By Ben Sales for JTA
Yaakov Seltzer remembers a different world, when he would sell his customers prayer books, then hand them an invitation to his daughter’s wedding.
When they would come in to Seltzer’s store to order a kippah for their new grandson, then ask him to attend the bris.
Or they would stop in on a Friday afternoon with nothing to buy, just to wish him a good Shabbat.
But though the Upper West Side of Manhattan is still heavily Jewish, the world Seltzer longs for has disappeared. And soon, so will his store, West Side Judaica, which Seltzer plans to close sometime next year.
BY MICHAEL FELDBERG for myjewishlearning.com
Lane Bryant Malsin started a small business and became a famous fashion designer who made millions, but she was always involved in Jewish philanthropic work.
In 1895, a 16-year-old immigrant named Lena Himmelstein arrived in New York, having traveled alone from her native Lithuania. Without family, she supported herself by working as a seamstress, earning a dollar a week. A gifted dressmaker, Lena quickly became skilled at her craft and within a year was earning the extraordinary wage of fifteen dollars per week. Before the age of 20, Lena married a Jewish immigrant jeweler from Russia named David Bryant. Soon after their son Raphael was born, David Bryant died suddenly. The widowed Lena Bryant, thrown back on her own devices, supported Raphael and herself by returning to dressmaking in their cramped apartment.
By 1904, Bryant’s business was so successful that she opened a shop with living quarters in the rear. A bank officer misspelled her name on a business account application, and Lena’s first name became Lane. Thus began the pioneering women’s clothing enterprise known as Lane Bryant.
BY MICHAEL FELDBERG for myjewishlearning.com
Haym Salomon played a significant role in saving the newly established United States from financial ruin and was a prominent part of Jewish community affairs.
In the pantheon of American Jewish heroes, Haym Salomon (1740-1785) has attained legendary status. His life was brief and tumultuous, but his impact on the American imagination was great. The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp hailing Salomon as a “Financial Hero of the American Revolution.” A monument to Salomon, George Washington, and Robert Morris graces East Wacker Drive in Chicago, and Beverly Hills, California, is home to an organization called the American Jewish Patriots and Friends of Haym Salomon.
Philologos for Tablet Magazine
In part, it borrowed extensively from the slangs and vernaculars of other languages. Consider the case of de la shmatte.
Adin Eichler writes:
My grandmother had a word takhlis. [Mr. Eichler spells the word in Hebrew/Yiddish characters as טאכלעס.] She’d use it in sentences like, “It’s time for takhlis,” which meant she was about to sit us down and give us a good talking-to. I never understood precisely what that meant. Do you happen to know?
Takhlis is Yiddish for practical matters or for the practical side of something, as in a sentence like lomir redn takhlis, “Let’s talk takhlis,” that is, “Let’s get down to business” or “Let’s get down to brass tacks.” Although, with the stress on its first syllable, it’s pronounced as Adin Eichler wrote it, following the rules of Yiddish spelling, you won’t find it spelled that way in a Yiddish dictionary. This is because it comes from the Hebrew word takhlit, spelled תכלית, with the stress on the last syllable. The rule in Yiddish is that all Hebrew-derived words retain their Hebrew spellings even if that is not how their sounds would ordinarily be represented in Yiddish. And yet in writing takhlis in Hebrew today, it is often Yiddishized as תכלעס (sometimes elided into תכל’ס).
BY ARIE KAPLAN for myjewishlearning.com
How American Jews created the comic book industry.
Jews built the comic book industry from the ground up, and the influence of Jewish writers, artists, and editors continues to be felt to this day. But how did Jews come to have such a disproportionate influence on an industry most famous for lantern-jawed demigods clad in colorful tights?
First Comic Books
The story begins in 1933. During that year, the world experienced seismic changes in politics and pop culture. An unemployed Jewish novelty salesman named Maxwell Charles “M.C.” Gaines (née Max Ginzberg) had a brilliant idea: if he enjoyed reading old comic strips like Joe Palooka, Mutt and Jeff, and Hairbredth Harry so much, maybe the rest of America would, too. Thus was born the American comic book, which in its earliest days consisted of reprinted newspaper funnies. Gaines and his colleague Harry L. Wildenberg at Eastern Color Printing soon published February 1934’s Famous Funnies #1, Series 1, the first American retail comic book.
BY MORDECAI WALFISH for myjewishlearning.com
Yiddish originated in Germany, but was eventually spoken by Jews all over Europe.
In its 1,000-plus-year history, the Yiddish language has been called many things, including the tender name mameloshen (mother tongue), the adversarial moniker zhargon (jargon) and the more matter-of-fact Judeo-German.
What is Yiddish?
Literally speaking, Yiddish means “Jewish.” Linguistically, it refers to the language spoken by Ashkenazi Jews — Jews from Central and Eastern Europe, and their descendants. Though its basic vocabulary and grammar are derived from medieval West German, Yiddish integrates many languages including German, Hebrew, Aramaic and various Slavic and Romance languages.
The Origin of Yiddish
Jake Romm for The Forward
If you’re fortunate enough to find yourself in Venice during the Biennale, there’s a piece, recently reported on by the New York Times, that seems especially worth your time – Israeli artist Hadassa Goldvicht’s “The House of Life.” “The House of Life,” “a multiscreen video installation that opened this month at the Palazzo Querini Stampalia Museum” focuses on the life of Aldo Izzo, a former ship-captain who now tends to the two Jewish cemeteries of Venice (one dates back to 1386, and one, still in use, to 1774).
