As 2017 comes to a close and 2018 is just around the corner, it is no surprise that everywhere you look flyers and posters for parties are popping up left, right, and center.
It may seem a bit absurd for the residents of the Hebrew Yishuv in the 1930s or for modern Israelis in the 1950s and up until today, to celebrate New Year’s Eve on the 31st of December. After all, Jews have their own New Year that is celebrated like clockwork year in and year out. But Sylvester, as New Year’s Eve is commonly called by the locals in the Holy Land, is celebrated every year and New Year parties have been advertised throughout the last weeks of December for decades.
Today, like back in the good old days, you have your pick of party style!
Do you prefer dancing in a Viennese cafe… in Haifa?
Or are you into a New Year’s Eve at the lavish Dan Hotel in the 1950s? There may still be tables available!
Or perhaps a 1969 Jazz concert is more your style? Get your ticket now!
And of course, the underground Raves could also be trusted to lure you in, so you could say goodbye to the old year and bring in the new year with a bang!
Happy New Year from everyone here at the National Library of Israel!
The Jewish Soldiers of the Kaiser’s Army
12,000 Jews were killed in action serving the German Army in the First World War, but Jewish loyalty to Germany was always doubted and questioned.
Jewish soldiers in the German Army celebrate Hanukkah on the Eastern Front, 1916. Photo: Jewish Museum Frankfurt, S. Ajnwojner Collection
Many countries and nations found themselves fighting against each other during the First World War. Spread throughout these countries and nations were the Jews, citizens of their particular locales; they participated in combat and could be found fighting in the various armies throughout the Great War. Jews have always been minorities in their various countries of origin, yet their percentage in the nation’s armies was always higher than their percentage in the general population. In the same token, their efforts in the war were also greater.
Due to the fact that historically the Jewish people were a nation among many, Jews often found themselves in the absurd and tragic situation of fighting each other on opposite sides of the fence. A Jewish soldier would be standing in front of the opposing force, not knowing that a Jewish brother would be an enemy as well. Legends surrounding the meeting of fellow Jews on the battlefield emerged.
In hand-to-hand combat, Jews were known to cry the “Shema”, which notified an enemy combatant who also happened to be Jewish that their enemy was a brother, and so he would avoid a killing blow. When killing could not be avoided, the utterance of the “Shema” more than once made sure that Jewish enemy soldiers found comfort in each other in death.
The First World War was not the first armed conflict in which Jews fought beside their gentile compatriots, while their enemies included fellow Jews. In the century that preceded the First World War, Jews fought in the armies of kingdoms and Empires from all over Europe. In the New World, Jews could be found fighting for the North and the South during the American Civil War.
The Jews of Germany were quick to enlist in the army of the Kaiser, just as their French and English brothers enlisted in their armies. Almost 20% of German Jewry enlisted. Due to the tension between the anti-Semitic and the more liberal attitudes that German society held towards the Jewish people, many German Jews saw the First World War as an opportunity to prove their love and loyalty to their German homeland.
But very quickly anti-Semitic rumors spread about the Jews’ lack of patriotism and their low enlistment numbers. In October 1916, the German Military High Command announced a Judenzählung, “A Jewish Count”, to find out and report if the claims were true. The results of the report were never published and rumors continued unabated. It was in this atmosphere that Otto Armin (whose real name was Alfred Roth) published the so-called report and its results, claiming it proved that Jews avoided enlistment.
But the anti-Semitic language of the publication reveals Otto Armin’s slanderous intent.
Some 100,000 Jews served in the German Army throughout the First World War. 12,000 were killed in action, and no less than 35,000 received medals and accolades.
Despite all that, the rumors and doubt regarding the German Jewish contribution to the War effort never really died down and was an essential part of Nazi propaganda, years before the Nazis took over Germany.
1695: What Is Missing from the Young German’s Medical Diploma?
It is unusually beautiful, but a small detail is missing from the diploma Capilius son of Yosef Piktor received.
In 1695, Capilius son of Yosef Piktor completed his medical and philosophy studies (which was a general name for sciences at the time) in the Padua University in Italy. In December of that year he was awarded a certificate attesting to completion of his studies – a magnificent diploma formed like a booklet and comprised of three sheets of parchment illustrated and decorated with many colors and figures.
Apart from an illustration of Piktor’s birthplace (Bingen in Germany), the diploma is missing an important detail related to its recipient’s identity – the new doctor’s Jewish status. Even the name the doctor is mentioned by is simply a Christian-Latin name given to him – apparently in order to register for studies. His true name was Yaacov Mahler.
What was the reason behind this peculiar omission?
Testimonies from the fourth century CE onward reveal an interesting fact about Italian history: the presence of Jewish doctors. Specific Popes periodically forbid Jews from being accepted to study medicine in Italy, or prevented the Jewish doctors from treating Christian patients, but the presence of medically-educated Jews on the Italian Peninsula, or of Jews from various European communities (such as Mahler) who studied medicine in Italian universities, was a permanent fixture. The medical profession – every stereotypical Jewish mother’s dream – was one of the only professions available to Italian Jewry, despite requiring long years of education and training.
The dignified diploma Yaacov Mahler received reveals something about the ambivalence and perhaps even discomfort of the Christian majority when dealing with the existence of Jewish doctors in Italy: young Jews were permitted to study medicine and to work in it in their communities, but for as long as they studied in a Christian university – they must adopt a suitable Christian name and discard any external signs of their Judaism.
Moving Testimony: A Prayer from the Anusim of the Communist Revolution
A rare manuscript reveals that even in the midst of Soviet oppression there were Jews who insisted on preserving a remnant of their ancestors' faith.
A Yizkor prayer written by a Soviet Jew on the blank pages of a printed book
As soon as the Soviet revolution tightened its grip throughout the vast expanses of the Tsarist Empire, upon whose ruins it arose, many believing Jews were forced to abandon the faith of their forefathers and declare their uncompromising loyalty to the values of the Revolution. Many did so willingly, confident in the limitless possibilities the Soviet Union offered them. Others did so reluctantly and from a lack of choice. A significant minority of Jews decided to secretly uphold the principles of the religion which they gradually found themselves forgetting.
A study of the manuscript reveals that Hebrew was not a language this anonymous Jew was used to writing, and the prayer is replete with spelling mistakes. This fact strengthens our hypothesis that the prayers were written from memory and not copied from written text – which would have constituted a grave crime at the time.
Our attempts to date the manuscript were unsuccessful. We know that the book itself was printed in Gomel, a city which boasted a Jewish community from at least the 16th century. The Wehrmacht captured the city in August 1941. Most of the Jews of Gomel were evacuated before the invasion by the retreating Red Army. The 4,000 Jews who remained in the city were murdered by the Nazis.
Does this fact provide proof that the prayer was written before the Second World War? This could well be the case. However, we do know that a small number of Jews who survived the horrific war returned to Gomel at its end, and one of them may be the author of the manuscript.
The article was written in collaboration with the Manuscript Department and the Institute of Microfilmed Manuscripts.