Jewish Houses of Worship, with and without Their Worshippers

While the recently published anthology Shul Going: 2500 Years of Impressions and Reflections on Visits to the Synagogue focuses mainly on what went on in synagogues, the coffee-table book Synagogues: Marvels of Judaism focuses on the buildings themselves. In his review, Stuart Halpern finds the latter “sumptuous” and “almost every image” therein to be “visually stunning.” The book’s text, however, reveals something more sobering:

It is genuinely exciting to learn of the spaces in which Jews of other times and places met and prayed, danced, and kibitzed. One reads elaborate descriptions of columns, arks, windows, and wall decorations with a rush of aesthetic excitement. And then comes what feels like an increasingly inevitable postscript: “Today only a tiny population of Jews still inhabit . . . ,” “Now a museum, the building was meticulously restored,” “Today, it occupies an important place in Jewish heritage tours,” “A white-pebbled plaza marks the outlines of the torched former synagogue,” “Today, little remains . . . following its desecration during the World War II and its subsequent conversion into a cinema,” “Despite a horrific terrorist bombing . . . ,” “The synagogue was converted into a mosque,” and so on.

More troubling still is the inability of some of the book’s authors to come to terms with the history they are describing:

The contribution on synagogues of the Middle East, North Africa, and India, coauthored by Mohammad Gharipour, an architecture professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore, and Max Fineblum, seemingly one of his students, raises this pattern to the level of egregious distortion. In their chapter’s opening line, we are told that in ancient times, early Jewish tribes inhabited the “arid ancient lands of Canaan, Phoenicia, and Palestine.” Israel and Judea, those Jewish kingdoms spanning around 1,000 years or so, seem to have gotten lost somewhere in the sands of time.

Unfortunately, there is more. In the description of Afghanistan’s Yu Aw Synagogue in Herat, in which “richly painted floral patterns inspired by Persian design . . . adorn the main sanctuary,” the authors admit that Afghanistan has not exactly been kind to the Jews, what with all of the state-sponsored pogroms and plundering. However, with anti-Semitism rising in the 1930s, “Herat was one of the few Afghan cities that did not banish Jews.” We then read that “the pressure to assimilate evaporated when Jews left the city in 1978.” Forced Exile = Evaporated Pressure is a nifty formula, but it misses something—human lives.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Afghanistan, Anti-Semitism, Synagogues

How to Turn Palestinian Public Opinion Away from Terror

The Palestinian human-rights activist Bassem Eid, responding to the latest survey results of the Palestinian public, writes:

Not coincidentally, support for Hamas is much higher in the West Bank—misgoverned by Hamas’s archrivals, the secular nationalist Fatah, which rules the Palestinian Authority (PA)—than in Gaza, whose population is being actively brutalized by Hamas. Popular support for violence persists despite the devastating impact that following radical leaders and ideologies has historically had on the Palestinian people, as poignantly summed up by Israel’s Abba Eban when he quipped that Arabs, including the Palestinians, “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Just as worrying is the role of propaganda and misinformation, which are not unique to the Palestinian context but are pernicious there due to the high stakes involved. Misinformation campaigns, often fueled by Hamas and its allies, have painted violent terrorism as the only path to dignity and rights for Palestinians. Palestinian schoolbooks and public media are rife with anti-Semitic and jihadist content. Hamas’s allies in the West have matched Hamas’s genocidal rhetoric with an equally exterminationist call for the de-normalization and destruction of Israel.

It’s crucial to consider successful examples of de-radicalization from other regional contexts. After September 11, 2001, Saudi Arabia implemented a comprehensive de-radicalization program aimed at rehabilitating extremists through education, psychological intervention, and social reintegration. This program has had successes and offers valuable lessons that could be adapted to the Palestinian context.

Rather than pressure Israel to make concessions, Eid argues, the international community should be pressuring Palestinian leaders—including Fatah—to remove incitement from curricula and stop providing financial rewards to terrorists.

Read more at Newsweek

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Palestinian public opinion