New Israeli study explains coral’s pulsation

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Do you find yourself dragging; craving a nap in the late afternoon? You're not alone. Soft coral beneath the waters near the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat does the same thing.

A new study by scientists from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Technion, Israel's institute of technology, discovered that a soft coral called Heteroxenia, found in the reefs off Eilat, pulsates continually except for a period of one-half-hour just before sunset. The study does not answer the napping question, but the scientists do have a theory.

“During the day the coral uses the photosynthesis to generate its food, and during the night it goes through respiration like other animals,” Uri Shavit, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Technion in Haifa told The Media Line. “Just before sunset when the level of oxygen is very high it can take a rest without harming its metabolism.”

What the study, funded by Israel's National Science Foundation, was trying to discover was why, unlike all other species of coral, the Heteroxenia pulsates incessantly, using up valuable energy. The reason, they found, is that the level of photosynthesis, which transforms sunlight into chemical energy, is between five and eight times greater with the movement than without it.

“Corals, which are animals, are important for the ecosystem because they live in symbiosis with algae,” Maya Kremien, a graduate student at Hebrew University who worked on the study told The Media Line. “The pulsation creates the optimal conditions for the photosynthesis of the algae.”

The study appears in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States (PNAS). Kremien worked on the project for four years, developing an underwater measuring device called a particle imaging velocimeter (PIV) which measures the flow of water around the coral.

“By taking hundreds of thousands of images with the PIV, we basically have velocity vector maps,” Shavit said. “We found that the coral pulsates almost 24-hours a day. It's very beautiful. You can sit and watch it for hours.”

The study comes amid concern that the coral reef in Eilat, which is one of the most diverse in the world, has been gradually degrading. Of the nine miles of Israeli coastline along the Red Sea, less than one mile has been designated as a nature preserve. The development of the city of Eilat, sewage outflow and industrial installations have all taken a toll on the coral reefs.

In a previous study, the same group of Israeli scientists found that the motion of water is needed to increase the flow of oxygen away from the corals. This time they found that the pulsation means the coral will not be filtering the same water each time. In addition, each polyp, or coral flower, pulsates at a different rate.

The research could have some practical applications as well, in engineering or medicine.

“We are not there yet but there are a lot of interesting questions that could lead to practical use,” Shavit said. “Nature is very smart through evolution and people mimic nature in other fields. We learned to fly from birds, and to swim from fish.”

They are not sure what people can learn from coral, but they are sure it will be valuable.

Give Her a Rest

Fact: 54 percent of Americans worry about their daily stress levels.

Stress instigates anxiety disorders. Medically categorized as “neuroses,” these nonpsychotic mental illnesses trigger feelings of uncomfortable inner emotional apprehension that dominate perception and impair thinking, judgment and functioning, even though there is no identifiable threat. The stress response to ambiguous danger activates what physiologist Walter Cannon termed “fight or flight.” Hard-wired into the brain, this mechanism releases chemicals from nerve cell sequences for anticipated combat or escape.

Although there is no identifiable threat, more than half our population experiences daily life as if there were. To quote Leviticus 26:18, stress disorders cause us to “flee when no one pursues.”

Deluded to believe our survival is being threatened, we exist in fight-or-flight mode: pulses quicken, blood diverts from the digestive and reproductive systems into hands and legs, and short-term thinking over-rides rationality. “Terror … consume[s] the eyes” (Leviticus 26:16) as pupils dilate in narrowed perception of a reality where anyone may perpetrate. The autonomic nervous system creates “consumption and fever” as flushing, sweating and reduced immunity, and “sorrow to the heart” (Leviticus 26:16) as chest pains or angina.

God’s warnings of consequence for disrespecting His orders in Behar-Bechukotai read like a psychiatric diagnosis manual’s symptom list for neurotic stress disorders. The Israelites are beseeched to provide a “Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath for the Lord” (Leviticus 25:4) every seventh year by not working Her. She is the Mother Earth: the Divine consort of Source. If disrespected; if misogynistic, ego-based desires for ownership or affluence give precedence to any “thing” over everything; “the sound of a shaken leaf will chase them and they will flee, as fleeing from a sword” (Leviticus 26:37).

We are paying the penalty for despising the Divine’s statutes. God warned that our “strength will be spent in vain”: while the human body is capable of withstanding considerable levels and durations of stress, eventually, sustained depleted energy reserves cause chronic fatigue, stamina and muscle loss, and brain cell toxicity.

He presaged we would: “sow [our] seed in vain” (Leviticus 26:16) — average sperm count decreased 42 percent since 1940; and that our “skies [would be] like iron and our earth like copper” (Leviticus 26:18-20). In 1990, scientists discovered copper contamination in 7,000-year-old layers of ice in Greenland glacial caps and widespread copper smelting in the Bronze Age released enough copper into the atmosphere to contaminate ice thousands of miles away, causing iron-colored pollution and a poisoned ecosystem.

We have abhorred our Father and, more pertinently, exploited our Mother.

