Schedule of 2020 Jewish History Lectures by Irene Shaland

Rabbi Barbara Aiello Upcoming Jewish History Lectures Presented by Irene Shaland:
September, October, December 2020

“…memory is the keyword, which combines past and present, past and future…” Elie Wiesel An internationally-published writer and educator Irene Shaland invites you to embark on a journey through the painful past and often controversial present of twelve countries on three continents to understand how and why various nations around the world respond to the Holocaust remembrance.

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Sept. 30, 2020 7:00 PM Zoom virtual event Irene Shaland presents Part I of her lecture “Travels in Jewish History” sponsored by the New City Library, New City, NY.  The lecture is free, but registration is required. To register call 845-634-4997, ext. 139.
Oct. 7, 2020 7:00PM Zoom virtual event Irene Shaland presents Part II of her lecture “Travels in Jewish History” sponsored by the New City Library, New City, NY.  The lecture is free, but registration is required. To register call 845-634-4997, ext. 139.
Oct. 14, 2020 7:00PM Zoom virtual event Irene Shaland’s virtual ZOOM lecture: “Global Response to the Holocaust, Part I: The Ring of Fire: Austria, Germany, Hungary, Soviet Union.” Hosted by the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. Separate Registration for Each Part is Required: Follow link to registration:
Oct. 15, 2020 4:30 PM Holocaust Resource Center of Kean University, NJ Irene Shaland presents her lecture “Journey of Conscience: Countries Around the World Respond to the Holocaust” at the Holocaust Resource Center of Kean University, 1000 Morris Ave. Union, NJ 07083. To register call 908-737-4633.
Nov. 11, 2020 7:00PM Zoom virtual event Irene Shaland’s virtual ZOOM lecture: “Global Response to the Holocaust, Part II: From Europe to Asia: Norway, Sweden, China, India.” Hosted by the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. Separate Registration for Each Part is Required: Follow link to registration:
Dec. 9, 2020 7:00PM Zoom virtual event Irene Shaland’s virtual ZOOM lecture: “Global Response to the Holocaust, Part III: The Islands and The Boot: Cuba, Calabria/Italy, Malta, Corsica.” Hosted by the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. Separate Registration for Each Part is Required: Follow link to registration:


More about Irene Shaland:

Irene Shaland is an internationally-published art and travel writer, educator, and lecturer focusing on the rich tapestry of global Jewish experiences, culture, and heritage. A member of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies, she is a presenter at the Society’s annual conferences and contributor to its HaLapid academic journal.  Irene is a contributing author and lecturer at Siegal College of Jewish Studies, Touro Law School of New York, the Center for Jewish History Research, the American Sephardic Federation in New York, and the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.

Irene authored three books, including recently published “The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories” and numerous magazine articles on Jewish history and cultural travel published in such American, Canadian, and U.K magazines as The Baltimore Jewish Times, The Boston Forward, Chicago Jewish News, The Jewish Journal of Greater Boston, Cleveland Jewish News, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Detroit Jews News, Hackwriters Literary Online UK magazine, Holiday Magazine – France/UK, IMAGE Magazine, The Jewish Journal of San Antonio, Jewish Life Magazine, Jewish Montreal, L’Chaim Magazine of the Intermountain Jewish News, London Jewish Telegraph, Los Angeles Jewish Times, The Lotus, Montreal Jewish Magazine, Northern Ohio Life, Orange County Jewish Life, Jewish Chronicle – Pittsburgh, ROMAR Travel, San Diego Jewish Journal, Shelanu – Kenya, Sino-Judaica Institute Academic Magazine, Theater Journal, Tikkun Magazine, The Toronto Jewish Tribune, Washington Jewish Week, ZEEK Magazine, and 5 Towns Jewish Times.


