In 2007, a British woman named Claire Lomas was paralyzed from the chest down after breaking her neck and back in a horse-riding accident. She had no chance of ever walking again.
Until the Israelis came along.
When an accident left Israeli entrepreneur Amit Goffer as a quadriplegic, he designed the ReWalk suit, an ingenious device that enables people with lower-limb paralysis to "walk." ReWalk uses an array of motion sensors to detect upper body movement, which then causes the bionic leg braces to ambulate.
This month, Lomas became the first paralyzed person to complete a marathon not using a wheelchair. She began the London Marathon on April 22 with 36,000 other participants and completed the 26-mile route 16 days after the race began.
"Once I started, I just took each day as it came," she said. "And every step got me a step closer."
The change from wheelchair to walking is profound. Not only in terms of mobility (ReWalk can climb stairs), but also being able to speak eye-to-eye with others goes a long way in building dignity and self-confidence. Goffer, the inventor of the system, says: "When I was injured the first thing I was offered was the only thing: a wheelchair… There hasn't been a real change [in technology] for centuries."
Ironically, Goffer cannot benefit from his own invention. As a quadriplegic, he has only partial use of his hands, but not enough to operate the ReWalk.
To me, this is another chapter in the Israeli story of bringing positive change to the world. The Jewish people are masters of hope and spirit - for millennia the cutting-edge leaders in agriculture, medicine, technology and, of course, the ethical system we're now celebrating on the Shavuot holiday.
On Sunday evening, tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews packed into Citi Field (home to baseball’s New York Mets) for a rally to discuss responsible use of the Internet. No need to reiterate that message here; Aish.com has already dealt extensively with the issue of online pornography, as well as the addictive pull of the Internet. (See articles here, here, here and here.)
What got me riled up was media coverage of the event. This New York Times video report gave less airtime to the 40,000-plus attendees than it did to the few dozen “anti-Orthodox” protesters. One protester, a middle-aged man in a tank top, told viewers of the Times that this rally
In truth, far from issuing its “last dying gasp,” Orthodoxy is the most vibrant and fastest-growing segment of American Jewry. This “floundering” community somehow managed to pack Citi Field and is planning another gathering of 90,000 people at MetLife Stadium in August.
It’s one thing to interview a professor who has conducted extensive sociological studies to offer a reasoned assessment of the Orthodox community. But for the Times to give a platform to outright falsehoods is irresponsible, agenda-driven reporting.
Closing out the Times’ video report is a statement by rally spokesman Eytan Kobre, whose words are taken out of context and cleverly edited, making it sound as if he describes his own Orthodox community as “putting one’s head in the sand.”
This is not the first time the New York Times has pulled such a stunt. I recall ten years ago when the Salute to Israel parade in Manhattan drew 800,000 people, including marching bands and professionally-designed floats. A few hundred protesters also showed up – representing less than one-tenth of one percent of total attendance.
Yet the Times ran a front-page photo of a protester clutching a large anti-Israel poster, suggesting to readers that there had been a huge anti-Israel parade. Inside the newspaper as well, a large photo of protesters showed a banner that likened Zionism to Nazism.
Following numerous complaints, the Times issued a rare apology:
As documented in my book, David & Goliath, the New York Times has a long and sordid history of anti-Jewish bias. Back in the 1930s, Times’ publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger was a committed anti-Zionist. When the British passed laws restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine – thus slamming the door on Jews desperate to flee the Nazi inferno – a Times editorial praised the law as necessary “to save the homeland itself from overpopulation.” The Times’ horrific cover-up of the Holocaust is well-documented as a policy directed by Sulzberger for both political and personal reasons: He didn’t want his paper characterized as “Jewish,” and he didn’t approve of Jews helping fellow Jews.
For the millions of New York Times readers worldwide, this week’s rally at Citi Field is just another sad reminder that when it comes to Jewish concerns, the news is not quite “fit to print.”
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For centuries, urban legend has posited the Jewish heritage of Christopher Columbus. After all, Columbus set sail on his famous voyage from Spain in 1492 – on the very same day that Jews were being "ethnically cleansed" from the Iberian Peninsula.
Actually, Columbus was originally scheduled to sail on August 2, 1492, which fell on Tisha B'Av, the Jewish national day of mourning that marks the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem. Columbus postponed his journey by one day… to avoid this historically inauspicious Jewish occasion.
