Wednesday, July 01, 2009
My Travels with My Zayde
By: Steven Plaut
Date: Wednesday, July 01 2009
I am about to deliver a lecture in a glamorous
building in Riga, one of the best examples of the
Art Nouveau architecture style that makes the
capital of Latvia so famous. The large seminar room is filled beyond capacity.
"This seminar is going to be a strange one for
two reasons," I begin. "The first is that
everyone in the room knows more about the topic I
am about to discuss than I do. The second is that
I want to begin by telling you about the Latvian roots of my family."
* * *
That story began in Dvinsk. Today the town,
renamed Daugavpils, is the second-largest city in
Latvia and an industrial eyesore produced by
Stalinist planning. Back in the 19th century it
was included within the borders of czarist
Belarussia. The city joined Latvia when it
achieved political independence after World War I
for the first time in modern history.
Dvinsk's sizable Jewish community was best known
for Rabbi Meir Simcha, one of the greatest Torah
sages of his generation who was popularly called
the Ohr Sameach after the name of his most famous book.
Zayde was born Samuel Shaeffer in Dvinsk. In the
last decade of the 19th century the wealthy
Jewish banker Baron Maurice de Hirsch had
purchased lands in Argentina, and Jews from
Eastern Europe were fleeing there from the
pogroms that were growing in viciousness during
the dying days of the Russian empire.
Samuel's parents were among those who signed up
to go. They packed up their meager belongings,
took their young son and his two sisters, and
hopped on the horse-drawn wagon to make their way
to the port. But, alas, the horse was too old for
the task at hand and they literally missed the
boat because of her. They returned to the poverty of Dvinsk.
Things only got worse. An order came for Samuel
to report for conscription for a 25-year term of
service in the czarist army. He decided to flee
the country for his life. A Jewish teenager in
the town had recently died but his passing had
not been officially recorded. Samuel took the
papers of the dead youth, adopted the latter's
last name of Steinman, and smuggled himself out
just ahead of the czarist secret police.
With a few coins in his pocket he escaped Latvia
and made his way by foot all the way to Hamburg.
He had been a tailor's apprentice back home (a
profession he never liked much) and would work as
a tailor in towns he traveled through for food
money. From Hamburg he took a steamer to America,
landing in Ellis Island in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.
He settled in Philadelphia, married a young
Jewish woman from Galicia, and set up a tailor
shop. He kept planning to change professions, but
never did. Back in Dvinsk he had been examined by
the local doctor before he left. A complete
physical examination in those days consisted of
checking the patient's tongue. The quack told him
he thought he would be unable to father children.
Samuel decided to prove him wrong, and had nine
of them. The eighth of the nine is named Ida - my mother.
They spoke Yiddish at home. I picked up some
expressions, but to my regret never learned it
properly. Mom later married a refugee from
Germany who did not speak Yiddish. They met in
the middle of Israel's war of independence when
Mom worked at the offices of the Magen David Adom
and Dad came to donate blood. Our family joke
always was that it was love at first stab.
Zayde spent endless days sitting in the small
tailor shop, sneaking away from work whenever he
could to read Josephus. He did not trust the
police. He told his children that when they came
home late at night they should walk rather than
run down the street, lest the police mistake them for thieves and attack them.
Some of my best early memories were of spending
time with Bubbe and Zayde in the rooming house
they favored on their visits to Atlantic City. It
was their chance to get away from the tedious
tailor work. I remember the first time I saw the
ocean there as well as my efforts to get Zayde to
explain to me what made the waves move and hump.
Zayde had strong likes and dislikes. He despised
Frank Sinatra and would refer to him only as
"that bum." He was convinced that the comedian
Jerry Lewis was personally responsible for
anti-Semitism in America. He adored Franklin
Roosevelt and had a large poster of him hanging
in his living room. (I shudder to think what he
would make of my own free-market economics.)
Meanwhile, Bubbe struck up a friendship with
Bertha Cosby, the mother of superstar Bill Cosby.
This was long before Bill became world famous and
wealthy. They lived not far from the tailor shop.
Our family used to hire Bill's struggling mother
to help out in the house. She frequently worked
as my babysitter, and helped out with the food at
my bar mitzvah party. Bill was invited but did
not come - he had a date. Dad sold Bill his very first suit.
By the late 1950s Zayde's family had grown so
large that we often had to rent out ballrooms in
hotels to hold Passover Seders. The first time I
asked the Four Questions I mispronounced the
words of the last one, believing it was referring
to some mysterious Mrs. Bean (instead of
"misubin"), and Zayde impatiently corrected me.
But of course he could be very patient too, as
when he came to my first violin recital and
gallantly pretended not to be bored.
And then there was the violent anti-Semite who
lived down the block and who would torment him
and the family, especially around Easter. One
year the harassment was getting out of hand. At
the Passover Seder, Zayde read the Ten Plagues
and spilled out an unusually generous portion of
wine after each one. He saved the "makos wine"
from the Ten Plagues in a safe place and later
knocked on the door of the anti-Semite, informing
him our family was celebrating a holiday and that
he'd brought him a large glass of wine so he could share in the festivities.
The neighbor downed the glass happily. A few
weeks later the neighbor's wife left him, and
before the year was over he died of a heart
attack. Zayde always claimed the Plagues wine had
done the trick. I do not have the slightest doubt he was correct.
Zayde died when I was a teenager. His last words
were to demand that his sons empty his pants
pockets of change lest the hospital staff steal it.
* * *
The Stockholm School is the leading academic
institute in post-communist Latvia. It is an
elite university, a highly prestigious school,
and the president of the country sits on its
board of governors. Students come here to study from other parts of Europe.
The professors at the school know that an
economist in Israel has been conducting research
on the real estate market in their own city of
Riga, and they are greatly flattered by this.
Latvia is a country with only two million people,
almost half of them not ethnic Latvians, so by
comparison Israel seems a huge cosmopolitan center.
Prior to my visit I had become something of an
expert on Latvian housing economics. That sounds
more impressive than it really is, because I am
just about the only academic on earth who has
studied the subject. I have published a paper on
Riga housing together with a Latvian graduate
student of mine who took courses with me in
Budapest and was able to obtain some usable data.
Central Riga is charming, its beauty outlasting
its long ordeal under communism, with a
well-preserved set of fascinating architecture.
They've put me up in an apartment in the building
next to that in which the philosopher Sir Isaiah
Berlin grew up. It has plaster Art Nouveau
sphinxes in front of it and they probably go back
to when Sir Isaiah was a yeshiva boy.
Riga is a bit off the tourist beaten tracks.
Israeli tourists, who seem to appear almost
everywhere else on the planet, rarely make it to
Riga. Its medieval guild houses, damaged badly in
the war, have been rebuilt close to their
original designs. A Museum of Terror, documenting
Latvia's twin nightmares under Nazism and
Communism, stands in the city center.
I tour Riga and spend Shabbat in the one
remaining active synagogue, located inside the
town's walled Old City. The local Chabad rabbi
has graciously offered to feed me. The language
of communication for Jews living in Riga is
Russian, which is also the first or second
language for everyone else in Latvia. I manage to
communicate with the older ones in my pidgin
half-Yiddish-half-German. Some of the younger Jews speak Hebrew fluently.
The synagogue makes a lavish kiddush after
Shabbat prayers and the big attraction seems to
be the generous glasses of vodka. In fact, I get
the feeling some people come to services just for
the shnapps served afterward. Two old timers at
my table get into a noisy quarrel over which of
them should get the unclaimed glass of vodka on
our table. I bring about peace by offering them
my own glass so they will not have to bicker.
"But what about you?" they ask. I twirl my finger
around my head to show what the extra-strong vodka does to it.
Outside the walled city one is shown the location
of the town's onetime Jewish center, including
the Great Synagogue, today nothing but rubble, a
park that is "home" to homeless dredges. The
city's large urban market is held in old World
War I zeppelin hangers. The large music hall has
Jewish stars on its windows, placed there by the
local Jewish philanthropists who raised the funds
for the building before the war.
Visiting Israeli academics are so unusual in Riga
that the Israeli consul himself decides to come
to the lecture. Besides the graduate students and
professors present, there are also some Rigan
bankers and developers. It is the largest turnout
for an academic seminar they ever had, I am told.
The crowd in the room settles down. "I am going
to tell you about the economic structure of the
Rigan housing market," I begin. "But before that
I am going to tell you about my zayde, my grandfather, Samuel Steinman."
I have a couple of old photographs of him as a
boy with his family in Dvinsk and have converted
them to electronic PowerPoint slides for the occasion.
I tell them the story of my family's Latvian
roots, about Zayde's escape from the Czar's
secret police just as they were closing in, and
about his journey to America. Once in America, he
hoped to save up money to pay for his own
parents' escape. Alas, they - my
great-grandparents - died of starvation and
disease before that was possible. Meanwhile
Dvinsk was renamed Daugavpils and was
incorporated into the briefly independent
interwar republic of Latvia. It was devoured by
Stalin as part of the Ribbentrop-Molotov deal with Hitler to divide up Europe.
Following the genealogy, I launch into the
academic lecture. I explain to them what is
unusual about Rigan housing markets, and
especially about the role of architecture in its
pricing. I am the only one in the room who cannot
pronounce the names of the neighborhood districts
of Riga that I am analyzing, but they do not mind.
Toward the end, I introduce them to Israeli
humor. I tell them this is going to be the only
seminar they ever attend in which they are shown
a slide of (former Soviet president) Brezhnev and a slide of a toilet.
The photo of the old geezer Brezhnev, who is
still the butt of jokes in post-communist
countries, is background to a slide with a table
of statistical estimates concerning the effects
on pricing of the "Brezhnev-era architectural
design" in Riga. The slide with the toilet
contains a table showing the effects on pricing
of adding an extra bathroom to the design of housing units in the city.
The school's provost attends the lecture and asks
a lot of questions. When the talk is finished, he
approaches me. "Some of the senior professors at
the school and I would like to take you out for a
dinner in your honor," he says.
I hesitate for a moment. "That sounds wonderful,"
I say, "but I wonder if you would mind if we go
eat at the kosher restaurant near the campus."
(There is a small modest kosher restaurant in the
basement of the Riga Jewish community center, underneath a theater.)
I experience a moment of anxiety as I recall the
mocking and snideness of some of my
ultra-secularist university colleagues in Israel
whenever someone requests that departmental lunches be held in kosher eateries.
The provost considers my request for a moment. As
he does, I see in my mind images of my
grandfather sneaking through the alleys and back
roads, fleeing for his life as a fugitive, and
then of the 20th century's decades of horror for Latvian Jews.
The provost breaks into a smile. Of course, he
says, let's go there, we love that place.
So the cream of the Latvian academic elite spends
the evening in the little kosher restaurant with
me, eating matzah ball soup and shashlik,
drinking kosher wine, spinning academic yarns,
listening to Yiddish and Hebrew songs playing in the background.
And I sense my Zayde looking down, remembering
his own terrors in his flight out of Latvia a century earlier.
He is no doubt amused by the sight of his nerdy
little grandson who once squeaked away on a
violin and who raised a dozen cats all named
George (including the females), now the honored
guest from Israel being toasted and hosted by the
Rigans, celebrating with the Latvian professors in the little kosher bistro.
The Seven Reasons behind Leftist Anti-Semitism:
Seven Reasons for Leftist Anti-Semitism
By: Don Feder / GrassTopsUSA.com
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
A disturbing number of left-wingers believe "them Jews" control the world.
Old joke: Walking down a street, a rabbi is
accosted by an anti-Semite who tells him "The
Jews are to blame for all of our problems." The
rabbi replies, "You're absolutely right. It's all
the fault of the Jews – and the redheads."
Puzzled, the anti-Semite asks, "Why the
redheads"? The rabbi responds, "Why the Jews"?
But for the left, anti-Semitism makes perfect
sense – almost as much sense as socialized
medicine. Except for Islam (with which it's
increasingly allied), the left has a near-monopoly on organized anti-Semitism.
Last month, that geriatric Jew-hater Jimmy Carter
was in Gaza condemning the "devastation" wrought
by Israel's military incursion to stop Hamas
rocket attacks. "The citizens of Gaza are treated
more like animals than people," the man who put
the ayatollahs in charge of Iran intoned.
At the American International School in Gaza,
damaged by Israeli bombs, Carter told citizens of
Hamas-istan, "I have to hold back the tears when
I see the deliberate destruction that has been
wrecked against your people." That Hamas
deliberately located a missile battery near the
school is irrelevant to our pathetic ex-president.
The author of Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid –
who's become the most prominent Western apologist
for the Hitlerites of Hamas ("first of all, Hamas
has to be accepted by the international
community") – Carter has never shed a tear for
the Israelis killed by Palestinian rocket and
mortar attacks from Gaza or those murdered or
wounded by Palestinian suicide bombers over the past decade.
Next stop on Jimmy's trail of tears – the S.S.
cemetery in Bitburg, where he'll weep for the
devastation wrecked against the German people,
who were treated like animals by the Allies in World War II.
For Carter, the political is also personal. In a
2006 story in the Jewish Forward, Carter was
quoted telling senior aides prior to the 1980
election "If I get back in, I'm going to (expletive deleted) the Jews."
James von Brunn, another octogenarian
anti-Semite, is charged with the murder of a
guard at the U.S. Holocaust Museum on June 10.
The left was quick to blame everyone from Rush
Limbaugh to FOX News for the crime. But a perusal
of the alleged shooter's website reveals that he
Jews, but also Christianity (which he considers a
"Jewish hoax") and capitalism. Von Brunn wrote,
"Socialism represents the future of the West."
Von Brunn sounds a lot like Obama's former pastor
and spiritual mentor – the Rev. Jeremiah A.
Wright Jr. In a note he was carrying at the time
of his arrest, von Brunn wrote that "Obama was
created by Jews. Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do."
At about the same time, Wright complained to a
reporter that "them Jews" had denied him access to his disciple.
"Them Jews ain't going to let him talk to me ….
He's got to do what politicians do. And the
Jewish vote, the AIPAC (American Israel Public
Affairs Committee) vote that's controlling
him…that's talking this craziness on Israel
because they're Zionists, they will not let him
talk to somebody who calls a spade what it is.
Ethnic cleansing is going on in Gaza (I thought
it was apartheid. Maybe it's both.) – the ethnic
cleansing of the Zionists is a sin and a crime
against humanity." The Zionists are in good
company. As Rev. Michael Pfleger (another Obama
bud) put it in a sermon at Wright's church,
"America is the great sin against God." "God damn
America!" the Rev. Jeremiah responds.
Wright later apologized for his "them Jews"
comment, claiming he meant to say "the Zionists"
not "the Jews." Usually, anti-Semites say
"Zionists" when they mean "Jews." and not the reverse.
Obama does a full-waist bow to the King of Saudi
Arabia, denies the Jewish people's historic ties
to the land of Israel, equates Palestinian
"suffering" to the Holocaust, believes it's his
mission to fight "Islamophobia" and has a Middle
East-team that could have been assembled by
Carter. Sure, Obama is controlled by the Jews –
the way he's controlled by the National Rifle Association.
Wright isn't the only member of the Democrats'
blame-the-Jews club. A May poll by two Stanford
University professors showed a third of
Democratic voters buying into one of the oldest
anti-Semitic myths – world domination by Jewish bankers
The survey asked respondents if "the Jews" were
responsible for the current financial crisis.
Of self-identified Democrats, 32 percent blame
Jews "a moderate amount" to "a great deal" for
our economic woes, versus 18.4 percent of
Republicans. In other words, almost twice as many
Democrats as Republicans believe sinister Jews
are responsible for the collapse of the financial
house of cards constructed by Congressional
Democrats on a foundation of sub-prime mortgages.
Ah, the Democrats, so tolerant, so minority friendly – except for Jews.
Pat Oliphant agrees with Wright that "them Jews"
are engaged in a genocidal campaign against hapless Palestinians.
Called the most influential editorial cartoonist
in the world by the New York Times, in March,
Oliphant produced a masterpiece worthy of Der
Sturmer, depicting a sword-wielding giant
goose-stepping as he wheels a fanged Star of
David toward tiny, huddled figures of a woman and child labeled Gaza.
The Magen Dovid is the international symbol of
Jewry. (The Nazis forced Jews in occupied Europe
to wear it on arm bands.) Oliphant's message was
unmistakable: "Them Jews" (the same who are to
some degree responsible for the financial crisis,
according to almost a third of the Democratic
Party) are engaged in apartheid, ethnic-cleansing
and genocide in Gaza. When he contemplates the
cruelty of it all, Jimmy Carter has to fight to hold back the tears.
