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A Manhattan synagogue explores the rich, surprising history of Jews and chocolate

(New York Jewish Week) — In 2006, Rabbi Deborah Prinz was on a trip to Europe with her husband, Rabbi Mark Hurvitz, when they wandered into a chocolate shop in Paris. While meandering about the store, Prinz picked up a brochure and read a line that, given her rudimentary French, she was sure she misunderstood: It claimed that Jews had brought the art of chocolate-making to France.

Prinz, who at the time was the congregational rabbi at Temple Adat Shalom in Poway, California, was stunned. That little morsel of information stayed with her throughout her 10-week sabbatical — and ended up being a defining moment of her life: For the next several years, Prinz followed the zigzagging trail of chocolate, from the rainforests of the New World to the cities of the Old World and, from there, to the American colonies, hoping to clarify the role that Jews played in the making, marketing and trading of chocolate

Prinz, who now lives in New York, was fascinated by the connection between Jews and chocolate, and the overlap between the dispersion of the Jews and the expansion of the chocolate market across the globe. Her research culminated in a book, “On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao,” which she published a decade ago.

A second edition came out in 2018, with a new chapter about the controversies over chocolate likenesses of deities, as well as updated information about chocolate museums and factory tours around the world.

Now, an exhibit detailing the rich history of Jews and chocolate in this country, “Sweet Treat: Chocolate and the Making of American Jews,” is on view at Manhattan’s Central Synagogue, where Prinz began her career as the Reform congregation’s first female rabbi. The exhibit is a pared-down, American-specific version of an exhibit Prinz co-created in 2017 with the Bernard Museum at Temple Emanu-El on the Upper East Side, “Semi[te] Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate.”

Chocolate, and humankind’s love affair with it, dates to pre-Columbian peoples in Mesoamerica who used chocolate in their religious rituals. Jewish involvement in chocolate parallels the movement of the Jewish people, beginning with Sephardic Jews of Iberian descent in the 16th and 17th centuries, Prinz said by email. Sephardic Jews, she said, probably engaged with chocolate soon after the first European contact with it, which is said to have occurred during Columbus’ fourth voyage (1502-1504).

“Jews jumped onto the chocolate trail in the early phases of European interaction with the New World and they introduced the drink [of hot chocolate] in diasporic places such as New Spain (now Mexico), Oxford (England), Martinique, Amsterdam, Bayonne (France), Brabant (Belgium), New York and Newport (Rhode Island),” Prinz told the New York Jewish Week by email, adding that their action “created a path of business interests and appetites that continues in our time. These included chocolate entrepreneurs who fostered, perpetuated, and fed an appetite for the drinking chocolate of the day.”

Based upon Prinz’s years of research, the exhibit sheds light on some of the key Jewish players in the Colonial-era chocolate trade, including Aaron Lopez, a Sephardi immigrant, merchant and slave trader who became one of the wealthiest men in Newport, Rhode Island. Lopez, an observant Jew, gave chocolate as part of his tzedakah food packages to poor members of the Jewish community. He also helped build the historic Touro Synagogue, which today is owned and overseen by New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, also known as the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. 

The chocolate exhibit is a “micro history,” according to Rabbi Sarah Berman, Central Synagogue’s director of adult education. By examining the surprising role the Jews played in the chocolate trade in this country, the exhibit, which is on display at the Sanctuary Building, across the street from the synagogue, is “one way of understanding how Jews and Jewish culture came together in this country and began to define itself from the colonial period forward.”

As for the decision to mount an exhibit about chocolate at the Midtown synagogue, Prinz wrote in an email that Jews’ involvement with chocolate is “a sweet, yet little-known aspect of the Jewish experience. Also, a number of the stories are New York based. And finally, it offers up important themes of sustenance, resilience, opportunity and hope.”

On display is a facsimile of a map of 15th-17th century dispersions of Sephardi Jews and their relationship to historic chocolate centers. (Courtesy Rabbi Mark Hurvitz)

Among the items on display in the small exhibit is a map of the dispersions of Sephardi Jews in the 15th to 17th centuries, which shows how the areas where Jews settled correspond with early centers of the chocolate trade, as well as an image of Albert Einstein’s personal hot chocolate cup, which he brought with him when he left Germany for the United States in1933. 

“In Jewish life and tradition, we often look to rabbinic texts to understand who we are and how we move through the world over time. Texts are wonderful, but they preserve the reality, the lived experience and the scholarship of a certain class of men in certain times and places,” Berman said, adding, “Objects in art tell a different story, maybe a fuller story about who we are.” 

Also featured in the exhibit are Lopez’s cousins, the Gomez family, who were leaders of New York’s Jewish community and major donors to Congregation Shearith Israel. They, too, were involved in the chocolate trade: Rebecca Gomez, widow of Mordecay Gomez, may have been the only Jewish woman in the chocolate business in the late 1700s. On display is a facsimile of an ad for her chocolate business at 57 Nassau St. in Lower Manhattan that ran in The Royal American Gazette, a New York newspaper, on Dec. 3, 1782.

