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.

Read more at Tablet

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

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict