Remembering David Horowitz (14): Bringing the Torah to Harlem

The decade of the 1960s had arrived and the United Nations had a new occupant.

A huge bronze sculpture with the inscription “Let Us Beat Our Swords into Plowshares,” created by Soviet artist Evgeny Vuchetich, had been presented to the United Nations on December 4, 1959 by the Government of the USSR. The sculpture, depicting the figure of a man holding a hammer aloft in one hand and a sword in the other, which he is making into a plowshare, is meant to symbolize the human wish to end all wars by converting the weapons of death and destruction into peaceful tools that are more beneficial to mankind.

UN Isaiah Image

The phrase originates from the Biblical book of Isaiah (2:3-4) and it’s theme repeated in the books of Joel (3:10) and Micah (4:3).

The impressive statue is located in the North Garden of the United Nations Headquarters and remains today as much an inspirational ideal as it is an elusive reality.

Sammy Davis Jr., the famous entertainer legend, finally told the whole story of why he had chosen to convert to Judaism and share the fate of the people of Abraham. The lengthy feature story appeared in the February issue of Ebony Magazine.

From his modest beginnings in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City and an itinerant lifestyle to his incredible success as an actor, comedian, singer and dancer, Davis’s story is riveting and extraordinary.

Contending with the prevailing racism of that period, Davis refused to appear in any clubs that practiced racial segregation. The action led to the integration of several venues in Miami Beach and Las Vegas. In 1954, he lost his left eye in an automobile accident. One day on a golf course with Jack Benny, following his conversion to Judaism, Davis was asked what his handicap was. “Handicap?” he replied. “Listen, talk about handicap-I’m a one-eyed Negro Jew.” This became a signature comment, recounted in his autobiography, and in countless articles.

Sammy Davis Jr., the convert, was a regular reader of the United Israel World Union Bulletin and included in our UIWU archives today, are copies of letters exchanged between Davis and David Horowitz.

The United Nations Correspondents Circle, an experiment in seeking better understanding and fellowship among reporters from politically antagonistic regions in all parts of the globe, marked the occasion of its third anniversary. The fellowship of UN correspondents had managed to bring together some 90 highly opinionated, and sometimes rather emotional correspondents, who represented newspapers, wire services, magazines, radio, and television media of nearly 30 nations.

The background story of the group’s beginning is worth mentioning.

David Horowitz conceived the idea for an informal fellowship of UN news representatives in 1957. At the time, David served as a special correspondent in the U.S. for the American Association of English-Jewish Newspapers and the Israeli papers Heruth and Ha’Olam Ha’Zeh of Tel Aviv. His column, “Behind the Scenes at the United Nations,” regularly appeared in 35 newspapers in the U.S., Canada, Italy, South Africa and Israel.

Horowitz felt the need to stress the common interests of correspondents, rather than frictions, and the need for a mutual effort to learn more about the attitudes of various UN delegations and regional blocs. The organization was also needed to dispel the atmosphere of isolation and unfriendliness in which many correspondents felt they were working.

Thinking in international terms came easily for Horowitz. After all, of Jewish descent, he was born in Sweden, naturalized in America, married an Irish girl and maintained close professional connections with Israel. Clearly, tolerance and goodwill were the basic aims of his effort.

Appearing as the guest at the celebration luncheon of the UN Correspondents Association, former President Harry Truman was asked by correspondent David Horowitz about his historic decision to recognize Israel at the moment of its birth and how he felt about it as the young State celebrates its 12th birthday. Never hesitating, Truman replied that he would do it all over again today. He added that the prophets and judges of ancient Israel had laid the foundation for the American form of government and that the heirs of those great people are not doing so badly themselves today.

It was vintage Harry Truman.

On May 11, 1960, German war criminal Otto Adolf Eichmann was captured in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Eichmann was a former German Nazi SS lieutenant colonel and one of the major organizers of the Holocaust. In 1959, David Ben Gurion learned that the notorious Nazi war criminal was likely living in hiding in Argentina and ordered the Israel foreign intelligence service, the Mossad, to capture the international fugitive alive for trial in Israel.

