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Book details how Allies fooled Hitler about invasion

July 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Operation Mincemeat, by Ben Macintyre. Bloomsbury,  2010, 402 pages.
By David Strom

David Strom

SAN DIEGO — Two young British brothers fought against the Nazis during WWII. Both, Ewen and Ivor, worked for intelligence agencies. One served in the British secret service while the other, it was reported, may have been a spy for the Soviet Union. Ivor had two main passions. One was his strong belief in the values of Soviet Communism. His other major attraction was table tennis, a new “sport/hobby” that he worked hard at promoting. Ewen worked to defeat the Nazis through his British intelligence work. His courageous work as a spy was instrumental in shortening the European war.
 
On January 26, 1943 Glyndwr Michael was found dead. He presumably died from drinking rat poison. No one seemed to notice or care about his death. There were no inquiries made about the cause or circumstances of his dying. No one in his family came forward to claim his body. He was a forgotten human being-until the British intelligence learned of his death.
 
Two British spy agents, Charles Cholmondeley and Ewen Montagu, had been hatching a plan to foil the Nazi war machine. The game plan, which was initially conceived by Cholmondeley, was unique and highly ingenious. It was put into operation mainly through the office of Ewen and the M16-British Intelligence. The two men worked closely together to get the plan approved by the spy agency and the British government. Prime Minister Churchill even gave the plan his blessing. 
 
Montagu and Cholmondeley were the principal leaders in the plot to drop a body, supposed that of an ill-fated spy, near the coast of southern Spain in April of 1943. These two worked in cramped quarters with nine or ten others, both men and women. All of them played a role in outwitting the Nazis. Getting a body to drop into the coastal waters off Spain was no easy task. What family would donate a loved one to be used as a decoy and floated into enemy or neutral territory without a proper burial? The dead man had relatives and yet, no one in the government tried to locate them or inform the family of the death of Glyndwr Michael. The use of the body and taking it out of the country was illegal according to British law. With the help of an undertaker, with the intelligence agency skirting the intent of the law pertaining to transportation of a corpse out of the country, M16 was able to carry out this very risky war-time adventure.
 
With corpse “in hand,” Cholmondeley and Montagu’s plan moved forward. They created a fictitious person. They gave that person a name-William Martin as well as a made-up family, including a fiancé-Pam. They created a backdrop of an historically grounded human being born into royalty and wealth which gave credibility to their fictional spy.
 
Montagu delighted in his creation of William Martin of the Royal Marines. In Montagu’s small cramped space, the war office assigned a very beautiful and single Jean Leslie. She became the poster child for Pam, William Martin’s fiancé. Jean, single and beautiful, and Ewen, a lonely married man whose wife and family were in the United States at the time, became “involved.” The two took on the created personalities of their fictionalized spy and his lover in their real life adventure to deceive the Nazis. (When the body of William Martin was placed in the cold water off of Spain, the real life adventures of Ewen and Jean came to an end.)
 
Early in April 30, 1943, a young American Navy captain took the frozen corpse from its container and dropped it into the water about 1600 yards off the city of Huelva on the Atlantic coast of southern Spain. Not long afterwards a fisherman retrieved the body, took it ashore and called the local Spanish authorities.
 
Attached to the badly decomposed British-uniformed body were love letters from Pam, a locked briefcase, and important messages to high-ranking personnel about the pending Allied invasion of Europe. All of this material was surveyed and inspected by Spanish authorities and then quickly given over to the Abwehr (Nazi military intelligence) in Madrid. The Abwehr examined the letters and learned that the allied forces that were massing in North Africa were preparing to attack Sardinia and the Greek Peloponnesus. According to the letter found on the corpse, Sicily was to be used as a decoy for the planned landing area. Finally, after the Nazi secret service was done copying the information, the material was handed over to the British consulate. The British hoped the Nazis took seriously what was in the notes taken from the corpse of William Martin. They needed to divert the attention of the Nazi military from the intended landing in Sicily;
 
The British consul quickly arranged a proper burial service & buried William Martin’s body, even placing a headstone to deter anyone from digging up and examining the body, yet again.
 
Of course, the Abwehr sent all of the made-up espionage and battle strategies information to Berlin, believing it to be important to the outcome of the war. There, the German general staff discussed the plausibility of the information. Some accepted it as legitimate while others were more skeptical. But the key actor in this drama and the most important in the decision-making equation was Hitler. He believed the doctored information discovered on the dead British officer that washed upon the Spanish coastal waters. That was enough.

Hitler quickly gave the order to dispatch a military division. General Rommel and the Nazi troops were dispatched to reinforce the Greek peninsula against an attack that never materialized. At the time that Hitler ordered the troops to Greece, his armies had suffered major defeats in North Africa and Stalingrad. They were currently fighting a major battle with the Soviets and might have won an important victory against Soviets, but the diverted division to Greece, against his generals’ recommendations, may have cost the Nazis an important victory that could have, possibly, stopped the Soviet Armies advances into western Europe.  
 
The allies invaded Sicily and opened a second front against the Nazis in Europe. The ingenious plan of Cholmondeley and Montagu had worked. They saved thousands of lives and, possibly, shortened the war. All of this is refreshingly told by Ben Macintyre in Operation Mincemeat: The True Story That Changed the Course of World War II. This spy story was made into the monetarily successful movie The Man Who Never Was.
 
It wasn’t until 1997 that the British government finally changed the cemetery tombstone in Huelva, Spain and added this sentence to its base: “Glyndwr Michael, served as Major William Martin, RM.”

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Strom is professor emeritus of education at San Diego State University

Book Review: Tracing Jewish influences on Michelangelo

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo’s Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican, Benjamin Blech and Roy Dolinger. HarperOne, New York, 2008. 320 pages.

By David Strom

David Strom

SAN DIEGO — Over the years as a reader and book reviewer, I have focused my interests mainly on nineteenth and twentieth century history. Most of that interest is focused on the Jewish people in the European, American, and Middle-Eastern areas. I have never read nor been too interested in learning about the Sistine Chapel. However, I am now glad I picked up and read this extraordinary book on the secrets of the Sistine Chapel because of the insights it has given me into the impact of Judaism on the work of the great artist, Michelangelo.

What can a well written and thoroughly researched book do for the reader? In the case of the Sistine Secrets it excited me enough to want to visit the Sistine, a place I never gave much thought to or had a desire to see. It has awakened an untapped interest in the sculpture of Michelangelo, his political thoughts, his religious beliefs, and the important ideals he stood for and fought for through his life and his art. The Sistine Secrets informs readers about the struggle to make religion understandable and accessible to the “person in the street.”

As a young boy from the mountains, Michelangelo came under the watchful eye of Lorenzo de’ Medici, who was often called Lorenzo the Magnificent. In 1489, Lorenzo saw that this mere boy could carve stone better than any adult. Seeing that Michelangelo was a child prodigy, he virtually adopted him and raised him in his home. “Thus, Michelangelo, at the age of thirteen or fourteen, suddenly found himself being raised with the richest offspring in Europe… and studying with the best private tutors in Italy.”

His education (in Italian, formazione meaning shaping, molding, forming) gave Michelangelo a particular view of the world that impacted him for the rest of his life. Important in his formazione were two Florentine masters in philosophy: Marsilio Ficino and the childhood prodigy Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. From Ficino he learned about Plato and Neo-Platonism. Michelangelo absorbed the daring ideas of this philosophic school of thought. From the young Pico, Michelangelo learned of interconnectedness “between ancient mysticism, Greek philosophy, Judaism, and Christianity.” Pico in fact inspired freethinkers, enraged the Vatican, and deeply affected the passionate, impressionable Michelangelo.” The ideas that Michagelo absorbed at this tender age would later secretly turn the ceiling of Sistine into a testimony to Pico’s unique and heretical teachings.

Ficino and Pico, Michelangelo’s teachers, were “powerfully inspired by Jewish thought.” They transmitted their ideas to their prize pupil who easily absorbed them. They taught him about the Midrash. Midrash “is not the name of one book, it rather refers to many collections of stories, legends, and biblical commentaries from the hands of different scholars.” They are, according to Jewish tradition, a part of the oral law. Midrash is interested in theology, while the Talmud is more dedicated to the law. “It has been well said the Talmud speaks to humanity’s mind but the Midrash is directed to its soul.”

With the recent cleansing of the Sistine ceiling it became clear that Michelangelo had knowledge of the Midrash. Many of his insights, as depicted in the Sistine, emerged in his biblical scenes on the ceiling. “An excellent example is the panel in the Sistine ceiling known as The Garden of Eden. There we find Adam and Eve standing before the Tree of Knowledge.” Most cultural tradition at the time, and even some today, looked upon that tree as an apple tree, however one did not. The Jewish culture did not view it as an apple tree. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree they were immediately ashamed of their nudity, so they quickly found a solution. They covered themselves with fig leaves. “According to the Midrash, the Tree of Knowledge was a fig tree, since a compassionate God had provided a cure for the consequences of their sin within the self-same object that caused it.” It is difficult to imagine any Christian being aware of this, either in Michelangelo’s era or even today. Yet, in Michelangelo’s panel of the Original Sin his Tree of Knowledge is a fig tree.

Michelangelo’s strong familiarity and affinity with Jewish knowledge helped make the Sistine into a work of art best understood with a grasp of Midrash. The “Midrashic allusions that Michelangelo worked into his frescoes-something unfortunately are almost completely unknown and ignored by contemporary scholars.”

