Posts Tagged ‘Yeshivas’

New Politics’ Review of Frank Wolff’s History of the Russian/Polish Jewish Bund

May 11, 2022

I went on Google the other night to see if there were any books available on the history of the Bund, the majority Jewish socialist party of the former Russian empire and later Poland. I doubt very many people know about it apart from historians of the Jewish communities in those countries. I was therefore surprised to find that there are quite a few, in both English and Yiddish. However, one of the most informative and concise summaries of the Bund’s history is in Marvin S. Zuckerman’s review, ‘The Soul of the Bund’, of Frank Wolff’s Yiddish Revolutionaries in Migration: The Transnational History of the Jewish Labour Bund  translated by Loren Balhorn and Jan-Peter Herrmann, Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2022, paperback, 532 pp in New Politics, a magazine for the democratic Left. The review begins with a quote from Wolff’s book from Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who describes how the discovered the history of the Bund through a book about Marek Edelman, a member of the Bund and hero of the Warsaw uprising. In the book, Edelman talks about the Bund, and Cohn-Bendit states that both the Stalinists and Zionists have tried to erase it from memory. Then the review continues thus:

‘Books and monographs have been published about the Bund, in Yiddish and English, German and Polish, and in other languages. Nevertheless, Cohn-Bendit’s remarks remain relevant. To fill the still-existing broad gap in  knowledge of the Bund, before describing Frank Wolff’s book about the Bund, here are some facts that will give some notion of the “forgotten history” of the Bund.

The Bund was the first modern Jewish political party in the Russian Empire, as well as the largest social democratic movement in the entire empire. On the eve of the Second World War, it was also the strongest Jewish party in Poland.

In its early years (it was founded in 1897) the Bund achieved considerable success, attracting 40,000 supporters by 1906, making it the largest socialist group in the Russian Empire. From mid-1903 to mid-1904 the Bund held 429 political meetings, 45 demonstrations, and 41 political strikes; it issued 305 pamphlets, of which 23 dealt with the pogroms and self-defense. In 1904 the number of Bundist political prisoners reached 4,500.

In the 1930s, one hundred thousand Jewish workers belonged to Bundist unions, meaning that one-quarter of all unionized workers in Poland were led by the Bund, giving them enormous power. The Bund held the overwhelming majority in the national council of Jewish Trade Unions, which, at the end of 1921, comprised seven unions with 205 branches, and 46,000 members, and, in 1939, 14 unions with 498 branches and approximately 99,000 members.

Together with the left Labor Zionists, the Bund administered a network of secular Yiddish schools. At its peak, in the late 1920s, its TSYSHO (Tsentrale Yidishe Shul Organizatsye or Central Yiddish School Organization) maintained 219 institutions with 24,000 students, spread across 100 locations, including 467 kindergartens, 114 elementary schools, 6 high schools, 52 evening schools, and a pedagogical institute in Vilnius.

The Bund also maintained a youth organization, Tsukunft, which numbered 15,000 members on the eve of WW II, and a children’s organization, SKIF, blending scout activities, sports events, and politics; a women’s organization, YAF; and a sports organization, Morgnshtern, the largest such organization in all of Poland, Jewish or Polish.

In 1938, in the municipal elections in 89 Polish cities and towns, the Bund won 55% of the votes cast, more than all the other Jewish parties put together. The Bund thus became communal spokesmen and aggressive advocates of financial aid to all Jewish institutions, including yeshivas and religious institutions.

Most importantly, and as it relates to Frank Wolff’s book, being a member of the Bund meant you lived your life through the Bund—it was your union, your education, your church.’

The review then goes on to describe how the Bund was at the forefront of resistance to the Holocaust, and as Social Democrats, who believed in establishing socialism democratically, they were firmly opposed to the Communists. It also describes their attitude and struggle with the Zionists:

‘The Bund struggled with the Zionist movement for the hearts and minds of the Polish Jews. Looking back, one wonders how the Bund could have maintained that “There where we live (and have lived for hundreds of years), that is our country.” One forgets how chimerical the Zionist dream of a Jewish state in Palestine was. Herzl’s dictum that Palestine was “A land without people for a people without a land” was simply not true. Palestine was peopled by over 1 million Palestinians. In 1914, for example, Palestine’s non-Jews outnumbered Jews by 8 to 1.

The Bund argued that 3.2 million Polish Jews, and the other millions in Eastern Europe, would not pull up and move to Palestine. In any case, the Turks, and later the British, were not permitting Jews to enter. The practical and immediate thing to do was for the Jews in their millions to fight for their civil rights and for social democracy in the lands in which they were living, not dream of emigrating to Palestine.

