Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Jews and Navigation

Pre-Columbian Navigation
Intercontinental trade was pioneered by Persian Jews who pioneered the "Silk Route" to the heart of China in the fifth century BCE.1 Augustus, the first Roman emperor, is said to have commissioned "the first travel guide" from Isidore of Charax (a town on the Euphrates River estuary on the Persian gulf). Centuries later, while the Europeans were still deep in the Dark Ages, Persian Rhadanite scholar/travelers pioneered land and sea trade routes to the Far East.2
"These merchants speak Arabic, Persian, Roman, Frankish, Spanish, and Slavonic," wrote Ibn Khurdadhih in the ninth century CE, "They travel from East to West and from West to East by land as well as by sea."3
Judaic savants were largely responsible for the invention and development of the instruments and astronomical tables which thereafter facilitated world-girdling sea voyages.
Jews had long learned from the Talmud that the world was a globe. In the fourth century, the Jerusalem Talmud (Aboda Zara, 42c) unequivocally asserted that the world was globular in form. The Zohar (Leviticus 1.3) was even more specific, declaring that the earth rotates on its axis like a ball.. The great Maimonides and other medieval Judaic scientists subscribed to that concept.
Th thirteenth century fabulist Isaac ben Sahulla made the antipodean theory familiar widely among the Jews in his work, Meshal haKadmoni. The theory held that people’s feet pointed to the center of a spherical earth. Thus, the concept of a globular world was inherent in Judaic tradition from the most ancient times. Roger Bacon (1213-92), an English friar, quoted Hebrew sources to show that Asia could be reached by sailing west from Europe. The church proscribed the reading of Bacon’s books and Bacon was imprisoned.
Rationalists of the early Renaissance continued to be restricted by the church for propounding "Judaic" wisdom. Deviation from an earth-centered universe was treated as heresy. Long after the church’s posits became indefensible, Judaic astronomical precepts were ignored.
In the thirteenth century, the King of Castile, Alfonso the Wise, instructed Judah ben Moses Cohen, and Isaak be Sid, a Chasan (cantor) in a Toledo synagogue, to update astronomical tables compiled by Judaic astronomers in the eleventh century, and to translate them into Spanish. They became known as the "Alfonsine Tables," and were used by Galileo and Kepler four centuries later to develop their theories.
Astronomical tables were likewise compiled by Joseph ben Wakkar at Toledo in 1396, and in Aragon by various Judaic savants. Other significant calculations were made by Emanuel ben Jacob, known as "Bonfils de Tarascon." The tables were used in conjunction with an astrolabe, an instrument introduced into the Arab-speaking world by a remarkable Jewish genius, Mashala of Mosul, "the phoenix of his age." The use of the astrolabe, an instrument for taking the altitude of heavenly bodies, in conjunction with the astronomical tables, helped determine a ship’s position at sea.
The quadrant was another device as important as the astrolabe for navigation on the high seas. That instrument measured the right ascension (angle from the horizon) of the sun and stars. An advanced model, designed by Rabbi Joseph bn Makhir, became known as the Quadrant Judaicus. Rabbi Makhir compiled the calendar used by Dante, and was quoted as a authority long after his passing by Copernicus and Kepler.
Another Rabbi, Levi ben Gershom, in southern France, devoted 136 chapters to astronomy in his major work, The Wars of the Lord. Included in that work was an improved quadrant that became known as Jacob’s Staff. For three centuries thereafter, Renaissance explorers depended on Gershom’s instrument for determining latitude and the local hour.4
Nautical instruments and astronomical tables were adjuncts to maps in guiding seafarers to their destination. The most notable cartographers could be found among the Jews. Geographic intelligence was a boon of Judaic dispersion into the Diaspora. Information gleaned by Judaic travelers, deposited with compatriots along their itinerary, was transmitted to other passing Judaic travelers. Geographic intelligence was likewise passed along through correspondence delivered by these travelers from region to region.
Majorka, strategically placed midway between Africa and Europe, became a beehive of Judaic map-making. The Majorcans were unrivaled seafarers, knowledgeable about coastal configuration. The Jews among them became cartographers par excellence.5
Abraham Crescas headed a renowned map-making family. Their works illustrate countless books on travel and geography, and are the valued possession of museums. Abraham was appointed "Master of Maps and Compasses" by Juan of Aragon. As compensation, he obtained permission to build a mikvah for his co-religionists. Abraham and his son, Jehuda, produced what is probably the most famous of ancient maps, a mapamundi depicting the Atlantic coasts and the "mysterious ocean" beyond.
