Raksha Bandhan: Hindus, Indian communities honor brother-sister relationships

Raksha Bandhan plate, bracelet

Photo by Prashant, courtesy of Pixahive

THURSDAY, AUGUST 11: Across India and in Hindu communities worldwide, the sacred bonds between brothers and sisters are honored on Raksha Bandhan. Over many centuries, the rakhi (from Sanskrit, “the tie or knot of affection”) has evolved from simple, handspun threads into bangles adorned in jewels, crystals, cartoon characters and even political figures.

On a broader scale, Raksha Bandhan is a time for harmonious existence and a bond between leaders—teachers, political figures, civil authorities—and those they serve.

IN THE NEWS: The makers of the upcoming movie “Raksha Bandhan” are set to release the song “Done kar do”—  the first Indian film to have a song launch in the UK. Read more here.

RAKSHA BANDHAN: COLORS AND RITUALS

Weeks before the culmination of Raksha Bandhan, Indian usually shops offer a bright palette of threads for women making their own rakhi; shops also are stocked with colorful premade rakhi. Men also shop market stands, searching for a token of love for their sisterly Raksha Bandhan companion.

Gulab Jamun Raksha Bandhan

Gulab Jamun. Photo courtesy of Rawpixel

Did you know? Raksha Bandhan is so popular that nearly every year government officials across India announce some kind of new service or public improvement related to the holiday.

In a normal year, on the morning of the festival, brothers and sisters greet one another in, if possible, the presence of other family members. The sister ties a rakhi on her brother’s wrist, reciting prayers for his well-being and applying a colorful tilak mark to his forehead. The brother responds with thanks and a renewal of his sibling commitment, and the two indulge in sweet foods. The brother presents the sister with a gift, and everyone present rejoices in the gladness of family—often with a festive meal.

Some of the most popular Indian treats enjoyed on Raksha Bandhan may be surprisingly sweet to Westerners unaccustomed to Indian cuisine. A prime example is gulab jamun. Think of a donut hole soaked in syrup! India-based NDTV’s Food channel already has published tips for home-made gulab Jamun.

Interested in making your own rakhi? Find 15 kid- and adult-friendly ideas at the blog Artsy Craftsy Mom, which features simple to complex DIY rakhi instructions.

For an eco-friendly rakhi DIY, check out this article, from The Better India.

Tisha B’Av: A day to remember, mourn and ‘restart the journey.’

Excavated stones from the Wall of the 2nd Temple (Jerusalem), knocked onto the street below by Roman battering rams in on the 9th of Av, 70 C.E. This first century street is located at the base of the Temple Mount where the western and southern walls meet. The property may be accessed via the Davidson Archeological Center in Jerusalem. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

DAY BEGINS THE EVENING of SATURDAY AUGUST 6—My introduction to Jon Stewart came on Tisha B’Av about two decades ago.  I happened upon The Daily Show just as Stewart was pointing to a Jewish star decorated with lights.  He said something like, “Today was a Jewish holiday.”  Then the lights on the star went out and he said, “Not that kind of holiday.  It was a sad holiday,” and he made that well-rehearsed doleful face, downward smile, creased forehead, puppy dog eyes.  I became a Daily Show fan that day and never looked back!

Yes, my friends: that’s Tisha B’Av—a holiday with no lights, no upbeat greeting, and no tasty morsels drenched in oil or filled with cheese.  In fact, some people choose to fast for 24 hours, in deference to the somber quality of the day.

Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month called Av) memorializes the sacking of Jerusalem, the destruction of its central Temple in 586 BCE, and again (having been rebuilt in the interval) in 70 CE, and the exile of the Jewish people from their (home)land twice.  Tradition says these events, along with other Jewish tragedies happened on this very day. The accuracy of this tradition notwithstanding, all devastating events in our people’s history are recalled on Tisha B’Av.  Observant Jews spend the day in prayer, refrain from pleasurable activities, and chant mournfully from the biblical Book of Lamentations.

In Jewish thought and experience, exile is both physical/historical and metaphysical/spiritual. With the  current reality of the State of Israel as a Jewish homeland and place of return, some find greater meaning in contemplating the ahistorical themes of Tisha B’Av: what constitutes exile from God, from our truest selves, from each other.  Spending a day mourning what is lost or broken in our lives as individuals and as humanity, might we more successfully find our way back to God or to less fractured lives and relationships with each other and the earth?

