“Les Huguenots”

February 29, 1836: “Les Huguenots”, an opera composed by Jewish composer Giacomo Meyerbeer premiered at the Paris Opéra.

Shown nearby is a 2006 stamp issued by the French postal authority commemorating the Paris Opera house.

2006-paris-opera stamp - france


Pope Benedict XVI

February 28, 2013 – Pope Benedict XVI resigns as the pope of the Catholic Church, becoming the first pope to do so since 1415.

On February 11, 2013, the Vatican confirmed that Benedict XVI would resign the papacy as a result of his advanced age, becoming the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415.  At the age of 85 years and 318 days on the effective date of his retirement, he was the fourth-oldest person to hold the office of pope. The move was considered unexpected.  In modern times, all popes have stayed in office until death. Benedict is the first pope to have resigned without external pressure since Celestine V in 1294.

In a statement, Benedict cited his deteriorating strength and the physical and mental demands of the papacy; addressing his cardinals in Latin, Benedict gave a brief statement announcing his resignation. He also declared that he would continue to serve the church “through a life dedicated to prayer”.

According to a statement from the Vatican, the timing of the resignation was not caused by any specific illness but was to “avoid that exhausting rush of Easter engagements”.  After two weeks of ceremonial farewells, the Pope left office at the appointed time and sede vacante was declared.

On the eve of the first anniversary of Benedict’s resignation he wrote to La Stampa (an Italian daily newspaper published in Turin) to deny speculation he had been forced to step down. “There isn’t the slightest doubt about the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry,” he wrote in a letter to the newspaper. “The only condition for the validity is the full freedom of the decision. Speculation about its invalidity is simply absurd,” he wrote.

Shown nearby are stamps distributed by the Vatican City postal administration honoring both Gregory XII (Issued in 1999) and Benedict XVI (Issued in 2006).


Jews in Washington, D.C.

February 27, 1801: Pursuant to the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801, Washington, D.C. is placed under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress. “The first recorded Jewish resident of the city was Isaac Polock. He arrived in 1795. Polock, a grandson of a founder of the Newport, Rhode Island synagogue, was a small time real estate developer. He built a number of fine homes along present day Pennsylvania Ave. An early renter of one of Polock’s houses and his neighbor was James Madison, a later President.”  Major Alfred Mordecai was another of D.C.’s first Jewish residents. The North Carolina native entered West Point at the age of 15 and was in the first graduating class when he completed his studies in 1823.  Mordecai came to Washington in 1828 where he served as the commander of the Washington Arsenal. Washington Hebrew Congregation founded in 1852 was the city’s first Jewish Congregation.  Adas Israel, which was originally founded as an Orthodox synagogue in 1869 received a donation from President Grant for its building fund. The congregation later switched to the Conservative movement.  Today the downtown location of Adas Israel is remembered as the Historic 6th& I Street Synagogue.  Mitch Levin, author of the blog, “This Day … In Jewish History” reminisces, “For me, the synagogue at 6th & I was the place in the late 1940’s and 1950’s where I went for my first Simchat Torah Services, my first Megillah readings and a whole lot more.”  The synagogue at 6th& I was famous because Al Jolson’s father had been its cantor and Jolson sang there as a little boy.  Adas Israel moved to its Connecticut and Porter location where it remains today. During the 1950’s Israeli Ambassador Abba Eban spoke from its pulpit on more than one occasion much to the congregation’s joy and delight.  For more about the history of the Jewish community in Washington you might want to look at the website of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington:  https://www.jhsgw.org/

On November 22, 1950, the United States Postal Service issued a 3-cent stamp commemorating the Sesquicentennial of the National Capital in Washington, D.C. (Scott #992).

Washington DC 150th Anniversary - U.S.


W.E.B. Du Bois, 1868 – 1963

February 23, 1868 – Birthdate of W. E. B. Du Bois, American sociologist, historian, and activist.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was an American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, and editor. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Du Bois grew up in a relatively tolerant and integrated community. After completing graduate work at the University of Berlin and Harvard, where he was the first African American to earn a doctorate, he became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois was one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

Pictured today is a block of 4 of a stamp issued by the United States honoring Du Bois (Scott #2617).

w.e.b. dubois - usa - sc2617

Meir Ya’ari and Kibbutz Artzi

February 21, 1897: Birthdate of Meir Ya’ari, the native of Galicia who made Aliyah in 1920 where he founded Kibbutz Artzi before serving as a member of Israel’s first Knesset.

Ya’ari was born Meyer Wald in Galicia in 1897. At the outbreak of World War I his family moved to Vienna. At the age of 17, he volunteered for the Austrian Army and served as an officer until the end of the war. He studied at the Agricultural Academy and at the University of Vienna. In 1919, he co-founded and co-led the Viennese Hashomer Hatzair. In 1920 he made aliyah (he immigrated) to Israel. He worked at Kinneret and Gdud HaAvoda paving roads from Tiberias to Tzemah and to Tabgha. He was a prominent member in the first collective of Hashomer Hatzair in Bitania, and was among the founders of the Histadrut. Since 1924 he served as Secretary of the world Hashomer Hatzair.

