Lord’s Evening Meal: Jehovah’s Witnesses hold Memorial meal

SUNSET FRIDAY, APRIL 3: As Passover begins for Jews around the globe, Jehovah’s Witnesses commemorate an event believed to have occurred on the first night of Passover in approximately 33 CE—the Last Supper, known as the Lord’s Evening Meal to Witnesses.

According to this Christian tradition: Jesus celebrated Passover together with his closest followers in the upper room of the home owned by John and his mother in Jerusalem. Hours before his crucifixion, Jesus instituted a special meal that would become memorialized in the Christian Church. After saying a special blessing over the unleavened bread and wine, and passing them around the table, Jesus announced: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses hold the bread and the wine of the Last Supper as symbolic of Christ’s body. (Learn more from JW.org.) The wine, the representation of Jesus’ blood, made valid a new covenant and ushered in a new practice for all future Christians. Jesus explained that his blood would be poured out for the forgiveness of sins.

Jehovah’s Witnesses point to accounts in Genesis, Jeremiah, Peter and Revelation that describe 144,000 faithful Christians who will go to heaven and serve as kings and priests for all mankind. (Read more from the Watchtower Online Library.) Each year, only a few thousand persons worldwide partake in the annual Memorial meal; all other Jehovah’s Witnesses attend the event but do not partake. Since Passover is only commemorated once per year, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the anniversary of the Last Supper and Jesus’ death should, too, be marked only once per year.


Changing American attitudes: Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 7: This is a relatively new holiday in the United States, even though the tragedy occurred on December 7, 1941, and its long-delayed enactment by the U.S. Congress, in 1994, is in keeping with Americans’ long process of coming to terms with the traumatic violence.

Pearl Harbor remembrance is a fascinating insight into how dramatically media has changed the nature of global conflict. Now, history-making protests across the Arab world and even supposedly secretive military attacks are blasted around the world via digital messages, photos and video—often in “real time.” But in 1941, Hawaii was not yet a state and most Americans were not even aware of where the islands were situated. When the first news reports of “the day that will live in infamy” reached American newspapers and radio stations, the news came with only sketchy details of the devastating Japanese attack.

Very few photos and almost no film footage of the Pearl Harbor attack were released that December. Even LIFE, and other influential news magazines, were unable to get photos past U.S. censors who barred use of all but a small number of photos as a matter of national security. Many of the iconic photos Americans now recognize from Pearl Harbor were only shown to Americans one year later. Major metropolitan newspapers ran December 7, 1942, anniversary issues in which advertisers competed to buy the most anti-Japanese advertisements they could envision. Splashed across newspaper front pages that day were huge, shocking photographs of the attack.

While the slow release of the photos and film footage might be seen as calming war hysteria, the opposite was true. Canadian Japanese internment began in January 1942. The American Japanese process began a month later with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s  Executive Order 9066, issued February 19, 1942, which eventually was interpreted as excluding all people of Japanese ancestry from the entire Pacific coast, including all of California and much of Oregon, Washington and Arizona. Eventually, in 1988, Congress passed—with the support of President Ronald Reagan—legislation that apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government. The legislation said that government actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

Today, there are many instances of men and women from both sides of the Pacific conflict coming together to jointly remember the past and encourage a more peaceful future. One place that occurs is at the Manzanar National Historic Site, where survivors of the interment often are side by side with military veterans. Of course, such opportunities are rapidly fading. Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day stories in regional newspapers across the U.S., this year, tend to be mentioning each local area’s “last surviving Pearl Harbor vet,” like this story from Cincinnati.

CARE TO LEARN MORE? National Geographic has one of the best interactive, multi-media overviews of the Pearl Harbor attack. From this landing page, you can watch video, read further stories, listen to audio clips—and come away with a good understanding of what unfolded that day. Scholastic also provides educational materials and lesson plans for various age groups.

