Ascension of Baha’u’llah: Baha’is turn toward Bahji in reflections on unity

Front doors of fancy building with entrance grand and gardens around

The Shrine of Baha’u’llah in Bahji, near Acre, Israel, is the most holy site in the world for Baha’is. The Shrine represents the Baha’i direction of prayer. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET THURSDAY, MAY 28: A prisoner of decades, a man who wrote almost 100 volumes and changed the interfaith world is commemorated today, on the Baha’i observance of the Ascension of Baha’u’llah. The founder of the Baha’i faith, Baha’u’llah lived in Persia but was buried in Bahji, in the shrine where his body still lies, in 1892 CE. For this solemn holy day, many Baha’is attend a service or study the writings of Baha’u’llah. (Learn more from the Baha’i Library.) It is recorded that Baha’u’llah contracted a fever and died a few days later, surrounded by family and friends in his home, at 3 a.m. on May 29.

Did you know? Baha’u’llah’s shrine is surrounded by elaborate and extensive gardens, which are designed to symbolize the order of the world in the future. Baha’u’llah wrote often of the unity necessary for peace in the future.

From the time he first heard about the Bab and the emerging Badi faith, Baha’u’llah became a follower. At age 27, Baha’u’llah was visited by a messenger of the Bab and accepted the Badi faith. The next several decades would be filled with exile, imprisonment and tumult, as Baha’u’llah expanded upon the claims of the Bab and began writing volumes of his own. (Baha’i.org has more.) The Bab taught that Baha’u’llah was the Promised One, and that he had been but the Gate for Baha’u’llah.

LETTERS, TABLETS AND PROPHESIES

Through his years of exile and imprisonment, Baha’u’llah wrote a great deal. In addition to larger volumes, he composed personal tablets and letters for kings and rulers of the time–urging them to resist greed and anger in favor of peace. Many of the leaders, from a Russian czar to Napoleon III of France, disregarded Baha’u’llah’s warnings. Baha’u’llah predicted that if these leaders did not resolve their differences and halt the insatiable desire for land, materials and power, they would fall—and, one by one, the leaders realized the fate that Baha’u’llah had warned against.

Today, approximately 6 million Baha’is in 192 countries and territories across the globe observe this holy day. For the Ascension of Baha’u’llah, the faithful reflect on the messages of unity—and Baha’u’llah’s suggestion that all of the world’s major religions derive from the same source, in unity, as part of the same family.

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Categories: Baha'i

Yom HaShoah: Israelis, Jews and more mark Holocaust Remembrance Day

Young people dressed in white and blue carry Israeli flags and walk down railroad tracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau

March of the Living participants, April 2007. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, APRIL 15: An Israeli memorial for the tragic 6 million Jewish deaths during the Holocaust is commemorated worldwide as Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. In Israel, state-sponsored and synagogue ceremonies, moments of silence and a March of the Living all paint the picture of 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: Today, 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. (Learn more from the Jewish Virtual Library.)

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. (Wikipedia has details.) Though no specific rituals are carried out on this day, memorial candles and prayers are common. (Note: Some Orthodox Jews choose to remember Holocaust victims on other Jewish days of mourning, and not on Yom HaShoah.)

MARCH OF THE LIVING AND ‘I BELIEVE’

Sheet music with page turning, close-up

In 2013, Daniel Gross’ musical liturgy for Yom HaShoah, ‘I Believe,’ had its performance debut in Detroit, Mich. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Each year on Holocaust Remembrance Day, 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. This year will mark the 27th annual March of the Living with young people gathering from more than 45 countries. (The Jerusalem Post reported.) This year will focus on “passing the torch,” notes the organization’s chairman, as each year brings fewer Holocaust survivors.

No complete musical liturgy existed for Yom HaShoah until recently, when Daniel Gross—a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and The Juilliard School, and cantor in Farmington Hills, Mich.—composed I Believe—A Shoah Requiem. (Watch it performed, here.) On April 7, 2013, I Believe had its world premiere presentation at Orchestra Hall in Detroit, Mich. (In 2013, My Jewish Detroit interviewed Gross.)