Pico, the great teacher of Michelangelo, had the largest Judaic library of any gentile in Europe, and –more striking still-holds the record for the biggest private library of Kabbalistic materials gathered in one place anywhere.” Kabala was his passion. In fact, Pico’s dedication to this branch of Jewish knowledge “may well explain his very positive feelings towards Jews and Judaism.”

What fascinated Michelangelo about the Kabala “to the extent that almost every part of the Sistine ceiling bears traces of its teaching?” Surely some part “of the answer lies in the major premise…that beneath the surface of every object are hidden ‘emanations’ of God. Things are far more than they seem to the naked eye.” This thought fit perfectly with Michelangelo’s neo-Platonism philosophy. “Every block of stone has a statue inside of it and it is the task of the sculpture to discover it.”

Kabala allowed Michelangelo to think positively about sex. Sex was not just for procreation, as the Church taught, nor was it a sin to enjoy sex. Kabala provided a different view of male/female distinctions. “Both are equal parts of divinity because God himself/herself is a perfect blending of both characteristics-God is man and woman.

Sistine Secrets by Benjamin Blech and Roy Doliner has opened a new window of light for this casual reader. In just a few pages the book has given me greater insight into my Jewish historical heritage. While I knew we should not “judge a book by its cover,” I never linked this to Kabala. Now, I might.

While I and thousands of others know the role that Martin Luther played in reforming the Catholic Church, what do we know of Michelangelo and his lifelong struggle to make the Catholic Church more humane and truly inclusive of its Jewish roots and its Jewish sisters and brothers? Michelangelo created his art filled with forbidden messages and through his boldness and courage, fought and died for these ideals. Michelangelo through his work hoped to reform the Church, and the world of his day. Through his knowledge of the Torah, he wanted all humans to live peacefully as loving sisters and brothers. While he was ahead of his time, we can work for a more just world to make his dream of Tikkun Olam come closer to being realized in the modern world.

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Strom is professor emeritus of education at San Diego State University

African American describes her journey into Orthodox Judaism

June 23, 2010 1 comment

The Journey to the Land of My Soul by Ahuvah Gray. Duelkus Press, 2010, 251pages.

By David Strom

David Strom

SAN DIEGO — Ahuvah Gray is an African American woman who converted to Judaism, Orthodox Judaism. She did not convert to Judaism to marry someone Jewish as some do today. No, she became Jewish in her own words, to be completed; to be made whole.
    
|Delores (Ahuvah) Gray was born in Chicago. She was the granddaughter of sharecroppers from Mississippi. Her grandparents were deeply religious Christians, well known in the community. Her paternal grandparents lived in a town where the “entire municipality, hospitals, schools, police and fire apartments, town hall, houses of worship, and businesses were all owned and operated by Blacks.”

        
Ahuvah experienced great love and respect in the Gray home. More importantly, she “was always in awe of my Grandparents’ spirituality.” Her grandmother’s main teaching to her children and grandchildren “…was about obedience to God. Her close relationship with Him grew and flourished, nourished by her prayers and complete trust in her Creator.”

Ahuvah started college but did not graduate. She went off to the world of work. Ahuvah traveled as a flight attendant for Continental Airlines. Eventually she trained other flight attendants and headed a divisional office for the airline. As Ahuvah grew older she maintained her spirituality and love of prayer. She became dedicated to her place of worship, King David House of Worship in Chicago. Ahuvah was spiritually inquisitive. When she wanted to clarify or verify her Christian beliefs and ideologies, she would go to the “Tanach as an authoritative cross-reference.”

She understood that Christianity grew out of Judaism. She wanted to know how her “spiritual ancestors prayed, how they worshiped, and how they lived.”

A friend of Ahuvah knew that she was seeking more. She introduced Ahuvah to the spiritual leader, Dr. Charles C. Queen, of the Strait-Way Church. He taught the Jewish Bible in Hebrew. This captivated Ahuvah and seemed to satisfy her spiritual longings. Studying Hebrew and celebrating a Passover Seder with Pastor Queen and his congregation drew Ahuvah closer to Judaism.
  
After retiring from her Continental Airline position, Ahuvah opened a travel agency targeting African-American travelers who wanted to travel to Egypt, Israel and Greece. The first time Ahuvah voyaged to Israel, she felt at home. Within her heart she felt at peace and contented. Ahuvah felt spiritually closer to God there than anywhere else she had lived!

Over the next few years Ahuvah traveled 14 times to Israel. She led tours during Passover, meeting people, and getting a feeling for the land and its people. Eventually, after serving as a Christian minister for thirteen years, Ahuvah felt the need to become a Jew. Many who worked with her and were friends with her wondered what took her so long. They knew that her life force had been heading in this direction for many years, even though she had not made a definitive decision to convert.
 
