At last, Warsaw’s Museum of the History of Polish Jews is dedicated


Krzysztof Sliwinski, a longtime Catholic activist in Jewish-Polish relations, gazed wide-eyed at the swooping interior of this city's Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Nearly two decades in the making, the more than $100 million institution officially opens to the public this week amid a month of high-profile, state-sponsored events marking the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

“It’s incredible, incredible, incredible how things have changed,” Sliwinski told JTA. “I remember commemorations of the ghetto uprising under communism when only a few people showed up. How good it was that we were optimistic.”

Sliwinski organized Jewish cemetery cleanups and other pro-Jewish initiatives under communism, when Jewish practice and culture were suppressed by the regime.

In 1995, then-Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, an Auschwitz survivor, appointed him post-Communist Poland’s first official ambassador to the Jewish Diaspora, part of the state’s unprecedented outreach policy.

On Sunday, both Sliwinski, now 73, and Bartoszewski, 91, joined hundreds of local Jews and other VIPs as Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, unveiled a mezuzah at the museum’s main entrance.

“This museum is in the heart of what was Jewish Warsaw,” Schudrich told JTA. “It is in the heart of what was the Warsaw Ghetto. Now it will be in the heart of what will be the future of Polish Jewry. It is a bridge from the past to the future.”

Reflecting this symbolism, the mezuzah was made from a brick from a building in Warsaw’s prewar Jewish quarter, the area that the Nazis turned into the notorious ghetto and where the museum now stands.

A huge flattened cube with a shimmering facade — broken by a dramatic gap that symbolizes both the biblical parting of the Red Sea and the rupture caused by the Holocaust — faces the monument to the heroes of the ghetto uprising.

“I am one of the few here who witnessed the unveiling of the ghetto monument in 1948,” Bartoszewski told guests following the mezuzah ceremony. “If anyone had told me then that this could be happening now, I would have said they were crazy.”

Designed by the Finnish architect Rainer Mahlamaki, the striking building with undulating interior walls is in fact still largely empty. The museum will inaugurate its cultural and educational programs on Friday, but its core exhibition — an interactive narration of 1,000 years of Polish Jewish life — will not be installed until next year.

“The museum is a part of the history that it tells,” Barbara Kirshenblatt Gimblett, the New York University professor who is overseeing the design of the core exhibition, told JTA. “It speaks to the renewal of Jewish life in Poland, to the enormous Jewish presence in Polish consciousness.”

On the eve of World War II, Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe, with 3.3 million Jews making up one-tenth of the country’s population. More than 3 million Polish Jews were killed in the Holocaust; thousands more survivors left in the wake of postwar pogroms. Still more departed in the 1960s amid anti-Semitic campaigns by the Communist regime.

But with the fall of communism, there has been a revival of Jewish life in Poland and a movement by Jews and non-Jews to reclaim Jewish culture.

“Imagine, the idea for this museum arose in 1996, just a few years after the fall of communism,” Kirshenblatt Gimblett said. “The many efforts of the last two decades to renew Jewish life, to recover the Jewish past, and to foster open debate and dialogue about the most difficult moments in the history of Poland and Polish Jews have created the momentum and support for this initiative.”

The only permanent part of the exhibit installed to date is the dazzling reconstruction of the roof and painted ceiling of an 18th century wooden synagogue that once stood in Gwozdziec, now in Ukraine. So stunning that it has been compared to the Sistine Chapel, it features a wealth of brightly painted folk designs combined with Jewish symbolism: lions, griffins, Zodiac signs, birds, flowers, unicorns and much more.

Financed by the Polish state, the city of Warsaw and numerous Jewish and non-Jewish private donors, the development of the museum suffered setbacks and delays over the years due to political and organizational issues as well as funding shortfalls. The very idea of such a museum in Poland, which many Jews regard as a vast Jewish cemetery, was long a hard sell.

Over the past decade, however, Polish-born Jewish philanthropists such as Americans Sigmund Rolat and Tad Taube passionately took up the cause. Taube Philanthropies and the Koret Foundation collaborated to provide the largest private commitment to the core exhibition of the museum, a total of $16 million since 2007.

“The Taube Foundation and the museum share a similar mission: to understand not only how European Jewry died in the Nazi genocide, but how European Jewry lived in Poland and created a prodigious civilization over many centuries,” Taube told JTA. “This knowledge is not a betrayal of Holocaust memory. In fact, we honor Holocaust memory by reclaiming our rich, long and varied existence in Poland.”

Taube and others say they are hopeful the museum and the story it tells can have a long-term impact: on local Jews, local non-Jews, and the Jews from the United States, Israel and elsewhere who are expected to visit.

