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The privileged, yet not unscathed, life of Baron Maurice de Hirsch

The Baron: Maurice de Hirsch and the Jewish Nineteenth Century
by Matthias B. Lehmann
Stanford University Press, 400 pp., $49
Reviewed by IRENA KARSHENBAUM

In reading Matthias B. Lehmann’s The Baron: Maurice de Hirsch and the Jewish Nineteenth Century what becomes painfully obvious is that despite owning chateaus and estates across Europe and being a member of the aristocracy, this elevated status still did not protect Baron Maurice de Hirsch, the wealthiest Jewish person of his time, from antisemitism.
How to find a solution to this eternal hatred haunted Hirsch his entire life and influenced not only how he envisioned the lives of his future grandchildren, but guided his philanthropic projects that changed the fates of millions of people.
It is a rare feat to acquire great wealth within a single generation. Hirsch was no exception.
Born Moritz von Hirsch — later to be known as Maurice de Hirsch — in 1831 in Munich, Bavaria, to Joseph and Caroline (née Wertheimer) von Hirsch, Lehmann describes how the young Hirsch grew up a member of “the noble class, with its privileges and rights,” yet was still the subject of the contradictory Jewish edict of 1813, which opened most occupations to Jews and granted them freedom of worship, but also imposed numerous restrictions, “designed to control and limit the overall number of Jews tolerated within the kingdom [of Bavaria]. Jewish immigration was banned, and the so-called Judenmatrikel established quotas for the permissible size of each Jewish community, limiting permission to marry and designed to keep the number of Jews static or reduce it.”
Yet despite this antisemitic decree, in 1818, Hirsch’s grandfather, Jacob Hirsch, managed to obtain the status of nobility from the King of Bavaria and the upwardly mobile family was allowed to be called “von Hirsch auf Gereuth,” after an estate the senior patriarch had purchased a few years earlier.
The Hirschs, however, were mere “cattle merchants” (albeit conducting business with the King of Bavaria) in comparison to the wealth and status of his mother’s family, the Wertheimers, who were descendants of Samson Wertheimer, the banker to Emperor Charles VI.
The Hirsch family had to wait another half a century, until 1869, when Joseph was awarded the hereditary title of baron for “contributions to the welfare of the Bavarian state,” following his establishing a field hospital during the Prussian-Austrian War of 1866. (The family’s philanthropic contributions were not limited to this singular charitable act, but this recognition speaks to Joseph having finally “played his cards right,” which secured “a place for himself and his descendants as members of the European aristocracy.”)
At age thirteen, Hirsch was moved to Brussels where, in 1855, he succeeded in doing what his father had done a generation earlier — he married up. His bride, Clara Bischoffsheim, was the daughter of Jonathan Raphaël Bischoffsheim, the partner of Bischoffsheim & Goldschmidt, one of Europe’s leading banks, which would one day become France’s BNP Paribas. Clara had worked as her father’s secretary, training that would serve her well to act as her husband’s “chief secretary” for their expanding business interests and philanthropic work.
Hirsch’s arrival in Brussels was of perfect timing, not only for his matrimonial aspirations, but it also coincided with the birth of the railway age when Belgium opened its first international railway line, linking Antwerp to Cologne.
At this time, Hirsch developed a passion for railroads. He formed an odd partnership with a known antisemite, André Langrand-Dumonceau, who advocated for “the building of an international Catholic financial empire to compete with… Jewish- (and Protestant-) dominated high finance.” The partnership eventually dissolved, Langrand-Dumonceau’s financial Ponzi scheme collapsed and the stake that he had owned in the Ottoman railway concession ended up in Hirsch’s hands thanks to the pursuit of an Ottoman public works minister, an Armenian named Davud Pasha, with whom he signed an agreement, in April of 1869, to link Constantinople and Salonika with central European railways.
The business deal became, as Lehmann writes, “The defining moment in Hirsch’s life as a businessman, and which was the main source of one of the largest fortunes in Europe of the late nineteenth century.”
Almost twenty years later, in the summer of 1888, after successfully maneuvering the corrupt Ottoman political and commercial landscape, the first train on the railroad that Hirsch had built, left Vienna for Constantinople. Yet even this remarkable achievement of linking Europe with the Ottoman Empire ignited antisemitic vitriol.
Lehmann writes, “The idea of building a Vienna-Constantinople-Salonika railroad link had sparked imperialist dreams in the Habsburg capital. When fantasies of colonial riches failed to materialize as the completion of the railway connections was repeatedly delayed, a narrative… became increasingly personalized, focusing on Baron Hirsch in the guise of the “Parisian financier” and “the Jew.” Rather than the bursting of a speculative bubble in Vienna in 1873 or the effect of the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877-1878, not to mention the machinations of the Great Powers of Europe or the political chaos in Constantinople in the mid-1870s, a story emerged in which it was Baron Hirsch, single-handedly, who betrayed the dream of Austria’s Oriental empire.”
Hirsch understood that antisemitism was impossible to defeat. In giving an interview, in January of 1889, to the New York Herald, titled “The Jews Must Disappear: A Hebrew Millionaire Spends Enormous Sums to Assimilate Them with Christians” he explained his solution, “The Jewish question can only be solved by the disappearance of the Jewish race, which will inevitably be accomplished by the amalgamation of Christians and Jews.”
In terms of his own descendants, when his son, Lucien, was in his twenties, Hirsch stated that, “He must marry an Englishwoman,” especially since, “younger members of the families of Rothschild and Montefiore” were assimilating through marriage.
Immersed in an antisemitic milieux, it is important to also consider that neither Hirsch, his wife, or their son even contemplated conversion unlike many members of the Jewish nobility of western Europe like, Benjamin Disraeli, the 19th-century British prime minister who converted to Christianity. Assimilation was for the next generation through the planned raising of their future grandchildren as Christians.
With the sudden passing of his only son at age 30, Hirsch — whose loyalties were still deeply intertwined with his co-religionists — shifted his energies to helping the Jews of the Russian Empire who were facing escalating antisemitism.
In 1891, Hirsch incorporated the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA) in London with initial capital of 2 million pounds sterling (the 2023 equivalent of about $2 billion) of his own funds “to assist… the emigration of Jews from any parts of Europe or Asia… where they may be subjected to any special laws,” and to help them, “establish colonies in various parts of North and South American… for agricultural [purposes].”
With his recent experience conducting business with the corrupt Ottomans, he objected, ““On principal,” to purchasing land for colonization purposes anywhere in the Ottoman Empire, where the authorities were bound to subject the colonists to endless “chicaneries and difficulties,” and, ““religious memories and ancient traditions” were a feeble ground on which to build a large-scale colonization enterprise.”
Hirsch rejected Theodor Herzl’s “fantastical plan, of creating a “Jewish state”” in Palestine. (Herzl himself went on to contemplate Hirsch’s efforts in an 1896 article for London’s Jewish Chronicle titled, “Shall we choose Argentine or Palestine?”)
By the fall of 1891, Hirsch decided that the focus of JCA’s work would be the evacuation of 3.25 million Russian Jews, primarily to Argentina, which he estimated would take about twenty-five years to complete. By 1896, the year of Hirsch’s passing, 6,757 colonists were living on 910 farms in Argentina.
In Canada, the majority of JCA’s work did not begin until after Hirsch’s passing and it is believed that most Jewish farming communities received at least some funding from the association. A number of the prairie settlements — Hirsch and Sonnenfeld in Saskatchewan, and Narcisse in Manitoba — were named after leading JCA figures.
Lehmann’s thoroughly researched biography and view into the Jewish nineteenth century rings eerily true for Jews today.

