Tag Archives: jewish

The Jewish Refugee Community of Shanghai: 1938-1949–Guest blog by Historicity (Was Already Taken)

Shanghai, China, Jewish refugees in one of the "homes" established in Shanghai to house those who succeeded in escaping from Europe via East Asia in the 1940s

Shanghai, China, Jewish refugees in one of the “homes” established in Shanghai to house those who succeeded in escaping from Europe via East Asia in the 1940s. Photo courtesy of the Yad Vashem photo archive. Click for source.

German Jews did not immediately begin to put their emigration papers in order after Hitler came into power, or after the passing of the Nuremberg Laws, because as far as they were concerned they were fully assimilated Goethe reading, WWI fighting German citizens. They could not believe, and would not believe, that the country they loved would turn against them.

Hitler introduced his anti-Jewish legislation slowly over the course of the 1930’s, giving German Jewry time to rationalize each new piece; this especially held true for Jewish men, as they tended to work in traditionally Jewish occupations. Jewish women, however, through the regular contact with gentiles allowed to them by their place in the home sphere, became aware of the “social death” being imposed on them by Nazi legislation long before their husbands took notice.

In the wake of the mass arrests of Jewish men during Kristallnacht, it fell to these women to free their husbands—typically from Dachau. Nazi officials would not release men until their families provided proof that they would depart from Germany immediately upon their release. Thus, not only did women have to rescue their husbands, but they also had to navigate the emigration process by themselves. Due to the complex legal frameworks enacted by possible destination countries to keep Jewish refugees out, it was immensely difficult for Jews to secure visas out of Germany, and it became even more difficult when they were confronted with the massive exit tax Jews were forced to pay before leaving.

There was, however, one destination which had not put up legal roadblocks to fleeing Jews: Shanghai—this had more to do with the decentralized and highly colonized nature of Shanghai than it had to do with any sort of altruistic sentiment. While the Chinese government had the right to demand to see emigration papers before new arrivals would be allowed to enter Shanghai, this was seldom enforced. Thus, to get to Shanghai, all fleeing families needed were boat tickets. For this reason—in accordance with the necessity to present proof of emigration to Nazi officials before male family members would be released—Shanghai became the only option available to some of the families of incarcerated men.

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Anti-Fascist Dieselpunk and the Spanish Civil War–Guest blog by P. Djeli Clark

Note: This is first in a two-part series, cross-posted with permission from The Disgruntled Haradrim. Check on Part 2 about Anti-Fascism and  Ethiopia on Wednesday!

I was watching Guillermo del Toro’s excellent dark fantasy realism flick, El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) the other day, and it reminded of an excellent blog article I read on Emma Goldman and dieselpunk late last year. Huh, you ask? Yes, like a Third Stage Guild Navigator, my mind “moves in strange directions.” Stay with me, and I’ll connect the dots….

Guillermo del Toro’s tragic tale, told through the eyes of an imaginative little girl named Ofelia, is set during the brutal Franco regime in the wake of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), a conflict that is almost lost in the long shadow cast by WW2. Yet like Mussolini’s brutal campaign against Ethiopia, the Spanish Civil War was one of the first battlegrounds against fascism. While Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy supported the right-wing General Francisco Franco, with weapons and bombing campaigns, the leftist Republican government was supported in part by France, Mexico and the Soviet Union.

Beyond nation-states, brigades of international volunteers also flocked to fight what they saw as a war against fascism. Some forty thousand men and women from fifty-two countries, many of them socialists, communists and radicals, traveled to Spain to join the International Brigades in support of the anti-fascist Republican government. Some 2,800 of them were from the United States, and served in what was called the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

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#99 On Jewish Folklore in Steampunk: A Review of Steampunk Torah and Merkabah Rider — Guest Blog by Rachel Landau

"Beis Midrash" by Boris Dubrov. Click for source.

“Hey, did you know giraffes are kosher?”

This made worldwide news in 2008, when a rabbi certified that giraffe milk was indeed kosher. The giraffe chews its cud and has split hooves, and its milk curdles.

Thus: kosher! How wacky of those Jews!

But this wasn’t news to me: I learned this in the third grade, along with the other rules of kashrut and shechita. We don’t eat giraffes, of course, not just because they’re endangered, but because according to Jewish law, you need to slice the arteries at a certain point, so that the blood drains most quickly and the animal dies without prolonged suffering. We know where that place is on a cow, but we’re not sure where that would be on a giraffe. So giraffes are off the menu – but they’re on the approved list.

To me, this story exemplifies much of Jewish law and modern Judaism. With a few basic axioms – just like Euclid’s – you can build a logical framework that supports any question you might have. Accept that G-d exists, and that He gave the Torah to us, and then hundreds of logical implications follow. This is the logical Judaism, the way we make sense of four thousand years of heritage and dense books and missing links. And it does make sense, one law leading to another, one interpretation and one rabbi at a time.

One of the main sources of the interpretation is the Midrash, a collection of interpretations, stories, and parables that explain the text of the Torah.

