654: Passover and Holy Week converge in hope, creativity—and somber resolve

Holocaust remembrance candles
R
eaders praised our array of stories this week—a pretty unusual mix of themes from the Wild West to a somber remembrance of the Holocaust.
    “Thank you for the powerful commentary on the Holocaust,” reader Brenda from Michigan wrote on Thursday.
    “Can’t miss a day! I mean, you’re all over the world!” laughed TomTom, a freelance writer based in Boston. “Tombstone to Theresienstadt in 24 hours.”
    “We need a lot more role models with more brains than bombs like this Rabbi Harvey. … I never heard of these comic books before this week, but I plan to recommend them to my kids,” said Anne R, a high school teacher in Los Angeles.
    We’re pleased that we surprised you this week, because our aim is to spot great resources for you—especially books, films and television that you might miss without tips from ReadTheSpirit.

IF you’re just catching up with us on the weekend …

Distant Journey 1.) Remember the Holocaust via our new Resources Page. It’s appropriate this week—and again next week. Come back on Sunday to read Stephanie Fenton’s latest “Spiritual Season” column and you’ll learn that two worldwide memorials are coming next week. These are “never forget” dates for millions of men and women circling our globe: April 7 is the anniversary of the start of the Rwnandan genocide in 1994. Sundown on April 10 is the start of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Rabbi Harvey scene duel in street 2
2.) Celebrate Courage and the Wisdom to Turn Violence Toward Peace with Rabbi Harvey. Part 1 is our review and overview of Steve Sheinkin’s creative new third volume in his “Rabbi Harvey of the Wild West” series of graphic novels. Part 2 is an in-depth interview with Sheinkin—where we pull the curtain back enough so you can see the larger forces driving this remarkable artist and historian.

 RTS Lema performs in Afghan Star DVD by Zeitgeist3.)  And Don’t Miss the Vivid Slice of Hope from Afghanistan. The brave young people daring to perform on national TV in Afghanistan—in a celebration of freedom and popular culture—should be celebrated by all of us … far and wide. These young men and women have risked more than their pride in the Afghan knock-off of “American Idol.” They’re risking their lives!

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TELL US WHAT YOU THINK:

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sign

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by Email
it’s
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and you can cancel it any time you’d like to do so. The Planner
goes out each week to readers who want more of an “inside track” on
what we’re seeing on the horizon, plus it’s got a popular “holidays”
section.

    We welcome your notes!
Email [email protected].
We’re also reachable on Twitter,
Facebook,
Amazon,
Huffington Post,
YouTube
and other social-networking sites.
    (Originally
published at https://readthespirit.com/)

   

652: Interview with the historian who created Rabbi Harvey of the Wild West

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-12_29_Rabbi_Harvey_panel.jpg
Rabbi Harvey book cover O
ne reason I love Steve Sheinkin’s creativity is that he still approaches history with a child’s wonderment. This isn’t some artificial guise he pulls on to create Rabbi Harvey of the Wild West. No, Sheinkin takes sincere pleasure in the creative leaps he is making with each new volume in this series.
    Here’s a good example: In the Introduction to his latest collection of tales, “Rabbi Harvey vs. The Wisdom Kid,” he writes, “Unlike most Westerns I’ve seen, the story here is made up of bits and pieces of Jewish folktales and teachings,  Midrash, Talmudic wisdom, and Hassidic legends.”
    He offers that sentence as a matter-of-fact observation to readers. In fact, Sheinkin is creating an entirely new genre here of graphic novels that blend classic Hollywood Westerns, like “Rio Bravo” and “High Noon,” with the best of Eastern European Jewish culture.
    Can you envision big ol’ John Wayne settling his elbows on the bar in a dusty saloon, drawling, “Well, pardner, as the Talmud teaches us…”?
    Or, Clint Eastwood? Can you picture him, guns drawn, chewing on a thin cigar as he warns his foes, “I’m no Maimonides, but I’ve done a bit of learning”?
    On Monday, we published our review—and a general overview—of Sheinkin’s books. TODAY, if you’re like me, you want to learn more about what makes this Brooklyn-based Jewish historian tick.

Highlights of Our Interview with Steve Sheinkin
on “Rabbi Harvey vs. the Wisdom Kid”

Steve_sheinkin_reads_to_his_daughte DAVID: It’s great to talk with you again, Steve! We’ve been supporters of your Rabbi Harvey series all along—but many of our readers, I suspect, are just learning about your series this week. So, let’s start with your background: For years, you wrote textbooks for schoolkids about American history, right?
   
STEVE: For years, I was a textbook writer. Now, I consider myself an anti-textbook writer, because I eventually got sick of it. Over the years, I collected all the stories they wouldn’t let me put into the textbooks. Now, I write history for kids that, hopefully, they’ll want to read.
   
DAVID: In addition to your Rabbi Harvey books, you’ve actually produced a whole line of alternative history books.
   
STEVE: Right. The first one is about the American Revolution called, “King George: What Was His Problem?” Then, there’s a Civil War book called, “Two Miserable Presidents.” The newest one is on the West called, “Which Way to the Wild West?”
Now, I’m working on a Benedict Arnold thriller. That’s something I’ve wanted to write for a long time. I think I can make this into a really exciting book and I finally got a publisher to agree.
   
DAVID: To help readers, we’ll add an Amazon link here to “Which Way to the Wild West? Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About Westward Expansion.” So, tell us: Why can’t you get the good stuff into textbooks anymore? Aren’t teachers eager for kids to read about history? What gets cut out?
   
STEVE: Anything good! Literally all the funny, controversial, disgusting, upsetting stuff—all the stuff an author wants to use to capture the attention of kids—gets cut out of textbooks. Publishers are worried they’ll offend someone. There are all these pressure groups out there, now, who go through every line of textbooks—and they object loudly if there’s anything they don’t like. So, publishers want to avoid even the potential—even the possibility—that someone might be offended. So, writing and editing textbooks has turned into this hypersensitive process. I think history textbooks have become boring and ineffective. Who wants to read the dry text that’s left?

DAVID: Give us an example.
   
STEVE: Here’s a good one: The story of the Louisiana Purchase is one of the funniest stories in history. Textbooks only give kids the dry stuff, so it sounds boring. But, American diplomats were over there in France when Napoleon decided he wanted to sell Louisiana to the Americans for the cash. He wanted to start a war.
   
Suddenly, these diplomats were faced with the possibility of picking up half a continent! They weren’t authorized to do that. There are these really funny scenes where the American diplomats are in these negotiations with the French—and the Americans are falling out of their chairs at what’s unfolding! It takes so long for letters to get back and forth from America that they’re on their own. There were spies on both sides trying to figure out what the other side was doing. It’s a wonderful story—funny and exciting!
   
Here’s another example: Lewis and Clark have a lot of funny scenes in their adventures that you’d never learn about in a textbook. One of the men in the crew actually shot Clark in the ass at one point, by accident. It wasn’t that serious, but Clark had to lie down in the canoe face down until it healed. Now, that’s funny. It’s the kind of scene kids would enjoy, but textbooks won’t include it.

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DAVID: In your own family, your father helped you get past the boring stuff in your schooling—is that fair to say? You went to Hebrew school dutifully, but your heart wasn’t in it—at least at first, that is.
   
STEVE: My father was from a stricter, more-Orthodox background, so he was quite serious about this when I was a kid. It was important to my father that I go to Hebrew school three days a week for two or three hours each time. To me, it felt endless. Think about it from a kid’s perspective: I would finish my normal school day, then get on a bus and go to another school. That was tough to take.
   
This was a serious Hebrew school. It wasn’t just a little training on the side to breeze through a bar mitzvah. There was a whole lot of memorization and they didn’t explain a lot about why we were learning this. It probably was my fault more than theirs, but I didn’t know why I was doing this. What I knew was: My father wanted me to do it. He thinks it’s important. I idolized my father, so I did this. But secretly I didn’t know why I was learning all of this.
   
I don’t think my father would have ever fully understood what I was thinking, but he did start to give me these books on Jewish folk tales and that was a major turning point for me. Those stories were so clever and so funny that I didn’t even care that I was learning Jewish ethics as I read them. I was hooked! My education started there. I still have the first one he gave me, “101 Jewish Folk Tales.” These were such clever heroes! They outwitted the bad guys, but they didn’t beat them up. I had nothing against beating up bad guys, but I was amazed at how cleverly these heroes outwitted the bad guys without violence. This was a whole new idea! Then as an adult, I went back to those books and read more and more.

DAVID: There never was a specific “Rabbi Harvey” like the one in your book, right?

STEVE: Right. There is no specific source. The story evolved more than it sprang from some sudden light bulb moment. Harvey has changed over the years. He’s always had that basic look: the uni-brow and beard. But, I’ve realized over time that he’s a little younger than I thought, at first. Ironically, he’s gotten younger as the books have gone on.
   
DAVID: I see a bit of Clint Eastwood in him—or maybe Henry Fonda in “Young Mr. Lincoln,” that classic movie about Honest Abe.
   
STEVE: Yes, there is an Abraham Lincoln look about him.
   
DAVID: And Clint Eastwood?
   
https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-12_29_Gary_Cooper_High_Noon.jpgSTEVE: I’m a big fan of Clint Eastwood, but the Westerns I drew from most directly come from an earlier period in Hollywood. These are classic Westerns in terms of themes and the visuals, too. I actually look back at movies like “Rio Bravo” and others I’ve liked over the years and I capture pictures from the movies and use them as a reference for the scenes I create. For this new book, I looked at “High Noon,” in particular. It’s got that classic man in the street bravely facing his foe. I had screen captures from “High Noon” around me as I worked on this.

DAVID: Harvey has evolved a lot through these three books. He’s now getting serious about Abigail, his love interest. I enjoy the fact that Abigail is not a school teacher or a saloon hostess. She’s a tough and resourceful miner in the Rockies, where the story is set. I don’t want to spoil this new book for readers, but early in the story, Harvey does get a ring for Abigail and hopes to ask her the big question. What happens next isn’t exactly a straight path toward marriage, though. And I won’t say more.
   
STEVE: We don’t want to spoil the story, but the ring shows up early in the book.
   
DAVID: I have to say that I know of ReadTheSpirit readers who are big fans of your work. Joe Lewis, another Jewish writer, Emailed me recently that he plans to order this new book—then enjoy reading it cover to cover—before he lets his kids know he’s got it! If he let them see it, first, he’d never get to read it.
   
STEVE: I’m glad there are readers out there like that. I think many of my readers are boys about the age I was when I first discovered Jewish folklore.
   
DAVID: Are you glad that’s the case?
   
STEVE: Yes, I’m glad the books attract young readers. But there’s a lot more here that adults can enjoy.
   
DAVID: Oh, I agree completely!
   
STEVE: Harvey uses thousands of years of Jewish ethics to solve these problems and hopefully people will enjoy the action, the suspense and also all the jokes along the way.
   
DAVID: I know it takes a year or two produce each new book, at the pace you’re going with other work along the way. Are you pretty sure there will be a fourth volume in this series?
   
STEVE: Yes, I do hope to continue the series. But I always want to keep them fresh. I think of all the readers out there who know Rabbi Harvey now and have high expectations of our hero.

https://readthespirit.com/explore/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/03/wpid-12_29_Rabbi_Harvey_of_the_Wild_West_panel_3.jpg(CLICK HERE to visit Jewish Lights Publishing and order copies of the Rabbi Harvey graphic novels.)

We want our international conversation to continue

Conversation is far better than the dangerous shouting matches we’ve been witnessing in our global culture. So, please, email us at [email protected] and tell us what you think of our stories—and, please tell a friend to start reading along with you!

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(Originally published at readthespirit.com)

650 As Passover begins, Rabbi Harvey’s wit and wisdom returns to the Wild West

Rabbi Harvey vs The Wisdom Kid Steve Sheinkin Passover begins
at sundown tonight. If you’re just joining us, we’ve already published Debra Darvick’s Passover-themed stories and a few amusing-and-helpful tips for diverse seders tonight.
    TODAY, we’ve got news about the internationally famous Rabbi Harvey of the Wild West. Then, come back Wednesday for a full interview with Steve Sheinkin and a glimpse at some of the powerful images that fuel his creative tales!

Here’s the puzzle: How does an author of history textbooks convince American kids that traditional Jewish folklore is cool?
   
Historian Steve Sheinkin solved the problem this way: He created Rabbi Harvey of the Wild West comic books. His graphic novels (book-length comics) contain real-life Jewish wisdom embodied in a tough, tall, black-garbed hero who looks like Clint Eastwood’s Jewish cousin—except that Harvey always shoots from his brain, never from his hip.
   
Steve’s third book-length comic, “Rabbi Harvey vs. the Wisdom Kid,” hits bookstores just in time for Passover. That’s appropriate since Passover, which begins at sundown tonight, celebrates the Bible’s most famous story of courage and liberation: Moses confronting Pharoah and eventually leading Hebrew slaves from Egypt to freedom.
   
Rabbi Harvey doesn’t part waters, but he dodges plenty of fists, knives, bullets and nooses by fearlessly drawing on the sheer wit and wisdom of Jewish literature.
   
“I write these books thinking of myself when I was an 11- or 12-year old Jewish kid,” Steve says in an interview from his Brooklyn home, where he lives with is wife and their two children. You’ll enjoy the full interview—along with images related to the book—on Wednesday.
   
For many years, Steve supported his family writing material for American history textbooks used in public schools. But, his love of history stems from the moment in his own childhood when his father gave him a hardback collection of Jewish folklore.
   
Until that moment, Hebrew school was a chore, he recalls. “It was important to my father that I go to Hebrew school three days a week for two or three hours each time. To me, it felt endless. Think about it from a kid’s perspective: I would finish my normal school day, then get on a bus and go to another school. That was tough to take.”
   
Mainly, 11-year-old Steve Sheinkin simply couldn’t imagine why this stuff mattered so much to his family. Then, his father gave him a copy of “101 Jewish Folktales.” That was the spark that blazed into his lifelong love of Jewish culture and history.
   
Through the creation of Rabbi Harvey, he now is drawing fresh young eyes to classic eastern European storytelling and the best in Jewish wisdom.
   
A recent story in the New York Post put it this way: “Rabbi Harvey is made for Hollywood.” The Post story also speculated that Adam Sandler might be the perfect choice to play the rabbi, although there’s no movie deal in the works at the moment.
   
The French press, including Le Monde, also has picked up coverage of “Les Aventures de Rabbi Harvey.” Steve’s previous two Rabbi Harvey books are praised in Paris and this new third book will follow in a French edition.
   
Steve’s goal is a revival of interest in Jewish folklore, and—even more than that—he wants to show readers that there are solutions to violent challenges that don’t involve escalating the violence. His lifelong love of American history lights up especially around those moments when men and women found clever solutions to defuse crises.
   
Similarly, when Steve sketches his hero Harvey, the drawings may look a bit like Clint Eastwood—but the overall storylines hark back to classic Hollywood Westerns with thoughtful themes about American values.
   
“I’m a big fan of Clint Eastwood, but the Westerns I draw from most directly come from an earlier period in Hollywood,” Steve says. “For this new book, I looked at (Gary Cooper) in ‘High Noon,’ in particular. It’s got that classic man in the street bravely facing his foe. I had screen captures from ‘High Noon’ around me as I worked on this.”
   
Each of the three Rabbi Harvey books is comprised of shorter stories that fit into the book’s larger narrative. In the debut book, “The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey,” we meet our hero and he becomes the unlikely sheriff of a little town in Colorado in the 1870s. “Rabbi Harvey Rides Again” brings back a couple of Harvey’s toughest foes and introduces a love interest: a smart, tough miner named Abigail. In the newest book, Harvey meets his biggest challenge: a rival rabbi who teams up with a villain hoping to take over Harvey’s town. Harvey may lose his job, his life—and his neighbors in the small town may be fleeced by the bad guys.
   
Even though Harvey’s international fan base is growing, there won’t be a fourth book until at least the end of 2011. Each graphic novel takes Steve more a year and a half to produce.
   
“I do hope to continue the series,” he says. “But I always want to keep them fresh. I think of all the readers out there who know Rabbi Harvey now and have high expectations of our hero.”

    (CLICK HERE to visit Jewish Lights Publishing and order copies of the Rabbi Harvey graphic novels.)

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    (Originally
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What’s the Spiritual Season this week? Passover, Holy Week and Easter plus Jain, Hindu and Buddhist dates, too

Seder Passover

WELCOME!

(You’ll also find weekly news in our “ReadTheSpirit Planner.” See
a sample & learn how to get this free Email newsletter.)
HERE IS …

What’s the Spiritual Season?
(March 29 to April 4, 2010)
By Stephanie
Fenton

GET READY FOR ONE BUSY WEEK!
This is rare: The world’s 2 billion Christians unite on Easter! (Most years,
Eastern and Western Christian calendars mark their most important holiday on different dates.) Also this week, Jews begin their
most widely observed tradition:
Passover! Monday, Jains recognize their most important holiday of
the year, too, with Mahavira Jayanti. To complement these major
festivals and observances, there’s much more: Firstborn male Jews fulfill the Fast of the
Firstborn, Hindus revere a monkey god on Hanuman Jayanti and some
Buddhists reflect during Sangha Day. Jehovah’s Witnesses observe a unique event in their calendar on Tuesday—and in the midst of the
holy days leading to Easter, we celebrate a mail-order anniversary. Read
about these events and observances below!

Mahavir MONDAY, it’s the
most important holiday of the year for Jains: Mahavir(a) Jayanti (spellings vary). Read
about modern Jains and this celebration at AsiaOneNews, from Singapore
Press.

    This birthday celebration for Mahavira, the last
Tirthankara, is a tribute to the figure who taught his followers how to
achieve true happiness through complete nonviolence and austerity.
(There are 24 Tirthankaras, or Jain prophets, in recorded history.) Scholars disagree about Mahavira’s exact year of birth but
agree that he was born sometime around 600 BCE. (Read more on
Wikipedia’s page
.)
    Jain legend has it that Mahavira’s mother,
Trisala, had a series of auspicious dreams about her son-to-be, just as
the mothers of the other Tirthankaras had. Mahavira was born into a household deeply devoted to Jainism and to the
philosophies of the 23rd Tirthankara, Parswanatha.
    In his young
life, Mahavira spent more than a decade in meditation and penance. (TajOnline,
an Indian resource, offers plentiful details on Mahavira’s life
.)
After coming to a self-realization, according to Jain tradition, Mahavira began spreading his knowledge to others. During his lifetime,
animal sacrifice was widespread, superstitions were popular, and elaborate religious rituals were abundant. Mahavira was bothered by such practices and made it his mission to clear
society’s religious “excess” and teach about the simple life changes he
deemed most important. In his teachings, Mahavira would often state, “Do
unto others as you would like to be done by.”
    Today, Jains
decorate temples with flags, bathe sacred images of Mahavira, parade around
cities, offer food to the poor and attend public lectures that focus on
Mahavira’s path to virtue and happiness. (The
colorful FestivalsInIndia site has interesting facts on celebrations.
)
At home, many believers meditate and pray.

Firstborn son Through MONDAY MORNING,
a very specific group of Jews observe a fast: firstborn males. Jewish
men who are the oldest child in their family fast on this day, known in English as the Fast of
the Firstborn. (Chabad.org
has more.
There’s also a helpful Wikipedia

page.)
    The fast is a commemorative remembrance of the biblical Plague of the
Firstborn in ancient Egypt that is part of the Exodus story remembered during Passover each year. For
tips on breaking down this fast day for young people, visit
TorahForTots.

Passover MONDAY at SUNDOWN,
Jews begin the great festival of Passover. As the most-observed Jewish
holiday, an estimated 80 percent of Jews have attended a Passover
Seder, according to the National Jewish Population Survey of 1990.
    After days—even weeks in some households—of laborious preparation, Jews have now completely
eliminated any crumb and trace of the five major grains (wheat, rye,
barley, oats and spelt) from their homes and are ready to observe the
Passover Seder. To completely clean their homes of these grains, referred to as
chametz, Jews scrub corners and edges
with toothbrushes and toothpicks—even getting rid of some utensils that touch the grains! In families with small children, this often becomes a festive search for every last scrap of chametz—and parents sometimes make the search more of an adventure by sprinkling a few bits of cereal in odd corners of the home. To become entirely Kosher for Passover, observant families change over kitchen utensils and entire sets of dishes for the holiday period. It’s a whole lot of work! (Read
more at Judaism 101
. Or, the Jewish
Virtual Library
.)
    In remembrance of the ancient Hebrews
who had to leave Egypt hurriedly for their Exodus, Jews since have
marked Passover by eating bread that is not allowed to rise. This
unleavened bread, known as matzah or matzoh, is also a symbol of Jews’
removal of “puffiness,” or pride and arrogance, from their souls. (For more on family Passover reflections, you’ll enjoy this ReadTheSpirit story by author Debra Darvick.)
     Passover marks
the “passing over” of the Hebrews’ homes when firstborns in ancient Egypt perished in a final plague that eventually swayed Pharaoh. Israelite families had marked their doors with lamb’s blood and were not inflicted with this terrible plague. (A detailed history is at
Wikipedia
.)
    Tonight and tomorrow night, Jews host or attend
an elaborate Seder, or ritual meal, often with family members and friends. (A
how-to, audio, Passover for Kids and much more is at Chabad.org.
)
Elders tell young people the story of their heritage during the Seder—but youngsters also play key roles, including asking questions that kick off the whole process.
Diet is strict, and nearly all of the Seder foods are symbolic and
representative, including multiple glasses of wine.
    Looking for some fun Passover-related activities? Check
out this site,
where you can learn about unleavened bread, take an audio tour of a
matzoh factory, laugh at a
Passover-themed cartoon and even follow Exocus on Twitter
!
   
Did you know that vacations for Passover are growing in popularity? Read
about them—and how to keep them Kosher—in this article from the Wall
Street Journal
.
    Passover continues for a week—for a list of
observances for each day of Passover, visit
Chabad.org
.

Hanuman TUESDAY, it’s
the Hindu jayanti of Hanuman, a monkey god and a great devotee of Lord
Rama. (Lord
Rama’s festival was celebrated last week and the week before; read all
about it in last week’s calendar
.)
    Legend states that
Hanuman was born to the king of the monkeys and his wife, Punjiksthala. (Indian
site TajOnline has details.
) More specifically, Punjiksthala in
human form was punished for her deeds and told that, as a result,
she would be born again as a monkey. When she repented, her fate as a
monkey was already sealed, but she was told she would bear a son
who would be a great devotee of Rama. (Here is Wikipedia’s
page.
)
    According to Hindu tradition, Hanuman crossed an ocean
by chanting Rama’s name and restored life to figures who had crossed
into the netherworld, among many other great feats. Yet just as his
power was a result of his selfless devotion to Rama, Hanuman never
credited himself with his feats and, instead, declared: “I am a humble
messenger of Sri Rama. I have come here to serve Rama, and to do His
work.” Hanuman is worshiped in folk tradition as having magical powers.
   