Jehuda continued as a cartographer after his father’s death, but was forced to convert in the wave of baptisms of 1391. He assumed the name Jayme Ribes. Eventually he was invited to Portugal by Prince Henry "The Navigator," where he became the first director of the famous nautical observatory as "Maestre Jacome de Majorka."
Haym ibn Risch, another outstanding Majorcan cartographer, was likewise forced to convert in 1391. He adopted the name Juan de Vallsecha. He was probably the father of Gabriel Vallsecha, author of yet another famous mapamundi, one later used by Amerigo Vespucci.
Still another significant cartographer of Majorka was Mecia de Vildestes. An outstanding map by Vildestes dated 1413 is proudly featured at the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris.
The Church Concedes: the World Goes Around
Colonialist ambitions finally superseded church astronomical strictures; Greed for gold took precedence over dogma.
The Italians point to the Florentine, Paolo Toscanelli, as the inspiration for Columbus. Toscanelli, following the Judaic precept that the earth was globular, calculated its circumference to be about half its actual length. The acceptance by Columbus of this calculation led him to believe that a westward voyage to the Indies was feasible.6
Columbus never met Toscanelli. He conferred with Abraham Zacuto (1452-1515), a professor at the University of Salamanca, about the feasibility of a westward voyage to the Near East. Zacuto was the most reputable astronomer of the day. Zacuto’s astronomical tables, together with his perfected astrolabe, made the voyages of navigators like Columbus possible. Zacuto plotted the route to be taken, and instructed Columbus on it.
Zacuto got no thanks for his pivotal contribution to Spain’s greatness. In 1492, when the Columbus expedition was assured, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain was under way. Abraham Zacuto found himself facing the Inquisition. He refused baptism, fled to Portugal, and was immediately honored with an appointment as Astronomer-Royal, the most prestigious scientific post in the western world. In Portugal, Zacuto’s activity reached its zenith. He devised a newer and improved astrolabe which became the standard in subsequent voyages by all the colonialist adventurers.
When the inquisitorial plague blighted Portugal in 1497, Zacuto refused to convert; he managed to escape to North Africa, where he wrote the well-known chronicle, Sepher Judaism.
The series of astronomical tables Zacuto compiled at Salamanca were translated into Latin and Spanish by his pupil, Joseph Vecinho, and published by the Judaic printer, "Magistor Ortas" at Leiria in 1496. Despite Zacuto’s Judaic identity, his tables were carried in the voyages of the fleets of Columbus, Vasca de Gama, Joao da Nova, and Albuquerque. Vasca da Gama’s ships were also outfitted with Zacuto’s astrolabe.
Just as Columbus had conferred with Zacuto before Zacuto was forced to flee Spain, so Vasca da Gama conferred publicly with Zacuto before sailing from Lisbon on July 8th, 1497; he took affectionate leave of Zacuto in the presence of his entire crew. Zacuto was forced to flee Portugal soon thereafter.
Much is made about Da Gama’s "discovery," in disregard of the substantive Judaic presence in India, dating from before Roman times. Jews were respected in many of the princedoms along India’s coast; many rose to exalted positions. On arriving at Anchediva, not far from Goa in India, Da Gama was greeted by a tall Jew with a flowing white beard who had risen to the rank of admiral to the viceroy of Goa.
Cecil Roth notes that Da Gama’s treatment of the old man was particularly ungrateful. Da Gama had him seized and tortured until he consented to be baptized and to pilot the Portuguese flotilla in Indian waters. Roth adds that da Gama’s own grandson, Gaspar da Gama, was a "New Christian." Gaspar was one of the first Portuguese to set foot on the soil of Brazil.
"Another victim of the forced conversions," adds Roth, "was Pedro Nuñes, who, a mere child at the time, subsequently became professor of mathematics at Coimbra, and chief cosmographer to the crown of Portugal. He, too, remained closely attached to Judaism in secret; so much that at the beginning of the seventeenth century... his grandsons were tried by the Inquisition for ‘judaising.’"
In 1537 Nuñes’ Treatise on the Spheres was published; it laid the foundation for Mercator’s work, "and thus for the whole system of modern cartography." Nuñes also developed a revolutionary instrument for graduating mathematical instruments. It was called the Nonius, and was subsequently used be Vernier in a somewhat improved version, and is still essential for exacting engineering. The last king of Portugal, unsuspecting of Nuñes’ Judaic origin, had no hesitation in calling this Marrano scientist "the most distinguished Portuguese nautical astronomer."

