goingplaceslivinglife

Travel, Food, and Slices of Life


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Shaking Out the Dust and the Breadcrumbs

Spring cleaning…….big sigh. For those of you who know me personally, you know I am not a clean freak. But……..
The sun came out last week. That’s what it felt like here in the Northwest where the winter rains broke all kinds of records. The snow pack is healthy in the mountains and California’s drought is relieved in some ways. It was a dreary four months and although the rains are not over yet, the sun is out more days now and everyone seems to be more upbeat.

So, there is more energy and the task to straighten, to clean, can no longer be postponed.

Why is there is tendency for cultures to have this spring cleaning ritual?  After being cooped up with shut windows for months, it is refreshing to let the breeze in and even though it is not warm, the air in the house brightens. Historically, we heated our homes with coal, wood and kerosene which produce an amazing amount of soot and yes, the house would be impossible to keep clean in the winter. With the sunlight we can see those dust bunnies better….so time to get to work.

This habit has long been part of civilization. It may amuse many people who are phobic about Muslims that the Persian New Year is the first day of spring and Iranians continue the practice of “khooneh tekouni” which literally means “shaking the house” just before the Persian new year. We’re talking thousands of years of culture here, people.

And not only that, but in the Jewish religion we have an intense time this week cleaning. Monday evening starts the holiday of Pesach-Passover. All bread crumbs must be cleaned out of the house, and so, every corner, every nook and cranny, is wiped and washed and altogether freshened up.

Chinese culture has long had a practice of pre-New Year’s cleaning. So interesting that three ancient cultures have recognized this practice is needed to healthy living.

Perhaps some people may not like this tidbit of history-that something they do is a Jewish or Muslim or Chinese custom. However, the rest of us will enjoy knowing we are indeed a multi-cultural community here and we can enjoy all aspects of sharing. Now, if only I can find someone who just LOVES to share the joys of vacuuming.

 

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Secular Christianity in America

Believe it or not there are over 300,000 churches in the United States, with affiliation to about 217 different Christian Protestant denominations. While about 60% of people say they attend church each week, the number is really about 20%, thereby showing us the first crack: not walking the walk. After all, the Ten Commandments includes Thou Shall Not Bear False Witness…..in other words, DO NOT LIE.

So, what we have here is a situation where a lot of people claim they are Christian, but in reality do not even attempt to walk the walk. A lot of people claim Jesus as their Savior but few attend church any time other than Christmas and Easter and even then, attendance is not as full as in past decades.

America is no longer a Christian nation. It is a Secular Christian nation.

We have a lot of people storming the stores and knocking down anyone in their way on Black Friday to capture the deals, the better to pile presents under the Christmas tree.  We have people who know one verse and the chorus to Christmas carols but not the subsequent verses nor the story of the origin of the song.  We have a lot of people who have elaborate trees and lighting, not realizing these are traditions that are based in other belief systems. We have millions of people who truly believe the baby Jesus was born with cows looking over Mary’s shoulder and Mary, of course being perfect, did not have labor pains. Oh, they probably never thought of that.

We have people who stuff candy treats into baskets for their kids on Easter.  We have millions of kids who love the Easter Bunny and have no idea that anything else is being celebrated that day.

We have people whose comprehension of their religion is limited to the Sunday School stories they were told when they were little.  They don’t have the time or inclination for any Bible study and might really be amazed to try to reconcile the differences in the gospels if they ever did a side-by-side evaluation.

There are many people who believe there is a war on Christians because over the past few decades there has been a rising awareness that not everyone here in the United States is Christian. There are Jews. There are Muslims, There are Buddhists. There are Jehovah Witnesses. There are Mormons. There are (gasp!) atheists.  And in recognition of those other people, some communities realize that pushing JUST the Christian symbols is not the right thing. And so, Happy Holidays, which has been a saying that has been a part of American culture since the late 1800s, has recently become a nastygram to many. We have some people who believe snowmen on coffee cups are a sign that Corporate America is the Devil…it may be, but red and white decor is not the sign of that. starbucks-xmas-cups

Why are Christians feeling under assault where there is no problem?  I have no idea…maybe an inferiority complex that starts with color and sexual identity and goes on into church attendance and understand Jesus’ teachings.

Okay, who am I to be calling the kettle black right now? I am a secular Jew who has been attending church for 10 years with my Christian husband.  When he asked me if I would go with him I told him I would as long as I was respected. And his response was perfect, “If you are not respected we are in the wrong place.”

In the past 10 years I have attended 4 churches with him. One for 6 months when we were on sabbatical in Pueblo, Colorado was my big introduction. There the choir members welcomed us and helped me understand the rituals. I focused on the similarities of the mass and of course, it made sense; Judaism is the root. If any church misses the Jewish root in their practice, they are not practicing anything close to what Jesus did.

The next seven years was in a church in Huntington, West Virginia. There were a few people who were a bit hesitant accepting me, but over a short time they saw I was not there to mock. The priest, when I attended a class, misinterpreted that I would want to be baptized afterwards. I told her learning is part of life, but did not necessarily mean complete acceptance of doctrine.

When we moved to Oregon we started in one church but moved to another because there was a lack of music as well as no real warmth of community. We found it more comfortable with another congregation across town.

So, four different settings. I’ll bet you I pay attention more than many. It is rote to most other congregants.

I have learned enough to be “dangerous”. I have attended about ten different study groups where I have caused lively conversation because my viewpoint is different. I have been told we are all imperfect so I should not expect people to walk the walk all the time.

I don’t expect people to be perfect. But I do expect people who loudly and publicly profess to be Christians to at least be NICE.

In reality, I have met only a few people I feel live their faith. They exhibit true acceptance and understanding of others without imposing their viewpoints on others.

However, I have also been told I am doomed to Hell by more that I care to count. My husband has been pulled aside and told he is responsible for saving my soul.   This is not the message that wins. This is a message that alienates.

And it alienates more than me. It alienates other people who claim to be Christian but just do not do something exactly as someone else thinks they should. And so, people stop attending church.

Numerous studies in this country indicate the biggest reason that Christianity is losing membership, active or passive, are the behavior of the “do it my way or you are doomed” people, most of them fundamentalists.

And many of them do not know the soul of their religion. They can spout chapter and verse but can not find the love.

And so, pass the fruitcake. The eggnog is ready.  Christmas is here.buddha-love

 


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Hyphenated-Americans Not Allowed

Almost all of us are immigrants. Do you know your family’s heritage or is the trans-ocean story so many generations back that you have no real connection to that Old Country place? No stories?

Many people don’t remember so can’t even reach for empathy with this issue, but a recent short discussion with someone who recognized the nationalities of his grandparent immigrants made me think about what was different between his experience and mine.  Because there was one.

not-allowedThe big difference was that my grandparents were part of a discriminated group when they came and for decades after, and my family education was full of stories of that experience. During my childhood I was carefully taught.  I have struggled with that, trying to accept all people as equals, knowing full well they may not feel the same about me.  I have been the brunt of discrimination myself and yet I recognize it is not bad compared to so many others.

It is perhaps because of my heritage and this discrimination that I have supported the fight for equal rights and equal access under the law for all people. For gays. For the transgendered. For people of color. For people who may even sneak in, mostly on visitors’ visas and overstay their permitted time.no Irish no blacks no dogs

Now, with Trump’s massive acceptance by an angry mostly white population that generally is not highly educated, we see just how dangerous life in the United States can be for people who are different. Not white. Not the right religious expression and practice. Not men, although there are many women who are part of that angry group thinking they are okay. You’re not okay, women. Your turn will come.

All of our turns will come. It has happened before and we are seeing the start of a horrible eruption.

It has to be stopped now.

We are ALL Americans. It took a nation of immigrants for over 150 years to build this nation.  We called it a “Melting Pot” for years but that has changed. Now, more than even before, new immigrants stay isolated from mainstream society. Because of this, the language barrier persists. Because of this, the education gained is less. Because of this,  fewer and fewer than even 20 years ago feel that have to fight for a place here.the_melting_pot_diversity

The United Sates used to be a beacon of hope and opportunity to the world. Not now. Now we are getting a worldwide reputation for being a country of hate. And of stupidity.

The hyphenation has to stop. I don’t need to know if someone like Bobby Jindal is an Indian-American. Saying that makes me realize he is “different”. I don’t need to know if the judge in the Trump University case is a Mexican-American. Saying that makes me wonder what the “problem” could be.   I don’t care what your heritage is.

I DO care about your ethics and your activity in being an active productive member of the community that makes up a strong nation that believes in freedom and liberty. I DO care if you are accepting that others in your community have equal access to education and opportunities.  I DO care if you are a loving person or a jerk.

Don’t be a jerk.


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A story within a story and a concept to consider

Years ago my maternal grandfather would preside over the Passover Seder. For hours and hours and hours he would intone the readings and prayers in Hebrew while my cousin Nancy and I would compare the levels in our glasses of diluted wine and water. It was all but a meaningless process and once Grandpa died and my father started to preside, I asked my mom if we could perhaps use another Haggadah.

“Oh no!” she replied with shock that I would suggest such blasphemy. “This is the ONLY one.”

(unsaid) Really, Mom? This wine-stained freebie from the liquor store where we buy the Manischewitz?

I tried again when Dan and Lisa were really young. “Mom,” I pleaded, ” Can I revise the Haggadah to reduce it to 20 minutes so the kids really understand and participate?”

