to accept a cease-fire. By that time, Israel had garnered the strategic Golan Heights and Dayan was working on the cease-fire through General Odd Bull. Sachar recounts, “The Six-Day War ended officially at 6:30 p.m., Israel time, on June 10.” (Sachar, 658)

Although it was a decisive victory, Israel lost 776 soldiers in the six days of fighting by the amount of wounded was triple, Israel, however, lost only “40 planes and 80 tanks.” (Sachar, 658) Israel’s casualties included 1,756 in the Sinai and a quarter in the battle for Jerusalem, one of the costliest battles in the war. In comparison, “The Arabs may have suffered up to 30,000 casualties, at least 450 planes and 1,000 tanks destroyed or captured, as well as vast quantities of supplementary equipment.” (Sachar, 658)

Israel’s territory also grew by multiples, adding “42,000 square miles.” As Sachar points out “a new military-geographic reality had been created in the Middle East.” (Sachar, 777) Israel was no longer a 4-minute plane ride across the country and within striking distance of Arab fire, now with their new buffer zone, Israel was close to “Amman, Damascus and Cairo,” and had to Suez Canal as a barrier to the south, the River Jordan and the Dead Sea to the east.

So how did Israel accomplish such a feat against the Arab nations with far mo re troops and equipment? Sachar also notes the Six-Day War “was an astounding military achievement, and one widely heralded throughout the entire free world. The discipline and gallantry of Israeli soldiers and civilians, who had shattered a seemingly overwhelming threat to their survival, and touched the hearts of common men everywhere.” (Sachar, 778) Rabin, who received an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University three weeks later explained, the phenomena:

Our airmen, who struck the enemies’ planes so accurately that no one in the world understands how it was done and people seek technological explanations or secret weapons; our armored troops who beat the enemy even when their equipment was inferior to his; our soldiers in all other branches … who overcame our enemies everywhere, despite the latter’s superior numbers and fortifications — all these revealed not only coolness and courage in battle but … an understanding that only their personal stand against the greatest dangers would achieve victory for their country and for their families, and that if victory was not theirs the alternative was annihilation. (Sachar, 660)

Israel hoped the war and their victory could lead to a peace agreement on their terms. As Eshkol claimed in a June 12 speech to the Knesset, “Let this be said — there should be no illusion that Israel is prepared to return to the conditions that existed a week ago.… We have fought alone for our existence and our security, and we are therefore justified in deciding for ourselves what are the genuine and indispensable interests of our State, and how to guarantee its future.” (Sachar, 673) The call, however, never came. Three months later on September 1, the Arab nations met in Khartoum, Sudan and gave Israel their answer, establishing “the 3 Nos of Khartoum”: “No peace with Israel, No recognition of Israel, No negotiations with Israel.” Israel’s Foreign Minister Abba Eban, remarked on the irony, “This is the first war in history which has ended with the victors suing for peace and the vanquished calling for unconditional surrender.” According to the Sachar in his book, A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time, “The Khartoum Declaration was the first serious warning to the Israelis that their expectation of an imminent “phone call” from the Arab world might be a pipe dream.” (Sachar, 676)

On November 22, 1967, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 242 drafted by British ambassador Lord Caradon (Hugh Foote), further shutting down Israeli hopes for a peace agreement on their terms and the direct negotiations or mediation US Ambassador to the United Nations Arthur Goldberg preferred as possible solutions. UNSCR 242 states:

The Security Council … [e]mphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security.…

1.) Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:

  1. Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;
  2. Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force;

2.) Affirms further the necessity

  1. For guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area;
  2. For achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem;

iii. For guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area, through measures including the establishment of demilitarized zones;

3.) Requests of the Secretary-General to designate a Special Representative to proceed to the Middle East to … promote agreement and assist efforts to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement in accordance with the provisions and principles in this resolution.… (Sachar, 664)

In the past 50 years, UNSCR 242 has interpreted differently by the Arab Nations and Israel.

The same political and diplomatic contradiction has been present in the historiography on the Six-Day War. Oren notes, “While the historiographical and political battle over the Six-Day War will no doubt persist, there can be no questioning its importance for understanding this crucial area.” Political viewpoint shape historians’ interpretations of the war and its effects on the Middle East. Guy Laron, the author of the 2017 history, The Six Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East claims in his article “The Historians’ War Over the Six-Day War,” “Ever since 1967, writers have been debating the conflict.” According to Laron’s opinion, the Six-Day War historiography has gone through a journey, “When we debate the Six-Day War, what we are actually arguing about are the chances for peace in the Middle East today.”

