OCTOBER: Bullying prevention, breast cancer, arts & humanities and clergy

OCTOBER 2014: The warmth of Indian summer begins to wane in October, bringing the smell of autumn and the vibrancy of fall colors. This month, wear pink with pride in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and be sure to thank leaders in your congregation: It’s National Clergy Appreciation Month. Stop bullying in its tracks, because October is National Bullying Prevention Month. October is also LGBT History Month. Visit an art museum or attend a live performance in honor of October being National Arts & Humanities Month, and learn more about Polish and Filipino Americans, because both are honored this month. As the nights get chillier, rent a movie and spend a night at home with a buttery, poppin’ favorite: it’s Popcorn Month (and, for those of you with a sweet tooth, it’s Cookie Month, too).

Check out this month’s highlights:


Bullying Is No Laughing Matter headlines

DURING THIS SPECIAL MONTH: ReadTheSpirit books will donate $1 for every copy of “Bullying Is No Laughing Matter” to the PACER anti-bullying programs. If you’ve been hesitating, now is a perfect time to order a copy. (Just click on this cover to visit the bookstore.) And remember: Year-end holidays are coming. This is a great gift for the comics-lover on your list.

Founded in 2006 by the Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights (PACER), National Bullying Prevention Month calls communities nationwide to unite for a cause: raising awareness and providing education about bullying prevention. The first week in October marks the height of anti-bullying actions across the country, from events in schools, organizations and community groups to awareness campaigns by media outlets and corporations. PACER originally developed a bullying prevention campaign in response to society’s neutral response to bullying as “something that just happens;” bullying is more than that, PACER leaders argued, and the effects of childhood bullying can last a lifetime. ReadTheSpirit Books recently released a unique collection of 36 comics, Bullying Is No Laughing Matter. And, our publishing house is contributing to PACER’s important efforts by donating $1 for every copy of this new book through October to their anti-bullying effort.


With more than one million full-time Christian ministry workers and 350,000 senior pastors currently in the United States, it’s time to thank the folks that inspire your congregation: October is Clergy Appreciation Month. Inaugurated by nonprofit group Under His Wing in 1992, Clergy Appreciation Month encourages congregation members to express gratitude to their pastors and clergy leaders and to find ways to help, whether by offering volunteer yard work or bringing lunch. A rising demand brought Hallmark to begin printing National Clergy Day cards in 2001, and the cause currently has a Facebook page, too.


Pink ribbon for breast cancer awarenessFrom the White House in Washington, D.C. to skyscrapers in Tokyo, world buildings are illuminated in pink this month, in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM). Founded in 1985 as a partnership between the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical division of a chemical industry organization, NBCAM promotes mammography, breast cancer prevention and awareness of the signs of breast cancer. Today, the pink ribbon—gaining popularity since the Susan G. Komen Foundation began handing out pink ribbons at its race in 1991—had gained international status, and “pink” merchandise can be found in countless stores. October brings fundraising walks, runs and more; since 1983, participant count in Race for the Cure has skyrocketed from 800 to well over 1 million. NationalBreastCancer.org encourages an Early Detection Plan; offers educational and supportive resources for women with breast cancer; and raises funds for women who can’t afford a mammogram.


This month, Americans are urged to explore new facets of the arts and humanities—so get out there and try a new museum, live show or gallery viewing! The year was 1993 when National Arts & Humanities Month was established, with four goals in mind: to create a national, state and local focus on the arts and humanities through media; to encourage the participation of individuals, arts and humanities and other organizations worldwide; to provide an opportunity for federal, state and local businesses, government and civic leaders to declare their support for the arts and humanities; and to establish a highly visible vehicle for raising awareness about the arts and humanities. Looking for ideas to celebrate? Host or attend a National Arts & Humanities Event in your community, with more information here. Hosting resources are available here, and access the National ArtsMeet Calendar here. Raise awareness by sending a proclamation to your local elected officials (a sample proclamation link is on this page), or participate in the National Arts & Humanities Show Your Art Instagram campaign.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Yom Kippur: Millions of Jews mark the Day of Atonement

Street view of city with roads showing no cars, only a few cyclers, and skyscrapers in the background

The streets of Tel Aviv are almost empty on Yom Kippur, as Jews spend most of the morning and evening in synagogue. Photo by brunswicksquare, courtesy of Flickr

