Lincoln and the Jews at New York Historical Society

New display starting March 20th at the New York Historical Society. Contains many photos and primary sources that exhibit Lincoln’s early support for civil rights for Jewish Americans. Sure, the Civil War was highly economy-driven, but Lincoln’s decisions were clearly influenced by his deep-seated belief in equal treatment for all.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln in 1958, wearing Samuel Alschuler’s velvet trimmed jacket. Alschuler was the Jewish photographer.

An excerpt from guest blogger Harold Holzer at NYHS: “The show reminds visitors that Lincoln made humane decisions when they mattered most. Throughout American history, military chaplains were required to represent some “Christian denomination.” Lincoln advocated for Jewish chaplaincy rights, arguing that Jewish Union soldiers deserved the comforts of religion, and eventually signed the bill extending that right to Jews. He appointed the first Jewish army quartermasters, as well. And when General Ulysses S. Grant issued his infamous “General Order Number 11” expelling all Jews from his vast military command in the West, Lincoln rescinded the command—quietly enough to maintain Grant’s loyalty and morale, but loudly enough so American Jews understood and appreciated his resolve to allow no official discrimination.”

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Life of the Synagogue Exhibit

Screenshot of the Life of the Synagogue homepage. Items from the William A. Rosenthall Judaica Collection

Screenshot of the Life of the Synagogue homepage. Items from the William A. Rosenthall Judaica Collection

About the exhibit: Contains 76 items selected from the William A. Rosenthall Judaica Collection at the College of Charleston, one of the largest accessible collections of imagery related to synagogues and other aspects of Jewish life and culture around the world. Click on the image to visit the online collection!

Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller

The Storyteller is a deeply personal novel whose story revolves around a grieving woman and her gradual realization of the depth of her family’s past. The main character, Sage, is a professional baker and introvert who has encountered increasing difficulty forging relationships, both romantic and friendly. She finally starts to open up to an elderly man who seemingly understands her, and becomes inspired to delve into her own story.

In talking with her grandmother, Sage finds out that her recently realized gift as a baker is a multi-generational trait that has a lot to do with the older woman’s survival from Auschwitz. As she learns of her grandmother’s gift for telling a story, Sage becomes both more in touch with her Jewish identity and more confident to move past all the now frivolous elements of her life.

Cover Art of The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult

The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult

My only gripe with the book is that (New Hampshire’s own!) Picoult uses slightly too much foreshadowing– for a few moments in the book, my suspended disbelief was broken, leaving me a bit disappointed with the ending. The author, however, will throw you right into the story artistically using multiple first-person accounts and beautiful language that lets you taste the cinnamon and chocolate in her bread, puts you right in the muck getting off the train, and brings out your own moral dilemmas as you relate to the complexity of the characters.

If you like Alice Hoffman’s writing you may really enjoy this book, and especially if you are a fan of Jodi Picoult’s other work. Both authors have the uncanny ability to effectively take the reader back in time and on an eye-opening adventure.

Best of all, The Storyteller is available for you at the Temple Israel Portsmouth library.

Summer @ the library

Library Committee with Rabbi and Wife

Library Committee and Special Guests; Left to Right: Al Spaien, Elissa Senter, Rabbi Senter, Allison, Meryl Wein, Sara Lesley Arnold

We had great feedback from some of the attendees of the Book Thief screening and discussion with Rabbi David Senter that took place on July 17th. Some members of the group had either read the book or seen the movie previously, so the discussion included valuable input from many perspectives. The consensus seemed to be that even though the general idea of Death as a narrator is morbid, that element lets the viewer take the role of a similarly helpless onlooker, seeing as objectively as possible the characters build relationships and come of age.

With an audience comprised mostly of Jews, we discussed the generalities commonly associated with holocaust survivors, bridging those experiences to those of the main character of Liesel Meminger, a non-Jewish German girl who experiences her own horrific tragedies.

Viewers agreed that although the film depicts such a tragic time in world history, it provides a reminder of the humanity that can shine through a blanket of darkness.

I must say, it was wonderful to watch the film in a room of engaged viewers, after watching it on my own the first time. Geoffrey Rush and the other actors give amazing performances; the filmmakers really do a tremendous job transmitting the biblio-centric world of the novel into a new medium, allowing the audience to take part in the story and fall in love with the literature.

We have a few thoughts about additional programming this coming year and will keep you informed as events are scheduled. We are currently planning new religious school programs and will have our annual book sale going on in the Schmooze beginning September 7th for the start of school.

 

Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage

When an unexploded U.S. bomb in Baghdad caused a flood in the intelligence headquarters of Saddam Hussein, army troops discovered a treasure trove of tens of thousands of ancient objects and manuscripts, historic photos, books, and documents telling the story of Iraq’s once thriving Jewish community. I originally heard about this story in this piece from WBUR’s Here and Now, in December 2013, which includes an interview of two childhood friends who were among the last Iraqi Jews finally allowed to flee Iraq in the 1970s.

Books Drying From the Flood

Books Drying From the Flood

More good news is that we now have access to this collection that is still undergoing preservation efforts this year. The Iraqi Jewish Archive currently provides visual access to many of these items, stating that the entire collection will be available to access in June 2014.