Samuel Kurinsky (HHF)

The first hero of the Portuguese discoveries!

Who was João Gonçalves Zarco?
He was a Portuguese Jew converted to Catholicism, and member of the House of Prince Henry the Navigator, when this Prince became the Administrator of the Order of Christ in Tomar, in the center of Portugal .
Zarco distinguished himself as a military hero in the campaigns of Ceuta and Tangier and became also an expert sailor in the Portuguese caravels in the southern part of Portugal and also along the north cost of Africa . Because of his maritime experience Prince Henry sent him together with Tristão Vaz Teixeira to go in search of “some islands in front of the African coast that appeared drawn in old maps.”
In 1418, João Gonçalves Zarco and his sailors took sail along the northwestern coast of Africa but their caravel was caught by a storm and they were lost at the high sea for several days, until they arrived at an unknown island.
They named it first Devine Spirit but then changed its name of Porto Santo, meaning Salvation Port because it saved their lives.
After examining the island that had no human inhabitants they returned to Portugal and reported the good news to their master Prince Henry who became very enthusiastic and asked them to go back again in the following year in 1419. But this time they took with them another member of Prince Henry’s House, a fellow named Bartolomeu Perestrelo. This time they went to colonize the new island of Porto Santo .
On the same caravel they took a female rabbit and she delivered a board the ship several little rabbits which they let loose when they arrive at Porto Santo, with the message: “Love thyselves and multiply”. And they did. In a short while there were so many rabbits in the island that they ate all the pastures necessary for the other domestic animals.
From the island of Porto Santo they observed on the horizon that on southwestern “there was always a permanent dark cloud”, but the sailors thought that could be smoke coming from hell were the bad souls were burning… or could be the place were the sea sudden dropped and the caravels just fell into hell…
But at the beginning of the summer, one day that was more clear, João Gonçalves Zarco got his courage together with his sailors and went to check that “dark cloud” and they were overwhelmed with want they discovered. They found an island covered with vegetation and so much wood that they named it Madeira which means wood in English. They thought they had found Paradise !
Where was Zarco born?
Historians are not in agreement as to where João Gonçalves Zarco was born. Some say Tomar, other indicate Lisbon , and still others say Matosinhos or Porto . Some even show papers revealing that in the XII century Zarco families already existed in Portugal even before her Independence in 1139. For sure there are legal documents in which the name Zarco already appears during the Kingdom of Dom Dinis [ 1248-79 ]. This is evidence that the name Zarco was not invented by the discover himself.
Is his name Zarco or Zargo?
Another battle that goes on among the historians concerns his name: should it be Zarco with a C, of Zargo with a G.
The old historians contemporary of the Zarco such as Gomes Eanes de Azurara, João de Barros e Damião de Góis always used his name Zarco with a C.
Some people say that the name Zarco came from a legend that in the military campaign in Ceuta the discoverer was the only one able to kill a very strong Arab and his name was Zarco and after that the Portuguese soldier started using the same Zarco. I never heard of a hero that adopted the name of his victim. This is such a stupid legend that should never be repeated.
But there is another very simple thing that the historians do not reveal or they do not know.
The name Zarco is Jewish, but it can be also derived from the Arabic. Why? Because the Jews lived the in the Iberian Peninsula for more than two thousand years, in the territory that later became Portugal . Even today more than 50% of the Portuguese people have Jewish blood!
On the other hand the Arabs came to the Iberian Peninsula in 711 and they stay there until Granada was taken by the Spaniards in 1492. This is total of 781 years.
In Portugal the Arabs lived until 1249 when King Dom Afonso III conquered Algarve . Therefore the Arabs were in Portuguese territory for a total of 538. The Arabs left a large influence of their civilization not only in names, place names but also in the Portuguese language. We should note that the name Algarve is derived from the Arab = “Al –Gharb” which means “Occidental” or sunset. The Jews also have a similar term. They call the Portuguese “Sephardic” which means “Occidental”. But the first ones to call the Portuguese “Occidental” were the Greeks with their term”Iberos” which also means “Occidental”.
If we consult the Jewish dictionary we will find out that the word “Zakhar” means “male organ” and “Zarkor” means “project” or “ejaculate”. This is the reason why “Zarkor” has the same meaning as “ Colon ” in Greek! This statement is very important for the analysis of the Columbus ’ Sigla or of Cristóvão Colon.
Zargo meaning beetle!
With respect to the name Zargo with a Z we should clarify that exists in Madeira island a parasite, and insect of the Madeira’s fauna, called zargo with a G, which belongs to the species of koleopteros among which the beetles are the best example. “koleopteros” is a scientific word composed by two Greek terms “Koleos” = vagina , plus “pteron” = meaning wings, because the larvae of the beetles look like a “vagina with wings”…
After this scientific explanation, I do not think it is just , nor decent, to called the great navigator Zargo with a Z !
But even more important for this discussion is for us to analyze the Zarco’s signature. Where we see what looks like a G, it is the Jewish letter K therefore with the sound o C. If the same letter in Zarco’s signature was the letter G, it should appear like an inverted Y. We should note that in the Jewish alphabet there are no vowels. Therefore we should not hesitate in declaring that the name of the navigator has to be Zarco with the letter C.
I hope that the people from Madeira will never consider their discover to be a beetle… and use always his correct name ZARCO with a C.
Why was Zarco a hero of the discoveries?
João Gonsalves Zarco was the first hero of the Portuguese maritime discoveries.
It was Zarco who made the first and most important maritime discovery: Porto Santo and Madeira , representing the first great conquest of the navigators to take control of all seas. It is really a pity that the History of Portugal does not give to his achievement the place it really deserves. Zarco was for the maritime discoveries what Yuriy Gagarin, Russian, and John Glenn, American, did for the Exploration of Outer Space. Unfortunately neither the Portuguese Government with headquarters in Lisbon, nor the Regional Government of Madeira have placed João Gonçalves Zarco on a pedestal that he merits, so his example can be shown to present and future generations.
Where in Porto Santo is the work that Zarco did?
My wife and I went to Porto Santo on May 2005. Fascinating island! Magnificent beach! We asked where the house of João Gonçalves Zarco was located, but nobody could tell us. We visited the so called “Casa do Colombo ” – House of Columbus-- but it does not show anything outstanding related to its discoverers. Too bad! The historical-cultural authorities of the archipelago should use the “Casa do Colombo ” as a museum and show in a didactic form to the visitors, in Portuguese and English, six dioramas:
“Casa do Colombo ” – The House of Columbus on the Island of Porto Santo dedicated to the navigator. Unfortunately it informs the visitors that he was born in Genoa !...
(1) First diorama should be about the School of Navigation at Sagres demonstrating that its principal objective was to find the water route to India around the Cape of Good Hope .
(2) The second diorama will display the arrival of the discovers at the Island of Porto Santo with the models of the beach and of the caravel, stressing the importance of this first discovery in the History of the World.
(3) Third diorama will treat the beginning of colonization with the rabbits, other domestic animals, cereals and even humans.
(4) The discovery of Madeira and the arrival of the navigators at the small island of the Fort of São José, and how Madeira developed into a such fascinating community, agriculturally and otherwise.
(5) The comparison of the Portuguese discoveries with the Explorations of the Outer Space, by showing cartography and photos to demonstrate that the conquest of Outer Space is the continuation of Humanity’s spirit of discovery stimulated by the Portuguese of the XV and XVI centuries, who became the first nation in the world to initiate the globalization that everyone is talking about now.
(6) And finally one diorama describing the historic relations of Cristóvão Colon (or Columbus) with his family members in Porto Santo and Madeira .
Unfortunately the exhibit in “Casa do Colombo ” belittles the Portuguese maritime history and only glorifies that Columbus was born in Genoa !...

