Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A-bomb-inable drill for all Israelis

Can’t say that we are really looking forward to Israel’s nationwide nuclear and chemical attack preparedness drill in March. The Magen David Adom rescue service announced that a dry run is needed after Hezbollah’s 4000 rockets sowed utter chaos across Northern Israel last summer. People renovated bomb shelters and tended to ignore the signs of post traumatic stress disorder in the family. There was not much they could do as civilians to stop the hail of rockets from Lebanon, since even IDF tank fire and air strikes didn't halt the militants. And Iran's recent nuclear strides are the clincher: army rescue forces, police, medical and firefighting services all will go through their paces as nuke sirens wail all over the country. Everyone undoubtedly will make the effort to "be strong", the unofficial Sabra mantra.

I wonder if the day will resemble those old civil defense drills in the states, and generate the dread atomic age angst.
Useful retro-advice from the cold war generation in case of nuclear attack:
1. Duck under nearest shelter
2. Cover your eyes from the flash
3. bend over and put your head between your legs
4. then kiss your ass goodbye.
Young Israelis increasingly are flirting with the possibility of nuclear annhilation and first strikes, if the nation's latest entry in the Eurovision song contest is any measure. Kobi Oz, lead singer with the group, Teapacks, uses Hebrew, English and French on their edgy single, "Push the Button."
some sample lyrics below from the same Sderot guys who brought the world the irreverant"Salaam Salami":

The world is full of terror, if someone makes an error, he's gonna blow us up to kingdom come.
There are some crazy rulers, they hide and try to fool us, with demonic, technologic willingness to harm. They're gonna push the button
...And I don't wanna die, I wanna see the flowers bloom, don't wanna go kaput-kaboom.

Driver's instructions: destination unknown

Paranoid fantasies often become reality in today’s hair-trigger Middle East, where security is a priority. But Izzy cannot imagine the scenario the Knesset had in mind when it upped the budget for protecting Israel’s former Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, who has been in a deep coma for more than a year.

Though his doctors say Sharon--hardly a moving target-- is unlikely ever to recover, a million and a half shekels has been newly allotted to the old general’s security, which includes salary for a personal chauffeur.

Not much mileage in that job. The klutziest driver in Israel, one who does not mind being parked 24/7 or honking with no response, should apply. Presumably because an ambulance already is included in Sharon's medical provision, and because after a year in sickbed the once-stout politician must be unrecognizable by enemies, critics across the political spectrum were scathing about the extra spending.
Maybe the car and driver are a birthday gift from the state: Ariel Sharon turned 79 yesterday in his sleep. Click here to read what might transpire if the erstwhile PM were to beat the medical odds and wake up.
Anyone care to update this drumroll with the latest government shenanigans?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

More on the Christ family's cryptic crypt

Is this Christian belief of Christ's empty tomb and an ascent to Heaven precluded by scientific evidence? Click here to view a video clip.

(this undated photo of Talpiyot tomb comes from Vision TV, Canada, and was tagged with the working title for the new docu-drama, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus.) The entrance is now sealed and lies between two apartment houses in a southern Jerusalem suburb.

AFP photo of press NY Press conference to kick off Discovery Channel's Sunday broadcast based on "The Jesus Family Tomb".

Out of all the news updates following Cameron's high profile press conference in New York's Public Library about the discovery of a Jesus Family Tomb, Time Magazine's seems to be the least hysterical, weighing up evidence as well as motive.

No librarian dared to shush James Cameron and his cohorts at the New York City Public Library on Monday when they unveiled two of their ancient ossuaries to a rapt crowd of mostly show-biz journalists, along with a few more staid religious reporters. The setting lent a rather academic feel to the presentation, which in a more standard press conference room would have been unmistakable as Hollywood heavy-hitting aimed for a ratings war. Cross CSI NY with Tomb Raider, Da Vinci Code, and a bit of 'Holy' Ghost, and you have a guaranteed audience of Bible belt viewers and cynics alike.
(Just a mention of Cameron's latest project on this Jerusalem-based blog sent hits skyrocketing to over 85,000 in a single day. The comments have been thoughtful, cynical, faithful, or playful. Izzy welcomes the extra voices.)

It is interesting to note that archaeologists in Jerusalem are rolling their eyes at the crypt craze just unleashed in the US, and even the British tabloid press has been rather lukewarm. After all, the same evidence was examined on the BBC eleven years ago. The hypothesis was dismissed as conjecture by Amos Kloner, a top Israeli scholar who pointed out that a poor family from Nazareth would be very unlikely to be buried in this style. These compelling New Testament names were so popular at the time of burial that the Israeli Antiquities Authority suggests that this cluster is only "coincidence", rather like finding Tom, Dick, and Harry together in an American family tomb of the 1940s. Cameron countered this assertion at his press conference by quipping: "If you found a John, a Paul and a George, you're not going to leap to any conclusions... unless you found a Ringo." The sticking point is whether this purported Mary Magdalene bone box is equivalent to finding a Ringo. The show will be broadcast on Sunday if you want to look at the "evidence" for yourself. The authorities in Jerusalem are mulling over opening the tomb up to visitors, according to the Jerusalem Post. Newsweek posts a preview clip from the show. Click here.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Bones of Jesus & son uncovered in Jerusalem? Airing new evidence

Digging for controversy, the Titanic filmmaker James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici are about to stun Christians the world over with a docu-drama that claims archaeologists have located the casket of Jesus.

The inscribed box, with some human remains still inside, apparently was crammed into an old cave near Talpiyot, an industrial zone in Jerusalem, alongside nine other two thousand year-old sarcophagi allegedly containing the bodies of Mother Mary, the carpenter Joseph, a little-known brother called Jofah, Mary Magdalene, and, most surprisingly of all, Jesus's son Judah, who technically could be considered the grandson of God.
To read more, click here.

It sounds like a sequel to a Da Vinci Code sequel. And just as profitable. The filmmakers express aim is to cross the excitement of Indiana Jones-style tomb raiding with Dan Brown's bold approach to modern theology, all in a 90 minute video.

A couple of these mysterious bone boxes are about to be unveiled in New York City, in good time to promote Cameron's latest made-for-television movie, which will be broadcast on Discovery Channel in the US, Channel 8 in Israel, and Channel 4 in Britain before Easter.

Devout Christian congregations will abhor Cameron's publicity stunt as absolute heresy. Some 27 years after archaeologists first uncovered this unprepossessing family tomb containing half a dozen inscribed caskets and four unmarked ones, the sensational scientific claims now threaten to debunk belief in the Resurrection, a cornerstone of the Christian faith. The New Testament recounts how three days after crucifixion, Jesus arose from the grave (which is now supposedly the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the heart of Jerusalem's old walled city.) But scientists, archaeologists, DNA experts, statisticians,and antiquities specialists are suggesting that Jesus's burial site was on a hill rather far away from the old rugged cross.

Repercussions of the initial discovery were minimized, even after Israeli professor Amos Kloner deciphered the inscriptions containing such profoundly familiar Biblical names a decade ago, because the Israeli Antiquities Authority stored the caskets in their Beit Shemesh archive. Little publicity leaked out. Biblical archaeology has proven to be a minefield, albeit with a certain sects' appeal. Who could have foreseen that forensic tests could be made on Jesus' bones in a New York crime lab? If you thought that the Israeli archaeologists' salvage tunnel close to the Al Aqsa mosque ignited some religious fury, get ready for another white hot fight. Remember the Spanish Inquisition? Or the fuss over teaching Darwin's theory of Evolution? After Monday's press conference, Izzy imagines it won't be long before an intelligent design component emerges for the holy caskets in the cave. "King of the World", eh?

Here is the inscription that started all the speculation, from the webpage of savvy Simcha Jacobovici, who dubbed himself the "Naked Archaeologist"

Military vision?

Footage broadcast around the world showed the Defense Minister Amir Peretz (on the right) peering through binoculars to review his crack Israeli troops. Oops. The bloody lens caps are still on and the guy fails to notice, even after the third view. He just grins and nods and feigns that he sees the big picture.
This is perfect fodder for his critics, who don't hesitate to mock Peretz for a lack of military vision, particularly after the conduct of last summer's debacle in Lebanon. Click here to read more. Ynet points out that both Ariel Sharon and George W Bush, leaders known for rather opaque views on things military, have been snapped in the same absurd stance with the blinkers on. It figures.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Checkpoint Chic - dress for duress

A sassy social anthropologist in West Jerusalem forwarded this bizarre link, which sheds new light on the frontiers of men's fashion and exposed flesh. To check it out, click here.Even two years after the avant garde Sharif Waked premiered this video on the cybercatwalk, the outfits still seem daring. Will these rather hairy models make some 'in your face' statement to the IDF? Uh, search me.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Year of the Pig-- even in Jerusalem

Rarely do Jerusalemites go whole hog for Chinese New Year, especially when the Year of the Pig rolls around every dozen years, as it did today. But, in a country where pig farmers must use raised platforms and take extraordinary care not to allow the feet of their livestock to defile the Holy Land, it is a challenge to celebrate this year’s Chinese festivities at all. Izzy overheard a few foreign aidworkers wish each other “Gung Hay Fat Choy”...but no bursts of firecrackers.

Here’s a true tale fit for the Year of the Pig, which was told to me by Yehuda Levy-Aldema, director of the Hechal Shlomo Center for Jewish Heritage. Bizarrely, it involves calendars and swine. At his museum of Judaica, next to the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, three crude knapsacks are put on display: big, medium-sized, and tiny. These were used by Rabbi Zev Gustman during his escape from Nazi persecution in Vilna.
Because the rabbi was fleeing with his wife and small daughter, groups of Lithuanian Partisans (Jewish resistance fighters) whom he encountered in the woods were unwilling to put their clandestine units at risk by giving females shelter. The rabbi, a devoted family man, kept fleeing. Ultimately, after being turned down everywhere else, the family hunkered down at a Good Samaritan’s pig farm-- a place where oppressors were unlikely to hunt for Jews on the run. Because the family had smuggled out a small calendar, penciled into a notebook, they were able to observe the Sabbath and the high holidays in hiding. Regardless of being surrounded by pigs, they could keep their Judaic identity intact. So, even in Israel there is reason to celebrate the Chinese New Year, which their zodiac says now moves to the sign of the Fire Boar.

Friday, February 16, 2007

underground and underexposed

Underground candid camera may not be as exciting as we were led to believe. Irate Muslim protesters in Kashmir or Turks who are upset about the possibility of Israeli archaeologists undermining Al Aqsa are likely to be bored by this internet broadcast, which admittedly could do with better lighting.

Click here to see live footage from one of three webcams. (There is an English version as well) These now are installed by the Israel Antiquities Authority at the controversial salvage dig near Jerusalem's Dung Gate (oddly named for an entrance to a site sacred to three monotheistic creeds, don't you think? It's the only gate out of 15 which non-Muslims ae allowed to use. Visitors and security troops trundle up the derelict wooden ramp, which eventually is being pulled down). Tell da boys in da Quds that the camera won't work on the Sabbath --Friday dusk through Saturday sunset. They are accustomed to the sinister spy blimp which floats above the neighborhood like an anemic guppy-shaped balloon every Friday.

Protests timed to follow Friday noon prayers were a damp squib, after police banned worshippers under age 40 for women and 50 for men and insisted that all Muslims have Jerusalem residential permits before being allowed onto the site. Some 3000 police were on patrol at the Temple Mount,also known as the Noble Sanctuary, and an estimated 6000 Muslims arrived at the mosque after clearing security checks. Fifteen arrests followed sporadic rock throwing before any riots broke out, and the loudspeakers of East Jerusalem mosques were not plugged in this week. Just a few loud bangs echoed across the stones. Since last week, almost 100 Arabs have been hauled in by police and charged with instigating violence. Their photos were identified by the security video cameras that are trained on the alleys inside the walled city, 24/7. Scenes from these particular web cams are not yet viewable online, alas, even though that might be rather more exciting. It's still high alert for this section of Jerusalem, and school still is out for Muslim youths.