On his jayanti, Hanuman worshippers often gather in temples and carry sacred images of the deity. Some Hindus wear masks and tails to imitate the monkey
god, and when the day’s festivities have finished, all partake in a
vegetarian feast. (You
can watch a Hanuman procession, hear festive music and more right from
your own home! Check out this video
.)
    Last year, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviewed talented young Indian-American novelist Cheeni Rao about Cheeni’s semi-autobiographical book, “In Hanuman’s Hands.” Rao writes about the long and twisting journey of a recovering substance abuser and relates those difficult challenges to the image of Hanuman as a helpful guide. The book also includes Cheeni’s long narrative about the ancient Hanuman story. Remembering that resourceful image of this monkey god was key in Cheeni’s own recovery, he writes.

Buddhist Also on TUESDAY,
some Buddhists remember the 1,250 followers of Buddha who spontaneously
came to see him on the same night. (A
neat explanation is available from Assumption University of Thailand
.)
    On this, Magha Puja or Sangha, Buddhists pay particular attention to avoiding sin and purifying their minds. There are four elements remembered on this day: the 1,250 followers who converged on the Buddha, the fact
that all 1,250 followers were Enlightened and had been ordained by
Buddha, the date of a full moon and, fourth, the fact that Buddha
revealed the primary principles of Buddhism on this day. (Wikipedia has more
details.
) The original gathering of 1,250 followers occurred
approximately 2,500 years ago at Deer Park.
    Note that the dates of Buddhist observances vary widely, so only some Buddhists recognize Magha
Puja today. Here
is the BBC’s page.
Buddhist rituals also vary widely, but many Buddhists hold candlelight
processions, light incense, visit temples, meditate and don white robes
on Magha Puja. In the West, it has even become custom to give gifts!
    The three primary Buddhist principles
announced at Deer Park are: do good, abstain from bad actions and purify the mind.

Jehovah TUESDAY at SUNDOWN,
Jehovah’s Witnesses observe the Lord’s Evening Meal. Although Jehovah’s
Witnesses do not observe any other Christian holidays, they do observe
the Last Supper. (Exact details are
at Watchtower.org, the official site of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
)
   
Billions of Christians will be remembering the Last Supper this
Thursday, but because Jesus held his Evening Meal on the Jewish
Passover, Jehovah’s Witnesses observe the Lord’s Evening Meal in closer conjunction to the start of Passover. (Wikipedia’s
page on Jehovah’s Witnesses has a section dedicated to this
.) Although all Jehovah’s Witnesses observe the Lord’s Evening Meal, only
the anointed receive the blessed bread and wine. Some congregations have
no anointed members! But tonight, all devotees can listen to a talk on
the meaning of the Lord’s Evening Meal.

THURSDAY there are many names for the Christian observance, including the mysterious-sounding Maundy Thursday. (Wikipedia helps sort out the various names.) This is when most of the world’s Christians remember the Last Supper of Jesus.
    This day also is marked with other important rituals, including foot washing in many Christian denominations. That’s a humble practice of service that the Bible describes Jesus as performing for his followers—and many Christian clergy reenact this ritual annually. Also, the Catholic Church organizes central services, primarily attended by clergy, where holy oils are blessed for parish work in the year ahead. If you’re free on Thursday, contact your diocese and inquire about the schedule for blessing the oils—it’s a moving liturgy worth attending, if you’ve never seen it.

Good FridayFRIDAY, Christians observe the
solemnity of Holy Friday—or it’s known as Good Friday in some traditions. Today, Christians
remember the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. (Wikipedia’s page delves
into lots of details
.)
    According to the Gospels, Jesus was
arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, then suffered through a series of interrogations, humiliations and torture before he finally was crucified by Roman soldiers on Friday.
    In many Western
Christian churches, a service is held on Good Friday (read the Catholic
tradition at FishEaters
), although in the Eastern tradition Matins
are held on Thursday night. On Thursday night, Eastern Christian
churches hold a service with readings of twelve selections from the
Gospels and discuss the passion of Christ. (Orthodox Church
in America explains more.
)

Holy Saturday SATURDAY,
Christians remember the day that Jesus lay in his tomb, on Holy
Saturday. (View
Wikipedia’s Holy Saturday page here.
) In the Eastern Orthodox
tradition, Holy Saturday is known as the Great Sabbath, since Jesus
physically “rested” on this day (Matins are actually held on Friday
evening). In some Orthodox Churches, this is known as Joyous Saturday,
since believers hold that Jesus used this day to bring salvation to
deserving spirits and raise them from Hades to Paradise.
   
According to Western Christian liturgy, Holy Saturday ends at dusk and
the Easter celebration begins (Eastern Pascha vigils begin after
midnight). Get an Eastern
Orthodox perspective from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
.

Mail Also on SATURDAY,
it’s a double anniversary that highlights the exponential progress of
the American mail system! On this date in
1860—150 years ago—the Pony Express began between Missouri and
California. (Read more at the
Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco
.)
    The Pony
Express ran until October of 1861, but it became the most direct means
of communication between the eastern and western sides of the United States. (View
a map of the Pony Express here
.) The Pony Express used horseback
riders to carry messages across plains, deserts and mountains and, for
most mail, it boasted a delivery time of approximately 10 days. (More is at
Wikipedia’s page
.)
    On this same date 10 years ago, in 2000,
the world was focusing its attention on virtual mail—Email—and Microsoft
was found guilty of violating antitrust laws and monopolizing the Web
browser market. (Here is an article
from CBS News
.) Microsoft’s market value fell $70 billion over the
case, but it recovered and, today, remains back near the top of the market.
   
The delivery time boasted by Email? A few seconds.

