Remembering my father, Aba Ward, אבא בן שמואל

This is a recording of the talk previously posted.

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On my father’s fourth Yahrtzeit: Aba ben Shmuel, (Aba Ward 1918-2010), zichrono livracha.

(This is a slightly edited version of the notes I used for the talk given at the East Denver Orthodox Synagogue, Sept. 10 2014.)

Thanks to Shlomo for asking me to speak tonight in memory of my father, whose yahrzteit is tonight and tomorrow. Its four years. Time passes fast.

My father was born Aba Warszawczyk in Kutno, in 1918. He lived on the outskirts of town, my grandfather had a neighborhood minyan in his home, and kept a sefer torah there. Dad was active in the Beitar youth movement. He was part of a youth mission that set out for Birobidhzhan, but was turned back by the Soviets. As a youth activist, he met Menachem Begin, who encouraged him to do what he could to get to Palestine. Dad encountered anti-Semitism in dental school in Warsaw and convinced his family to let him go to Pisa to continue his studies. But when he got to Italy, perhaps remembering Begin’s advice, he never got to school, and instead became involved with illegal immigration from the Adriatic coast to Palestine, and eventually made his way to Tel Aviv; he never completed his dental studies. He was not able to convince his family to send any of his siblings to Palestine. Only he, two cousins who previously moved to Israel and an uncle who had moved to America survived.

In Palestine he became active in Herut and Etzel. During the war he and many of his friends were part of a group of Palestinian Soldiers enlisted in the British Army. He saw action escorting Haille Selaisse from Egypt to Ethiopia, and fought in Greece, but spent much of the War in POW camps. I grew up with Hanukkah celebrated using some of the tunes Jewish soldiers from Palestine sang at a Christmas party arranged for them, with the berachot, and hopes to return home, sung in Hebrew to the melodies of well-known Christmas carols and hymns.

After the war, Dad returned to Palestine. Active in the Irgun, he was captured and imprisoned in Akko. Was he involved in bombing the King David Hotel? My brother and I like to think he was, but Dad never confirmed but also never really denied any of his activities with the Irgun. Dad says that a guard in Acco who knew that he was a fellow British Army veteran facilitated his escape, and he made his way the US in 1947.

After Dad died, my Mom reminded me several times that Dad could not speak much about his family until after I was born, his kaddishl. It was like him to emphasize establishing the future first before remembering the past. He worked hard to help secure Israel and strengthen youth and family activities, much more than for Holocaust remembrance.

Growing up, Dad helped me with Hebrew, and made sure that I and all my siblings had trips to Israel early on: I went in 1966. He also took my mother to see where he grew up in Poland. I am grateful that he was able to show me Warsaw and Kutno in 2008.

Dad was a local leader in the Zionist Organization of America. He worked hard to organize and especially to get people to attend and support events and fundraisers. I suspect his favorite event though was one he helped organize in which participants received a tea bag and instructions to brew a pot of tea, sit back in a favorite chair, and enjoy not having to go out to listen to speeches.

Dad was always able to bring people along to work with him. This trait was helpful in the ZOA, but he was able to bring along people in most things he was involved in. Dad enjoyed building things–from very tiny things, already working for a dentist when he was in gymnasium in Kutno–to very large things, such as a set for the Synagogue Youth Department Musical, or the floats for the Israel Day Parade in New York City. He built a deluxe grogger for the megillah reading, and an outdoor highly visible electric menorah, this last well before Chabad promoted the idea of outdoor menorahs. He was particularly successful in getting people who had come to help build sets or floats to actually wield a hammer. One day the synagogue’s Rabbi asked Dad whether he could use these skills to help people who wanted to learn how to build a sukkah. Working with lumber yards, Dad developed a modular design so that participants could simply order a certain number of panels. Back in the 1970s, relatively few individuals built sukkot in their homes and there were no sukkah kits. Dad gave sukkah classes for about thirty years, to people from Westchester, Connecticut, Long Island and elsewhere–and he sent plans to congregations too far away. His kit was described and circulated by the United Synagogue to member congregations–so you could say he helped thousands of people build sukkahs.

At home, our Shabbat evening dinner ritual included a portion of the prayer for the State of Israel and the defenders of our holy land.

In addition to providing for his wife and family, he was always concerned for the community, for youth, for Jewish continuity; he contributed to observance and identity through the sukkah program and the ZOA, and promoted pride in Israel and commitment to Israel’s security.

In our parasha, we have the famous text: ארמי אובד אבי Arami Oved Avi, understood in the Haggadah “as my father was persecuted…”–or the term oved is translated as “wandering.” Dad described the first part of his life in something of the same terms: for the first three decades, there was war and destruction and wandering from place to place. But he was grateful for over sixty years in which he could say, as the passage continues: שמחתי בכל הטוב אשר נתן לי ה’ ולביתי : “I have rejoiced in all the goodness that the Deity has given me and my family.” Moreover, the the Parasha continues with a prayer that captures his deepest hopes:—השקיפה ממעון קדשך מן השמים וברך את עמך את ישראל ואת האדמה “Look down from Your Holy heavenly abode, and bless your People Israel, and the Land.”

I am grateful for his love and devotion for almost six decades, and miss him greatly.

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Assessing an “innocent” crypto-Jewish website

From time to time I am asked to comment on websites oriented towards the “Crypto-Jewish” community. Recently I was asked about Among the issues was assessing its relationship with Judaism, with traditional Jewish and Sephardic Jewish values. Among the discussion was whether it was as “innocent” as it appeared at first glance. 

Actually, this website is an example of one that has little that is “innocent” from the perspective of what I shall call “mainstream Judaism” – although I am not sure this is exactly the right term, this is the term I shall use here.

 From a mainstream Jewish perspective, a website using some nomenclature referring to “Sephardic minyan” that did not list an actual minyan or have an interest related to the term as it is normally used would be very strange. The Jewish mainstream includes all sorts of religiosity, so while I would expect the “minyan” to refer to ten adult Jewish men, or to ten adult Jewish men and women, I’ve seen websites that might refer to “minyan” meaning virtual groups of ten or more, or in other contexts. But this website has none of this, although there is one project that might justify the website name (see below). Although the website appears to be new, so perhaps he will add more such material in time. One more point: in training students to critique websites, libraries typically point to such things as examining the ease with which one can find out information about who is behind the website, and the degree to which the website seems to be involved in fundraising or commercialism.

 The clearest indicator though is obvious: it celebrates “Mashiach” in ways that are typical of Messianic sites. These go beyond emphases of such organizations as Chabad. Many in mainstream Judaism, and many in the Crypto-Jewish community who do not identify as Messianics consider the references to be worded to mislead, to conceal their intent to refer to Jesus, and they are probably correct. IIt’s hard to imagine that anyone who reviews many such websites could possibly miss the point though.

Instead of themes of “Torah and Mitzvot,” or “God Torah and Israel,” typical divisions of Jewish themes, he claims his themes are Jewish identity (although there is not much on this yet besides Sephardic History), Aliyah (although there is not much besides biblical verses on this subject) and Mashiach—on which there is quite a lot of material, showing his orientation.

 It seems to me that the website does in fact hit many of the concerns that people in the Crypto-Jewish community have, and certainly the website author has adopted a tone of voice and discourse in keeping with his presumed “Orthodox Jewish” commitment. Leaving aside the question of his messianic beliefs, which would normally put him outside anything that most Orthodox Jews would consider Jewish identity, there is little to indicate this besides some of his discourse. For example, were he “orthodox” as this is usually understood, he would have more Torah Study. 

He has, however, announced a project that might be of some real value, a trilingual (English Spanish and Hebrew) travel size siddur. It’s hard to predict whether it will ever see the light of day, but if it does, it might be interesting to see whether it emphasizes the messianic values, or remains a traditional prayerbook. I suspect that there are people who would like to have a trilingual prayerbook! But in practical terms, there are bilingual Hebrew/Spanish and Hebrew/English, and I think that some companies that make both, have the prayerbooks with the same pagination in each. Nevertheless, it is easy to see the value of a siddur with both translations on the same page. Practically speaking, I see this more as a congregational book than as “travel-size,” which is usually for personal use—although the very concept that it should be travel-size probably reflects the web-developer’s approach, a concern with price, and the feeling that it should be BOTH English and Spanish (as well as Hebrew).

My personal opinion is that the combination of an approach that is self-described as “Orthodox” and best reflected in dress and discourse, with messianic emphases, reflects a component of the actual lived experience of many individuals who consider themselves to be Spanish heritage “crypto-Jews.” To say that it is an authentic component of the phenomenon is not to say it is authentic Judaism, just that it exists. Those involved with this community should be able to recognize it, and to understand its distinctiveness from the Mainstream Jewish community, and that the mainstream Jewish community will strongly reject the messianic approach and label it inauthentic Judaism. And that this reflects most of Jewish thought, at least since the time, sometime in the first few centuries of Christianity, that there was a total historic break between the two religious traditions. But it is a component of the lived Crypto-Jewish experience, and those inside this community and those who work with this community need to be able to give sound advice about this phenomenon. 

