December 22, 2015

December 06, 2015

Hanukkah: first victory for freedom of worship

Hanukkiot at Judith and Jeff Green's home
in Jerusalem's Abu Tor neighborhood
Placing Hanukkiot by a window or door fulfills
the commandment to "publicize the miracle."

I first published this post on Hanukkah 2007. Here, I changed only the Hanukkah dates in 2015.

Hanukkah, the eight-day "festival of lights" begins with the lighting of the first candle at sundown on the eve of the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar, also called the Jewish calendar. Each year, the corresponding day on the Gregorian [civil] calendar changes; in 2015, Hanukkah begins at sundown on Sunday, December 6, and at sundown on Monday, December 14.

No matter how the Hebrew word חֲנֻכָּה is transliterated into English (Hanukkah, Hanukka, Chanukka, Chanukkah, [fill in your own]), no matter the era or place people celebrate it —
What is most inspiring about Hanukkah is that it memorializes the first clear victory in history for freedom of worship, a celebration that, as contemporary rabbis point out, belongs to all religious people.
— From the Desire of the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill

Hanukkah Q&A

What is the difference between a traditional Menorah and a Hanukkah Menorah (Hebrew: Hanukkiah)?
The seven-branched Menorah is a candelabrum of Jewish historical and ritual meaning that appears on ancient coins, gravestones, and synagogue decorations, and is today the seal and emblem of the State of Israel.

The nine-branched Hanukkah Menorah (Hebrew: Hanukkiah) is a candelabrum with eight branches of equal size and height (one for each night of the Hanukkah festival) and a separate (ninth) candleholder for the "Shamash" (Hebrew: attendant). We use the Shamash to light the other eight candles, in observance of the ruling to view the Hanukkah lights, not to use them.

What's the story?
The Hanukkah festival commemorates the (second century BCE) Jewish Maccabees' military victory over the Greek-Syrian army and the rededication of the Second Temple to the worship of God.

Why the lights?
The Temple purification began on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev in the year 165 BCE. According to the Talmud, the single-days-worth of pure oil found in the Temple miraculously burned eight days, until more pure oil could be brought.

Victory's message?
"Not by might, not by power, but by My spirit." לֹא בְחַיִל, וְלֹא בְכֹחַ--כִּי אִם-בְּרוּחִי (Zachariah 4:6, whom we read this Shabbat following the Torah portion).

Where is the history recorded?
The First Book of Maccabees tells how, in response to religious persecution and oppression, Judah Maccabee and his four brothers organized a group of resistance fighters who succeeded to drive the far larger Greek-Syrian army out of Judea.

How do we celebrate this fun festival?
Lighting the Hanukkiah is the central observance. Whereas once all lights were oil lamps, using candles is a lot simpler. The first night, a single candle (or oil-dipped wick) is lit, with an additional one lit each successive night.

While lighting the candles, we recite blessings, chant the ancient Hanerot Hallalu, and play dreidel games. We (over)eat oil-rich foods featuring potato pancakes and Hanukkah donuts called sufganiyot (shown on the right), commemorating the miracle of the oil that burned eight days.

What about gifts?
The custom of giving Hanukkah gelt (money) in the form of gold-foil-wrapped chocolate coins to children once brought pure bliss to me and my older sister and to previous generations. (Shiny pennies, won playing dreidel games, were acceptable, too.) I recall the year we got pink gloves! Mine were angora, marking not only graduation from mittens but equally from practical plain wool! My sister's, on the minus side, were wool, while on the plus side, featured black velvet ribbon threaded through each wristband. Whose was the prettier gift? I still wonder.

Who am I remembering this year as I kindle the Hanukkah lights?
My childhood family: my mother and my father, my maternal grandparents, and my sister. My Israeli family.