The covert operation succeeded and Eichmann was smuggled out of Argentina aboard the same El Al Bristol Britannia aircraft that had a few days earlier carried Israel’s delegation to the official 150th anniversary celebration of Argentina’s independence from Spain.

As we shall learn later, David Horowitz, who also suffered personal family loss in the holocaust, would also play an important and key role in exposing and bringing to justice Nazi war criminals residing in the United States.

The 17th Annual Meeting of United Israel World Union took place on Sunday, April 17th with the majority of the International Board members present. Special greetings were conveyed from those as far away as Israel, Germany and Ghana. A highlight of the affair was the presentation of a Torah Scroll to the Wilber, West Virginia Mid-Western headquarters of UIWU, followed by an inspiring ceremony. The scroll was a gift from Dr. and Mrs. Howard L. Werner of Glencoe, Illinois. Dr. Werner, a noted psychiatrist and philanthropist, was an officer of the Chicago Information Society for the Propagation of Judaism. This Torah scroll is now preserved at the United Israel World Union offices in Charlotte, NC and is used regularly at UIWU gatherings.

The young black Rabbi who first learned of United Israel World Union when he met UIWU officer Avraham Fuhrman while traveling to Israel in the summer of 1957 had began attending various UIWU functions and held similar views to those of David Horowitz. He had become the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth B’nai Israel in Harlem. Befriended and encouraged by Horowitz, it soon became evident that this youthful Rabbi was born an intellectual. Even the simplest question elicited a detailed, fact-heavy answer. The destiny of this gifted teacher had an unusual and most remarkable beginning.

Hailu Moshe Paris was born an orphan in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on October 17, 1933 and adopted by Eudora Paris from the orphanage when she migrated to Ethiopia in 1935.

Following Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia as a prelude to World War II, they were forced to flee the violence of Mussolini and the fascist invaders. On board a ship bound for America, Eudora Paris carried with her a carefully wrapped bundle and an adopted Ethiopian two-year-old named Hailu.

When the ship pulled into the port of Bremen, Germany late in 1935, Nazis boarded looking for Jews. The bundle was wrapped in a blanket, which also covered her young son’s shoulders. “They rounded up everyone sitting nearby” she would later say. They looked at Eudora and her child, but because of the color of their skin, the Nazis never suspected they were Jewish. “They ignored us because they never thought black people could be Jews” said Eudora. It would later be expressed “that it was the one time racial prejudice about what a “real Jew” looked like worked in their favor.”

RabbiParis

The carefully wrapped bundle that Eudora Paris was carrying to America was a Torah Scroll destined for a synagogue in Harlem.

In his twenties, Hailu Paris attended Yeshiva University in New York, earning a degree in Hebrew literature and a Masters in education. He later taught Talmudic courses at the Israelite Rabbinical Academy in Queens and was an assistant and later head rabbi at the black Temple of Mt. Horeb in the Bronx.

Rabbi Paris became a vocal advocate for African Jewry. He became a bridge between the African-American community and Ethiopian community. Teaching that the descendants of the biblical Israelites had spread across the continent of Africa was a history which at that time was considered radical and controversial.

This gifted teacher would spend decades campaigning on behalf of Ethiopian Jews. He made trips to Ethiopia where he worked with the Beta Israel and the Falash Mura, a related group of Ethiopians with Jewish family connections. He also served on the board of the American Association of Ethiopian Jews and was an early activist on behalf of their immigration to Israel.

In 1977, the State of Israel recognized the Beta Israel community of Ethiopia as Jewish. More recent cultural and genetic studies suggest that the Lemba of South Africa and the Igbo of Nigeria may also have Jewish roots.

Alongside his central role in the black Jewish world, Rabbi Hailu Moshe Paris also made crucial connections to mainstream Jewry, working to foster interaction between black and white Jewish communities. He remained a lifelong friend of David Horowitz and strong advocate of United Israel World Union where he also served as a member of its board of directors.

As the dog days of summer 1960 wound down, there remained an air of uneasiness and uncertainty in America regarding possible Vietnam entanglement. There was also the question of who would be our next leader as the U.S. presidential election drew near. Plenty of time left for a few surprises, as we shall see.

Bio PictureRalph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. A historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.

This post is the fourteenth in the series “Remembering David Horowitz.” For the complete archive see here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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