How Capitalism Gave Rise to American Jewish Calendars

March 29 2019

In his early-20th-century memoir of immigration and Americanization, Marcus Ravage notes how much harder it was to keep track of the Jewish holidays in the New World than it was in the Old. But things became easier in the following decades with the advent of mass-produced Jewish calendars that included holidays and other important information. Jenna Weissman Joselit writes:

[Some] American Jews relied on their kosher butcher, the neighborhood grocer, and by the 1930s, the manufacturers of food products to keep them in the loop. Commercial interests, sensing an excellent opportunity to join community service and goodwill to profit, either commissioned a Jewish calendar or put their name to one already in production. What an artful way to flag time-sensitive products such as matzah for Passover, dairy products for Shavuot, flour for [baking challah for the] Sabbath.

B.C. Friedman and Sons Matzoh Bakery of Philadelphia clearly thought so. Purveyors of matzah meal, matzah farfel, and a distinctive form of unleavened bread called protein matzah—a product “recommended by doctors for those suffering with diabetes”—the company furnished its loyal customers with a “calendar booklet for 5700” (1939-1940). In the years that followed, the B. Manischewitz Co., Isidor Jacobson Wines and Liquors of Jackson Heights, New York, Drake’s Cakes, [and] the National Sugar Refining Company of New Jersey . . . made sure to keep their customers satisfied by offering their own, cost-free version, of the Jewish calendar, along with their best wishes for a “happy and prosperous New Year.” . . .

Although it nearly cornered the market, the commercialized Jewish calendar faced competition from another quarter: the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, the umbrella organization of Reform Jewish women, under whose aegis a decidedly more elevated approach to Jewish timekeeping—a “Jewish art calendar”—came into being. Intended to “Judaize the homes” of its members who had either grown rather lax in or increasingly indifferent to Jewish ceremonial life, it transformed the Jewish calendar from an exercise in consumerism into a vehicle of “religious consciousness,” heightening the appeal of Jewish rituals along the way.

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More about: American Jewish History, Capitalism, History & Ideas, Jewish art, Jewish calendar, Religion & Holidays

 

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat