Jerusalem Post January 31, 2016
By DANIELLE ZIRI
A tribute to Rabbi Allan Levine, who fought for civil rights in the segregated US South.
RABBI ALLAN LEVINE’S mug shot, after being arrested for an
anti-segregation protest in Mississippi in 1961. . (photo credit:MDAH)
New York – In the early seventies, Ori Levine, then about 13 years old, was having dinner with his family at a restaurant in Jaffa when suddenly a woman ran past the restaurant in a panic. Seconds later, they understood why: She was being chased by a man with a knife.
In an instant, Ori’s father, Rabbi Allan Levine, jumped up from his chair and began running after the man.
The family was in shock.
Ori’s brother, Arie, also ran after their father, calling him to come back. As he turned the corner, Arie saw the woman backed up against a wall and, in order to protect her, their father had placed himself between her and the knife-wielding man, his hands up in the air.
“He just put himself in between them,” Ori said. “My brother didn’t know what to do. It’s a situation in which you don’t know what to do.”
But after a moment that felt like hours, the woman escaped in one direction, the man went in another and Ori Levine’s father went back to the dinner table.
“Why am I telling you this story? Because that was my father,” Ori told The Jerusalem Post, as he was sitting shiva for his father, who died last week at the age of 81 after battling Alzheimer’s. “The shiva is important, but telling his story is even more important to me.”
Rabbi Allan Levine lived his life trying to find ways to help others. He was born in Montreal in 1932 to a poor family that was very much affected by the 1929 Great Depression.
“He was also living in a neighborhood where there weren’t many Jews and so he suffered from anti-Semitism as a child,” his son explained.
In 1955, after studying political science, Levine moved to Israel to study Hebrew at an ulpan. That was where he met his wife. After getting married in Israel, the couple immigrated to the United States.
“In the US my dad decided he was going to rabbinical school in Cincinnati,” Ori said. “And during his studies, my father made a fundamental decision that Judaism aims to make the world into a better and more moral place.
Everyone can say that, but to make it actually happen is a different story.”
In May 1961, Levine turned on his television and was exposed to something that would later become a defining part of his life.
The news aired a report about the first Freedom Riders, a group of civil rights activists who rode interstate buses in mixed racial groups into the segregated South of the United States to challenge the discrimination.
The rabbi was moved. In the days that followed, he called the Congress of Racial Equality, which was the body organizing and sponsoring the Freedom Riders’ activities.
After speaking to James Farmer, the director of the organization, Levine was assigned his first mission: gather a group of religious leaders and ride down to Jackson, Mississippi, to protest segregation.
After arriving at its destination, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sent part of the group to Washington to meet with then US attorney-general Robert Kennedy, and Levine was charged with taking the remaining group of mixedrace clergy to the Jacksonville Airport. The goal was to eat together at the airport’s dining facilities, which were segregated.
But at the airport, Levine’s group was greeted by the Jackson Police Department, whose officers arrested and briefly jailed them.
“They got a sentence but it was never enforced,” Levine’s son explained.
After the arrest, James Farmer wrote to Levine, in a letter that his son proudly reads from now: “Your participation has made this the most exciting and influential civil rights struggle of the decade.
We made the decision to be Freedom Riders, and now we are challenged to continue the ride.”
Ori said, “There is an historical mistake made in remembering this struggle… Martin Luther King was the symbol of the movement because he was the most charismatic, but the person who actually managed everything was James Farmer.”
Since that first ride to Mississippi, Levine was an active Freedom Rider. For four years he participated in many trips to the South, until 1965.
“My father received a lot of publicity, but without his name ever being mentioned,” his son told the Post. “No one knew who he was.”
Ori’s father was in fact photographed in what later became one of the most famous pictures of the civil rights movement. It shows an African-American woman, Amelia Boynton Robinson, an important activist of the time, being carried by a group of men after having been severely beaten by police during the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” confrontation at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.
In the forefront of the photograph is Rabbi Allan Levine, holding Robinson’s legs in his right arm and a newspaper in his left. In his mouth, a cigar and on his head, a kippa. The picture has been hanging on the wall of the family’s home in Rehovot for years.
“Every time he went to the South he made sure to always wear his kippa,” Ori recalled.
“He wanted people to know that he is a Jew who came to fight for their rights.”
“He actually wrote this, it’s not something I am inventing,” Ori told the Post. “It was important for him that everyone knew that Jews fight for the rights of weaker people.”
As he sat shiva for his father, Ori said he knows that he will never reach the level of morality his father had.
“It is such a high place to be in, human beings don’t even get close to it,” he said. “At the end of the day what we look for in life are things that are close to us. The things we do are a result of our personal interests.”
“That is normal, it is the norm,” he continued. “But my father was never interested in fame or money, or ego… He lived his entire life like this.”
When his father started getting sick, Ori began to look into the documents Levine kept from his time as a Freedom Fighter and to connect them to the stories he had heard from his father as a child.
“What is most amazing in my eyes is that a young Jew, with two small children at home, decides to just go and fight for the rights of people who he doesn’t know, who are not part of his community, and who he is not even close to geographically,” he said. “He also went knowing he was risking his life. At the time, in 1961, there were people who were killed or who disappeared in the South. It was no picnic.”
Today, Ori explained he is not looking for any prizes or recognition for his father’s actions. He doesn’t even want his father to be publicly honored in any way, because, “He wasn’t a man who looked for these things.”
“I just want him to be remembered in history as the man he really was,” he said.
“His legacy was that the mission of a man who wants to be a religious spiritual leader is not to just talk. His mission is to act for improving the world.”
Obama’s ‘We are all Jews’ speech an appeal to liberal democratic values
Jerusalem Post January 28, 2016
By Michael Wilner
At Israel’s embassy, Obama offers a deeper, less political, truly gallant explanation of the imperative democracies prescribe to protect Jewish peoples worldwide.
(To watch President Obama’s incredibly moving and truly unforgettable remarks
at the Righteous Among Nations Award Ceremony click HERE [26 minutes])
Washington – Three days before Israel’s embassy in Washington was set to host its first-ever address by a sitting American president, its staff faced a tall order: Digging out from an historic blizzard that buried the complex under 30 inches of snow.
The plan had been to erect a heated tent outside of Jerusalem Hall, the embassy’s main event space, where US President Barack Obama was to speak in honor of four Americans posthumously declared Righteous Among the Nations: Non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.
Not only would this be the first time a president has addressed the embassy (former president Bill Clinton visited, but did not speak). It also would be the first time this distinction– the highest honor offered to non-Jews by the Jewish state– was to be awarded on American soil.
So ten able-bodied staffers– including Israel’s ambassador himself, Ron Dermer– shoveled the square to prepare for the event, attended by the families of those honored, and by some of those they saved; by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, and by Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Senator Bob Corker of New Jersey; and by several Jewish community leaders from Israel and the US.
Dermer also wrote his own remarks himself, touched by the stories of the four recipients: Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, Lois Gunden, Walery and Maryla Zbijewski.
“After Adam and Eve disobey God in the Garden of Eden, we read that they hide in shame as they hear God’s voice. Ayeka, ‘where are you?’ God asks,” Dermer said, noting the question is the first God asks in the Hebrew Bible. “The sages of the Jewish people teach us that ‘Where are you’ is not a question God is asking for His sake. It is a question God is asking for our sake.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust were not the victims of an earthquake, a hurricane or some other random natural disaster that would understandably turn our eyes to the heavens for answers,” he said. “The six million Jews killed in the Holocaust were murdered by other human beings– by human beings who had a choice. So perhaps the question, ‘where are you?,’ Ayeka– a question that so many asked God during the holocaust and which so many of us have been asking God ever since– is not a question for us to ask God, but a question for God to ask us.”
“Where was man during the Holocaust?,” Dermer continued. “Where was the moral compass of the millions who simply looked the other way as the Nazis and their army of willing executioners perpetrated such monstrous evil? Rather than honestly confront this damning question, people instead tried to excuse their inaction.”
The packed hall was then told of the deeds of each recipient: An American teacher who convinced French Jewish parents to give up their children to save their lives; A couple which put their lives at risk in occupied Warsaw to house Jewish children whose names they never knew; And a US sergeant who, in German captivity, refused to allow his captors to separate out Jews from non-Jewish prisoners.
“We are all Jews,” Edmonds told his captors.
Over the spring and summer of 2015– both before and after reaching a landmark nuclear deal with Iran in July– Obama engaged in extensive outreach to the American Jewish community. Visiting Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, he declared himself an “honorary member of the tribe.” He offered interviews with American Jewish outlets. The message was political: That the president understood, and indeed empathized with the Jewish community and its international concerns, despite his administration’s public differences with the Israeli government.
Already he had visited Yad Vashem twice, the camp at Buchenwald once, and the Holocaust Museum recently to show his daughters the horror– “because our children must know this chapter of our history, and that we must never repeat it,” he said on Wednesday.
At Israel’s embassy, Obama offered a deeper, less political, truly gallant explanation of the imperative democracies prescribe to protect Jewish peoples worldwide. “We are all Jews,” he declared, “because anti-Semitism is a distillation, an expression of an evil that runs through so much of human history– and if we do not answer that, we do not answer any other form of evil.”
“We hear their stories, and we are forced to ask ourselves, under the same circumstances, how would we act?,” the president said.
Diverging from his prepared remarks, echoing the ambassador, he asked: “How would we answer God’s question, ‘where are you?'”
“We’re called to live in a way that shows that we’ve actually learned from our past,” Obama said. “And that means rejecting indifference. It means cultivating a habit of empathy, and recognizing ourselves in one another; to make common cause with the outsider, the minority, whether that minority is Christian or Jew, whether it is Hindu or Muslim, or a nonbeliever; whether that minority is native born or immigrant; whether they’re Israeli or Palestinian.”
“It means taking a stand against bigotry in all its forms,” he added, “and rejecting our darkest impulses and guarding against tribalism as the only value in our communities and in our politics.”
Obama was offered to speak at the event during President Reuven Rivlin’s visit in November, according to senior administration officials. “The president wanted to participate given his strong belief that we must never forget the lessons of the Holocaust and always stand up against anti-Semitism, intolerance and hatred in all of its forms,” said one official. “He was happy to be part of an event that honors those who lived these values.”
Another, acknowledging the president’s storied history with the American Jewish community, said the president’s poignant speech reflects where he has always stood.
“What the president said tonight is what he has always believed,” another senior administration official said. “In the midst of the Iran debate, some of our critics attempted to conflate policy disagreements over the Iran deal with this Administration’s– and this president’s– support for Israel. His remarks at the Israeli Embassy were a stark reminder that, despite narrow disagreements, this president’s attachment and commitment to Israel and its people is unshakeable.”
Indeed, the speech largely veered from politics– delivered on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the president did not specifically call out one nation or another for its denial of the event. But he did categorically condemn double standards faced by Israel in the international community.
“When voices around the world veer from criticism of a particular Israeli policy to an unjust denial of Israel’s right to exist, when Israel faces terrorism, we stand up forcefully and proudly in defense of our ally, in defense of our friend, in defense of the Jewish State of Israel,” he said. “It would be a fundamental moral failing if America broke that bond.”
Regardless of their own politics, those in attendance roundly expressed satisfaction with the president’s speech. “I thought his remarks could not have been better. They were very good, and they were heartfelt,” Corker said after the event.
“It was a very important message,” Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, chairman of Yad Vashem, said, “not only to the state of Israel, but to the Jewish people.”
Dermer offered Obama a gift upon receiving him at the Embassy: A book titled, “And Every Single One Was Someone,” in which “Jew” is written 6,000,000 times. And each recipient’s family was awarded a framed certificate of honor, from Yad Vashem, as well as a complementary medal.
Introducing the president was famed director Steven Spielberg, credited for his work in memorializing the story of one Righteous Among the Nations honoree– Oskar Schindler– in the 1993 film bearing his name.
“The president’s support is needed and appreciated more than ever,” Spielberg said, thanking his “good friend” for his administration’s efforts in the fight against rising anti-Semitism worldwide.
The director– who has long said the Shoah was the story he was born to tell– called on the audience to listen closely to the stories of those honored.
“They can help us find our voices,” he said.
Our thoughts are with all of the victims who are mentioned in the following Wikipedia description:
“International Holocaust Remembrance Day, is an international memorial day on 27 January commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. It commemorates the genocide that resulted in the death of an estimated 6 million Jews, 2 million Roma, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. It was designated by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/7 on 1 November 2005 during the 42nd plenary session.The resolution came after a special session was held earlier that year on 24 January 2005 during which the United Nations General Assemblymarked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the end of the Holocaust.”
We are especially focused on Bill’s Aunt Elsbeth who spent time in Ravensbrück labor camp and the factory at Neustadt/Glewe, a sub-camp of Ravensbrück. Click HERE for 1/25/16 detailed article on the camp entitled “FORCED ABORTIONS AND MEDICAL EXPERIMENTS: LAST SURVIVORS OF NAZI WOMEN’S CAMP TELL THEIR HORROR STORIES.” Below is a chart showing Elsbeth’s unfathomable wartime experiences with her first husband Robert Gerst, who was tragically murdered 6 weeks after he entered Auschwitz. He remains a powerful memory for us. Click HERE to see photos of Elsbeth and Robert.
On this day, it is our hope and prayer NEVER NEVER AGAIN!
Thank you for your continued interest,
Harriet and Bill
The unforgettable correspondence below reveals the abysmal situation the refugees experienced before Bill’s family arrived in Haiti in 1939, a few months after Kristallnacht.
To read this and additional letters in their original translated form click HERE
The distance from Port-au-Prince, in Haiti, to New York is only 1,684 miles and from Port-au-Prince to Jerusalem it’s a more formidable 6,494 miles. It might as well be a million miles from both cities. Haiti was far off most of the world’s radar, including most of the Jewish world’s, until January 12, 2010 when disaster struck.
But key Jewish/Israeli responders that provided help included the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), IsraAID, World ORT, American Jewish World Service (AJWS) and Tevel B’Tzedek. They all played a role in the immediate aftermath and have continued to demonstrate a long-term commitment to Haiti.
Why is Haiti a Jewish/ Israeli Cause Anyway?
Given the large scale of assistance by Israeli and Jewish committed to the assistance of the Haitian people, it rather begs the question, why is Haiti a Jewish problem in the first place? The JDC is able to give some insight as to perhaps a historical meeting between Haiti and the Jewish world, in that, as Judy Amit, the global director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s international development program, explains, “Haiti played a critical role in saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust period.” She also notes that gratitude is owed to Haiti for “its vote for the creation of the State of Israel.” Amit, however notes that neither of these facts “was the main motivator of our response, but they serve as an invaluable lesson of our interconnectedness and responsibility to one another at the toughest of times.”
To read more CLICK HERE
Today while working on the blog, we received the very sad news that Edgar Rosenberg had passed away unexpectedly and we feel a tremendous sense of loss. The family of Edgar and his brother Harry were friends of Bill’s family in Fürth Germany and neighbors in Port-au-Prince Haiti. Bill was 4 years old, Harry 10 and Edgar 13 when they shared a new life in the safe haven of Haiti.
Edgar (13) (left) and Harry (10) holding up the branch of a tree
after an earthquake in Port-au-Prince (1939)
We truly cherish every moment we shared with both brothers. Harry died in January 2013. In their own unique way, they contributed so much to the blog and were a continuous source of inspiration. Click HERE to go to their shared Tikkun Olam Award.
Bill (4) en-route
from Haiti to the U.S.
Edgar’s writings are among the most frequently accessed material on the blog:
“Vanishing Acts” (story), Commentary 1982
“Hitler Over My Head” (story), Midstream, 1999
To learn about Edgar’s education and outstanding professional background as well as extensive published writings click HERE.
Harriet and Bill
Jerusalem Post November 30, 2015
By By NOA AMOUYAL
Despite experiencing severe economic turmoil in the aftermath of its 2010 earthquake, Haiti is far from a lost cause, actor Sean Penn says in Tel Aviv.
Often the denizens of Hollywood are mocked for the various humanitarian pet projects they take on, with many accusing said celebrities of being disingenuous.
But when it comes to humanitarian relief work, actor Sean Penn is nothing but sincere.
That candid passion was on full display when he earnestly spoke on behalf of his NGO, J/P Haitian Relief Organization, about its relief efforts in Haiti at a conference coordinated in conjunction with IsraAID and the Pratt Foundation.
“Our mission was to spend a few weeks in Haiti as a 24/7 delivery service for drugs for the hospitals that needed them,” Penn told the audience in Tel Aviv on Monday, explaining his initial plans when he arrived in the country torn apart by carnage and destruction in the aftermath of its 2010 earthquake.
The NGO’s mission quickly transcended that singular purpose and became a significant organization providing long-term relief to the victims.
As part of its work, J/P HRO worked closely with IsraAID to establish a child education center in the Petionville refugee camp, in Port-au-Prince.
To read more click HERE