(JTA) — On Wednesday morning, Alfred Moses, 94, sat in a small white armchair at a round wooden table in a Manhattan office building as a historian gingerly turned the pages of a more than 1,000-year-old book in front of him.
Two weeks earlier, Moses had paid a record-setting sum for the book — more than $38 million in total. But this was the first time he had ever seen it.
The book was the Codex Sassoon, the world’s oldest nearly-complete copy of the Hebrew Bible. That morning, in Sotheby’s Upper East Side office, Sharon Mintz, the auction house’s senior Judaica specialist, was giving Moses and some of his relatives a history lesson on his new acquisition.
Mintz turned the pages with clean, bare hands, noting the scored ruling between the lines of text and the thickness of the parchment pages — made somewhat thinner in places where scribes scratched over each others’ notes. Before Moses bought the book at a much-anticipated Sotheby’s auction on May 17, the codex passed between multiple owners — most recently through the hands of Jacqui Safra, a member of the prominent banking family, and before him, in the 1920s, Jewish book collector David Solomon Sassoon.
It will now be housed at the ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, which exhibited the codex earlier this year.
“It’s an inspiring book, to see a 1,200 year old manuscript in perfect [condition] — even that we can read today — it’s quite amazing,” Moses said. “It has the vowels and the trope … it’s remarkable. It’s something that’s been preserved for 1,200 years. And we’re the beneficiaries of it.”
Moses is an attorney who served as U.S. ambassador to Romania during the Clinton administration and is a past president of the American Jewish Committee. He had anxiously watched the auction online from his home in Washington, D.C., worried that another possible bidder, like the Bible Museum, also in Washington, might put in a competitive bid. Representatives from the American Friends of ANU, which supports the museum, were concerned it might wind up in a private collection, and could be lost to public view for another generation.
“I thought my chances were about 50/50,” Moses said. “But I was prepared to buy it if I could afford to.”
He expected to pay as much as $32.5 million, which he put in as an “irrevocable bid” with Sotheby’s ahead of the auction, according to Bloomberg. He ended up inching his bid up to $33.5 million after someone else bid $33 million. Fees brought his final tab to $38.1 million.
Part of the reason he decided to give the book to ANU — an institution he has supported for years, including as chair of its honorary board — is that he sees it as serving Jews worldwide. He feels other prestigious homes for historical artifacts in the country, such as the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, are meant to cater to Israelis specifically.
“It’s the museum of the Jewish people and I wanted the codex to go to the Jewish people,” he said. “The Israel Museum is wonderful. But that’s the museum for Israel. I wanted the codex to be for the Jewish people.”
Alfred Moses (center, seated) examines the Codex Sassoon surrounded by family and friends. (Perry Bindelglass for The American Friends of ANU The Museum of the Jewish People)
Moses is making the hefty donation to Israel at a fraught time, as street protests across the country are raging at the government’s attempt to weaken the judiciary, and as friction persists between the Biden administration and Israel’s right-wing government. But Moses sees the tension as a passing phase.
“I think there’s a bit of concern among American Jews as to what is happening politically in Israel, but that’s temporal. 20 years from now, it’ll seem like history,” Moses said. “One has to have a sense of history in the longer viewpoint. Israel is the home of the Jewish people. Whom the Israelis elect to be their government and the prime minister is an Israeli decision.”
But Moses mused that the book could leave Israel after all. During the lesson, Mintz explained that part of the mystery of the book’s provenance is its disappearance from the medieval town of Makisin, in present-day Markada, Syria, sometime around the year 1400. According to an inscription on the book’s last page, it was removed from the synagogue during an attack on the town and entrusted to the care of Salama ibn Abi al-Fakhr, who was instructed to return it as soon as Makisin was rebuilt.
It was during this part of the lesson that Moses cracked a joke: if the Jewish community returns to what is now Markada, would he have to return the book?
Given the condition of Syria after more than a decade of fighting, and the almost total loss of its once thriving Jewish community, that prospect seems remote. Mintz also noted that while the existence of the codex in what is present-day Markada has been established, little else is known about the Jewish community that existed there. For now, Moses hopes that the cultural treasure he bought will be seen as the property of Jews everywhere.
“I think the Sassoon Codex will give satisfaction, joy, and pride to tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of viewers,” Moses added. “I see benefit to the Jewish people.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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