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December 14, 2012
 

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PAGE ~ HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 14, 2012 By Linda Gradstein The Media Line Damascus is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. International flights into and out of the capital con- tinued despite throughout 20-months of fighting be- tween troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar AI-Assad and the rebels seeking to depose him. Butas of Friday, the flights have stopped. The decision was taken and all flights were can- celled when government jets bombed rebel posi- tions close to the airport. EgyptAir announced on Sunday that it would re- sume flights to Damascus, but that did not appear to happen. The Egyptian flag- carrier had been operating daily flights between Cairo and Damascus, as well as several weekly flights from Cairo to Aleppo. Ali Zein EI-Abedeen of EgyptAir told The Media Line that flights to Aleppo were resumed on Monday, but the flight to Damascus did not take off. In any case, the nation's tourism industry, an impor- tant sector in quieter times, has -- not surprisingly -- been decimated by the fight- ing, which has left more than 40,000 Syrians, many of them civilians, dead. Tourism was responsible for five percent of Syria's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2011, and directly supported 270,000 jobs according to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council. Arab tourists do not need visas to visit Syria, and more than three million tradi- tionally come annually for family visits or on business. "I used to go to Syria for a week every month," Ad- nan Habbab, the owner of Nawafir Tours in Jordan told The Media Line. "There are 3,000 archaeological sites in Syria alone." It takes just two hours to drive, or 25 minutes to fly between Amman and Damascus. Habbab's agency marketed week-long tours of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to Europeans and sold between 10,000 and 12,000 packages every year. They even opened two hotels in Damascus. Now, he says, he has laid-off 90 of his one hundred employees. "We lost millions of dol- lars in profit," he said. "Since May 2011, everyone has cancelled their trips to Syria." The American govern- ment has issued a stern warning against travel to Syria. "The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens against travel to Syria and strongly recom- mends that U.S. citizens remaining in Syria depart immediately," the warning says. "This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warn- ing dated August 1, 2012, to remind U.S. citizens that the security situation remains volatile and unpredictable throughout the country, with an increased risk of kidnappings, and to update contact information. No part of Syria should be considered immune from violence, and the potential exists throughout the coun- try for hostile acts, includ- ing kidnappings." While several foreign airlines includingAirArabia and Fly Dubai, in addition to EgyptAir, had been operat- ing flights to Damascus, they had cut their numbers significantly during the past few months. Only a handful of flights were landing in Damascus even before the current stoppage. "Damascus has always been a place where flight service has been incredibly volatile," Toby Nicol, the communications director for the World Travel and Tourism Council told The Media Line. "Ettihad Air was due to resume flying next month, and Air Dubai still lists flights to Syria, but I have no idea of who is currently flying." Nicols says that he has not visited Damascus and does not plan to in the near future. "It's one of those places where I always meant to go but never got around to it," he said. "Now it will probably have to wait for at least 18 months." There seems to be no end in sight for the fighting in Syria. Turkish officials said Syria resumed an aerial attack on the rebel-held town of Ras al-Ain, near the border with Turkey. They said two bombs hit a Syrian security building that had been captured by the rebels. The officials said shrapnel from the bombing landed on Turkish territory but no one was injured. By Chavie Lieber FALLS VILLAGE, Conn. (JTA)---As a gentle snow fell on the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center last Friday evening, some 85 people gathered inside a wooden lodge to welcome Shabbat--half in a medita- tion circle in which Grate- ful Dead lyrics served as a kind of mantra, the other in a more "traditional" ser- vice where the Lecha Dodi prayer was sung to the tune of the Dead classic "Ripple." ltwas the second install- ment of Blues for Challah, a weekend retreat that attracts dozens of Jewish Deadheads--or "grown- up hippies retracing their past," as one participant described the scene--to this placid corner of the Connecticut countryside to bask in their collective love and reverence for the Grateful Dead. Over the course of two days, a colorful sea of devotees--clad, unsurpris- ingly, in tie-dye, hemp and oversized knityarmulkes-- munched on organic food, swapped stories of their days following the Dead and tripping on acid, and of course, jammed. ~The Dead was a travel- ing band, they were always picking up and moving," Yoseph Needelman, a Dead- head from Jerusalem and the author of a book about the use of marijuana by Chasidic rabbis, told JTA. Their songs always talk about a road, a path, or driv- ing to get back on a journey. That directly relates to a Jewish journey of traveling to find the right path, and the Chasidic concept of this world being a passageway. Jews and the Dead relate in that we both wander. A product of the 1960s San Francisco counter- culture, the Grateful Dead inspired a fanatical loyalty