Good News Friday

As in previous weeks, I’m hardly in the mood to find any good news at all, so I hope you appreciate my mental effort in the difficult search for a light amongst the darkness. With that caveat, I present you with this week’s Good News Friday installment.

I’m going to concentrate first on some defence and military news:

A new report reveals that Russia has suspended its delivery of S-300 missiles to Iran because they discovered (Boker Tov Eliyahu!) that Iran has violated its pledge not to transfer other missile systems to Hezbollah. Honestly, where has Russia been until now?

A senior source told the newspaper that the Russian leader elected to punish the Iranian regime after Israel supplied him with clear-cut evidence that Tehran had given its proxy Hezbollah SA-22 surface-to-air missiles.

SA-22 anti-aircraft battery

The intelligence information was corroborated by reports from Russian pilots flying their fighter jets over Lebanon and Syria.

The Russian air force anti-missile radars were able to detect SA-22 systems stashed in regions of Lebanon that are under the control of the Shi’ite militia.

I still wonder whether it was not the actual revelation of the pledge-violation, but maybe subtle (or not-so-subtle) threats from Israel that persuaded the Russians? I guess we’ll never know, but it is certainly good news for now.

On a related issue, last week the Israeli Air Force took possession of the David’s Sling air defense system:

David’s Sling can intercept short- to medium- range rockets and ballistic missiles, including guided projectiles, cruise missiles, aircraft and drones. Its range of coverage means it can destroy incoming threats over enemy territory, away from Israeli skies.

David’s Sling missile system

Last week, an Israeli security source said David’s Sling “will become operational this year,” and called it “an inseparable part” of Israeli air defenses.

The system will join the IAF’s multi-layered rocket and missile-defense systems, and allow Israel to cope with a wide-range of existing and future threats “more effectively,” the ministry said.

It is designed primarily to deal with precision- guided incoming projectiles, and will provide a back-up to the Arrow air-defense systems.

Together with the good news about the cancellation of the S-300 missiles to Iran, this is very good news indeed for Israel.

Moving now to a completely different sphere, although staying within the region, a unique ecological project, a model farm between Israel and Jordan, has been taking place on both sides of the Jordan:

A “model farm” agreement – under the aegis of the Regional Cooperation Ministry, led by Deputy Minister Ayoub Kara – will be signed tomorrow (Tuesday, 8 March 2016), between the Tamar Regional Council and the South Ghor regional council in Jordan. The initiative is designed to resolve a long-term threat that vermin – mainly the housefly – pose to agriculture in the Jordan Valley, on both sides of the Jordan River, and promote advanced and efficient agriculture in both Israel and Jordan.

Panorama of the Jordan Valley

The model farm will be established in Jordan and will be managed by Israeli and Jordanian experts. It will provide for the exchange of appropriate agro-technology and expertise between Israeli and Jordanian farmers regarding the housefly, the use of various fertilizers, the identification of suitable varieties of agricultural products, and increasing the profitability of agriculture in the South Ghor region.

What a wonderful idea, both on the ecological level and on the diplomatic level. This is the way that peace will be achieved, if ever, between the sides in the Middle East – through normalization and cooperation at the (almost literal) grass-roots level, rather than through grandiose statements and “peace” conferences. Kol hakavod to all the ministries and personnel involved on both sides who organized this project.

And now we travel through time back a few centuries to Italy, where we find the oldest Torah scroll still in use today: – and it’s almost 800 years old!

A Torah scroll from the synagogue in the northern Italian town of Biella has been identified as probably the oldest in the world still owned and used by a Jewish community.

Dario Disegni, the president of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Italy, told a meeting of the foundation board in Rome on Wednesday that Carbon 14 dating carried out by the Geochronology Laboratory of the University of Illinois put the date of the scroll at around 1250.

Part of a document said by an Italian expert to be the oldest known complete Torah scroll. (photo credit: AP Photo/Alma Mater Studiorum Universita’ di Bologna)

“This is exciting news that is of extraordinary importance for Italian Judaism,” he said.

The scroll, which since 2012 had undergone restoration on behalf of the foundation by an Italian scribe, or sofer, will be returned to the Biella synagogue at a ceremony on Sunday.

The scroll was one of several ancient Torah scrolls examined by experts in 2012 and then chosen as the one best suited for restoration. It was believed originally to date from the 14th century.

