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A Place for Water-Carriers to Pray and a Letter from Sholem Aleichem: Lost Jewish Archives Come to New York

Nov. 16 2017

Last month, the YIVO Institute announced that some 170,000 documents and artifacts had been found in Lithuania, remnants of the collection that a group of Vilna Jews had hidden from the Nazis during World War II. A few of these items are now on display in New York. Josefin Dolsten describes some of the most notable:

A communal record book from Lazdijai, Lithuania, 1836. The book, called a pinkas, was written for a Talmud-study association and used to record information about its members, such as births, deaths, and business transactions. It is decorated with ornate illustrations and states that in order to remain part of the group, members must study a full page of Talmud together. . . .

A letter written by Sholem Aleichem from a health resort, Badenweiler, Germany, 1910. The famed Yiddish author had health problems and would spend time in health resorts far away from friends and family. In this note, Sholem Aleichem makes fun of Leon Neustadt, a leader in the Warsaw Jewish community, writing that a biblical verse referring to non-kosher animals . . . actually refers to Neustadt.

An agreement between a water-carrier union and the Ramayles Yeshiva, Vilna, 1857. In the document, the group . . . promises to donate a Torah scroll and raise money to purchase a Talmud set for the prominent yeshiva in exchange for the use of a room for religious services.

Read more at JTA

More about: History & Ideas, Jewish archives, Sholem Aleichem, Synagogues, Vilna, YIVO

 

Why a Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Is Unlikely

Feb. 16 2018

High-ranking figures in the IDF, along with some Israeli and foreign officials, have been warning that economic troubles combined with severely deficient public works could lead to an outbreak of starvation or epidemic in the Gaza Strip; their warnings have been taken up and amplified in sensationalist stories in Western media. Hillel Frisch is skeptical:

The most important factor behind real humanitarian crises—mass hunger and contagious disease—is first and foremost the breakdown of law and order, and violence between warring militias and gangs. This is what occurred in Darfur, Somalia, and the Central African Republic. In such situations, the first to leave are the relief agencies. Then local medical staffs evacuate, along with local government officials and anyone professional who can make it out of the bedlam. The destitute are left to fend for themselves. Hospitals, dispensaries, schools, and local government offices are soon abandoned or become scenes of grisly shootouts and reprisals.

Nothing could be farther from such a reality than Gaza. Hamas, which is the main source of [misleading reports] of an imminent humanitarian crisis, rules Gaza with an iron fist. Few developed democracies in the world can boast the low homicide rates prevailing in the Strip. Nor have there been reports of any closings of hospitals, municipal governments, schools, universities, colleges, or dispensaries. . . .

Nor have there been news items announcing the departure of any foreign relief agencies or the closure of any human-rights organizations in the area. Nor is there any evidence that the World Health Organization (WHO), which rigorously monitors the world to prevent the outbreak of contagious disease, is seriously looking at Gaza. And that is for good reason. The WHO knows, as do hundreds of medical personnel in Israeli hospitals who liaise with their colleagues in Gaza, that the hospital system in Gaza is of a high caliber, certainly by the standards of the developing world. . . .

Hamas, [of course], wants more trucks entering Gaza to increase tax revenues to pay for its 30,000-strong militia and public security force, and to increase the prospects of smuggling arms for the benefit of its missile stockpiles and tunnel-building efforts. How Israel should react is equally obvious. You want more humanitarian aid? . . . Free the two mentally disabled Israelis who found their way into Gaza and are imprisoned by Hamas.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian economy