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Dortmund’s only Jewish mayor died in poverty after a successful career. The city is reviving his story.

BERLIN (JTA) — When Adi Amit stood in front of Dortmund City Hall, addressing a gathering far from her home in Israel, she felt the eyes of her great-great-grandfather Paul Hirsch looking over her shoulder. Figuratively, that is.

On Nov. 30, the city of Dortmund unveiled a giant banner depicting Hirsch, who was mayor of the city from 1925 until 1933, when he retired due to ill health.

After the Nazi government denied him a pension because he was a Jew, Hirsch died in poverty in Berlin in 1940, at the age of 71. His wife Lucie took her own life in 1941 after receiving a deportation notice. Both are buried in Berlin’s Weissensee cemetery.

“Like many, Paul faced numerous challenges in his life simply because he was Jewish,” Amit, 24, told a crowd at the dedication. “But today, around 90 years [after the Nazis came to power], we stand here together in Germany to commemorate and acknowledge the man he was and the meaningful contributions he made.

“This is a point of light for me, especially given the terrible reality we have been experiencing since Oct. 7,” she added, referencing the Hamas terror attacks on Israel.

The banner will remain on display outside City Hall through January, and plans are reportedly under way to have a permanent tribute to Hirsch in the city.

“I just spoke, and I felt like he was looking at me,” Amit told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “In some way I felt like I was connected to him, especially in this moment. And I don’t think I would have had any other chance to feel that connected to him otherwise.”

Meanwhile, Dortmund Mayor Thomas Westphal has announced plans to name an annual prize after Hirsch and to invite family members back every year for the award ceremony. There are no details yet about what the prize would recognize.

The recent event was held during the 2023 European Mayors Summit Against Antisemitism, a project of the Tel Aviv-based Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM). The summit brought some 120 representatives from 60 cities across Europe to Dortmund from Nov. 29-Dec. 1 for panels and discussions on challenges and best practices. It also included a meeting with Natalie Sanandaji, a survivor of the Nova music festival massacre on Oct. 7.

It is the third such summit that CAM founder and CEO Sacha Roytman Dratwa has convened since 2019. The first partnership, with Frankfurt, was digital and organized during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, a live event was held in Athens, and this year saw gatherings in Dortmund and in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“When we started working with the city of Dortmund, we didn’t know about the story of Paul Hirsch,” Dratwa said in a telephone interview from Israel. “As a part of the preparation, we started learning about the city and researching online.”

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, in 1933 there were 4,108 Jews living in Dortmund, which had a total population of 540,000. The city, in Germany’s Ruhr region, was known for its coal and steel industry and was heavily bombed during World War II. Today’s Jewish community in Dortmund numbers about 2,600, according to the latest statistics from the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

Hirsch was born in 1868, and he studied medicine and economics before launching his political career with the Social Democratic Party in Berlin. He climbed the ladder, serving as prime minister of the state of Prussia (an area now in Poland and Russia) from 1918-1920. Hirsch became known as the political architect of “Greater Berlin,” a conglomeration of the city’s many districts that formalized city boundaries. He was later wooed to do the same in Dortmund, achieving what was reportedly the second largest municipal regional transformation in Germany since Berlin.

Yet his story is little known. A short biography by Renate Karnowsky takes up a chapter in a 1984 book in German about Prussian history, and there are stumbling block memorials and a plaque on the house where he and Lucie lived in Berlin.

Paul and Lucie’s daughters managed to flee Nazi Germany: Eva via England and South Africa to California; and Thea to Peru, where she married Max Kahn, a refugee from Cologne, and raised a family.

Last month, Thea and Max’s son, Leopoldo Kahn, flew in from San Diego with his wife Marilyn and other family members for the banner unveiling in Dortmund.

“You can’t imagine the sensation I had when I saw that cover come down and we saw the picture there,” Kahn told JTA in a phone interview. “My feelings were that finally something was being done for my grandfather.”

Kahn, a retired businessman who moved from Peru to the United States 35 years ago, said he learned a lot about his grandparents from his aunt Eva. “And later on I read about him quite a bit. And he was quite a man.”

He told the crowd that day in Dortmund that his family was “living proof, that despite the efforts the antisemites make, we are here living in continuity.”

But complacency is dangerous, he added. “This meeting is a wakeup call that the mistakes of 1933 to 1939 are beginning to repeat themselves unfortunately worldwide, and we need to work to stop these attitudes and hatred.”

The connections to descendants of Hirsch came about a year ago, through Dortmund antisemitism activist Daniel Lörcher, who at the time was head of corporate responsibility at the Borussia Dortmund professional sports club. He has since founded What Matters, a consulting firm for projects addressing antisemitism, racism and other forms of discrimination.

Lörcher had reached out to the Amit family in Israel because of his work to raise awareness about local Jewish history. He had heard about them through a friend of Adi Amit’s boyfriend Noam Bursztein.

“He asked me if I was willing to meet him, because the team is really interested in Jewish heritage,” Adi Amit recalled. Last spring, Lörcher met with Amit, her mother and Bursztein.

“Of course, I heard the name before, but I hadn’t thought about the family,” Lörcher recalled in a phone interview. “I was really surprised. And then things went very fast.”

Lörcher later met with Adi Amit’s grandfather, Leopoldo Kahn, during a special training session for the Borussia Dortmund soccer club at a Jewish school in San Diego.

Then, when CAM decided to hold its antisemitism summit in Dortmund, Lörcher suggested they “think about doing something special, to use the mayors summit to remember Paul Hirsch and his very special story for the first time.”

As the kicker, they commissioned German urban artist Mister Oreo 39, aka Julian Schimanski, to create the larger-than-life portrait, under the words: “Who is Paul Hirsch?”

Dratwa said that the Dortmund Jewish community and Mayor Westphal all agreed this was “a great opportunity to educate, and create a positive impact about the past, to create a better future.”

The post Dortmund’s only Jewish mayor died in poverty after a successful career. The city is reviving his story. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Israeli Hospital Earns Spot In Global Top 10

An ambulance is seen at the entrance to the emergency room of Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was hospitalised, in Ramat Gan, Israel, July 15, 2023. REUTERS/Rami Amichay

A hospital in central Israel was ranked in the top 10 of medical centers globally, in the new rankings out by Newsweek. Sheba Medical Center, located in Tel HaShomer in central Israel, was ranked the ninth best hospital in the world according to the US publication, its sixth year in a row.

“This is a distilled moment of Israeli pride. In this challenging period, Sheba has proven its professionalism and quality for the sixth time in a row. In many ways, this is a true expression of confidence in the entire Israeli healthcare system, for which I thank it from the bottom of my heart,” said Israeli President Isaac Herzog following the news.

The Director General of the hospital, Prof. Yitshak Kreiss, added; “This achievement represents a resounding endorsement by our colleagues around the world. Sheba is working diligently to make Israel a better, healthier place and highlights our abilities to be both a center of medical excellence, as well as a beacon of co-existence, where Jewish and Arab medical personnel are working side by side 24/7 to save the lives of civilians and soldiers- Jews, Moslems and Christians alike.”

According to the hospital, which placed 11th in last year’s list, thousands of patients came through their doors in 2023 from every continent on earth, “for the treatment they could not receive in their home countries.”

Concluding on a thoughtful note, Sheba wrote: “Being ranked by Newsweek as the 9th best hospital in the world is a major achievement and an honor, yet our greatest reward lies in the lives we touch and the hope we instill. Together, with our dedicated team of medical professionals, we will continue to push the boundaries of medical advancement, ensuring that every patient receives the highest standard of care regardless of their background or where they live. Thank you for entrusting us with your health and allowing us to be a beacon of hope beyond boundaries.”

Per the rankings, four of the top five hospitals in the world are in the US, with the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota at the top, followed by the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Also included in the list from Israel were the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, which ranked 64th in the world, and Rabin Medical Center’s Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, placing 158th globally.

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Second Synagogue in Tunisia Attacked Since October 7

A screenshot from a video of Tunisian rioters burning the El-Hamma synagogue on Tuesday, Oct. 17. Source: Twitter

A mob set fire to the courtyard of a Tunisian synagogue in the city of Sfax on Sunday, the second such incident since the Israel-Hamas war began in October.

Nobody was injured in the fire — as there are no Jews left in Sfax — and authorities were able to put out the fire before it spread and destroyed the building, but reported showed significant damage to parts of the synagogue.

Israeli Historian Edy Cohen posted a video of the fire and explained that this is yet another example of antisemitism in Tunisia. He argued that “Israel through the Western countries must help Tunisian Jews.”

האנטישמיות בתוניסיה
היום בבוקר נשרף בית כנסת עתיק בתוניסיה .
כתבתי עשרות פוסטים ומאמרים על האנטישמיות הגואה בתוניסיה אשר הגיעה לשיאה לפני פחות משנה כאשר נהרגו שני יהודים בפיגוע של קיצונים.
ישראל באמצעות מדינות המערב חייבת לעזור ליהודי תוניסה.

— אדי כהן Edy Cohen (@DREDYCOHEN) February 26, 2024

In 1948, there were an estimated 105,000 Jews in the country. However, by 1967, that number had declined to 20,000 after many fled to countries such as Israel and France, and today Tunisia is estimated to only have about 1,500 Jews.

This is not the first time an antisemitic mob set fire to a synagogue since Hamas’s October 7 terrorist attack.

On October 17, rioters set fire to the el-Hamma Synagogue, doing considerable damage. People also entered the synagogue and destroyed much of it. The synagogue is not an active place of worship, as there are no Jews left in the city.

Videos from the riot show crowds of people walking in, around, and on top of the synagogue — including at least one person waving a large Palestinian flag.

