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August 25, 2016 / 21 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Albert Einstein’

Gaza – A Port is No Panacea for Poverty

Saturday, May 28th, 2016

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.

Attributed to Albert Einstein

 Just when you thought that you could not possibly hear anything more preposterous on how to help resolve the  conflict with the Palestinian-Arabs, somehow someone always manages to prove you wrong—and comes out with a policy proposal so glaringly absurd that it transcends what you  mistakenly believed was the pinnacle of imbecility.

 

Harebrained and hazardous

Disturbingly, precisely such a hopelessly hare-brained scheme is now being repeatedly bandied about by Israelis in positions of influence.

This is the idea of providing Gaza with what, in effect, will be a detachable civilian port under Israeli supervision , built on an off-shore artificial island, connected to the mainland by a bridge over 4 kilometers long, which can, according to its proponents, easily be disconnected should the Gazans “misbehave”.

Actually, this nonsensical notion has been around for quite some time. Indeed as early as 2011 the British daily, The Guardian, reported that Yisrael Katz, Israel’s minister for transport, was pursuing the idea, which he estimated would cost $10 billion and take about a decade to complete.

Lately, however, it has been raised with increasing frequency in the media, and publically endorsed by both government ministers and senior IDF brass.

Thus, earlier this year, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant, currently Construction Minister, formerly head of Southern Command expressed his support for the idea in an interview with Bloomberg (March 1).

Just prior to that, Haaretz (February 24) reported that “Senior Israel Defense Forces officers are in favor in principle of a port for the Gaza Strip”, and just last week the Jerusalem Post (May 21) wrote: “High up within the defense establishment, some believe that the time has come for Israel to set up a civilian seaport for the Gaza Strip”.

 

Detachable port? Detached from reality!

Indeed, at a conference held this weekend in New York, Yisrael Katz, who now, in addition to his former transport portfolio, holds the newly created post of intelligence minister, reiterated his previous support for the construction of a port of Gaza on an artificial off-shore island,: “The off-shore project could provide Gaza with an economic and humanitarian gateway to the world without endangering Israeli security.”

This, of course, is demonstrably detached from reality—but more on that a little later.

I confess that the first time I heard of this appallingly absurd idea was in a private conversation several months ago with someone (whom I shall leave nameless) recently designated as a serious contender for the position of head of the Mossad, to replace previous director, Tamir Pardo.

I remember at the time being taken aback by an idea, so clearly ill-conceived and  ill-fated, being promoted by someone so senior – but took (false) comfort in the belief that it was so wildly outlandish that it would never be given serious consideration by those in authority.

As it turns out, I was sadly mistaken—as this perilous proposal continues to enjoy sustained attention in the discourse.

 

Soldiers turned sociologists?

Perhaps most disturbing are the reports of the support the idea received from senior IDF officers – both past and present—and the rationale that this support appears based on.  For typically, it has nothing to do with any military considerations or operational advantage Israel might gain from the provision of such port facilities to the terrorist-controlled enclave—but rather on a (highly questionable) assessment of socio-economic trends in Gaza, the ramifications this may have for the Gazan public, and how a port might allegedly address it.

Thus one well-informed correspondent on military affairs describes reasons that underpin that “rationale” for want of a better word: “Hamas, the argument goes, would be hard pressed to careen down the slope of a new war with Israel, even if it wanted to, if the Gazan economy were to begin to take off, enjoying imports and exports, allowing for jobs and income, and giving the civilian population something to lose. While there is no doubt that Hamas is responsible for Gaza’s dire economic state by insisting on jihad with Israel rather than investing in its people’s welfare, Israeli defense officials still feel that they can and should assist the Gazan people attain a better life.”

While some may find this professed concern for the welfare of enemy civilians both noble and a reflection of “enlightened self-interest”, in truth it portends ominous outcomes for Israel and Israelis.

For it is a position that is so diametrically at odds with past experience, and flies so directly in the face of the facts of recent decades that it is difficult to know what is more disturbing: Whether the supporters of the proposal really believe what they are saying; or whether they are saying it despite the fact that they don’t.

 

Reinforcing the rationale for terror

Of no less concern is that this position echoes the sentiments expressed by both Ministers Katz and Galant  that “The biggest danger to Israel is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza…If Gaza had the ability to bring ships, and goods, without posing a security problem, that is in everybody’s interest.”