Irena Karshenbaum writes in Calgary. 
irenakarshenbaum.com

Features

The Critical Job Roles in Online Business

More companies than ever are embracing remote working. As of 2023, around 16% of businesses have a fully remote working model, with many more adopting a hybrid one. All of this should come as welcome news to anyone looking for a better work-life balance. As well as saying goodbye to grueling commutes, remote employees can embrace lucrative salary packages, generous benefits, and more. Ready to reap the benefits of online work yourself? Below are just a handful of remote working opportunities to consider.

Video Game and Casino Platform Development

Whether it’s creating Canadian online slots for real money casinos or an open-world epic, great games need talented developers. Thankfully, this is one sector where the typical rules of the 9-5 don’t apply. In the US, an experienced game developer can expect to take home around $103,000 annually. For a midweight casino games developer, a starting salary of around $65,000 is fairly respectable.

Software Engineering

If you have a background in software engineering, you’re in luck. Currently, it’s one of the highest-paid online roles around, with an average salary of $108,000. There’s no one size-fits-all remit for a software engineer, but typical roles include designing applications, testing, and creating system upgrades.

UX Design

User experience is becoming increasingly important as companies strive to make their digital products more accessible. Unsurprisingly, there’s a high demand for user experience designers, with many positions now advertised as remote-first roles. You’ll need to have sufficient software and development experience to excel here. What’s more, you’ll need to work closely with clients to meet the needs of the consumer. If you think you could do well in a role like this, expect an annual salary in the region of $97,000.

Web Design

One role you’ll never struggle to find is that of a web designer. It’s a pretty broad field, so expect a lot of disparity when it comes to job remits and starting salaries. At a minimum, a web designer worth their salt should be able to create accessible websites for a wide range of clients. You’ll also need to be familiar with coding languages and testing. Less experienced web designers can expect to command a starting salary of around $43,000. If you’ve been working professionally for more than a few years and have a solid portfolio to back you up, you can easily negotiate twice that amount.

Entry-Level Online Roles

For digital natives, remote working will come as second nature. Don’t have the skills to land a web designer or developer job? Not to worry. There are an increasing number of entry-level remote roles out there.

Customer service roles are readily available, with positions to cater to all experience levels. At the bottom rung of the ladder, you might be tasked with making sales calls or resolving complaints from customers. A customer service agent can comfortably make around $40-50,000 a year. If you operate on a commission basis or can take advantage of a generous bonus scheme, you could easily double this annually.

Is Remote Working Here To Stay?

Even as many businesses encourage workers back to the office, there’s an deniable upward trend in the number of remote and hybrid-only roles on the job market. Video conferencing technology and collaboration tools are making it easier than ever for remote teams to remain connected. Meanwhile, company executives are finding it hard to argue with significantly reduced overheads and increased productivity.

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Features

Dangers from the far-right in America explored in new book

By MARTIN ZEILIG “The United States is confronted by a serious domestic terrorist threat in addition to the foreign ones that have commanded our attention for the past two decades,” warn Council on Foreign Relations’ (CFR) fellows and leading terrorism experts Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware, says a review of “God, Guns, and Sedition: Far-Right Terrorism in America” on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations (January 2, 2024).  
“Their new book provides a definitive account of how ‘“violent extremism has woven itself into the fabric of national, state, and local politics,”’ from the tragedy that unfolded at a historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015 through the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.” 

Co-authors of “God, Guns, and Sedition” Bruce Hoffman (left) and Jacob Ware


Bruce Hoffman is the Shelby Cullom and Kathryn W. Davis Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is also a professor at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service; professor emeritus of terrorism studies at the University of St Andrews; and the George H. Gilmore Senior Fellow at the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center. His Columbia University Press books include “Inside Terrorism “(third edition, 2017).
Jacob Ware is a research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service and at DeSales University. He serves on the editorial boards for the academic journal Studies in Conflict & Terrorism and the Irregular Warfare Initiative at the Modern War Institute at West Point. 