En Tunisie, la synagogue d’El Hamma a été détruite et incendiée hier soir par des centaines d’émeutiers, sans la moindre intervention policière. De nombreuses vidéos sur TikTok et Facebook. Et pas la moindre mention dans les médias nationaux

— Joseph Hirsch (@josephhirsch5) October 18, 2023

The riot was precipitated by false reports that Israel had bombed Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza, resulting in more than 500 casualties. News outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post uncritically reported the story.

Later, reports from those same outlets, along with human rights groups, suggested that a rocket launched by Palestinian terrorists malfunctioned and hit the parking lot of the hospital, killing dozens. U.S. and Israeli intelligence also conclude this is what took place.

But the damage of the initial reporting was done, whipping much of the Arab world into a frenzy, resulting in huge protests and — in this case — mob violence.

Just a year prior to the war, there was a deadly terrorist attack against the El Ghriba Synagogue on the island of Djerba, where the vast majority of Tunisia’s Jews live. The terrorist opened fire on security guards, killing two and injuring six. He also shot at Jews at the synagogue, two of whom were killed and another four were injured.

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From Ground Zero to the Gaza Border: US Medical Doctors Volunteer In Israel

A Hanukkiyah, a candlestick used during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, stands on the remains of a burnt windowsill, following a deadly infiltration by Hamas terrorists from the Gaza Strip, in Kibbutz Be’eri in southern Israel, Oct. 17, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

On September 12, 2001, Dr. Marc Wilkenfeld, a specialist in occupational medicine, was treating victims of terror at a site that would later become known as Ground Zero. More than 22 years later, Wilkenfeld found himself 6,000 miles away from Ground Zero treating terror victims in Israel. 

Wilkenfeld took leave of his job for two weeks to volunteer with IL-USDocAID, an initiative that was established in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attacks on October 7, in which more than 1200 people were murdered and 253 were abducted to Gaza. 

The project, a joint partnership between Israel’s Health Ministry and the Israel Economic Mission to the US, came in response to the sudden duress suffered by Israel’s health system from soaring casualties and the deployment of thousands of medical staff members, who serve in the IDF as reserve soldiers, to the frontlines.

Wilkenfeld said he was driven to come to Israel after seeing reports of mobilization efforts by Israeli civilians, some as early as October 7 itself. The idea of Israelis who were told to stay in their safe rooms rushing to help first responders wherever they could compelled him to action. 

“In America, you feel helpless. What are you going to do? The ability to go here and even play a small role, just to give some advice medically – it’s a beautiful thing,” he told The Algemeiner.

Wilkenfeld took his family with him, who volunteered by cooking for soldiers while he was treating people. 

In Israel, Wilkenfeld experienced many firsts. Despite 30 years of being active in the medical profession, including at the scenes of terror attacks, it was the first time he had ever encountered an ambulance station pockmarked by shrapnel and ambulances riddled with bullet holes. 

Visiting physicians are given a choice to volunteer with paramedics in ambulances or work directly inside hospitals. 

When you have a doctor in the ambulance there’s more you can do as a paramedic,” Wilkenfeld said. “It also gives real strength for the paramedics to know that people want to come and give help.”

Wilkenfeld said the visit taught him not to pay too much attention to misinformation about Israel. 

“I didn’t learn too much about medicine, but I learned a lot about Israel,” he said. “You read in the press that Israel is an apartheid state. But from a medical perspective it’s precisely the opposite.”

During his time in the country, Wilkenfeld said that all the patients he treated received the same medical care, from the “arab in east Jerusalem” to the “major rabbi from Har Nof,” an ultra-Orthodox suburb.  

He noted, however, that working in Jerusalem was vastly different from the south, which suffered the brunt of the onslaught, where people are still in an acute state of shock. 

“I’ve seen almost a thousand 9/11 responders, the responders in Sderot have the same look in their eyes,” he said of the southern Israeli city in which at least 50 civilians and 20 police officers were murdered. “They talk about the bodies in the ambulance station, about how to prioritize patients, that they haven’t slept in weeks.”

He also said that meeting with the families of hostages left him with a “terrible sadness,” rendering him speechless. Leaning on his medical expertise, however, eventually allowed Wilkenfeld to find his own voice to console them.

“It’s not possible to live in southern Israel and not have PTSD,” he said. 

Wilkenfeld returned to his job in New York, where he serves as chief of occupational medicine and clinical assistant professor at NYU-Langone in Long Island, with a somber sense of the realities facing Israel.

He is already working to recruit more volunteers for the project if war should come to Israel again.

If there is a next time, God forbid, now we can mobilize,” he said. “Now we know who to talk to, where things are.”

Parting ways with the Israeli medical personnel he worked alongside, Wilkenfeld was struck by their sacrifice amidst incomprehensible conditions.

“I leave and they have to live with this.” At the end of the day, he said, “they did much more for me than I did for them.”

To find out more about volunteering as a medic in Israel, click on the following link: IL-USDocAID:

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