Jewish History on the Islands of Madeira and Azores

Synagogue Interior, Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel Island, Azores

Dear friends, readers, and followers,

Please register for Irene’s new virtual Portuguese Jewish History lecture hosted on December 20 by the New City New York Library. This lecture is FREE, but registration is required to receive a link to attend.

The Hidden History of Jewish People on the Islands of Madeira and Azores and the Unsolved Mystery of a Sefer Torah

Day/Date: Tuesday, December 20th 

Time: 7:00 PM EST

Marina on Madeira island
Marina on Madeira island

Follow Irene Shaland in her exploration of two Portuguese autonomous regions in the Atlantic: Madeira and Azores. With their mild climate, dramatic waterfalls, and mountains, both archipelagos are popular tourist destinations with over five million visitors arriving annually. Few of the tourists though know that the two islands of Madeira and the nine islands of Azores have a hidden Jewish history, and the archipelagos tightly guard their secrets. The Jewish presence on the islands, still under the radar of most historians, spans the entire length of recorded history beginning with their discovery by the Portuguese in the 14th and 15th centuries. It is even thought that the explorer who discovered Madeira, Joao Zarco, was of Crypto-Jewish ancestry.

       Learn about the unsolved mystery of the ancient Sephardic Torah with an Ashkenazi cover. First given by a local man to an American Jewish officer serving on the US Army base on Terceira Island of the Azores, the Torah reappeared 40 years later on Sao Miguel Island inside a sea cave. Follow Irene on a virtual visit to the synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in Madeira and Azores and delve deeper into the archipelagos’ hidden Jewish history.

To register for Dec. 20 FREE ZOOM event, please follow the link to the library website:

https://newcity.librarycalendar.com/event/hidden-history-jewish-people-islands-madeira-and-azores-and-unsolved-mystery-sefer-torah

If you have any questions please contact Program Manager Veronica Reynolds at

vreynolds@newcitylibrary.org

Phone Number: (845) 634-4997 ext. 139

Learn more about Irene Shaland

Check out Irene’s books at Amazon

Africa Through the Eyes of a Jewish Explorer

Lion, Star of David, Masai people

Face-to-Face with Africa Through the Eyes of a Jewish Explorer

Virtual Lecture: Irene Shaland

Sunday, November 13th, 2022       7:00 PM EST  Via Zoom

Hosted by Temple Emmanuel of Wakefield, MA

For more information and to register for this lecture, please email the Sisterhood President Susan Hochberg: shochberg.sh@gmail.com

Encounter Africa – a never-ending journey of mystery and discovery!

Join Irene Shaland, a Jewish historian, book author, and educator, as she leads us on a unique journey to Africa seen through the eyes of a Jewish explorer. As a writer focused on the past and present of Jewish communities around the world, Irene shares personal Jewish stories she discovered in Africa.

Nairobi Hebrew Congregation Synagogue, Kenya
Nairobi Hebrew Congregation Synagogue, Kenya
Sanctuary, Nairobi Synagogue, Kenya
Inside the sanctuary, Nairobi Synagogue, Kenya

The mysterious continent of Africa remains one of the most enchanting and fascinating destinations for both Irene and her husband Alex, a travel writer and photographer.

Masai warrior dance
Masai warrior dance

Through Alex’s photographs and Irene’s story-telling, you will journey to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zanzibar. You will meet Africa’s Big Five (five African animals most dangerous for a hunter on foot), visit the Nairobi Synagogue and its energetic community, go to a Masai Tribe village to learn Masai Old Testament-like legends, the Great Rift Valley (where life on Earth began) and follow the Great Migration in Kenya and Tanzania.

For more information and to register for this lecture, please email the Sisterhood President Susan Hochberg: shochberg.sh@gmail.com

Find out more About the Presenter

Find all Shalands’ books on Amazon:

Link to Irene Shaland’s Books. 

Link to Alex Shaland’s Books. 

Acts of Loving Kindness During the Holocaust

Great Harbor of Malta

Save the date for our upcoming virtual lecture on January 30, 2022: “Acts of Loving Kindness During the Holocaust: Unknown Stories from Corsica and Malta.”

Date: January 30th, 2022 
Time: 2:00 PM EST US/20:00 Italy/21:00 Israel

Hosted by the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria and Synagogue Ner Tamid del Sud, Serrastretta, Italy

Presented by Irene Shaland

This virtual lecture is free and open to the public. No registration is required. To attend, click on the zoom link a few minutes before the starting time: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83848871371

The Jewish story of Corsica is not well known, and many are surprised to hear that the island has any to reveal. However, in 1763, Corsica was the first modern country to proclaim social and political equality for the Jews: 27 years ahead of the US and 28 years ahead of France. The history of the Jews in Corsica goes back at least a millennium.  Reconstructing that history in its entirety what firmly comes across, is the welcoming Corsican heart, always open to those who seek refuge from cruelty and injustice. In addition, the island’s Jewish narrative reveals an irony of Omerta (mafia’s code of silence) that led many Corsicans to risk their lives in saving thousands of Jews fleeing the Nazi-occupied mainland France to escape deportation and death.