Muslim Professor on El-Al's eternal waitlist

El Al, the Israeli national airline which was recently privatized, has been brought to task again. This time it is for allegedly refusing to transport the body of a deceased Arab-Israeli professor.

Dr Lamis K Jarrar, a distinguished psychology lecturer at Howard University who died of cancer last Friday near Washington DC, had expressed in her will a desire to be buried in Acre, her hometown, also known as Akko.
This week her family requested the Knesset member, Azmi Bishara, to express their dismay about El Al's inaction. A casket containing the professor, a dual American and Israeli citizen, was not allowed on board.

A local mortuary on the East Coast claims that it purchased an El Al ticket and asked an Israeli consular officer to be on hand for the transfer of her body. Yet when no official appeared, El Al employees told the company it was a no-go. Under these conditions it would be impossible to transport any Muslim corpse, so Jarrar's family had no other option but to make pricey alternative arrangements.

"Needless to say that, apart from the issue of racism and lack of respect of the dead, this incident has caused great distress to family and acquaintances," Bishara wrote to General Manager Haim Romano, in his demand for clarification.

El Al airline public relations insists that no one from the professor's family approached them and has issued a statement denying "any hint of discrimination between Jews and non-Jews." Many Muslim bloggers reviled the corporate practices that humiliate or at least inconvenience non-Jews flying on the airline.

An El-Al security officer stationed outside Israel, who wishes to remain anonymous, explained that Jewish corpses, which must be accompanied by a designated rabbi until check-in, presented far fewer security risks. Since x-rays or scans of a coffin are deemed intrusive, El Al cannot risk allowing random corpses in the hold. No one openly suggested that such unaccompanied cadavers might be rigged to explode, but that was the unspoken implication.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Jerusalem Rocks

Amid all this religious and political brouhaha over ancient stones near the Temple Mount, nobody has raised any objections to what the bulldozers are up to near the Sultan's Pool. Across the road from a beloved open air concert arena, within view of the old Cinemateque, some of the most accessible free-climbing rocks in all of Israel are being yanked out and replaced with a hideous concrete retaining wall, presumably to cut the traffic noise. It's enough to make a guy climb the walls. My pal the Hornet tells me that all the young climbers are hanging out, waiting to see what the city fathers do next..

Dated date... dubbed Methuselah

A dormant date pit has been coaxed into sprouting 2000 years after a Judean spat it out at the fortress Masada, according to a report in today's Haaretz.

The resurrected seedling now grows in a hothouse in Arava, alongside the Biblical plants of frankincense and myrrh, which are cultivated for anti-inflammatory properties. Plant researcher Elaine Soloway, who nicknamed her historic plant "Methuselah", said that she will soon attempt to transplant it. Archaeologists discovered a jar of old date pits back in the 1970s, and that Dr Sarah Salon, from Hadassah hospital's Natural Medicine Research Unit, asked her two years ago to try and germinate one. It was a coin toss whether it would survive, because the initial sprout looked so pale and anaemic.

She coddled it, and within two months, the plant has grown disproportionately long branches. The kibbutznik gardener hopes that if the seedling turns out to be female, it will bear fruit in a couple of years and she can nibble on the succulent Judean dates that Pliny the Elder raved about. Talk about old-fashioned flavour! In palmier days, they were commemorated on ancient coins as a symbol of Judea.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Viagra vice quite nice for Nasrallah

Peculiar sources have funded Hizbollah’s war chest, say federal agents in the US, and this reality seems weirder than fiction or bad propaganda . Izzy spotted a piece in today’s International Herald Tribune which casually mentioned that Sheikh Sayyad Hassan Nasrallah’s militants received a cut from sales of phony viagra pills in Canada and America. Odder still, one fellow who pleaded guilty last year to pushing tens of thousands of these blue diamond-shaped pastilles for $10 a pop was a Jewish widower from Miami Beach.