Seth Ward

University of Wyoming

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Eurovision Another Youtube posting updated for my course

In my Modern Middle East course, I have been re-posting collections of youtubes prepared mostly for previous versions of the course. This one was first prepared in March 2009. I’ve tried to update all the links.–SW

Today’s Youtubes sheet includes the late Uzi Hitman’s piece Ani noladti lashalom, “I was born for Peace” written to celebrate Israeli peace with Egypt in 1979. I wrote this page in March 2009 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. 1979 was an important year; there were a lot of youtubes we looked at from 30 years before.
(Uzi Hitman was an Israeli singer who was active in children’s TV and many other venues–like Ofra Haza–who died tragically young, a heart attack).
Here are the Lyrics . I cannot find a video with subtitles so look at this page to understand the words.
Here is Uzi Hitman singing it. Note that the final paragraph is sung in Arabic. I do not have a date for this performance.  –
This was the performance in the Israel Song Festival in 1979. I think you will find the Eurovision performance by a female sextet to be dated—and corny.

A performance in English:

Several Song Festivals, including this one, were set up so that people voted for the top song, in the hall and in special locations around the country, with the winner going on to the Eurovision contest. (For the Eurovision Contest, see: )
Eurovision–like soccer–is one of those things that is watched throughout the world with enormous audiences, just not in the U.S.A.

Ani noladti lashalom, “I was born for Peace” did not win the Israel Song festival that year. Halleluyah Laolam “Halleluyah for the World” did, and it went on to win the Eurovision. English

Israel and Eurovision: Israel won the Eurovision three times, with the 1998 win (Song: “Diva”)

(this has English subtitles) the most controversial.
(You should look it up, and look up the singer. Let us know what you find–you might find the history fascinating. Or not.) This singer’s otherwise best known hit is probably the mostly Arabic “I am not Saida Sultana”

based loosely on Whitney Houston’s “My Name is not Susan”–and is a crossover piece in many ways! “Saida Sultana” apparently played really well in Egypt. (There are usually a few words of English in most performances of this piece–and sorry, I cannot find the lyrics on line, not in Arabic, Hebrew or English). And this singer was invited to perform at a gala retrospective of past Eurovision hits.

Egypt and Jordan used to black out the Israeli contribution to Eurovision and perhaps they still do despite the peace treaties–I do not know.

Israel was runner up twice in 1982-1983–Avi Toledano and the late Ofra Haza were the singers.

The Eurovision may well be watched by more people than the Oscars, certainly it has an enormous worldwide following even though it is virtually unknown in America.
The May, 2009 Eurovision was in Moscow. The entry for Israel was sung by an Israeli Jewish singer Noa (Ahinoam Nini) and Mira Awad, an Israeli Arab singer and TV star. Their entry was in Arabic, Hebrew and English: Words:

Performance with English subtitles (and transliteration): (taken down).
Norway won in 2009.

2010: Israel’s Eurovision entry was a solo piece called Milim “words”. The 2011-12-13- and 14 entries failed to qualify.

Arab Labor: Mira Awad (who sang in the Israeli 2009 Eurovision entry) is a star in the Israeli TV show “Arab Labor” by the way, which is a tremendous hit and very important show focusing on Israeli Arabs, written and performed about 70% in Arabic by Israeli Arabs. This should probably is probably be a topic for its own YouTube/Video presentation but here are trailer, sample, and essay:
Trailer: Sample episode:
Essay about the series:

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You Tubes: the declaration of the State of Israel. From a section on youtubes for my course

You Tubes: the declaration of the State of Israel
Newsreel from May 14 1948.

clip of Ben Gurion announcing the state of Israel—with English. No video.

this has subtitles but seems to cut off –towards the end of the reading of the Proclamation.

Cast a Giant Shadow — a Hollywood reenactment.

How many movie stars can you identify? [this youtube appears to be taken down. The whole movie is available online though. SO fr I have only found the very last piece of the clip I wanted to show here.

cgs4.htmView in a new window

[this clip does not have great quality (I had to make the display smaller than usual to see it in sufficient clarity)-if you can find the same thing in better resolution please advise!].

The portion I most suggest seeing is minute 2:44 through 8:00.

If the preceding does not work: try this instead:

(I think I know why this doesn’t work also, but have not been able to solve it completely).

Here is the link to a Hulu version–the scenes I had in mind begin around minute 80 (1:20). Sorry about the ads.

