Archive for August 2008

Mark Twain in the Holy Land

August 28, 2008

Mark Twain visited Israel in 1867, and published his impressions in Innocents Abroad.  He described a desolate country – devoid of both vegetation and human population:

“….. A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds… a silent mournful expanse…. a desolation…. we never saw a human being on the whole route…. hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”

He was amazed by the smallness of the city of Jerusalem:

“A fast walker could go outside the walls of Jerusalem and walk entirely around the city in an hour. I do not know how else to make one understand how small it is.”

And he described the Temple Mount thus:

“The mighty Mosque of Omar, and the paved court around it, occupy a fourth part of Jerusalem. They are upon Mount Moriah, where King Solomon’s Temple stood. This Mosque is the holiest place the Mohammedan knows, outside of Mecca. Up to within a year or two past, no christian could gain admission to it or its court for love or money. But the prohibition has been removed, and we entered freely for bucksheesh.”

Chapters 45-56 of Innocents Abroad can be read on
More quotes from pilgrims to the Holy Land can be found on the COJS website.

In a Few Years, The Dead Sea Scrolls Will Be Online

August 27, 2008

The Dead Sea Scrolls are in the process of being digitally photographed.  The main purpose of the photography is for conservation purposes, but the Israel Antiquities Authority intends to make all of the photographs available online.

Today’s digital technologies make previously illegible letters on the scrolls suddenly readable, helping scholars further their research into the Dead Sea Scrolls.  And students will now be able to study the scrolls themselves and not just read about them.

But don’t get too excited, the process will take a long time – about two years to complete the photography, and more time to post them on the web.  In the meantime, you can read about this project at the International Herald Tribune site.

What Does Joe Biden Have to Say about Zionism?

August 26, 2008

Vice Presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden on Zionism, Israel and Iraq:

UPDATE: Gil Troy comments on Biden’s claim that he is a Zionist:

Regarding the Middle East, Biden is equally conventional – and unimaginative. In a reflection of just how standard it remains to embrace Israel from both sides of the aisle, Biden has declared his love for the Jewish State as enthusiastically as anyone. The fact that he has declared “I am a Zionist,” suggests that Zionism may be a less politically controversial term in the United States than in Israel itself.

Jesse Owens Beat the Nazis at their Own Game

August 25, 2008

The Olympics have always been about more than sports.  Never was this more true than in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  By 1936, Hitler had already put into practice racial policies.  He used the Olympics in order to legitimize his regime and show off the power of Germany.  The Germans did not allow “non-Aryans” to participate in the German Olympic team, but were forced to allow Jewish and black players from other countries to participate.  Although the United States briefly considered boycotting the event, the American Olympic Committee preferred to support its athletes at the expense of missing an opportunity to make a political statement against Germany.

Eighteen African-Americans participated in the Olympics as part of the American team, and won 14 medals.  Jesse Owens won four gold medals.  In the long jump he broke an Olympic record when he leaped 26 feet 5-1/2 inches.  He was crowned “the fastest human being,” making him the hero of the Olympics.

Thirteen medals at the Berlin Olympics were won by Jewish athletes.

After the Games Hitler declared, “In 1940 the Olympic Games will take place in Tokyo. But thereafter they will take place in Germany for all time to come, in this stadium.”  The tremendous success of the German athletes impressed the international community, as well as the ceremony and precision with which the Olympics were held.

Although Jewish and black athletes’ successes disproved  the theory of Aryan supremacy, Hitler succeeded in his propaganda campaign and continued his racist policies unchecked.

More information on the 1936 Nazi Olympics is available at the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

This blog post is part the Problogger Group Writing Project.

The Six-Day War and Ammunition Hill

August 25, 2008

Efforts to embed this interesting video about the battle at Ammunition Hill have failed.  But you can watch it at  Michael Oren says the significance of the Six-Day War was in the transition from an urban society to a society connected to its ancestral land.  The video shows soldiers talking about the battle and the capture of the Western Wall, as well as an Arab returning to his former home in the Old City, recalling how he and his family were thrown out of it.