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Steampunk Emma Goldman Featured in the New York Times

Friend of the blog, Miriam Rocek, aka Steampunk Emma Goldman recently was interviewed by a local New York Times correspondent for a documentary about America’s most famous anarchist and her old haunts in the East Village. I’m thrilled to see how steampunk is gaining some well-deserved recognition for its political potential. Watch the video below and read the accompanying article.

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#86 The Kaifeng Jews–Guest Blog by Historicity (Was Already Taken)

Note: This was cross-posted with permission from Historicity (Was Already Taken).

Late nineteenth century photo of two members of the Kaifeng Jewish community

When people think about Jewish Diaspora communities, they probably think of Fiddler on the Roof style Jewish communities, inquisitions, and lynch mobs. They forget that the Jewish Diaspora was not one singular event, and that it sent people in every direction across the globe, and not just to Europe. Many went east—there were vibrant, ancient Jewish communities across the Middle East up until the mid-twentieth century. And some went further east, to China.

There are many theories as to when and how Jews ended up in China. In my opinion, the most accurate theory is simply that some Jewish merchants followed the Silk Road as it rose to prominence in the third century CE, and ended up in China.

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QUAINT #25 Pedro Arbuez d’Espila in “The Torture of Hope” by Villiers de l’Isle Adam

Inquisition Scene by Francisco Goya

Inquisition Scene by Francisco Goya

Pedro Arbuez d’Espila was created by Villiers de l’Isle Adam and appeared in “The Torture of Hope” (Nouveaux Contes Cruels, 1888). “The Torture of Hope” is in many ways the quintessential conte cruel.

There was a real Pedro Arbuez d’Espila, Don Pedro Arbues de Epilae (1441/2-1485, one of the most notorious and vicious of the Spanish Grand Inquisitors. Arbues engaged in compulsory baptism of Jews and used judicial torture to ensure that the conversions were sincere. Arbues was killed by a group of Jews in 1485; Pope Pius IX canonized Arbues as St. Peter of Arbues in 1867.

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#78 Fact or Faked: The Travels of Jacob D’Anacona–Guest Blog by Rachel Landau

The City of Light is the journal of the travels of Jacob D’Ancona, a 13th century pious Jewish merchant. Readers follow Jacob on a three-year journey, starting from his hometown of Ancona in present-day Italy, overland through Damascus and Baghdad, and then by sea, stopping at various ports and places until he reaches the city of Zaitun, modern-day Quanzhou, where he stays to buy goods and talk to the scholars of the city. It consists of equal parts travelogue/memoir and a philosophical discussion of medieval Jewish and Chinese ideas.

This was a time when Jews had restricted access to jobs or freedom to run their own lives. In medieval Europe, Jews often had to wear physical signals of their faith: yellow stripes or stars. Jews had restricted job and social opportunities: they were often forbidden from interaction with Christians. In Muslim lands, the restrictions for Jews were somewhat more relaxed, but Jews still paid higher taxes than Muslims did — though not as high as those paid by the non-”People of the Book”.

Jacob himself is an interesting exception to many of the typical rules. He travels with both Jews and Christians, and frequently mentions his young female Gentile servants’ romantic lives. Furthermore, Jacob is a jack-of-all-trades, a Renaissance man in pre-Renaissance times. He’s a traveler, a merchant, a scholar, a physician, an authority who is consulted by Jewish and Chinese communities alike. He speaks and writes in fluent Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Greek, and Arabic. Nearly everyone who meets him likes him. He’s a bit too good to be true: in modern terms, he’s a pretty big Mary Sue.

But the most compelling parts of the book are not Jacob, but the world he’s seeing for the first time. The descriptions of Chinese life are vivid and lengthy, and the variety and extensiveness of the Chinese market was stunning and often unbelievable to European eyes. Jacob engages in lengthy discussions (through a translator) with Chinese scholars and even spends several weeks stuck in the sordid underworld, full of gambling, prostitutes, and illicit sex.

There’s also political intrigue, and the threat of very real danger: At this time, northern China was under the rule of Kublai Khan and there was a very real threat of invasion by the “Tartars” — for Europeans and the southern Chinese alike. Meanwhile, the Chinese community of scholars was divided itself between old and new ways of thinking.

Jacob finds many points of contact and connection between himself and several of the Chinese scholars, especially a man named Pitaco, who like Jacob was worried about the lack of respect in the younger generation, the stability of the country’s morals, and the justification of trickle-down economics. Perhaps most fittingly for a book about contact and conflict between Western and Eastern cultures, Jacob’s habit of pontificating ends up rubbing many Chinese scholars the wrong way. As the inhabitants of the city get upset about the amount of influence the foreign Jew has in the city, Jacob concludes his business and leaves in a hurry, fearing for his life.

There’s really just one problem with the narrative: Jacob D’Ancona may have never existed.

