Saturday, December 18, 2010

THE YIDDISHE ZODIAC

The Year of:

CHICKEN SOUP
1907, 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003
You're a healer, nourishing all whom you encounter. We feel better just being in your presence. Mothers want to bring you home to meet their
children - resist this at all costs. Compatible with Bagel and Knish.

EGG CREAM
1908, 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004
You've got a devious personality, since you're made with neither eggs nor cream. Friends find your pranks refreshing; others think you're too frothy.
Compatible with Blintz, who also has something to hide.

CHOPPED LIVER
1909, 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005
People either love you or hate you, making you wonder, "What am I, chopped liver?" But don't get a complex; you're always welcome at the holidays!
Bagel's got your back.

BLINTZ
1910, 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006
Creamy and dreamy, you're rightfully cautious to travel in pairs. You playit coy, but word is that, with the right topping, you turnover morning, noon
and night. Compatible with Schmear.

LATKE
1911, 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007
Working class with a grating exterior, you're a real softie on the inside.
Kind of plain naked, but when dressed up you're a real dish. Compatible with Schmear's cousin Sour Cream.

BAGEL
1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008
You're pliable and always bounce back, although you feel something's missing
in your center. If this persists, get some therapy. Compatible with Schmear and Lox...Latke and Knish, not so much.

PICKLE
1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009
You're the perfect sidekick: friends love your salty wit and snappy banter, but you never overshadow them. That shows genuine seasoning from when you were a cucumber. Marry Pastrami later in life.

SCHMEAR
1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010
You blend well with others but often spread yourself too thin. A smooth operator, you could use some spicing up now and then. Compatible with Bagel
and Lox. Avoid Pastrami - wouldn't be kosher.

PASTRAMI
1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011
Brisket's hipper sibling, always smokin' and ready to party. You spice up life, even if you keep your parents up at night. Compatible with Pickle,
who's always by your side.

BLACK AND WHITE COOKIE
1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012
Kids love you, but make up your mind! Are you black or white? Cake or cookie? You say you're "New Age," all yin & yang. We call it "bipolar."
Sweetie, you're most compatible with yourself.

KNISH
1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013
Flaky on the surface, you're actually a person of depth and substance.
Consider medical or law school, but don't get too wrapped up in yourself.
Compatible with Pickle. Avoid Lox, who's out of your league.

LOX
1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014
Thin and rich, you're very high maintenance: all you want to do is bask in the heat, getting some color. Consider retiring to Boca. Compatible with
Bagel and Schmear, although you top them both.

__._,_.___

I own a Deli, I am Jew...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

Kevin Myers: Israel is a rogue all right -- maybe even a lovable one

By Kevin Myers
Thursday November 11 2010

Gabriel's co-sponsor of the motion, Lauren Booth, was clearly caught unawares by his brilliant definition of rogue

My latest hero is a 19-year-old Canadian called Gabriel Latner, and for three reasons. The first is that he presented the most brilliantly audacious defence of Israel since Moses parted the Red Sea. The second is that he told his "ally" in a Cambridge Union debate, Lauren Booth (the dingbat half-sister of Cherie Blair) -- "I am going to nail you to the f***ing wall up there." He duly did. The third is that he is banned from life from the Cambridge Union for swearing in front of a lady. Yes, I know, that's where feminism has got us -- equality whenever it suits; otherwise a reversion to the swooning damsel of yesteryear.

Gabriel, who is also Jewish, was proposing the motion in the CU that Israel is a rogue state. He asked the fundamental question: well, what does rogue actually mean? He referred to the dictionary. 'Aberrant, anomalous, misplaced, occurring (especially in isolation) at an unexpected place or time'. In other words, just like Israel.

His first argument was statistical. There are 195 countries in the world; Christian, Muslim, secular. But Israel is the only country in the world that is Jewish -- therefore, a rogue. That he is a better rhetorician than mathematician came in his next assertion, that the chance of any randomly chosen state being Jewish is 0.0051pc. Not true, Gabriel. Two decimal places out; it is 0.51pc.

His next argument came from its treatment of Darfurian refugees, the survivors of the Sudanese Janjaweed war of genocide, who are scorned throughout the Middle East, and even shot on sight in Egypt (Dear old Egypt). But they are welcomed in Israel, with the Israeli government even sending out its soldiers into the Sinai to rescue what are, in essence, illegal immigrants. Clearly, a rogue again.

Thirdly, the Israeli government engages in an activity that the rest of the world shuns -- it negotiates with terrorists. Yasser Abed Rabbo is one of the lead PLO negotiators in talks with Israel. He was formerly a leader of the PFLP -- "an organisation that engaged in such freedom-promoting activities as killing 22 Israeli high-school students".

Gabriel argued that (amongst other governments) the British government would never negotiate with terrorists -- but he was on weaker ground here. Lauren Booth's semi-brother-in-law, yes Phony Tony, even had terrorists staying with him at his personal residence at Chequers. But his point is that to negotiate with murderers -- as Israel does -- is surely the mark of a rogue.

Fourth, Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. Quite so. As Gabriel himself said, there has never been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East -- except for Israel.

And of all the countries in the region, Israel is the only one where lesbians, gays and bisexuals enjoy equality. In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging or imprisonment, or both. In Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, homosexuals are put to death. Yet again, Israel is the rogue, for not killing queers, lezzies and trannies.

And fifthly, Israel is the only democracy in the entire Middle East. Again, clearly a rogue! Gabriel then added a sixth argument -- that Israel wilfully and forcefully disregards international law. Look how in 1981 the Zionists destroyed Saddam Hussein's nuclear bomb plant. The rogues!

Gabriel's co-sponsor of the motion, Lauren Booth, was clearly caught unawares by his brilliant definition of rogue. This convert to Islam divides her loyalties ecumenically between Shia and Sunni mosques in London, which makes her the Islamic equivalent of a Free Presbyterian-Roman Catholic.

She later complained about Gabriel's private use of the F-word to her (and I don't mean Fatima, the shrine at which she was converted to Islam). Well we know that if a man had complained about someone using the F-word to him, he would have been told to grow up, but poor Lauren is a WOOO -- Whingeing Owner Of Ovaries -- and the President of the Union, a silly boy named James Counsell, ordered Gabriel to apologise. The latter refused, (good man, Gabriel) and has accordingly been banned from the Cambridge Union for life.

James Counsell justified his decision as follows: "His decision to verbally abuse one of our female (my italics) guests using sexual language has done enormous levels of harm to the reputation of our union, as well as crossing all boundaries of basic human decency (and) anybody personally connected to Lauren Booth will now almost certainly avoid us like the plague. This includes, amongst many others, Cherie Booth and Tony Blair."

This sad Counsell creature apparently thinks that being avoided like "the plague" by Cherie and Tony is a bad thing. Grounds for a knighthood, I should have thought; Arise, Sir Gabriel. However, the Cambridge Union clearly has a high regard for words with a silent "ue" (rogue, plague). Maybe with a little enunciative intrigue, Gabriel of the synagogue might better have chosen to give tongue and harangue his vague colleague of the anti-Israeli league, in his best Canadian brogue, and argue: "Fugue, Lauren."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Jewish Parable (Author Unknown)

The Jews settled the moon in 2053, just about five years after the end of the Islamic Wars of the 40's, where the Middle East, and Israel, of course, had been obliterated by nuclear weapons. The two million Jews remaining throughout the rest of the world - less than 100,000 total in all the Islamic countries - banded together and purchased the dark side of the moon, which no other companies or people wished to colonize.

Great transports were arranged via the 62,000 mile space elevator and the Space Shuttle and every Jew on Earth - including anyone who claimed any Jewish heritage whatsoever - left to go to a place where no one could blame them for anything.

The Earth rejoiced - happily rid of all Jews . There were huge parties throughout all of Sweden and the rest of Europe, Africa, Asia, South America and North America. (Now known as the Northern Alliance of Islamic States after the United States was taken over peacefully in the elections of 2040 by a predominantly Muslim Congress and President, who immediately passed amendments making Islam the main religion of the United States and the world.)

After the last Jew entered the elevator (a David Goldstein, 62, formerly of New York), the Earth was officially declared Judenrein by Hans Ibn Hitler, a great, great-grandson of Hitler who had been raised in Brazil and hidden by Nazis until this precious moment.

It was not an easy move for the Jews but, in some ways, it was no different from all their moves of previous eras. Some former Israelis (still alive because they were out of Israel when the bombs dropped) claimed that the moon was easier to deal with because there were no Extremist Muslims. Of course, this precipitated a huge argument with some Jews, who felt not having the Radical Muslims nearby was not enough challenge.

