Judah Maccabee (Jewish Biography as History) First Lecture of the Fall 2015 Lecture Series!

We begin the Fall 2015 Lectures in Jewish History series with a presentation on the life and work of Judah (Yehudah) Maccabee, famed military commander of the Hasmonean revolt. Enjoy in good health!

Here’s the link to the Prezi.

New Column in the Five Towns Jewish Times!

Please enjoy my first column in the Five Towns Jewish Times!

People of the Book: Classic Works of the Jewish TraditionAbramson-Letter

By Dr. Henry Abramson

According to my knowledge of the words of the Sages and the history of the Jewish people in general, we have never experienced such horrific suffering as has been visited upon us by the wicked ones since the end of 5702 (fall 1942)—may Hashem have mercy on us and rescue us immediately.

—Entry from January 11, 1943.

Discovered in the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Aish Kodesh (Holy Fire) is one of the most remarkable works of Jewish spirituality to emerge from the Holocaust. A slim volume of some 150 pages in the first printing, Aish Kodeshpresents the Torah spoken at the clandestine seudahshlishis gatherings convened by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapiro, known to his followers as the Piaseczno Rebbe.

The author, a scion of the Grodzhisk Chassidic dynasty, was a creative thinker whose literary fame was established with the 1932 publication of Chovas haTalmidim (The Students’ Obligation). Trapped in Warsaw when the war broke out, he lived through all its tragedies: the sealing of the ghetto in the fall of 1939, the horrific typhus plague of the winter of 1941, the massive deportations to Treblinka in the summer of 1942, and the heroic but doomed uprising of April 1943. He was ultimately deported to a labor camp and shot in November 1943, most probably for his involvement in a second attempted uprising. Unlike Holocaust memoirs, journals, or diaries, Aish Kodesh is a book that is sui generis for many reasons.

Aish Kodesh is a public document, representing the real-time efforts of the beleaguered Jewish community to deal with the theological implications of the Holocaust as it unfolded in the Warsaw Ghetto. The intellectual task of understanding the meaning of unimaginable suffering was common to both Orthodox and secular Jews, and third-party reports of the Rebbe’s gatherings confirm that they were attended by believers and non-believers alike. Aish Kodesh is also a profoundly sustained work of theodicy, its pages filled with philosophical meditation on the meaning of evil in Jewish thought, and much scholarly attention has been devoted to this aspect of the work, notably Dr. Nehemia Polen’s masterly 1999 study, Holy Fire.

Aish Kodesh has not, however, been studied extensively by historians, who have typically been stymied by the sometimes abstruse Kabbalistic passages and the almost complete absence of explicit references to quotidian events in the ghetto: not once in the entire work do the terms “German” or “Nazi” appear, and the reader must wade through veiled Aesopian language to determine the message of hope that the Rebbe offered in response to the horrors of that week under Nazi occupation.

After the war, a desperate post-war search for the OnegShabbos archives (a collection of documents that chronicled the realities of ghetto life) unearthed the Rebbe’s manuscripts of Aish Kodesh and its subsequent publication in Israel. Popularized in song by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, a renaissance of interest in Piaseczno chassidus developed in both scholarly and popular circles, notably under the leadership of Rabbi Moshe Weinberger of Woodmere, whose Aish Kodesh congregation takes its inspiration from the life and work of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapiro.

Publication information: Esh Kodesh, Tel Aviv: Va’ad Hasidei Piaseczno, 1960

Dr. Henry Abramson is a specialist in Jewish History and Thought. He serves as dean at the Avenue J Campus of Touro’s Lander Colleges and may be reached at abramson@touro.edu.

Jewish History Lectures Resume October 19 at Avenue J

JEWISH HISTORY @ AVENUE J

A Community Project of the Lander College of Arts and Sciences

Monday Evenings, 7-8 pm, 1602 Avenue J, Brooklyn NY 11230

Beginning October 19, 2015

Open to the Community

Separate Seating

All Lectures are Free of Charge

Fall 2015 Jewish History Lectures

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Irving Berlin and the Creation of Popular American Culture (This Week in Jewish History)

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At this time of year it’s impossible to escape the ubiquitous holiday music that assults us whenever we turn on the radio or walk through a shopping mall. Few listeners are aware, however, that the syrupy, commercialized versions of holiday cheer have their origins in the musical genius of a Jewish immigrant from Siberia, the phenomenal Irving Berlin. Whatever we may think of the 21st century interpretations of his work, it is undeniable that Berlin had the amazing ability to express the core values of American culture in a way that transcended religious ideology.

Here’s some additional useful comments from Dr. Carl Singer:

His actions were acknowledged with such accolades as the Army’s Medal of Merit from President Truman in 1945; a Congressional Gold Medal for “God Bless America” and other patriotic songs from President Eisenhower in 1954; and the Freedom Medal from President Ford in 1977. In 2002, the U.S. Army at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, named the Army Entertainment Division (AED) World Headquarters “The Irving Berlin Center” in his honor. Also that year he was commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp.
Irving Berlin “God Bless America” – The Ed Sullivan Show   God Bless America     Irving Berlin on Ed Sullivan May 5, 1968
Irving Berlin – ‘Oh, How I Hate to get up in the Morning’   Oh how I hate to get up in the morning  1943  “this is the Army”
Kate Smith, God Bless America        Kate Smith – God Bless America  introducing “a new song”
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I believe there was a slight error towards the end of the presentation:  “Congressional Medal of Honor” — is likely a misnomer.  To the best of my knowledge there is no such medal.
There is the Congressional Gold Medal.   The “Medal of Honor” (no “Congressional“) is the nation’s highest military award.

Who Was Aaron of Lincoln? Jewish Biography as History

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Reputed to be the wealthiest man in 11th century England–wealthier even than the King–Aaron of Lincoln was a hugely successful moneylender whose achievements included the financing of many cathedrals. His story, while exceptional in terms of scope, is nevertheless instructive of the Jewish experience in the medieval economy as a whole.

 

Really excited to be part of Touro College’s Avenue J campus!

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Just returned from two intense days meeting with the amazing AvenueJ faculty.  Great group of dedicated, enthusiastic experts in their fields with a passion for teaching! Can’t wait to get started working with these really inspirational professors.

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