The exhibit also touches on more recent Jewish chocolate entrepreneurs in this country, including Stephen Klein, who launched Barton’s Bonbonniere in New York in 1940. Just before the outbreak of World War II, Klein, whose family members were candymakers in Austria, fled to this country and soon thereafter began selling chocolates door-to-door. From there, he eventually expanded to 3,000 shops across the country, creating iconic candies such as almond kisses and the chocolate lollipops known as lollycones. For many Jewish families in the 1950s and 1960s, Barton’s candy was the hostess gift for the Jewish holidays. 

What’s more, as an Orthodox Jew, Klein used his candy business to further educate Jews and non-Jews alike about Judaism. Klein, said Prinz, was an “immigrant who helped other immigrants come over. He ran full page ads [in newspapers] with information about Judaism, holidays and Israel. Barton’s candy boxes included inserts about Judaism and Jewish holidays. Like the Maxwell House coffee company, Barton’s designed a Passover haggadah, too.” 

Jewish chocolate products also influenced the most American of all beverages: fountain drinks. The story of the egg cream, which most people believe was created at the start of the 20th century by a Jewish immigrant, is detailed in the third part of the exhibit, “Ooey, Gooey, Chocolatey Treats.” The exhibit details how a Jewish family also created Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup which many consider essential to a proper egg cream. In the 1920s and ‘30s, Louis Auster, who is credited with creating this poor man’s soda drink, reportedly sold 3,000 egg creams a day 3 cents a glass — and up to 12,000 on sweltering summer days, according to Barry Joseph, author of “Seltzertopia.”

As a whole, the exhibit, which is on view until Feb. 9, 2024 and is open to the public on Wednesdays from 12:30-2 p.m. and Fridays after Shabbat services, presents a comprehensive look at the long history of both Jews and chocolate in this country. “Integration [of Jews] into wider society, the acculturation, the influence going back and forth from Jewish to American and back to Jewish cultures can all be traced through those early days,” said Berman, “and chocolate is an example.” 

According to Prinz, looking at American Jewish life through the lens of chocolate helps us “understand the resiliency of Jews exiled from Spain and then immigrants from the Holocaust as they sought freedom, acclimated to new settings, and found new business ventures in America,” she wrote in an email to the New York Jewish Week. “Our ancestors overcame persecution and oppression, in part through chocolate. Their chocolate endeavors in America from its earliest days reminds us that Jews were part of the founding of our country.”


The post A Manhattan synagogue explores the rich, surprising history of Jews and chocolate appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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South Dakota Passes Bill Adopting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Gov. Kristi Noem (R) speaking to legislators during the State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024 at South Dakota State Captiol in Pierre. Photo: Samantha Laurey and Argus Leader via REUTERS CONNECT

South Dakota’s state Senate passed on Thursday a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to refer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when investigating anti-Jewish hate crimes.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) already adopted the definition, which has been embraced by lawmakers across the political spectrum, via executive order in 2021. This latest measure, HB 1076, aims to further integrate the IHRA’s guidance into law and includes the organization’s examples of antisemitism. It now awaits a vote by the state House of Representatives.

“As antisemitism continues to rise across America, having a clear and standardized definition enables a more unified stance against this hatred,” the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), said in a statement. “We appreciate Governor Kristi Noem for making this legislation a policy goal of hers, strengthening the use of the IHRA Working Definition in South Dakota through legislation, following the December 2021 adoption via executive proclamation.”

CAM called on lawmakers in the lower house to follow the Senate’s lead and implored “other states to join the fight against antisemitism by adopting the IHRA definition, ensuring the safety and well-being of their Jewish residents.”

First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The definition is used by hundreds of governing institutions, including the US State Department, European Union, and the United Nations.

Widely regard as the world’s leading definition of antisemitism, it was adopted by 97 governmental and nonprofit organizations in 2023, according to a report Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) Antisemitism Research Center issued in January.

Earlier this month, Georgia became the latest US state to pass legislation applying IHRA’s guidance to state law. 33 US States have as well, including Virginia, Texas, New York, and Florida.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post South Dakota Passes Bill Adopting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Columbia University Sued for Allowing Antisemitic Violence and Discrimination

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Columbia University allowed for antisemitism to explode on campus endangering the welfare of Jewish students and faculty, StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice and Students Against Antisemitism (SAA) alleges in a lawsuit announced on Wednesday.

Filed in the US District Court of Southern New York, the complaint recounts dozens of reported antisemitic incidents that occurred after Oct. 7 which the university allegedly failed to respond to adequately because of anti-Jewish, as well as anti-Zionist, bias.

“Columbia refuses to enforce its policies or protect Jewish and Israeli members of the campus community,” Yael Lerman, director of SWU Center for Legal Justice said on Wednesday in a press release. “Columbia has created a pervasively hostile campus environment in which antisemitic activists act with impunity, knowing that there will be no real repercussions for their violations of campus policies.”

