Friday, October 31, 2014
City in horror: Belarus town shocked to discover buildings and pavements built of gravestones of Jews the Nazis tried to erase
- Jewish headstones have been turning up all over the city of Brest
- Many have been used in house basements and some as garden paving
- Hundreds were unearthed in May by diggers on a supermarket building site
- UK charity The Together Plan wants them to be turned into a memorial
- Over 30,000 Jews in Brest were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust
- The headstones were part of a cemetery desecrated by the Soviets
PUBLISHED: 06:58 EST, 31 October 2014 | UPDATED: 12:00 EST, 31 October 2014
Residents of a Belarus town on the border with Poland made the macabre discovery that thousands of Jewish gravestones have been used to construct buildings, roads – and even garden paving.
The headstones have been turning up in locations all over Brest over the past six years, with around 1,500 discovered so far.
Hundreds were discovered in May during the construction of a supermarket, with headstones unearthed by diggers.
Residents of a Belarus town on the border with Poland made the macabre discovery of thousands of Jewish gravestones that have been used to construct buildings, roads, even garden paving
Hundreds of headstones were discovered in May during the construction of a supermarket, when they were by unearthed by diggers
Debra Brunner, co-director of The Together Plan, a UK-based charity that promotes the development of skills and education in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, has been helping with efforts to have the headstones protected and turned into a memorial.
She has visited the supermarket site herself and described the experience as ‘bizarre’.
She told MailOnline: ‘I’ve never seen anything like it. It was bizarre. They were everywhere. The builders were very kind, though, and concerned and wanted to know what they should do with them.’
The headstones have been turning up in locations all over Brest for the past six years, with around 1,500 discovered so far
The headstones were part of a huge Jewish cemetery that dated back to around 1832
Ms Brunner said that the story behind the headstones is a heartbreaking one – but hopes that awareness of it will help bring the Jewish community empowerment and closure.
She said that the headstones were part of a huge Jewish cemetery that dated back to around 1832 – but a definite date is hard to pin-point because records were destroyed in the Holocaust.
‘Every Jew in Brest – bar 19 – was killed by the Nazis,’ she said. ‘That’s 30,000 Jews killed. The whole community was annihilated.’
The gravestones proved to be very useful building materials for the townsfolk – but most had no idea what they were
Residents began taking the headstones to a local priest - who told them they were religious artifacts and should be protected
Things didn’t improve much in the post-war Soviet era. ‘The Jews weren’t allowed to practice their religion,’ Ms Brunner said. ‘The Soviets desecrated the whole cemetery and removed every single gravestone.’
These gravestones proved to be very useful building materials for the townsfolk. People used them as foundations in their houses, as grindstones and they bolstered roads – but most had no idea what they were.
However, in recent years, some with suspicions that they were using religious artifacts took them to a local priest for his opinion.
He knew immediately that he was looking at sacred objects and urged residents to save them.
Ms Brunner said: ‘More and more people recognised them – and soon there was a tidal wave of headstones.’
At the moment the headstones are piled up in the arches of the Brest Fortress, but The Together Plan is hoping to attract the support of the U.S Commission For Jewish Heritage Abroad, so that funding can be raised to build a memorial using the headstones at the site of the original cemetery, which lies on scrubland next to a running track.
Ms Brunner said: ‘If the Jews get their memorial it will empower them - out of death will come new life.’
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2815675/A-city-horror-Belarus-town-Polish-border-discovers-buildings-pavements-constructed-using-Jewish-tombstones.html#ixzz3HlWEfL9h
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No trick or treating until sundown. This year not before in the NY area. Children may trick or treat earlier for (educational purposes), but it’s preferable if they wait until the zman.
A scary costume is preferable, but (2nd choice), one dressed as a princess or a Minion has fulfilled the obligation of dressing up.One who turns off the lights and pretends to be away is called a sinner!Shaving cream used for tricks does not require kosher supervision.If Halloween falls out on Shabbat (like this year), trick or treating within the (a string around the city allowing Jews to carry outdoors on Shabbat) is permissible. If there is no , one still trick or treats, but the custom is to cut a hole in bottom of the plastic jack o’ lantern so the candy goes to waste.To be considered a trick, one must damage property valued at at least one perutah (approx. 5 cents). A trick must also inconvenience the victim by at least 6.7 minutes. In case of emergency, there is a lenient position of 4.8 minutes one may be allowed to rely on. Consult your authority (your Rabbi).The pumpkin should be placed on the top step, to the right of the door.