For it is a message that strongly reinforces the rationale justifying terror, implying that it is largely economic privation that is the primary cause of the Judeocidal terror emanating from Gaza, and if the residents of that ill-fated strip were afforded greater prosperity, this would operate to stifle the motivation to perpetrate acts of terror.

This is a thesis that is wrong on virtually every level. Firstly, it is risible to believe that Hamas, that has deliberately put its own civilians in harm’s way, gives a hoot about their economic well-being. After all, if it has scant regard for their lives, why should their livelihood be of greater concern?

Indeed, it is far more likely that if the general economic situation were to improve, Hamas would coercively appropriate much of this new found wealth for its own belligerent needs–with prosperity thus making it more potent–not more pacific.

Perversely, perhaps a more effective, but heretically politically-incorrect, suggestion for removing Hamas would be to allow socio-economic conditions to deteriorate so drastically that the general populace would rise up against it, depose it and ensconce a hopefully more amenable regime, with greater sensitivity for its needs.

But I digress.

To suggest that by alleviating economic hardship, Israel could alleviate terror is, in effect, not only inverting the causal relationship between the two, but it also implies that the victim of terror is to blame for his attackers’ aggression against him. Little could be more counterproductive—and misleading for Israel.

 

Port no panacea for poverty

Of course, as I have demonstrated at length elsewhere, the allegedly dire situation in Gaza is not the cause of the terror that emanates from it. It is the consequence of that terror. The onerous measures that Israel is compelled to undertake to ensure the safety of its citizens is not the reason for, but the result of that terror. If the latter were eliminated, there would be no need for the former—and far more rational solutions than a multi-billion dollar artificial island could be found to facilitate the flow of goods and people to and from Gaza.

Indeed, no great analytical acumen should be required to swiftly bring us to the conclusion that a port in Gaza will never be a panacea for the poverty of the population.

Hamas, and its other terrorist cohorts, are not burrowing tunnels because Gaza has no port. They are burrowing them despite the fact it does not have one.

After all, Gaza does have a modern port, under Israeli supervision, at its disposal barely 35 km. north of it, in Ashdod.

Under conditions of peace (or even credible non-belligerency), Ashdod can supply all Gaza’s supervised civilian needs, without squandering billions on a fanciful floating island port.

However, under conditions of on-going belligerency, even under the strictest Israeli supervision, there is no way—short of taking control of Gaza—to ensure that dual purpose material such as cement, fertilizer and steel will not be used for belligerent objectives

.

“Hamas stealing 95% of civilian cement…” The intensity of this problem—and the futility of a Gaza port as a means of solving ,or even alleviating it, was vividly highlighted  by a recent report in the International Business Times (May 26).

It cited the director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Dr. Dore Gold, who speaking at the UN World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, revealed that Hamas has been siphoning off 95% of the cement transferred into the Gaza Strip intended to rebuild homes, so that it can use it for military purposes and tunnel construction. Gold told the conference: “From our own investigations we found that out of every 100 sacks of cement that come into the Gaza strip … only five or six are transferred to civilians.”

So, even if the island port were under tight inspection, how could Israel ensure that the building materials that went to construct the recently discovered tunnels would be used for more benign purposes? How could it ensure that steel was not being used to fabricate missiles and the means to launch them? Or fertilizers being diverted for the manufacture of explosives?

Moreover, one might also ask how, as opposed to the case of Ashdod port,  is Israeli supervision to be maintained, and the safety of the Israeli personnel be ensured in the isolated off-shore port, should they–as is far from implausible–be set upon by a bloodthirsty local mob?

 

Humanitarian solution for humanitarian crisis The grave economic situation that plagues Gaza will not be alleviated by giving Gaza access to port facilities, which it, in principle, already has available to it.

As noted earlier, Israeli restrictions on the flow of goods are not the cause of Arab enmity, but the consequence thereof. The crippling unemployment, reportedly above 40%, will not be alleviated by transferring Israeli supervision from Ashdod and the Gaza border crossings to an off-shore islet.

There is soaring unemployment because any creative energies that might exist, are not channeled by those who rule Gaza toward productive/constructive goals, but into fomenting violence against the hated “Zionist entity.” A port will not change those realities.

Indeed, it is likely to exacerbate them.