The difficult decision to become a Jew was made easier by her family when her mother and father accepted her pronouncement as the will of God. They were happy that she had found a place where she could be spiritually at peace. Her siblings also supported her choice.

        
In May of 1993, Ahuvah went to Shavuot service in the United States. Shavuot celebrates the receiving of the Ten Commandments and Torah at Sinai. Ahuvah told her friend, “I was at Sinai when the Law was given.” She now understood her “…identification with the Law of Moses and the Jewish people…the missing link.” She understood finally the feeling of peace she felt that first time at Sinai.

Prayer and fasting have been an important part of Ahuvah’s life. Living among the “Black Hatters” in Jerusalem has helped her understand her Judaism more deeply.  Her many friends invited her to Shabbat cholent meals at celebrations where the entire religious community had warmly accepted this devoted African-American Orthodox Jewish woman into their hearts.

The Journey to the Land of My Soul is Ahuvah Gray’s description of her spiritual journey from Christianity to Judaism via Chicago to Los Angeles and finally, reaching its final destination in the holy city of Jerusalem. Because of its uniqueness, her story is worth reading. A fault can be found in the book in that it is too long and repetitious. Paring the story down by a half would help make this a more readable book by giving the reader the essence of the story without so much detail. However, the essence of Ahuvah Gray’s story of her journey into Judaism is worthwhile and enlightening to readers as to the beliefs, practices and sense of community that attract a convert to the Jewish faith.
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Strom is professor emeritus of education at San Diego State University

JFS College Avenue Older Adult Center tells July activities

June 10, 2010 Leave a comment

SAN DIEGO (Press Release)–Jewish Family Service’s College Avenue Older Adult Center, leasing space from Beth Jacob Congregation at 4855 College Avenue,  has announced the following schedule of activities in July: 

Mondays: Classes and Activities offered: Aerobics with Kara Anderson (8:30 – 10 am, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays); Feeling Fit with Kara Anderson (10 – 11:15 am, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays); Meditation with Jeff Zlotnik (11:15 am – 12 pm); Bridge – 12:45 pm; Movie Group (1 – 3 pm, new releases shown each Monday), no charge for members, $1 for non-members; Musical Comedy Group with Polly Columbo (1 pm – 3 pm). For more information on any of the classes or activities, call (619) 583-3300.

Tuesdays: Classes and Activities offered: Walking Group (9 – 10 am); Tai Chi with Leslie Johnson-Leech (9 – 10:30 am); Book Club (1st Tuesday of the month at 9:30 am); Arthritis Exercise (10:30 – 11:45 am); Film Class with Judith Levine 1 pm; Ballroom Dancing (2 – 4 pm); Trivia Tuesday (2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month at 12:15 pm). For more information on any of the classes or activities, call (619) 583-3300.                                       

Wednesdays: Classes and Activities offered: Drawing class with Marsha Austin Rogers (8:30 am); Aerobics with Kara Anderson (8:30 – 10 am, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays); Feeling Fit with Kara Anderson (10 – 11:15 am, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays); Painting with Marsha Austin Rogers (12:30 – 3 pm); Writing class with Marsha Kay Seff (1st and 3rd Wednesdays of the month at 12:45 pm); Bingo (12:45 pm); Music Experience with Danny Camacho (1 – 2:30 pm), $1 for members, $3 for non-members; Line Dancing with Luis Samaya (2:30 – 3:30 pm), $3 member per class, $5 non-member per class. For more information on any of the classes or activities, call (619) 583-3300.

Thursdays: Classes and Activities offered: Painting with Marsha Austin Rogers (9 am – 12 pm); Mah Jongg (9:15 am); Laughter Yoga with Michael Coleman (10:30 am); Blood Pressure Check (2nd and 4th Thursdays at 10 am); Arthritis Group exercise class (10 am); Beginning Mah Jongg (12:30 pm); Special Weekly Lectures (12:45 pm, Please call for topic information); Meditation with Jeff Zlotnik (11:15 am – 12 pm). For more information on any of the classes or activities, call (619) 583-3300.

Fridays: Classes and Activities offered: Aerobics with Kara Anderson (8:30 – 10 am, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays); Feeling Fit with Kara Anderson (10 – 11:15 am, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays); Yoga with Shashi Pottathil (10:45 am), $5 for members, $7 for non-members; (11:15 am); History Today! – Weekly history series; Special Musical Programs (12:30 pm, Please call for music program information).

Ongoing:  Private Computer Lessons: (Mon -Fri.) by appointment only. Please call to schedule.

