Archive | December, 2013

Blue Blood, Red Blood – Fade to Black

21 Dec

In past centuries the kings and queens of Europe were said to have blue blood run in their veins.  The royal couples rarely ventured into the sun so their pale, sickly skin exposed the blue veins.  The rest us: slaves, serfs, peasants, slobs – we had to settle for red.

Israeli-Ethiopian Member of Parliament - Pnina Tamana Shata

Israeli-Ethiopian Member of Parliament – Pnina Tamana Shata

Now throw black into the mix and you’ve got a whole lotta trouble.  I’m talking about Pnina Tamano-Shata, an Israeli-Ethiopian woman, a member of Israel’s Parliament, no less, who’d walked into a blood bank last week followed by rolling cameras.  She wanted to donate blood.

The paramedics refused her blood.  It was all caught on tape.  That’s when the needle started to hurt.  Big Time.  For everyone.

“How is it that a Jew, an Israeli, is barred from donating blood?”  The words “discrimination” and “racism” flew about the airwaves, on TV talk shows, radio, the press.

It turned out that Ms. Tamano-Shata’s moves were well rehearsed.  She knew she would be turned away before going in.  Israel Ministry of Health’s guidelines are clear: No blood is to be accepted from gay men, people from certain African countries whose AIDS risk is known, people who’d lived in England during 1980-1996, the height of the Mad Cow disease.

So what can be said of the Member of Parliament?  That she’s a sensationalist?  Media-hungry? Provocateur?

Queen of Sheba comes to visit King Solomon

Queen of Sheba comes to visit King Solomon

Pnina was born in Ethiopia.  At age three she boarded a plane for Israel, part of what was known then as “Operation Solomon.”  In the late 80s and early 90s Ethiopia was torn apart by rebel groups.  Ethiopian Jews suffered.  They cried for help. Within months, Israel sent hundreds of cargo planes to Ethiopia and airlifted them to Israel.

Finally the Tribe of Dan, as they’re called, reunited and immigrated to the Promised Land.  Their features were not sub-Saharan black, yet they were still considered black.  But so was the Queen of Sheba who’d visited King Solomon in biblical times.  And she was welcomed into the palace.

Can’t we get along?

Once the “lost” tribe was found, once the novelty wore off, reality kicked in.  Tens of thousands of Ethiopians were sent to distant “developement towns” with little hope for advancement, employment.  Their assimilation and integration into Israeli society has been the hardest, longest – although many had come before the mass Russian migration of the 90s.

So Pnina Tamano-Shata, an elected official, wanted to shine the spotlight on the troubles Ethiopians experience.  For her, the means (her blood denied), justified the end (call attention to the plight of the Ethiopian community).  She said to the cameras: “I served in the Military.  My blood was tested.  I gave birth to my children.  My blood was tested; I’m AIDS-free.  Why do you ostracize an entire community?”

Could it be because they’re black?  That they make up only 2% of the total Jewish population?  That they have no political clout? That, some say, they haven’t embraced the nuances of the 21st century?

The noise and media frenzy reached the Prime Minister’s office.  An “Investigation” was initiated.  Yair Lapid, Finance Minister and Israel’s poster child for the “new” Israel promised “responsible parties” will be fired.

But these ministers fired their guns prematurely, caved-in to the hysteria.  Keeping the country’s blood bank safe is key, the Minister of Health said.  She also said she will advocate reforms, re-evaluate the whole donor program.

It’s a start.  And no blood was spilled.  But most likely, once the the issue turns cold again, they’ll be forgotten. Again.

Israel's Ethiopian Beauty Queen 2013

Israel’s Ethiopian Beauty Queen 2013

With all the hardships the Ethiopians endure, there’s one bright spot.  Earlier this year, Yityish Titi Aynaw, a vivacious Ethiopian bombshell was chosen as Israel’s 2013 Beauty Queen.  The proud queen even met President Obama, represented Israel at Miss Universe in Moscow, probably met up with Donald Trump, the pageant’s owner.

Will the “Queen” be allowed to donate blood?

Blue is a good color, right?

__________________________________________________________________________

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

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Hebrew’s origin found in London. Almost

8 Dec

My family and I are at the British Museum as part of our recent vacation to London.  The Egyptian Rosetta Stone takes center stage on the ground floor.

Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone

Visitors surround the black rock tablet: 4 feet tall, 2 feet wide.  The upper slab is inscribed in ancient hieroglyphs, the middle, less ancient, the bottom, Greek.   Once the Rosetta was “discovered” in 1799, the enigmatic language was finally solved.

That opened the door wide open to interpret the secrets of the Pharaohs. Some 3800 years ago, to communicate, to record events, the Egyptian elite relied on 800 (!) signs and pictures.

Try ordering something on Amazon with this many signs.

The Egyptian scribes were the privileged few; they were holy, almost godly.  They doodled and drew symbols while the illiterate masses built the pyramids under the desert sun.

No afternoon tea back then.

This monopoly of the language would have continued unabated if it were not for a few Canaanite miners from the Sinai Desert.  In the Bible, Canaan is described as the promised Land of Israel, a pledge God had made to Abraham.  In actuality, Canaan was part of lower Levant – stretching from southern Turkey, Syria, Cyprus, to Lebanon, Israel, Sinai Peninsula.

The Canaanites had a love-hate relationship with the Egyptians to the south.  The Canaanites were good tradesmen. They were good with numbers.  And they worked in Sinai’s turquoise mines.  The turquoise stone was the most precious in the Ancient World and was prized by the Pharaohs.

So, the Canaanites, holed up in the mines for months, with nothing to watch on NetFlix, and unable to order pizza, decided to interpret the hieroglyphs etched in the rock slabs.

They were not an educated bunch, according to Orly Goldwasser, a professor of Egyptology at Hebrew University, Jerusalem.  But what they wanted most was to communicate with their bosses in Egypt without having to carve and chisel hundreds of pictures and symbols, many of which they had no clue about.

House pictured as a square became the letter "Beit" - B - the sound for "house"

House pictured as a square became the letter “Beit” – B – the sound for “house”

So, they started to abstract the pictures into sounds.  The word for “house” was no longer a series of obscure images, but a simple picture of a square – the 4 walls.

The picture for Ox became the sound for the animal - ALP - then Aleph - the first letter of the Alphabet

The picture for Ox, the animal, became the first letter of the Alphabet

The word for “ox,” a pack animal, was produced with only one picture and then its sound, in Hebrew, ALP, became the letter Aleph in the alphabet.

The letter “r” was represented by a sign shaped like the human head, ras being the Semitic word for “head.”

The Hebrews, the ancient people of Canaan, along with the Phoenicians to the north, further developed and simplified the language.  800 symbols had become fewer than 30.

Talk about getting rid of excess fat.

Over the centuries, the modern letter, abstracted and simplified, have little resemblance to the original pictographs

Over the centuries, the modern letters, abstracted and simplified, have little resemblance to the original pictographs

But this revolutionary invention lay dormant for hundreds of years.  The Egyptian snobbish elite weren’t ready to ride into the sunset just yet.

Until the Greeks stepped in.  Then the Romans came.  Then the rest of the late-comers.  People communicated.  Trade flourished.  Ideas blossomed.

And the rest is history.

I leave the Rosetta Stone exhibit and head to the museum’s inviting restaurant.  The entire coffee and pastry menu fits on half a page, not an entire wall.

All thanks to a bunch of dusty Canaanite men in the turquoise mines.

Coffee anyone?

_______________________________________________________________________

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi