Posts Tagged ‘Jewish History’

Iranian Jewish Scholar Breaks Stereotypes While Studying Them

February 4, 2014

This article was first published in The Times of Israel.

Saba Soomekh decided to study her own Iranian Jewish community. (courtesy)

Saba Soomekh decided to study her own Iranian Jewish community. (courtesy)

It’s hard to look away from the piercing gaze of the girl in the photograph on the cover of Saba Soomekh’s book, “From the Shahs to Los Angeles: Three Generations of Iranian Jewish Women Between Religion and Culture.” The photograph is of Soomekh’s great-grandmother as a 12-year-old bride in Iran, and it makes you wonder whether she is somehow looking into the future, amazed at just how different her great-granddaughter’s life is from her own.

Soomekh, the 37-year-old great-granddaughter of the child bride, is a theological studies professor at Los Angeles’ Loyola Marymount University and one of only a small number of researchers who focus on the Iranian Jewish community.

She has a BA from Berkeley, a Masters from Harvard Divinity School and a PhD from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She’s a member of the Iran Task Force for the American Jewish Committee and a member of Los Angeles’ Human Resource Commission. PBS employed her expertise in producing its 2012 “The Iranian Americans” program. The same year, the Fowler Museum at UCLA appointed her project coordinator for its “Light and Shadows” exhibition on Iranian Jews.

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© 2014 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Rethinking the ‘Secret Sauce’ Behind Jewish Survival

December 30, 2013

This piece was first published in The Times of Israel.

Gidi Grinstein, founder and president of the Reut Institute (photo credit: Courtesy of the Reut Institute)

Gidi Grinstein, founder and president of the Reut Institute (photo credit: Courtesy of the Reut Institute)

PALO ALTO, California – In mid-December, Gidi Grinstein came to the heart of Silicon Valley, where entrepreneurs search for the “secret sauce” of hi-tech success, to launch his new book about the secret sauce of Jewish survival, security, prosperity and leadership.

Grinstein calls this Jewish sauce, “flexigidity,” a portmanteau of flexibility and rigidity. He defines the hybrid term as the ability to optimize the pace of collective adaptation by balancing new and old, innovation and tradition, and flexibility and rigidity. Grinstein says this age-old balance has gone out of whack in recent decades, and the challenge is to set it right before it is too late, especially in the State of Israel.

Paradoxically, Jews have never been more economically, politically and militarily powerful than they are today, while concurrently having never been more vulnerable because of their concentration in two major centers: Israel and North America.

Grinstein, 43, argues that Israel has gone too rigid, and that North American Jews have become too flexible. In “Flexigidity: The Secret of Jewish Adaptability,” Grinstein, founder and president of the Reut Institute, a non-partisan Tel-Aviv based think tank, addresses the leaders of Israel and the Diaspora Jewish community, and makes recommendations for how they can face current threats and opportunities by returning to the “flexigid” balance that has served the Jewish people so well over the millennia.

“So much of what we need is there in our past,” Grinstein told The Times of Israel in an interview in a Palo Alto café before the book launch event at the nearby Oshman Family Jewish Community Center.

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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Ancient Jewish Tombstone Found Near…Sacramento?

October 24, 2013

This piece was originally published in JWeekly.

BAzoar_stone_normal_sizeApproximately 1,500 years after a Jewish woman died in the ancient city of Zoar, near the southern edge of the Dead Sea, her tombstone ended up in a church’s museum in a small California city near Sacramento.

Now, thanks to the generosity of that church’s pastor and board, the stone is being returned to the Jewish people.

Steve Fine, a professor of Jewish history of the Greco-Roman period at Yeshiva University, is coming from New York to receive the stone in a ceremony on Sunday, Oct. 27 from the Woodland Museum of Biblical Archeology.

Fine will deliver a lecture and participate in the museum’s annual banquet. Then he will carry the tombstone — about the size of a large floor tile — in a padded box back to New York, where it will be prepared for exhibition at the Yeshiva University Museum.

An expert on the art and archeology of the Talmudic Period, Fine found out about this piece 18 months ago when contacted by pastor Carl Morgan of Woodland United Fellowship, an independent church located 25 miles north of Sacramento. The 6-year-old museum, adjacent to the church, houses 400 pieces — many of them from Morgan’s personal collection (he has a doctorate in archeology and has been to the Middle East 40 times).

Morgan set up the museum to promote the teaching and understanding of biblical history and the land of the Bible. “It helps people realize that people in biblical times were people like us,” he said. “It brings the Bible to life.”

After reading a journal article by Fine, Morgan found out that one of the pieces in the museum, a stone with Aramaic writing on it, was probably a relic from Zoar, a city mentioned in the Torah in relation to Abraham. Fine’s article was about a group of tombstones that were found there, above ground and well preserved because of the Dead Sea climate conditions.

“These stones started showing up on the antiquities market in the 1920s,” Fine said. “Hundreds of non-Jewish stones were found, but there were only about 100 Jewish ones. [Scholarly articles and pictures of] about 40 of them have been published.”

Fine said Zoar stones show up on the private Israeli antiquities market once every six months, but that there are only “five or so” in the United States. Two are at the Living Torah Museum in Brooklyn, and some are in private hands, he added, such as two in the private collection of Jewish philanthropist Michael Steinhardt.

The Zoar stone at the Woodland museum was a gift in 2011 from a private donor who had received it from another private donor, and the provenance of the stone is unclear. Morgan put it on display, but realized after reading Fine’s article that a better home for it would be at Yeshiva University.

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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.