Plan ahead to celebrate Jewish and Asian Pacific history in May

JEWISH AMERICAN HISTORY MONTH

For more than a decade, Jewish American History Month has been an official national observance. President W. Bush proclaimed the special focus in 2006 after bi-partisan congressional support. Various receptions, events and special exhibits are usually held each May and the Library of Congress set up this extensive website to provide photos, documents and historical background in general. Within that larger site, on this page, librarians link to a long list of historical materials that relate to American Jews over the last four centuries. There’s even a special section of the site welcoming teachers who are looking for classroom materials.

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ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH

President Jimmy Carter launched this special observance in 1978, following a congressional resolution. The declaration called this a commemoration of “the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.” The Library of Congress also hosts a resource-rich website. The librarians offer these links to exhibits and collections. They also offer materials for teachers.

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Yom HaShoah: Jews, Israelis, young people worldwide remember Holocaust

Lighting row of candles.

Lighting memorial candles for Yom HaShoah. Photo by Meagan Schutter, courtesy of U.S. Air Force.

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, APRIL 11: An Israeli memorial for the 6 million Jewish deaths during the Holocaust is commemorated today as Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. In Israel, state-sponsored and synagogue ceremonies, moments of silence and a March of the Living all mark this solemn observance.

Literally “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day,” Yom HaShoah has been defined, in recent decades, as having a scope broader than the millions of deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their allies: The millions who mark this annual observance also remember the Jewish resistance during that era, they celebrate righteous acts in such dangerous times, and they emphasize the meaning of human dignity.

#PROJECT6MILLION: Interested in taking a vow of remembrance and a pledge for human rights? Check out Project6Million, a memorial movement that began with 24 American teenagers and their chaperones in April of 2011, after they had experienced the March of the Living on Yom HaShoah.

People walking with Israeli flags wrapped around them, in group

Walkers in the March of the Living. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MARCH OF THE LIVING: FROM AUSCHWITZ TO BIRKENAU

Each year for this day of remembrance, thousands of Israeli teenagers, Jews and non-Jews from across the globe embark on the March of the Living, a ceremonial walk that vividly contrasts the Holocaust death marches.

Fast fact: Since its inception in 1988, more than 260,000 people from 52 countries have marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Yom HaShoah.

YOM HASHOAH: THEN AND NOW

Yom HaShoah was inaugurated in Israel in 1953, and by the next decade, a siren of silence filled the country’s streets for several minutes each year on the 27th of Nisan. No public entertainment is permitted on Yom HaShoah, and all radio and television programs focus on the day’s memorial.

Did you know? Yom HaShoah was originally intended for Nisan 14—the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising—but was shifted to Nisan 27 because of the original date’s proximity to the start of Passover.

In 1953, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi signed the proposal for Yom HaShoah, enacting it as law. In Israel, Yom HaShoah is a national memorial day. Flags are flown at half mast; sirens blare in the evening and the following morning; services are held at military bases, in schools and by various organizations. Though no specific rituals are carried out on this day, memorial candles and prayers are common.

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Categories: Jewish

Easter: Billions of Western Christians exult in the joy of the resurrection of Jesus

Crosses, three, with light and orange

Photo by geralt, courtesy of Pixabay

SUNDAY, APRIL 1: Western Christians the world over revel in the resurrection of Jesus, rejoicing in the promise of new life: It’s Easter!

(Note: Pew Research estimates the world’s Christian population is 2.3 billion of whom about 300 million are Eastern Christians, who celebrate Easter on April 8 this  year.)

Following the solemn 40-day reflections of Lent and the Easter Triduum—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday—Western Christians awaken on April 1 to a day centered on new hope. Often dressing in pastel colors, more than a billion men, women and children head to church for the festive Easter service, which typically showcases shining brass instruments and rows of blossoming Easter lilies.

Across the United States, it’s a holiday of family reunions, feasting and even parades in some communities.

THE NEW TESTAMENT: WITNESS OF AN EMPTY TOMB

The New Testament describes the events of the resurrection of Jesus, which Christians believe verify him as the Son of God. There is no recorded moment of resurrection in the Christian Gospels, but rather, the discovery by Mary Magdalene (and possibly others) early on Sunday morning—that the tomb was empty.

