Original Article Published On The Jewish Ledger

NEW HAVEN — What do Duke University, the State of Israel and the Knights of Columbus Museum have in common? They have all been fortunate enough to host an extraordinary exhibit of lithographs by Scottish architectural and landscape painter, David Roberts. Roberts spent 11 months traveling extensively throughout the Near East in 1838 and 1839.

“Roberts was quite a breakthrough individual,” reports Larry Sowinski, director of the Knights of Columbus Museum. “He was one of the first Europeans (under Ottoman Rule) to undertake such an expedition.” And Roberts’ route to the holy land is rather interesting.

Roberts was born in 1796 and was recognized at an early age for his skill in making accurate renderings of building and land around Edinburgh. As his family lacked finances for formal training in the arts, Roberts was apprenticed to a house painter at age 12. He later became a scene painter with a traveling theatre company. He always enjoyed outdoor and topographical paintings, and he was attracted to foreign lands. He traveled to Spain in the early 1830s, where he sketched gypsy costumes and Moorish architecture. Sales of his sketches of Spain were so successful that he now had enough money to finance his journey to the Near East.

After spending months in Cairo, he crossed the Sinai Desert to Mount Sinai and St. Catherine’s Monastery, then on to Petra and to the Holy Land. Roberts entered holy places, accompanied by body guards, with his sketch pads in hand. By the time he returned to England, Robert had three full sketchbooks and more than 272 watercolors.

In 1996, the State of Israel and the State of North Carolina engaged in the Israel/North Carolina Cultural Exchange. The Duke University Museum of Art was one of two dozen North Carolina cultural institutions which participated in the examination of Israeli arts; “Jerusalem and the Holy Land Rediscovered,” an exhibit of 123 of Roberts’ prints, was housed at the Duke Museum.

Sowinski has been in discussions with the Duke Museum for the Roberts exhibit for many years. “The lithographs don’t travel for more than eight weeks a year, and they haven’t been on display in more than two years,” notes Sowinski, “and we are lucky enough to get an extension to have the exhibit for ten weeks.”

Sowinski reports that 90 tinted and hand-colored lithographs will be on display at the Knights of Columbus Museum from Nov. 1, through Jan. 9, 2005. The Knights of Columbus Museum is, perhaps an unusual home for such an exhibit. The Knights of Columbus, incorporated in 1882, is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization. The Knights of Columbus prides itself for its volunteer service and charitable contributions; in the past decade, they have volunteered nearly 400 million hours of service and raided and donated nearly one billion dollars to charitable causes. And Knights of Columbus Insurance has been protecting member families since its founding.

Sowinski doesn’t find the museum’s interest in the Holy Land exhbit strange at all. “We need an exhibit like this at this juncture in history” says Sowinski, who recounted in detail the centrality of Jerusalem for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Sowinski has been promoting the “Holy Land” exhibit in Catholic publications by inviting them to “Celebrate Catholic Christmas in Connecticut.” In Jewish publications, readers are

invited to “Visit the Promised Land in New Haven.” The exhibit will feature the 90 lithographs, each with a caption and more recent photo of what each of Robert’s sites looks like in modern Israel.

The “Holy Land” exhibit runs from Nov.1-Jan. 9 and is open seven days a week from 10am until 5pm (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day). The Knights of Columbus Museum is at State Street in New Haven Call 203-865-0400.

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Asking most Jews about fast days will produce mentions of Yom Kippur, and perhaps Tisha Be’av as well. Not so many know about 17 Tammuz (July 6 this year), which traditionally marks the anniversary of many Jewish calamities. An easy-to-find register of those historical horrors, at http://www.us-israel.org lists Moses breaking the tablets upon seeing the Golden Calf, and the breaching of Jerusalem’s walls by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, and later by the Romans. The day also marks the killing of 4,000 Jews in Toledo, Spain in 1391, the burning of the Jewish Quarter of Prague in 1559, and the liquidation of the Kovno Ghetto in 1944.

Unlike Yom Kippur or Tisha Be’av, 17 Tammuz is observed only from the dawn until dusk – not for 25 hours. But long or short, one way to make it easy over the fast is with a good read. You might try Aliza Bulow’s “Connecting Through Fasting” at http://www.aish.com which is interesting, if a bit heavy on the spiritual. Other sources are Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov’s discussion on fasting in general at http://www.ou.org and a discussion by Rabbi Gidon Rothstein of the Riverdale Jewish Center at http://www.rjconline.org

While the fasts on the Jewish calendar may seem burdensome, at least they are spread out over the year: We have nothing to complain about compared to the Muslims’ Ramadan period, described at http://islam-usa.com in Dr. Shahid Athar’s “The spiritual and health benefits of Ramadan fasting.” Muslims must avoid food and water (and sex and vulgar talk) for one month from dawn to dusk. Athar points out that Ramadan fasts are to achieve nearness to God, and notes 50 studies presented at the first International Congress on Health and Ramadan held in Casablanca in 1994.

Think the Muslims have it tough? Dick Gregory, a 60s comedian-social-activist-vegetarian, protested the Vietnam War by subsisting only on fruit juice for two years. Gregory, by the way, is still at it: http://www.mjjsource.com Michael Jackson’s website, reports that Gregory this year fasted 40 days in support of the controversial popstar. And Gandhi (the Indian mahatma, not the Israeli politician) combined fasting with his famous civil disobedience against the British in the 1940s; his philosophy is outlined at http://www.gandhiinstitute.org The Christianity Today website http://www.ctlibrary.com offers a concise look at pros and cons of fasting (“body heals itself from ailments” vs. “no permanent physical benefits of fasting”). Another article at http://nv.essortment.com has some common-sense advice, warnings to diabetics and distinguishes between water fasting and juice fasting.