Oliphant is a party-line leftist who loathes both
America and Christianity. In a 1993 cartoon, he
had a frightened elephant labeled GOP being
dragged by rodents into a building with an
electric Cross that read "Religious Right."
Oliphant chose interesting imagery for
conservative Christians. Nazi propaganda films
often juxtaposed scenes of Jews at prayer with
rats swarming out of a sewer. If the left doesn't
keep reminding us of how tolerant it is, we're apt to forget.
On January 30, armed thugs invaded a Caracas
synagogue, occupied the building for three hours,
desecrated the Torah scrolls and scrawled
graffiti like, "We don't want Jews here," and "Jews get out."
Before the rise of Hugo Chavez, anti-Semitism was
unknown in Venezuela, a nation with a Jewish
population of 15,000. Now, it's almost a daily
occurrence. Abraham Levy Ben Shimol, president of
Venezuela's Jewish community, says: "You probably
hear of many anti-Semitic incidents, but where we
live, the anti-Semitism is sanctioned: it comes
from the president (Chavez), through the government and into the media."
In his 2005 Christmas Eve speech, Chavez charged:
"The world has wealth for all, but some
minorities, the descendants of the same people
that crucified Christ…have taken over all the
wealth of the world." (Emphasis added.)
When a state prosecutor and Chavez ally was
killed in a car-bombing in 2004, the president
sent Venezuelan security forces to raid a private
Jewish school in Caracas. Agents with
sub-machineguns terrorized students, while a
weapons search was conducted. You can't be too
careful when dealing with adolescent Christ-killers.
Chavez (who calls himself a lifelong Maoist) is
enabled by prominent Democrats. A 2006 commentary
by Ed Laskey in The American Thinker
and the Anti-Semitism of Hugo Chavez") notes the
Congressional fan club of the Latin Goebbels
includes John Conyers, Jr. (D. MI), William Delahunt and Ed Markey (both D-MA).
The People's Republic of Bay State is a bastion
of Hugo-ism. Former Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy
III (whose granddad, Ambassador Joseph P.
Kennedy, Sr., thought Hitler was misunderstood),
current head of the Citizens Energy Corporation, gets cheap oil from Chavez.
This allows Kennedy to play Lord Bountiful to
low-income households and build political capital
while paying himself a six-figure salary. In
return, Kennedy does PR for the Caracas regime.
His cheap-oil commercials all note that the
heating oil comes from "our friends in Venezuela" – i.e. Chavez.
On January 8, at an anti-Israel demonstration in
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, organized by the
leftist group ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End
Racism), a lady in a hijab shouted at Jewish
counter-demonstrators "Go back to the oven" (in
reference to the Holocaust), and "You need a big oven, that's what you need."
Instead of condemning hijab-lady, Emmanuel Lopez,
ANSWER's Florida coordinator, assured us that the
"vast majority of demonstrators," do not want to
cremate Jews. In an effort to be even-handed,
Lopez went on to call the Jews who were told to
"go back to the oven," barbaric, racist, Zionist
terrorists." (Lopez: "Zionism in general is a
barbaric racist movement that really is the cause
of the situation in the entire Middle East.")
The anti-war movement tolerates anti-Semitism,
when it isn't openly embracing it.
A Hamas flag flew from the speakers' podium at
ANSWER's 2002 National March for Palestine,
Against War and Racism. Either ANSWER is so
clueless that it doesn't know Hamas is virulently
anti-Semitic or it doesn't care. (A character on
a Hamas kids show, broadcast on Al-Aqsa TV, urges
children to "Wipe out the Jews.")
Even the Jewish left acknowledges this reality.
In 2007, the San Francisco ADL held a conference
(Finding Our Voice), described by the Jewish
Telegraph Agency as "aimed at empowering Jewish
progressives to respond to anti-Semitism of the
left" – a project destined to be as successful as
Ayatollahs for Fair Elections.
