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Yom Kippur: Awesome day for Jews

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bshofar01Yom Kippur, the awesome Day of Atonement for Jews, will finish the High Holy Days starting at sundown today (Sept. 22). The holy days began at sundown Sept. 13 with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

The holy days are a time to examine one’s life, repent of shortcomings and resolve to correct them. Tradition says that God holds people’s lives in the balance during these “10 Days of Repentance” before determining their fate for the coming year.

Tonight’s service features the Kol Nidre, a prayer set to sad medieval music. The prayer asks for release from “all vows” — the translation of Kol Nidre — to God that have not been kept.

All day tomorrow, the faithful will fast and attend a succession of synagogue services, including Yizkor memorial prayers for the dead. Traditional prayers include Al Het, an “acrostic” list of sins, whose initials form the Hebrew alphabet. As the worshiper recites the list, he strikes his chest to emphasize repentance.

Last service of the day is Neilah, signaling the closing of heaven’s gates and the sealing of everyone’s fate for another year.

Although non-Jews might view the High Holy Days as guilt-ridden, rabbis say the observance actually shows divine mercy. They point out that het, usually translated “sin,” is an archery term that means to miss the mark. And shuva, repentance, is almost identical to teshuva, to turn — as in returning to right living.

— James D. Davis

Photo via Guru Photos.

Written by Jim Davis

September 22, 2015 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Days of Awe: Rosh Hashana starts High Holy Days

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Closeup of Torah text, with the name of God, YHWH, in the center. Photographer: Daniel Tibi, via Wikimedia Commons. Used by permission  (CC BY 3.0).

Closeup of Torah text, with the name of God, YHWH, in the center. Photographer: Daniel Tibi, via Wikimedia Commons. Used by permission (CC BY 3.0).

The setting sun tonight signals Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, for South Florida’s half-million Jews. Rosh Hashana, opens the solemn 10-day period known as the High Holy Days.

Also called Yamim Noraim, or Days of Awe, the holy days are a pause in time, a season of prayer and fasting. Area synagogues often overflow, pointing up the pre-eminence of the holy days.

Traditional Jews believe that God scrutinizes each person, waiting to see who is worthy of good or bad fortune for the next year. Liberal Jews likewise use the High Holy Days as a time to review their lives and resolve to be better persons.

The High Holy Days end this year on Sept. 23 with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. That day-long series of services ends with a blast from the shofar, or ram’s horn, closing God’s books and sealing everyone’s fate for the year.


Written by Jim Davis

September 13, 2015 at 10:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Muslims begin holy month of Ramadan

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Dome and crescent by dcubillas via SXC

Dome and crescent by dcubillas via sxc.hu

The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims join today in the start of Ramadan, the holiest month of their year. Ramadan, a time of devotion and fasting, began last night.

It was during this month, according to Islamic belief, that the Quran, the holy book of Islam, was transmitted through the Archangel Gabriel to the prophet Muhammad some 14 centuries ago.

To fix their attention on spiritual matters, the faithful refrain from eating, drinking, smoking or sexual intercourse during daylight hours of Ramadan. Many Muslims also attend mosque services every night during the month. In most mosques, one-thirtieth of the Quran is read each night, so that the whole book is read during the month.

Observance of Ramadan is one of the five “pillars” or basic duties of Islam. The others are almsgiving, prayer five times daily, at least one pilgrimage to Mecca if possible, and the confession that ‘‘there is no deity but God, and Muhammad is his prophet.”

All adult believers are expected to observe Ramadan unless they are ill, traveling or defending their country in wartime. Women are not required to fast during menstruation or if nursing babies. But later, they are expected to fast for every day they have deferred it.

— Jim Davis

Written by Jim Davis

June 18, 2015 at 4:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Pentecost: When the Spirit came down

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Dove graphic by Nevit Dilmen, via sxc.hu.

Dove graphic by Nevit Dilmen, via sxc.hu.

Pentecost, the day that Christians say the Holy Spirit of God descended on the first believers, is celebrated in churches worldwide today (May 24). According to the New Testament, the apostles of Jesus saw the Spirit in the shape of “tongues of fire,” giving them power to preach and evangelize.

Taking its name from its timing, 50 days after Easter Sunday, Pentecost is often called the “birthday of the church.” It is the Christian equivalent of Shavuot, the Jewish festival that follows Passover by seven weeks.

Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans celebrate the day with bright red vestments and church trappings, symbolizing the flame of the Spirit.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

May 24, 2015 at 8:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Shavuot: A festival for the law

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 Mullah Jacub's Synagogue, Isfahan, Iran, 2006. This synagogue was built about 600 years ago. Photo by Hamed Saber via xxx https://www.flickr.com/photos/hamed/182421476 yyy Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)

Mullah Jacub’s Synagogue, Isfahan, Iran, 2006. This synagogue was built about 600 years ago. Photo by Hamed Saber via Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved  (CC-BY-20).

Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, began at sundown yesterday (May 23) for the world’s estimated 14 million Jews. Shavuot celebrates the giving of the law to Moses on Mount Sinai.

The holiday is one of the three Jewish “pilgrim festivals,” along with Passover and Sukkot, meant to recall the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt and subsequent wanderings in the Sinai desert. Shavuot takes its name from Passover, which it follows by seven weeks — a “week of weeks.”

Synagogues observe Shavuot with the reading of the Ten Commandments. Some also read the biblical story of Ruth, who converted to Judaism and became the grandmother of King David. The story is seen as a historical parable of commitment to God and the holy law.

In recent years, many synagogues have increasingly held confirmation on Shavuot, as their young men and women take on the promise to obey the holy law.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

May 24, 2015 at 4:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Visions of Jewry: Free art show depicts Jewish Heritage Month

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Artist Peter Olsen, left, and curator Benoit Menasche pause between two of Olsen's paintings from the biblical Book of Genesis.

Artist Peter Olsen, left, and curator Benoit Menasche pause between two of Olsen’s paintings from the biblical Book of Genesis.

By Jim Davis

Paint and marble, bronze and silver unite to tell the story of Jewry in “A Way of Life,” a new art exhibit for Jewish Heritage Month in Pembroke Pines.

The show’s 120 artworks show Jews praying, prophesying, warring and worshiping. They show God creating, judging, rescuing and revealing truth. And, the artists hope, they’ll instill a sense of history in people who see them.

“I want people to see the way of life for Jews, how and why they’ve survived,” curator Benoit Menasche says in an interview at Studio 18 in the Pines, the exhibition hall for the show. “It was the sense of family, of respect for life and for other people. They argued over the Torah and learned to work things out without killing. And they developed the idea of the mitzvah, doing a good deed every day.”

Benoit Menasche talks about his marble sculpture Tragedy.

Benoit Menasche talks about his marble sculpture Tragedy.

The exhibition, which ends May 28, boasts the works of 11 artists — Yaakov Heller, Shoni Labowitz, Norman Morgenstern, Irv Rudley, Joni Esser-Stuart, Ed Seeman, Peter Olsen, Carol Thaw, Edurne Uribe, Paul Vitello and Menasche himself — many of their pieces created just for this show.

Menasche, who contributed five marble and alabaster sculptures to the exhibit, has curated other shows for the City of Pembroke Pines over the last 18 years. So last year, when the city decided to declare May as Jewish Heritage Month, he offered to organize the exhibition.

As you enter the exhibition hall, you see stone and silver sculptures on pedestals, aligned like the bottom point in the Star of David. Among them are Menasche’s marble sculpture Tragedy, a tight knot of huddling humans, with two others protectively stretching their arms over them. Menasche made the sculpture after hearing of a suicide bombing on a bus in Jerusalem.

He calls attention to the two larger figures stretching their arms protectively over the others. “Their arms take the shape of crosses, as a symbol of Jesus,” he explains. “I thought, suppose you have two Jesuses? Their arms make an arc over the others, to keep the pain out.”

Also evocative is Menasche’s Ascension, a sculpture of Portuguese marble, which shows 12 people climbing a mountain.

“Some are climbing, one made it, one is falling off, one has given up, one is helping somebody, one is climbing over someone else,” he says. “They could be 12 characters, or they could be you at different times of your life.”

Sharing space in the anteroom are works of Yaacov Heller of Boca Raton, a favorite of Israeli presidents. One has an exuberant Elijah Rising to the Heaven in silver. In another, the young David brings down a silver-and-pewter Goliath.

On the rear wall are a painting and two sculpted columns by Rabbi Shoni Labowitz, cofounder of Temple Adath Or with her husband, Rabbi Phillip Labowitz. The columns, representing Torah scrolls, are lined with silhouetted hands that merge at the tops to form flamelike Torah crowns. Between the columns is her abstract painting Welcoming the Angels, the title drawn from the traditional Sabbath prayer.

Peter Olsen with his portrait of Israeli founder David Ben-Gurion.

Peter Olsen with his portrait of Israeli founder David Ben-Gurion.

About half of the artworks are by Peter Olsen of Fort Lauderdale, a Christian who has produced 2,000 paintings, drawings, woodworks and other artworks on biblical themes over the last four decades. His 56 pieces for Menasche’s exhibition are from his Old Testament collection; half have never been exhibited before.