Manuel Luciano da Silva

Jewish Traders of the Diaspora

Jewish Dispersion, a Bane and a Boon
The dispersions of the Jews from their homelands proved to be both a bane and a boon. Again and again Jews were ripped from their roots. Again and again Jews were obliged to make a new life in strange surroundings. Nonetheless, some factors worked in their favor. Most importantly, the Jews were a literate people who shared a common language with their relatives and compatriots in other lands. The Jews have not only been the "People of the Book" but the people who, in the main, could read a book. Literacy leads not only to learning but to the transfer of information from persons unknown, even from persons long dead. Importantly, it leads to the ability to communicate over time and space.
The Jews enjoyed a commercial advantage by virtue of familial ties and ability to communicate. Having a common interest, they established commercial liaisons of mutual benefit, and were, often uniquely, able to issue letters of credit that were certain to be honored months later from distant lands.
Throughout the ages the participation of the Jews in the evolution of commerce was far out of proportion to their numbers. Jewish communities were rarely deployed into primitive hinterlands, but in ports that gave them access to their peers abroad, or along trade routes, or in centers at the forefront of the technological revolution. Subsequent displacements widened the web of their commercial contacts. Jews became integral to the international trade of the countries into which they settled or were hurled. Inter-national intercourse became part and parcel of Jewish life.
Erudite Jewish traveler-traders maintained an interchange of Judaic law and cultural precepts between the dispersed communities. Jewish identity was preserved through the links provided by world-girdling sages.

Samuel Kurinsky (HHF) - Click on the link to read the whole article

Jewish war vets receive monument

In honoring Jewish military veterans with a stone monument at Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly Township, local vets were sending a message.
"Jewish people have served in every war this country has fought," Gerald Order, 65, commander of the Department of Michigan Jewish War Veterans, said at the unveiling Sunday.
Organizer Stanley Eisenberg of Rose Township -- a 75-year-old veteran of the Coast Guard who served during the Korean War -- said the monument cost about $1,800 and was dedicated by the state's Jewish War Veterans and Ladies Auxiliary.
The monument stands knee-high along a paved path with other memorials near a quiet, tree-lined waterfront.
"It's a place where we can come in prayer and thank God for everything He has given us, everything we have worked for, everything we have sacrificed our life for," said Bernard Feldman, 77, of Southfield, a Korean War veteran who served in the Navy on the USS Smalley.
Officials at the dedication didn't know how many Jewish military veterans there are in Michigan or across the country. But a document on the National Museum of American Jewish Military History's Web site, published in 2004, says nearly 1 million had served in the armed services during the 20th Century.
About 60 people attended Sunday's dedication, including Rabbi Karen Companez of Temple Beth El in Flint.
"We come together to honor the memories of those who are no longer with us," Companez said.
"We come together to offer support for one another."

