Torah-Writing Robot Speeds Past Human Scribes

Jewish Museum Berlin displays device that flawlessly produces Torah scrolls

Robot installation at the Jewish Museum Berlin writes Torah scrolls. ( © robotlab)

Life would be so much easier if we had robots to take care of our most arduous, time-consuming tasks, right? A new installation at the Jewish Museum Berlin takes that notion one step further, questioning whether a robot’s usefulness can extend beyond basic errands to one of the most sacred Jewish traditions: the act of writing a Torah scroll.

The Torah-writing robot, presented for the first time this week at the Berlin museum, uses the human writing tools of pen and ink without requiring the bathroom or lunch breaks a human scribe might. The result is an incredible increase in speed: according to the Associated Press, the robot can complete a 260-foot long Torah scroll—which contains 304,805 Hebrew letters—in about three months. A human scribe, known as a sofer, needs about one year to complete a full Torah scroll. (more…)

350 Rockets From Gaza, 900 Israeli Air Strikes

After four days, nearly 100 Palestinian deaths and talk of a ground operation

A picture taken from the southern Israeli-Gaza Strip border shows an explosion moments after an Israeli air strike on Gaza City, on July 11, 2014. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

As Operation Protective Edge entered its fourth day Friday, Israeli forces reported they’ve carried out almost 900 air strikes and Palestinians claimed nearly 100 casualties in Gaza. Of the more than 350 rockets that had been fired at Israel—many of them reaching as far north as Tel Aviv and Ashkelon—Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system had intercepted almost 100.

The rockets from Gaza are proving to have better range and accuracy than initially thought, however. An elderly Israeli man was seriously injured and two others were wounded Friday when a rocket hit a gas station in Ashkelon, exploding a gas tank. (more…)

Vigilante Violence in This Week’s Torah Portion

Reading the biblical story of Phinehas in light of recent events in Israel

Thousands of mourners gather for the funeral of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, in East Jerusalem on July 4, 2014.(AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

This past week has seen Jews in Israel and around the world seeking answers and engaging in much soul searching following the brutal murder of Palestinian teen Muhammad Abu Khdeir by a group of Jewish men. Outrage over the murder has been matched by an outpouring of condolences: from the uncle of Israeli teen Naftali Frenkel, who was kidnapped and murdered along with two classmates just weeks earlier, to busloads of activists visiting Abu Khdeir’s family.

It is thus perhaps somewhere between irony and serendipity that Jews will fill the synagogue pews this Saturday morning, perhaps seeking spiritual uplift, only to be regaled with the story of Phinehas, the most celebrated vigilante in the Torah. (more…)

An American Mother Visits Israel on a Mission

Sirens blare as we fill out paperwork for my daughter to volunteer with the IDF

A woman runs to take cover in the Israeli city of Ashdod on July 10, 2014 during a rocket attack by Palestinian militants from the nearby Gaza Strip. (DAVID BUIMOVITCH/AFP/Getty Images)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sirens wail at 7:19 p.m. I grab my keys and phone, and text my husband in Chicago: “Sirens over Tel Aviv.” My 18-year-old daughter yanks the stubborn apartment door and urges, “Come on, Mom!”

Just yesterday I reassured a friend in Germany that, in Tel Aviv, we weren’t feeling the violence she was seeing on TV.

We’re in Tel Aviv because my daughter, who just graduated high school in Chicago, is doing the paperwork to begin volunteering in the Israel Defense Forces. (more…)

Bail Denied for Former Nazi Guard Living in U.S.

Johann Breyer, 89, was arrested last month at his home in Philadelphia

Entrance gates to the former Auschwitz concentration camp. (JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Johann Breyer, the 89-year-old suspected former Nazi guard arrested last month at his home in Philadelphia, has been denied bail by the U.S. judge overseeing his case, the Associated Press reports. Breyer, who is accused of serving as a guard at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, has been charged with 158 counts of accessory to murder—”one for each trainload of victims brought to Auschwitz during his time there.”

German authorities are attempting to have Breyer extradited to Germany to face trial, and today’s decision means Breyer will remain in a federal prison in Philadelphia until his Aug. 21 extradition hearing. If extradition is approved, his lawyers will likely try and get it blocked on humanitarian grounds—according to the defense, Breyer has heart disease and dementia, and recently had a stroke. (more…)

A Look at Israeli Life Just Outside the Gaza Strip

For residents of the town Sderot, running to bomb shelters is nothing new 

People run for shelter during a 'color red' siren on July 10, 2014 in Sderot, Israel. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

Oded, an adorable eight-and-a-half year old blond boy, lives in Sderot. “There’s been a lot of tzeva adom,” these past few days, he told me, referring to the early warning “Color Red” alarm system that alerts residents to incoming rocket attacks from their neighbors in the Gaza Strip.

