Ashkenazic Jews were among the last Europeans to take family names. Some German-speaking Jews took last names as early as the 17th century, but the overwhelming majority of Jews lived in Eastern Europe and did not take last names until compelled to do so. The process began in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1787 and ended in Czarist Russia in 1844.
In attempting to build modern nation-states, the authorities insisted that Jews take last names so that they could be taxed, drafted, and educated (in that order of importance). For centuries, Jewish communal leaders were responsible for collecting taxes from the Jewish population on behalf of the government, and in some cases were responsible for filling draft quotas. Education was traditionally an internal Jewish affair.
Until this period, Jewish names generally changed with every generation. For example, if Moses son of Mendel (Moyshe ben Mendel) married Sarah daughter of Rebecca (Sara bat rivka), and they had a boy and named it Samuel (Shmuel), the child would be called Shmuel ben Moyshe. If they had a girl and named her Feygele, she would be called Feygele bas Sora.
Jews distrusted the authorities and resisted the new requirement. Although they were forced to take last names, at first they were used only for official purposes. Among themselves, they kept their traditional names. Over time, Jews accepted the new last names, which were essential as Jews sought to advance within the broader society and as the shtetles were transformed or Jews left them for big cities.
November 15, 2014
July 25, 2014
Mark Steyn quotes himself extensively about the Palestinian refugees:
I’m often asked why I don’t write more about the Palestinian situation, and the reason I don’t is because the central fact of the dispute — the Palestinians’ Jew hatred — never changes. So I said what I had to say about it many years ago, and there’s very little to add. For example, in The National Post on April 18th 2002 I quoted an old Colonial Office hand:
“All British officials tend to become pro-Arab, or, perhaps, more accurately anti-Jew,” wrote Sir John Hope-Simpson in the 1920s wrapping up a stint in the British Mandate of Palestine. “Personally, I can quite well understand this trait. The helplessness of the fellah appeals to the British official. The offensive assertion of the Jewish immigrant is, on the other hand, repellent.” Progressive humanitarianism, as much as old-school colonialism, prefers its clientele “helpless,” and, despite Iranian weaponry and Iraqi money and the human sacrifice of its schoolchildren, the Palestinians have been masters at selling their “helplessness” to the West.
In Europe, colonialism may be over, but colonialist condescension endures as progressive activism, and the Palestinians are the perfect cause. Everywhere else, from Nigeria to Nauru, at some point the natives say to the paternalist Europeans, “Thanks very much, but we’ll take it from here.” But the Palestinians? Can you think of any other “people” who’d be content to live as UN “refugees” for four generations? They’re the only “people” with their own dedicated UN agency, and its regime has lasted almost three times as long as Britain’s Palestine mandate did. To quote again from that 2002 Post column:
This is only the most extreme example of how the less sense the Arabs make the more the debate is framed in their terms. For all the tedious bleating of the Euroninnies, what Israel is doing is perfectly legal. Even if you sincerely believe that “Chairman” Arafat is entirely blameless when it comes to the suicide bombers, when a neighbouring jurisdiction is the base for hostile incursions, a sovereign state has the right of hot pursuit. Britain has certainly availed herself of this internationally recognized principle: In the 19th century, when the Fenians launched raids on Canada from upstate New York, the British thought nothing of infringing American sovereignty to hit back — and Washington accepted they were entitled to do so. But the rights every other sovereign state takes for granted are denied to Israel. “The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews,” wrote America’s great longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer after the 1967 war. “Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem … But everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab … Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world.”
Thus, the massive population displacements in Europe at the end of the Second World War are forever, but those in Palestine a mere three years later must be corrected and reversed. On the Continent, losing wars comes with a territorial price: The Germans aren’t going to be back in Danzig any time soon. But, in the Middle East, no matter how often the Arabs attack Israel and lose, their claims to their lost territory manage to be both inviolable but endlessly transferable.
And so land won in battle from Jordan and Egypt somehow has to be ceded to Fatah and Hamas.
