Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Alexander Hamilton and the Jews

Yehuda Lave, Spiritual Advisor and Counselor
My Father of blessed memory made much of his career as the editor and publisher of a small neighborhood newspaper in Chicago where I was born. Because of limitations of his budget for how many pages he could print, he was always forced to edit the paper so that the advertising (which paid for the paper) would fit in the allowed space. The advertising had to be printed and if there was room for anything else it would go in the paper.

The Chicago Tribune by comparision was a major paper that had a large staff and printed many pages every day. They had a masthead (a promotion for the paper) that said "We print the news that is fit to print".

My Father would joke about that masthead, comparing it to his own situation and he would say "We print the news that fits" (in the space he had).

I think of my Father today as I write this daily piece, because I in today's use two different servers to send out my writing. One does a better job in general, but the one I am wriitng from today has an advantage that when I copy and paste a story, it picks up the pictures in the story as well, while the other one gets the text without the pictures. So today I am honoring my Father by using this server, becasue It allows me to "fit" the pictures into the story. Here is to you, Dad, your son is an editor and publisher as well.

Love Yehuda Lave

Alexander Hamilton and the Jews

The surprising and extensive connections the Founding Father had with the Jews.

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Fans of the hit musical Hamilton have something to celebrate: America's Library of Congress has announced they are putting hundreds of Hamilton's letters and other documents online.

Those of us who are curious about America's Founding Father and the first Secretary of the US Treasury can now learn more about Alexander Hamilton. One surprise might be Hamilton's extensive Jewish connections.

"An isle in the Caribbean"

In the musical Hamilton, AlexanderHamilton sings that he was "Born in an isle in the Caribbean / I knew I was poor." The isle in question was Nevis, a British possession then known for its sugar, tea and cocoa plantations and its slave trade. Britain used the island as a dumping ground for criminals, sending shiploads of pickpockets, homeless people, thieves and others from the margins of British society to the tropical island. But Nevis also was home to a thriving Jewish population, most of who fled the Inquisition in Portugal to Brazil, then moved to the Caribbean when the Inquisition terrorized Brazil.

The earliest record of Jewish residents is a muster roll from 1678, listing eight people as "Jewes". By the late 1670s, 17 Jewish families called Nevis home. They built a synagogue and bought and consecrated a Jewish cemetery. By the time Alexander Hamilton was born in the 1750s (the exact date of his birth is disputed), fully one quarter of the white population of the island's capital, Charlestown, was Jewish

Nevis Jewish cemetery

In later years, Nevis' one-time Jewish community was forgotten. That changed in 1957, when an American Jewish historian named Malcolm Stern and his wife took a cruise that stopped in Nevis and he located an old Jewish cemetery, now an overgrown field where goats grazed. Tipped off by locals that Jews had once used the field as a burial site, Stern located 16 Hebrew epitaphs before returning to his ship and later writing about Nevis' lost Jewish community.

"Founding father without a father"

Much criticism was levelled at Alexander Hamilton during his lifetime for being illegitimate. Though he took the name of his father, the Scottish nobleman and ne'er-do-well James Hamilton, Alexander's mother was in fact married to a man named Johann Michael Lavien. Historian Ron Chernow (whose 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton inspired the musical Hamilton) notes that divorce was almost impossible to procure in the West Indies in the 1700s and although Alexander Hamilton's mother left her husband and presented herself to the world as Mrs. James Hamilton, her first husband continued to bedevil the family.

Alexander Hamilton

Chernow also posits that Lavien might have been Jewish. Indeed, when Alexander Hamilton wrote of his mother's husband, he called him Levine, a Jewish name. Chernow notes "The name Lavien can be a Sephardic variant of Levine, but if he (Johann Lavien) was Jewish he managed to conceal his origins. Had he presented himself as a "Jew" mainstream Christian society would not have accepted him.

"Get your education, don't forget from whence you came."

Nevis' Christian schools refused to educate the young Alexander Hamilton. Thirsty for knowledge, Hamilton's mother turned to a local Jewish school to teach her brilliant son. The future founding father learned about Judaism and even learned to speak some Hebrew.

Hamilton learned about Judaism and even learned to speak some Hebrew.

Hamilton's son later explained of his father "rarely as he alluded to his personal history, he mentioned with a smile his having been taught to repeat the Decalogue in Hebrew, at the school of a Jewess, when so small that he was placed standing by her side upon a table."

