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

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

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

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.


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 Jewish People

“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.

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), a video clip from an important film of an important historical event, one that defines the nature of human cruelty and how it is so easy for many to be seduced by a charismatic leader and to act with indifference toward someone who is different. In this case, “someone” are the Jewish People, the eternal scapegoats. It seems that what you believe will influence how you will act. If you can, see the complete film.
Via: Youtube

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 human cruelty 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—one of the many such passages found in 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.

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