From the J-Vault: Arab-Jewish Relations, Pre-Statehood

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On a day which saw comedienne Sarah Silverman offer her prescription for Middle East peace at the Israeli Presidential Conference -- a conference whose theme is "Tomorrow" -- let's take a look back at the Israel of yesterday, through the eyes of one of America's most important Zionists: Henrietta Szold.

This week, from the J-Vault: Recent Jewish Progress in Palestine (1916)

While Szold's report is mostly concerned with immigration figures, economic development, urban planning, village life, and other such logistical concerns, one section discusses relations between Arabs and Jews, and makes the reader long for an alternate and peaceful past that did not occur:

In general, the relation between Jews and Arabs is not unsatisfactory, in spite of the friction that occurs at certain points of contact. The reasonable expectation is that it will improve, because the mutual respect is increasing. The Arab has begun to recognize the value that has accrued to him and the land by the presence and the activity of the Jew. He already pays him the flattery of imitation. In some places he has adopted the modern methods and implements introduced by the Jew. On the other hand, the Jew recognizes that the Arab may be his teacher in all that relates to the soil. His fiber is, as it were, habituated to it. He knows it by instinct. For instance, the primitive plow of the Arab husbandman, wielded by his predecessor on the soil three thousand years ago, it was thought must be baniyhed beyond recall. More careful investigation has demonstrated that on some soils deep upturning is harmful; the superficial scratching of the wooden plowshare with its small iron attachment is exactly what is needed. Such recognitions of mutual helpfulness will multiply and make for a better understanding and neighborly tolerance. But that the relation is an aspect of Jewish colonization that will require wisdom and tact and statesmanship can and should not be minimized; nor are the leaders of Palestine public opinion guilty of neglect in this particular.

Szold goes on to describe the presence of a significant number of Russian converts to Judaism. She also predicts that Yemenite Jews, who are "tenaciously and loyally Jewish, intellectually alert," but "Arabic in speech and habit," will be "a cement between Arab and Jew, between the industrially-minded Jew of the city and the agriculturally minded Jew of the country, between Sefardi and Ashkenazi."

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From the J-Vault: Girls Gone Wild

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This week from the J-Vault: The Delinquent Girl (1914)

Writing in the Bulletin of the National Conference of Jewish Communal Service, Mrs. Julius Andrews (her own first name is not listed) discusses wayward girls in Boston's juvenile justice system.

Statistics show that only about 10 per cent, of the Boston juvenile cases from 1906 to 1911 were girl offenders... But the wayward and stubborn girls are more difficult problems— only too often indicating immorality...

...Girls congregate on the streets, in low dance halls and other commercialized amusement places—free from public interference. It is in such surroundings that many of our young people, seeking diversion from miserable home conditions, begin their downward careers. In an investigation of recreational opportunities in Greater Boston, a pretty young girl naively informed us that she went to the public dances twice a week and wished she could go every night. When asked by the manager of the store whether she was escorted, she said, "No, we dance with any fellow who asks us."

Of course, the dalliances Mrs. Andrews discusses go far beyond dancing, and she notes that although it takes two to tango, society does not dole out its disapproval equally:

When the inevitable harm has been done we ostracize the girl, making reformation almost impossible, while the boy or man, if charged with his share of responsibility, easily escapes by paying a small penalty... Until the law holds man and woman equally guilty and all sex offenses are consistently punished, we shall not be able to control immorality.

Obviously the term "sex offenses" in this usage is not referring to rape and molestation, as we would use the term today -- or at least, it is not exclusively referring to sexual violence. Consensual premarital sex, it seems, is also included under the umbrella of "sex offense."

Interestingly, years before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which secured the right of women to vote in the United States, delinquency is already being blamed (in this case, by a woman) on women's rights:

In speaking to the superintendent of a well-known maternity home for unmarried mothers in regard to the causes which were responsible for girl immorality, she said: "The freedom and privileges allowed girls during the past fifty years were now bearing fruit. They had influenced for good and for evil. The mentally strong girl had benefited and is today our best standard of American womanhood, but the weaker girl and many of foreign parentage, not understanding the ethics of such freedom, fall easy preys to what is presented to them as American privilege and liberty."

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From the J-Vault: 41,000 Glasses of Milk

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Since this week Jews will celebrate Shavuot by eating cheesecake and other dairy delicacies, there is no better time to enjoy this gem from the Bulletin of the National Conference of Jewish Charities.

This week, from the J-Vault: Penny-a-Glass Milk Station (1914)

"It was found," wrote Philip L. Seman, "that there were many puny children that were brought by their mothers to enjoy the free open space that the [Chicago Hebrew] Institute offers the neighborhood, by means of its park and playgrounds, and to whom the opportunity of procuring such milk would prove a great service."

Besides this, the sale of milk tends to counteract the desire on the part of the younger children to purchase from the filthy wagons that are stationed near the entrance of our grounds the cheap and much-adulterated, therefore, very harmful, so-called ice cream and scrape ice balls, generally saturated with chemically colored flavors...

...One need only watch the lack of care given the average infant in the congested districts of any large city, because of the lack of knowledge that the mother has of the danger of not properly looking after the child's feeding for the first two years of its life, to see the enormous amount of good (if from no other point of view than this alone) our milk station is bound to do...

...The milk station, which has now been operated a little over a month, has grown to proportions beyond even our own expectations. We have sold over 41,000 glasses of milk the first month...

...We found many persons taking advantage of the sale of the milk and crackers, and regularly making at least one meal a day on this splendid substitute, especially during the hot summer months, for meat and other heavy foods.

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Chag Shavuot sameach!

 

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J-Vault for Memorial Day: American Jews in WWI

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This week, from the J-Vault, in (slightly belated) honor of Memorial Day: American Jews in the World War (1920)

 "From the day that the United States entered the war," writes Julian Leavitt in the American Jewish Year Book, referring to the conflict that would later be called World War I, "the Jews of America perceived the wisdom of keeping an authentic record of Jewish service in the common cause."

The American Jewish Committee therefore assumed this task in November, 1917—at its first annual meeting after the American declaration of war—and has since prosecuted it, with the unstinted co-operation of the Jewish Welfare Board, vigorously and systematically, until to-day it may properly claim a collection of historical and statistical data of the very first importance...

The best available evidence indicates that there were from 200,000 to 250,000 Jews in the service, or from 4 to 5 per cent of the total forces of the United States... The entire Jewish population of the country, according to the latest estimates, is about 3 per cent of the total population. The Jews in the military and naval forces of the United States, however, have constituted from 4 to 5 per cent of the total personnel. On the face of these figures it would seem that the Jews of America contributed at least one-third more than their share to the armed strength of the United States...
[T]he total of Jewish deaths will probably aggregate 3500, or about 5 per cent of the total American deaths recorded to date... [T]he number of Jews who have either given their lives for their country, or shed their blood for the American cause, will probably aggregate from 15,000 to 16,000.

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From the J-Vault: American Jewish Politics 100 Years Ago

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On a day when the Israeli Prime Minister will address the U.S. Congress, it is worth zooming out to look at Jewish involvement with American government from a more distant perspective -- to ask, for example: with what were American Jewish political advocates concerned a century ago?

Let's find out.

This week, from the J-Vault: The Government of the United States and Affairs of Interest to the Jews (1911)

This excerpt from the American Jewish Yearbook contains the following interesting items, among others:

Sen. Lee S. Overman (N. C.) introduces bill (S. 4514), providing for a $10 head tax, an educational test, the production of certificate of good character, the possession of $25, and other restrictive features [for immigration policy]...

Sen. Joseph F. Johnston (Ala.) submits a report (No. 81), on the bill (S. 404) introduced by him on March 22, 1909, for the proper observance of Sunday as a day of rest in the District of Columbia...

Rep. Adolph J. Sabath (111.), in a speech in the House, denounces the Immigration Commission for its "libel" on the Jewish people in its report on the White Slave Traffic...

After debate, in the course of which Senators Bailey (Tex.) and Money (Miss.) pay tribute to Jewish people, Senate passes bill (S. 404), introduced by Senator J. F. Johnston (Ala.), on March 22, 1909, for the proper observance of Sunday as a day of rest in the District of Columbia, amended so as to exempt from its penalties persons who observe as a day of rest any other day of the week than Sunday...

Rep. Everis A. Hayes (Cal.) introduces bill (H. R. 21,342), providing that the naturalization laws shall apply only to " white persons of the Caucasian race."...

Rep. Everis A. Hayes (Cal.) introduces bill (H. R. 24,993), providing that Section 2169 of the Revised Statutes, which accords the right of naturalization to "free white persons " and Africans, shall not be construed so as to prevent "Asiatics who are Armenians, Syrians, or Jews from becoming naturalized citizens."

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From the J-Vault: Kids for Peace

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The year was 1915, and the Great War (World War I) was devastating Europe. An ocean (and then half a continent) away, The Chicago Hebrew Institute decided to enlist their Sabbath and Sunday school students to promote the ideal of peace.

This week, from the J-Vault: A Peace Movement Among Children (1915)

Writing in the Bulletin of the National Conference of Jewish Charities, Philip L. Seman used terms for his school's initiative which, in modern times, would be criticized as an unacceptable form of indoctrination of the youth:

The children of the Peace Society are recruited from various classes conducted at the Institute, particularly from the Sabbath and Sunday school. The main effort is to saturate the children's minds and hearts against the horrors of war, and in favor of universal peace. At a recent meeting of the teachers of the Sabbath school, we have made clear that the teachers, in instructing the children in Bible history, should underestimate the heroism, too often made much of in the Sabbath schools, regarding the wars the Hebrews fought in early days, and to draw ethical lessons in favor of peace. In other words, our teachers were instructed, not as has been the fashion heretofore, to encourage young Judea to emulate the militarism of the Maccabees, but rather to hope for the realization of the human peace prophecy of Isaiah.

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Browse the BJPA for publications on War and Peace, or search for "indoctrination".

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From the J-Vault: An American Zionist Vision from 1948

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This week from the J-Vault: Implications of the New Developments in Palestine for Jewish Culture (September 1948)

Today Israelis, Jews, and Zionists all over the world (both Jewish and non-Jewish) celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, Israel's Independence Day, and this week's J-Vault selection was published in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service in September 1948 during a cease-fire between the second and third phases of Israel's War of Independence. In the midst of that uneasy lull in battle, which would yield to open war again one month later, Alexander M. Dushkin focused not on the immediate military, diplomatic or humanitarian situation of the newly declared State, but on the place of that new State in the wider scheme of Jewish history and culture, as well as in Diaspora life -- particularly in America.

"My thesis," wrote Dushkin, "is that the reconstituted Jewish Homeland—both in the State of Israel and in international Jerusalem— will have a three-fold effect on Jewish cultural development in America. It should help us (a) clarify the character of our culture; (b) change our attitude toward it and (c) enhance our own cultural creativity." The result, he predicted, would be that world Jewry will assume a new overall shape. "Our Jewish world of today and tomorrow is like a great ellipse with two foci—one focus is in ourselves, in American life and effort; the other is in the Hebraic cultural center in the new Palestine. Culturally, they are both necessary to each other, and their spiritual symbiosis is our grand task in the days ahead."

Read more...

 

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From the J-Vault: Produce the Long-Form Bar Mitzvah Certificate!

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Last week, to much fanfare, (and before the killing of Osama bin Laden blew this news item completely out of the water,) President Obama released his long-form birth certificate, proving that he was born in the state of Hawaii. But if only the President had been born Jewish in Marlyand in the second decade of the 20th century, maybe birthers would have been convinced sooner. Assuming, that is, that in this hypothetical scenario the President had diligently practiced his haftarah.

This week, from the J-Vault: Bar-Mitzvah Certificate As Evidence (1914)

"The Maryland Child-Labor Law," explained author Aimee Guggenheimer in the Bulletin of the National Conference of Jewish Charities, "provides that no employment certificate or newsboy's badge shall be issued before the Bureau has proof that the child has attained the required age." Although this article was written during the decades of peak Jewish immigration to the United States (1880s- 1920s), even for Jewish children born in the United States, meeting documentation standards could be tricky. Home births were common, and the midwives who kept records were not always considered trustworthy by the state. (Perhaps Shifrah and Puah set the precedent for rocky relations between midwife and state.)

One potential solution? Convince the state to accept Bar Mitzvah certificates just as it accepted baptismal certificates for Christians.

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Special J-Vault for Yom HaShoah

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This Monday, May 2, marks Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. In honor of this important occasion of communal memory, we have prepared a special installment of our J-Vault series, which highlights historical materials in BJPA's holdings.

The publications below, written by American Jewish communal professionals in 1937 - 1939, offer a fascinating (and sometimes chilling) glimpse into American Jewish perceptions of the situation of Europe's Jews during a time when Nazi antisemitic persecutions had begun to unfold, but had not yet nearly reached their horrific apogee. They are all from the journal Jewish Social Service Quarterly, which is now the Journal of Jewish Communal Service.

This week from the J-Vault: Publications from the late 1930s

Jewish Morale in the Present Situation (September 1937)
Distressed by the oppression of German Jews, Morris D. Waldman nonetheless held out hope for the project of emancipation and Jewish integration into Diaspora societies. He saw in certain Jewish and Zionist perspectives echoes of the Nazi "theories that the Jews are a distinct race, alien, unadaptable in the western world". "Despite intolerable provocation," he wrote, "...we must place our faith in the substantial values of civilization and submit to the restraints of civilized people."

