Good News Friday 

Following a weeks of ups and downs it’s a relief to arrive at Friday and read some good news for a change. So here is this week’s Good News Friday installment.

The opening ceremony of the 2015 European Maccabi Games in Berlin

We’ll start off with the European “Jewish Olympics” – the European Maccabi Games.  This year, for the first time since WWII, the European Maccabi Games are taking place in Berlin of all places. The best and most historically ironic part is that they will be taking place at the very stadium which was built by Hitler for the Olympic Games in 1936 from which Jews were banned.

BERLIN — Over 2,300 Jewish athletes from 36 countries marched Tuesday in the opening ceremony of the 2015 European Maccabi Games in Berlin, in a poignant first since the Second World War.

The launch of the games, often referred to as the “Jewish Olympics,” took place at the Waldbüche, an amphitheater constructed for the 1936 Olympic Games and originally named the Dietrich-Eckart-Bühne — the Dietrich Eckart Stage — after Adolf Hitler’s mentor and the founder of the Nazi Party, Dietrich Eckart.

But the tone struck by Germany of 2015 was radically different.

Tuesday’s opening festivities followed a memorial ceremony for the victims of Nazi Germany at the Olympiastadion complex next door. German Justice Minister Heiko Maas told athletes, their families and dignitaries from Germany and abroad that “for much too long… real victims (of Nazi Germany) were forgotten,” and that in the years leading up to the 2015 games “this has finally changed.”

“Today Jewish life is once against flourishing in Germany,” he said, with the main stadium of the 1936 Olympic Games, from which Jews were banned, in the background. Germany was determined to “fight anti-Semitism with the utmost resolve” and give it “zero tolerance,” he vowed.

Pointing to Germany’s shift, he paid respects to Jewish female high jumper Gretel Bergmann, who, despite setting a national record, was banned from competing in the 1936 games because she was Jewish. “Hitler robbed her of Olympic victory,” Maas said, “but now there’s a street named after her in Berlin.”

While this week’s competition is officially titled the European Maccabi Games, participants hail from around the globe, representing 36 countries on six continents. They will be competing in 19 sports, from bridge to water polo. The largest delegation by far is the home team, with nearly 400 German Jewish athletes competing.

Members of the Israel’s Maccabi team team at Berlin’s so-called “Maifeld,” where the Nazis once held mass rallies, on July 28, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / TOBIAS SCHWARZ)

Berlin Police matched the number of athletes in attendance, standing guard at virtually every corner in the amphitheater for Tuesday’s opening event. After the whole assembly of athletes from around the world marched into the stadium — the German one entering last — police officers stood solemnly at attention as the German national anthem played.

Sadly, in a sign of the times, security has had to be at the maximum, but at least the Germans are taking it seriously:

In light of a rise in neo-Nazi threats, Berlin Police have ramped up security around the competition’s venues, including the Olympiastadion complex and an east Berlin hotel complex where Maccabi Games functions are hosted. Private security guards round out the police presence.

German newspaper Zeit Online also reported Monday that the potential threat of Islamist attacks has prompted organizers to caution athletes against wearing Jewish head coverings in “sensitive areas” of the capital.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed the “historical and political significance” of holding the games in Berlin which, she said in a statement, “not only strengthen the identity and sense of belonging within the Jewish community, but also offer opportunities for encounters and dialogue between Jews and non-Jews alike.”

On Monday, more than 500 athletes from 24 countries visited the Sachsenhausen concentration camp on the outskirts of Berlin, part of the Nazis’ machinery of death that claimed six million Jewish lives.

They met Holocaust survivors at the camp, which was built while the Olympics were held nearby, and attended a memorial service led by a rabbi.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said earlier that “the fact that Jewish athletes have decided, 70 years after the Holocaust, on Berlin as the venue for their games is anything but a given.

“We are proud and grateful for this vote of confidence.”

The games also coincide with the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations between Israel and Germany.

“It is an improbable success story that was only possible because Israel has offered us the hand of reconciliation, and because Germany has faced up to its responsibility for the Holocaust,” said Steinmeier.

It’s true that this reads as an improbable success story, but as our own roots trip to Germany testified, the German nation is probably doing more than any other European nation to atone for its past criems and to try to make amends with the Jewish people and Israel. For that we have much to be grateful for.

Brian Goldfarb added in a note:

During my time with Maccabi GB, now some 20 years or more in the past (and not counting my preceding years as Chair of the management committee of Leicester Maccabi), the possibility of holding these games in Germany came up once or twice…and were rejected, without any serious discussion, every time. “Can you imagine”, younger, mainland of Europe Maccabi leaders would say, “the reaction to this?” They meant from among emigre Jews and survivors of the Shoah. Those of us from the UK had, perforce, to bow to this: we (and our parents) had been lucky: the Nazis never got across the Channel.

Now, nearly all of that preceding generation have gone, and there is a new generation in Germany, typified by Angela Merkel and her attitude of outreach.

Times change, and sometimes for the better.

Indeed. Kol hakavod to the German leadership and the organizers of the Maccabi Games for this enterprise. We also wish the best of luck to all the athletes!

From one kind of champion to another, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the founder and head of Shurat Hadin, the Israel Law Center, which fights back against anti-Israel political moves, boycotts and NGOs using the force of law and lawfare, has been nominated as one of the Top 10 Living Jewish Women Role models:

Nitsana is a fearless fighter for Israel on the legal battlefield and has had some very important victories. It is hard to think of a more deserving recipient. Mazal tov Nitsana! May you continue to go from strength to strength, defending Israel as much as any soldier on the battlefield.

