Holocaust Remembrance Day: World reflects on Elie Wiesel, genocide education

“I have tried to keep memory alive … I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the centre of the universe.”

-Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), from the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, December 1986

 

Asian woman looks at reflective wall covered in numbers, outdoors

A woman at the New England Holocaust Memorial, Boston. Photo by Wally Gobetz, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, JANUARY 27: A focus on remembrance and education activities is the United Nations theme for Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017 under the title, “Holocaust Remembrance: Educating for a Better Future.” On this, the anniversary date of the liberation of Auschwtiz-Birkenau, every United Nations member nation is asked to commemorate the memory of those who perished during the Nazi genocide. According to the UN, the theme for 2017 emphasizes the fact that Holocaust education has a universal dimension and can serve as a platform for discussing human rights, increasing tolerance and defending the collective humanity.

(Note: The older annual remembrance of the Holocaust, Yom Hashoah, will begin at sundown on April 23 this year.)

Following a 2005 session that marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of concentration camps and the end of the Holocaust, the United Nations established International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Countries worldwide remember the 6 million European Jews and millions of others who lost their lives during the massive Nazi “Final Solution.” Each Jan. 27, the United Nations reinforces its rejection of denial of the Holocaust, its rejection of religious intolerance, and the need to preserve Holocaust sites. (Learn more from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.)

The camp we know as Auschwitz actually was a complex of three camps, and together, they were the largest such facility established by the Nazi regime. Auschwitz II—also known as Auschwitz-Birkenau—was established in 1942, and of the three camps, Auschwitz II contained the highest number of prisoners. Between 1942 and 1944, more than 1 million Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau; the largest group of Jews sent to the camp came from Hungary, in numbers approximated at 426,000. It wasn’t until Jan. 27, 1945 that Soviet forces evacuated Auschwitz.

HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY 2017: ELIE WIESEL & EXHIBITIONS

Some major observances of International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017 include remembrances of Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor, author of “Night” and Nobel Peace Prize winner who passed away in July of 2016. (CNN has a tribute article on the life of Elie Wiesel.) Other major events surrounding Holocaust Remembrance Day include the exhibition State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda; a screening of the documentary film Persona Non Grata, which reveals the story of a Japanese diplomat who issued visas to Jewish refugees in Kaunas, Lithuania, and saved thousands of lives; and a discussion entitled, “Sugihara: Being an Upstander in a Tumultuous World.” Memorial events are encouraged in all UN member states. (Learn more here.)

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Categories: AnniversaryInternational ObservancesJewish

Celebrate light and freedom at Hanukkah

A Mother and Daughter light Hanukkah candles

Mother and daughter light Hanukkah candles. (Photo by Trinitro Tolueno, who allows public use via Wikimedia Commons.)

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 24: On this night—and for a total of 8 nights—it’s Hanukkah. Jewish families light candles, fry up latkes and many children try their luck at a game played with a four-sided top known as a dreidel. Though not as religiously significant as other Jewish holidays, such as Passover and Yom Kippur, Hanukkah is widely celebrated, and is easily recognized even by non-Jews.

Interested in crafting your own DIY menorah? Find tips and ideas for a fun homemade menorah here.

Several inspiring themes are part of this festival, including the power of light itself at this ever-darker time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. Another major theme of Hanukkah is religious freedom. As the traditional story is retold in most Jewish families, a wicked ruler more than 2,000 years ago was determined to force Jews to leave their ancient traditions behind in favor of practices drawn from Greek culture. Instead, a rebel force known as the Maccabees heroically defeated these rulers and restored the traditional rituals in the Jerusalem temple.

Did you know? The Maccabeats, an all-male a cappella group based out of Yeshiva University, is popularly known for its Hanukkah song, “Candlelight” (access the music video that’s been seen by more than 12 million viewers via YouTube).

Most Jewish families also retell a story about the small amount of sacred oil that was left in the rededicated temple—a tiny amount of oil that nevertheless managed to keep the temple’s light going for eight days. That’s why Hanukkah food traditions involve oil, to this day—especially potato pancakes better known as latkes.

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latkes and a fork by-Olga-MassovWANT TO TRY LATKES? FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis serves up a guest column about making these tasty potato pancakes.

 

THE MENORAH

Hanukkah is faithfully observed by most Jews with the lighting of candles in a nine-branched menorah with one candle for each of the eight nights and one extra candle (the shamash), which is often placed separately from the others. The shamash must be used for “practical” purposes, so that the remaining candles may be used solely for publicizing the miracle of the oil. Some families substitute small oil lamps for candles.

DEBRA DARVICK & THIS JEWISH LIFE

Cover This Jewish Life book cover by Debra Darvick

CLICK this cover to find out more about Debra Darvick’s book.

In her inspiring book, This Jewish Life, Debra Darvick writes dozens of true stories about Jewish men and women experiencing the seasons in Judaism. In one section of her book, she explains the basics about Hanukkah’s commemoration of “the Jewish victory over Syrian emperor Antiochus and his army. In 167 BC, Antiochus decreed the practice of Judaism to be an offense punishable by death. The Temple was desecrated, and the Syrians went so far as to sacrifice pigs in the Temple. A Jew named Mattathias and his five sons began a revolt not only against Antiochus, but against the Jews who were quite willing to take on the ways of the majority population and jettison Jewish practice. Three years later, the Maccabees, as the Jewish fighters were known, and their followers, were victorious and the Temple was once again in Jewish hands.”

She explains that “according to Jewish tradition, when the Temple was finally cleansed for re-dedication, there was but a single day’s supply of ritually pure oil for the ner tamid, the everlasting light that hangs in every synagogue as a symbol of God’s ever-presence. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, the time needed to press and ritually purify additional oil for the ner tamid.”

Debra warns readers that this “is not the time of year to start a diet, for the two foods most associated with the holiday are latkes, potato pancakes, and sufganiot, Israeli for jelly donuts, both of which are fried in veritable lakes of oil.” Oh, and if that’s not a high enough calorie count—there’s also the “gelt, chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil.”

 

 

 

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Categories: Jewish

Yom Kippur: Jews fast 25 hours, wrap up High Holidays on Day of Atonement

Fast blessings with empty bones in back

Photo by Paul Jacobson, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET TUESDAY, OCTOBER 11: From the sweetness and high hopes of Rosh Hashanah, Jewish families move to the solemn observance of what often is called the holiest day in the calendar: Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. Between these two major holidays, a period sometimes called the Days of Awe, Jews reflect on the past year and make amends. They look toward the balance of the new year, which is only 10 days old on Yom Kippur, and pray that God will renew their spirits and guide them in good ways. On Yom Kippur, most Jews 13 and older try to complete a daunting 25-hour fast with nothing passing the lips—no liquids or foods—in order to deepen their relationship with G_d.

YOM KIPPUR: HIGH ATTENDANCE

Visit any Jewish house of worship and you will see ways that the main seating area can be expanded on special occasions; Yom Kippur is the main holiday when all the partitions separating rooms are removed, overflow seating sometimes is added in other parts of the building and the majority of the Jewish community shows up for at least part of the long series of services.

Front coer of music with man photographed at center

Kol Nidre sheet music. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Services open with Kol Nidre, when the larger Jewish community gathers, amends are made. There is a long and complex history to the traditions of Kol Nidre, though overall, Kol Nidre represents a fresh resetting of commitments and promises within the community.

Did you know? Rabbis typically spend a great deal of time preparing their Yom Kippur sermons, recognizing that they are preaching to some men and women who only hear them on Yom Kippur. Christian clergy face a similar challenge, each year, in preparing their Easter and Christmas Eve sermons.

Although Yom Kippur is a solemn day, it is also one of celebration: Celebration of the anniversary of G_d forgiving the Jewish people for worshipping the golden calf. According to Jewish scholar and ReadTheSpirit contributing writer, Joe Lewis:

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. 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.

FEED THE SPIRIT—For Yom Kippur, Bobbie Lewis writes about the nature of the 25-hour fast as it is observed by most Jewish families, and she includes a delicious recipe for salmon, which her family enjoys in preparation for the fast.

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.

For non-Jews, 10 basic facts on Rosh Hashanah are provided in an article by the International Business Times.

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Categories: Jewish

Rosh Hashanah: Shanah Tovah, 5777!

wpid-2010_09_08_Rosh_Hashanah_treats.jpg

Honey, apples and pomegranates are common fare on Rosh Hashanah.

SUNSET SUNDAY OCTOBER 2: Sound the shofar and wish your neighbor L’shanah tovah: “For a good year!” It’s Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year—and it’s also the start of the High Holidays.

For two days, Jews around the world attend services, seek forgiveness and joyfully enter the annual High Holy Days. Sometimes called the Days of Awe, this period culminates in Yom Kippur, the solemn Day of Atonement, which starts at sunset on Tuesday, October 11 this year.

What are the High Holidays? Sometimes referred to as “High Holidays,” or “High Holy Days,” this is Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and, often, the days in between the two holidays. One description of this period says, in essence, that G_d opens the books of judgment as the new year begins and finally, on Yom Kippur, the judgment for the year is “sealed.”

‘Trying Extra, Extra Hard to Get Along’

Every year, since its founding a decade ago, ReadTheSpirit magazine has covered the Jewish High Holy Days. Central themes are taking stock of the previous year, reconciling broken relationships, asking forgiveness and preparing for a better new year.  This year, we asked Jewish scholar and contributing writer Joe Lewis to write about his reflections as he approaches 5777. Joe writes …

I’ve been reading one of the complicated medieval acrostic poems added to the “additional” liturgy for Yom Kippur. Many people know that Jewish involves three daily liturgical units, with an extra one on special days such as holy days. The extra liturgical unit recalls the special sacrifices of a holy day in the time of the Temple.

On Yom Kippur, the extra liturgy includes several extra poems–extra extras. One of the longest and most complicated of these recalls the special sacrifices of Yom Kippur as outlined in the Mishnah, the early compilation of Jewish law and tradition. Even if he knew his duties well, the High Priest had to take a week-long refresher course and practice, practice, practice for the rituals of this day, with its immersions and changes of clothing and the tricky balancing of a pan of glowing coals in one hand and a ladle of incense in the other. Don’t try this at home!

What you can do at home is, like me, refresh your understanding of the ingeniously elliptical Hebrew poetry.

You might think I’m one of those people who’d like to see the Temple rebuilt. In its time, it was a world-wide tourist destination and well worth a visit; and none of us knows how its rituals might stir modern skeptical religious natures. Some think its time will come again, soon. Others, though, consider all references to the sacrificial system–even the “additional” liturgy through which it is recalled–outdated, even distasteful or downright primitive. I’m neither of those.

For me, the Temple ritual symbolizes a way of connecting with the divine. I can mourn its loss, and like any mourner can dwell on every memory I can recover, without wishing for its return. What’s more, the loss of the Temple ritual is a valuable symbol in itself. Unlike the many tragic sufferings forced on the Jewish people throughout our long history, it’s one tragedy that (our sages taught) we brought upon ourselves through causeless hatred.

The weeks leading up to Yom Kippur are a time to make peace for offenses between people; then we can seek God’s forgiveness for our sins with hearts free of bitterness. Dwelling on the loss of our ancient form of prayer should remind us that unless we make peace–with our neighbor whose lawn sign offends us, with our more distant neighbors whose neighborhood we find unfamiliar and consider enviable or unsafe, with neighboring peoples whose intentions we fear and mistrust–we can lose all that we cherish.

There’s no better time to try extra, extra hard to get along with others!

APPLES AND HONEY FOR A ‘SWEET’ NEW YEAR

Apples and muffins on wood

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

For Rosh Hashanah, honey and apples are the most famous holiday foods in the United States; other foods, including dates and pomegranates, have ancient associations with the New Year and still are enjoyed in Jewish communities around the world. The honey-and-apples symbol, often seen on holiday cards and other Rosh Hashanah media, is a reminder of the joy in welcoming a “sweet” new year.

Literally “head of the year,” Rosh Hashanah was never referred to by name in the Bible. Instead, references in Leviticus were made to Yom Teruah, the day of the sounding of the shofar. There are many stories and lessons associated with the blowing of the shofar now, but the Bible does not clearly explain the symbol. In the synagogue, 100 notes are blown each day of the New Year festivities; some refer to this noise as a “call to repentance.” Traditionally, Jewish teaching associates Rosh Hashanah with the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve.

A lesser-known Jewish tradition related to Rosh Hashanah is tashlikh, or “casting off.” After filling their pockets—most often with small bits of bread—devotees walk to flowing water and empty their pockets, thereby symbolically “casting off” the sins of the old year.

Sweet recipes: Looking to bake up something sweet and scrumptious this Rosh Hashanah? Try Huffington Post’s 21 recipes with honey and apples or a Rosh Hashanah honey cake courtesy of the New York Times. For an entire menu of Rosh Hashanah recipes, check out Chabad.org, AllRecipes, Epicurious, Food Network and Martha Stewart.

IN THE NEWS: COSTCO, AN EASY RH DINNER & A FREE EBOOK

Think that pomegranates and some of the other exotic fruits of Rosh Hashanah are difficult to find? My Jewish Learning checks out Costco, and lists several sweet treats available at the chain of superstores.

Preparation for Rosh Hashanah doesn’t have to be an arduous task, says the Jewish Telegraphic Agency: Here are some tips for the “easiest Rosh Hashanah dinner ever.”

Free holiday cookbook: One of the fresh links we spotted this year is a tasty e-book of holiday recipes from My Jewish Learning. Here’s a link to download the book. Recipes include Pomegranate and Honey Glazed Chicken, plus Apple Kugel Crumble Cake.

 

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Categories: Jewish

Tisha B’Av: Fasting on an ancient day of lamentation

The Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem, sunny day, pilgrims at wall

The Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, AUGUST 13: On the annual Jewish milestone of Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of Av), men and women traditionally fast for 25 hours, refrain from bathing, set aside pleasurable activities and focus on communal lament.

But the observance gets mixed response as modern-day Jewish families balance the demands of contemporary life with this call from the past.

Author Debra Darvick wrote in an earlier column: “Tisha B’Av, a Jewish day of mourning that falls during the summer, marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. … I have attended services sporadically, more out of a sense of responsibility than any feeling of true mourning. How do I mourn something absent from Jewish experience for nearly two millennia?”

Debra also wrote about the holiday for her book This Jewish Life.

In Israel, restaurants and places of entertainment are closed by law on Tisha B’Av, but recent polls have revealed that many Jews question ancient mourning after the modern re-establishment of the Jewish state in the Holy Land. In a poll last year, just 22 percent of Israeli Jews reported fasting on Tisha B’Av; 18 percent answered that if recreational spots were open on Tisha B’Av, they would go out on the eve of the fast day.

A CASCADE OF MEMORIES

Historically, the First Temple was destroyed on 9 Av 586 BCE; the Second, on 9 Av 70 CE. (Some debate exists on the year of the destruction of the Second Temple, though most experts agree on 70 CE. Wikipedia has details). The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians; the Second Temple, by the Romans.

Also on 9 Av, the Romans quashed Bar Kokhba’s revolt and destroyed the city of Betar, killing more than 500,000 Jewish civilians; Jews were expelled from England in 1290 CE; Germany entered World War I, the aftermath of which led to the Holocaust; and SS commander Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for “The Final Solution.”

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Categories: Jewish

The Counting of the Omer is over: Jews recall giving of the Torah for Shavuot

Cheese blintzes cut and resting on a plate

Cheese blintzes—both sweet and savory—are just one of the many dairy treats enjoyed during Shavuot. Photo by Alpha, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET SATURDAY, JUNE 11: Flourishing greenery, aromatic flowers and baskets overflowing with fresh grains are just some of the signs of Shavuot, the joyous Jewish holiday that wraps up the seven-week Counting of the Omer and celebrates the day G_d gave the Torah to the nation of Israel. Originally an ancient grain-harvest festival, Shavuot gained its place in Jewish history when the giving of the Torah took place, on Mount Sinai. The Midrash accounts that Mount Sinai blossomed in full bounty in anticipation of the giving of the Torah on its peak, and in representation of that, Jews decorate synagogues and drape blossoms and vines for Shavuot.

