Good News Friday

They say a week is a long time in politics. It’s also a long time in the Jewish calendar. This time last week we were gearing up for the saddest day in the year, Tisha B’Av. Today, in 180° contrast, is one of the happiest days of the Jewish year. It is Tu B’Av, the 15th of Av, known in modern-day Israel by the kitschy name of “Festival of Love,”, a sort of Jewish Valentines’ Day. The reality behind the story is a lot more serious and yet holds within it so much hope.

Israelite girls dance in the vineyards in white dresses on Tu B’AV

Ariella Brown compares Tu B’Av to Tisha B’Av and reminds us of the day’s Biblical tradition:

On the 9th, we mourn the continued state of destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, which reflects the state of a loss that we feel in our relationship with G-d. While the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed for cardinal sins, the second was destroyed and remains so because of sinas chinam, baseless hatred.  Many suggest that the remedy for that is   ahavas chinam, baseless love.  The more precise term for love that demands nothing in return was already set by Chazal in Pirkei Avoth as ahava she’eyna tluya badavar love that does not depend on anything.

With that in mind, it’s possible to take a new perspective on what the young women say to the men in the vineyards as described in Taanis 31a

The daughter of Israel go out and dance in the vineyards. Anyone who lacked a wife went there….Our rabbis learned: The beautiful ones among them would say: “Raise your eyes to beauty, for a wife is only for beauty.” The girls who had yichus [well established, reputable families] would say, “Raise your eyes to family, for a wife is only for children.” The ugly ones among them would say, “Take what you take for the sake of Heaven, and adorn us in gold jewelry.”

The first two groups appeal to love on the basis of beauty or family connections. But the last group ask for love without an appeal to anything external at all. That is true love for the essence of the person and not the individual’s physical, material, or social assets.  It is ahava she’eyna tluya badavar.

Rachel Sharansky Danziger casts an almost cynical but ultimately clear-eyed view of the day’s history:

After some members of the Tribe of Benjamin committed a terrible atrocity (gang raping a woman to death), their fellow Benjaminites refused to deliver them to be executed. Appalled, the other tribes declared war against the Tribe of Benjamin, and vowed never to wed their daughters into that tribe. After several defeats, the confederated tribes won and killed all but 600 Benjamin men.

Once the dust settled and tempers cooled, the Israelites realized that their vow practically guaranteed the extinction of a whole tribe. They sought a way to wed their daughters to the Benjaminites and preserve the tribe without breaking their promise. Tu B’Av, a day when maidens traditionally danced in the vineyards, supplied them with the perfect solution: The Benjaminites were invited to abduct brides from among the dancers, thus procuring wives without the consent of any non-Benjamin man.

We commemorate The Plan for the Conservation of the Tribe of Benjamin by celebrating romance with balloons and stuffed teddy bears. But frankly, where is the romance in abduction?

That said, Tu B’Av is worthy of commemoration.

Romantic or not, the Tu B’Av story demonstrated an incredibly powerful commitment to the nation of Israel as a whole. By seeking compromises and refusing to lose any of the nation’s distinct components, the Israelites proved that they placed peoplehood over principles, and connections over divides.

With this all in mind, Tu B’Av is a traditionally very popular day for weddings in Israel and it marks the height of wedding season here.

A perfect icon for Tu B’Av is this wonderful couple featured in this love story: both are Holocaust survivors who are celebrating 70 years of marriage!

Having virtually grown up in labour camps, the teenagers were both wasting away when their eyes first locked in the Czestochowa camp in Poland.

“I lost my mind,” Sigi says.

“When I saw her, the whole world was turning around me. I saw a pair of beautiful eyes and I heard bells ringing.”

It was New Year’s Eve 1944, 18 days before the camp was liberated by the Red Army.

“I had no interest in girls, because I was a skeleton,” Sigi says.

“There was a pair of beautiful eyes looking at me, with a smile like I never saw in my life.”

Holocaust survivors Sigi, 93, and Hanka, 91, after 7 decades of marriage

He approached her and they talked.

Before returning to his barracks he gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“I remember the first kiss,” Hanka says as she puts her hand on her face.

That is exactly what she did on that first day, because she says, she wanted to hold onto it forever.

Sigi had stood out in an environment where the inhumane conditions had left most people shells of their former selves.

Sigi had been working in the munitions workshop making bullets for the Nazi German army.

He says he had been sabotaging the factory line — making bullets too small for the gun barrels.

When he received word that the Gestapo were looking for him, he found a hiding spot in a nearby abandoned construction site.

He says only Hanka knew where he was hiding.

“She was the only person I could trust my life with,” he says.

Hanka says she risked her life to keep him alive — smuggling him small pieces of her bread ration and a blanket that she had made to keep him warm on -15 degree nights.

Then one night, she came for a second visit.

This time she was smiling and had her arms out.

The camp was being liberated.

“They’re gone,” she told him.

“We are free.”

The next day they were married.

Does anyone still have a dry eye? Read the rest of the amazing story and I’m sure you will be weeping tears of joy too. Heartiest Mazal tov to the wonderful couple. May you continue to enjoy good health and happiness and nachat until 120!

Going back to those Biblical times now, amazing Biblical mosaics have been unearthed in a 5th century synagogue in the Galilee:

A set of mosaics depicting two scenes from the Hebrew Bible has been discovered by archaeologists carrying out excavations at a fifth century synagogue in Israel’s Galilee, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced this week.

“This is by far the most extensive series of biblical stories ever found decorating the mosaic floor of an ancient synagogue,” said UNC-Chapel Hill Prof. Jodi Magness, who led the excavations along with assistant director Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “The arrangement of the mosaics in panels on the floor brings to mind the synagogue at Dura Europos in Syria, where an array of biblical stories is painted in panels on the walls.”

The panels on the floor of the synagogue’s nave, the central part of the structure’s hall, illustrate two biblical stories: Noah’s Ark and the parting of the Red Sea. The panel centering on the former scene depicts an ark and pairs of various animals, while the latter shows large fish swallowing Pharaoh’s soldiers among overturned chariots.

“These scenes are very rare in ancient synagogues,” Magness added. “The only other examples that have been found are at Gerasa/Jerash in Jordan and Mopsuestia/Misis in Turkey [Noah’s Ark], and at Khirbet Wadi Hamam in Israel and Dura Europos in Syria [the parting of the Red Sea].”

Mosaics were previously discovered at the site in 2012, and excavations have been ongoing since. In 2012, Magness’s team excavated a mosaic showing Samson lighting the Philistine’s fields on fire with flaming foxes (as told in the Bible’s Judges 15:4) in the synagogue’s east aisle. The following summer, the team found a mosaic depicting Samson shouldering the gate of Gaza (Judges 16:3). A mosaic uncovered in 2013 and 2014 portrays the first non-biblical scene found in an ancient synagogue, thought to be the legendary meeting between Alexander the Great and the Jewish high priest Jaddua in Jerusalem. A panel found in 2015 besides this scene features a Hebrew inscription surrounded by figures of humans, animals, and mythological creatures including cupids.

This is wonderful for researchers, archeologists, historians, and tourists alike. And of course for anyone interested in the history of the Jewish nation in its indigenous homeland of Israel. Kol hakavod to Prof. Jodi Magness, Shua Kisilevitz and all the other researchers involved.

And now back to the future with Israel’s biomedical industry. Israel has been scoring great success in the fight against skin cancer:

A three-pronged approach to fighting skin cancer in Israel appears to be showing success. Over the past five years, an aggressive campaign predicated upon awareness, identification and research has apparently been responsible for significantly lower skin cancer rates in the Jewish state.

Under the direction of the Israel Cancer Association, newly created skin care apps such as “DermaCompare” and the development of immunotherapy drugs like Keytruda, the campaign appears to have made noticeable headway in fighting the disease.

“We were third in the world in the incidents and mortality after Australia and New Zealand and it was, of course, because we have a lot of people who come from Europe with light skin,” Miri Ziv, the Director General of the Israel Cancer Association told The Media Line. “In the last five years, Israel dropped to the 20th country with the highest incidents (of skin cancer) and in terms of mortality, we dropped to number 13 for men and number 20 for women.”

According to Ziv, the ICA has worked tirelessly for the past half-decade trying to promote a more sun-smart attitude. “We disseminated our sun-smart stuff in TV programs and in the media. Every summer we launch the early detection project and we encourage people to avoid sun bathing from 10-4.” Ziv cited the achievement that while melanoma is still rising significantly for most of the world, it has stabilized in Israel.

“Take, track, treat” is the slogan for Emerald Medical Applications’ newest app, DermaCompare, released just six months ago. The app, which is FDA approved, uses air force image processing and big data analytics to track suspicious moles by asking users to take photos of themselves while clad only their underwear and upload to the images to the app.

“Our enemy is the mole,” Lior Wayn, founder and CEO of DermaCompare told The Media Line. “DermaCompare is based on three layers of suspicion. The first is the idea that we can take the measurement of any mole and we can find something suspicious in the first photo. The second is based on the idea that moles have changed and the common practice is to take photos every six or seven months. The third is using machine learning and artificial intelligence to suggest which moles might be suspicious over time.”

The app, which is free to download everywhere, has a partnership with physicians in countries like Israel and the United States. “While there are other apps like this available, we are the only app to have two modules – one for the home user and one for the doctor – and we are the only app that is doing auto comparison instead of manual comparison,” Wayn added. In some cases, though, precautionary measures and early detection aren’t enough.

These statistics are fantastic, and the new app quite incredible. There is no need to stress the importance of these developments. A huge kol hakavod to all the researchers and developers involved. May they go from strength to strength to benefit millions of patients the world over.

And one last item, with an ironic twist in its tale tail (via Reality): an Israeli scientist has possibly proven Stephen Hawking’s Black Hole theory:

In groundbreaking new research published this week in one of the world’s top science journals, an Israeli physicist may have proved one of Stephen Hawking’s most important predictions about black holes, successfully demonstrating that the mysterious celestial bodies are slowly evaporating.

