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Worlds Largest Mezuzah

By IsraelNationalNews.com

It appears Jerusalem Judaica artist and scribe Avraham Hirsh Brashevsky, 33, has the world's largest mezuzah. The mezuzah was presented at an international fair earlier this week and was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records. The mezuzah parchment scroll measures 1.10 meters in length (1.2 yards) and weighs 3 kilograms (6.5 lbs). It's encased in a wood, gold, and glass covering, giving an appearance some say of a vertical aquarium.


'North American Aliyah Has Become a Reality'

By IsraelNationalNews.com

"The wave of North American Aliyah has become a reality - and it's about time," Nefesh b'Nefesh co-founder Rabbi Yehoshua Fass told a crowd of more than 200 North American olim who had just stepped off the plane Wednesday.

Reciting the words of the blessing thanking God for bringing us momentous occasions, Fass continued, "To all of you, our dear olim, we applaud you for your Aliyah, but we laud you for becoming leaders - leaders in your families, leaders in your communities, leaders in your federations and synagogues, for raising Aliyah-by-choice to the surface, preaching it to all your friends and family and paving the way for them to follow. I want to bless you all that [as it says in Psalm 126,] your lives, your reality here in Israel surpass your dreams..."

"I have a newsflash for you straight from the front page of Al-Jazeera," said Nefesh b'Nefesh co-founder Tony Gelbart, "'A new wave of Jewish immigrants has arrived in Israel as part of an Israeli campaign to settle Jews from around the world in Israel.' They finally got one right," said Gelbart, over the cheers of those assembled.

Minister Natan Sharansky attended the ceremony to personally welcome the new olim as they stepped off the plane. "It is very positive for every Israeli to come welcome new immigrants to Israel - to see the excitement of coming to Israel through the eyes of newcomers," Sharansky told Israel National Radio's live newscast at the scene. "We are not supporting them, they are supporting us."

Sharansky, a former Russian refusenik and prisoner of Zion before finally being able to make Aliyah himself, said the new immigrants from North America are more impressive than he. "I had an easy task - I had to break the Iron curtain. They had a much more difficult task - they had to break the golden curtain, overcome many obstacles, sometimes facing opposition from their own parents."


First of the Spanish Hidden-Jews Arrives in Israel

By IsraelNationalNews.com

Yaffa daCosta had tears in her eyes as she sang "Hatikva" (The Hope), Israel's national anthem, after disembarking from an earlier chartered Nefesh b'Nefesh flight bringing her and hundreds of others on Aliyah. "I've waited so long for this day," she told IsraelNN's Ezra HaLevi.

DaCosta is a member of the growing community of "Anousim" - descendents of Jews from Spain and Portugal who are discovering that their ancestors were Jews forced to convert to Christianity.

DaCosta's great-grandmother immigrated to the United States from the Azores, a colony off the coast of Portugal. She lived in Texas and Oklahoma before she made Aliyah last week and she says this is her final destination. DaCosta is interested in building, if not settling permanently, in the Negev city of Be'er Sheva. "There is a prophecy in the book of Ovadia that says the exiles of Sefard [Spain] will inherit the Negev," said daCosta. "It also says in Psalm 126 that God will return us from our captivity like 'springs in the Negev' - and that is exactly what is happening."

Though she left her growing community of crypto-Jews in Texas, daCosta, who runs the Crypto-Sephardic-Union (http://www.cryptounion.com), plans to continue lecturing and educating in Israel and around the world about the ongoing saga of the Spanish 'Crypto-Jews'. "Something is stirring people all over who have felt some sort of attraction and affinity toward Israel and Jewish culture to research their roots," said daCosta, who is often contacted by such people in order that she assist them in their investigation. "As far as I know, I am the first of the Anousim to come home to Israel with a 'certificate of return.'"

Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu authored a letter instructing that the Anounsim be welcomed and absorbed back into the Jewish people after undergoing modified (without the component of dissuasion usually applied to converts who do not have Jewish ancestors) conversions back to Judaism according to Jewish law. DaCosta sees more and more returnees to Judaism and Israel as word of the Crypto-Jewish story spreads. "I want to see planeloads of Anousim returnees coming home to Israel," she said.


Got Shabbat? Want Some?

By Israel Faxx News Services

A Jerusalemite who fell in love with having 'Shabbat guests' at his table each week has decided to branch out - and, together with dozens of host-families in his central-Jerusalem neighborhood, launched JewishMeals.org.