Detroit Free Press

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rear Admiral to address Indiana Jewish Historical Society

One of the highest-ranking members of the U. S. Navy, Rear Admiral Harold L. Robinson, will address the 38th annual meeting of the Indiana Jewish Historical Society Sunday October 25th at the Broadmoor Country Club in Indianapolis. Rear Admiral Rabbi Harold L. Robinson who is also Chaplain Corps Deputy Chief of Chaplains for Reserve Matters, Director of Religious Programs, and Marine Force Reserve presentation is free to the public at 1:30 PM. He will discuss “Jews in the United States Military, Past and Present.” Reservations are required for a noon brunch for the society’s installation of new officers and the annual meeting. The cost of the brunch is $20 per person.

Six-term IJHS President Trent D. Pendley of Furnessville will introduce his friend the keynote speaker. Rear Admiral Robinson is a native of Boston who earned a Bachelor of Arts from Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1968. He earned a Bachelor of Hebrew Letters in 1972, a Master of Arts and ordination as a Rabbi in 1974 all from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1999 the College Institute awarded him the degree of Doctor of Divinity, and in 2005 Coe College conferred the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. He was Rabbi of Temple Israel of Gary, Indiana, (1974-1977), the Cape Cod Synagogue (1977-1998) and of B'nai Zion Congregation in Shreveport, La. (1998-2006) During this time, he has served on numerous boards and commissions, including 12 years on the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, six years on the Resolutions Committee of Reform Judaism and four years on the Commission on Religious Living of Reform Judaism. He currently serves as the Director of the Jewish Welfare Board-Jewish Chaplains Council.

Commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1971, Rear Adm. Robinson received a superseding commission as a Chaplain in 1975. His Reserve Component assignments have included Training Officer, Executive Officer and twice Commanding Officer of MAF Rel 101; and Regimental Chaplain, 25th Marine Regiment 4th Marine Division. He was assigned as Executive Officer and Commanding Officer of SUBLANT Rel 101, and as Force Chaplain, Iceland Defense Force. He served as the Group Chaplain for the 4th Force Service Support Group, USMC, and as Seabee National Chaplain.

In 2000 he was assigned to the Chief of Naval Chaplains Office as Special Assistant for Reserve Manpower. His Flag assignment is: Deputy Chief of Chaplains for Reserve Matters and Director of Religious Programs, Marine Force Reserve.

Rear Adm. Robinson also served as the President of the COMNAVRESFOR Policy Board FY 2005, the first staff corps officer so assigned. Rear Adm. Robinson is a Fleet Marine Force Qualified Officer.

Overseas active duty assignments have included: Naples, Italy: Holy Lock, Scotland; Keflavik, Iceland; Okinawa, Japan; Guam; Manama, Bahrain; and Djibouti. He has visited our forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Qatar and Kuwait.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Aaron Lopez's Struggle for Citizenship

Aaron Lopez, a Jewish merchant and philanthropist from Newport, Rhode Island, died in a carriage accident in 1782. On hearing of Lopez’s death, president Ezra Stiles of Yale College wrote that Lopez was an "amiable, benevolent, most hospitable & very respectable gentleman … without a single Enemy & and the most universally beloved by an extensive Acquaintance of any man I ever knew." Despite the widespread esteem in which Lopez was held, however, only 21 years earlier he and another Newport Jew, Isaac Elizer, were not allowed to become naturalized citizens of Rhode Island. Their case illustrates the limits of political rights for some Jews in pre- Revolutionary America.

The Lopez family left Portugal for New York in 1740. They had been living as conversos in Portugal. Once in America, the Lopez’s reclaimed their Jewish identity. The family moved to Newport in the 1750s and became active in shipping, whaling and the manufacture of candles. After living in Newport for nine years, Aaron Lopez applied to become a naturalized citizen.

There is no official record of the reasons why the Rhode Island Superior Court turned down Aaron Lopez and Isaac Elizer’s naturalization application, but the two men were not content to accept rejection. They appealed to the lower house of the Rhode Island legislature for redress. The house granted their request– but only grudgingly, and in part. The legislature voted to approve the naturalization applications if the two men returned to Superior Court and took an oath of allegiance. The legislature went on to say, however:

Inasmuch as the said Aaron Lopez hath declared himself by religion a Jew, this Assembly doth not admit himself nor any other of that religion to the full freedom of this Colony. So that the said Aaron Lopez nor any other of said religion is not liable to be chosen into any office in this colony nor allowed to give vote as a free man in choosing others.