It is probably not by accident that Tisha B’Av occurs seven weeks before Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year.  Seven is a significant—arguably the most significant—number in Jewish life.  Shabbat is celebrated on the seventh day of the week.  Rosh HaShanah occurs in the seventh month of our calendar.  There are seven  blessings recited at a Jewish wedding.  The initial mourning period for a loved one is seven days: the number seven appears again and again in Jewish ritual and ceremony.

The passage of seven weeks between Tisha B’Av, day of intense reflection, sorrow and contemplation of loss and exile, and Rosh HaShanah, day of new beginnings, celebration and joyful prayer, indicates the life-affirming, stubbornly hopeful stance at the core of Judaism.  It suggests that we not be paralyzed by guilt or sadness or loss, but that we muster our communal and personal resources to assess what was or what is, and progress from there.

Tisha B’Av instructs: Look at the pain of the world (and personal pain) realistically, see its (and our) fractures, face those fractures…..and move forward. In the poignant words of Rabbi Lev Meirowitz Nelson, “Claw your way back to a place where we can enter the new year, seek forgiveness and start afresh.”

It is a good thing, in my opinion, to stake out a day devoted to confronting our fractured lives on this fractured planet.

From the Book of Lamentations 1:16 “For these things I weep, my eye sheds tears…” The tears we shed literally or figuratively for people in crisis resulting from war, hunger, disease, abuse, false incarceration, violence.  For children bullied or shamed, for teens rejected for their sexuality, for couples devastated by infertility, for partners undone by broken trust, for dreams dashed by accidents and illnesses, for people who cannot forget, for people who cannot remember, for pain unassuaged. Life’s cruelty abounds.  No one escapes this life unscathed.

And yet we cannot live endlessly in a place of bitterness and despair, or in fear that catastrophe awaits us at any turn.  We are called to remember, recover, reach out and regenerate. Not to live blindly in denial, but never to stop believing that the future can redeem the past. That is the lesson of Rosh HaShanah, an affirmation of creation and possibility, following seven weeks after Tisha B’Av, with its sobering lessons.

It is surprising—one could say astounding—that Jews remain a hopeful people.  For most of our history, we have been subject to prejudice, dispersion and brutality, and  few would question if we had become a dejected, languishing people, a people estranged from laughter and joy.  But in fact, the opposite is true: Many Jews consistently look out for something to laugh about (including ourselves), something to care about (societal ills and people living on the fringe), and ways to be creative and purposeful. When we life our glasses, we toast, “L’Chayim,”  “To Life.”

This is one of the many reasons I love Judaism: it teaches us to acknowledge the pain, and it expects us  not to be overcome by it.  To wrestle a blessing out of a curse.  To believe in, and to work towards, a world of fairness and beauty and possibility.

Tisha B’Av is not a day of dread and it is not a day I dread.  It is a day to contemplate loss and exile.  It is a day to start the journey back home.

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Meet Rabbi Lenore Bohm …

VISIT RABBI LENORE’S RESOURCE PAGE: Go to TorahTutorBook.com to find more information about her ongoing work and her new book.

Order a copy of her new book from Amazon.

 

 

Feast of the Transfiguration: Christians recall ‘greatest miracle’ on Mount Tabor

Transfiguration Mount Tabor

Mount Tabor, in Israel; the biblical site of the Transfiguration. Photo courtesy of Picryl

SATURDAY, AUGUST 6: An event revered by St. Thomas Aquinas as “the greatest miracle” is recalled by both Eastern and Western Christians today, on the centuries-old Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. (Note: Catholic and most Orthodox churches mark this feast on August 6, though many American Protestant congregations, among them United Methodist and some Lutheran churches, celebrated Jesus’s transfiguration much earlier this year as part of their Epiphany season.)

Transfiguration fresco

A fresco depicting the Transfiguration, by Fra Angelico. Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

Three Gospels tell of Jesus taking three disciples—Peter, James and John—along with him on an ascent of a mountain. Once at their destination, the prophets Elijah and Moses appear. A voice in the clouds says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” The disciples fall to their knees in wonder.

While heading back down the mountain, the Bible describes Jesus as telling his disciples not to speak of what they had seen until he has risen from the dead. The disciples—confused by the words “risen from the dead”—discuss the meaning of this puzzling experience.

Did you know? In 2002, Pope John Paul II selected the Transfiguration as one of the five Luminous Mysteries of the rosary.