The penury of the enclave is not due to lack of resources, but to the preferences and priorities of the brigands who govern it, and as events have shown, the only way Israel can determine who governs Gaza – and who does not – is by governing it itself.

Katz, Galant and IDF senior brass are , of course, right that Israel should defuse the brewing humanitarian crisis in Gaza – which is demonstrably the consequence of the ill-conceived two-state approach and misguided attempts to foist statehood on the Palestinian-Arabs.

But it is a humanitarian crisis that requires a genuine humanitarian solution: Generously funded humanitarian relocation of the non-belligerent Arab population elsewhere, out of harm’s way, and extension of Israeli sovereignty over the region.

 

“Perhaps now would be a good time…

Indeed, there is no other approach –whether with a port or without it — that can:

• Provide a durable solution to the problem of Gaza;

• Eliminate the threat to Israel continually issuing from Gaza; and

• Preclude the need for Israel to “rule over another people.”

Indeed, as one appraisal of the port proposal in the Jewish Press (March 24)  concluded its critique “Perhaps now would be a good time to put into action one of those programs that advocate paying local Arabs to [e]migrate to better places..”

Indeed, perhaps it is.

Dr. Martin Sherman

How Albert Einstein defeated the Greek Empire – Hanukkah Special [audio]

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

Tune in to this Hanukkah special to find out how Albert Einstein’s paradigm shattering discovery of E=MC2 dealt a final blow in the age old battle between the Hellenists and the Hebrew prophets.

As Israel stands alone, surrounded by 23 Arab and 57 Muslim countries, the truth of Chanukah must be internalized now more than ever.

But what was the war between the Maccabees and the Greeks really about?

Was it merely oil lasting longer than expected or is there a far greater lesson which we must learn in facing the existential challenges that the free world faces today?

Ari Abramowitz & Jeremy Gimpel

Does God Ever Play Dice With the Universe? A Jewish Response.

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Einstein once said upon being confronted with the rising dominance of the Quantum Theory which asserts certain absolute uncertainties in the universe: “I cannot believe God plays dice with the universe.” This phrase has often been repeated, insofar as Einstein had a way with engaging phases sometimes rivaling his way with engaging ideas. The issue, moreover, is one which I believe not simply has philosophical relevance for science but one which has vital practical and philosophical relevance for religion. It is an issue, moreover, where Judaism provides some illuminating core responses.

Firstly, the suggestion that chaos was originally included in creation is conveyed in Genesis where it is asserted that when earth was created “the earth being unformed and void” (Gen: 1:2). The latter term given in Hebrew is “tohu and vohu,” generally translated as “formless and void” and more specifically as waste and chaos. This is linked with the ancient associations of “chaos” and when followed by a reference to water i.e. “a wind from God sweeping over the water” may be understood as a containing a “formlessness” or “randomness.” This randomness is supplanted by the introduction of “order” through light i.e. God said “ Let there be light “ (Gen: 1: 3).

The question then arises as to whether this “randomness” is entirely replaced by order or whether there is some residual aspect where certain randomness prevails. The Talmud asserts and the Rambam poignantly reminds us that “All is in the hands of God except fear of God” (Ber. 33b; Niddah 16b) Consequently there is the suggestion that some residual randomness that may be allocated to “free will” which is first represented in the garden when Eve and Adam choose to consume the forbidden fruit.

The “exception” here outside the realm of order is therefore is within the framework of human choice .It may be observed that the randomness here does not apply to what should be followed but rather by what is followed by humankind. In short it is a descriptive randomness rather than a prescriptive one. It is randomness, however, not in the sense it is arbitrary, but rather in the sense that within the framework of time it is unpredictable. The “fear” that remains is the fear of humankind ; it is not an accidental happening. God has endowed humankind with a choice. As stated in the Torah, Gen: 11:26.”See, this day I have set before you blessing and curse, blessing if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, curse if you don’t obey the commandments.” Here we also offered the profound insight of the Jewish mid-evil philosopher Gersonides, who maintains (within “Wars of the Lord , iii, 6) that at least within the framework of time (note: outside time is another matter which only God can transcend) that the choice itself is allowed to be unpredictable and left up to humankind.

Further, what may be called “luck” or “chance” in human events may also fit well into this perspective. In the Torah we find human choices leading to circumstances where what appears as “luck” or “chance” presents events that allow a favorable outcome although not determining it. Further Jewish history supplements this with an abundance of such developments, such as Joseph ending up in Egypt, Abraham’s servant Eliezer returning with Rebecca etc.