In his crucifixion, Jesus died on a Roman cross. That evening, according to Christian tradition, Joseph of Arimathea asked the Roman official Pilate for the body, wrapped it in linen cloth and laid it in a tomb. Saturday passed, and early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene (and, some Gospels attest, other women in attendance) visited the tomb of Jesus. To their surprise, the tomb’s stone was moved, and a messenger announced that Jesus had risen from the dead. Gospel accounts vary regarding the messenger’s specific message and the women’s response, but all emphasize that the empty tomb was witnessed. To this day, sunrise services are popular in some regions on Easter Sunday, echoing the traditional stories of the empty tomb.

First evidence of the Easter festival appears in the mid-2nd century, and today, an elaborate Vigil usually begins in darkness and gives way to the singing of “Alleluia,” trumpets and unfettered joy.

EASTER: IN AMERICA AND AROUND THE WORLD

Pastel eggs on blue wood boards

Photo by Tiffany Pepe, Courtesy of Pexels

A traditional Easter menu often features lamb—a symbol of Christ at this time of year, as the Paschal Lamb. However, these days, Easter hams far outpace cuts of lamb. In America, egg hunts, treat-filled baskets and festive brunches mark Easter for many families, and for Christians, shared meals most often involve white-and-gold settings, fresh lilies on the table and, in many homes, a sacred Paschal Candle.

In France and Belgium, the bells that “went to Rome on Maundy Thursday” return home for the evening Easter Vigil, only to bring Easter eggs to boys and girls—or so, the story has it.

In most countries with a substantial Christian population, Easter is a public holiday.

EASTER DIY: RECIPES, EGG-DECORATING HOW-TOS & MORE

 

EASTERN CHRISTIANS: Eastern Christians will mark Pascha (Easter) on April 8 this year.

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Passover: Jewish families worldwide gather for the Seder and a joyous festival

Note: The morning of March 30 in 2018 begins the Fast of the Firstborn, in which observant firstborn sons fast to commemorate the salvation of firstborns in ancient Egypt.

Table set with food items, fancy and plates

A table set for the Passover Seder. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET FRIDAY, MARCH 30: The intensive search for chametz is over, and tonight, Jews begin the joyous festival of Passover—the most widely observed of all Jewish traditions. After weeks of painstakingly ridding their homes of chametzany grain product associated with fermentation—Jews join family and friends for a Passover Seder (ritual meal). It’s the 15th day of Nisan in the Jewish calendar, and tonight, the seven- or eight-day festival of Passover begins, commemorating the ancient Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. (Jews in Israel observe Passover for seven days, and Jews of the Diaspora observe eight.)

Among the events in the biblical story recalled during the Seder, Jews give thanks to G_d for “passing over” the homes of those whose doors were marked with lamb’s blood during the biblical Plague of the Firstborn; for helping them to escape safely from Egypt’s army and for eventually leading them to freedom. The Passover Seder is an extended meal that often lasts several hours, and is filled with ceremonial prayers, rituals, specific foods and drinks and careful table settings. During the Seder, the story of the Exodus is recalled through a recitation of the Haggadah.

Did you know? In Jewish families, young and old get involved in cleaning out the chametz as a way of remembering this key part of the Exodus: As the Israelites left Egypt, they moved so quickly that their bread was not able to rise. To this day, unleavened matzo bread is a common element on Seder tables.

Passover lasts for seven days in Israel, and eight days outside of Israel. During Passover, the Torah obligation of the Counting of the Omer begins. The omer, a unit of measure, is used to count the days from Passover to Shavuot.

MATZO: THE 18-MINUTE CHALLENGE

Bowl of matzo soup on wood table

Matzo ball soup, common fare for Passover. Photo by Amy Ross, courtesy of Flickr

Baking matzo is no easy feat: only 18 minutes are allowed between the mixing of flour and water to the finishing of baking. Elaborate measures are taken to ensure the mixture does not rise.

Many Jewish families switch to different dishes, eating utensils and cooking equipment to avoid any contact with traces of foods containing chametz. Chametz is defined as anything involving biological leavening, including simply wetting grains and let them stand for more than 18 minutes. Five grains, in particular, are identified: wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats.