“I’m not inspired by Shakespeare or Dante, or by J.K. Rowling — I’m inspired by holy writ,” Olsen says. “And I want people to appreciate Jewish history and its celebrations. They’re so rich.”

Menasche says he’s known Olsen for 20 years and always loved his work. “What Peter knows, a hundred rabbis couldn’t fit in their brains.”

Lining the left and right walls of the main area are the largest of Olsen’s canvases in the exhibit. On the left are scenes from Genesis 1 and 2; on the right, the Major Prophets such as Moses. They bear hallmarks of his style: big scenes, large and tiny human figures, descriptive words, sometimes lumpy texture to convey the illusion of solid objects.

More of his pictures lie in a hall to the right, showing minor prophets such as Hosea and Malachi and Jonah. On the opposing wall are 10 women of the Bible, including little-known characters like Abigail and Tamar. They’re all part of a collection of 200 women by Olsen.

Why women? “It was Sam’s idea,” Olsen says with a smile. That’s Sam as in Samantha, his wife, who works as his research assistant.

Stark art by Edurne Uribe tries to show the reaction of allied troops as they entered concentration camps.

Stark art by Edurne Uribe tries to show the reaction of allied troops as they entered concentration camps.

“When researching the men of the Bible, there always seems to be a woman,” says Samantha, who digs into old books like Jasher and Jubilees as well as the Bible. “So many women were instrumental in biblical history.”

The patriarchs — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — are shown in pyrography, in which images are burned into slabs of wood, with pigments and etchings added. So are Jacob’s sons who sired the 12 tribes of Israel.

Digital art is here, too, illustrating eight Jewish holidays including Passover, Hanukkah, Sukkot, the Sabbath and others. The pictures, by Ed Seeman of Ocala, have explanations written by Menasche’s wife, Norma.

Perhaps the most disturbing section of the show is a Holocaust collection by Edurne Uribe of Weston, Fla. Three large, stark paintings express the shock of American soldiers as they entered the concentration camps, according to a text block by Uribe.

Also in the section, a nearly human size angel carries a dying woman clad in striped pajamas typical of concentration camp inmates — and herself carrying her dying child.

Perhaps as a palate cleanser, viewers can then see some oils by Norman Morgenstern on New York street life from a couple of generations ago. The pictures are done with a blend of photorealism and a slight yellowish tinge of nostalgia.

Contemporary individuals aren’t forgotten in the exhibit. One is Heller’s bust of Einstein, cast in bronze but blackened like iron. Another is Olsen’s heroic portrait of David Ben-Gurion, painted blue on blue.

Olsen offers one more hope for the exhibition: just for people to see actual physical images.

“I would like people to see artists, period,” he says. “Everything today is social media. People forget to see original artwork. That’s why I try to put some texture in the art.”

You can see more artworks from the exhibition on my Faith and Values page on Facebook.

All photos by Jim Davis.

If you go

Event: “Way of Life,” art exhibit for Jewish Heritage Month

Featuring: Paintings, sculptures, busts, statues on various facets of Jewish life, history and beliefs

Where: Studio 18 in the Pines, 1101 Poinciana Drive, Pembroke Pines, Fla.

When: 9-5 Monday through Saturday, ending May 28.

Cost: Free.

Info: Call 954-260-0167


Vivid picture of Genesis, chapter 2, by Peter Olsen.

Written by Jim Davis

May 21, 2015 at 5:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Holiday Almanac: Easter dawns with resurrection hope

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"Empty Tomb," wall sculpture by Billy Frank Alexander Design via sxc.hu

“Empty Tomb,” wall sculpture by Billy Frank Alexander Design via sxc.hu

Christians celebrate today as Easter, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter, the greatest holiday of the Christian year, ratifies for believers the claim of Jesus to be the Son of God.

As told in the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the body of Jesus was wrapped and buried in a rocky tomb near Jerusalem. Women came three days later to embalm the corpse, but found it missing. Jesus then began appearing to various groups of his followers, with the commission to ‘‘make disciples of all nations.”

Christians also celebrate Jesus’ resurrection for the hope it holds out for eternal life. As Jesus said, “Because I live, you will live.”

Sunrise services — in parks, on beaches, even in cemeteries — are common Easter Sunday celebrations. The events are often sponsored by two or more churches, or even by whole ministerial associations.

Because of dating differences, the world’s 225 million Eastern Orthodox Christians will celebrate Easter next Sunday, April 12. For most Eastern Orthodox, the holy day begins the previous night with the Resurrection Service. At midnight, the pastor carries a lighted candle, a flame that is passed on to his congregants’ candles. Then the pastor and choir sing hymns outside the church and return for the Pascha, the Easter liturgy.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

April 5, 2015 at 8:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized


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