Armchair archeologists can explore Qumran virtually

After glancing at the nearby caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were stored, I walked through the entrance to the main building at Qumran, checked out the scriptorium with its ink wells and oil lamps and the pottery-making workshop, and then up to the four-story tower for spotting approaching Roman legions.

Although it was a hot day, I was perfectly comfortable because my virtual walking tour of the desert settlement was conducted at a sophisticated UCLA computer site, courtesy of the Qumran Visualization Project.

“What we’ve built here is a fully reconstructed, three-dimensional, real-time, interactive model of Khirbet Qumran,” explained Robert C. Cargill, a graduate student in the UCLA Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures.

Joining Cargill was his department chairman, professor William Schniedewind, who initiated the project to graphically enliven his class on ancient Israel and to probe current scholarly disputes on the genesis of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

After a Bedouin shepherd discovered the first scrolls in a cave in 1947, archaeologists turned their attention to nearby Qumran. Roland de Vaux, a French Dominican priest, was the first to excavate the site in 1951 and concluded that it was the communal home of a pious Jewish sect, the Essenes, who created the scrolls.

Hardly were his conclusions published, when scholars began to question his theory, a debate that has continued to this day.

As further excavations revealed more about the original structures, some experts backed de Vaux’s assertions. But others proposed that the site was a fortress constructed by the Hasmoneans, whose victory against the ancient Greek occupiers is celebrated during Chanukah.

A third interpretation held that the place had been a mega-mansion, built as a winter retreat by a wealthy Jerusalem family.

Taking the excavated remains as its blueprint, the UCLA team began to model the structure wall by wall, reflecting their thickness, strength and, even, texture.

What the model showed was that the ancient inhabitants of Qumran, like Beverly Hills homeowners, had remodeled and expanded the original structure.

According to its “visualization” and the research of numerous scholars, the UCLA team concluded that the original 20,150-square-foot structure, built around 160 B.C.E., consisted of a two-story building and four-story tower, and was designed as a fortress.

The fortress was abandoned after some time, perhaps because it was no longer needed for defensive purposes. The site was reoccupied in 130 BCE, apparently by the Essenes, who began to repurpose and expand the place for their own communal needs.

Over the years they added a large dining hall, a pottery production plant, and, most importantly, the scriptorium where the scrolls were written.

The idyll was destroyed in 70 CE or shortly thereafter by the conquering Roman legions, after they had laid waste to Jerusalem and its Holy Temple.

According to the descriptions of communal living in the scrolls, the number of eating utensils and the size of the sleeping quarters, Qumran during the Essene era was inhabited by about 75 residents – all men.

One of the true marvels of Qumran, vividly illustrated through the computer model, was an elaborate water system of dams and canals, fed by runoffs from occasional flash floods and a spring, collected in a holding pool.

The system supplied enough water for no less than 11 mikvahs, or ritual baths, for separating clay at the pottery plant, and for the community’s livestock and crops.

Cleanliness was a high priority. Latrines were dug some distance from the structure and scribes had to wash themselves before entering the scriptorium.

Adding to the model’s allure is a series of high-resolution panoramic photographs of the sky, the cliffs to the west of Qumran and the Dead Sea and Jordanian plains to the east.

Cargill and Schniedewind, who developed the computer model over a 15-month period, plan to eventually replace the panoramic photography with satellite imagery, which will allow them to simulate the surrounding topography and terrain. They also hope to create virtual models of the caves where the scrolls were found.

Both Schniedewind and Cargill are practicing Christians with a deep appreciation and knowledge of Judaism and Israel.

After attending a Christian college as an undergraduate, Schniedewind, 44, earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at Brandeis, and an additional master’s at Jerusalem University College, a Christian institute in Israel’s capital.

He is fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic and Northwest Semitic dialects and his primary scholarly interest is in ancient Israel, especially the era of formative Judaism from 1000-1 B.C.E.

No ivory tower theoretician, he has worked on separate archaeological digs in Israel, including Qumran in 1993, and frequently praised the cooperation and pioneering research of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Cargill is 34, of Scottish descent, and has handled most of the computer modeling. He graduated from Pepperdine University, majoring in biblical studies, and “realized that to understand Christianity I had to first understand Judaism,” he said.

When first asked if he were Jewish, he asked back, “Aren’t we all?” As a token of his affection for Israel, his forearm is tattooed with the Hebrew word “ahava,” or love.

The Journal got an advance introduction to the virtual Qumran during a demonstration of digital innovation projects at UCLA.