THE SEDER

The Seder includes many steps and lasts for hours. (Stressing over the pressure of hosting a Seder? Take some advice from a cookbook veteran in this article from the Washington Post. Or, try a Passover app.) All adults present at the Seder are required to drink a total of four cups of wine during the Passover Seder, and further, the Mishnah commands that even the poorest man in Israel has an obligation to drink. Interspersed throughout prayer and stories are the breaking of matzah (unleavened) bread; the washing of the hands; the eating of the symbolic elements on the Seder plate; and, of course, the eating of the holiday meal itself. The whole evening ends with a joint exclamation: “Next year in Jerusalem!”

For the next seven days—or eight, in the Diaspora—Jews will partake of no chametz at any meal. Jews commonly enjoy foods such as potato starch cakes, Gelfite fish, chicken soup with matzah balls and generous amounts of egg. Beginning on the second night of Passover, Jews begin the Counting of the Omer—a 50-day countdown to the holiday of Shavuot.

SEDERS, THE LAST SUPPER—AND A COMMON LINK

Christians teach that Jesus’s final journey to Jerusalem was to observe Passover, forever linking the two sacred seasons. Yet while biblical scholars disagree on whether Jesus’s Last Supper was an actual seder, “Christianized” Seders are widespread at this time of year—and the practice appears to be growing among evangelicals. Sometimes called “baptized” or “Messianic” seders, the traditional Jewish ritual is changed to turn the meal into a remembrance of Jesus’s Last Supper.

This practice has always been controversial in interfaith settings. Jewish leaders complain that the practice distorts their traditions. That’s why the world’s largest Christian church, the Catholic church, forbids its parishes to Christianize the Seder. Catholic leaders encourage their billion-plus followers to visit authentic Seders—or to invite a rabbi to lead a model Seder to demonstrate the ritual for Christians. Catholic bishops say that “the primary reason why Christians may celebrate the festival of Passover should be to acknowledge common roots in the history of salvation. Any sense of restaging the Last Supper of the Lord Jesus should be avoided.” Jewish leaders welcome this approach to sharing their traditional meal.

Invited to a Jewish Passover Seder? The proper greeting is “Happy Passover” or “Happy holiday,” which in Hebrew is “Chag samayach” (hahg sah-MAY-ahk). A Seder plate will be located on most Seder tables, on which are symbols of various aspects of the Passover story. A Haggadah (hah-GAH-dah), a text in Hebrew and English that tells the Passover story and its meaning for each generation, is read during the meal. There are hundreds of different versions of the Haggadah, with many focusing on different elements of the holiday or interpreting it from a particular perspective, such as feminism or ecology. Learn more at ReadTheSpirit’s helpful resource, Ask an expert what to do at a Passover Seder.

Looking for interactive resources, stories, recipes and hosting ideas for Passover? Check out ReadTheSpirit’s own Feed The Spirit column for a recipe for homemade matzoh balls, or visit Chabad.org, the Jewish Virtual Library, Aish.com and Wikipedia.

Care to read more?

Over the past decade, our online magazine has published more than a hundred Passover-themed stories and we can heartily recommend some of our most popular holiday reading:

Debra Darvick shares Passover reflections from her popular book This Jewish Life.

Our Feed The Spirit columns, over the years, have published delicious Passover stories including tasty recipes. Here’s a story that includes Vegetable Kugel you can make at home. And here’s a column with a great recipe for potato gnocchi, because that preparation can be made kosher for Passover.

Fanny Neuda’s Passover prayer was written more than 150 years ago and was recovered by poet Dinah Berland—and Dinah gave us her permission to publish that prayer 10 years ago! Since we first published that text, thousands of readers around the world have read that prayer in our pages.

Rabbi Bob Alper also is famous coast to coast as the rabbi who does clean standup routines—and often has appeared on stage with comedians who are Christian and Muslim to promote interfaith understanding. Bob has written many stories, and two books, for us over the past decade. Here’s one of our most popular Bob Alper columns about the stories he tells in Life Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This.

