Monday, January 30, 2017

Ancient Synagogues of Israel: Hukkok

Unearthing History

House of Prayer (בית תפילה; Bet Tefila)Synagogues have also long been known as houses of study. chiefly of the ancient sacred Jewish texts; in addition, they have long been the focal point of communal life. Synagogues have existed in Israel for more than two thousand years, including a number that were built before the destruction of the Second Temple. The Galilee and Golan regions of Israel witnessed a boon in synagogue construction in the fourth to sixth centuries C.E. Huqoq (or Hukkok; חוקוק) is the site of an ancient Jewish agricultural village located about six kilometres west of Capernaum and Migdal and 12.5 kilometres north of Tiberias. This particular synagogue is interesting for both its biblical mosaics and its depiction of non-biblical art. Ilan Ben Zion writes, in 2014, for The Times of Israel about the excavation of the Hukkok site led by Jodi Magness, a professor of Early Judaism at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: “Excavations at Huqoq began in 2011, and during the first season archaeologists led by Magness found the wall of a synagogue. In the subsequent seasons, Magness’s team uncovered portions of the Galilean synagogue’s mosaics. The part of the mosaic uncovered this summer, however, stunned archaeologists because it’s the first time they’ve found a synagogue decorated with a non-biblical story scene.”  Hukkok is mentioned in the Book of Joshua (19:34).
Photo Credit: Jim Haberman 
SourceLive Science

Friday, January 27, 2017

Holocaust Remembrance Day (2017)

#We Remember


International Holocaust Remembrance Day: We remember, so we don’t forget. This is what millions of people around the world are doing today. Remembering. Not Forgetting. These two photos, which I took a few years ago, show the Holocaust Memorial (i.e., the Holocaust Memorial Flame) at Earl Bales Park in Toronto, which was unveiled in 1991. It also includes a Wall of Remembrance. The Canadian Society for Yad Vashem writes: “The site stands as a permanent reminder of the Holocaust’s devastating toll on the Jewish people. It is the Canadian Jewish community’s public symbol of respect for the memories of those who perished in the Shoah and a tribute to the legacy of the Shoah’s Survivors.”
Photo Credit & Source: 2014. ©Perry J. Greenbaum




International Holocaust Remembrance Day: We remember, so we don’t forget.
Photo Credit & Source: 2014. ©Perry J. Greenbaum

Monday, January 23, 2017

Moti Giladi: ‘My Way’ in Yiddish (2007)


Moti Giladi sings “My Way” in Yiddish (Mayn veg) at the Festival of Jewish Culture in Warsaw: “Singer’s Warsaw” in Warsaw, Poland, in 2007. The festival, which has been taking place since 2004, is named after the prominent Yiddish writer, Isaac Bashevis Singer [1902–1991]who was born in Poland at the turn of the 20th century. Singer was named the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978.

The song, written by Paul Anka [born in 1941 in Ottawa, Canada], is based on a 1967 French pop song, Comme d’habitude (As Usual) performed by Claude François. The English version is nothing like the French one, though. It speaks more about a man who has lived a full life and has done so in a large way, without seeing a need for apology. It is a matter of allowing the record speak, which becomes self-explanatory. As for critics, more often than not they are unhappy people who are filled with resentment and rage at the many accomplishments of the successful.

Anka rewrote new English lyrics to the French song and did so specifically for American entertainer, Frank Sinatra, which was released by Reprise Records in 1969. It became Sinatra’s signature piece. Speaking of which, there is a wonderful 1994 (July 16th in Los Angeles) version here by the Three Tenors (opera) with Sinatra himself in the audience.

Since then, the song has been done by many artists, including here by Moti Giladi, one of Israel’s best-known performers. He is fluent in four languages, including Yiddish and English. His parents were born in Poland and emigrated, in 1938, to British Mandatory Palestine, where Giladi was born in 1946 in a small village. Among the other artists who covered the song the version by Elvis Presley stands out for a certain feeling of pathos, though I admittedly like the sound of the song in Yiddish.

******************
My Way
by Paul Anka,
Claude François,
Jacques Revaux
& Gilles Thibault


So now the end is near 
And so I face the final curtain
My friend I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case of which I'm certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more much more than this
I did it my way.

Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exception
I planned each chartered course
Each careful step alone the by way
And more much more than this
I did it my way.

Yes there were times I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all when there was doubt 
I ate it up and spit it out
I face it all and I stood tall
And did it my way.

