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Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

You know what I love about ancient history?  It was all one big blood bath!  Take Haman for example.  What you have never heard of Haman?  Let me enlighten you.  Haman, otherwise known as the Evil Haman was a descendant of Agag, funny name, but you deal with what life gives you. Agag was the King of Amalekites, (see despite his unfortunate name he became a king).  The Amalekites were the descendants of the Almalek and if you want to know who that is, look it up yourself because I’m getting lost in all the links I have to go through to tell this story.  However I wouldn’t waste your time looking that up because the Amalekites, (spoiler alert) were wiped out by King Saul and David as directed by God.  Back in 15BC when all this was taking place when God said jump well you had just better jump mister.  Obviously they were not all killed because we still had the problem of the Evil one who now served Artaxerxes II the King of Persia.  Looking at Artaxesrxes name I can only assume it was his grandfather who you can blame for the creation of taxes.  But that is just a hunch.

Pay attention because now we are back on track and getting back to the point of all this.  Sometimes I have to feel bad for you readers because at this point in the tale you have no idea what this post is really about.  Have a little faith and keep reading, it will all become clear.

Haman didn’t like the Jews, probably because Dave and Saul killed off most of his ancestors. I’m willing to bet that Haman didn’t take into account that his ancestors probably tried to kill off the Jews, again an assumption.  I’m not clicking on yet another link to unwind the entire tale.  So Haman plotted to kill all the Jews in Persia.  He tried to convince the King of Persia, (Artaxes) to start off by killing Mordecai.  Haman decided on Mordecai for two reasons, first he drew ‘lots’ and the name he pulled was Mordecai. Mordecai refused to postulate himself before the King making him a seemingly easier target to convince the King to have Mordecai killed.  But as we soon learn, Haman the Evil had yet another little known title which is ‘Haman the Stupid’

Earlier, Mordecai uncovered a plot to assassinate King Artaxes and because of Mordecai’s vigilance the plot was foiled and Mordecai’s service to the king was noted in the King’s royal ledger.

Is anyone out there still reading?  I hope so it is about to get interesting. Mordecai was a super nice guy.  He was so nice that when his cousin Esther became an orphan Mordecai adopted her and raised her as his own daughter.  Years later Artaxes had one of his wives exiled and took another.  This new wife was Esther!  Yes a Jew, yes the same Jew that Mordecai raised as his own daughter.

Mordy learned of the plot to assassinate the Jews of Persia and talked to Queen Esther.  Queen Esther armed the Jews of Persian cities to fight against Haman’s armies and the Jews, as usual were winning the battle. At this point King Artaxes rescinded the order to kill the Jews of the empire. Mordecai quickly became respected member of the court and Haman ended up being executed in the gallows that were built for the execution of Mordecai. 

In memory the Jews celebrate the narrow escape and celebrate the feast of ‘Lots’ because of the Lots that Haman drew when deciding which of the Elder Jews of the empire to assassinate first. 

The Hebrew word for ‘lots’ is Purim and March 7th was Purim so a late happy Purim to you all.

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Matzo, mmm good! Not!

 
Seeing as my post on Chanukah proved to be so popular I thought it would only be right to try my hand at the story of Passover.

If you don’t know about Passover and went to a Jewish home during the first night of the holiday and rudely arrived really late missing the reading of the haggadah (the story of Exodus as told in the Torah) you may think that Passover is simply short for ‘pass-it-over’ as in: “Hey you, the one closest to the brisket do me a favour and pass it over

Chances are you will arrive before the reading of the Haggadah in which case you may think Passover is short for ‘pass-this-over’ because after the first two hours of being read to, (usually in Hebrew) you may find yourself thinking: “Can’t we just pass-this-over and get to the food already?

Passover commemorates the story of the Exodus when the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt.  Passover begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, no silly, not the car, the first month of the ecclesiastical year and the seventh month of the civil year, on the Hebrew calendar.  More simply put, the first month of the festival year.  This holiday, the most celebrated among the Jews lasts for seven days.

