Ruins of “oldest church” found in Israel (& Tel Aviv to boast world’s largest coffee shop)

November 09, 2005

* Since many of the dispatches on this email list are very serious, I occasionally try to send “lighter” material. This dispatch, the first of two generally lighter dispatches being sent today, contains various recent articles on the theme of Religion, as well as other topics such as Bill Gates’s recent visit to Israel, and the World Chess Championships.

 

CONTENTS

1. Israeli archeologists discover “oldest church”: New light on The Last Supper?
2. “The image most Americans have of Jews is white Eastern Europeans”
3. Black American Jews in Virginia
4. 700 from “Lost Biblical Jewish Tribe” convert
5. “The Happiest News Of My Life”
6. Bill Gates visits Israel for the first time
7. Beersheba hosts the World Chess Team Championship
8. Tel Aviv to boast world’s largest coffee shop
9. Israeli president invites Moroccan king to Jerusalem
10. U.S Congress: Israeli economy “developed,” not “emerging”
11. “Early Christian church unearthed near Armageddon” (Reuters, November 6, 2005)
12. “For some blacks, Judaism is home” (Ynetnews, October 30, 2005)
13. “Krakow gets its first rabbi since the Holocaust” (AP, October 18, 2005)
14. “Slovak city apologizes to Jews” (European Jewish Press, October 24, 2005)

 



[Note by Tom Gross]

ISRAELI ARCHEOLOGISTS DISCOVER “OLDEST CHURCH”

Israeli archeologists have discovered relics of what could be the oldest church in the Holy Land and maybe even in the whole world buried beneath a maximum security jail in Megiddo in northern Israel. Megiddo is the modern Hebrew name for what is thought to be the biblical site known in English as Armageddon. In close proximity to the jail is the hill where the Book of Revelations claims the final battle on earth will take place.

The prisoners of the jail helped dig up what is thought to be one of Christianity’s earliest churches. Archeologists have been examining the mosaics and the foundations of the structure, dating from the third or fourth century AD, as well as the remains of an altar or a prayer table.

NEW INFORMATION ON “THE LAST SUPPER”?

Archaeologists believe that the reference to a “table” rather than an “altar” in one of the inscriptions, casts new light on church rituals related to the commemoration known as The Last Supper.

The prison was also the scene of a Palestinian suicide bomber on June 5, 2002. Seventeen Israelis were killed when a car packed with explosives struck a commuter bus. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.

The prison, which hosts 1200 security detainees, could very well become a pilgrimage site for Christians.

BLACK AMERICAN JEWS

“The image most Americans have of Jews is white Eastern Europeans. They don’t have an idea of the multicultural nature of the religion,” says Terry Leach a black member of the board of directors of the Etz Hayim (Tree of Life) synagogue in Arlington, Virginia.

The synagogue, which previously had a black President, also has Asian-American members and some white Christian converts.

Rhonda Bell, one of three African-American Jews highlighted in the article attached below, says “Judaism is a color-blind faith. As long as you believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph it doesn’t matter what you look like.”

Following in the theme of religious news I also include articles (below) on the appointment of Krakow’s first Rabbi since the Holocaust, and news of a small Slovak city that has apologized to its Jewish community for mob attacks that occurred not during, but after World War II. (Krakow is now best known by some as the place where much of Schindler’s List was filmed.)

700 FROM “LOST BIBLICAL JEWISH TRIBE” CONVERT

Israeli Rabbis have also begun converting to Orthodox Judaism about 9,000 members of an impoverished tribe from Burma and northeastern India that is thought to be one of the 10 lost tribes of biblical Israel. Earlier this year, Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi recognized the Bnei Menashe as one of the 10 lost tribes, ruling that they followed several Jewish traditions.

After an Assyrian invasion around 722 B.C., Jewish tradition says, 10 tribes from Israel were enslaved and taken to Assyria. Later the tribes fled Assyria and wandered through Afghanistan, Tibet and China.

Around A.D. 100, one group moved south from China and settled in northeastern India and Burma. More than 1800 years later, British missionaries to India converted the Bnei Menashe members to Christianity. Many now want to return to Judaism.

“THE HAPPIEST NEWS OF MY LIFE”

David Haokip, 23, a Bnei Menashe youth leader, embraced Judaism five years ago and goes to the synagogue to pray three times daily. “When we knew we were recognized by the Chief Rabbinate it was the happiest news of my life,” Haokip said.

