Archive for the ‘Fred Reiss’ Category

‘Tanya’ provides insight into Chassidic thought

September 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Tanya, the Masterpiece of Hasidic Wisdom: Sections Annotated and Explained by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Skylight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, NY (Forward by Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi); ISBN 978-1-59473-275-1, ©2010, $16.99, p. 165, plus appendices,  Available in Kindle edition

By Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

Fred Reiss

WINCHESTER, California — Jews were the middlemen between the gentry and the underclass in seventeenth century Poland. On behalf of the noblemen, Jews, for example, administered estates, collected fees at the grist mills and fishing ponds, and ran the inns that sold liquor. It was only natural that any populist revolt would be directed against the Jews as well as the nobility. Cossack Bogdan Chmielnicki led such a revolt. He defeated the Polish army in 1648. As a result, serfs rose up against the nobility and their Jewish stewards.

With the defeat of the army, Chmielnicki and his rebels continued their ravenous attack on the Jews, massacring thousands in cities like Nemirov, Tulchin, Polonnoe, Zaslov and Ostrog and Pildava. The aggression did not end until the defeat of Chmielnicki in 1651, and the transfer of his allegiance to Russia. Three years later, the Russians invaded eastern Poland, White Russia, and Lithuania, which resulted in a substantial number of deaths as well as expulsion for the Jews. According to historians Margolis and Marx, the lowest estimate of Jewish deaths from these attacks between 1648 and 1658 is one hundred thousand.

The Chmielnicki revolt and its aftermath devastated the Jewish population of southeastern Poland and northwestern Ukraine. The uprisings destroyed Jewish institutions, decimated its intelligencia, and left Jews with only menial jobs and in a constant state of impoverishment.
Read more…

Should Pope Pius XII Become a Saint?

August 29, 2010 2 comments

By Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

Fred Reiss

WINCHESTER, California — The Catholic Church has over 10,000 saints and “beati,” or blessed on the roster. Does it really make a difference if there is one more?

The answer is probably not for most rank-and-file Catholics. They already have three  saints per day from among whom they can choose for feasting.

It matters to Jews who remember the actions and lack of actions by Eugenio Pacelli, Vatican Secretary of State until 1939, at which time he became Pope Pius XII. Prior to 1963, the world generally viewed Pius XII as a faithful shepherd to his people during a dark period in the world’s history. The liberal-Catholic writer Graham Green characterized Pius XII as, “a pope who many of us believe will rank among the greatest.”

In 1963, Rolf Hochhuth published his play, The Deputy, which condemned Pius XII and the entire Vatican hierarchy for failing to act to save European Jewry from death camps and the atrocities of the Nazis. John Cornwell’s 1999 book, Hitler’s Pope, continued the condemnation of Pius XII for supporting National Socialism and for failing to act on behalf of Jews. Gabriel Wilensky, author of Six Million Crucifixions, argues that Pope Pius XII actions during World War II can be attributed to the belief that he had more to fear from the survival of godless Communism then from the Nazi regime.

Many Jews and non-Jews believe that making Pius XII a saint is a disgrace. In Israeli’s Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, there is a plaque that delineates the perceived anti-Jewish actions of the Pope during the war. The plaque lists such things as the 1933 Concordat with Hitler to preserve the Church’s rights in Germany in exchange for recognizing the Nazi government, pigeon-holing a 1939 letter against anti-Semitism that his predecessor prepared, abstaining from joining the allies’ denunciation of the extermination of Jews, and failing to intervene in the deportation of Jews living in Rome to Auschwitz.

The sainthood of Pius XII certainly matters to the Vatican. Most Catholic scholars have cautioned the Vatican to move slowly with regard to his sainthood. Yet, for the papacy and the church hierarchy there seems to be a need for urgency. According to Celestine Bohlen, Pope Benedict’s December, 2009 decree moving both John Paul II and Pius XII closer to sainthood is filled with Vatican politics. She wrote that, “Benedict had hoped to satisfy both the conservative and the liberal wings of the Catholic Church”. Pope Benedict’s outward position is simple: Pius XII worked quietly and behind the scenes to rescue Jews from the hands of the Nazi war machine. Benedict is also quick to point out that many Catholics risked their own lives to save Jews.

It also matters to the Pave the Way Foundation, whose website declares, “We are a non-sectarian public foundation, which identifies and eliminates non-theological obstacles between the faiths”. From September 15 through 17, 2008 the foundation held a symposium in Rome to examine the papacy of Pius XII. At the conference, lawyers, linguists, researchers and foreign correspondents, priests and nuns, and even a Rabbi met to report on deeds and acts of Pius XII during World War II. In the proceedings, published under the title, Examining the Papacy of Pope Pius XII, the conference examined twelve commonly-held beliefs about the Pope. These beliefs included such things as the Pope was: anti-Semitic, obsessed with atheistic Communism, did not believe that the Church has an obligation to either protect or care for non-Catholics, and should be condemned for signing an agreement with Hitler in 1933. They also responded to the annotations on plaque at Yad Vashem.

