Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Gary Kohn

The Death of the Dead Sea


Many of you have been there as part of your tours of Israel, or perhaps Jordan. You may have taken a hike in the oasis of Ein Gedi, or made your way past the Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. You may even have climbed the Snake Path to the top of Masada, where, in 73-74 CE, 960 Jews committed mass suicide to avoid being captured and enslaved by the advancing army of the Roman Empire.

You may also have marveled at the novelty of the Dead Sea, where, because of its chemical and mineral content, you could not sink – you were totally buoyant. It was as if you were lying back in a reclining beach chair. Even more enticing to many are the purported health benefits offered by theDead Sea’s mineral properties. There are few other places on earth where  you will sit on a beach and watch most of the people there covered in black mud, slathered all over their bodies, in order to ease various ailments. But for the tens of thousands of people who didn’t visit the Dead Sea in person and still seeking its cosmetic and health benefits, manufacturers have obliged by creating creams and other products of the magical waters and selling them around the world.

At 31 miles long, 9 miles wide at its widest point, 997 feet deep at its deepest level, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. It is more than 10 times saltier than ocean water. As a result, only bacteria grow in it. Because of its unique character, the Sea was recently under construction as one of the seven wonders of the world.

It sounds like one of the most exotic places on earth to visit. Unfortunately, the Dead Sea is in danger of dying. It is receding at an alarming rate. While there is not single reason for the damage being done to the Sea, it is believed that several factors are contributing to it, such as greater evaporation caused by global warming, the damming of the Jordan River upstream, refuse being dumped into the river and the Sea, and the extraction of minerals, etc., by industrial interests. And although nothing grows in the Dead Sea itself, there is much life in the surrounding desert that may suffer dire consequences as a result of the shrinking Sea. Only three years ago, Israel and Jordan signed an agreement to address the shrinking Dead Sea as part of a broader effort, but it appears that the cost of this effort and questions about whether it might cause more harm than good, has caused enough political opposition to stall, if not kill, the effort. Unless a solution to its problems can be found soon, many scientists fear that this great salt sea will be a mere puddle by 2050.

One person is trying to do something to save this world treasure. Israeli photojournalist Noam Bedein has made saving the Dead Sea his life’s ambition. I read about Noam’s efforts several months ago and contacted him before my wife, Niki, and I made our most recent visit to Israel last month. Noam arranged for us to join other photographers and interested parties on an exclusive boat expedition of the Dead Sea. We observed salt formations, caves, canyons, and sinkholes that looked as if they were on the surface of an alien planet.

While hauntingly beautiful, it was alarming to see Noam’s documentation of the Sea’s receding shores. Noam has complied thousands of photographs and uses them in lectures around the world in his effort to garner greater understanding of and support for actions to save this wonder of the world. Raising awareness of this tragedy in the making is the first of many steps required to ensure that the Dead Sea remains one of the wonders of the world and provides joy and benefits for generations to come.

You can read more about Noam’s Dead Sea story on his website.

The rest of my photos from our Dead Sea excursion can be viewed on my website.

Mum’s the Word


Spider, spiky, thistle, spoon, quill, anemone, pom—are these random words referring to things such as hair style, writing utensils, cheerleaders, and kitchen ware? They could be, but in this case they are descriptions of various forms of chrysanthemums (mums).  Mums are beautiful ornamental flowers that often peak in the fall.


According to Wikipedia, the name is derived from Ancient Greek and means gold flower. Mums were first cultivated in China 3,500 years ago. They were introduced to Japan in the 8th century CE, and adopted by the Emperor as his official seal. My good friend Jan Gordon, owner of East Meets West Flowers in Pleasantville, New York, informed me that the Emperor was drawn to the flower because of its various attributes, such as strength wisdom, honesty, purity, and nobility.  Mums finally arrived on American shores in 1798 from England.


Since then, horticulturalists have cross-bred many varieties. There are hundreds now in different shapes and colors. But mums are not just decorative and ornamental. The Chinese use them to make tea. Some European cultures view them as symbolic of death and use them at funerals.


In the U.S., the mum is the official flower of Chicago and Salinas, California. They have also been adopted by various fraternities and sororities. And while it was fun to use mums in the title of this piece, “Mum’s the Word” has nothing to do with the flower—it means “silent” and was made famous by William Shakespeare in Henry VI.


I was privileged recently to meet a retired gentleman who for decades has been an expert mum hobbyist. He often enters his mums into various competitions, and is frequently asked to judge others across the country.

_gjk1584 In one such competition this year, 10 of his mums were among the top 25 awardees. While getting to know each other, I simultaneously photographed most of his flowers. To see more of these magnificent specimens, click on this link to admire them on my website.

Photos by Gary Kohn