I met him today at the massive indoor playground—which doubles as 21,000 square feet worth of bomb shelter—funded and operated by the Jewish National Fund on 12 Paris Street in Sderot’s industrial zone. Opened in 2009 as an alternative to the town’s long-empty outdoor parks and playgrounds, it has hosted some 250,000 children with its basketball courts, jungle gym, video games, and even a therapy room. But it was Oded I was concerned about. His peers seemed happy to talk with the other journalists in the room, but Oded had withdrawn to the rock climbing wall.

I asked him if he’d been sleeping well at night. “Yes,” he answered, “in our bomb shelter.” No, it isn’t a bummer, he said, it’s actually very pleasant in his family’s shelter. “I get a little frightened sometimes, but I’m okay.” (more…)

UConn Basketball Star Trades Court for Kippah

Israeli baller Doron Sheffer is now a life coach living near the Sea of Galilee

Doron Sheffer of the University of Conneticut during the Huskies' 68-57 win over Colgate University on Mar 14, 1996. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Before Omri Casspi fulfilled Israeli’s dreams of having one of their own in the NBA, before Tamir Goodman was coronated—if prematurely—the Jewish Jordan, there was, as longtime University of Connecticut fans well know, Doron Sheffer. Two decades ago, the 6 foot 5 guard from Tel Aviv—who was the first to be dubbed the Jewish Jordan—was named Big East Rookie of the Year, playing for legendary coach John Calhoun alongside Ray Allen and Kevin Ollie. Their configuration led them to capture the Big East title three years running, with Sheffer scoring 1,300 points.

But while Allen is still on the court—most recently playing for the Miami Heat, with his mom still zealously cheering him on in the stands—and Ollie is now the Huskies’ coach, Sheffer, 42, now Orthodox, is a life coach who recently wrote a memoir, Annani (“Answer Me”) and lives on a hilltop near the Sea of Galilee with his family. (more…)

Jewish Teenage Girl Pepper Sprayed in Paris

French watchdog group warns escalating conflict in Israel may trigger attacks

Place du Colonel-Fabien in Paris, France. (Wikimedia Commons)

In the latest in a growing list of anti-Semitic attacks in Paris over the past few months, a 17-year-old Jewish girl was attacked Tuesday at Paris’ Place du Colonel-Fabien square.

According to the French National Bureau of Vigilance against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, a local anti-Semitism watchdog organization, the victim said in a statement that the attacker grabbed her by the jaw and sprayed pepper spray in her face while making anti-Semitic remarks before she managed to escape. (more…)

In Israel, Debating What to Tell Young Children

As sirens blare and security concerns mount, parents try to keep kids calm

Israelis take cover in an underground car park in the city of Tel Aviv, on July 10, 2014, during a rocket attack by Palestinian militants from the nearby Gaza Strip. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

One of the most talked about topics across Israeli media right now is how parents should deal with—and discuss—the escalating conflict with Gaza with their young kids. Child psychologists are today’s A-listers, frequently appearing as guests on television news panels, where they repeat mantras like “when talking to the kids don’t call it a war, call it a dispute.”

After spewing the usual useless psycho-babble they are asked impossible questions to which they give impossible answers. Yesterday evening I saw a show where a psychologist was asked what a normal response from a child would be and what king of responses should cause worry. The answer was: “In this situation, any response is normal.”

While grown-ups discuss the issue on grown-up TV, the Children’s Channel broadcasts a special war time (sorry, dispute time) program called “Tnu ligdol be-sheket,” which means “Let us grow up in peace,” where kids can discuss the situation with the friendly and familiar hosts, and share their thoughts and personal experiences. (more…)

Israeli Officer Suspended for Beating Palestinian-American Teen

Video shows police assaulting cousin of murdered teen during protest

Tariq Abu Khder, a Palestinian-US teenager who was allegedly beaten during police custody, is hugged by his mother following a hearing at Jerusalem Magistrates Court on July 6, 2014. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

An Israeli police officer has been suspended in the beating of Tariq Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian-American cousin of murdered 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, JTA reports. The assault, which was captured on video, occurred when Abu Khdeir was taken into police custody during a protest that broke out in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat after Muhammad Abu Khdeir’s body, which had been burned alive, was discovered in a Jerusalem forest.