Other Jews argued that taming a wilderness with no atmosphere, plant or animal life and freezing temperatures was enough challenge. And yet other Jews argued that arguing was counterproductive. It came as no surprise to anyone that for the two million Jews, there were eventually one million synagogues (with the other million Jews not joining).

It was also no surprise that within just three years, the Jews had created a controlled environment that allowed for fantastic plant and animal growth and production. The transports, which had been called the Arks, had also carried two of each animal and plant (remember, Noah), and through the ingenuity of the Jews and cloning, there were now many new species which sped up production of food (cows with six udders, chickens with four legs and so forth). The population had rapidly increased and, due to the amazing collection of scientific and medical minds, most diseases and even aging had been reduced to nil.

There was even a ministry of communication with Earth, consisting of the remains of Hollywood producers and moviemakers, who sent back to Earth portraits of life on the moon. Of course, it had been decided when the Jews first got to the moon - based on six-thousand-year history of people being jealous of Jewish accomplishment - that all news coverage of the moon's population would be 'movie-ized' to show only horrible things. The film industry, led by Jordan Spielberg, went to great lengths to fabricate news clips to show Jews barely surviving in the harsh lunar habitat. Artists and engineers laboured to cover over vast environmental successes with illusionary domes showing massive areas of wasteland - just in case anyone from Earth ever sent a spaceship with cameras to see what was going on.

But no-one ever did, and the years passed rapidly; one decade, then another. bar mitzvahs, weddings, brises, all celebrated under the artificial world that the Jews had created - not only had it not been that bad, but by the end of the century, some Jewish authors were calling the moon colony - Eden 2'.

Of course other Jews disagreed. In fact, much time was spent on disagreeing. There were even contests for arguing but, in general, there was peace. Anyone who threatened the peace was forced to officiate at a contest with people arguing about why that person was wrong. The contests would go on for days (sometimes weeks), until the troublemaker begged for forgiveness. (Many penalties on the moon were similar to this, and were extremely effective.)

Back on Earth, life disintegrated without the Jews. There was a return to Middle Ages thought - only the current religion du jour was valid - all others were kept legislated into poverty until a war erupted and the positions changed for a few years.

Another amazing anomaly appeared when there were no longer any Jews on Earth - anti-Semitism actually increased to monumental proportions! Famous orators explained this simply by saying: 'I don't have to have a gun to be afraid of having my brains blown out.' Additionally, without the presence of the Jew, the world developed incredible evil that had no release. (Previous evil had always focused on the Jews. One Rabbi on the moon actually said G-d spoke to him, and said that He, G-d, was about to destroy the Earth because everyone o n the Earth was evil. The Rabbi begged Him to reconsider, and bargained that if there were 1,000 good people left on Earth, G-d should spare the planet.

G-d then told the Rabbi, 'Hey, I went through this before with Abraham and Noah, and I already know the answer because I'm G-d.'

People laughed at the Rabbi, but then, one day, while all the lunar citizens were going about their business, an enormous series of explosions was seen on the Earth. Everyone on the moon stared at the distant fireballs that seemed to engulf the blue planet that was once their home.

Although there had been great anger at being forced to leave the Earth, the true spirit of Judaism was always present on the moon, and no one had wished ill on to their former home. As in the tradition of the Seder (when the wine is spilled because the Egyptians perished, and we do not rejoice fully when even an enemy has died) when the Jews saw what was happening, they began to weep and pray, and watch what was to be the final news broadcast from Earth. The horror of the apocalypse was videotaped by cameras until all electricity was ionised by the new electron bombs. Entire countries were wiped away in the blink of an ion exploding. And then came the final transmission from the nation that had started the entire mess - it was a desperate headline screamed by a hundred dying newscasters. Their rant continued until it was just blackness. What were they saying?

As the Jews watched, some gasped, others cried, and a few even laughed. For the last words of the disappearing civilization was a condemnation. 'The Jews have caused all our problems - they left us here to face the mess they made. If the Jews hadn't taken all the best scientists and engineers, we could have defeated our enemies. Our enemies are the Jews! Kill all the Jews.'

It took a little while, but the electronics experts pieced together what had happened on Earth during its last days. Anti-Semitism, which had grown stronger and stronger since the Jews had left, had reached its pinnacle, and all the countries of the world had decided to launch a massive attack on the moon. The attack had been coordinated by the United Nations and, although all the missiles had been launched properly, there was some sort of glitch in the targeting system, resulting in all the weapons colliding in the upper atmosphere and showering the Earth with a deadly rain of nuclear fire, electronic destruction, and a generally bad day. The mistake triggered the military response of all the nations (who all had nuclear weapons by then - plus a few other horrid toys), and the result was truly an Armageddon.

The Jews on the moon went into a period of deep mourning. The Orthodox rent their clothing and there were mass counseling sessions. And then, about one week after the BIG DAY, as it was now called, a presence was detected heading towards the moon. Had one of the missiles escaped? Were the Jews doomed after all? The leaders checked with the defense experts - no this was not a missile, it was an old-style spacecraft, like the ones used in the early seventies. As it approached, the laser defense was trained on the craft. Debates raged as to whether the craft should be destroyed or allowed to get close enough to communicate with.

A message from the ship came just in time. It said, 'We are the last representatives from Earth - two from each country and we come in peace.' Some Jews rejoiced that there were survivors, others demanded isolation or death of the approaching group.

The Rabbi who had had the vision of earth's destruction told the leaders that G-d wanted them to have a chance, so they were allowed to circle the moon. When told they could have a section of land to themselves to farm and repopulate, the Earthlings were upset. They told the Jews that they should be allowed to live with the Jews and have all the same privileges - because, after all, in Judaism, the stranger is given the same rights and privileges as the citizen.

Upon hearing this, the leaders went to the Rabbi with the visions, and he offered to guide the visitors to their new home. The leaders allowed him to g ive the instructions for landing. Of course, not trusting the Rabbi, the commander of the ship didn't listen to his advice, and instead crashed into a lunar crater.

And so we have the final days of the history of the planet Earth, which have been generously shared with us by the Jewish colony of the 453rd Solar System of the M Galaxy. Although the Earth is currently uninhabitable, the head engineer of the Jewish colony on Mars tells us that Venus will be fully colonized by the year 2120, and with continuous replanting, Earth will once again be ready for Jews returning from other planets in the year 2136.

An interesting side note - inside the wreckage of the rocket with the survivors from Earth was a specially-marked package that had survived which included the following words: 'Once there was a great planet named Earth. And there were many peoples on this planet, and they all existed peacefully with each other, except for the Jews. Wherever there were Jews, there was trouble. Jews brought dirt and death and hatred and strife. They were finally banished from our planet, only to take with them many great inventors and scientists and doctors, leaving Earth with nothing. We have decided to destroy the remnants of the Jews, and since the first attempt failed, we are the last chance for Earth. Whoever shall find this will know the truth - It was all the Jews' fault.'

This panel has been saved and is on display at the Earth Memorial Museum at Rivka Crater, NW, for all travelers who wish to see the remains of a civilization that did not understand the words - 'He who blesses the Jews, is himself blessed. He who curses the Jews, is himself cursed.'

