Spelunkers discover ancient treasure in Israeli cave


A cache of rare 2,300-year-old gold coins and silver and bronze objects were discovered in a cave in northern Israel.

The treasure trove was discovered by members of the Israeli Caving Club, who visited the large and well-hidden stalactite cave in preparation for a club visit, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“The reporting of the treasure by honest citizens will contribute to our understanding of the history of the Land of Israel,” Amir Ganor, director of the IAA Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Theft, said in a statement.

The discovery, announced on Monday, was made about two weeks ago. The location of the cave is being kept secret.

The spelunkers had explored the cave for several hours before happening on the treasure. The first discovery was two ancient silver coins that had been minted during the reign of Alexander the Great, who conquered the Land of Israel at the beginning of the Hellenistic period, or the late fourth century BCE. Several pieces of silver jewelry were found alongside the coins, among them rings, bracelets and earrings, which apparently were concealed in the cave inside a cloth pouch.

According to the IAA, the valuables may have been hidden in the cave by local residents who fled there during the period of government unrest following the death of Alexander, when the Wars of the Diadochi broke out in Israel between Alexander’s heirs.

“Presumably the cache was hidden in the hope of better days, but today we know that whoever buried the treasure never returned to collect it,” the IAA statement said.

Ancient pottery vessels also were discovered in the cave; in some cases stalagmites had developed on the vessels. Some artifacts in the cave are up to 6,000 years, according to the IAA.

It was the second important discovery in recent weeks. Last month, civilian divers discovered a treasure of gold coins off the coast of Caesarea.

On Chanukah, Hamsas, for love and tzedakah


Meeting Rachelle Tratt, a yoga teacher with a warm smile and huge blue eyes, it’s hard to imagine that she was ever anything but the strong, spirited healer she is today. But Tratt, who grew up Modern Orthodox in the Catskill Mountains, has seen her fair share of tragedy.

At 9 years old, she discovered her mother’s body hanging in the basement of her family’s home in South Fallsburg, N.Y. “It shaped the course of my life,” said Tratt, 27, who wears not one but two hamsa pendants around her neck. “Everything stems from that one event.”

In the years following her mother’s suicide, Tratt’s family moved away from their religious community and set down roots in Westchester County. By the time Tratt graduated from high school in Rye, N.Y., she had started partying hard. A second tragic event — her brother’s fall from a banister that left him with spinal cord and brain injuries — compounded the pain of losing her mother, who would be 57 this year, and Tratt’s downward spiral continued. 

When she was 18, Tratt’s father, aunt and two siblings staged an intervention. She checked into rehab in Boca Raton, Fla., and it was there that she stopped drinking, connected with her higher power and eventually took her first yoga class. “Rehab wasn’t fun, but it put me on the spiritual path,” Tratt said in an interview in the airy Marina del Rey home that she shares with two other yoga instructors. “I knew I had a bigger purpose that I wasn’t living up to.”

One year later, while Tratt was teaching yoga in Boca Raton, one of her students — an Israeli — gifted her with a small turquoise hamsa. An ancient Middle Eastern symbol of protection, the hamsa is seen in both Judaism and Islam as a powerful tool to ward off the evil eye. Tratt wore the pendant on a gold chain, and soon she was fielding compliments and questions about the tiny blue hand on a daily basis. 

It wasn’t until Tratt traveled to Israel herself that she made the connection between the greater purpose she aspired to and the hamsa she never took off. Two summers ago, Tratt returned from her third trip to Israel — where her parents had met on a religious kibbutz in 1973 — and started The Neshama Project. 

Named for the Hebrew word for “soul,” as well as in honor of her mother Nicole’s first initial, The Neshama Project fuses a jewelry business with spiritual healing and charitable causes in both Israel and Los Angeles. The project represents the best aspects of her mother’s spirit, Tratt said. “It’s about Israel, community, kindness and tzedakah.” Blue and white opal necklaces, as well as opal earrings, are for sale through the neshamaproject.com store.

For each Hamsa necklace that she sells, Tratt donates 10 percent to a charity of the buyer’s choice. Thus far, she has partnered with Innovation Africa, a nonprofit organization that brings Israeli technology to African villages, and Friends of Ofanim, which supports educational efforts for at-risk youth living on Israel’s periphery. In Los Angeles, Tratt has partnered with Zeno Mountain Farm, a camp for adults with special needs, where she regularly volunteers.

