Elliot Zimet and friends to magically appear in Israel tomorrow

May 13, 2009 - 12:45 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: General, History and Culture, Pop Culture 

Elliot ZimetLaunched back in 2003 by Los Angeles’ comic Avi Liberman, the annual Crossroads Comedy Tour has been garnering media attention for its international and relatively high-profile talent pool.

The series of events is a fundraiser for Jerusalem’s youth-at-risk-oriented Crossroads Center, with this year’s shows including tomorrow in Beit Shemesh, Sunday in Ra’anana and two Monday performances in Jerusalem. Tickets are available by clicking here.

The 2009 fundraising tour, however, focuses less on stand-up comedy and more on the allegedly nefarious art of illusion, under the moniker “The Crossroads Comedy Magical Mystery Tour.”

Ben Cohen, who has served as a consultant for David Copperfield and has been named New York’s Magician of the Year, joins a lineup headlined by Elliot Zimet, the Bronx’s hop hop magical wonder.

Zimet’s style is somewhat new to the magic world, thanks to a show dominated by special effects, lighting, dancers and East Coast beats. Clips of his performances (pictured) can be seen on his MySpace profile. Zimet has put on shows at private events hosted by Sean Combs, at Madison Square Garden, and on several TV shows, including NBC’s America’s Got Talent. He has also toured with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

The tour follows in the footsteps of Israel’s recent International Magic Convention, which was staged in Holon two months ago.

Scroll wars

The scroll seized by authorities this weekA sad byproduct of the tragic media war we’re currently engaged in is that Zionists and Palestinian nationalists seemingly can’t even agree on what the region looked like 2000 years ago. Forget about the possibility that we just might have common ancestors – if the “facts on the ground” are disputable today, then all the more reason to dispute what they were in ancient times.

Because for hard-core dogmatists, much of the “whose land is it, anyway” debate boils down to whose land it was back in the day. For many years, the Palestinians have been excavating the Temple Mount, with Israelis decrying the destruction that these excavations have allegedly wrought. Many have even posited that the digs have a goal of finding and destroying any evidence of a historical Jewish connection to the area, with a nationalist agenda.

Archeology and nationalism can go hand in hand easily. In the best cases, they can even build bridges of international cooperation, as we saw this past winter with the Italian government’s interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

But in Jerusalem, where high-stakes heists and sleuthery are known to rear their heads every now and then, sometimes the powers that be feel the need to exert their power in order to maintain an edge in the information war.

And that’s how it came to be that a crack team made up of several Israeli bureaucracies came together to put the sting on two area Arabs this week. The Undercover Unit of the Jerusalem Border Police, the Intelligence Office of the Zion Region, the Archaeological Staff Officer of the Civil Administration and the super-specialized Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery all worked together to recover what experts are calling a Second Temple-era Jewish legal document.

As the AP tells it:

Undercover Israeli officers foiled an attempt by two Palestinian men to sell an ancient, valuable papyrus document on the black market, police said Wednesday. The men were arrested at a Jerusalem hotel Tuesday after a sting operation lasting several weeks, police said. The 1,900-year-old Hebrew document, previously unknown and valued at millions of dollars, was rescued, and police showed it to reporters.

…. They are suspected of violating Israeli antiquities laws by illegally possessing and trafficking in archaeological artifacts and could face several years in prison if convicted. Police are trying to determine how the document fell into their hands.

This specimen of Second Temple-style Hebrew calligraphy (pictured), written on six square inches of papyrus scrolls seems to be from around the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it could help (Jewish nationalism-tolerant) historians to better understand what life was like in the region some 2000 years ago, about 500 years before the birth of Muhammad.

Amir Ganor, director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery at the Israel Antiquities Authority, explains:

“From an initial reading it seems that this document deals with the property of Miriam Bat Ya‘aqov, who was apparently a widow. The deciphering of the entire document by expert epigraphers and historians may shed light on how the people of the period managed their affairs and supplement our knowledge about their way of life. What we have here is rare historic evidence about the Jewish people in their country from more than 2,000 years ago, during the days following the destruction which sent the people of Israel into exile for a very long time – until the creation of the State of Israel.”

Day of Remembrance

April 28, 2009 - 3:25 PM by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: History and Culture, Holidays, Life, War 

A soldier's funeralRemembrance day. Oddly enough, this is the one “holiday” that I always feel thoroughly connected to. Not sure why. I’m just not really a spiritual fellow. Ever since I was a little boy I had dreams of serving in the IDF. For years it was just fantasy and of course the first time I ever fired a gun as a soldier the reality of what being a soldier really meant sunk in.

I was lucky enough to serve in the IDF during a “quiet” time – relatively. It was before Israel pulled out of Lebanon and a few years before the second intifada started. I knew some guys who were seriously wounded in Lebanon, one guy in my unit killed himself during basic training (at home on a weekend off) but other than those instances, I didn’t personally know any soldiers who died.