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Jews of San Nicandro

The story that John A. Davis has to tell in The Jews of San Nicandro (Yale University Press) falls under the category of “truth is stranger than fiction.” Who would believe, outside of a fable or maybe a joke, that in Fascist Italy, a group of several dozen Catholic peasants would spontaneously decide to convert to Judaism; that they would persist in calling themselves Jews even as Italy introduced Nazi-style anti-Semitic laws; that they would make contact with Jewish soldiers from Palestine, serving in the British Army that invaded southern Italy during World War II; and that finally, after two decades of dedication and hardship, they would undergo ritual circumcision and emigrate en masse to the newly created state of Israel? Yet it all really happened, in the town of San Nicandro in the impoverished, isolated Gargano region of southern Italy.
According to Davis, a professor of Italian history at the University of Connecticut, the Jews of San Nicandro represent “the only case of collective conversion to Judaism in Europe in modern times.” Why did it happen just then, at the darkest hour for European Jewry, and in a region where no actual Jews lived? The answer lies in the religious genius or madness of Donato Manduzio, the founder of the San Nicandro group. Born in 1885, Manduzio grew up in the extreme poverty typical of southern Italy at the time, and he never went to school. Of his childhood, little is known except that his father gave him the nickname “Shitface” (“although to judge from an early photograph,” Davis objects, “he seems to have been quite good looking”). His first exposure to the wider world came during World War I, when he was conscripted into an infantry regiment and contracted a disease that left his legs paralyzed.
After he returned to San Nicandro, Manduzio developed a reputation as a faith healer and seer. It is one of several elements in his story that makes him seem more a figure of the Middle Ages than the 20th century—and in fact, Davis writes, the life of poor southern Italians was in many respects still premodern. (It was not until the 1930s that San Nicandro got a railroad line.) Certainly, the way he discovered Judaism has a pre-Reformation flavor. In the late 1920s, Manduzio read the Bible for the first time. Even at this late date, the Catholic Church in Italy discouraged lay people from reading the Bible; it wasn’t until evangelical Protestants started to distribute an Italian-language edition that scripture became accessible. (These Protestants, Davis writes, were often Italians who had spent time in the United States, where they were exposed to Christian sects like the Pentecostals and the Seventh Day Adventists.)
What Manduzio read in the Old Testament amazed him. He became convinced “that Jesus had been a prophet but not the Messiah” and that the fallen state of the world—so full of poverty and suffering—was proof that the Messiah had not yet arrived. When he read that God had established the Sabbath on Saturday, he could not understand why Christians celebrated it on Sunday. Salvation, he now decided, “lay in following the Law of the God of Israel as it had been given to Moses on Sinai. … Those seeking salvation and comfort must therefore learn to observe the Law of the God of Moses, forsaking other gods and idols, and following the path of the righteous.”
This is exactly the kind of conversion experience that led so many Protestants, in the 16th century, to reject established churches and identify their own sects with ancient Israel. Where Manduzio went beyond them was in deciding that he must actually revive the religion of Israel. For the most remarkable thing about his story is that, when he had these revelations in the late 1920s, he actually didn’t know that any Jews existed in the world. As Davis writes, “Manduzio at first believed that the Jews had all perished in the biblical Flood and that he had been called by the Almighty to revive a faith that had long since disappeared from the face of the earth.”
Accordingly, Manduzio, who now used the name Levi, set about converting a small number of his neighbors—initially, 19 adults and 30 children—to his self-invented Judaism. He told them not to eat pork and not to work on Saturday—rules that, in this time and place, he had much difficulty enforcing—and ordered them to give their children Biblical names: Sara, Ester, Myriam, and Gherson, among others. The question of naming, in fact, led to one of the group’s most serious schisms. When Concetta di Leo, Manduzio’s favorite disciple, gave birth to a son, her husband wanted to name the boy Vincenzo, after his own father; but Concetta insisted that he be given the name of a Biblical prophet. (They compromised on Giuseppe, or Joseph.) This episode gives a sense of how totally Manduzio dominated his little sect. Paralyzed and bedridden—in all the time he led the Jews of San Nicandro, he never left his house—Manduzio relied on visions and dreams to communicate with God and laid down the law in a way that his followers increasingly resented.
The San Nicandro group could easily have remained just a cult of personality and ended up dispersing as such cults usually do. But eventually Manduzio learned from a traveling peddler that there were other Jews in Italy, and he began to write to Jewish organizations in major cities, asking for guidance. Those organizations were reluctant to write back, which Davis calls “not difficult to understand. Anyone reading the correspondence would immediately have been aware of the very humble background of the writers and would probably have suspected some sort of prank.”
Even once Angelo Sacerdoti, the chief rabbi of Rome, entered into correspondence with Manduzio, he remained wary. “You and your companions have often expressed your desire to convert to Judaism,” the rabbi wrote, “and I have always made it clear how much this amazes me. I have asked you many times how you came to this conviction, since you have had no previous contact with Jews and know very little about what Judaism is.” Sacerdoti also referred to “spiritual tendencies that had nothing to do with Judaism,” and it is unmistakable how deeply Manduzio’s language and thinking were infused with Christian concepts. His Sabbath service, for instance, involved reading a passage from the Pentateuch and singing the Paternoster, a Catholic prayer in Latin. How could it have been otherwise, since Catholicism was the only religion he ever knew?
But the sannicandresi were persistent, and in time their sincerity began to win over members of the Jewish establishment. At this point, Davis’ story begins to broaden into a larger portrait of the Italian Jewish community—a small and highly assimilated group, whose relations with the Fascist regime were mostly good until the late 1930s. Prominent Jews took an interest in San Nicandro—especially the small but influential community of Italian Zionists, who found the devotion of these self-made Jews an excellent example for Jews at large. One of their major patrons was Raffaele Cantoni, a brave anti-Fascist whose work on behalf of Jewish refugees before and after the war put him in a good position to help the Jews of San Nicandro. Much of the later part of Davis’ story unfolds through Cantoni’s correspondence with his proteges, as he tries to balance cautious support with impatience at their infighting and demands for help.
The war, which might easily have meant the end of the Jews of San Nicandro, actually turned out to be the making of them. Donato Manduzio’s house happened to be located on a highway used by a transport unit of the British Army, which occupied the region after September 1943. That unit, Company 178, was composed of Jews from Palestine, who had enlisted in the British Army in order to fight Germany. (Their commander, Major Wellesley Aron, is one of several fascinating Jewish figures in Davis’ story.) When their trucks, painted with the Star of David, drove through San Nicandro, the local Jews greeted them with their own Star of David flag.
In this way, Davis shows, the sannicandresi came to the attention of the network of Jewish activists—Italian, Palestinian, and British—who organized throughout Italy to shelter Jewish refugees and smuggle them to Palestine. The Jews of San Nicandro were especially inspired by their meeting with Enzo Sereni, an Italian Jew who was a leading Haganah activist. The photo of Sereni in San Nicandro, surrounded by solemn-looking men holding the Zionist flag, was the last taken of him before he parachuted behind German lines on a mission that led to his death.
What these experiences meant for the Jews of San Nicandro was that their home-made Judaism grew into a passionate Zionism. From 1944 on, the community’s goal was to emigrate and build the Jewish state. This was by no means easy, as the patient Cantoni kept reminding them: The British were intent on keeping Jewish immigrants out of Palestine, and the few available permits were meant for Holocaust survivors, not the comparatively well-off Jews of San Nicandro. Yet in November 1949, after a series of clashes that Davis documents—and after the death of Donato Manduzio, who grew increasingly alienated from his flock—the Jews of San Nicandro did make aliyah. Davis writes only sparingly about their experience in Israel, which was apparently as difficult as that of most immigrants to the new country. But perhaps this very hardship was the best proof that they had achieved their extraordinary goal of becoming ordinary Jews.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Comprehensive Guide to Israel’s Biotech Industry

The Pillcam

Blockbuster prescription drugs sold worldwide that treat multiple sclerosis, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases derive from Israeli biotechnology. Israel creates more medical devices per capita than any other country, and its life sciences exports earn more than $3 billion a year.

Israeli research is at the forefront of the emerging fields of stem-cell therapy and genomics, and two Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, the first to Profs. Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and the second to Prof. Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science number among the many awards bestowed on the country’s biotech scientists.

The pace of innovation, development and growth in Israel’s biotechnology sector is unparalleled. Israel’s biotech industry is the most aggressive in the world, with more startups per capita then any other country. Its 180 biotech companies – each built on a combination of academic excellence, a highly-skilled workforce, cutting-edge technological inventiveness and entrepreneurial daring – are creating therapeutic products, diagnostic tools and revolutionary drug-delivery techniques benefiting people all over the world.

Tailor-made for Israel

Biotechnology, the science which applies breakthroughs in molecular biology and immunochemistry to diagnosis and therapy, was born in the late 1970s. In many ways, it is tailor-made for Israel, being rooted in innovation and perseverance; a highly educated workforce; the lessons of military service; intimate links between researchers and entrepreneurs; and US capital and markets and, particularly, the US 1985 free trade agreement with Israel.

* Innovation and perseverance: A small country with a population of only seven million and few natural resources, Israel’s economy is necessarily one of innovation and perseverance. Demanding conditions – first in agriculture, then in defense and from there throughout its economy – set the stage for dramatic economic growth, as Israel transformed itself from a developing to a developed nation, and from an economy based on agriculture to one based on knowledge.

* A highly educated workforce: With seven world-class universities, Israel is one of the most highly educated countries on the globe. Almost a quarter of its workforce has university degrees, and 12 percent of these have advanced degrees. Among the 750,000 people who immigrated to Israel from the Former Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991 were hundreds of highly skilled engineers. They have enhanced Israel’s technological talent-pool, giving the country the world’s highest rate of scientists per capita (one in 200), 39 percent of whom specialize in life sciences.

* The lessons of military service: Mandatory military service in Israel equips its young people with the connections, management skills and action-oriented entrepreneurial mindset critical for technological development.