Jewish Problems and Activities Overseas (September 1937)
Joseph C. Hyman described the coordination of Jewish relief efforts abroad. "The tragedy that is today taking place in Germany," he wrote, is "symptomatic of almost world-wide anti-Jewish activity."

Race and Race Prejudice (December 1937)
Franz Boas endeavored to "show the absurdity of the whole race-theory which is the basis of Nazi political theory." He also discussed prejudice in America: "Unfortunately, we are not free of tendencies that point in the same direction. Prejudice against the Negro is the most striking and probably most dangerous one."

Problems of Minority Groups (September 1938)
 Oscar I. Janowsky described in depth the situation of Jews and other vulnerable minorities in the Europe of 1938. "The Jew is attacked first because he is the weakest and safest enemy," he wrote. But "Behind the smokescreen of anti-Semitism, the liberties of all are destroyed... So long as Nazism and Fascism prevail, there will be no peace for the true Christian, for the true scholar, for the true proponent of a better world, any more than for the Jew."

 The Social Pathology of the Refugee Problem (March 1939)
Melvin M. Fagen examined the web of causes he perceived to be behind the crisis facing Jews. "Though our course is not clear," he declared, "and the future uncertain, there is one thing we can do, one duty we owe to ourselves and to posterity. It is to know why these wars have come about, why the refugee problem or the Jewish problem or the problem of Fascism arises."

Jewish Ideology in the Present Crisis(March 1939)
"[S]ince 1933, millions of Jews have been deprived of either their lives or the means to their livelihood," wrote Ira Eisenstein. "Political rights and economic opportunities have been ruthlessly taken from them and, at the present writing, it appears that no less than four million Jews in Central Europe alone will be compelled to migrate from the lands in which they and their ancestors have lived for centuries." Unaware that the immediate future would yield events far more monstrous than these, Eisenstein nonetheless realized that the happenings of his day would necessitate a reconsideration of the "various alternatives, which Jewish thinkers contemplated as the solution to the so-called Jewish problem during the whole post-emancipation era". Strikingly, he wrote: "It is not assimilation which has failed; it is democracy which has failed, that very democracy which made possible assimilation."

 

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We welcome your reactions in the comments section below.

Have a meaningful Yom HaShoah.

From the J-Vault: Jews in Uniform

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This week, from the J-Vault: Jews in the United States Army and Navy (1917)

In 1917, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) sent out letters to regimental post commanders in the American military in order to attempt to determine the number and proportion of Jews serving in uniform. The estimate they arrived at was roughly 6%.

Read more...

Today, the blog Jews in Green estimates that this number is less than 1%, although there is still no truly accurate way to tell.

Whatever the proportions, however, many Jews do serve in the US armed forces. Click here to sponsor a Passover meal for a deployed Jewish soldier via koshertroops.com. The Aleph Institute also conducts programs to support Jewish life in the military.

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From the J-Vault: Jewish Language and Culture in Public Schools

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Perhaps you've followed recent controversies in the Jewish and secular media surrounding Hebrew language charter schools, which accept public funds, charge no tution, and teach Hebrew without (theoretically) any Jewish religious instruction. (For background, see this article, this blog post, and the Hebrew Charter School Center.)

As always, however, a peek into the J-Vault reveals that the latest innovation, and the controversy surrounding it, have been foreshadowed by generations past.

This week, from the J-Vault: Teaching Yiddish in a Public School (1916)

The Milwaukee Yiddishe Folkschule was a free Sunday morning school which taught Yiddish, Hebrew, and Jewish history from a secular perspective. When the school began to use the space (after hours) of a public school classroom, however, critics charged that the school was an unacceptable violation of the separation of church and state, and also a purveyor of ethnic particularism instead of a healthy assimilation. (Naturally, these critical voices came from within the Jewish community.)

Read more...

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From the J-Vault: Disconnected Jewish College Students

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This week from the J-Vault, and from the Department of the More Things Change, Etc.: The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle: University of Wisconsin Student Gives Ideas on Problem of Jews at University (1924)

A college student writes a letter to a Jewish newspaper to argue that Jewish organizations are failing to be relevant to the new generation's needs. "There are certain things which appeal to the young Jew of today and these things are necessary to hold his attention," writes Norman De Nosaquo, a student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The Jewish communal servant should "put himself in the student's place and look out of the window besides looking in."

On a positive note, De Nosaquo also congratulates "the broad-minded people of Illinois for their interest in the students and their institution of the Hillel Foundation. Let us hope it will be a success, as it will."

