March 04, 2015

"There is a balm in Gilead" — in Israel's Arava desert


Biblical balm of Gilead bush in Israel's Arava desert
"Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?" (Jeremiah 8:22)

"There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul." (African American spiritual, chorus)

This young biblical balm of Gilead bush is growing in experimental fields of Israel's Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. (The Arava is the sparsely populated long desert valley between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, a northern extension of the Red Sea.)
Today, some medical and botanical researchers and biblical and archeological scholars believe that the balm of Gilead, or "golden" balsam oil, was one of the most expensive commodities in the ancient world and prized above any metal. Its sap turns golden color when processed, and has been used for millennia (like frankincense and myrrh) in perfumes and as holy oil, offerings, and health remedies.

January 19, 2015

On Dr. King's birthday: What Selma meant to Jews like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, right, marches with Dr. King
and other civil rights leaders / Getty Images

Happy birthday, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968). A model of nonviolent liberation from oppression, Reverend Dr. King opened a door, inviting all Americans to join in unity against segregation and racism.

On the historic march from Selma to Montgomery (March 18, 1965), under U.S. Military protection, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel joined spiritual leaders of multiple races, religions, and creeds marching abreast with Dr. King, Ralph Bunche, John Lewis, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and Rev. C.T. Vivian, and followed by 2,300 citizens. Heschel famously said, “For many of us the march was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”

Heschel's daughter, Dr. Susannah Heschel, writes in the Jewish Daily Forward what that march signified to King, to Jews like her father, and to all who sought (and seek) justice. And who call for accuracy in depicting history.

Related posts

December 19, 2014

Jewish-Arab Kindergarten in Israel



I first published this post on January 11, 2008.

The backstory on my video
From Jerusalem, Judith's email served as inspiration.
Forget all the dark things in the news about the ME [Middle East]. This recording of my friend's nephew Shlomi's little girls outshines them all. Shir and Shaked attend the Jewish-Arab kindergarten in Beersheba [in Israel's Negev desert]. Shlomi recorded them singing
in Arabic, Hebrew, and English the classic English-language nursery song Put your hands on your head while he played the keyboard. I am attaching a sound file that you can put on your blog, with proper recognition of the artists! 

Remembering Asher Green with love
I dedicate this post and video to the memory of Asher Green (whose mother sent the email and sound file). Asher's multiple talents and adventurous spirit led him to study at the Institute for Culinary Education in New York City. He had also studied stage design in London, and film and art in Jerusalem. Asher was planning to volunteer in Southeast Asia as part of a project to teach street children restaurant skills. He had hoped to open a similar program in Jerusalem for low-income Israeli and Palestinian teens.

אשר בן יהודית וג'ף. יהי זכרו ברוך
Asher ben Yehudit v'Jeff. Yehi zichro barukh.
Asher, son of Judith and Jeff. May his memory be a blessing.

Related Post
An Israeli Arab "Profile in Courage": Marwan Amer

November 12, 2014

Kristallnacht, or "Night of Broken Glass"


 German bystanders viewing smashed windows
Kristallnacht, November 9–10, 1938

November 9−10, 2014, marks the 76th Anniversary of Kristallnacht, the beginning of Hitler's Final Solution — the systematic slaughter of six million Jews and millions of other innocent victims. Kristallnacht in German means the “night of broken glass” or crystal (Kristall) nacht (night).

On November 9–10, 1938, Nazi stormtroopers and non-Jewish civilians launched pogroms around Germany and parts of Austria— state-sanctioned organized anti-Jewish persecution and riots. During the two-day attack, 91 Jews were beaten to death, and about 30,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps. The plundering and destroying of thousands of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses, community centers, schools, hospitals, and homes shattered windows, carpeting the grounds with broken glass. Hence, the euphemism, “night of broken glass” or "crystal night," Kristallnacht.

Poet, professor, and diarist Karen Alkalay-Gut's parents caught the last bus out of Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland) the night Hitler invaded Poland on August 31, 1939. She dedicates Night Travel to them.

Night Travel
for my parents

On that night in Danzig the trains did not run
You sat in the bus station till almost dawn
knowing that if you could not get out,
the invaders would find you, grind you among the first
under their heels.

Toward morning an announcement came of a bus,
and without knowing where it would go
you raced to the stop.
But the Nazis were there first, and you watched
as they finished their search -
checking each traveler for papers,
jewelry, a Jewish nose.

Among the passengers you recognized
a familiar face - a German woman - sitting
with someone else you'd seen
in the neighborhood.
They winked a greeting,
waited for the soldiers to leave,
and jumped out -
pushing you up in their place.

Thus you escaped to Berlin, remaining alive
by keeping silent through the long train ride
from Berlin to Cologne in a car filled with
staring German soldiers -

And arrived the next day in Holland,
black with fear and transportation.

— from Ignorant Armies by Karen Alkalay-Gut
Merrick, N.Y: Cross-Cultural Communications, 1994

October 23, 2014

In Tel Aviv: At my friends' wedding, both grooms are Orthodox Jews


Mazal tov to Oz Vadee and Aron Bilek — adored and adorable, loved and loving newlyweds. Tonight in Tel Aviv, they exchanged rings and Tallitot/prayer shawls, and smashed underfoot two glasses — a custom that in our joy, we remember to help repair brokenness in the world. 

Blessings traditional and groundbreaking were offered as the couple's happiness radiated among hundreds of cheering and clapping exuberant family and friends at the elegant East Tel Aviv venue. In the photo, Member of Parliament Ruth Calderon reads aloud the Ketuba/marriage certificate, the couple's innovative retooling of the ancient document, here attesting to the marriage of two Orthodox Jewish men according to "Am Yisrael/the Jewish people!"