Mr. Hoffman agreed to discuss the book in an email interview with The Jewish Post & News.
JP&N: Why did you decide to write this book now?
BH: The idea for this book came to me just a month into the global COVID lockdown. April 2020 was a dark, dangerous, and highly fearful and uncertain time. Odious conspiracy theories, that had been circulating for years, suddenly gained newfound momentum across the internet and social media. Indeed, within days of the lockdown, Jewish people were being blamed and vilified for creating the pandemic in order to profit monetarily from it.
Asians, persons of color, and immigrants, and others, were also being targeted for blame. Only weeks earlier I had been the target of a serious hate crime. Isolated at home, like most of the rest of the world, I had lots of time to think about what was happening and, I quickly reached the conclusion that I needed to return to my analytical roots.
To explain, I had begun my career as a terrorism and counterterrorism analyst in 1981 at the renowned American think-tank, The RAND Corporation. However, by the time that I joined its Security and Subnational Conflict Research Program, all the more prominent left-wing and ethno-nationalist and separatist terrorists active at the time had been taken by other members of the research team.
Surveying the remaining terrorist movements that had not yet been chosen, I decided to focus on the threat posed by neo-Nazi and neo-fascist groups then active in Europe. That in fact was the subject of my first ever professional publication.
Within only a couple of years, I expanded by focus to include their even far more dangerous American counterparts. I therefore studied intently violent, far-right terrorism in the United States from the mid-1980s through the September 11, 2001 attacks. Then, like most other terrorism analysts, my attention was diverted for the next two decades almost exclusively to al Qaeda and then the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL).
Meanwhile, terrorist attacks from violent, far-right extremists both in the United States and elsewhere had suddenly started to increase during the twenty-teens. In 2011, for instance, there were simultaneous, tragic terrorist attacks in Oslo and Utøya, Norway; four years later there was the horrific shootings of worshippers at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina; then in 2018 a gunman stormed into the Jewish Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh killing congregants; and in 2019 the attacks within weeks of one another on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and a Jewish synagogue in Poway, California, and then that summer at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, clearly demonstrated that the same hateful ideology and bloody mindset that had fueled far-right violence during the closing decades of the twentieth-century, when I first began studying this phenomenon, had neither disappeared nor abated.
Accordingly, I approached my friend and colleague at the Council on Foreign Relations and Georgetown University, Jacob Ware, and proposed that we together write this book. And, we immediately began work on it.
 
 JP&N: What is the extent of far-left terrorism in the U.S.A. and elsewhere in the world? Is there a connection between far-right and far-left extremists?
 BH: Let me emphasize that politically-motivated violence—that is, terrorism—in the United States is not confined exclusively to the far-right. Indeed, prior to the January 6th, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Building the most serious incident targeted Republication congressmen. In June 2017, a self-proclaimed supporter of progressive, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders opened fire at an early morning practice for the annual congressional charity baseball game. The then-House Majority Whip, Rep. Steve Scalise, was seriously wounded, along with five other persons. If not for the U.S. Capitol Police present as part of Rep. Scalise’s security detail, who killed the gunman, the outcome would likely have been very different. In another incident two years later, a self-professed anarchist tried to firebomb a Tacoma, Washington Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility, before being shot dead by responding officers.
But with the exception of those two very serious incidents and some others of brawling, rioting, arson, and vandalism that occurred during Donald Trump’s 2017 presidential inauguration in Washington, DC, and in Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, and some other cities following the death of George Floyd by police in 2021, the threat of violence from violent, far-left extremists has been less pervasive and less consequential than that from their counterparts on the far-right. Indeed, Professor Cynthia Miller-Idriss in her book, “Hate in the Homeland,” estimates that there were at least 75,000 armed and violently-inclined far-right extremists in the United States as of 2020—a number that likely completely eclipses that of violently-inclined far-left extremists in the United States: many of whom are not armed and lack the training and expertise possessed by those on the far-right fringe.
The only connection between the two is that they both ascribe to the strategy of “accelerationism.” First articulated by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in their 1848 pamphlet, “Manifesto Of The Communist Party,” accelerationism today is embraced by both ends of the ideological spectrum who believe that the modern Western, liberal state is so corrupt and inept that it is beyond redemption and must be destroyed in order to create a new society and way of governance.
 
JP&N: What are the strategies for combating far-right terrorism?
BH: The book argues that the United States needs a comprehensive, wide-ranging, institutionalized strategy to effectively counter the threat to our democracy from violent, far-right extremism. Measures are required to strengthen American civil society more generally as well as to specifically target violent extremist groups, their activists and supporters, their propagandists and sympathizers, and their recruiters and financiers.
 The policy recommendations we propose fall into three categories: short-term measures to create a stronger regulatory framework, with relatively immediate effects; medium-term measures to strengthen civil society, with impacts over the next five to ten years; and, long-term measures to build national unity and strengthen resilience that will benefit future generations and inoculate them against the allure of extremist ideologies.
This comprehensive counterterrorism strategy will require measures to combat extremists’ free reign online, efforts to build and support longer-term initiatives to prevent new radicalization, and the establishment of new laws to counteract the challenges in prosecuting perpetrators of far-right terrorist plots.

