India through the Jewish History Lens

Taj Mahal, India

Free Zoom Presentation:

The Art of Travel:  India through the Jewish History Lens – A Personal Journey

Hosted by: New City Library, NY

Date & Time: Wednesday, August 4, at 7:00 pm EST U.S.

Irene Shaland, a Jewish historian, came to see India as not just another country on her exploration list but as a place in space and time where one comes for self-discovery and personal growth. You have to know deep down why you are coming to India. If you do know why, you are bound to discover the most refined beauty and the deepest spirituality. Travelling through India, you will gradually learn – like peeling the onion, layer after layer – some very important truths about yourself and history, about people and myths they create. Something unexpected and wonderful might happen during this trip.

Hopefully, India, unique among the world civilizations with its seven thousand years of uninterrupted traditions, will forever become an integral part of your mental landscape. For Irene, a passionate Jewish history aficionado, India has changed her own understanding of Jewish identity. And this presentation will illustrate how and why this happened.

Join Irene on a virtual trip through layers of historic periods, artistic and architectural styles, and a multitude of cultural traditions and fascinating Indian Jewish stories of origin. This presentation, enriched by Alex Shaland’s photography, will transport you to Delhi, Varanasi, Khajuraho, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur, Udaipur, Aurangabad, Ellora and Ajanta caves, Cochin, and finally – Mumbai.

This event is free, but a reservation is required.  Please follow the link to the library website to register:

https://newcity.librarycalendar.com/events/india-through-jewish-history-lens

Phone: (845)-634-4997 ext. 139

Meet the presenter Irene Shaland.

Take a look at the schedule of our events: Schedule of Events.

Chumash Indians and their Painted Cave

Painting inside Chumash Cave

Seeking the Chumash Story

Learning the history of the land and past and present of the people has always been an important part of all our trips. While in Santa Barbara, we wanted to learn more about the Native American nation of Chumash. That tribe used to inhabit the central and southern coasts of California from Morro Bay in the north to Malibu in the south. Today, this land is part of the counties of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles. The Historical Museum of Santa Barbara could have been a great resource for us, but it was closed due to the pandemic.

Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Santa Barbara Historical Museum.

So, we decided to visit the Old Mission that was specifically established in 1786 to Christianize the Chumash. It was there that the native people used to live, study, pray, work, and die. While exploring the mission, we walked along the paths of the church cemetery admiring the elegant and elaborate mausoleums of important citizens of the town. The indigenous people of the land were buried there as well, but were soon forgotten. It is worth mentioning that some of them were the stonemasons who built the Mission and the artists who painted the church walls.

Old Spanish Mission, Santa Barbara
Old Spanish Mission, Santa Barbara.
Interior of the Old Spanish Mission Church in Santa barbara, California
Interior of the Old Spanish Mission Church.
The Old Spanish Mission cemetery.
The Old Spanish Mission cemetery. 

Finding the grave of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island

In the corner, near the bell tower, we found one grave that attracted our attention. The plaque said that Juana Maria was buried there in 1853. Here she was: The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island made famous by Scott O’Dell’s popular novel Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960). San Nicolas Island is one of the eight offshore islands near Ventura called the Channel Islands.

Juana Maria’s grave
Juana Maria’s grave in the corner of the Old Spanish Mission courtyard. 

When the native people of that island were forced to move from the island to the mainland, an orphan girl was inadvertently left behind. She survived alone for many years until she was “discovered” in 1853 and brought to the Santa Barbara Mission. The young woman was baptized as Juana Maria but died after only a few weeks there, probably from a disease her body had no immunity against.

Enigmatic cave rock art

However, unmarked graves are not the only reminders of the Chumash people once plentiful in this land. They left behind their enigmatic cave rock art. We drove 25 miles from Santa Barbara via a narrow, winding, and vertigo-inducing road to visit one of those caves in Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park. After reaching the State Park sign, we left the car and followed a steep path to a small cave with the entrance barred by a heavy iron grillwork.

The entrance to the Chumash Painted Cave Historic State Park.
The entrance to the Chumash Painted Cave Historic State Park.