To search the collection, first enter your general search terms, in this case “torah.” On the subsequent page, you may filter results along the left side by Record Type, Language, Dates, and Subject Matter. Keep in mind a search for “torah” brings back results about synagogue leases, Arabic prayerbooks, and other types of material that mention “torah.”

'Torah' Search Screenshot

‘Torah’ Search Results and Filter Options

 

Enjoy looking through this material as I have been… the items, stolen and confiscated from Iraqi Jews, are slated to be returned to the Iraqi government after the loan period is up. Jewish and other organizations around the world, however, have been fighting to have the artifacts protected within the United States or returned to their previous owners. There is currently a push in Congress to format a new plan for the fate of these Jewish treasures.

Krembo

Limmud Boston

Along with my fellow staff members at the Temple Israel Hebrew school (with the initiative of Joan Nagler), I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend Limmud Boston yesterday, a conference with seminars celebrating Jewish identity and learning.  I chose to check out the following bunch of seminars, mostly library and education related, but some for fun. Even though I enjoyed these, I did leave the conference with an uneasy feeling.

In Open Source Judaism 2.0 we explored the openness of Jewish resources, as well as references to such openness in Jewish texts. Marc Stober, the presenter here, pointed out that the Torah was given out for free in a public place, one important aspect of our culture that we should remember when considering sharing our work with others.

Marc Stober teaching seminar

Marc Stober’s Open Source Judaism Presentation

In addition, the talmud explains that a candle for one is a candle for one hundred– we may share information with our community without depriving ourselves of that information. At the same time, however, we learn in Leviticus that we shalt not steal… In this information age, there is sometimes a fine line between sharing and stealing, so we must be cognizant of others’ intellectual property rights while consciously contributing information for use by our brothers and sisters.

Rabbi Charlie Schwartz

Rabbi Charlie Schwartz

In Masculinity and Marshmallows: the Role of Krembo in Israeli Cinema, we met Rabbi Charlie Schwartz, who runs some of the Brandeis High School programs. After studying cinema in college, I was tickled that this seminar was offered.  I had no idea, however, that Krembo was a tasty marshmallow treat with a chocolate shell and a cookie bottom:

Krembo

Krembo

We looked at three films in which Krembo appears, analyzing those scenes to determine how the treat diminishes characters’ masculinity, making them seem more juvenile. Information on these films can be found by following these links:

Mivtza Zavta (Operation Grandma)     |       Beaufort      |      Close to Home

I also attended my colleague’s presentation on Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences in the Jewish classroom, where Cheryl Berman shared some useful tools for addressing various learning preferences in the religious school classroom.

Cheryl Berman

Cheryl Berman, Temple Israel Portsmouth

Although my purpose in posting this was to share these wonderful experiences, I feel compelled to also share my disappointment in many members of the greater Boston Jewish community. One important reason for attending such an event as Limmud is to find camaraderie from within your Jewish community– to be as one for a day, sharing common interests in our common heritage. As a first-time attendee I felt as if this was not an important factor to those around me, that everyone was in it for himself and not the greater good.

The behavior of those attending the seminar on the two-state solution in Israel was abhorrent, including hateful language and disrespect to other Jews in the room. These thirty people share more than just a religion, and should be ashamed at their blatant disregard of the peace process and their negative effect on human kindness. We should all be working toward a peaceful world. Let’s remember that this begins with how we treat each other.

My Jewish Wedding

Since starting my librarianship at the Nancy Mae Shaines Memorial Library at Temple Israel, I have been thirsting to know more and more. Surrounded by vast knowledge documented in so many worlds, I had trouble knowing where to begin. I remembered little from Hebrew school and had historic time frames confused. I began to pick up facts, peering through books I was supposed to be cataloging, and suddenly found a solid reason to study and a deadline to meet.

Deciding with a short time frame to embrace and display my Jewishness by integrating Jewish tradition into my upcoming wedding ceremony, I began to explore the library to learn what I could do.

Cover of Living a Jewish Life

Living a Jewish Life by Anita Diamant


My husband, a non-Jew, found a good book in Living a Jewish Life by Anita Diamant. He found it to be unassuming and interesting, giving a solid walk through the Jewish lifestyle and faith. As he asked me some questions about holidays, I realized I ought to give this book a read as well. I should be able to tell him more about Purim than dressing up, going to carnivals, and using noise-makers.

Cover of The New Jewish Wedding

The New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant


I found solace in Diamant’s comprehensive Jewish wedding book. It contains chapters on every aspect of a Jewish wedding, including everything from how to choose a rabbi and a Ketubah (marriage contract), to descriptions of Jewish songs, dances, and food for the reception.

Most importantly, however, Diamant gives a brief history of different traditions that let me put them in perspective, making it clear how little was necessary to make a marriage legally binding in Jewish law and helping me choose what elements I want to include.

Ian breaking our wedding glass

The wedding glass didn’t break! A photo of Ian breaking the replacement we called in!

