Max is named in loving memory of his paternal grandmother, Marilynn Eileen Fradin. His Hebrew name is Reuben Eyal. Max has two loving brothers and a loving sister and many thrilled cousins, aunts and uncles. His proud grandparents are Frances Ayats and Robert Vargas of Florida.
JERUSALEM — Ralph Goldman, who as a young man helped shepherd the State of Israel into existence and later devoted his professional life to bringing humanitarian relief to Jews around the globe, has died at 100.
Goldman, who worked with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee since 1968 — he served twice as its chief executive and still held the title of honorary executive vice president — died Oct. 7 in Jerusalem, where he had lived for decades.
Active in arming and populating prestate Israel, he went on to lead the effort to bring American technical know-how and educational techniques to the fledgling state.
“Ralph was an iconic and transformative figure who embodied the notion that all ‘Jews are responsible for one another’ throughout his long and extraordinary life,” said JDC’s CEO, Alan Gill.
Born on Sept. 1, 1914, in the town of Lechovitz in what is now Ukraine, Goldman at 11 immigrated with his family to a Jewish suburb of Boston, where he attended the local public schools during the day and Hebrew school five days a week in the late afternoons. In 1934, graduating from Hebrew College, he delivered the valedictory speech in Hebrew.
As a young man, Goldman was involved in local Zionist endeavors. In 1937, he won a contest sponsored by a student Zionist organization for his essay on Stalin’s idea of creating a ”homeland for the Jews” in Siberia. He was awarded a fellowship to spend a year in British Mandate Palestine, where he participated in the establishment of Kibbutz Hanita in the Galilee.
He later recalled two months during the 1938 fellowship spent in Jerusalem, where he and some friends sought out Zionist leaders such as Berl Katznelson, Moshe Sharett and Menachem Ussishkin — barely known in the outside world, but heroes to the young Zionists.
“We simply said to them please tell us what’s happening, and they took us seriously,” Goldman said in an undated interview posted on YouTube.
Goldman returned to the United States and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and a master’s in social work from Harvard.
He served in the Army from 1942 to 1945, first in the United States, then in England. At the conclusion of World War II, he was stationed in Germany, where he was assigned to assist Jews in Displaced Persons camps.
He was active in the New York operation of pre-state Israel’s army, the Haganah, helping to buy and lease airplanes and ships to transport immigrants from Europe to Palestine, and assisting in the effort to recruit personnel for the nascent force. Through this work, Goldman met and befriended Teddy Kollek, who would later become the longtime mayor of Jerusalem.
Decades later, Goldman still registered embarrassment when he was reminded of his purchase of the President Warfield, a one-time ferry. Named for the shipping magnate uncle of Wallis Simpson — the Baltimore socialite and notorious admirer of Hitler who had married King Edward VIII — the boat was flat bottomed, unsuitable for long sea voyages and barely made it across the Atlantic to Marseilles, where 5,000 Jewish refugees awaited passage to British Mandate Palestine.
His Haganah colleagues were furious with Goldman but, desperate to move, they prepared the boat for launch, with Goldman helping to manage the passage across the Mediterranean.
It was rechristened the Exodus, and its standoff outside Haifa became a symbol of Jewish resistance to Britain’s refusal to allow in Jews.
Goldman became a close confidant and adviser to Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and in 1951 was in charge of the prime minister’s initial visit to the U.S. as head of state. He spent several years after that coordinating a U.S. program that delivered technical know-how to emerging countries; a 1951 announcement in New York said he was heading up the search for “skilled workers” to train Israelis.
He later served as executive director of the American-Israel Cultural Foundation and the Israel Education Fund, an arm of the United Jewish Appeal that helped establish and improve high schools in Israel.
Goldman joined the JDC in 1968 when he became the associate director of its Israel operation, establishing its department for the care of the elderly and introducing innovations in early childhood care. He would serve as the chief executive of JDC from 1976 until 1985, and again from 1986 until 1988.