Blood Pressure Checks: 10:00 am, 4th Thursday of every month

Poker Group: 10 am, every Monday, Wednesday & Friday

Craft Class: 9:30 am, 2nd and 4th Friday of every month

Book Discussion Group: 9:30 am, 3rd Tuesday of every month

Special Events, Lectures and Presentations:

History Today! with Troy Jordan

Fridays, July 2, 9, 16, 23 & 30 2010 @ 11:15

July 2 – History of the Fishing Industry in San Diego: An interesting and important part of local history. The tuna fishing industry played a large part in San Diego’s economy and in putting the city on the map. Journey through the days of the La Jolla fishing culture to the Chinese fishermen in the streets of downtown, to the Japanese abalone industry and the Portuguese and Italian tuna fishermen.

July 9 – Hazel Wood Waterman – Early San Diegan Architect: A woman who broke traditional roles of her era. Known for her work as an architect of several important local buildings and quality and care of her work.

July 16 – 1915 Panama-California Exposition: San Diego’s economy was sagging and the city had yet to be linked to the rest of the country by the transcontinental railroad system. Hope was nearby as the Panama Canal had just been completed and a plan culminated in the great Panama-California exposition of 1915. Hear and see facts, photos, documents, history and memorabilia.

July 23 – The Hotel Del Coronado: One of the most magnificent examples of American seaside hotels. Learn some interesting facts about San Diego’s famous Hotel Del, such as there were no blueprints and the rumored hotel hauntings.  

July 30 – Wyatt Earp in San Diego: Few people know that Wyatt and his wife Jose lived in San Diego, owned several saloons, gambling halls and other properties locally. They were a special breed of people whose environment made them strong and self reliant. Learn more exciting facts about the life and times of the Earps in San Diego. 

4th of July Celebration

Friday, July 2

Join us as we celebrate Independence Day at the College Avenue Older Adult Center, with a BBQ Lunch and Ice Cream Social Beach Party with entertainment by 2 Guys That Move You!

Hula Lessons

July 6, 13, 20 & 27 – Tuesdays @ 10:30 am

Shake and shimmy with our free Hula lessons, every Tuesday in July at 10:30 am. Rachel Lynn, part of the dance troupe, Pride of Polynesia will be conducting the lessons. Come learn several actual hula dances which will be performed at our annual Luau on August 13.

The Yiddische Mamas

Tuesday, July 8 at 12:45

Meet the Mamas! Hear the compelling stories of 10 women’s insights on life in the 20th Century. It all began with lunch! All the women are members of the JFS North County Inland Older Adult Center members and decided during an exercise class to meet. They shared their stories and realized they had a lot to express. Ranging in ages from 93 to 79 years old, they discuss the challenge of Old World thought and becoming New World women. Filmed by Kathy Weyer of Memories & Legacies, these meetings developed into a 1 ½ hour video film.

David Amos presents . . . .Mozart: Part 2

Tuesday July 10 at 12:45

David Amos, Conductor for the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra (TICO) and contributor to XLNC Radio, will present the 2nd part of his program on one of Classical Music’s most recognizable and beloved composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Blood Pressure Checks

July 22 from 10 – 11 am

Free blood pressure screenings

Jack Maizel presents: The Land of Milk and Honey

Tuesday, July 20 @ 12:45

Jack Maizel, local San Diegan and executive producer will be here to present his movie, The Land of Milk and Honey. A documentary exploring Israel’s emerging folk culture and it’s effects on the Jewish consciousness around the world.

Created and developed by two Latino Jewish filmmakers in San Diego, California, shot entirely in Israel, the film traces the roots of the music and choreography for the song “Eretz Zavat Chalav u’Dvash”. It explores the fundamental power that Israeli folk culture has on the universal Jewish community and how the love and depth that is Israel is ingrained in us all.

This film truly is an inspiration, emotional experience, providing audiences old and young alike with a visceral connection to Israel and their own roots

David Strom: Book Review – They Dared Return: The True Story of Jewish Spies behind the Lines in Nazi Germany

Thursday, June 29 @ 1 pm

The planning and execution of a 1944 strike by Jewish soldiers against a top-secret target in Austria that, it was believed, could shorten the conflict. A tale of sacrifice, spies, courage and betrayal organized by the American Office of Strategic Services to take on Gestapo troops in a heavily fortified district, Alpine Redoubt, the site of a planned bunker where Nazi leaders would hide after the Allies arrived in Germany.

The College Avenue Center also offers hot Kosher lunches served Monday – Friday @ 12 Noon

Soup & Salad Bar offered Mondays – Wednesdays from 11:30am-12:30pm

Suggested Donation: $3.50 for Seniors, $6 for all others.

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Preceding provided by Jewish Family Service

They had enough for a minyan at Sing Sing

June 7, 2010 Leave a comment

The Jews of Sing Sing: Gotham Gangsters and Gonovim, by Ron Arons. Barricade Books, Fort Lee, New Jersey, 2008, 352pages

By David Strom

David Strom

SAN DIEGO–I lived in a very small portion of the American Jewish world. As a child I thought all Jews were religious, kept kosher, and obeyed the laws. Like Ron Arons mentioned,  “My parents and Hebrew school teachers taught me that Jews not only believe in but also abide by a high moral system.” I was taught and believed that myth for much of my early life. How naïve I was.