Having a sofer (scribe) as a son-in-law, I have learned a little about Torah scrolls. One of the things I learned is that as they age, especially when they’re in constant use, Torah scrolls eventually become un-usable. Therefore this scroll is almost miraculous. Mazal tov to the Biella synagogue and congregation on the re-dedication of their ancient Sefer Torah.

Since we’re talking of ancient times, how about an ancient winery and bathhouse that was discovered in Jerusalem?

Ancient 1,600-year-old finds were recently unearthed during archaeological excavations on the Schneller Compound in Jerusalem, prior to the construction of residential buildings for the capital’s haredi population.

The excavations, financed by the Merom Yerushalayim Company and conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), focus on the site of the Schneller Orphanage, which operated in Jerusalem from 1860 until the Second World War.

During the British Mandate, its German inhabitants were expelled and a military base was established there. After the British withdrawal in 1948 the compound was turned over to the Hagana and later served as an army base used by the IDF until 2008.

Now, ahead of the construction of a new housing project, ancient finds were unearthed including a large winery from the Roman or Byzantine period around 1,600 years ago.

Excavation director Alex Wiegmann with oil lamp

The winery included a pressing surface paved with white mosaic, with a pit at the center in which a press screw was anchored that aided in extracting the maximum amount of must from the grapes. Eight cells were installed around the pressing surface, for the storage of grapes and possibly also for blending the must with other ingredients in producing flavored wine.

Archaeologists believe the winery served the residents of a large manor house whose inhabitants made their living by, among other things, viticulture and wine production.

Right next to the winery was found evidence of a bathhouse, including terra cotta pipes used to heat the bathhouse and several clay bricks, some of which were stamped with the name of the Tenth Roman Legion. This legion was one of four Roman legions that participated in the conquest and occupation of Jewish Jerusalem, and its units remained garrisoned in the city until 300 CE.

Terra cotta pipes of the bathhouse

A main center of the Roman legion was near the current Binyanei Hauma, which is just around 800 meters from the Schneller Compound excavation. Archaeologists suggest that the Schneller site, in the form of a manor house, constituted an auxiliary settlement to the main site that was previously exposed at Binyanei Hauma. As was customary in the Roman world, here too in the Schneller Compound, a private bathhouse was incorporated in the plan of the estate.

The current archaeological find is actually a continuation of the salvage excavations that were carried out at the site half a year ago, when evidence was uncovered there of a Jewish settlement that dated to the Late Second Temple period.

This is fascinating stuff, and I love the way the archeological discovery links back to yet another one, this time of Jewish origin. When you walk in Israel you are literally walking on ancient history.

Speaking of history, though not quite so ancient, an appropriate item to conclude this week’s post (via Hadassah) is the confirmation by Guiness world records of an Israeli Holocaust survivor, who is “only” 112 years old, as the world’s oldest man!

Guinness World Records has confirmed a 112-year-old Israeli Holocaust survivor as the world’s oldest man.

Yisrael Kristal’s status was verified after documents confirming his age were uncovered in Poland in recent months, Haaretz reported Thursday night.

Holocaust survivor Yisrael Kristal, 112, confirmed in March 2016 as the oldest man in the world. (Courtesy of family)


Kristal’s family say he was born in Poland on September 15, 1903, three months before the Wright brothers took the first airplane flight.

He lived in the country until the Nazi occupation during World War II, when he was eventually sent to the infamous Nazi death camp of Auschwitz.

Formerly, the family’s oldest document was from his wedding at age 25. But Guinness regulations demand documentation from the first 20 years of a person’s life.

A new document recently found in a Polish archives showed him to have been a resident of Lodz in 1918, at age 15.

Kristal was born in in the town of Zarnov. The family later moved to Lodz, where Kristal worked in his family’s confectionery factory.

When the Jewish quarter of the city became a ghetto under Nazi occupation, Kristal was eventually sent to Auschwitz.

His wife died but he survived, weighing just 37 kilos (81 pounds) at the end of the war, daughter Shula Kuperstoch said. “But he gained the strength and eventually traveled to Israel.”

He moved to the northern city of Haifa and opened a candy store, and he also remarried.

Kristal himself did not give interviews as his health is frail, but Kuperstoch says he is in good spirits.

“He is a very positive man, very optimistic and with a good heart,” she said.

What a wonderful story of an amazing, brave man who not only survived, but thrived and rebuilt his life in Israel. We can all learn from his experience and his wisdom. May he live many more long happy years in good health and nachat from his family.

And with these wishes, I wish you all Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov!

May the coming month of Adar II live up to its motto:

“When Adar begins, we increase joy”.

משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה.

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