Shelomo Alfassa: March 2008 Archives

Jerusalem Post
P.O.B. 81, Jerusalem
Israel 91000
Tel: 972-2-531-5621

RE: Erroneous history of the Hurva synagogue and the Jewish community of old Jerusalem

Dear Editor,

I was very happy to hear that the Hurva was being rebuilt! But the way the article in the Jerusalem Post was written, did a disservice to the topic.

Please consider this letter a complaint against the Jerusalem Post's article "Hurva Synagogue restoration nears completion," published March 28, 2008. This article contains revisionism. It contains blatant marginalization of the Sephardic citizens of old Jerusalem, while aggrandizing Ashkenazi Jewish history of the same location. Specific statements mentioned in the article with clarifications below:

1) "[The Hurva Synagogue] was a focal point of Jewish spiritual and cultural life in Jerusalem."

It may have been a focal point, but only for the Lithuanian Ashkenazi Jews, and only for a limited number of years. The Sephardic community, the first developed community in Jerusalem, (and when we talk about Jerusalem we are certainly only talking about Jerusalem as it existed within the Old City walls), remained distinct and possessed its own focal point and spiritual center. The center of the Sephardi Jews was the 'Kal Grande', the synagogue which is today referred to as the 'Yohanan Ben Zakkai' in the area of the 'Four Sephardi Synagogues.'

2) "The Hurva once served as Jerusalem's main synagogue, and became the largest, grandest and most important synagogue in the Land of Israel."

This is not correct. It may have served as Jerusalem's main synagogue, but it did only for a division of Ashkenazi Jews. It was absolutely never a universal center for all of Jerusalem's Jews. The much larger Sephardic community had nothing to do with the Hurva, except for high level communal and social events. On these occasions, the Hahambashi, the Chief Rabbi of Palestine, (who was always Sephardic) would be in attendance.

3) "Following its construction in 1864, the Hurva was the tallest building in the congested Jewish Quarter, its dome and that of the quarter's other main synagogue - Tifereth Yisrael"

While the Hurva was tall, it did not measure as the tallest. 'Kal Grande' (the Yohanan Ben Zakkai synagogue), may be the tallest. Yet, because it was built below ground (you have to walk down to enter), it has been marginalized. It was built below ground, because it is much older than the Hurva, and at the time it was built, the Jews of Jerusalem were predominately Sephardic and they adhered to oppressive Islamic law which mandated that no synagogue was built taller than a mosque. If you measure base to peak, you will find a difference.

4) "For the next 84 years, the structure became a center of Jewish spiritual and cultural activity, first under Ottoman and then under British rule."

Yes, it did become a center, but only--for the Lithuanian Ashkenazi community.

5) "Until the 1930s, most of the important events of the pre-state Jewish community in Israel took place in the Hurva."

This is pure revisionism. The pre-State Jewish community was led by the majority, and they were the Sephardic Jews, members of the 'va'ad haedah hasefaradit bi'yrusalayim,' the Sephardic Community Council of Jerusalem. From the mid 18th - early 20th century, ceremonial events took place in the 'Kal Grande', (the Yohanan Ben Zakkai synagogue), the largest active synagogue of the largest communal group.

6) "The goal was to make the Hurva synagogue not simply a place of worship but a center for world Jewry as it once was."

The Hurva was never a center for world Jewry. Calling the Hurva a "center for world Jewry" is a falsehood. It existed as the largest non-Hassidic Ashkenazi synagogue, one that was used late in its life, much after the Ashkenazim started to build their population in Jerusalem.

After reading this Jerusalem Post story, one may get the sense that there was no Jews in Jerusalem before the Lithuanian Ashkenazim arrived. It is strange, but in some ways, the article lends support to the belief that the Jews came late to Jerusalem and took it from the Arabs. In a world where we are facing Islamic revisionists claiming that Jews took over Palestine--and that there were no Jews in the land prior to the development of the modern State, we must ensure that the narrative is clear that Jews indeed lived in the land, even if some only want to examine Jewish history focusing on selective groups and their falsely magnified histories.

Shelomo Alfassa

Author of the book: "A Window Into Old Jerusalem."

and the paper: "Sephardic Contributions To The Development of The State Of Israel."
(Part of the 'Zionist Timelines' and the 'Israel at 60' program of the Jewish Agency for Israel.)

By Shelomo Alfassa

As this goes to print, the 7th annual session of the United Nations Human Rights Council is taking place in Geneva, and already, by the second day into the week-long session, Israel is being pummeled by Iranian propaganda meant to sway public opinion against the Jewish state.

In an address to the President of the UN Council, Ms. Meirav Eilon Shahar, speaking on behalf of the government of Israel, recalled for the record, factual episodes of incitement to commit genocide by the Iranian government, something which is an international crime. Shahar called upon the UN to address the fact that leaders of the Iranian Revolution Guard were quoted on 19 February 2008 saying, "In the near future we will use the destruction of the cancerous tumor, Israel, by the powerful and competent hand of Hezbollah fighters." She then read a quote from 16 February 2008 where the Commander of the General Staff of the Iran Armed Forces called upon and urged the "Combatants of Lebanon and Palestine Islamic Resistance to continue their struggle until the complete destruction of the Zionist regime."