So what do I usually think about during the sirens? I think about my friend who lost five of his former soldiers in a horrible brush fire in Lebanon during a firefight with Hezbollah, just a week after he was discharged (I’d met one of the guys the week before at my friend’s army release party). I went with him to two of the funerals. I think about the father of an old roommate who was killed by a sniper as he got out of his tank during the Yom Kippur War just hours after the ceasefire was declared. My roommate was 11 months old at the time. And I think about the history of my unit, the Seventh Brigade, and the sacrifices they made as they fought to protect our borders from our enemies in every single one of Israel’s wars. Victims of terror is another story all together. Some good friends have narrowly escaped with their lives (but with both physical and psychological scars), others I’ve known did not.

Photo courtesy of kodak agfa from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

The Hearts of Israel

April 26, 2009 - 12:45 PM by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: General 

A Dog's HeartEveryone has a blog (soapbox) these days where they wax poetic about politics, pop culture, business, etc. If you are a blog junkie like myself it can certainly certainly get overwhelming at time. Being inundated with too much information confuses the mind and distracts and who can retain all that information anyway? I I recently came across a lovely little Israel-based blog simply titled levavot, or “hearts” in English. It’s mission statement is simple. Every day a photo will be uploaded of an image of a heart that the anonymous author comes across in her day. When the heart is linked to a cause, she will provide that link, with the goal being to “spread the love.” Her mantra is love is everywhere, sometimes you just need to look.

It’s a fascinating way to look at life. Many of the images are of objects that intentionally have hearts on them – be they products, art, clothing. The really special images however are hearts that are purely from nature or noticed in her surrounds. I’ve selected a few of my favorites. The first (see right) is a nice heart on a dalmatian’s back. Trees may or may not feel pain, but after see the below photo you can’t deny that they do not have hearts. Even paint chipped away on a parking spot reveals a heart (Wonder how she spotted this one?). And finally, maybe somewhat obvious, but Israel flora reveals a heart as well.

A tree's heart

Parking curb has a heart!

Flower hearts!

For more images where hearts in Israel lie (both conventional and unconventional places visit Levavot.

Yoga puts religious Israelis in an uncomfortable position

April 16, 2009 - 9:42 PM by · 3 Comments
Filed under: A New Reality, History and Culture, Israeliness, Life, Religion, Sports 

Israelis doing yogaToday’s Western societies are into all kinds of Eastern recreational and spiritual pursuits. There are also scores of Israelis from multiple generations returning home from backpacking jaunts to India and elsewhere in the East on an ongoing basis. Combine the two phenomena, and the booming popularity of yoga in Israel seems like an obvious eventuality.

For Israelis who are interested in spirituality avenues that are new to them, regardless of potential conflict with their Jewish roots, yoga is hardly a problem. But for the increasing numbers of Israeli Orthodox Jews who are experimenting with flavors from other faiths and integrating them into their own traditional frameworks, yoga isn’t always a straightforward pursuit.

Other spiritual paths might be less problematic for religious Jews looking to pepper things up: Buddhism, for example, is often justified on the grounds that it is essentially a code of ethics with possibly nothing to teach in terms of deities. And other religions have their own potential beefs (pardon the apropos expression) with yoga. However, some Jewish theologians, including a well-publicized responsum by Chabad Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, have justified yoga practice among Jews on the grounds that one ought not throw the baby out with the bathwater – in other words, just because many yoga practitioners include chants dedicated to multiple deities in their practices, that doesn’t mean that the spirit-calming and body-stretching advantages of yoga ought to be avoided.

Another complication to the situation is that it might not be so straightforward that yoga’s Hindu chants to more than one god represent idolatry. Many other theologians have posited that since they all essentially represent manifestations of the one primary godhead, Brahman, the additional Hindu gods can be seen as analogous to Jewish mysticism’s concept of the sephirot, the kabalistic manifestations of the Jewish God’s various components of holiness.

Regardless, there are thousands of religious Israelis who are simply scared of yoga’s spiritual elements and prefer to focus on its exercise-based advantages. Case in point is Californian immigrant yogi Aviva Schmidt, whose yoga studio in Jerusalem, “Power Flow,” has been christened by Ha’aretz as “Israel’s first kosher power yoga studio.”

Located in Jerusalem’s posh Rehavia neighborhood, “Power Flow” specializes in power yoga, which is different from conventional yoga in that the exercises are quicker and more exhausting. “They call it yoga for athletes,” Schmidt said. “It’s not your slow, meditative and gentle yoga, it’s a workout.”

As Schmidt explains her approach to the conundrum….

“Yoga is based on Eastern tradition and focuses a lot on meditation. Different positions are worshipping different idols, which goes against Judaism. So I keep it very pareve: for example, I don’t say the names of the positions, there is no chanting, no ohming. I do focus on the breathing, as this is very important in yoga, but any kind of eastern philosophy stays outside.”

Hey, whatever floats your boat. We’ve heard of kosher cell phones and kosher sex, so kosher yoga? Why not.

Image of Israelis doing yoga courtesy zivpu from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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