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Hotel Review

Marcel Hotel Subverts its Attraction with Failures

February 25th 2010

Travel - Marcel Hotel
Marcel Hotel New York City

This hotel could be a major address for the informed traveler on a budget. Certainly, the rooms in this beat-up building are updated, sleek, bright and even playful. Travelers will find the accommodations warm and cozy with a flare. Service is exemplary as the friendly staff tries hard. A rooftop patio has enormous potential.

But two major problems rule this property out as a first, second, or third choice. Management has chosen to make the coffee machine inoperable during the breakfast hours and turns it on only after say 10 AM or 11 AM. This means groggy people waking up with typical early morning departures or commitments cannot grab a cup of coffee easily as they would expect at the public access coffee machine. This is deliberate. Management wants to drive morning coffee and breakfast to the expensive restaurant connected to the property. Anyone who wants to go outside for coffee can cross a few busy intersections for a Starbucks--but this is not inviting as a wake-up. Hence, management is willing to inconvenience their customers to score a meal for the rental property. Read more ..

Destination Spain

The Ghosts of Europe's Past, Present, and Future in Spain's Pyrenees

December 28th 2009

Architecture - Estacion Canfranc

In the midst of the Pyrenees range of Spain lies a relic of history that continues to attract visitors to the scenic valley of Canfranc in Aragon. One of the most beautiful rail stations in the world, that served as a location for the filming of “Doctor Zhivago,’ lies mouldering in the a valley that for centuries served as a way station for pilgrims crossing the mountains from France as they made their way to the shrine of St. James the Apostle at the eponymous city of Santiago de Compostela. Situated in the province of Huesca, in what was once the Kingdom of Aragon, Canfranc (‘field of foreigners’) lies in the vertiginous valley of the Aragón river.

Few places in Europe are as evocative of the past, and the tangled international interests of Continental governments, their pomp and misplaced optimism. Inaugurated with pomp and circumstance on July 18, 1928 by King of Spain Alfonso XIII and Gaston Doumergue President of France, the station at Canfranc was at the time the largest train station in Europe, surpassing even St. Pancras station in London. No doubt the two heads of state believed then that national sovereignty, and the principle that good borders make good neighbours, would always be true and that their monument to those raisons d’etat would always stand to attest their memory.

Certainly, nothing was spared in engineering the railways that led to the station nor in the building itself which was to become an exemplar of Art Nouveau. Created by Spanish architect Fernando Ramírez de Dampierre, construction continued from 1921 to 1925. It was decided that the station would be built in Spain since the terrain in nearby France would have been impossible. The station measures some 750 feet long, with 75 doors on each side and more windows than days in a year.

Edge on Germany

Dresden: Up from the Ashes

October 12th 2009

Travel - Dresden

Dresden, the capital of Saxony, was founded in the early 13th century, but the date that is indelibly etched on the minds of all Dresdeners is February 13, 1945 – the night when the city was razed to the ground in an iconic air raid and some 25,000 of its citizens perished. Prior to that fateful night, Dresden was one of Europe’s most beautiful cities and was often called “the Florence of the North.” Arguments have persisted ever since whether the raid was strategically justified or whether it was “Churchill’s revenge” for Coventry-- and the discussion continues.

What has happened, however, is that like the proverbial Phoenix, Dresden has risen from the ashes and has regained her stunning beauty. Read more ..

Destination Edge

Roaming the Hunting Grounds of a Zulu King

October 5th 2009

Travel - Thula Thula Africa
Thula Thula

If you dream of an African safari adventure, but the idea of roughing it seems a bit daunting, Thula Thula Exclusive Private Game Reserve and Safari Lodge offers the best of both worlds for people who crave nature but want to be nurtured. Located on a malaria-free reservation in Zululand forty-five minutes from Richards Bay Airport and two hours from Durban, guests of Thula Thula have the opportunity to experience the African wilderness while dining on gourmet cuisine and sleeping in luxury tents and lodges.

Once the private hunting grounds of Zulu Empire founder King Shaka, Thula Thula Private Game Reserve is home to hundreds of wild animals, including elephants, baboons, zebras, giraffes, leopards, buffaloes and hyenas. Resort guests are encouraged to participate in morning and evening game drives. Each drive is approximately two and a half hours with a break for coffee, tea or wine.

Thula Thula trackers and rangers are professional, knowledgeable and friendly and if there is a particular animal you would like to see, they will make every effort to locate it for you. Be sure to take both the morning and early evening drives, as each offers a different experience. Guests are also encouraged to participate in guided bush walks, where they will learn about native South African flora and fauna and facts about wildlife habitat and habits.


Destination Edge

Wagner Lives on in Bayreuth

September 28th 2009

Travel - Bayreuth Festspielhaus
Bayreuth Festspielhaus

Bayreuth is the site of the annual Wagner Festival and one of the prettiest towns in Bavaria. Although it is often confused with Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, it remains largely undiscovered except, of course, by passionate Wagnerians lucky enough to obtain festival tickets.

Located on the banks of the River Main in Upper Franconia (the northern- most Principality of the former Kingdom of Bavaria) Bayreuth and Richard Wagner are inextricably linked, a connection which overshadows many attractions of the city. It is true that no visit to Bayreuth is complete without at least touring the Festspielhaus, the unique opera house which sits on a hilltop location that dominates its surroundings. This historic structure was built for Wagner exclusively for performances of his “Ring”. But that is only the icing on top of the Rococo cake that is Bayreuth.

Due to Hitler’s admiration for Wagner, Bayreuth was tarred with the Nazi brush during the Third Reich. However, when we visited recently we found not a trace of Neo-Nazi sympathy. On the contrary, possibly due to the establishment of a first-class research university in 1975, as well as the annual pilgrimage of world-renowned musicians, Bayreuth today is an international cultural center. Read more ..

Destination Edge

Visit East Africa and say 'Hakuna Matata'

September 14th 2009

Travel - Wildebeests in Serengeti

No more snow or below-zero temperatures? Wake up every morning to bright sunshine and the songs of tropical birds? That’s the Ugandan capital, Kampala, on the edge of Lake Victoria. Or to the roaring of the ocean, with a spectacular sunrise guaranteed every morning? Zanzibar, the spice island, or Mombasa, the vibrant tourist centre on the Indian Ocean, with its 16th century fortress and old town largely intact. Perhaps a national park within a stone’s throw from your room, with lions, gazelles, rhinos, hippos and a bewildering array of monkeys.

You’re in Nairobi, the mile-high capital of Kenya, home of the marathoners and long- and medium-distance men and women runners. Or further inland, forested mountains rise beyond more forested mountains, as far as you can see. Kigali, the spick and span, highly organised capital of Rwanda, whose only offer to tourists is the mountain gorilla? Only offer? A comfortable two-hour drive from the capital and you reach the forest where the shy creatures hide and can be visited by few people at a time. A once-in-a-lifetime experience. Read more ..

Destination Edge

A Summer of Enlightenment and Memories in Edinburgh

August 24th 2009

Europe Topics - Edinburgh

This August, let us forget for a moment our economic woes and take a stroll in the beautiful city of pre-Goodwin Edinburgh, where I spent many years at school and university and working in a stockbroking firm. In those days, Scotland did not yet have its own Parliament, but it still had its own stock exchange, the former Scottish Stock Exchange with a small trading floor in Glasgow.

Edinburgh manifests in various ways the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France. The royal palace of Holyrood was rebuilt in the seventeenth century in good Louis XIV style. The famous New Town was built from 1767 onwards for the nobility and upper classes of the Age of Enlightenment, who no longer tolerated the gloom, congestion and squalor of the mediaeval Old Town, clinging to the skirts of the grandiose Castle, high in its rock. The New Town is vividly reminiscent of the gracious streets of eighteenth-century Bordeaux. The more recent Victorian buildings and park of Bruntsfield give this open, elegant quarter some resemblance to the Parisian Champ de Mars. Read more ..

Cuba on the Edge

Cuba Elevates Urban Gardening To a Cause

August 17th 2009

Latin American Topics - Cuban Urban Gardening

Sunlight brightens the paved streets and historic buildings of Havana, Cuba, bouncing off the tents of vendors and the tin drums of a street band. Once stricken by poverty and inequality, the city has slowly blossomed as a result of the bustling enterprise of urban agriculture. Between buildings and behind street walls, in every green space available, locals have cultivated crops, utilizing the techniques of sustainable urban farming.

After years of isolation from the United States and the former Soviet Union, Cuba has independently fostered development of urban agriculture and now provides an environment of growth and structure for its economic, social and political policies.

Cuba is the only country in the world that has developed an extensive state-supported infrastructure to support urban food production. Functionally, this system was established in response to acute food shortages in the early 1990s, which occurred after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the island was forced to find an alternative manner of cultivating crops. Read more ..

Destination Edge

Visiting Portland Means Sailing into a Seafaring Tradition

August 10th 2009

Travel - Portland ME Lighthouse
Portland, Maine

Maine is not only the most sparsely populated state east of the Mississippi, but one of the most beautiful, whose people are hospitable to a fault, cherish traditional American values and have a deep sense of pride in their history. You sense this immediately when visiting Portland which, with a population of only 65,000, is the largest city in the state. As you stroll through downtown, you are impressed by the Victorian architecture and cobblestone streets. In the Old Port, great brick buildings, once warehouses for local merchants, now house funky shops, galleries and restaurants catering to every taste and budget.

Portland is still a great seaport with an amazing, rocky shoreline. The best way to experience this is to take a short cruise on Casco Bay, where you will see some of America’s oldest and best known lighthouses as well as gracious summer homes built atop hills looking down upon the sea. During World War II, Portland was home port to the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic fleet and it was there that the legendary Liberty ships were built. Read more ..

Traveler's Edge

Can Mathematics Overcome Jet Lag?

June 29th 2009

Travel - Jet Lag

We all know what jet lag feels like. But is it really. Doctors tell us a major cause of jet lag is the desynchronization of the body’s internal clock and the local environment when a person travels across several time zones. Symptoms include trouble sleeping at night and trouble staying awake during the day.

Now reducing jet lag is the aim of a new mathematical methodology and software program developed by researchers at the University of Michigan and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

The new methodology and software program helps users resynchronize their internal clocks with the local time using light cues. The software program gives users exact times of the day when they should apply countermeasures such as bright light to intervene in the normal course of jet lag.

The findings were published in the June 19 issue of PLoS Computational Biology.

“This work shows how interventions can cut by half the number of days needed to adjust to a new time zone,” says Daniel Forger, an assistant professor of mathematics and a research assistant professor in the Department of Computational Medicine and Biology at the U-M Medical School. Forger is an author of the paper. Read more ..

Edge of Africa

Cape Verde's Largest Island Struggles to Balance Tourism, Development

June 15th 2009

Travel - Cape Verde
Cape Verde

With a growing tourist industry sweeping the islands of Cape Verde, the nation faces a quandary over how to preserve its tradition and culture while maximizing the potential windfall from the spectacular natural beauty of the remote African archipelago.

Guide Joao Monteiro steps lightly amidst the ruins of a 16th century fort, on a hill overlooking the town of Cidade Velha on the southern coast of the Cape Verdean island of Santiago. The impressive stone walls of the structure, he explains, have recently been rebuilt with financial support from the Spanish government, with the hopes of bringing more tourists to the town.

Cidade Velha, founded by the Portuguese in 1462, is the oldest European settlement in the tropics. But on this day at the fort, painstakingly reconstructed stone by stone by Spanish archaeologists with the help of the local population, few visitors are to be found. Monteiro says tourism on Santiago is not growing at the rate of other Cape Verdean islands.


Plague Days

Mexico's Tourism Industry Reels from Latest Body Blow--Swine Flu

April 28th 2009

Latin American Topics - Mexico Plague Days

Mexicans, known to lament ironically that their country is too far from God and too close to the United States, now have even more to worry them following a triple whammy of an economic downturn, continued narcotics-related violence, and now the outbreak of what could become a pandemic of swine flu. Tourism, a mainstay for Mexico – which has not only glorious beaches, but also soaring pre-Colombian temples and Spanish colonial cathedrals – has already taken a hit but now stands to receive a mortal body blow. 