I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
I’ve had my fill my share of loosing
And the now as tears subside
I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that and my I say
Not in a shy way
Oh no, oh no not me
I did it my way.

For what is a man what has he got
If not himself then he has not
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Foggy Sunday Morning in January (2017)

Such a Sight


Misty Morning: This photo, taken from my sixth floor window around sunrise, reveals how foggy it is; this is a northwestern view of the park near where I reside. The temperature is 4°C (38°F), above the average for this time of year. Toronto and much of southern Ontario has been under a cloud of fog since yesterday, in what Environment Canada, our national weather service. calls a fog advisory.” This veil of mist is supposed to lift around noon, but the weather forecast says: “Fog patches developing near midnight and dissipating in the morning.” It might be a good day to watch old movies or read a good book. 
Photo Credit & Source: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum



Sunday, January 15, 2017

The U.N. and Israel

The Jewish World

The world is neither fair nor just; this statement is exceptionally true when it comes to the relationship between the United Nations and the State of Israel (מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל). It is also true that the powerful can and do rewrite history for their benefit, which includes altering the meaning of words. The latest U.N. resolutions (including UNSC 2334) directed against the world’s only Jewish state—a tiny nation—only confirms these two statements. One wonders if the U.N. could exist without Israel (יִשְׂרָאֵל‎), a fair question to raise given its continued obsession with Israel—one bordering on pschopathology. In a world gone mad, there needs to be some sane people to make wise and just decisions.


***********************************
by George Jochnowitz

The Israeli newspaper called The Jerusalem Post, which appears in English and French editions, was originally called The Palestine Post. It adopted its current name in 1950, two years after the creation of the state of Israel.

When the paper first appeared, in 1932, the word “Palestinian” generally referred to those living in the British Mandate of Palestine, and was viewed by people everywhere as an appropriate word for the Jewish minority living the area, which was not ordinarily called “Israel” at the time.

Languages change. Sometimes a word takes on a meaning that contradicts an earlier definition. Occasionally, different forms of a word reflect both meanings. Think of “awful” and “awesome” in English today. We can be filled with awe because something is terrible (awful) or wonderful (awesome).

In 1947, when “Palestine” still sounded as if it might refer to a Jewish political entity, the United Nations voted to divide the territory into two states—one Jewish, one Arab. Although the British Mandate of Palestine had a clear Arab majority, the territories selected to be the home for the Jewish state had a Jewish majority. The U.N. had intended to create two independent states that would live together in peace and harmony.

One of the two halves of Palestine—Israel—accepted its independence. The other one had no organization and didn’t do anything. On the day that Britain left and Israel declared its independence, five Arab nations invaded the territory with the intent of conquering the Jewish half. Other than defeating the Jewish state, it was not clear what they wanted to do with the territory. However, when the war was over and Israel controlled more land that the U.N. had planned to give it, the remaining territory went to Jordan and Egypt. There was no movement for an independent Palestinian Arab state at that moment.

Although the U.N. acted to create Israel in 1947, it has spent many of the subsequent years criticizing or even condemning Israel. The United States, which was the first country to recognize Israel in 1948, has had a mixed record about supporting the Jewish state. There was an arms embargo against the Middle East, which lasted through the Eisenhower administration did not end until Kennedy took office in 1961. Eisenhower also joined with the USSR to force Israel to leave the territories it had conquered during the Sinai Campaign of 1956.

Obama did not allow an anti-Israel resolution to be enacted by the Security Council until recently. However, Obama has been feared by supporters of Israel because of his surprising tolerance of Iran’s extremist leaders. Despite the fact that he denounced Egypt’s Mubarak and Libya’s Qaddafi, joined the fight against ISIS, and ordered the assassination of Obama bin-Laden, he remained silent during Iran’s Green Revolution in 2009.

He has also been wishy-washy in opposing Syria’s Bashir al-Assad. Assad is an Alawite and thus belongs to a denomination of Shia Islam. Iran is unambiguously Shiite. Is there a reason that Obama does not oppose Shiite extremists? I cannot imagine why this should be. It makes no sense.

Recently, Iran’s former President Rafsanjani died. The world has been describing him as a moderate. Nobody remembers that Rafsanjani called the existence of Israel an ugly, colonialist phenomenon and said that nuclear war could destroy everything on the ground in Israel but would merely damage the world of Islam.

The world is enraged because Israel is expanding its settlements in and around Jerusalem. Israel cannot surrender East Jerusalem and its suburbs at this moment in time. There is a large Jewish population in Maale Adumim and other areas east of the pre-1967 borders. They could not be forced out the way the Jewish settlers in Gaza were. Furthermore, after Gaza was turned into an independent Palestinian state, Hamas was elected and rockets were launched from Gaza aimed at Israeli civilians.

People who advocate returning to the pre-1967 borders never think of supporting a return to the pre-1967 political situation, which included Egypt’s rule of Gaza and Jordan’s inclusion of the West Bank aspart of its own territory. Before the Israeli War of Independence, the country now known as Jordan today was called Trans-Jordan. When it expanded across the Jordan River, it appropriately changed its name. It might make sense for Egypt to declare that Gaza is part of Egypt and offer Egyptian citizenship—or dual Palestinian-Egyptian citizenship—to its residents. It might make sense for Israel and Jordan to redraw their boundary lines and agree that Jordan would re-annex the lands west of the river that Israel would agree to cede. At that point, Jordan could change its name once again—to Palestine. Palestinians are already a majority in Jordan.

Angela Merkel agreed to accept a number of Syrian refugees into Germany. In contrast to this, there are Palestinian refugees who have lived in refugee camps for almost 70 years. This is unprecedented. The world, including the Arab world, wants the refugees from the Israeli war of independence to remain a running sore forever.

The world hates Israel. Feminists don’t know that Israeli Arab women are more likely to become physicians than women anywhere else in the Middle East. Gay-rights activists don’t know that Tel Aviv is the most gay-friendly city on earth.

How can the United Nations and the world help the Palestinians? By recognizing Israel’s need to change its borders.

**********************************
George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937. He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY. His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects. As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at george@jochnowitz.net.

**********************************
Copyright ©2017. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Chagall’s Jerusalem Windows

Looking Up

“This is my modest gift to the Jewish people who have always dreamt of biblical love, friendship and of peace among all peoples. This is my gift to that people which lived here thousands of years ago among the other Semitic people.” 
Marc Chagall, February 6, 1962


Northern View
Photo Credit & Source: Hadassah Medical Center


In the ancient story of the Jewish People, recounted in the Tanakh (תַּנַ"ךְ‎), the Hebrew Bible, the twelve sons of Jacob (also given the name, Israel), are in birth order listed as follows (Genesis 35:23–26): Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin. Chagall’s stained glass windows reflect this listing, where the artist note says that he referred to Genesis 49 (Jacob blesses his sons) and Deuteronomy 33 (Moses blesses the 12 tribes of Israel) for inspiration. Blessing is a common theme, but it is more than the blessing of a leader; it is the blessing of a spiritual leader who has gained, after much trial, an intimate relationship with God.

As for the small but noticeable discrepancy between the 12 sons and the 12 tribes, one must note that the Bible says that Levi, who was a son of Jacob (through Leah, his wife), received no inheritance of land, since the Levites were a priestly tribe without land who received offerings from the other tribes. Thus, the 12 Tribes are as follows: Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Ephraim and Manasseh. Ephraim and Manasseh are the sons of Joseph, who were subsequently adopted by Jacob, also known as Israel. 

Regardless of the complexity of following and understanding such biblical narratives, they play an important part in the history of the Jewish People, and such is what Marc Chagall offers as an interpretation in these large—each are 11 feet x 8 feet—stained glass windows. They are as beautiful as they are breathtaking. The windows were on display at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City, from November 19, 1961 to January 3, 1962, before being installed at what was then called Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem on February 6, 1962.

The medical center writes on its website the following about Chagall’s artistic creation, also called the stained glass windows and originally and officially known as “The Jerusalem Windows”:
The light that emanates from the twelve stained glass windows bathes the Abbell Synagogue at the Hadassah University Medical Center in a special glow. The sun filters through the brilliant colors of the stained glass capturing their radiance. Even in the misty haze of a cloudy day, Chagall's genius transforms time and space.
The synagogue’s Jerusalem stone floor and walls absorb this beauty and reflect it. Standing within the simple square that forms the pedestal for the windows, gazing up at the vivid imagery, the Jewish symbols, the floating figures of animals, fish and flowers, even the most casual viewer is overwhelmed by their power and presence.
Every pane is a microcosm of Chagall’s world, real and imaginary; of his love for his people, his deep sense of identification with Jewish history, his early life in the Russian shtetl.
"All the time I was working, I felt my mother and father looking over my shoulder; and behind them were Jews, millions of other vanished Jews -- of yesterday and a thousand years ago," Chagall said.
The Bible was his primary inspiration, particularly Jacob's blessings on his twelve sons and Moses' blessings on the twelve tribes. Each window is dominated by a specific color and contains a quotation from the individual blessings.

Chagall and his assistant, Charles Marq, worked on the project for two years, during which time Marq developed a special process for applying color to the glass. This allowed Chagall to use as many as three colors on a single pane, rather than being confined to the traditional technique of separating each colored pane by a lead strip.

The synagogue was dedicated in the presence of the artist on February 6, 1962 as part of Hadassah’s Golden Anniversary Celebration.
Chagall himself has said about the windows: “They have completely transformed my vision, they gave me a great shock, made me reflect. I don’t know how I shall paint from now on, but I believe something is taking place.” Assuredly so.



Eastern View:
Photo Credit & Source: Hadassah Medical Center



Southern View
Photo Credit & Source: Hadassah Medical Center



Western View
Photo Credit & Source: Hadassah Medical Center

Monday, January 9, 2017

U.N. Betrays Its Founding Principles

Chamber of Horrors


The United Nations was founded  (on October 24, 1945) after the end of the Second World War with much promise and with a need and a desire for success, which was important to its founding members, given what happened to its predecessor, the League of Nations. Soon after coming into existence, on November 29, 1947, it voted to give a homeland to the Jewish People, after almost two thousand years of being a people without a nation. It was a good decision.

Yet, since 1967 in particular (after Israel’s decisive victory in the Six-Day War), the United Nations has devolved and regressed, having found the “Palestinian cause” a convenient and effective weapon to use against Israel. No other nation receives so much condemnation, including from its supposed European allies, which go to great lengths to “bully” Israel into submission. It’s an old trope, based on hate and nothing more, so it did not take much effort for the European heads of state to become willing accomplices in this enterprise of hate. What is important in their calculation is that Israel requires punishment for its successes and, even more, for its very existence.

To say that this international body is no friend of Israel is an understatement; it is even worse than this. Such is the premise of the following well-written article, by Rabbi Aryeh Spero, in American Thinker, which pulls no punches in describing the shameful action of this NY-based body that made another resolution (U.N. Security Council Res. 2334against Israel, which the United States failed to veto—itself a surprise and a disappointment. In “They Clapped while They Took Away Jerusalem from the Jews” (January 4, 2017), Rabbi Spero writes:
Normally, when the U.N. Security Council passes a resolution, a vote is taken and the result recorded. Period. Something very unusual happened after the Security Council voted to declare Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria as Arab/Islamic land. The representatives of the nations applauded and celebrated what they had just done by giving themselves a standing ovation [Ed: see here]. They clapped not so much in behalf of what they gave to “Palestinians” but more so in declaring the Jewish tie to the Old City of Jerusalem as illegitimate and Israel’s attachment to the Temple Mount and Judea and Samaria as illegal. It was a celebration by too many of the nations of the world against the history of the Jewish People and their Covenant to the Holy Land. It was an act of anti-Semitism.
Can anyone with a conscience really call it anything else? That they applaud the dismantling and the destruction (may it never be so!) of the integrity of Israel, the only Jewish nation, says so much more than this paragraph. It brings to memory thousands of years of many such acts that have in it a desire to not only humiliate but to destroy the Jewish People and its sense of history, purpose and unity.

Further down in the same article (and I recommend that you read the complete piece), Rabbi Spero writes :
Nations concerned about the need to retain Muslim enclaves are gleefully ready to evict Jews from their millennium-old Jewish Quarter within Jerusalem. Fine gentleman that don’t want “facts-on-the-ground Jewish settlements” have no problem with Muslims and Arabs establishing their own facts-on-the-ground settlements in that very contested land of Judea and Samaria, the West Bank. High-minded representatives that speak of tolerance and multi-culturalism have no problem with Palestinian Muslims declaring that Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria must be Judenrein. This open hypocrisy and cavalier indifference -- the two differing set of rules -- are nothing but historic, garden variety anti-Jewishness.
The resolution will not accomplish its putative  purpose; it will not bring about or lead to peace in the Middle East. It will likely make it worse, embolden the already emboldened cutthroats and criminals, who need little excuse for violence. Of course the Jews worldwide are concerned, including this writer, since we are well-aware of history and how the situation can turn ugly; it would give us a sense of (re)assurance if non-Jews showed some concern, as well. and showed us and the world that the State of Israel is not alone in this fight—if only to know that you are doing the right thing at a difficult period in history. Now is the time for the coalition of the willing in a battle against a common enemy that has shown a hatred of all things Western.

Regardless, Israel will survive, and this resolution has a silver lining: it has caused many long-time liberal Jews (including this one) to review and rethink its political positions and party affiliations. (The Democratic Party, which has long taken Jewish support for granted, will likely come out the loser.) As to the long-term existence of the U.N., I am not sure if its survival is now particularly relevant or necessary.

****************
For more, go to [AmericanThinker]


Bedlam: “Applause broke out in the 15-member Security Council’s chambers after the vote on the measure, which passed 14 to 0, with the United States ambassador, Samantha Power, raising her hand as the lone abstention,” reports The New York Times.
Source: NYT

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Have a Little Faith (2011)


This movie, from Youtube, is found [here].

This is a 2011 made-for-TV movie, Have a Little Faith, which is based on the 2009 book of the same name by Mitch Albom [born May 23, 1958, in Passaic, New Jersey], author, journalist, screenwriter, playwright, radio and television broadcaster and musician. The story has two central characters who come from very different backgrounds; one is Jewish and one is Christian: Rabbi Albert L. Lewis [1917–2008], the congregational leader of Temple Beth Sholom in New Jersey; and Pastor Henry Covington [1957–2010], the spiritual leader of Pilgrim Church in Detroit.

Albom was a member of Temple Beth Sholom, a conservative Jewish congregation, when he was young. The movie opens with the rabbi making a special request to Albom, which leads him on a journey of purpose. On his site, Albom gives a synopsis of the book on which the movie is based:
As America struggles with hard times and people turn more to their beliefs, Mitch and the two men of God explore issues that perplex modern man: how to endure when difficult things happen; what heaven is; intermarriage; forgiveness; doubting God; and the importance of faith in trying times. Although the texts, prayers and histories are different, Albom begins to realize a striking unity between the two worlds – and indeed, between beliefs everywhere. In the end, as the rabbi nears death and a harsh winter threatens the pastor’s wobbly church, Albom sadly fulfills the last request and writes the eulogy. And he finally understands what both men had been teaching all along: the profound comfort of believing in something bigger than yourself. Have a Little Faith is a book about a life’s purpose; about losing belief and finding it again; about the divine spark inside us all. It is one man’s journey, but it is everyone’s story.
Such is an important moral teaching to us all: how does one live life? Truly, one can live out his faith in action, which can be more powerful than words, by doing good, by bringing forth light and by being a light in the world. Whether these are called mitzvot (מִצְווֹת ) or good deeds matters not. What matters is that they are done.

Friday, January 6, 2017

David “Dudu” Fisher: Theme From Exodus (2009)


Video Credit & Source: It is found on Youtube [here].


David “Dudu” Fisher, an Israeli cantor and stage star, performs “Theme From Exodus,” the title track of the 1961 soundtrack album of the 1960 film, Exodus, directed by Otto Preminger. This is the 21st and last track from the album, Dudu Fisher: In Concert From Israel (2009). The lyrics were written by Pat Boone and the musical score by Ernest Gold. This song was recorded by many American artists, including Pat Boone [here] and Andy Williams [here]; and French artist Edith Piaf [here].

The film, which starred Paul Newman, was based on the 1958 historical novel, Exodus, by Leon Uris on the founding of the State of Israel, a state founded with the express purpose of giving the Jewish People a home, a safe haven. Such a purpose became more pronounced after its enemies tried to annihilate the Jewish People during the Second World War. Israel is the only Jewish state in the world. [There are 22 Arab states; 57 Islamic states; many Christian states.] Such describes the Zionist dream, the Zionist enterprise, a homeland for the Jews. There is nothing surprising about this desire. It is sane. It is normal. It is moral.

*******************

Exodus 
by Ernest Gold & Pat Boone

This land is mine
God gave this land to me
This brave and ancient land to me
And when the morning sun
Reveals her hills and plains
Then I see a land
Where children can run free
So take my hand
And walk this land with me
And walk this lovely land with me

[Chorus: Repeat 2X]
Tho' I am just a man
When you are by my side
With the help of God
I know I can be strong

To make this land our home
If I must fight, I'll fight
To make this land our own
Until I die, this land is mine

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Chagall’s Prophet Jeremiah (1968)

Biblical Themes


“In spite of everything, there is still no more wonderful vocation than to continue to tolerate events and to work on in the name of our mission, in the name of that spirit which lives on in our teaching and in our vision of humanity and art, the spirit which can lead us Jews down the true and just path. But along the way, peoples will spill our blood, and that of others.”

M. Chagall, Lecture, Congress of the Jewish Scientific Institute Vilnius (1935)

The Prophet Jeremiah  (Le prophète Jérémie), 1968, by Marc Chagall. Oil on canvas. 115 by 146.3 cm. Musée national d’Art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Marc Chagall [born as Moishe Shagal; 1887–1985] wrote in the Foreword to the first catalogue of the National Museum of the Biblical Message in Nice, France, in 1973: Ever since my early childhood, I have been captivated by the Bible. It has always seemed to me, and still seems to me today, to be the greatest source of poetry of all time. Ever since then, I have searched for its reflection in life and art: the Bible is like an echo of nature, and this is the secret I have tried to convey.” It is no surprise that Chagall found inspiration in the Bible; many artists have. Jeremiah (or in Hebrew, יִרְמְיָהוּ‎, “Yirmeyahu,” is one of the major prophets in Judaism. He is also known as the “Weeping Prophet;” although he warned the Jewish People of the catastrophe that would come about, he did so with empathy and tears, carrying the burden as his own. Such is seen (and felt) in Chagall’s painting.
Photo Credit & Source: Musée national d’Art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

The Blessing

“And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great;
and be thou a blessing.
And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse; 
and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”
—Genesis 12:2-3
ב וְאֶעֶשְׂךָ, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל, וַאֲבָרֶכְךָ, וַאֲגַדְּלָה שְׁמֶךָ; וֶהְיֵה, בְּרָכָה.
ג וַאֲבָרְכָה, מְבָרְכֶיךָ, וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ, אָאֹר; וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ, כֹּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה.

 בְּרֵאשִׁית 
12

Credit & Source: The movie was posted on Youtube [here].


In this film, Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), an old movie, in black & white, viewers can get an idea of how Americans once viewed this terrible tragedy of more than seven decades ago that was the Holocaust (the Shoah, השואה, “the Catastrophe”), the central calculated act of the Second World War. Was this a different United States? It seems so, but I can’t say for sure.

I have always thought that the American people are fundamentally good and have admired the United States since I was a young boy. To be sure, America has done a lot of good for the civilized world; it has done much for which we can offer thanks and gratitude. Yet, like all nations, it has recently gone through some changes that have left it with an historical amnesia. Am I making too much of this change? Am I bringing up something unnecessary? No, I don’t think so on both counts.

Here is something to consider. Were not Americans then aware of its 10-year (1945–1955) occupation of Germany along with the three other Allied powers of Britain, France and the USSR in what was called Allied-occupied Europe? Such an occupation was deemed necessary to bring democracy to the German people. It has been successful. The Russian occupation of (East) Germany, which lasted much longer, i.e., officially until 1994, offered neither democracy nor freedom to its people. It was not successful. The differences between the two parts of Germany immediately after unification (October 3, 1990) were starkly noticeable; they are less noticeable a little more than 25 years later.

Speaking of post-war Germany, apart from France, which played a significantly minor role in the occupation in comparison to the other three powers, none shared a border with Germany. But there was no threat to France from a Germany that was divided, disarmed and demilitarized at war’s end. No European nation was at risk; all were safe from any threat post-war. The United States was never at risk during the war, and it was not at risk after; it was far away, 8,000 km or 5,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean—far away from the battlefield. Are the Americans today, for the most part, aware of this part of its history? Have the Europeans forgotten this, as well? It seems so.

Yet, Israel, a tiny nation, has neither the luxury of distance nor of a demilitarized enemy—not today and not during any time of its history—to ensure its safety. It has belligerent and armed enemies across its borders (i.e. in Gaza, in Syria, in Lebanon). And, yet, both the Americans and the Europeans think it necessary to make Israel smaller and bring its enemies even closer. Would any nation agree to this?  In such a calculus, it is Israel and the Jewish People who must make sacrifices that no one else would or should make.

Yet, all of these logical and sane arguments are minimized, downplayed and pushed to the side to avoid embarrassment and feelings of guilt. One can argue, of course, that guilt has merit only if it leads to something good. Truly, it is always better to do good, but if one can’t do good, at least abstain from evil.

One wonders what is really happening here; I can’t say for certain. Yet, despite the way things appear on the surface, despite the determination of its enemies—and they come and go—I am confident that Israel and the Jewish People will not only survive and prevail, but will always thrive. I can’t say the same for its enemies. This is what history informs me. One can call it both a blessing for Humanity and a judgment from the Heavens. But this is not for me to say.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Mystery of the Jews

God & The Torah

“Why are the nations in an uproar? And why do the peoples mutter in vain?
The kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD, and against His anointed”
Psalm 2:1-2JPS Tanakh (1917)

א לָמָּה, רָגְשׁוּ גוֹיִם; וּלְאֻמִּים, יֶהְגּוּ-רִיק.
ב יִתְיַצְּבוּ, מַלְכֵי-אֶרֶץ-- וְרוֹזְנִים נוֹסְדוּ-יָחַד:
עַל-יְהוָה, וְעַל-מְשִׁיחוֹ.

—תְּהִלִּים  Chapter 2
 

This video was posted on Youtube by [SimpletoRemember].

The Jewish People have been instrumental in shaping the world around them, most of it for the better, a people touching all aspects of life: religious, spiritual, cultural, scientific and technological. The Jews have given the world the idea of monotheism as well as both Christianity and Marxism. We have never been a people in control of a powerful nation—like ancient Greece, ancient Rome, the French Republic, Great Britain or the United States— but such primarily is a good thing, since powerful nations and empires in particular come and go.

They don’t last, since they compete with other nations for world dominance, which often comes at a cost. This does not suggest in any way that Israel cannot be a great nation, one that is morally exceptional. In many ways, it already is. It all comes down to the Jewish People. Has there been a nation, a people, that has shown such resilience in the face of so many challenges and difficulties?

Such speaks of the mystery? Our enduring history, our thousands of years of existence as a people rests on a combination of factors, including our historical reliance on the Torah, our moral code, our kind of mysticism, our inquiry, our way of argumentation, our flexibility, our pragmatism and our enduring belief in hope. Each forms a strand that when wound tight makes a strong rope of existence.

The Jewish People have been able to do all this for most of its post-Temple history [70 CE to 1948] as a people without a nation, as a people in exile. This is all the more remarkable. So, that it has had a nation since 1948 is considered by many a miracle; as is the corresponding revival of the Hebrew language in such a short period. That it is a modern democratic state can not and should not be easily ignored. Despite the many challenges and obstacles it faces, including being the recurring recipient of apoplectic fits of rage from the international community of nations, Israel is in a good position. It is viewed favorably by a large majority of Americans, which is not always translated to favorable policies by its leaders.

The word “mystery,” which shares the same root as mystic, has as its primary meaning, a “religious truth via divine revelation.” Such revelations come to us by way of mystics,  men, who inform those around him. The Jewish People have had their share of mystics; and their “divine thoughts” have taken on the form of a continuing narrative. For your consideration, there are these verses (particularly 24 to 28) from one of the prophets, Ezekiel (יְחֶזְקֵא), Chapter 36, which speaks of the special relationship and the covenantal promises made between God and the Jewish People. This is but one of the many such passages sprinkled throughout the Hebrew Bible (“The Tanakh,” תַּנַ"ךְ‎).

Monday, January 2, 2017

Remembering Vera Rubin [1928-2016]: Giant of Astronomy

Astronomy & Cosmology

Vera Rubin, second from the left, in red, photographed at a 2009 NASA-sponsored conference on women in astronomy. 
Photo Credit: Jay Freidlander; NASA

Vera Rubin [born Vera Florence Cooper on July 23, 1928] will be remembered as not only a great woman scientist, but as a great scientist. She was born in Philadelphia, PA; her interest in astronomy developed after the family moved to Washington, DC, when she was 10, “watching the stars wheel past her bedroom window,”  says an article in The New York Times. Rubin’s contribution to astronomy, including her contribution to understanding “dark matter” should prove valuable and keep astronomers, cosmologists and physicists busy for years to come.

But it all came down to the stars; Rubin was viewed as an expert in the movement of galaxies. She spent most of her working life, since 1965, at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) at the Carnegie Institution in Washington. Rubin died on December 25, 2016; she was 88.