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From the J-Vault: Immigrant Jewish American Farmers

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The year is 1902, and Jewish organizations are welcoming poor Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and teaching them a new way of life -- a new way to think about being Jewish, a new vocation, and a new relationship to the land. They are teaching these new immigrants to be farmers.

This description, however, has nothing to do with the kibbutz movement, or with the Yishuv (the pre-1948 Zionist Jewish community in the land of Israel). The land to which these Ashkenazic-refugees-turned-yeoman-farmers had immigrated was America.

This week from the J-Vault: Agriculture, A Most Effective Means to Aid Jewish Poor (1902)

"Whenever one of the Jewish poor drifts into a smaller community," writes Rabbi A.R. Levy, "and there applies for help to the Jewish residents, he is generally shipped to the nearest large city where, it is assumed, he must find work in the sweatshop or in the factory." This is undesirable, Levy explains, not only because the lifestyle is inherently unpleasant, but because the tightly packed "ghetto" life in urban centers mixes poorly with the character traits Levy perceives in Eastern European Jewish immigrants. (Levy's condescension to his immigrant kin is sadly characteristic of the attitude of many early 20th century Jews born in America.)

The better solution, according to Levy, is the one advocated by the Jewish Agriculturists' Aid Society of America.

Farm life works wonders, Levy reports:

A most marked and happy change in the character of our Jewish farmers ds the self-reliance they manifest... Our farmers go about their work with an air of self-reliance that is cheering and encouraging. It has been said that no work within the scope of human activity makes for the better in all that is good in human character as does tilling the soil. Our farmers are a telling testimony to the truth of this assertion.

Farm life also means isolation from other Jews, and from Jewish communities. Levy acknowledges this, but claims that such isolation has "proven to be of no damaging effect as far as the religious life and habit of the Jew is concerned." Indeed, being disconnected from traditional religious observance seems, to Levy, to be a positive rather than a negative factor:

No one will fail to recognize the virtue of the religious practices and habits of the Russian Jews as they are maintained by him in Russia. They are undeniably overdone and exaggerated, but they are eminently helpful to the life as it must be lived by him in Russia. For, where man's activity in the sphere of usefulness is so limited that he is forced to exist in idleness, it is the height of wisdom that he betakes himself to the field of religious enjoyment. Long and many prayers, many and extravagant ceremonies that require much time and attention are, under stated conditions, a true blessing... However, to follow up such ceremonies where divine and human agencies offer an opportunity for honest and useful toil, would lie working against the interest of religion and not for it... [T]he life of usefulness on the farm will wean him of, and bring him away from many a superfluous ceremony and obsolete observance, the practice of which is more in accord with superstition than with religion.

Read the whole article here.

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From the J-Vault: National Security, Individual Rights

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Last week, Congressman Peter King convened hearings on domestic Islamic terrorism, leading many to criticize Congressman King for making a particular religious group a target. Numerous Jewish leaders were strongly critical of the singling out of American Muslims as a community. "It reminds me of the red-baiting in the ‘50s," said Rabbi Nancy Kreimer to the New York Jewish Week. Said Congressman King (quoted in the same article), "We live in the real world. I don't have the luxury of feel-good politics and everyone saying love one another when people out there are trying to kill us."

Since Rabbi Kreimer suggests that Cold War anti-communism is an illustrative backdrop for this issue, this week's historical publication is drawn from that era, and that issue.

This week, from the J-Vault: Internal Security and Individual Rights Today (1951)

Congressman Jacob K. Javits, speaking to the National Conference of Jewish Social Welfare, argued that the gravest threat facing America comes from efforts by the intolerant to suppress dissent by measures invoked ostensibly to protect the security of the State but actually to destroy individual rights. Read more...

You can also read Arthur J.S. Rosenbaum's introduction of Congressman Javits, and Sanford Solender's response, drawing implications for Jewish communal service.

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From the J-Vault: Responding to an Earthquake

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Welcome to the J-Vault, our new weekly series highlighting some of the fascinating older documents in our large (and growing) collection of Jewish policy publications.

This week from the J-Vault: Report Concerning Suffering Jews in San Francisco Earthquake and Fire (1907)

Jewish communities around the world paid special attention to Jews affected by the tragic earthquake a few weeks ago in New Zealand. (See this JTA News Bulletin.) Likewise, in 1906, Jews from all over the United States were specially concerned for their Jewish brethren in San Francisco. In this 1907 report from a committee sent to San Francisco by the National Conference of Jewish Charities, the authors estimate that over 10,000 Jews had been made homeless by the disaster. Read more...

We are launching this series to underscore the value of historical BJPA holdings as a tool for understanding our past, as well as informing our contemporary discourse. As always, let us know what you think.

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