The proceedings concluded that “the controversy about Pius has to a large degree been generated by those who ignore his endless efforts over many years to help victims of Hitler.” For example, the proceedings argue that Pius’ Concordant with Hitler occurred before he became Pope and was actually at the direction of his predecessor, Pius XI. There never was a letter opposing anti-Semitism, only drafts.  The Pope did protest the deportation of the Jews from Rome to Auschwitz. Cardinal Maglione, his Secretary of State, delivered the first protest and the second was delivered through an assistant to German General Stahel.

Since John Paul II abolished the “devil’s advocate” portion of the canonization process, the question of whether or not Pope Pius XII becomes a saint may be more a result of politics than theology. If it is true that Pius’ strategy to save European Jews was to work behind the scenes, then that strategy failed. That alone should disqualify him.

Thousands of Catholics fall into the category called righteous gentiles, Christians who personally risked their lives and the lives of their families to save Jews. Perhaps they are more qualified for sainthood.


Dr. Fred Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. He is the author of The Standard Guide to the Jewish and Civil CalendarsAncient Secrets of Creation: Sepher Yetzira, the Book that Started Kabbalah, Revealed; and Reclaiming the Messiah. The author can be reached through his website,

Was the Holocaust the legacy of the Church’s teachings?

August 28, 2010 2 comments

Six Million Crucifixions: How Christians Teachings About Jews Paved the Road to the Holocaust by Gabriel Wilensky, Qwerty Publishers, San Diego, CA. ISBN 978-0-984-33467-4, ©2010, $27.95, p. 309, plus appendices. Available in Kindle edition

 By Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

Fred Reiss

WINCHESTER, California–Twenty-two of the highest ranking Nazi Party officials were tried from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946 in Nuremburg, Germany for crimes against humanity. In the Palace of Justice, the site of the trials, a large wooden cross looks down over the four judge’s chairs. Why a cross? Did it represent right’s triumph over might? The victory of good over evil? Did it symbolize the truth that God was on the side of the allies? Gabriel Wilensky, a life-long student of why the Holocaust happened, and author of Six Million Crucifixions, might reply that the cross deflects the truth that the teachings and preachings of Catholicism built the path to the Holocaust.

In part one of his four-part book, Wilensky begins building his case through descriptions of the actions of the early church, the time when Christianity separated itself early from Judaism. The time when early Christians accepted Jesus as the Messiah, whereas mainstream Judaism did not. To make Christianity acceptable to pagans, Saul of Tarsus, who changed his name to Paul, abolished the Jewish dietary laws and male converts no longer needed to be circumcised. In the fourth century, Constantine forbade Jews from seeking converts. The Council of Nicea replaced resurrection, which stood at the heart of Christianity, with crucifixion. As such, the council focused responsibility on the Jews, and from this point forward sermons excoriated Jews, which often led to violent actions against them.

In the second part Wilensky focuses on Christian anti-Semitism.  Now that crucifixion is Christianity’s centerpiece, the words in Matthew (27:25), “His blood be on us and on our children,” form the basis of the church’s systematic effort to denounce the Jewish people. The church attacked the Jews through sermons, through discriminatory laws, and with symbols. As examples, a belief emerged in the mid-fifteenth century, that the intermixing of blood (Jews marrying Christians) defiles “old” Christians. Two statues stand at the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral. The first, Ecclesia, the church, wears a crown and holds a scepter and the Challis of Christ. The second, Synagoga, is blindfolded. Blind to the knowledge that Jesus is God. A crown lies at her feet. The Jews have been dethroned as God’s people. According to Wilensky, there are over four hundred and fifty anti-Semitic verses in just the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. As often happened, these verses became ground for priests to sermonize and stir Christian against Jewish neighbor.

In Part III, Wilensky notes the similarities between the anti-Jewish actions of the Church and Nazism. The Catholic Church prohibited intermarriage between Jew and Christian (4th century). So did the Nazis. The Church did not allow Jews to hold public office (6th century). So did the Nazis. The Church burned the Talmud and other sacred books (7th century). So did the Nazis. Christians could not patronize Jewish doctors (7th century). So did the Nazis. Jews were distinguished from their Christian neighbors by markings on their clothing (13th century). So did the Nazis. Jews were compelled to live in segregated ghettos (13th century). So did the Nazis. Jews could not obtain academic degrees (15th century). So did the Nazis.

