Thursday, February 26, 2015

Celebrating the life of a modern-day Moses: Ben Ammi Ben Israel

Feb 20, 2015

There are many in the African American community that reject Western ideologies, speak of repatriation, and opine about how and why Black folks need to return to the motherland.

Ben Ammi Ben Israel actually did it.

In 1967, after receiving what he described as a prophetic vision, he helped organize the exodus of nearly 400 souls to Liberia, West Africa, where they would spend a two-and-one-half year “wilderness” period in conflict with the Liberian government while shedding what the community explained as “the many detrimental habits that as an enslaved people” they had acquired. In 1969, they continued their sojourn to Israel, where for over two decades they endured a lack citizenship status, work permits, access to schooling, health care, and the belligerence of an Israeli population unwilling to embrace a people who believed themselves to be descendants of the ancient Israelites. Over time, Ben Israel became recognized by his community as the Anointed Spiritual Leader of the African Hebrew Israelites, and after a sort of reconciliation with the Israeli government in 1990, the African Hebrew Israelites became a permanent fixture in the Israeli landscape, and from that time made great strides in education, organic agriculture, vegan food production and more.

Prince Immanuel Ben Yehuda, a member of the African Hebrew Israelite Holy Council said, “The insight, commitment, patience and compassion he [Ben-Israel] demonstrated was instrumental in leading us to forge a social model for humanity in which Yah might be pleased.”

Under Ben Israel’s leadership, the Hebrew Israelites have become renowned for their vibrant culture and boundless creativity. The holistic lifestyle of the community, coupled with high moral standards, was forged in keeping with their aim to fulfill the prophetic mandate of the Israelites to be “a light unto the nations.” Indeed, many of the ideas and standards that Ben Israel introduced to the community that were thought to be unusual at the time — including veganism, weekly fasting and the limiting of salt and sugar consumption — are now recognized as genius and have been implemented globally.

The community he founded has gained such popularity that an average of 500 visitors come to tour weekly the Village of Peace in Dimona, including political leaders from Israel, the U.S. and Africa. Other notables and celebrities drawn to Dimona include entertainers like Stevie Wonder, Kim Weston, the Neville Brothers, Ray Charles, Barry White, and of course, Whitney Houston, who adopted Ben Israel as her spiritual father.

In 1994, the U.S. Congress Human Rights Caucus proclaimed the Dimona community “The Miracle in the Desert” for its innovative and forward thinking structure and environment. In a 1994 feature article published in Teva Hadvareem, the community was feted as “An Island of Sanity.” The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2006 termed the accomplishments of the community a “phenomenon in a land full of phenomena.” Ben Israel guided the Hebrew Israelites through this most difficult period with untold perseverance and determination, resulting in the community earning permanent residency in 2003, with the granting of citizenship in a process that continues today.  He was able to transcend the often contentious political and religious boundaries of Israeli that often confound the local scene by forging relationships based on integrity. In 2006, the community officially registered as an urban kibbutz, taking the name, “Guardians of Peace” (Shomrey HaShalom).

The Chicago community will celebrate the life of Ben Ammi Ben Israel on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015, at the Legacy Chicago located behind Christ Universal Temple on 119th and Loomis. Interested parties should call 773.793.2547. To learn more about the African Hebrew Israelite community, click here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How long can we stay awake?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
BBC Future -By Adam Hadhazy
We can fight off the sandman for a while, but after a certain point, sleeplessness leads to temporary madness and – just maybe – death, discovers Adam Hadhazy.
It’s surprising how we spend our lives. Reach your 78th birthday and according to some back-of-the-envelope calculations, you will have spent nine of those years watching television, four years driving a car, 92 days on the toilet, and 48 days having sex.
People start to hallucinate and go a bit crazy — Atul Malhotra, University of California
But when it comes to time-consuming activities, there’s one that sits head and shoulders above them all. Live to 78, and you may have spent around 25 years asleep. In an effort to claw back some of that time it’s reasonable to ask: how long can we stay awake – and what are the consequences of going without sleep?

Any healthy individual planning to find out through personal experimentation will find it tough going. "The drive to sleep is so strong it will supersede the drive to eat," says Erin Hanlon, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago's Sleep, Metabolism and Health Centre. "Your brain will just go to sleep, despite all of your conscious efforts to keep it at bay."