“The idea of there being an authentic Jewish community in today’s Poland is notoriously met with bewilderment and often sheer disbelief,” said Katka Reszke, the author of “Return of the Jew,” a new book about young Jews in Poland today. “The museum — its staff, its narrative and its programming — must be prepared to confront this skepticism and the often difficult questions coming from foreign Jewish visitors.”     

Swiss diplomat Simon Geissbuehler, a historian who has written several books on Jewish history, called the museum and its mission “an important step forward.”

Still, he added, “We don’t have to have illusions. It will not change everything immediately. There are those who don’t want to recognize this part of their history. But I hope the museum will help.”

The Zodiac and the truth behind astrology


“Astrology is one of the most ancient sciences, held in high esteem of old, by the wise and the great. Formerly, no prince would make war or peace, nor any general fight in battle, in short, no important affair was undertaken without first consulting an astrologer.”
– Benjamin Franklin

Ever so often Astrology is presented with an opportunity to explain herself and thus improve on her wisdom and service to humankind. Such occasions, alas, usually happen when her system of symbolism is under attack, usually from people who have no knowledge of Astrology and who base their dismissive notions on popular culture and misunderstandings instead of serious consideration. 

In the last few days, I received many alarmed emails asking me about the recent internet craze concerning the shattering “new discoveries” that the signs have shifted due to a “wobble” in the Earth’s axis and that there is a new 13th sign called Ophiuchus.

Let me address some of these concerns and assure you that whatever your sign was before 2011 is still the same and if you thought you could get an upgrade to a “nicer” sign, you are out of luck 🙁 

1 – Astrology is based on the seasons and the relationships between the planets (called aspects) and NOT what sign is located behind the Sun when you were born.

The signs of the Zodiac are merely symbols and metaphors that divide the year into 12 different and equal “seasons”. This partition is based on the proportions of day and night or light and darkness experienced throughout the year. Aries always begins on the first day of spring (aka the Spring Equinox), when the day and night are equal and the amount of light is growing. Libra, on the other hand, always begins on the Fall Equinox, when the day and night are also equal, but the amount of light is receding.

Astrology postulates, regardless of what constellation occupies the Equinox, that people born in the spring will exhibit characteristics such as high energy and optimism. They will be the kind of people who spring into action, the same way that nature buds into life after its long winter slumber.

A new study, published by the Nature Neuroscience Journal, found links between the season of birth and personality. It is proven that people born in the winter, i.e. Capricorns, are more at risk to suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), schizophrenia and depression. In Astrology, Capricorn, beginning on the longest night of the year, is associated with suffering, difficulties and pessimism. To quote the author of the paper, Professor Douglas McMahon, “Our biological clocks measure the day’s length and change our behavior according to the seasons.” 

2 – When Astrology was developed by the Babylonians, the constellation of Aries happened to be located right behind the sign Aries during the Spring Equinox.

Astrology was developed in Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, as a cosmic clock, most likely to help early farmers trace the seasons. In fact, the reason why we have seasons to begin with is because of the Earth’s 23 degree tilt, which is also connected to its wobble. The idea is simple: one should plant in Spring, party in Summer, harvest in Fall, and be careful with provisions in Winter.

The first zodiac sign, Aries, begins on March 21st, the Spring Equinox.  Of course there is no real Ram out there in the skies. The ancient wise women and men of the time chose a Ram to symbolize Aries because it is a great metaphor for the initiation of spring, the leader of the flock. When the refuters of Astrology claim that people born in Aries should be called Pisces, they are misunderstanding the symbolism of Astrology. It’s like saying New York City should be called “York” because by now it is hundreds of years old. However, when it was founded it was new, and it symbolized a modern place full of possibilities. Aries was located behind the Equinox, on March 21st 2000-4000 years ago, when Astrology was “founded”. That is why we still call this period of time Aries.   

3 – Astrologers and Astronomers have known about the issues presented in the “Astrology refuting hoax” for thousands of years and CHOSE NOT to include a 13th constellation.

There is nothing new about the 13th constellation or the shift in the signs. The ancient Greeks, who were the first to cast astrological “Natal Charts,” were quite aware of these two issues. In fact, Claudius Ptolemy wrote extensively about the 13th sign and the procession of the equinox in the 2nd century AD. As you can see, there is nothing new under the Sun.

Ophiuchus, the so called 13th sign, was not adopted into Astrology because the Sun barely touches the constellation during its path through the Zodiac. It also doesn’t fit into the Babylonians’ sexagesimal system that is based on 60 and 12. That is why we have 60 minutes in an hour and two sets of 12 hours in a day. That is also the reason behind the decision to have 12 signs in the Zodiac and not 13.