horn fans drawn as much by their music as the travel- ing carnival of seekers and misfits that followed them from venue to venue and obsessively trafficked in bootlegged recordings of their I rformances. Thoagh iUs been nearly 20 Mars since the death of Jerry Garcia, the band's frontman and creative force, Dead continues Chavie Lieber Jewish Grateful Dead fans celebrating the Havdalah during the Blues for Challah retreat at the Isabella Freedman Center in Falls Village, Conn., Dec. 1. to be a cultural and com- mercial force--especially for the disproportionately large number of Deadheads who happen to be Jews. "As Jews, we're always searching for a sense of community and accep- tance, and being in the Grateful Dead scene was a way to be yourself with no judgments, since the crowd is so diverse," said Arthur Kurzweil, the author, Jew- ish educator, magician and Deadhead who was the weekend's keynote speaker. "That old balding guy dancing next to you whose big belly is covered with a tie-dye shirt will go back to his job tomorrow as a banker. But at a Dead show, it doesn't matter what he does." Kurzweii isn't the only one who has wondered about those burly Dead- heads. In "Perspectives of the Dead, a collection of scholarly essays about the band published in 1999, Douglas Gertner noted how many Garcia Iookalikes at- tended shows--"big men with thick dark curly hair and beards." Only later does Gertner realize that these bearded men are, like him, members of an "extended community" of Jewish Deadheads. Understanding the in- tense loyalty inspired by the Dead is a plaguing existential question that echoes through every Jew- ish Deadhead's mind at some point or another. Since its earliest days, Jews have been important figures in the scene that grew up around the band. The legendary music promoter Bill Graham, an early champion of the Dead, was a German-born Jewish refugee from the Nazis. Mandolinist David Grisman was a longtime collaborator, contributing the signature mandolin part on the studio version of "Ripple." Les Kippel was an early pioneer in the trading of live recordings and the founder of Relix magazine, a newsletter for traders. "Going to a show is kind of like going to a family simcha," said the 65-year- old Kippel, who now works for an auction house in Florda. "You knew everyone there and you felt like you belonged. It made me feel like I needed to connect with everyone around me and get everyone involved who wasn't there." Kippel spent some 15 years taping Dead shows and created the First Free Underground Grateful Dead Tape Exchange in 1973 to help circulate the record- ings among fans. He would organize people to bring recording equipment, both to split the costs and con- fuse security guards--"sort of the same way a kibbutz operates," he said. "It went from a simple act of wanting to preserve the experience to collecting it, which reminded me a lot of how we preserve Judaism," Kippel said. "Our ancestors cherish our past and we try to preserve it, which is why Jewish Deadheads are obsessed with preserving the shows. We were a family gathering." Only one member of the band, Mickey Hart, is Jewish. And unlike Phish, the jam band that most closely followed in the Dead's endlessly touring, live tape-trading ways, the Dead never worked Hebrew classics like "Avinu Malkeinu" into its concert repertoire. But for many Jews, attending shows was akin to a religious experi- ence and the band's lyrics contain powerful spiritual messages. "The Baal Shem Tov taught that the way you look at things throughout your day can be an expres- sion in the way you relate to God," Yosef Langer said. "I was blown away when I found that exact concept in the Dead's 'Scarlet Be- gonias' song when they sing, 'Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.' " Langer, who has worked as a Chabad emissary in the San Francisco Bay Area since the 1970s, got help from Graham to place a 25- foot mahogany menorah in the middle of the city for Chanukah in 1974, a ritual that persists to this day. In the 1980s, Langer spearheaded a "Grateful Yid" movement in which he set up a table at shows beneath a giant sign that read "POT." "They later learned our sign meant Put On Tefillin," Langer said. Deadheads, Jewish and non, bring a Talmudist's eye to the band's lyrics, most of them the work of lyricist Robert Hunter. "Eyes of the World," from the band's 1973 album "Wake of the Flood," con- tains messages "about how my behavior in this world is reflected onto others, and how I can reflect divinity," said Leah Chava Reiner, a 52-year-old from Mas- sachusetts whose embrace of her Jewish roots initially manifested through listen- ing to the Dead. "He's come to take his children home," a line from one of the band's best- known songs, "Uncle John's Band," is a reference to the ingathering of the tribes, according to Moshe Shur, one of the leaders of the retreat weekend. "There's something about the music that is so beautiful, it's religious," said Shur, an Orthodox rabbi who got close to the band while living on a California commune in the 1970s. "It's funny to see the way Jews also exchange bits and information about Dead shows and songs like an encyclopedia, the way they do about Talmud, but it makes sense," said David Freelund, one of a number of rabbis who attended the retreat. "As a people, we have an intimate relation- ship with texts. We are the originals who study and critique text, so of course Jewish Deadheads will dis- sect lyrics." But the Dead community is more than a bunch of graying hippies obsessing over musical curios and obscure lyrical references. For most attendees at the retreat, the draw is the same as the band itself. Meeting a fellow Jewish Deadhead ignites an instant bond, a feeling of family. Q