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”

Discovering Jewish Connections in Sardinia

Cagliari

Sardinia is an island famed for its unearthly beauty. Sardinia is second only to Sicily in its size among the Mediterranean islands. Like Sicily, Sardinia attracted numerous waves of invaders: Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, the Italian city-states of Pisa and Genoa, and the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon—all succeeded one another in dominating the island. The Northern Italians came last, with Garibaldi himself falling in love with the island. He chose to live the last years of his life in Carpera, Sardinia.

Continue reading “Discovering Jewish Connections in Sardinia”