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18,000 'Miracles'


A film of children who are part of the 18,000 new immigrants to Israel under the Nefesh B'Nefesh program is featured on the Kumah website (

The group's founder Rabbi Yehoshua Fass wrote in the Jewish Action magazine of the Orthodox Union, "Beyond the nearly 18,000 North American olim that Nefesh B'Nefesh has helped bring to Israel thus far, more than 20,000 Americans have contacted the organization requesting aliyah assistance for the immediate future. "Realistically, we can expect that the current average of 3,500 North American olim per year will increase to more than 5,000 in the near future."

Egypt Urges Israel, Hamas to Show Restraint in Gaza Fighting

By VOA News &

Egypt has urged Israel and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas to hold their fire in order to quell an upsurge in violence along the Israel-Gaza border.

Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, made the plea after President Hosni Mubarak and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni held talks Thursday in Cairo. Aboul-Gheit said he hoped Israel and Hamas would return to a ceasefire that ended last week. But he said it will be hard for Egypt to convince the two sides to do so as long as the violence escalates.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urged Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to stop the territory's Hamas rulers from firing rockets and mortars at Israel. Olmert spoke in an interview with the Arab television station Al-Arabiya, a day after Hamas fired more than 60 rockets and mortars into southern Israel. Livni vowed to stop the Hamas attacks, saying "enough is enough."

In the beginning of the interview Olmert explained that Israel left Gaza three years ago without the intention to return. He went on to say that Israel cannot tolerate attacks on its children and civilians. The Prime Minister explained that Israel has much might and can use it to stop Hamas.

Olmert also claimed that Hamas' actions are against the spirit of Islam: "Is it the spirit of Islam to kill innocent children? To shoot missiles at nurseries and civilians? I do not think that this is the spirit of Islam. Hamas, which does this against the spirit of Islam is the main reason for your suffering and for all of our suffering."

Addressing the residents of the Palestinian Authority, Olmert warned, "I am saying for the last time, stop this. You, the residents of Gaza, can stop this." He added, "Hamas is the enemy of the people, not just in Israel but in Gaza as well. We do not want to fight the Palestinian people, but we will not allow Hamas to attack our children."

Olmert ended the interview with a call for peace. "I did not come here to go to war. I have said in the past - as long as I am Prime Minister my intention is to make peace, not to fight with Palestinians. But Hamas must be stopped, and it will be. I will not hesitate to use the might of Israel to attack Hamas and Jihad. How? I will not say here."

Israeli defense officials said the military is preparing an operation against Hamas targets in Gaza. Military sources have not said when it would happen, but say it depends partly on weather conditions.

Israel also has raised the alert level for emergency rescue services, and connected all towns within 18 miles of the Gaza Strip to a warning system. Hamas said it attacked Israel Wednesday to avenge the killing of three militants by Israeli troops Tuesday. Israeli forces killed another terrorist Wednesday in response to the attacks.

Divorce Recalcitrant to Pay NIS 700,000


The Israeli Family Court has ordered a man to pay his wife some NIS 700,000 (about $187,484) in damages for refusing to give her a divorce for 11 years.

The woman filed a claim for punitive damages against her husband, demanding that he compensate her over his refusal to grant her a divorce. The two, an ultra-Orthodox couple, were wed in 1997 in a matchmaker marriage and lived together for only three months before the woman fled the house pregnant due to harsh domestic violence.

Since then, the husband has refused to grant her a divorce, despite 25 discussions of the matter at the Rabbinical Court between the years 1997 and 2005. The man did not show up for most hearings, and when he did, it was only after a habeas corpus was issued against him. The Rabbinical Court had ruled that there was no room for a joint life between the couple and that the husband must grant his wife a divorce.

The woman claimed, however, that the husband was intentionally refusing to give her a divorce, knowing this caused her great agony as she is a haredi woman who, as an abandoned wife, cannot start a relationship with other men and give birth to additional children. The woman told the Rabbinical Court the husband set new conditions for the divorce, like waiving child support and erasing national insurance debts, relinquishing custody of the child, and additional demands.

The woman's attorney, Susan Weiss, founder and executive director of The Center for Women's Justice, and Attorney Yifat Frankenburg appealed to the Family Court, claiming that denying the divorce subjected the woman to prolonged psychological abuse and prevented her from leading a reasonable and normal life, by forcibly and illegally using the defendant's right to abandon the woman and depriving the wife of her freedom, as well as negligence.

After reviewing the circumstances of the case, Judge Tova Sivan ruled that there was no doubt the man was a divorce recalcitrant who has been deriving his wife of her freedom for more than 11 years. Thus, she ordered the man to pay his wife some NIS 60,000 ($16,040) a year in damages – a total of NIS 600,000 ($160,404) – as well as NIS 100,000 ($26,734) as increased compensation due to the severity of his acts.

Arab Minister Gives Druze Beauty Contest Winner a Morality Lecture


A newly-crowned 19-year-old Druze beauty won more than the standard congratulations on winning the 2008 Arab beauty pageant in Shfaram recently.

At the fifth annual Arab beauty pageant to be held in Israel and sponsored by Arab media, Stephanie Zakkak also received what was tantamount to a morality lecture from Israel's only Arab minister. Minister of Culture, Science and Sport, Raleb Majadele (Labor), who crowned the winner in his official capacity as a representative of the government, made it clear he did not do so out of enjoyment.

Majadele said he had been the target of criticism in the Arab sector for attending the beauty pageant event. People had called to ask how he, as a religious Muslim, could crown a beauty queen. He answered them, he said, by explaining that his personal opinion was not relevant since it was his job as a minister to attend every event in the Arab world in Israel, regardless of how he felt.