Ron Arons writes in The Jews of Sing Sing about a chapter in American Jewish history never talked about or even mentioned in Hebrew school. After he studied his family genealogy, Arons learned that his great-grandfather served time in Sing Sing for bigamy. This made him curious to know about other Jews forced to spend time in prison.

The prison was built in the early 1820s. The New York State Archives records began in 1865. The archives clearly show that Jews were represented in the prison population from this early time period. One of the first, if not the first Jewish inmate, was Salomon Kohnstamm. Salomon was arrested on November 12, 1862 on charges of presenting false and fraudulent bills to the United States Government. He was found guilty in 1864 and was given a ten year sentence.

Kohnstamm did not serve his full sentence. President Andrew Johnson gave him an unconditional pardon on April 30, 1867. Kohnstamm returned to his native Germany and died in 1876.

The records of Sing Sing of the 1870’s list many Jews, the vast majority of them of German descent. There were sufficient numbers of them imprisoned that they made a minyan on the Jewish holidays.

Arons studied the records of those imprisoned at Sing Sing. Many served time for murder, arson, bigamy, selling illegal liquor or drugs, and engaging in the lucrative business of prostitution. We may know some of the people he studied today, but others have faded from our radar screen or slid down the “memory hole” of history. One such person was Isidore Fishbein.

Isidore Fishbein landed in Sing Sing for violating Section2460 of the New York Penal Code: Prostitution. Fishbein was convicted of raping Anna Ragovin, a sixteen-year-old daughter of immigrants in July 1913

According to Anna, “she went with a friend, Mr. Bernstein, to Coney Island.” Later, at about 6:00 p.m., “…the couple met up with Isidore Fishbein.” Bernstein asked Fishbein to ”take care of Anna” for “a half hour.” Fishbein and Anna strolled around for a while and then Fishbein asked Anna if she wanted to go for a drink. Anna responded by saying “she did not consume alcohol.” Sometime later that day, Anna agreed to go with him to a hotel room. Fishbein asked/demanded she spend the night with him. She refused. According to Anna’s testimony, Fishbein forced her onto the bed, “tore her undergarments and had his way with her.”

Anna maintained that she was a virgin prior to the rape and had demanded to go home. Fishbein refused and took her to the home of a  friend Hazel Jackson. Jackson and Fishbein talked privately. Hazel Jackson talked with Anna “showing off her wardrobe, lingerie, and “diamonds.” Fishbein and Jackson each told Anna she could have “anything” she wanted. She could be her own boss.

Jackson undressed Anna. She gave her a skirt and kimono. Anna began to cry and then three “fellows” entered the bedroom. Fishbein held Anna down while one of the other men “mounted her” and raped Anna again.

She was held captive for ten days. During that time four or five men had sex with her each day. She never tried to escape for fear someone would permanently harm her. “I felt that if I told anyone, I would be shot.”

Fishbein eventually went on trial for procuring women for prostitution and was found guilty. “In 1917, after serving less time than his minimum sentence to Sing Sing, Isidore married a woman by the name of Anna Lubin. This Anna was the same age as Anna Ragovin. Is it possible that the two are the same person? Did Isidore marry his former accuser?

Vice represented a small faction of Jewish criminals in Sing Sing. Other crimes like burglary, grand larceny and robbery represented a higher percentage of crimes committed by Jews. However, the most egregious in the eyes of the Jewish community was prostitution. Arons explains, “prostitution caused emotional and physical scars that lasted for years in the Jewish community, coloring the reputation of the community and affecting family life.”

The Fishbein story is not unique, then or now. Jewish prostitution existed in Europe in the 1870s. “In 1872, for example, 17 percent of all prostitutes in Warsaw were categorized as Jewish. In 1873 a higher number, 47 percent, was found in Vilna…. Of more concern was Liviv (formerly known as both Lvov and Lemberg) and Krakow, where the percentage of prostitutes who were Jewish fell just one point below the percentage of the respective cities’ populations that were Jewish.”

Arons book is a very interesting read. Our young Jewish students in high schools and colleges would like to learn about the “other side” of American Jewish history. They need to know more than the “miracle view” of Jewish history. They might enjoy learning of the struggles of our immigrant past and know that many Jews did not always take the “yellow brick road” to ”success.” Some chose a very “rocky” road instead and many paid the price for it serving out their sentences in Sing Sing prison.