“Oh no!”, she replied. (Repeat with me) “This is the ONLY one!” More wine stained than ever.

So, when Graham and I got married and we decided to host a Seder I told him a bit more emphatically than I needed to that I would be finding one that worked better for us. He didn’t care, of course. There are literally over 1000 versions of the Haggadah, each very much following the prescribed order, as Seder means “order”, and telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

That’s the first story. The second is next:

The story we share at the Seder is not simply what Cecile B. DeMille’s movie with Charlton Heston shows. We talk about what went on in the minds and hearts of the people affected there and then. And then we try to make it into something we can relate to.

IMG_1033I don’t know about you, but I can not relate to working my entire life building the pyramids or other structures.  I’ve done some physical work and I work pretty hard at the food processing business, even when my body hurts, but to FEEL like a slave takes a stretch of imagination. Growing up here in the United States in the 50s, 60s and 70s, my freedoms expanded and my opportunities were ahead, ready for the taking.

And yet, each of us are enslaved to something that we know we would be healthier without. Me, it is easily sugar. Someone else maybe their tobacco. Someone else their wine or beer or pot or whatever. We can identify people in public life enslaved to the concept of power and how that has warped their view of what is healthy.

Once we can recognize that item for ourselves we can begin to think about how it feels to get rid of it. And not by our own choice. That freedom from slavery in Egypt was not desired by many. Afterall, there is some peace found in a routine that is not desired but has no responsibility. To become free means to take on a huge change. And we know most people do not like change.

In the Seders I host I try to get the people attending to recognize their own enslavement and how they (and I) fight the change that provides freedom.

So that’s the second story. And now, to the concept I hope you will consider.

In the news today one of the issues is the brouhaha about transsexual individuals using the public restroom for the sex they feel is their identity. There is so much fear about perverts attacking children.  There is so much condemnation for the wrongness of these people. There is not the loving (supposedly Christian) acceptance that they have a difference we might not understand but can respect.

We also have grave concern, all of us, about ISIS and other terrorist groups and how they seem to be difficult to stop.  It is horrible how a few people continue to flow to those groups from western society here and in the UK. Why? But the more difficult concept for me is the hatred of ALL Muslims based on these extreme groups. The people I hear who are so afraid seem not to recognize that all fundamental ends of all religions have their extreme and narrow definition of what is acceptable and believe all others who profess to practice the same religion but in different ways are NOT that religion. And need to be changed. It is true in Islam. It is true in Judaism. It is true in Christianity. Meanwhile, it seems hate of the others is easier than acceptance of the other.

I wrote a blog a few months ago in answer to a friend about whether I would welcome a Syrian refugee family into my home. You can read it here.  That issue, as well as a myriad of others supporting people who have had incredibly horrible events occur simply because they were both where and how they were are not hard for me.

I merely remember that I was once a slave in Egypt and was delivered out of bondage. It is my modern role to help others who desire to, escape their slavery.freedom


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A Bit/e of Heritage

So, for those of you not quite up on the smaller books of the Tanakh (Old Testament to many of you), there is one that comes into play this time of year. The Book of Esther tells the story of how the Jews, once again, were doomed to be exterminated, this time by a King’s advisor in ancient Persia. Esther, is the hero, saving her people. We celebrate by reciting the Megillah, the WHOLE MEGILLA (for you language buffs who like to know the derivation of slang) and drowning out the villain’s name, Haman, each time it is mentioned with noisemakers called gragers.  In Israel this day is also one for dress-up in costumes. It is a wonderful light-hearted festival, following a solemn day of fasting.purim

The food related to this festival (there ALWAYS is a food) is the hamantaschen, a triangular filled cookie in the shape of Haman’s hat. (Think those tri-cornered hats always shown with pictures of Revolutionary War clothing, and you’ll be close.)

So, while I was preparing and baking the hamantaschen I got to thinking. (Uh oh, there I go again.) Here are some of my random thoughts:

  • Just like Christianity incorporated social customs in the scheduling of some holidays (i.e, Christmas for the winter solstice) some people took this Jewish holiday of celebrating how one woman was so very important to developing a International Women’s Day just about the same date. Check it out.
  • There are differences in the cookie dough depending on your family’s region of origin. My mom’s recipe is a light cookie dough. I’ve eaten others that are thick and chewy, almost a sweet bread.
  • One of the fillings I enjoy is poppyseed. I use a can of the prepared Solo fillings but would like to make it from scratch….as soon as I find a local poppy grower…uh huh. IMG_4485
  • A second filling is made typically with stewed prunes and raisins, sweetened with honey and chopped nuts added. This year I used a spicy (flavorful, not hot) plum preserves I made from fruit I gleaned last summer at the historic Hoover Minthorn House in nearby Newberg. As a child President Hoover often stayed with his uncle there and wrote about eating so many plums that he suffered….hmmmm….a level of distress. Anyway, my plum preserves just got an addition of local hazelnuts and it was ready. Just don’t eat too many and you’ll be fine!