The first book published chronicling the war was in 1968, Six Day War by Winston Churchill, and Winston S. Churchill, the son, and grandson of the British prime minister, takes on a pro-Israel position, calling Israel’s Defense Forces, “one of Israel’s greatest achievements.” In 1984, Donald Neff, former Time magazine’s bureau chief in Jerusalem came out with a negative view of Israel and the war in Warriors for Jerusalem: The Six Days That Changed the Middle East. Neff’s criticism remained the mode of analysis of the war until 30 years later in the late 1990s when archival records increasingly became available ushering a new era for historians to revisit the Six-Day War.

In 2002, Oren published his book, where he criticized the recent scholarship, writing, “A wave of revisionist writers, Israelis mostly, have sought to amplify Israel’s guilt…and evince it in the debate over the borders, or even the legitimacy of the Jewish state.” Oren’s book was a military history and mostly examined the battles of the war limiting, however, the “pre-war and post-war” elements. Ha’aretz columnist, Tom Segev took a more critical approach in his 2005 book 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East, and relied heavily upon Israeli historian Ami Gluska’s analysis in The Israeli Military and the Origins of the 1967 War.

Segev’s sweeping history looks at the years before the war, the war, and its aftermath. Segev tends to put the blame on the war on Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, arguing Rabin pushed reluctant and dovish cabinet into an offensive war when Prime Mini. Segev explains, “Nothing was gained by occupying the territories captured in the war. But swept away by fear and subsequently by the intoxication of victory, their emotions often propelled them to act against their national interests, a pattern of behavior the Israelis often attributed to the Arabs…. There was indeed no justification for the panic that preceded the war, nor for the euphoria that took hold after it, which is what makes the story of Israel in 1967 so difficult to comprehend.” (Segev, 31)

Laron’s 2017 volume, The Six-Day War The Breaking of the Middle East also takes a negative tone about Israel generals blaming them for the war and arguing that the Soviet Union and the United States played a greater role than previously believed. Laron looked beyond at the roots of the war rather than the immediate crisis. Laron explains, “This study takes a different approach, arguing that the process that led to the war was not only much deeper, much longer, and influenced by global trends, but also that it was designed and even desired by prominent military figures in the warring countries. It emerged out of a global crisis, which engulfed the developing world in the 1960s and shifted the balance of power between civilians and generals in Israel, Egypt, and Syria. This crisis also caused the Soviet Union and the US to increase their arms sales and their military presence in the Middle East. In turn, these changes exacerbated existing tensions in the region and made war more probable. The Six-Day War’s crucible of weak civilian leaderships, trigger-happy generals, and intrusive great powers provides a salient example of how a regional conflict may start.” (Laron, 21)

For over 50 years Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War has been toasted, roasted, and shaped the modern Middle East and Israel’s relationship with its Arab neighbors. Peace with any of the Arab nations has been contingent on trading land acquired in the war for peace, leading to deals with Egypt and Jordan. However, peace with the Palestinians has been elusive impossibility even after ceding the Gaza Strip, as violence and terror have been their main modes of communication. As Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicates, “The true reason why peace could not be reached in 1967 is the same reason why the conflict began, and why it continues today: The Palestinian and Arab refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state in their historic homeland.” As Israel faces constant criticism from the world it is now increasingly taking on the view that annexation might be the best and only solution for areas one in the war, proving again that going alone is Israel’s the best choice for survival.

SOURCES AND READ MORE

Note: This history of the Six-Day War is hardly exhaustive to read more look at any of the following books.

“50 years ago: The Six-Day War and the historic reunification of Jerusalem,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, June 5, 2017. https://mfa.gov.il/MFA/AboutIsrael/Spotlight/Pages/50-years-ago-The-Six-Day-War-and-the-historic-reunification-of-Jerusalem.aspx

Churchill, Winston S, and Randolph S. Churchill. Six Day War. Delhi: Army Publishers, 1968.

Gluska, Ami. The Israeli Military and the Origins of the 1967 War: Government, Armed Forces and Defence Policy, 1963–1967. New York, NY: Routledge, 2007.

Laron, Guy. The Six-Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017.

Laron, Guy, “The Historians’ War Over the Six-Day War,” The Nation, June 5, 2017, https://www.thenation.com/article/historians-war-six-day-war/

Lorch, Netanel. One Long War. Jerusalem: Keter, 1976.