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Strom is professor emeritus of education at San Diego State University

Jewish spies in Nazi Germany

March 3, 2010 Leave a comment

By David Strom 

SAN DIEGO–A year or so ago an American film, Inglorious Basterds, was popular with audiences around the globe. For some Jews of my generation the fictional movie allowed our fantasies to work overtime by making us feel like heroes in a war that destroyed most of European Jewry. We could hunt down the unrepentant Nazis, do harm to them and eventually bring them to justice. Our imagination could and did “run wild” as we cheered the imaginary heroes on.

 Now a nonfiction book written by Patrick K. O’Donnell tells us about five men who were recruited into the OSS during World War II. These five men were born in Europe and chose to return to Nazi-occupied territory during the height of fighting there. O’Donnell tells the story of these brave daredevils in his latest nonfiction work They Dared Return: The True Story of Jewish Spies behind Enemy Lines in Nazi Germany.

 These Jewish men were recruited for this dangerous spy mission because of their language skills and their physical prowess and technical skills, but also for their hatred of Nazi Germany, their love of the freedom that the United States offered and their belief that they could help bring about a swifter end to the war. Being spies was difficult enough discovery alone would get them killed, but being Jewish spies added an extra weighty burden. If the spies had family members that were still alive in Europe, these relatives were in danger of losing their lives immediately if they were captured.

 Among the five Jewish spies, who eventually become lifelong friends, Fred Mayer emerged as the acknowledged leader of the group during their espionage training. Although Fred had voluntarily been taken from the safe streets of Brooklyn, he had confidence in himself, in his trained Jewish OSS companions and in their allies and supporters among whom were several former German soldiers now willing to betray their Fuhrer for the greater good of Germany. With Sergeant Fred Mayer as mission commander, the spy team was dropped behind heavily fortified enemy lines to accomplish what they could to end the war.

 Once on the ground and in enemy territory, they set up operations and communications with the allied command.  Mayer frequented bars and made contacts with the local underground. But most of all he listened. As the war was winding down, the Allies did not know where or if the Nazis were going to make a last ditch major effort of defense. Mayer learned by associating and listening to Nazi foot soldiers talk in bars that Hitler was hiding in his bunker in Berlin.  He passed this correct information on to his superiors in the OSS.
 
Fred Mayer was eventually captured and tortured by sadistic Nazi officers. They smashed and broke his front teeth. While they were harshly interrogating him, he observed that one of the Nazis stopped the torture and allowed him to live. Later he was to learn that the Nazis believed the lies of another captured spy, a great spinner of tales and fabricator of believable stories, who claimed that Mayer was a high-ranking leader in the European OSS operations who, if allowed to live, could help them when the war was over. The Nazi commander’s belief in Mayer’s alleged powers to grant them favors after the war helped save Mayer’s life.
 
Fred Mayer saved hundreds and possibly thousands of American lives by convincing the Nazi leader in Innsbruck to declare it an open city. The city leader was going to go on the radio to tell the Nazi soldiers to continue fighting. Mayer told the Nazi leader, “It is insane to order a last-ditch effort. If you love Innsbruck and its people, why destroy it? You haven’t got a chance [against the approaching American forces].”
 
The Nazi commander, now visibly tired and anguished replied, “I need fair treatment.” This opportunistic brutal Nazi, along with many others like him, now wanted fair treatment. How ironic!
 
O’Donnell has written a great spy story. It is a story of five brave men who risked their lives for their adopted country, the United States of America. If their story of courage and sacrifice were made into a movie, it would be more believable and dramatic than the fictional Inglorious Basterds.

They Dared Return: The True Stories of Jewish Spies Behind the Lines in Nazi Germany, by Patrick K O’Donnell, 239 pages, Da Capo Press

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Strom is professor emeritus of political science at San Diego State University. He may be contacted at stromd@sandiegojewishworld.com

JFS College Avenue Older Adult Center tells January activities

December 7, 2009 1 comment

SAN DIEGO (Press Release)–Following is a compilation of  ongoing activities offered at Jewish Family Service’s College Avenue Older Adult Center, operated within Beth Jacob Congregation at 4855 College Avenue.  For additional information, refer to www.jfssd.org or call   (619) 583-3300. Many classes are offered through the San Diego Community College District and are free.

Mondays: Classes and Activities offered: Aerobics with Kara Anderson (8:30 – 10 am, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays); Feeling Fit with Kara Anderson (10 – 11:15 am, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays); Meditation with Jeff Zlotnik (11:15 am – 12 pm); Bridge – 12:45 pm; Movie Group (1 – 3 pm, new releases shown each Monday), no charge for members, $1 for non-members; Musical Comedy Group with Polly Columbo (1 pm – 3 pm).

Tuesdays: Classes and Activities offered: Walking Group (9 – 10 am); Tai Chi with Leslie Johnson-Leech (9 – 10:30 am); Book Club (1st Tuesday of the month at 9:30 am); Arthritis Exercise (10:30 – 11:45 am); Film Class with Judith Levine 1 pm; Ballroom Dancing (2 – 4 pm); Pinochle – 10 am; Trivia Tuesday (2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month at 12:15 pm).