Even worse, when Lopez and Elizer’s appeal of the Superior Court’s actions reached the upper house of the Rhode Island legislature, that august body voted to return the case to the court. The upper chamber explained that the English Parliament had given the courts jurisdiction over naturalization and therefore the Rhode Island legislature had no business interfering.

The case was reheard in Superior Court on March 11, 1762. Ezra Stiles’ recorded the day’s events. First, the court pronounced a sentence of hanging on a notorious thief; then it sentenced an arsonist to the same fate. A perjurer was then sentenced to the pillory. Finally, according to Stiles, "The Jews were called to hear their almost equally mortifying sentence and Judgment: which dismissed their Petition for Naturalization." Stiles mused, "Whether this [the order of the cases] was designedly, or accidental in proceeding upon the business of the Court I dont learn."

The court reasoned that Parliament had authorized naturalization in the colonies to increase their population. Because Rhode Island had become so crowded by 1762, the justices reasoned, the act no longer applied there. The court continued:

Further by the charter granted to this colony, it appears that the free and quiet enjoyment of the Christian religion and a desire of propagating the same were the principal views with which this colony was settled, and by a law made and passed in the year 1663, no person who does not profess the Christian religion can be admitted free [that is, as a voter or office holder] to this colony.

The court’s verdict led Reverend Stiles, an assiduous student of Jewish history, to reflect, "I remark that Providence seems to make every Thing to work for Mortification to the Jews, & to prevent their incorporating into any Nation; that thus they may continue a distinct people."

At this point, Isaac Elizer dropped his quest to become a naturalized citizen of Rhode and English subject. Aaron Lopez persisted. Eighteen days after his rejection by the Rhode Island Superior Court, Lopez’s agent began inquiries in Massachusetts to determine what was required for Lopez to be naturalized in that colony. The agent determined that Lopez needed only to produce proof that he had resided honorably in Rhode Island for seven years and to establish a few months’ residency in Massachusetts.

In April of 1762, the Lopez family moved temporarily across the border to a home in Swansea, Massachusetts. In October, seven months after his rejection by the Rhode Island Superior Court, Aaron Lopez appeared at a court session in Taunton, Massachusetts with a certificate from the deputy governor of Rhode Island that he had "deported [himself] as a good and loyal subject of his Britannic Majesty." The court granted Lopez his naturalization, after which the family returned to their beloved Rhode Island.

When British forces captured Newport during the Revolutionary War, Lopez abandoned home and business and fled to Leicester, Massachusetts, where he joined other displaced Newport patriots. On his way back to Newport when the Revolution ended, Lopez met his untimely end in the carriage accident for which he received the posthumous appreciation of Reverend Ezra Stiles and his fellow patriots.


Cochin Jews

There has been a lot of dispute about the date of arrival and settlement of the Cochin Jews in the ancient Kerala port of Cranganore, as renamed by the British (Kodungaloor to the Malayalis or Shingly to the Jews). There has been a history of trade between the Malabar (North Kerala – Cochin was then a part of Malabar) Coast and Israel, long before the establishment of the Cochin Jewish community. S.S.Koder in a paper presented in 1965 to the Kerala History Association traces the history of Jews in Kerala and states that “ from the 5th to the 15th century CE the Jews of Cranganore have had virtually an independent principality ruled over by a Prince of their own race and choice.”

There have been many theories regarding the Cochin Jews. One of them being - the first Jews to arrive in Kerala were said to be part of King Solomon’s fleet, resulting in the exodus from Persia in the 5th century BCE. Another theory is that the Kerala Jews were descendants of the Jews taken to Babylon by the Persian emperor Nebuchadnazar. However, it is widely believed that the first Jews came to Kerala as traders, after the destruction of the Second Temple of Palestine in the first Century BCE.

Another disputed theory amongscholarsisregarding the date of the copper plates handed by the 4th Century Kerala Ruler, Cheraman Perumal (Sri Parkaran Iravi Varman) to the Jewish chieftain, Joseph Rabban, granting him revenue and land. Joseph Rabban was thus made the prince of Anjuvannam and a Jewish principality was established in Cranganore in 379 CE. This date is disputed by various scholars and ranges from 379 to 750 CE. The copper plates are inscribed in Vattezhuthu, originally in Tamil script then prevalent in Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu), South Malabar and Travancore (Kerala). The relationship between Cheraman Perumal and JosephRabban is illustrative of the cordial relationships between the Hindus and Jews, which is still maintained in Kerala.

