02 July 2008

JTA: Newsbriefs of note

JTA's breaking news briefs often contain items of interest to those interested in family history and Jewish history. Here are some recent briefs:

Iraqi Jewish books made it to Israel

Some 300 rare and valuable Jewish books from Iraq have ended up in Israel.

The books, from a collection of books confiscated by Saddam Hussein's secret police, include a 1487 commentary on Job and a volume of biblical prophets printed in Venice in 1617, according to Ha’aretz.

The Iraqi secret police confiscated and stored a large number of Jewish books. Many were damaged in the beginning of the 2003 U.S.-led war in Iraq during the bombing of Iraqi government buildings. After the war, many of the books were sent to Washington's Library of Congress and some made their way to private dealers, who bought them from thieves.

One such dealer, Mordechai Ben-Porat, who was born in Iraq, began by sending an emissary to Baghdad who shipped the books to Israel directly. Eventually, U.S. authorities discovered his activities and barred further shipments. Ben-Porat then smuggled in the remaining books. ...

Jim Joseph Foundation gives $5 million to NYU

The Jim Joseph Foundation will give some $5 million to New York University to support graduate studies in Jewish education.

Starting in 2009, the foundation will give full scholarships to eight students in NYU's dual Ph.D program in education and Jewish studies, which was founded in 2001, according to a news release on NYU's Web site. The foundation also will award 16 full scholarships to students in a new dual Masters degree program in education and Jewish studies. The recipients of the scholarships will be known as Jim Joseph Foundation Fellows.

The $4.96 million, six-year grant will also help pay for administration and adjunct faculty at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, and the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies.

"The Jim Joseph Foundation believes ardently in the importance of Jewish educators and their critical role in ensuring a vibrant Jewish future," Chip Edelsberg, the executive director of the Jim Joseph foundation, said in the release. "We are confident this significant investment in NYU supporting these degree programs will produce future Jewish educational leaders.

Wouldn't it be great if the foundation would fund targeted education programs for Jewish genealogy and family history?

Train work disturbs Greek Jewish cemetery

Work on a new underground train line could disturb what remains of a historic Greek Jewish cemetery.

The excavation in Salonika could move graves and human remains, the AFP news agency reported. Excavation near the Aristotelio University library, built on the cemetery site during an expansion in the 1960s, already has dug up gravestones.

The issue became public last week when U.S. special envoy for Holocaust issues, Ambassador J. Christian Kennedy visited Greece to attend a conference on the matter, and the Greek Jewish community raised the issue.

The cemetery dates back to 1492 when Spain expelled its Jews and 20,000 of them found refuge in the small Greek town of Salonika which then had 2,000 inhabitants. It was one of Europe's largest, with more than 300,000 graves, when it was destroyed by the Nazis in 1942.

Salonika, which now has a Jewish population of 6,000 among its nearly 364,000 residents, was home to about 50,000 Sephardim before the Holocaust. Most were killed by the Nazis.

Lone Tajik synagogue razed

Tajikistan's lone synagogue was demolished.

The 19th century Dushanbe shul was razed last weekend to make way for a park, the Tajiki Jewish community reported.

The government has promised to allocate land for a new synagogue, though details on the plan are sketchy.

"It's painful to lose something very dear, something that cannot be valued in money terms," said a rabbi, Mikhail Abdurakhmanov, in an interview with Reuters. "At the moment the existence of Tajikistan's only Jewish community is under threat."

The community, which numbers some 350 people, is descended from Persian-speaking Bukharan Jews who have lived in Central Asia for centuries. Many Tajiki Jews left for Israel after Tajikistan won independence from Soviet rule.

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