The telling of this story is the responsibility of the Jews to pass onto their ‘sons’ “And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.” Exodus.13.8

The first two and the last two nights are special meals kicked off by the reading of the Haggadah. The meal ceremony starts at sundown and if you are lucky you start to eat around 9pm, during the reading of the haggadah you get to consume four glasses of wine, a crumb of bread, and a few measly bitter herbs that we dunk in salt water to remember the plight of the Jews.  This dunking is so nice, we do it twice!  Okay we do it twice to reinforce the tears shed.  But you also get to do fun stuff during the ceremony like:

 Dipping your finger in the wine 10 times and letting one drop fall to the plate for each of the 10 plagues.  One may think this is alcohol abuse but if you have ever had Manashevitz, (a kosher wine) then you might just agree that it is better on the plate then in your mouth.  

And then there is the fun game of ‘hide the Matzo’.  I have to admit I never knew the significance of the hiding of the matzo.  There are two ways to go about hiding the matzo, in some families the head of the table hides the matzo and the kids look for it at a particular point during the ceremony.  When found the kids get a little cash.  Some do the opposite the kids hide the matzo and get a little cash when the head of the table finds it.  Still makes no sense!  So, just for you my faithful readers I put in the leg work and asked Rabbi Google.  I didn’t like the first response, or the second or even the third.  The more I searched the more pissed I became.  The hiding of the matzo is a scam!  It has no religious significance, it tells no tale, and it represents nothing!  It exists because the evening is so long the powers that be decided to create this little task for the sole purpose of keeping the children awake and attentive during the ceremony!

Other than that you sit breathing in the aroma of wonderful food that sits in the other room waiting, waiting to be eaten as you slowly starve to death.  I think this is done purposely in order to truly understand what it is like to wander through the dessert for 40 years.  

I’m not going to go into all the Passover details, as there is way too much that goes on during the holiday.  But there are some interesting things you may want to know about…or the salient points according to me:

  • God helped the Israelites escape Egypt by inflicting 10 plagues upon the Egyptians before the Pharaoh would release his slaves.  The last one being that the first born son of every Egyptian would be slaughtered.  It could have been avoided if Ramsey had just listened to Moses when he said; “Let my people go” or at least when Charlton Heston said it in the movies.  My other favorite Charlton Heston line is; “Get your hand off me you damned dirty ape!”  But that’s another movie.
  • Speaking of the movie ‘The 10 Commandments’ which theatrically tells the story of the exodus. I think they need to re-make the movie and Angelina Jolie should play the role of Nefertiti. 
  • The Israelites were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb and, upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord passed over these homes saving them from the 10 plagues, hence the name ‘Passover’.
  • When the Pharaoh finally gave his word, the Israelites left so fast they didn’t even have time to wait for the bread to rise.  This was so traumatic that to this day Jews around the world have to eat Matzo (unleavened bread, see picture above) for seven consecutive days every single year.  Oy!
  • I couldn’t figure out why it took forty years to find the holy land.  Certainly somebody could have stopped and asked for directions even if the men wouldn’t I’m sure a woman would have.   Later I learned that this was a clever plan by God. You see when they reached Mt. Sinai the Jews went a little crazy and started making false idols and made a little party of it, as a punishment God made sure that generation never got to see the Promised Land.
  •  Moses led the Jews through the dessert for 40 years, yet Moses himself was not allowed to enter the holy land.  He wasn’t even allowed to cross the Jordan River!  I thought this highly unfair.  After a lot of time and research I found out that there was a moment when my people were getting really thirsty during the crossing and Moses started to doubt God’s plan and asked God; “Why? Why are you doing this, why am I leading these people through all this only to starve to death?”  God told Moses to tap the rock and in tapping the rock water appeared, but God was pissed at Moses for doubting his word and so Moses was not allowed into the promised land, the lesson here is don’t piss off God.
  • During the Passover ceremony there are four questions that the youngest male at the table is supposed to ask: 1 Why is it that on all other nights we eat both Bread and Matzo, but on this night we eat only Matzo?  2 Why is it that on other nights we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night we eat only bitter herbs? 3 Why is it that on all other nights we dip our herbs once, but on this night we dip them twice? 4 Why is it that on all other nights we eat either reclining or sitting, but on this night we eat reclining?

You may notice that I have answered all the four questions except for one, the last one.  Could it be that I don’t know the answer?  No people, I have the internet at my disposal I have all the answers.   I didn’t answer the final question because in all my Passover’s past I never got to eat reclining.  I never even thought about it, and now I am feeling a little pissed off so figure it out yourself!  In the meantime grab your favourite pillow, relax and enjoy your freedom. 

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 My wife, who is non-Jewish decided that we should, for a change, get a real Christmas tree.  “Sure.” I responded as if I had a choice in the matter.  A few years ago we did spend a gazillion dollars and thirty-seven cents on a fake pre lit Christmas tree.  We spent a gazillion dollars and thirty-seven cents on the fake tree because they last forever, in theory we would never have to buy another tree again.

So off we went to Tannenbaum farms to get our first real live Christmas tree.   It turns out Tannenbaum farms is a pretty big deal.  Being a rather nice day the snow was melting creating a horrid mess of the ground. We were directed to a parking spot, my wife and I, (both in running shoes) parked the car in the mud, looked at each other, took a breath and the adventure began.

The scene was frightful, Children running around screaming, fathers grunting and mumbling under their breath while trying to negotiate the muddy rutted road with their freshly cut tree hanging off the rickety dolly, I was worried about the orange hack saws they wielded, were the hack saws for the trees, or the rest of the family?   Mothers were trying to coral their over excited children,  dogs were slopping around, I can only imagine our woolly coated husky covered head to toe in mud, although she would have enjoyed the chaos I am glad we decided not to bring her.

My next thought was, ‘now what?’  Everyone seemed to know where they were going and what they were doing, but to me it looked like a chaotic free-for-all.  My wife managed to find the little office and explained to the man who looked like he wanted to be anywhere else than where he was, (he was wearing a paper crown that his daughter had made for him) that we had no idea what we were doing.  “And you are asking me?” he replied.  He did do his best to put some order to the chaos.  He took us to the door and pointed towards the mud and told us that down near the road were some sample trees.  All you have to do is find one you like and ask one of the guys in overalls where that type of tree is located.  The overall guy will then direct you to the part of the forest where that type of tree is grown.  Then you get yourself one of those little saws and a rickety cart.  Cut down your tree and bring it back here where we will wrap it up for you.  All trees regardless of size were $35.00.  I had a horrific vision of walking for miles in the mud deciding on a tree then getting down on my knees with this little saw to cut down a five foot tree.  I really wanted my chain saw and I really didn’t want to crawl under the branches in this muck to get to the trunk and cut down a tree.  What I wanted was to go into my garage and get our gazillion dollar and thirty-seven cent pre-lit fake Christmas tree.  But it was far too late for that.

“Or” the man continued you can go over to that fence over there and choose one of our pre cut trees.  He explained that because they cut them they would be a little more expensive but they were all freshly cut that morning.  My wife and I glanced at each other, two souls one thought.  Expense be damned!  Show us to this wonderful magic fence!

At the fence there was another man, okay a man-child who asked us if we needed help. “Yes 5 foot, narrow yet full.”  He showed us a really beautiful tree but it was a little wide.  The next one was perfect.  He looked at the tag and told us it would be $55.00.  I didn’t care!  My wife went to pay for the tree while the nice man-child hefted the tree into the air and walked it to the office (no rickety little cart through the muddy rutted road for this Jew).  Behind the office were two large machines one was a box like thing that he stuck the base of the tree into when he flipped a switch the entire tree started to vibrate like mad.  All the loose debris came flying off the tree, along with any bugs, birds, rodents, hawks and a nest of children in a tree houses.  Nothing could survive that shaking.  Once my man-child was satisfied he took the tree and put it through this other machine which ‘folded’ for lack of a better word, the branches and contained them in twine turning my full tree into a large manageable toothpick.  He then offered to put the tree into our SUV.  While I desperately wanted him to lug the toothpick across the muddy road to the car, (all of 20 feet) I thought it would be best to keep a little dignity and handle it myself.   Twenty minutes after we got out of the car and $60.00 later (yes my wife wisely spent an extra five on a watering tube that has made life easier, did you know that a live Christmas tree drinks about a gallon a day?) we were heading home.

What we didn’t think about was the sap.  I got out my chainsaw and cut a ‘cookie’ off the bottom of the tree as directed by my wife who looked up ‘care and maintenance of a Christmas Tree’ online.  We hefted the tree placed it in the tree holder clamped it down so it was plum and cut the twine. Our beautiful tree unfolded to its former glory.  The aroma of pine enveloped our house, we sat back and admired our tree, yes we have 11 wooded acres, yes we planted three fir trees in our front yard but we have never had a live tree inside.  And even I, the Grinch of all things holiday (except Halloween) was very pleased with our tree. 