The final part focuses on the actions of the Pope and the Catholic Church during World War II. Wilensky notes the Eugenio Pacelli, first as the Vatican Secretary of State, and later as Pope Pius XII intervened on behalf of Jews who converted to Christianity, but not the Jews. He neither denounced the persecution nor the extermination of the Jews by the Nazi government. He spoke out against the treatment of Polish Christians, but not Polish Jews. He sought clemency for the convicted war criminals. He did not recognize the State of Israel.

Six Million Crucifixions brilliantly explains the anti-Semitic attitude of the Catholic Church and how, over the centuries, its repeated railings against the Jewish people created brutal waves of anger, which led to repeated mass murders of Jews in various locals throughout Europe. More importantly, Wilensky meticulously leads the reader down the Road to Hell, which he unmistakably shows was built by the Catholic Church. If nothing else, Six Million Crucifixions clearly demonstrates that if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth!


Dr. Fred Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. He is the author of The Standard Guide to the Jewish and Civil CalendarsAncient Secrets of Creation: Sepher Yetzira, the Book that Started Kabbalah, Revealed; and Reclaiming the Messiah. The author can be reached through his website,

Book Review: The Roman Wars-Was Josephus a Jewish hero or traitor?

August 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Jerusalem’s Traitor: Josephus, Masada, and the Fall of Judea by Desmond Seward, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA; ISBN 978-0-306-81807-3, ©2009, $28.00, p. 275, plus maps, endnotes, and selected bibliography

By Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

Fred Reiss

WINCHESTER, California — Desmond Seward, noted historian and author, in his newest book, Jerusalem’s Traitor provides us with a biography of Joseph Ben Matityahu, known to the world as Josephus. A biography of Josephus is equivalent to an eye-witness history of the First Jewish War against Rome (66-70 CE).

During much of the first century of the Common Era, the land that we call Israel today, Judea, Samaria, and the Galilee, was a place of religious infighting as well as political and military turmoil with Rome. In 4 BCE, as Herod lay dying, two Jewish nationalists led their followers to the Temple where they tore down the Roman eagle from its gate. Herod ended the revolt and burned the ringleaders alive. Soon after Herod’s death, the people demanded a reckoning for this deed. One of Herod’s sons, Archelaus, now king, refused. A revolt broke out, which ended only after much bloodshed on both sides.

Archelaus died in 6 CE. Consequently, Rome ended Judea’s semi-autonomous status and it became part of the greater Roman Empire, as a sub-province of Syria.  The Syrian authorities conducted a national census on behalf of the Roman government for the purpose of taxation. This created immediate hostility as the head count brought home the people’s humiliating subjugation by Rome. In the Galilee, Judah the son of Hezekiah gathered an armed band of patriots from among the Pharisees, and began a campaign of terror against the Romans stationed there. They called themselves the Zealots.

Most Roman rulers had little regard for Jews and their sensitivities. Emperor Tiberius (14-37 CE) placed Pilate in charge of Judea. The ruthless Pontius Pilate ruled there from 26-36 CE. During his administration Zealots were summarily executed. He also attempted to expropriate the Temple treasure for secular construction projects, and he allowed Roman troops to bring imperial images into Jerusalem. The Jerusalemites fought back. Though they were brave in their efforts, they were no match for the well-trained Roman soldiers.

The new emperor, Caligula (37-41 CE), appointed a Jew, Agrippa, to be a king, On his arrival in Alexandria, a city of about one million Jews, the Alexandrian Greeks mocked him and demanded that the Jews place imperial statues in their synagogues. Flaccus Avillius, the Roman Perfect of Alexandria, supported the Greeks. When the Jews resisted, he issued an edict declaring the Jews to be aliens, and turned mobs of Greeks loose in the Jewish quarters.

The next emperor, Claudius, in 52 CE named Antonius Felix (52-60 CE), a former slave, to be procurator of Judea. Felix demonstrated extreme wantonness. As a result of his debauchery the Zealots gained more and more adherents. Even the devoutly religious joined. Whenever he captured Zealots, Felix would crucify them, which only added to the turmoil and the people’s hatred of Rome.

Nero appointed Porcius Festus (60-62 CE) as the new procurator. Although just in his actions, he was unable to reverse the passions stirred up against all that was Roman. On the death of Festus, Nero appointed Claudius Albinus (62-64 CE), who likewise offended the Jewish people with his unsavory actions and tactlessness. The final procurator, Gessius Florus (64-66 CE), was the worst. He robbed whole cities and annihilated entire communities. When he attempted to appropriate seventeen talents of gold from the Temple treasury, the Jerusalemites rebelled. Florus retaliated by letting loose a detachment of soldiers. Once again, the Jews fought bravely, capturing the Temple mount, and eventually, the citadel known as Antonia. In the meantime, a group of Zealots seized Masada. The Jewish war against Rome had begun.