“God, Guns, and Sedition: Far-Right Terrorism in America”
(Columbia University Press $28.95 USD)


 
 

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Features

Israel programs looking for Canadian volunteers

Volunteers with Leket are helping to harvest fruit and vegetable crops in Israel's south

By BERNIE BELLAN Living as Israelis are in a time of unprecedented tension and uncertainty, more than ever volunteers are needed to fill important roles in that country. While there are so many areas of Israeli society that are now in great need of help, we decided to focus on three programs with which we have some familiarity, having written articles about each of them in the past: Leket, Sar-El, and MASA.
Each program offers a completely different experience for volunteers. We contacted the offices of Leket and Sar-El and had previously been in touch with the Canadian representative for MASA.

 Leket Israel
We received the following information from a representative for Leket in Israel: “I’m pleased to share that over the past three months, Leket Israel has seen a remarkable influx of volunteer participation in all of Leket Israel’s operations. In addition to its usual volunteer opportunities at the Leket Israel Logistics Center in Gan Haim and the fields in Rishon Lezion, Leket has begun matching volunteers with farmers in need of assistance in harvesting their produce.
“In routine times, Leket Israel welcomes around 5,500 volunteers in the Logistics Center and fields to assist in its food rescue activities.
 “Over the past 14 weeks, Leket has sent over 27,000 volunteers from Israel and overseas to support over farmers around the country, most of them in the Gaza strip region. Additionally, hundreds of volunteers come every day to help sort and pack produce at the Logistics Center and to harvest produce in the fields in Rishon Lezion.
 “Joseph Gitler, Founder and Chairman: The surge of volunteer participation serves as a testament to the unwavering spirit of giving in Israeli society. This collective effort is making a profound difference in the lives of thousands of displaced Israelis throughout the country.”
 

Sar-El volunteers help to do such things as pack kit bags for members of the IDF


Sar-El (acronym from the Hebrew Sherut l’Israel)

Sar-El is a program that assigns volunteers to work on Israeli army bases for either two or three week stints. (Stays can be extended with permission.) Programs are open to volunteers of all ages.
Volunteers are expected to be physically fit and already in a physical fitness program before applying. You should be capable of light or heavy lifting, or standing for long periods of time.

According to the Sar-El website volunteers can be expected to perform non-combat civilian support duties such as packing medical supplies, repairing machinery and equipment, packing and checking all kinds of equipment.
Volunteers work Sunday-Thursday and are expected to be able to put in eight hours of work per day. Three kosher meals a day are provided.

Recently we happened to meet a couple who are both going to Israel quite soon to volunteer with Sar-El. They told me that, due to the exceptional circumstances, they will not actually be stationed on an army base, but rather will be living nearby.

masa volunteers spend 6 weeks in Israel in three 2-week blocks

masa Israel Journey
masa is a program for 16-40 year-olds that offers a variety of different programs from which to choose. We were recently contacted by a representative of the masa Israel office in response to a question we had about volunteering during wartime. We had received an email that was aimed at American volunteers, so we wanted to make sure that Canadian volunteers were eligible to volunteer on masa programs.
We were told that Canadians are definitely eligible to volunteer: “In regards to your question, yes Canadians are absolutely eligible! The eligibility of the program is 18-40 years old, identify as Jewish, have not received Masa funding in the past / have not spend 4 or more consecutive months in Israel and speak proficient English.”
Currently masa is offering a special wartime program. According to information on the masa website, The purpose of the program is to enable young Jews, ages 18-40, from around the world to volunteer in the State of Israel during wartime. Our unique program is divided into three 2-week segments. The first two weeks, we will be based in a youth village south of Tel Aviv, cooking meals for soldiers. The middle two weeks will be based in Tel Aviv while we volunteer on an army base and the final two weeks we will be based in the beach town of Eilat where we will be planning and implementing activities with evacuees under the age of 18. Interspersed within the six weeks will be agricultural volunteering as well as tours, educational and social events. For more information please register below or email Rina at rinas@israeloutdoorsnext.net.

We have not given email addresses for any of the three organizations cited here. Simply Google each of their names if you’re interested in finding out more about them and you’ll find out how to contact representatives.

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