The “Jewish Question” in Vienna (excerpt from The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories)


Don’t look for the Steinedererinnerung in your guidebook: the murdered Jews of Austria have neither a Rick Steves nor a Frommer. And Vienna, basking in its Baroque and Art Nouveau splendor, would rather have you waltzing from Schonbrunn palace to Sachertorte’s shops instead of searching out the synagogues and homes of long-gone Jews. An Austrian sarcastic proverb, as noted by Magrit Reiter in her conference presentation “Antisemitism in Austria after the Shoa,” declares that Germans were the “better Nazis,” while Austrians were definitely the “better anti-Semites.”

The Holocaust victims’ destiny was, for the most part, determined by three key factors: the degree of control the Nazis had in the region, the history of Jews there, and the actions of the locals. The latter is where the Viennese truly excelled. Austrian inventiveness and viciousness quickly turned the city of Mahler and Freud into the city of “Hitler’s willing executioners,” using the title of the famous book written by Daniel Goldhagen. In this controversial study, Goldhagen argued that virulent “eliminationist antisemitism” was the cornerstone of German national identity. Austrians, in their zeal to eliminate their Jewish countrymen, managed to surprise even the Germans.
Vienna was by no means the only European city where the “final solution” had been successfully carried out. However, the delight the Viennese took in humiliating, torturing, and killing their Jewish neighbors was truly extraordinary. In that 1938 photograph I mentioned, the people in the laughing crowd taking such a delight in humiliating a Jew, were the very ones (or their parents) who elected the rabidly anti-Semitic Karl Lueger as a mayor of Vienna five times between 1897 and 1910. Hitler adored Lueger and considered the Viennese mayor to be a major influence on shaping his views on race.

According to the Austrian Jewish Community statistics, in 1938, 206,000 persons of Jewish decent had been living in the Austrian capital; one out of ten Viennese residents was Jewish. Less than 2,000 survived the camps. Practically no one returned. The flourishing Jewish community of Austria was all but obliterated during World War II. At first, Austrian Jews were lucky: unlike Germany, Austria had exit avenues open for a while and almost two thirds of the country’s Jews left. Those who stayed died wretched deaths at places like Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. One Vienna resident, Sigmund Freud, went to London with his family; his two elderly sisters stayed and perished.
After the war, Austria’s official position was that the country had been the very first victim of the Nazis’ aggression. Austria had no Nuremberg-like trials for crimes against humanity, and this fictional claim went unchallenged for many decades.

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Irene Shaland’s Book Available at Barnes and Noble

Barnes and Noble online store displays Irene Shaland's book The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories

Irene Shaland’s latest book “The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories” is now available at Barnes & Noble.

Go to Barnes & Noble online Store.

In “The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories” Irene Shaland presents a collective Jewish narrative from various parts of the globe. She takes the reader on a fascinating journey, both familiar and unknown, from Europe to Asia and Africa, from Vienna to Delhi and Nairobi. The fate of the brilliant Jewish community of Vienna annihilated during the Holocaust shines a disturbing light on the stories of the current rise of Antisemitism in Scandinavia and throughout Europe.

Two-millennium old tales of little-known Jewish communities of India and China, who never knew religious persecution, reveal happy chapters in the history of Jewish Diaspora filled with so many tragic events. And striking stories of the uplifting revival of Judaism in Sicily and Sardinia after 500 years of the expulsion of the Jews from these islands give us hope for a more harmonious future. Based on the author’s interviews during her travels to ten countries and three continents, this book is Irene Shaland’s passionate quest to preserve the Jewish heritage, identity, memory, and history.

Judaica Research and Education Center in St. Petersburg, Russia

St Petersburg Judaica CenterI recently attended an Educators meeting at the Jewish Federation building in Beachwood.  The meeting centered on a fascinating exhibit of old photographs from shtetls or Jewish Villages before World War I.   Titled “The Way We Looked,” the Beachwood exhibit marks the first time these photographs have been shown in North America.  The collection was loaned to Cleveland by the Center for Judaica Studies from St. Petersburg, Russia.  The co-curators of this exhibit, two scholars from the Center, Drs. Alexander Ivanov and Valery Dymshitz, presented an exciting lecture/slide show based on their in-depth research.