Victims of swine-flu in New York City, among them a group of students who had recently visiting Mexico’ sun and sin capital Cancún, are among the tourists directly affected. Now it is tour operators, airlines, and hotels which are also affected. The Mexican government has shuttered schools and universities, as well as other public venues throughout Mexico City, while armed soldiers are grimly handing out surgical masks to the citizenry in an effort to stem the contagion of swine flu. Read more ..

Travel Advisory

Deadly Outbreak in Mexico Jumps the Border into the U.S.

April 27th 2009

Science - Virus

A deadly flu virus, never before noted, has killed at least 20 persons in Mexico and has now appeared in the United States. Eight people were infected by the H1N1 swine flu virus in the U.S. but have now recovered. The virus found among the U.S. patients, according to the World Health Organization, is the very same that was found in 12 of the Mexican patients. The border between the two countries remains open to tourist and business visitors even during the outbreak and despite increasing concern at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta GA.

According to health officials, the outbreak has not yet reached pandemic levels. However, Mexican authorities are not taking any chances with the virus that has now spread to human-to-human contact. On April 23, Mexico cancelled school in the nation’s capital and surrounding districts in an effort to stem the wave of infection. Large public gatherings such as concerts and sporting events have been suspended.

Ordinary citizens have taken to wearing surgical masks so as prevent contagion. Workers at Mexico City's restaurants and taco stands are taking precautions too. At least one pharmacy has reported a run on surgical masks: it sold out its stock within hours. Read more ..

Edge of the Mexican Crisis

Mexico Opens a Public Relations Front in the Narcotics War

March 9th 2009

Mexican Topics - Mexican Drug Police2
Mexican police

The Mexican government’s battle against drug cartels has opened yet another front attempting to repel the onslaught of bad publicity that the bloodshed has cast onto the country’s international image. Mexico’s instinctual reputation is being eroded into one that invokes chaos and violence rather than stability and order, making many uneasy and concerned over the country’s future political and economic future. Some of these are friends of Mexico; others are not.

The murmurs from Washington come in the ominous shape of travel advisories and insecurity threats from the State Dept. and the dire analysis by the U.S. Joint Forces Command, which dares to think the unthinkable:

Mexico’s possible implosion into a failed state

Mexico City has duly responded to the criticism in full force this week by mobilizing a coordinated response to placate the wave of negative press. In an interview with the AP, President Calderon attempted to diffuse the idea of a failed Mexico by claiming, “To say that Mexico is a failed state is absolutely false, I have not lost any part — any single part — of the Mexican territory.” Read more ..

Destination Mexico

Sample Mexico's Aztec Heritage at its Restaurants

January 19th 2009

Travel - Mexican Appetizers

No offense meant to Mom and apple pie, but the best American cuisine (that is to say, on the two American continents) by far is found in Mexico. The mestizo culture that ensued after the intermingling of Spanish adventurers and native American peoples produced a bronze race and fascinating cuisine of an infinite variety of textures and flavors. Mexico gave to the world its foods and flavors, including cacao, turkeys, maize, avocados, tomatoes, and chilies. These have gone on to embellish the cuisines of countries all over the world.

It is unfortunate that most Americans’ exposure to Mexican cooking may be limited to Taco Bell or the seemingly infinite number of family-owned restaurants serving Mexican fare. This food, which is largely Tex-Mex – which may have given the United States both burritos and chile con carne – is good but only faintly Mexican. The best path to true Mexican is to go to land of the Aztecs itself and sample the best the country has to offer. Read more ..

Travel Activism

Hotels in Mexico Prepare for UN AIDS Conference with Prevention

August 4th 2008

Science - AIDS ribbon
HIV/AIDS awareness ribbon

Mexico and Mexican hotels will join hands with the United Nations campaign on HIV/AIDS at the XVII International AIDS conference to be held in Mexico City August 3-8. Joining UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon will be President Felipe Calderón of Mexico to inaugurate the conference that expects 20,000 delegates and 2,000 journalists from around the world. This comes on the heels of the July 28 release of the UNAIDS’s 2008 report on the extent of the worldwide HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Mexican hotels are responding to demand by offering “The Life Initiative – Hotels addressing AIDS,” which is aimed at both hotel guests and staff. The Life Initiative will include the distribution of free male and female condoms, the display of AIDS-related leaflets, posters and brochures, art exhibitions and movies. Condoms will be distributed at all participating hotels via the “condom project”, which has been financed with the support from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

“In Mexico, we note that nearly 200,000 people are living with HIV and around 5,000 people died in 2006 from diseases related to AIDS," said César Núñez, the Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean for UNAIDS. "The XVII International AIDS Conference presents a unique opportunity to involve the local hotel industry on issues related to HIV.”

Mexican hotel employees have already been provided with information on HIV prevention and an overview of the epidemic, and received sensitivity training on issues related to discrimination in the workplace. The five national hotel chains participating in the initiative are Mexican hotel industry giants Grupo Posadas, Hoteles Misión, Grupo Empresarial Ángeles, Grupo Del Ángel and Grupo Hoteles Emporio. In addition, the initiative includes eight international hotel chains. They are Best Western International, InterContinental Hotels Group, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Sol Melia Hotels & Resorts, Radisson Hotels & Resorts, Ramada International, Group ACCOR and Four Seasons Hotels. Read more ..

Fabrics of Great Britain

The Not Knowing of Another--Bexhill on Sea

July 14th 2008

Travel - Bexhill on Sea
Promenade at Bexhill on Sea
Christine Matthews

An archetypal English afternoon.  Early July in the last week of Wimbledon.  High white clouds scud across the summer sky revealing lakes of blue periodically.  A gentle Westerly drives them inland and the sun creates sparkle in the gently undulating sea tide washing in.  A dog chases a thrown stick along the seafront panting in the heat and a lone vessel sits on the horizon.  Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex.  Nothing really is happening in a quintessentially Home Counties sort of way. 

A lazy Friday in a pleasant shimmering haze. A coastal resort sandwiched between illustrious neighbors, Eastbourne and Hastings.  Empty Tory blue-and-white striped deckchairs sit symmetrically opposite Romanesque colonnades and an ice cream kiosk.  Straw hats and scooters saunter along promenade.  Seagulls circle and squawk chasing discarded chips on the green by the bandstand and the Union Jack gently flutters.

There is a faded Edwardian elegance here. A town retired, looking out to the waves and reminiscing about lost empire and afternoon tea.  Trying hard to fulfill its role as a healthy retreat and holiday destination. Inland up the hill small shops jostle for the unpassing trade of the bygone 60s and 70s when the working classes had not discovered Spain.  An ironically named hairdressers’ shop; wedding dresses in wedloc dropping the K for trendy tourists who may have got lost on the way to Brighton, and knitwear and kilts touting tartan to absent Americans.  Fish shops fighting a price and plastic-fork war.  Cod and chips, salt and vinegar Bexhill by the sea. Gentle English conservatism with a small sea.

Actually, Bexhill is as quirky and alternative as you should want to get.  Yes it is English, yes it expresses in its architecture and legacy something quintessential about tolerance and innovation, about leadership, expression and understanding and about freedom and resistance to the ordinary. If you start to dig a little bit under the surface of this genteel picture postcard place you start to find some extraordinary things.  Television pioneer John Logie Baird spent his last few months on earth in Bexhill.  The great contemporary comedian Eddie Izzard spent much of his childhood there.  British motor racing was spawned in Bexhill with bicycle boulevard polluted with paraffin and petroleum when illustrious competitors including Lord Northcliffe founder of the Daily Mail newspaper competed in the first-ever race on British soil at speeds of over 50 mph.  Ironically it was won by the more eco-friendly steam powered Easter egg driven by the French racer Monsieur Leon Serpollet.  Read more ..

Inside Poland

Warsaw: The New Jewish Destination

February 20th 2008

Jewish Topics - Warsaw

Many Jews hear the word “Poland” and are filled with visions of anti-Semitism. I understand that perspective.

