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Sunday, August 26, 2007


Jew Town, and it's not New York

Handicraft markets line a street in "Jew Town" in Kochi, India. The Jewish community that had flourished here for centuries has dwindled to a few elderly residents.

Photo Credit: By Jason Gale -- Bloomberg News Photo

In India, a Jewish Outpost Slowly Withers After Many Emigrated to Israel, Once-Thriving Community on Southern Coast 'Is Dying Out'

By Emily Wax Washington Post Foreign Service Monday, August 27, 2007; A09

KOCHI, India -- Down a narrow, stone-paved road in a quarter known here as "Jew Town," a woman with salt-and-pepper hair was sewing glittery beads onto the rim of a Jewish prayer cap. It was just after 3 p.m., and Sarah Cohen, wearing a housedress and flip-flops, sat in the sunny doorway of her shop, waiting for the visitors from around the world to come in for a visit.
Cohen lives right near the Pardesi Synagogue, which was built in 1568 when Jewish spice traders set up businesses in this small outpost of the Jewish world on the South Indian Malabar coast. The synagogue sparkles with colorful Indian chandeliers and green and red glass candleholders that swing from the ceiling beams. The floor is intricately patterned with blue and white tiles imported from a Jewish community in China in the 15th century.
As visitors wandered by on their way to the synagogue, one of the oldest in the world, they looked curiously at the little Jewish woman speaking in Malayalam, the language of the southern state of Kerala.
Cohen explained that she is a part of a dying tradition here that will probably no longer exist in 10 years, because most of the Jews who used to live here emigrated to Israel during its creation in 1948. Now, there are believed to be only 13 elderly Indian-born Jews -- from seven families -- still living in Kochi, a sun-dappled city thick with coconut palms.
"We couldn't bring ourselves to leave. We are Indians, too. Why should we leave the only place we have known as home?" Cohen said with a gentle wobble of her head, an Indian gesture sometimes used for emphasis. "Besides, I like this place. And I like the people."
Jews flourished in India for centuries -- from biblical times, some scholars say. The country also gave safe haven to Jews during World War II.
Small but active Jewish communities remain in Mumbai, including the so-called Baghdadi Jews who come from Iraq, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan and are thought to have arrived about 250 years ago. In northeastern India, an estimated 9,000 Indians started practicing Judaism in the 1970s, saying they were a lost tribe and descendants of the tribe of Manasseh. Israel has recognized them as ethnically Jewish.
But in Kochi, there is concern that Jew Town soon will be little more than a quirky tourist destination.
On a recent afternoon, Cohen's friend Abdul Anas, 33, stopped by to check on her. He often looks in on her, since he was good friends with her husband, Jacob Cohen, a lawyer who died eight years ago.
Sarah Cohen and Anas spoke easily to each other in Malayalam. They laughed when Anas said that he was a Muslim but didn't mind working in Jew Town. They don't discuss Israel or politics, they said. "Who cares?" Sarah asked. "That's over there, and we are here," Anas shrugged.
"To me, it's a part of Indian history. Her husband always gave me fair work. I call her auntie. And she's alone now so I take her to the hospital when she is sick," said Anas, who sells postcards of the synagogue from his pushcart. "I feel bad for her. And actually I feel really sad that the community is dying out."
Israeli tourists to India, along with Jews from the United States, sometimes drop off boxes of matzoh ball soup mix and kosher cookies. "They tell me I remind them of their bubby," Cohen said, using the Yiddish word for grandmother.
Cohen displayed her frilly white bread covers, used on the Jewish Sabbath during a blessing over the bread. The covers were stamped with her name: "Sarah Cohen: Kochi, India."
"We are kosher, but also Indian," she said, adding that she uses chapati, an Indian flatbread, rather than the braided challah bread of European Jews.
The Jewish community here eats no beef, out of respect for the Hindu prohibition on eating cow meat. But they do keep kosher, eating chicken cooked with cloves, chickpeas and cardamom and fish curry steeped in coconut milk along with pineapple and mango for dessert, Cohen said. "Why not? Fruit is kosher."
She shuffled into her small living quarters next to her shop for some ginger tea and cookies.
Outside, some tourists were lining up to visit the synagogue. In Kerala, there are still three synagogues, but the one here is the only one still open and is a protected heritage site.
A series of large oil paintings in an entry room of the synagogue tell the history of the Jews in Kochi. The first painting depicts King Solomon's merchant ship greeting Indian leaders and trading peacocks, ivory, spices and teak wood.
The inscriptions under the paintings say that the Book of Esther in the Old Testament contains the first written mention of Jews in India. The Jews blended many of their customs with their host country's. For instance, a dialect called Judeo-Malayalam, a mix of Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and Hebrew, was spoken. In Kochi, shoes are taken off before entering the main prayer room, as in Hindu tradition, and flowers are used as a part of prayer.
K.J. Joy, the Hindu caretaker of the synagogue for 25 years, said it's only a matter of a short time before the Jews of Kochi disappear, and with them the unique mix of Indian and Jewish culture. "This will become a monument, not a working synagogue," he said. "For that, we feel really horrible."
He showed a visitor a small pamphlet written by members of the community in the 1980s, which tells the history of Jew Town. The booklet praises India for giving shelter and respect to the Jews throughout history.
"After some years the story of the Jews of Malabar may come to an end," reads the small book handed out to visitors for 10 rupees, or about 20 cents. "If this happens, history can record that their emigration was not motivated by intolerance or discrimination by India."

