On this date in 2105 BCE (1656 from Creation), Noah and family entered the Ark. It wasn’t until seven days later, however, that the intense rains began for 40 days and 40 nights. The delay was to allow a proper mourning period for Methuselah, the righteous grandfather of Noah who had just died at the age of 969 years, history’s oldest human being. Noah and his family (and the animals) would remain on the Ark for over a year, until the flood waters had sufficiently subsided.
Yahrtzeit of the biblical Rachel, who died while giving birth to Benjamin in 1553 BCE (2208 from Creation). Rachel had previously given birth to Joseph, following years of being childless. Jacob buried her by the roadside in Bethlehem, where tradition says that centuries later she wept and prayed for the Jews as they were taken into exile. Today, Rachel’s Tomb serves as a place of pilgrimage and prayer, and is regarded as Judaism third-holiest site.
In 1975, the United Nations passed a resolution declaring that “Zionism is racism.” Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Chaim Herzog, noted the irony of the vote coming (on the English calendar) exactly 37 years after Kristallnacht. The UN Secretary General at the time was Kurt Waldheim, later accused of war crimes while serving as a Nazi officer. The “Zionism is racism” canard is easily refuted by Israel’s open and democratic character — with Arabs serving in parliament, as well as Israelis of all skin colors. Upon the airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, William Safire noted: “For the first time in history, thousands of black people are being brought to a country — not in chains but in dignity, not as slaves but as citizens.” The UN General Assembly voted to repeal the resolution in 1991.
Cheshvan 12 is also the yahrtzeit of Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister of Israel, who was assassinated in 1995 after attending a rally promoting the Oslo peace process. Rabin served as Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, and under his command the IDF achieved an overwhelming victory in the Six Day War. As prime minister, he played a leading role in the signing of the Oslo Accords, which created the Palestinian Authority. Rabin was awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Shimon Peres and Yassir Arafat.
In 1938, Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers narrowly missed breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season home-run record of 60 home runs. Greenberg hit his 58th homer with two weeks remaining in the season, but several pitchers then intentionally walked him rather than give a Jewish man a chance to break Babe Ruth’s record. (He led the league that year with 119 walks.) Though Greenberg disputes this motive, he did acknowledge being subject to the most vicious ethnic taunting seen in the sport since the days of Jackie Robinson in 1947. Greenberg testified: “During my first year in the big leagues, the remarks from the stands and the opposing bench about my Jewish faith made life for me a living hell.” Greenberg grew up in an observant Jewish household, and did not play on Yom Kippur. In 1954, he became the first Jewish player to be elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
In 1917, the British government gave final approval for the Balfour Declaration, calling for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in historic Israel. The declaration took the form of a letter from Arthur Balfour, British Foreign Secretary, to Lord Rothschild, who had once been a member of the British Parliament. In 1922, the United States Congress formally endorsed the Balfour Declaration. In the ensuing decades, the British would slowly whittle away at their commitment — first lopping off 80 percent of the land east of the Jordan River to create the Kingdom of Transjordan (now Jordan), and then restricting Jewish immigration and rights to purchase land to the west of the Jordan River. The volatility of the situation ultimately forced the British to withdraw from the region in 1948.
Yahrtzeit of Matityahu, the leader of the Maccabees in their fight against the Syrian-Greeks, as recorded in the Chanukah story. Matityahu bravely resisted the attempts to spread secular-Hellenist culture throughout the Land of Israel, and with his five sons, started an uprising. The revolt continued after Matityahu’s death in 139 BCE, and successfully concluded with the rededication of the Holy Temple and the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days.
Cheshvan 15 is also the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz (1878-1953), known by the appellation “Chazon Ish.” A brilliant scholar, he moved from Vilna to Israel in 1933, where he was regarded as the worldwide authority on all matters relating to Jewish law and life.
Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Elazar M. Shach (1900-2001), dean of the famed Ponevitch Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. People came from far and wide to hear his talmudic discourses and spiritual guidance; he also served as advisor of the Degel HaTorah political party. Over 100,000 people attended his funeral.
Cheshvan 16 is also the night of Kristallnacht (“Night of the Broken Glass”) in 1938, when Nazis destroyed almost all of the 1,600 synagogues in Germany, as well as thousands of Jewish businesses and homes. Similar violence was carried out in Austria. Kristallnacht ushered in a new phase of anti-Semitic decrees, and was for many the first major warning sign of what would become the Holocaust.