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Categories: Jewish

Paschal Triduum and Holy Week: Christians recount Passion, prepare for Easter

News on Pope Francis and Holy Week 2018: According to news reports, Pope Francis is slated to conduct a Chrism Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Holy Thursday and to preside over an afternoon liturgy commemorating the Lord’s Passion in St. Peter’s Basilica on Good Friday. Later that night, he will pray the Way of the Cross with thousands at the Colosseum. The following night, Holy Saturday, Francis is scheduled to celebrate the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica at 8:30 p.m.; on Easter Sunday, he will hold a public Mass in St. Peter’s Square and, immediately following, will give his Urbi et Orbi blessing—“to the city and to the world.”

Last Supper

A portrayal of Maundy Thursday’s Last Supper by Giorgio Vasari II. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, MARCH 29, FRIDAY, MARCH 30 AND SATURDAY, MARCH 31: Western Christians across the globe entered Holy Week on Palm Sunday (April 25, 2018), and begin the Easter Triduum—recounting the final days of Jesus’s life and Passion—on Thursday, with Holy (Maundy) Thursday.

HOLY (MAUNDY) THURSDAY: THE LAST SUPPER

The Paschal Triduum is initiated with Maundy Thursday, the fifth day of Holy Week. Alternatively known as Holy Thursday or Covenant Thursday, this day commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with the Apostles.

Some scholars believe that the name “Maundy Thursday” derived from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase stated by Jesus to describe the purpose for his washing their feet. (“A new commandment I give to unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.”) In some churches, to this day, clergy ceremonially wash the feet of 12 persons as part of Maundy Thursday services. Following the Maundy Thursday service, in most Christian denominations, the altar is “stripped” in solemn fashion in preparation for Good Friday.

Today, even outside of the church building, global traditions for Maundy Thursday are varied and colorful. In the United Kingdom, the Monarch offers Maundy money to worthy elders; in Bulgaria, Easter eggs are colored and homes are prepared for the upcoming holy days. Holy Thursday is a public holiday in many Christian countries.

At the conclusion of Maundy Thursday services, the attitude in the Church becomes somber, dark and mournful. Church bells fall silent until Easter.

Round circle of thorns on white

A replica of the crown of thorns worn by Jesus during events of the Passion. Photo by Waiting for the Word, courtesy of Flickr

GOOD FRIDAY: THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS

While in the Garden of Gethsemane on Thursday night, Christian tradition says that Jesus was located by the Romans—led by Judas Iscariot—and arrested. This led to interrogation, torture and, eventually, to Jesus’ death by the horrific Roman method of crucifixion. In the Catholic Church, Good Friday is a fast day of the deepest solemnity. The altar is bare, vestments are red or black and the cross is venerated.

News 2018: In light of this year’s Synod of Bishops on young people, Pope Francis has asked that the Way of the Cross meditations be written by a group of students. An Italian high school religion teacher coordinated texts written by 15 of his students, the Vatican announced March 8. Each year, the pope asks a different person or group of people to write the meditations for the annual event at Rome’s Colosseum, and this year, Vatican News reports that the pope wanted today’s younger generation to reflect on the Passion of Christ.

In many parishes, the Stations of the Cross recount Jesus’ journey to the site of the crucifixion. In countries such as Malta, Italy, the Philippines and Spain, processions carry statues of the Passion of Christ. In Britain, Australia and Canada, hot cross buns are traditionally consumed on Good Friday.

Check local news reports in your part of the world: In the U.S., each year, more groups of churches in cities and rural areas are planning annual processions of the cross.

HOLY SATURDAY: QUIET AND SOLEMNITY

Tomb of Jesus in midst of church

The Aedicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem, which is believed to hold the tomb of Jesus. Photo by Jorge Lascar, courtesy of Flickr

Holy Saturday, or Black Saturday, ushers in with the darkness of Good Friday, commemorating the day that Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. Traditionally, the altar remains bare or is draped in a simple black cloth. In Catholic parishes, the administration of sacraments is limited. Holy Saturday is a time of suspense, quiet and solemnity, as Christians continue to mourn the death of Jesus Christ. In Catholic tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows is given the title Our Lady of Solitude, for her grief at the earthly absence of her son, Jesus.

