Sunday, October 25, 2009

Halloween and Havdalah

 If you're Jewish (or just curious,) ever wonder what to do when two events "collide"? In this case, the end of Shabbat coincides with Halloween. Edmon J. Rodman gives you the answer to this dilemma below.

October 21, 2009

When Havdalah haunts Halloween

There will be no eerie glow coming from your Havdalah candle on Saturday evening, Oct. 31. No boiling or toiling in your Kiddush cup or smell of sulfur in your spice box.
Shabbat will be ending, Halloween beginning, and you can use this time to light up their differences by creating a Halloween Havdalah.
It’s not that I am proposing a Goth Shabbat.
Each October our print media gives us umpteen articles about how to carve a pumpkin. Here we will also be carving, but for a totally different result the medium will be time.
What I am suggesting is using the transition from Shabbat to Halloween to accentuate the distinction between Holy Shabbat time and the secular every day.
Recent surveys show the average American home with children will spend more than $50 this year on Halloween. How much will we be spending on Havdalah?
Requiring a braided multi-wicked candle ($4), a little kosher grape juice or Kiddush wine ($4), and some cloves, nutmeg or cinnamon in a shaker, Havdalah is a wonderful atmospheric observance whose rewards continue long after the costumes have been put away and the candy gobbled.
The October horror story isn’t whether Jews celebrate Halloween—it’s now observed largely as a secular day—the story that should have us shaking is whether Jews celebrate Shabbat.
Work’s necessity makes us forget: There is an almost tangible distinctiveness to Jewish time.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, in his classic book “The Sabbath,” speaks of Shabbat as a spiritual place, a “palace in time.”
Using the drama of Havdalah to take leave of the palace helps create a defining change of scene, especially before you and the kids head out into an October’s All Hollow’s eve.
The heart of Havdalah can be found in the phrase “ha’mavdil bain kodesh l’chol,”—“distinguishing between the sacred and the secular.” The name Havdalah comes from the verb “l’havdil,” to separate or distinguish.
Some Jews even say the word l’havdil when they want to make it clear that two things are much different, that they have no business of even being thought of together.
With Havdalah you are saying l’havdil between Shabbat and Halloween, expressing that there is a difference.
For a text for your service, most prayer books have a page or two for Havdalah. A little light on prayer books? Go online.
Rabbi Amy Scheinerman of Beth Shalom Congregation of Carroll County in Maryland has prepared a service complete with Hebrew transliteration, including a tip on how to create a homemade Havdalah candle. She suggests using warm water to soften two or three Chanukah candles and then twist them together.
You can also simply hold two candles together with wicks intertwined. Be sure to wrap foil around the candle’s base for a holder.
Wait till you see three stars to begin. Doorbells may be ringing; the kids restless. Look up to the sky, hold your ground (with three boys, it’s familiar ground) and go for the full difference between darkness and light.
Lower the lights. Light the candle and hold it up. Read the first part about deliverance. In contrast to the fear and shock themes of Halloween, the first line ends with resolute words for both child and adult: “I am confident and unafraid.”
Say Kiddush, the blessing over the wine. Don’t drink yet.
Kiddush wine or grape juice is a simple drink—not Halloween bubbling punch or a Bloody Mary. It’s sweet and hopefully so will be your week.
Next, pick up the spices, “b’samim,” say the blessing. They are a kind of smelling salts to revive your post-Shabbat spirits. Shake them, fully breathe them in, then pass them around. So much of Halloween is a me-me-me grab fest; b’samim is a communal pleasure.
Bless the flame. Two or more wicks burning as one broadcast, especially in a darkened room—no jack o’ lantern or blinking skulls required—the difference between light and darkness. To remind yourself of the difference, hold your palms up toward the candle, curve your fingers inward and see the shadows they cast.
Say the final blessings about God creating everything and everyone distinctly different, as well as distinguishing between the sacred and the everyday. Drink some wine.
Put out the candle in the wine. My kids loved doing this. Listen to the sizzle as the candle is quenched. Better than any sound effect, it is the sound of Shabbat ending and the new week with all its promise beginning.
Sing “Hamavdil,” a feel-good song that connects the blessings of Shabbat to the rest of the week. One verse goes: “Our families and our means, and our peace, may God increase.”
It’s our own kind of candy.
Now, wish each other a “shavuah tov,” a “gutte vokh,” a good week; no “boos” allowed.
Close the ceremony by singing “Eliyahu Hanavee.”
Better than any costumed character or mask, we have Eliyahu, who legend has it ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot. We leave the door open for him at the seder and invoke his name here at Havdalah, hoping for a time of Shabbat-like messianic peace—a time without candy wrappers, fake fog or cardboard skeletons.
(Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist writing on Jewish life from Los Angeles.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Green, Brown, Dead...I'm a "Leaf Peeper"

I finally got a "diagnosis" for: "Autumn Envy." I am a "Leaf Peeper." So says Raina Kelley in a recent issue of Newsweek magazine. Ms. Kelley's article identifies those of us who trek to her area to view the lovely autumn colors she sees yearly as a New England resident as "Leaf Peepers." She is tired of the tourists who make yearly treks to her area just to admire leaves that she and others in her area will have to rake up. I guess I can understand her distress over that, but unless you have never been exposed to the colors of leaves changing, or just have a fondness for greenery year round (which seems a little unnatural to me,) the splendor of autumn colors is wonderful. Or that's the way I see it.

While I have lived in the southern United States my entire life, I did live in areas where the leaves changed colors reflecting the changes of the seasons. I took it for granted, even though like Ms. Kelley, I recall raking leaves or at least helping put them in piles as my parents labored. It was worth it though.

After graduating from high school, I went off to college in an area where the autumn and winter weather is reasonably mild compared to say, New England. The longer I stayed in this area of heat and high humidity (where I still reside because I married someone native to this region) the more I began to realize that there are only three seasons here: the leaves are green, brown, then dead (if they fall off the trees when it gets to freezing temperatures.)  No vivid golds, purples and crimsons signifying seasonal changes, except in random cases.

The other thing I took for granted in the more "northern" southern states was a big shock to my husband. Visiting the Birmingham (Alabama) Botanical Gardens one year, something scampered across our path. My normally calm husband was startled and said "What was THAT?" I, of course, asked "WHAT?" He pointed. I looked at him and calmly stated "O that's a chipmunk!" It was then that I realized my husband, raised around the flat lands of  a southern state only knew chipmunks from the old "Chip n Dale" cartoons of our childhood.

Last year, we made a trek up to where I lived in Tennessee briefly as a child. It was autumn. I was in heaven, and so was my husband. We are going back to be "leaf peepers" there in a couple of weeks. I hope one day to return to the visible seasonal cycles, even if snow is part of that scenario. Just not TOO much snow. Which probably means, unlike Ms.Kelley, I won't ever be a resident of New England. But perhaps one day, I'll make the trip up there during the height of autumn, just to be annoying.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Holocaust Experience in Eighteen Hours?

Christian school wants to simulate Anne Frank’s hiding with sleepover
> Posted by Akilah Johnson on October 9, 2009 01:29 PM (Mentioned in Tablet Magazine online)

The eight-grade class at Bethany Christian School is having a co-ed sleepover. The goal is help students better understand Anne Frank, the Jewish girl made famous by the posthumous publication of the diary documenting her experiences hiding during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II.

Jennifer VanHekken, or Mrs. V as students know her, said her class has been studying "Anne Frank: Diary of Young Girl" and thought it would be a good idea for them to spend 18 hours together in her classroom.

So starting at 4:30 p.m. today, her 14 students will turn over their cell phones, iPods, laptops and other gadgets that must be plugged into the wall. They also can’t bring any snacks because they’ll be eating potatoes, bread, carrots, coffee and oatmeal — pretty much what Anne’s family ate during their two years in hiding.

The kids aren’t allowed to leave the room, other than bathroom breaks, until noon on Saturday. Boys and girls will be separated during sleep time.

“It is my desire that through this project, our students will better appreciate the difficulties faced by many Jews who were in hiding during WWII and have a fresh view of Anne Frank’s life,” Mrs. V said in a letter sent home to parents.

There are problems with this "Holocaust Experience," even though the exercise was a possibly well-meaning attempt to help students understand the Holocaust which ended the lives of over six million people during the 1930s until 1944.

Eighteen hours of deprivation for students in the twenty-first century may be difficult, but there are elements missing in this "experience." Unlike Anne Frank and others who experienced that dark period of history, even with food and technological deprivation, the students could realize that at the end of eighteen hours, they would be able to walk out of this experience and return to a normal life without the dehumanizing "processing" done at concentration camps, crowded conditions, illness, and the constant fear of death, uncertain times of restriction, abuse, separation (often permanent) from loved ones.

While I am fairly certain that the teacher meant in no way to minimize the suffering of those who endured dehumanizing conditions and terrifying experiences, I feel a better way to approach this would have been to have a survivor talk to the class. Granted, the survivors are slowly becoming few in number as the years pass, but they have the best way of discussing their experience with students and gauging what is age appropriate in the telling of their memories.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rewriting the Bible

I heard this item below on a recent news broadcast (I believe it was The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.) Until then, I didn't know that such a rewriting of scripture was in the works.

Conservatives Find Bible Too Liberal
So they’ll write a new one

By Marissa Brostoff | 3:00 pm October 13, 2009

Conservapedia, the right-wing version of Wikipedia, has launched a project to eliminate what it considers liberal bias in modern versions of the Bible. Part of the problem is translators who throw around words like “comrade” and “labor,” according to Andrew Schlafly, the website’s founder (and son of anti-feminist crusader Phyllis Schlafly), and part of the problem is, well, some teachings of the Bible. An improved version, according to Schlafly’s guidelines, will not be “emasculated” or “dumbed down” as leading evangelical versions of the Scriptures apparently are, will “accept the logic of hell … as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil,” and, most amusingly, will “express free market parables”—which might be a stretch given that, as Stephen Colbert pointed out, “the meek shall inherit the earth” is most certainly a bunch of “liberal claptrap.”

The irony of the whole project, it seems to us, is that Schlafly is far from the first to politically reframe the Bible or other sacred texts—but that’s usually the province of liberals, because they’re not religious fundamentalists. It’s one thing to update a man-made text you believe is both valuable and problematic; changing the literal word of God to suit your political ends is quite a different story.

The Bible: Lost in Conservative Translation [Guardian]

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Life, Interrupted.....

One problem with blogging...You can get burned out if you do too many too often--I have had three (including this one) running in the past year. So I took a break, and decided to pare down my blogging time. Hopefully, I'll be here more often. Life also got "in the way" with various changes occurring with my job, spirituality, and relationships.

In recent months, due to the email relationship I've maintained with a person I met several years ago, who was only in my area for a year, I have found a new spiritual road. Check out:

Rabbi Laura Baum (whose photo is above, that's not my photo) served as a rabbinical student with the Jewish community in my area. She has developed a wonderful website which is worth checking out, regardless of your religious background. It's multimedia, and as is the current phrase "Spirituality for the 21st Century."