* Intimate links between researchers and entrepreneurs: Israeli universities were among the first worldwide to develop technology transfer organizations – professional companies tasked with helping Israeli researchers to commercialize their academic research by connecting them with national and multi-national companies.

* US capital and markets and, particularly, its 1985 free trade agreement with Israel: The US as a trading partner helped fuel the high-tech boom of the 1980s and 1990s, which, in turn, created the conditions for Israel’s biotechnology cluster.

Birth of biotech in Israel

Israel whimsically dates the birth of its biotechnology industry to 1936. This was when chemist Chaim Weizmann, later to be the country’s first president, developed a process that produced acetone from the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum. It took almost six more decades, however, until the modern Israeli biotechnology industry was born, on the heels of the high-tech boom.

While Israeli biotechnology embraces the whole biotech sphere – from animal vaccines and diagnostics to plant tissue culture, bioreactors, seeds, diagnostics and biopesticides – its emphasis is firmly on medical agents, diagnostics and cell- and tissue-therapies. Some 60 percent of Israeli biotech focuses on human therapeutics, including drug discovery, cell therapy and genetics. A further 20% of Israeli biotech companies produce diagnostic kits.

Top-selling prescription drugs based on Israeli research

The best-known and most successful medication developed in Israel is Copaxone®, a breakthrough treatment that significantly reduces the severity of clinical episodes in multiple sclerosis patients also making them less frequent. Developed by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and the Weizmann Institute of Science, it is the world’s leading MS therapy, approved in 52 countries, with global sales reaching $2.8 billion in 2009.

Teva’s first proprietary drug, Copaxone®, is today responsible for a third of the company’s profits. Teva is one of the 15 biggest international pharma companies in the world and one of the largest generic drug manufacturers. The company employs more than 35,000 people in 50 countries, and earned almost $14 billion in 2009. It is increasingly expanding into cutting-edge patentable therapies.

Azilect® (rasagiline) is another Teva product. Based on research at the Technion Institute of Technology, it combats Parkinson’s disease, both as initial therapy and, later in the disease, in conjunction with L-dopa. Its 2009 sales reached $175 million.

Exelon® is a medication for Alzheimer’s disease that reduces symptoms, enabling patients to remain independent and ‘themselves’ for longer. Originating in research at the Hebrew University and developed and commercialized by Novartis, its global sales in 2009 were more than $954 million.

Doxil® is a chemotherapy agent used in treating different types of leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma and cancers of the bladder, breast, stomach, lung, ovaries and thyroid. Based on research at the Hadassah Medical Center, it was sold to Johnson & Johnson, and recorded global sales of $430 million in 2009.

Regenerative Medicine

Scientific regulation in Israel is informed by Judaism’s emphasis on the saving of life. The country’s relatively liberal approach to stem cell research for therapeutic purposes derives from this tradition, which has positioned Israeli scientists among stem-cell research’s pioneers and kept them at the heart of the regenerative medicine map, helped by a government-sponsored research consortium spanning academia and industry. While no stem-cell medication yet exists anywhere, several are on the way from Israeli companies.

The four-year-old Jerusalem start-up Cellcure Neurosciences is starting clinical trials in patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in over-50s in the Western world, which is estimated to affect some 30 million people.

The disease is caused by the dysfunction, degeneration and death of pigment-including retina cells, which lie between the retina’s photoreceptors and the nourishing blood vessels at the back of the eye. Cellcure creates healthy retinal pigment cells from human embryonic stem cells, and injects them into the eye to replace the dying cells.

Jerusalem-based Gamida Cell has developed stem cells from umbilical cord-blood to treat blood cancers, autoimmune diseases, metabolic disorders and the hematological disease neutropenia. Its lead product is StemEx, which was given FDA Fast Track Designation in mid-2010. It is now being tested in international Phase III clinical trials as an alternative to bone marrow transplant in patients with advanced blood cancers, who are unable to find a matched donor.

BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics in Petah Tikva is a leading developer of adult stem cell technology and therapy. It has created a stem cell treatment for patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) and Parkinson’s disease based on autologous bone-marrow-derived adult stem-cells. In a first clinical trial, conducted at the Hadassah Medical Center, ALS patients will be re-implanted with stem cells taken from their own pelvis.

Drugs derived from living cells

Uplyso, a medicine for Gaucher’s disease based on the enzyme taliglucerase alfa, is an example of the ongoing push into biologics – drugs derived from living cells rather than from chemicals. It was developed by Protalix Biotherapeutics, a company that began life in 1994 within Israel’s Meytav Technological Incubator, graduating to become an independent publicly held company with a market capitalization of more than $700 million, trading on both the NYSE Amex Exchange and the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

It recently sold the rights to this experimental Gaucher’s medication for $60 million to the New York-based Pfizer, the world’s largest-selling pharmaceutical firm.

Re-engineering existing drugs

D-Pharm, created in 1993 in Ness Ziona, is a biopharmaceutical company that has created a new class of therapeutics to treat devastating brain disorders. Its proprietary technology re-engineers existing drugs, modifying them to work more efficiently and with fewer side effects. A mid-stage trial of its neuroprotective DP-b99 doubled the number of patients who completely recovered from strokes caused by blood clots.

The company hopes to bring it to market by 2013. D-Pharm is also making good progress with a medication for epilepsy, bipolar disorder and migraine prophylaxis.

Computational Biotechnology

Computational biotech, also called bioinformatics, is the specialty of Compugen, a company founded in Tel Aviv in 1993 by three former IDF intelligence officers. Its technologies incorporate methods from mathematics, computer science and physics into biology, organic chemistry and medicine to help scientists gather and process vast amounts of data.

The result is powerful predictive models and discovery engines, which advance understanding of biological phenomena and enable discovery of potential therapeutic products and diagnostic markers. Compugen’s customers include the pharmaceutical concerns Eli Lilly, Merck, SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals, Novartis and Millennium Pharmaceuticals.

Genomics

Genomics uses the RNA system within living cells to control which genes are active and how active they are. Rosetta Genomics, based in Rehovot, is using RNA-based technology to develop a wide range of diagnostic tests for cancers and women’s health indications.

Quark Pharmaceuticals has created a fully-integrated drug development platform to deliver RNA molecules to the eye, ear, kidney, lung, spinal cord and bone marrow, where they can block the action of faulty genes.

Diagnostics

Diagnostics, particularly monoclonal antibody-based test kits, were among Israel’s first commercial biotechnology successes. Aided by Israel’s vast clinical medicine resources, new diagnostic tests are brought rapidly from the lab into the hospital ward and to market. Savyon Diagnostics was an earlier entry in this field in 1983, when Ben-Gurion University researchers developed a serological diagnostic kit to test for the sexually transmitted disease Chlamydia (‘clap’).

They formed the company a year later, and brought their test-kit to market in 1989. Savyon has gone on to develop and market tests for urinary tract infections and for HIV.

Orgenics, founded in 1983, produces 22 patented easy-to-use, stand-alone, ELISA-based ImmunoComb kits that test for Chlamydia, hepatitis A and B, cytomegalovirus, toxoplasmosis, rubella, Helicobacter pylori and AIDS, as well as non-wipe strips for measuring blood glucose levels.

Zer Science-Based Industries specializes in diagnostic tests related to fertility. Its Single-Step pregnancy test requires just drops of urine to give an accurate result within five minutes, even before the first missed menstrual period.

Future blockbusters

One example among many is Glassia, the first and only high purity, liquid, ready-to-use 1-proteinase inhibitor for adults with inherited emphysema resulting from 1-antitrypsin deficiency.

Kamada, the 20-year-old biopharmaceutical concern that invented Glassia, entered an exclusive distribution and manufacturing agreement for its production in mid-2010 with the global health-care company Baxter International.

Biotech and electronics

Among Israel’s strengths is the interdisciplinary nature of its R&D. This underlies the creation and development of out-of-the-box products. One of the best-known and among the most important and successful life sciences developments to come out of Israel in the past decade, is the Pillcam from Given Imaging, a disposable pill-sized camera encased in a capsule and used to diagnose stomach disorders after being swallowed (pictured above).

Easily ingested, the capsule moves naturally and painlessly through the gastrointestinal tract, wirelessly transmitting to a portable recorder as it goes, to provide the physician with high-quality images on a computer workstation.

Financing Israel’s biotech

Israel’s biotechnology track record is strong. Companies that have commercialized their products and been publicly listed do exceptionally well – testifying to their excellent science.

The process of scaling up biotech R&D to early production and beyond, however, is a high-risk undertaking. With only one in 250 compounds making it from preclinical development to market (and taking perhaps seven years and $500 million to do so), the major brake on Israel’s biotechnology cluster is the lack of an asset-intensive infrastructure.