In 1927, he founded Kibbutz Artzi, was elected its secretary and took part in drafting its principles. In 1929, he was among the founders of kibbutz Merhavia, where he lived until he died.

In 1948, he co-founded Mapam as its leader, and functioned as its general secretary until 1973. He was a Mapam MK in the first through seventh Knessets, from 1949 to 1973. In the first Knesset he was member of the Knesset committee, and in the fifth through seventh Knessets he was member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

The Kibbutz Artzi is a federation comprising 85 kibbutzim founded by the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. In 1998, it numbered around 20,000 members and its entire population (including children, candidates, parents of members etc.) totaled approximately 35,000.

When the State of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948 six Arab armies attacked the new nation and tried to crush it still-born. The battles were bitter. High in the annals of the struggle stand kibbutzim of the Kibbutz Artzi which were settled along the borders of the new country and were among the first to bear the brunt of the attack. Kibbutz Yad Mordechai (named for the commander of the Warsaw Ghetto revolt) and Kibbutz Negba, blocked the path of the Egyptian army to Tel Aviv. These and other Hashomer Hatzair kibbutzim were in the forefront of the effort of the entire Jewish community to win the final liberation of Israel.

Today, the Kibbutz Artzi is attempting to deal with its distinctive path as a cooperative, humanistic society. It is doing so by carrying out far-reaching changes in the structure and activities of its economy; in its organization and administration; in fostering culture and education; and in readjusting the democratic structure of its society.

At the same time, the Kibbutz Artzi continues to maintain its educational activities and the absorption of hundreds of youth from outside the kibbutz, while continuing in its social and political activity. It also takes part in the national task of absorbing new immigrants. The endeavor to guarantee the future of the kibbutz is accompanied both by anxiety and with much hope for the future, as well as with a belief in the ability of the kibbutzim and the movement to renew themselves, and to continue to develop humanistic and cooperative forms of life that will fit the needs of the individual and of society in the future.

Today, I submit for your viewing pleasure, two philatelic items related to the kibbutz movement.  The first, is a 2,50 shekel stamp issued by Israel on June 14, 2010 commemorating the 100th anniversary of the kibbutz movement.  The second is the First Day Cover for the same issue.

kibbutz - 100 years - Israel


kibbutz - 100 years FDC - Israel

Ansel Adams, 1902 – 1984

February 20, 1902 – Birthdate of Ansel Adams, American photographer and environmentalist.

His black-and-white landscape photographs of the American West, especially Yosemite National Park, have been widely reproduced on calendars, posters, and books.

With Fred Archer, Adams developed the Zone System as a way to determine proper exposure and adjust the contrast of the final print. The resulting clarity and depth characterized his photographs. Adams primarily used large-format cameras because their high resolution helped ensure sharpness in his images.

Adams founded the photography group known as Group f/64 along with fellow photographers Willard Van Dyke and Edward Weston.

Adams was born in San Francisco, California, to Charles Hitchcock Adams and Olive Bray Adams. An only child, he was named after his uncle Ansel Easton. His mother’s family came from Baltimore, where his maternal grandfather had a successful freight-hauling business but lost his wealth investing in failed mining and real estate ventures in Nevada.  The Adams family came from New England, having migrated from the north of Ireland in the early 18th century. His paternal grandfather founded and built a prosperous lumber business, which his father later ran, though his father’s natural talents lay more with sciences than with business. Later in life, Adams would condemn that very same industry for cutting down many of the great redwood forests.

Adams became interested in piano at age 12. Music became the main focus of his later youth. His father sent him to piano teacher Marie Butler, who focused on perfectionism and accuracy. After four years of studying under her guidance, Adams moved on to other teachers, one being composer Henry Cowell.  For the next twelve years, the piano was Adams’ primary occupation and, by 1920, his intended profession. Although he ultimately gave up music for photography, the piano brought substance, discipline and structure to his frustrating and erratic youth. Moreover, the careful training and exacting craft required of a musician profoundly informed his visual artistry, as well as his influential writings and teachings on photography.

His legacy includes helping to elevate photography to an art comparable with painting and music, and equally capable of expressing emotion and beauty. He told his students, “It is easy to take a photograph, but it is harder to make a masterpiece in photography than in any other art medium.”

Art critic John Szarkowski wrote “Ansel Adams attuned himself more precisely than any photographer before him to a visual understanding of the specific quality of the light that fell on a specific place at a specific moment. For Adams the natural landscape is not a fixed and solid sculpture but an insubstantial image, as transient as the light that continually redefines it. This sensibility to the specificity of light was the motive that forced Adams to develop his legendary photographic technique.”

Adams died on April 22, 1984, in Monterey, California at the age of 82 from cardiovascular disease.