The events of the purim (which significantly means lots) story provides a paradigmatic example of such developments. In such instances, human choices are coupled with unexpected opportunities that allow a favorable outcome if further correct choices are rendered. The king Ahasuerus after approached by Esther and a bout of insomnia his scribes read the royal log and learns of Mordechi’s rescue. Consequently we may speak of a kind of destiny in these developments, but it is a destiny that emerges from opportunities rather than guarantees, and where human interaction with God’s granted opportunities is needed to complete the formation of a positive picture. It is, moreover, a destiny that requires an unpredictability and in this sense may be described as a “soft destiny” as opposed to a “hard destiny” devoid of human decision making. Chaos is required here, but it is a chaos where creation is ongoing and through God’s benevolence, is shared with humankind.

Howard Zik

Echoes Of The Big Bang

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

“Space Ripples Reveal Big Bang’s Smoking Gun,” Dennis Overbye recently informed us in The New York Times. A few years ago, scientists suggested that the Big Bang must have passed a series of phases throughout its development into its present size. The most dramatic phase, the cosmological theory asserts, was the Inflation period, which, immediately after the Big Bang, caused the universe “to swell faster than the speed of light for a prodigiously violent instant.”

This inflationary phase, scientists surmised, must have generated gravitational waves, which should be detectable in the universe, same as the cosmic background radiation detected by Penzias and Wilson in 1978. Last month, scientists were able to identify those gravitational waves. The Big Bang was confirmed, again.

In my book, Awesome Creation, I present a Jewish perspective on the Big Bang (combined with a skeptical view on our cognitive abilities to search cosmogony) based primarily on Maimonides’s world of ideas.

In the first chapter, I explain that for decades the Big Bang theory was considered by the scientific community – and criticized for being – a religious theory. The Big Bang theory was the first time the scientific community entertained the notion that the universe had a beginning.

For centuries the notion of “beginning” was taboo for science; scientists were more comfortable maintaining the Aristotelian model of an eternal universe that kept God out of the picture. In the words of science author Simon Singh: “An eternal universe seemed to strike a chord with the scientific community…. If the universe has existed for eternity, then there was no need to explain how it was created, when it was created, why it was created and Who created it. Scientists were particularly proud that they had developed a theory of the universe that no longer relied on invoking God.”

Since 1930, when the expansion of the universe was discovered by Edwin Hubble and the beginning of the universe seemed more and more evident, secular scientists like Fred Hoyle, Arthur Eddington, and Albert Einstein were frustrated. Reflecting on this sentiment Robert Jastrow wrote: “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

In his book A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking summarized in one sentence the reason naturalistic scientists resisted a scientific theory that posited a beginning for the universe: “So long as the universe had a beginning we could suppose it had a creator.”

These scientists rejected the Big Bang theory and tried finding an alternative cosmological model that would circumvent the idea of beginning and still be compatible with the proven expansion of the universe. Contemporary theories include the multiverses theory (our universe is just one universe among a multitude universes, which spontaneously begin from time to time); the Big-Crunch or the Oscillating universe (our universe had a beginning in time, but it will eventually shrink, crush and start again, so there was never really an absolute beginning) or Hawking’s no-boundary universe (the universe is like the North Pole, which does not have an end or a beginning).

These theories, with no factual evidence to support them, were formulated with one main goal in mind: avoiding the uncomfortable question posed by the problematic idea of beginning, i.e., Creation.

In light of the increasing soundness of the Big Bang theory, especially after 1978, scientists like Hawking appealed to the “time-factor,” conveying the perception that the Big Bang model is a God-excluding theory because it postulates that the universe is 13.5 billion years old, not 5,774 as biblical religions believe. His argument was very effective. Many religious people today believe the Big Bang opposes religion because of the pivotal differences regarding time since Creation, overlooking the unlikely correspondence between the first word of the Hebrew Bible, bereishit (in the beginning), and the main novelty of the Big Bang theory – namely, that there was indeed a beginning.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton

WoW, Charedim, and Learning from History

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

 Once again we are going to witness an event this Sunday that may become violent. Innocent people may be hurt. And the negative press for religious Jews could not be much worse.

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same experiment twice and expecting different results.