IN THE NEWS: FRENCH MAYORS VISIT ISRAEL

Israel will welcome 20 French mayors on Yom HaShoah this year, all of whom are visiting for the same reason: each has a resident back home in France who has been designated as Righteous Among the Nations, an honor given by the state of Israel to non-Jews who jeopardized their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. (Read the story in The Algemeiner.) When the mayors learned that they did not know the stories behind some of their own Righteous Among the Nations, they began to dig deeper—and that research led them to Israel, to more information and to the possibility of additional memorials within the towns.

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Categories: Jewish

Debra Darvick introduces Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

YOM KIPPUR AROUND THE WORLD: Wherever they find themselves, Jews fast and gather at Yom Kippur for traditional prayers. This photo shows U.S. Navy Lt. Yonina Creditor, originally from Virginia, leading Yom Kippur services aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington. U.S. Navy photo by William Pittman released for public use.

YOM KIPPUR AROUND THE WORLD: Wherever they find themselves, Jews fast and gather at Yom Kippur for traditional prayers. This photo shows U.S. Navy Lt. Yonina Creditor, originally from Virginia, leading Yom Kippur services aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington. In this ship’s chapel, a stained glass window shows a popularly reproduced scene of George Washington kneeling in prayer. U.S. Navy photo by William Pittman released for public use.

Debra Darvick wrote “the book” on the cycles of the Jewish year, as experienced by men and women each year. This Jewish Life tells dozens of real-life stories about the Jewish cycle of seasons. Throughout the book, Debra also writes brief introductions to major observances. From her book, here is …

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

By DEBRA DARVICK

On Rosh HaShanah it is written; on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
From the Un’taneh Tokef, High Holiday Liturgy

Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are often referred to as Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe. Indeed, the 10 days that begin with Rosh HaShanah and conclude with Yom Kippur are filled not only with prayer but with soul searching, pleas for forgiveness and a commitment to spiritual and moral renewal. A special siddur, or prayer book, is used at this time. Called a machzor, this book contains not only the daily and Sabbath prayers said during this time, but also special readings and prayers pertinent to the High Holidays.

Tradition holds that during the days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, God reviews the deeds of each and every Jew during the past year and judges whether the individual merits inclusion in the Book of Life for the coming year. Through proper atonement and asking forgiveness (not only from God but from those whom we may have wronged), every Jew hopes to be sealed in the Book of Life for the year to come.

One of the most stirring elements of the High Holidays is the blowing of the shofar, ram’s horn. Remember that in the last moment before Abraham sacrificed his son Isaac, God called out to him and instructed him to sacrifice a ram, caught in a nearby thicket, in place of Isaac. The use of the shofar (plural, shofarot) commemorates this event and reminds God to take note of His Jewish people and their prayers for life.

The shofar is blown according to specific musical patterns named t’kiah, t’ruah, sh’varim. At the very end of the shofar service, these patterns are followed by a t’kiah g’dolah, one long blast of sound that, depending on an individual’s lung capacity, can last up to or even longer than a minute.

On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh HaShanah, many Jews walk to a nearby body of water to perform Tashlich, or casting off. Emptying their pockets of breadcrumbs (which symbolize their sins), they throw the crumbs into the water and then recite prayers of penitence.

The Days of Awe culminate with Yom Kippur. Next to the Sabbath, it is considered to be the most sacred day of the Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur is given over to prayer and self-reflection. Jews who have reached the age of religious maturity (13 for boys, 12 for girls), and whose health would not be compromised, are expected to fast from sunset to sunset.

The hymn “Avinu Malkeinu,” “Our Father Our King,” sung on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, is a stirring component of each High Holiday service. The words of the hymn offer admission of transgressions as well as pleas for compassion, blessings and an end of suffering. On Yom Kippur the cantor chants the haunting melody of the Kol Nidrei prayer. Kol Nidrei means “all vows,” and it is the prayer by which Jews nullify any vow made by force or frivolity during the previous year. Yom Kippur services the next day include Yizkor, a service that memorializes deceased relatives. The mourner’s Kaddish is recited once again at this time, and services end at sunset.

Apples and honey are eaten during this season, in hopes of a sweet year. Challah, the rich and braided bread that is part of every festive meal, is also eaten, but during these holidays the loaf is shaped into a circle to symbolize the unending cycle of Jewish life.

When either Rosh HaShanah or Yom Kippur fall on the Sabbath, the day also concludes with a Havdalah service. Derived from the Hebrew word for “separation,” the weekly Havdalah ceremony separates the holy from the mundane, the Sabbath day from the rest of the week. Once three stars appear in the sky, the ceremony can be performed. Blessings are said over wine, a special braided candle and fragrant spices, and wishes for a shavuah tov, a good week, are sung.

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Debra Darvick’s book follows these seasonal introductions with inspiring—sometimes entertaining and sometimes bittersweet—real-life stories. You’ll find her book in our ReadTheSpirit Bookstore—as well as in the Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google and Apple online bookstores.

Please help to support our authors by purchasing their books and sharing them with others. One way to share Debra’s work is to click the blue-“f” Facebook icon or the small envelope-shaped email icon with this story. Tell a friend.

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Categories: Jewish

YOM YERUSHALAYIM: Jews unite with the Old City on Jerusalem Day

Crowd of Jews dressed waving Israeli flags

Jews rejoice for Jerusalem on Yom Yerushalayim. Photo in public domain

WEDNESDAY, MAY 8: Thousands of Israeli flags wave high through the streets of Jerusalem today—many as part of the annual Flag Parade—as Jews in the Old City mark Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). Historically, Jews recall the reunification of Jerusalem and the institution of Israeli control over the Old City, in 1967; religiously, Jews thank G_d for answering their millennia-old plea of, “Next year in Jeruslaem” and rejoice for their ability to, once again, pray at the Western Wall. (Learn more about the Jewish flag in this piece from the Jewish Press.)

Contrary to the popularity of Israel’s national day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, Yom Yerushalayim is rarely commemorated by those outside of Israel; some liberal Jews even find the holiday disconcerting, due to the continuing conflicts over the Old City. In Jerusalem, however, special prayers are recited in every synagogue; schoolchildren learn the significance of the Old City; state ceremonies are conducted and Jews sing and dance in the streets. (Aish.com has related stories and more.) Today, Jews across Israel hike, bike and drive to Jerusalem, visually declaring their solidarity with the Old City.

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Categories: Jewish

YOM HASHOAH: Worldwide, men and women recall Holocaust; reflect on challenges of genocide

Teenage boys wave Israeli flags while wearing blue coats

Thousands of Israeli students embark on the ‘March of the Living’ each Yom HaShoah, in defiance of the Nazi Death Marches. Photo released via Wikimedia Commons

APRIL 7-8: Unfortunately, global responses to genocide are not a matter for history books; they’re a very real part of world news in an ongoing way. So, there is good reason for people around the world to reflect on the 60th Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The observance runs from sunset April 7 through Monday April 8. Many Jewish communities around the world marked the solemn occasion on Sunday.

Inaugurated in 1953 by Israeli leaders, Yom HaShoah recalls the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Through educational programs, memorial ceremonies and a famed annual “March of the Living,” Jews in Israel and throughout the Diaspora join the world in saying, “Never again.”

YOM HASHOAH IN ISRAEL

In Israel, Yom HaShoah involves the entire nation. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reports: “Israel came to a standstill as a siren sounded for two minutes in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Following a siren Monday morning, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Yad Vashem Hall of Remembrance. … Kerry then joined Israeli President Shimon Peres for the ‘Unto Every Person There is a Name’ ceremony held each year at the Knesset, where Peres read out the names of his relatives who were victims of the Holocaust. Names of Shoah victims also were read by notables in religion and government, among others.” (Read the entire JTA report.)

YOM HASHOAH CYBER ATTACK

The New York Times reports on April 8 about a series of anti-Israeli cyber attacks that hit websites, including the website for Yad Vashem, the world-famous Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem. (Read the entire New York Times report.) Apparently the hackers were not too sophisticated. One expert told the Times that the strategies were “childish.” In fact, the Yad Vashem website is up and running with fascinating articles and online exhibits, including one that looks at the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

YOM HASHOAH AROUND THE WORLD

While no specific ritual or text exists for Yom HaShoah, most Jews of the Diaspora light memorial candles and recite the Kaddish—a prayer for the departed—or attend ceremonies at a synagogue. President Jimmy Carter commemorated Yom HaShoah at the U.S. Capitol in 1979, and civic ceremonies have since gained immense popularity across America. Aside from numerous local events, HBO will premiere a documentary this year, “50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus, promoting the story of a Jewish couple from Philadelphia who traveled to Germany and rescued the largest group of children brought into the U.S. to date. (JNS.org has a synopsis and photos.)

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Categories: International ObservancesJewish