Further evidence: Columbus' last will and testament was signed with a triangular signature of dots and letters that resembled inscriptions found on gravestones of Jewish cemeteries in Spain. CNN reports:
Columbus occasionally noted dates by the Jewish calendar, and included some Hebrew in his writings. In the top left-hand corner of personal correspondence frequently wrote the Hebrew letters bet-hei, meaning b'ezrat Hashem (with God's help) – a practice common among observant Jews.
Beyond this, linguists have analyzed the language and syntax of hundreds of Columbus' handwritten documents and concluded that his primary language was Castilian Spanish – the "Yiddish" of Spanish Jewry, known as "Ladino."
But before jumping to any conclusions, consider the wealth of evidence that Columbus was Christian. Bottom line: Expect this debate to rage for another few hundred years.
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Today marks the 45th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem. Israel designated Jerusalem as its capital in 1950, yet most countries maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv due to ongoing political debate with the Palestinians. This has given rise to an unprecedented situation whereby a sovereign state – Israel – is denied the diplomatic right to choose the location of its capital city.
The U.S. Congress sought to reverse this travesty with the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, passed by overwhelming bipartisan majority in both the House and Senate. The act states that "Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999."
Since then, a parade of U.S. presidents have promised to uphold this pledge. But since the congressional act allows the President to implement a waiver at six-month intervals, that's exactly what has happened every six months since 1995.
This has created a situation whereby politicians, the media, and the world at large routinely ignore the fact that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Last month, the Washington Post printed this ditty:
Similarly, the Wall Street Journal has referred to Israel's capital as Tel Aviv, noting the "strains between Washington and Tel Aviv" ("U.S., Israel Spar in Public, But Defense Ties are Strong," May 4, 2010), while CNN referred to "an explosion in the Israeli capital of Tel Aviv" ("Blast in Israeli Capital," January 22, 2006).
This one really takes the prize: The London Guardian correctly referred to Jerusalem as Israel's capital - but then printed this retraction/correction:
I'm not sure what can be done about all this, but one young man has taken the fight to court, and just last month the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that American citizens born in Jerusalem can list their birthplace as "Israel."
Even Republican candidate Ron Paul, long known as a critic of Israel, made this recent statement:
In the meantime, with or without "international approval," the city that King David designated as the capital of Israel and the Jewish people is 45 years unified, 3,000-plus years Jewish, and still going strong. Check out this cool panorama view of modern Jerusalem.
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I heard this inspiring story from my dear friend Jonathan Rosenblum.
Rabbi Avraham Ginzberg immigrated to the United States prior to World War II. He became involved in fundraising for a yeshiva, and in the course of these activities met a number of wealthy individuals.
One woman was so impressed with Rabbi Ginzberg that she included him in her will ― to the tune of $250,000. For Rabbi Ginzberg, who had a large family to support, that money was a huge financial relief. But Rabbi Ginzberg insisted that since he had met this wealthy woman as a representative of the yeshiva, the money rightfully belongs to the yeshiva, not to him.
When Rabbi Ginzberg's son heard this, he objected, pointing out his father's vast ongoing personal expenses. The son took upon himself to ask the great Rabbi Moshe Feinstein for a ruling.
Rabbi Feinstein said: Since the will named Rabbi Ginzberg specifically ― not the yeshiva ― the money does in fact belong to him.
The son raced home with the good news. When Rabbi Ginzberg heard, he erupted in joy.
"I am a man of modest means and I could never imagine being able to donate a quarter-million dollars to a yeshiva. But now that the money is rightfully mine, I can finally fulfill that dream!"
And with that, he promptly wrote a check to the yeshiva for $250,000.
This story highlights a sensation that only a lucky few enjoy: Working for an organization that likewise represents one's greatest personal aspirations. In this case, Rabbi Ginzberg was getting paid… for doing what he himself was willing to pay for. What a marvelous inspiration.
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I've always enjoyed computing math problems in my head, and much prefer the human approach to a calculator. (What's 17 x 24. I dare you!)
So how does the human brain compare to a computer, anyway?
Human storage capacity is estimated at 100 terabytes, or 100 trillion data points. (One terabyte is equal to 1,000 gigabytes, or 1 million megabytes.) By comparison, my desktop computer holds one terabyte.
But as we know, computers are getting bigger and stronger all the time. "Moore's Law" notes the tendency of computers to become twice as powerful about every two years. Does that mean we'll be able to build computers more powerful than the human brain within a few decades?
Forrest Wickman, writing on Slate.com, says it's impractical. The brain is remarkably energy-efficient, running on about 12 watts ― the electricity it takes to light some high-efficiency light bulbs. The amount of energy needed to run a computer as powerful as the human brain would be approximately one gigawatt of power, equal to the energy currently consumed by all of Washington, DC.