THE EASTER VIGIL—In the evening on Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil begins. A service that begins in darkness is illuminated, in Christian tradition, with the Light of Christ—the Paschal candle. After prayers, chants and biblical readings, “Gloria” is sung for the first time since Maundy Thursday. The church is flooded with light, statues covered during Passiontide are unveiled and the joy of the Resurrection begins. The Paschal candle, the largest and most exquisite candle in the church, is lit each day throughout the Paschal season.

 

Note: Eastern Orthodox Christians following the Julian calendar will observe Holy Week one week after the Western Christian Holy Week in 2018, with the Eastern Pascha (Easter) falling on April 8.

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Categories: Christian

Palm Sunday: Christians enter Holy Week, recall Passion of Jesus

Main aisle of church with palms

Churchgoers on Palm Sunday 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, MARCH 25: With Easter on the horizon and the Passion of Jesus at hand, Western Christians begin preparations for the pivotal week to come on Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus’s ceremonial entry into Jerusalem. Holy Week commences with Palm Sunday, and according to all four canonical Gospels, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. In joyful exultation, the crowds that had gathered in Jerusalem laid down clothing and small branches in his path.

THE PALM BRANCH: A MULTI-FACETED SYMBOL

Thousands of years ago, palm branches symbolized integrity and triumph. The palm-branch symbol sometimes showed up on coins and decorated important buildings and temples. In Roman Catholic, Anglican and many Protestant congregations, palm fronds are blessed and distributed on Palm Sunday. Though local species of branches may be substituted where palm fronds are unavailable—for example, box, yew, willow and olive branches are also used, among others—the branch most widely distributed is the palm. In some parishes, a procession also occurs on this Sunday. The blessed palms, regarded as sacred objects in the Catholic Church, are often kept behind household crucifixes or holy pictures and, tradition says, these fronds could be burned at next year’s Ash Wednesday services.

PALM BRAIDING

Every  year our readers ask for tips on palm braiding, so here are this year’s best tips:

Watch tutorials on palm braiding, or use step-by-step instructions, with help from U.S. Catholic.org, YouTube, Catholic Inspired and Fish Eaters.

In countries where palm fronds are widely available, such as Spain and Mexico, the weaving of intricate designs and figures is common practice on Palm Sunday. In Latvia, pussy willows are blessed and, traditionally, used to swat children awake on the morning of Palm Sunday. In Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, Palm Sunday is an occasion for family and is extremely popular, complete with palm weaving, processions and a splashing of holy water. In the Philippines, Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem is reenacted.

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Categories: Christian

National Day of Unplugging and Screen-Free Week

Click the image to visit the group’s website.

FRIDAY-to-SATURDAY, MARCH 9-10—National Day of Unplugging.

MONDAY APRIL 30-to-SUNDAY MAY 6—Screen-Free Week.

Two national organizations are chiming in on a message shared by ReadTheSpirit and educators nationwide: We should help children to reduce their current levels of screen time! In fact, all of us should consider how much time we spend focused on screens—and devote ourselves to more human contact.

That’s the message of the new book Sadie Sees Trouble by Linda Jarkey and Julie Jarkey-Kozlowski. You can read more about this innovative project that invites children to begin reading and creating their own illustrations with substances found in most kitchens. The sisters who created this remarkable book are both veteran educators. Linda says, “It’s an attractive option: Give a child a tablet or a smart phone and many children will sit quietly while you’re free to do other things around the home. But, very quickly that technology can replace interaction with your children.”

“We increasingly miss out on the important moments of our lives as we pass the hours with our noses buried in our devices,” say the folks behind the National Day of Unplugging campaign. Visit their website to learn more about this annual effort. There’s even a direct religious connection, in this case. The Unplugging day is scheduled on the Jewish Sabbath. The effort is sponsored by Reboot, which describes itself this way: “Inspired by Jewish ritual and embracing the arts, humor, food, philosophy, and social justice, we produce creative projects that spark the interest of young Jews and the larger community.”

We say: This is a great idea that draws from ancient religious wisdom!

Click the logo to visit the website.

The other effort, national Screen-Free Week has its own website where you can register local events and network with other folks planning to take part in this effort. This week is sponsored by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhoodwhich describes its mission as “supporting parents’ efforts to raise healthy families by limiting commercial access to children and ending the exploitive practice of child-targeted marketing.”

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