We had to stand in front of the grillwork for a while letting our eyes adjust to the dark cave, then peered inside and saw the amazingly bright paintings. Anthropologists believe that the paintings date to the pre-contact period (before the Europeans showed up), somewhere in the 1600s. Some sources also state that the paintings potentially could be as old as thousands of years. So, knowing that, we were astonished to find the colors so bright and vivid.

Painting on the wall of the Chumash Painted Cave
Looking inside the cave through the grillwork of the closed gate.

The bright colors of the mysterious spiritual images

The bright black, white, red, and yellow paints used by the unknown ancient artists were made of charcoal or manganese (black), crumbled sedimentary rock (white), hematite (red), and limonite (yellow).

Painting inside Chumash cave.
Group of paintings on the left.

Alex and I are not complete novices when it comes to the prehistoric/pre-contact shamanistic cultures. For example, we have studied, photographed, published, and lectured on the prehistoric rock art in the Cederberg Mountains in South Africa. But the images inside the Chumash cave did not look like anything we saw before. These images seemed to be involved in some mysterious dance, overlapping each other. Were these paintings multiple, overlapping layers done by different artists at different times? Or were we looking at an intentional mystical configuration? Some of the shapes were circular, some anthropomorphic.

The meaning of images is not known for sure

Strangely, some of these images reminded me of a Maltese cross, others, of a Rota Fortunae (a medieval symbol of the capricious nature of fate). But of course, they were nothing of the sort. Possibly, the paintings could be connected to the Chumash understanding of astrology or cosmology. Or they could have been created to link those in the world of the living with the world of their ancestors, the realm of the spirits. Sadly, the truth is that nothing is known for sure, and the images’ meaning is lost even to the descendants of the Chumash people.

Art should increase the “energy of spirit”

Driving back along the twisting and curving road again, I sat in the back of our rental car.  I could not force myself to look right at the vertical granite wall of the mountain, or to look left down the abyss far below. So, I closed my eyes and thought of what Kenneth Clark, a prominent art historian, said: “Art…should do something more than give a pleasure. It should increase our energy of spirit.” The paintings in that cave were the Chumash’s spiritual practice. And they have become our mystery – to ponder upon and to meditate. In our culture that is worldly and cerebral, we need to see the art that defies our intellectual understanding but offers instead a gateway to new spiritual insights.

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Learn more about the the author, Irene Shaland.

Learn more about the photographer, Alex Shaland.

Enjoy more Alex’s photos from around the world on Instagram.

Wine tasting at Santa Ynez Valley wineries

Irene Shaland drinking wine.

Why travel the wine tasting path when in Santa Barbara?

No visit to California is complete without a wine tasting tour. Everyone knows that the Napa and Sonoma Valleys in California are synonymous with internationally famous great wine. But we were sure that the Santa Barbara environs were emerging as a renowned wine region as well. Why?

Because, California used to be a Spanish territory with the Mission system as a foundation of the institutional power. Well, we thought that the pious monks in Santa Barbara could not imagine life without wine. They were Spaniards after all, weren’t they? So, this was the historical root of our decision to explore the local wine making!

Choosing Santa Barbara Adventure Company

I chose Santa Barbara Adventure Company as an organizer of our wine tasting tour. We wanted our experience to be an adventure. And so, we were looking for a journey of discovery: the history, the landscapes, the wineries, and of course the orchestration of wine tasting. It turned out that we made the best choice! I spoke with Will Adams, the Company’s Marketing Manager; Ken McAlpine, their Nature Specialist and Guide for the Channel Island National Park; Kimberly; and other staff members. Then, I knew I chose the best professionals!

Everyone I communicated with was very sensitive to our needs, wants, and objectives as travel writers and photographers. In other words, the Adventure Company was ready to organize and assist with everything we wanted to see during our short time in that “American Riviera.” From photographing the foxes of Santa Cruz Island to understanding the wines of Santa Ynez Valley, our hosts accommodated us completely.