With all due respect, most of the people who rebuke Astrology have little knowledge about the ancient art. Intellectual giants the like of Johannes Kepler (considered by many the father of modern astronomy), Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Carl Jung, Benjamin Franklin and Sir Isaac Newton all knew about these two anomalies in Astrology. However, they continued to practice, study and develop astrological theories that resulted in amazing predictions and insights. (http://cosmicnavigator.com/blog/gahl-sasson/Astrology/Astrology-rocks-some-historical-magic)

Astrologers for centuries have incorporated the earth wobble in their understanding of the connection between the heavenly bodies and life on earth. Ever heard about “The Age of Aquarius?” The reason why we have these ages and why they move backward (Age of Aquarius follows the Age of Pisces) is because of the wobble of the earth.  So to claim astrologers had not known about this phenomenon or chose to ignore it is simply ridiculous.

4 – Astrology is a system of symbols and metaphors designed to help us connect to the universe, just like the words and metaphors found in the various spiritual texts from around the world.

Many people claim that Astrology has no scientific backing and therefore cannot provide “real” help to humanity. I was stunned to see that this assertion regarding Astrology, came from the Christian Science Monitor, a news organization owned by a church.

But wait, there is no scientific proof of the resurrection of Christ, and yet the teaching of Jesus can still inspire love and compassion. There is no archeological proof of the Exodus and yet millions live and die by the teaching of Moses. There is no evidence to support Muhammad’s nightly flight on a winged horse from Mecca to Jerusalem. However, the holiest shrine for Islam, the Dome of the Rock, was built to commemorate that event on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Help and healing can be provided by systems that have no scientific proof, and have been for hundreds of years. I am not saying that these events did not happen. I am just noting that there is NO scientific proof that they did. However, the power of these systems of belief is undeniable.
Handled in the right way, Astrology can help guide us to a better future. Over the last 15 years I have personally experienced Astrology prove herself again and again in remarkable ways with clients of all ages, races, nationalities, and genders. I can only hope that she will do for you, what she has done for me and thousands of my clients. 

“Obviously Astrology has much to offer psychology, but what the latter can offer its elder sister is less evident.”
  —C.G Jung

Gahl E. Sasson teaches Astrology, Mythology and Kabbalah worldwide. His books A Wish Can Change Your Life (endorsed by HH the 14th Dalai Lama) and Cosmic Navigator, have been translated worldwide.  www.CosmicNavigator.com

The Hebrascope: Signs of the Jewdiac


(April 21-May 20)
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Barbra Streisand

During this birthday period, it makes sense to expect things to be all about you. Sadly, friends and family aren’t so sensitive to your needs. The trick is to divide your expectations in half and you’ll enjoy yourself twice as much. Family and friends aren’t trying to steal your thunder; they’re only human and thus likely to want some attention for themselves. Generally, the stars wouldn’t suggest tucking yourself into a protective cocoon for a little healing and rejuvenating. This week is different. Spend an afternoon in your own world, watching your own lame TV shows, reading magazines, eating popcorn in bed and generally isolating yourself from other people. You will emerge anew, with perhaps a few popcorn kernels in your hair, but otherwise refreshed.

(May 21 — June 20)
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Barry Levinson

Gemini loves to socialize on the job, especially now. The math goes something like this: One hour on a work project, 20 minutes discussing last night’s game in the break room, two hours in a meeting, half an hour debating whether or not the temp has been surgically enhanced. Here’s the thing, in order to ever make headway in terms of your career, you may have to keep your nose to the grindstone for awhile instead of in other people’s business or a particularly fascinating salon.com article. Self-employed Geminis should consider holding a social gathering, attending a trade show or throwing a gallery exhibit to expose your work to a wider audience.

(June 21-July 20)
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Sydney Pollack

All those big ideas floating around in your keppe just need a little faith, hope and cash. That’s easy for your horoscope to say, but perhaps hard to muster. The stars say otherwise, but advise you to think things through carefully before investing time and money. A burst of confidence and luck will galvanize your efforts, just be careful to ponder every possible outcome before taking any leaps. It may be tedious, but will certainly be useful. Saturday, a casual lunch with friends or family may reach “My Dinner With Andre” proportions. Expect stimulating conversations and don’t cram too many plans into your day so that you can fully enjoy the interaction without having to check your watch.