Barak Hullman told Arutz-7's Ezra HaLevi how he came to undertake such an endeavor: "We started hosting guests for Shabbat about seven years ago. I wanted to donate some money to our synagogue, but I didn't have very much. Then, I had this idea that seemed crazy to me at the time. I made a pledge to have 100 guests at our Shabbat table over the next year. We'd never had guests at our Shabbat table before, so for us, this was a serious commitment. My wife and I were concerned how we would handle it, but then we realized it was just two guests every week for almost a year."

Hullman, a father of three, said that he and his wife Noga now average 14 guests per Shabbat. "I love to cook and we started really enjoying making large meals and having lots of guests," said Hullman, sporting a contagious smile. "Come Sunday I'm always thinking of Shabbat and which guests we can invite. Sometimes I go to an event and just invite everyone I see."

"It's not always easy to find guests," confided Hullman. "A lot of people host guests themselves or have friends they go to. I started thinking about where could I find more guests and realized there must be hundreds or even thousands of tourists or new immigrants here in Jerusalem that would love a warm place to go to for Shabbat meals."

In order to reach potential guests, even before their arrival in Israel, Hullman decided to launch JewishMeals.org. "Not everyone knows whom to call or even wants to pick up the phone to call to find a place for meals on Shabbat," said Hullman. "With our website, there's no fear factor, you just fill out the form and I write back to you ASAP."

The Hullmans don't plan on hosting all the guests that sign up each week on their own. They are part of a vibrant community in the midst of Jerusalem's Nahlaot neighborhood. Nahlaot is one of Jerusalem's oldest neighborhoods, tucked between the Mahane Yehuda Shuk [market] and Sachar Park, just below Israel's High Court and the Knesset building. It is home to Jews from all walks of life and of every religious persuasion. "There are many people in this special neighborhood who want to fill their tables with guests," said Hullman, "JewishMeals.org seeks to ensure that nobody has to spend Shabbat alone."

There are no advertisements on JewishMeals.org as, according to Hullman, "our only goal is to become the place on the Internet for people to find meals on Shabbat and Holidays."

Although JewishMeals.org currently only offers Shabbat meals in Nahlaot, Hullman has big plans for the future. "We would eventually like the site to expand to every city where there are Jews in the world," says Hullman, "so that a Jew anywhere on the planet could come to JewishMeals.org and find a place for a traditional Shabbat meal wherever he is!"


Newly-Wed Druze Woman Runs Off with Syrian Internet Lover

By Ha'aretz

A young Druze woman from the north of Israel who vanished on her honeymoon in Antalya had run off with a Syrian Arab she had been in touch with on the Internet, an investigation by Turkish police and Interpol revealed this week.

Fida Ibrahim, 22, from the village of Majdal Shams, was seen Monday leaving the hotel where she and her new husband had been staying accompanied by her Internet lover, who lives in the United Kingdom.

A Druze lawmaker who has been following the affair said that the two had attempted to cross the border from Turkey to Syria, but had been turned back. "At some point when her husband was at the hotel, she went out and left with the one with whom she had been having an affair for two or three months. Her husband is in complete shock and utterly bewildered. Some of his family have flown over to calm him down," Whbee said.

Ibrahim's husband told police that she had disappeared on Monday after he had left her alone in the hotel lobby. One of the couple's neighbors said that the woman had spoken to her parents after the wedding Saturday night and had told them that she was feeling well and enjoying the holiday.

The couple, members of the same extended family, were married last week and left Israel on Sunday to celebrate their honeymoon in Turkey.


For Israeli Athletes, It's Time to Let the Games Begin

By Israel21c.org

The most promising delegation of athletes in Israel's Olympic history will be standing to the test against representatives from over 200 nations at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens.

Since Israel began participating in the Olympic games in Helsinki in 1952, its athletes have returned home with a total of four medals: two from Barcelona in 1992, when Yael Arad took a silver and Oren Smadja, a bronze for judo; Gal Friedman's bronze for windsurfing in Atlanta in 1996; and the bronze awarded Michael Kolganov for kayaking in Sydney in 2000.

Ephraim Zinger, Director-General of the Israeli Olympic Committee, expects Israel to return home from this summer's Games with at least another two or three Olympic medals. "We hope this will be the most decorated delegation yet," Zinger told ISRAEL21c. "This is potentially the best ever Israeli Olympic team."

Zinger said that although the Athens delegation is four athletes smaller than the 40-member team Israel sent to Sydney, the team this summer is stronger. Israeli competitors will participate in a record number of 14 individual sports - including swimming, synchronized swimming, wrestling, judo, running, windsurfing, pole-vaulting and rhythmic gymnastics.