Seward begins his narrative with the birth of Josephus, about 36 CE. Josephus, a scion of a notable Jewish priestly family, could trace his family roots back to the Maccabees.  Family members recognized his impressive intellect and provided him with a first-rate education.  As a young adult, he travelled to Rome to secure release of Jewish prisoners. While in Rome, he gained the favor of many important Romans, with the result that he lived there for many years, and traveled in the rarified air represented by the coterie to Emperor Nero and his wife, Poppaea. On his return, the Sanhedrin first appointed him the Governor of the Galilee, and as the storm clouds of rebellion appeared on the horizon, subsequently appointed him General of the Galilee.

When the rebellion first broke out, the rag-tag Jewish army held out against the Romans and their general, Vespasian. Vespasian and his soldiers advanced from Antioch, in Turkey, to the Galilee. There, he assembled between 45,000 and 60,000 troops. Josephus, on the other hand, depended on a rag-tag army and the citizens of each city to make a defense.

Vespasian began his conquest of northern Israel with the city of Gadara. As he marched, the Roman fifth, tenth, and fifteenth legions destroyed much of the countryside and killed thousands of defenders. Josephus and the rebels withstood the assault on the city of Jotapata for six weeks before being forced to surrender due to lack of food and water. Josephus hid in a cistern, but was eventually captured. He saved his life by telling Vespasian that he was a prophet, and predicted that one day in the not too distant future Vespasian would become the Emperor of Rome. Vespasian, who believed that Jews did have the power of prophecy, spared Josephus’ life and Josephus became an advisor to Vespasian.  Later, after the Roman Senate named Vespasian the Emperor, he advised the newly chosen general, Titus, who was Vespasian’s son.  That Flavius Josephus is a traitor to the Jewish people is well-established belief. Yet, belief is not fact, nor is it truth. Through Seward’s account, the reader comes to understand the fear with which Josephus lived in the Roman camp. Were it not for the protection of the future emperors, Josephus would have been killed by the chiefs-of-staff.

To present Jerusalem’s Traitor, Seward synthesizes the major works of Josephus—The Jewish War (in five volumes), Jewish Antiquities, and Vita. He also draws on The Histories and the Annals by the Roman historian Tacitus. Josephus is considered the Benedict Arnold of the First Jewish War by first ill preparing the defense of the Galilee and second, at the brink of defeat at the Battle of Jotapata, offering his services to the Romans. Yet, because so much of Jerusalem’s Traitor is from the perspective of Josephus, one gets the impression that it is not Josephus who is the traitor. Indeed, Josephus portrays himself as an oracle and prophet who predicts the defeat of the Jews. On more than one occasion Seward quotes Josephus pleading with the Zealots to abandon the rebellion.

Josephus writes about the mercy that both Vespasian and Titus were willing to offer the rebels even up to the last moment—the capture of Jerusalem. Seward argues that since the Emperor funded the publication of The Jewish Wars, and surely read the manuscript, it is quite likely that Josephus placed the two generals in a flattering light. Seward also notes on numerous occasions when he suspects that Josephus is exaggerating his claims.

The real enemies, according to Josephus, are the Zealots, whom he calls sicarii, meaning assassins who kill by knife because they killed wealthy Jews and dissenters that way, and their leader John of Gischala (Jonathan of Gish-halab). Josephus tells of the brutal civil war taking place among the Zealots in Jerusalem even as the Romans were literally at the gates. There, murder and starvation at Jewish hands were the handmaidens of the Romans. Sward relies on Josephus who wrote proudly of the unrequited bravery of the Jews throughout the war, but especially in Jerusalem.

Seward recounts the tale told by Josephus of the awe and shock of the Romans soldiers at the courageousness of the Zealots at Masada. Historians did not accept Josephus’ story of the events at Masada, until the completed excavation of the sight in 1966. Now that we know the truth, it is no wonder that Rome celebrated the final defeat of the Jewish nation.

Jerusalem’s Traitor is a compelling read, and if one can get through the gore of the battles and the brutality of Jew against Jew, then what remains is a feeling of pride at the heroism and resourcefulness of the Judeans. What other tiny nation took on the mightiest army in the western world at the time, and held them at bay for more than five years.

Jerusalem’s Traitor is an excellent account of the First Jewish War as seen through the eyes of Josephus. Whether or not he is a traitor or a hero remains for the reader to decide.  One wonders how first century Jewry might have acted had they known the two thousand year consequences of their ill-conceived rebellion. What is certain is that the Jews contributed mightily to their own defeat and the destruction of the Temple. At the conclusion, there is the gut-wrenching feeling that King Solomon was quite astute when he wrote in his Book of Proverbs that one who troubles his own house inherits the wind.