After almost a decade long investigation, which included DNA tests of the people, Israeli authorities became convinced that the Indian Jews of northeastern India are one of the 10 lost tribes from Israel.

There are thought to be up to 2 million of the Bnei Menashe tribe in the hilly regions of Burma and northeastern India.

UPDATE: CONVERSIONS SUSPENDED AFTER INDIA COMPLAINS

As an update to the note above, the Associated Press reports, in a news story published within the last hour, that Israeli rabbis in northeastern India have stopped converting the Bnei Menashe after the Indian government complained that they might be violating Indian law. Instead of converting the Bnei Menashe in their home region, the rabbis will now wait to convert them after Israel brings them to the Jewish state, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.

About 800 members of the Bnei Menashe have been brought to Israel and formally converted over the last decade by the private group Amishav, Hebrew for “my people returns.”

According to Amishav, there is ample evidence to show the Bnei Menashe are of Jewish descent. Their customs, including mourning rites, hygiene and the use of a lunar calendar, closely mirror Jewish traditions.

BILL GATES VISITS ISRAEL FOR THE FIRST TIME

As was predicted in the dispatch “Bill Gates to visit Israel (& Moshe Dayan’s eye patch for sale on eBay)” (August 8, 2005), the Microsoft chairman finally made his long-awaited first trip to Israel on October 26, 2005.

On his 24-hour visit Gates described Israel as a “science and hi-tech superpower.” He went on to say that “considering the density of start-ups in Israel and local successes, Israel is like a part of Silicon Valley.”

Gates added that “it’s no exaggeration to say that the kind of innovation going on in Israel is critical to the future of technology.”

BEERSHEBA HOSTS WORLD CHESS TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP

The southern Israeli city of Beersheba is presently hosting the prestigious World Chess Team Championship. The contest, which ends today, included national teams from around the globe.

Beersheba has a higher percentage of grandmasters per capita - eight - than any other city in the world, the majority of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union; the city of 183,000 has one grand master per 22,875 residents. Israel is ranked fifth in the world in chess, following a fifth placed finish at the last Olympics. Israel was knocked out of the tournament by a very strong Russian team performance.

The Egyptian team decided to stay away from the Championship. One Israeli competitor speculated that maybe it was because Egypt was expected to finish last. Hundreds of local fans of the game came to the tournament excited to see the best in the world play. Murmuring in Hebrew and Russian filled the room as the players made their moves.

The Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, led his country’s team. The Chinese women’s team in Beersheba included an 11 year old girl.

The tournament is due to come to a dramatic close today with China and Russia facing off. An upset victory for China would give it its first ever championship win. (Update: The Russian team managed to win the cup over China in the very final minutes. Armenia came third, followed by Ukraine and the United States. The Israeli team finished sixth.)

TEL AVIV TO BOAST WORLD’S LARGEST COFFEE SHOP

Israel’s most popular newspaper Yediot Ahronoth reports that the largest coffee shop in the world, extending over some three dunams (approximately one acre, or 4,000 square meters), will be opened in Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv on November 30.

Launched under the sponsorship name “Nescafe in the Square,” the coffee shop will open for three days only. The tent will be divided into separated areas holding special events ranging from live music shows to an event called “coffee on the water,” which will be erected atop the fountain in the square.

The organizers said they will push to include their huge coffee shop in the Guinness Book of Records.

ISRAELI PRESIDENT INVITES MOROCCAN KING TO JERUSALEM

Israeli President Moshe Katsav has issued a public invitation to King Muhammad VI of Morocco to pay an official visit to Israel in a bid to help promote Middle East peace.

The invitation was made through the Moroccan-Jewish banker Andre Azoulay, a long-time economic adviser to the king and to his late father, King Hassan II.

Katsav hopes that a visit by King Muhammad would be instrumental in advancing better relations between the two countries.

The small Jewish community which remains in Morocco is strongly nationalistic. Azoulay said they are torn when they hear news of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, “We are after all partially Arab,” he said.

Improving relations between Israel and the Arab world has been covered in more detail in previous dispatches on this list, such as “Small signs of improving Arab-Israeli relations (despite today’s suicide attack)” (October 26, 2005).

U.S CONGRESS: ISRAELI ECONOMY “DEVELOPED,” NOT “EMERGING”

A vote in the U.S House of Representatives passed a resolution in support of Israel’s bid to join the Organizations for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED). The resolution was passed by a margin of 391-0.