In her final words to the Council, the Israeli representative quoted the President of Iran who in February of 2008 stated, "World powers have created a black and dirty microbe named the Zionist regime and have unleashed it like a savage animal on the nations of the region." Ahmadinejad had made these remarks at a rally that was broadcast on state television. The Israeli representative asked how could the UN allow one member state threaten the destruction of another member state. She asked if these statements would be addressed.

Representing Iran, Asadollah Eshragh Jahromi replied to "The Israeli Regime," in a tirade of deceit. He said the "Israeli Regime" was at the UN to launch a series of baseless and distorted accusations against Iran in an effort to try to, "Divert attention from the ongoing atrocities in the occupied Palestinian territories." The Iranian representative stated that the "Israeli Regime" is committing aggression, occupation and daily attacks against women and children in occupied Palestine. He declared that Israel is constituting a "severe breach" of all international human rights laws, and is committing "vivid examples of genocide and holocaust" of an oppressed people.

In an allotted one minute response, Mr. Tibor Shalev-Schlosser, of the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations in Geneva called the Iranian representative, "a Wolf that is crying for help," and that Iran was making a cynical attempt to try to, "Excuse the inexcusable." He stated Iran was deliberately distorting reality, and that Iran has violated the UN Charter when it calls, repeatedly, for the destruction of another UN member state. In a daring statement directed at the Iranian representative, Shalev-Schlosser advised that it would be better if the Iranian delegate "remained silent."

The UN Human Rights Council is meeting from March 3-28 2008 in Geneva, Switzerland. Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) is among the various international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) which are testifying before the Council. As Israel stands up for it's Jewish citizens, JJAC plans to raise the subject of the (long ignored) plight of the 850,000 Jews displaced from Arab countries.


Shelomo Alfassa is the US Director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries

by Shelomo Alfassa / Purim 5768

Purim has long been a holiday on which merriment and frivolity has been welcomed within the walls of the synagogue. On Purim, in most of today's synagogues, you will encounter a certain amount of boisterous hissing, banging, stamping and rattling during the public reading of the Megillah (Book of Esther), at the mention of the evil Haman or his sons. Even so, the custom of making noise to drown out / scare away or 'blot out' evil (in this case an evil name) is one firstly of pagan origin and does not have its foundation from within the Jewish world.

In some Jewish (and non-Jewish) academic circles, the story of Queen Esther is not universally accepted as history, and some go as far as supposing that the story of Queen Esther was developed to explain the festival of Purim. One opinion indicates that the beating and noise making that takes place on Purim, originally had nothing to do with Haman...

The full 2900 word essay is here:
by Shelomo Alfassa

I read with silent somberness about the passing of France's last surviving veteran of WWI, an Italian immigrant who fought in the trenches with the Foreign Legion, a man that died at the age of 110. What a life this man must have had, one that started in 1897!

As a very patriotic person who frequently attended parades and military events growing up, I recall many WWI survivors in attendance, but today, we have less then five living WWI vets left in the USA. Now that France lost their last, it makes you wonder if there are even a dozen men left world wide. That got me thinking of my great uncle, he too was a WWI vet.

My uncle Chelibi "Charlie" Yerushalmi was born on the Turkish Island of Rhodes. In 1912 Italian troops took the island over with the rest of the Dodecanese Islands. The Italians later demolished the houses that were built on and around the old city walls during the Ottoman era. They also turned the Jewish and Turkish cemeteries into an international 'green zone' surrounding the old Medieval Town. The Italians then destroyed all Ottoman buildings. During the Italian period, uncle Chelibi (a Turkish name of honor commonly used by both Turks and Jews), departed Italian occupied Rhodes for France via Italy, where he settled in Bordeaux. There, among the fertile green countryside, he met the daughter of a French winemaker, but it was not to last. He voluntarily joined the Armee de Terre, the French army, during World War One, and went on to battle in the Great War.

Upon his discharge, he migrated to New York City, moving to the great Spanish speaking Sephardic community on the East Side (today, known as the "Lower" East Side), which existed in the general area around Broome, Allen, Delancy, Chrystie and Eldridge streets. He eventually found work as a baker through FDR's 'Works Progress Administration' (WPA), which sought to find people gainful employment. He later moved to the Bronx like many Sephardim did. In his old age, he spent some of his time looking out the window at the streets below. His brother Sam (Shelomo), also from Rhodes, and his sister-in-law Rosa (from Turkey), would often come to visit him from Williamsburg, Brooklyn (another place many Sephardim lived). Today, uncle Chelibi eternally rests in the Brotherhood League of Rhodes plot located in the beautiful Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Queens, New York.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Shelomo Alfassa in March 2008.

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