Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tel Aviv University researcher reconstructs ancient Israelite faces

Tel Aviv University researcher reconstructs ancient Israelite faces
By ISRAEL21c staff January 18, 2009

Prof. Eugene Kobyliansky keeps two busts in his office. One represents the face of an average male Jew in ancient Israel from 332 to 37 B.C.E; the other is a composite face for Jewish women from the ancient Roman era (37 B.C.E. to 324 C.E.).

"It's like looking into a time machine, going back 2,000 years, to visit these people," says Kobyliansky.

Kobyliansky, of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, is the first researcher in the world to provide facial reconstructions of what Jews looked like in the land of Israel, before their exile into the Diaspora.

Using bone measurements collected from skulls at Jewish burial sites at Ein Gedi near the Dead Sea and the Jordan River, Kobyliansky created plastic molds on which to base the facial reconstructions. The technique was made possible through a unique forensics lab in Moscow, at the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which uses the most up-to-date software in anthropological facial reconstruction to recreate facial features from craniums with about 70 percent accuracy.

Mediterranean features with African traits

The skulls of a male from the Hellenistic period and a female from the Roman period were reconstructed. Based on its facial reconstruction, the male skull might have belonged to the large Mediterranean group that inhabited the area from historic to modern times. The female skull also exhibits all the Mediterranean features but, in addition, there are probably some African traits, as manifested by the shape of the nose and face.

"This woman certainly had some African intermixture," Kobyliansky explains. "We know from history and the stories of King Solomon that there were Ethiopian Jews in Israel. In this particular female, we see some African traits. But maybe she was absolutely white in color. It's impossible to say."

One problem that has always plagued students of Jewish physiognomy has been the lack of representation. While Egyptians, Romans and other peoples in the near Middle East region were well represented in art through painting and sculpture, Jewish custom, like that of Islam, dictated that human beings -- especially holy figures -- not be represented in form or image.

Forbidden images

Says Kobyliansky: "Jews didn't create sculptures of themselves or paint pictures of an ideal. It was forbidden to do so."

Another obstacle to anthropological studies of ancient physiognomy has been strict reverence for Jewish burial customs. Jewish law prevents the exhumation of Jewish bones, except under extreme circumstances. In Kobyliansky's case, he created his plastic molds from cranial remains collected over several decades.

Kobyliansky, who is also director of the Lilian and Marcel Pollak Chair in Biological Anthropology at TAU, compared his composite molds of 2,000-year-old skulls to skulls from 17th-century Jews from Prague to confirm his findings.

The first study of its kind in the world, Kobyliansky's research was published recently in German journal Anthropol Anz.

Friday, January 30, 2009

An Eye For Civil Law

An Eye For Civil Law
You’ve heard the phrase, of course, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand...” And you’ve likely heard frightening stories of societies in which this Biblical rule is applied literally.

This verse, found in Exodus (21:24) is a primary example of the importance that the Oral Law plays in understanding that which is written in the Torah. It has never been the practice of the Jewish people to apply abusive punitive measures such as disabling a man because he did so to another. Beyond the fact that this form of punishment is of no benefit to society (and only makes the injured or the family of the injured feel avenged), it is not a true system of justice.

Instead, the Oral Law uses this verse as the basis for understanding the extensive system of monetary compensation for injuries that is spelled out, at length, in the Talmud. Indeed, the laws that are practiced in civil courts the world over are based largely on these ideas.

In developing a system of compensation, the sages noted that the qualities and quantities of damages, pain, medical expenses, incapacitation and mental anguish must be taken into consideration. The loss of an eye to a man who draws water from a well might be of quite different significance than to a scribe.

Why does scripture formulate this law in such an unusual way? Torah commentators have explained that it comes to set limits on monetary compensation: A person cannot demand compensation for two eyes in payment for the loss of one. As it says, “An eye for an eye” - maximum!

Taking Tefillin 2 Da Streets

"Jewish Weapons Of Mass Destruction"

"Jewish Weapons Of Mass Destruction"


A pancake-like structure not to be confused with anything the House of
Pancakes would put out.. In a latka, the oil is in the pancake. It is
made with potatoes, onions, eggs and matzo meal. Latkas can be eaten
with apple sauce but NEVER with maple syrup (sorry Canada). There is a
rumor that in the time of the Maccabees they lit a latka by mistake
and it burned for eight days. What is certain is you will have heart
burn for the same amount of time. It's a GOOD thing..


The Israeli's revenge for escaping slavery. It consists of a simple
mix of flour and water - no eggs or flavor at all. When made well, it
could actually taste like cardboard or Hardieplank. Its redeeming
value is that it does fill you up and stays with you for a long time.
However, it is recommended that you eat a few prunes soon after. Very
soon after.

Kasha Varnishkes

One of the little-known delicacies which is even more difficult to
pronounce than to cook.. It has nothing to do with varnish, but is
basically a mixture of buckwheat and bow-tie macaroni (noodles). Why a
bow-tie? Many sages discussed this and agreed that some Jewish mother
decided that 'You can't come to the table without a tie' or, G~d
forbid 'An elbow on my table?'


Not to be confused with the Germanic war machine's: 'blintzkreig'. Can
you imagine the Jerusalem Post '39 headlines: 'Germans drop tons of
cheese and blueberry blintzes over Poland - shortage of sour cream
expected.' Basically this is the Jewish answer to Crepe Suzette.


You know from Haggis? Well, this ain't it. In the old days they would
take an intestine and stuff it. Today we use parchment paper or
plastic. And what do you stuff it with? Carrots, celery, onions, flour
and spices. But the skill is not to cook it alone but to add it to the
cholent (see below) and let it simmer for 24 hours until there is no
chance whatsoever that there is any nutritional value left.


It sounds worse than it tastes. There is a Rabbinical debate on its
origins. One Rabbi claims it began when a fortune cookie fell into his
chicken soup. The other claims it started in an Italian restaurant.
Either way it can be soft, hard, or soggy and the amount of meat
inside depends on whether it is your mother or your mother-in-law who
cooked it.


This combination of noxious gases had been the secret weapon of Jews
for centuries. The unique combination of beans, barley, potatoes, and
bones or meat is meant to stick to your ribs and anything else it
comes into contact with. At a fancy Mexican restaurant (kosher of
course) I once heard this comment from a youngster who had just had
his first taste of Mexican fried beans: 'What! Do they serve leftover
cholent here too? A Jewish American Princess once came up with
something original for guests (her first cooking attempt at the age of
25): she made cholent burgers for Sunday night supper. The guests
never came back.

Gefilte Fish

A few years ago, an Israeli politician had problems with the filter in
his fish pond and a few of them got rather stuck and mangled. His son
(5 years old at the time) looked at them and asked 'Is that why we
call it 'Ge-filtered Fish'?' Originally, it was a carp stuffed with a
minced fish and vegetable mixture.. Today it usually comprises of
small fish balls eaten with horse radish ('chrain') which is judged on
its relative strength in bringing tears to your eyes at 100 paces.


How can we finish without the quintessential Jewish defense weapon,
the bagel? Like most foods, there are legends surrounding the bagel
although I don't know any. There have been persistent rumors that the
inventors of the bagel were the Norwegians who couldn't get anyone to
buy smoked lox. Think about it: Can you picture yourself eating smoked
salmon or trout on white bread? Rye? A cracker? Naaa! The IDF research
lab looked for something hard and almost indigestible which could take
the spread of cream cheese and which doesn't take up too much room on
the desert-maneuvers-ration kit. And why the hole? The truth is that
many philosophers believe the hole is the essence and the dough is
only there for emphasis. It remains an eternal existential discussion

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Wedding Gown That Made History

Lilly Friedman doesn't remember the last name of the woman who designed and sewed the wedding gown she wore when she walked down the aisle over 60 years ago. But the grandmother of seven does recall that when she first told her fiancé Ludwig that she had always dreamed of being married in a white gown he realized he had his work cut out for him.

For the tall, lanky 21-year-old who had survived hunger, disease and torture this was a different kind of challenge. How was he ever going to find such a dress in the Bergen Belsen Displaced Person's camp where they felt grateful for the clothes on their backs?

Fate would intervene in the guise of a former German pilot who walked into the food distribution center where Ludwig worked, eager to make a trade for his worthless parachute. In exchange for two pounds of coffee beans and a couple of packs of cigarettes Lilly would have her wedding gown.

For two weeks Miriam the seamstress worked under the curious eyes of her fellow DPs, carefully fashioning the six parachute panels into a simple, long sleeved gown with a rolled collar and a fitted waist that tied in the back with a bow. When the dress was completed she sewed the leftover material into a matching shirt for the groom.

A white wedding gown may have seemed like a frivolous request in the surreal environment of the camps, but for Lilly the dress symbolized the innocent, normal life she and her family had once led before the world descended into madness. Lilly and her siblings were raised in a Torah observant home in the small town of Zarica, Czechoslovakia where her father was a melamed, respected and well liked by the young yeshiva students he taught in nearby Irsheva.

He and his two sons were marked for extermination immediately upon arriving at Auschwitz . For Lilly and her sisters it was only their first stop on their long journey of persecution, which included Plashof, Neustadt, Gross Rosen and finally Bergen Belsen.

Lilly Friedman and her parachute dress on display in the Bergen Belsen Museum

Four hundred people marched 15 miles in the snow to the town of Celle on January 27, 1946 to attend Lilly and Ludwig's wedding. The town synagogue, damaged and desecrated, had been lovingly renovated by the DPs with the meager materials available to them. When a Sefer Torah arrived from England they converted an old kitchen cabinet into a makeshift Aron Kodesh.

"My sisters and I lost everything - our parents, our two brothers, our homes. The most important thing was to build a new home." Six months later, Lilly's sister Ilona wore the dress when she married Max Traeger. After that came Cousin Rosie. How many brides wore Lilly's dress? "I stopped counting after 17." With the camps experiencing the highest marriage rate in the world, Lilly's gown was in great demand.

In 1948 when President Harry Truman finally permitted the 100,000 Jews who had been languishing in DP camps since the end of the war to emigrate, the gown accompanied Lilly across the ocean to America . Unable to part with her dress, it lay at the bottom of her bedroom closet for the next 50 years, "not even good enough for a garage sale. I was happy when it found such a good home."

Home was the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington , D.C. When Lily's niece, a volunteer, told museum officials about her aunt's dress, they immediately recognized its historical significance and displayed the gown in a specially designed showcase, guaranteed to preserve it for 500 years.

But Lilly Friedman's dress had one more journey to make. Bergen Belsen, the museum, opened its doors on October 28, 2007. The German government invited Lilly and her sisters to be their guests for the grand opening. They initially declined, but finally traveled to Hanover the following year with their children, their grandchildren and extended families to view the extraordinary exhibit created for the wedding dress made from a parachute.

Lilly's family, who were all familiar with the stories about the wedding in Celle , were eager to visit the synagogue. They found the building had been completely renovated and modernized. But when they pulled aside the handsome curtain they were astounded to find that the Aron Kodesh, made from a kitchen cabinet, had remained untouched as a testament to the profound faith of the survivors. As Lilly stood on the bimah once again she beckoned to her granddaughter, Jackie, to stand beside her where she was once a kallah. "It was an emotional trip. We cried a lot."

Two weeks later, the woman who had once stood trembling before the selective eyes of the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele returned home and witnessed the marriage of her granddaughter.