(July 21 — August 21)

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Monica Lewinsky

If there’s a burst in the real estate bubble, that doesn’t matter much to Leo right now. An investment in a first home or condo is advised, according to celestial influences. Leos who already own property might think about doing some improvements this week. As for long time homeowners, it’s been years of looking at that monthly mortgage like it’s the boogeyman, scrimping and saving and being conscientious of every little splurge. Finally, the end is in sight as that home may be almost paid off. Look for socializing to ramp up from May 3-29, when Venus (the planet of love) visits impulsive Aries in your ninth house of ideas. You will not only be attracted to new people, but to new ideas.

(August 22-September 22)
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Adam Sandler

Traveling, or even just a rough daily commute, is beginning to wear on you, grinding you down both spiritually and physically. This is a good time to find a workout buddy. You are far less likely to miss that personal training session if it’s also a fun hour of chatting and even good-natured whining about your evil trainer and her evil squats. What’s more, if you’ve pre-paid, the guilt factor will also provide an incentive to get you to the gym, yoga studio or duo Pilates session. Think about it. What better way to counteract the stress of being trapped on planes or in automobiles than by simply moving your body? Strengthen a friendship while you strengthen your muscles and make even better use of your time.

(September 23-October 22)
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Michael Douglas

Partnerships are big for Libra this week. Whether it’s a professional partnership that’s moving ahead, or the announcement of an engagement or even an impending cohabitation, the stars have your back if you are teaming up in any significant way. Collaboration is favored up until May 29. Tuesday, some confusion could arise involving a love affair. It may feel lasting and permanent, but your horoscope says this small romantic blip will be all cleared up by Wednesday.

(October 23-November 22)
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Jonas Salk

People like people who like them. It’s such a simple concept that Dale Carnegie would be rolling his eyes. Still, it’s something we often forget. This week, folks will be looking to you for validation and approval. It doesn’t take much, like the old saying goes, a handful of peanuts and a pat on the back. It costs you nothing to shell out a few compliments to those around you who look up to you, and in the end it creates much good will. A meaningful conversation could mark the end of this week, as could especially poignant interactions with those in your circle who are younger than you are.

(November 23-December 20)
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Harpo Marx

Heads up to the Sagittarius worker: you will be walking into what feels like an ambush at work. Be armed with patience and flexibility. Check all your facts and figures when it comes to paperwork. Employ all of your teamwork skills and be ready to tackle tasks using creativity. By midweek, things will cool off at work just in time for a romantic slump to come to an end, as Venus moves into Aries on Wednesday. Pay special attention to your hygiene, floss, wax, get those roots done, bleach the moustache, trim the bangs and don’t be afraid to splurge on at least one big luxury item. Don’t feel guilty about buying yourself something you’ve been wanting. Your horoscope says it’s OK.

(December 21-January 19)
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Dave Attell

Envy and irritability — they aren’t your friends but they seem to be tagging along everywhere you go this week, leading to feelings of frustration. Instead of plotting your revenge on the people who are annoying you the most, dig down deep for some compassion. At the very least, lay low and avoid any altercations you may regret later. A partner or family member may seem indifferent to practical matters that concern you. Instead of presenting a lecture complete with PowerPoint presentation on all of the flaws in their thinking (or lack thereof), remember that the quality of this relationship is more important to you than being right.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 18)
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Ted Koppell

It may be tempting to jump into a new relationship, as passion intensifies this week. Try to slow your pace and protect any financial assets. You may not be Trump with a pre-nuptial agreement the size of “War and Peace,” but we can all be taken advantage of when our heart is in charge. Look forward to community celebration midweek. Also, you may feel overwhelmed now just thinking of all your friends and family scattered throughout the world. How do you keep in touch? Dedicate at least an hour this week and roll some calls. Once you get in the habit of keeping in touch, it will seem less daunting and ultimately rewarding.

(February 19-March 20)
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Josh Groban

This week opens like a scene from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” There may be lots of shouting and betrayal. The whole situations will be high drama with plenty of unnerving interactions. The resolution of this drama could be ruthless, but it will at least be swift, coming to a resolution by midweek, when uplifting astrological patterns are in your favor. Relatives and friends support you, spontaneous outbursts of fun attract you, and you may even be in for a streak of luck. Curious Pisces may wish to dabble in gossip, but you would do better to plan for an overseas trip that will satisfy your curiosity more deeply and with less trash talking.

(March 21-April 20)
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Matthew Broderick

It sounds like a conundrum, but it’s just crazy enough to work. Cooperate with others this week and you will stand out as an individual. Your ability to facilitate teamwork and put your own ego aside will be noticed and appreciated. The only bitter taste in your otherwise sweet week is an outstanding debt — either a credit card or mortgage payment that’s overdue and may cause stress with a partner or family member. Take care of the debt so that extra charges don’t start piling up — and know that financial freedom is on the horizon as an unexpected check is likely to come in just when you need it.