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From the First Temple to Somalia

east africa.jpgFrom sundown on Monday through nightfall on Tuesday is the fast of Tisha B’Av. This day of mourning holds a unique place in Jewish history and has some real life lessons. For those who may not be as familiar with this commemorative day, let me share the brief background.
On (or around) the 9th of Av, many horrific events befell the Jewish People. According to the Mishna (Ta’anit 4:6), five tragic events happened:

1. The twelve spies returned from the Promised Land to report to the Israelites in the desert and ten gave false reports, leading to the Israelites wandering for another forty years
2. The First Temple was destroyed in 422 B.C.E. A majority of Israelites were captured and sent to Babylonia.
3. The Second Temple was destroyed in 68 C.E., by the Romans, leading to the end of a Jewish state for 2000 years.
4. The Romans ended the Bar Kochba revolt in 132 C.E.
5. In 133 C.E., the Roman Commander plowed the remains of the Second Temple and the surrounding areas.

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What do you get a new country?

South-Sudanese-celebrate-independence-in-S.-Africa.jpgEvery time I go to a wedding, a celebration of a new beginning, I always struggle with what I should get the new couple. Do I give something sentimental, something Jewish, something practical, or just a good old fashioned toaster? Well, as it marks the creation of the brand new country of the Republic of South Sudan, the United States has a smiliar question to deal with.
The Republic of Sudan did not show up over night. After two decades of war, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 was signed, supported by the Bush Administration and in particular Secretary Colin Powell. This paved the way for the peaceful referendum on South Sudan’s independence this past January, supported by the Obama Administration. On July 9th, it was with great excitement that the world welcomed the creation of the Republic of South Sudan. It is a joyful occasion for the people of South Sudan, who after two decades of war will now have their future in their own hands.

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Oil Spill Strikes Yellowstone River

4e0fff8e95ca2.preview-300.jpgWith over three and a half million individuals visiting Yellowstone National Park each year, it is one of the most popular destinations to enjoy the great outdoors. Yet, this pristine escape into nature is under threat. Just a few miles up the river, an appalling oil spill has occurred. Around 42,000 gallons of crude oil has spilled into the Yellowstone River downstream from the park. Pictures of oil drenched wildlife and individual seeing there fishing livelihood under threat seem oddly familiar.

CASEY PAGE/Gazette Staff

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Climate Change and Tornados

350_org_a-s.jpgThis past week, Bill McKibben, founder of, released a powerful op-ed in the Washington Post. Titled “A link between climate change and Joplin tornadoes? Never!”, the piece looks at the current weather patterns and, in a satirical way, challenges readers to consider the connection between the recent series of extreme weather events and climate change.

“Caution: It is vitally important not to make connections. When you see pictures of rubble like this week’s shots from Joplin, Mo., you should not wonder: Is this somehow related to the tornado outbreak three weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, Ala., or the enormous outbreak a couple of weeks before that (which, together, comprised the most active April for tornadoes in U.S. history). No, that doesn’t mean a thing.

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HIV/AIDS: Thirty years gone, thirty years more?

30_years_aids.jpg30 years ago, the world was very different. Ronald Reagan was president, the final episode of M.A.S.H. aired, and though unknown at the time, the HIV/AIDS virus was discovered. For thirty years now, the world has been fighting an epidemic that has left a deep scar on so many lives. So many individuals have suffered at the hands of this awful disease.
Yet, there is hope. Some significant breakthroughs in the past few years provide reason for optimism. The most recent happened but a few weeks ago. A new study “unequivocally link[s] early antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV-infected persons with a 96.3% less chance of transmitting the virus to an uninfected partner, as well as a decreased risk of contracting tuberculosis (TB), the number one killer of people living with HIV/AIDS.” In simpler terms, if both partners take the antiretroviral drugs, then there is a 96.3% chance the disease will not spread. Similarly, a new gel for woman could reduce the transmission as well. Lastly, through gene therapy, a man in Berlin, who had cancer and AIDS was cured of both cancer and HIV/AIDS. There is still a lot of mystery around this case and a lot more research must be done, but none the less it could lead to a breakthrough.

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Let’s All Go Watch Mountains Blow Up??

poster.jpgThis weekend, an extremely powerful movie, The Last Mountain, is opening up in New York and Washington D.C. (other cities following throughout the next few weeks.) How do I know that it is a powerful movie? On one hand, I had the privilege of viewing the movie and was very impressed with the film; on the other hand I watched Steven Colbert discuss it with Robert Kennedy Jr. yesterday (skip to minute 15).
Mountain top removal is the practicing where coal companies dynamite the tops of mountains to access the coal streams below. The excess is then pushed into the local valley, covering up critical streams. According to the movie’s website, “Mountain top removal has destroyed 500 Appalachian Mountains, decimated 1 million acres of forest, and buried 2000 miles of streams.”

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Flare Up in Sudan!

In Abyei, an area about the size of the Island of Hawaii, the delicate peace agreement between Northern and Southern Sudan, could fall to pieces. This border area between the North and the South, which was left to be figured out later in the negotiations, has become the focal point for whether or not peace will happen. In an alarming turn, the northern army, with militias, has invaded Abyei. There have been reports of wide spread looting, including even some humanitarian agencies’ warehouses. Additionally, shelling has hit the UN headquarters, causing critical aid distribution to be halted.

Abyei_in_flames_feature.jpgThis is a violation of the peace agreement and has lead to 40,000 people being forced to flee their homes. The people of Southern Sudan have a right to live free from the indicted war criminal President Bashir as they voted to do in the January referendum. The international community must demand the removal of troops immediately and for the two sides to come to an agreement over this oil rich area. For the first time in decades, the hope for peace in Southern Sudan is alive, but this moment could unravel so much hard work.

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Tolerance needed in Egypt

coptic.jpegWe are taught throughout Jewish text to avoid “Lashon Hara,” usually interpreted as gossiping. Yet the literal translation is to avoid the evil tongue, which to me shows just how dangerous rumors can be and how easily small events can escalate into something truly terrible.
This past week in Egypt, a country that is going through its most significant transition in fifty years, a rumor has escalated tensions between Christians and Muslims, leading to the death of twelve individuals and at least 200 injured.

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