Learning from our guide about Santa Ynez wine country

The organization of our day-long wine-tasting tour was perfectly planned and executed. Our guide par-excellence Kyle picked us up in a small minivan for eight passengers. Everyone was required to wear a face mask. We learned from Kyle that most of Santa Ynez’s wineries were established in the 1970s. In 1983, Santa Ynez Valley was recognized as the AVA or American Viticultural Area (wine-growing region).

Kyle also talked about the uniqueness of the Santa Ynez Valley and its excellent climate for wine-producing. The Valley is oriented from east to west. The Santa Ynez Mountains are north of the valley, and the San Rafael Mountains are in the south. Similar to the valley’s orientation, the Santa Ynez River runs east to west to pour its water into the Pacific Ocean. The Ocean creates a cool fog that moves into the valley every night. That fog plays an important role in growing perfect grapes.

One of the brochures mentioned that 65 different varieties of grapes grow on 16,000 acres of vineyards. From these grapes, the winemakers produce Chardonnay, Syrah, and Pinot Noir, which are already popular both nationally and internationally. In addition, the wineries produce Bordeaux, Rose, and even German, Spanish, and Italian-style wines. All in all, over 120 Santa Ynez Valley wineries produce over a million cases a year. “Can we visit all 120 wineries today?” someone in the van joked. Anyway, we all knew we were up for a wonderful learning and tasting adventure.

Kyle took us to three wineries. All were small, family-owned boutique operations. All three wineries focused on sustainability and preservation of natural resources. Each had a continuously growing, dedicated following of wine connoisseurs. These customers, called the club members, are not just wine aficionados, but aficionados of a specific winery they belong to!

The Roblar – our first winery

The first of these elite boutique wineries we visited was called the Roblar (“oak” in Spanish). In a beautiful garden setting, each couple was led to a separate table six feet away from another. We enjoyed four different wines, two white and two red. Among the whites, our favorite was the 2020 Cuvee Blanc, very dry and full of flavors. It seemed to smell of citrus, peach, and flowers but tasted like a green apple with honeydew melon. But the overall winner for Alex and me was their Pinot Noir!

Roblar winery
Entering the Roblar Winery.
Tour guide at Roblar Winery
Kyle, our guide par-excellence, explains the winemaking process.
Visitors inspecting grapes
The wine tasting group examines the grapes.

The actor and the wine: Fess Parker and his Winery and Vineyard

Our next stop was the Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard. All cinephiles will immediately recognize the name of the famous actor Fess Parker. In the 1950s and 1960s, he created the characters of heroically brave frontiersmen Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. Fess Parker is still venerated by multi-generational “oldies” aficionados.

We learned from Kyle that in the 1970s, Parker left the movie industry and went first into the real estate business and then, in the 1980s, into wine-making. The famous actor passed away in 2010, but his immediate family still owns and operates the wineries. We were going to visit Parker’s 714-acre ranch where over forty years ago he decided to grow the highest quality grapes and produce the best wines in the country! 

Visiting the Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard

The ranch turned out to be a gorgeous park. Each couple or family had a table separate from the other guests and placed in the luxury of elegant comfy alcoves furnished with colorful loveseats. In addition to four types of wine, two whites, two reds, we had a glass of wonderful sparkling Rose called Empathy. I thought this was the best Rose I ever tasted.

Riesling is normally not one of our preferred wines, but the one we tried at the Fess Parker was very dry, not sweet, and we liked it a lot. Alex especially enjoyed their Chardonnay with its delightful taste of lemon, nectarine, almonds, and even white pepper! My favorite was their Pinot Noir, which I thought was rich and velvety, reminding me of cherries and strawberries.

Building at Fess Parker Winery
Entering the Fess Parker Winery.
Irene Shaland holds a glass of wine
Enjoying the Fess Parker wine.

The Brander Vineyard – an international story

The third and last winery on our tour was the Brander Vineyard owned by Fred Brander and his family. Upon arrival, I noticed three flags on the roof of the large stone mansion: Swedish, American, and Argentinean. As we found out, the flags told the family story through three generations.

The grandfather of the current owner Fred emigrated from Sweden to Argentina. Fred’s father Eric was born in Argentina, married a girl from the United States, and brought her to Argentina to start a family there. Finally, the family now consisting of Fred, his wife, and children came to the U.S. In 1962, they settled in Santa Barbara, California.

When the Branders founded their winery in 1975, they became one of the pioneers in the wine-making industry in Santa Barbara county. Then, the family decided to focus on what they called the “classically styled” or “Bordeaux-influenced” wines, primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.

Brander Winery building
Entrance to the Brander Vineyard: Three Flags Tell the Family Story.
Irene Shaland drinks wine
In vino veritas!
Guide Kyle points at the map of Santa Ynez Valley
Kyle explains to the author the Santa Ynez Valley wine-growing  geography.
Brander's vineyard
The Brander’s vineyard.

Biodynamic farming principles

Our host at the winery explained to us that the family is proud of their utilization of biodynamic farming principles. We learned that the term bio dynamics means creating a self-sustaining environment while respecting the natural aspects of the land. That involves planting drought-tolerant shrubs and trees native to the area and attracting insects (such as ladybugs) beneficial to the vineyard.

The wines we tasted were very impressive. The 2018 Cuvee Natalie was a proprietary blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Pinot Gris. I usually do not like Merlot, but there it was wonderful: light in color and with an aroma of blackberries.

Gratitude to organizers

Thank you, Kyle and the Santa Barbara Adventure Company for the wonderful adventure! Just like in wine making, you created a perfect blend of storytelling and scenery, history, and wine-tasting!

Read Part 1 of three-article series titled What to do in Santa Barbara California

Find out more about the author and the photographer.

Enjoy photos from our other trips on Instagram.

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Things to Do in Santa Barbara California

Santa Barbara, California

“Whenever you are in Santa Barbara and whoever you are with, you will be thinking one thing over and over again: Life is good!”

I do not recall who said or wrote the phrase above or how I came across it, but it stuck in my mind. When our travel plans to foreign countries had to be canceled one after another during the pandemic, that same sentence kept reappearing in my thoughts. And so it happened that we went “domestic” in our travel plans, and in May of 2021, we arrived in Santa Barbara, California.

Monochromatic gate Santa Barbara
Monochromatic Gate to California Riviera.

This pleasant little town is snuggled comfortably between the imposing Santa Ynez Mountains and the glittering Pacific Ocean. Santa Barbara is simultaneously artsy, chic, and casual, and is widely known as the “American Riviera.” And indeed, that coastal town’s red-tiled roofs, white stucco buildings, its omnipresent Spanish colonial heritage—all channel the Mediterranean atmosphere and European-like civility that immediately took us, in our imagination, across the Atlantic. Haven’t we decided to go “domestic” or what?

Walking, hiking, or bicycling along the East Beach boardwalk

We stayed at the Hilton Beachfront Resort located on one of the best California beaches, the East Beach. And there we discovered that just walking or bicycling along that beach made us feel, if not exactly Santa Barbara’s natives, but almost an integral part of their community. That boardwalk stretches for miles along the coast. And, just like we saw in Copacabana in Rio, the beach is treated by the locals as their living room, exercise studio, soccer field, in other words, a natural extension of their homes and a fundamental part of their lifestyles. People practice yoga and martial arts, roller-blade and skateboard, drive a strange hybrid of a bike and cabana, and eat and drink wine with their friends. In short, they live in their home away from home, the East Beach. A large number of homeless people seemed disturbing at first, but they too looked perfectly at ease laying on the beach’s grass or sand.

East Beach Santa Barbara
One of the best beaches in California: East Beach in Santa Barbara.
East Beach Art Fair
Art Fair on the East Beach.

Enjoying State Street

We loved to stroll down the city’s main street. Called State Street, it seemed to be designed down to the smallest details—from exotic potted plants to thorny and flowery ornamental vines covering walls and facades. Twinkling lights surround fun bars and fantastic places to eat, enticing boutiques and attention-grabbing art galleries.  Even at the time of pandemic restrictions, this grand dame of Santa Barbara streets, buzzing with people and activities, looked elegant and charming.