And I am remembering children everywhere who desperately need light to shine on them. Children whose spirits are darkened by ignorant adults, unemployed or underemployed parents, poor diets, insufficient shelters, shabby clothing, inadequate health care, disinterested leaders, and misguided politicians. Children whose birthright is light daily, and who require comprehensive support and services steadily.

And I ask myself: What am I doing to help shine the light?

November 14, 2015

Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt; Beirut; Paris (11-15)

Tel Aviv city hall lit up in the colors of the French flag
 during a solidarity vigil, Rabin Square (photo credit:REUTERS)

Mr. Rogers would say what his mother said, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." And, Mr. Rogers probably would have added, "You, too, be a helper." Vive la France! Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité!

November 09, 2015

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 25, 2015

Normal Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.

# new photos of the child Ahmad Dawabsheh, however,
the settlers burned his father, mother, and [brother] baby Ali.
(Translated from the Arabic. Photo: Shehab News Agency)

Praise and blessings to this beautiful four-year-old survivor and gratitude to his team of loving family, devoted medical staff, loyal community, and dedicated volunteers — Muslim and Jew, local and worldwide.

The Jewish arsonists in the West Bank Palestinian village of Douma attack last July 31 have not been publically identified nor brought to justice. Nor have their homes been razed as is done to Palestinian terrorists. Exclusively military solutions, boycotts, grandstanding, denial, rockets, stabbings, scare tactics, brainwashing cannot end the obscene terrorism, violence, stabbings, and hate speech everywhere down the generations.  Dialog, listening, vision, courage, and compromise between and among political leaders, clergy, military, and other special interest groups can end the obscene terrorism.

October 10, 2015

Dear Israeli Soldier, Dear Aviah

Note: I first published this post on October 18, 2007.

The cherub face in the photo is yours, Aviah, my beloved cousin and a counter terrorist in the West Bank.

Since 2004, you have served in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) elite Paratroopers Brigade. You passed arduous physical and mental tests to gain admission into this highly trained unit with a history of carrying out special forces-style missions. You have participated in countless operations, among them Israel's unilateral disengagement plan — also called the Disengagement plan or Gaza Pull-Out plan (2005) and the Second Lebanon War (2006). Most of the time, we haven't known your whereabouts or doings, and this is how it must be.

You have worn ceramic bulletproof vests, helmets, night vision goggles, and camouflage face paint (as shown in this photo you gave me on your return from the Second Lebanon War). You have marched for days bearing 60 kilos (132 pounds) and more of combat gear, canteens, backpacks, and injured comrades. You have endured weeks of fighting, intense hunger, fear, frustration, and physical and emotional exhaustion. And, for the rest of your days, the echoes of conflict and war will accompany you.

While your compulsory military service has been my personal grim reminder that freedom is not free, and that the freedoms I enjoy daily I can never take for granted, you are another kind of hero, too.

When doctors diagnosed Ohad with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), you asked the army for leave to be present 24/7 for your youngest brother. So for one month, you were his constant companion, support, assistant, driver, and advocate during initial therapeutic treatments at Hadassah Medical Center. While jobs kept your parents from a round-the-clock presence for Ohad, you stood in for them and for your siblings who are either full-time students or workers.

Last Thursday, when you were honorably discharged from full-time duty (like all Israeli veteran soldiers, you are a reservist until age 50), I telephoned after Havdalah to speak with a sweet, life-affirming, bright young man. I wanted to congratulate and thank him for protecting his family, community, and nation, and for helping to safeguard the dreams, prayers, and labors of peace-seekers everywhere.

Aviah (in blue) with his parents and brother Daniel
in the Havdalah ceremony marking the end of Shabbat

Dear Aviah, I felt my words inadequate and, humbled by your family's signature calm and unassuming courage, I stammered and talked nonsense. So, I am expressing my gratitude (and sadness) more fully by sharing parts of the comment I left on my friend and fellow American Stephanie's blog last spring, when, deeply affected by the Iraq War, she began, "Dear American Soldier."