The Jews initially settled in Shingly (Cranganore), which was later abandoned for Cochin, as a result of the onslaught of the Moors in 1524 and the Portuguese invasion in 1550. The Cochin community was established under the patronage of the Maharaja of Cochin, Bhaskara Ravi Varma (of Perumpadappu Swarupam, one of the ruling royal families of Kerala), who donated land and property next to his Dutch Palace in Mattancheri, adjacent to the temple of his family deity, Pazhayannur Devi Temple . This theme of welcome, royal patronage and hospitality is a guiding metaphor for Hindu-Jewish symbiosis in Kerala. Even in recent times, the Department of Education in Kerala, consults the community on dates of Jewish festivals. Although holidays are not declared, examinations are not conducted in Keraladuring these auspicious datesof the Jewish calendar.

At present there are only 13 Jews in Mattancheri and about 50 in neighbouring Ernakulam. Most members of the Cochin community are over 60 years of age, with the youngest member being 30. During my interviews with the Cochin Jews, I found that the “promised land” of Israel, practice of endogamy and adherence to the Judaic religion were other reasons for emigration. When I asked Yosef Hellegua whether the Jewish enterprise would not have contributed towards the current economic growth of India, I was caught unawares. Yosef retaliated with the question of why I emigrated to the West and whether I would come back. While I have no answer to his question, I reiterate my own.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Sailors Hymn

“Home is the sailor, home from the sea; and the hunter, home form the hill”. These verses from the poem by A.E. Houseman, are mute reminders of the contribution that the State of Israel’s small, but important naval forces make for the security of their country. The loss of four members of an Israeli missile boat when struck by a Hezbollah launched missile, once again brings attention to a branch of Israel’s armed forces who have managed to perform their duties in both peace and war, with the loss of relatively few of their comrades. The only graphic exception, outside of this recent incident was the accidental sinking of the Israeli submarine, Dakar, which sank with all hands on board on its maiden voyage back to Israel from England in 1968 after being purchased from the British Royal Navy. Only recently did the true fate of the Dakar and its crew of 69 become known when the long vanished sub was finally located on the bottom of the Mediterranean off the Island of Crete.

Many countries who have both military navies, as well as merchant marine fleets, have their own version of the Sailor’s Hymn. One of the most notable, composed by American Rear Admiral Charles Jackson in 1879, and heard often by U.S, Navy choral groups, begins as follows:

Eternal Father, Strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bid’st the mighty Ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to thee,
for those in peril on the sea.

Though based on a Christian Protestant song, sung by coastal churches where sailing vessels were a vital part of the lives of people living in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore, the song is still a fitting tribute to those who brave the seas and ocean’s waves on ships of all types; for both war and peace.

Being a Jewish State, Israel cannot use this hymn to honor its men at sea. It would be fitting, therefore for a special song to be composed, with both music and words to pay tribute to those naval personnel who have fallen in the line of duty. The Torah and other parts of the Holy Scriptures have many verses and psalms dealing with the sea, and deliverance from it, including the Chapters from Genesis dealing with Noah and his family, and a later separate book, the Book of Jonah. Both of these examples have fitting excerpts which, together with the proper musical rendition would make into a most beautiful Sailor’s Hymn for Israel’s naval personnel.

The announcement by the Israeli Navy that the bodies of all four sailors were found at least brings some comfort to their grieving families who can now bury their love ones and visit their graves. Those lost at sea, however, such as the Dakar’s crew, are lost forever; as trying to recover them from more than 2,000 feet of water is too difficult, considering the logistical factors involved. They, together with literally thousands more worldwide, share the sea as their common grave.

Still, proper attention needs to be paid to these brave men and the important duties performed for the welfare of their nation. And nothing more suitable and fitting a tribute is needed than to compose a special hymn or prayer in their honor, which will be a lasting reminder of the duties sacrifices by this special branch of Israel’s military forces.

One Jerusalem

Obituary: Murray Aronoff

Murray Aronoff, a crew member of a retired steamship, the Exodus 1947, on its aborted voyage to transport 4,500 Jewish refugees from France to Palestine in 1947, died on Dec. 30 at North Shore University Hospital-Cornell University Medical College in Plainview. He was 75.

The cause was complications resulting from Alzheimer's disease, said his son, Aaron.

During the Exodus's journey, the British, who were trying to balance Arab and Jewish interests in the Middle East, opposed the large influx of refugees to the region, and boarded the ship in international waters, trying to turn it back. Mr. Aronoff called together a group later called Murray's Marauders, about 400 volunteers, who fought off the troops. During the battle, he was injured by a steel-tipped gun.

Mr. Aronoff was a deckhand on the ship, which belonged to the Haganah, a Jewish resistance group in Palestine. Bernard Marks of Cincinnati was the first officer. ''Murray's Marauder's defended the ship,'' Mr. Marks said, referring to the battle. It lasted from 1:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. on July 18, 1947, as the British tried to take the ship. ''They had side arms, machine guns and tear gas,'' he said, ''and we had canned food and potatoes and rocks.''