It is tragically true that annihilation was the fate that befell the Polish and other East European Jews, but that same fate would have befallen the Jews of Palestine if the British army had not stopped the advance eastward of the German army with the British victory at El Alamein, Egypt. The Yishuv in Palestine would have been exterminated and with it would have perished the dream of a Jewish state in Palestine.’

The review describes the book as a social and cultural history, describing the Bund’s tactics in reaching the Jewish masses on one hand and fighting for their civil rights, against their exploitation and attacks on them by real anti-Semites. After the party’s suppression in Poland, the book follows its members as they emigrated abroad to New York and Buenos Aires.

But the Bund, although now long gone as an organisation, still exerts a powerful influence. There’s a quote from the book about Daniel Katz’s analysis of Bernie Sanders first run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Katz believed that Bernie was motivated not just by socialism – he was a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, but specifically Yiddish socialism and its tradition of fighting oppression, and especially Bund’s transnational appeal. It was this tradition that was able to enthuse and inspire millions of young Americans. The quote concludes

‘The history of the Bund as a party may have come to an end, but the effects of it cultural and political work and their unifying humanitarian yet activist spirit described here continue to matter today.’

The full review can be read at: https://newpol.org/review_of_yiddish_revolutionaries_in_migration/?msclkid=37292abbd14d11ecacf172187342a816

Bernie would have been an awesome president, and broken the mould of American politics. He genuinely seemed to understand and care about the real problems of American working people. During one of his campaign rallies in a southern community, he was approached by a woman in tears wondering how she was going to support her family. Bernie comforted her as she poured our her concerns. One supportive commenter pointed out how amazing it was that a secular Jew from the north could reach out and appeal to a southern Christian. But that’s because he genuinely championed them against the corporatist political establishment.

It’s a massive shame that Bernie didn’t win, just like Jeremy Corbyn lost over here. Because the two of them in power together would have transformed British and American politics for the better.

European Haredi Jewish Organisation Condemns Chief Rabbi’s Attack on Corbyn and Labour

November 27, 2019

Here’s a story from Mike’s blog that, as he points out, you won’t find in the mainstream press. A leading rabbi for the Haredi Jewish organisation, United European Jews, Mayer Weinberger, has written a letter on behalf of his organisation’s Executive Board condemning Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’ attack on Jeremy Corbyn. Not only does Rabbi Weinberger defend Corbyn for his support of the British Jewish community, but actually thanks him.

Mike makes the point that this shouldn’t be too surprising, as the organisation comes from the True Torah Jews, which thoroughly rejects Zionism. True Torah and Haredi Jews believe that the Jewish people should stay in exile until – and only until – the coming of the Messiah. Only he has the divine right to restore the Jewish people to their ancient homeland. Until then they are to remain and, in the words of the Hebrew Bible, ‘pray for the health of the city’. That is, they are to live as members of the nations in which they live, working and praying for their common good.

R. Weinberger writes

I write to you on behalf of the Executive Board of the United European Jews organisation regarding an unusually disturbing declaration that was … reported in the media claiming that the overwhelming majority of British Jews are “gripped by anxiety” at the prospect of a Labour victory in the forthcoming general election.

Please not that we totally reject and condemn in no uncertain terms these remarks, which [do] not represent the views of the mainstream chareidi Jews that live in the UK.

We believe that such assertions are due to propaganda with a political and ideological agenda. An agenda which, I might add, is diametrically opposed to fundamental Jewish values as well as the opinions of tens of thousands of Jews in our community.

At this time, we also relay our gratefulness for your numerous acts of solidarity with the Jewish community over many years and also welcome your assurances that Labour will do everything necessary to defend the Jewish way of life and protect our rights to practise our religion.

For all this, we take this opportunity to say: Thank you! Mr Corbyn.

R. Weinberger is quite right when says that the Chief Rabbi’s remarks are propaganda based on a political and ideological agenda. The Chief Rabbi is a Zionist, as many Chief Rabbis before him have been. He is a friend of Netanyahu and Boris Johnson, and has made comments in the past supporting the bombing of Palestinians.

Mike reminds us in his post about the letter that this should show that R. Mirvis’ claims about the opinion of British Jews towards the Labour leader are not as conclusive as the Chief Rabbi claims.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/11/27/chief-rabbis-rant-condemned-as-political-and-ideological-propaganda/

Many Jews from all walks of life and all shades of religious opinion – from secular people to members of the clergy – have written or taken to social media to express their support for Jeremy Corbyn. Earlier today Mike put up a piece on his blog  about the messages of support for Corbyn and anger and condemnation Jewish Labour supporters had posted against Chief Rabbi Mirvis’ comments.