Theologians have argued for centuries about the metaphysics of the transfiguration—whether Jesus’s garments became white and his face shone like the sun, or that, perhaps, the apostles’ senses were transfigured so that they could perceive the true glory of God. Nonetheless, Christian churches agree that the transfiguration took place on Mount Tabor. The mountain represents the meeting point of human and God; of earth and heaven.

Did you know? In Byzantine theology, the Tabor Light is the light revealed on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration of Jesus, identified with the light seen by Paul on the road to Damascus. 

For an Orthodox perspective on the holiday, learn more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

For a Western perspective, visit the Global Catholic Network.

Lammas, Lughnasadh: Christians, Pagans embrace harvest

Three rolls with wheat strands on wood board on wood table

Photo courtesy of pxhere

MONDAY, AUGUST 1: As August begins and grains turn golden in the fields, Christians, Pagans and many others from areas of England, Ireland and Scotland mark centuries-old harvest festivals. The customs once were so well known that Shakespeare could use a reference to Lammas as a symbolic date in his tragedy Romeo and Juliet. Juliet’s birthday was Lammas Eve.

Today, families with cultural roots in the UK may mark either Lammas or Lughnasadh. Pagan groups maintain various customs related to these traditions, regarding this point in the year as a “feast of first fruits.”

Historically, it was customary to bring a loaf of bread made from the new wheat crop to the church for a blessing on August 1, or Lammas Day.

It is gratitude for the change in seasons—from a season of planting to a season of harvest—that marks today’s observance. Lughnasadh customs were more commonplace until the 20th century, though evidence of ongoing tradition is seen in the popular Puck Fair of County Kerry and Christian pilgrimages. Throughout Ireland’s history, significant mountains and hills were climbed at Lughnasadh; the custom was brought into Christianity when Christian pilgrimages were undertaken near August 1. The most well-known pilgrimage of this type is Reek Sunday, a trek to the top of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo in late July that continues to draw tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims each year.

Family reunions are still common among the Irish diaspora near August 1, and in Ireland, several towns have recently created Lughnasadh festivals and fairs to parallel Puck Fair.

For Christians, Lammas has been a time for blessing loaves made of fresh wheat. In time, Christians also created a version of the Scottish Highland Quarter Cake for Lammas, which bore Christian symbols on the top. (Catholic Culture has a recipe.)

In the Neopagan and Wiccan faiths, Lughnasadh is one of eight sabbaths and is the first of three harvest festivals. Ancient Celtic myth describes a god of sun, of light and brightness: He is Lugh, the deity for whom Lughnasadh is named. Ever mirthful, Lugh is honored alongside his foster mother, Tailtiu, who is said to be responsible for introducing agriculture to Ireland. The story of Lughnasadh is one of the cycle of life, of the harvesting of grains and crops, and of one season’s fruits dropping seeds for the next. Today, common foods on the table at Lughnasadh are apples, grains, breads and berries.

Interested in making a Lammas loaf? Try this recipe, from Recipes for a Pagan Soul:

4 cups all purpose/bread flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt, to taste
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup raisins
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Stir flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda and raisins together. Separately, fork-blend eggs and buttermilk, then add to dry ingredients. Stir until sticky batter is formed. Scrape batter onto a well-floured surface and knead lightly. Shape batter into a ball, then place in a round, non-stick casserole dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Bake uncovered in preheated 350-degree oven for about 1-1/4 hours.

Wait 10-15 minutes before attempting to remove bread from casserole, then cool on wire rack. If desired, cut loaf into quarters and then slice thinly.

Birthday of Haile Selassie: Celebrating the courage of the final Ethiopian emperor

Dark-skinned man in Rasta hat and sunglasses, making peace sign with fingers

A Rastafari man. Photo courtesy of Pxhere

SATURDAY, JULY 23: Rastafari around the world—estimated to number 700,000 to 1 million—hold Nyabingi drumming sessions and celebrate the birthday anniversary of their God incarnate, Haile Selassie I. (Note: The belief that Selassie is God incarnate is not universally held; some Rastas regard Selassie as a messenger of God.) Born Ras Tafari Makonnen, Haile Selassie served as Ethiopia’s regent from 1916 to 1930 and emperor from 1930 to 1974.

TAFARI MAKONNEN: FROM MUD HUT TO PALACE

Beginnings were meager for this emperor-to-be, born in a mud hut in Ethiopia in 1892. Selassie—originally named Tafari Makonnen—was a governor’s son, assuming the throne of Ethiopia in a complex struggle for succession. The nation’s leaders favored Tafari for the role of emperor—and, in 1930, he was crowned. Selassie would become Ethiopia’s last emperor.