By Aaron Hamburger for Tablet Magazine
On a recent trip to Cuba, I learned more about my grandmother’s journey to America—and the different ways my family has interpreted that piece of our history
In our family lore, we’ve regarded my grandmother’s year in Cuba as a bit of trivia in her heroic coming-to-America story, a peculiar intermezzo between the melancholy overture of shtetl life in rural Russia and the happy-ending crescendo of her American Dream. I hadn’t given it much thought until I decided to visit Havana myself in April, accompanying my husband, who was going there for work. It seemed like a rare opportunity to witness a country that had been off-limits to Americans for so long and was now going through a historic transformation.
We began preparing for the trip last fall, reading books and articles, filling out our visa applications, and loading up on essentials that our trip leaders had suggested we take along, like over-the-counter medications or extra rolls of toilet paper, which we were warned were not easily obtainable in Cuba because of the American embargo that’s still in effect.
By Jeffrey Salkin on Martini Judaism
I was a college freshman, and I was in a psychology class. The subject of religion came up, and I publicly admitted that I believed in God and was a committed Jew.
The professor grew pale. I will never forget what he said to me. “This makes me very sad. I am hoping that as you become more educated, you will, at the very least, question your faith.”
I had not thought of that professor (who was Jewish) and that experience for several decades – until this week with the release of a Pew study on the correlation between religious attachment and educational levels.
Martin Kramer for Mosaic
For 100 years the British statement, which inaugurated Zionism’s legitimation in the eyes of the world, has been seen as the isolated act of a single nation. The truth is much different.
On November 2, 1917, a century ago, Arthur James Balfour, the British foreign secretary, conveyed the following pledge in a public letter to a prominent British Zionist, Lord Walter Rothschild:
His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
At the time, as World War I raged, British forces were fighting deep in Palestine against the Ottomans, and were poised to take Jerusalem.
by ELAD NEHORAI for PopChassid
Okay, let’s be real. Most of the world, and especially America, when it imagines what Jews look like, usually has an image like this sticking out in their mind: (picture of Woody Allen)
Yep, thanks to Woody Allen, Hollywood, and plenty of other reasons that have no connection to reality, the majority of the world likes to think Jews are all white, nerdy, and short. And have been like that since day one.
By Rabbi Jonathan Miller, Temple Emanu-El, Birmingham, Alabama
In May of 1967, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the President of Egypt, who had joined in a military alliance with Syrian President Hafez el Assad, began to give speeches which galvanized the Arab world. Daily, he proclaimed to the Arab world that he promised to "drive Israel into the sea". He expelled the United Nations' Peacekeepers from the Sinai Peninsula. Syrian armies advanced on the Golan ready to attack Israel from their commanding heights.
By Ross Arbes for The New Yorker
About an hour’s drive north of Seoul, in the Gwangju Mountains, nearly fifty South Korean children pore over a book. The text is an unlikely choice: the Talmud, the fifteen-hundred-year-old book of Jewish laws. The students are not Jewish, nor are their teachers, and they have no interest in converting. Most have never met a Jew before. But, according to the founder of their school, the students enrolled with the goal of receiving a “Jewish education” in addition to a Korean one.
Meir Soloveichik for Mosaic
Not only strikingly beautiful, his painting of Moses holding the Ten Commandments also happens to be one of the most authentically Jewish works of art ever created.
As Jews the world over prepare to celebrate Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Law, few biblical scenes are more appropriate to contemplate than the spectacle of Moses bringing the tablets of the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai. And, incongruous though this may seem to many Jews, no more appropriate image of the scene exists than Rembrandt van Rijn’s depiction of the prophet holding aloft the two tablets bearing their Hebrew inscriptions (1659). Not only strikingly beautiful, the painting also happens to be one of the most authentically Jewish works of art ever created.
BY TEAM BE'CHOL LASHON for myjewishlearning.com
The heroes who endured torture and risked their lives to save Ethiopian Jews.
When he was 10 years old, filmmaker Avishai Mekonen walked from Ethiopia to Sudan and was eventually taken to Israel. As an adult, he began to wonder how that journey came to be and his research led to his newest project.
BL: Your first film focused on your own journey to Israel, how does this project differ?
Lag B'Omer is celebrated this year on Sunday, May 14
Lag B’Omer literally means the 33rd day of the Omer. The Omer is counted for 49 days between the end of Passover and the holiday of Shavuot (derived from the practice of counting the days from the barley offering at the Temple to the day of the wheat offering on Shavuot, in the Torah). The holiday celebrates a break in a plague that is said to have occurred during the days of Rabbi Akiva. The Talmud states that the great teacher of Jewish mysticism Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai died on Lag B’Omer, and in modern times the holiday has come to symbolize the resilience of the Jewish spirit.
BY CATHRYN J. PRINCE for The Times of Israel
Award-winning comedienne Monica Piper tickles audiences until they cry with the bittersweet story of her life
Some may laugh in the face of danger; Monica Piper laughs in the face of the “the dark stuff.” And right now she thinks America needs to laugh more.
“It’s getting harder and harder, that’s for sure — but a funny way of looking at things is important, no matter how dire the situation is. And in our current political situation, if you can’t find the funny it can be even more stressful,” said Piper, who is currently starring in the one-woman show “Not That Jewish.”