Easter SUNDAY, Christians
rejoice, break their fasts, don their best clothing and celebrate the
primary belief of their faith: Jesus’ resurrection. This is Easter!
    After weeks of fasting and
repentance, both Eastern and Western Christians revel in the joy of this
day, which calls to mind their hope that one day they will enjoy resurrection as well. (Check out the thorough page
from Wikipedia
.)
    Easter (or Pascha) is the most important day of the
Christian calendar year. Eastern Christians refer to it as the “Feast
of Feasts.” (Read more about the
Greek Orthodox tradition here.
)
    Just how rare is it for East and West to converge on the same date? Well, it happened in 1990, but then only three more times during the past 20 years: 2001, 2004 and 2007. Complex differences in secular and religious calendars, coupled with distinctions between Eastern and Western practices for marking the proper date, leave the world with this separation that Christian leaders agree is embarrassing. For many years, global negotiations have continued in an effort to unify the dates, but the preservation of centuries-old traditions also is important. For now, there’s no solution. The possibility of convergence runs in cycles—and the next unified year is 2011. So, enjoy this rare and all-too-brief show of unity!
    Gospel accounts vary in their details concerning Easter morning. In one account, Mary Magdalene and Mary, Jesus’ mother, approached Jesus’ tomb—only to find the tomb’s entrance stone rolled away and the tomb
empty. They were told that Jesus had
risen from the dead. As they were instructed, they gave the message
of Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples. That version is especially prized by advocates of the ordination of women, since it appears to show that women preached the first Christian message of good news.
    The Resurrection remains the core of Christianity. Catholic
author J.R.R. Tolkein said of the Resurrection: “There is no tale ever told
[that people] would rather find was true.”
    Even though Easter is a
Christian holiday, don’t worry if you’re not Christian—there are plenty
of pretty much secular celebrations of new life as well! (Kids’ activities are at
Kaboose, a site from Disney
.) Many celebrate Easter by searching for
eggs, eating chocolates, telling tales about the Easter bunny and
holding family feasts. (Learn all about
the history of Easter and more at the History Channel’s site
.)
   
Each year since 1878, the White House has hosted an Easter Egg Roll—and
this year’s event will occur tomorrow, with the theme “Ready, Set, Go!”
in promotion of healthy habits. The Roll will feature live music,
sports, cooking stations, storytelling and more. Put a local spin on
this national event and host a Roll in your neighborhood!

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649: Planning a diverse Passover Seder? Tip No. 1: Don’t burn your guests

Passover preparing for Seder
P
assover begins at sundown on Monday, so we began with some stories for families by author Debra Darvick. And, next week, we’ve got a very cool Passover surprise: The return of Rabbi Harvey of the Wild West! (No kidding.)
   
ReadTheSpirit also is partnering with the Huffington Post, now. Today, we’re sharing with you a Passover story that also appears in that major online news site. It’s a personal memoir—with some helpful tips—that I’ve called …

Trying for a Diverse Seder?
Don’t Burn Your Guests

By David Crumm

Table set for a Passover Seder I committed the ultimate faux pas in a Jewish home: I lit myself on fire.
   
Thrilled to be a guest with a Jewish family in Jerusalem, I was entirely in awe—just as many other non-Jewish guests will be in coming days by the ancient traditions of Passover and the seder meal.
   
“I love your family’s candlesticks!” I said, rising from my seat at the table to examine them more closely. “Can you tell us the family story behind them?”
Starry eyed, I reached in to look closer at the gorgeous silver candlesticks all ablaze for the holiday. My proud host began to tell the tale.
   
I remember a strangely acrid scent.
   
“He’s on fire!” a girl shrieked.
   
I was. My sleeve blazed. The entire dinner party popped up and raced for water, a fire extinguisher, a bath towel, a throw rug off the floor. Soon, my body whirled around, gripped by strong hands. The rug enfolded my entire arm.
   
I’ll never forget. And, if God had only put out the fire: “Dayenu!”
   
But, there was more! My arm, somehow, escaped unscathed. This became a running joke throughout the evening. If God had only spared me injury: “Dayenu!”
   
But, there was even more than that: Years later, I was based in Jerusalem again as a journalist working on a series of stories. I stopped by a press center in the heart of Jerusalem and sat down next to a woman already tapping away on her keyboard.
   
She stared at me. I feared I had violated some press-room protocol, so I turned and said, “I’m sorry. I’m just here for a couple of weeks working on a story. Is it OK if I sit here?”
   
She roared in laughter! “Oh, yes! I just remembered who you are!”
   
I was thinking proudly: The American correspondent who reported the memorable story on …
   
“You’re the American who lit himself on fire!”
   
And so, as Passover nears again, I can say in appropriately religious terms: God truly has a sense of humor in marking me indelibly as the non-Jewish guest dumb enough to set himself ablaze—and turn himself into a living example of miraculous deliverance from injury in a crisis.
   
This week, if you receive an invitation to attend a Jewish friend’s seder on March 29 or 30, don’t worry: I’ve been a journalist for 30 years and, so far, I’m the only person I know who has to be warned about fire safety on such occasions.
   
For non-Jews like me contemplating such an invitation, you’ll be far ahead if you learn the Hebrew term above: “Dayenu,” which roughly means, “It would have been enough!”
   
The seder is a ritual remembrance of the biblical deliverance from slavery in Egypt. That’s the ancient tale nearly all Americans know from television if not from Sunday school: Moses demands that Pharaoh grant freedom and, soon, through a series of plagues and other dramatic events—Moses winds up on the shore of a seemingly impassable sea. The Egyptian army is in hot pursuit. Moses invokes God’s power to part the waters and provide a dry path to freedom. It works! The waters part. Of course, in a later scene, the Egyptians don’t fare so well as the waves crash over their chariots. And there’s still trouble ahead: Moses’ people run into decades of crises in the wilderness. The seder unfolds the story of liberation along with symbolic foods, readings, songs, actions—and quite a bit of wine!
   
One of the classic moments in the seder is the question, usually asked by a child: “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
   
Then, the story of Exodus unfolds in response. The tale is retold with amazing compassion and humility. “Dayenu” helps to set that tone. As each incremental act of God is remembered, the guests collectively affirm, “It would have been enough!”
   
In light of that gracious tone of celebration, I can offer some wisdom to the many Americans who are contemplating invitations to diverse—Jewish and non-Jewish—seders at this time of year.
   