Did you know? An omer is an ancient measure of grain.

This ancient holiday is also known as the Festival of Weeks, because the seven-week period of anticipation that started during Passover ends on Shavuot. The reason for the Counting of the Omer? To link Passover—the physical freedom gained with the Exodus—to Shavuot—the spiritual freedom gained with presentation of the Torah.

SHAVUOT: ‘FIRST FRUITS’

Stalk of wheat in field of wheat

Wheat—one of the ‘First Fruits’ of ancient Israel—has long been offered during Shavuot. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The ancient spring grain harvest lasted for seven weeks, and when that first harvest ended—at Shavuot—farmers would bring an offering of two loaves of bread to the Temple of Jerusalem. In the same manner, the first fruits of Israel (Bikkurim) were also brought to the Temple on Shavuot. In a grand display, farmers would fill baskets woven of gold and silver with the Seven Species—wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates—and load the glittering baskets onto oxen whose horns were laced with flowers. These oxen and farmers would travel to Jerusalem, marching through towns and met by music, parades and other festivities.

To this day, many Jewish families display baskets of “First Fruits,” including foods such as wheat, barley, grapes, wine, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. Barley and wheat harvests are intimately connected with the timing of Shavuot.

WESTERN WALL PROCESSION

Many customs are associated with Shavuot, among them being the consumption of dairy products, readings from the Book of Ruth and, for observant Jews, an all-night Torah study. Several explanations exist for these traditions. One is: Jews recall the night the Torah was given and how the ancient Israelites overslept. Some Jews today remain awake throughout the night, giving thanks for the Torah. In Jerusalem, the all-night Torah study ends with the procession of tens of thousands to the Western Wall at dawn.

Note: In Israel, Shavuot is celebrated for one day; in the rest of the world, it’s observed for two days.

DAIRY RECIPES: BLINTZES, GLUTEN-FREE & MORE

The specific reason for consuming dairy on Shavuot is unclear—some relate it to the non-kosher meat dishes of the ancient Israelites, while others refer to the Torah as King Solomon did, “like honey and milk”—and still others have additional reasons. No matter the reason, Jewish bakeries and shops overflow with indulgent cheese blintzes, cheesecakes, cheese ravioli and more in the days leading to Shavuot.

Make dairy treats at home with these easy-to-follow, DIY recipes:

  • Gluten-free cheese blintzes from JNS.org.
  • Yam, Goat Cheese and Rosemary Quiche from Haaretz.
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Categories: Jewish

Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut: Israeli memorial day and celebration of independence

An Israeli flag and flag baners decorate the balcony of an apartment

Israelis fly flags with pride on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Photo released via Wikimedia Commons

MAY 10-12 in Western calendars: Back-to-back commemorations in Israel begin at sunset on Tuesday, May 10, this year. First, Yom Hazikaron is an Israeli memorial day recalling the cost of the nation’s freedom. Then, at sunset Wednesday, May 11, the solemn tone turns to celebration for Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day.

Given the strong connection the global Jewish community feels to the establishment of Israel, these holidays are widely marked around the world.

The ReformJudaism.org website has an array of thought-provoking reflections on these two holidays. To put these observances in context:

Since the establishment of the State of Israel, four new holidays have been added to the Jewish calendar—Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day), Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day), and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). In Israel, these holidays are observed as national holidays.

The Israeli Knesset established Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day that marks the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. It is observed on or near the 5th of Iyar in the Hebrew calendar, which usually falls in April. Then, the Knesset designated the day before Yom HaAtzmaut as Yom HaZikaron, a Memorial Day for soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the War of Independence and in other subsequent battles.

READINGS FOR THESE DAYS

An Israeli government website now provides an inspiring list of readings for individuals and families marking these observances. Some are widely known and used, but—even if you regularly mark these occasions—you may find some interesting texts here that you haven’t seen before.

Here is the Israeli selection of readings for Remembrance Day.

And, here is the list of readings for Independence Day.

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Categories: Jewish