The three Lax sisters - Lilly, Ilona and Eva, who together survived Auschwitz, a forced labor camp, a death march and Bergen Belsen - have remained close and today live within walking distance of each other in Brooklyn. As mere teenagers, they managed to outwit and outlive a monstrous killing machine, then went on to marry, have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and were ultimately honored by the country that had earmarked them for extinction.

As young brides, they had stood underneath the chuppah and recited the blessings that their ancestors had been saying for thousands of years. In doing so, they chose to honor the legacy of those who had perished by choosing life.

Sand, Sand Everywhere and not one Speck of Land for a Jew

Reader jFp has commented a few times wondering why the Jews didn't settle in Uganda instead of Israel given all the hostile opposition to allowing Jews to have a homeland in the Holy Land. jFp is also under the misapprehension that many Jews were in favor of the British offer known as the "Uganda Program" (1). Actually it was completely rejected by the Zionist Congress one year after Herzl's death in 1904.

Theodore Herzl always wanted to establish a homeland for the Jews in Israel. The East Africa settlement was for a temporary refuge for Russian Jews not the permanent homeland. Indeed the British themselves called it a "night refuge" or what we would today call a homeless shelter. So if anyone even imagined that the British were willing to let Jews settle in Uganda permanently they are grossly mistaken.

But let us consider for a moment if Britain had allowed Zionists to set up a national homeland for Jews in Uganda. At the time (1905) the country was mostly Christian with a huge Hindu population as well and surrounded by other countries that were also mostly Christian or some combination of Christianity and African indigenous beliefs. Although Africa had very few Muslims a century ago, today Africa has more Muslims than all the other religions combined (2).

While Israel is indeed surrounded by Arab Muslims, at least it has one side facing the Mediterranean and is not therefore landlocked and dependent on others for access to markets abroad. Had Zionists actually filled up Uganda with Jews, I have no doubt that Uganda today would be the largest, strongest, freest economy in Africa, but Jews would then be dependent on other nations to get their products to market. El Al today can fly to America without asking permission of any Muslim country. But if it were deep in Africa, surrounded with Muslim neighbors, flights would have to constantly be over other Muslim nations.

Certainly Muslims have no problem in burning and slashing their way to hegemony over all of Africa. There is no Christian Army standing in the way of total Islamic control of the continent. So what do you think the Muslims would do if they saw a Jewish state, with a Jewish Army deep in the heart of Africa, standing in their way?

If you can't imagine the obvious, then let me suggest that you would have a Ugandan Liberation Organization made of of former Ugandans lobbing missiles into Uganda-Israel on a daily basis. And if Uganda-Israel retaliated the ULO, made up entirely of Islamic militants, would be crying about war crimes and other Palestinian-related nonsense.

Uganda would have been infinitely worse to defend and if Israel isn't already fairly isolated, think about how much more isolated it would be in the middle of Africa since most of the civilized world hardly cares about the continent at all. In Africa, Muslims can slaughter hundreds of thousands as they have done in Darfur and the only people who complain are a handful of Hollywood celebrities. Uganda-Israel would disappear just as millions of Rwandans and their Tutis and frutis have gone before. That last might be Tutsis and Hutu but hu care?

Listen my friend, if Arabs who own millions of square kilometers of land in the Middle East cannot abide a few thousand square kilometers of worthless sand being occupied by Jews, what makes anyone think that they would tolerate Jews sitting on a few hundred thousand sq km in the middle of a region they aim to claim as an ultimate Islamic empire?

Related: An interesting thing did happen in 1896 when Theodore Herzl met with Sultan Hamid of Turkey and asked him to allow Jews to settle Palestine as a national homeland. The Sultan would not consider ceding Palestine, which was then under Ottoman control saying "if one day the Islamic State falls apart then you can have Palestine for free, but as long as I am alive I would rather have my flesh be cut up than cut out Palestine from the Muslim land." Since the Ottoman Empire fell apart after World War One, I consider this an oral contract where the Sultan's promise means the Jews now have a right to Palestine.

Who puts up a mezuzah in space? A Jewish astronaut

If Dr. Garrett Reisman did not exist, then Mel Brooks or Woody Allen would have had to invent him. The veteran astronaut, who spent three straight months in space, looks like a character from a comedy about Jews in space: He is short, an engineer and full of self-deprecating humor that is often missing in astronauts.

Reisman, a native of New Jersey, is the first Jew to have lived in the International Space Station.

"The mission went pretty well, I did not break anything that was too expensive," he says. When he got to the space station, via the space shuttle Endeavor, he was quick to put up a mezuzah in the bunk where he slept.

"I did not consult any rabbi, so I hope I did not get into any trouble," he says.

Reisman is in Israel for the fourth Ilan Ramon International Space Conference, which is organized by the Science Ministry and the Fisher Brothers Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies.

The NASA delegation will make a presentation on progress in its most ambitious project: sending humans to Mars. Its schedule is for a manned mission to Mars by 2030.

However, at this stage, there are still problems to be resolved. The round trip is expected to last at least three years and will require enormous amounts of food, water and fuel.

No less troubling is how best to assure the health of the crew while millions of kilometers from earth.

Dr. Johnston Smith, a medical officer at NASA, who is also visiting Israel, is one of those dealing with this challenge. "If someone experiences a standard medical problem, like appendicitis," he says, "a decision will need to be made on what to do. Therefore, on the voyage to Mars one of the crew will be a doctor and will have the means to undertake simple surgery."

Those traveling to Mars will also be away from family and friends for years. According to Johnston, the missions to the International Space Station are meant to build up experience in dealing with psychological dilemmas. Thus, for example, a year ago, NASA had to inform astronaut Daniel Tani, who was at the space station, that his mother had died in an accident.

"Every astronaut decides before a mission whether they want to know [such news] immediately or not. But on a voyage to Mars these questions will be more significant, and we need to think about how to deal with them," Johnston says.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Fruit That Is Not A Fruit

Eating a healthy diet is important. In fact, it is so important that many governments allocate significant budget funds to analyze the best diets for people. The U.S. Department of Agriculture even issues recommendations how much of each type of food one should eat.