His herbal lookalikes were stamped “Pfizen” instead of the corporate trademark “Pfizer” , and obviously were not scrutinized by older customers with failing eyesight, although the result of a missing ingredient must soon have become apparent. These were placebos, the kind that spammers endlessly advertise in your email.

Theodore Schenk, a 73-year-old widower from Miami Beach who looks after a disabled daughter, had a clean record until arrested for racketeering fake viagra last summer. His lawyer portrayed his client as a hapless dupe “trying to help out an Arabic fellow he was doing legitimate business with." Schenk pleaded guilty last fall. When one of Miami’s snow birds scams alongside an imam at a minor Montreal mosque, amongst others, it reveals that crime makes for strange bedfellows.

A portion of these criminal profits made their way to orphans of suicide bombers in Lebanon, according to a criminal indictment unsealed in a Detroit courtroom, though considerably more was spent on weapons training and ammunition. The formal trial for the gang was scheduled to begin last month. The majority of these 19 suspects lived in Dearborn, an Arab enclave in suburban Detroit. Colin Freeze, of the Globe and Mail newspaper, disclosed that five Canadians also are accused. Profits from fake zig-zag rolling papers and stolen baby formula also contributed to the Hizbollah war chest.

The symbolism of all this might cause some titters. Buying weapons with profits gained on ersatz erection pills would be almost comical, if Katyusha rockets were not so deadly. Iran and Syria may be behind terror sponsorship, but obviously there is stiff competition: big bucks can be had from digging into the deep pockets of America’s erectile dysfunctional and clubbers who want to go all night. Since there is no sign that the Shia militia is flagging in Lebanon, criminals may still be adding to their coffers.

Monday, February 12, 2007


Izzy is puzzled by the headlines in today's Jerusalem Post. It does not seem like the controversial excavation at the Temple Mount has been suspended, especially after Olmert's assertions to his cabinet that he is absolutely committed to this renovation project.
Yet Mayor Uri Lupolianski said last night that building works on the new ramp up to the Temple Mount will be stalled until all the contentious objections by Islamicists, archaeologists and sundry others are handled; this is a responsible action. But it transpires that the Antiquities Authority's salvage dig will continue. Isn't this dig one of the sticking points? Arab Israelis and Muslims from Indonesia to Iran have objected to the dig because of the (far-fetched) possibility that underground tunnels are meant to undermine the foundations of their shrine and mosque. Reassurances by the Israelis that the Archaeological garden lies outside the holy site have not quelled rumours. Perhaps placing the city council's proposed 24/7 web cam inside the salvage dig would go further towards abating this potential crisis (if enough light can be thrown inside...and if the Muslims are convinced there is no trickery involved.)
Trust is what's lacking. Mutual suspicion of opportunism and manipulation is what fuels the righteous fury, along with a sense of entitlement. Certainly, the security troops on their hefty steeds looked ready for a fight, as did the shouters of slogans and hurlers of bottles and rocks.
Closing the boys' high school in the area is a dim tactic on the part of the Israelis. If Muslim kids are in class, they are accountable to their teachers and far less apt to be out on the streets hurling stones. Conspiracy theories abound, but so often it is just ineptitude.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Shrine dispute heats up

Muslim protestors barricaded themselves inside Al Aqsa mosque shortly after Friday prayers following an attempt by 200 Israeli police to break up their rock-throwing protest against a nearby excavation with a barrage of rubber bullets and tear gas. BBC news did not report any serious injuries. Violence looked set to continue, with the sound of firing echoing across East Jerusalem and the old city walls. Sigh. A little dialogue could have prevented this mayhem.

