Grapevine: Tribute to New York

On November 8, the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, Beit Avi Chai will pay tribute to the Jews of New York.

US AMBASSADOR to Israel David Friedman speaks during the dedication ceremony of the US Embassy in Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS)
US AMBASSADOR to Israel David Friedman speaks during the dedication ceremony of the US Embassy in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
■ NOVEMBER 8 and 9 are engraved in the Jewish calendar as the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night of the shattered glass, when Nazi bullies broke the windows of Jewish commercial enterprises 80 years ago and caused massive destruction of synagogues across Germany. There are families in Israel which have members who are survivors of Kristallnacht brutality, or who are friends of people who experienced it. Likewise, there are people here who are relatives or friends of people killed or injured in the Pittsburgh massacre last Saturday.
Outside of Israel, the largest concentration of Jews in the world today is in the United States, with the overwhelming majority in New York. On November 8, the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, Beit Avi Chai will pay tribute to the Jews of New York. One might ask, why not to the Jews of Germany or the Jews of Pittsburgh? Because of anti-immigration legislation and white supremacy, which are emerging in the US; incitement against the New York-headquartered Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which since its inception has been dedicated to helping refugees and immigrants whether legal or otherwise; and the fact that the vast majority of New York Jews are first-, second- or third-generation immigrants, many of whose forebears were refugees.
The major part of the evening will be devoted to a lecture on Jewish immigration to New York by the Open University’s Dr. Hagit Cohen, who specializes in Jewish history and philosophy. She will be followed by prize-winning journalist and researcher Shmuel Rosner, a contributing opinion writer for the international edition of The New York Times, and political editor of The Jewish Journal. He is a former columnist for The Jerusalem Post and a former chief US correspondent for Haaretz. He currently writes for Maariv, the sister publication of The Jerusalem Post.
The first 23 Jews, who were originally from Portugal, sailed in a French boat from Brazil and arrived in New York, or New Amsterdam as it was called then, in 1654. They had fled Portuguese persecution and the despotic rule in Brazil. Soon many other Jews fleeing oppression and discrimination came to make new lives in what was known as the goldene medina. For many, that’s exactly what it was.
■ THERE WAS multi-generational joy in the family of Renee and Shmuel Becker over the past week or two. Aside from celebrating the bar mitzvah of their grandson Eliashiv Binyamin, they also celebrated the 103rd birthday of the bar mitzvah boy’s great-grandmother Netta Pollack. Though vision impaired and confined to a wheel chair, Pollack, who came on aliyah from England, continues to take an interest in what is happening in the world and gets her daughter to read The Jerusalem Post to her on a regular basis. Sometimes she also attends services at Hazvi Yisrael congregation, where she is not the only congregant of triple-digit age. Dutch Holocaust survivor Mirjam Bolle, who for 18 months wrote letters from Auschwitz to her fiancé, who had managed to reach British Mandate-ruled Palestine but never sent them, many years later published them in a book. Bolle, who was born on March 20, 1917, is always immaculately groomed, straight-backed, walks without a cane or a walker and attends services every Shabbat.
There are quite a few sprightly nonagenarians in the congregation as well, but at the other end of generation pole, there is a regular children’s minyan, initiated by Rabbi Yosef Ote, who has young children of his own. Bar mitzvahs, though not frequent, are not uncommon, but baby naming and circumcision ceremonies are rare. There are quite a lot of great-grandparents among the congregants, many of who did not know their own grandparents or great-grandparents, who had been murdered during the Holocaust. Today’s junior generations of Jews in many cases are fortunate to have grandparents on both sides of their families, and many also have great-grandparents and even great-great-grandparents.
■ THE ANNOUNCEMENT last month by the US State Department that the Agron Street consulate, which served the needs of Palestinians in their relations with the US, will henceforth operate under the auspices of the US Embassy, provoked anger among Palestinians, and speculation among Israeli Jews, especially Jerusalemites, as to whether US Ambassador David Friedman, in addition to having moved his office to Jerusalem, will also move his residence. Gossips in diplomatic circles say that Friedman has long had his eye on the consul’s residence, which is somewhat more stately than the American residence in Herzliya Pituah, which, as impressive as it is, cannot compete with the Jerusalem abode.