Oren, Michael. Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. New York: Rosetta Books, 2010.

Sachar, Howard M. The Course of Modern Jewish History. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

Sachar, Howard M. A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979.

Segev, Tom. 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East. New York, NY: Metropolitan Books, 2007.

Tal, David. “Israel Studies An Anthology: The Six Day War.” Jewish Virtual Library, October 2009. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/israel-studies-an-anthology-the-six-day-war

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in Judaic Studies at Concordia University. She is the author of “Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896,” and contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is a journalist, librarian and historian and a former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, Judaism, and news. She has a dozen years of experience in education and political journalism.

OTD in History June 14, 1841, British Colonel Charles Henry Churchill wrote a letter to Sir Moses Montefiore supporting a Jewish state in Palestine

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OTD in History June 14, 1841, British Colonel Charles Henry Churchill wrote a letter to Sir Moses Montefiore supporting a Jewish state in Palestine



By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

unknown artist; Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885); Ramsgate Library; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/sir-moses-montefiore-17841885-77099



On this day in Jewish history, June 14, 1841, British Colonel Charles Henry Churchill wrote a letter to Sir Moses Montefiore supporting the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Montefiore, was a British banker, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and philanthropist, who founded the first New Yishuv, Mishkenot Sha’ananim in 1860, the first Jewish settlement outside the walls of the old City of Jerusalem. Churchill served as the British consul to Ottoman Syria, which included Palestine, today’s Israel. Churchill, an evangelical Protestant, and ancestor of the future Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was one of the first to suggest the political establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.

Montefiore spent his whole life living as part of the Western Europe’s Jewish elite and his adult life as the “the preeminent Jewish figure of the nineteenth century” as Abigail Green recounts in her biography “Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero,” the most complete biography of his life. Montefiore was one of the 12 Jewish financial brokers in London in the early 19th century. Born in Italy to a Sephardic Jewish family, his family moved back to England, where Montefiore was educated.

Afterward, Montefiore entered the grocers and tea merchants’ trade, before going into the finance business and stockbroking with his brother Abraham. Montefiore’s profile and success in the business grew when he married into Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s family. Among the Jewish world, Montefiore’s business is not what made him well known and remembered, but his philanthropy and proto-Zionism in pre-state Israel. Montefiore retired young from the business world in 1824 at the age of 40 to concentrate the rest of his long life on his philanthropic efforts.

Montefiore’s first visit to Israel was in 1827 and it changed his life, specifically when he and his wife Judith Barent-Cohen prayed at Rachel Tomb for children; although the Montefiore never had any children. He subsequently visited Israel six other times, the last time in 1875 when he was 91 years-old. The moment led him to become religiously observant, he served as the president of the Beavis Marks Synagogue for 39 years and traveled with a “shohet” to ensure all the meat he ate was kosher as he extensively traveled.

Montefiore met Churchill in Malta in November 1840, when Churchill asked if he could serve as a courier to Damascus. Churchill arrived in February 1841 and the head of the Jewish community Raphael Farhi held a reception in his honor on March 1.

Churchill gave his first speech supporting Jewry to rousing applauds:  

“May this happy meeting be looked upon as … a forecast of such a connection and alliance between the English and the Jewish nation as shall be honourable and advantageous to both. May the hour of Israel’s deliverance be at hand. May the approximation of Western civilization to the interesting land be the dawn of her regeneration, and of her political existence; may the Jewish nation once more claim her rank among the powers of the world!” (Green, 206)      

Churchill would author two letters to Montefiore advocating “Jewish national regeneration in Palestine.” (Grief, 535) In the first letter dated, June 14, 1841, Churchill advised that the Jews should commence “agitation… to resume their [political] existence as a people.” Churchill believed with the “aid” of the “European Powers,” Jews would attain in the end ‘the sovereignty of at least Palestine.”