Here are seven reasons for leftist anti-Semitism:
* Jew-hatred has deep historic roots in the
movement. Karl Marx, who came from a Jewish
family that converted to Christianity, was a
raving anti-Semite. "What is the Jew's foundation
in our world? Material necessity, private
advantage," Marx wrote. Also: "What is the object
of the Jew's worship? Usury. What is his worldly
god? Money." Marx's hatred of Jews went beyond
the class struggle. He described Polish Jews as
"the smarmiest of races," called his opponent,
Ferdinand Lassalle, a "Jewish Nig---" and
disclosed that the Ramsgate section of London was "full of Jews and fleas."
* The left is anti-capitalism – Accurate or
not, there's a longstanding identification of
Jews with capitalism – going back at least to the
Rothschilds. This is bolstered by Jewish success
in business and the professions. Judaism and
later Christianity, validated private property
honestly acquired and material progress. Islam
doesn't share this perspective, which is why
wealth in the Muslim world is acquired (from
oil), not earned. This also explains leftist compatibility with Islam.
* The left is obsessed with equality – The
left finds the idea of a "chosen people" (in
reality, chosen to advance certain values) wholly
repugnant. In Israel, the Jews succeeded where
others of the region have failed since ancient
times. For the left, this can't be due to unique
talents or God's plan, but exploitation – another
charge against the Jews from the Romans to the
Bolsheviks to the Nazis. On the same basis, the
left has decided that American preeminence in the
post-war world must be due not to our talents,
entrepreneurship or democracy, but to exploitation.
* The left loves conspiracy theories – Oliver
Stone, Michael Moore, the Kennedy assassination
nuts, energy prices set by oil companies, foreign
policy run behind the scenes by industrialists –
the left insists that dark and sinister forces
manipulate world events, making them susceptible
to the longest-running conspiracy theory of all:
the International Jewish Conspiracy, which blames
"the Jews," for wars, depressions, economic
downturns and the common cold. The distance isn't
that great between multinational corporations
running the world and "international Jewry" dominating world events.
* The left equates Jews with Israel – With
all of the tyranny in the world – especially in
the neighborhood Israel inhabits – the left has
made the region's one democracy (the only nation
to give away territory acquired in wars forced on
it), the unique focus of its ire. In 2006-2007,
the neo-Marxists who run the UN General Assembly
couldn't find time to comment on Darfur, but
condemned Israel on 22 separate occasions. There
was a time when the left insisted you could be
anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic.
Increasingly, neo-Marxists are forced to conclude
that because "them Jews" support Israel (along
with most Americans and evangelical Christians)
there must be something inherently wrong with
members of the tribe. Thus anti-Israel morphs easily to anti-Jew.
* Solidarity with the Muslim world – It seems
counter-intuitive, but the self-avowed
secularists of the left embrace Islamacist
theocrats, who find the former's social positions
appalling. Muslims fit neatly into the left's
division of humanity into exploited and
exploiters, imperialists and subjugated peoples.
Israel is seen as an extension of European
imperialism, the continuation of centuries of
Western domination. In solidarity with their
allies in the Moslem world, the left is at the
very least willing to tolerate the anti-Semitism
of Hamas, Hezbollah, the Palestinian Authority,
Syria and Iran (all viewed as revolutionary
movements or regimes), but increasingly prone to
indulge in the age-old evil itself.
* The left is at war with God – From its
inception during the French Revolution, the left
has seen religion as the primary impediment to
the realization of its utopian dreams.
Christianity is indicted as the principal support
for capitalism, the "patriarchal family,"
misogyny and homophobia. Without Judaism, there
would be no Christianity – and, by extension, no
America, a reality which hasn't escaped leftist
totalitarians, from Marx and Lenin to Hitler and
Hugo Chavez. Der Fuhrer (who also blamed the Jews
for "inventing" Christianity) believed that if he
killed enough Jews, he would ultimately kill the God of Israel.
All of the left's hatreds, manias and phobias
have brought it to this magical moment. The
expression "Islamo-fascist" has become so
commonplace it's easy to forget that Allah's
storm-troopers aren't the only fascists out there.
This article originally appeared on
<http://GrassTopsUSA.com>GrassTopsUSA.com and is
reproduced here with the author's permission.
4. Dersh on legal prosecution of Israel:
5. Leonard Cohen: http://frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=35400