Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Bittersweet Resolution to Lost Art

Many Jewish families have pursued the return of art that was stolen by the Nazis during the Second World War. Such episodes have been recorded in books, articles and movies. It is amazing that such pursuits continue over 70 years after the end of the war. There are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of pieces of art, collectibles, and other valuable stolen precious possessions that will never be returned, not just because there is resistance by current possessors, but most of the owners are no longer alive and records are mostly non-existence. My own grandparents owned a valuable library of first edition books. In order to facilitate my grandparents departure from Berlin the library was sold for well under their value to Goebbel's girl friend.

The New York Times published an interesting recent story titled "After Decades, a 'Bittersweet' Resolution Over Lost Art" on 5/28 written by Nina Siegel:

"Amsterdam--It was 1937, Vienna, when a Jewish couple named Heinrich and Anna Maria Graf bought a vibrant 18th-century oil painting of the Grand Canal in Venice with the Punta Della Dogana in the background. The work held pride of place in the living room, the highlight of their small but treasured art collection.

"One year later, Germany annexed Austria and the Grafs and their twin 6-year old daughters, Erika and Eva, had to flee the country. They put their art into storage and left for Italy, then France--where Heinrich was held for more than a year in an internment camp for Jews--then Spain and Portugal and ultimately New York. By the time they settled in Forest Hills, Queens, it was 1942, and all their possessions had been looted by the Nazis.

"The prized painting had been the focus of a 70-year recovery effort by the Graf family and its heirs--and one that is now ending on a ambivalent note. Sotheby's in London is preparing to sell the work, by the artist Michele Marieschi, at an old master's auction in July, following a restitution settlement between the heirs and a trust on behalf of the now-deceased owner, whose identity has not been released. The auction house has estimated the painting's value at $650,000 to $905,000.

"The painful and circuitous history reflects how looted artworks that have been in private hands for decades are coming to market after settlement agreements with the rightful owners, in a way that tries to address their tainted past. These agreements may not result in the return of the paintings to their heirs, but the compromise does provide at least a form of resolution and some compensation to the heirs, and brings the artworks out of hiding.

"The heirs of the Grafs were not able to recover the painting, 'La Punta Della Dogana e San Giorgio Maggiore' (1739-40), because the deceased owner and the trust declined to return the work. Instead, the parties reached an agreement that involves sharing the proceeds of the Sotheby's sale. No one involved would disclose details of the deal.

"Stephen Tauber, a son-in-law of the Grafs, said in a telephone interview that the resolution was 'bittersweet'. His wife, Erika, died in 2012 at 79; her sister, Eva, lives in a retirement community in Canton, Mass...

"Like many paintings, looted during World War II the painting went through several hands after the Grafs had to leave it behind....The Graf family had been searching for the painting since 1946, when Heinrich Graf filed a claim for the work in Austria. In 1998, the two daughters, assisted by Art Loss Register, a database of lost and stole art that also provides search services...The sisters asked a British judge to issue an injunction against Christie's to release the name of the owner. The Art Loss Register and the Vienna Israelite Community then tried to reach out to the owner on behalf of the sisters, but to no avail: He refused to talk.

..."The Graf family and the estate reached the restitution agreement in December. Mr. Tauber, 85, and his son, Andrew Tauber, 54, a lawyer in Washington, were able to spend an hour with the painting when it was in the Paris Sotheby's offices last month.

"'Finally, finally, after decades of hearing about this painting, I was getting to see it with my own eyes,' Andrew Tauber said. 'Knowing that my grandparents, with whom I was very close, loved this work so much, it was a very emotional experience'"

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Who Gave Jared and Ivanka Permission to Fly on Shabbat?

JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) published a piece today, May 24, by Ben Sales titled "Jared and Ivanka's Rabbis Don't Know Who Gave Them Permission to Fly on Shabbat"

This is a subject about which everyone is surely intrigued!!!

"New York (JTA)--Which Orthodox rabbi gave Jared and Ivanka permission to fly on Shabbat?

"We don't know who it was, but we know who it wasn't.

"It wasn't Haskel Lookstein who oversaw the First Daughter's conversion to Judaism.

"It wasn't Marvin Hier, who gave the invocation at President Trump's inauguration.

"It wasn't Levi Shemtov, the spiritual leader at the synagogue in Washington, D.C., that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have attended.

"And it wasn't Shmuley Boteach, the celebrity rabbi who has lavished praise on the president and taken a series of selfies with his advisers.

"Those rabbis, on the record, denied giving their stamp of approval to the Friday night flight to Saudi Arabia--though none of them criticized the decision, and all refrained from commenting on it.

"Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi, who ran the Chabad at Harvard, where Kushner was active as a student, was unavailable for comment.

"Flying on a plane is one of many activities prohibited by Jewish law from sundown Friday to nightfall Saturday, principally because igniting the engine involves lighting a fire. Shabbat laws can be broken, however, to save a life, a concept known in Hebrew as 'pikuach nefesh'.

