Friday, September 28, 2007

Maddie the Soccer Girl


Playing for Hayes Middle School. Go Hornets!

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Thursday, September 27, 2007


After the solemn holiday of Yom Kippur, it's time for a more joyful Jewish holiday - Sukkot. It lasts for 7 days, but the 2 separate holidays following the festival (Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah) are related and sometimes thought of as part of Sukkot. It is the last of three pilgrimage festivals.

Historically, Sukkot commemorates the 40-year period when the Israelites wandered in the desert, living in temporary shelters. The word "Sukkot" is a plural word means "booths" or "huts" (or "shelters" or "covers") and refers to those temporary dwellings. The dwellings were made of branches and were easy to assemble, take apart and travel with.

Sukkot is also a harvest festival sometimes referred to as the Festival of Ingathering ("Chag Ha'asif"). This focuses on hospitality, and it is important to share your meal with others.

No work is permitted the first two days of Sukkot, but okay on the remaining days. Those days are generally used to prepare food, clean house or travel to visit family all in celebration or preparation for the holiday. Activities that will interfere with relaxation and enjoyment of the holiday (laundry, mending, labor-intensive activities) are not permitted.

The focal point of the festival is the sukkah (the singular form of sukkot). Those who observe Sukkot build and live in a sukkah for 7 days. They are temporary shelters, the roofs covered with foliage, and fruits and vegetables are hung inside. Families eat their meals in the huts. Most people just eat in them, but some sleep in them as well. You can buy kits to build them. They can be built of any material, but the roof must be organic.

On each of the 7 days of Sukkot, the Torah requires the Jew to take Four Species of plants and to grasp and shake them in a specific manner. This ceremony is a symbolic prayer to invoke God's blessing for rain in the coming year for the earth's vegetation. This is usually done in synagogue during the daily prayer services but can be done at home or in the sukkah.

Shemini Atzeret ("the assembly of the eighth (day)") is a separate festival that follows immediately after Sukkot, on the 8th day. The family returns indoors to eat and sleep in their house, special synagogue services are held, and holiday meals are served.

Simchat Torah ("the joy of the Torah") falls on the 9th day. The very last portion of the Torah is read in synagogue during morning services and the very first portion of the Torah (beginning of Genesis) is read immediately after. This conveys the idea that Torah study never ends. In Orthodox synagogues, all the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark and worshippers engage in rounds of spirited dancing. In the Former Soviet Union, Simchat Torah was the day when Jews would gather in the street outside the synagogue to dance and proclaim their Jewishness openly.


Sunday, September 23, 2007


Today is the autumnal equinox. An equinox is when the Sun is directly above the equator, and day and night are nearly of the same length.

The Neopagan/Wiccan festival Mabon is celebrated on this day. It is also called Harvest Home, The Feast of the Ingathering or Harvest End.

The festival is not an authentic ancient festival in name or date. The name may derive from Mabon ap Modron, a character from Welsh mythology. The name "Mabon" wasn't used for the festival until the 1970s, when it was made up for a religious studies project. Apparently the name was chosen to impart a more authentic-sounding "Celtic" feel to the event. It is used much more in America than Britain.

It is a ritual of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth and a recognition of the need to share them to secure the blessings of the Goddess and God during the winter months. The Autumn Equinox divides the day and night equally, so respect is paid to the coming dark and thanks given to the waning sunlight. It is time to reap what has been sewn and give thanks for the harvest and the bounty.

Druids call this celebration Mea'n Fo'mhair and honor the The Green Man, the God of the Forest, by offering libations (ciders, wines, herbs and fertilizers) to trees. Wiccans celebrate the aging Goddess as she passes from Mother to Crone, and her consort the God as he prepares for death and re-birth.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yom Kippur

Today is the Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur ("Yom HaKippurim" in the Torah), also known as the Day of Atonement. It is the most holy day of the Jewish year, and is a day for atonement and repentance for sins. It is the climax of the Yamim Noraim ("Days of Awe"), and with Rosh Hashanah forms the Jewish High Holy Days.