A successful Israeli bid to join the OCED will adjust Israel’s international standing from an emerging economy to a developed one.

I attach four articles with summaries first for those of you who don’t have time to read the pieces in full.

-- Tom Gross

 

SUMMARIES

RUINS OF “OLDEST CHURCH” FOUND IN ISRAEL

“Early Christian church unearthed near Armageddon” (By Cynthia Johnston, Reuters, November 6, 2005)

In a maximum-security jail just down the road from Armageddon, Israeli archaeologists have unearthed what they believe is the oldest church discovered in the land where Jesus was born.

“This is one of the most important finds of early Christianity,” archaeologist Yardena Alexandre of the Israel Antiquities told journalists on a tour of the excavation on Sunday...

The ruins of the church include a mosaic tile floor with inscriptions in ancient Greek containing a reference to “The God Jesus Christ” and could shed light on early Christian practices...

The church was built in the style of a hall, and its mosaic floor contains geometric designs and an image of fish, an early Christian symbol...

 

BLACK AMERICAN JEWS

“For some blacks, Judaism is home” (By Seth Rosen, Connection Newspapers, also reprinted in Yediot Ahronoth, October 30, 2005)

Tammy Duprey, a genial black woman, hands worshippers their tickets as they stream into the Etz Hayim synagogue for Yom Kippur services last month, wishing them a pleasant fast.

Duprey is a devoted member of the Arlington congregation, attending every Shabbat and teaching at the synagogue’s Hebrew school...

“The image most Americans have of Jews is white Eastern Europeans. They don’t have an idea of the multicultural nature of the religion,” said Leach, who has been an Arlington resident for a decade and converted to Judaism two years ago...

Members of Etz Hayim have been thrilled with the contributions of the three black converts, citing their dedication to the congregation and enthusiasm for learning more about Jewish customs...

But black converts to Judaism can face ostracism from the African-American community and subtle discrimination as a double minority...

Though there have been historic tensions between Black and Jewish communities, the two ethnic groups have a long history of collaboration, from the days of abolition to the civil rights movement. Though fellow blacks are often surprised to learn Duprey is Jewish, she tells them the two traits are not conflicting...

 

KRAKOW GETS FIRST RABBI SINCE HOLOCAUST

“Krakow Gets First Rabbi Since Holocaust” (The Associated Press, Warsaw Bureau, October 18, 2005)

The first rabbi to serve Krakow full-time since the Holocaust took up his post Monday, a mission that includes guiding a revival of Jewish life and helping people rediscover their Jewish heritage forgotten during the decades of communism.

Rabbi Avraham Flaks, a 38-year-old Russian-born Israeli, has been getting to know members of Krakow’s small Jewish community over the past few weeks, but officially took up his duties with an evening prayer service marking the start of the weeklong festival of Sukkot...

There are about 200 people registered with the community, but an estimated 1,000 Jews are believed to live in Krakow most of them people who only recently discovered their Jewish roots following the fall of communism in 1989...

 

TOPALCONY RESIDENTS APOLOGIZE TO JEWS

“Slovakian city apologizes to Jews” (European Jewish Press, October 24, 2005)

The authorities in a small Slovakian city on Sunday officially apologized to the Jewish community for mob attacks that took place there several months after the end of World War II.

A crowd of angry city residents in Topolcany, provoked by rumours that a Jewish doctor had vaccinated children with a toxic serum, began lynching Jews on 25 September 1945.

No Jews died from the mob attacks but around 50 were seriously injured...

 



FULL ARTICLES

RUINS OF “OLDEST CHURCH” FOUND IN ISRAEL

Early Christian church unearthed near Armageddon
By Cynthia Johnston
Reuters
November 6, 2005

www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L06706013.htm

In a maximum-security jail just down the road from Armageddon, Israeli archaeologists have unearthed what they believe is the oldest church discovered in the land where Jesus was born.

“This is one of the most important finds of early Christianity,” archaeologist Yardena Alexandre of the Israel Antiquities told journalists on a tour of the excavation on Sunday.

Remains of the church, which archaeologists date to the mid-third to early-fourth century, were found during a dig for possible artefacts before the planned construction of a new prison wing.

The ruins of the church include a mosaic tile floor with inscriptions in ancient Greek containing a reference to “The God Jesus Christ” and could shed light on early Christian practices.

The floor lies under a tarpaulin in the shadow of watchtowers, surrounded by high fences and barbed wire.