Goldman was a driving force in JDC’s low-profile activities behind the Iron Curtain and in the 1970s and 1980s brought JDC programs back into the open in communist countries. He led sensitive negotiations with Soviet leaders, navigating JDC’s return to what would become the Former Soviet Union almost immediately after its collapse.
Asked in 2012 how he pulled off such negotiations without the benefit of diplomatic training or accreditation, Goldman said, “I was representing the Jewish people. I couldn’t afford to fail.”
Limmud FSU, together with the Jewish community of Belarus, last month celebrated his 100th birthday as part of the opening gala celebrations at the beginning of a Limmud FSU conference held in Vitebsk.
Goldman was honored at JDC’s centennial celebration in Jerusalem in May.
His son, David Ben-Rafael, a senior Israeli diplomat, was killed in the March 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina.
Goldman is survived by his daughters, Judith Baumgold of Jerusalem and Naomi Goldman of New York; a daughter-in-law, Elisa Ben-Rafael of Jerusalem; and six grandchildren as well as great-grandchildren.
Celebration: Nearly 150 people turned out for the Millenial Voices launch party on Sept. 20 at the Creative Alliance. Sponsored by Jewish Community Services, Millenial Voices is the brainchild of JCS’s prevention education department. The event featured live performances by local artists speaking their “truths” through their own chosen medium.
Created with flickr slideshow.
As Baltimore and Maryland commemorate the American victory over the British in the War of 1812 and honor Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner” — inspired by the sight of Fort McHenry’s tattered flag that “was still there” after the 1814 Battle of Baltimore — local institutions are shedding light on the contributions of Jewish patriots that helped secure the nation’s freedom.
The Jewish Museum of Maryland’s new exhibit, “The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen, the Most Extraordinary Baltimorean You’ve Never Heard Of,” and the Levy Center and Jewish Chapel in Annapolis, in particular, are ensuring that these often-overlooked heroes and their stories are remembered.
Sometimes referred to as the second American Revolution, the War of 1812 permanently dissolved European strongholds on the United States and cemented the young nation as an entity in charge of its own destiny. In the years following it, a strong sense of American identity developed, and the flag became a powerful emblem of that identity.
The Jewish museum casts the story of Mendes Cohen as paralleling that development of a national psyche, said its director, Marvin Pinkert.
“Cohen is trying to answer for himself, ‘What does it mean to be American and Jewish?’ He is the first generation [of his family] to be born in the United States of America,” said Pinkert. “That’s what the core [of the exhibit] is about, the process of finding one’s identity and the ways in which people build their identity.”
Born in Richmond in 1796, Cohen died in Baltimore in 1879, living at the time a very long life. Of Sephardic descent, one facet of Cohen’s identity was that of soldier, and at the Battle of Baltimore — unlike Key, who viewed the engagement from a ship offshore — “Cohen wasn’t watching, he was in Fort McHenry,” said Pinkert. Cohen volunteered for Capt. Nicholson’s Baltimore Fencibles artillery unit (volunteers were not required to swear oath upon a New Testament Bible, something Cohen refused to do) and was one of three men who bravely retrieved the main supply of gunpowder from its storage inside the fort after a bomb had landed in the magazine.
Cohen and his fellow artillerymen saved the gunpowder supply — and the fort — from detonating.
While his life story strongly relates to the wider regional commemoration of the War of 1812, the museum sees Cohen’s biography as a jumping-off point. The new exhibit urges visitors to consider the events after the war through the lens of American identity and the “light it casts on the entire century that follows,” said Pinkert, who curated the museum experience with Deborah Cardin.
The physical exhibition space, designed as a spiral within a spiral, allows visitors to move through an outer loop that illustrates events in Cohen’s family life and that of his five brothers and a sister and an inner loop that displays simultaneous events in Baltimore and throughout the 19th-century Jewish world. Visitors can move back and forth between the storylines, which include hundreds of artifacts, letters and diaries from Cohen’s life, some on loan from the Maryland Historical Society and the Johns Hopkins University Archeological Museum.