Prof. Gal Yadid

Moving now to the field of technology, an Israeli researcher can erase the memory of addiction:

The white powder that’s sniffed, smoked or injected is so highly addictive, because users develop tolerance quickly, causing them to gradually increase the amounts they consume. This and other factors make cocaine addictions one of the most difficult drugs to recover from, with drastically high relapse rates.

One Israeli researcher hopes he can combat this rate of relapse by overhauling the way we do drug rehabilitation. According to Bar Ilan University Prof. Gal Yadid, drug addiction is not the reward disease that it was once believed to be, but rather a learning and memory disease that is more like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than anything else. This distinction made it clear that in order to curb addiction, something had to be dramatically changed in the brain. That’s where Yadid’s alternative method to traditional rehabilitation, called “the Incubation of Craving”, comes into play.

By identifying the changes made to our DNA during withdrawal from drugs, namely cocaine, Yadid is able to reprogram the genes responsible for triggering the addict’s strongest cravings to ensure that they won’t return. The method has undergone successful trials in rats addicted to cocaine, and if Yadid is able to show similar results in humans, traditional rehab centers and “replacement” drugs could be a thing of the past.

“Eternal Sunside” of the addicted mind

In what sounds like something out of the science-fiction movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, Yadid claims that he is able to “erase” the memory of drug addiction, thereby preventing relapse. Before jumping to any rash conclusions about what “erasing” memories may mean, we should clarify the scientific backstory.

“The beauty of acute, robust and targeted treatment is that you don’t change all of the genes in the brain; you only change the genes that have undergone the most dramatic epigenetic changes. Those genes are reset immediately when they meet the drug at a very specific time and according to a particular cue so that we are reprogramming the genes at the height of the craving,” says Yadid of the method, which has yet to be examined in human subjects. Though Yadid claims that this method could potentially “erase” the memory of addiction for up to 15 years, it is still uncertain how long the brain will retain the effects of the demethylating drugs. He will present the results of his study for examination by his colleagues at the annual Society for Neuroscience Conference this year.

Could rehabilitation be as simple as taking a daily supplement?

If the idea of altering genes in your brain scares you (you’re not alone in that boat), Yadid has a more “natural” way to help wean addicts off drugs. He discovered that a common, over-the-counter supplement used mostly for its anti-aging benefits called DHEA could dramatically decrease the likelihood of relapse.

Read the whole thing. It is fascinating and slightly futuristic, but if it works the benefits would be countless and of huge benefit to all society: from addicts to their families to law enforcement to the medical field. Kol hakavod to Prof. Yadid on his research and let’s hope it achieves the desired result. (On a personal note: Prof Yadid taught our son in Bar Ilan University).

A priest inspects the damage caused to the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, which was set on fire on June 18, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Last month a shameful act of arson seriously damaged the Church of the Loaves and Fishes on the Kinneret, and what made the act even worse that it apparently was carried out by Jews. There is simply no excuse for such religious violence on purely moral grounds, let alone on political grounds considering that the Christians in Israel are an honourable and peaceful community.

Therefore it was extremely heartening to read that a group of Orthodox Rabbis are raising funds to renovate the torched church:

A crowdfunding campaign by a group of Orthodox rabbis and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein raised over NIS 50,000 ($13,000) to fix the damage to a landmark church in northern Israel that was torched last month by Jewish vandals.

The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, was set on fire June 18. Anti-Christian graffiti in Hebrew was scrawled on the church wall in an attack that drew condemnation from across Israel’s political spectrum, including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Several Jewish suspects were arrested earlier this month in connection with the case.

“Condemnation is not enough; after a while it loses its credibility,” said Elijah Interfaith Institute Director Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, who is spearheading the effort. “When Jews reach into their pockets to support a cause, one knows they are serious.”

The project received the endorsement of 17 leading Orthodox rabbis, including Rabbi David Stav, Nahum Rabinovitch of Ma’ale Adumim, Shlomo Riskin of Efrat and former Jewish Home party leader Daniel Hershkowitz.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein meets with a group of Orthodox rabbis at his office following the torching of the Tabgha church, June 25, 2015. (Yuli Edelstein Facebook page)

As of Monday, the campaign raised some NIS 56,000 ($14,838), topping its target of NIS 50,000 ($13,000) with two days to go.

The church, which is believed by Christians to be the site of Jesus’s miracle of multiplying two fish and five loaves to feed 5,000 people, was set on fire June 18. Two people who were in the building — a 19-year-old tourist and a 79-year-old employee — suffered minor injuries from smoke inhalation. No significant damage was inflicted to the church itself, as the fire raged mainly on the roof. Some damage was caused to a book-storage room, offices, and an event hall.

Kol hakavod to these Rabbis who have put their well-known names and reputations to work to restore harmony between the religious communities. May they continue to serve as a shining example of what religious tolerance should look like.

And on this hopeful note I wish you all Shabbat Shalom!

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One Response to Good News Friday 

  1. Reality says:

    What a great blog as always! I wonder if the anti addiction trials could also be done with chocolate?! I would volunteer! Seriously,what a good idea.
    Well done to the group of Rabbis for raising money to help restore the church.Would that would happen ,when synagogues,or schools, etc are targeted by Arabs.That would surely bring about peace much faster.
    Well done Nitsana Darshan -Leitner.She is truly a role model.
    As for the Maccabia games in Berlin, my first thought was why,what for,why are we Jews always craving to return to sites of atrocities?But then having rethought this through,I guess there’s so many places we could say this about,that sometimes we have to push through the bad feelings,and take hold of the hand that stretches out to us in peace.I wish the Israeli team the best of luck.Who cares who wins?They should have a good time! It’s a marvelous way of thumbing our noses at Hitler and his ilk!

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