The photographs, taken between 1912 and 1914, captured people and their everyday life in the Pale of Settlement, a territory set aside by deeply anti-Semitic Russian Tsars for the permanent residency of the Jews. The world these people inhabited was almost entirely destroyed, first by the Communists and then by the Nazis.  Hearing Drs. Ivanov’s and Dymshitz’s stories and seeing their photographs taken during 1995-2005 of the several still remaining Jewish villages was a powerful addition to the exhibit.

My husband Alex and I are originally from St. Petersburg or Leningrad, as the city was called when we immigrated to the US in 1982. We left the city where just the idea of an official entity dedicated to scholarly research of Jewish history would seem totally insane. Now it seems that the European University of St. Petersburg Center for Judaica Research and its museum should become a “Must” on the “bucket” list for every Jewish history pilgrim.

The Center’s website:

Villa Romana Sicily – Must See for Italy History Buffs

Entrance to Villa Romana
Entrance to Villa Romana del Casale, Roman villa built in the beginning of the 4th century AD and located about 3 km outside the town of Piazza Armerina

Villa Romana del Casale located in Piazza Armerina in Sicilian heartland is not-to-be missed site for all history and art enthusiasts. Covered by layers of mud for 700 years, rediscovered in 1950, and reopened in 2003 after over forty years of reconstruction, the Villa is a treasure trove of the best Roman mosaics in existence today.

It is believed to be built in Sicily in the 4th century AD by Marcus Aurelius Maximianus who was Roman co-emperor during the reign of Diocletian (286-305 AD). Even by decadent Roman standards of that time, this Villa was over-the-top sumptuous dwelling with bright glittering mosaics covering an entire floor surface. These mosaics were created in a realistic style, narrative in nature and provide a rare insight into the 3rd century Roman life style. We as visitors are granted a unique opportunity to delight in the kaleidoscope of Roman life celebrated right in front of us: from fashions, massage, and lovemaking, to hunting, sports, and transportation.

Vila Romana Sicily excavation site
At Villa Romana , excavations still going on
mosaic depicts chariot race in Sicily
Mosaic depicting a chariot race
mosaic in Villa Romana Sicily Italy
This mosaic depicting a scene on a ship is a continuation of the “Great Hunt” narrative: wild beasts are hunted, captured, and then, like this antelope, loaded on a ship bound for Rome
Roman girls mosaic in Sicily
The famous Villa Romana Bikini Girls continue their exercises for almost 17 centuries
Chariot race mosaic Sicily Roman times
Many mosaics at Villa Romana are humorous: this one depicts chariot race where chariots are pulled by various birds, like peacocks or geese


mosaic of fishing scene in Roman Sicily
Fishing mosaic at Villa Romana is one of many naturalistic-style depictions of various activities specific to Roman Sicily in the 4th century AD


Following the Steps of Tennessee Williams in Sicily: Taormina’s Casa Cuseni

Casa Cuseni Taormina, Sicily
Casa Cuseni Taormina, Sicily
Casa Cuseni welcomes its guests, Taormina, Sicily

I came across the name “Casa Cuseni” while reading about Tennessee Williams and his beloved partner, painter/poet Henry Faulkner, spending many happy months in Taormina while staying in Casa Cuseni. I knew then, without a doubt, that when we are in Sicily, we will follow the steps of Tennessee!

We and our four friends arrived at Casa Cuseni on a beautiful late September afternoon. We were met by the B&B’s smiling owner, an MD and art lover, Francesco Spadaro, and we followed him up the stairs through a terraced garden. At that time of the day, Taormina is lit by magical shades of golden-bluish light coming from above and below, the sky and the sea, and indeed seems to become “la bella Trinacria,” Dante’s name for Sicily. The most beautiful city of Sicily, Taormina, was called by Goethe “a little patch of paradise.”