I am not going to accuse anyone of being insane. But I have to wonder how rabbis who many consider to be the greatest leaders of our generation can ask their adherents to protest the next appearance at the Kotel by the Women of the Wall (WoW) and not expect it to turn violent. Even if the chances are low – is it worth the chance?

Nor can I understand the stridency by which WoW insists on making their point. Two stubborn groups at odds with each other in matters of religion is a sure prescription for confrontation. The history from which we are supposed to learn will be ignored.

As most people who have been following these events know, WoW shows up at the Kotel every Rosh Chodesh to pray by using male modalities such as wearing a Talis and Teffillin; and bringing a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) to read from. Although last month they avoided reading from the Torah in acquiescence to a request by Religious Services Minister, Naftali Bennett – they plan to resume doing so this Sunday.

As much as I believe that many members of WoW are sincere in their desire to pray at the Kotel in this manner, I don’t think there can be any doubt that this is more about asserting feminist rights than it is about prayer (especially by WoW leaders like Anat Hoffman).  They have found a clever way of doing this by technically not violating Halacha.

But I am hard pressed to believe WoW’s leaders did not think this would upset the sensibilities of the vast majority of Jews who do come there to pray in traditional ways. If they were truly sincere only about prayer and did not want to be provocative they would have respected tradition and found an area of the Kotel that was out of the way and not as disruptive.

It is indeed provocative for WoW to act in this manner in any traditional environment. This is certainly true at the Kotel, which is so near to the place where the holy of holies existed in the Temple era.  Does their right to wear a Talis and Teffilin override  the almost certain violence it will bring to this holy place? Do they really need this ‘Mexican standoff’? Is it worth it? Do they think their stridency is what God desires of them?

I understand that some women need to do more than simply pray. They need to wrap themselves in something tangible – like a Talis and Teffilin  to boost their sense of holiness. But in the end – using a male modality to generate that feeling is not what God intends for women… or He would have mandated those artifacts for them too.

How sadly lacking are these women in their Jewish education if they cannot generate the proper feelings for prayer that millions of women over the millennia have had without those artifacts.

I can’t predict the future. But my guess is that this type of thing is so out of the mainstream that it will not stand the test of time and eventually go the way of the Dodo Bird. I have to ask, how many religious women of any denomination would opt for this method of prayer?

Which is why I have been saying that we should just ignore them. Yes they are somewhat disruptive and annoying in their once a month appearance. But it is my true belief that this monthly occurrence will not last in perpetuity. It will fizzle out.

If the Charedi world will let it.

But they apparently refuse to let it happen. They have instead declared war on these women… and insist on making a public spectacle out of it. They are going to once again show up in massive numbers at the Kotel this Sunday to pray. The claim is that they just want to show how many people do not approve of WoW’s behavior and also to physically crowd them out. The JerusalemPost quotes the Yated Ne’eman who put it this way:

“A mass prayer service will be conducted at the Western Wall in order to express the outcry of faithful Judaism against the severe injury to the holiest and most beloved place of all of the Jewish people, and in so doing to declare… that the Jewish world will not be quiet and will not be reconciled to the humiliating conspiracy to turn the remnant of our holy sanctuary into a Reform temple and a media spectacle, God forbid,”

And then they said the following:

“(Worshipers) are requested not to be dragged along after the provocations whose only purpose is to harm the community of worshipers, and to behave according to the path of the holy Torah and to sanctify God’s name.

First they approve of theYated making a provocative statement  like calling WoW’s actions a ‘humiliating conspiracy’ and then they expect protesters not to get violent. They have even asked that only married Yeshiva students should come in order to minimize the potential for physical conflict.

Sure… That’ll work! The same way it did last time they called for peaceful prayer. Which was last month.  Need I remind anyone how well that turned out for them?
I hope I’m wrong. I hope that this will turn out to be as peaceful as the organizers hope it will be. Perhaps there will even be members of WoW that will be inspired by such a massive turnout for prayer and join them. Perhaps there will be no violence or shouting names at the Women of the Wall. But I am not going to hold my breath. I tend to look at history and learn from it.