The refugees were taken to Germany, but most eventually made it to Palestine. The incident drew international attention to the plight of the refugees, and was believed to help spur the creation of the modern state of Israel. The writer Leon Uris based his novel ''Exodus'' in part on the ship's journey.

Mr. Aronoff was born in Worcester, Mass., where his father was a house painter and an active Zionist. Mr. Aronoff, who shared his father's Zionist passion, could not fight in World War II because he had had polio as a child, his son said.

Until his mid-30's Mr. Aronoff was a professional speaker for the United Jewish Appeal and Israel Bonds, his son said. He worked for years in New York City's garment district as a salesman and part owner of a factory, and lived in Bethpage most of his life. In the late 1960's he was active in raising $500,000 to rebuild the Bethpage Jewish Community Center, which had burned. In his later years he helped lead several trips with college students that retraced the route of the exodus. He was also a former president of the American Veterans of Israel.

In addition to his son Aaron, who lives in Bellmore, N.Y., Mr. Aronoff is survived by two other sons, Keith, of Boca Raton, Fla.; and Craig, of Merrick, N.Y.; two daughters, Faith Aronoff of Manhattan and Andrea Aronoff of Bayside, Queens; and nine grandchildren.

NY Times

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

US Navy Jewish Penant

The Jewish worship pennant was approved by the Secretary of the Navy in December 1975 as the equivalent of the traditional church pennant used for Christian services. It is flown above the ensign at the ensign staff (not underway) or gaff (underway) while Jewish services are being conducted aboard a warship by a naval chaplain. The pennant is white with a rounded tip and the emblem of the Jewish chaplaincy--the tablets of Moses surmounted by the Magen David all outlined in dark blue--set with the top toward the hoist.

Jewish Women in the Navy

The history of women serving in the United States Navy began in the Civil War when nuns of the Roman Catholic religious orders came aboard hospital ships to assist the wounded. While the first trained nurses served in the Navy during the Spanish-American War, it was not until 1908 that the Navy Nurse Corps was officially established and produced over 12,000 women who served during World War I. The Navy "WAVES" or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service force was officially established on July 30, 1942. The WAVES were created to initiate a rapid buildup of Navy personnel at the outset of WWII to address an acute shortage of manpower. With the establishment of a women's reserve force, Congress hoped to enlist a total of 10,000 women and 1,000 officers to aid in the war effort.

Bernice Sains Freid, Bebe Koch,and Lt. Miriam "Mimi" Miller each served in the Navy WAVES during World War II. Miranda Bloch represents one of the first Jewish women in the Marines and Cindy Gats served in the Marines during Operation Desert Storm.

more at Jewish Woman's Archieve

Rabbi Douglas

Not long ago the Jewish people celebrated Rosh Hashana, the new year, 5770. Wow! That's a long time. I am not very religious, but it reminded me of an incident that happened when I was filming the movie, "In Harm's Way". I played a naval officer, a bitter flier under John Wayne's command. After raping Jill Harworth, the girlfriend of Wayne's son, played by Brandon de Wilde, I sacrificed myself on an air mission.

The most exciting thing about the production was that we got to shoot on the USS St. Paul, a cruiser, as it sailed from Seattle to Hawaii. And there was Otto Preminger, the director, treating the personnel like his own personal crew, the boat like a prop, yelling to the captain, in his German accent, "Push the boat the other vey, so ve get the sunlight!"

I shared a bunk with one of the officers, Josh Nelson, who I was surprised to learn was Jewish. I never think of naval officers as being Jewish, maybe because I didn't know any others when I was one. I asked Josh if many of the crew were Jewish.
He said, "A few."
I said, "Do you ever hold religious services?"
"I tried to, but it's hard to get them interested enough."
"Suppose I conduct the religious service?"
"would you? Could you?"
"Yes," I said, "Why don't you tell your friends that tomorrow, Friday night, I'll conduct the service."

That Friday evening, we were all dining at the captain's table - John Wayne, Burgess Meredith, and of course Otto Preminger - when over the loudspeakers:


Well, this caused a little ripple. Heads everywhere bobbed. And I, very dignified and nonchalant, stood up and said, "Would you excuse me, Captain? I have to officiate at this service." John Wayne and Burgess Meredith, curious, came over later. Otto Preminger, a Jew, didn't. In a borrowed yarmulke and prayer shawl, I conducted the Friday evening service, remembering the old Hebrew prayers that I learned when I was a poor boy living in Amsterdam, when the people in my synagogue wanted little Issur to become a rabbi, and I didn't know how to tell them I wanted to be an actor. That night on the USS St. Paul was the fulfillment of my debt to them.

I don't think it matters what religion you follow as long as your faith tells you to care for others.

Kirk Douglas