Mount Etna and Taormina Sicily
The treacherous volcano Etna: view from the rooftop, Casa Cuseni, Taormina, Sicily

Many visitors today, though spell-bounded by Taormina’s almost supernatural beauty, find it hard to believe the great German poet: the city is literally occupied by crowds of tourists; its cathedrals and palaces are taken over by unending weddings. For us, though, it was Casa Cuseni which embodied the best that “paradise” of Taormina has to offer.  Just like Taormina is not your typical Sicilian town, Casa Cuseni is not the B&B one may expect, but a destination by itself, a living museum of arts and letters, “a place where Art has found its Home,” as Francesco Spadaro calls it.


Terrace of Casa Cuseni, Taormina, Sicily
On the terrace of Casa Cuseni, Taormina, Sicily

The villa called Casa Cuseni was designed and built by the leading member of the British Royal Academy of Arts, painter Robert Hawthorn Kitson, in 1905. For Kitson, Casa Cuseni became a refuge, a home away from the world of Victorian morals and his Yorkshire family with their judgmental attitudes toward his life style. Since Kinston was an Art Nouveau or rather Arts & Crafts artist in love with Italy and Sicily, the house and gardens he designed present a harmonious mixture of art nouveau, and Liberty and Sicilian styles. Robert Kitson’s teacher and friend, Frank Brangwyn, designed the paneling and furniture and created a mural in the dining room. This beautiful, elegant, and refined mural invokes a poignant feeling of being singled-out and ostracized. Brangwyn figures symbolize homosexual love, threatened and persecuted by society.


Studio of Robert Kinston, Casa Cuseni, Taormina, Sicily
Salvatore takes our group to the studio of Robert Kinston, Casa Cuseni, Taormina, Sicily

Just like gay-friendly Taormina became a refuge for those artists, who like Oscar Wilde were exiled from their home-countries, Casa Cuseni turned into an intellectual oasis for artists whose views or life-styles were not considered moral or conventional: D.H. Lawrence, Tennessee Williams, Henry Faulkner, Truman Capote, they all met over drinks on the rooftop of the house overlooking the town and the volcano Etna in the background.

When Robert Kitson died in 1948, his niece, Daphne Phelps, came all the way from Great Britain to Sicily to sell the house. But she fell in love with the place, the country, and the people and decided to stay on and have paying guests. She went on to write A House in Sicily, one of the best books about this island.


Picasso’ etchings, Kinston’s paintings, signed Tennessee Williams’ books and private letters in Casa Cuseni
The author in the study: Picasso’ etchings and Kinston’s paintings are on the wall; the bookshelves contain signed Tennessee Williams’ books and private letters, Cuseni, Taormina, Sicily

This house, as shown by the wonderful manager Salvatore, has become alive for us and turned into one of the main characters of Sicily. In addition to the beautiful furnishings and a mural, the house’s treasures are displayed everywhere: you live in a living and breathing museum surrounded by Picasso, Faulkner, Kinston, plus the countless treasures of Kinston’s personal connections such as Sumerian, Greek, early medieval, and Renaissance priceless pieces.

I was particularly impressed and deeply touched by Salvatore spending an hour of his time to share with us the house’s collection of Tennessee Williams’ writings and private letters.


Casa Cusini museum
Salvatore explains to the author the intricacies of an Iranian medieval ceramic plate, Casa Cuseni, Taormina, Sicily

Though inseparable from Taormina, Casa Cuseni is a world treasure, a must destination for any art and literature lover.

Our heartfelt gratitude goes to  the owner Francesco Spadaro and manager Salvatore who make every guest feel at home.








