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October 25, 2013     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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PAGE 14A By Cnaan Liphshiz ANTWEREBelgium(JTA)-- With the confidence befitting a septuagenarian grandmother, Ellen Bledsoe-Rodriguez brisk- ly leads her family past the beer slls and DJs that dot the Flemish capital's historic port on sunny autumn days. Bledsoe-Rodriguez is un- interested in such diver- sions. She and nine of her relatives had traveled 5,600 miles from California for last week's opening of a museum devoted to the Red Star Line, the maritime travel company that nearly a century ago transported her mother and 2 million others from war-torn Europe to Ellis Island. "I knew this would be an emotional experience, but I underestimated how emo- tional it would be," Bledsoe- Rodriguez told JTA while re- tracing her mother's footsteps into the red-brick terminal she had passed through in 1921 as a third-class passenger from Russia, fleeing the pogroms and persecution that preceded the near annihilation of Euro- pean Jewry. To Bledsoe-Rodriguez, the Red Star Line is symbolic of her mother's wTll to survive. But to city officials in Antwerp, which funded the $25 million museum, it is a reflection on the "universal quest for happiness" and a response to growing interest in general immigration trends. HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, OCTOBER 25, 2013 Museum on Belgian shipping line stirs debate on Holocaust history "For Belgians, the Red Star Line is reminiscent of the belle epoque, but it means something very different to "Jews," said Michael Boyden, a Belgian literary historian at Sweden's University of Upsala, who published a critical Op- Ed about the museum in the Flemish-language De Morgen daily. "The museum seems to me like a missed opportunity to research these different nan'atives more deeply." Debates over whether Eu- ropean history is properly understood in particularist or universalist ways are not new in Europe. In recent years, several commemora- tion projects in Belgium and Holland have been marred by conflict between those seek- ing to engage wide audiences with universal themes and activists who argue that the fading memory of the Jewish genocide requires specifically combating the anti-Semitism that made it possible. Lu Verheyen, the mu- seum's project coordinator, said the museum-does not skirt the "tragic element" of European emigration. But it also aims to celebrate the con- tributions of notables such as Albert Einstein, who boarded a Red Star Line vessel in 1933 bound for New York. "The museum helps il- luminate a forgotten story of 60 million Europeans who left for all kinds of reasons," Verheyen said. The Red Star Line operated from 1871 to 1934, a period that coincided with some of the worst anti-Semitic per- secution in history. During the line's 63 years, Jews ac- counted for at least a quarter of its passengers taken across the Atlantic Ocean in dozens of ships. Historians say the actual percentage may have been much higher. The first wave of Jew- ish passengers--inCluding Bledsoe-Rodriguez's mother, Basia Cohen--were escaping pogroms in czarist Russia. Later waves were fleeing anti- Jewish agitation and the rise of the Nazis. For many years, the Red Star Line offered kosher food to its Jewish clientele. Cohen left her home at 11 with her mother and five sib- lings in the hopes of reuniting with her father, a bankrupt beet farmer who had left years earlier. The Cohens spent three weeks in squalid dormitories with 1,500 passengers aboard the ship. At Ellis Island, they were quarantined for eight months because of scalp fungus. "Somehow the experience at Ellis Island had aged us, we didn't want to sing anymore," Cohen said in an interview before her death in 1993. "We were all grown up." Among the later refugees was Einstein, whose resigna- tion letter to the Prussian Academy of Sciences, on display" at the museum, was written on Red Star Line stationary. The Jewish dimension is hardly overlooked in the two- story museum. But the exhibi- , tion"emphasizes the universal character of migration," the city wrote in a statement. The official booklet on the museum describes it as "a universal hu- man story about the pursuit of happiness, a story we can all relate to." That sort of universalizing of history has prompted pro- tests from Jewish leaders who argue that it degrades the uniquely Jewish character of the Holocaust. The opening last year of Belgium's main Holocaust museum at Mechelen was delayed over criticism that its broad mission of defending hu- man rights risked "obfuscation as to the scale of the Shoah and banalization,;' according to Eli Ringer of the Flemish Forum of Jewish Organizations. In neighboring Holland, the remembrance of German soldiers along with their Jew- ish and non-Jewish victims during memorial ceremonies for World War II victims led to acrimonious debates and legal action. In May 2012, a Dutch court, responding to a petition filed by a Jewish group, issued an injunction against the commemoration of German soldiers in the town of Vorden. "Commemoration needs to draw lessons or it's a sterile affair," said Joel Rubinfeld, Cnaan Liphshiz Ellen Bledsoe-Rodriguez near a marker honoring her mother, Basin Cohen, one of the many Jews who fled Europe on a Red Star Line vessel, Sept. 29 2013. co-chair of the Brussels-based European Jewish Parliament and past president of Belgium's main Jewish umbrella group. "There are lessons to be drawn from Jewish emigration from Europe, and presenting them as part of a larger population shift doesn't help in a time when anti-Semitism is once more driving some Jews out of Europe." Bledsoe-Rodriguez takes a less critical view. "No one died in my family in the Holocaust," she said. "If not for Red Star Line, we mightbe inadifferentmuseum right now--a museum for Holocaust victims." 