Years prior to Haile Selassie’s enthronement, American black-nationalist leader Marcus Garvey began preaching of a coming messiah who would lead the peoples of Africa, and the African diaspora, into freedom. When news of Selassie’s coronation reached Jamaica, it became evident to some that Selassie was this foretold of messiah. Beyond the prophesies in the book of Revelation and New Testament that Rastafari point to as proof of Selassie’s status, the emperor also could trace his lineage back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Rastafari pointed to Selassie as the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David and the King of Kings.

Did you know? The Rastafari receive their name from the combination of Ras—an honorific title, meaning “head”—and Tafari, part of Selassie’s birth name.

Selassie remained a lifelong Christian, but never reproached the Rastafari for their beliefs in him as the returned messiah. To this day, Rastafari rejoice on July 23, the anniversary of his birth.

TIME MAGAZINE AND THE WORLD: SELASSIE’S STORY

Magazine cover, man on front in fancy clothing of nobility

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

LEAGUE OF NATIONS—One of the most poignant chapters in Selassie’s life—and a key reason that he came to global attention—was an impassioned appeal for help that Selassie delivered to the League of Nations in 1936. In 1936, TIME magazine named him its Man of the Year.

The magazine’s “honor,” today, looks like nothing but ridicule for what TIME editors regarded as a foolish figure on the global stage. Dripping with sarcasm and openly racist, the TIME profile of Selassie included this description of him:

The astounding marvel is that Africa’s unique Museum of Peoples has produced a businessman—with high-pressure publicity, compelling sales talk, the morals of a patent medicine advertisement, a grasp of both savage and diplomatic mentality, and finally with plenty of what Hollywood calls “it.”

Selassie was in a life-and-death struggle with Italian aggression in his homeland. The TIME cover story appeared in January 1936. International opinions of Selassie changed dramatically that summer, when he made a passionate plea for help in a personal appearance before the League of Nations in Europe. His plea did not result in the help he sought, but the appeal now is considered a milestone in 20th century history. William Safire included the League address in his book, Great Speeches in American History.

 

Hajj: Million Muslims make their way to Mecca for the annual pilgrimage

Mecca pilgrimage Hajj

Muslim pilgrims performing the Hajj. Photo by Fadi El Binni, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET THURSDAY, JULY 7 through the evening of JULY 12:  Close to 1 million Muslim pilgrims have been pouring into Mecca from across the globe, preparing for a journey most have anticipated their entire lives: Today begins the annual pilgrimage that is Hajj. Arriving via every mode of transportation available and from countries that span the globe, this annual Islamic pilgrimage is widely considered the largest annual gathering in the world.

To complete one of the five pillars of Islam, Muslims must visit Mecca and fulfill the Hajj rituals that reenact the actions of the Prophet Muhammad in his “farewell pilgrimage,” in 632 AD.

Hajj between hills

Muslim pilgrims travel the circuit of between the two hills of Hajj, through an area put in place for health and security reasons. Photo by Al Jazeera English, courtesy of Flickr

NEWS UPDATES: In 2019, Saudi Arabia allowed approximately 2.5 million Muslim pilgrims to participate in Hajj; during the past two years, only a few thousand were permitted. This year, approximately 1 million pilgrims will be permitted to perform the Hajj. With increasing numbers of pilgrims permitted, however, health restrictions will be in place: Hajj participation will only be allowed for those who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus; can prove that they have tested negative for coronavirus; and who are under the age of 65. (Read more in the Aljazeera and from the Ministry of Health in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.)

Yet as Hajj 2022 draws close, many pilgrims from Western nations are experiencing additional obstacles, resulting in difficulties booking (or re-booking) the trip due to the sudden implementation of Motawif, a Saudi Arabian government-authorized online portal. Announced last month, the use of Motawif requires all Western pilgrims to book hotels, airfare and special visas solely through the portal, in efforts to gather more streamlined booking information and cut down on fraud. However, with system glitches and delays being experienced by many, news reports are covering the frustration and anxiety that pilgrims are speaking out about. (Read stories in the Washington Post, Middle East Eye, the BBC and the Guardian.)