Investment is in especially short supply for the so-called Valley Of Death phase – the gap between very early stage investment (usually academic research funds), and easier-to-obtain investment for the clinical study phase which, although more costly, is correspondingly more certain than early-stage technologies.

Government help

Israel’s government supports a spectrum of programs to help start-ups survive the difficult stages between proof of feasibility and final success. They include R&D grants from the Chief Scientist’s Office (since the early 1990s); the Magnet framework that brings companies and researchers together to develop novel generic technologies, underwriting up to 65% of the budget (since 1994); a National Committee for Biotechnology tasked with developing and promoting biotechnology in Israel (established in 1995); Bioplan 2000, which created dedicated biotech incubators to bridge the gap in funding, infrastructure and managerial talent; naming biotechnology a National Project and creating infrastructure centers which give researchers access to essential equipment and knowhow (2002); and, most currently, a generous Grants Program administered by the Israel Investment Center; an Automatic Tax Benefits program administered by the Tax Authorities, offering foreign investors unique advantages; and finally, deignating biotechnology a Preferred Sector.

Academic research funding

Israel’s biotech research at its universities and medical schools is the foundation of the industry. Dedicated biotechnology departments are rare anywhere, but there are three among Israel’s seven main universities. Biotech research is funded from the annual $140 million research budget at Israel’s universities and is comprised of external competitive research grants (36%); the regular budget of the universities (36%); and industry and government research grants and contracts (28%).

Technology transfer

Israel has 12 technology transfer organizations, seven of them university-based and five in its leading research hospitals. They are highly effective: the Hebrew University’s Yissum, for example, founded in 1964, generates more revenue than its counterparts at MIT, Harvard or NYU in its management and licensing of thousands of patents developed within the institution. More successful still is the Weizmann Institute’s Yeda, which has been named the world’s third most profitable technology transfer organization.

Incubators

Based on Israel’s high-tech experience, incubators have been created to nurture young biotech companies. There are both public and private incubator organizations, but all offer fledgling entrepreneurs skilled and experienced management, suitable R&D facilities, technical, financial, administrative and logistic support, administrative services (secretarial, accounting, legal, acquisition) and business guidance.

The Technological Incubators Program, established in 1991 for high-tech and administered by the Chief Scientist’s Office, includes a number of biotech startups. BiolineRx was set up in 2003 by Teva, Hadassah’s technology transfer company Hadasit and two leading venture capital funds as a clinical-stage, publicly-traded, biopharmaceutical development company. It licenses promising early-stage projects and develops them as far as Phase I clinical trials.

Rad-Biomed Accelerator is another interface between biomedical research and Israel’s biomedical industry. It provides physical infrastructure, seed capital, business development and a wide range of related services to help entrepreneurs establish companies that will join the flourishing Israeli biomedical industry.

International partners

Throughout most of biotech’s history, small companies have been the hotbed of innovation. These small firms, however, generally lack the development capital to fund the costly clinical trials and launch of new therapeutics. Biotech has, therefore, long depended on partnerships with large, profitable pharmaceutical companies.

For Israel, this paradigm means that the fruits of Israeli research go largely to foreign companies – with the large partner selling the final product and capturing the lion’s share of the profits.

The unraveling of interferon’s mechanisms and isolation of the human Interferon-beta gene, for example, which began at the Weizmann Institute, was eventually sold to Swiss pharmaceutical giant Ares-Serono Group in 1979.

Growing numbers of Israeli companies today, however, are searching for funding that will allow them to develop their own intellectual property, rather than sell to the multinational pharmaceutical companies.

Venture capital

Israel’s venture capital (VC) industry, born in the late 1980s, received a major boost in 1993, when the government launched the company Yozma to help finance high-tech and, later, biotech startups.

During the 1990s, local venture capital companies that specifically targeted biomedicine were formed. Medica, Columbine, Innomed of Jerusalem Global Ventures, Denali and Vitalife were among the first.

Pontifax, 7 Health Ventures and Poalim Medical III followed.

With most of these funds now fully invested (or no longer active), local investment in life sciences today comes largely from general VCs, not dedicated to biotech.

Clal Biotechnology Industries (an Israeli investment company but not a VC) has a portfolio of 16 young biotech firms. A number of foreign VC investors have targeted Israel’s life sciences in recent years – among them NGN Capital, Onset Ventures, Schroder Ventures Life Sciences, Three Arch Partners and Ziegler Meditech Orbimed, a US firm that invests in the healthcare sector and has been active in Israel for the past decade, expanded its investment team into Israel in April 2010.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Did you know that...

What we now call challah was originally a South German bread eaten on Sunday. Adopted for the Sabbath by the Jewish community, its various shapes and designs were in the local tradition of decorative breads

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sam Levenson (1911 - 1980)

Somewhere on this globe, every ten seconds, there is a woman giving birth to a child. She must be found and stopped.

Insanity is hereditary; you get it from your children.

The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is that they have a common enemy.

What we should have fought for was representation without taxation.

It was on my fifth birthday that Papa put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Remember, my son, if you ever need a helping hand, you'll find one at the end of your arm.'

It's so simple to be wise. Just think of something stupid to say and then don't say it.

You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can't possibly live long enough to make them all yourself.

If you die in an elevator, be sure to push the Up button.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Oy Vey

This is an actual sign

Monday, October 18, 2010

Some of The Ten (or So) Commandments of The Prophet Murray.

From The Book of Murray: The Life, Teachings and Kvetching of the Lost Prophet (2010), (c) David M. Bader, the author of Haikus for Jews.

1. Thou shalt not put anything in writing.
2. Thou shalt get everything in writing.
3. Floss regularly
4. Beware the dermatologist who advertises on billboards.
5. Honor thy father and thy mother, but screen thy calls.
6. Thou shalt not treat the Jewish high holidays as an opportunity to stay home and wait for the cable guy.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery on JDate.
8. Thou shalt not mess up the guest towels in the guest bathroom. Yea, not even if thou art the guest.
9. Thou shalt not Google thy symptoms and then phone thy internist at two a.m. claiming to have a terminal illness.
10. Move not to a town where a penitentiary is the main source of employment.
11. Trust not a cardiologist who chain- smokes.
12. Rebuild not thine own carburetor.
13. Take not more than three suitcases for a weekend trip.
14. Always get more than one estimate.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Terminating the contract

As you are aware, the contract made between you and Abraham is up for
renewal, and this memorandum is to advise you that after, yea, those many
millenia of consideration, we've decided not to renew.

We should point out immediately that there is nothing in writing and,
contrary to popular beliefs, we have not really benefited too much from this
arrangement.

If you go back to the early years of our arrangement, it definitely started
off on the wrong footing. Not only was Israel and Judea invaded almost every
year, but we went to enormous expense to erect, not one but two, Temples and
they were both destroyed. Of course, you know all this, but we feel it's a
good thing to account for all the reasons we wish to terminate the contract.

After the Hittites, Assyrians, etc., not only were we beaten up almost
daily, but then we were sold off as slaves to Egypt (of all countries), and
really lost a few hundred years of development.

Now we realize that you went to a great deal of trouble to send Moses to
lead us out of Egypt; and those poor Egyptian buggers were smitten with all
those plagues. But, reflecting on those years, we are at a loss to
understand why it took almost 40 years to make a trip that El Al now does in
45 minutes.

Also, while not appearing to be ungrateful, Moses did lead us to the left
instead of to the right at Sinai! To the only place in the middle east
without any oil. And with water that is controlled by Jordan and Syria . Oy,
if only he had stopped to ask directions. OK, so the mineral rights were not
a part of the deal, but then the Romans came and we were really up to our
necks in dreck.

While it's true the Romans did give us water fit to drink, aqueducts, and
baths, it was very disconcerting to walk down one of the vias, look up, and
see one of your friends or family nailed to a three-by-four looking for all
the world like a sign post.

Even one of our princes, Judah ben Hur, got caught up with Roman stuff and
drove like a crazy man around the Coliseum! . It's a funny thing, but many
people swore that Ben Hur had an uncanny resemblance to Moses -- go figure.

Then, of all things, one of our most up-and-coming carpenters (he did great
work, real cheap) declared himself your son (there was nothing said like
this about Abe) and before we knew what was what, a whole new religion
sprang up. To add insult to injury, we were dispersed all over the world two
or three times while this new goy (oops, guy) really caught on. We were
truly sorry to hear that the Romans executed him like so many others, but --
and this will make you laugh -- once again we were blamed. Couldn't someone
else be chosen, maybe just once?