As I said, this is all the stuff that never changes, and the likelihood that it will change lessens with every passing half-decade. I wrote the above column at the time Jenin and the other Palestinian “refugee camps” were celebrating their Golden Jubilee. That’s to say, the “UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees” is older than most African, Caribbean or Pacific states. What sort of human capital do you wind up with after four generations have been born as “refugees”? If you’ve ever met a charming, urbane Palestinian doctor or lawyer in London or Paris, you’ll know that anyone who isn’t a total idiot — ie, the kind of people you need to build a nation — got out long ago. The nominal control of the land has passed from Jordan and Egypt to Israel to Arafat to Abbas to Hamas, but the UNRWA is forever, runnning its Mister Magoo ground operation and, during the periodic flare-ups, issuing its usual befuddled statements professing complete shock at discovering that Hamas is operating rocket launchers from the local kindergarten.
June 8, 2014
The Koran is pretty contradictory. That’s because it was written by Muhammad at different stages in his career as a would-be world conqueror. In the initial stages of his inventing Islam, he presented it as a moral system and a warning. The first chapters of the Koran read a lot like parts of the Bible, especially Jesus’ sermons: repent for judgment is at hand. It condemns immoral behavior and calls for repentence. Then, as Muhammad gained followers and began his series of military campaigns to conquer all surrounding areas in the name of his new religion, the themes shifted.
Now it was all about defeating and subjugating the wicked. About how Muslim warriors are the hand of Allah on earth and fighting against the evil unbeliever who will be punished. Here instead of a call for personal repentance there are calls for conquest and destruction, slaughtering the wicked and cutting the heads off of those who will not submit or convert.
Then, having beaten almost everyone and in power, the tone shifts again. The last parts of the Koran are about how to govern, how to live, what to do in minute detail down to what hand to eat with, and information on how to live with the wicked Jew and Christian who are so close to Islam. The calls for death and conquest are subdued and fade away in this last bit, but complaints about women and how to keep them under control are pretty much the exclusive content of the last few chapters.
Now, Muslims say that there is a principle where older parts of the Koran are understood or replaced by the newer; so if there’s a conflict between part A and part C, the part C bits are the ones you follow.
But then it gets complicated. Because the Hadith is a collection of stories allegedly about Muhammad from his life, collected anecdotes, quotes, information, and tales of his life that are then used to interpret the Koran and create Islamic law with. And these can wildly differ, conflict with, and even completely contradict each other.
To make matters worse, for a thousand years or so, different Sharia Courts and Imams have been making official proclamations about Islam that are not just suggestions but absolute total voice-of-Allah law of Islam and the countries that it controls.
And these, too, can be totally at odds. So its a horrible contradictory mess of conflicting absolutes all claiming to be the total voice of Allah. And, as Muhammad himself allegedly said, Allah changes his mind sometimes, that’s why the conflicts in his writings.
The end result is that Islam can be honestly portrayed as both peaceful and opposing horrible violence against people … and violent conquerors out to behead anyone who disagrees. Because both are true.
Christopher Taylor, “I’M THE GOOD GUY HERE”, Word Around the Net, 2014-05-23.
November 19, 2013
Cathy Young outlines the depressing findings from a recent study:
The evidence is especially compelling since it comes from a neutral source: the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). The agency surveyed nearly 6,000 self-identified Jews in eight European Union countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden and the United Kingdom). While the online survey, publicized through Jewish community organizations and media outlets, did not have a random sample of respondents, it was designed with expert input to be as representative as possible.
A few findings:
- Two-thirds of respondents said that anti-Semitism was a serious problem in their country; three out of four felt it had worsened in the past five years.
- One in four said they had personally experienced anti-Jewish harassment in the past twelve months; while this included verbal attacks on the Internet, almost one in five had been harassed in person.
- During the same period, three percent said they had been targets of anti-Semitic vandalism; four percent reported hate-motivated physical assaults or threats.
- Nearly half worried about anti-Jewish harassment or violence; two-thirds of those with school-age children or grandchildren were concerned that the children might experience such harassment at school or on the way to school.