Each time Tratt strings a hamsa on a gold chain — the actual pendants are manufactured in Israel — she types an inspiring message on a small square of paper included in the jewelry bag. The first message that Tratt ever typed read, “Hummus and falafels weave together our history of love.” It came on the heels of her first trip to Israel, where she visited the kibbutz on which her parents had met, and, she said, felt her mother with every step. Since then, she has expanded her repertoire to include more universal messages such as, “Make someone smile,” or “I believe in the power of love.”

In the year that she’s been in business, Tratt has sold more than 100 hamsas. But the most satisfying part of The Neshama Project, she said, has nothing to do with profit. “What fills me up the most are the interactions I’ve had with people who have been given a hamsa.” 

One of those people was Esther Kustanowitz, program coordinator for the NextGen Engagement Initiative at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. 

“These necklaces are more than just purchased products,” Kustanowitz said. “They’re conversation starters, relationship starters, opportunities to connect over something you may not have known you had in common.” 

Auction of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry sets record


Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry set a record for a single collection sold at auction.

The jewelry was sold Tuesday night at Christie’s auction house for nearly $116 million. Most of the 80 lots sold for at least 10 times the catalog estimates, according to The New York Times.

The sale more than doubled the previous record for a private jewelry collection sold at auction, the newspaper reported.

A 50-carat pearl given to Taylor by husband Richard Burton sold for nearly $12 million. And a 33-carat diamond ring from Burton, rated potentially flawless, sold for nearly $9 million.

Clothing, memorabilia and more jewelry owned by Taylor will be on sale through Friday. Part of the proceeds will go to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, as well as Taylor’s private trust.

The Academy Award-winning actress converted to Judaism in the late 1950s and was a supporter of Israel.

Israel’s diamond body expels member for attempt to smuggle blood stones


Israel’s Diamond Exchange says it has expelled a longtime member for attempting to smuggle illegal Zimbabwe blood diamonds into the country.

Spokesman Assaf Levin said Tuesday that the bourse expelled David Vardi after he was arrested at Ben-Gurion International Airport last week with about $200,000 worth of illegal Zimbabwe stones. He said his organization “will not tolerate dealing in blood diamonds.”

Zimbabwe is banned from exporting diamonds under the Kimberley Process, the 75-nation regulatory group that seeks to end the trade of so-called blood diamonds, which fund violence in Africa.

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

All That Glitters


My friend had somehow convinced me to get my makeup done. “It brings out your features so stunningly,” she continued, as we
exited the Barney’s cosmetics department. “Don’t you see how people are looking at you? You’re gorgeous!”

“I feel like I’m wearing a mask,” I retorted.

She shrugged with resignation. “You’re ridiculous,” she said.

I do realize that my tendency toward diminishing rather than accentuating my appearance diverges from the mainstream, particularly in Los Angeles, a city consumed with “looking good.” I’ve become something of a renegade in my propensity toward subtlety rather than flash. The notion of attending to my superficial appearance feels dangerously hypocritical: a submission to the insatiable ego, rather than an allegiance with the soul.

I have seen the pain caused by worshipping material: people’s futile attempts to hide feelings of fear, disconnection and inadequacy behind sexy outfits, fancy cars, strong drinks and flashy jewelry.

What good has come from it? The brighter their stuff shines, the more they dread exposure of the shadows hiding behind it. They grow increasingly isolated from one another — terrified that their shortcomings will be revealed if not for their shiny, glamorous armor. Lost in the abyss of separation, they disconnect from God — for the Divine is the Light of Unity, whose brilliance is eclipsed by the lesser glow of gold.

This is the story of the golden calf created from the Israelites’ jewelry in Ki Tisa.

Moses had become the physical representative of God in whom they placed their faith; with his lingering absence on Mount Sinai, they assumed that the Divine presence they could not see was gone as well.

To placate their fears, they fashioned an idol — a visible, material symbol of power — to worship. While today we would likely pool our resources for a golden Rolls convertible to venerate rather than a statue of a bull, the fact remains: idolatry is the ego — based allegiance to material value in the stead of loyalty to the intangible One.