"Now how're you gonna get your debt plan through?"

As the country's first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton proposed a bold plan for the new federal government to pay all state debts incurred during the Revolutionary War at full value. This enhanced the prestige of the fledgling central government but was wildly expensive. To fund his debt plan, Hamilton's Treasury issued securities bonds, as well as a host of other financial innovations.

Hamilton's plan was risky and it brought special ire from anti-Semites. In their book The Presidents of the United States and the Jews, David G. Dalin and Alfred J. Kolatch note that Hamilton "was attacked for having Jewish moneylending interests at heart" at the time.

"I finished up my studies and I practiced law."

After the Revolutionary War, Alexander Hamilton practiced law in New York. Although there was a Jewish community in New York at the time, Jews were marginalized and few in number, and anti-Semitic attitudes were rife. When a witness was disparaged for being Jewish, Alexander Hamilton passionately asked his opposing counsel: "Why distrust the evidence of the Jews?" It was a bold question and an unusual position to take at the time.

"They'll be safe in the nation we've made."

Alexander Hamilton was clear in his admiration for Jews and his recognition that the survival of the Jewish people against all odds was a sign of something extraordinary. In notes that he left on the "progress of the Jews", Hamilton mused on the extraordinary fact of Jewish survival.

"From their earliest history to the present time (Jewish survival for millennia against all odds) has been and is, entirely, out of the ordinary course of human affairs" Hamilton wrote. "Is it not then a fair conclusion that the cause also is an extraordinary one - in other words that it is the effect of some great providential plan? The man who will draw this Conclusion will look for the solution in the Bible. He who will not draw it ought to give us another fair solution."

Hamilton's high esteem for Jews and his strong belief in human rights, helped ensure that the new United States was a place where many different peoples including Jews, could dwell in relative security and dignity.

The Holocaust Survivor and the SS Guard

The Holocaust Survivor and the SS Guard

Judy Meisel is one of the last people alive who can help finger a former SS guard who tormented her at the Stuttof concentration camp.


Judy Meisel, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor, is one of the last people alive who can help finger a former SS guard, still never indicted for his crimes, who tormented her during her internment in the Stuttof concentration camp, near what is now the city of Gdansk. Two German law enforcement agents recently traveled to Minneapolis to interview Mesiel to see if she could categorically identify him through photos taken more than 70 years ago. For four hours, Meisel described the cruelties of the camp guards, the horrors she witnessed and the conditions in which she survived.

Born in a small Lithuanian shtetl called Josvane in 1929, Meisel's life, already strained by poverty, turned into a nightmare when the Nazis jackbooted into town in 1941 and kicked the family out of their home. Meisel's father had already died from a heart attack, but she, her mother, brother and sister were taken to the Kovno ghetto, where they languished for three years. Two months before the Soviets liberated the ghetto, Meisel's brother was sent to Dachau. The women were sent to Stuttof.

Commandant's house at Stutthof

On November 21,1944, Judy and her mother, Mina Becker, were holding hands as they walked toward the gas chambers, awaiting their certain deaths. A drunken guard suddenly shouted at Judy at the entryway, startling her, and her mother shouted, "Run, Judith, run!"

Stutthof gas chamber

Half-starved, Judith escaped and returned to her sister Rachel in the barracks. The sisters miraculously survived, despite typhus and starvation, managing to escape from a death march, crawling across the frozen Vistula River to evade the Nazis, and finally taking shelter in a Catholic convent. The nuns treated them well but expected them to convert to Catholicism.

"I thought we were the only Jews still alive," Meisel recalled of her time in the convent, "but I told my sister, 'We cannot do this. We will not become Catholic and run away with the nuns.' I wanted to be Jewish more than anything else to show Hitler that he didn't kill all of us." The sisters maintained their pretense of being Catholic while working at a German Wehrmacht station, and they were eventually liberated physically and emotionally in Denmark, where Judith arrived at age 16 weighing only 47 pounds, almost deathly ill from typhus.

Judy and her sister Rachel in Denmark

During Meisel's recent interview with the German investigators, she was shown a picture of the guard and asked, "Do you recognize this man?" Her son, Minneapolis attorney Michael R. Cohen, was with his mother during this interview and saw her face turn white.

