June 20, 2008

Looking Back

Published June 11, 2008, issue of June 20, 2008.
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100 Years Ago in the forward

Abraham Fidler ran away from a shtetl near Odessa when he was just 15 years old. After wandering around Europe, he ended up settling in the South of France. This was a fine place for Fidler to set up shop and become a professional beggar. And beg he did. Whenever the wealthy would come down to Nice or to Monte Carlo to gamble, Fidler would be there, begging away. Skinny as a rail, Fidler would starve himself in order to extract large sums of money from his “clients.” And he was evidently a consummate professional. Recently, when he passed away, it was discovered that he had written a will to distribute his accumulated savings of more than $400,000. In a bizarre twist, Fidler’s will stipulated that this huge sum of money be given to Baron Lord Rothschild, one of the world’s wealthiest men! “Money goes to money,” Fidler wrote in his will. Rothschild, for his part, refused the money and insisted that it be given to Fidler’s relatives when they are found.

75 Years Ago in the forward

There is a hell on earth, and it’s name is “Birobidzhan,” says a Jewish American farmer who lived in the Soviet Jewish Autonomous Region for one year. Although he was asked by both Soviet officials, as well as the administrators of ICOR (the Association for Jewish Colonization in the Soviet Union), in New York not to speak about his experiences, he decided that the horrors he saw there must be made public. He has therefore agreed to do so anonymously in the Forward. His descriptions of the horrid conditions in Birobidzhan include scenes of parents burying children who have died of various diseases, only to have the corpses dug up and eaten by starving residents. As is evident, there is barely any food available, and Jewish girls are selling themselves into marriage with Chinese men for just a piece of bread. The hospital has no supplies, not even any bandages. Our correspondent, formerly a dedicated communist, cannot hide his extreme disappointment in the reality of Birobidzhan.

50 Years Ago in the forward

At a dinner given by Hadassah, Israeli premier David Ben-Gurion stated that without a connection to Israel, Jews in America will cease to exist. For better or for worse, the Israeli prime minister said, the fact is that for many years already, religion has ceased to be a tie that binds all Jews. He added that Yiddish is disappearing and that synagogue attendance in America is just a formality. The younger generation of American Jewry, he said, is doomed to an assimilation rate of 90%.

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