Casa Cusini museum
Salvatore showcases the house-museum’s treasures collected by Robert Kinston: Tang dynasty (7th cent.) Chinese figurines, Casa Cuseni, Taormina, Sicily


Dining room paintings in Casa Cuseni

The soul of Casa Cuseni: the dining room furniture and evocative Art Nouveau paneling designed by Frank Brangwyn, Casa Cuseni, Taormina, Sicily




Frank Brangwyn painting Family
“A Family” by Frank Brangwyn, Casa Cuseni, Taormina, Sicily
Taormina, Sicily
The breath-taking beauty of Taormina: view from the rooftop of Greta Garbo’s suite, Casa Cuseni, Taormina, Sicily











Sitting room in Casa Cuseni
In the sitting room: Greta Garbo’s favorite purple couch is on the foreground; priceless medieval carving is above the fireplace, Casa Cuseni, Taormina, Sicily









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How to discover China off the beaten track – what does it take to preserve Jewish identity if you are a Chinese Jew?

China, Kaifeng, Jewish cemetery, travel, global travel authors

October 2012, Again – Kaifeng, China. We are at the oldest Jewish burial place in China – with Mr. Jin in front of his life-long project, his family memorial.

Our new friend dedicated his life savings and his entire life to create this marble memorial book which presents – engraved in English on one side and in Chinese on another – the 900-year story of Mr. Jin’s family within the context of Chinese history. “Chronological” (narrative) and “Genealogical” (family tree) records, written there large and flamboyant, and in stone.  True to the Confucian culture of their country, Jin’s family kept their genealogical records for many centuries. When the government confiscated records, a secretly made copy of it was securely hidden. And then – reborn as Mr. Jin’s marble monument to his ancestors and to the eternal Jewish spirit.

Read more in my article

History of Confucian Synagogue in Kaifeng, China

Inside Kaifeng Jewish History Memorial Center

We visited this synagogue in Kaifeng in October 2012. On the photo you can see how  Irene hurriedly writes, Esther, a Founder and Director of the Kaifeng Jewish History Memorial Center, tells the story of her forebears. On the wall, is the 18th- century rendering of Kaifeng synagogue.  For anyone who visited the Forbidden City in Beijing and at least a temple or two elsewhere in China, the synagogue rendering reminds of the country’s typical residential or religious compounds.

Stone lions flanked the entrance to the synagogue complex consisting of enclosed courtyards and halls. A giant iron incense tripod, like in Taoist or Buddhist temples, stood between the lions. The entire compound is described as being four hundred feet in depth. Unlike Chinese temples that face south, the synagogue gate looked eastward while the worshipers faced westward toward Jerusalem.

The synagogue was designed to offer full-service life style: kitchen, ritual bath mikva, study halls, meeting rooms, and lecture halls. The Main Hall was forty by sixty feet in size and like any other Chinese main hall, it was raised on a platform and surrounded by a balustrade. In the middle was a large table for an incense burner and candlesticks with a Chair of Moses behind the table. The Torah raised up high was read from that place. The name for Torah in Chinese, says Esther, is “Daojing” with Dao meaning “the Way” and the “jing” – the scriptures: The Scriptures of the Way. Read more in my article…



How to discover China off the beaten track –meeting Biblical Esther-namesake in Kaifeng

Ester, China, Kaifeng, Jew, Jewish, travel, journey

In October 2012, we went to Henan province, one of the poorest in China and definitely off the tourist tack. We wanted to get to Kaifeng to meet Esther, “A Kaifeng Jew” as she proudly calls herself. On this photo, Irene is standing with Esther, in front of the entrance to Esther’s house. Shema is visible on the opposite wall.

A small house where Esther was born and raised, and where her family lived for generations, used to be a part of the ancient synagogue structure. For almost 800 years, Esther says, her family was charged with maintaining the synagogue, and when it was ruined by recurring floods, with supervising its reconstruction. Now her house bears a proud name: The Kaifeng Jewish History Memorial Center.

Like her Biblical namesake, Esther is on a mission. “It is my job,” she proudly states, “to bring back a strong sense of Kaifeng Jewish tradition and not let it get lost in history as it did before.” For every Jewish pilgrim coming to Kaifeng, this petite vivacious young woman is an institution by herself: she educates visitors, one person at a time. Read more in my article