The police officer, who hasn’t been named, faces a 15-day suspension and possible indictment.

The teen is visiting from Tampa, Fl., on his summer vacation. (more…)

New App Helps You Find a Minyan on the Go

Need to daven? Minyan Now tells you where

Image of Minyan Now. (RustyBrick)

Ever tried to find a minyan in an airport or a sports arena? For Barry Schwartz, who co-founded the web development company Rusty Brick with his brother Ronnie, the irksome problem he frequently encountered had a simple solution: an app that would help observant Jews locate enough other people to make a minyan, the quorum of ten Jewish male adults required for prayer.

RustyBrick specializes in coming up with hi-tech fixes for the observant Jew’s modern-day needs. As Schwartz told Tablet in 2011, “Anything we find useful that we want in our phone, we’ll develop.”

The company is behind smartphone apps like the iPhone Siddur and the Shabbat app, which shares candle-lighting times with users. as well as the Jewish Google Glass app, JewGlass. (more…)

Cartoon Distorts Israeli Military Operation

U.K. newspaper The Independent publishes incendiary image


Every once in a while, a British cartoonist tries to criticize Israel without drawing on nasty Jewish stereotypes—and fails miserably. Last year saw the sickening Sunday Times cartoon of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu depicted as the villain of some medieval blood libel, and the Economist cartoon that hinted at Jewish control of the United States Congress.

This morning, The Independent published an even more repugnant cartoon. Its artist, Dave Brown, will be familiar to Jewish audiences: at the height of the Second Intifada, he drew the infamous cartoon of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon devouring Palestinian babies. His latest creation accuses Israel of committing genocide against Gaza in the name of a mis-caricatured Biblical injunction. (more…)

Chicago Restaurant Offers Taste of Middle East

Jordan-born chef opens Masada, a nod to the desert fortress and his mom

Exterior of Masada restaurant in Chicago.(Photo by the author)

For Shadi Ramli, owner of the newly opened Masada restaurant in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, the question “Where are you from?” elicits a complicated response.

“I was born in Jordan,” says the 37-year-old restaurateur, “but I could be from anywhere. I could be Greek, Jewish, Italian—I’m probably a little bit of everything.”

Ramli’s new restaurant, which opened at the end of June after being in the works for 10 years, is a reflection of his eclectic background. The name, for example, comes as much from the ancient Israeli fortress as it does from his mother, also named Masada, who brought him and his brother to Chicago from Jordan in 1984, when he was seven years old. (more…)

In Tel Aviv, Sirens, Soccer, and an Uneasy Night

A family takes cover in the stairwell as rockets from Gaza are intercepted

An Israeli soldier walks close to an Iron Dome battery on July 9, 2014, placed close to the city of Tel Aviv. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

Even though this isn’t the first time it’s happened, rockets flying over Tel Aviv isn’t something we’re exactly used to—or so we tell ourselves. The sound of the first siren brings with it a feeling of surprise, confusion, and slight embarrassment. This is, after all, the time when neighbors you hardly say hello to in the elevator suddenly see you in your pajamas.

The sound of the first siren in Tel Aviv, which went off Tuesday evening, was especially confusing. Truthfully, it sounded more like howling wind than an actual siren. After a few moments of “Is it?/Isn’t it?”we decided that it probably is, meaning we’d better round everyone up and at least go to the stairwell (we live on the top floor of our building, to expect to actually get to the bomb shelter on time is pretty naïve), which is supposed to be the safest place in an apartment building.

After a few moments of hesitation and confusion, and a lot of running back and forth—should we turn off the A/C? Does the kid need his sandals? Where is his pacifier? Where are my keys?—we’re finally out the door. (more…)

Rockets Land South of Haifa; Sirens in Tel Aviv

While Palestinian death toll from Israeli air strikes on Gaza reaches 42

Israeli soldiers prepare their Tanks in a deployment area on July 9, 2014 on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip.(Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

Rockets launched from Gaza landed in the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council, just south of Haifa, in the northernmost attack on Israel yet, the Times of Israel reports. Warning sirens sounded in Tel Aviv, Beersheba, and Ashkelon, as the Iron Dome missile intercepted rockets in the area.

As Operation Protective Edge enters its second day, more than 180 rockets have been fired from Gaza—48 on Wednesday alone, with the Iron Dome missile defense system reporting a 90 percent success rate—and Israeli air strikes have pummeled Gaza, killing at least 42 Palestinians, Haaretz reports.

The mounting attacks are likely only going to get worse. (more…)

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