In the late ’70s, I traveled twice to Poland, both times with Jewish federation missions. Each trip revolved around visits to Auschwitz- Birkenau — experiences that are among the most emotional and up-setting times of my life. I felt confusion, anger and impotence. In this gray communist society, all Poles looked anti-Semitic to me. I wore a yarmulke throughout my time there to show that we had survived, and as a challenge to all around me. From Poland we went to Israel. The message was simple: from the Holocaust to rebirth, from almost unquenchable evil to light and hope.

I never thought I would go back to Poland. But I returned last month at the urging of Bay Area philanthropist Tad Taube and Jerzy Halbersztadt, the director of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. I went from Israel to Poland on El-Al. That the order of my trip was reversed was a harbinger of the whole experience.

Warsaw was its customary winter gray, but not as cold as I was warned it might be. My room at the Novotel Centrum Hotel was brighter and more user-friendly than the one I had just left in Herzliya Petuach. In discussions with many Poles, I found the attitude of the people and government much like what I had experienced in Germany during the early ’90s — the government was supportive of America and Israel, the people were hungry for democracy and capitalism.

I am not saying that anti-Semitism has vanished. One only has to read “Difficult Questions in Polish-Jewish Dialogue,” co-published by the American Jewish Committee and the Forum for Dialogue Among Nations, to be disabused of that notion, but there is a dramatic difference from my trips in the ’70s. Read more ..

Reporter's Notebook

24 Hours in London

December 11th 2007

Contributors / Staff - David Horovitz
David Horovitz

I touched down at Heathrow at a little after one in the afternoon on Tuesday, knowing that I would be back at the airport precisely 24 hours later.

I'd been invited to London by the Zionist Federation, a venerable institution now undergoing a certain reinvigoration, which had organized a lecture to mark the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War.

I'd imagined that my talk would be one of a series of such events arranged by the Anglo-Jewish community, an opportunity to recall Israel's near-miraculous confounding of President Nasser's plans for our elimination and to inform another generation - Jews and the rest of the Brits - about the circumstances of that defining conflict.

But I was mistaken.

Despite the snowballing campaign in the UK to delegitimize Israel, and the consequent imperative for Israel's diplomatic representatives and the Anglo-Jewish leadership to seize any and every opportunity to promulgate a nuanced narrative, there was no such communal celebration and education program.

There had been a ceremony to mark the coincidental 25th anniversary of the shooting at the Dorchester Hotel of ambassador Shlomo Argov on June 3, 1982, the act of terrorism that precipitated what we must now learn to call the First Lebanon War. But this was a low-key, formal commemoration. The embassy had planned no major '67-related event.

A respected former cabinet minister flew in on the same day as I did to give lectures about the Six Day War anniversary, but it turned out these were private briefings to a select few. Read more ..

Culinary Edge

Iron Chef meets IndeBleu

November 18th 2007

IndeBlue Chef
Chef Ricky Moore

Washington’s tres chic Indebleu Restaurant has just appointed Chef Ricky Moore as its new Executive Chef.  He replaces Chef Vikram Garg who oversaw the Indebleu kitchen for nearly three years and helped establish modern Indian cuisine in Washington, DC area. Chef Moore will oversee all operational aspects of the kitchen while continuing to develop Indebleu’s modern cuisine featuring Indian flavors.

Chef Moore previously worked at several noted Washington establishments, including Agraria at Washington’s Waterfront, as well as Equinox, Galileo, Vidalia, and Lespinasse restaurants. He also served as exec chef at Parrot Cage and South Water Kitchen, both in Chicago. 
Chef Moore is scheduled to compete on a special Thanksgiving themed "Iron Chef America" November 18th on The Food Network. The restaurant will host its best customers for a special viewing that night in its lounge with the Chef on hand to serve themed appetizers.

Discriminatory Insurance

Stop Life Insurance Discrimination Against Travelers

September 23rd 2007

Abraham Foxman Color cropped
Abraham H. Foxman

The U.S. House of Representatives finally has passed a bill to protect consumers from unfair life insurance discrimination on the basis of past or future foreign travel. This is a much needed and welcome development. For far too long, insurance companies have routinely denied coverage to individuals because of their travel plans.