In "Vera Rubin: 1928–2016," (December 26, 2016) Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist and cosmologist, writes in Scientific American:
Rubin studied astronomy as an undergraduate at Vassar and wanted to enroll into graduate school in Princeton, but women weren’t allowed into the graduate astronomy program until 1975, something that is truly remarkable, and despicable, given the important role women have played in astronomy in the past century. After completing a master’s degree in physics at Cornell, where she studied with giants like Richard Feynman and Hans Bethe, and also with the brilliant and poetic Philip Morrison, she moved to Georgetown University, where she completed her Ph.D. in 1954 under another physics wunderkind, George Gamow. During that time she took her classes at night, while her husband waited in the car because she didn’t know how to drive.
Her early research involved the motion of galaxies, demonstrating that addition to their uniform recession due to the Hubble expansion of the Universe, most galaxies have small peculiar motions that are due to their gravitational clumping into clusters. During this time she helped support her family, raising 4 children while teaching part time at Montgomery County community college and at Georgetown, eventually joining the faculty at Georgetown in 1962. She achieved enough recognition during this period to be the first woman allowed to use the instruments at Palomar Observatory, in 1965, and in that year she moved to the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, where she remained for the rest of her career.
Rubin’s biggest breakthrough occurred a few years later, when she joined collaborator Kent Ford—with whom she had earlier collaborated on the studying the relative motion of the Milky Way galaxy compared to a large sample of distant galaxies, suggesting that the Milky had a significant velocity relative to the background Hubble flow—in the study of the motion of stars and gas in the nearby Andromeda Galaxy. Five years after joining the DTM Rubin and Ford reported that the rotation of Andromeda was anomalous. Its outskirts were rotating so fast that it should have flown apart, if the only mass holding it together was the matter that was visible to telescopes.
Rubin raised four children, including a daughter, Judy Young, also an astronomer, who died in 2014. Her husband was Robert J. Rubin, a mathematician and physicist, whom she met while both were graduate students at Cornell University. They married in 1948 and the marriage lasted until his death in 2008, aged 81, Vera Rubin is survived, the NYT article says, “by her sister, Ruth Cooper Burg, a judge in Washington; her sons, Allan, David and Karl; five grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.” All of her children earned PHDs either in mathematics or the natural sciences, itself an accomplishment. 

After Pope John Paul II appointed Rubin to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, in 1996, she was quoted in an article that science for her has a dedicated purpose: “In my own life,” said Rubin, “my science and my religion are separate. I’m Jewish, and so religion to me is a kind of moral code and a kind of history. I try to do my science in a moral way, and, I believe that, ideally, science should be looked upon as something that helps us understand our role in the universe.” I could not agree more.

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For more, go to [ScientificAmerican].

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Faithful Lamps of Jewish History

The Lights of Tradition

Rothschild LampJohann Heinrich Philip Schott Sons; Frankfurt am Main, Germany, c. 1850. Nancy M. Berman, in Tablet Magazine discusses three Hanukkiahs, one of which dates to Renaissance Italy of late 16th or early 17th century. This neoclassical Hannukiah dates to 1850; you will note the unicorn and the lion that are part of its base—both symbols of royalty. In “Dazzling, Old Lamps” (December 28, 2016), Berman writesThe Rothschild family crest is emblazoned on the base of this classic and formally beautiful silver candelabra. This definitive identification mark in the form of the family’s baronial escutcheon provides the provenance so rare in most objects of Judaica. The lamp’s ownership can be attributed to Baron Wilhelm Karl von Rothschild and Baroness Hannah Mathilde von Rothschild, well-known German Jews. The coat of arms was granted to the Rothschilds, along with baronial status, by the imperial decree to the family in 1822.” The 120-page hardcover books contains 48 photos of Hannukah art and, equally important, the stories behind each piece, the beautiful ornate old lamps of Jewish history.
Photo Credit: ©2016. Nancy M. Berman; The Art of Hanukkah



Our Hanukkiahs: The one on the left is our family Hanukkiah; and the one on the right was made by our youngest son (Eli) when he was five. Today is the eighth and last day of Hanukkah (חנוכה, “Feast of Dedication,” also known as the “Festival of Lights”). Our family lit the candles marking the occasion, as Jews throughout the world have done since at least the time the Mishnah (מִשְׁנָה‎) was completed and published at the end of the second century CE. It details how and when Hanukkah lights ought to be lit. The holiday ends tonight at sundown.
Photo Credit & Source: ©Perry J. Greenbaum, 2016