If you’re Jewish and thinking about asking a non-Jewish friend, here are two tips: First, don’t worry about fire safety, unless you’re inviting me.
   
Second and most importantly, explain to your friends—in advance of their accepting your invitation—just how long your family keeps the seder going. That’s the single biggest surprise for non-Jews who may be expecting a typical American holiday dinner that wraps up in several hours.
   
If you’re not Jewish and you’re contemplating an invitation as you read this column, here are a few tips for you:
   
Ask how long the seder will run. Reform Jewish families with children typically are speedier than more traditional Jewish friends without kids—who may enjoy a spirited seder of readings, songs and lively discussion that can run into the wee hours of the morning. If you’re in the unusual position of accepting an invitation to an Orthodox home, you should know that it’s possible for a seder to run all night long.
   
If you’re among the millions of Americans who don’t drink alcohol, mention this to your host in advance. Emptying your cup repeatedly is part of the ritual.
   
Bone up on the story of Exodus in advance. The dramatic tale is right there in any Bible that’s handy. Or, check out one of the many Hollywood versions. Knowing the basics of this timeless tale will help you dive right into the flow of the evening.
Oh, and if you do get swept up in this high drama—don’t reach for the candlesticks.

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406: Readers Tell Us About … Passover’s enduring meaning — and hopeful news for Christians & Jews in Eastern Europe

Haggadah 1 PASSOVER, like Christian traditions surrounding Easter, lasts for at least a week. (Christian observances spill over into Clean Monday for millions of people—and even into Holy Humor Sunday one week after Easter in at least a small number of congregations nationwide each year. See our Spiritual Seasons column this week and next week to learn more. You also may enjoy the final days of “Our Lent: Things We Carry.“)
    For Passover, we’re proud to share with you news of the inspiring movie “Live and Become,” our Conversation With Rabbi Jill Jacobs on the roots of social justice in Jewish tradition and Judy Gruen’s reflection on “Spiritual Gravity” in Passover.
    BUT—this is an entire week of timeless reflections—plus, many of our Jewish readers weren’t online for a couple of days this week. So, we’re devoting this edition of our Reader Roundup (and also stories on Monday and Tuesday) to some of the best stuff we can offer on Passover themes.

Haggadah 3 ReadTheSpirit is a community of voices—and everybody’s getting involved in this!

    Contributor Gail Katz emailed about President Obama hosting the first seder at the White House on Thursday evening. This is a hopeful sign, she wrote, summing it up in these words: “The first ever Passover seder in the White House!! That’s awesome.”
    I was at a small international gathering at one of the largest Muslim centers in the Western world this week (come back on Monday to learn more about that) and I found Muslim leaders thanking a couple of Jewish visitors who came to that meeting, even though this week is Passover. These Muslim-Jewish greetings were a remarkable interfaith salute in both directions.
    And it’s not just major leaders acknowledging the season.
    We’re all intrigued by these spiritual insights. Our Publisher John Hile sent me a link to his favorite Passover story of the week outside of our own magazine—a New York Times column he spotted. Read the whole thing via that link to the Times, although you may have to complete the free registration if you haven’t visited the Times site before.

    TODAY — we’ve got two more pieces shared by contributors to ReadTheSpirit. First, for our thousands of readers just joining us on the weekend—author Charles Weinblatt writes about the overall importance of Passover themes for the Jewish people and their neighbors.
    PLUS—one of our most popular guest writers, poet Dinah Berland, is back with a soul-stirring update on the impact in Eastern Europe of her work to recover a Jewish women’s prayerbook from the era before the devastation of the Holocaust.
    Here are words from Charles—and Dinah …

THE MEANING OF PASSOVER

 Passover Seder     (By Charles S. Weinblatt, the author of a historical novel about the Holocaust, called “Jacob’s Courge”)
    CLICK HERE to read Charles’ entire reflection. In it, he tries to introduce non-Jews to some of the timeless themes of this ancient observance—and to draw at least one parallel with some Christian hopes that come with Easter. He ends with an appeal to all people of good will to realize that the eradication of hatred and injustice is a calling we all can share.
    Here’s a brief excerpt from his article: “Our cycles of survival and restoration over thousands of years give us
hope. Like Easter, Passover occurs each year in the springtime—a season
associated with rebirth. Symbols of death and rebirth are woven into
Passover traditions from sacrificial lambs to the presence of an egg on
the seder plate. While the overriding message of Passover is freedom,
gratitude and spiritual devotion—the concept of renewal is strong as
well and encourages us to observe the holiday in ways that will promote
justice, kindness and renewal for others in each new generation.

REBIRTH OF NEARLY FORGOTTEN JEWISH PRAYERS IN EASTERN EUROPE

     When writer Dinah Berland began a poetic translation of a nearly forgotten Jewish prayer book for women, she had no idea of the spiritual repercussions she was touching off with “Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda’s Book of Prayers for Jewish Women.”
    Once a best-selling guide to prayer for European Jewish women, the Holocaust nearly extinguished this collection of stirring poetry along with the lives of millions of Jewish men, women and children.
    Since bringing her English rendering of Fanny’s 19th-century book to a modern audience, Dinah has moved on to encourage the recovery of Fanny Neuda’s entire life story. Dinah also has been sharing the good news that non-Jews in the region where Fanny’s congregation once thrived are equally committed to preserving her spiritual gifts.
    To read more about this amazing story:
    Click Here to read an in-depth Conversation With Dinah Berland.
    Or, read an update published in October in which Dinah wrote about her research into Fanny Neuda’s life in several areas of Europe, including what is today the Czech Republic.