Now here's something we really don't understand. That guy, Jesus Christ,
really came into his own. Millions of people revered and worshiped his name
and scriptures -- and still killed us by the millions. They claimed we drank
the blood of newborn infants, controlled the world banks, operated the
world's media, etc. Are we beginning to make our point here?

So let's fast forward a few hundred years to the Crusades. Whoa Boy! Again,
we were caught in the middle. They, the Lords and Knights, came from all
over Europe to smack the Arabs and open up the holy places, but before we
knew what hit us, they were killing us along with everyone else. Every time
a King or a Pope was down in the opinion polls, they called for a Crusade or
Holy War (today they're called a Jihad), and went on a killing rampage in
our land.

So, you tested us a little here and there, but some bright cleric in Spain
came up with the Inquisition. We all thought it was a new game show, but
once again we and quite a few others were used as firewood for a whole new
street lighting arrangement in major Spanish cities. All right, that ended
after about a hundred years or so -- in the great scheme of things not a
long time.

But every time we settled down in one country or another, they kicked us
out. We wandered around a few hundred years or so, but it never changed.
Finally we settled in a few countries, but they insisted we all live in
ghettos, while the Russians came up with Pogroms.. We all thought they made
a spelling mistake and misspelled "programs," but we were dead wrong (very
dead wrong). Apparently, when there was nothing else to occupy their time,
killing Jews was the in thing to do.

Now comes the really tough noogies. We were doing quite well, thank you, in
a small European country called Germany, when some house painter wrote a
book, said a few things that caught on and became their leader. Oh boy! What
a bad day that was for us -- your Chosen People (by now, you must be getting
the drift of this e-mail?). We really didn't know where you were in the
earth years 1933 to 1945. We know everyone needs a break now and then; even
the Lord God Almighty needs some time off. But, when we needed you most, you
were never around. You are probably aware of this, but if you have
forgotten, over six million of your Chosen People, along with millions
un-chosen others were murdered in cold blood. They even made lampshades out
of our skins! Look, we don't want to dwell on the past, but it gets worse.
Here we are, it's 1948, and millions of us are displaced again, when you
really pull a fast one. We finally get our own land back! Yes, after all
these years, you arrange for us to go back. Then all the Arab countries
immediately declare war on us. We have to tell you that sometimes your sense
of humor eludes us.

So, we win all the wars, and we're now in a new century, but nothing's
changed. We keep getting blown up, hijacked and kidnapped. We have no peace
whatsoever.
Enough is enough. We hope you understand that nothing's forever (except you,
of course), and we respectfully would like to pull out of our verbal
agreement vis-à-vis being your Chosen People. Look, sometimes things work
out, sometimes they don't. Let's be friends over the next few eons and see
what happens.

Meanwhile, how about this idea? We're sure you recall that Abraham had a
whole other family from Ishmael (the ones who got the oil).
How about making them your chosen people for a few thousand years?

Respectfully yours,
The Jews

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Monday, September 6, 2010

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mountain Jews

Russia’s great expanse stretches south from the Arctic for many thousands of miles until it comes to a halt at the long spine of the Greater Caucasus Mountains. The republics on the northern side of the Caucasus, including turbulent Dagestan and Chechnya, still belong to Russia. Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia, on the southern side of the mountains, gained their independence when the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s. The high slopes are home to shepherds and the descendants of clans who have long lived there. Lower down, where sleepy towns look up from valleys to the snowy peaks, bigger communities try to scratch out a living.

In one of these towns—Oguz, Azerbaijan, a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Baku, the country’s oil-booming capital on the western shore of the Caspian Sea—live up to 80 Mountain Jews among a population of more than 6,000. The history of the Mountain Jews, who live mainly in Azerbaijan and the Russian republic of Dagestan is, according to members of the community, rooted about 2,500 years ago in their exodus from Israel, their gradual passage through Persia (where they picked up the Farsi-based language they still speak), and their eventual settlement in the Caucasus mountains.

Sitting in the dark-stone building that houses Baku’s Mountain Jewish synagogue, Semyon Ikhilov, the Mountain Jews’ national leader, shakes off the idea that his people might be descended from indigenous Caucasian mountain dwellers who converted to Judaism. “We’re real Jews who came out of Israel,” Ikhilov said, explaining that they acquired the moniker “Mountain Jews” because they settled in the peaks. “We were not mountain people.” And according to a recent genetic study [1] led by researchers in Israel and Estonia, Mountain Jews share a common origin in the Levantine region of the Near East with other Diaspora Jewish communities.

While once there were as many as 40,000 Jews in Azerbaijan, today there are between 8,000 and 25,000. The estimate varies widely in part because many of them live in Israel or Russia but still retain Azeri passports. Among those who remain in Oguz, many seem to practice a Judaism guided by the spirit of the religion rather than by the letter of its law. They live in a country where more than 90 percent of the population is Muslim, and the demanding rhythm of working on the Soviet-era kolkhoz, or collective farm, coupled with the atheism of the Soviet Union, may all have, over time, muted the zeal of the Jews of Oguz.

Yet push a bit further and an attachment to Judaism emerges. “Last night we lit the Shabbat candles,” says 30-year-old Gunai Iusupova, sitting in the airy dining room of her wooden-balconied Caucasian house. “We said a brucha and ate salted bread. I served up food prepared fresh for Shabbat.” The garden outside was bright with pale pink and deep red summer roses. “And that’s not just us, that’s all the Jews here in Oguz,” she adds, explaining that although they may not observe all the rules of Shabbat precisely, Friday night dinner is sacrosanct.

Standing in the hot sun outside one of the town’s two synagogues, Temur Natalinov, 54, who maintains both houses of worship, explained that he opens them every Shabbat. The men leave quickly, he said, but the women often linger.

Arranged marriages are not uncommon here, Racim Hananayev, 50, the leader of Oguz’s Jews, told me, even for those who leave the town. Hananayev’s wife, Dilbar, served a breakfast of egg, salty cheese, fresh bread, and thick homemade strawberry preserve. She offered met, a bitter, uniquely Caucasian condiment made from the green cherry plum.

Nowhere is the mix of Azeri and Jewish cultures more fascinating than in Krasnaya Sloboda, which sits across a river from Guba, famous throughout the Caucasus for its woven rugs. Just beyond the two settlements looms an imposing mountain, white and icy even in summer.

The two towns seem similar enough, though Krasnaya Sloboda looks more prosperous, full of houses with freshly painted brickwork, new windows, and new iron and lattice roofs mixed in among a few dilapidated wooden homes.

But the difference is more than surface deep. Krasnaya Sloboda is inhabited almost exclusively by Mountain Jews, between 2,000 and 5,000 of them, according to various estimates. In the mid-18th century the khan of Guba [2], Hussein, established Yevraiskaya Sloboda, literally “Jewish settlement,” as a place for Jews to live safe from attack. His son and successor, Feteli, so the story goes, decreed that if anyone came to attack the town, the Jews should light fires and he would see them from across the river and send help to defend the inhabitants.

The town, which was renamed “Krasnaya,” or “red,” in honor of the Soviet Red Army, has seen its population dwindle from its Communist-era height of 18,000. Some emigrants have gone to Israel, others to Moscow, where many are successful businessmen—hence the prosperous appearance of some buildings here—and where a few have become multi-millionaires, with their reputations becoming legendary back home. According to one Jewish local I spoke with, one of these titans “holds half of Moscow in his hands.”

Those that stay while away the hot days in an outdoor chaikhana, a typical Azeri teahouse, sucking on sugar cubes soaked in tea. Nearby, under the shade of chestnut trees, old men play nard, a traditional board game.

Iunus Davidov, a Jewish 19-year-old, explains that there was no work in the town and that in winter there is hardly a soul to be seen there. “It is hard,” he says. “And in winter it is so cold, it can fall to minus 35 degrees, and sometimes there is no gas or electricity.”

Nonetheless, Krasnaya Sloboda has three schools and two synagogues, with a third being beautifully restored, and in the summer nearly all the émigrés return to spend some time in their hometown, Davidov said.

“There is always a minyan, indeed we always have at least 50 people at prayer time,” says Boris Simanduyev, a community leader. “There has always been a rabbi from Krasnaya Sloboda, and there always will be.” On entering the town’s main synagogue, which is covered wall-to-wall in overlapping oriental rugs, we had removed our shoes, as is the custom here.

Rugs also cover the floor of the cool central room in the Yevdaev family home, where 32-year-old Sara Yevdaeva gathered leaves to stuff with meat to make dolma, food for relatives who were due to arrive from Moscow and Baku for the first anniversary of Sara’s mother-in-law’s death. Sara explains one of the customs of her community. “Whether it is here or in Moscow or elsewhere, Mountain Jews don’t allow their wives to work,” she says.

The hardships of winter make year-round life in the town impossible for Sara to imagine, but Moscow, where she lives for most of the year, has its difficulties too. The rise of extreme nationalism in Russia means Sara, who like many Mountain Jews looks much like any other person from the Caucasus, has experienced the racist abuse frequently leveled at people from Russia’s southern borderlands and beyond. The Mountain Jews all concur that, unlike in Russia, in Azerbaijan they have never experienced any prejudice.

This is all the more surprising, perhaps, in a country where international observers have documented increasing restrictions on freedom of expression and where dissent is often quashed. The current president, Ilham Aliyev, took over from his late father, Heydar, in 2003. Posters of both Aliyevs, in action and thoughtful repose, are everywhere. In 2009 the government amended the constitution to tighten [3] controls on religious groups, making all unregistered religious activity illegal. Those who received their religious education abroad, for example, are banned from leading religious activities.

The Azerbaijan State Committee for Work with Religious Associations, though, argues that the changes in the law on religion strengthen tolerance in the country. The committee’s press office explains that some religious leaders educated abroad had come under the influence of radicals who aimed to destroy Azerbaijan’s “tolerant atmosphere,” and the minister in charge of such matters has previously linked the 2009 moves on religion with combating Islamic fundamentalism—the threat of Wahhabism and of Islamic violence in the North Caucasus spilling over into Azerbaijan.

In late 2009, a Baku court jailed [4] 26 people for an August 2008 attack on a mosque in the capital, in which two people were killed. Those convicted claimed to be members of a radical Islamist group that is believed to have roots in the north Caucasian republic of Dagestan. Also in 2009, two Lebanese men were jailed in Baku for conspiring to attack [5] the Israeli embassy there. In 2007, the Azeri authorities said they had prevented [6] attacks on oil installations and the British and U.S. embassies planned by what they called a “radical Wahhabi group.”

Critics, however, suggest that the authorities are using the threat of fundamentalism to tighten the screws on religious communities and restrict free speech.

Evidently, the government perceives no threat from Azerbaijan’s Jewish communities, nor from Israel, with which it has a developing relationship. Shimon Peres’ 2009 trip to Baku was the most recent and highest-level visit by an Israeli dignitary, a move that angered [7] Iran. Azerbaijan—which is locked in an unresolved territorial conflict [8] with neighboring Armenia—buys arms from Israel, and there is an Israeli embassy in Baku. This relationship is doubtless appreciated by Azerbaijan’s Jews, who are courted by the authorities with official greetings on Rosh Hashanah and Pesach and visits to synagogue openings.

According to Alexander Murinson, an expert on Azerbaijan’s Jews and Azeri-Israeli relations, Azeri respect for the Jews is genuine and deeply rooted—in part stemming from the fact that in Soviet times, Jews, especially Ashkenazim, were well represented among the Azeri intellectual elite. Those Jews who stayed, he said, still have some leverage, with the Mountain Jews wielding power due to the strength of their trading clans.

There is also a more calculated political element to the relationship. In the early days of Azeri independence [9] the authorities deliberately reached out to the Jewish communities, realizing that they could be a magnet for the organized Jewish community in the United States, with its impressive lobbying power, said Murinson. And for a government sometimes accused of intolerance, its relationship with the Jewish minority seems to be put on display, not least by Jewish leaders, two of whom insisted to me that President Aliyev had repeatedly described the Mountain Jews as his brothers. Many foreign dignitaries visiting Azerbaijan find that Krasnaya Sloboda is on their itinerary, as what Murinson called a “showcase.” The state, by email, disagreed: The visits are not for show, a spokesman explained, but to meet its own high standards of tolerance.

Friday, August 27, 2010

In Honor of Elena Kagan

To say the least, we are surprised!
Three justices are Judaized!
It seems, almost, they’re heaven-sent,
Like prophets from Old Testament!

There’s Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan! Three!
A most impressive trinity!
Each one’s a jurisprudent whiz,
These Jewish-prudent justices!

They’re forthright, geared for any fray,
From them you’ll never hear “oy vey”
Or variations likewise drear,
As in the cry “Oy vey iz mir!”

No doubt behind closed doors they’ll schmooze
(A common attribute of Jews).
Maybe they’ll group to joke and josh
And have a cordial little nosh.

Some festive Friday night, perhaps,
They’ll share a bit of wine or schnapps?
At such events, it would make sense
To practice framing arguments

For purposes of keeping sharp.
(Fit topics might be banks or TARP,
Or maybe even Roe v. Wade,
A case that still incites tirade).

No coffee-klatch or friendly tea
Could guarantee they’d all agree
On any point of legal lore:
Through verbal clash — that’s how Jews score!

(A little halvah for dessert
Is à propos and couldn’t hurt.)
In Yiddish will they sometimes speak?
Or is that language to them Greek?

As landsleit they might fraternize,
A tribal twinkle in their eyes.
They’ll quickly learn, as well befits,
Which one is Litvak, who Galitz.

Ad-Jew-dicators, they will bring
Refined Talmudic reasoning
To tasks of weighing arguments
And issuance of writs, dissents.

The Yiddish kup they will apply
To legalisms clarify.
Their quest for justice won’t be quenched!
These judges are, indeed, well benched!
(By Stanley Siegelman)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I am Israel - Yerushalayim Version

Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York Circa 1940

The Atkins Schmaltz Diet

The Atkins Schmaltz Diet:

If you get this and you are not Jewish - I cannot even begin to explain -

T his actually goes back 2 generations - or 3 if you are under 50!

I miss it all and can't help but wonder how did my grandparents have a nonexistent cholesterol.



The Atkins Schmaltz Diet.



Before we start, there are some variations in ingredients because of the various types of Jewish taste.. (Polack, Litvack and Gallicianer).



Just as we Jews have six seasons of the year (winter, spring, summer, fall, the slack season, and the busy season), we all focus on a main ingredient which, unfortunately and undeservedly, has disappeared from our diet. I'm talking, of course, about SCHMALTZ (chicken fat).



SCHMALTZ has, for centuries, been the prime ingredient in almost every Jewish dish, and I feel it's time to revive it to its rightful place in our homes. (I have plans to distribute it in a green glass Gucci bottle with a label clearly saying: "low fat, no cholesterol, Newman's Choice, extra virgin SCHMALTZ." (It can't miss!)



Let's start, of course, with the "forshpeiz" (appetizer). Gehockteh leiber (chopped liver) with SCHMALTZ is always good, but how about something more exotic for your dear ones, like boiled whitefish in yoyech (soup) which sets into a jelly form, or "gefilteh miltz" (stuffed spleen), in which the veins are removed (thank God), and it is fried in (you guessed it) SCHMALTZ, bread crumbs, eggs, onions, salt and pepper..



Love it! How about stewed lingen (lungs) -- very chewy -- or gehenen (brains) -- very slimy. Am I making your mouth water yet?



Then there are (grebenes -- pieces of chicken skin, deep fried in SCHMALTZ, onions and salt until crispy brown (Jewish bacon).



This makes a great appetizer for the next cardiologist's convention.







Another favorite, and I'm sure your children will love it, is pe'tcha (jellied calves' feet). Simply chop up some cows' feet with your hockmesser (handl-chopper), add some meat, onions, lots of garlic, SCHMALTZ again, salt and pepper, cook for five hours and let it sit over night. You might want to serve it with oat bran and bananas for an interesting breakfast (just joking!).



There's also a nice chicken fricassee (stew) using the heart, gorgle (neck), pipick (a great delicacy, given to the favorite child, usually me), a fleegle (wing) or two, some ayelech (little premature eggs) and other various chicken innards, in a broth of SCHMALTZ, water, paprika, etc..



We also have knishes (filled dough) and the eternal question, "Will that be liver, beef or potatoes, or all three?"







Other time-tested favorites are kishkeh, and its poor cousin, helzel (chicken or goose neck). Kishkeh is the gut of the cow, bought by the foot at the Kosher butcher.. It is turned inside out, scalded and scraped. One end is sewn up and a mixture of flour, SCHMALTZ, onions, eggs, salt, pepper, etc., is spooned into the open end and squished down until it is full. The other end is sewn and the whole thing is boiled. Yummy!







My personal all-time favorite is watching my Zaida (grandpa) munch on boiled chicken feet. Try that on the kinderlach (children) tomorrow.