50th Anniversary of Dr. ML King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail (plus National Card and Letter Writing Month)

APRIL to MAY 12, 2013: The annual campaign called “National Card and Letter Writing Month” runs through Mother’s Day—or, at least, this celebration is supposed to cover that period and focus on Moms. This year, however, the mid-April emphasis on letter writing has taken a dramatic turn with the April 16 milestone in American civil rights: the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.

What is ‘National Card and Letter Writing Month?
A big-budget campaign kicked this idea into high gear for the 2008 release of the HBO mini-series John Adams. (It’s still a great choice on DVD.) The producers partnered with the US Postal Service and encouraged school children to put ink on paper. The campaign did, indeed, inspire countless letters. It’s “countless” today because the Postal Service and HBO have removed materials about the campaign from the Internet. Nevertheless, the annual “month” continues to show up on many calendars of cultural events—and, hey, it’s still a terrific idea, don’t you think? Get out a pen and paper now—or make a greeting card—and send Mom an early Mother’s Day greeting.


If you’re scratching your head about this particular “month,” you may be recalling other festivals of letter writing that have spanned the past century. Among the many other independently proclaimed holidays is a National Letter Writing Day. There also is a National Letter Writing Week. Each indie effort, supported by various groups, still has supporters. These other festivals span the calendar—one starts each year in January, after the Christmas card flood has ebbed; another comes in autumn.

But in 2013, as in 2008, there is fresh historical fuel for April letters …


TUESDAY, APRIL 16, 2013: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “letter” was more of a jigsaw puzzle that now has many godfathers claiming its birth. Also, the letter should be remembered not as an impulsive note—but as a strategic step planned in advance like many of the great milestones in the civil rights movement. Today, King’s letter is dated to April 16, 1963, although the letter was completed over a longer period than that one day. The long manifesto was a rebuke of eight religious leaders who had just (on April 12) made a public appeal for an end to confrontational demonstrations. The clergymen included Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist leaders, plus a rabbi. They called for the campaign to move from the streets to the courts. King’s famous letter told the nation why that plea was naive.


Earlier this year, Americans were reminded of the letter’s origin, when poet and longtime New York Times editor Harry Shapiro died. As editor of The New York Times Magazine in the early 1960s, Shapiro telephoned the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and asked that King use a future time in jail to write a letter to the nation. This was a challenge for King, because Southern jails were notoriously inhospitable places. Nevertheless, King used his jailing in the spring of 1963 to begin jotting passages for his most famous letter—on torn-off pieces of old newspapers. These fragments were passed to his lawyers and then were assembled at SCLC headquarters and conveyed to Shapiro. Unfortunately for his career as an editor, Shapiro’s most historic acquisition was deemed unacceptable for publication by his bosses.

Perhaps understandably after half a century, everyone involved in the release of King’s letter recalls the publication through a personal lens. The Shapiro obituary in the New York Times mentions the Christian Century, among other publications that finally spread King’s letter coast to coast. Meanwhile, the Christian Century’s own in-depth history of the letter doesn’t mention Shapiro and, instead, focuses on the Christian Century’s own role.

The Christian Century history says, in part: “The Century had itself counseled moderation in the late 1950s, although not without an acute awareness that ‘to plead for time for white Americans’ education and conversion is at the same time to ask Negro Americans for more patience with the insufferable, more making-do with the present possibilities of action. It is to risk misinterpretation to knuckling under to white bitter-enders.’ By 1963, the magazine had run out of patience. ‘Why not now?’ the editors asked in March on the eve of the Birmingham demonstrations. … The Century reported and commented fully on racial politics in Birmingham and elsewhere, publishing more articles on race relations in 1963 than on any other subject.

And the impact of King’s letter? It ignited both renewed passion among civil rights veterans—and fresh allegiance from other men and women who had been on the sidelines of the struggle until King’s eloquent letter urged them to take action. The University of Pennsylvania is one of many colleges that offers a complete online text of King’s famous letter.