It will be officially unveiled to the public on June 29 at the San Diego Natural History Museum, as part of the largest and most comprehensive public exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls in any country.

In all, 27 scrolls will be on view during the seven-month exhibit, 10 of which have never been publicly displayed.

The San Diego museum underwrote 75 percent of the $100,000 cost of the Qumran project.

The preview at UCLA also featured 25 other digital innovation projects, ranging from an urban simulation of Los Angeles to an analysis of Old Icelandic.

Realities of poverty and devastation in the Katrina-affected Gulf are still unchanged

It’s a long way from the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills to the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Plaquemines Parish, La., and the divide is more than geographic.

Having participated in the Milken Conference in April and traveled to Plaquemines two weeks later, I was struck by the chasm between the viewpoints expressed in these two locales, a divide that I believe underscores one of the most significant challenges to full and meaningful recovery for the Gulf region.

While businesspeople and politicians tout the resurrection of tourism, as well as the strong Gulf business climate and plans for cutting-edge educational reform, families like those who worship at the Mount Olive Baptist Church confront a stunning failure to rebuild the low-income residential communities wiped out by the storms.

The utter devastation that still exists in the low-income neighborhoods of New Orleans and the surrounding rural areas stands in marked contrast to the revitalization discussed in boardrooms: In these poor areas it looks as if the storms just hit, and the vast majority of the families who lived in them are no closer to coming home than they were immediately following the disaster. The policy leaders paint an optimistic picture.

It was tempting to leave the late-April Milken Conference panel on “Rebuilding After Katrina” with a genuine sense of encouragement. In the midst of this conference of Nobel laureates, business titans and national political figures, the loftiness of the credentials of this panel were rivaled only by that of their optimism about the future of the Gulf region.

Scott Cowen, president of Tulane University, described New Orleans’ schools as being in the midst of the most significant and exciting educational transformation in the United States. Andrew Young, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Mitch Landrieu, Louisiana lieutenant governor, agreed that nearly 90 percent of the businesses in the region are doing the same or better than before the storms. And everyone was excited about a plan to turn the New Orleans’ waterfront into a modern, world-class center of culture and commerce.

Yet, alarmingly, the rebuilding of residential communities in the Gulf region seemed to be entirely off their radar screens. When repeatedly questioned about this, they did not identify any plan for repairing or replacing housing and could not describe any progress to date. Eventually, they mustered a vague response calling for a new federal “Marshall Plan” for the Gulf, Plaquemines Parish and New Orleans’ “Lower Nine.”

Beginning in September 2005, Bet Tzedek Legal Services helped spearhead a major initiative to assist evacuees from the Gulf region. More than 2,500 families came to Southern California after the storms, yet many seemed to leave as quickly as they arrived, often without any forwarding address or phone number.

As we read reports of local government permitting people to return to previously sealed areas, we assumed that many of the families we helped had gone home.

In fact, the stark reality is that less than half of New Orleans’ low-income families and fewer than 25 percent of rural Louisianans are back in their homes.

People like Mt. Olive Pastor Ted Turner (not to be confused with media mogul Ted Turner who spoke at the Milken Conference) are still waiting in cramped FEMA trailers or with extended family and friends miles away from their homes and communities. Many homes remain uninhabitable but undemolished, while others like Turner’s have nothing left but the foundation.

Two weeks after the Milken Conference, I traveled with Reboot and Jewish Funds for Justice to Louisiana. We started the trip in Plaquemines Parish, the southernmost tip of Louisiana, a peninsula barely a mile wide between the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

We stayed for two nights with Turner at his church and strapped on safety glasses and masks to help rebuild a congregant’s house. We toured neighborhoods utterly leveled by the storms and saw schools and supermarkets whose frames remained standing but whose interiors were torn to shreds. We saw giant shrimp boats sitting on top of each other on dry land hundreds of yards from their moorings.

It was a very different picture than the one described by the panel at the Milken Conference.

Turner told us that the parish is a wonderful place to live. His great-grandfather was a slave in Plaquemines, and he himself was born there.

It’s a place where people stop their cars to say “hi,” with an active oil refinery that still employs many parish residents. Turner had managed to rebuild his church, but, like many others we met, his insurance has refused to pay to rebuild his home, and he is faced with the threat of foreclosure. We couldn’t help but note that the lender would be foreclosing on a slab of concrete where the pastor’s family home once stood.

We also traveled to the Lower Nine, where the devastation was similarly vast.

On blocks that were not wiped entirely clean, crumbling houses leaned against each other and awaited demolition. Aside from the 10 or so new, pastel-colored homes in Habitat for Humanity’s Musicians Village, it seemed like nothing had happened since the storm, aside from the partial removal of the debris that once coated the streets, sidewalks and roofs.