My husband and I really bonded through this pre-wedding experience, making our own personal contracts upon suggestion from Rabbi Barry, and talking through which symbolic acts were most important to us as a couple. We even bought a beautiful blue bulb as a wedding glass so we could have the shards made into a mezuzah, but the darn thing wouldn’t break on the flexible boards of the rabbi’s deck. He was so kind to give us a light bulb with which to do the act!

My tallit as a chuppah

My tallit as a chuppah


We married under the tallit (prayer shawl) I received at my bat mitzvah, drinking from my kiddush cup and my sister’s, surrounded by our families and the glory of Great Bay… really everything I wanted! (Aside from the 5000 degree day and a whole bunch of horseflies haha)

Ian & me under the chuppah

Ian & Me under the chuppah


Our Ketubah: Hebrew and English text surrounded by roses

Our ketubah. Rabbi Barry read it aloud during the ceremony.


Our daughter, Cleo, looking at my shoes

Our daughter, Cleo, admiring all the shoes. She came right up to sing along with the rabbi’s blessings 🙂

Dead Sea Scrolls in Boston

The library’s recent trip to view the Dead Sea Scrolls at Boston’s Museum of Science was a great success! We had more than 40 community members come together to explore our heritage and history, looking at artifacts ranging from 408 BCE to 318 CE. The low humidity and low light in caves in Qumran, near the Dead Sea, helped preserve these works of psalms, manuscripts, and biblical text for us to view thousands of years later.

The exhibit provided the original documents, with a blown-up copy to view more closely, along with a translation and contextual explanation. I highly recommend visiting– some of the items have never before come to North America!

Congregation members viewing artifacts

Congregation members viewing artifacts


To continue our Jewish heritage exploration, we then stopped over in Brookline to eat and shop at Jewish establishments along Harvard Street. Many of us visited Zaftigs Delicatessen, the Israel Book Shop, and Kolbo Fine Judaica Gallery, where we browsed for treasures and looked for inspiration. It was amazing to walk down a street with my son, seeing Hebrew on each awning, Stars of David in each window, and religious men straightening up after kids on the school playground.

Digital Public Library is Live!

A wondrous thing happened this past week in the Digital Public Library of America going live. This portal provides the public with free, open access to endless cultural and historical materials that have been digitized at countless institutions.

A valuable support to all modern and traditional libraries, the DPLA brings “different viewpoints, experiences, and collections together in a single platform and portal, providing open and coherent access to our society’s digitized cultural heritage.” (Quoting the DPLA history page)

One may use the search bar (pictured below) to find this Yiddish sheet music in its entirety, historic photos of synagogues around the world, or even this sound recording of broadcaster Claude Sullivan’s 1958 journey to the new State of Israel.

DPLA Search bar and Browse Features

DPLA Screenshot: Search Bar and Browse Features

Although you may browse and access these items for free, please be aware that many of them are copyrighted by their creators or by the institution that houses them. Some you may use without asking permission– please check the “rights” section on the finding aid, as pictured below. This is the page that comes up when you click on the item’s title in the list of search results.

Screenshot Illustrating Reproduction Rights

Screenshot Illustrating Reproduction Rights

I hope you enjoy this precious resource as much as I do! It represents the new age of open information in libraries that can help us learn more about our cultural heritage and that of those with whom we share this earth. See you there!

The Dovekeepers

At my synagogue’s most recent sisterhood brunch, I ran into Renee, an old family friend whom I had not seen in more than 15 years. I greeted her with a smile and a hug, and we wandered together to the temple library, where she shared with me her insight into its significance and history. Suddenly donning a serious expression and looking into my eyes, Renee handed me a book she was bringing in for the library book sale, insisting I read it.

I hesitated to pick up The Dovekeepers, reading in the jacket that it was about women at Masada, a place where I had cried as a sixteen-year-old, overwhelmed by the loss of so many. Trying hard lately to surround myself with positivity, I did not want to become involved with what was sure to be a tragic story. Trusting in my old friend, however, I picked it up and began.

The Dovekeepers Cover Art

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

A few pages in, I had already become Yael, the girl narrating the first part of the book. I was sucked right into her world, Jerusalem at the destruction of the second Temple, and had to continue on in her shoes. The book is split into four parts, each one narrated by a different woman telling of her journey to the mountain Masada. Author Alice Hoffman uses the voice of each woman to weave together their relationships and experiences, seamlessly telling the story. I found myself excitedly wondering which woman would be telling the next yarn, forcibly keeping myself from turning the pages to look ahead.

Hoffman’s storytelling painted such a realistic picture that I was sure in her research that she went into the desert and lived off the land herself. How else could she know and portray such a believable existence to me? This book opened up the world to me in a whole new light– I gained an amazing new perspective on some of the experiences of the Jewish People, including magic, mysticism, love, cruelty, and faith, and have a renewed thirst to learn more about those whose courage allowed me to become the woman I am.

The author was inspired by real life artifacts found at Masada, weaving many of them into her story, along with the historical accounts of Josephus and those of the Essenes. I highly recommend this book to all women– I’ll be passing Renee’s copy on to a friend, looking into her eyes and insisting she read it.

Available at the Nancy Mae Shaines Memorial Library at Temple Israel Portsmouth.