The jail is close to the hill of Armageddon, where the Book of Revelations says God will prevail over Satan in a fiery end-of-the-world battle.

“This is, in Israel for sure, the earliest church,” archaeologist Yotam Tepper, who heads the excavation, told reporters.

He said archaeologists had previously discovered domestic prayer sites in the Holy Land that may be older than the ruins at the prison, but none that was classified as a church. As he spoke, two inmates cleaned the mosaic designs with sponges.

The church was built in the style of a hall, and its mosaic floor contains geometric designs and an image of fish, an early Christian symbol.

One inscription on the floor indicates that a Roman soldier helped pay for the mosaics, and another dedicates a table to the memory of Jesus, archaeologists said.

Christians faced varying levels of persecution under the Roman Empire, interspersed with periods of calm. It was during such a lull that archaeologists believe the Megiddo church was built to serve a local Christian community.

“What is important about this find (at Megiddo) is it is in a transitional period. It is the very beginning of churches. There was no standard plan of a church,” Alexandre said.

In 1998, American archaeologists excavating in southern Jordan said they had unearthed what they believed to be the world’s oldest remaining church, dating to the late-third or early fourth century.

A spokesman for Israel’s Prisons Authority said no decision had been taken on what to do with the site. Archaeologists said they preferred to keep the church intact and in place but that the mosaics might be moved if necessary.

 

BLACK AMERICAN JEWS

For some blacks, Judaism is home: Suburban D.C. synagogue is led by one of few female rabbis in Northern Virginia, Rabbi Lia Bass. Estimated one-quarter of members are converts and in mid-1990s congregation had a black president

By Seth Rosen, Connection Newspapers
As reprinted in Yediot Ahronoth
October 30, 2005

www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3160287,00.html

Tammy Duprey, a genial black woman, hands worshippers their tickets as they stream into the Etz Hayim synagogue for Yom Kippur services last week, wishing them a pleasant fast.

Duprey is a devoted member of the Arlington congregation, attending every Shabbat and teaching at the synagogue’s Hebrew school.

“I’ve always been a seeker of knowledge,” said the 36-year-old, who converted to Judaism five years ago. “In my soul I was born Jewish. Everything finally made sense. Here I found a home.”

Etz Hayim has a long tradition of being a progressive house of worship and attracts those seeking an intimate atmosphere and an eclectic membership. The synagogue is led by one of the few female rabbis in Northern Virginia, Rabbi Lia Bass. An estimated one-quarter of the members are converts and in the mid-1990s the congregation had a black president.

“We cherish the fact that we have people from diverse backgrounds and it adds to the richness of our congregation,” said Etz Hayim President Jonathan Wroblewski.

Terry Leach, an associate on the synagogue’s board of directors, is black, as is Rhonda Bell - who is in the process of converting. The congregation also has several Asian-American members in addition to a plethora of white Christian converts.

“The image most Americans have of Jews is white Eastern Europeans. They don’t have an idea of the multicultural nature of the religion,” said Leach, who has been an Arlington resident for a decade and converted to Judaism two years ago.

Raised by a Catholic father and Anglican mother, Duprey’s family only attended church “for weddings and funerals.” When she was a child living in Heidelberg, Germany, where her dad was stationed by the army, she first became interested in Judaism while reading books on the Holocaust. Duprey attended a year of Hebrew school and said she might have converted then if the military chaplain had had the authority to perform the complex ceremonies.

In her teenage years and early 20s she continued to practice Judaism on her own but became something of a religious “shopper,” attending Mormon and Islamic services and dabbling in Buddhism.

Duprey became an observant, though unofficial, Jew when she moved to Northern Virginia in 1996, praying daily in her house, keeping kosher and refusing to drive on Shabbat.

She began attending services at Agudas Achim, a synagogue in Alexandria seven years ago and subsequently began the arduous, two-year conversion process.

“There was a need for me to convert,” said Duprey, who works as a management analyst for the Navy. “I had been a fellow traveler for so long and everyone saw me as Jewish. But there was still a barrier.”

There is no synagogue in Fredericksburg for Bell to attend, so she also observed the Jewish holidays at home. After her divorce, Judaism helped Bell get her life back on track and she began commuting to Arlington to attend Etz Hayim. Next month the 40-year-old Bell is expected to complete the conversion process.

“Judaism is about community and when I first came here I felt at home,” said Bell, who began practicing Judaism as a 14-year-old in Jacksonville, N.C., against the wishes of her mother, who was a member of an African Methodist Episcopal Zion church.

