The End of the Jewish Community of New Castle, Pennsylvania

Jan. 11 2019

Since at least the Middle Ages, Jews have mourned congregations that were slaughtered by their neighbors or expelled from their homes by hostile rulers. But, last November, a different kind of mourning took place as several Jews gathered for the unveiling of a headstone where the remaining ritual items of the last synagogue in the Pennsylvania town of New Castle were buried in accordance with Jewish custom. Alanna Cooper writes:

Jews settled [in New Castle] at the turn of the last century along with a wave of other European immigrants who arrived in western Pennsylvania, drawn by a booming economy. The Jews who came to this part of the state mostly concentrated in Pittsburgh, where some 13,000 settled by 1900; the city’s Jewish population peaked at 55,000 in 1930. Others made their homes in the small towns that radiated out from this urban center.

At their height in the 1950s and 60s, more than 40 small towns—spreading east to the Allegheny Mountains, and west to the Pennsylvania-Ohio border—were home to thriving Jewish communities. Some, like New Castle, grew large enough to support two synagogues, Temple Israel (Reform) and Hadar Israel (traditional). Then, with deindustrialization, came economic decline. Grown children left their hometowns and did not return, leaving aging and dwindling populations behind. New Castle’s Jews responded by merging their two congregations into one. . . . By 2017, [however] the congregation’s members agreed that there were simply not enough of them to continue functioning.

Today fewer than ten small-town synagogues remain open in western Pennsylvania’s rust belt. With so many shutting their doors, Temple Hadar Israel is not alone in facing a glut of sacred items, which the community is scrambling to pass on to others who might carry on the communal legacies. Temple Hadar Israel sold its building in 2015; . . . the congregation divested itself of its movable property, including its eight remaining Torah scrolls. . . . Three went to summer camps, one to a Reform temple in South Carolina, one to a Progressive congregation in Warsaw, one to a Houston synagogue that suffered damage in Hurricane Harvey, and one to a tiny community in Indonesia.

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More about: American Jewry, History & Ideas, Jewish cemeteries, Synagogues

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary], approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat