Monday, April 1, 2013

Being Jewish in Egypt

We live in a very diverse nation. Our ethnic, racial, religious and ideological differences create frictions, to be sure, but on balance we tend to think that those differences are a good thing. We take them for granted and learn to accommodate ourselves to the social irritations posed by those who don't do things the way we think they should be done.

We often assume that people around the globe think about differences the same way we do, but, of course, they don't. A reader sends along a link to the story of Dina Ovadia, a Jewish girl raised in Egypt who is now a member of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Her story gives us an idea of what it's like to be Jewish (or Christian) in a land of Muslim fanatics. Here's the lede to Dina's fascinating account:
This isn’t Cpl. Dina Ovadia’s first Passover in Israel. Slowly, slowly she seems to be moving away from her Egyptian past and becoming further ingrained in her Israeli present. Instead of thinking about her bittersweet childhood in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, Cpl. Ovadia fills her time with her army service and in preparing her home in Rimonim for the Passover holiday. Today it is possible to say that she is far more Dina Ovadia than she is Rolin Abdallah – the name her family gave her as a security measure for a Jew living in an Arab country. But Dina herself grew up totally unaware of her Jewish heritage.

Dina is telling her winding, unbelievable story for the umpteenth time, but her eyes still well up with tears. Ovadia, now 22, left her family home in Alexandria for the last time as a young and curious 15-year-old girl. All she wanted was to fit in. “Everyone always looked at me as though I was something different, the ugly duckling in the class. They asked me why I dressed the way I did, and why I spoke with my parents during the breaks, and why this and why that. I myself didn’t understand where it all came from. But I always had friends,” she says in impeccable Hebrew with a slight Arabic lilt. “I didn’t have a religious background in Christianity or in Islam. I never knew what I truly was. My parents didn’t keep the [Jewish] traditions and I always assumed that we were secular Christians.”

Dina’s childhood detachment from her heritage gives unique meaning to every Shabbat candle she lights now, to every Jewish holiday that she did not know. And Cpl. Ovadia’s story is the Passover story, thousands of years old, expressing itself again in the 21st century.
Dina always thought of herself as Egyptian. She never learned she was a Jew until her Egyptian neighbors found out and began harassing her family until they realized they would have to leave the land in which they had lived for generations or face ruin or death. It's the story of non-Muslims throughout the Middle East and, indeed, the story of Muslims who belong to minority sects throughout the Middle East. It's a tragedy that a religion can breed so much hate and intolerance, but it's important that Westerners understand that this is our future, too, if Islam is allowed to spread unchecked and unresisted throughout the Western world.


An article at HuffPo tells us that researchers have now been able to convert individual biological cells into micro-computers which potentially can be programmed to shut down which could be an enormous advance in cancer treatment. This is a wonderful development, but the fact that cells can be manipulated in this fashion is both amazing and a little scary. Here's the lede from the article:
Researchers at Stanford University announced this week that they've created genetic receptors that can act as a sort of "biological computer," potentially revolutionizing how diseases are treated.

In a paper published in the journal "Science" on Friday, the team described their system of genetic transistors, which can be inserted into living cells and turned on and off if certain conditions are met. The researchers hope these transistors could eventually be built into microscopic living computers. Said computers would be able to accomplish tasks like telling if a certain toxin is present inside a cell, seeing how many times a cancerous cell has divided or determining precisely how an administered drug interacts with each individual cell.

Once the transistor determines the conditions are met, it could then be used to make the cell, and many other cells around it, do a specific thing--like telling cancerous cells to destroy themselves.

"We're going to be able to put computers into any living cell you want," lead researcher at the Stanford School of Engineering Drew Endy explained to the San Jose Mercury News. "We're not going to replace the silicon computers. We're not going to replace your phone or your laptop. But we're going to get computing working in places where silicon would never work."
There's more to the article at the link, including a couple of videos that explain how these genetic receptors work. The scary part of this is what, if anything, it portends for humanity if our bodies could ever be turned into walking computers. Could we become immortal, able to ward off all the effects of aging? Would we still be human? What, indeed, would it mean to be human if every cell in our bodies is subject to outside control? Would someone be able to control the thoughts and actions of the entire human race simply by having access to the computers which control the cells?

It's astonishing to consider the kinds of questions societies may be faced with in the not too distant future, and it's disturbing to think that society is in the process of developing these Promethean technologies while at the same time spurning the only Source they could possibly have for giving them moral guidance as to how these technologies should be used.