- Close to a quarter said they sometimes refrained from visiting Jewish events or sites out of safety concerns. Nearly two out of five usually avoided public displays of Jewish identity such as wearing a Star of David.
- Almost one in three had considered emigrating because they did not feel safe as Jews.
Even if the self-selected the pool of respondents was skewed toward those affected by or strongly concerned about anti-Semitism, these are still disturbing results.
October 16, 2013
Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act III Scene 1.
May 8, 2013
Mark Steyn talks about the spectacle of “bickering genocides” as the Canadian Museum for Human Rights attempts to pay equal attention to all victims of genocide:
My sometime boss the late Izzy Asper was a media magnate whose lifelong dream was a world-class Holocaust memorial in his home town of Winnipeg. For the usual diversity-celebrating reasons, it evolved into a more general “Canadian Museum for Human Rights,” and is now lumbering toward its opening date under the aegis of Izzy’s daughter, Gail. Having been put through the mill by Canada’s “Human Rights” Commissions, I naturally despise any juxtaposition of the words “Canadian” and “human rights.” But if you have to yoke them, this is the place: To paraphrase Justin’s fellow musician Joni Mitchell, they took all the rights and put ‘em in a rights museum, and they charged the people a dollar-and-a-half just to see ‘em.
But I’ve warmed up to what the blogger Scaramouche calls the Canadian Mausoleum for Human Rights. It could have been just the usual sucking maw of public monies had it not descended into an hilarious, er, urinating match of competing victimhoods. For those who thought “human rights” had something to do with freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and so forth, it turns out to be about which guy’s genocide is bigger. The Ukrainian-Canadian Congress was wary of the mausoleum from the get-go, suspicious that it would downplay the Holodomor, Stalin’s enforced famine in the Ukraine 80 years ago. The mausoleum assured them that they were going to go big on the Holodomor, but to guarantee the UCC came onboard offered to throw in a bonus exhibit of Canada’s internment of Ukrainian immigrants during World War I. This would be part of “Canada’s Journey,” a heartwarming historical pageant illustrating how the blood-soaked Canadian state has perpetrated one atrocity after another on native children, Chinese coolies, Japanese internees, Jews, gays, the transgendered, you name it. And, of course, the Ukrainians. Per Izzy’s wishes, the Holocaust would have pride of place in a separate exhibit, because, its dark bloody history notwithstanding, Canada apparently played a minimal role in the murder of six million Jews. However, the Holodomor would be included as a permanent featured genocide in the museum’s “Mass Atrocity Zone.”
Oh, you can laugh at the idea of a “Mass Atrocity Zone” tourist attraction in Winnipeg, but there isn’t an ethnic lobby group that doesn’t want in. The Polish-Canadian Congress complained that lumping all the non-Jew genocides in one Mass Atrocity Zone meant they’d have to be on a rotating schedule, like revolving pies on the lunch counter. The Armenian genocide was felt to be getting short shrift, considering it was the prototype 20th-century genocide. On the other hand, the Rwandan genocide, the last big 20th-century genocide, and the Congolese civil war don’t appear to have got a look-in at all. The Poles wanted room made for the Germans’ ill treatment of the Poles, which did not seem to be a priority of the mausoleum.
April 23, 2013
In the New Statesman, Eleanor Margolis ponders the cultural similarities between Jews and lesbians:
You don’t have to be a devoted Woody Allen fan to be aware of the “Jew as hypochondriac” stereotype. Not only is it one of the core themes of Jewish humour, it’s true. I grew up in a household with a medicine cabinet that looked like a branch of Boots. Lesbians are identically health-obsessed. I’ve learned the hard way never to ask a fellow-gay girl about her physical wellbeing. Aside from shagging other women and feasting on organic legumes, we love absolutely nothing more than discussing our ailments. In great, often gory, detail. If a lesbian has a yeast infection or diarrhoea, she will tell you. In fact, the frankest discussions I’ve ever had about my bowel movements have been with my lesbian friends (and my mother. Natch).