In Plaquemines, the failure to rebuild could be based on benign neglect; worse still, in the Lower Nine, the lack of restoration seems to have been by design: Until late March, just a month before our visit, the recovery manager of New Orleans had slated this historically residential area to be returned to wetlands. Only after significant pressure from community organizers and residents did he announce his intention to rebuild this area. The plan has not yet been specified.

Where is the leadership?

Breast Cancer Tips Doctors Don’t Share

My mother recently called me with a request: One of the moms at the elementary school she works at was newly diagnosed with breast cancer. Could I give her a call?

I immediately phoned Susan, a sweet, smart lady in her early 40s. She was weighing her options about surgery and doctors, and gathering information about her course of treatment. She was also terrified. I reassured her about the success of current cancer therapy, but what she really wanted to know were the little things, like does it hurt when your hair falls out? (No, but your scalp feels tingly, like someone pulled your ponytail too tight.) These are the questions that fall under “What you always wanted to know about having breast cancer but were too afraid to ask,” a category that is still too relevant.

This October marks the 20th anniversary of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 217,440 people in the United States, almost all women, will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Despite growing awareness and funding for this disease, the incidence of breast cancer has continue to rise since the 1980s, and while detection methods have improved, there is still no foolproof prevention method.

So, for all those out there who are or will be new members of the Breast Cancer Sisterhood — the sorority no one chooses to join but is, especially in the Jewish community, very popular — here is a list of what to expect during treatment:


There are many choices when it comes to breast cancer surgery: lumpectomy, simple mastectomy, bilateral mastectomy. If you decide to opt for the “extreme makeover,” take comfort in the fact that, at least, both sides will match.

The reconstruction process can be uncomfortable and it takes a long time. Be patient.

There are advantages to not having nipples. Clothes look better on you, it’s harder to tell if your breasts are uneven and no one knows when you are cold.


The best hair substitute for nighttime: ski caps.

The good news, for those of us who have had a close relationship with Gillette since the seventh grade: by the time your hair returns, you will actually miss shaving.

Be prepared for people, especially kids, wanting to touch your bald head.

Wigs are itchy, but if you buy one that fits your appearance, you will look and feel more normal.

Scarves and hats are a lot more comfortable, but they tend to draw attention to you, especially if you are young. However, I’ve noticed on the days when I am wearing a scarf, more people go out of their way to be nice to me — which is a big boost when you’re feeling unwell.

Not-So-Glorious Food

Although it might be tempting to eat your favorite meal the evening before or the day of chemo, don’t. The associations between food and nausea are so strong you might never want that meal to cross your palate again.

Along those lines, the best advice from my nutritionist, Rachel Beller, was to avoid eating good-for-you foods, like fish, around chemo days. Spicy foods and anything too hot or too cold should also be off the list.

Chemotherapy tends to make people anemic, so think Atkins.

You will crave strange things, or only be able to eat a certain food after one chemo session and a different one after the next. (For me, it was the Caesar salad from Sharky’s, alternated with, of all things, pea soup.) If it’s legal and you can eat it, go for it.

Speaking of legal: not only is it a bad idea to fast on the designated holidays when you are undergoing cancer treatment, several rabbis advised me you are not allowed to do so. God will understand.

Emotional Rollercoaster

PMS has nothing on cancer. You will be moody. Forgive yourself for it.

It may sound cliche, but cancer really does give you the opportunity to examine your life and your relationships and make the changes you have been putting off for years.

At least one friend will not be able to handle what you are going through.

Unexpected people will come out of the woodwork to support you. Outside of my family, my two best friends through this whole process have been Ronette K., who teaches at my mom’s school, and Linda C., my brother’s girlfriend’s mother. Ronette sent me funny get-well cards after every chemo (I had 10 courses) and kept me in mystery books during my recovery from surgery; Linda ended her chemotherapy the day I got my diagnosis and was my mentor through the whole treatment process. I wouldn’t have made it without either one of them.

All in the Family

Husbands/significant others are the greatest unsung heroes in this battle. Remind people to check on them instead of you every once in a while.

As with friends, some family members will handle your situation better than others.

Kids can be your greatest allies. For little ones, you don’t have to tell them much, just what they might need to know. Like that Mommy will be living in the bathroom for the next three days.

Beam Me Up, Scotty

Compared to chemo, radiation seems like a cakewalk. Some people do get exhausted from it, so while you may be feeling better, this is not the time to take up lacrosse.

Yes, you will be asked to get tattooed. If this freaks you out, there are alternatives, but a tattoo provides the best record for any possible future radiation. The tattoos are tiny, not the big, rosy “Mother” ones found on certain bikers. Your doctor can give you a note for the chevra kadisha (burial society) if you feel the need.

Know that, even if you do get the tattoos, the radiology staff will draw on you. With a big marker. In dark, purple ink. As if you needed one more thing to make you look strange.

Words to remember: body lotion. Some people swear by aloe vera; I like Aveeno with the colloidal oatmeal (which, by the way, doesn’t mean any kind of special oatmeal — it’s just minced up really fine so they can get it in the lotion).

The machinery used during radiation emits a loud, annoying whine that makes it difficult to lie still. Find a “theme song” you can run through your head to distract you. (Mine is the overture from “Star Wars.”)


Just when you start getting good at dealing with the chemo and radiation, it’s over. Thank God.

Wendy J. Madnick was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2003. She awaits the return of her hair with growing anticipation.

World Briefs

Israel: U.S. Didn’t Help

Israel denied a newspaper report that the CIA helped Israel track down a smuggled arms shipment. “This operation was purely blue and white,” said a spokeswoman for the Israeli military, referring to the colors of Israel’s flag. Citing unnamed U.S. intelligence officials, The Washington Times newspaper reported Tuesday that Israel asked the CIA to locate the ship carrying the arms. The report said U.S. officials, using high-tech intelligence-gathering equipment, were able to identify the ship.

Israel Declines to Join War Crimes Court

Israel will not join a planned international war crimes court because the treaty establishing the court defines the settlements as a war crime, Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit said Monday. The Barak government signed the treaty but did not ratify it, and the current government will keep to this decision due to the court’s “political” nature, Sheetrit said.

Assassin’s Brother Barred

Israel’s Defense Ministry barred the brother of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin from serving in a special combat unit for fervently Orthodox Jews. Sagiv Amir, 19, has appealed the decision, saying it punishes him for his brother’s crime and effectively bars him from military service because his religious practices make it impossible for him to enlist in a regular unit. Amir was 13 when his brother, Yigal, shot Rabin dead at a 1995 peace rally in Tel Aviv.

Israel, China Discuss Deal

Israeli officials arrived in Beijing for talks on the canceled sale of an airborne radar system to China. Beijing is seeking compensation for Israel’s cancellation of a deal, worth $250 million, to purchase planes equipped with the Phalcon system. Israel canceled the arms sale in July 2000, following objections from U.S. officials, who feared the sale would enhance China’s threatening position against Taiwan and could be used to track U.S. aircraft in the case of a military conflict there.

U.S. Seeks Deportation

The U.S. Justice Department is seeking to deport an Illinois man for allegedly participating in the persecution and murder of Jews during World War II. According to a complaint filed Monday, Peter John Bernes, alias Petras Bernotavicius, was a deputy to Werner Loew, a Nazi-appointed mayor and police commander assigned to Kupiskis, Lithuania. Bernes helped remove condemned prisoners from jail so they could be taken to nearby killing sites, the Justice Department’s Nazi-hunting Office of Special Investigations charged. During the summer of 1941, more than 1,000 Jewish men, women and children — about one-fourth of Kupiski’s population — were murdered by men allegedly under Loew’s command.

Schools Linked to Terrorism

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) claims some charter schools in California have links to terrorist organizations. The ADL wrote to the California State Superintendent of Education urging the state to suspend its funding and investigate the activities of Gateway Academy charter schools because of alleged links to the Muslims of the Americas, which the ADL calls a virulently anti-Semitic and homophobic group. Muslims of the Americas has been accused of serving as a corporate front for Al-Fuqra, a militant Islamic group. ADL also charges the school has violated the First Amendment by teaching religion in the state-funded school.

Member of ‘Iran 10’ Freed

An Iranian Jew convicted of spying for Israel was freed from jail after serving his three-year sentence, according to an Iranian official. Faramarz Kashi, a Hebrew teacher, is the second of 10 Iranian Jews convicted of the spying charges in July 2000 to be released, the official added Wednesday. Ramin Nemati Zadeh, released in March of last year, was the first to be freed, the official said. Thirteen Iranian Jews were arrested in 1999 and accused of spying for Israel. Following a closed-door trial that began in April 2000, three were acquitted and 10 others found guilty.

