Bintel Blog

Child Nutrition Seders Fight Hunger

By Nathan Guttman

Ten O’clock in the morning might be a little early for a Passover Seder, especially if one intends to drink all four glasses of wine. But this was a Seder with a cause, and for dozens of Capitol Hill staffers, anti-hunger activists and students, its seemed just right.

Photo by Ronald M. Sachs

The Congressional Seder on March 18 was dedicated to fighting hunger and is one of 40 similar Childhood Nutrition Seders taking place across the country before and after Passover. Organized by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, their purpose is to mobilize both Jews and non-Jews to be anti-hunger advocates and to fight for reauthorization in Congress of the Child Nutrition Act before it expires.

It looked almost like a real Seder: Rabbi Steve Gutow, head of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, read the Haggadah, which was written for the event, while sitting in front a traditional Seder plate. But nothing else was traditional. The Haggadah’s Four Questions were adapted to ask: “What does it mean to be hungry in America?” and “What will it take to end child hunger in America?” The Four Sons from the Haggadah were played by four students from the Tucson Jewish-Latino Teen Coalition, who spoke of their personal experiences as recipients of school food programs. And the Ten Plagues – they too got a new version to reflect 10 faces of hunger in America.

Three members of Congress stopped by for the early morning Seder, as did several administration staffers. The event ended with the signing of a petition calling on lawmakers to approve refunding for the child nutrition programs. The petition — no big surprise here — was printed on a matzo shaped poster.

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Haiti's Jewish Remnant

By Gabrielle Birkner

Haiti, the island nation suffering terribly in the wake of the catastrophic January 12 earthquake, is home to a tiny Jewish remnant.

According to Chabad.org, the number of Jewish residents is about 25, but Larry Luxner — in this piece for JTA, in 2004 — wrote that the the Jewish population could be as high as 50 in a country of about 9 million people, most of whom are Voodoos and Catholics.

In the aforementioned piece, Luxner wrote:

… Luis de Torres, the interpreter of Christopher Columbus, was the first Jew to set foot in Haiti, in 1492. The first Jewish immigrants came from Brazil in the 17th century, after Haiti was conquered by the French. These marranos were all murdered or expelled — along with the rest of the white population — during the slave revolt of in 1804.

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a synagogue in Jeremie, a city along Haiti’s southern peninsula that was home to many mulatto families of Jewish origin; there are also vague historical references to Jewish tombstones in the port cities of Cap Haitien and Jacmel.

… [B]y the end of the 19th century, Sephardic Jews began arriving from Lebanon, Egypt and Syria. In 1937, Haitian officials — like their counterparts in the neighboring Dominican Republic — began issuing passports to Eastern European Jews fleeing the Nazis. Many of those grateful Ashkenazim stayed until the late 1950s.

Mid-century, Haiti’s Jewish community is said to have peaked at around 300.

In 1947, Haiti was among the 33 countries that voted in favor of partitioning the British Mandate of Palestine into two states — one Jewish, one Arab.

Chabad of the Caribbean is preparing kosher food shipments to those residents, as well as to the Israeli aid workers, who arrived in Port-au-Prince on January 15.

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Samuel Ullman: Japan’s Favorite Jewish Poet

By Benjamin Ivry

Although Japanese society has been afflicted by the phenomenon known as “antisemitism without Jews,” as detailed in David G. Goodman and Masanori Miyazawa’s thoughtful study, “Jews in the Japanese Mind: The History and Uses of a Cultural Stereotype” (Lexington, 2000), remarkable cases of philosemitism also exist.

Of the latter, few are more surprising than the story recounted in Margaret Armbrester’s “Samuel Ullman and ‘Youth’: The Life, the Legacy”, newly reprinted from the University of Alabama Press. Ullman (1840–1924) was a German-Jewish poet who settled in the American South whose inspirational 1918 poem “Youth” (see below) became fantastically popular in Japan after World War II, along with other Japanese imported cultural obsessions like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and baseball.

