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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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Anne Frank would have been 75 this year, had she survived. When I put her name into a search at http://www.google.com I got exactly 4,930,000 hits. Mining this abundance of material on her and her diary is an appropriate way, for Internet freaks and others, to mark Holocaust Memorial Day which begins on Sunday, April 18.

This famous young victim’s diary has been translated into more than 67 languages and has sold more than 31 million copies since its publication in 1947. On the “official” Anne Frank homepage, at http://www.annefrank.nl, you’ll find links — in English, Spanish and German — to a brief biography and to material about her hiding place, the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, now a much-visited museum.

The website of the Anne Frank Center USA, whose stated aim is “to inspire the next generation to build a world based on compassion, mutual respect, and social justice” (at http://www.annefrank.com), includes links to centers in Berlin, London and Basel and info about traveling exhibits, educational programs and special events. On a more informal note, http://www.surfnetkids.com provides crossword puzzles and trivia games. Some sample questions: Who was Anne’s older sister? What was the name of the woman who helped hide Anne and her family? What was Anne’s age when she began keeping a diary?

Those enamored of the comics genre might be amused by “Anne Frank Conquers Moon Nazis,” at http://excelsiorstudios.net (click on the box labeled “Anne”). Personally, though, I wouldn’t recommend it for younger children.

On the other hand, interesting educational materials abound, since many teachers around the world still use “The Diary” in lessons about the Holocaust, bravery and even journal writing. Daniel Barkowitz of Boston has created a course for 8th through 12th graders. The outline for 12 one-hour classes is posted at http://www.remember.org

Anne Frank’s diary is now part of the curriculum, too, in North Korean junior high schools. A TV crew recently discovered that Pyongyang doesn’t use the diary to teach how Anne suffered at the hands of the Germans, but to warn the students how they could suffer at the hands of “American Nazis.” A transcript of the shocking report, aired in the U.S. on CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes,” is available at http://www.cbsnews.com

Some people may mark this Yom Hashoah by helping their children imagine what 6 million looks like. When I was in fifth grade, we tried to collect soda caps, but we only got a few hundred thousand. How many times would you have to fill up the Great Lawn in Central Park or Yankee Stadium to see what even 1 million people look like? Right now, there’s an Internet chain letter making the rounds, hoping to reach 6 million people before Yom Hashoah.

When I got it in late March, almost 500,000 people had seen the message.


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