A Rare Portrait of Yom Kippur in Germany from America’s First Female Jewish Novelist

Born in either Germany or France in 1824, Cora Wilburn came to the U.S. in 1848 and in 1860 published the novel Cosella Wayne serially in the journal Banner of Light. The novel, in the words of the historian Jonathan Sarna, was the first “written and published in English by an American Jewish woman writer, and the first coming-of-age novel to depict Jews in the United States.” Drawing on her travels in Venezuela, England, India, and elsewhere before coming to America, Wilburn—writing for a primarily Christian audience—depicts the Jewish communities in these countries in rich detail. Herewith, an excerpt set in a German synagogue on Yom Kippur sometime in the 1830s:

It is the great Day of Atonement with the Jews. Clad in the habiliments of the grave, the sweeping shroud of linen, with its wide cape edged with lace, the conical cap upon their heads, the worshipers of the ancient law read the accustomed prayers and beat their breasts in penitence. . . .

Occasionally, the sweet, softly murmured chorus of female voices lends its charm to those antique hymns of praise and penitence. The women sit above, in a gallery devoted solely to their use, separated from husbands, fathers, and brothers; some, the aged and the matronly, arrayed in the vestment that once shall shroud their lifeless forms; others, the young and gay, wear dresses of pure white, emblematic of the forgiveness of sins, the stainless purity of the day of expiation. . . .

They pray for the restoration of the land by them deemed holy; they weep afresh for the destruction of the sacred Temple, for their scattered people and dethroned rulers. They strike their breasts, confessing their sins of commission and omission. . . . Five times that day, the congregation fall upon their knees in worship to the unseen God, and implore His pardon for the people. They pray, too, for the earthly and Christian rulers set before them, for the prosperity of their adopted country, for the welfare of all.

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More about: American Jewish History, Germany Jewry, Yom Kippur


The Evidence of BDS Anti-Semitism Speaks for Itself

Oct. 18 2019

Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs recently released a lengthy report titled Behind the Mask, documenting the varieties of naked anti-Semitic rhetoric and imagery employed by the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction the Jewish state (BDS). Drawn largely but not exclusively from Internet sources, its examples range from a tweet by a member of Students for Justice in Palestine (the “world would be soooo much better without jews man”), to an enormous inflated pig bearing a star of David and floating behind the stage as the rock musician Roger Waters performs, to accusations by an influential anti-Israel blogger that Israel is poisoning Palestinian wells. Cary Nelson sums up the report’s conclusions and their implications, all of which give the lie to the disingenuous claim that critics of BDS are trying to brand “legitimate criticism of Israel” as anti-Semitic.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, BDS, Roger Waters, Social media