By the way, 17 x 24 is 408.
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Rabbi Henry Harris of the Aish Center in Manhattan shared with me this beautiful story:
A woman in our neighborhood recently passed away after a long struggle with cancer. Her husband spoke at the funeral and shared that when his wife was diagnosed with cancer over seven years ago, she decided that she did not want the disease to take over her or her family's lives.
She kept things a secret from her young children and put her best foot forward every day while battling, struggling, and dealing with a lot of pain.
Finally her doctor told her that she did not have much more time. She decided that she was going to tell her youngest son (now 13) when he came home from camp at the end of this past summer.
When the boy came home, he could immediately tell something was wrong, and his mother proceeded to explain. Her son's response was simple but powerful. He said "Why you?" She has always been a model mother and citizen, a giver, a powerful and positive force in her community and in the world... so the question was very real... Why??
Here was her answer: "When I first started dating and immediately found the love of my life, I didn't ask 'why me?'. When I became pregnant in the first year of marriage when so many of our friends struggled for years to conceive, I didn't ask 'why me?'. When I was fortunate enough to never struggle financially as my husband was blessed to be making a good living, I didn't ask 'why me?'. When my older children got married with the same ease and started their own beautiful families, I didn't ask 'why me?'. So I'm not going to start asking now!"
Such faith and clarity in the face of adversity is rare and very special. In a moment like that, who can blame a person for breaking down? Instead she stood strong and true. I know how impactful this one story of her life was to me. I can only imagine how she affected those around her in her lifetime through those positive choices. A true inspiration. May her soul be elevated.
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Iconic hair-dresser Vidal Sassoon died this week at age 84. What many don't know is that Sassoon, a Sephardic Jew who grew up in London, had a long history of fighting anti-Semitism.
At age 18 he joined the "43 Group," a Jewish defense organization working against post-World War II anti-Semitism. Sassoon and compatriots scoured the streets of east London breaking up fascist gatherings -- a legacy that later earned him the title of "anti-fascist warrior-hairdresser."
Of those early years in London, Sassoon recalled:
In 1948, at age 20, Sassoon jumped at the chance to stand up as a proud Jew and volunteered to fight in Israel's War of Independence. He later described that experience as "the best year of my life":
Sassoon described how he
Sassoon continued his fight for Jewish causes throughout his lifetime. In 1982, he founded the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.Robert S. Wistrich, director of Center, writes:
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The legacy of King David got a big boost this week when archaeologists announced the discovery of a fortified Jewish city from the time of David 3,000 years ago.
The site, Khirbet Qeiyafa, lies about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem, adjacent to the Valley of Ella where the Jews encamped when David slew Goliath. Archaeologists discovered the remains of 99 dwellings in this fortified city whose walls once stood 20 feet high.
Archaeologists are certain this was a Jewish city, given that the people who lived there obeyed the Torah prohibitions against eating pig and making graven images. Diggers found none of the idolatrous figurines common at other sites, and ― though the site contains thousands of bones of sheep, goats and cattle ― there are no pig bones, suggesting adherence to kosher regulations.
Professor Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University, who led the excavation, explained that these findings stand as proof against those who claim that David was either a mythological figure or a small-time village leader. This Jewish city 20 miles from Jerusalem constitute the best proof yet of the existence of a regional Jewish monarchy during the time of David.
Related reading: Archeology and the Bible
Everyone remembers Israel's daring 1976 rescue of hostages at Entebbe. This week marks the 40th anniversary of another incredible rescue:
On May 8, 1972 a Boeing 707 operated by the Belgian national airline, Sabena, was hijacked by four Palestinian terrorists en route from Vienna to Tel Aviv. The plane landed at Lod (later Ben Gurion Airport) and the terrorists threatened to blow up the airplane with its passengers.
(For the British pilot, Reginald Levy, it was an especially bad day: His wife was aboard the plane, and he was celebrating his 50th birthday.)
Israeli commandos quickly moved into action. First, they snuck under the plane to deflate its tires and disable its hydraulic systems.
Then, the commandos donned white overalls and disguised themselves as airplane mechanics. Ostensibly coming to "help" repair the plane, they successfully reached the plane without raising suspicion. They then quickly removed the Boeing 707's emergency exit doors and stormed the plane.
Within minutes it was all over. Two hijackers were killed and two others ― both women ― were captured. All the passengers were rescued.