Dr. Fred Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. He is the author of The Standard Guide to the Jewish and Civil CalendarsAncient Secrets of Creation: Sepher Yetzira, the Book that Started Kabbalah, Revealed; and Reclaiming the Messiah. The author can be reached through his website,

Wiesel book on Rashi should have been more thorough

July 13, 2010 1 comment

Rashi by Elie Wiesel. Translated from the French by Catherine Temerson, Nextbook ISBN 978-0-8052-4254-6, ©2009, $22.00, p. 90 plus chronology, glossary, and bibliography.

By Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

Fred Reiss

WINCHESTER, California — One would be hard pressed to find a greater Jewish authority than Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak, known to the world as Rashi. Many religious questions have been quickly resolved by the opening words, “And Rashi says….” As a prolific eleventh century French rabbi, intellectual, and Hebrew grammarian, Rashi produced a commentary on nearly every book of the Talmud and a comprehensive interpretation of the Five Books of Moses. In addition, as a recognized Judaic scholar, Rashi wrote nearly three hundred responsa on wide-ranging topics for the benefit of many Western European Jewish communities.

Rashi was born in Troyes, located in France’s Champagne region, in 1040. During his youth, he demonstrated an affinity for Jewish learning. His family sent him to Worms and Mainz in Germany where he studied under Rabbi Gershom, a scholar and Jewish authority in his own right. At age twenty-five, Rashi returned to Troyes. Five years later, he established a yeshiva there.

Although Rashi lived through the First Crusades, the city of Troyes was unaffected. It is against this backdrop that Elie Wiesel presents a portrait of Rashi.

Rashi is divided into four chapters. In the first, Wiesel explores the Jewish history of France and Germany during the eleventh century. The second chapter reveals snippets of Rashi’s biblical commentary from the Book of Genesis. The third chapter touches on a very few of Rashi’s commentaries on the Talmud and responsa. The final chapter speaks of the First Crusades and anti-Semitism that fell on the Jewish communities in the Rhineland.

The book is well-written, as we would expect from a Nobel Prize winning author. However, those readers expecting a full biography of Rashi will be disappointed. Rashi is part of Nextbooks Press’ Jewish Encounters Series. Previous works reviewed by this writer from that series (Betraying Spinoza by Rebecca Goldstein, The Jewish Body by Melvin Konner, and Yehuda HaLevi by Hillel Halkin) were extensively researched, with the facts being woven into a comprehensive story. To that end, this book is disappointing and leaves the reader wanting much more about this remarkable medieval Jewish scholar.


Dr. Fred Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. He is the author of The Standard Guide to the Jewish and Civil CalendarsAncient Secrets of Creation: Sepher Yetzira, the Book that Started Kabbalah, Revealed; and Reclaiming the Messiah.

Book Review: ‘Kiss Every Step’

June 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Kiss Every Step by Doris Martin with Ralph S. Martin, Booksurge Publishing, ISBN 978-1-4392-5606-0, ©2009, $14.95, 222 pages

By Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

Fred Reiss

WINCHESTER, California — The year is 1939. Hitler tells the Reichstag that if war erupts, the Jews will be exterminated. Eichmann is placed in charge of the Prague branch of the Jewish Emigration Office. The Soviet Union’s Molotov and Germany’s Ribbentrop sign a mutual non-aggression pact. Germany invades Poland on September 1. Three days later, the innocent life of little twelve-year old Dora Szpringer (now Doris Martin) is shattered. She can no longer roam the streets freely jumping rope, tossing a ball, or playing hop scotch with her best friend Rutka. The playful romps through the old castle grounds, which overlook the city, are over. The joyous visits to Gipsman’s fruit and ice cream shop have ended. On September 4, the Wehrmacht entered Dora’s hometown of Bendzin, Poland. Within a week, they burn the synagogue and many Jewish homes, with the people locked inside them.

In Kiss Every Step, Doris Martin, together with her husband Ralph, tells the remarkable and disturbing war-time encounters of the Szpringers, a family that miraculously survived the Holocaust intact, as they struggle to outwit Hitler’s army and the by-and-large anti-Semitic Polish population. Some of the chapters are autobiographical, while others are first-person accounts of events told by Doris’ siblings, Isaak, Moishe, Josef, and Laya. Each of them provides a narrative that authenticates the worst of human brutality, allowing us to vicariously experience the wiliness, cunning, and just plain luck that the Szpringer family members used to stay alive in the Polish, Russian, and German countryside.