It is preferable to use a real pumpkin as a jack o’ lantern. (2nd choice), plastic is also acceptable.One does not make a blessing before trick or treating, because it is not certain that the homeowner will be home. (And one may not utter Gd’s name in vain.)When giving candy, one must give an amount at least the size of an olive (about five candy corns.) Some are of the opinion that it has to be at least the size of an egg (twelve candy corns.) This opinion is preferable.When egging cars, one should be careful not to drop any eggs prior to throwing them. Remember, Ba’al Tashchis (the sin of wasting)!Not Tznius (immodest) witch costumes, only at home with one’s husband.
Commemorating the 849th Anniversary of the Rambam's Historic Ascent to the Temple Mount: Thursday, the 6th day of the month of Marcheshvan, marked 849 years to the day that Maimonides ascended the Temple Mount. Learn about the times that the Rambam lived in, details about his journey from Morocco to Jerusalem, and read his own words describing his experience.
"FROM MOSHE RABBENU, (OUR MASTER MOSES), WHO LED US OUT OF EGYPT AND RECEIVED TORAH AT MOUNT SINAI, TO RABBENU MOSHE BEN MAIMON, (OUR MASTER, MOSES THE SON OF MAIMON),THERE WAS NONE OTHER OF COMPARABLE GREATNESS." This is the meaning of the well known statement quoted above, which today can be found engraved upon the Rambam's tomb in the city of Tiberias, and such is the measure of esteem in which the Rambam is held in to this day.
DURING HIS OWN LIFETIME, MAIMONIDES was revered by his coreligionists all across the Jewish diaspora. The Rambam's philosophical works were of such universal importance that he was quoted on a number of occasions by the church theologian Thomas Aquinas in his written works. Aquinas referred to the Rambam as "Rabbi Moses."
A CONTEMPORARY AND FELLOW NATIVE OF CORDOBA, the Moslem philosopher, Averroes, shared with Maimonides a fascination with Aristotelian thought, and together, their writings introduced the followers of all three religions to the ancient Greek masters, thus laying the foundations for the European renaissance that would take shape in the ensuing centuries.
ALTHOUGH CONTROVERSIAL IN HIS DAY, the Rambam's great works of halacha, (Jewish law), theMishneh Torah, and of philosophy, Moreh Nevuchim, (The Guide for the Perplexed), are considered unparalleled classics of Jewish thought.
BASED ON THE BODY OF WORK THAT HE PRODUCED, and the intellectual influence he exerted upon giants of Islamic and Christian thought, one could easily imagine that the Rambam lived during an idyllic era of peaceful coexistence and mutual appreciation between cultures and religions. One could imagine that the Rambam lived a cloistered and sedentary life, dedicated to study and composing. Neither of these misconceptions could be further from the truth. The twelfth century was a turbulent and violent time. The Rambam found himself constantly in the midst of turmoil and upheaval. He enjoyed neither tranquility nor prosperity. The Rambam produced his body of work and made his indelible mark on history, in spite of the inhospitable and deadly environment that he found himself in throughout the days of his life. Where did it all begin?
The Almohades, a fanatical Moslem dynastyinspired by and established by the North African Berber, Ibn Tumart, have gained control of the city. Under Moslem rule since its initial capture in 711 CE, Cordoba prospered under the relatively moderate rule of the Moslem caliphate. The city flourished, and at its height the Cordovan population may have reached half a million. The Moslem conquerers introduced ancient Greek philosophy, mathematics and science. Cordoba was a cultural center, housing a library that contained as many as 1,000,000 volumes. Cordoba was the capital of the Moslem emirate of al-Andalus, which covered the southern third of modern day Spain. Second class citizens, granted dhimmistatus, Jews and Christians were heavily taxed and faced severe restrictions. They were not actively persecuted. This was all about to change. The conquering Almohades immediately granted all non-Moslems two choices, convert or die. The once noble city was in turmoil.
Moshe ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides, and reverently referred to by Jews as Rambam, (an acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon), was thirteen years old when his mother and father, and his younger brother, along with many thousands of other Jews, fled Cordoba. Moshe ben Maimon was born on erev Pesach, (Passover eve), in 1135. As a child he was able to imbibe upon the cosmopolitan atmosphere and culture of Cordoba prior to the Almohade conquest. But whatever peace and quiet the Rambam had been blessed with as a boy growing up in Cordoba, he would never experience such tranquility again in his lifetime. Disguised as Moslems, the Rambam and his family escaped Cordoba, keeping on the move through southern Spain, eventually arriving in Fez, Morocco, which was also under the tyrannical control of the Almohades. The Rambam later described this time in his life: "[The Moslems] persecuted us severely, and passed baneful and discriminatory legislation against us... Never did a nation molest, degrade, debase, and hate us as much as they."