    Hoover Plum Preserves with hazelnuts

    Hoover Plum Preserves with hazelnuts

  • Graham’s favorite is made from apricots, sweetened a bit with honey. A nod to the Mediterranean origin of the holiday, it adds a bright color.IMG_4488
  • I remember Sam does not like one of these fillings so much, but since I can’t remember which, I will mail him a box with all…he can share with his friends

and finally: food brings us together, crosses lines of current knowledge between peoples. Keep your mind…and your tastebuds…open to new experiences.IMG_4490

 


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Ready…..Get Set……Share

Later this week the nation shares a holiday that Abraham Lincoln set aside as a national day of celebration. Take a moment and read his Proclamation. The timing of it is significant.

Washington, D.C.                            

October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Amazing, even in the midst of a war that had torn the country apart, this beleaguered leader was able to express how much we had to appreciate.  So, I ask you, how do YOU celebrate Thanksgiving?  Many people plan a feast, gorge, and then watch football, with no apparent moment of thought to any of the blessings they have experienced, even in the midst of turmoil.gratitude-rainbowspiral1

Several years ago our Thanksgiving table was full. We always make sure to invite others to join our family to add to the celebration. As I tend to do, I asked the people to take a moment to speak of what they felt had happened to them during the year that was noteworthy of appreciation. It was sad for me to hear several adults say “this meal”. Perhaps they were just saying thank you for the fellowship, as it was unlikely that they had not eaten all year. More likely, they were ducking the thought process. As for the child present, she had no idea how to develop the thoughts. This lack I place on the parent, for not teaching values and ethics. Without appreciation for achievements, how do we learn to make the effort in the first place?appreciation-is-wonderful-thing-voltaire

Why is this so difficult? For those of us who daily take a moment either in prayer or meditation, this lack of connection with the Universe is a startling absence.

Start thinking now…you have a few days. Think of the entire year, not just the plate in front of you. Remember the hard times, yes. Remember the passage through them. Recognize the stresses do not go away, but recognize the ease that comes at times.thanksgiving2

To me, this exercise is not limited to Thanksgiving but is one of the easiest days to express it openly. Tell us what you gained this year.


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Happy New Year

Ah….you think I’m a bit early. Others are counting down the shopping days left before Christmas (I know YOU don’t get thinking  about it until December 20) and here I am saying Happy New Year. What gives?

Well, it’s one of those religious things. This evening started the Jewish year  5775. Rosh Hashana translates to “head of the year” and it begins the ten days of awe. This is a solemn and serious time.  It is a chance for introspection and self analysis. It is the time to think through the events and choices of the past year, to think through the results of your decisions….or lack of them.

It is also the time to get right, not only with the Lord, but with the people in your life. You know, the ones you hurt either by doing or saying something that was unwise or chosen for dumb reasons, and the ones you hurt by NOT saying something wise or not doing something helpful.introspection-9682

It is, essentially, time for confession. A time for penitence. Only then can you have absolution.  Or not. See, in the practice of the Jewish faith ACTS are more important than words.  Especially empty words read because they are in a prayer book but read without your heart involved.

I used to tease my nonJewish friends I would share a secret with them, and I’ll do that right now with you.  It is traditional to think that on this day God opens the Book of Life. In this monster book are pages and pages and pages, one for each person now or ever living.  On YOUR page are written all your hopes and dreams, all your deeds (good and bad) and God’s plan for you.book of life

These next ten days, until Yom Kippur ends with the first star on the night of October 4, each of us can petition God to inscribe in the Book a good plan for the coming year. But you have to earn it. These ten days gives you time to put some thought into who you have been and who you want to be. To think about about your relationships with people, both dear and near, and the ones you pass everyday in your life without knowing their names. To honor that there is a Higher Power, something much bigger than you.

tashlikTomorrow afternoon there is  traditionally an action called Tashlik.  It is the ritualistic and symbolic action of casting off sins.  Traditionally done at a moving body of water, bread is ripped into small pieces, each symbolizing a sin or problem in the past year. The bread is then thrown on to the waters to flow out to the sea or, more realistically, to be eaten by the fish and ducks.   I was not brought up very religious so I can not tell you the prayers and what they mean. I can just tell you that if you think through this past year, and go through it slowly, truly thinking of the things you know did not work well and what your role was in causing that to turn out that way, you will be well on your way to a better year next year.

L’shanah Tova…..and may you be inscribed for a good year!