"Meydele! That is Meydele!" she exclaimed, using the Yiddish word for little girl. "My mother called him that name because of his girlish features. He was the one who watched us get undressed every morning."

Cohen was shocked when his mother continued to look at the photo and then say to her interviewers, "Look at how young he was. Let me ask you a question: What would you do if you were me?"

Judy and her brother Abe who survived Dachau reuniting in Toronto 1950

"My mother's capacity for forgiveness and fairness took over, even in the face of her worst nightmares," Cohen wrote in an essay that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer. If an indictment is issued, German law will allow Meisel to participate as a co-plaintiff against him. As Cohen wrote about this case, "For my mother and our family, this is not a matter of revenge or of seeking the imprisonment of a 91-year-old man. We welcome the opportunity to tell her story and the important lessons it imparts about the need to never remain silent in the face of bigotry, prejudice, hatred, and intolerance."

As a survivor, Judy Meisel raised her family with a strong Jewish identity and a passion for fighting on behalf of any people facing oppression. In the early 1960's, when she saw news reports of a black family whose home was violently attacked for having moved into a white neighborhood, Meisel drove to their area with home-baked cookies and rang the doorbell.

Judy's mother, Mina, (circa 1938) who was murdered in Stutthof gas chamber

"Mrs. Baker, I am a Holocaust survivor," she said. "What can I do for you?"

Meisel helped organize the Philadelphia contingent that traveled to the March on Washington to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on Aug. 28, 1963. She also had dinner with him and Raymond Pace Alexander , the first black judge appointed to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Dr. King explained the laws of kashruth to the host on Judy's behalf.

While living in Santa Barbara, California for more than 40 years, Meisel regularly invited non-Jews to her home for Shabbat so they could understand what Jews do and how they practice their faith. "We need to learn to live with the goyim. That word means 'nations' and is not derogatory," she said.

After the war, she said that she never questioned why God had done this to her and to others. "I asked instead, 'What can I do for you?' He wants we should be a mensch and should appreciate each other. We know after we finish reading the Hagaddah that we were strangers in Egypt. I go with that motto."

Despite her unimaginably painful memories, Meisel has also spoken hundreds of times to audiences of college and high school students, as well as synagogues and churches about the Holocaust. But she did not focus exclusively or even primarily on the horrors of those days.

Recent photo of Judy with grandson Ben and great granddaughter Mira

"They need to hear what happened to me, but I also talk about the importance about being Jewish, about the Talmud, how it gives us resiliency. The most important day in my life is Shabbas. It has kept the Jews, and I don't think I would be alive if not for Shabbas. We should be so proud of who we are as Jews. The most important thing is to know who we are."

Meisel returned to Lithuania as well as Stutthof and Denmark. These visits formed the basis of a riveting documentary titled " Tak for Alt," "Thanks for Everything," a reference to what the Danish people did for both Judy and her sister Rachel, nursing them back to health, absorbing them into their own families. During their time in Denmark, the sisters received the joyous news that their brother had also survived and was living in Toronto. At one point in the film, Meisel is seen holding her first grandson, Aaron, weeping with happiness.

"When I held him I thought of all the children who did not survive, and of the 146 members from my extended family who perished. We had all promised one another that if we survived we would tell the story."

When told, as she often is, that she must have extraordinary resilience, she dismisses it. "I'm a normal person, flesh and blood. We all decide what we are able to do. I'm only one person, but one person can do a lot."

To read more about Judith Meisel's story and the status of the investigation, please go to

Bones and human remains at the construction site

"I am shocked by the exposure, and we will take steps to bring the remains found for proper burial," said Lazlo Fezovsky, head of the Jewish community in Poland.

Micl Loi , senior Elul Tsa"z 09/03/17 15:01



Photo: Reuters

A building site in the town of Mazow in Poland on which a school was to be built, bones and human remains were found alongside broken gravestones.

After examination by the authorities, it became clear that the building site in question was a Jewish cemetery before the Holocaust. On the eve of the Holocaust, the cemetery was desecrated by the Germans and since then it has not been rehabilitated. The Associated Press quoted a historian as saying that this was a 200-year-old Jewish cemetery.

"I am shocked by the exposure, and we will take steps to bring the remains found for proper burial," said Lazlo Fezovsky, head of the Jewish community in Poland.

He added that "to date only some 500 of the approximately 1600 Jewish cemeteries in Poland have been returned to the Jewish community, and now the state is gradually restoring them."