Years later, the Rambam would again draw from his earlier experience, in writing his famous 1172 "Epistle to the Jews of Yemen." The Jews of Yemen, facing a renewed wave of persecution and forced conversion, appealed to the Rambam for instruction as to how to conduct themselves. In his epistle the Rambam immediately drew the parallel between his own experience of two decades earlier and what was currently taking place in Yemen: "You write that the rebel leader in Yemen decreed compulsory apostasy for the Jews by forcing the Jewish inhabitants of all the places he had subdued to desert the Jewish religion just as the Berbers had compelled them to do in Maghreb [North Africa]." In detailing the history of persecution against the Jews, Rambam referred to Mohammed as " ...the Madman who... added the further objective of procuring rule and submission."
Fez itself would eventually become the scene of massacre, as tens of thousands of Jews were slaughtered by the Almohades rulers. While residing in Fez, the Rambam was able to study at the prestigious University of Al-Karaouine. The institution was established in 859 and exists to this day. It was no doubt here, at Al-Karaouine, that Rambam absorbed much of his knowledge of philosophy, mathematics, and the natural sciences. It was in Fez, during these years that Rambam wrote his Commentary on the Mishnah.
In the year 1165, the situation for Jews living in Fez, constantly one of danger, took a turn for the worse. Rambam and his family decided to leave Fez after nearly two decades, and head toward the east. Their destination was the land of Israel. What awaited Rambam in 12th century Israel?
This we will explore tomorrow.
12th Century Israel: The Epicenter of Conflict
The land of Israel, in the 12th century, was the epicenter of the now centuries old conflict between Christendom and Islam. It was the time of the Second and Third Crusade. The Crusades had originated in the prior century, ostensibly with the purpose of capturing Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Moslem rulers and bringing it under Christian dominion. In this manner, the Vatican also hoped to check the steady territorial advancement of Islam. The First Crusade was authorized by Pope Urban II, and in 1099 invading crusaders took Jerusalem, slaughtering its Moslem and Jewish inhabitants. The crusaders likewise succeeded in gaining control of a number of other cities in the region.
A second crusade took place in 1147, just eighteen years before the Rambam would set sail for Israel. A relatively quiet period was ended when Moslems captured the city of Edessa, (in modern day Syria). This prompted renewed attempts by the crusaders to conquer Moslem held cities. This Second Crusade was largely a failure from the crusader perspective, as their attempts to expand their territory were repelled. The Second Crusade did, however, result in the massacre of thousands of Jews across Europe by the crusader armies enroute to Israel, and accompanying mobs who had what to gain by sacking their Jewish neighbors.
The Kingdom of Jerusalem, established in 1099, which included the city of Jerusalem and the outlying areas, contained within its borders some 350,000 Muslims, Jews, and native Eastern Christians. The ruling Frank population, (Western European Christians), was no greater than 120,000.
The northern Israel port city of Acco, (Acre), was captured by King Baldwin I of Jerusalem in the year 1104. The crusaders turned Acco into their chief Mediterranean port.
Twelfth century Israel was a land divided and drenched in blood. Those who had swords, lived by the sword. Those who didn't, were wantonly slaughtered. The Holy Roman Empire's reasons for waging the crusades designed at capturing the Holy Land were many, and were based on local realpolitik and not necessarily on reasons of faith or ideology. Nevertheless, it was faith and ideology which were the rallying cries of the crusades. In the popular mind the battles being waged in the land of Israel were for the honor and advancement of Christianity, and to defeat and humiliate the unbelieving Moslems. Needless to say, the crusader assault on the cities of Israel and the surrounding region aroused a similar fervor among the Moslem rulers and their subjects, every bit as deadly. The entire region, which today would be known as the Middle East, was a tinderbox, ready to ignite. For the Jews of the region, who had no arms and had no army, and who were equally despised by both the Christian crusaders and their Moslem opponents, daily life could not have been more fraught with danger.
|It was into this deadly arena that the Rambam was determined to set foot when, on the 14th day of the month of Iyar, 4925, (May 5, 1165), he embarked from northwest Africa, and set sail for the port city of Acco.However, piracy and life-threatening tempests upon the high seas were the immediate dangers faced by any 12th century traveler, and the Rambam was no exception.|
Tomorrow we will learn in Rambam's own words, of his voyage across the Mediterranean, and his travels through Israel.
Back to day one.