Months after publishing the letter, the Christian Century reported that “it had received over 50 responses to the letter from readers, all of them favorable. ‘In all my years of reading your periodical,’ one declared, ‘I have never been more moved by a single issue. What a shaking experience! If the canon of Holy Scriptures were not closed, I would nominate Martin Luther King’s statement either as a continuation of the Acts of the Apostles or as an addition to the Epistles in the best tradition of the Pauline prison letters.’


BIRMINGHAM GATHERING OF CHRISTIAN CHURCHES TOGETHER: The nationwide ecumenical organization called Christian Churches Together is convening a two-day conference in Birmingham to remember King’s letter and to sign a 2013 response on April 15, encouraging church leaders to keep King’s message alive in today’s struggles for justice. Much of this event is closed to the public, but participants later plan to publish their new joint letter.

A DETROIT READING OF KING’S LETTER FROM THE BIRMINGHAM JAIL: In this major Northern city where King also marched in the civil rights era, the 50th anniversary of the letter will be marked by readings from King’s letter every half hour from 10:30 a.m. through 5:30 p.m. The event is scheduled at the Hubbard Branch of the Detroit Public Library. This event is open to the public.


A major new memoir debuts in early 2013 called, Love & Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in LettersThis inspiring collection of actual mail between two young women is fresh evidence of the power of letters to shape our lives and deepen our spiritual insights.
Coming on Monday April 15: ReadTheSpirit will publish an in-depth interview with Amy Andrews and Jessica Mesman Griffith, the two women who penned the letters found in Love & Salt.

In their book, the two women quote another great American writer, Emily Dickinson: “A letter always seemed to me like immortality.”

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, values and cross-cultural diversity.)


Yom Hashoah: This year, remember ‘Choosing to Act’

Photo of a Nazi transport train used in the Holocaust, now in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. This image is among 21 in a PDF set of posters the Museum provides for educators and community leaders planning Days of Remembrance.THURSDAY, APRIL 19: The most dramatic Yom Hashoah observances on the planet are held in israel, where sirens sound this morning for two minutes and the entire nation comes to a standstill. For a complete overview of this observance, established in the early 1950s in Israel under the co-sponsorship of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Wikipedia has historical details.

In the United States, if you are looking for regional Yom Hashoah observances, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has a helpful interactive map of local events. Are you helping to organize a class or event in your area and need help? The D.C.-based museum also has an information-packed webpage of planning resources, ranging from samples of proclamations to Selected Readings, Musical Selections and even a set of 21 printable Posters in a free PDF.

2012 Theme in the U.S.—Choosing to Act: Stories of Rescue

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is encouraging groups to focus on the 2012 theme “Choosing to Act: Stories of Rescue,” as a way of underlining the ongoing importance of courageous action to combat genocide. The Holocaust Museum’s website explains, in part: “Confronted with the persecution and murder of Europe’s Jews, witnesses had a choice of whether or not to intervene. Getting involved meant running the risk of severe punishment, and most people—even those who disagreed with the Nazis’ policies and practices—opted to do nothing.

Among the inspiring examples of people who chose to act are: Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat; the French villagers of Le Chambon sur-Lignon; and Danish resistance fighters.


We do not claim that our Holocaust Educational Resources page is comprehensive—but we do regularly review important new educational films related to the Holocaust. Often, our news coverage and reviews alert educators and community leaders to new media that is helpful for classes and study groups. Yom Hashoah originally was scheduled to recall the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. One of the first films we review on this resources page is a moving historical record of the Warsaw Ghetto only recently released on DVD.


The following 9-minute video was created by the D.C.-based museum to help explain “Why We Remember the Holocaust.” Click the video screen, below to watch it:

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Anniversary: Recall the Night of Broken Glass—Kristallnacht

Photo in public domain.WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 9: It was 73 years ago today that Jews in Germany and Austria were awoken in the night to the sound of glass breaking everywhere. Today, the world marks the anniversary of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, a tragic milestone in the unfolding of the Holocaust. In just one night in 1938, SA stormtroopers and civilians burned hundreds of Jewish synagogues—defaced thousands more—and broke the windows of Jewish businesses everywhere. Sledgehammers in hand, the attackers went into a frenzy of running Jews out of their homes, smashing the remains and arresting tens of thousands of men who would be sent to concentration camps. (Get details from the Jewish Virtual Library.)

