Spring Rites

The Vernal Equinox has come and past, and although I hear it is still snowing a few states north of here, the buds and blooms around in NC. This year I tried out two new spring rituals–some self-education that will perhaps spill over into the classroom someday.

Homemade hamantaschen.

Homemade hamantaschen.

The first was an attempt at hamantaschen, the traditional cookie of Purim. Celebrated on March 4th and 5th this year, Purim marks when Queen Esther defeated Haman’s plot to kill the Jews of Persia. Apparently what originated as a fairly minor holiday has now developed into something more meaningful, a marker of how so many times throughout history the Jewish people have survived and thrived despite persecution. The celebration itself is joyful–in Jerusalem there is a carnival aspect as people dress up in costume, use noise-makers, and drink and feast. The cookies are meant to represent Haman’s tri-cornered hat. I used the recipe found on Judaism 101 (a wonderful general resource for information on the religion, from an Orthodox perspective), but there are many online. One of my favorite cooking blogs, Smitten Kitchen, has a few different versions–more options to try next year!

Right around this time in my classes, my students were presenting projects on different rituals and holidays in Judaism. Many of them kept showing Sesame Street video clips dealing with Jewish topics that they found online. I had no idea where they came from, but when reading about Purim I found the source: Shalom Sesame. An American version of an Israeli version of Sesame Street, the show aimed to introduce Judaism to kids unfamiliar with Hebrew, the show has a number of famous guest stars and your favorite traditional Sesame Street characters. Apparently, Cookie Monster LOVES hamantaschen!! The clip below was great inspiration for my baking.

The other ritual I took part in was far more spiritual, for me, but was also very much a physical practice. I read that a local Methodist church was setting up a labyrinth during the Lenten season and was opening it up to the public. I’ve always been curious about walking labyrinths: how has the tradition survived since the Middle Ages? What does it represent? How does the physical movement encourage reflection and prayer?

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More proof: Dogs are Awesome

In one of those moments of life synergy and synchonicity, the podcast that popped up yesterday on my daily dogwalk was a great episode from Interfaith Voices. I’ve written about them before: Maureen Fiedler, the host, interviews a wide variety of religious leaders, scholars, and authors on relevant and current religious topics. Her questions are thoughtful and the show is always interesting. This time around, she interviewed Gerard Russell about the forgotten religions of the Middle East (which happens to be the subject of a new book he has written called Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms). They touched on the Druze, Alawites (who hold some fascinating, secretive beliefs), Yazidis, and Zoroastrians and the challenges each face in today’s world, particularly as a result of terrorism and conflict in the Middle East.

I was excited to hear more about Zoroastrians since they have been our current topic of discussion in class. The best fun fact? I’ve mentioned before that Zoroastrians see the world as taking part in a great battle between good and evil. Dogs, according to Zoroastrians, are most definitely fighters on the side of good: kind, virtuous, and loyal. Seems logical to me.

Just one of those benevolent, honorable, amazing creatures.

Just one of those benevolent, honorable, amazing creatures.

I encourage you to give the podcast a listen, and I will certainly be checking out Russell’s book.

Cultivating Vultures to Restore a Mumbai Ritual – NYTimes.com

My student teacher pointed this article from 2012 out to me today, as we were discussing Zoroastrian rituals in class. Seems that environmental factors were killing off the vultures that usually fed at the Towers of Silence in the Zoroastrian tradition. Just another example of the challenges in adapting ancient practices to the modern world. I wonder how the vulture population is doing today?

Cultivating Vultures to Restore a Mumbai Ritual – NYTimes.com.