Over three million Jews lived in Poland at the start of World War II. These unique lives mostly end in death. Thus, we are fortunate that Doris Martin has written about the disturbing episodes of her childhood and teenage years, which allow us to understand everyday life of the Jews under Nazi occupation and to some small degree, understand the terror that enveloped their very existence.

Hitler set out to make the world free of Jews. Kiss Every Step is a compelling account of the success of one family, the Szpringers, in defeating this nefarious plan.

Dr. Fred Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. He is the author of The Standard Guide to the Jewish and Civil Calendars; Public Education in Camden, NJ: From Inception to Integration.; Ancient Secrets of Creation: Sepher Yetzira, the Book that Started Kabbalah, Revealed; and Reclaiming the Messiah.

Survivor tells circumstances of entire family living through Shoah

June 25, 2010 Leave a comment

By Fred Reiss, Ed.D

Fred Reiss

ESCONDIDO, California — I am sitting next to Doris Martin (nee Dora Szpringer) in her home north of San Diego. She is a Holocaust survivor and author of Kiss Every Step, a harrowing narrative of her family’s odyssey through Eastern Europe to escape the Nazi war machine. I look at Doris as she speaks and realize that her diminutive height belies her inner strength and courage.

Doris Martin visiting Laos

Doris was just a pre-teen when Hitler’s army invaded Poland. She lived in Bendzin (pronounced ben-jeen), with her family—mother, father, three older brothers (Isaak, Moishe, and Yossel), and a younger sister, Laya. They lived an average life by Eastern European standards, and Judaism pervaded her part of town.

The Nazi soldiers, who arrived first in Bendzin, give chocolate to the children. “How bad could they be,” Doris thought to herself? Four days later, additional soldiers round up two hundred Jewish men, lock them in the main synagogue, and burn the synagogue to the ground. What could a twelve-year old know of the Nazi menace? What could any Jew have known? Doris tells me that overnight people changed. Friends changed. Relatives changed. The very government elected to protect its citizens, now turns on them. Except for immediate family, the word trust is out of the dictionary. In a matter of a few short weeks reality changes from living a care-free childhood to one of surviving day-to-day.

At the demand of the Nazis, Jews gather at the great outdoor sports stadium. There a Nazi commander separates families. Some are marked for death, others for slave labor and some are sent home. The Szpringers, who are sent home, are the only family not separated! This is the first of many such incidents. Her brother Isaac is beaten by German soldiers on his way to the Russian border for having a German name. No Jew should have a German name, the German soldiers tell him. None the less, they escort him to the border, and he is safe. For a while, brothers Moishe and Yossel find work with Alfred Rossner, who did all he could to help Jews survive. On many occasions the entire family escapes detection by roving bands of Nazi soldiers. Is it mazel or God? Doris tells me that she is less religious than she was as a child, “but how can she be angry with God? He saved my family.” There is a long pause, and I watch her thinking; remembering back. “Why my family,” she asks soulfully? It’s an answer she has sought for over sixty years.

In the fall of 1942, the Judenrat, the Jewish council under the control of the Nazis, comes for Doris. But the family hides her, an unacceptable response. They take Perla, Doris’ mother, to the police station as a hostage. They want Doris. The next day, Doris knows what she must do. She walks full of dread and fear, almost catatonically, to the police station. The swap is made and they take Doris to an old orphanage, expropriated by the Nazis. A few hours later, they move her to Auschwitz, a short distance from Bendzin. “No one knew it was there, or what was its ultimate purpose,” she says. But Auschwitz was not her final stop. She was marked for work, not death. Was this another example of the family’s luck, or the hand of God? Doris’ final destination was Ludwigsdorf, one of about sixty sub-camps of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp.

Doris, now a young teenager, was assigned to the mine factory, where she spent her days measuring the green-powder explosive for land mines. Each morning after the head count, she drinks some ersatz coffee and a piece of bread and is marched up a steep hill with other inmates to the factory. At the end of the day, the green dust covers her clothes, skin, and hair. She marches back down the hill feeling the dust in her lungs. The more immediate concern, however, is the possibility that the unstable explosive could detonate at any time.

Because of an incident that occurred in the mine factory when a top Nazi official was at the camp, she and several other girls were pulled aside for discipline. Doris was sure that she had seen her last day on Earth, and prayed to God all the way back to the barracks. However, the commandant showed them mercy. Instead of death, they were to be beaten nearly to death with rubber clubs. What a relief. Further proof that for Doris and her fellow Jews that the world had been turned upside down, Doris tells me that once, as she stood by the barbed-wire fence, she saw a deer running through the forest. Oh how jealous she was. The deer was free and she was in a cage. So what kept Doris alive all those years at Ludwigsdorf? Hope, she says. Hope that she would be reunited with her family.

