Oasis of Peace

This is the nickname that was given to the French village of Dieuleufit in the Drôme during WWII when it served as a haven for fleeing refugees, most of them Jews.

The OSE, a French Jewish humanitarian organization, sent dozens of children to this village where they were hidden by Marguerite Soubeyran, the head mistress of the Beauvallon school, or by local people. As in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, most of these people were Protestants.

We stopped in this village on our way to the South of France yesterday. It is a very picturesque place and as the weather was beautiful we spent some time walking through the village. The Protestant community there is still quite strong. I read their church notice and it was quite interesting to see that they have links with the Jewish community in Valence and that they have Hebrew lessons at different levels for their parishioners.

A number of the villagers were declared Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

Watch and Share


After reading a comment on Facebook and having seen the link to a yeshiva’s website, the educator in me could not help it: I had to go and watch the video.

I know very little about this high school, other than the information the yeshiva provides online, but a few things (seen on the video and or read in the informational brochure) really impressed me:

– When a bochur joins the yeshiva, he has to build his own desk which he then uses throughout high school.

– The school encourages public speaking right from 9th grade.

– The yeshiva promotes a 100% safe environment where negative comments are not tolerated.

– They have set up a baskbetball clinic where a non-athletic boy is coached by an athletic one.

These are only a few examples; there are a number of other very interesting practical features to encourage learning and foster confidence.

I like the idea of an all-round education where skills in art, sports and crafts are also encouraged. It makes sense that kids who do not excel in more academic subjects need to discover there are other things they are good at.
It is also momentous for the more able to connect with the more paractical side of their personalities.

The French educational system has done away with a lot of common sense activities: for instance cooking is now forbidden and only packaged cakes are allowed, for the sake of food safety; crafts have been abandonned and replaced by “technology” where twelve-year olds have to learn the name of complex plastic materials. At the same time cuts in education means that they are not provided with the tools and the attention they’d need to do well in academic subjects. Not to mention ethical values, a field where the state has given up the idea that you can teach a person to behave well towards another.

Some of the things people like about blog-reading is that they get a glimpse into other systems and practices. So do not hesitate and leave a comment, let us know about what you feel is lacking in education in your own country and what you would like your children – or children in general – to learn.

Hush: a Short Book Review



Hush by Eishes Chayil is a novel for young adults about sexual abuse in the Hassidic community of Boro Park. The story is told from the point of view of Gittel who – as a child – witnessed her best friend being abused. The narrative goes back and forth between the child-Gittel and the teenager who is about to get married.

This novel is quite subtle in that it is not a downright criticism of ultra-Orthodox Judaism but of the cover-up of such stories. Thus the guilty brother is sent to Israel and the narrator is prevented from testifying by her own mother. The narrator’s father is a complex character who obviously loves his daughter but fails to help her when she most needs it.

It is a powerful novel and one which stays with you for a long time after you have read the last page.

More thorough reviews:
Rabbi Fink’s review
Velveteen Rabbi’s review

A very poignant post: A Note From a Victim of Abuse

Jewish History in Hamburg (part 2)

A number of illustrious people and families lived in Hamburg over the centuries and are buried in the Jewish cemetery.

When I visited, Inga, a young German student who works as a guide at the cemetery, mentioned one in particular. Thus the famous Glückel of Hameln (1646-1724) was born, grew up and lived in Hamburg until 1700 when she remarried and moved to France. She is called of Hameln (and not of Hamburg) as it is where her husband came from. Although Glückel herself is buried in Metz, a number of her relatives’ tombs can still be seen today.


Mordechai’s tombstone in the middle

Mordechai, her maternal uncle, who died of the plague is interred there and his tomb is easily identifiable as it faces the other way so that people could see what he died of.


Mata, Glückel’s grandmother

Glückel’s grandmother’s tomb – this lady was called Mata – stands near Mordechai while her own daughter’s tomb is just in its front.


Little Mata’s tombstone, with Glückel’s grandmother’s behind on the left

Here is what Glückel wrote in her memoirs about her daughter’s death:

My daughter Mattie, peace unto her, was in her third year, and a more beautiful and clever child was nowhere to be seen. Not only did we love her, but everyone who saw her and heard her speak was delighted with her. But the dear Lord loved her more. When she entered her third year, her hands and feet suddenly swelled. Although we had many doctors and much medecine, it suited Him to take her to Himself after four weeks of great suffering, and left as our portion heartache and suffering. My husband and I mourned indescribably and I feared greatly that I had sinned against the Almighty by mourning too much, not heeding the story of Reb Jochanan, as will follow. I forgot that there were greater punishments, as I was to find out later. We were both so grieved that we were ill for some time.


Glückel’s husband tombstone

Her husband – Chaym – died in 1689, and Glückel, who had already been involved in his business, took over and managed it by herself.

More about Glückel and her family here.

Jewish History in Hamburg (part I)


Pottery that belonged to Sephardic Jews

Like in Amsterdam, the first Jews to settle in Hamburg were Portuguese and Spanish conversos in the 1580s. They were merchants and at first were welcome because of their commercial connections in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies, where other conversos had settled.

When it became clear that they were Jews who practised their religion, some of the citizens demanded their expulsion, but the city council, pointing to the economic benefits increasing from their presence, opposed the measure. Some of these settlers took part in the founding of the Bank of Hamburg in 1619.


Sephardic tombstones

In 1611, the Jews of Hamburg acquired a plot of land in Altona (jst outside the city bounds then) to be used as burial grounds. This cemetery was closed in 1869 along with all the cemeteries in the inner city of Hamburg. Because of its hstorical significance this burial place was officially classified in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1960 and is open to visitors three afternoons a week.


Ashkenazic tombstones

Sephardic Jews as well as Ashkenazim are buried there. The Sephardic tombs are easily identified as the tombstones are lying flat and the epitaphs are in Hebrew and Portuguese or Hebrew and Spanish. Ashkenazic tombstones on the other hand stand erect and the epitaphs are in Hebrew only.

Useful Iphone Apps for Jews


Kosher Fish: provides a searchable list of kosher fish in Hebrew, English, Spanish, German and French. Just type the name of the fish and you will be told whether the fish is kosher or not. Especially useful on vacation when you don’t know all the names of the fish in other languages.

IBerakhot: Type the name of the food you are about to eat and will you know what brachah you should say and the text of the brachah itself (in French).

MangerCasher: Helps you find a kosher restaurant, bakery, butcher, deli or store in France. Useful for the traveler to France as it also contains a list of authorized products available there.

Siddur: A whole weekly siddur. This app allows you to choose your own nusach. You find the zmanim for your location, the addresses of the nearest minyanim, a Jewish calendar and a number of other features. Rabbi Eli Fink has written a much better and more thorough review, check it for more information.

SpringCleaning: This is not strictly speaking a Jewish app but was developped in Israel. This little app enables you to delete the contacts you don’t use very often from your contacts icon while keeping them in store in case you ever need them. As a result scrolling down your contacts is quicker as the old contacts don’t get in the way.