Monday, August 13, 2007


Whoa!?? 1 + 1 = 2 [The Myth, the Math, the Sex]

August 12, 2007 NY Times
Ideas & Trends
The Myth, the Math, the Sex
EVERYONE knows men are promiscuous by nature. It’s part of the genetic strategy that evolved to help men spread their genes far and wide. The strategy is different for a woman, who has to go through so much just to have a baby and then nurture it. She is genetically programmed to want just one man who will stick with her and help raise their children.
Surveys bear this out. In study after study and in country after country, men report more, often many more, sexual partners than women.
One survey, recently reported by the federal government, concluded that men had a median of seven female sex partners. Women had a median of four male sex partners. Another study, by British researchers, stated that men had 12.7 heterosexual partners in their lifetimes and women had 6.5.
But there is just one problem, mathematicians say. It is logically impossible for heterosexual men to have more partners on average than heterosexual women. Those survey results cannot be correct.
It is about time for mathematicians to set the record straight, said David Gale, an emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley.
“Surveys and studies to the contrary notwithstanding, the conclusion that men have substantially more sex partners than women is not and cannot be true for purely logical reasons,” Dr. Gale said.
He even provided a proof, writing in an e-mail message:
“By way of dramatization, we change the context slightly and will prove what will be called the High School Prom Theorem. We suppose that on the day after the prom, each girl is asked to give the number of boys she danced with. These numbers are then added up giving a number G. The same information is then obtained from the boys, giving a number B.
Theorem: G=B
Proof: Both G and B are equal to C, the number of couples who danced together at the prom. Q.E.D.”
Sex survey researchers say they know that Dr. Gale is correct. Men and women in a population must have roughly equal numbers of partners. So, when men report many more than women, what is going on and what is to be believed?
“I have heard this question before,” said Cheryl D. Fryar, a health statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics and a lead author of the new federal report, “Drug Use and Sexual Behaviors Reported by Adults: United States, 1999-2002,” which found that men had a median of seven partners and women four.
But when it comes to an explanation, she added, “I have no idea.”
“This is what is reported,” Ms. Fryar said. “The reason why they report it I do not know.”
Sevgi O. Aral, who is associate director for science in the division of sexually transmitted disease prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there are several possible explanations and all are probably operating.
One is that men are going outside the population to find partners, to prostitutes, for example, who are not part of the survey, or are having sex when they travel to other countries.
Another, of course, is that men exaggerate the number of partners they have and women underestimate.
Dr. Aral said she cannot determine what the true number of sex partners is for men and women, but, she added, “I would say that men have more partners on average but the difference is not as big as it seems in the numbers we are looking at.”
Dr. Gale is still troubled. He said invoking women who are outside the survey population cannot begin to explain a difference of 75 percent in the number of partners, as occurred in the study saying men had seven partners and women four. Something like a prostitute effect, he said, “would be negligible.” The most likely explanation, by far, is that the numbers cannot be trusted.
Ronald Graham, a professor of mathematics and computer science at the University of California, San Diego, agreed with Dr. Gale. After all, on average, men would have to have three more partners than women, raising the question of where all those extra partners might be.
“Some might be imaginary,” Dr. Graham said. “Maybe two are in the man’s mind and one really exists.”
Dr. Gale added that he is not just being querulous when he raises the question of logical impossibility. The problem, he said, is that when such data are published, with no asterisk next to them saying they can’t be true, they just “reinforce the stereotypes of promiscuous males and chaste females.”
In fact, he added, the survey data themselves may be part of the problem. If asked, a man, believing that he should have a lot of partners, may feel compelled to exaggerate, and a woman, believing that she should have few partners, may minimize her past.
“In this way,” Dr. Gale said, “the false conclusions people draw from these surveys may have a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Giuliani Calls for Tax Breaks to Buy Health Insurance

Rudolph W. Giuliani in Rochester, N.H., July 31, 2007. (Photo: Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times)

ROCHESTER, July 32, 2007 — Rudolph W. Giuliani today proposed transforming the way health care is delivered in America, advocating a move from the current doctor-hospital-pharmacy system to one that outsources most services to call centers overseas.
Giuliani predicted that his plan will “Solve the health care affordablity crisis confronting America.” “Yesterday,” he said, “I gave America the only possible way to finance health care. Today, I give America affordable health care.”
A Giuliani aide, who refused to be identified because he was not authorized to speak for the campaign, predicted broad support for Giuliani’s plan. “Boomers are used to call centers by now,” he said, “and they will save lots of money.” He predicted that the concept might even be extended to foreign policy. “You may even see a tax credit for Al Qaeda if they let us leave Iraq. Wouldn’t that be something?”

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