Members of Etz Hayim have been thrilled with the contributions of the three black converts, citing their dedication to the congregation and enthusiasm for learning more about Jewish customs.

“It’s wonderful that they have explored other religions and choose Judaism,” said Ann Schwartz Unitas, who also lauded Duprey’s work as a teacher.

The support of friends and family has helped eased the transition for Duprey, though her father remains wary of all formal religious involvement, she said. Leach’s non-Jewish friends encouraged him to convert, constantly telling him “since you go to synagogue every week you should convert.”

But black converts to Judaism can face ostracism from the African-American community and subtle discrimination as a double minority.

Many of Bell’s black friends are confused by her impending conversion and don’t fully comprehend that Judaism is her new “way of life.” One black friend recently asked, “haven’t our people been through enough persecution?”

Bell said she senses a mix of puzzlement and indirect racism from segments of the population when she is performing a Jewish ritual in public. Leach has found himself in several tense situations because of his staunch defense of Israel, and is dismayed that he always has to be on guard for anti-Semitic comments by people who do not know he is Jewish.

Though there have been historic tensions between Black and Jewish communities, the two ethnic groups have a long history of collaboration, from the days of abolition to the civil rights movement. Though fellow blacks are often surprised to learn Duprey is Jewish, she tells them the two traits are not conflicting.

“Blacks and Jews have a lot in common,” Duprey said. “We’ve both continued to survive after lots of opportunities when we could have been killed off.”

At the end of Yom Kippur services Bell and several young white couples converse in the lobby. An adopted Chinese toddler runs through the crowd, as they discuss how they will manage not eating for 25 straight hours.

“Judaism is a color-blind faith,” Bell said. “As long as you believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph it doesn’t matter what you look like.”

Reprinted courtesy of Connection Newspapers

 

KRAKOW GETS FIRST RABBI SINCE HOLOCAUST

Krakow Gets First Rabbi Since Holocaust
The Associated Press, Warsaw Bureau
October 18, 2005

The first rabbi to serve Krakow full-time since the Holocaust took up his post Monday, a mission that includes guiding a revival of Jewish life and helping people rediscover their Jewish heritage forgotten during the decades of communism.

Rabbi Avraham Flaks, a 38-year-old Russian-born Israeli, has been getting to know members of Krakow’s small Jewish community over the past few weeks, but officially took up his duties with an evening prayer service marking the start of the weeklong festival of Sukkot.

Michael Freund, chairman of the Shavei Israel organization sponsoring Flaks’ work, said he hopes the new rabbi will be able to “keep the flame of Judaism alive” in a city whose rich, centuries-old Jewish community was nearly wiped out during the Holocaust.

There are about 200 people registered with the community, but an estimated 1,000 Jews are believed to live in Krakow most of them people who only recently discovered their Jewish roots following the fall of communism in 1989, Freund told The Associated Press.

There are “quite a number of people who have gone through these experiences, suddenly learning that they were born Jews,” Freund said. “Many don’t know what to do with that information, what to make of it, what role it should play in their lives.”

During the communist era, some Jews hid their religious identities, even from their children, to avoid discrimination. Many fled the country in 1968, following a government-sponsored anti-Semitic campaign.

 

TOPALCONY RESIDENTS APOLOGIZE TO JEWS

Slovakian city apologizes to Jews
European Jewish Press
October 24, 2005

www.ejpress.org/article/3763

The authorities in a small Slovakian city on Sunday officially apologized to the Jewish community for mob attacks that took place there several months after the end of World War II.

A crowd of angry city residents in Topolcany, provoked by rumours that a Jewish doctor had vaccinated children with a toxic serum, began lynching Jews on 25 September 1945.

No Jews died from the mob attacks but around 50 were seriously injured.

“We, the representatives of the city of Topolcany, express our profound sorrow for this act which, given the scale of its barbarity and malice, does not compare to anything else in our modern history,” said the city’s declaration, which was read before members of the Jewish community.

About 550 Jews lived in the city in western Slovakia when the war ended. The city’s current total population is around 30,000.

“I am very happy with this decision by the city authorities and we welcome it with satisfaction,” said Jaroslav Franek, a spokesman for the Jewish community in Slovakia.

Between 1942 and 1944, the Slovak state was controlled by Nazi Germany, which sent to concentration camps some 70,000 Jews out of a total of 90,000 who were living then in the country.

Around 3,300 Jews are living today in Slovakia.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.