Just as a healthy food diet consists of various classes of foods, so too a healthy spiritual diet is compromised of different types of foods that may be divided into categories according to the blessing that is made on them. For instance, the blessing over a piece of fruit is “Blessed are You L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who created the fruit of the tree” (pri ha’eitz), while the blessing over a vegetable is “Blessed are You L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who created the fruit of the ground” (pri ha’adama).

These distinctions seem pretty obvious: If it grows on or in the ground it’s a vegetable; if it grows on a tree it’s a fruit. Except when it isn’t!

One of the most kid-popular fruits in the world may not actually be a fruit at all, at least according to its blessing! The blessing on a banana is pri ha’adama - the fruit of the ground.

Banana plants are actually herbs (ok, technically they are herbaceous plants), which are plants that have leaves and stems that wither at the end of the growing season down to the soil level. Not being a real tree (with a trunk and branches that survive from year to year), the fruit of a herbaceous plant (another example of which is a pineapple) is considered to be a pri ha’adama.

Made in Israel, sold in Holland

Made in Israel, sold in Holland

Christian Dutch brothers operate successful business selling only products made in Israel throughout Netherlands, rest of Europe. 'Dutch have warm sentiments towards Israel, its products,' one of them says

Yehudit Yahav
Published: 01.27.09, 12:06 / Israel Money

Brothers Roger, 47, and Pieter, 43, van Oordt who grew up in a Christian home in the small Dutch town of Nijkerk, operate a thriving business selling only products made in Israel through catalogues and direct marketing.

The company, Israel Producten Centrum, was started by their father Karel, 80, who "still comes to the office every day".

Pieter and Roger remember growing up with "Israel always in the background" and have visited the Jewish state several times both as children, and as adults with children of their own. The company is owned by the family, and also has some 300 investors from the Netherlands.

The company sells products "that people really need", the brothers said, through catalogues delivered throughout the country and other European nations, as well as door-to-door salespeople.

The prices of Israeli products are relatively lower than similar European products, which has helped make them more attractive for local consumers.

Products available at Israel Producten Centrum include wines, jams, bedding, cosmetics, jewelry, candles, spices, tea, clocks, and more.

A total of 45 providers supply the store with hundreds of products, that bring in an annual return of €1.5 million (about $1.94 million).

The father Karel started his relationship with Israel by importing phosphates from the Negev, but quickly decided instead to open a channel through which Israeli consumer products could be sold via catalogues.

Available online as well
The first catalogue was published in the 1980s in black and white, and a new color edition can be found a few times a year.

"The Dutch Christians always had warm sentiments towards Israel, as they do towards your products," Pieter said in an interview on his last visit to Israel.

"They don't care if the products are made within the Green Line or on the other side of it, they only care that the products were all made in Israel and not in the Far East, and mainly, in the southern communities."

The products are shipped to Europe twice a year in six or seven containers sent from Haifa Port, but not before the company's representatives arrive in Israel to verify that all the products were indeed manufactured in Israel.

Contracts with local manufacturers are signed in Israel, some of them through the Manufacturers Association of Israel which granted the van Oordt's a special award this week.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Train Breakdown

A large, two-engine train was making it's way across America.
While crossing the Rocky mountains, one of the engines broke
down. "No problem, said the engineer. "We can surely make it
to Denver and we'll get a replacement engine there." And so
he carried on at half power. But, a bit further down the line
the other engine broke down. The train came to a standstill
in the middle of nowhere.

The engineer needed to inform the passengers about why
the train had stopped. In the first car of passengers he
announced, "I have some bad news. The bad news is that
both engines have failed, and we will be stuck here for
some time until the additional engines arrive. Passengers
became very upset and noisy. Benny Rubins, a nice old
Jewish rebbe who always tried to look on the bright side
of things, took the train engineer aside and said, "Young
man, in the next cars made the following announcement,
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I have some good news and some
bad news. The good news is that you didn't take this trip
in a plane!" Then you tell them about the engines failing.

Rubins' was right again! The other passengers laughed
and with that they were much more relaxed than the
worried passengers.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Holocaust, Viewed Not From Then but From the Here and Now

The Holocaust, Viewed Not From Then but From the Here and Now

BERGEN-BELSEN, Germany — Habbo Knoch, who runs the new Bergen-Belsen Memorial at the former concentration camp, invited various scholars and museum directors to a four-day conference here last week called “Witnessing: Sites of Destruction and the Representation of the Holocaust.” He asked a question one evening during a break: “Will people in 20 years look back and say we built a museum that focuses on Nazi genocide while Darfur was happening? Will they ask whether anyone raised this issue?”

Consider it raised.

The new memorial is an immense concrete and glass museum emerging from a copse of trees beside the cemetery of mass graves (there are more than 70,000 bodies buried there), which had been the camp site. The permanent exhibition is a model of its kind, focused on the meticulous and sober reconstruction of the past. From time to time the present literally intrudes with a bang, though, when practice rounds of tank fire from the British military base next door boom over the treetops.

Otherwise you might be struck by how ordinary the whole area seems. During the war, prisoners — at first Soviet soldiers, later Jews — used to be marched several miles from a railway terminal beyond the base, which was then for the Wehrmacht, and past fields, farms and houses. Some survivors have said they were struck by the pretty scenery.

At the camp, corpses lay in piles and thousands were dying of starvation and disease, from genocide by neglect. The farmers and villagers who had watched the prisoners go by afterward mostly claimed they knew nothing about it.

Times change. Some of the children of those farmers and villagers recall on videotaped interviews the endless lines of walking dead. It was impossible not to see what was plainly in front of them. Along these lines, the constant television broadcasts during the conference of grieving parents and wounded children in Gaza reminded a few conferees of the emotions stirred up by video testimonies of Holocaust survivors (there are dozens of these in the museum), and the comparison made several scholars uneasy.