[. . .]
So, aside from our shared hypochondria and foodiness, what else suggests that the Book of Lesbians might be missing from the Old Testament? Well, a hobby practiced by many a Jew is discussing, often to the point of argument, “who’s Jewish”. Similarly, we lesbians are keen to identify others like us. “Is she/isn’t she gay” discussions are a regular fixture at lesbian dinner tables and they often get heated. What Jews and lesbians have in common here is a desire to claim people as our own. If there’s someone we want on our team and there’s even the slightest hint that they might be Jewish/lesbian, we will fervently, and often speciously, argue that they are so. For example, there’s a longstanding lesbian obsession with the sexuality of boyish Canadian actress Ellen Page. And when rumours about her having dated Drew Barrymore surfaced a few years ago, we said a collective and triumphant, “Told you so”.
Another thing. In the same way that the more religious of Jewish parents don’t want their children to marry outside the religion, lesbians are often suspicious, dating-wise, of bisexuals. There’s a fair bit of prejudice towards women who aren’t fully-fledged lesbians. Rest assured, bi buddies, I don’t remotely condone this. But to some lesbians, it seems, bi girls are a no-go. What’s more, I’ve seen a certain amount of stigma attached to gay women who, like me, slept with men pre-coming out. A gay girl who has never had sex with a man is known on the scene as a “gold star lesbian”. Read: “kosher lesbian”.
April 7, 2013
I have to assume this is a week-delayed April Fool’s prank:
In addition to groups that probably belong on such a list (Hamas, Al Qaeda, the KKK), some of the more startling additions to the list:
- Evangelical Christianity (U.S./Christian)
- Catholicism (U.S./Christian)
- Jewish Defence League (U.S./Judaism)
- Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (U.S./Morman [sic])
The U.S. Army listed Evangelical Christianity and Catholicism as examples of religious extremism along with Al Qaeda and Hamas during a briefing with an Army Reserve unit based in Pennsylvania, Fox News has learned.
“We find this offensive to have Evangelical Christians and the Catholic Church to be listed among known terrorist groups,” said Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. “It is dishonorable for any U.S. military entity to allow this type of wrongheaded characterization.”
February 12, 2013
Strategy Page on the paradoxical Arab view of Palestine as worth fighting for, but actual living Palestinians as less-than-welcome pests (or worse):
While most Arabs will admit they hate Israel, they will also deny that this has anything to do with anti-Semitism and has everything to do with the Palestinians. This is not true, as Arabs have long demonstrated a hostility towards the Jews, something which is part of their religion. It’s in their scriptures, the stories of how Jews refused to support Mohammed, the founder of Islam. Long held grudges are popular in this part of the world.
Meanwhile, there are many more recent reasons for Arabs to dislike the Palestinians. When the state of Israel was established in 1947 there began a series of bad decisions by Arab governments that are setting records for failure. Although the UN tried to broker the creation of Israel, Arab nations misjudged their own power and told Arabs in Israel to flee their homes, so that the Arab armies could come in and kill all the Jews. When that didn’t work, the Arabs refused to absorb the 600,000 Arab refugees, and continues to treat (actually, mistreat) them as refugees. At the same time, the Arabs expelled 600,000 Jews who had been living among them for centuries. Most of these Jews went to Israel and become Israelis, and prospered.
Thus began decades of hostility between Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world. The Palestinians that fled to Lebanon proceeded to trigger a 15 year long civil war (1975-90) that devastated the country and left in place a Shia militia in the south (Hezbollah) that prevents the country from being truly united. The Palestinians that fled to Jordan eventually (1970) staged an uprising against the king, and were defeated and largely expelled. The Palestinians that went to Kuwait welcomed the Iraqi invasion of 1990 because Saddam Hussein had always been very loud about wanting to destroy Israel. When Arab and Western troops tossed Saddam out of Kuwait five months later, the Palestinians were forced to flee the vengeance of the Kuwaitis. The Palestinians that went to Iraq also had to flee in 2003, because they had helped Saddam terrorize the Shia and Kurdish majority and were, well, you know the story.