Persistence will ultimately render our heartbroken earth “forsaken by [us]” as She finally takes her Sabbaths “while she lies desolate without [us]” (Leviticus 26:43), mourning the children that deserted her in selfish greed.

Either way, Mother Earth must rest. She cannot bear the weight of our collectively disowned femininity much longer; Her burnout from such repression is inevitable, Her sabbatical inexorable. She implores us to attend to her … before we disintegrate.

Physical systems must rest, in testament that no “thing” really matters. No thing restores wholeness. No amount of force compensates for an equal measure of submission.

Quick-fix prescriptions that inhibit symptoms and disregard underlying causes only exaggerate the very dependencies, weaknesses and insecurities we resist acknowledging.

We must sanctify Shechinah: Source’s indestructible other half. She is the intuitive, the deep, the changeable; She is the sensual, the vulnerable, the dependent, the receivable. She is the passionate, nurturing, indistinguishable dream of darkness from which the light is borne. She is earth beyond reclaim. She must rest.

Cardiologist Herbert Benson discovered an antidote for neurotic stress disorders: the “relaxation response” hard-wired in the brain, releases neurochemicals almost precisely counteractive of “fight or flight.” Induced by practices of consciousness, presence or surrender, it stabilizes brain waves and lowers blood pressure and pulse rates.

Nothing is what God commanded we do with earth every seventh year. Nothing is the reverence of Everything; it is Shabbat: the Jewish relaxation response that celebrates the completion, satisfaction and wholeness defined by the word shevah (seven in Hebrew). Sheva is the perfection of the manifest universe reflected upon.

Revering Goddess is something we literally cannot stress about. We need only let Her be — within and without. And through our retreat, Her beloved, protective mate will shower His grateful providence into our relinquishment that we too may return to the peace we have co-created.

Now that’s a fact.

Rabbi Karen Deitsch works as a freelance officiant and lecturer in Los Angeles. She can be reached at

Jews, Food and Holiness

I suppose it would be nearly impossible to go through an entire week of Passover for Reconstructionist and Reform Jews, not to mention eight days for the rest of you, without the profound experience in practically every pore of your body that Jewish identity is inextricably bound up with food.

As a rabbi, naturally I have heard all the jokes about Jews and food and the negative characterization of minimalist Jewish identity referred to as "gastronomic Judaism." But this past week of Passover, coupled with this week’s Torah portion, has reminded me that when it comes to Jews and food, it’s really no laughing matter.

When Antiochus, the Syrian-Greek antagonist of the Chanukah story, wanted to dramatize his disdain for Judaism and Jewish civilization and his insistence on the rejection of Jewish law

and custom, he did so by bringing swine into the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem.

Sixteen hundred years later, when the grand inquisitors of the Spanish Inquisition wanted to test the Christian loyalty of their recent converts from Judaism (after which they often would kill them anyway), the very first test of authentic Jewish rejection would be to watch them eat swine. Four hundred years after that, when the Nazis would recreate the horrors of the Inquisition with a thousand times the evil, they would force-feed pork to rabbis for sport before cutting off their beards and then shooting them.

Yes, food and Jews have gone together at least for the past 3,000 years, ever since this week’s Torah portion detailed the do’s and don’ts of biblical dietary laws and laid down for all time the famous restrictions on what Jews can and can’t eat if they want to be true to the biblical mitzvot.

Earlier this week, I was sitting with a girl who will soon celebrate her bat mitzvah. As we spoke about this week’s portion, she told me that her family isn’t kosher, and she hasn’t grown up keeping Jewish dietary laws. And then she told me in the most matter-of-fact way possible, as if it were so obvious and self-evident that it was almost not worth mentioning, "Of course we don’t eat bread during Passover, and our form of kosher is not to eat food that we know came from places were workers are oppressed."

Judaism and food — a contemporary reinvention of food as a vehicle for holiness in everyday life. What is now called "eco-kosher" represents what Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan would have called "transvaluing," the powerful notion in this week’s portion that the food we eat provides a daily opportunity to experience the holiness inherent in our relationship with sustenance.

Just as every time we bless food before we eat, it transforms the very act of eating into a moment of encountering the sacred, each time we make conscious choices of what we eat based on Jewish values, we elevate food and the act of eating to the level of holiness.

Many of my friends have chosen to become vegetarians as an organic form of keeping kosher. Others stop eating meat as a way of giving kavod (respect) to the earth itself. Others do so because they recognize that if we took 25 percent of the grain used to feed animals intended for slaughter and redirect it to people, we would be able to feed the entire world with ease.

Any of these choices can be made as a way to reflect the sacredness with which the Torah bids us approach food and sustenance in this week’s portion. Some of us will choose to follow the laws of kashrut as they are written in the Torah. Others follow the later rabbinic interpretations of the biblical laws. Still others see ourselves as partners in the evolution of Jewish civilization and make dietary choices designed to sanctify our lives and the spiritual consciousness with which we eat every day.