In his second letter, dated over a year later on August 15, 1842, Churchill seemed to backtrack stating that only as subjects of the sublime Porte could Jews “recover their ancient country or regain a footing in Palestine.” They would need the Five Great Powers (Britain, France, Russia, Austria, and Prussia) to advocate that the Sultan allow them to settle and “colonize” in Palestine, “under the protection of the Great Powers.”  Under Churchill’s proposal, Jewish colonies would be autonomous but would be required to pay a tax to the Sultan. Churchill concluded that “Judea” would be “once more a refuge and resting place” for world Jewry. (Grief, 535)

In addition to the letter, Churchill included a detailed proposal about how this colonization would be established. The first step was an application to the British Government to the attention of Foreign Secretary Lord Aberdeen. Aberdeen would send a person to Syria “a fit and proper person to watch over the interests of the Jews.” Churchill finished his letter writing “God has put in my heart the desire to serve His ancient people… I have discharged a duty imposed on me by my conscience.”  (Grief, 535)

Montefiore took Churchill’s two letters to the Board of Deputies of British Jews were he served as president. On November 8, 1942, they responded to Montefiore, that they would not be initiating Churchill’s proposal or any other for settlement in Palestine, but would participate if a Jewish community in another country would. In less than a decade, Montefiore would begin settling Jews in settlements in Palestine on his initiative and working with Churchill.

Montefiore’s most extensive philanthropy was towards the small Jewish community in Israel, hoping to entice more Jews to live there. He turned towards settling Israel in 1854 when he became the executor of American Judah Touro’s will; Touro wanted a settlement created with his money. Montefiore used his money and that of Touro’s estate to establish agricultural communities outside of Jerusalem’s Old City beginning the New Yishuv. Montefiore purchased an orchard outside Jerusalem to provide agricultural training to Jews in 1855 and in 1860 created the first settlement, Mishkenot Sha’ananim or the Inhabitations of Delight. Montefiore added incentives to encourage poorer Jews to settle despite the dangers. The first settlement consisted of “twenty-four apartments on the slopes of Talibiyeh facing Mount Zion.” (Blumberg, 60)

Afterward, he created additional neighborhoods, “the Ohel Moshe neighborhood for Sephardic Jews and the Mazkeret Moshe neighborhood for Ashkenazi Jews.” Montefiore also set-up the essentials for a growing community in Jerusalem, including health care, education and charity, some industries and essential factories, and the Montefiore Windmill to mill flour in Yemin Moshe, which still stands today. Montefiore hired Churchill to train the Jews in agriculture. According Arnold Blumberg in “Eretz Israel, Israel, and the Jewish Diaspora: Mutual Relations,” Montefiore, however, was “not interested in creating a Jewish state, he did regard the normalization of Jewish life through self-supporting labor, as essential.” (Blumberg, 60) While, Derek Penslar called Montefiore’s settlements “Palestinophilia,” the “establishment of philanthropic enterprises devoted to the social and economic transformation of Palestinian Jewry.” (Penslar, 63)  

The exchanges between Churchill and Montefiore and Churchill’s proposal helped develop proto-Zionism, the forerunners of Zionism. As Blumberg noted, “In Palestine itself, the old Yishuv seemed untouched by the currents of nineteenth-century thought. Nevertheless… the entry of western Jews upon the scene had laid the foundation for the new Yishuv. Long before the advent of political Zionism, a new spirit was alive in Palestinian Jewry.” (Blumberg, 61) Churchill’s proposal led to Montefiore taking charge and funding settlement beyond the Old Yishuv in Jerusalem’s old city, setting the stage for the new settlements and the aliyahs to Palestine that commenced in 1882.

Churchill’s letter to Montefiore, June 14, 1841:

I cannot conceal from you my most anxious desire to see your countrymen endeavour once more to resume their existence as a people.

I consider the object to be perfectly attainable. But, two things are indispensably necessary. Firstly, that the Jews will themselves take up the matter universally and unanimously. Secondly, that the European Powers will aid them in their views. It is for the Jews to make a commencement. Let the principal persons of their community place themselves at the head of the movement. Let them meet, concert and petition. In fact the agitation must be simultaneous throughout Europe. There is no Government which can possibly take offence at such public meetings. The result would be that you would conjure up a new element in Eastern diplomacy—an element which under such auspices as those of the wealthy and influential members of the Jewish community could not fail not only of attracting great attention and of exciting extraordinary interest, but also of producing great events.

Were the resources which you all possess steadily directed towards the regeneration of Syria and Palestine, there cannot be a doubt but that, under the blessing of the Most High, those countries would amply repay the undertaking, and that you would end by obtaining the sovereignty of at least Palestine.

Syria and Palestine, in a word, must be taken under European protection and governed in the sense and according to the spirit of European administration.

I therefore would strenuously urge this subject upon your calm consideration, upon the consideration of those who, by their position and influence amongst you are most likely to take the lead in such a glorious struggle for national existence. I had once intended to have addressed the Jews here in their Synagogue upon the subject, but I have reflected that such a proceeding might have awakened the jealousy of the local Government.

