8 Things You Need to Know About…Nissim Behar

Sephardi Jewish educator

1. Nissim Behar, born in Jerusalem in 1848, is considered the father of modern Hebrew language education. He was the son of Rabbi Eliezer Behar, originally of Rumania, who taught him Talmud. But he learned modern Hebrew from Eliezer ben Yehudah [see my post of 2/16/13].

2. In 1863, the Behar family moved to Constantinople. There, Adolphe Cremieux [see my post of 2/19/14] spotted him as a gifted student and in 1867 arranged for him to go to Paris to study at the Ecole Orientale.

3. Having complete his studies, Behar returned east to organize schools on behalf of the Alliance Israelite Universelle in Aleppo (1869), Bulgaria (1874) and Constantinople, where he headed the school (1873-82). In 1879 he authored a biography of Cremieux in Judaeo-Spanish (Ladino).

Nissim behar4. In 1882, he returned to Jerusalem, where he was involved in founding the Alliance Israelite Universelle. He both directed the school (1882-7) and taught there. He was a proponent of the “direct method” of language education, which involved submersion in the language. If you’ve studied Hebrew in an ulpan, you’re an indirect beneficiary of his work.

5. In 1901, having ended his teaching career, he moved to New York City to represent the Alliance.

6. In 1906, he founded the National Liberal Immigration League, the mission of which was to lobby against anti-immigration laws such as literacy tests. He was voluble, speaking before Congressional hearings and in other ways giving a public face to a cause that other Jewish organizations thought better handled behind the scenes. He was active in the league until 1924.

7. He was a founder of the Federation of Jewish Organizations, an editor of the Federation’s Review, and a founder, too, of the Jewish Big Brothers League.

8. Nissim Behar died and was buried in the US in 1931. The following year in Jerusalem, his remains were re-interred beside those of his father on the Mount of Olives.

 In Jerusalem, you’ll find Nissim Behar Street running north-south between Agrippas and Bezalel.

8 Things You Need to Know About… Louis D. Brandeis

American Jurist and Zionist

louisbrandeis1. Louis Dembitz Brandeis (1856-1941) was a distinguished American jurist, the first Jew to serve as a justice on the Supreme Court. Nice, but why would that make him worthy of having a street named after him in Israel?

 

2. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, to affluent parents who were universalist in outlook – not strong advocates of Judaism – he grew up to be a prominent lawyer for social justice, but not one with a strong interest in Jewish affairs.

3. Prior to 1914, most American Jews did not actively support establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Some opposed it, fearing they would be accused of divided loyalty. Others – the more traditionally orthodox – felt that a Jewish state would come in God’s time, not man’s. Brandeis was strongly influential in changing these attitudes, convincing American Jews that a Jewish state was essential not only for saving Eastern European Jews, but also for reviving American Judaism.

4. He was introduced to Zionism sometime around the 1900 by the English Zionist Jacob de Haas, and later by Aaron Aaronsohn, the internationally renowned botanist and founder of the Jewish espionage group NILI. In 1910, he learned that his uncle Louis Dembitz, for whom he had been named, had been a Zionist. This prompted him to learn all he could about Zionism. Then, as part of his work as a mediator of  a strike, he met with Russian immigrant garment workers, who he found to be full of the spirit of democratic idealism.

5. In 1913 and -14, he stuck his toe in the waters of Zionist leadership, and by 1915 he was serving as Chairperson of the  Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs; he raised millions of dollars for Jews in war-torn Europe, and he improved the organization and its finances, dramatically increasing American membership in the Zionist movement.

Brandeis stamp6. He resigned from this office when President Wilson appointed him to the Supreme Court. He was nevertheless influential in convincing Wilson of the justice of the Jewish cause in Palestine.

7. After the war, and during the Paris Peace Conference, Brandeis came into conflict with Chaim Weizmann over the aims of Zionism and the means to achieve them. In brief, Weizmann saw Zionism as a political movement with funding from abroad, while Brandeis believed that an economic basis was necessary in Palestine; he was critical of the choices that European Jewry had made, in that they favored political activity in Europe over practical improvements in Palestine. Nonetheless, he retained an interest in the Zionist project and continued to support the efforts of American Jewry in this regard.

8. His contribution at a critical time was to affirm a Zionism born out of the American context, affirming a commitment to Eretz Yisrael as part of the American Jewish identity.

Brandeis“To be better Americans, we must be better Jews, and to be better Jews, we must become Zionists.”

 

You’ll find Brandeis Street running north of Pinkas Street, north Tel Aviv.

Several Things You Need to Know About… Shaul Pinchas Rabinovitch and David Bloch

Two Ardent Zionists

1. Shaul Pinchas Rabinovitch, known as SheFeR, was born in Lithuania in 1845. He became a Zionist, one of the leading forces in Hovevei Zion in the Russian Empire.

2. He was active in Hebrew publication, writing for such newspapers as HaMagid and HaTsefira.

3. He published a collective work, Knesset Yisroel – the Gathering of Israel.

4. He translated Graetz’s history of the Jews [see my blog post of July 13, 2013] into Hebrew, making significant changes to remove anything that shed a poor light on Israel.

5. He died in Frankfurt in 1910.

David Bloch visiting Detroit

David Bloch visiting Detroit

6. David Bloch (also known as David Bloch-Blumenfeld) was born Efraim Blumenfeld in Grodno in 1884. He was active in Poalei Zion, helping establish labor offices and workers’ settlements.

7. He was a distinguished part of the second aliyah, a founding member of both Ahdut HaAvodah (1919) and Histradut (1920).

8. In 1923, he became Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv; he served as the city’s mayor from 1925-7.

9. He died in 1947. Moshav Dovev in the upper Galilee was named for him (1963).

In Tel Aviv, you’ll find Shefer Street in Neve Tzedek running eastward from HaKarmel just north of Kalischer. Further north, you’ll find Bloch running northeastward from Ben Gurion to Arlosoroff.