The Russians freed the inmates of Ludwigsdorf in 1945. After a few days, Doris returned home to Bendzin. But for Doris, it was no longer home. The city she loved as a little girl was no longer the same. Her home was not her home. Her friends were nowhere to be found. The shops were owned by others. She no longer felt the Jewishness that once pervaded her community. Doris had no idea of the fate of her family. Homecoming brought abject sadness; not joy. She left word with the Jewish Committee, and returned, ironically, to the Ludwigsdorf Concentration Camp.
The family did reunite and eventually fled to the Americans in Berlin, where they stayed in various DP camps. In 1950, Doris and her family made their way to America.
Doris has had a good life with her second husband, Ralph, who constantly supports her through her sadness, depression, and even nightmares. Doris knows she is getting up in years, and recognizing her own finitude, wrote Kiss Every Step to tell the world the unbelievable story that the seven members of her immediate family survive Hitler’s death machine, and to tell the personal account of the evil that took place in many so-called civilized countries of Europe.
Doris and Ralph have done more than just author a book together. In 2000, the pair founded the Martin-Springer Institute for Applying the Lessons of the Holocaust to Promote Altruism, Moral Courage, and Tolerance at Northern Arizona University. In 2007, Ben Gurion University of the Negev changed the name of its Center for Conflict Studies and Negotiations to Martin-Springer Center for Conflict Studies and Negotiations. In addition, Doris speaks about the Holocaust to public school children, college students, and adults.

 Doris asks me if I know of another family that survived the Holocaust intact. I sadly respond, no. She worries now, in the twilight of her courageous life, that the next generation will forget about the Holocaust, and that the story of her family’s tortuous journey during World War II, as told in Kiss Every Step, will be unread and forgotten. The Jewish people have a long history and a long memory. It will be remembered that the Szpringer family was the family that defeated Hitler’s plan, called the “final solution.”


Dr. Fred Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. He is the author of From Inception to Integration; Ancient Secrets of Creation: Sepher Yetzira, the Book that Started Kabbalah, Revealed; and Reclaiming the Messiah.

Gaza flotilla prompts musical messages on Internet

June 5, 2010 Leave a comment

SAN DIEGO (Staff report)– With worldwide media focused on the Gaza Flotilla, we at San Diego Jewish World have been experiencing an upsurge in email messages containing links to musical commentaries.

Fred Reiss, Ed.D, who often reviews books for us, was moved by a YouTube presentation of a song declaring, “I am a Jew”.

Ulla Hadar in Sha’ar Hanegev forwarded a message from Michael Rassler, executive directror of the United Jewish Federation of Santa Barbara, in which he included a musical parody about the Gaza Flotilla participants titled “We Con The World.”

Independent minyanim: a growing Generation Y phenomenon

May 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us About Building Vibrant Jewish Communities by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, Jewish Lights Publishing, ISBN 978-1-58023-412-2, ©2010, $18.99, p. 161 + appendices.

 By Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

Fred Reiss

WINCHESTER, California–The word minyan in Jewish ritual corresponds to the idea of a quorum. Minyan means having at least ten men assembled together to form a prayer community. Traditionally, a minyan gathered in the community’s synagogue. Today this is no longer the case. American life has spawned a plethora of Jewish movements, and the idea of independent minyanim (plural of minyan) is one of them. The Independent Minyanim movement, whose members overwhelming come from Generation Y, emerged from that generation’s need for spirituality interacting with their lifestyle.

Generation Y, the Millennial Generation, is known for its frequent use of communications and digital technology, as well as for their mobile lifestyle and delaying some of the rites of passage into adulthood. Independent minyanim allow people who temporarily move into a community to attend prayer services, network with their peers, and remain financially uncommitted to a religious institution.

Empowered Judaism by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer describes the Independent Minyan movement on two levels. The first is the story of Kehilat Hadar, an independent minyan, founded in New York City by the author and two of his friends in 2001. Kaunfer points out that Kehilat Hadar rapidly took hold because of New York’s young Jewish urban culture and the newly available e-mail—no need for phone trees anymore. Success continued because of the minyan’s shared vision, and its ability to energize attendees.  The second part of the book is a more general discussion of the issues faced by both existing and start-up independent minyanim.

Independent minyanim are one example of what empowered Jews can do. Independent minyanim do not give a trained spiritual leader the “power of their pulpit.” Instead, volunteer leaders make the decisions within the framework of the minyan and lay volunteers conduct the service. Because much of a Jewish community’s accomplishments comes from fostering and sustaining volunteers, an important strength of Empowered Judaism comes in the description of how independent minyanim organize and guide all-volunteer groups that grow and thrive. This includes both a group’s leadership as well as the rank-and-file members.