There are a few historical inaccuracies: Ben Gurion read the Declaration, which did not include most of the speech given in the film, but did include a version of the last line of the speech, although this was in the middle of the Declaration, not at its end. And no telegram was read out as was done in the film.

The Cast a Giant Shadow actors assembled on the stage bear an almost uncanny resemblance to the actual people who were there–although it is strange that one of the most well-known persons present at the Proclamation is not represented at all–a woman who lived for a time in Milwaukee and Denver, and had visited the US frequently on behalf of the Jews of Palestine. Who is it?

You can judge how accurately Hollywood portrayed the English translation. The actors clearly do not know the words of HaTikvah (the Hymn of the Zionist movement), (which would not have been the case among the actual people at the Tel Aviv Museum that afternoon of course).

At least one of the actors should have been able to sing it–would have been a nice touch. Who? (Hint: this actor–who did not have a singing role in the film–was known for his singing as well as his acting. He also supported Israel, donated a building at Hebrew University and supported other Jerusalem projects, and is said to have played a small role in the actual funding the provision of armaments depicted in the film).

The orchestra assembled for the event reflects history: the organizers of the event made sure to have an orchestra there; it may even have been larger than the one put together for the film. And the dancing the evening after the proclamation is probably as historic a reenactment as you can find–there was dancing on May 14 and on Nov. 29. The movie’s composer, Elmer Bernstein, hired the Zemel Chorus of London to do the vocals. Bernstein composed most of the vocals, even the ones that sound like authentic Israeli songs from the era. But– not only Hatikvah but the music playing over the dance just following were authentic. (a version of a Russian folksong popular in Israel). The clip is supposed to stop a few seconds after the dancing scene, but I am not sure it will in all browsers.

A few days after the partition resolution of Nov. 29 1947:

- not sure that the narration is all original newsreel.

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Some thoughts on the proclamation of a Universal Caliphate today (June 29 2014)

It’s hard to say whether the announcement early today will be remembered as a key stage in the disintegration of the post World War I (!) Middle East. The Dawla Islamiyya fi al-Iraq wal-Sham (Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, often abbreviated ISIL or ISIS (the second S in ISIS stands for Syria or Sham) announced the restoration of the Caliphate. Specifically, the speech that they released indicated that a Caliphate was normative in Islam, and that the situation was such that it had to be declared. They declared Abu Bakr Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim al-Qurashi al-Baghdadi as the Caliph.

Traditionally the Caliph has to be a member of the Prophet Muhammad’s tribe – and he is said to be that –indeed, he is said to be a “Huseini”—a descendant of the Prophet’s grandson Hussein. 

The group now is known as “The Islamic State” or “the State of the Islamic Caliphate” and talks about the need for all Muslims everywhere to swear allegiance (Arabic: Bay’a) to them, of collecting the jizyah from non-Muslims and the Zakat from Muslims, and other traditional Islamic rights and privileges.

Much has been made of the timing of this announcement: 100 (Western) years after the beginning of World War I; the Ottoman Empire came to an end largely as a result of the outcome of WWI; Mustafa Kemal Ataturk cancelled the Caliphate as part of the modernizations he imposed; sometime after he had already cancelled the Ottoman Sultanate (i.e., a member of the Ottoman family held the at-that-time symbolic title of Caliph even after Ataturk had abolished their rule). Perhaps more important, the announcement came on the first day of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting and spirituality.

There are a number of maps of the current situation: if the”Islamic State” is taken as a state with geographical borders, it controls much of eastern Syria and northern Iraq. The group has proven its attractiveness to some potential fighters—there are reports of massive desertion from the Iraqi army to join them—and a reputation for brutality to those who oppose them; perhaps fear of what could happen under “Islamic State” control plays as large or even a larger role than Sunni dissatisfaction with the current state of Shia control in Iraq in compromising the ability of the Iraqi military to defend against their expansion. Al-Sham (The Levant in ISIL) refers to a far larger area than modern Syria; in classic Arabic sources, al-Sham stretched south to Gaza—i.e., the ISIL nomenclature could easily be understood to include a claim not only on Syria but also Lebanon, Jordan, Palestinian Authority and Israel. And as of the newest announcement, they have dropped the reference to Iraq and the Levant, and asserted their claim to universal loyalty of Muslims.