For our next course we always had chicken soup with pieces of yellow-white, rubbery chicken skin floating in a greasy sea of lokshen (noodles), farfel (broken bits of matzah), arbiss (chickpeas), lima beans, pietrishkeh, tzibbeles (onions), mondlech (soup nuts), kneidlach(dumplings), kasha, (groats) kliskelech and marech (marrow bones)



The main course, as I recall, was either boiled chicken, flanken, kackletten (hockfleish--chopped meat), and sometimes rib steaks, which were served either well done, burned or cremated.



Occasionally we had barbecued liver done to a burned and hardened perfection in our own coal furnace.



Since we couldn't have milk with our meat meals, beverages consisted of cheap soda (Kik, Dominion Dry, seltzer in the spritz bottles) or glezel tay (glass of hot tea) served in a yahrtzeit (memorial candle) glass and sucked through a sugar cube held between the incisors.




Desserts were probably the only things not made with SCHMALTZ, so we never had any Momma never learned how to make SCHMALTZ Jell-O.







Well, now you know the secret of how I've grown up to be so tall, sinewy, slim and trim, energetic, extremely clever and modest, and if you want your children to grow up to be like me, you're a gohnsen meshuggah (completely nuts)!



ZEIT MIR GEZUNT. (go in good health).... and order out Chinese.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lowly Spirit

A musical interpretation of a poem by Shlomo ibn Gabirol (ca. 1021-ca.1058).

With All My Heart

devotional poem by Yehuda Halevi (ca. 1075-1141) set to music and sung.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Time-Travelers From a Golden Age

Time-Travelers From a Golden Age
'Cantors, Klezmorim and Crooners 1905-1953,' a 3-CD set of U.S. recordings, brings the past to vivid life


By NAT HENTOFF

Two intertwining traditions of music—jazz and Jewish—became part of my life in early childhood. Hearing a cantor, or hazan, in passionate dialogue with God on the human condition at an Orthodox synagogue during the High Holidays in 1932 when I was 7 set me on fire. A couple of years later at a Jewish wedding, I was nearly lifted into the dancing by a rollicking klezmer band, especially by its swinging, playful clarinetist.

Molly Picon, a musical star of the Yiddish stage and screen, is one of the performers in this collection.


During a break in the music, the clarinetist, noting my awe as I looked at him, leaned over, winked, and said: "Where do you think Benny Goodman came from?"

But it was Artie Shaw, not Benny, who hurled me into jazz when, at 11, I heard his "Nightmare." Years after, I learned that "Nightmare" was based on a cantorial nigun, or wordless melody, and I understand why Artie, in his retrospective "Self Portrait" (RCA Victor/Bluebird), said: "Certainly, I can't deny the influence of my Russian-Jewish ancestry."



In the early 1950s, because Artie had led me to Duke Ellington, the blues and Count Basie, I became New York editor of Down Beat. My first working visit was to Birdland ("the jazz center of the world," as it advertised itself). But my next was a pilgrimage to the Lower East Side to hear the legendary—at least to Jewish musicians—clarinetist Dave Tarras.

Still part of both worlds, I have many books on the musical and social history of jazz, including discographies. But until now I've owned nothing of substance on the nearly 6,000 Yiddish or Hebrew recordings released in the U.S. between 1898 and 1942, and especially the golden age of Yiddish 78s from 1905 to 1953.


At last, though, from Klezmer clarinetist Sherry Mayrent's collection of Yiddish 78s—as far as I know the largest in the world—there now comes a gloriously wide-ranging compilation from those golden years: "Cantors, Klezmorim and Crooners 1905-1953" (JASP Records, available on Amazon.com). There are 67 tracks in this three-CD set, including 42 never before reissued. Because of the extraordinary skills of engineer Christopher King, all of them bring you into the very presence of these carriers of the Yiddish ethos. At home in the Boston ghetto, I had grown up with a few of these, but they didn't sound as if the performers were actually in the room with me. They do now.

As a Jewish kid growing up in then virulently anti-Semitic Boston—a place where Henry Brooks Adams, grandson of John Quincy Adams, could say without censure that "snarling a weird Yiddish . . . the Jew makes me creep"—I got a kick out of defiantly playing this music at a proud volume.

But as the years went on, these American Jewish recordings from that era became hard to find. Ms. Mayrent amassed her collection—now at 5,000 records and still growing—from collectors in America, Canada, Israel, South America, Russia and other countries with transplanted Jews. In her introduction to the CD set, she describes why they became so rare: "Archives did have rudimentary catalogs, but they restricted access to individuals demonstrating some serious academic purpose, and either did not permit copying the discs or charged extremely high per-side fees."

Until now, I had no idea of the range and the striking individuality of these Yiddish stage singers, actors, cantors, comics and instrumentalists. For one example, in my youth women had to sit in the balcony of Orthodox synagogues, and the notion of a woman cantor was inconceivable to me. Yet several powerful female cantors from back then are included here.

The producer of this set, copies of which I intend to give to my children and grandchildren, is Henry Sapoznik, whom I've known for years as a scholar of klezmer music. He will soon head the new Mayrent Institute of Yiddish Culture to be located on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He wrote the notes for each track from his fount of historical and anecdotal knowledge of Yiddish culture and history.

Among the vivid time-travelers of this cast is cantor Berle Chagy, born in Latvia in 1892, who came to America around 1909 to avoid army conscription, as my father had from the Old Country some years later. For Jews, the army was worse than the ghetto. As Mr. Sapoznik notes, "Chagy displays a powerful lyrical tenor and a breathtakingly ethereal falsetto rendered with spectacular and seamless abandon." Hearing him I was back in shul, next to my father.

And from 1915 there is the first klezmer ensemble to record in America, Elenkrig's Yiddishe Orchestra playing the spirited "The Rabbi's Melody" from the Hasidic vocal tradition. I hope Mr. Sapoznik will unearth a set of such joyously melodic Hasidic religious services. Elie Wiesel has called the Hasidic sages "souls of fire," like their music.

Soon after moving to New York in 1953, I went to Second Avenue, where Yiddish theater flourished, to see a musical star of that genre, Molly Picon. Here she is, "petite and pixieish" as Mr. Sapoznik describes her, singing "Katya, laughs at the world and goes her own way."

I'm also glad to be introduced to comic and actor Fyvush Finkel ("Picket Fences," "Boston Public") singing "Ich Bin a Boarder Ba Mein Weib" ("I Board at My Wife's"), which for years was a favorite Jewish song, particularly among some husbands for his recipe for a tranquil marriage. A typical lyric: "What an improvement in our lives. No more problems, never harried. We are happily unmarried. I am a boarder at my wife's."

For zestful Yiddish swing, there is Abe Schwartz. Born in Romania, he came here in 1899, and formed a band with "swooping trombones, staccato banjo," and a powerful front line of fiddler Schwartz and the magical clarinetist I yearned to be, Dave Tarras.

Dark Yiddish memories are memorialized by cantor David Roitman in "The Trumpet Has Sounded," based on a poem attributed to the 11th-century Rabbi Ammon of Mainz. Despite being under continued pressure to convert, this rabbi refused and "was arrested, his hands and feet severed," writes Mr. Sapoznick. Mortally wounded though he was, Rabbi Ammon "asked to be carried to the synagogue after extemporaneously reciting this prayer" that was later set to music.

That reminded me of my mother's story of being a child in the Old Country, which could have been put to music. One day her mother heard the Cossacks were coming and popped her daughter into the oven. Fortunately it was not lit.

In one of the rarest of all Yiddish recordings, Sholom Aleichem speaks a few lines from his "If I Were Rothschild" during a 1915 test recording at a Victor studio. When he stopped, the engineer called out "Is that all you got?" and the recording was never issued. When Aleichem died 10 months later, 500,000 people attended his funeral. On that day in the studio, he said that if he were a Rothschild, "First I'd give my wife a three-ruble note so that when it comes time to shop for Shabbos, she'll have the note in her pocket and won't have to bother me." But he'd also "Buy this house, and give her everything from the cellar to the attic." He wasn't just a boarder.

On "Tartar Dance," the first track of this recovery of Yiddish resilience in music and life, another clarinetist, Naftule Brandwein—"If he didn't exist, he would have had to be invented," says Mr. Sapoznik—exults in being descended from a line of Hasidic rabbis. "Even at the end of his life when he was playing in Catskill hotels," Mr. Sapoznik admiringly and candidly tells us, "a drunken Brandwein was reported to have been "'propped up in a chair and blowing like crazy.'"

In my neighborhood when I was a boy, I often heard: "Schwer being a Yid" ("Hard being a Jew"). Not always.
—Mr. Hentoff writes about jazz for the Journal.