Cooler heads eventually prevailed after negotiations were completed and managed to avert an extended siege of the mosque, Islam's third holiest site. Anger is still palpable among the younger Israeli Arab community whose weekly worship was interupted by the violence.
click here and here for reports.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Dig it--or not?

Mounted police at Jaffa gate, helicopters aloft--- lots of fanfare herald this particular archaeological dig. Historical, hysterical, whatever: the controversial salvage operation going on in Jerusalem's Archaeological Garden, while stone throwers are set to pelt a back-hoe despite the glowering glances of 2000 armed cops, is truly a weird scene.

The plan to refurbish this sensitive place in the Old City has predictably affronted Muslims, who accuse Israelis of defiling their holy places or even plotting to destroy them to make way for a third Temple and bring on Armageddon.

But angry archaeologists are weighing in, too. Some 18 professors of archaeology objected last March to Olmert's office plan to fix a new causeway from the SW corner of the Temple Mount up to the domed Muslim shrine. Their petition was ignored. Historians and Islamic clerics both may feel they get shafted when city engineers dig down into the relic-strewn rubble held holy by three monotheistic religions. There's a rich mother lode of knowledge at stake, and the timing couldn't be worse. (Defence Minister Amir Peretz pointed out yesterday, rather belatedly, that fomenting chaos at a sacred Islamic shrine when trying to initiate a Middle East peace process is counterproductive.) There is a lot of vicious posturing on both sides of this issue

Izzy hopes that the outcry from the Arab street to desist won't make Israeli officials all the more stubborn and maybe spark off a new Intifada. (Though some analysts say that Palestinians will grasp at any excuse to resurrect this ugly option.)

The detention of the Islamic Movement's head and six of his cronies by the border police probably has added fuel to this explosive situation. Prime Minister Olmert may think this is a key issue to show the nation that he does have the stones to lead it. Rock on, Ehud, but choose your moment. Don't antagonize the Muslims just now. If Ariel Sharon could stir from his coma and advise, he'd probably caution about potential riots after Friday's prayer tomorrow in the Old City.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Breaking Baal's Lease - a freier's tale

Regrettably, we just shrugged it off when our new landlord’s friend told us that his childhood nickname was Baal. We should have paid attention to any hints of evil or pagan greed in his personality, and this oversight eventually cost us quite a few shekels.

At first, it did not bother us that the landlord, a noted architect and property developer in Jerusalem, assured us he needed only two days to get his pricey Emek Refaim rental (a former office) into shape after the family of former tenants moved out in mid-July. We figured he must have a crack team of decorators and handymen on call. After all, his firm won awards for renovating and conserving flats in the funky Jerusalem neighbourhoods of Mussrara and Ohel Moshe.

But, even though we had paid a hefty advance deposit of three month’s rent, the apartment was utterly uninhabitable when Baal handed us our keys. The basement was so foul with mold that it triggered an asthma attack. (His French tenants had simply neglected to air the place out, the landlord maintained, although two months earlier he had promised my husband that he would sort out the damp problem.) Baal had also assured us that if we had to get out of this seemingly-iron clad contract early, as had happened with a correspondent from Le Monde who was transferred to Moscow, this could be accommodated.) And though the lease spelled out that monthly rent payments would cover utilities and tax, he now conveniently overlooked that as legalese and demanded more money upfront.

What’s more, a few days after our lease was signed, a little coffee kiosk out front had been transformed into a late night cafe, with floodlit tables and a restroom visible from our living room and front garden. “They don’t have a permit, so I will shut them down overnight,” Baal thundered when we complained about this unexpected security risk. It transpired that Baal personally had designed the expansion plans for this kiosk, so it could not have surprised him much. Yet he turned around, petitioned the neighbors, and the little place was duly closed down---but not until six months later. Nice guy, huh?

this image of Baal, right, which bears scant resemblance to our Jerusalem landlord,comes courtesy of