And though my comment was in response to Stephanie's post-letter, I was thinking of you, Aviah, and I was raising you up when I wrote —
I often speak with my beloved Israeli cousin, 20-year-old paratrooper Aviah, and I ask him endlessly your question, I wonder how you feel when you hear fellow[s…] criticize […] war and your role in it. . . .

When I spot soldiers in USA uniform at airports . . . I ask questions — name, family, home, dreams, and responses to criticism by fellow citizens (and others) on the war they are fighting. It is easy for me to speak with them because . . . I almost automatically see all nations' soldiers as somebody’s son, husband, father, cousin, friend, classmate, neighbor, or ally.

And I have come to see most soldiers as children serving for many reasons and almost always at the behest of old men. And I always weep inside, often out loud, and like you, feel a lump in my throat and an almost paralyzing sadness.

May we pursue dialog instead of war and teach compassion in place of hatred. Always. All ways.

Update | October 10, 2013  Last summer, Aviah graduated from the Hebrew University, in Jerusalem, with a bachelor's degree in economics and accounting. He is working as a security guard to support his young family while preparing for comprehensive exams to become a certified public accountant. An internship with a prestigious global firm awaits him following successful outcomes. Stay tuned.

Related post 
When a child starts to go bald | כשילד מתחיל להקריח

September 18, 2015

When in Rome, splish-splash

Even when it's hot, these public fountains steadily pour out cool clean water to refill water bottles and splish-splash away.

August 11, 2015

Remembering Jean Rice, beloved friend

Jean Rice (1946-2006)
at her Cape Cod home in Sandwich, MA 
She had been a radical nun whose lifelong hero (and mine) was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. When Jean died, I wrote this post that I have republished yearly on her birthday. Who she was and how she lived inspire my better instincts daily. And I am missing her. The last winter of her life, fully grasping the implications of her health crisis, she sent her family and friends this message:

Happy Hannukah and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! All celebrations of life and vigor and weakness and being given what we need. Love to you, and thank you for the love you send.
— Jean

When my pal got the diagnosis that would cut short her amazing life, I could not imagine her (or any) life remaining rich in the final months. Yet it was. Nor, despite a deep friendship more than thirty-plus years with this human force for good did I dream that our "palaver" would continue until weeks before her death and beyond. (We relished using the term, palaver, to describe our chattering with abandon on all matters from wild to mundane.)

Our palaver continues 
This morning in Tel Aviv, I met a friendly puppy named Six "because on a list of rescued animals from which he was adopted, he was number six," his human explained. "Six shuns conflict. He senses kindness, which attracts him." Aha! A perfectly palaver tail/tale for Jean who devoured evidence of positive energy in a tricky universe.

Another example. Last week, I learned that my cousin in Jerusalem (a Bar Mitzva in five months!) had begun chemotherapy treatments for leukemia. I almost immediately reshaped this health crisis update into palaver. Jean, in her living and dying refused to allow grief to immobilize her or others. And her strength and stance steadied me, even after her death.

Pals continuous
Jean was a core friend fluent in the languages of art, philosophy, literature, elephants, children, friendship, memory, and soul. I loved and admired her, learned from her, emulated her. Often, she traveled thousands of virtual miles with me to seek, notice, embrace, honor, encourage, and help at-risk and marginalized people and communities.

In our last phone conversation a month before her death, Jean hurried to answer my questions on her mood and situation. She preferred to focus on what she insisted was far more interesting and important: my family in Israel and how they were managing during mounting crises in this region.

Jean inspired me to keep moving, to acknowledge my mistakes, and to let them go. I have tried to imitate her ways and stances and the richness of her life rooted in gratitude, generosity, and joy, and filled with laughter and compassion.

Jean's many lives defied losses. Grounded firmly in prosocial values and daily practices, she was ever ready to rethink, restart, and reshape plans and outcomes that were not what she expected, liked, or approved of. She was always rebuilding, firming up, reinforcing, and letting go, beginning anew.

The triumphs of her life are measured not merely by the length of her years, but by the marriage she co-created, the children she co-raised, the stubborn optimism of her life, and her legacy.

Jean's life was a gift and her memory is a blessing.

August 04, 2015

Visiting in Jurish: A West Bank town in mourning

I joined a MachsomWatch delegation that traveled from Israel to the West Bank town of Jurish to meet a group of high school students, the school principal, and the town council head. The students' math teacher, Reham Dawabsha, is the mother of the infant Ali who was burnt to death in a settler arson attack on the family home in neighboring Duma. Seventeen-year-old Sirine spoke about her love for Reham; and (in the video), expresses her grief and rage following the attack and the horrors of living under occupation.

Reham; Ali's father; and Ahmad, Ali's 4-year-old brother were critically burned and airlifted to three Israeli hospitals.

MachsomWatch is a volunteer organization of Israeli women against the occupation and for human rights.

July 13, 2015

In Beit Jala, the West Bank: Breaking the Ramadan fast

I joined the Parents Circle Families Forum (PCFF) for the Iftar (Arabic: break fast) evening meal when Muslims end their daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Our chartered bus from Tel Aviv stopped twice to pick up people from the Greater Jerusalem area before crossing an Israeli checkpoint and continuing to Beit Jala, a Palestinian Christian town in the West Bank south of Jerusalem and opposite Bethlehem. PCFF, the high-profile grassroots organization with more than 600 Palestinian and Israeli families that have lost a loved one to the conflict, fosters dialogue by revealing the shared humanity of grief, and advocates nonviolence and reconciliation between nations as a prerequisite to achieving a sustainable peace.

At the Everest Hotel & Restaurant, a historic meeting place for Israelis and Palestinians, the Israeli Jews and guests from London embraced their Muslim fellows who had come from cities and towns around the West Bank for the event.

Dressed in black, one Palestinian woman wore a photo of her son on a thin chain that was clasped around her neck. An Israeli mother (she raises funds for PCFF) brought her young son (she had simply told him they were going to a party) and packed some table games for the long-ish evening). In conversation (in English) with young Muslim cousins from East Jerusalem, we discovered a shared pleasure: watching reruns of The Simpsons! Among the Palestinian children dressed up for the festive occasion, one lass asked me (in Hebrew), May I take your photo? In turn, I asked her dad to take ours with her brother!

Taking time out from her own active photo taking
 for this photo with her brother and me!

Last summer, PCFF, in its public awareness campaign, "We Don't Want You Here" — protested the escalation of violence and unbearable thought of yet another family joining the "dreaded club of the bereaved." They are working tirelessly to put themselves out of business.

June 18, 2015

In Tel Aviv: Answering to either name, Jewish or Muslim

At the Carmel Market, fruit vendor Ovadiah/Abed

At his Carmel Market fruit stall, this vendor's Jewish mother calls him Ovadiah, his Muslim father calls him Abed, he calls his cat (snoozing behind the bananas) Tommy Lapid, and I call his Granny Smith apples Best in the Zone.

May 26, 2015

With Rhonda Joy McLean: Savoring our reunion

With Rhonda Joy McLean at Oceana Restaurant in New York City
Celebrating decades of our special friendship launched leading Head Start Child Development Program teacher education workshops, from North Carolina and Delaware to Boston and Washington, DC.

Postscripts on Facebook

From Rhonda —
Darling Tammy, How wonderful to commune with you again after so many years! Thank you for being such a wonderful sister-friend and mentor. I continue to learn from and be inspired by your strength and courage. Be blessed as you move forward. Love Always, Rhonda Joy

From me —
Weeping has resumed on savoring our reunion of stretching back, catching up, and pondering shared or similar aims, nagging questions, and promising stances. Much love to you, your core peeps, and wide community!  

May 14, 2015

Happy Birthday, eema mommy. Where are you?

My mother's astonishing life had been marked by prodigious talents, extraordinary adventures, and exceptional accomplishments. Yet devastating tragedies and losses tripped her soul on her long, long journey to today, her birthday. In 2010, when Margalit Bernstein Brill... Chipkin... Balin would have turned 99, it was instead the day of her funeral.

Three years earlier, on May 14, 2007, feeling both burdened and inspired by the ghosts of my mother's then 96 years, I wrote her a letter and published it here. I shared what I had learned from her life and from mine — chiefly, about the spiritual and material values of tradition, community, courage, and failure.
I asked my oldest childhood friend (our mothers were closest friends) and another dear friend since high school (our families' connection dates to the young days of our mothers) to read for me this letter at her funeral. And what has become a hesped [Hebrew: eulogy], I am republishing. 

Dear eema, mommy, ma, mother,

Today is your birthday. And no matter how I call to you, you appear neither to understand my words nor make sense of my voice. While you once spoke five languages fluently (German, English, Hebrew, Yiddish, French) and earned a master's degree in foreign languages and a license to teach French and German in New York City high schools (you soon quit, explaining, "I couldn't stand the endless ringing of the bells"), you stare blankly at me now, occasionally yawning.

I ponder a small photo, marked “Rosh Hashanah” on the back. Judging by my clothes, eyeglass frames (trying to look like Gloria Steinem), hairstyle, and phony sophisticate look (holding a glass of wine), I guess it was Rosh Hashanah 20 years ago. You, always pretty and dressed tastefully, are wearing your mother’s springtime necklace, the one I am wearing today.

It is a common regret that we do not ask enough questions while our parents can (if they want to) answer them. Was I too incurious to ask when I was younger? More likely, I was too busy with other things (mostly, my careers, my adventures, my selves) to probe into your fascinating life and signature ideas and ways. Until five years ago, I could hope for a clue — a name or place in your partial reply to my questions. Now, I rely on the few people still alive and alert that knew you before I did (or “was ready”) to help fill in the blanks that I know will never be filled. Not as you might have filled them.

A full life lived in many lands
The past dozen years, with your steadily decreasing faculties and increasing silence (you, the nonstop chatterbox whose talking often drove me crazy), I have been thinking a lot about your long full life: your multiple wanderings, passions, careers, and challenges. Soon after your birth, in Poland, to Russian-pogrom survivors, your father's work called him to Germany. (A journalist and activist, he was helping to secure for the Jewish people a safe haven in its ancient cherished homeland, the land of Israel — declared the State of Israel, in 1948.)

Next, the Leah Dinnen and Dr. Simon Bernstein family moved to Copenhagen (where you became a lifelong non-swimmer after local swim instructors dumped you into a net, then tossed it in the ocean — a local swim training “method”). Your preteen years in London forever rendered your spoken English hinting at the royal accent.

Finally, a home base
When you were a sweet sixteen, Lady Liberty, the "mighty woman with a torch... mother of exiles," greeted your family on New York City's Ellis Island. Here, USA immigration station agents in the great registry hall processed your family (among the 12 million immigrants in the 68 years it was in operation). Today, when I land in the Big Apple by airplane or catch a glimpse of the "mother of exiles," a lump tightens my throat: I imagine your maiden journey here: what might it have been like on that boat carrying war-, world-, and sea-weary, freedom-craving, hope-filled immigrants? And I wonder about your first moments and early years on these strange shores.

In New York City, where your journalist-scholar father was an official of the Zionist Organization of America, you attended and soon graduated from Evander Childs High School in the Bronx, and then earned BA and MA degrees at Hunter College in Manhattan. No small feats for an immigrant, especially a woman, in the third decade of the last century. Yet you were not just any woman.