I have, however, prepared a rough petition which will be signed by all the Jews here and in other parts of Syria, and which I shall then forward to you. Probably two or three months will elapse first. There are many considerations to be weighed and examined as the question develops itself—but a “beginning” must be made—a resolution must be taken,”an agitation must be commenced”, and where the stake is “Country and Home” where is the heart that will not leap and bound to the appeal?

Supposing that you and your colleagues should at once and earnestly interest yourselves upon this important subject of the recovery of your ancient country, it appears to me (forming my opinions upon the present attitude of affairs in the Turkish Empire) that it could only be as subjects of the Porte that you could commence to regain a footing in Palestine. Your first object would be to interest the Five Great Powers in your views and to get them to advocate your view with the Sultan upon the clear understanding that the Jews, if permitted to colonise any part of Syria and Palestine, should be under the protection of the Great Powers, that they should have the internal regulation of their own affairs, that they should be exempt from military service (except on their own account as a measure of defence against the incursions of the Bedouin Arabs), and that they should only be called upon to pay a tribute to the Porte on the usual mode of taxation. I humbly venture to give my opinion upon a subject, which no doubt has already occupied your thought—and the bare mention of which, I know, makes every Jewish heart vibrate. The only question is – “when” and “how”.

The blessing of the Most High must be invoked on the endeavour. Political events seem to warrant the conclusion that the hour is nigh at hand when the Jewish people may justly and with every reasonable prospect of success put their hands to the glorious work of National Regeneration.

If you think otherwise I shall bend at once to your decision, only begging you to appreciate my motive, which is simply an ardent desire for the welfare and prosperity of a people to whom we all owe our possession of those blessed truths which direct our minds with unerring faith to the enjoyment of another and better world.

“Proposal of Colonel Churchill” August 15, 1842:

Human efforts preceded by prayer and undertaken in faith the whole history of your nation shows to be almost invariably blessed. If such then be your conviction it remains for you to consider whether you may not in all humility, but with earnest sincerity and confiding hope direct your most strenuous attention towards the land of your Fathers with the view of doing all in your power to ameliorate the conditions of your brethren now residing there and with heartfelt aspiration of being approved by Almighty God whilst you endeavour as much as in you lies to render that Land once more a refuge and resting-place to such of your brethren scattered throughout the world as may resort to it.

Hundreds and thousands of your countrymen would strain every effort to accomplish the means of living amidst those scenes rendered sacred by ancient recollections, and which they regard with filial affection, but the dread of the insecurity of life and property which has rested so long upon the soil of “Judea” has hitherto been a bar to the accomplishment of their natural desire.
My proposition is that the Jews of England conjointly with their brethren on the Continent of Europe should make an application to the British Government through the Earl of Aberdeen to accredit and send out a fit and proper person to reside in Syria for the sole and express purpose of superintending and watching over the interests of the Jews residing in that country.

The duties and powers of such a public officer to be a matter of arrangement between the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Committee of Jews conducting the negotiations. It is, I hope, superfluous for me to enlarge upon the incalculable benefit which would accrue to your nation at large were such an important measure to be accomplished, or to allude more than briefly to the spirit of confidence and revival which would be excited in the breasts of your fellow-countrymen all over the world were they to be held and acknowledged agents for the Jewish people resident in Syria and Palestine under the auspices and sanction of Great Britain….

READ MORE / SOURCES


Adler, Joseph. Restoring the Jews to Their Homeland: Nineteen Centuries in the Quest for Zion. Northvale, NJ: Aronson, 1997.

Blumberg, Arnold. Zion Before Zionism 1838-1880. Jerusalem: Devora Publishing, 2007.

Green, Abigail. Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012.

Grief, Howard. The Legal Foundation and Borders of Israel Under International Law: A Treatise on Jewish Sovereignty Over the Land of Israel. Jerusalem, Israel: Mazo Publishers, 2013.

Mor, Menachem. Eretz Israel, Israel, and the Jewish Diaspora: Mutual Relations: 1st Annual Symposium. University Press of America, 1991.

 

 

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.