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#72 Passover Traditions from Jewish Cultures Worldwide–Guest Blog by Rachel Landau

This Monday is the first night of Pesach, or Passover. In the days when the Temple was standing, every Jew was required to make a pilgrimage to the Temple and make an offering there. Around the world and on six continents, Jews still follow the same structure for a Passover seder, as outlined in the Haggadah nearly two thousand years ago. But Jews are not monolithic: each community adds its own variations and customs to the mix.

A picture from the Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the oldest Sephardic Haggadahs in the world. The Haggadah is the text that contains the order and the ritual traditions of the seder meal.

There are roughly three different strains of Jewish cultural movements, all of which have many different subgroups. After the destruction of the Second Temple, the Romans forcibly removed Jews from their homeland and scattered them throughout the Empire. Thus, three distinct cultures emerged. The Ashkenazi Jews come from Central and Eastern Europe, and make up between 70 and 80% of the worldwide Jewish population. The Sephardi Jews settled in Spain and flourished under Muslim rule there: after the expulsion of Jews in 1492, many fled to Portugal, the Netherlands, and Southern Europe, including the Ottoman Empire (especially present-day Turkey and Greece). Finally, Mizrachi Jews, from the Hebrew word for “east”, were descendents of Jews who lived in North Africa, the Middle East, and the Caucasus, and Central Asia.
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QUAINT #11 Salome da Costa from “The Story of Salome” by Amelia B. Edwards

Amelia B. Edwards, author of "The Story of Salome". Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Salome da Costa was created by Amelia B. Edwards and appeared in “The Story of Salome” (Storm Bound, Tinsley’s Christmas Annual, 1867). Edwards (1831-1892) was an author who became notable in her lifetime as an Egyptologist. During a trip to Egypt she became horrified at the destruction wrought to monuments by looters, and so founded the Egypt Exploration Fund, one of the first major archeological societies.

“The Story of Salome” is about Harcourt Blunt, who is doing the Grand Tour of Europe with his friend Coventry Turnour. In Venice Turnour sees a lovely Jewish woman in a Oriental
merchandise shop in the Merceria, and Turnour, being the type who falls in love easily and often, is taken with her. Blunt goes with him to the shop and is forced to agree with Turnour that the woman, whose name he discovers is Salome, is beautiful. But Blunt discourages Turnour from pursuing the match, and within a week’s time Turnour agrees with him. The pair continue the tour and then separate in Greece, with Blunt continuing on to the East. A year later Blunt is back in Venice, doing some sketching. He recalls Salome and goes looking for her. The shop in the Merceria is gone, and Blunt, who does not even know Salome’s last name, decides to give up looking for her. He goes to the Jewish cemetery to do some sketches, and finds a newer cemetery beyond that, and in that cemetery he sees Salome, in her mourning clothes, sitting next to a grave.

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QUAINT #10 Cahina from “A Royal Enchantress” by Leo Charles Dessar

Cahina was created by Leo Charles Dessar and appears in A Royal Enchantress (1900). Dessar (1847-1924) was a New York judge who was a part of the corrupt Tammany Hall political system.

There was a real Cahina (alternatively, “Kahena” or “Kahina”), a Queen of the Berbers in the 7th and 8th Century C.E. who fought against the Muslim invasion. Gibbons wrote about her in Volume 2, Chapter 514 of his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

The Greeks were expelled, but the Arabians were not yet masters of the country. In the interior provinces the Moors or Berbers, so feeble under the first Caesars, so formidable to the Byzantine princes, maintained a disorderly resistance to the religion and power of the successors of Mohammed. Under the standard of their queen Cahina the independent tribes acquired some degree of union and discipline; and as the Moors respected in their females the character of a prophetess, they attacked the invaders with an enthusiasm similar to their own. The veteran bands of Hassan were inadequate to the defence of Africa: the conquests of an age were lost in a single day; and the Arabian chief overwhelmed by the torrent, retired to the confines of Egypt, and expected, five years, the promised succours of the caliph. After the retreat of the Saracens, the victorious prophetess assembled the Moorish chiefs, and recommended a measure of strange and savage policy.

“Our cities,” said she, “and the gold and silver which they contain, perpetually attract the arms of the Arabs. These vile metals are not the objects of our ambition; we content ourselves with the simple productions of the earth. Let us destroy these cities; let us bury in their ruins those pernicious treasures; and when the avarice of our foes shall be destitute of temptation, perhaps they will cease to disturb the tranquility of a warlike people.” The proposal was accepted with unanimous applause. From Tangier to Tripoli the buildings, or at least the fortifications, were demolished, the fruit trees were cut down, the means of subsistence were extirpated, fertile and populous garden was changed into desert, and the historians of a more recent period could discern the frequent traces of the prosperity and devastation of their ancestors. Such is the tale of the modern Arabians.

In the foreword to A Royal Enchantress Dessar wrote that he was struck by Gibbon’s passage: “the meager account of this beautiful Prophetess Queen of the Berbers was inspiring, yet irritating: it suggested so much, yet told so little.” From this Dessar spun an entertaining historical fantasy.

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