The local police said that "an official investigation has been opened, as we want to understand if and when the cemetery was destroyed, and if the new construction site is indeed located on its ruins."

First Temple-era Seals with Biblical Names in Hebrew Discovered in Jerusalem


Photo Credit: courtesy

I often see Arabs claim in Arabic media that there is no evidence of Jewish history in Jerusalem.

The charge is absurd because there have been hundreds of archaeological finds that prove otherwise, but mere facts aren't important to these people.

Here are the latest stunning finds from excavations at the City of David. (This is a press release from the City of David and Israel Antiquities Authority.)

A collection of seals (bullae) from the late First Temple period, discovered in the City of David excavations, shed light on the bureaucracy and officials of ancient Jerusalem

A collection of seals, some of which bear ancient Hebrew inscriptions, as well as additional new findings, will be displayed to the public at the annual City of David archaeology conference taking place this week.

Who was Achiav ben Menachem? A collection of dozens of sealings, mentioning the names of officials dated to the days of the Judean kingdom prior to the Babylonian destruction, was unearthed during excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the City of David National Park in the area of the walls of Jerusalem, funded by the ELAD (El Ir David) organization.

The sealings (bullae- from which the Hebrew word for stamp, "bul", is derived) are small pieces of clay which in ancient times served as seals for letters. A letter which arrived with its seal broken was a sign that the letter had been opened before reaching its destination. Although letters did not survive the horrible fire which consumed Jerusalem at its destruction, the seals, which were made of the abovementioned material that is similar to pottery, were actually well preserved thanks to the fire, and attest to the existence of the letters and their senders.

According to Ortal Chalaf and Dr. Joe Uziel, directors of the excavation for the Israel Antiquities Authority, "In the numerous excavations at the City of David, dozens of seals were unearthed, bearing witness to the developed administration of the city in the First Temple period. The earliest seals bear mostly a series of pictures; it appears that instead of writing the names of the clerks, symbols were used to show who the signatory was, or what he was sealing. In later stages of the period – from the time of King Hezekiah (around 700 BCE) and up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE – the seals bear the names of clerks in early Hebrew script. Through these findings, we learn not only about the developed administrative systems in the city, but also about the residents and those who served in the civil service."

Some of the seals bear biblical names, several of which are still used today, such as Pinchas. One particularly interesting seal mentions a man by the name of "Achiav ben Menachem." These two names are known in the context of the Kingdom of Israel; Menachem was a king of Israel, while Achiav does not appear in the Bible, but his name resembles that of Achav (Ahab) the infamous king of Israel from the tales of the prophet Elijah. Though the spelling of the name differs somewhat, it appears to be the same name. The version of the name which appears on the seal discovered – Achav [sic, should be "Achiav" – Yoel] – appears as well in the Book of Jeremiah in the Septuagint, as well as in Flavius Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 15: 7-8).

Chalaf and Uziel add that the appearance of the name Achiav is interesting for two main reasons. First – because it serves as further testimony to the names which are familiar to us from the kingdom of Israel in the Bible, and which appear in Judah during the period following the destruction of the kingdom of Israel. "These names are part of the evidence that after the exile of the Tribes of Israel, refugees arrived in Jerusalem from the northern kingdom, and found their way into senior positions in Jerusalem's administration

(Yoel adds:

But as biblical scholar Gershon Galil points out

The name Menachem isn't just typical of the kingdom of Israel – it also appears on two ostraca from Horvat Uza in Judea and also on an ostracon from the south-west part of the Judean mountains. So I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that Achiav ben Menachem is necessarily an Israelite and not a Judean.)

Furthermore, the sealings is the fact that the two names which appear on the seal- Achiav and Menachem- were names of kings of Israel. Though Achav (Ahab) is portrayed as a negative figure in the Bible, the name continues to be in use- though in a differently spelled version- both in Judea in the latter days of the First Temple, as reflected in Jeremiah and on the seal, and also after the destruction- in the Babylonian exile and up until the Second Temple period, as seen in the writings of Flavius Josephus.

The various stamps, along with other archaeological findings discovered in the recent excavations, will be exhibited to the public for the first time at the 18th City of David research conference, the annual archaeological conference held by the Megalim Institute, on September 7th at the City of David National Park.

See you tomorrow
Love Yehuda Lave
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