My hands were sticky.  My wife’s hands were sticky.  My wife went to wash hers.  Five minutes at the sink and panic started to set in.  My wife who doesn’t mind handling all sorts of unmentionable and gross stuff at her work, my wife who has a degree in meat science, my wife who has worked on a kill floor skinning and eviscerating carcasses doesn’t like sticky stuff that doesn’t come off, meaning…sap! 

“Brian!” I heard the panic in her voice. “It won’t come off, do something!”  I searched the cabinet and found Goo-gone.  Thankfully that worked and a full blown panic attack was narrowly avoided.  Hands all nice and clean and protected behind latex gloves the decorating of the already beautiful tree began.

Earlier, months earlier my wife said, “I want a real tree this year”.

“Okay” I said, as if I had a choice.

“What colour lights would you like on the tree?” She asked.

“Don’t care, I’m Jewish.”  I replied.

“I want you to be part of this so you have to choose, coloured lights or white lights?”

“White”

Long pause, a bit of laughter from us both.

As you can see the tree is not yet fully loaded, but you get the idea.

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When I was in University a friend asked me if it was true that Jews created Chanukka because they were jealous of Christmas.  Yup, was my reply, 500(ish) years before the first Christmas we Jews knew that Christ was going to be born and the Christians, (who didn’t exist yet) were going to make a huge deal out of his birthday. Right there and then we decided that we were going to compete with that future holiday and have our own eight-day festival of light! We even created Chanukka Harry who would visit the kids and give them gifts of chocolate coins and the really good Jewish kids often got socks! To push it over the top we would play games with a dreidel.  Talk about raising the roof!

Living where I do I realize there is a lot of people who don’t really know the story of Chanukka.  Some of you may find this surprising, (others, not so much)  but I don’t know a lot about the holiday myself.  But, as a good Jew I have decided to take what little knowledge I have and fill you, my readers, with the story of Channuka…so put on your yarmulke.

Antiochus, (which rhymes with tuchas) IV Epiphanes, the King of Syria desecrated King Solomon’s temple.  Naturally this upset us Jews.  Truth be told Antituchas didn’t desecrate Solomon’s temple.  Antituchas desecrated the replacement temple built by Cyrus the Great.  Solomon’s temple was destroyed years earlier by the Babylonians but that story is for another time.  Cyrus did a great job and the Temple was dedicated in 515 BC. (see?  I know stuff). In modern times (20BC) Harod the Great renovated Cyrus’s via Solomon’s temple.  Word is the temple developed a nasty leak, in any case Harod did such a good job the temple became known as Harod’s temple.  I often never wonder what King Solomon thought about all the transformations, but alas, we have wandered off topic.

Where were we? Oh yes.  Antituchas desecrated Cryus’s temple which seriously pissed off the Maccabees.  Everyone knows you don’t piss of a Maccabee, after all they were a fearsome rebel army who took back and ruled Judea.  They founded the Hasmonean Dynasty, reasserting the Jewish religion and ruled from 164 to 63BC. 

Sorry I keep getting side-tracked.

So, Channuka is the rededication of this ‘second’ temple, the problem is that the Maccabees ran out of Olive oil.  Their wives must have been very upset.  I know my wife gets upset with me when I use the last of the evoo (extra virgin olive oil for you non-followers of Rachel Ray) and don’t let her know.  And I can only imagine how upset Rachel Ray gets.  Oy Vey!

I’m thinking the grocery stores didn’t have any evoo on hand because this shortage created more problems than one would think possible.   However all was not lost because we are, ‘The Chosen People’ and although there was only enough olive oil to keep the eternal flame alight for one night a miracle transpired and the oil burned for eight, yes count them eight days!  As it happens, eight days is the exact time that was needed to consecrate more oil!  And that my friends was how the festival of light began. 

Personally I like to take a moment or two each Chanukka to remember what it means to be a Jew.  You see there is another story linked to Chanukka.  The story of Hannah and her seven sons.  Hannah was a serious Jew, not Jew-ish like me.  It is because of people like Hannah and her sons that make the Jews the sturdy proud people that they/we are:

Shortly before the revolt of the Maccabees,  Antituchas arrested Hannah and her seven sons and tried to make them eat pork.  Being good Jews and putting their faith in the Lord they refused to eat the pork.  Jews don’t eat Pork, not even bacon!  Hannah watched as her sons were brutally tortured and eventually killed all because they took a stand to protect their beliefs.  They refused to give up all that they were just because another wanted them too.  It is for them that I put on my yarmulke.

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