Why sleep at all?
Exactly why the urge to sleep is so strong remains a mystery. "The exact function of sleep is still to be elucidated," says Hanlon. She adds, however, that there is something about sleep that seems to “reset” systems in our bodies. What’s more, studies have shown that routine, adequate sleep promotes healing, immune function, proper metabolism, and much more – which is maybe why it feels good to arise refreshed after a serious snooze.
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

On the flip side, insufficient slumber has been linked to greater risks of diabetes, heart issues, obesity, depression and other maladies. To avoid those latter outcomes, we are wracked with uncomfortable sensations when we burn the midnight oil: we lack energy, feel groggy, and find that our heavy eyelids press on aching eyes. As we continue to fight off sleep, our ability to concentrate and form short-term memories slackens.

If we ignore all these side effects and stay up for days on end, our minds become unhinged. We get moody, paranoid, and see things that aren’t really there. "People start to hallucinate and go a bit crazy," says Atul Malhotra, the Director of Sleep Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. (Long-haul truckers have an evocative term for this hallucinatory phenomenon: "seeing the black dog". When a shadowy apparition appears on the roadway, so the advice goes, it's time to pull the lorry over.)

Many studies have documented the body's parallel decline during sleep deprivation. Stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol increase in the blood, in turn elevating blood pressure. Meanwhile, heart rhythms get out of whack and the immune system falters, says Malhotra. Sleep-deprived people accordingly feel anxious and are likelier to come down with an illness.
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Still, all the havoc wreaked by a bout of insomnia or a few all-nighters does not seem permanent, disappearing after solid shuteye. "If there's any damage, it's reversible," says Jerome Siegel, a professor at the Centre for Sleep Research at the University of California, Los Angeles.

When the curtain never falls
But what if sleep never can come? A rare genetic disease called Fatal Familial Insomnia provides one of the starkest pictures of the consequences of extreme sleeplessness.

Only about 40 families worldwide have FFI in their gene pools. A single defective gene causes proteins in the nervous system to misfold into "prions" that lose their normal functionality. "Prions are funny-shaped proteins that screw these people up," says Malhotra. The prions clump in neural tissue, killing it and forming Swiss cheese-like holes in the brain (which is exactly what happens in the best-known human prion disorder, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease). One area that is particularly badly affected in people with FFI is the thalamus, a deep brain region that controls sleep. Hence the debilitating insomnia.

An afflicted individual suddenly goes days on end without rest and develops weird symptoms such as pinpoint pupils and drenching sweats. After a few weeks, the FFI victim slips into a sort of pre-sleep twilight. He or she appears to be sleepwalking and exhibits those jerky, involuntary muscle movements we sometimes have when falling asleep. Weight loss and dementia follow, and eventually, death.
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Still, sleeplessness per se is not thought to be the lethal agent, because FFI leads to widespread brain damage. "I don't think it is sleep loss that kills these individuals," says Siegel. Similarly, the oft-used torture tactic of depriving human prisoners of sleep is not known to have summarily caused anyone to die (although they will still suffer horribly).

Along these lines, animal sleep deprivation experiments provide more evidence that a lack of sleep in its own right might not be deadly, but what prompts it may well be.
Studies by Allan Rechtschaffen at the University of Chicago in the 1980s involved placing rats on discs above a tray of water. Whenever the rat tried dozing off, as revealed by changes in measured brain waves, the disc would rotate and a wall would shove the rat towards the water, startling it back awake.

All rats died after about a month of this treatment, though for unclear reasons. Most likely, it was the stress of being awoken – on average a "thousand times a day" says Siegel – that did the rats in, wearing down their bodily systems. Among other symptoms, the rats exhibited body temperature dysregulation and lost weight despite an increased appetite.
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

"That’s the problem in interpreting sleep studies in humans and animals: You can't thoroughly deprive a person or an animal of sleep without their cooperation and not impose a fair amount of stress," says Siegel. If death occurs, "the question is, 'is it the stress or the sleep loss?' It's not an easy distinction."

Wake up! Wake up!
All of this may well put most people off exploring the limits of our capacity to go without sleep, but the question remains: how long can we stay awake? The most widely cited record for voluntarily staving off sleep belongs to Randy Gardner, at the time a 17-year-old high school student in San Diego, California. For a science fair project in 1964, Gardner did not hit the hay for 264 hours straight, or just over 11 days, according to scientists who monitored him towards the end of his vigil. Numerous other, less credible accounts abound, including one of a British woman in 1977 who won a competition to continuously rock in a rocking chair (presumably by a landslide) by doing so for 18 days.

Overall, the jury is out on just how long a human could ever stay awake, but perhaps that's a good thing. Acknowledging the injury people might cause to themselves through intentional sleep deprivation, the Guinness Book of Records stopped keeping track of this particular superlative last decade.

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