Videos are only one form of evidence, a French researcher ventured, inadequate by themselves as history.


That said, the Holocaust has become what one expert here called the “master narrative” for suffering, shaping discussions about every present conflict over genocide and human rights even as comparisons distort history and can serve the purposes of propaganda as often as the truth. “Every generation gets the stories it wants to hear,” is how Heidemarie Uhl, an Austrian scholar, put it, which is to say that the master narrative of the Shoah itself has evolved to suit different eras. She pointed out that the memorial at the former Mauthausen concentration camp in northern Austria was for several years after the war controlled by the Soviets, who put up a monument to Communist resistance but none to the Jews.

Today the message at Mauthausen has come to reflect Austria’s “negative memory,” Ms. Uhl said, referring to the collective sentiment of Austrians (many of them, she might have added, but alas, still not enough) who admit their country willingly committed genocide. As at Bergen-Belsen, the permanent exhibition there now speaks to a kind of post-ideological, post-cold-war world that prizes victimhood and individual resilience, just as the Communist memorial spoke to Soviet priorities.

History keeps moving, in other words. Here at Bergen-Belsen, after liberation in April 1945, the military training barracks became a camp for displaced persons. Jews awaited transport to America, Australia and to the new Israel, a flashpoint with British authorities who also controlled Palestine. Some Jewish survivors inaugurated a theater company called Kazet (the name played on the German KZ, for concentration camp). Life started over in other ways, too. Henri Lustiger-Thaler, who helped organize the conference, recalled that his mother, a former prisoner, returned from Paris to give birth at the camp hospital because her friends were here.

Then Bergen-Belsen fell into neglect. Ronald Reagan was responsible (inadvertently) for its revival. The announcement that he would visit Nazi graves at Bitburg in 1985 resulted in an uproar that forced his staff to scramble, and Bergen-Belsen was suddenly added to his itinerary. Embarrassed Germans, who preferred to forget the site, threw together a small documentation center. It soon became inadequate to the accumulating archives, to the general liberalizing process of German identity building after the wall fell, and to the growing public appetite abroad for Holocaust museums, along with the tourist economy they generated.

Nothing about the present museum dramatizes information for visitors the way, say, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington apparently feels it needs to. Divorced as it is from the sites of persecution, it turns relics of genocide like a Zyklon B canister and a cattle car that transported Jews to Auschwitz into props.

Bergen-Belsen has the camp as evidence, or what’s left of it. After liberation, the British burned down the prisoners’ barracks to stem the spread of typhus, and hired an architect to turn bulldozed graves into a pastoral cemetery. The architect turned out to be a favorite of the Nazis, adding insult to injury, but by the time that scandal broke it was already too late, and the graves today look like Teutonic mounds, covered in lavender.

In the absence of original buildings, the aura of Bergen-Belsen now, as at all haunted places, can be linked to the superstition people tend to bring to it — the vague hope that our presence might somehow help renew the ground. Meanwhile the sheer emptiness of the landscape, never mind the graves, speaks clearly to loss.

Of course, there are still the photographs and films made by arriving British troops to show what once was here. Various camps liberated before Bergen-Belsen had been evacuated or destroyed, but the Germans turned this place over as it had been. Circulated worldwide in newspapers, magazines and movie theaters, the pictures made unconditional surrender obligatory and the site forever synonymous with the worst Nazi atrocities.

In a sense, the images have become too familiar, too loaded. The museum stresses the survivor testimonies instead. These run silently on monitors throughout the galleries, accompanied by subtitles in German and English. As Geoffrey Hartman, the literary scholar who helped start the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale, remarked after walking through the museum, the quiet promotes a space in which “to think that thinking is important.”

But you can also wear headphones to hear the voices. Mr. Hartman borrowed Paul Celan’s famous phrase about bottles in the ocean tossed at “the shoreline of a heart” to describe the effect.

One survivor is Robert Rijxman. “I was sitting on a rock,” he recalls on screen. “It was sunny, in winter. I just prayed to die, but it didn’t work.”

Without sound, he’s the picture of defiance, elfin and smiling, clutching a pipe like an old Swiss mountaineer after a walk in the Alps. But listening to him, you hear that he needs a moment to collect himself and it suddenly becomes clear that Mr. Rijxman wishes to convey a thought darker and more complicated than simple defiance.

Praying for death “didn’t work,” is what he said.

“Not to this day,” he added.

Another reminder of history’s relentlessness.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chagall, chronicler of a century's triumphs, terrors

Marc Chagall, who died in 1985 at age 97, is best remembered for his vivid colors, his villagers and animals floating through the air untethered to the homely realities of his native town in the Russian Jewish Pale, but above all, perhaps, for his fiddler on the roof ("The Violinist," 1913), adapted long after he first painted it as an exuberant symbol of poverty but also the simple joys of life in a rustic community.

Among many he is also known for the glorious big projects of his later years: two stunning murals at the Metropolitan Opera; the stained-glass window "Peace" at the United Nations; the stunning ceiling he designed for the Paris Opera; his 12 stained-glass windows for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; and for windows at churches in France, his adopted country.

Although his work and persona may have been unique, we learn a great deal about the influences that shaped him from this first full-scale biography, "Chagall," by Jackie Wullschlager, the chief art critic for the Financial Times. When Chagall was asked in the 1960s about the most essential influences on his painting, he specified the mysticism of Hasidic Judaism, the will to construct, and the mystique of Russian icons. We learn that he was more responsive to writers than artists, though Gauguin's primitivism clearly had considerable impact, as did Cubism during his first stay in Paris (1911-14), and then Rembrandt, especially when Chagall became intrigued with etching projects. Mystical and highly spiritual artists like El Greco also had notable appeal.

