Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.

  • And I was Hitler's maid's sister's cousin's neighbour

    Miriam Shaviv
    Aug 8, 2008

    Many of you will have caught the feature in the Guardian this week on Germans who converted to Judaism and are now living in Israel.
    It included a rather remarkable interview with an unnamed professor of Jewish Studies at one of Israel’s universities, who claims that his grandmother Erna was, at one point, married to one Hans Hitler – the illegitimate child of Adolph’s half-brother, Alois Jr.
    As he explains:

    "Hans married my grandmother Erna after she divorced my grandfather."
    He immediately states that he hates the Hitler branch of his family. He becomes agitated. "I have neither any blood nor DNA from Adolf and his family," he insists. "I was not socialised by that family." He met Hans only once. The Hitlers came for tea when he was 12 years old. "Hans was a very nice man," he says. "No passions, no brutality." But Erna was thrilled to have married into the Hitler clan, and remained a Nazi until she died. "I didn't know her," he says of his grandmother. "She wasn't part of my family."

    The professor gave the same account of his relationship with Hitler two years ago to the American Jewish Action magazine. It included many details about the awkward situations he faces as a German convert - he doesn't, for example, participate in Holocaust Day ceremonies - and on the sometimes hostile reaction of his friends and neighbours to his background.
    At the time, it provoked much excitement in Jewish circles, and the article was widely reprinted on the internet.
    And now, the JC has learned, the Mail on Sunday is also chasing this gentleman – and intends to expose the “Jewish relative of Hitler” this weekend.
    Well, I hate to ruin the party. But I am simply not convinced by his story.
    According to Ben Barkow of the Wiener Library – the most authoritative Holocaust archive in the country – there is simply no record, anywhere, of a “Hans Hitler”.
    Hitler’s half-brother Alois Jr, according to Mr Barkow, certainly had one son, William Patrick. There was also another son, Heinz, who was reputedly Hitler’s favourite nephew but who was killed in 1942 on the Russian front. But certainly no Hans Hitler.
    So who is the unidentified and mysterious Israeli academic who is apparently trading on Hitler’s name in a rather sickening manner?
    I suppose we will have to wait for the Mail on Sunday to find out….
    Meanwhile, this just proves once again what a predilection we have to believing such stories. Nothing makes us happier than hearing of a descendant of a Nazi who converted to Orthodox Judaism, or of a one-time PLO terrorist who now preaches Zionism, or (in some circles...) of a Jew who eats pork on Yom Kippur becoming a Belzer Chossid. Such stories are a way of assuring ourselves we were "right" all along -- if even our greatest enemies (or their descendants) can come over to our side, surely the truth is with us.
    There is also an enormous appetite for stories creating a personal connection between Hitler and Jews. Who amongst us hasn't heard the old urban legend of Hitler having a Jewish great-grandmother? But hey, why let the truth get in the way of a good headline?

  • When husbands used their wives' maiden names

    Miriam Shaviv
    Aug 8, 2008

    The Israeli Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger, recently called on women to take on their husband's surname.

    As a married woman who (mostly) still uses her maiden name, I am grateful to blogger Lion of Zion for providing this fascinating reminder that the way we allocate surnames has changed greatly throughout the centuries - and that a woman taking on her husband's name was not, historically, the only Jewish practice.

    As he explains:

  • Is alcoholism on the rise in the Orthodox community?

    Miriam Shaviv
    Aug 4, 2008

    Newsweek is running a piece on the supposed rise of alcoholism among American Jews, particularly Jewish ones.

    The assertion is unsupported by any real figures - numbers about "Israelis younger than 33" do nothing to shed light on trends in the Orthodox community in the diaspora - but anecdotally, I can believe there probably has been such a rise (no word on whether there is a similar trend in the UK).

    In addition, while the article goes some way to explaining why alcohol addiction among Jews has traditionally been low, it never really even attempts to explain why that might be changing now.