When asked to name some of the most promising athletes on the roster, Zinger cited three-time European judo champion Arik Ze'evi, who took the silver medal at this year's world championship; Friedman, who after taking the bronze in Atlanta won the world championships for windsurfing in 2002; Kolganov, who before taking the bronze at Sydney won gold and silver medals for kayaking at the world and European championships in 1999 and 2000; and Alex Averbuch, gold medalist for high jump at the European Championship in Belgium in 2000 and 2002 European pole-vault champ.

According to Frankie Sachs, Sports Editor for The Jerusalem Post, that shortlist can be widened. "I think there are about eight participants who have real chances at winning a medal," said Sachs, who added 2003 windsurfing world champion Lee Korsitz; male windsailing duo Udi Gal and Gidi Kilger; female windsailing duo Vered Bouskila and Nike Kornecki; world champion wrestler Gotcha Tsitsiashvili and 2003 world cup gold medalist marksman Guy Starik, to the list of hopefuls.

"There are a ton of athletes on the team who are really at the top of their sport. If they come to the competition focused and healthy, I think Israel could come away with more than the two or three medals they're hoping for," said Sachs.

Sachs explained that although many more Israeli athletes qualified for the team by International Olympic Committee standards, this year the Israeli Olympic Committee stuck to the cream of the crop. "Israel could have doubled the size of its team if they would have let in everyone who qualified by the international standard," said Sachs, who estimated the team size could have included up to 70 competitors. "But, for the first time Israel created its own selection requirements.

"This year, the Committee has a different objective," he said. "For a long time, the objective was just to participate, to see and be seen. The team this summer marks the first time that they have really prepared a delegation wherein no one is just coming along for the ride. Everyone on the team has a talent to perform."

The wealth of talent that has been cultivated among Israel's athletes is no accident, according to Zinger. He refuted the claim that the team is better because of the participation of new immigrant populations to Israel. Although about half of the athletes on the team were not born in Israel - 16 of the 36 members came to Israel from the former Soviet Union, as did 12 of the 21 coaches - he said that most of the team learned their skills in Israel.

"I don't think the team is better because we have athletes from other countries. Most of the Israelis who were born abroad made aliyah when they were teenagers. So, most of them did the bulk of their training here in Israel," said Zinger.

Sachs concurred with that assessment. "I don't think the issue is as relevant as it was in the past, when Israel recruited athletes for the team and one to three years after the games, they went back to their countries of origin," he said. He explained that almost all of the athletes on the current team have been in Israel for most of their adult lives and all of them have been in the country for at least the last four years.

"Most of the athletes will themselves tell you that they are as Israeli as any other Israeli and that they take offense to the suggestion that they are not Israeli or were drafted to Israel for Olympic purposes," said Sachs.

But according to Kalganov's kayaking coach Alex Yermilov, who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine in 1991, his country's origin does have something to do with expertise in training. "We have a system and knowledge of sports," Yermilov told the New York Times. "We have experience that has never existed here before, because this is still a young country."

Sachs suggested the reason why the team is potentially so good is timing - previously promising players are now reaching the heights of their potential. "Several athletes who showed a lot of potential at Sydney are now at the top of their sport," he said, using Ze'evi as an example. "Ze'evi finished in fifth place at Sydney," explained Sachs. "Since then, he has defended his title as European judo heavyweight champion for the last three years."

Sachs also anticipated that the Israeli athletes will have an edge over competitors due to the comparable climate in Greece. "They are more familiar with the climactic conditions," he said. "That factor alone could literally double their chances at winning."

Interestingly, this year's Olympic team is comprised of 45% female athletes, an average which Zinger says Israel is especially proud of. "They didn't make it because they are female, but because they are very good," he said. "Still, compared to Western delegations, it's a good number."

This team also marks the first time that Ethiopia-born Israelis have participated in the Israeli delegation. Marathon runners Haile Satayin and Assaf Bimro, who has already broken the national record and is ranked 20th in the world as a marathon runner, will be competing in track and field events.

The Israeli team will, as it has since the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists in Munich in 1972, bring its own security team to Athens. "We are always taking extra measures, in collaboration with the local government which is responsible for the security and safety of athletes from all over the world," said Zinger. "In a way, Israelis are targets. But, this time it is a little bit different than it used to be. My feeling now is that we are not the only ones."

From beginning to end, Sachs said his hopes have never been so high. "But, just because it is the most promising team, doesn't necessarily mean it will have the best results," he cautioned, saying there is a lot more pressure at the Olympics than at any other sporting event. "But, I am very optimistic. I think this will prove to be the best delegation Israel ever sent to the Olympic Games."






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