Two of the commandos, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, went on to become Prime Minister of Israel. Netanyahu's brother, Yonatan (Yoni), also wanted to participate in the operation, but was refused on the grounds that two brothers should not be in danger on the same day. As it turns out, Bibi was wounded during the rescue operation and had to be evacuated. "I saw Yoni running toward me," he recalls. "When he saw that I have a big hole on the side of my face, a wide smile appeared on his. 'You see, I told you, you shouldn't have gone'."
Yoni was killed four years later in the Entebbe raid.
This week, at an event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Sabena rescue, Netanyahu put Israel's fight against terror into perspective: "Ultimately, no one will defend the Jews if the Jews do not protect themselves. This is the cardinal rule."
I just finished reading Out of the Depths (Sterling, 2011), the phenomenal autobiography of Israel's former Chief Rabbi, Israel Meir Lau. I had the great privilege of interviewing Rabbi Lau for this Aish.com film, in which he describes his rise from the youngest survivor of Buchenwald to becoming one of the most respected individuals of our generation. But I never knew the full extent of his life until reading this gripping book. He describes lengthy conversations with Yitzhak Rabin, Fidel Castro, Pope John Paul II, and visits to every corner of the world.
This one story captures so much of the drama that typifies Rabbi's Lau's life:
He asked for a glass of water. The woman bowed her head, then invited him to come inside. Again the Jew asked to know what had happened to her father, and explained that he had felt like a son to the rabbi, and that he had a responsibility to memorialize him. Finally, the woman recounted her story.
It was morning, after services. Her father was sitting beside the table wearing his tallis and tefillin, studying Talmud. Suddenly they heard a savage pounding on the door. "I opened the door. Three Gestapo men burst into the room. They threw me on the ground. I got up and ran to see what they wanted. They pushed their way into my father's room. He raised his head and gave them a look that I won't forget until my dying day. He stared at them as if to ask, What do you want from me? What can I do for you? That was to be his last look. One of the three slung the rifle off his shoulder and pounded the butt on my father's head... His beautiful white beard reddened, and he fell onto the open Talmud.
"What do you want from me? Can't you understand the source of my bitterness? Can't you understand my anger? That's how they took my father," she ended.
The man sat before her and wept for his rabbi, the daughter weeping along with him. "My sister," he said, "you cannot possibly understand how much I understand you. I also have many questions, but I have no answers. No human being can answer such questions. The Torah cautions that the secret things belong unto the Lord our God ― we, however, have the responsibility to act. But the revealed things apply to us and to our children forever: that we must fulfill all the words of this Torah.
"Your child's grandfather has only one grandchild," he continued. "A fateful and historic decision now lies in your hands. If he continues in his present direction, you are handing your father's murderers their victory. That is exactly what they wanted ― to put out the fire, the flame of Judaism, so that it would never burn again. But if your child follows his grandfather's path, then they have lost the war, and your father has won. Who deserves to win? The key is in your hands. Do you want to finish their work? Will you finish spiritually what they did not finish physically? Or will your father win, and his grandson pick up his grandfather's studies on the very page of Talmud where he left off?"
With these words, the Jew walked out of the house. The daughter was stunned. She ran after him, got into his car, and said, "I want to get him out of [the monastery] right now." Then she added, "On the condition that you take responsibility for his education. I have no one else who can do it." He agreed, on his own condition: that she assist him, so as not to traumatize the child by the abrupt transition. "You draw him near to you, and through you, I will draw near to him," he proposed.
Today, this child is a rosh yeshiva in Jerusalem. He is the only living descendant of the old rabbi from Warsaw.
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With the U.S. government releasing 175 pages of documents seized in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, two things caught my attention:
(1) Fatah, the governing faction of the Palestinian Authority (Abbas and Fayyad) offered money to al-Qaeda "towards the purchase and manufacture of weapons." Al-Qaeda records state that the Palestinian leadership "has offered us funds, purportedly to [support] jihad, but there is another reason, namely their fear of becoming targets of our swords."
Israel has long contended a Palestinian-Al Qaeda connection, and the media has long tried to deny it. When an al-Qaeda cell was discovered in Gaza, Palestinians claimed that the Israeli Mossad had set it up as a fake. BBC trumpeted the Palestinian version with this headline: "Israel 'Faked al-Qaeda Presence.'"
(2) Another amazing thing to emerge from the confiscated papers showed how bin Laden himself pondered the merits of working with the American media. Bin Laden singled out his affinity for CBS, which he concluded was "close to being unbiased." Another al-Qaeda operative praised the CBS program, 60 Minutes, for its "good reputation."