Observant Jews don’t have the luxury of those much-easier fasts. But then, we never have to fast for days at a time.

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Once upon a time, “You’ve got mail” meant that the postman actually delivered a letter to your home mailbox. I remember the excitement when someone actually sent a letter from a foreign country!

Once, my bubbeh gave me an envelope from a distant cousin in Argentina, and a postcard from an aunt from a Caribbean island. The Disney stamps from Grenada were a wonderful addition to my collection, but nothing was as exciting for us in the U.S. as a letter with a stamp from Israel. Israel has been putting out stamps since before there was even a state. For a comprehensive history of the Israeli postal service, go to http://www.postil.com

It includes (somewhat dated) statistics on pieces of mail handled (from 373 million in 1987 to 632 million in 1997), waiting time at post offices (“the nationwide average length of time waiting in line deceased from 9 minutes in 1987 to 4 minutes in 1997”), and the encouraging, and perhaps accurate, statement that the average delivery time for a domestic Israeli letter in 1997 was 1.5 days, down from 2.5 days in 87.) If you prefer stamps to statistics, you’ll find a comprehensive (and up-to-date) listing of stamp issues.

Since last Passover, the Israel Postal Authority has issued stamps on such numerous diverse themes as teddy bears, Armenian ceramics, skateboarding and Rollerblading, the 1st and 2nd Aliyah, olive oil in Israel, A.D. Gordon, the centenary of Atlit, Red Sea Fish and, most recently, Ilan Ramon, the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, and three historians, including Emanuel Ringelblum. You can visit the website of the Postal and Philatelic Museum, in Tel Aviv’s Eretz Israel Museum, at http://www.israel.org And the Krause-Minkus Standard Catalog of Israel Stamps (available by a quick search at http://www.amazon.com) lists more than 1,500 regular, commemorative and airmail stamps in chronological order, printed between 1948-1999. You can also try the philatelic supersite, http://www.cbel.com Israel appears twice, with links to sites for the Israel Philately Federation (http://www.israelphilately.org.il) and the Society of Israel Philatelists (http://www.israelstamps.com).

For older stamps and info on the Palestine Philatelic Society, go to http://www.palestinestamps.com This site offers links to the Ottoman period, the British Mandate, the Egyptian Administration of Palestine, the Jordanian Administration of Palestine, the PLO and the Palestinian National Authority. But if you’re primarily interested in recent Israelis stamps, another place to try is http://www.israelphilately.org.il There you’ll learn about “Telabul,” a trade fair being held at the Tel Aviv Convention Center from May 3-6, 2004, how to fight against fakes and forgeries, and how to obtain the souvenir leaf of the 17th Conference of Israeli Philatelists. The site gives phone numbers, meeting places and addresses of at least 27 Philatelic Society chapters in Israel, from Beersheba to Karmiel to Ariel. These groups apparently hang on to tradition: Their snail-mail addresses, but not e-mail, are listed on the site.

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Pongal 110 Lexington Ave., Manhattan, (212) 696-9458 Madras Mahal 104 Lexington Ave., Tel. (212) 684-4010 Udipi Palace, 103 Lexington Ave. Tel. (212) 889-3477.

Walking down Lexington Ave. between 28th and 27th streets in New York, one might reasonably ask, “How is this kosher vegetarian Southern Indian restaurant different from the others on the block?” The truth is that they are pretty much the same, and all have kashrut supervision, attracting a mix of southern Indians, yeshivah students and locals from the Murray Hill neighborhood.

Madras Mahal, the oldest of the three, has been serving southern Indian dishes along with fare from Punjab, in the north, and Gujarat, in western India, for nine years. Slow-moving waiters shuttle about the narrow restaurant, filling shiny metal cups with water, clearing our papadam appetizer (spiced thin lentil wafers, served with chutney), and serving specialties like its masala dosai — spiced onion, potato and other vegetables in a two-foot-long fried crepe.

We enjoyed two curries: alu gobi (cauliflower with tomato and mild spices) and chana masala (chickpeas with onion and cilantro), served over perfectly cooked white basmati rice.

Pongal, with nicer dcor, warns diners on its menu that “our chefs require 20 or 25 minutes.” The food is worth the wait. I’m a sucker for the masala cashew nuts (fried and spicy) and the vegetable pullav (fragrant rice cooked with vegetables and mild spices). For those who want to counter the spicy dishes, order a bland item or two, like idly (steamed puffy cakes of lentil and rice) or vadai (fried lentil donuts).

Udipi Palace is more spacious, but its interior is more casual, typical of a fast-food joint. The pakora appetizers (chopped fresh spinach-and-onion fritters coated with chickpea flour) were crunchy but somewhat greasy, while the potato masala and accompanying sambar (vegetable sauce) were well-spiced but not overpowering.

If the ambience varies slightly, the food — and the prices — are remarkably similar in the three restaurants.

Prices range from $3.95 to $5.95 for appetizers, $5.95-$8.95 for dosai and $8.95 for curries. All in all, a welcome break from more familiar kosher fare.

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