A supermassive black hole about 70 million times bigger than the earth’s sun, located at the center of spiral galaxy M8

Professor Jeff Steinhauer of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Physics has taken a small step and a giant leap toward verifying the “Hawking Radiation” theory, which challenges the conventional understanding that nothing can escape a black hole, according to the study, published in Nature Physics.

Dr. Jeff Steinhauer

The theory, first proposed by Hawking in 1974, suggests that subatomic light particles are sometimes ejected back out of a black hole, taking with them tiny amounts of energy, resulting in a gradual decrease in its mass over time until it evaporates completely.

But more than 40 years later, no one had been able to prove the theory, mainly because light particles from black holes are too small to be detected from Earth.

Steinhauer and his team of researchers were last year able to recreate conditions similar to those of a black hole in a lab, using sound waves in order to study how subatomic particles behave on its edge, known as an event horizon.

Read the rest of the abstruse experiment – and here is the sting in the tail:

Ironically, Hawking supports the academic boycott of Israel, and in 2013 canceled his participation in a Jerusalem conference organized by then-president Shimon Peres.

I would love to see Hawking’s face when he realizes it was an Israeli who proved his so-far unproven theory! Schadenfreude is a very good way to end the week. 🙂

And with these happy thoughts I wish you all Shabbat Shalom!

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11 Responses to Good News Friday

  1. Elise Ronan says:

    I love this idea of Tu b’av….and the world thinks it invents ideas when all they do is emulate the Jewish people..hahaha…

    On the issue of schadenfreude, it would be better if Hawking was true to his word and boycotted the Israeli tech that keeps him alive as well as boycotting Israeli academia. He’s nothing but an antisemitic hypocrite, which proves the truth of the statement, that a high IQ doesn’t mean you aren’t a racist and that you are blessed with common sense.

  2. Pingback: Good News Friday – 24/6 Magazine

  3. Reality says:

    What a great Good Friday blog ,as usual! The archaeological finds yet again prove,not that it helps, that we Jews are the indigenous people to this holy land.
    As for the skin cancer app,what a great idea! Now for this type of app to be used for a whole spate of illnesses.That would be great!
    And yes,yet again Schadenfreude,with an Israeli proving Hawkins theory.Ha,I wonder if he’ll have the grace to publicly thank him?!
    And yes, I agree ,with the previous comment,that Hawkins is an anti Semitic hypocrite.I personally think he should either stop using his life saving machines,or stop boycotting us.Alternativley,we could say we won’t give any more tech support to his machines,and he should go elsewhere ,like Gaza for that!

  4. Reality says:

    Ps,it’s my engagement anniversary on tu b’Av!

  5. DP-PT says:

    Regarding the ancient mosaics, I ‘d like to mention a modern one. I want to recommend a visit to the “Tunisian Synagogue” in Akko (Acre) where a local man who recently passed away lovingly spent 60 years (!!!) decorating an entire building in mosaics depicting Jewish motifs from floor to ceiling and walls and ceilings as well. Every stone is from Israel and none have been coloured. It’s well worth a visit and entrance is free. Address is 13 Eliezer Kaplan, Akko, but it’s only open in the mornings. Enjoy!

  6. Brian Goldfarb says:

    With reference to Sigi & Hanka and a lack of dry eyes, I recommend to anyone in the south-east of England to get along to the Globe Theatre, which has an adaption of Michael Morpugo’s (hedorset of “War Horse” fame) “946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips”. It’s all about Salton Sands in Devon, which was evacuated in 1943/44 so the Allies could practice landing on a coastline that resembled that of Utah Beach in Normandy. You should google Salton Sands to find out about that “946”, it’s important.

    However, Morpugo’s kicker is that the US soldiers who come into contact with the villagers are African-American. He has a further kicker: the village school teacher is a French refugee. In order to persuade a hold-out to evacuate, she reveals that she is Jewish, and that she and her husband escaped from France as there Nazis that word is used often, in preference to “Germans”) advanced through France. Her husband joined the British Merchant Navy and his ship has been torpedoed and he died. That is preferable to any other fate the Nazis wished on him. She also says to the hold-out that he must leave so that the Allies can practise landings, so that Europe can be liberated.

    At this stage, among those old enough, I suspect there wasn’t a dry eye in the house – and I include my wife and I. Morpugo doesn’t pull any punches.

    If you can’t get to the production, try and get the book.

  7. Brian Goldfarb says:

    Sorry, I should have added this above: with reference to Anne’s comment that “I would love to see Hawking’s face when he realizes it was an Israeli who proved his so-far unproven theory!”, I suspect he knows already (by definition, he is hardly stupid, even if high levels of education don’t guarantee having common sense) and also that Israeli technology keeps him alive, but I suspect that he has a ready and specious argument to justify his support for BDS and for continuing to use Israeli technology to keep himself alive.

    As a Jewish character says (amongst many other places) in the film “Independence Day”, when another character says, in joining a “prayer circle”, “but I’m not Jewish”, “So, nobody’s perfect”!!

    Wonderful line: remember it and use it often.

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