Unafraid: Jews respond to Chief Rabbi’s (and other) claims that they fear a Corbyn Labour government

And it is a mistake to assume that the Jews have a monolithic cultural or religious identity. The Talmud is full of the debates between the great rabbis of the past regarding the interpretation of Scripture and the Law. Even minority opinions are preserved, and many of these accounts end with no conclusion having been reached. The text simply says, ‘And so they disagreed’. And I think the Jewish people also see themselves as being particularly disputatious. There’s a Jewish saying, ‘Two Jews, three opinions’. I got the impression that debate is a vital part of the teaching at the yeshivas, the rabbinical colleges, so that the students can properly learn how to interpret scripture and form correct, reasonable opinions on its observance. The I stated in its coverage of Mirvis’ comments that he represents the United Synagogue, which they claimed was the largest Jewish denomination in Britain. That may be so, but the Jewish community also includes secular Jews, who obviously aren’t represented because they don’t attend synagogue, nor Orthodox Jews. And even within the United Synagogue you can wonder how many people he really speaks for. As Tony Greenstein and other Jewish critics have pointed out in their rebuttals to the Board of Deputies’ attacks on Corbyn, not all synagogues allow women to vote or stand for election as deputies, and some haven’t changed their deputies for years. Which means that even here, Mirvis may only be speaking for a Zionist, Tory clique.

However, the British media is determined not to show Jewish support for Corbyn and the Labour party. Some of the newspapers, including supposedly left-wing journals like the Observer, have refused to publish letters from Corbyn’s Jewish supporters. There is also a similar reluctance to cover anti-Zionist, or Israel-critical Jewish opinion generally. A few years ago I put up a video on this blog of a public meeting in New York of ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist Jews. I believe they were members of ‘True Torah’. The video claimed there were 30,000 people there. I don’t know if that’s true, but it was very clear that there were very many and the meeting was huge. But it received no press or media coverage, from what the video said.

I believe this also points to one of the underlying reasons why the British and American political and media establishments have been so keen to smear Corbyn on this side of the Atlantic as an anti-Semites, and left-wing Democrats, including supporters and staffers working for Bernie Sanders. Who is himself Jewish. It is not simply a profoundly Conservative establishment trying to discredit left-wing threats to its continued dominance. It is not only because of the power of the Israel lobby in our two countries. I think it is also because Israel has played a vital part in Western great power policy in the Middle East since the days of the British Mandate. Geopolitical considerations demand that Britain supports Israel in the Middle East as a way of maintaining power and influence in the region.

And to the supporters of this policy, Corbyn is a real threat. Not because he wants the destruction of Israel, but simply because he wants an end to Israeli apartheid and a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians. A policy supported by many Jews, who feel that to be Jewish means always identifying with the oppressed, never the oppressor.

And that means making sure that the Jewish voices supporting Labour must not be allowed real coverage by our Tory press and media.

 

Young Anti-Zionist Jews Talk about their Beliefs and Activism

October 12, 2016

I’ve blogged several times in my pieces attacking Binyamin Netanyahu, the Likud party and the Israel lobby, and the anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour centre-left, that there are many very courageous Jews and Israelis, who are also strongly opposed to Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. This is another video I found on YouTube. It’s for an organisation, Young, Left and Jewish, and has the organisation’s website address at the end. In it, anti-Zionist Jewish young people describe their beliefs and activities to oppose and make people aware of the persecution of the Arabs.

One Jewish young woman describes how the trips to Israel provided by the Jewish organisations are designed to inculcate support for Israel, even going so far, if they can, to encourage Jews to immigrate there. Another young woman begins her story by telling a bit of her own family history. She is descended from two Holocaust survivors and a Nazi officer, and so is connected to both sides of the Holocaust. She shows a family photograph album, with photos of her parents and grandparents, including the tattoo of the number the Nazis’ had placed on the arms of their victims. She then describes how, on a trip to Israel, she and her friends encountered a group of Arab Israelis. She and they sat down to talk, and they discovered that they had much in common through their experiences of persecution, the Jews from the Nazis and the Arabs from the Israelis. She states that this is causing immense pain and outrage, and that this will continue for decades to come. Intercut with this bit is historical footage of Jews being herded into the cattle trucks to the death camps. Another young woman describes how she and her friends put on a play by Jews, for Jews, to explore and explain about the persecution of the Palestinians by the Israeli state. Yet another young woman tells how she heckled Ariel Sharon in order to tell ‘truth to power’.