Harry Maryles

Secret Posthumous Mormon Baptism of Holocaust Victims, Jewish Leaders

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

The secret posthumous baptism of key Jewish figures by the Mormon church has caused outrage in the Jewish community and led to an apology by Mormon leaders.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned the Mormon church for performing baptismal rites on the parents of Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Wiesenthal’s parents, Asher and Rosa Rapp Wiesenthal, according to the Associated Press. The baptisms took place in late January at temples in Arizona and Utah.

The proxy ceremonies are believed by Mormons to allow the deceased into the afterlife by giving them the Gospel.  Names are submitted by Mormon Church members, and are then given baptisms without their presence, or the presence or even notification of their families.

After Jewish groups protested the practice of baptizing members of their faith without their consent or the consent of the families of the deceased, the Mormon Church issued a promise in 1995 not to continue the practice.

Yet records indicate Wiesenthal’s parents, Asher and Rosa Rapp Wiesenthal, were baptized in proxy ceremonies performed by Mormon church members at temples in Arizona and Utah in late January.

The Mormon Church has baptized many figures involved in the Holocaust – and not just Jewish victims, such as Anne Frank.  Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun were also baptized by the Church in separate ceremonies decades apart, with Hitler being “bound” to his parents in a ceremony in 1993.

Other Jewish figures, such as the great Jewish sage and scholar Mamonides (Rambam), Nobel Prize winner Albert Einstein, and author Elie Wiesel have also been baptized, as well as hundreds of Holocaust victims.

“We are outraged that such insensitive actions continue in the Mormon temples,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement by the Associated Press.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints replied with an apology in a statement issued Monday.  “We sincerely regret that the actions of an individual member of the church led to the inappropriate submission of these names [of Wiesenthal’s parents],” Micharel Purdy, spokesman for the Church said.  “We consider this a serious breach of our protocol and we have suspended indefinitely this person’s ability to access our genealogy records.’’

The discovery of many posthumous baptisms has been conducted by Helen Radkey, a former Mormon who has dedicated herself to uncovering this practice and the specific individuals who have been baptized.  She also found that the family members of several US political figures – the mother of President Barack Obama and the atheist father of presidential candidate Mitt Romeny – had undergone the ritual.

Malkah Fleisher

The Positive Side of Autism: An Interview with Dr. Temple Grandin

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

            For many years, autism was considered to be a rare, mysterious and severely disabling condition. But in recent years, due at least in part to a broadening of its medical definition, the incidence of the diagnosis of autism and related disorders has risen to about 1 in every 150 babies born in this country.

 

            Today, classic childhood or infantile autism is grouped with at least four other conditions known as pervasive developmental disorders, (PDD), which are now referred to as autism spectrum disorders (ASD’s). People suffering from ASD’s typically have difficulties with social interactions and communication, a severely restricted range of interests, and a tendency to engage in repetitive patterns of behavior.

 

            Severely autistic children cannot communicate at all verbally. They seem to be absorbed in a world of their own, and are unresponsive to most external stimuli.

 

            But ASD’s also includes higher functioning children who, with early intervention and intensive help from teachers, parents and therapists, may ultimately lead near-normal lives.

 

            Some of those diagnosed with the ASD known as Asperger’s Syndrome actually exhibit superior intelligence, and their autistic tendency to screen out external stimuli enhances their ability to concentrate all of their mental faculties on a particular task or problem. It has even been seriously suggested that some of the greatest giants in the history of science and the arts closely fit the current profile of those with autism spectrum disorders.

 

            Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein both exhibited conduct which is now associated with Asperger’s syndrome. For example, Einstein was a loner as a child, and a late speaker. As an adult, he would become so obsessed with physics problems that he acted as if he was totally oblivious to his surroundings and his own physical appearance. In fact, during his later years at Princeton, Einstein defined the stereotype for the “absent-minded professor.”

 

            Behavior patterns consistent with autism spectrum disorders have also been identified with authors James Joyce, George Orwell and Lewis Carroll, philosophers Spinoza and Kant, composers Beethoven and Mozart, concert pianist Glenn Gould, and the author of the US Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson.

 

            But through most of the 20th century, the potentially positive intellectual side effects of autism went largely unrecognized. Little hope was held out for young children like Temple Grandin who were diagnosed with autism. Born in Boston in 1947, Grandin did not begin to speak until she was three and a half years old. Thanks to the devoted efforts of her mother and teachers, young Temple received the understanding, guidance and attention she needed to compensate for her autistic deficits, and find expression for her native intelligence and creativity. Encouraged to follow her natural affinity for animals, and exploit her heightened autistic sensitivities, Grandin won renown for devising more humane and efficient equipment for handling livestock on farms and in slaughterhouses.