Idolatry is inspired by a belief that fear, insecurity and disconnect are alleviated by attachments to tangible, perceptible objects, which ironically intensifies experiences of separation in a vicious cycle. When we empower any thing to be greater than Everything, we sell our souls to that substance. In the Israelites’ case, the repercussions were drastically immediate: 3,000 people killed for loyalty to gold over God.

So why should I wear more makeup? My muted appearance makes the unintimidating statement that the beauty of the spirit is far more valuable than external attractiveness.

Except…

As the parsha continues, my boycott against lip-gloss becomes questionable, and my ego literally becomes involved: in Ki Tisa, my name appears. The passage uses the word Keren three times, describing the radiating light of God’s physical presence shining from Moses’ face upon his second descent from the mountain (its root, k-r-n, also translates as “animal horn,” an ancient emblem of military power, but I’d rather be light). Moses had not realized that the “skin of his face shown” when he spoke to the people, until he saw that they “were afraid to come near him”; his light was too great. So he covered his glow with a veil/mask, which he maintained thereafter when he was among them. This got me to thinking: If the most egoless of biblical prophets needed to put on his face before going out into public, who was I to deny the benefits of a little powder … maybe even some eyeliner.

The portion reminded me that half the gift of being on earth is our human experience.

We are not meant to concentrate solely on the Light of the Divine; in fact, if we did, we would “surely die.” God gave us the pleasure of our separateness and our senses in order to apprehend the beauty glowing within all things … so long as we value them in appropriate proportion. God understood that Her greatness was too much for us to take in, but requested that we acknowledge it as the source for the manifold manifestations of His light.

Only in our capacity to maintain blind faith did God underestimate us; we seem to have an urgent need for seeing to maintain our believing. The brilliance of Moses’ face became the visible, tangible affirmation of Divine presence that the Israelites sought to generate with their golden calf (even according to its other translation, Moses’ horns would certainly be more awesome than a little bull’s); they had simply misplaced their faith on the object rather than its Source.

In the parsha’s conclusion, God instructs them to behave as they had in the beginning: donating their precious gold toward the creation of a physical object. But rather than a molten idol, they build the tabernacle to house the Divine presence, with their contributions invited only if their “hearts moved them”; their free will inspired their creation, rather than the creation overpowering their will.

To beautify, adorn and celebrate the physical proves to be a sacred act — with the right intention. So long as we understand that our flashy exteriors are the way in which we humbly diminish our own glory in reverence of a Light too great too look upon, we can draw closer to one another in admiration and inspiration of each individual’s beautiful expression.

Nelson Mandela once said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, [but rather] that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”

May it be God’s will that we shadow our light rather than lighten our shadows; with a little mascara, I am now prepared to accept the compliment I would give to Moses: “You look beautiful, Karen.”

Rabbi Karen Deitsch works as a freelance officant and lecturer in Los Angeles. She will be teaching several classes for the University of Judaism’s adult studies department during the spring semester, including a workshop on the mind, body and spirit of Pesach on March 29. She can be reached at karendeitsch@yahoo.com.

The Circuit


Victory Call

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayal met recently and placed a call to congratulate new Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. They, along with Ayal’s wife, Anne, extended congratulations on the Kadima Party victory. Photo by Duncan McIntosh.

A Sheba Success

The evening was dressy, festive and upbeat recently when Friends of Sheba Medical Center honored three outstanding Angelenos at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The organization, which does so much to fulfill a promise of excellent medical care in Israel, didn’t disappoint when supporters turned out in record numbers to show their loyalty to honorees and the group’s devotion to its cause. The Rabin Philanthropy Award was presented to community leaders Anna and Max Webb; the Humanitarian Award went to stage, screen and television star Jason Alexander, and Dr. Michael Vermesh, noted infertility specialist, received the Medical Visionary Award. Lynn Ziman and Louis Milkowski, gala dinner co-chairs , said the proceeds of the event, in excess of $4.5 million, will be directed to the Center for Newborn Screening, which will test every baby born in Israel (150,000 annually) for 20 genetic diseases. Every hospital in the country will participate using test kits provided by Marilyn Ziering, and her late husband, Sigi. For information, call (310) 843-0100, ext. 1.