In my posts about this issue, I’ve described the fierce hostility those Jews, who do campaign on the behalf of the Palestinians face from the Zionist establishment. Just as anti-Zionist gentiles are smeared as anti-Semites, Jews are accused of being self-hating, or ‘not proper Jews’. Or worse. Another young woman in this video talks about going to a Zionist meeting to hand round pamphlets and flyers about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. She describes how she and others like her are accused of being ‘self-hating’, or because they oppose Israel, they must somehow be in favour of terrorism or Yasser Arafat. She describes how she was cursed and spat at, with women she describes as looking like typical Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish) grandmothers raising their middle finger to her. One woman even turned away and covered her child’s eyes.
One Rabbi, R. Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun magazine, states that he has received death threat for his opinions.

The video is accompanied by a couple of pieces of traditional Jewish song.

I was particularly struck by the young woman, who found a common thread of experience through her family’s suffering under the Holocaust, and the Arab Israelis’ persecution by the Israeli state. The Palestinians refer to the destruction of their country as the Nakba, which means the ‘disaster’ or ‘catastrophe’. Amos Oz in his book, The Israelis, describes how just as the Israelis attempt to recover the history of the numerous Jewish communities destroyed in the Holocaust, so the Palestinians similarly attempt to document and trace their communities, which have been exterminated by the Israelis.

He also includes in his book accounts and statements by Israeli soldiers of their mixed feelings, including guilt and sorrow, at seeing Arabs forced off their lands and from their property. Several of them felt that it could easily have been them made to depart from their homes by an overwhelming power. It struck me that these feelings, like those of the young woman in this video, came from the collective Jewish experience of being repeatedly under attack, and forced to move on through violence, including armed force. The Holocaust is the best known, and most extreme and horrific of this, but just one example in the long persecution of the Jewish people. And some soldiers – unfortunately, not all – were bound to have profound misgivings when they found themselves ordered to do precisely the same thing to others.

Opposition to Israel and its systematic persecution of its indigenous population isn’t a simple case of anti-Semitism and Jewish self-hatred. it is a response by principled women and men to the persecution of yet another people by a colonial settler state. Very many of those who support the Palestinians against the likes of Netanyahu are sincere anti-racists, including Jews, who feel that this persecution runs counter to the teachings of their own religion. I put up a video a few days ago of a mass meeting of Orthodox Jews in New York to protest against the state of Israel and the conscription of Yeshiva students into the armed forces. One of the rabbis speaking declared that Israel was sinning by turning the Jews, a peaceful people, into a militaristic nation. He called this ‘the hands of Esau’. Oz in the Israelis also claims that the Jewish and Israeli peoples are not militaristic, giving a Yiddish word for militarism. This, translated into English, literally means, ‘the silly games of gentiles’.

Unfortunately, Israel is a highly militarised society, which has had the ethnic cleansing of the original people of Palestine as its goal from the start. If there is to be a just peace, and genuine reconciliation between Israelis and Arabs in the Middle East, it will be done by principled people like those in this video.

Video of Mass Meeting of Orthodox Jews against Israel in New York 2013

October 9, 2016

I’ve also mentioned several times in my blog posts about Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and the anti-Semitism smears, that some Orthodox Jews strongly reject Zionism and the state of Israel from religious reasons. As Sam Seder explained in a clip from the Majority Report I put up about a week ago, and a young Jewish woman, who was brutalised for heckling Binyamin Netanyahu when he addressed Congress, traditional Jewish theology considers it a sin to try to establish a Jewish state in Palestine before the coming of the Messiah.

I found this clip on YouTube of a mass meeting of 10,000 plus Orthodox Jews in New York in 2013 to condemn the state of Israel, and in particular a law by the Knesset that would force Yeshiva students – that it is, students at the Jewish religious schools and seminaries – to join the army. The speakers not only make it plain that they see the state of Israel as a blasphemy, they also bitterly resent what they see as the Israeli military’s attempt to make their young men complicit in the military’s crimes. One speaker denounces the Israel government for trying to turn Jews, a traditionally peaceful people, into a militaristic and aggressive nation – ‘the hands of Esau’.

The clip is also interesting as they quote a former Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Sonnenfeld, who refused Zionist aid for his people during a terrible famine in the 1920s. Despite the fact that his people were dying of starvation, Rabbi Sonnenfeld refused the money, as he felt it was an attempt by the Zionists to buy influence in his community. As pious, Orthodox Jews, they also pray for God to return to His people quickly, and come to dwell with them in the Holy City of Zion, as prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament.

The speeches are in Yiddish, but there is a English voiceover and subtitles.