Empowered Judaism explains how Kehilat Hadar tackled “thorny” day-to-day issues involving its volunteers. For example, Kehilat Hadar, is built on a traditional prayer service. What should be done when a person asked to conduct a service announced that she wanted to recite a special prayer for Gay Pride Day, which coincided with the day she would be leading services? Other practical issues include: on what basis are prayer leaders chosen? Where does the community get a Torah to use for Sabbath morning and holiday services? How does the community pay rent for a building when the minyan gets too large for the free apartment? Empowered Judaism answers all these and more using Kehilat Hadar and other independent minyanim.

Kaunfer wants to know how the Jewish community can foster more empowered Jews. He is not necessarily interested in creating more independent minyanim, but rather how to make Jews proactive on behalf of Judaism. Empowered Judaism clearly shows that the peripatetic Millennium Generation is capable of self-organization. We will soon see to see how, as they age, settle down, start families, and so forth, they will use digital technologies to teach their children about Judaism and create vibrant children’s services, maintain a cohesive Jewish community that is able to sustain religious life-cycle events, and support multi-generational communities. Empowered Judaism is as much a primer on independent minyanim as it is a source for information about significant questions facing traditional congregations.


Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. He is the author of The Standard Guide to the Jewish and Civil CalendarsAncient Secrets of Creation: Sepher Yetzira, the Book that Started Kabbalah, Revealed; and Reclaiming the Messiah.

Book places Halevi and his poetry in context

March 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Yehuda Halevi by Hillel Halkin, Nextbook/Schocken, New York;  ISBN 978-0-8052-4206-5, ©2010, $25.00, p. 353.

Fred Reiss, Ed.D

By Fred Reiss, Ed.D

WINCHESTER, California– Give me the names of three medieval Jewish poets …  Okay, I’ll take just two … Can you name just one? If you’re like most people, all you heard was the sound of silence. Our children learn to write Haiku in elementary school and to rhyme in iambic pentameter in high school. Where are we taught about the Spanish meter, adopted by the Hispano-Jewish poets, called marnin? Or, the shirey yedidut (friendship poems) and the muwashach (girdle or necklace song), poetic styles?

Hillel Halkin’s latest book, a biography of Yehuda Halevi (1075-1141), supplies us with the answers.

Jews settled in Spain by the beginning of the fourth century, where they lived through sometimes hospitable, often tenuous lives under the Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Christians, and Muslims, until their expulsion in August 1492.

Halkin opens his book at the end of the eleventh century. Halevi is a young man, an aspiring poet in Spain’s Hebrew Golden Age of Poetry. It is a time in which renowned poets such as Samuel Hanagid and Moses Ibn Ezra flourished. Spanish Jews lived under the umbrella of convivencia—a time of relative harmony—between the Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Big cities partitioned themselves into de facto neighborhoods and occasionally the convivencia gave way to fanaticism, leading to pogrom-like massacres of Jews. All in all, Jews and Judaism flourished during the life time of Yehuda Halevi.

Halkin follows Halevi’s career with wonderful translations of his poetry, which Halevi wrote in both Arabic and Hebrew. Halkin often places the poetry into historical context and the psychological perspective of the poet. Halevi’s monumental work, Hakuzari, is an imaginative dialogue among the spiritual leaders of the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish religions with the King of the Kazars, who later converted his nation to Judaism.

Through Hakuzari, Halkin provides his readers with an understanding of Halevi’s demons, as Halevi struggles with the decision to visit Jerusalem, and make aliya—permanent settlement—in what was called at that time Palestine. Halkin believes Halevi to be a proto-Zionist and the spiritual father of the Zionist movement. Halkin concludes with an extensive discussion of the theories of Halevi’s travels in Palestine, which remain shrouded in mystery. Some even say he never arrives in the Holy Land.

Hillel Halkin’s Yehuda Halevi is a thoughtful addition to our understanding of Halevi and his poetry, as well as medieval Spanish Jewry in general. Indeed, this reviewer is moved to conclude by emulating one of Halevi’s poetic styles:

Reading this book is quite sublime

You’ll find that it’s no waste of time.

The prose is beyond the routine.

And you won’t even need the caffeine.

Whatever your pleasure

It’s a book that you’ll treasure.

Forget to mow or shovel the snow

The words come like lava flow.

No matter your hue, or the location of your pew

Learn to do something new.

Perhaps reading a scroll, or a book, or a tome

No need to wander from home.

Put in the labor

This is no time to waiver.

This sefer goes far beyond rhyme

Now go and expand your mind!

Dr. Fred Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. He is the author of  Ancient Secrets of Creation: Sepher Yetzira, the Book that Started Kabbalah, Revealed; and Reclaiming the Messiah.