Another Review of Golda

August 24, 2008

The Forward has another review of Elinor Burkett’s Golda.  This paragraph is particularly interesting:

The tragedy of her life story was that she took charge of Israel just at the moment when the first threads in the slow unraveling of the Zionist dream could be seen. She had arrived not because she was a thinker on foreign policy or on economics, but because she was a workhorse and a bulldozer. But Israel, at that critical, turbulent turning point following the Six Day War, needed imagination. She could not get her mind around the new economic realities or the anger seething in the Sephardic community, or the long term manifestation of what it meant that the lines between Israel and its occupied territories were quickly being erased. The surprise attack of October 1973 was another case of this blindness. Instead of cutting through the hubris of Dayan and his cohorts and mobilizing the army when an attack seemed imminent, she let herself be lulled by those sons of her Zionist revolution, men she instinctively trusted.

Controversy on Mount Zion

August 22, 2008

Construction on the ancient monastery where the Last Supper was supposed to have been eaten is causing controversy in Jerusalem.

The Institute for the Study of the Family and Family Laws in Israel owns the building and is conducting what it calls routine renovations. Tancredi, a Catholic organization, is petitioning the Court to stop work, claiming that damage is being done to a Christian holy site.

In the twelfth century, the Crusaders built a church called St. Mary of Mt. Zion. The Franciscans bought the church in 1335, transforming it into its present form, incorporating the “Upper Room” (or “Cenacle.”)

According to the New Testament, the Last Supper (on the night before the crucifixion) took place in the Upper Room. This is the place where Jesus is said to have washed the feet of his disciples.

In the same building on Mt. Zion there is a small synagogue commemorating the tradition that this place houses the tomb of King David. As this tomb is not located in the City of David, this is clearly not an authentic tradition.

Photo courtesy of

More information about this controversy is available at The Jerusalem Post website.

First International Jewish Bloggers Convention

August 21, 2008

Last night in Jerusalem I attended the First International Jewish Bloggers Convention. There were 200 people in the room and up to 1300 on webcast! Apparently the Jewish blogging world is quite large.

Some of the highlights were:

Benjamin Netanyhu spoke – briefly – about his blog, and then about why he should be Prime Minister.

Some of the most popular bloggers talked about how they grew their blogs (most of them accidentally it seems).

Bloggers talked about how blogging can have an impact on Jewish life, attitudes toward Israel and encouraging aliyah.

A representative of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs talked about the importance of branding Israel in order to change American public opinion of Israeli culture and society.

It was a fascinating event. Bloggers who knew each other only online met in person and acquaintances suddenly discovered they had blogging in common. And everybody starting thinking about how blogging about Judaism, Israel, or their personal experiences can have a far-reaching impact.

UPDATE: Haaretz reports on the convention.

Discoveries at Ramat Rahel

August 20, 2008

A video about the newest discoveries at Ramat Rahel is available at  See where the coins were discovered, hear about the dig experience and why the coins would have been hidden in niches.


August 20, 2008

Asaf Romirowsky has written a fascinating article about Tunisia’s ability to serve as a bridge between America and the Moslem world.  Although anti-Zionism is strong in Tunisia, the Tunisian government and people are proud of their Jews and practice cultural and religious tolerance.  If moderate Islam is the answer to radical Islam, Romirowsky claims it can be found in Tunisia.

He quotes his friend Jerry Sorkin: “I got into a taxi, the driver instinctively put on the meter, drove within the lanes and upon my paying the fare, gave me my change and thanked me. I knew I was experiencing something I had never experienced in my many prior visits to many other countries in the Middle East and North Africa! This was the first of what has been a perpetual stream of dichotomies I have witnessed and experienced in Tunisia that has allowed me to say that Tunisia breaks the image that most people in the West have of the Arab and Muslim world. We in the West, particularly our present administration, should look to Tunisia as a country that, while far from perfect, can be a wonderful bridge between Americans and the Arab and Muslim world and whose many achievements within the socio-economic realm can be the barometer to which other countries in the region can aspire.”

The article appears in Middle East Times.