E. Cabrillo Blvd
Enjoying the Mediterranean Vibe of E. Cabrillo Boulevard.
State Street, Santa Barbara
Walking along the State Street.
Granada Theatre, Santa Barbara
Historic Granada Theater on the State Street.
La Arcada, State Street, Santa Barbara, CA
La Arcada on the State Street: Shopping and dining in a quaint, art-lined square built in 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival style.

The Architecture

We fell in love with Santa Barbara’s historic architecture. To us, it seemed both Mediterranean and Spanish: its deep-red colors contrasted with the white walls and polished wood textures. Santa Barbara’s iconic architecture and its visual identity were largely derived from the rebuilding and reconstructions following the devastating earthquake of 1925 when the entire town was reborn in Spanish Revival style. The spirit of Spain is felt everywhere, pervasive and persuasive.

The Old Mission Santa Barbara founded in 1786 (the current exterior from the 1920s) is called “the Queen of California Missions.” The amazing Santa Barbara Courthouse (1929) is known as “the most beautiful government building in the United States.” Both places seem to us belonging to Spain rather than to the twenty-first century the United States. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 safety rules, visitors were not allowed inside the working courthouse. So we could not see the elaborate murals and ornate chandeliers and were not able to climb up the El Mirador, the famous clock tower for the panoramic view of Santa Barbara and environs.  Oh well… But we did go to its sunken garden and spent some enjoyable time there.

Santa Barbara City Hall
Santa Barbara Historic City Hall, designated a National Historic Landmark in 2005 for its architecture.
Santa Barbara Historic District
In the Old Spanish District of Santa Barbara.
Irene Shaland in Spanish Courtyard
The Author inside a typical Spanish Style Courtyard in Historic Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara Courthouse
Historic Santa Barbara Courthouse.
Sunken Garden in Santa Barbara Courthouse
Sunken Garden of the Santa Barbara Courthouse.
Santa Barbara Old Spanish Mission.
Old Spanish Mission, Santa Barbara.

The Art Museum Santa Barbara Opens! Hooray!

Well, only two rooms were open on our last day in town to showcase the highlights of the Museum’s impressive collections. But that was enough for us to feel that “normalcy”– identified by us as packed theaters and crowded museums – that normal state of things is just around the corner.  Our optimism was rewarded by two surprises: an amazing Marc Chagall “Jeune fille en marche” or “Young Girl Running” from 1927 and a beautiful “Portrait of Nadya” from 1890 by Ilja Repin who is largely unknown outside Russia.

Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
Painting by Marc Chagall titled Young Girl Running,
Marc Chagall. “Jeune fille en marche” or “Young Girl Running,” 1927. Museum of Art, Santa Barbara.
“Portrait of Nadya" by Ilja Repin.
Ilja Repin. “Portrait of Nadya,”1890. Museum of Art, Santa Barbara.

Not being impressed by the Funk Zone

We heard and read a lot about the city’s widely popular area called the Funk Zone. This former industrial district is located between the ocean and Highway 101. You will find it right next to the Amtrak station. The Funk Zone is a complex of wine tasting rooms, cafes, art galleries, and funky street art. But for some reason, our hearts belong to State Street!

The Foodie Capital of California

Mexican food
Who is able to stay away from Mexican food when in California? At Flor De Maiz on Cabrillo Boulevard we most possibly ate the best Mexican food ever!

I do not think that Alex and I are fully qualified as typical “Food and Wine” travelers. We are too art and history-centered and too agenda-driven to be completely and professionally immersed in the food-n-wine scene. But we always see food and wine produced by the region and served at its restaurants as an integral element of the local history and culture.

  And so it happened that in our four-and-a-half days and five nights in Santa Barbara we were doing our best to eat and drink in as many places as it was humanly possible to appreciate the freshness and carefully-crafted quality of what we were served. Among all the fine dining places that we greatly enjoyed, our favorite place was …a seafood shack at the very end of the historic Stearns Wharf. We ate twice there, and we never do that during short trips when we usually strive to try as many establishments as possible!