Because Baal had repeatedly lied to us (about the cafe expansion, the utilities and the mold) and still was not forthcoming with repairs, we told him face to face that we had no recourse but to break our lease. We never moved in, not for one single night. In retrospect, if we could do it over, we would have opened the place up as a shelter for refugees from Sderot or families dodging Katyusha rockets in Nahariya , because all this happened last July during the Lebanon conflict.It was a shame that the flat had to stand empty when people needed housing, even though it was paid for. Yet we reckon Baal would have had no trouble with his conscience evicting such families. Instead, we opted to be reasonable, law-abiding citizens and offered to forfeit half our deposit. We hoped to claim back something to cover the hunt for more suitable lodgings. But Baal kept it all. The money was already in his pocket.

Lawyers advised us that a judge would tend to side with the local landlord, as it would be a case of his word against ours...and we speak no Hebrew. The estate agent, who received a full month's rent from both renter and landlord, was not prepared to rankle his exclusive client, and had a convenient memory lapse about promises. And Baal already had shown us how he viewed facts as flexible friends.

Hrrumph. That is how the key concept in Israeli business dealings was indelibly tattooed on our brains: thou shalt not be a freier , or sucker. Expect mutual respect? Sucker behaviour, apparently. In Jerusalem, it appears, a professional’s word does not necessarily bind him, particularly when there is a profit to be made.

Izzy has rented from landlords in 17 different countries and never encountered a major problem, but then that was before she had to deal with Baal.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Space Case:big boys with toys aim to convert cosmos to killing fields

Four years ago, a miniature Torah, once smuggled out of a Nazi concentration camp, was carried aboard the space shuttle by the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who was the son and grandson of Auschwitz Holocaust survivors. Bits of this tiny Torah were sprinkled all over Palestine from outer space.

Palestine,Texas, that is: the historically resonant name of the Columbia shuttle crash site.

Although security surrounding Columbia's liftoff and landing had been stepped up to avert any terrorists tempted to target an Israeli officer aboard, the flight ended in tragedy because of faulty insulation.

"I'm secular in my background, but I'm going to respect all kinds of Jews all over the world," Ramon had said before the launch, and he ate only kosher meals in orbit and kept the Sabbath. Aside from the cherished mini-Torah, Ramon also had carried a small pencil sketch of a "Moon Landscape" by Peter Ginz, a 14-year-old Jewish boy who dreamed of outer space while imprisoned at a concentration camp but did not survive Auschwitz. Tragically, in spite of all the uplifting symbols, all seven Columbia astronauts died upon re-entry because of a malfunction of protective foam which exposed fuel tanks to hyper-temperatures.

Against all odds, a similar tiny Torah did make it back from space, two years later, carried by Steve MacLean, a Canadian astronaut, aboard the shuttle Atlantis.

Sadly, all these cosmic overtones of space flight and exploration now are being cast away.

Awe-struck space explorers are getting shunted aside by three-star generals with earthbound morals and sky-high budgets, and the public sits idly by. It is poignant that Neil Armstrong, the born-again Christian who was the first man to walk on the moon, told an Israeli archaeologist in 1979 that he was far more excited to walk on the same stones in Jerusalem that Jesus had trodden than to take his famous small step onto the lunar landscape.

Suddenly, after a Chinese test blasted apart a defunct weather satellite in orbit on January 11th, some world leaders insist it is time to gird for battle in space. Israeli Air Force Chief Major General Elazar Shkedy was quoted on the Jerusalem Post's front page, expounding on this topic:
“It is hard to imagine fighting a war without these [space-based] assets. Israel will develop its capabilities in space in the coming years as the connection between the military and space is growing. The Americans, Indians and Chinese are all investing huge sums of money in space....Battle in space is on our agenda, whether we want it there or not.”

Meanwhile, the name of the air force has been upgraded to reflect this change: starting this month, it is now designated the Israel Air and Space Command. And there is a growing uneasiness among the military that Tehran aims to target Israeli surveillance satellites as soon as they have the know-how. Izzy despairs that the space race has gone from rhapsodic to rapacious so quickly.