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October 8, 2010

100 Years Ago in the forward

Strikes have become common events over the past few years, and all of us are used to the constant picket lines of knee pants makers, shirt waist makers, cloak makers and other garment industry workers. But in Philadelphia, an unusual strike took place in the Hevre Dorshei Tov Synagogue on Market Street, in which the men on the picket lines were the synagogue’s kohanim, or descendants of the high priests. The synagogue is not a rich one, and many of its members are poor sweatshop workers. One would think that all would be equal in synagogue, but this was not the case. At some point it became obvious that a certain group of men couldn’t get aliyot, chances to participate in the Torah reading. These aliyot are typically auctioned off, and it seems that these men were consistently outbid. Coincidentally, many of them happened to be kohanim whose participation is sometimes necessary during special priestly blessings. When it became obvious that they were again outbid this year, they went on strike, refusing to give the congregation the traditional priestly blessing.

75 Years Ago in the forward

“Many Jews arrived for morning prayers at the Ashkenazi shul in the city of Bucharest. The women’s section was also full. Even though it wasn’t a holiday, the copper lamps were lit, as were the large candelabras. Jews stood about with their prayer shawls over their heads. Their faces were pale, as if after a fast. The shul smelled of milk and of wax, like after the last prayers of Yom Kippur. The Jews of Bucharest had fasted today. The rabbis compelled them to fast and to say prayers of repentance because of bad news that had arrived from distant lands, news about new troubles for the Jews, about evil new decrees against them.” So begins Isaac Bashevis Singer’s new historical novel, “The Sinful Messiah.”

50 Years Ago in the forward

The United Nations General Assembly got an earful about Israel during a discussion about whether China should be admitted to the international body. In an attack that appeared to be unconnected to the debate about China, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hashim Jawad complained that certain “colonial powers” were using Israel as a base of attack against other Middle Eastern countries. After Jawad spoke, the debate returned to the issue of China. In other Israel-related news, Egyptian strongman, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who recently appeared on the dais at the U.N., accused King Hussein of Jordan of being bought off by the Zionists. Jordan and Egypt, as is well known, have been at odds recently.


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