Education July 17, 2017: Concordia University’s policies purposely delay graduation dates

HEADLINE NEWS

Headline_News

EDUCATION

Concordia University’s policies purposely delay graduation dates

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Concordia University is plagued with enrollment issues delaying students’ graduations and potentially ruining their prospects for graduate and professional school. Wikipedia Commons

We are now in the summer with this year’s convocation ceremonies celebrating university graduates just ended, while new incoming students anticipate the start of their higher education journey. However, how many students who start university end up at the finish line? The question is the reason why graduation rates are an important part of choosing a university, but some universities hide their problems. One such school is Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Concordia has long faced questions about their graduation rates, but now a reason has emerged, the University has been purposely pushing students to delay graduation.

An April 9, 2017, article by local Montreal radio station CJAD entitled “Over Enrollment Blamed for Class Crunch at Concordia” exposed that the university has over enrollment issues in key requirement courses. Instead of dealing with the longtime issue, undergraduate advisors are convincing students to delay graduation by taking a reduced course load, which ruins students’ graduate school prospects if they look to go outside of Concordia. The psychology department is not the only department experiencing these types of problems they happen elsewhere within the university. The issue is also not exclusively a problem plaguing undergraduate students, deterrence tactics also common at the graduate level.

The report by CJAD and authored by reporter Shuyee Lee delved into some of the reasons there are problems with Concordia graduation rates, over enrollment in courses and advisors telling students to take lighter course loads. In what has been going on “for years” unreported, students face problems enrolling in popular courses that are also part of the major or specialization requirements to graduate or even proceed with next level courses. The courses often offered once a year do not have enough spaces, filled up quickly, and have long waitlists, in the end, many students are shut out. Students have to take longer to graduate and fulfill their requirements. The even problem, the university’s cover-up, many academic advisors are trying to convince students to take lighter course loads, make the students believe it is better for their academic future to do so.

One of Concordia’s most popular majors, Psychology was highlighted in CJAD’s report. Student Paolo Drago, the representative for the Concordia’s Undergraduate Psychology Association spoke to CJAD about the problems within his department, he and fellow students face. Drago explained, “Some courses are only offered once a year, by a particular professor, so you can imagine people who want to take a specialization class that really caters to what they want to research or study, they might not be able to get into that class for a whole year because the class is full, it’s usually a class of 60 so they start lagging behind on the classes they want to take.”

Concordia might be able to keep students enrolled longer and garner additional fees, but it is to the academic detriment of its students. Delays in graduation, taking longer than the average time to complete a degree and taking lighter course loads are frowned at in graduate and professional applications. Students trying to be admitted into law, medicine, and graduate programs at other universities are having problems being admitted and the explanation, they were only listening to the advisor’s does not work. Drago told CJAD, “People are kind of blindsided when they start applying and they don’t get accepted, ‘Well, I did everything the academic advisor told me to do and it’s not paying dividends.’”

Instead of finding solutions, the university’s faculty and administration are denying that there are even any problems. Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota denied there are any over enrollment issues. Mota said, “There are a few programs where opening extra sections of a course is a challenge.” Still, the university plans to increase the minimum average for acceptance to their psychology program, and increase course sizes for the popular required courses. Nevertheless, what about the greater problems in other programs that was not part of CJAD’s report?

This is not the first time Concordia faced a controversy about graduation rates. In 2014, Concordia faced a controversy when the Montreal’s French language paper La Presse wrote an expose claiming a drastic fall in the university undergraduate graduation rate. Concordia quickly pressured La Presse to retract the story. In the original story published on January 3, 2014, entitled “ PLUS DE LA MOITIÉ DES ÉTUDIANTS DE CONCORDIA NE DÉCROCHENT PAS LEUR DIPLÔME “ reporter Hugo Pilon-Larose claimed that only 48 percent of students who started degrees in 2006 had completed them by 2012. The number was a fall from the 75 percent, who had started their degrees in 2001 and finished them by 2007. The troubling number was supposed because of the higher proportion of international students and part-time students.

The university was outraged, almost immediately La Presse was forced to retract their original article. Another article was published four days later on January 7, 2014, entitled, “Taux d’obtention de diplôme: Concordia maintient le cap” and written by Pilon-Larose. The New correction article now claimed that Concordia’s 2007 graduation rate was 75.5 percent and 2012, and it was 74.2 percent for students who commenced their studies six years before. Benoit-Antoine Bacon, vice-president, and vice-president of academic affairs at Concordia University boasted about the rate in the revision. Bacon said, “Our graduation rate is close to or even above the national average. We are very satisfied. But we can always do better, and we are working hard to increase it. But to do so, we face financial and academic challenges.”