Nonetheless, he decided to express his personal opinion on the matter in his speech to the contestants and their families and friends upon crowning the new young beauty queen. "I would like to see the woman fill a central role in the building of a family according to the Arab society's world view, and not that of the blind Israeli modern European society," he announced. "The woman's role should be to build a good family, to be an aide to her husband and to stand by him."

Moreover, he added, "A career woman in the Arab society is something that can only happen when the home and a family are at the center of the woman's life. A career woman that neglects her family is a home wrecker and not a career builder," he declared.

The young beauty was undismayed by the remarks. "It's an amazing experience," Zakkak said upon winning NIS 20,000 ($5,000) in cash, as well as NIS 10,000 ($2,500) in jewelry. She also won a year's modeling contract. Nor did the minister's lecture dissuade the new beauty queen's parents from allowing their daughter to pursue a career – particularly her mother, who noted, "When I was her age, I couldn't do this."

Outgoing Arab beauty queen, Mary Abu-Arab, who passed on the crown to Zakkak at the pageant, said at the ceremony that the contest "symbolizes the Arab woman's status in the 2000s, the possibilities that stand before her to achieve whatever she wants. There must be equality between women and men," she said.

As elsewhere, there are splits in Arab society among those who believe beauty pageants are demeaning or immodest, and those who feel they are a stepping stone to scholarships for higher education or better job opportunities.

Northern District Commander Jamal Hakrush and his wife San, whose daughter Nijem also competed, told the Hebrew-language newspaper Yediot Acharonot that "It's time to view the woman as an inseparable part of culture; not only should she leave the house and develop a career – she must have a career."

Israeli 'Beauty Machine' Helps Optimize Photographed Faces

By Reuters

Do you want to optimize your looks without radically altering them? An Israeli team of computer scientists may have the answer. They have developed a computer software model based on the innate preferences that studies show we have for human faces.

"This technology could become a product where for example there's a web service where people upload their photographs and have them enhanced or beautified by our software," said Prof. Dani Lischinksi of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Studies show that eyes a certain shape and distance apart, nose a certain length, lips a certain curve, increase the probability that we will find one face more attractive than another. "We were able to fit a mathematical model to this set of data that we've gathered, namely the images that we showed to people and their responses in terms of the beauty scores that they chose to give to each image," said Lischinksi.

The team then applied the model to modify images so as to make them appear more attractive. They are now exploring a variety of potential commercial applications for the software, Lischinski said. "This is something we're looking into," he said. It remains to be seen whether women would simply use the improved image as a guide to more effective makeup application or whether people take it to a plastic surgeon and say: "Make me look like that."

The results can be striking. The photographed face of one conventionally pretty woman processed by what some Israeli media dubbed "the beauty machine" became clearly more beautiful. Crucially, the software did not attempt to correct the very slight crookedness in her nose, so she was unmistakably the same person but subtly enhanced to great effect.

The aim is not a world "where everybody looks the same or everybody looks like a Hollywood star or a supermodel. What our program tries to do is to improve the perceived attractiveness of the face but in a manner that tries to change as little as possible," said the professor.

The Israeli scientists say they are well aware of the adage that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." "I think obviously the original faces have more. They represent the true character of that face and when we modify the image some of that character might go away. This is one possible criticism," Lischinksi said.

So far, the model simply presents the optimized version of a face which could be used as a photograph - if the owner was prepared to disappoint in any real-life encounter. Some of those asked did not prefer the "improved" looks of movie stars, for example. "I think a lot of it has to do with familiarity," Lischinski said. But if the face is anonymous, the modified version is strongly preferred; the team's trials have shown.

A random trial among Jerusalem women was inconclusive. One woman said she would not use the program "because then you see yourself in the perfect light and no one is perfect... It's impossible and it's unethical and it will just make you upset."

The software also demands high-quality photographs taken head-on. Blurred images or tilted chins defeat it. Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa loses her enigmatic smile and appears horribly distorted, her lips like those of a cartoon witch.

Sky-High Circumcision: First-Ever Brit Mila in Andes Mountains


The first-ever brit mila [circumcision] in the 11,000-foot high Andes city of Cusco, Peru has been performed for the new son of the local Chabad Rabbi, Ofir Riper and his wife Yael. Chabad flew in a rabbi to perform the ceremony for the baby, who was named Shalom.

The Andes mountain range, 4,400 miles long and 300 miles wide, reaches a peak of almost 23,000 feet and is a popular attraction for Israeli and other Jewish hikers, who find a Jewish home away from home at the Chabad House in Cusco, an ancient capital of the Inca Empire.

Many of the Jewish hikers come into contact with Jewish laws and customs for the first time at the Chabad House. One of those on hand at the brit mila for the Kripor baby was Amy Bakal, a Chicago native whohas been living in Cusco for more than six years.

She first stumbled upon the Chabad House last year when she noticed a young rabbinical student making photocopies of flyers at a stationary shop. She eventually attended a Passover Seder at the Chabad House, and her daughter and that of the Kripors play together. After attending the circumcision, she said, "It was the first time I've ever been to a bris."

Logistics for the ritual ceremony, which dates back to the biblical forefather Abraham, were not simple. The two-mile high city often causes altitude sickness to people not used to the thin air. Rabbi Levi Heber, who flew to Cusco to perform the circumcision, admitted he "felt different and somewhat dizzy. When doing a bris, you have to be in control," he said.

Rabbi Kripor prepared him ahead of time for the change of air, but Rabbi Heber said, "I didn't understand the seriousness until I landed."

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