January 30, 2004
100 YEARS AGO
• After pogroms in which their stores and homes were destroyed, more than 1,200 Jews from a number of smaller towns in Morocco have arrived in Casablanca. Morocco has been wracked with violence and riots, which, though directed at the ruling classes, have victimized the Jewish and, to a lesser degree, the Christian communities. When the Sultan’s soldiers drove the roving bands out of the streets, they entered Jewish and Christian cemeteries, where they desecrated a number of graves. The Jews who arrived in Casablanca had lost everything. Although reports in the English-language press indicate that the situation in Morocco is stable, none of them mention the terrible state in which the Jews have found themselves.
75 YEARS AGO
• Three Jewish boys were executed this week at Sing Sing Prison for killing a police officer. Harry Graytser, Edward Fisher and Isidore Helfant — all members of a notorious Brooklyn criminal outfit — killed police officer William Kelly more than a year ago in Brooklyn. “The Pants Gang,” known for its frequent robberies and hold-ups, was given the name because they always forced their victims to take off their pants at gunpoint. That way, it was thought, the half-naked victims would be too embarrassed to run out into the street to get help and thus would give the gang ample getaway time. It was in this way that a large number of Brooklynites lost both their pants and their money.
• Jews living in Harlem have recently discovered that thousands of their African-American neighbors consider themselves Jews and live according to Jewish law and custom. They know Hebrew, pray daily, eat kosher meat and fast on Yom Kippur. They claim to be the descendents of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba of Abyssinia, who traveled to Jerusalem and fell in love with the king. Their child eventually became the first Jewish king of Abyssinia. His descendents in Harlem are divided into two sects. One follows the Jewish traditions and has two synagogues. The other sect also follows Jewish tradition, but doesn’t dismiss Jesus either.
50 YEARS AGO
• The hottest drama currently on Broadway is based on “The Caine Mutiny,” which, after all, has been a best-selling novel for the last three years. To call the author, Herman (Khaym-Zelig) Wouk, a “proud Jew” might be doing him an injustice. Wouk could be called “naturally” Jewish — kind of like his grandfather, a Minsk rabbi who, after living in the Bronx for 22 years, moved to Tel Aviv. At a recent banquet for the American Fund for Israeli Institutions, Wouk was the only one there with a yarmulke on his head. Not only that, but he also makes it his business to study a bit of Talmud or Bible every day.