In comparison, the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) a comprehensive school like Concordia had a 68.7 rate in 2007 and 71.3 percent in 2012. McGill University and Université de Montréal (UdeM), the city’s medical and doctoral schools had higher rates. McGill had 84 percent in 2012 for students starting in 2006, lower than in 2007 when they had 86 percent graduation rate for students who commenced their studies 2001. Université de Montréal (UdeM) graduation during the same period dropped only slightly from 80.2 percent in 2007 to 79.4 percent in 2012.

Meanwhile, Concordia countered with a correction to LaPresse’s story. The university claimed that LaPresse compared full-time rates from 1999 to part-time rates for 2012 leading to the discrepancies. Concordia indicated that the full-time rate is down only slightly from 74.5 percent to 74.2 percent whereas for all cycles is down 75% to 75.9%.

The truth is the graduation rate is much higher than La Presse’s number but not nearly as high as Concordia claims. University rankings claim the number is in fact, nearly 5 percent lower that Concordia boasts. Maclean’s Magazine profiled Concordia in 2016 for their annual university ranking where Concordia held the tenth position in the Comprehensive University category. According to Maclean’s Concordia has only a 70.5 percent graduation rate, but an 85.9 percent retention rate, showing students keep going and going at Concordia without completing their degrees.

Aside from clarifying the La Presse controversy, Concordia does not publish graduation rates only the number of graduates each year and the number of students enrolled each academic year.
In 2011–12, there were 35,848 undergraduates, 23,390 full-time and 12,458 part-time enrolled at the university. There were also 7,314 graduate students, 5,294 full-time and 2,020 part-time. Meanwhile, that year 4,889 undergraduate received the diplomas, and 1,593 graduating students graduated. In 2015–16, there were 35,616 undergraduate students; the divisions between full and part-time were not disclosed. Meanwhile, 5,213 undergraduates received a diploma and 1,901 graduate students. Although there are more students graduating in the previous academic year, no data was released to indicate when they started their studies and how long it took them to graduate.

Concordia does fare well in world university rankings, partly because they are a comprehensive university focusing or some professional and graduate degrees, but are not a full research, medical doctoral university. In Canada, according to Maclean’s Concordia is 10th in the comprehensive category. On the world stage, the university cannot compete with Canada’s bigger names.

According to the 2018 Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings released in June, Concordia is 431–400, having moved up 30 spots. In comparison, the University of Toronto is now Canada’s top university in the QS ranking replacing McGill coming at number 31. McGill is now second in Canada at number 32. Although McGill ranks first in Canadian rankings in international ones the University of Toronto usual takes that honor. Canada’s third University in the top 100, the University of British Columbia is now number 52. In Canada, Concordia was in 16th place of all Canadian schools.

Meanwhile, in the Times Higher Education’s (THE) 2017 World University Rankings, Concordia came at between 501–600 th position. The school did better in the 2017 Young University Rankings, were ranked in the 101–150 th position. The University of Toronto again topped the Canadian universities on the list. The University of Toronto took the Number 22 position. The University of British Columbia was tied for 36, while McGill University was number 42.

The revelation of Concordia’s deterrence methods came close to home. I had two degrees from the neighboring McGill University before entering Concordia University. I had a BA in History and Art History and a Masters in Library and Information Studies before starting a second Masters degree in Judaic Studies with a thesis, at Concordia’s Religion Department from the start I was pushed to relax my course load. I came with plans to move full speed ahead and finish the program in two years and then on for a doctorate, but at every turn, there were obstacles that slowed me down. The following is my own experiences and observances while I was a student at Concordia.

At McGill, I completed a Masters degree by course and finishing the 48-credit degree in two years by taking a full load of four courses each semester. In Concordia, I was cautioned to take only two courses a required seminar and independent course in my first semester. In my first semester, I tried to stay strict with deadlines but saw professors being lax about deadlines as if it was not unusual, and it was not. For final research papers in seminars and independent courses my professors routinely recommended continuances that lasted up to two months into the next semester. With weekly readings and some short writing assignments throughout the semester it becomes easy to need the extra time a complete a research paper for a course, and if you start down that path, you continually need the extra time.

The research papers I completed for each course were sometimes upward to 50 pages in final presentation form. With the sheer amount of research for the papers plus reading throughout the semester, it is easy to take advantage of light course loads and extensions because they are approved and even advised by the faculty and your program advisor. Students fall into the trap, made so easy by your department but it ends up being destructive to graduating on time and realizing your academic goals.