Chagall painted numerous self-portraits but created many more works inspired by his first wife and beloved soul mate, Bella Rosenfeld, immortalized as the lithe and lovely spectral figure whose hand he holds or whom he locks in a firm embrace.

Although Chagall's style remained astonishingly consistent, it passed through substantive phases, ranging from the fantasy-land village motifs of life and death to more nostalgic themes during the 1930s, when his exile from Bolshevik Russia saddened him, and then Bella's death in 1944, which crippled him emotionally for six months, and finally to the promptings of memory in his later years, when he became famous and wealthy, living on the French Riviera with his second wife, and Picasso and Matisse his neighbors.

The role of religion in Chagall's life, work, and identity is very complex and perhaps deserved more extended commentary. Although he ceased to be a believer at the age of 13 and remained nonobservant throughout his life, Jewish concerns and themes pervade his work. But so does Christian iconography, including madonnas, angels, numerous crucifixion scenes, small and large, sometimes with his own name in Hebrew letters above the head of Jesus, where the acronym INRI would customarily appear in traditional Catholic art, and a Jewish tallith (prayer shawl) wrapped around the loins in "White Crucifixion" (1938). None of his appropriated symbolism seems to have prompted hostility, and his later years were replete with commissions from Catholic and Protestant churches and organizations.

It is ironic and noteworthy that Chagall's work was first appreciated and sold well in Weimar Germany during the 1920s, though his dealer there basically cheated the artist of money he desperately needed for survival, part of a recurring pattern in his early years. A second irony is that Apollinaire and the Surrealists acknowledged Chagall as a kind of precursor, even founder, when they emerged on the scene in 1923-24, a role that Chagall rejected. For much of his life Chagall could not fully control his own identity and destiny.

Wullschlager provides a gripping account of Chagall and Bella's desperate escape from Marseilles to the United States in 1941 by way of a precarious train to Lisbon, where they waited an agonizing month for a ship to New York. There they were met by Pierre Matisse, the artist's dealer son, and settled in, though Bella's health declined steadily. Chagall refused to learn a word of English. Although he drew and painted, including the lyrical "Double Portrait With Wineglass," in which the exuberant artist seems to ride on his young bride's shoulders, there was little market for his work during the war. Being in America did, however, provide him an opportunity to paint large stage sets, and that experiment with work on a vast scale would become crucial for his increasingly major works in glass, paint, and ceramic after the war, including the fabulous four seasons mosaic that he later designed for Chicago in 1972-74. In 1948 he returned permanently to France.

I find Wullschlager's judgment somewhat harsh when she repeatedly insists that Chagall did his best work early on. It's true that the major motifs, stylistic devices, and intense coloration all appeared early. But Chagall steadily revised and at times even reinvented his themes as he became exposed to works by old masters in museums around the world. Visiting the Louvre early had been an eye-opener for him, and that experience recurred often with refreshing results. Although it cannot be said that Chagall repeatedly grew and changed the way Picasso did, neither did anyone else.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Jews Ruled Where?

Before the Arabian Peninsula became the stronghold of Islam, it was home to a collage of tribal nomads and fierce warriors, most of whom were Arabs. There were, however, several famous Jewish warrior tribes. The best-known of these tribes was the “Kaibar,” which eventually settled to the north of Medina (present day Saudi Arabia). The majority of these tribes were wiped out during the Moslem rise to power.

While history does not have many authoritative records about those ancient Jewish desert tribes, legend speaks of their influence on a desert sheik named Tub'a Abu Kariba As'ad, who reigned as king of Yemen (known then as Himyar) from 390-420 C.E. When Abu Kariba took his army north towards Medina, his intent was to conquer the Jews of that city. Instead, Abu Kariba returned home, bringing with him two Jewish scholars and became a convert to Judaism. Shortly thereafter, his tribesman followed suit and converted as well.

The Jewish leadership of Yemen lasted only until 525 C.E. The last and most famous Jewish king was Yosuf Dhu Nuwas, who ruled over a land already troubled by Ethiopian attempts at conquest. The Ethiopians had become Christians in the fourth century and were zealous missionaries. King Dhu Nuwas tried valiantly to free his country from the ever-increasing agitation of the Ethiopians. As part of this campaign, Dhu Nuwas conquered the city of Najran, and many of its Christian citizens were killed when they refused to surrender and live in peace. The fall of Najran, however, aroused the anger of the Christian-Byzantine world. In 525, Dhu Nuwas was killed during a Christian counter-attack. Thus ended the Jewish kingdom in Yemen.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why Are Jews So Powerful?

Why Are Jews So Powerful?

Farrukh Saleem

Dr Farrukh Saleem

There are only 14 million Jews in the world; seven million in the Americas , five million in Asia, two million in Europe and 100,000 in Africa . For every single Jew in the world there are 100 Muslims. Yet, Jews are more than a hundred times more powerful than all the Muslims put together. Ever wondered why?

Jesus of Nazareth was Jewish. Albert Einstein, the most influential scientist of all time and TIME magazine's 'Person of the Century', was a Jew. Sigmund Freud -- id, ego, superego -- the father of psychoanalysis was a Jew. So were Paul Samuelson and Milton Friedman.

Here are a few other Jews whose intellectual output has enriched the whole humanity: Benjamin Rubin gave humanity the vaccinating needle. Jonas Salk developed the first polio vaccine. Alert Sabin developed the improved live polio vaccine. Gertrude Elion gave us a leukaemia fighting drug. Baruch Blumberg developed the vaccination for Hepatitis B. Paul Ehrlich discovered a treatment for syphilis (a sexually transmitted disease). Elie Metchnikoff won a Nobel Prize in infectious diseases.