"The question--much debated on social media by both fans and detractors of Trump's daughter and son-in-law-- is whether participating in Trump's first foreign trip as president qualifies as life-saving. (Some of the discussions were respectful inquiries into Jewish law. Others were, let's face it, pure snark of the 'frum-shaming' variety.) Observant Jews with political power have faced questions like these for ages--most famously, perhaps Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Jack Lew, President Barak Obama's treasury secretary.

"When dealing with the fate of a nation, how far does pikuach nefesh stretch?

"'If a person would be in a circumstance, with that level of responsibility, it's not just that isolated event he has to calculate," said Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the kosher division of the Orthodox Union, an umbrella Orthodox group. 'He'd have to think not just about this event. What are the consequences down the line? The definition of pikuach nefesh might be broader than it usually is.'

"Genack and Shemtov both cited Israeli officials who were given permission to pick up the phone--also prohibited--to give or receive directives on Shabbat, even if the call was not directly related to military operations. Likewise, religious Israeli soldiers will continue serving on Shabbat when necessary, even during (relative) peacetime.

"Shemtov, who runs the Washington synagogue commonly known as TheShul, generally has a narrow definition of saving a life. He will give elected officials who consult with him permission to break Shabbat laws only if they are personally needed in the situation, it cannot be deferred until Saturday night or someone's life is actually at stake.

"He also said there is no blanket answer for this question; it must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

"'I've been getting questions like this for about 20 years, and I've only found it appropriate twice to allow any exemption from the rules,' Shemtov said. 'They involved immediate and unequivocal situations affecting preservation of life.'

"Shemtov recalls walking miles with Lieberman from synagogue on Shabbat to the Capitol, where Liberman would cast votes. Lew also endeavored not to break Shabbat, but told The Tablet that he would take calls and drive in a car when necessary.

"Although a range of activities are prohibited on Shabbat, Jewish law does not treat them all equally. Some are deemed to be prohibited by the text of the Torah, while others are prohibited by rabbinic consensus, which is considered less severe. Genack noted, for example, that driving a car, which involves igniting the engine, is considered more severe than riding in a car.

"As it happens, Kushner and Trump also reportedly received permission ahead of Trump's inauguration on a Friday, Jan. 20, to ride in a car that night. Which rabbi gave that allowance? That's also unknown. But every rabbi that JTA spoke to for this article cautioned against criticizing these decisions without being privy to all of their details.

"'What's at stake long term or short term?' Genack wondered. 'You never know what the next steps will be. I'm happy that I'm not in that situation, that I have to deal with these problems.'"

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Filipino Caretakers Make a Life in Israel

Those of us who love Israel and have visited often, warts and all (and there are plenty of those), strive to understand the life that is lived by ordinary Israelis. The article by Ruth Margalit that appeared in the May 7 New York Times Magazine provides insight into a side of life that tourists and visitors will never see. Israel provides visas for foreign workers though when their visas end, they want them to return to their native lands. How are these strangers from an alien culture treated? How do these foreign workers perceive life in the Jewish state? What happens when they make a life for themselves in Israel and want to stay?

All too often the media only provides us with news of the Arab-Israeli conflict or about Israeli internal politics. Here is a side of Israeli life not often exposed.

I commend the entire article to your attention, but here are excerpts:

"...her mother dissuaded her from going to Hong Kong: it was too hard there, she told her daughter. Instead she encouraged Joson to apply for work in Israel, where among the population of only eight million, there are about 30,000 Filipino caregivers (legal and illegal). Except for diplomacy, caregiving remains the only profession open to Filipinos in Israel.

"In the three years since her arrival, Joson has become attached to Israel. A practicing Catholic, she marvels that she gets to live and worship freely in the Holy Land and feels a sense of kinship with Israelis who, like her, are 'hardworking and very family oriented.' If anything, she wants to be more like the Israelis she knows, like her employer's children, who speak their minds freely. 'They will get angry, but after an hour or two, they're O.K. again,' she said. 'Us Filipinos, when we get angry it will take us a few days to forget'.

..."The most pressing need for workers is in the caregiving profession. In 2009, there were fewer than 250,000 Israelis over the age of 80; by 2059, there will be well over a million...Women from the Philippines--who were initially brought in small numbers by Israel's Defense Ministry to care for disabled soldiers--have come to dominate home care in Israel, so much so that the word 'Filipina' has become synonymous in Hebrew with 'metapelet'--'caregiver'. (I once overheard one elderly woman in Tel Aviv tell another, 'My Filipina is from Moldova'.)

..."Foreign caregivers are required to be on call at all hours--one of the only groups in Israel unprotected by the law regulating the daily hours of work and rest. Most are not allowed to look for work outside a given area and cannot quit more than two jobs in two years, except under extreme circumstances. The reasoning behind this, the government argues, is to prevent caregivers from abandoning employers in underserved areas of the country.