As noted, there are various maps of their current geographic holdings. It does not seem that there are substantial forces organized against them; if they in fact hold the land they have won and perhaps make additional inroads in likely areas, it’s hard to imagine Iraq as a viable country: it will cease to exist, possibly with the Shia majority areas in the South holding on to the Iraq name, (in classic times, Iraq referred only to this area anyway), and a separate country of Kurdistan emerging in Kurdish areas—I do not see the Islamic State as successfully conquering these areas. Guessing the future in Syria is more difficult; it depends in part on whether and how long the Asad regime retains any strength. It is hard to imagine that the Islamic State will remain satisfied with its current holdings in these areas. Jordan, with its massive refugee problem and a King who is a descendant of another individual who claimed the Caliphate, Sharif Hussein of Mecca—who proclaimed himself Caliph after the Ottoman Caliphate was abolished in March of 1924 but was forced out of Mecca by Saudi forces within the year.  It’s less clear to me that this group will seek to extend its control—in the near term– after Lebanon and Israel and areas of Syria that are not largely Sunni.  Of course, their stated plan is to seek universal Caliphal hegemony; the text of the statement reminded the world that within 25 years of the establishment of the first Islamic state, it had defeated both massive empires of that time—the Byzantines and the Persians.

By the way, the Caliphate had been a completely symbolic role since Abbasid times—very few caliphs of the Abbasid dynasty exercised any real power from the 10th century onwards (The Abbasids were in Baghdad from the eighth through 13th centuries, and had a symbolic presence in Mamluk Egypt until 1517). In the nineteenth century, there was a growth of interest in reasserting Caliphal authority, especially in India and in some Ottoman circles; after the events of 1924 in Turkey and in the Hijaz, there was increasing thought about restoring the Caliphate. Mohandas Gandhi was even on a Caliphate committee, and there was a conference in Egypt on the subject. Although there has been much talk, and a few leaders who claimed some of the titles usually reserved to the Caliph, there were few or none who were prepared to actually assert full caliphal authority. Until today.

The full text of the pronouncement is available in English in a number of locations, for example –this website also has a few of the previous announcements of the ISIL available in translation.

It’s worth reading in full, rather than just relying on journalistic summaries of the main points.

Some of the previous announcements whose texts are on this blog:

This blog has a link to the map showing the new frontiers within the Arab world, based on the IS pronouncement: — the map is a link from 

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On the disinvitation of Ayan Hirsi Ali at Brandeis

I wrote this comment in response to a posting by Don Ellis on his blog, about the dis-invitation of Ayan Hirsi Ali to speak at Brandeis’ graduation, and present it here with nearly no editing.

I have assigned her book in an introductory Islam course, and then did not in large part because of reasoning similar to something Klein HaLevi said in an opinion piece written together with Abdullah Antepli that has been widely circulated, supporting the disinvitation , Although not the comment that is so widely quoted: Her approach to Islam is her own and not broadly representative of mainstream approaches to Islam by people born into Islam. Of course, that is why her opinions matter! 

What’s more, although there are a lot of Muslim-Jewish interactions, the collaboration of Klein Halevi and Antepli can be seen by some as not so very indicative of the broad mainstream either, and certainly reflect the realities in some segments of Israel and the USA, but rejected in many other areas.

My own reactions to the dis-invitation issue were shaped in part by dis-invitations and a presidential caving to various interests on my university campus. Klein Halevi and Antepli were right about the dis-invitation being a learning experience: I am not sure this is anything at all what he met, but the learning experience should be that Brandeis has the resources to properly vet any speaker they plan for commencement. Once having made a decision to invite her, the Brandeis administration should have been able to stand by this choice. The learning experience: don’t invite someone you will have to dis-invite, and stick by your choice or look foolish.

I am also wary of CAIR, Council for American Islamic Relations, which protested vociferously–but after all, that is what they do: protest any speaker seen as negative to Islam. With all due respect, this is something like some Jewish responses to anyone perceived as being even slightly anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. The situation at Brandeis suggests that they are much more powerful than the “Zionist lobby” that they might object to, which could not get speakers dis-invited.

HIrsi Ali is an important voice, and many of her controversial opinions about Islam are voiced by Muslims as well–many Muslims emphasize readiness for death over life, or the subservience of women or of women’s honor, and other things to which she objects–and do so saying that these are Islamic teachings.

The saddest thing about this is that there are strong Muslim voices who criticize the same things Hirsi Ali has criticized, and argue strongly for Human Rights in terms recognizable to the international community–but they are often also marginalized as well. Hirsi Ali has been more effective in her work.

I think the dis-invitation has created a great deal of interesting discussion.

But Brandeis should have vetted the speaker well enough to be able to stand up to and argue effectively against any campaign by CAIR, or not invited her in the first place. The dis-invitation has robbed Brandeis graduates of an historic opportunity to interact with a unique and important writer, thinker and activist.


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