THEN, just in time for Passover, came this update from Dinah …

Dinah_berland Dear David,
    This is so extraordinary and gratifying, I just had to share it with you. The “Respect and Tolerance” group in the Lostice area of the Czech Republic, where Fanny Neuda lived and worked, has just come out with the first Czech edition of “Hours of Devotion.” Originally, it was written in German in 1855.
    Now, the people where Fanny Neuda once lived, Jews and non-Jews alike, can read her words in their own language for the first time. Not only that, but in a recent event commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Nazi destruction of the largest synagogue in the region, the local Catholic priest held a service in which he read Fanny’s prayers to the congregation.
    I am attaching the letter from Ludek Stipl, director of Respect and Tolerance, and a photograph from that March 15 event.
    You also will want to give readers a link to the Respect and Tolerance page that tells about the book. My own Web site is http://www.dinaberland.com
    Warmest Regards,
    Dinah

AND, here is Ludek’s letter …

Vysehorky Dinah,
    Greetings from Lostice. Thank you so much for your email, letter and beautiful words. I am very, very happy you like the new edition of the book and I am sending your letter to all my colleagues, who worked on the Fanny Neuda project. Thank you again for all your help, inspiration and vision, which started the whole process. I really like your closing remark in your letter: “May the lovely book that you have brought into the world be appreciated and used…..”
    This is being done already. We supplied books to the bookstores in the area. Also libraries in Lostice, Mohelnice, Sumperk etc have books on their shelves available to their readers.
    On Sunday March 15th we prepared the ceremony to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of tragic events—the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia and the burning down the Olomouc synagogue, on March 15th, 1939.
    The ceremony was conducted in the church of All Saints in Vysehorky. A few days before the ceremony I gave the Fanny Neuda book to the priest. He liked the prayers very much and he started the whole ceremony by reading prayers from Fanny’ s book! It was very moving, we did not expect that at all.
    With sincere thanks and warmest wishes,
    Ludek

WHAT a Passover story, hmmm?
    As a correspondent for Knight-Ridder newspapers, I traveled extensively in what was then Czechoslovakia at the time of the largely peaceful revolution that ended communist domination there. I reported first-hand on lingering problems across Eastern Europe—including Antisemitism that continued to rear its ugly head.
    It’s inspiring to find a story like this of ordinary Christian men and women—as well as Catholic leaders in the region—encouraging respect and preservation of Jewish heritage in the region.

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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

405 Passover: Our spiritual gravity — that grounds us and allows us to grow

 A_Seder_table_setting
Here at ReadTheSpirit, we love to see writers like Judy Gruen working successfully and producing lively books like “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement.” We encourage indie books and films in this era when traditional media is rapidly changing. AND NOW —
here’s Judy’s gift to us for Passover …

More than 3,300 years ago, God swept the Jewish people out from our slavery in Egypt where we had toiled for more than 400 years. He did not wait for a United Nations resolution on the matter—the Almighty acted unilaterally, and for this, we Jews remain forever grateful. Remembering the Exodus from Egypt is so central to Jewish life that we mention it in our prayers every day.
    Yet there’s something ironic about Passover. Why is it that getting ready to celebrate our liberation from slavery involves so much hard work? First, if you’re not familiar with this holiday, you need to know that during Passover Jews are not allowed to eat, own, or even benefit from the type of leavened products we normally enjoy all year round: bread, crackers, pasta, and a host of other things, too. 

 Haggadah_14th_cent
    The Haggadah is our Passover playbook, recounting the history of the Exodus. The Haggadah states that God took us out of Egypt “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” These are handy images to keep in mind, because preparing for Passover requires both a mighty hand (two would be better) and an outstretched arm to get to those hard-to-reach crevices behind the couch where your kid stashed a packet of Oreos a few months back.
    While cleaning for Passover, many of us will scrub our homes to within an inch of our lives, finally sitting down to the formal Passover seder meal tired, yes, but serene in the knowledge that our homes are not only sparkling clean, but, more important, free of any leavening.
    So why can’t we just commemorate our liberation with some traditional Jewish comfort food, like chicken chow mein? Why does scrubbing down the house and eating hard, crummy matzah, which tastes stale even when it’s fresh, remind us of freedom?
    I believe that the answer is that freedom is more than just a physical reality—it’s a spiritual condition. And without a structure to our lives, we have no freedom; we have only chaos. Gravity works much the same way: without gravity, every thing and every one of us would just float up into the atmosphere, hither and thither. Similarly, our value system is our “spiritual gravity”—it’s the structure that keeps us morally grounded. It gives us enough space to grow, but not so much space that we’ll just float around aimlessly, experimenting with potentially disastrous lifestyle ideas.

 Seder_Plate
    It’s no coincidence that God gave the Jews the Torah—God’s blueprint for living—after our liberation from slavery. Slaves aren’t free to make choices for themselves, but free people need guidelines, too. And who better to give them than the Almighty?
    In the same way, the leavening that we search for before Passover isn’t just physical—it’s a metaphor for the egotism and arrogance that can puff us up higher than a loaf of freshly baked bread. That’s why preparing for Passover means more than looking for errant crumbs behind the refrigerator. It means spring-cleaning our souls, trying to rid ourselves of pettiness, selfishness, and tunnel vision. We’re multi-tasking: vacuuming with one hand, but also taking an inventory of our character, and trying to refocus on the things that really matter: our families, our values, God and the Torah that God gave us to help us live a meaningful life. Only when we have swept away this spiritual “leavening” can we really connect with the Festival of Freedom.
    Then, when we sit down to our Passover seders, we will be free—truly free—to celebrate this pivotal rendezvous with God, just as our ancestors have done for more than 3,300 years. We’re rejoicing in our birth as a nation, and to our reconnection to the tradition that has ensured our miraculous survival as a people.
    Who knows? Perhaps any people able to digest this much matzah is surely an indestructible people, indeed.

    Judy Gruen’s latest book is The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement. Read more of her columns at www.judygruen.com.

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what we’re seeing on the horizon, plus it’s got a popular “holidays”
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    Not only do we welcome your notes—but our readers enjoy them as well. You can do this
anytime by clicking on the “Comment” links at the end of each story.
You also can Email ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm. We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, YouTube and other social-networking sites as well.
    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)