  • What to read today

    Miriam Shaviv
    Jul 31, 2008

    -- Ha’aretz is carrying an excerpt of an interview, which will be published in full over the weekend, with the son of one of the leading Hamas men on the West Bank. He has converted to Christianity, moved to LA, and has some very nice - yes, nice - things to say about Israel.

    --  Haim Watzman reveals the best advice he ever received as a soldier - shouted at him by his company commander. It’s not what you might think:

    “No matter how little time you have to sleep, no matter how miserable you are, don’t shut your eyes until you’ve washed yourself and changed your underwear. It’s not just hygiene – it’s to remind yourself that you are human being, not an animal.”

  • The conspiracy theories around Obama's Kotel note get murkier

    Miriam Shaviv
    Jul 31, 2008

    Charedi news blog Vos Iz Neias has posted a link to a video on YouTube which, it says, documents the moment at which the note Senator Obama placed in the Kotel was “lifted“. The blog explains:

    The videographer identifies himself as David Cohen, “a freelance photographer/videographer currently living in Jerusalem.” He reports that “Seconds after Obama left the stones, some of his entourage stepped up to the wall (dressed in suits) and I recorded a young man gathering notes in his hands in what appeared to be the search for Obama’s freshly placed personal note. He is joined by others who unwrap notes and read them. One person [is shown] walking away from the wall with a note that he unwraps as he tries to aggressively block the camera lens.”

    Cohen’s testimony provides new evidence that suggests that the alleged pilferer, dressed in the garb of a seminary student, may in fact have been a member of Obama’s entourage. If so, there would not need to have been an official authorization by the campaign to publish the note. The actual “pilferer” may have been working for Obama. This possibility would go a long way to account for the mixed messages emanating from both the Maariv and Obama spokesmen.

  • Are Charedi women at the back of the bus the modern-age Rosa Parks?

    Miriam Shaviv
    Jul 31, 2008

    About a month ago I wrote about a directive, issued by the Rabbinical Transportation Committee, calling on Charedi women to sit at the back of the bus.

    The Forward picked up on this last week, and adds an interesting angle to the story. The move towards segregated bus lines, it says,

    has sparked a row over who may lay claim to the legacy of Rosa Parks, the African-American civil rights activist who famously refused to obey an Alabama bus driver’s order to give her seat to a white passenger. Opponents of segregation say the mantle is theirs. But enthusiasts for segregation have begun to argue that by making their way to the back of the bus, they are actually Parks’s heirs.

  • So Goodbye Mr Olmert

    Daniella Peled
    Jul 30, 2008

    He held on, and held on, and held on - and then all of a sudden Olmert let go of power in a hastily-arranged, surprise press conference.

    "I believe with all my heart in my ability to continue to serve, the same as I believe in my innocence," he told Israeli prime time news on Wednesday night.

    Well sorry mate, precious few people agree with you on either point.

  • Overly Keane

    Danny Caro
    Jul 30, 2008

    As a Liverpool fan I don't want to rub salt into the wounds but spare a thought for Spurs fans who recently had Keane printed on the back of new home shirts.


    I'm not sure if the Irish striker will go down as a legend in the club's folklore but his departure is certainly a blow to everyone connected to White Hart Lane.

  • Reading into Obama's note to G-d

    Miriam Shaviv
    Jul 28, 2008

    The Israeli daily Ma'ariv is currently being blasted by all sides for publishing the (actually rather charming) note left by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in the Western Wall.

    The paper has been criticised by no less than the rabbi who supervises the Kotel for interfering in Obama's relationship with G-d and for acting in a "sacrilegious" manner. The Police have even been called upon to intervene. Meanwhile, one of the yeshivah students who supposedly took the note has apologised publicly, although one does wonder why he had to go on national television in order to make his regret known.

    A rare dissenting voice comes from blogger "Jameel", who asks whether Ma'ariv would still be in hot water for publishing Obama's kvittel  had the sentiments he expressed in his note been more politically loaded.