5 9 6 4 1 3 7 2 8 Will rising nationalisnz renew 7 2 1 5 8 9 3 6 4 Montreal Jewish r(00dus? 8 3 4 6 2 7 9 5 1 By Ron Csillag the antagonism to minority Late last month, kippah- munity stands at 21,000, or rights espoused by the seces- clad Jews joined thousands nearlyaquarterofthetotal-- 31729548.6 249861573 658374192 972138645 185746239 463952817 Every day thet you're outside, you're exposed to dengerous, but invisible, ultroviolet (UV) sunlight Left unprotected, prolonged exposure to UV rodiotlon con serleus[y damage the eye, leedin 9 to oterect, skin center eroued the eyelid ond other eye disorders. Protectin 9 your eyes is iportent to rneioteinin 9 eye heglth now ond in the future. Shield your eyes (ond your f(:mlly's eyes) from harmful UV royo, Weor sunglasses with moximum UV protection. VISION ( ' (JT.A)--Battered and bruised by decades of sepa- ratist governments, restric- tive language laws and a modern-day exodus, the Jew- ish community of Quebec may finally have something to celebrate. A new analysis of figures culled from the 2011 Cana- dian census, known as the National Household Survey, found that Quebec's Jewish population had not dipped be- low the 90,000 threshold, as had previously been believed. Montreal's Federation CJA had projected a Jewish population in the province of 88,500. The new analysis, which combined the 83,200 Montrealers who said they were Jewish by religion in the NHS with those who said the) were Jewish by ethnic origin, arrived at a revised figure of approximately 91,000. That figure is only nomi- nally below the 92,970 Jews counted in 2001, suggesting that the community decline that began in the 1970s has leveled off. "Werre quite pleased," Charles Shahar, a research coordiriator at Federation CJA, told JTA. "We're closer to 91,000. That seems to be encouraging. It's a positive figure." Once the most populous Jewish community in Canada with a peak Jewish population of 120,000 in 1971, Montreal has seen its Jews departing for decades,*driven out largely by sionist Parti Quebecois. For nearly 40 years, Mon- treal's mostly English-speak- ing Jewish community has endured not only laws man- dating French only on signs and in the workplace, but a general distress in the face of what the late Montreal au- thor Mordecai Richler called French Quebec's"tribalism." The latest affront to minor- ities is the Parti Quebecois' proposed Charter of Quebec Values, a measure aimed at instituting religious "neu- trality" in the public sphere by banning "overt and con- spicuous" religious headwear --including turbans, hijabs and yarmulkes-- as well as large crosses and crucifixes. Those affected would include civil servants, judges, doc- tors, nurses, police officers and teachers. "This is unprecedented for a North American politi- cal.jurisdiction today," said McGill University sociology prossor Morton Weinfeld. "If you're an observant Jew, Muslim or Sikh, Quebec may not be the place for you." The Parti Quebecois charter has been blasted across Canada as xeno- phobic, discriminatory and unconstitutional. Both the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec and B'nai Brith Canada have voiced strong opposition and, in a rare move, Montreal's Jewish General Hospital denounced the proposal. of Muslims, Sikhs and Christians in a protest march against the measure, which will be introduced to the Quebec legislature later thisall. As Parti Quebecois is a minority party, the measure will need support from opposition parties to become law. Regardless of its legislative fate, the charter is emblem- atic of a movement that has led Montreal Jews to quit the province in droves. Some 30,000 to 40,000 Jews are believed to have left Quebec in the years following the Parti Quebecois' rise to power in 1976. Many were well-educated young people fed up with political uncer- tainty, French-only language laws and public discourse often viewed as intolerant, if not outright anti-Semitic. Immigration from French- speaking lands and high birth rates among the province's hasidic community helped keep the numbers from slip- ping more precipitously, but it also has infused the com- munity with a more Middle Eastern flavor. In the 20 years following the 1967 Six-Day War, at least 15,000 Sephardim arrived, mostly French-speaking North Africans who inte- grated more smoothly into Quebec's milieu than their English-speaking Ashkenazi cousins. Shahar estimates that Montreal's Sephardic com- numbers that remain largely unchanged since 2001. "We don't really con- nect," Claude Lautman, 66, a psychologist who has lived in Montreal since 1961, said of the Sephardim. "We have different synagogues, differ- ent'schools. There's a lack of outreach befween the two communities." One sector whose ranks are growing is the haredi Orthodox, who currently number 15,ooo to 16,000, or about 17 percent of the total Jewish population. Shahar said he expects their numbers to double every 15 to 20 years. There has also been an in- flux of French Jews seeking to leave behind anti-Semitism in their native country, but their numbers are hard to quantify. As of 2008, Jewish Immigrant Aid Services had open files on 200 French Jews, though there are likely many more who did not need the agencyls services. Some Jewish figures, like Canadian lawmaker Irwin Cotler, believe it's unlikely the charter will be enacted in its current form. Even so, Weinfeld feels the proposal represents "extreme nation- alism" that will hasten the "ethnic cleansing" of non- Francophones. Shahar said he would not know whether the Jewish exodus from Quebec has stopped until figures show- ing mobility over the last five years are released.