Bernard Katz won a Nobel Prize in neuromuscular transmission. Andrew Schally won a Nobel in endocrinology (disorders of the endocrine system; diabetes, hyperthyroidism). Aaron Beck founded Cognitive Therapy (psychotherapy to treat mental disorders, depression and phobias). Gregory Pincus developed the first oral contraceptive pill. George Wald won a Nobel for furthering our understanding of the human eye. Stanley Cohen won a Nobel in embryology (study of embryos and their development). Willem Kolff came up with the kidney dialysis machine.

Over the past 105 years, 14 million Jews have won 15-dozen Nobel Prizes while only three Nobel Prizes have been won by 1.4 billion Muslims (other than Peace Prizes).

Why are Jews so powerful? Stanley Mezor invented the first micro-processing chip. Leo Szilard developed the first nuclear chain reactor. Peter Schultz, optical fibre cable; Charles Adler, traffic lights; Benno Strauss, Stainless steel; Isador Kisee, sound movies; Emile Berliner, telephone microphone and Charles Ginsburg, videotape recorder.

Famous financiers in the business world who belong to Jewish faith include Ralph Lauren (Polo), Levis Strauss (Levi's Jeans), Howard Schultz (Starbuck's), Sergey Brin (Google), Michael Dell (Dell Computers), Larry Ellison (Oracle), Donna Karan (DKNY), Irv Robbins (Baskins & Robbins) and Bill Rosenberg (Dunkin Donuts).

Richard Levin, President of Yale University, is a Jew. So are Henry Kissinger (American secretary of state), Alan Greenspan (fed chairman under Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush), Joseph Lieberman, Maxim Litvinov (USSR foreign Minister), David Marshal (Singapore's first chief minister), Issac Isaacs (governor-general of Australia), Benjamin Disraeli (British statesman and author), Yevgeny Primakov (Russian PM), Barry Gold water, Jorge Sampaio (president of Portugal), John Deutsch (CIA director), Herb Gray (Canadian deputy PM), Pierre Mendes (French PM), Michael Howard (British home secretary) and Robert Rubin (American secretary of treasury).

In the media, famous Jews include Wolf Blitzer ( CNN ), Barbara Walters (ABC News), Eugene Meyer ( Washington Post ), Henry Grunwald (editor-in-chief Time), Katherine Graham (publisher of The Washington Post ), Joseph Lelyyeld (Executive editor, The New York Times), and Max Frankel (New York Times).

At the Olympics, Mark Spitz set a record of sorts by wining seven gold medals. Lenny Krayzelburg is a three-time Olympic gold medalist. Spitz, Krayzelburg and Boris Becker are all Jewish.

Did you know that Harrison Ford, George Burns, Tony Curtis, Charles Bronson, Sandra Bullock, Billy Crystal, Paul Newman, Peter Sellers, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Douglas, Ben Kingsley, Kirk Douglas, Cary Grant, William Shatner, Jerry Lewis and Peter Falk are all Jewish? As a matter of fact, Hollywood itself was founded by a Jew. Among directors and producers, Steven Spielberg, Mel Brooks, Oliver Stone, Aaron Spelling (Beverly Hills 90210), Neil Simon (The Odd Couple), Andrew Vaina (Rambo 1/2/3), Michael Man (Starsky and Hutch), Milos Forman (One flew over the Cuckoo's Nest), Douglas Fairbanks (The thief of Baghdad) and Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) are all Jewish.

To be certain, Washington is the capital that matters and in Washington the lobby that matters is The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. Washington knows that if PM Ehud Olmert were to discover that the earth is flat, AIPAC will make the 109th Congress pass a resolution congratulating Olmert on his discovery.

William James Sidis, with an IQ of 250-300, is the brightest human who ever existed. Guess what faith did he belong to?

So, why are Jews so powerful? Answer: Education.

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance columnist

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Mel Brooks on being a Jew:

Mel Brooks on being a Jew:

I may be angry at God or at the world, and I'm sure that a lot of my comedy is based on anger and hostility...It comes from a feeling that as a Jew and as a person, I don't fit into the mainstream of American society.

Feeling different, feeling alienated, feeling persecuted, feeling that the only way you can deal with the world is to laugh - because if you don't laugh you're going to cry and never stop crying - that's probably what's responsible for the Jews having developed such a great sense of humor. The people who had the greatest reason to weep, learned more than anyone else how to laugh.

Based on the accomplishments of individual Jews, Nobel Prize winners and heroes of modern culture, as well as the amount of attention Jews get in the media, you'd never believe the correct answers: There are little more than 13 million Jews in the world, comprising less than 1/4 of 1% of the world's population !!!!

Do you think it's just a coincidence? Twenty-one percent of Nobel Prize winners have been Jews, even though Jews comprise less than one-quarter of one percent of the world's population. Choose any field, and you will find that Jews have excelled in it.

Think of the names of many modern-day figures most responsible for the intellectual turning points in history - MARX, FREUD, EINSTEIN - and you will find proof of the Biblical verdict: "Surely this is...a wise and understanding people." There simply is no way to deny it.

Jews really are smart. There must be a reason - and I can give you three:


HEREDITY - Historians have pointed out a fascinating difference between Jews and Christians. In Christianity, as well as in many other religions, holiness was identified with asceticism, great spirituality with the practice of celibacy. For centuries the finest minds among Christians were urged to join the church and become priests. That effectively condemned their genetic pool of intelligence to an untimely end.

Jews, on the other hand, took quite seriously the first commandment to mankind - to be fruitful and multiply. Sex was never seen as sinful, but rather as one of those things created by God that he surely must have had in mind when he declared, in reviewing his work, that "Behold everything was very good."

Among Jews, the most intelligent were encouraged to become religious leaders. As rabbis, they had to serve as role models for their congregants as procreators and "fathers! of their countries." Brains got passed on from generation to generation, and Jews today are still reaping the benefits of the frequent sexual activities of their ancestors.