Some explain that the poet gained celebrity from a framed copy of “Youth” in General Douglas MacArthur’s office when he served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in postwar Japan, thus making the Japanese attraction to it a form of obeisance to all-conquering America. Yet today, the hundreds of uncowed, unbowed and unconquered Japanese-language websites and blogs still featuring “Youth” argues for a more profound Japanese connection to the poem and its writer.

By including a selection of Ullman’s other, less famous, poems, as well as biographical details, “Samuel Ullman and ‘Youth’” establishes the crucial role Ullman’s Jewishness played in his life, as president of Temple B’nai Israel, Natchez, Mississippi, as well as his local B’nai Brith, not to mention this Christopher Smart-like list from his long, undated poem “Israel - the Dreamer” which proudly asserts precedence over Christianity:

The food economist in Joseph—
The sociologist in Moses—
The great soldier in Joshua—
The priestess leader in Deborah—
The melodious poet in David—
The wise moralist in Koheleth.
The profound philosopher in Job,
The spiritual poet in Isaiah,
The ethical teacher in Micah,
The seer in the prophet of Naz’reth […]
Thou, beacon to humanity,
Israel, an ever burning bush!
Israel is “the man of sorrows” of history—
The scapegoat of Nations,
Toiling for his Ideal, the Unity.”

Click here for a virtual tour of the University of Alabama’s Ullman Museum.

Youth

Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.

Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of sixty more than a body of twenty. Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals.

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.

Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing child-like appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living. In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the Infinite, so long are you young.

When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch the waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty.

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Jews are Clever, Make Different Movies

By Dan Friedman

Brazil is not only home to the Jules Rimet trophy, Copacabana beach, Carnaval and the frighteningly militarized favelas portrayed in “City of God,” it’s also the location of an old and respected Yiddish community. Now Jose de Abreu is making a Yiddish-speaking film — “Where Pigs Eat Oranges” — about Jewish immigration from Czarist Russia (Bessarabia) to Brazil, in 1904. Supported by the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA), Jewish immigrants founded the first organized agricultural colony in Brazil, called Philippson Colony (in the Brazilian pampa). The film takes its name from a phrase in a JCA pamphlet encouraging immigration.

It’s written by Marcos Bernstein who wrote the screenplay for “Central Station” — the poignant 1998 film nominated for an Oscar. At $10m, the budget is extensive by Brazilian standards, and includes building a shtetl in Paulinia-Sao Paulo State, and the Philippson Colony will be shot where things really happened, in a farm in Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul State. All he needs now are some Yiddish-speaking children to film next year!

Meanwhile, in Turkey, Selim Çiprut has already made his film “Süpürrr!” (”SweePPP!”) about, of all things, curling. You know, men with brushes skating very slowly down a strip of ice trying to encourage large chunks of stone to end up close to each other: aka Canada’s second national sport. The film will be released December 18 in Turkey and thereafter on DVD with English subtitles in February.

Selim did not refer to “Cool Runnings” — the film about a Jamaican bobsled team — but, until the DVD comes out I’m imagining that a Turkish film about curling may be going for that same counter-intuitive cute niche. When asked why on earth a Turkish Jewish filmmaker would make a film about curling, Selim replied: “Turkish Jews make curling movies, because we like to create something extraordinary, like curling. Jews are clever, make different movies.”

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Getting Cured of the Jews, Plus AIDS' Role in the Spanish Civil War

By Dan Friedman

Technology is the answer to everything, right? But can you cure yourself of Jews with alcohol and salt?

Netbase’s healthbase is a search engine that looks through all the words on the web and finds symptoms, diagnoses and treatments for all the illnesses, syndromes, and sicknesses you might ever hear of. At least that’s what it says on the label. In the event — and someone in their human department must be getting a sharp talking to — there were a few glitches.

As Leena Rao asks on Tech Crunch, “is it a semantic engine or an anti-semitic search engine?” Because “when you type in a search for “AIDS,” one of the listed causes of the disease is ‘Jew.’” Ooops.

But it seems to be a more general snafu with the sort of equal opportunity foolishness at which inadequately attended computers excel — Leena Rao again: “If you look at the pros of AIDS (yes, it thinks here are pros to having AIDS), it comically lists the ‘Spanish Civil War.’”

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