TO INTRODUCE our coverage of Yom Kippur, ReadTheSpirit magazine welcomes back author and Jewish scholar Joe Lewis as well as our regular Holidays columnist Stephanie Fenton. In addition to this column, you’ll enjoy these other stories:



SUNSET FRIDAY, OCTOBER 3: Although it’s a solemn day, Yom Kippur is really a celebration, the anniversary of God forgiving the Jewish people for worshiping a golden calf. By traditional calculation, Moses brought the second tablets to the people on Yom Kippur. God’s nature is revealed to Moses as a God of mercy and compassion, patience and kindness (Ex. 34:6), and this idea is central to the liturgy of the day.

The Torah prescribes self-denial for this day, most obviously fasting: Adults who are medically able will abstain from food and drink for about 25 hours, from sundown to sundown.

In the days of the Temple, there was an elaborate sacrificial ceremony during which the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies; confess his sins and those of his family and the whole community; and utter God’s four-letter name. The sacrificial animals included two goats; one was sacrificed and the other released (the original “scapegoat,”) to bear the community’s sins into the wilds. The mystery of the purpose and efficacy of this sacrifice prompt us to study its details in our prayer service. Without the Temple, all of this is denied us, and we ache with sorrow for our loss and lovingly recall the ancient ritual.

Relying on an interpretation of Hosea 14:2 that prayer replaces the sacrificial system, our liturgy is extensive and includes soaring poetry and abject confession. Our prayers take up most of the day.

We end the day with a blast on the shofar, eat our fill, and make plans for the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), which is only five days away.



The High Holidays draw to a close tonight, as Jews embark on a 25-hour fast accompanied by prayers that will draw them close to God: it is Yom Kippur, known also as the Day of Atonement. Arguably the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur beckons even the most nonobservant Jews to the synagogue for earnest prayer and in hopes of forgiveness.

To understand more about this fasting—which is different than most traditional “fasts” in Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions—read this week’s FeedTheSpirit column by Bobbie Lewis. (She’s Joe Lewis’s wife and a popular writer on many topics, including food.)

For families: Yom Kippur offers a unique opportunity for children to see their parents engaged in serious observance of their religious traditions, and the days leading up to the holiday allow families to examine and discuss their relationships. Families might want to write a themed letter each year; break fast together on Yom Kippur; and engage young members in the Yizkor memorial service, for parents who have passed away. Get more ideas here.

A different menu for Yom Kippur: Interested in what to eat to break the Yom Kippur fast in addition to Bobbie’s suggestions in FeedTheSpirit this week? You might also want to check out this article from the Washington Post, which examines traditions from Sephardic Jews—who dine on warm, sweet drinks, soups and a later meal of heavier curries and meats—to Indian Jews, who adapt dishes from the pies of Diwali.

Sports on Yom Kippur? Is one allowed to watch televised sports during the time of “afternoon nap” on Yom Kippur? This article contemplates that question.

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Categories: Jewish

Hajj 2014: Muslims travel to Mecca for ancient journey

Millions of people around big black box inside mosque building

Pilgrims circle the Kaaba during Hajj 2012. Photo by Adeel Anwer, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 1: Millions of Muslim pilgrims have been flowing into Mecca in recent weeks, by every mode of transportation available and from countries that span the globe: it’s Hajj 2014, the annual Islamic pilgrimage that is widely considered the largest annual gathering in the world.

Note: This year’s Hajj is expected to fall October 1-6, although the precise dates can vary depending on moon sightings.

As one of the five pillars of Islam, Hajj is a religious duty that must be undertaken by every adult Muslim at least once in his or her lifetime (given that it is manageable physically, mentally and financially); despite the term ‘religious duty’, Muslims regard Hajj as an experience to be treasured. The ritual of a pilgrimage to Mecca stretches back centuries before the advent of Islam—to the time of Ibrahim (Abraham)—yet it was the Islamic prophet Muhammad who cemented the rituals of Hajj, in the seventh century. (Learn more, and get news updates, from the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.) The uniform method of performing the rituals of Hajj is meant to demonstrate both the solidarity of the Muslim people and their submission to Allah (God).


Islamic tradition tells that in approximately 2000 BCE, Abraham was ordered by God to leave his wife, Hagar, and his son, Ishmael, alone in the desert of Mecca while he traveled to Canaan. After Abraham left, her food and water quickly ran out, so Hagar ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times. Exhausted, Hagar laid Ishmael down on the sand and begged God for help. Miraculously, a well sprang up at the baby’s feet, and that well—the Zamzam Well—continues to provide ample water to Hajj pilgrims today. Later, according to Muslim tradition, Abraham was commanded to build the Kaaba, so that people could perform pilgrimage there. It is believed that the Archangel Gabriel brought the Black Stone from heaven to be attached to the Kaaba; today, the Black Stone marks the beginning and ending point of each circle a pilgrim makes as he circulates the Kaaba during Hajj. (Wikipedia has details.)


During a time known as jahiliyyah in pre-Islamic Arabia, the Kaaba had become surrounded by pagan idols. To cleanse the Kaaba, the Prophet Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca in what is now regarded as the first Hajj. The pagan idols were destroyed, and Muhammad rededicated the Kaaba to God. At this point, Hajj became one of the five pillars of Islam, and adherents have been making the journey ever since. While on Hajj, men and women are permitted to perform the rituals side-by-side as a reminder that they will also stand together on Judgment Day.

Crowd gathers at large, circular stone wall

Pilgrims participate in the ritual stoning of the devil at Hajj 2006. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Prior to the start of Hajj, pilgrims go to the entry station where they bathe, don special clothing and make a statement of intent. The first ritual of Hajj is performed inside the Grand Mosque complex: pilgrims circle the Kaaba structure seven times, counterclockwise, reciting prayers (tawaf). Following tawaf, many drink from the Zamzam well. Next, Muslims walk rapidly between the hills of Sara and Marwa seven times, as Hagar did (al-Sai). Another statement of intent is made, after which the faithful travel through Mina, and on to the plains of Mount Arafat.

Intense prayer for forgiveness is offered at Arafat, as Muhammad said, “Far more people are freed from the Hellfire on the Day of Arafat than on any other day.” This portion of the Hajj journey is one of the most important. Small stones are gathered, and the following day, pilgrims perform a symbolic “stoning of the devil” at Mina (rami).

Animal sacrifices are performed as Muslims the world over celebrate Eid al-Adha, and male pilgrims on Hajj customarily shave their heads. Pilgrims return to Mecca to repeat Tawaf, crossing Sara and Marwa, performing additional symbolic stonings and circulating the Kaaba one final time, to do a farewell tawaf.


This year, Kenya will have the highest number of pilgrims traveling to Mecca for Hajj in the history of the country, with a record-breaking 4,500 pilgrims—up from 3,000 last year, in 2013. (Read more in the Standard Digital.) Not all numbers are increasing, though: This year, visas have been banned by the Saudi Ministry of Health for Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, for fear of pilgrims from those countries spreading the incurable Ebola virus that is currently most prevalent in the nations. Overall, numbers of attendees at Hajj have been steadily increasing in recent years, although last year’s attendance of approximately 2 million—an astonishing drop from the previous year’s approximately 3 million—shocked many.

Interested to read more on the Ebola virus—and what is being done to prevent a Hajj outbreak? Learn more in this article, which also discusses the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS) and how pilgrims can take proactive measures to protect themselves. The BBC also published a story on the subject.

Bollywood icon to perform Hajj: India is buzzing with headlines about Bollywood icon Kadir Khan, a 78-year-old celebrity who has received several film awards and will perform Hajj at Mecca this year.

Grand Mosque expansion continues: Construction on the fourth extension project of the Grand Mosque—which is expected to be complete in 2020—continues, but this year, more than 2 million pilgrims can use the newly expanded mosque and courtyard areas for prayers. The extension projects began in response to growing annual numbers of Hajj pilgrims. Check this out! The Huffington Post published a series of photographs of the Grand Mosque complex, expanding through the years.

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Categories: Muslim

Ethiopians celebrate first Meskel since making UNESCO list

Children in colorful robes with dark skin stand in crowd appearing to perform

Children participate in the Meskel festivities at Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia, 2012. Photo by opalpeterliu, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 26: Bonfires ignite an ancient story as darkness spreads across the Ethiopian landscape tonight: Ethiopian Orthodox and Eritrean Orthodox Christians celebrate Demera, the eve of the grand holiday of Meskel. Recalling the discovery of the True Cross by Queen Helena in the fourth century, the bonfires of Meskel eve recreate the colossal bonfire that St. Helena experienced in a dream. Ethiopians remember a traditional Christian story that says St. Helena instructed the people of Jerusalem to bring wood for a bonfire; after adding incense, the bonfire’s smoke rose high into the sky and, returning to the ground, touched the precise spot where the true cross was located. It’s believed that a part of the true cross was brought to Ethiopia, where it lies at the mountain of Amba Geshen.


The Meskel festival traces its roots back 1,600 years, and although it hasn’t been celebrated with the same level of enthusiasm in every century, today’s Ethiopia is packed with adherents who grandly celebrate Meskel. (Photographs and more of last year’s ceremonies are at International Business Times.) Colorful Demera processions begin in the early evening of Meskel eve; firewood is gathered by community members, and the bonfire site is sprinkled with fresh yellow daisies. (Learn more from Wikipedia and AllAfrica.) Bonfires burn the night through, and when the flames at last begin to smolder, leftover ash is used to mark the foreheads of the faithful, in an act similar to that of Ash Wednesday. On Meskel, the people of Ethiopia attend religious services, gather with family, and feast together.

Did you know? Ethiopia is the only country in the world that celebrates the finding of the cross on a national level. Ethiopia recently petitioned—and succeeded, in December of 2013—in requesting UNESCO to register the Meskel events in Addis Ababa as a cultural heritage experience, for its “ancient nature … color and significance … and the attraction it has for a growing number of tourists as well as the immense participation of the society.”

How does Meskel taste, sound and feel? Ethiopian honey wine, exotic spices and the spiciest of hot peppers dazzle the plates mounded with food, as family honored recipes fill the table. In community settings, dozens of women gather to prepare food for hungry churchgoers, humming and singing traditional songs while they work. Homemade cheese, tomatoes and lentils are served with injera flatbread. (Make injera with this recipe, from Food.com.)

Following food, the time-honored Ethiopian coffee ceremony commences. (Toast your own cup to the coffee ceremony—or celebrate with family and friends—by learning more here.)


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Categories: Christian

Rosh Hashanah 5775: Jewish families begin the High Holidays

Buckets of red and green apples

Apples, often dipped in honey, are common fare for Rosh Hashanah. Photo by Mike, courtesy of Flickr

TO INTRODUCE our coverage of the Jewish High Holidays, ReadTheSpirit magazine welcomes author and Jewish scholar Joe Lewis as well as our regular Holidays columnist Stephanie Fenton. In addition to this column, you’ll enjoy these other new stories for Rosh Hashanah:



Man in white garments with dark vest holds shofar above his head

A man holds a shofar. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 24—Rosh Hashanah is one of four “new years” in the Jewish calendar. (Our civil calendar has several new years, too, including: a school year, a tax year, a calendar year and others.) The Jewish calendar counts years from Rosh Hashanah, even though the Torah says this festival is “the first day of the seventh month” (Num. 29:1).

Monarchies count regnal years from the monarch’s accession—1 James, 2 James, and so on. In the same way, the Jewish calendar counts years from the time of creation, when God became sovereign of the created universe. We declare that “Today is the birthday of the world.” On the evening of September 24, by traditional Jewish numbering, we begin the year 5775.

In the Torah, this holiday is a time of “teru’ah” (Lev 23:24; Num 29:21), which today refers to a musical note blown on the shofar, an instrument made from a ram’s horn. Our liturgy celebrates three concepts of the day: God’s sovereignty, God’s “memory,” and the shofar blasts. It’s as if we renew our loyalty to our sovereign God with a noisy coronation parade, confident that our omniscient ruler will dispense perfect justice.

This is good news for anyone free of “undivulged crimes / Unwhipped of justice” (King Lear, III:ii); the rest of us have reason to tremble as we reflect on our personal and communal failings of the past year. The Torah mentions God’s “book” (Ex 32:31-32) of people who are free from sin. Our liturgy builds on this image and we pray for the ability to repent and be forgiven for our failings and to be inscribed in the “book of life.”

The traditional greeting, Leshanah tovah tikatevu vetechatemu (may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year) starts the year with plural passive subjunctive verbs, displaying our command of Hebrew grammar.



SUNSET WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 24—Tonight through Yom Kippur, Jews will observe the Days of Awe, asking and granting forgiveness and repenting sins. This period also is commonly referred to as the Jewish High Holidays. There are variances throughout the season, depending on each individual’s approach to Jewish observance and to other factors, including a family’s ethnic origin. There are Jewish communities with long histories in many parts of the world. (Learn more from Jewish Virtual Library and Wikipedia.)

Greet the New Year 5775 with crisp harvest apples, sweet honey and fresh figs. In addition to our own FeedTheSpirit column, with a link above, more recipe ideas are at Newsday, Chabad.org and Eating Well.

Looking for a healthier adaption of traditional recipes? Learn tips and tricks from this article in JWeekly, where a mom melds generational recipes and her family’s healthy eating habits.

In the News: Popular Jewish a cappella group the Maccabeats recently released its newest music video, entitled Home, shot against scenes in Jerusalem. Known for its style of mixing original lyrics with the lyrics of other popular artists, this video features sounds from One Direction, Andy Grammar, Daughtry, Diddy and Phillip Phillips. Check out their video here.


The folks at Four Corners of the Earth, who among other things are working with a small Jewish community in Ghana, produced this brief video featuring a visitor who tries to blow the shofar and a little boy from the village in Ghana who obviously has a talent for it. Enjoy!

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Categories: Jewish

Autumnal Equinox: Pagans, Wiccans observe event with Mabon and Ostara

Table set with candles, rocks, herbs, Wiccan symbols and stars

An altar set for Mabon. Photo in public domain

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 22: The autumnal equinox ushers in equal day and night around the globe, and for Pagans and Wiccans, this celestial event brings Mabon—the second harvest festival. As the Earth’s subsolar point crosses the Equator, the planet begins moving southward, increasing darkness in the Northern Hemisphere and light in the Southern Hemisphere. Wiccans use Mabon (or Ostara, in the Southern Hemisphere) as an opportunity for thanksgiving: to welcome the impending dark, to give thanks for the long hours of sunlight of summer and to rejoice in the current bountiful harvest. Spicy mulled wines, crisp apples and warming cider are offered and consumed.

Did you know? Mabon is the name of a god from Welsh mythology.

In the agricultural societies of centuries past, autumn meant gathering together after the long, laborious hours of summer planting. Though fewer families now spend the summer planting, tending and gathering, autumn can still be a time of winding down and reflecting. Wiccans recognize the aging Goddess and spend ample time in nature.

Make it! Apple dolls and Mabon cider: Anyone can celebrate the season (and its produce) with this craft—applehead dolls, complete with intricate features and explained at Martha Stewart.com. Brew up some Mabon cider with the easy-to-follow recipe found here.

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Categories: Wiccan / Pagan

Patriot Day: Americans remember 2,977 lives lost on September 11, 2001

President Barack Obama bows head in front of three American flags on poles

President Barack Obama bows his head during a memorial prayer on September 11, 2013. Photo in public domain

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 11: Remember the lives lost and the loved ones still mourning on 9/11, or Patriot Day—the day designated to recall the tragic events in the United States that took place on September 11, 2001. Each year, memorials across the country pay tribute to the 2,977 who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of 2001. Though the day was originally called Prayer and Remembrance for the Victims of the Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001, a shorter name—Patriot Day—soon took favor. A resolution introduced in October of 2001 decreed that each President should designate September 11, of each year, as “Patriot Day,” and it was signed into law that December. Nationwide, a moment of silence is observed at 8:46 a.m. EDT. (Wikipedia has details.)

Learn more about the 9/11 Memorial, or plan a visit to the site, by visiting here.

Red rose on black granite with names etched on it, skyscrapers in back

A rose at the memorial of Tower One of the World Trade Center. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


‘National Days of Prayer and Remembrance,’ this year, was declared by the White House as September 5, 6 and 7—the weekend prior to Patriot Day. The 2014 proclamation for the observance was posted on September 4 this year.

This year, CNN reports on a fireman’s bracelet found after prayer—read the story of the woman who found it, along with her emotional visit to the fireman’s family, here.

Boston’s 9/11 memorial is degenerating rapidly, the Boston Globe reports, causing questioning over maintenance measures. Read the story here.

Plan prayer and personalized tributes for 9/11 with suggestions from USA.gov and EngageWorship.org.

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Categories: National Observances