Still, Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Abdul Fattah Mashat reported that Hajj, as well as Umrah—a shorter pilgrimage that can be performed at any time of the year—are major components of the Saudi Vision 2030, which aims to boost the religious tourism sector and host 30 million Umrah pilgrims annually by 2030. (Read more in The National.) According to reports, Motawif—though it may have glitches in its initial run, this year—is an important component that will go toward making Vision 2030 a reality.

PILGRIMAGE TO MECCA: AN ANCIENT JOURNEY

The Hajj pilgrimage is regarded as a religious duty that must be undertaken by every adult Muslim at least once in his or her lifetime—if that person has the mental, physical and financial ability to make the long journey. Despite the word “duty,” Muslims regard Hajj as an experience to be treasured. The ritual of a pilgrimage to Mecca actually stretches back centuries before the advent of Islam—to the time of Ibrahim (Abraham)—yet it was the Islamic prophet Muhammad who cemented the rituals of Hajj in the seventh century. The uniform method of performing the rituals of Hajj is meant to demonstrate both the solidarity of the Muslim people and their submission to Allah (God).

THE ORIGINS OF HAJJ: ABRAHAM, HAGAR & ISHMAEL

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

Mount Arafat, Hajj

Mount Arafat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Jahiliyyah: During a time known as jahiliyyah in pre-Islamic Arabia, the Kaaba had become surrounded by pagan idols. To cleanse the Kaaba, the Prophet Muhammad led his followers from Medina to Mecca in what is now regarded as the first Hajj. The pagan idols were destroyed, and Muhammad rededicated the Kaaba to God. At this point, Hajj became one of the five pillars of Islam, and adherents have been making the journey ever since.

PILGRIMAGE RITUALS:
THE GRAND MOSQUE, MOUNT ARAFAT AND THE ZAMZAM WELL

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

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

Fourth of July: Americans celebrate Independence day with parades, barbecues and fireworks

July 4 fireworks over city

Fourth of July fireworks in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Steve Wall, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, JULY 4: After two years of social-distance Independence Day celebrations, festivities appear to be ramping up this year, with crowds expected to line streets for patriotic parades; the scent of barbecue drawing family and friends; and, finally, fireworks lighting up the night sky, on this, the Fourth of July—the National Day of the United States of America.

Did you know? Though the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain took place on July 2, 1776, it was two days later—July 4—when the Second Continental Congress gave its approval.

Girl with flag, July 4th

Photo by JillWellington, courtesy of Pixabay

THE DECLARATION: A HISTORY

With the fledgling battles of the Revolutionary War in April 1775, few colonists considered complete independence from Great Britain. Within a year, however, hostilities toward Great Britain were building and the desire for independence was growing, too. Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet, “Common Sense,” fueled the unifying aspiration for independence.

In June 1776, the Continental Congress appointed a five-person committee to draft a formal statement that would vindicate the break with Great Britain: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. Jefferson, considered the most articulate writer in the group, crafted the original draft. A total of 86 changes were made to the draft before its final adoption on July 4 by the Second Continental Congress. On July 5, 1776, official copies of the Declaration of Independence were distributed. (Learn more from History.com.)

One year following, in 1777, Philadelphia marked the Fourth of July with an official dinner, toasts, 13-gun salutes, music, parades, prayers and speeches. As the new nation faced challenges, celebrations fell out of favor during ensuing decades. It wasn’t until after the War of 1812 that printed copies of the Declaration of Independence again were widely circulated, and festivities marked America’s Independence Day. Congress declared July 4 a national holiday in 1870.

STARS AND STRIPES

A salute of one gun for each U.S. states is fired on July 4 at noon by any capable military base, and in the evening, A Capitol Fourth—a free concert broadcast live by PBS, NPR and the American Forces Network—takes place on the Capitol lawn in Washington, D.C. For facts about the Declaration and more, visit USA.gov.

JULY 4 RECIPES, PARTY TIPS & MORE

Nothing sets the stage for a summer party like the occasion of the Fourth of July! Dig up those red, white and blue decorations and recipes, and invite neighbors and friends over for a birthday bash for the nation.

From the perfect grilled steak to a fresh-fruit patriotic cake, find recipes from Martha Stewart, AllRecipes, Food Network, Food & Wine, and Real Simple. HGTV offers last-minute snack ideas.

For party and decor tips, check out HGTV’s easy entertaining ideas, Americana style suggestions and backyard party tips.

Or, stay indoors with a lineup of patriotic movies—Forbes offers a top-10 list of movies, including “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Johnny Tremain,” “Live Free or Die Hard” and “The Patriot.”