August 5, 2012
Yesterday was what would have been Raoul Wallenberg’s 100th birthday. It was observed in Sweden:
Sweden on Saturday commemorated the life of a diplomat credited with saving thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis in World War II, but whose fate remains one of the country’s greatest war-time mysteries.
Crowds gathered in the town of Sigtuna, 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Stockholm to celebrate the centennial of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, whose defiance of the Nazis has been commemorated worldwide in statues, streets names, and on postage stamps.
Wallenberg served as Sweden’s envoy in Budapest from July 1944 — where he saved the lives of at least 20,000 Jews by giving them Swedish travel documents, the so-called “shutzpass,” or moving them to safe houses. He is also credited with dissuading German officers from massacring the 70,000 inhabitants of the city’s ghetto.
But, in January 1945, the young Swede was arrested by the Soviet Red Army on leaving Budapest to go to the eastern part of the country, and suddenly disappeared.
The Soviets initially denied they had detained him, but later said he had died of a heart attack in prison on July 17, 1947.
June 26, 2012
Poles are being told unwelcome things about the country’s experiences under Nazi rule. The most recent upheavals have been triggered by the publication of a new book by Jan T. Gross:
Its title, Golden Harvest, stems from a cover photograph that purportedly shows Polish peasants who have been digging through remains of victims killed at Treblinka, where 800,000 Jews were gassed and cremated, to find gold or valuable stones neglected by the Nazis.
From there, Mr. Gross narrates events beyond the barbed wire of Nazi death camps. He describes Poles hunting Jews down, extorting money from them, massacring them, and profiting by taking over their jobs and property. Some 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland before the war began, and about 90 percent had perished by its end.
“There was a sense of satisfaction that was quite widespread that they are being eliminated from Polish economic and social life,” Mr. Gross says in a phone interview from Kraków, where he is teaching a summer course for Princeton students. “When given the opportunity, a large number of Poles participated in victimization of Jews.”
[. . .]
The white-haired, New York-based writer, 64, enjoys a level of notoriety in his native country that lacks any analogue among American historians. When word gets out that he is publishing a new book, anxiety spreads about what dirty laundry he will expose this time. His writing gets discussed on prime-time TV.
Mr. Gross “polarizes public opinion probably more than anyone else outside of the political world,” says Jan Grabowski, a Holocaust historian who splits his time between the University of Ottawa and Poland.
His books have struck such a nerve because they cut against the national narrative that Poland is exclusively a victim of history, not a victimizer.
May 15, 2012
Israel’s growing ultra-orthodox community are exempt from the military draft, and even those who choose to join the military are demanding changes in the way the military operates. Strategy Page explains:
Israeli police have declared open season on young men and women who refuse to serve in the armed forces. Last year 2,700 Israeli men and over a thousand women illegally avoided military service. That’s fifty percent more than in 2010. This trend is partly in response to the growing number of Jewish Israelis claiming religious exemptions. Government efforts to placate the religious conservatives have not worked. This perceived unfairness is making it difficult to maintain morale and high standards in its armed forces.
The most obvious sign of this declining morale is the growing number of young men and women who are avoiding service (draft dodgers, in U.S. parlance). The Israeli armed forces has about 175,000 people on active duty, about 60 percent of those are draftees (men serving for 36 months, women for 21 months) and a third are women (who can serve in 90 percent of military jobs). There are another 450,000 reservists (those who have already completed their active service). You get drafted at 18, unless you have a deferment. Currently about a quarter of men and nearly half the women get some kind of deferment.
The military expects this deferment rate to keep increasing. In an effort to get more young men with a religious deferment to volunteer, the army is giving in to conservative Jewish sects that demand unmarried men and women remain separated while in the military. At first, this meant smaller (company and battalion size) units containing only “religious” (actually, very religious) Jews. But when these units came together for operations or ceremonies, the religious Jews demanded that female soldiers be segregated from the men. They also demanded that women soldiers not sing (Israeli soldiers sing a lot) when religious male soldiers are around. In general, female soldiers were increasingly not allowed to mingle with male soldiers if there are religious soldiers present. All this sort of thing has been bad for morale, angered the female soldiers and caused a public uproar over the issue.