Wednesdays: Classes and Activities offered: Drawing class with Marsha Austin Rogers (8:30 am); Aerobics with Kara Anderson (8:30 – 10 am, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays); Feeling Fit with Kara Anderson (10 – 11:15 am, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays); Painting with Marsha Austin Rogers (12:30 – 3 pm); Writing class with Marsha Kay Seff (1st and 3rd Wednesdays of the month at 12:45 pm); Bingo (12:45 pm); Music Experience with Danny Camacho (1 – 2:30 pm), $1 for members, $3 for non-members; Line Dancing with Luis Samaya (2:30 – 3:30 pm), $3 member per class, $5 non-member per class.

Thursday: Classes and Activities offered: Painting with Marsha Austin Rogers (9 am – 12 pm); Mah Jongg (10 am); Laughter Yoga with Michael Coleman (10:30 am); Blood Pressure Check (2nd and 4th Thursdays at 10 am); Arthritis Group exercise class (10 am); Special Weekly Lectures (12:45 pm, Please call for topic information); Meditation with Jeff Zlotnik (11:15 am – 12 pm).

Fridays: Classes and Activities offered: Aerobics with Kara Anderson (8:30 – 10 am, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays); Feeling Fit with Kara Anderson (10 – 11:15 am, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays); Yoga with Shashi Pottathil (10:45 am), $5 for members, $7 for non-members; Nutrition Nuts with Melissa Alwood – weekly nutrition series for Older Adults (11:15 am); Special Musical Programs (12:30 pm, Please call for music program information).

Ongoing: Private Computer Lessons: (Mon -Fri.) by appointment only. Please call to schedule.

Blood Pressure Checks: 10:00 am, 4th Thursday of every month

Poker Group: 10 am, every Monday, Wednesday & Friday

Craft Class: 9:30 am, 2nd and 4th Friday of every month

Book Discussion Group: 9:30 am, 3rd Tuesday of every month

Trivia Tuesdays: 12:15 pm, every 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month

Special Events, Lectures and Presentations:

Nuts About Nutrition, Friday, January 8, 15, 22 & 29  @ 11:15 am, Melissa Alwood  directs a new weekly health series on nutrition for Older Adults, Nuts About Nutrition. In our new interactive program we will be learning about food groups, food’s role in the body, shopping tips, cooking tips, and the latest information and research on how proper food intake can enhance your quality of life. Come to our first fun workshop to learn about the basics of food and nutrient needs for older adults. Each week a new topic will be discussed such as how to understand food labels, health holiday eating, and nutritional supplements.

Meeting with Marti, Thursday, January 7, 2010 @ 12 noon–San Diego Councilmember Marti Emerald, will be joining us for lunch and an informal chat about local happenings.

Book Discussion Group—Tuesday, January 19 at 9:30 A.M– National Council of Jewish Women conducts a  monthly Book Discussion Group. Marilyn Sodomsky will be our hostess.  Edith Standler will be discussion leader for the morning.  The book featured this month is Now You See Me by Rochelle Kirsch.  To participate, just borrow a copy from your local library branch, read it and then join in the lively discussion.

Connie Pinkus and Marilyn Sodomsky are co facilitators of the group.  For information please call Connie at (619) 435-6334 or Marilyn at (858) 539-1685.  Or you may e-mail your questions to msodomsky@aol.com or to cncsbnb@sbcglobal.net

Blood Pressure Checks, Thursday, January 28, 2009 from 10 – 10:30 am;Free blood pressure screenings are available.

Explore the World With Exploritas, Thursday, January 21 @ 12:45: Learn about the Exploritas, providing Educational Travel since 1975. Discover nearly 8,000 educational tours in all 50 states and more than 90 countries with Exploritas, the not-for-profit leader in educational travel since 1975. Alongside local and renowned experts, experience in-depth and behind-the-scenes learning opportunities, from cultural tours and study cruises to walking, biking and more.

Book Review with Professor Emeritus David Strom, Thursday, January 28, @ 12:45. David Strom will review and lead a discussion on one of Bryan Mark Rigg’s books which cover the subject of Jewish soldier in the Nazi army. Mr Strom is a Professor Emeritus of education from San Diego State is a regular book reviewer for San Diego Jewish World.

The College Avenue Center also offers hot Kosher lunches served Monday – Friday @ 12 Noon. Soup & Salad Bar offered Mondays – Wednesdays from 11:30am-12:30pm. Suggested Donation: $3.50 for Seniors, $6 for all others.


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Preceding provided by Jewish Family Service’s College Avenue Older Adult Center.  Upcoming event press releases are also placed in the corresponding date of the San Diego Jewish Community calendar