Yom Kippur is considered the date on which Moses received the second set of Ten Commandments, following the completion of the second 40 days of instructions from God. At this same time, the Israelites were granted atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf, hence its designation as the Day of Atonement.

This day is set aside to atone for the sins of the past year. You may recall on Rosh Hashanah, God inscribes names in the books of account when he makes his judgments. On Yom Kippur, it is the last chance to demonstrate repentance and make amends before the books are sealed. Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and God, not for sins against another person. To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible. That must all be done before Yom Kippur.

No work can be performed on this day, and there are 5 other prohibitions specified in the Talmud*: Eating and drinking; Wearing leather shoes; Bathing/washing; Anointing oneself with perfumes or lotions; and Sexual relations. Abstention begins 18 minutes before sundown and ends after nightfall the next day. In Israel, by law there is no broadcast radio or television, no public transportation, and airports are closed.

A large and festive meal is eaten on the afternoon before the fast begins. Services are held before sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur and for morning and afternoon prayers the next day.
Most of the holiday is spent in the synagogue in prayer. It is customary to wear white, which symbolizes purity and the promise that our sins shall be made as white as snow .


*I wondered about the difference between the Torah and the Talmud. The Torah is the written holy scripture, and the Torah explains how to interpret and apply the scripture. See:

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ganesh Chaturthi

The Hindu festival of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrates the birth of Lord Ganesha. The festival begins this year on 9/15. I have come to especially enjoy learning about Hindu holidays - they have such colorful gods/goddesses, stories and rituals.

Ganesha (or Ganesh) is the Hindu god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune. He is famous for being a trickster and for his sense of humor. He is the god of new beginnings and is worshiped before people undertake a journey or embark upon a new venture.

Lord Ganesha is the second son of the god Shiva and his second consort, the goddess Parvati [Incidentally, when Janice's character was introduced on the Sopranos, she was using the name Parvati and insisted everyone call her that. Her back story was that she had changed her name while living in an ashram in California. She later dropped the name, however.]

I am sure you have seen representations of Ganesha -- he is the one with the elephant head. I have wondered why he has such a head. I found conflicting stories.

The first story (which I found some variation of several places) is that Parvati created Ganesha out of a balm she used for her bath, then had him guard her door while she bathed. While she bathed, Lord Shiva returned. Ganesha didn't know him and refused him entry. Shiva got mad and cut off his head. Then he realized it was his wife's son, so he sent his attendants to get him the head of the first living creature they could find [or the first one facing north], and it turned out to be an elephant.

However, another story tells that Parvati was bored and started praying for a son. She gave birth to a beautiful boy she named Ganesha and was so proud of him she invited all the gods and goddesses to come and admire him. They all admired and blessed him, except for Parvati's brother, Sani (Saturn). It seems Sani had been cursed so that whenever he looked at someone, they were turned to ashes. So he didn't want to look at his nephew. But Parvati begged him to look at the baby just one time and when he did, Ganesha's head flew off. One of the gods said he would live live if the head of the first creature found was transplanted on Ganesha's neck, and another god went off and found an elephant.

So anyway.

During the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, statues of Ganesha are installed in homes and elaborately decorated mantapas (outdoor prayer halls or pavilions). The idols are worshiped with families and friends. A special puja (ritual) is performed twice a day. Public celebrations are also held, and it is a time for many cultural activities like songs, dramas and orchestra.

On the last (11th) day of the festival, the idols are taken through the streets in a procession accompanied with dancing and singing for a send off. Everyone joins in the procession, shouting "Ganapathi Bappa Morya, Purchya Varshi Laukariya" (O father Ganesha, come again early next year). After the final offering is made, the idols are carried to a river or sea and immersed, symbolizing the start of Ganesha's journey to his home on Mount Kailash, while taking away with him the misfortunes of all man.

Unfortunately, this festival has a negative environmental impact. Traditionally, the idol was sculpted out of earth taken from near the home, then returned to the earth in a nearby water body, representing the cycle of life in nature. But eventually these idols began to be produced commercially using Plaster of Paris. Plaster of Paris takes longer to dissolve and releases toxic elements into the water, plus the paint contains heavy metals. There are groups trying to come up with solutions to this problem.