This unfair practice has adversely impacted everyone from tourists to corporate executives to students studying abroad. Insurance companies typically ask questions on life insurance applications about past or future travel destinations. Those travelers listing countries appearing on the U.S. State Department’s advisory list – including Israel - have too often found themselves rejected for coverage.

We understand that the insurance industry relies on risk assessment to determine whether to provide coverage, but denials should only occur when bona fide statistical differences in risk or exposure have been substantiated. Read more ..

Travel on Television

History Channel Finding Its way with Lost World--Masada

History Channel logo

No one should venture a trip to Masada without first viewing the History Channel's "Lost World" episode regarding Herod's monumental works in ancient Israel, especially at Masada.The "you discover" epsiode is packed with the type of computer graphics and visualizations that generate greater views and perspectives than the standard long shots of the ramps and staging areas below. Of particular interest is the explanation of Herod's innovative mountaintop mid-desert bath houses which generated both steam and cool water in an arid desert where nearby water did not exist. To bring even greater life to the history, trying viewing the two-part dramatic series Masada. The story of Masada is one of history's first great mass sacrifice for freedom, and enduring tale to this day.

Grand Opening

Spertus Institute Readies for a Grand Reappearance--from Wolfgang Puck to "The Transfer Agreement"

September 7th 2007

Spertus Institute

Chicago’s Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies is finally moving into its long-awaited new home on trendy South Michigan Ave. November 30, 2007, the acutely angular 10-story glass edifice, $55 million in the making, will open its doors for studies, research, and cultural amazement. Spertus’s college, museum, collections and performance venues along with the Asher Library and Chicago Jewish Archives will function beneath tenth floor garden bestowing sweeping views of majestic Lake Michigan and Grant Park.

Among the special features, Spertus will provide a 400-seat multimedia theater for speaking events, music, dance and film. Wolfgang Puck Catering will operate the kosher café. The Chicago Jewish Archives, managed by archivist Joy Kingsolver, offers more than 200 valuable collections, including the pivotal records of Chicago Zionists instrumental in the dramatic events swirling around the Holocaust and establishment of the State of Israel.

Among the Chicago Jewish Archives collection supervised by the hardworking Kingsolver is collection 72, the original research files used by author Edwin Black in assembling his bestselling award-winning book, The Transfer Agreement. Read more ..

Human Rights

An Olympian Challenge in China

August 11th 2007

World Scenes - Olympic torch
Yao Ming with the olympic torch

The world was riveted by the photograph of a young man facing down a caravan of tanks on Tiananmen Square in June, 1989.
If people were unaware of human rights violations until then, this vivid illustration of protest left no doubt. The unknown “Tank Man” became an everlasting symbol of resistance to tyranny.

With the Beijing Olympics (“One World, One Dream”) less than a year away, attention once again focuses on The People’s Republic. Now that China ranks as chief trading partner of the US, fifth largest of Canada and crucial to the economy of many other nations, it is becoming more difficult for outsiders to remain ostriches about the Human Rights issue.

Stories abound of religious oppression, slave labor, harvesting organs of political prisoners, implementation of the one child policy through forced abortion, capital punishment for minor crimes, incarceration of journalists and political dissidents. Like the weather, everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it. Well, not exactly nobody.

Tibet is a prominent human rights issue. Students for a Free Tibet, who recently unfurled a banner saying “Free Tibet” at the Great Wall, were expelled from China and received wide press coverage. The exiled Dalai Lama is a tour de force of publicity for the Tibetan issue.

The Chinese attempt to do away with Tibetan feudalism has resulted in a form of cultural genocide. Violence is not the only tool used to accomplish this end. The recent construction of a railway from Beijing to Lhasa encourages Han Chinese, the ethnic majority, to migrate to Tibet where they are given priority in employment and housing. Tibetans have become a minority in their own land, allegedly forbidden to be taught in their language and paying more for education than their Chinese “invaders.” Concern that the railway will be instrumental in ecological destruction weighs heavily on environmentalists. Read more ..

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