Aish.com has documented the bias of 60 Minutes against Israel. But in al-Qaeda's eyes, they're doing a fine job. How's that for a ringing endorsement?
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One of the most difficult aspects of our efforts to comprehend God is that by essence He is “infinite and transcendent” – i.e. not bound by time or space. We humans, however, view time as a linear progression and space as three dimensions. (See an explanation of this quandary in Aish’s Ask the Rabbi.)
Aish.com reader Jacob Stark shared the following insight: The numerical value of Pi is essentially infinite, in that no repeating pattern occurs or truncates at some point. In fact, computers are known to have calculated Pi to millions of decimal places – with still no pattern in sight.
Now here’s the dichotomy: Although this number is infinite – i.e. “out of our realm” – it remains a feature of our everyday lives. Anyone who has taken basic geometry knows that we use Pi in all sorts of measurements – the area of a circle, the volume of a sphere, etc. In higher mathematics as well, Pi is used in the measurement of angles and other applications where it is seemingly irrelevant. This oddball number is not so odd after all; it impacts so much of the world around us – the cars we drive, the computers we work on, the clothes we wear.
Perhaps this idea brings us just a drop closer to understanding the nature of God. Although He is infinite and may seem far away, He is always right by us in everyday life. Like Pi, which is found in many places not directly related to circumferences and diameters, God interfaces beyond the synagogue, even in the mundane aspects of our life – breathing, thinking, loving.
(For a fascinating biblical source of the value of Pi, see here.)
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My mother lives in a 14-story building in Jerusalem, and taking the Shabbat elevator can be a laborious, time-consuming proposition.
What’s a Shabbat elevator? Since observant Jews do not operate electrical devises on Shabbat (but can use a devise that is preset from before Shabbat), the way to use an elevator on Shabbat is to pre-set it to stop and open its doors at every floor. Yes, every floor on the way up, and every floor on the way down (then back up again). This way, nobody has to summon an elevator or press any buttons; just get in and go for the (slow) ride.
The ride is not so bad, but it’s waiting for the elevator that can be a drag.
Now an enterprising young Jerusalem engineering student, 24-year-old Shlomo Friedman, has come to the rescue. He’s invented a small wireless devise that receives real-time updates from the elevator – then displays on a small LCD screen exactly how much time remains until the elevator arrives.
Purchase one of these devises for your apartment or hotel room and – presto – no more waiting. Just head out to the elevator when there’s about a minute left – and hop right on!
The market for this is not as small as you might think. Friedman estimates that in Israel there are approximately 70,000 high-rise buildings (apartments and hotels) that use Shabbat elevators. Beyond this are other heavily Jewish areas such as New York, Miami, London and – believe it or not – Panama City, where 20 buildings use Shabbat elevators.
Learn more about this fascinating invention: www.beeontime.co.il
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Perhaps you’ve seen the cartoon depicting a biblical character complaining to Moses for having “led us for 40 years in the desert to the one place in the Middle East that has no oil!”
This is no longer the case. Incredibly, Israel is now on the verge of energy independence – due to three recent developments:
- the discovery of huge deposits – trillions of cubit feet – of natural gas in the Mediterranean sea off the coast of northern Israel, enough to supply all of Israel’s needs into the foreseeable future
- the discovery of onshore oil fields
- the near-completion of Better Place’s nationwide electric car infrastructure
Now here’s the really cool part.
Back in 1993, when Tovia Luskin began searching for oil, the prevailing wisdom was still stuck on that biblical cartoon. Luskin, a Russian-born geologist who is very religious, was intrigued by a passage in the Torah stating that Jacob (Israel) will “suck oil out of the flinty rock” (Deut. 32:13).
In the next chapter, Moses blesses the tribes of Menashe and Ephraim with “the best of the ancient mountains, and the sweetness of the eternal hills” (Deut. 33:15).
Using information provided by the medieval commentator Rashi, Luskin saw these verses as hinting to geological structural traps, associated with petroleum reservoirs.
So Luskin did what any smart businessman and believing Jew would do: He surveyed the tribal area allocated to Menashe and performed a geological evaluation. This led him to the spot now known as the Meged field, containing hundreds of millions of barrels of oil.
“It confirmed the story in the Bible,” Luskin told the Times of Israel. “I have worked on oil fields in Australia, Indonesia and Canada, and I have never seen a structure so likely to contain oil as the Meged field.”
Luskin’s plans for the future include building a university in Israel to train engineers in oil and gas exploration and energy management. “If a solution to the energy crisis is to be found, it will be here,” Luskin says, adding that “the world needs the Jewish brain.”