AJCongress to Be Sued

A former regional director of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) plans to file an age- and gender-discrimination lawsuit against the group. Sheila Decter, 63, was fired in November from her position as the group’s New England regional director. Decter already has filed a complaint on the issue with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, according to the Forward newspaper. Jack Rosen, the president of the AJCongress, told the Forward there is “no basis” for Decter’s complaint.

Religious Freedom Day

President Bush recalled George Washington´s promise to the Jewish community to protect religious freedom. Proclaiming that Wednesday will be Religious Freedom Day 2002, Bush noted that the first U.S. president promised the Jewish community at Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., that the new country would protect the rights of people of all faiths. Bush called on Americans to use the day, set aside annually, to celebrate America´s commitment to freedom of religion.

Reconstructionists’ New Pres

Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz has been chosen to head the Reconstructionist movement’s seminary. Ehrenkrantz, the immediate past president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and the spiritual leader of Bnai Keshet in Montclair, N.J., will start this summer. He replaces Rabbi David Teutsch, who has been the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College’s (RRC) president since 1993. Ehrenkrantz will be the first RRC president who is a graduate of the school. The movement, which was founded in the 1930s, is based in Philadelphia and has 100 synagogues in North America.

Senators: Extend Deadline

Two U.S. senators called for an extension for survivors to file for Holocaust-era insurance restitution. Sens. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) say Holocaust survivors are having trouble documenting their claims or have given up on the restitution process because they believe insurers deny or stall payments of claims. The senators requested the deadline extension in a letter sent Jan. 9 to Lawrence Eagleburger, chairman of the International Commission on Holocaust-Era Insurance Claims.

Orthodox Students for Israel

A group of American Jewish students is being trained to promote travel to Israel. In a program called Operation Torah Shield II, 200 students from Yeshiva University in New York are in Israel this week touring the country and participating in training sessions led by the Ministry of Tourism. Upon their return to the United States, the students will take additional courses sponsored by the ministry.

Precise Bestiality

Fifteen high officials of the Nazi regime gathered Jan. 20, 1942, at a formerly Jewish-owned villa in Wannsee, on the outskirts of Berlin, for a meeting which lasted — including three breaks for refreshments — less than two hours.

At the meeting’s conclusion, the SS and civilian officials had put in place the blueprint for the Final Solution of the Jewish problem in Europe.

A "dramatic reconstruction" of the fateful Wannsee conference by HBO Films will air Saturday, May 19, at 9 p.m.

The meeting was chaired and dominated by Reinhard Heydrich, second only to Himmler in the SS hierarchy and known as "the Hangman" throughout occupied Europe, and was coordinated by his deputy, Adolf Eichmann.

Eichmann prepared 30 top-secret and heavily edited copies of the meeting’s minutes, or protocols, of which only one survived the war.

These minutes form the basis of "Conspiracy" and, like most such documents, make for dry reading. More than half the participants were lawyers, among them, top bureaucrats of the foreign and justice ministries, and the Nazi penchant for euphemisms further obscured the real purpose of the meeting.

For instance, the words "extermination" or "killing" are never mentioned, with "evacuation" serving as a stand-in.

Scriptwriter Loring Mandel and director Frank Pierson thus have their work cut out for them in recreating the characters and infusing life into the discussion without straying too far from historical accuracy. Even more difficult is the task of creating a sense of tension or conflict in what was essentially an assembly of yes-men.

Kenneth Branagh plays Heydrich (who, even by Nazi standards, was a singularly cold-blooded killer) with proper authority and a certain sardonic wit.

We know more about Eichmann than any of the other participants, and Stanley Tucci accurately catches the nervous officiousness of the middle-level bureaucrat.

The most complex character in the film is Dr. Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger, state secretary of the Reich chancellery (well-acted by David Threlfall), who seemed to be the sole participant to have a sense of the enormity of the mass murder being contemplated. But even he caves in when Heydrich exerts some judicious pressure.

Two scenes, when the film hews closest to the original minutes, boggle the mind, even after all we have learned in the past 50 years.

One is the obsessive preoccupation of the Nazi leaders in defining the exact percentage of Jewish blood in half-, quarter- and one-eighth Jews, which determined their order in the extermination timetable.

The second is that even after German armies were stalled, before Moscow and after America had entered the war, Hitler’s minions were sure that they would dominate all of Europe.

The Wannsee Conference laid out precisely how many Jews would have to be "evacuated" to make Europe Judenrein. The number came to 11 million and included not just the Nazi-occupied countries and allies but the Jews of Great Britain and those of neutral Ireland, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland. Not even the 200 Jews of Albania were overlooked.

"Conspiracy" will be repeated May 22, 27 and 31, and June 4, 9 and 13. Check local stations for times.