Heiress to ancient Jewish
law and modern traditions
You adored your parents (as did I and almost everyone who knew them!). You were your daddy's girl, inheriting his values, passions, and talents: lifelong study and learning, writing, reveling with a wide circle of friends, an appetite for delicious food, a strong constitution, charm, warmth, and even a temper. (How proud of him you were, especially in his retirement when he labored lovingly, editing and annotating Hebrew medieval liturgical poetry, accessing the great collections of texts at the New York Public Library, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Hebrew Union College.)

And you were always vital: You married three times and became a widow the same number. You birthed two daughters in one hemisphere and raised them in another. You traveled widely in the USA, Europe, and, when the Former Soviet Union first admitted Americans, joined one of the first tour groups to go there. In your youth, you journeyed often to [the British Mandate for] Palestine (an entity from 1917-1948, when the State of Israel was declared). Here, as a young bride, you lived a decade during your first marriage until your beloved, my young father, died suddenly.

Wherever you were, you had endless appealing friends with whom you shared any of your wide-ranging interests: literature, theater, opera, museums and galleries, travel, folk dancing, playing piano (especially, your favorite Chopin sonatas), studying Jewish texts and modern Hebrew literature, film, ballet, and frequenting elegant shops, beautiful parks, and splendid gardens.

A long line of over-readers
When I reflect on my career choices (teaching, writing), and over-reading habits, I note that I now read online the print subscriptions (among them, The New York Times and The New Yorker) that you kept long after they ceased to hold your attention or to make sense. I look in the mirror, and I see my smile, my lips, my hair, and my build. Am I seeing you in me? Or is that image me in you?

Years ago, while you were fully present in spirit, you said that you felt like an ancient tortoise, and that you had accomplished and lived enough. Yet you are still here. And I sigh and don't know what to wish for you. Happy birthday, dearest one. I won't add, "many more."

But wait. A gift to touch your soul, as it had for decades. On my laptop and iPod, I play songs you once loved to hear in live performance. And I am channeling for you a video clip of Jerusalem scenes featuring kalaniyot [Hebrew: anemones], with Yemenite-born Israeli singer and cultural icon, Shoshana Damari, belting out her trademark song, Kalaniot.

Your loving daughter,

April 16, 2015

Being with Ghetto Fighters on Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day

Detail from Yad Layeled children's museum and memorial, Israel

I joined more than 6,000 people at the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day Annual Assembly at Kibbutz Lohamei Haghetaot (Ghetto Fighters) in the Western Galilee. In 1949, Holocaust survivors from Poland and Lithuania, the last remaining survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, partisans, prisoners of concentration camps, those who went into hiding using a false identity, and those who escaped to the USSR founded the kibbutz.

I captured this image at the kibbutz Yad Layeled museum, which guides young visitors from age 10 through experiences of children who lived during the Nazi's ghastly genocide plan against European Jews, the Final Solution. Never again. Remember.

Related post
In Tel Aviv: Holocaust (Shoah) Remembrance Day

April 10, 2015

Passover and Easter in Neve Zedek Quarter, Tel Aviv

During these Passover and Easter spring festivals — with their rich traditions and meanings, "Father" Yakir feeds matzot to pigeons. We found a package of this seasonal unleavened bread on a bench with minimal, uh, droppings on the seat. 

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

January 15, 2015

Methuselah, a thriving young date palm sprouted from an ancient seed

A security fence protects Methuselah

Tamar in Hebrew means a date fruit or date palm. Meet young date palm Methuselah, affectionately named for the man reported in the Hebrew Bible to have lived the longest at the age of 969. Methuselah the tree is tenderly cultivated by the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura. Brainiac scientists germinated him (yes, he is male) from a seed nearly 2,000 years old found in the area. 

Methuselah's Snow-White-like awakening was widely covered by the media, including The New York Times that published fascinating details here, After 2,000 Years, a Seed From Ancient Judea Sprouts.

I captured this photo on a recent study tour of sustainable energy ventures in Israel's sparsely populated southern Arava desert valley (between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, a northern extension of the Red Sea). 

Related post