U.S. publications reported on Kristallnacht: “No foreign propagandist … could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday.”

The isolation of Jews in Germany had already been in the works for several years prior to Kristallnacht: when Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany in 1933, he immediately began to set in motion anti-Jewish policies. Hitler and his regime began publicly blaming Jews for Germany’s loss in WWI and for Germany’s economic hardships. (Wikipedia has details.) Slowly, Jews found their rights taken away, without the ability to earn a living, attain an education, work in civil service or even marry a non-Jewish German.


Many Jewish centers and museums honor Kristallnacht survivors today. Read about one of this year’s honorees in the Australian Jewish News.

Memorial: Armenians Solemly Recall Genocide

SATURDAY, APRIL 24: Armenians around the world solemnly observe Genocide Remembrance Day to commemorate the victims of the Armenian Genocide (1915-1923). In Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, hundreds of thousands of people walk to the Genocide Memorial to place flowers near the eternal flame and remember more than 1.5 million victims. (For more, check out the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s fact sheet on the Armenian Genocide.)

Despite centuries of peace in the Ottoman Empire, conflict arose as nationalism spread, fueling a desire for Armenian independence. Turks had other ideas and wanted to rid the Ottoman Empire of Armenians altogether so that they could establish a Pan-Turkic empire. Massacres were ordered by Sultan Abdul Hamid II and more killings continued to occur. (Wikipedia has a lengthy history.) WWI provided the ideal opportunity for Turks to quietly carry out their Pan-Turkic plans; the plans began on April 24, 1915, when almost 300 Armenian leaders were summoned and then killed. (For the latest news and more, visit the site of the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute.)

Last year, the State of Hawaii officially declared that its residents should observe the Day of Remembrance for the Armenian Genocide. According to the State of Hawaii, which has a sizeable Armenian-American population, this series of tragic events represented the first instance of genocide in the 20th century. However, this genocide is still unrecognized by the Republic of Turkey, which blames the mass killings on an internal civil war.

Many historians credit the Armenian Genocide as a crucial event paving the way for the Holocaust in the mid-20th century. Since worldwide response to the Armenian tragedy was so muted, Nazi leaders regarded it as evidence that they could get away with their Final Solution. For more on the Holocaust, see ReadTheSpirit’s “Holocaust Educational Resources” page.

(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)

(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)

Jewish: Israel’s Memorial Day is Yom HaZikaron

SUNDOWN, SATURDAY, APRIL 17: Israel’s solemn observance of Yom HaZikaron is a national Memorial Day recalling soldiers killed in battle and also victims of terrorism. This holiday is one of four holidays added to the Jewish calendar after the establishment of the State of Israel. (Read more at the Jewish Virtual Library.)

The observance is closely related to Yom Ha’atzmaut, or Isreali Independence Day, which follows in the Israeli calendar each year. For the remembrances of Yom HaZikaron, all Israeli places of public entertainment are closed for 24 hours and, during the day, moments of silence are marked by sirens. Both radio and television stations broadcast programs that focus on the lives and stories of fallen soldiers. (My Jewish Learning has details.)

Since many soldiers of the original Israeli War for Independence (1948) have fewer and fewer surviving immediate family members, many now remember soldiers who have died in subsequent wars. Soldiers and others gather in military cemeteries for public recitation of prayers, and the official ceremony takes place at the Western Wall. (A general explanation is at Wikipedia.)

A poem written during the 1948 War, entitled “Silver Platter,” was the most common reading at Yom Hazikaron ceremonies during the 1950s and ’60s. Read it here.

(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)

(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, you can click the “Our Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)