In June 2002, the United States issued a 37-cent postage stamp honoring Adams and his work (Scott #3649p ) as part of a set of 20 stamps entitled “Masters of American Photography”.  The stamp features Adams’ 1948 photograph, “Sand Dunes, Sunrise”.

ansel adams - sand dunes - usa - june 2002

Perhaps off the beaten path for many stamp collectors is another Adams photograph in the example shown here,  a 32-cent stamp commemorating the settlement of New Mexico, which was a stamp design not chosen for printing and distribution to the public.  It has been presented by Dick Sheaff – a designer and art director of over 500 U.S. stamps – on his website www.sheaff-ephemera.com, which also has many other U.S. stamp designs that were never released.

Ansel Adams - Settlement of New Mexico - unreleased stamp

“Awake and Sing” – Clifford Odets

February 19, 1935:  Clifford Odets’ “Awake and Sing,” premieres in New York City at the Belasco Theatre. The play explores the experiences of one Jewish family during the Great Depression. The original production starred Luther and Stella Adler. The play tells the story of the impoverished Berger family and their conflicts as the parents scheme to manipulate their children’s relationships to their own ends, while their children strive for their own dreams.

Displayed here for your viewing pleasure is an unusual philatelic artifact:  a U.S. postage stamp honoring Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Scott #864) with an autograph from June 1941 by Odets across the stamp, tying it to its backing paper.

This item was offered at auction in 2008 and realized a selling price of $60.00 plus the 20% Buyer’s Premium.

clifford odets signed postage stamp - usa

Vasil I. Levski, 1837 – 1873

February 18, 1873 – Bulgarian revolutionary leader Vasil I. Levski is executed by hanging in Sofia by the Ottoman authorities.

Levski is a national hero of Bulgaria. Dubbed the Apostle of Freedom, Levski ideologized and strategized a revolutionary movement to liberate Bulgaria from Ottoman rule. Founding the Internal Revolutionary Organization, Levski sought to foment a nationwide uprising through a network of secret regional committees.

Born in the Sub-Balkan town of Karlovo to middle class parents, Levski became an Orthodox monk before emigrating to join the two Bulgarian Legions in Serbia and other Bulgarian revolutionary groups. Abroad, he acquired the nickname Levski, “Lionlike”. After working as a teacher in Bulgarian lands, he propagated his views and developed the concept of his Bulgaria-based revolutionary organization, an innovative idea that superseded the foreign-based detachment strategy of the past. In Romania, Levski helped institute the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee, composed of Bulgarian expatriates. During his tours of Bulgaria, Levski established a wide network of insurrectionary committees. Ottoman authorities, however, captured him at an inn near Lovech and executed him by hanging in Sofia.

Levski looked beyond the act of liberation: he envisioned a “pure and sacred” Bulgarian republic of ethnic and religious equality. His concepts have been described as a struggle for human rights, inspired by the progressive liberalism of the French Revolution and 19th century Western European society. Levski is commemorated with monuments in Bulgaria and Serbia, and numerous national institutions bear his name. In 2007, he topped a nationwide television poll as the all-time greatest Bulgarian.

Bulgaria has issued many postage stamps honoring Levski throughout the years.  The one I share with you here today is Scott #2877, issued on February 10, 1983, which commemorates the 110th Anniversary of Levski’s death.

Vasil I. Levski - Bulgaria - 110th death anniversary

Franz Kaufman, 1886 – 1944

February 17, 1944: Fifty-eight year old Franz Kaufmann the German jurist who was baptized as a child but treated as Jew under Nazi racial laws and who worked with an underground group that aided Jews during the Holocaust was murdered at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.

Kaufmann was born to Jewish parents on January 5, 1886 and baptized a Protestant. He served in the First World War in the 10th Bavarian Field Artillery Regiment receiving, among other medals, the Iron Cross. After being wounded he was discharged from the army in 1918 as a reserve lieutenant. He obtained a doctorate in law and political science and in 1922 was appointed to a specialist post in government finances in the Prussian ministry of the interior. He later became chief secretary of the Reich Public Accounts Office, in the finance ministry.

In 1936, because of his Jewish origins, he was dismissed from his post as chief secretary. When war broke out in 1939, he volunteered for the Red Cross but was refused, again due to his Jewish origins.  He continued to enjoy privileged status due his then so-called racially mixed marriage to an Aryan-classified woman and because he brought up his daughter as a Christian.

Kaufmann joined a bible study group with The Confessing Church at Berlin-Dahlem in 1940, and—with other members of the church—began to supply post-office identity cards to on-the-run Jews. Ultimately he headed an underground group that created and supplied all manner of fake documents to underground Jews, including certificates of Aryan descent, driving licenses, and food ration cards. These documents were essential to the survival of many Berlin Jews.

He was arrested in August 1943. No charges were laid against him, since as a Jew under the Third Reich he was subject not to German law but to police power. On February 17, 1944 he was taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp and shot.

In 1986, East Germany (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) issued a stamp (Scott #2573) commemorating a monument memorializing the nearly 35,000 people murdered at the camp.

DDR Sachsenhausen monument - 1986