Students of Geography 101 know that Mt. Everest is the highest place on Earth, and the Dead Sea is the lowest. And now, these two "extreme" spots have joined together in a gorgeous new postage stamp, simultaneously issued by the governments of Israel and Nepal.
Nepal was among the first Asian countries to establish relations with Israel. Over the years, the two countries have cooperated closely in areas of health, agriculture and security. This marks the first time that Nepal has issued a joint stamp with another country.
The Dead Sea, at 422 meters below sea level, is the largest spa in the world. Its hypersalinity (about 10 times more salty than the ocean) provides unparalleled health benefits in the form of minerals found in its water and mud.
Mt. Everest, at 8,848 meters above sea level, is located in the Himalaya Mountains, on the border between Nepal and China. In 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary became the first climber to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, a feat that ever since come to symbolize extraordinary achievement.
The stamps are valued at 5 Shekels in Israel and at NPR 35 in Nepal.READ MORE...
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This week I read the horrific story of Thalidomide, a drug which pregnant women took during the late 1950s and early '60s to counter the nausea of "morning sickness."
Many children born to these mothers were too deformed to survive; those who did survive had a soaring rate of birth defects – most commonly stumps of arms and legs.
Today there is a whole group of armless survivors called "Thalidomide kids." They include an amazing guitar player who plays with his toes, and a filmmaker whose feature documentary on the disastrous side-effects of Thalidomide, "NoBody's Perfect," won the 2009 German Film Award for Best Documentary.
The drug was pulled from sale in 1961 after doctors linked it to birth defects.
Now – this week, 50 years later – the German pharmaceutical company Gruenenthal has finally apologized for the damage caused.
Also this week my mother told me that when she was pregnant with me (in 1960-61), the doctor suggested looking into the possibility of Thalidomide.
Thankfully, she refused.
Imagine what my life would be like, had my mother made a different decision.
Life is so complex, so fraught with perilous decisions at every turn.
Some people prosper, while others suffer.
We see "bad things" that happen to us, and may feel that our lot in life is unfair. Yet what about the many things in life that could have happened – the near-misses – that we don't even know about?
When put in this perspective, our own set of challenges becomes easier to bear. No, I didn't suffer the disaster of Thalidomide. But I do have my own set of challenges. And I embrace them, knowing that my life is closely guided by a loving and caring God.READ MORE...
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We are now in the Jewish month of Elul, which leads into Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This is the year's biggest opportunity to get our act together, to look deep inside and make those changes that we all know are painful but necessary. (Do I sound like a presidential candidate?)
It all starts with some brutal self-analysis, and a plan of action. The first step in making a plan is to determine your goals:
• What do I want my life to look like five years from now?
• How will I implement these goals?
• Do I have a series of achievable, short-term goals?
• What system will I use to monitor my progress?
This is not about solving the Iranian threat or finding the cure for cancer. It's all about getting down to the real you.
It's two weeks till Rosh Hashanah. You deserve a better you. And now's the time to get started.
To get started, check out some of these great tools on Aish.com:READ MORE...
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Neil Armstrong passed away this week at age 82 – a global iconic hero who became the first man to walk on the moon, uttering those immortal words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
What many don't know is that Armstrong was a lover of Zion. Thomas Friedman's book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, describes a visit that Armstrong made to Israel after his trip to the moon. He was taken on a tour of Jerusalem by Israeli archaeologist Meir Ben-Dov.
"I have to tell you," Armstrong remarked while walking near the Temple Mount. "I am more excited stepping on these stones than I was stepping on the moon."
Truly immortal words.READ MORE...
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There's good news and bad news from the Norwegian justice system.
The good news is that terrorist mass murderer Anders Breivik has been pronounced guilty of the brutal bomb and gun rampage that left 77 people dead last year – mostly kids at summer camp.
The bad news is that Breivik has been sentenced to a grand total of 21 years in prison. His incarceration will be in a three-room cell with a TV, exercise room and Ikea-style furniture.
This is shocking.
Although the sentence can later be extended (21 years is the maximum sentence allowed by Norwegian law, except for war crimes and genocide), given the beastly, premeditated, cold-blooded nature of the crime, justice has clearly not been served.
So what were the folks in Norway thinking over there? Before we Tweet our outrage and move on to the next piece of news, perhaps we should look a bit deeper and try to understand what might be behind this Norwegian system.
I believe the reason for our adverse reaction is because the American penal system is based on "punishment": Commit a crime, and you will suffer. But in Norway and other "progressive" countries, the purpose of incarceration is geared more toward rehabilitation – treating the psychological dysfunction which spurred the crime.
As Max Fisher reports in The Atlantic
The pleasant-sounding experience of being in Norwegian prison isn't some sign of Scandinavian weakness or naïveté; it's precisely the point. A comfortable cell, clean and relaxing environment, and nice daily activities such as cooking classes are all meant to prepare the criminal for potentially difficult or painful internal reformation. Incarceration, in this thinking, is the treatment for whatever social or psychological disease led them to transgress. The criminals are not primarily wrongdoers to be punished, but broken people to be fixed...
Here's the tough thing about restorative justice: it works, as long as you don't consider retribution to be its own inherent good. Despite the lighter sentences, restorative justice systems seem to reduce crime, reduce the cost of imprisoning criminals, and reduce recidivism... Proponents, such as University of Oslo professor Thomas Mathiesen, say it's better for society overall because it isn't about "revenge, but sober, dignified treatment."
In this instance, Breivik is an unrepentant murderer, and although the system maintains hope that he will come to his senses and reform, if he doesn’t, the sentence will be extended and he will likely remain behind bars for a lifetime.
Although one case cannot be compared to another, it is interesting to note that this rehabilitation approach – as opposed to the punishment system that Americans are used to – is discussed in the Torah.
The Torah prescribes that when one commits an act of theft and cannot repay, he must become a servant to the one he victimized. Though at first glance this might sound oppressive, it is anything but. The Torah (Leviticus 25:43) declares: "Do not oppress him" – a directive to treat the thief with utmost dignity and respect. Specifically, the thief cannot be given any demeaning jobs, and the master must provide high-quality food and accommodations – to the extent that if only one portion of food or one pillow is available, it goes to the servant.
Hence the basis of the Jewish "rehabilitation" model: By placing the criminal into a family atmosphere, he is exposed to a healthy environment of caring and sharing. For a thief, who displayed a stunning lack of respect for others and their property, this is a powerful mode of rehabilitation.
Of course, details of the Jewish method differ widely from what is practiced in Norway today (the Torah example refers to theft, not mass murder), and there is no question we should be justifiably outraged at Breivik's light sentence and comfortable conditions.
So before you press the comment and express outrage that Aish.com is condoning the Norwegian decision… No – we are not condoning it. We condemn the heinous crime, and we are outraged at the Norwegian system that is giving a mass murderer comfortable treatment. We are simply saying that we can learn something from all this. Let's appreciate that in the criminal justice system, there can be room for a lofty belief in the power of a human being to reform and rehabilitate.