“We decline to comment on pending litigation,” Columbia University spokesperson and vice president for communications told The Algemeiner on Friday.

The plaintiffs in the case accuse Columbia University of violating their contract, to which it is bound upon receiving payment for their tuition, and contravening Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. They are seeking damages as well as injunctive relief.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews, “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” students chanted on campus grounds after the tragedy, violating the school’s code of conduct and never facing consequences, the complaint says. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

300 faculty signed a letter proclaiming “unwavering solidarity” with Massad, and in the following days, Students for Justice in Palestine defended Hamas’ actions as “rooted in international law.” In response, Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, opting not to address their rhetoric directly, issued a statement mentioning “violence that is affecting so many people” but not, the complaint noted, explicitly condemning Hamas, terrorism, and antisemitism. Nine days later, Shafik rejected an invitation to participate in a viewing of footage of the Oct. 7 attacks captured by CCTV cameras.

The complaint goes on to allege that after bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

More request to the university went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held demonstrations. The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events whole no one explained the inconsistency.

Virulent antisemitism at Columbia University on the heels of Oct. 7 was not a one-off occurance, the complaint alleges, retracing in over 100 pages 20 years of alleged anti-Jewish hatred at the school.

“Students at Columbia are enduring unprecedented levels of antisemitic and anti-Israel hate while coping with the trauma of Hamas’ October 7th massacre,” SWU CEO Roz Rothstein said in Wednesday’s press release. “We will ensure that Columbia University is held accountable for their gross failure to protect their Jewish and Israeli students.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post Columbia University Sued for Allowing Antisemitic Violence and Discrimination first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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University of California-Los Angeles Student Government Passes BDS Resolution

Graphic posted by University of California, Los Angeles Students for Justice in Palestine on February 21, 2024 to celebrate the student government’s passing an resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. Photo: Screenshot/Instagram

The University of California-Los Angeles student government on Tuesday passed a resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as false accusation that Israel is committing a genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

“The Israeli government has carried out a genocidal bombing campaign and ground invasion against Palestinians in Gaza — intentionally targeting hospitals universities, schools, shelters, churches, mosques, homes, neighborhoods, refugee camps, ambulances, medical personnel, [United Nations] workers, journalists and more,” the resolution, passed 10-3 by the UCLA Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC), says, not mentioning that UN personnel in Gaza assisted Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

It continued, “Let it be resolved that the Undergraduate Student Association of UCLA formally call upon the UC Regents to withdraw investments in securities, endowments mutual funds, and other monetary instruments….providing material assistance to the commission or maintenance of flagrant violations of international law.

The days leading up to the vote were fraught, The Daily Bruin, the university’s official student newspaper reported on Wednesday.

“Non-UCLA students” sent USAC council members emails imploring them to vote for or against the resolution and USAC Cultural Affairs Commissioner and sponsor of the resolution, Alicia Verdugo, was accused of antisemitism and deserving of impeachment. The UCLA Graduate Student Association and University of California-Davis’ student government had just endorsed BDS the previous week, prompting fervent anticipation for the outcome of Tuesday’s USAC session.

Before voting took place, members of the council ordered a secret ballot, withholding from their constituents a record of where they stood on an issue of monumental importance to the campus culture. According to The Daily Bruin, they expressed “concerns” about “privacy” and “security.” Some members intimated how they would vote, however. During a question and answer period, one student who co-sponsored the resolution, accused a Jewish student of being “classist” and using “coded” language because she argued that the council had advanced the resolution without fully appreciating the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of antisemitism.

“As a Guatemalan, …my country went through genocide,” he snapped at the young woman, The Daily Bruin’s reporting documented. “My family died in the Guatemalan Mayan genocide. I understand. I very well know what genocide looks like.”

Other council members  voiced their support by co-sponsoring the resolution, which was co-authored by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that has held unauthorized demonstrations and terrorized Jewish students across the country.

Responding to USAC’s decision, Jewish students told the paper that they find the campaign for BDS and the attempts of pro-Palestinian students to defend Hamas’ atrocities myopic and offensive.

“How can anyone dare to contextualize since Oct. 7 without acknowledging that the Jewish people are victims of such a cataclysmic attack?” Mikayla Weinhouse said. “BDS intentionally aims to divide a community. Its supporters paint a complex and century-old conflict in the Middle East as a simplistic narrative that inspires hate rather than advocates for a solution.”

University of California-Los Angeles denounced the resolution for transgressing school policy and the spirit of academic freedom.

“The University of California and UCLA, which, like all nine other UC campuses, has consistently opposed calls for a boycott against and divestment from Israel,” the school said in a statement. “We stand firm in our conviction that a boycott of this sort poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty and to the unfettered exchange of ideas and perspectives on this campus.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post University of California-Los Angeles Student Government Passes BDS Resolution first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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