 

            Today, Dr. Grandin is a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. She is a consultant for fast food chains Burger King and McDonald’s, and the livestock equipment that she has designed handles half of the cattle in the United States.

 

            Her unique insights into the feelings and reactions of animals, combined with a self-taught understanding of the basic concepts of shechita, have enabled her to develop a new way to position and restrain animals while being shechted, which has been widely adopted by kosher slaughterhouses in the US and Israel. Grandin innovations have helped to speed up the shechita process and reduce various halachic complications, while at the same time making the experience less painful and traumatic for the animal. She is widely recognized as an expert in the practices and technology of kosher slaughter, and a staunch defender of its humane character.

 

            Grandin is not Jewish, but her work with animals has deepened her faith in G-d and given her an enhanced sensitivity for Jewish traditions and beliefs. When she designed a new type of ramp to lead cattle into the slaughter pen, she named it, “The Stairway to Heaven.”

 

            Grandin attributes much of her success to the positive side of her autism. Her autobiographical book, “Emergence: Labeled Autistic,” published in 1986, helped to explode the myth that all autistic people live in a world of their own, shrink from human contact, and are unintelligent. It tells how she was able to grope her way “from the far side of darkness” to become living proof that “the characteristics of autism can be modified and controlled.” In her 1995 book, “Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from My Life with Autism,” Grandin explained that words are just a second language for her, and that she tends to think in “full color movies, complete with sound, which run in my head.”

 

            These books, as well as her numerous speeches and articles on the subject, have turned Grandin into one of the leading advocates for adults and children with autism spectrum disorders.

 

            In a telephone interview with Grandin, I asked her what she would say to parents of young children diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder. Her first recommendation was not to give in to despair. “Autism is a wide continuum, ranging from children who will never be able to talk all the way to geniuses like Albert Einstein,” she said.

 

            She also encourages parents of autistic children to begin aggressive remedial education as soon as possible. “Even if your child is just 2 or 3 years old, don’t let them sit in a corner. Doing nothing is the worst thing you can do for an autistic child. Get your child a really good educational program, of about 20-30 hours a week with a good teacher and a lot of 1 to 1 interaction.”

 

            Recalling her own strict upbringing in the 50’s, Grandin said, “autistic children do well in a highly structured environment.” She explained that children with autism do not instinctively, “understand social rules in the abstract. They must be taught all the rules of proper social behavior, one at a time, on a case-by-case basis. For example, they must be taught to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ When playing with others, they must learn how to take turns. When standing in line, they must learn not to push the child ahead of them. They must not eat with their hands, etc. These rules must be taught even to high- functioning autistic children, because they do not have natural instincts to guide their behavior in common social situations.”

 

            Grandin notes that autistic children are also often overly sensitive to sensory stimuli. “Some of them can’t stand noise. Others are distracted by too much starch in their clothes,” she said. She recalled meeting one autistic Jewish boy who was distracted because his yarmulka was too stiff, His behavior improved as soon as he was given a more comfortable yarmulka to wear on his head.

 

            Grandin also urges parents to encourage their autistic children to follow their natural interests. “Don’t focus on their deficits. Rather, enable them to make the most of whatever skills and interests they have, be they mathematics, music or computers. In my own case, as a young girl I loved riding horses and electronics lab, and I was ultimately able to pursue a profession which combined them both,” Grandin said.

 

            She even held out hope for the future of autistic children who remain non-verbal. “For example, if such a child has artistic ability, even without the ability to speak, he could still become a sofer [scribe],” Grandin said.

 

            Grandin believes that many of our leading scientists, mathematicians and computer “geeks,” with their “nerdy” lack of social skills, are actually high functioning people with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome, whose success in their fields is at least partially due to their autism-enhanced ability to concentrate.

 

            Grandin’s life story carries a message of hope for the parents of every autistic child. It serves as an example of the kind of meaningful contributions that such children can achieve in their lives, if given the support, instruction, encouragement and understanding they need to take full advantage of the unique gifts that the Creator has given them.

Yaakov Kornreich

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/potpourri/the-positive-side-of-autism-an-interview-with-dr-temple-grandin-2/2011/10/06/

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