The Maltese Jewish narrative manifests a spellbinding trajectory still under-the-radar for most historians: from Israelites sailing there with Phoenicians three thousand years ago, to the first Jewish traveler, the Biblical Paul, arriving in Malta in the first century CE, through the dark times of Jewish slavery during the Knights of St. John’s rule in the 16th century, to today’s blossoming Jewish community. The tiny archipelago of Malta was the only country in the world during WWII that did not require entry visas, therefore saving the lives of untold thousands of European refugees.

The lecture concludes with the Lessons Learned from the “acts of loving kindness” and Jewish stories in Malta, Corsica, and Q&A.

Elvis Presley Was Jewish

Elvis Presley

By guest author:  Rabbi Barbara Aiello

This article is re-published with permission of its author Rabbi Barbara Aiello. Image curtesy of Rabbi Barbara Aiello.

“He passed away 40 years ago on August 16, 1977. On the Hebrew calendar the date was the second day in the Hebrew month of Elul, 5737.  Why a “yahrzeit” for Elvis? As unusual as it may seem, a little known fact about Elvis Presley is that, by the Jewish law of matrilineal descent, Elvis Presley was Jewish.

In her book, “Elvis and Gladys,” historian and biographer Elaine Dundy writes about Elvis Aron Presley’s Jewish heritage. Elvis’ great great maternal grandmother, Nancy Burdine was married to Abner Tackett. “Nancy was of particular interest to Gladys (Elvis’ mother) for her Jewish heritage as Gladys often recounted that Nancy had given her sons, Sidney and Jerome, Jewish names. Nancy and Abner (who some say was half-Jewish himself) had a daughter Martha who married White Mansell. Their daughter, nick-named Doll, was Elvis’ maternal grandmother.”

“Elvis’ grandparents had nine children, among them, a daughter, Gladys Love, who became mother to Elvis Presley. After his mother died, Elvis personally sought to design his beloved mother’s gravesite which included a Star of David on her tombstone. It was Elvis’ decision  to honor his Jewish heritage, something his mother was proud of and acknowledged to Elvis at a very early age.

Elvis was born and grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi in a poor area called “The Pinch.”  The Pinch was home to what locals called the “rag trade,” the industry born of immigrants, mostly Jewish, who repaired and resold second hand clothing. Presley’s roots go back to the time when Jewish immigrants came to America and established the rag trade there.  In fact Elvis’ great great grandmother, Nancy Burdine descended from a family that emigrated from Lithuania, probably around the time of the American Revolution. That’s right. Elvis was a Litvak!

Elvis Aron was born a twin whose brother, Jesse Garon, passed away in infancy. A young cousin recalls a visit she made to the Presley home, where mourners sat on low chairs and where mirrors and pictures were covered in white. “It was years later,” says the cousin, “that I realized that these were Jewish traditions.”

Always aware of his Jewish heritage, Elvis Presley put his pride into action through numerous donations to the Memphis Jewish community.

Each year, for many years, Elvis gave $1,000 or more to each of fifty Memphis-area charities. Presley’s largest contributions were to the Memphis synagogues, the Jewish Federation, and the Memphis Jewish Community Center. Presley even funded several Jewish education programs as well – philanthropic endeavors that received little or no publicity.

Throughout his adult life, Presley reached out to those in need, often paying hospital bills for family members, friends and total strangers. His generosity even reached “The Pinch,” where he renovated the area where he grew up. Close friends report that Presley was adamant that his gifts remain anonymous – and was heard to say, “That’s the Jewish way.” –Rabbi Barbara Aiello, Aug. 16, 2017

Learn more about Rabbi Barbara and read more fascinating blog posts: https://www.rabbibarbara.com

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Introducing Rabbi Barbara and Her Book: The Cat That Ate the Cannoli

Book cover of Rabbi Barbara's book The Cat That Ate the Cannoli

All quoted text and Images used with permission from the author, Rabbi Barbara Aiello.

“Discovering Rabbi Barbara and her book … turned a light on so many parts of my own family’s traditions, and opened my eyes to the anusim stories in my own grandparents from Calabria. I read it with tears the first time, and reread it with more tears, finding more details that I missed the first time. Thank you Rabbi Barbara! – Corbin”

Continue reading “Introducing Rabbi Barbara and Her Book: The Cat That Ate the Cannoli”

Meeting the Jewish Community of Mumbai India

Irene Shaland and guides inside the Mumbai Mogen David Synagogue

Excerpt from Irene Shaland’s book “The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories.”

Jews settled in Mumbai (Bombay) in the 18th century. First, the Baghdadi arrived in the 1730s. Then, the Bene Israel began migrating from the countryside into the city in the 1740s. Today, Mumbai has the largest Jewish community in India: 3,500 to 4,000 people, most of whom are the Bene Israel. We visited two of the city’s eight synagogues: Kenesseth Eliyahoo and Magen David. Both were built by the Sassons, the wealthiest family of the Baghdadi Jews. The elegant blue structure of the Magen David Synagogue was erected by David Sasson in 1861. Hanna and Eliyahoo were waiting for us inside.

Continue reading “Meeting the Jewish Community of Mumbai India”