Historic Stearns Wharf.
Historic Stearns Wharf.

This famous wharf is located at the southern end of State Street. Built in 1872, it is the oldest continuously operated wharf on the West Coast. But most people come to this long rough wooden pier not for its history but the great views and the great food. Our favorite establishment was the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.

Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.
Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.
Irene Shaland eating oysters
Enjoying the fresh oysters at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.

This company was born as a seafood takeout counter. For over forty years, it has been owned and operated by the same family. Today, the company is located on its original spot at the very end of the wharf. The first time we ate there, we had to shoo away the aggressive seagulls who wanted to steal our dinner. We had terrific lobster bisque, amazing cioppino, aromatic garlic-baked clams, and the rock crab, my personal favorite! And we came back once again—for more of the same!

Irene Shaland with a glass of vine
Life is good!

Find out more about the author and the photographer.

Secrets and Lies: The Shocking Truth of Recent Australian Aboriginal History

Book Cover

Introducing a new book by our friend Barbara Miller. Barbara is a famous Australian author, human rights activist, historian, and pastor.

Barbara Russell, a young woman from a white working-class family. A ruthless Premier Bjelke-Petersen enforcing legal discrimination. What secrets lie hidden? What lies are being told?

Barbara couldn’t stand by and watch the feud of the people with governments and miners strip Australian Aboriginal communities of all they held dear. Not if she could help.

Would her passion make a way for her? Was she strong enough to make a difference for the people, resist the temptation of love, and stand up to her family too?

In this story of secrets, lies, ideological conflict and racial discrimination laws, Barbara teams up with Mick, an Aboriginal schoolteacher. They organise remote Australian Aboriginal people to fight Bjelke and the mining companies that encroach on their land. But Bjelke has a few tricks up his sleeve and will use all in his powers in this police state to stop them. If the Aboriginal people fail, more of them will die in poverty and desperation.

Can the church take on the state and win in this epic battle as the church stands with the Aboriginals to challenge racism? This historical memoir is another sizzling story in the First Nations True Stories series.

With the current debate in Australia of Voice Treaty Truth and the worldwide issue of Black Lives Matter, this book gives many key Aboriginal people a voice and reveals the shocking truth of the hidden history of 1975 to 2021 in a near-novel like manner. Every important historical event is covered. This is one of the social justice books that you will want on your shelf. The political activism examples are not those of keyboard warriors but those of a people who took to the trenches.

If you like fast-paced action, real-life heroes, and the window opened on another culture, this book is for you. If you like books with political intrigue that bring to life an interesting historical period, you’ll love Secrets and Lies.

The eBook will be 99c till 6 July 2021, and then go up to $3.99.

START READING NOW!!!

Crazy Travel Photography and Story-Telling

Irene Shaland and Alex Shaland in Africa

Come to a Free In-Person Presentation “Crazy Travel Photography and Story-Telling”

Date and Time: June 24, 2021 at 7-8 PM EST

Presenters: Irene and Alex Shaland

Organized by: Cleveland Photo Fest

Where: 2731 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115, in the Bostwick Design Art Initiative Building

About the presentation:

Meet Irene and Alex Shaland, world travelers, book authors, travel writers, and camera swingers.  Alex swings the camera, Irene simply looks glamorous. Hear their stories of globe-trotting adventures-on-steroids researching, photographing, and writing about the countries and places they visit, people they meet, and nature and wildlife they deeply care about.

Why was this program titled “Crazy Travel Photography and Story-Telling”? As an example, who else but crazy Shalands would have crisscrossed the entire Indian subcontinent in 12 days pushing the shutter button and scribbling notes as fast as they could. After returning home, they produced two magazine articles, a chapter for Irene’s book, and several lectures. And they have been performing this stunt (research-travel-meet people and become friends-photograph and take notes-write, publish, present–repeat) for over 30 years. Almost 80 countries and counting.

Knowing Shalands’ “mode of operation” event sponsors asked Irene and Alex to share some unusual or “crazy” moments and images from some of their trips. This program will take you from the jaw-dropping architectural marvels of Singapore to insanely-creative street art of Melbourne, Australia; from African safaris in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Tanzania to the pyramids of Egypt; and from the streets and fields of Nepal to national parks in the USA.

About the presenters:

Irene Shaland’s art and travel articles, accompanied by Alex’s photographs, have appeared in over 20 publications and online sources including Holiday Magazine (France/U.K.), The Boston Forward, Tikkun, ZEEK, Diarna Digital Heritage Mapping, Hackwriters (U.K.), IMAGE Magazine, ROMAR Travel, and other journals printed in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Korea, and Kenya. Irene’s third book “The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories” narrates little-known tales of Jewish communities in 10 countries over two millennia.

Suburbanites on Safari” is Alex’s first work devoted exclusively to Africa and African wildlife that, in addition to being informative and entertaining, aspires to support the effort to preserve and protect the animals with whom we humans share this planet.

Learn more about Alex Shaland.

Learn more about Irene Shaland.

Elvis Presley Was Jewish

Elvis Presley

By guest author:  Rabbi Barbara Aiello

This article is re-published with permission of its author Rabbi Barbara Aiello. Image curtesy of Rabbi Barbara Aiello.

“He passed away 40 years ago on August 16, 1977. On the Hebrew calendar the date was the second day in the Hebrew month of Elul, 5737.  Why a “yahrzeit” for Elvis? As unusual as it may seem, a little known fact about Elvis Presley is that, by the Jewish law of matrilineal descent, Elvis Presley was Jewish.

In her book, “Elvis and Gladys,” historian and biographer Elaine Dundy writes about Elvis Aron Presley’s Jewish heritage. Elvis’ great great maternal grandmother, Nancy Burdine was married to Abner Tackett. “Nancy was of particular interest to Gladys (Elvis’ mother) for her Jewish heritage as Gladys often recounted that Nancy had given her sons, Sidney and Jerome, Jewish names. Nancy and Abner (who some say was half-Jewish himself) had a daughter Martha who married White Mansell. Their daughter, nick-named Doll, was Elvis’ maternal grandmother.”

“Elvis’ grandparents had nine children, among them, a daughter, Gladys Love, who became mother to Elvis Presley. After his mother died, Elvis personally sought to design his beloved mother’s gravesite which included a Star of David on her tombstone. It was Elvis’ decision  to honor his Jewish heritage, something his mother was proud of and acknowledged to Elvis at a very early age.

Elvis was born and grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi in a poor area called “The Pinch.”  The Pinch was home to what locals called the “rag trade,” the industry born of immigrants, mostly Jewish, who repaired and resold second hand clothing. Presley’s roots go back to the time when Jewish immigrants came to America and established the rag trade there.  In fact Elvis’ great great grandmother, Nancy Burdine descended from a family that emigrated from Lithuania, probably around the time of the American Revolution. That’s right. Elvis was a Litvak!

Elvis Aron was born a twin whose brother, Jesse Garon, passed away in infancy. A young cousin recalls a visit she made to the Presley home, where mourners sat on low chairs and where mirrors and pictures were covered in white. “It was years later,” says the cousin, “that I realized that these were Jewish traditions.”

Always aware of his Jewish heritage, Elvis Presley put his pride into action through numerous donations to the Memphis Jewish community.

Each year, for many years, Elvis gave $1,000 or more to each of fifty Memphis-area charities. Presley’s largest contributions were to the Memphis synagogues, the Jewish Federation, and the Memphis Jewish Community Center. Presley even funded several Jewish education programs as well – philanthropic endeavors that received little or no publicity.

Throughout his adult life, Presley reached out to those in need, often paying hospital bills for family members, friends and total strangers. His generosity even reached “The Pinch,” where he renovated the area where he grew up. Close friends report that Presley was adamant that his gifts remain anonymous – and was heard to say, “That’s the Jewish way.” –Rabbi Barbara Aiello, Aug. 16, 2017

Learn more about Rabbi Barbara and read more fascinating blog posts: https://www.rabbibarbara.com

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Free Virtual Lecture: Travels in Jewish History – Asia

angkor watt Cambodia

Adath Shalom Synagogue Presents
Irene Shaland’s Free Virtual Lecture:

Travels in Jewish History

Date: Thursday, May 6th, 2021   Time: 7:30 PM EST

Join this event on Zoom: 

https://zoom.us/j/3393948412?pwd=QjJiVW0yUUtuV01mS0NvUzlyOU9SUT09

Meeting ID: 339 394 8412

Passcode: Israel

For more information follow this link to the announcement on the Adath Shalom website: https://www.adathshalom.net/event/travels-in-jewish-history-india-china-myanmar-cambodia-and-more.html


     Travel with Irene Shaland to the continent of Asia in search of little-known Jewish histories. In China, learn the two-fold narrative: the Jews IN China and the Jews OF China while discovering the 2,000-year history of Jewish life there. What are the Jewish secrets of the Gobi Desert and the Silk Road? What do the most anti-Semitic of Russian Tsars and a Russian-Yiddish cultural enclave in the north of China have in common?

     In India, discover the most refined beauty and the deepest spirituality of this country while learning the little-known history of the oldest continuously living Jewish community in the world, its myths of origin, and the sense of identity. Hear fascinating stories about the synagogue near the tomb of a Persian emperor, Jewish atheist’s shrine in a mosque, India’s role in the Holocaust, and Muslim youths defending the synagogue of Mumbai.

     In Burma/Myanmar, you will be transported to the ancient land of rice fields and countless golden Buddhas and pagodas to discover the little-known narrative of the once-thriving Jewish community there, which was all but decimated during World War II. Understand why this small group of immigrants throughout their history in Asia became so successful commercially and powerful politically only to disappear to almost oblivion after the 1940s and 1960s. 

     In Cambodia, you will visit a small synagogue near the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh and discover what the Rabbi’s usual day looks like in the country of Angkor Wat.

Irene Shaland is the author of a multitude of magazine articles published in the US, Canada, South Africa, Kenya, the UK, and Israel. She regularly presents at conferences, museums, universities, special-interest group events, and other venues.

Irene’s last book “The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories” is available on Amazon.

Join this event on Zoom: 

https://zoom.us/j/3393948412?pwd=QjJiVW0yUUtuV01mS0NvUzlyOU9SUT09

Meeting ID: 339 394 8412

Passcode: Israel

For more information follow this link to the announcement on the Adath Shalom website: https://www.adathshalom.net/event/travels-in-jewish-history-india-china-myanmar-cambodia-and-more.html

Virtual Tour of Singapore

Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore

A Few Words About Singapore

Take a quick virtual tour of Singapore. Often called “post-modern,” this city-state, energetic and cosmopolitan, proudly offers the highest quality of life. And this is true for everyone, whether they are residents or just came to visit.

Among many other aspects of life, Singapore is clean and well-organized. In addition, with no street crime,  it boasts a lack of unemployment and poverty. And if you talk to Singaporeans, you will find out that they cannot even imagine living anywhere else.

Singapore People

This miracle of Asia was built by immigrants from various corners of the world, and is called a nation of cultures. This city-state is a unique universe of tolerance and inclusiveness. However, it is not a melting pot but rather a mosaic of cultures.  As a result, this remarkable nation offers everyone an opportunity to build a peaceful and prosperous life.  So, among its citizens, you will find the Chinese, Malays, Indians, and Europeans. They Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jewish, or secular.

English is the main official language followed by Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil. Religions include Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, and Hinduism. As of this writing, the population of Singapore is 5.8 million, of which approximately 74% are Chinese, 13% Malay, 9% Indians, and 4% other.vir

Singapore Location

Singapore is located at the end of the Malayan Peninsula between Malaysia and Indonesia. The Singapore Strait separates Singapore from Indonesia. The Straits of Johor are the boarder between Singapore and Malaysia. The state of Singapore consists of the main island and smaller surrounding islands. The mainland of Singapore measures 31mi from east to west and 27mi from north to south.

tual tour of Singapore

All images © Alex Shaland. All rights reserved.
Text © Irene Shaland. All rights reserved.

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