[. . .]
But the most contentious problem is, ironically, the religious one. Israeli women know very well how women are mistreated in Moslem countries and they see ultra-religious Jews as a local version of that. The ultra-orthodox (Haredi) Jews are becoming more aggressive in imposing their rules on others. Violence by religious extremists is becoming more common. The most conservative religious Jews have increasingly used violence in Jerusalem. For example, they oppose the government allowing cars to park near Haredi neighborhoods on Saturday (the Sabbath). They also oppose billboard ads that feature women anywhere near where Haredi live, and segregate women on buses in their neighborhoods. Now they want to segregate the military as well, in addition to keeping most of their young men and women out, and that has aroused a lot of public opposition.
September 14, 2011
The PLO has a rather draconian solution to the Israel issue:
The Palestine Liberation Organization’s ambassador to the United States said Tuesday that any future Palestinian state it seeks with help from the United Nations and the United States should be free of Jews.
“After the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated,” Maen Areikat, the PLO ambassador, said during a meeting with reporters sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor. He was responding to a question about the rights of minorities in a Palestine of the future.
Such a state would be the first to officially prohibit Jews or any other faith since Nazi Germany, which sought a country that was judenrein, or cleansed of Jews, said Elliott Abrams, a former U.S. National Security Council official.
Israel has 1.3 million Muslims who are Israeli citizens. Jews have lived in “Judea and Samaria,” the biblical name for the West Bank, for thousands of years. Areikat said the PLO seeks a secular state, but that Palestinians need separation to work on their own national identity.
June 24, 2011
Barbara Kay takes issue with the token that Montreal has chosen to commemorate Mordecai Richler:
Mordecai Richler is Canada’s biggest claim to literary fame. If he had been born and lived in any other province but Quebec there would have been an outpouring of ideas on how to commemorate his life and achievements: perhaps renaming streets in his honour, building schools bearing his name, or erecting a statue featuring the disheveled genius wryly peering over his pince-nez at a smoked meat sandwich on wry…er, rye.
Instead Montreal’s political mandarins have decided he is getting a gazebo — a crummy little open pavilion at the foot of Mount Royal, with no known connection to the author. A place for people to come in out of the rain. Not quite a public toilet, but close.
That’s like naming the change house at an outdoor skating rink after Margaret Atwood, a pellet dispenser at the zoo after Yann Martel, or a maintenance shed after Margaret Laurence. But then, if Mordecai Richler had been born outside Quebec, maybe he wouldn’t have been inspired to the kind of savage indignation that made him such a household word (and often not in a good way) in his native Montreal.
She provides a rather more appropriate memorial gesture:
Here’s an idea: Montreal is riddled with potholes. The French for “pothole” is “nid-de-poule,” literally a chicken’s nest. How about if the word is officially changed to “mort-de-caille(ou)” which means “death of stone” (well, death of pebble, close enough). Henceforth let all Montreal potholes be called Mordecais. In this way, his name will forever be on every Montrealer’s lips, because Montreal potholes are ubiquitous and eternal, and yet not in a good way – “Damn! Another cursed Mordecai!” I think Richler himself would have appreciated the irony, and approved.
September 25, 2010
Two Polish neo-Nazis who were childhood sweethearts and later became skinheads have discovered what for them is a shocking family secret: They’re actually Jewish.
Pawel and Ola, identified only by their first names, are the subject of a CNN documentary about Poles rediscovering their Jewish roots generations after their ancestors hid their religious identities to escape persecution during World War II.
A few years ago, Ola found out from Warsaw’s Jewish Historical Institute that both she and her husband are technically Jews. “It was unbelievable — it turned out that we had Jewish roots. It was a shock,” she said.