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March 5, 2004


• A number of novel scams have hit the Lower East Side in recent days. For example, a doctor showed up at the door of Mr. and Mrs. Mendel Lort of Prince Street and told the couple he had been sent by the Board of Health to determine whether the two were in good health. While Mr. Lort initially protested, saying that both were healthy and didn’t need checkups, the man convinced them that he really was a doctor and that he needed to fulfill his duty to the Board of Health. As a result, both Lorts were examined by the “doctor,” who determined that he was in good health and that she had a heart condition. Shortly after the “doctor” left, the Lorts discovered that all their cash, from Mrs. Lort’s purse and Mr. Lort’s pants, had disappeared, along with the mysterious “doctor.”


• When a young robber came into 63-year-old Ben-tsien Vilkes’s Intervale Avenue drugstore attempting to hold up the place, he demanded that Vilkes shut up and give him all of his money. But instead of following the gunman’s demands, Vilkes grabbed a bottle and smashed the bandit over the head. In fear for his life, the thief began crying, “Leave me alone. I’ll never bother you again,” and he took off running. Not long after, he was caught, and identified by Vilkes.

• We have a good idea of what is happening with the Jews of Russia, Poland, Rumania and Germany, and we even get news about Jews in other far-flung places like South America, Africa and Yemen. But what about Spain? Readers might be surprised to find out that, 400 years after they were expelled, some Jews are still in Spain. Amazingly, there are a few hundred Jewish families in Spain, and even more in Portugal. Despite the fact that both countries expelled their Jews around the same time and both had the Inquisition, Jews have recently had an easier time of it in Portugal. In Spain, they generally keep quiet and fear being exposed in public as Jews. It is not exactly like it was during the time of the Marranos, but Jewishness is kept solidly within the walls of the home. There are also no active synagogues in Spain, except for the pre-expulsion ones, which have been turned into churches.


• One of the interesting groups in today’s Israel is the Druze, who have pledged their loyalty to the Jewish state. Recently, Druze leaders approached members of the Knesset to ask for support in helping their brothers in Syria overthrow the government of dictator Adib Shishakli. There are only about 250,000 Druze in the world: About 25,000 in Israel, 60,000 in the mountains of Syria and the rest in Lebanon. Little is known about the mysterious Druze religion, which is considered to be a mixture of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. The Druze, however, apparently like neither Muslims nor Christians, with whom they have contentious histories.

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