Mitzvos competition

This year’s “Chidon Mitzvos” competition was held recently at Emerson Middle School. More than 1,000 people attended the finals of the annual competition, in which students learn and are tested on the Sefer Hamitzvos of the Rambam. The 150 finalists are all students from Lubavitch cheders, yeshivas and day schools from around the world who scored highest in their home city’s competition. Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum, principal of Cheder Menachem Los Angeles, hosted the competition, and Rabbi Baruch Sholomo Cunin, director of Chabad of California, and Rabbi Ezra Schochet, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad of Los Angeles, commended finalists for their diligence in learning the Sefer Hamitzvos. Internationally acclaimed entertainer Lippa performed a rousing medley of songs, much to the delight of the audience, many of whom rose to their feet to sing and dance along. But the centerpiece of the event was the high-energy “Jewpardy” competition, in which the finalists wowed the audience by answering complicated questions on knowledge from the Sefer Hamitvos.

The Chidon Mitzvos was inspired by the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s directive that all Jews be united by learning the halachos set down in the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvos.

Glitter, Glamour and Gehry

Famed architect Frank Gehry kicked off his new jewelry line at Tiffany’s recently in Hollywood fashion as the rich and famous congregated on Rodeo Drive. Gawking and glitz went hand in hand at the event, wall to wall with stars, celebs and Hollywood heavy hitters. Talk show/comedy diva Ellen DeGeneres, and her significant other, Portia de Rossi, were among the cache of stars who extended cordial hellos and mingled with fans. Grammy award-winner John Legend teamed with surprise guest Patti LaBelle to blow the audience away with a rocking performance enjoyed by such luminaries as Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy, Christina Ricci, Owen Wilson, Lawrence Fishburne, Mira Sorvino, Anjelica Huston, Quincy Jones and Wolfgang Puck.

Gehry’s new collection consists of an unusual array of materials, such as black gold, pernambuco wood and cocholong stone. Along with sterling silver, diamonds and gemstones, the collection is based on motifs inspired by structural elements, childhood memories, renaissance masters and contemporary painters, thus resulting in arresting shapes and forms that have a kinetic rhythm and energy.

 

Bracelet Bandwagon


 

Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve — wear it on your wrist. And with the new Shalom bracelet, you can. The Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles is distributing 25,000 of the blue elastic bands adorned with a white dove and the word “Shalom” throughout the community.

It carries a simple message: Israel wants peace.

Yael Swerdlow, director of media relations at the consulate, said the target audience for the bracelets is a universal one.

“They are for anyone who wants peace,” Swerdlow said. “We are getting requests from all over the country, from yeshivas in New Jersey to human rights activists that vilify Israel. It’s an opening to dialogue.”

The public relations department at the consulate came up with the idea for the bracelets using Lance Armstrong’s yellow “Livestrong” bracelet as their inspiration. Bracelets are all the rage this year, with the yellow bands leading the pack. Although unlike the free blue Consulate bracelets, the yellow ones sell for $1 in Nike stores with profits benefiting cancer patients. Similar bracelet campaigns include several varieties of pink bracelets that support cancer research. They include the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer foundation bracelet (five for $5), the Melissa Etheridge bracelet (one for $5), and Target’s Share Beauty, Spread Hope bracelet (10 for $10).

Jewish organizations may have been ahead of the craze. AllforIsrael.org is currently selling silver memorial bracelets, engraved with the name of victims of terror, for $2. Hillel and various synagogues nationwide began selling the bracelets in 2003, a concept created by the Israel Solidarity Fund in 2000.

“People wear this jewelry to make a statement,” Swerdlow said, “and we hope to make ours.”

To get your Shalom bracelet send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, 6380 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1700, Los Angeles, CA 90048. Attention: Consul Yariv Ovadia.

 

Rock On


Getting engaged is a life-altering, mind-blowing, milestone event. It is the romantic equivalent of graduating from college and being thrown into the great unknown. We are transitioning here.

Getting engaged is also something you have to do. It doesn’t just happen on its own. At some point, amid all the anxiety, the expectation, the excitement, it is something that needs getting done. The question needs asking. Proposing marriage found its way onto a to-do list for Sat., April 26. Who says romance is dead?

10 a.m.: Drop off dry cleaning

Noon: Get stamps at post office

4 p.m.: Get engaged

Talk about a matzah ball on the calendar!

It requires jewelry — something about which I have managed to remain blissfully ignorant these many years. Alison’s family is "into" jewelry. She has one aunt whose apartment looks like Cartier’s vault. And, if I understand it correctly from Aunt Sylvia, where diamonds and romance intersect, size does matter.

Evidently, buying an engagement ring is not like ordering a book on Amazon.com. I spent a lot of time on the phone, designing the ring with my cousin Robbie The Jeweler in Detroit. (Who buys retail?) In my family, saying, "Did you talk to Detroit?" means that something shiny will soon be on its way. Rob taught me a valuable lesson — literally — about cut, clarity, color and carat.

I picked up the package at the post office. It came wrapped in plain brown paper and taped all the way around, completely discreet, but I felt like I was walking through the airport with a ticking bomb in my carry-on bag. I thought everyone must know that something suspicious was going on. No one let on if they did.

When I opened the box I still didn’t know what to think. The ring was so small I could lose this thing in my pocket, but I could also trade it in for a new model convertible car. That’s a whole lot of symbolism for one finger.

Now I just had to figure out the when and where of it. I chose the beach on a beautiful spring Saturday. The way I figured it, I’d take the ring, go for a walk with my girlfriend, ask a question, and come back with a fiancée. Talk about a rocket in my pocket — I must have patted down that pocket about a hundred times to make sure the ring hadn’t disappeared, like a stand-up comic checking his zipper before taking the stage.

As I was making plans to do the deed, she was outside, napping on a beach chair, blissfully unaware. I think she was expecting something sometime soon, but that’s where I had the edge. I knew the place and time. She knew what the answer was. I’d done everything I could to narrow the odds for a favorable response, including moving in together a few months earlier.

We went for our walk on the beach. Alison had some gunk called a "treatment" in her hair. She was wearing a big, floppy hat to keep the sun off her face, sunglasses and a jacket she borrowed that was two sizes too big. An outfit only a mother could love. I figured if I could ask her to marry me looking like that, it must be love.

To be fair, I didn’t look so hot either. I had a pimple on my chin. I don’t know who could look me in the eye and say yes to that. "Do you, Alison, take this pimple, ’til death do you part?" I wouldn’t want to marry a guy with a big pimple on his chin, but fortunately I won’t have to. Maybe I should have put it off until I could get in to see Arnie Klein. Maybe not.

I’ve never done this, never actually asked the question in so many words, so I wasn’t exactly sure where I ought to begin my sales pitch. I felt like I was going on a job interview. Should I remind her of my qualifications for the job? "As you know, I have an Ivy League education. My parents are nice people. I love children."

Actually, what I said was: "There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you," and she started crying almost before the words were out of my mouth. She was still crying a minute later.

"If you say ‘yes,’ you’ll get a really good prize," I said. Fortunately, I didn’t lose the ring in my pocket and its presentation was met with a resounding chorus of "Oh my Gods."

We’ll have to assume her answer was yes by the way she put the ring on that day and hasn’t taken it off since.

J.D. Smith can be further engaged at www.carteduvin.com.

Crowning Achievements


You’ve seen them on “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” “Dharma & Greg,” “Melrose Place.” You’ve spotted them in films: “The Pelican Brief,” “Miami Rhapsody.” They’re not actors, but they share scenes with today’s hottest stars: Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Brooke Shields. Yet do you know them by name?

If you don’t, you soon will. The jewelry Lily Rachel Kaufman creates has been turning up everywhere — not just on the person of Sarah Jessica Parker and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss in popular entertainment fare, but in Nordstrom, Bloomingdales and Neiman-Marcus. And on Dec. 1, KOLOT — a division of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Women’s Campaign — will throw a special cocktail at the Lily Rachel Showroom in Beverly Hills.

While meeting Kaufman at her newly-opened showroom, the petite brunette seems smitten with the studio, which overlooks the lunchtime hustle and bustle of downtown Beverly Hills.

“It reminds me of New York,” says the shy 30-year-old designer, looking out the window past the fire escape.

Born Lily Rachel Moshe, Kaufman grew up in Long Island until age nine, when her family moved West. Of Iraqi-Jewish descent, the Moshes have been in the gem business for several generations, specializing in pearls. Today, Lily’s parents and siblings all participate in running their downtown-based family business, Alsol Gems.