"But the restrictions stretch well beyond geography: With the exception of siblings, foreign workers are not allowed to enter the country along with any immediate family members; nor are they allowed to marry, or their visas will be revoked. Until 2011, they could not bear children and continue to work in Israel. Their work permits are valid for up to five years and three months, and are meant to ensure their transitory presence...A caregiver from the Philippines pays, on average, $8316 to find work in Israel--a sum that usually comes saddled with high interest and takes the worker two years to pay off.

..."Still, in the hierarchy of overseas destinations for Filipinos, I was told, Israel ranks somewhere below the United States, Europe and Australia, but far above Asia and the Middle East in desirability.

"But it is not only financial considerations that draw Filipino workers to Israel. Despite the country's restrictive laws, Filipinos told me countless stories of Israeli openness and acceptance, of caregivers becoming part of the intricate mosaic of Israeli life. I spoke to a 54-year old woman named Leila Tugade who spent three years in Israel in the late '80s and met and married an Israeli man, then moved with him to Oregon, where her aunt needed her help running a small hotel. Tugade still dreams of moving back to Israel when she retires. 'Israel is like my second home, not America,' she told me. Tugade appreciated Israelis' emphasis on family and on tradition, their love of the country.

"Others pointed to Israelis' lack of formality, to a sense of fast intimacy that develops between employer and caregiver. As Darcy Margallo, who has been in Israel for 20 years (and currently works for a relative of mine), said: 'I have friends in Canada and London, but they all want to come here. There's more freedom here. You tell your employer that your boyfriend or girlfriend is coming, and the employers says, 'Go meet him!' or 'Tell him to come here!' It is now commonplace to see obituaries in the Hebrew press that include, alongside relatives' names, a tribute to a 'dedicated caregiver.''

..."In 2003, the Filipino community in Israel came under an unexpected spotlight when Rose Fostanes, a 46-year old Filipino caregiver, auditioned for the Israeli version of the singing competition 'The X Factor.' A short video clip aired before Fontanes's performance, mentioning that she lived in South Tel Aviv with three other caregivers; 'I love my job because I like to take care of old people,' Fostanes said. The clip drew knowing chuckles from the audience. Short and plump, in a green shirt and jeans. Fostanes represented the unlikely diamond-in-the-rough heroine audiences love to embrace Her rendition of Shirley Bassey's 'This Is My Life' became a national sensation; more than half of all Israeli households tuned in to watch her win the season's finale. But the praise she received was tinged with condescension: She was shown offering to make a sandwich for the supermodel Bar Refaeli, the show's host, and the judges kept saying how 'proud' they were of her.

..."There are many stories of Filipino caregivers who have converted to Judaism: One employer I spoke to in the city of Rehovot nicknamed the Filipino who worked for her the Rebbitzin, because of her strict adherence to Jewish law. Keeping kosher, as a domestic worker in Israel, 'becomes part of your life,' Santos, who is a former caregiver told me.

..."For some Filipinos the quest to assimilate into Israeli society has included marrying Israeli men. Yet here, too, the Interior Ministry has piled on the obstacles. An internal ministry document, leaked to Haaretz in 2010, chided a Filipino worker who applied for citizenship after falling in love with an Israeli man, for 'waiting for a knight so she could get a visa'. The lawyer who represented the caregiver and her Israeli partner in suing the ministry called its officials 'demographobes.' Pregnant migrant workers used to face a choice: leave Israel within three months of giving birth, or stay and work in the country but send your baby away. The Supreme Court has since ruled the order unconstitutional. Nevertheless, it is being enforced de facto, worker advocates say: A foreign worker who gives birth is required to name the baby's father, which could result in the loss of both parents' visas."

Note: I fell in love with this piece, because it shines a light on the interplay between these two cultures and demonstrates a tenderness on the part of both, often despite political restrictions.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Shocking, Fascinating or Merely Interesting

So much to read and so little time....

Special nuggets are often buried in long or longish news or op-ed pieces that we do not have the time to savor. I plan to use this space to share some of those treasures you might have overlooked.

My focus is on news as it affects us as Jews. That may be about our condition here in the U.S. or abroad. It may concern Israel or issues that as Jews must be high on our moral agenda.

I will provide all sources so that you may explore any issue further.

Item #1 Buried in the middle of today's NY Times op ed piece by Ronen Bergman, titled "What Trump Threatened in Israel" is the following shocker:

"The report of the presidential leak was greeted with anger, but not with great surprise. At a meeting between American and Israeli intelligence officials a few weeks before Mr. Trump's inauguration, the Americans recommended to the Israelis that they refrain from passing to his White House sensitive secret information, or material that could lead to the baring of sources or methods of intelligence gathering--at least until it became clear that the Trump team was not linked inappropriately to the Russians or exposed to extortion by Moscow. An Israeli who took part in that meeting told me if was 'a bizarre scene".

Shocking! American intelligence warned Israelis not to share sensitive information for fear that the new administration might be traitors in sharing that info with the Russians! This is not fake news...