Friday, September 14, 2007


We have become so polarized, and instead of getting better, as we presumably evolve toward a more enlightened society, it seems to be getting worse. Blacks vs. Whites. Democrats v. Republicans. Men vs. Women. Conservatives vs. Liberals. Christians vs. Non-Christians. Muslim vs. Jew. Rich vs. Poor. Gay vs. Straight. My sports team vs. Your Sports team.

Everywhere you turn there's someone who thinks they are better than someone else because of one of these things or a hundred other groups.

We have to come together. Polarization keeps us apart. We cannot reach our potential as human beings and as spiritual beings if we continue this way. We must learn from one another, try to see one another's point of view, meet in the middle, look for our common interests, and work for the highest good of everyone. EVERY one. The answers are usually not found in the extreme of either side, but somewhere in the middle. We have to learn to appreciate one another and love one another and learn to live together in such a way that everyone -- EVERY one -- can be happy and free and prosperous.

We don't have to look down at other people to feel better about ourselves.

We really are in this together.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Rosh ha-Shanah

Today is the the Jewish New Year, "Rosh ha-Shanah", meaning literally, "head of the year" or "first of the year." But it is also the Day of Judgment (Yom ha-Din), the Day of Remembrance (Yom ha-Zikkaron) and the Day of Shofar Blowing (Yom Teruah). The holiday is actually celebrated over 48 hours.

Jews examine their past deeds, ask for forgiveness for their sins, review the history of their people and pray for Israel. The Shofar (a trumpet made from a ram's horn) is blown in temple to herald the beginning of the High Holy Days, a 10-day period.

Similar to the Islamic holiday recently celebrated (Nisfu Sha'ban), Jews believe that on Rosh Hashanah God judges all of the inhabitants of the world and apportions the provisions for each person for the coming year. Judgment is carried out by recording names in three books of account. The names of the righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life, and they are sealed "to live." The wicked are "blotted out of the book of the living". Those that fall in between get another chance to repent and become righteous over the next 10 days leading to Yom Kippur (the day of atonement).

No work is permitted on this holiday. After afternoon services on the first day, a body of water containing live fish is visited in order to symbolically "cast away" sins into the river (Tashlikh, meaning "casting off") by emptying one's pockets or throwing bread or pebbles into the water.

It is customary to have a family holiday meal with traditional foods, including apples and honey to symbolize sweetness, blessings, abundance and hope for the year ahead. Depending on local custom, other symbolic foods mentioned in the Talmud may be served such as tongue (meat from the head, to symbolize the "head" of the year); dates; black-eyed beans [my family always ate black eyed peas at New Year and I think Husband and I were wondering why recently].; leek; spinach; and gourd. Challah bread, which is usually braided, is served round to symbolize the cycle of the year.

The common greeting at this time is L'shanah tovah ("for a good year"). This is a shortening of a phrase meaning "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year."

Sources/More Info:


Today is the start of the Islamic holiday of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, the most sacred holiday of the Muslim year. It is a time of atonement somewhat similar to Yom Kippur and Lent. Ramadan is divided into three 10-day parts: Rahmat (mercy of God), Maghfirat (forgiveness of God), and Najat (salvation).

Ramadan is a time of worship, reading the Qur'an, charitable acts, and the purification of individual behavior. Fasting is considered to be the third pillar or religious obligation of Islam, providing many benefits including learning self-control. During this period, Muslims must abstain from food, drink, smoking and sexual intercourse from dawn until dusk each day. At the end of the day, fast is broken with prayer and a meal called the iftar. After the meal, it is customary to visit family and friends. It is common to go to the Mosque and spend several hours praying and studying the Quran.

The good that is acquired through the fast can be destroyed by five things: the telling of a lie; slander; denouncing someone behind his back; a false oath; and greed or covetousness. These are considered offensive at all times, but are most offensive during the Fast of Ramadan

Ramadan ends with Eid-al-Fitr or the Festival of Fast-Breaking.