Another unreported problem in Concordia is the amount of time it takes graduate students to complete their degree. A warning sign was hearing how long some of the students in the Religion Department were taking for their degrees, an average four years for the masters and upward to ten years for the doctorate. Concordia gives longer maximums for completing a graduate degree than neighboring McGill. The longer maximum time for full-time students is a leading indicator is would take longer to complete the degrees. The masters’ degree I was enrolled in the Religion Department resembled more of a mini-doctorate program at that time, with not only a thesis but also two comprehensive exams, it was impossible to complete it in the usual two years a Master’s degree should take. The degree has now been curtailed with the comprehensive exams removed as a requirement.

Concordia’s graduate programs have students paying a set schedule of fees regardless of the number of credits a student takes each semester. Therefore, one can take two courses and still be a full-time student. After the degree is paid, and if a student has not completed their degree they pay continuance fees. In comparison to Concordia’s, fee schedule, at McGill even in graduate study students pay by the number of credits per semester. In the end, after the three years, I completely paid off my degree plus three semesters of continuance fees, but with only 18 credits completed on my transcript.

Another way to deter students was making them repeat courses they had previously received credit for at another university. I faced another added burden, unlike the majority of students in my program I came with a Masters degree already under my belt, something the department repeatedly tried to forget. Whereas in McGill if a student already completed a research methods course, they were exempted from the requirement, it was the opposite in Concordia. I had taken an entire degree on research methodology, librarians are expert researchers, the ones helping students conduct research and find sources in the academic libraries, but the department was insistent I take a repetitive course or would not graduate.

The research methods course consisted of visits to the libraries and archives to hear about how to research. During my MLIS programs, I worked in libraries. Prior to entering Concordia, I had just put on an exhibition of a collection I cataloged in Canadian Jewish history as part of work I did at McGill’s University Archives. The department ignored that I completed a degree in research at the nation’s preeminent university. In my experience, the entire cycle was one I could not escape except leave the program without graduating. Therefore, after three years, 18 credits, an unsubmitted completed thesis, and a 3.95 CGPA I left Concordia’s MA in Judaic Studies program.

Like CJAD’s report on the psychology department’s deterrence methods, my experience was more the fault of the Religion Department than the university’s policies although they did facilitate them since departments have more control over graduate students and programs. As I observed a majority of the graduate students accepted to the Masters and even the Doctorate program came from different disciplines. I came from a related one history and was focusing on American Jewish history, but did not have Judaic or Jewish studies major beforehand. Other students came from even more different degrees and disciplines. Sometimes the students were required to take extra courses to obtain a background other times not, like me.

A majority in the department were also mature students returning to school after years in other professions. A minority were students continuing through the different academic cycles, I was one of the youngest in the program despite having completed another Masters before. I frequently saw favoritism for the mature students. Favoritism, in general, ran rampant, and it had nothing to do with grades or GPAs, rather personality but also research interests. Unlike psychology, religion is not usually a popular discipline; especially Judaic studies where there were only a handful of graduate students. University politics plays a factor, allocation of funding from the university depends on departmental enrollment. Promises of fellowships and awards attracted students like me for the money but mostly the prestige and honor. Keeping students in the department longer makes a larger student population. All these factors and some external ones were a recipe for students to take longer completing their degrees.

The reveal in CJAD’s report just touches on advisors recommending reduced course loads. Unfortunately, the advice is even more detrimental to graduate programs. Concordia’s policies do everything possible to slow down graduate students making them spend double the time and money. Departments are pushing students to take longer to graduate to increase their number of students and make sure the university collects more fees and that they get larger budgets. Instead of finding solutions, the administration chooses to ignore or better yet shut down any report that might indicate a problem at the university. LaPresse quickly withdrew their story in 2014 and CJAD’s report in April never went further with a followed up or covered by any other news outlet.

As their graduate rates suggest, maybe a majority of Concordia University’s students eventually graduate, others are fed up with the high costs, lengthy times and slow career movement. Either way, students are the ones that lose out from the university and department politics and policies. Longer times to graduate at the undergraduate or graduate level give students wishing to continue their studies little options outside of Concordia, which seems an intentional part of the cycle. For those who discontinue their studies, they are left few choices to continue graduate school, except return to Concordia or years of explaining why they did not complete their degree. Now at least thanks to CJAD’s reporting students and ex-students do not feel alone, it a common unresolved occurrence at Concordia one that desperately needs remedying.

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.