ENVIRONMENT - If challenge and response are the keys to creativity and achievement, it's no surprise that Jews are smart; they've been challenged more than anyone else on earth. The school of hard knocks is a wonderful teacher. Jews had no choice but to learn to be better than anyone else since the odds were always so very much stacked against them.

When you're born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you tend to get fat and lazy. When you're born with the lash of a whip on your back, you quickly learn to become crafty, street smart, and knowledgeable in everything that will help you make it through life.

A UNIQUE VALUE SYSTEM - We still haven't touched on the most important reason of all. Jews are smart because they have been raised in a tradition that treasures education above everything else, that considers study the highest obligation of mankind, and that identifies the intellect as part of us created in "the image of God." To be illiterate was unheard of in the Jewish world, not only because it was a sign of stupidity, but, more significantly, because it was a sin.

Jews are obligated by law to review the Bible in its entirety every year, dividing it into manageable weekly sections. The widespread custom when a child turned three years old was to write the letters of the Hebrew alphabet on a board in honey and have the child learn them as he licked them off, equating their meaning with the taste of sweetness.

Jews studied the Midrash, and it taught them: The Sword and the Book came from Heaven together, and the Holy One said: "Keep what is written in this Book or be destroyed by the other." Jews studied the Mishna and it taught them, "Say not when I have leisure."

Philosophical Tevye , that delightful creation of the Yiddish writer Shalom Aleichem and the star of Fiddler On The Roof, explained that Jews always wear hats because they never know when they will be forced to travel. What he didn't say, which is probably more important, is that they always made sure to have something under their hats and inside of their heads - because physical possessions could be taken from them, but what they accumulated in their minds would always remain the greatest" merchandise" a Jew possesses.

And you thought Mel Brooks was only a funny man.

Andre Rieu This Land Is Mine from the movie Exodus

Sheva Salaam od yavo shalom aleinu

Friday, January 2, 2009

Krauthammer's Law: Everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise

Krauthammer's Law: Everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise

By Charles Krauthammer | Strange doings in Virginia. George Allen, former governor, one-term senator, son of a famous football coach and in the midst of a heated battle for reelection, has just been outed as a Jew. An odd turn of events, given that his having Jewish origins has nothing to do with anything in the campaign and that Allen himself was oblivious to the fact until his 83-year-old mother revealed to him last month the secret she had kept concealed for 60 years.

Apart from its political irrelevance, it seems improbable in the extreme that the cowboy-boots-wearing football scion of Southern manner and speech should turn out to be, at least by origins, a son of Israel. For Allen, as he quipped to me, it's the explanation for a lifelong affinity for Hebrew National hot dogs. For me, it is the ultimate confirmation of something I have been regaling friends with for 20 years and now, for the advancement of social science, feel compelled to publish.

Krauthammer's Law: Everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise. I've had a fairly good run with this one. First, it turns out that John Kerry — windsurfing, French-speaking, Beacon Hill aristocrat — had two Jewish grandparents. Then Hillary Clinton — methodical Methodist — unearths a Jewish stepgrandfather in time for her run as New York senator.

A less jaunty case was that of Madeleine Albright, three of whose Czech grandparents had perished in the Holocaust and who most improbably contended that she had no idea they were Jewish. To which we can add the leading French presidential contender (Nicolas Sarkozy), a former supreme allied commander of NATO (Wesley Clark) and Russia's leading anti-Semite (Vladimir Zhirinovsky). One must have a sense of humor about these things. Even Fidel Castro claims he is from a family of Marranos.

For all its tongue-in-cheek irony, Krauthammer's Law works because when I say "everyone," I don't mean everyone you know personally. Depending on the history and ethnicity of your neighborhood and social circles, there may be no one you know who is Jewish. But if "everyone" means anyone that you've heard of in public life, the law works for two reasons. Ever since the Jews were allowed out of the ghetto and into European society at the dawning of the Enlightenment, they have peopled the arts and sciences, politics, and history in astonishing disproportion to their numbers.

There are 13 million Jews in the world, one-fifth of 1 percent of the world's population. Yet 20 percent of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish, a staggering hundredfold surplus of renown and genius. This is similarly true for a myriad of other "everyones" — the household names in music, literature, mathematics, physics, finance, industry, design, comedy, film and, as the doors opened, even politics.

But it is not just Jewish excellence at work here. There is a dark side to these past centuries of Jewish emancipation and achievement — an unrelenting history of persecution. The result is the other more somber and poignant reason for the Jewishness of public figures being discovered late and with surprise: concealment.

Look at the Albright case. Her distinguished father was Jewish, if tenuously so, until the Nazi invasion. He fled Czechoslovakia and, shortly thereafter, converted. Over the centuries, suffering — most especially, the Holocaust — has proved too much for many Jews. Many survivors simply resigned their commission.

For some, the break was defiant and theological: A G-d who could permit the Holocaust — ineffable be His reasons — had so breached the Covenant that it was now forfeit. They were bound no longer to Him or His faith.

For others, the considerations were far more secular.

Why subject one's children to the fear and suffering, the stigmatization and marginalization, the prospect of being hunted until death that being Jewish had brought to an entire civilization in Europe?

In fact, that was precisely the reason Etty Lumbroso, Allen's mother, concealed her identity. Brought up as a Jew in French Tunisia during World War II, she saw her father, Felix, imprisoned in a concentration camp. Coming to America was her one great chance to leave that forever behind, for her and for her future children. She married George Allen Sr., apparently never telling her husband's family, her own children or anyone else of her Jewishness.

Such was Etty's choice. Multiply the story in its thousand variations and you have Kerry and Clinton, Albright and Allen, a world of people with a whispered past.

Allen's mother tried desperately to bury it forever. In response to published rumors, she finally confessed the truth to him, adding heartbreakingly, "Now you don't love me anymore" — and then swore him to secrecy.