Pinkert described Cohen’s “almost unbelievable” life experience as part “Forrest Gump” — he seemed to show up everywhere, including at London’s Westminster Abby for Queen Victoria’s 1838 coronation, at the Vatican for the installation of a new pope and even in Paris during the French Revolution. An adventurer, Cohen was also part “Indiana Jones,” said Pinkert with a laugh. Between 1829 and 1835, he visited England, Russia, Europe and Turkey, was the first American tourist in Jerusalem and even floated down the Nile River collecting Egyptian artifacts.
Cohen seemed to repeatedly try on different identities, Pinkert said, as a businessman in the banking, lottery and railroad industries, and he was also a philanthropist as member of the Hebrew Benevolent Society, forerunner of today’s The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. When Cohen returned from his travels, he became involved in politics and championed the Jew Bill, a law that dissolved the mandatory swearing-in upon a Christian Bible in order to take public office. He was a delegate in the Maryland General Assembly in 1847 and a delegate to the State Peace Convention during the Civil War. Cohen lived life as both a member of elite society as well as a persecuted minority.
“The idea is to use Cohen’s adventure experience to illustrate the global experience of Jews of the time as well,” explained Pinkert. “How did it happen that there was this tremendous transformation of life for Jews; the way the hope of equality and citizenship [arose] in both Europe and America?”
The Cohen exhibit is interactive, and visitors are welcomed by a multimedia “ghost” of Cohen that ushers them through the journey; they have the opportunity to re-create some of Cohen’s experiences, such as the rescue of gunpowder during the Battle of Baltimore.
But the message Pinkert hopes visitors come away with after seeing Cohen’s many incarnations unravel before them is to consider what comprises their own complex identity.
“We started with what many people would consider an obscure piece of history,” said Pinkert, “and we ended with something that is focused on what touches our lives.”
While Cohen was on land fighting for freedom at Fort McHenry, his naval counterpart, Uriah P. Levy, was at sea battling British forces.
There is no documentation that the two Jewish servicemen knew each other, noted journalist, historian and author Marc Leepson, but Levy’s story has also drawn local interest. Leepson himself decided to study the man because of a persistent uncle who shared a hunch for a good story.
On a return trip from visiting Jefferson’s Monticello home in Virginia, Leepson’s uncle asked, “Did you know that Jews owned Monticello? You should write a book about it.” Leepson shrugged it off, but his uncle kept harping on it, so “I said I’d write a magazine article and [Preservation Magazine] gave me the cover,” recalled the historian. “Sometimes the articles turn into books. I got so much response to that article, I wrote the book in 2001.”
Leepson’s book, “Saving Monticello,” is Uriah P. Levy’s story, beginning when he was born in Philadelphia in 1792 as a fifth-generation Sephardic Jewish American — unique for that time — from great-great-grandparents who escaped Lisbon during the Inquisition of 1733.
Levy was fiercely patriotic — growing up, his heroes were George Washington and John Paul Jones — and he ran away from home at age 10 to be a cabin boy on a ship, allegedly promising his parents he’d be home in time for his bar mitzvah, which he celebrated on time. Levy cultivated great skills as a sailor and also bought in as part owner of a merchant ship at age 19. Then in 1812 at age 20, Levy joined the Navy to help defend his country.
Very adept as a seaman, he became assistant sailing master on the USS Argus, the most feared U.S. ship during the War of 1812, having captured more than 20 British vessels. But Levy then became a prisoner of war, was held in Dartmoor, England for 16 months and returned to the United States in 1815.
Ultimately Levy served a 50-year career in the Navy, but like his imprisonment, it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
“For one thing, the Navy was noted as a hotbed of anti-Semitism,” said Leepson. “He was court-martialed five times and thrown out of the Navy twice, then reinstated by two presidents.”
Leepson said the incidents over which he was court-martialed were typically “someone calling him a dirty Jew and [Levy] punching him in the face.” He was tried, arrested, and to be fair, Leepson said, he had a temper.
“So he overcame a lot to keep that Navy career and become a commodore,” said Leepson.