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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category



Beyond a Religion: Vodou Connects Haitians to their African Roots

Dec19

by: Rachael Bongiorno on December 19th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Haitian Vodou ceremony

An altar at a Haitian Vodou ceremony in Passaic, New Jersey. Photo: Rachael Bongiorno

(From Feet in 2 Worlds)

On a Saturday night around thirty people gather in the basement of a suburban New Jersey home. Friends and family greet each other and the scent of grilled fish lingers in the musty air.

This is not your typical weekend barbeque. It’s Fèt Gede, a ceremony to honor the Haitian Vodou spiritual force or Lwa, named Gede. An altar in the center of the room is laden with gifts for the Lwa including libation bottles filled with the Lwa’s favorite drinks and covered in colorful sequins. There are baskets of sweets, musical instruments, perfume, candles, and raw goat meat.

Everyone is wearing black and purple, colors associated with the dead and with Gede.

“Much like how Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead, on Fèt Gede, we connect with those ancestors who have passed,” explains Dòwòti Désir, a Manbo Asogwe, or female high priest in Haitian Vodou who has come to lead the ceremony.

At one end of the room a group of drummers begins warming up with intermittent rhythmic tapping of their congas, sometimes adding a playful, yet startling bang to wake up the crowd.

Drummers at Haitian Vodou ceremony

Drummers at a Vodou ceremony. Photo: Rachael Bongiorno

“Vodou integrates all the senses,” explains Désir. “The scents, rhythm and vibrations of the songs and drums all connect to help call down the spirits.”

Désir is a passionate advocate of Vodou and dedicates much of her time to fostering a greater understanding of Vodou’s religious and cultural practices. Her work aims to dispel the myths that plague the Vodou religion including the Hollywood-invented stereotypes of zombies and ‘pins in dolls’ that were popularized throughout the twentieth century.

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The Little Candle That Wouldn’t

Dec13

by: Bonnie L. Gracer on December 13th, 2014 | No Comments »

“I ask you,” fumed Red. “Was that any way to live a life? Squished in a red tin container– above the kitty litter, no less — just waiting for our turn to burn to death? Well I won’t do it.”

A photograph of the candles that inspired this playful piece of writing. Credit: Bonnie Gracer.

“You mean our turn to shine, Red — to declare the miracle of Chanukah,” said Shamash.

“Shut up Shamash. Just because you were picked to be the Shamash you think you are so high and mighty, elevated above everybody else. Don’t forget your roots. You are made out of wax just like the rest of us – red wax, just like me — and you too are being extinguished as we speak.”

“Hey, I worked hard for that promotion,” said Shamash. It’s taken me years to get noticed.”

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Rabbi Fills Long-Vacant Spot: Spiritual Leader of Jews in Jamaica

Dec11

by: Maayan Jaffe on December 11th, 2014 | No Comments »

Shaare Shalom shul

Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan (left) is spiritual adviser to Nigel Chen-See, who came to Judaism later in life. Shown here, Chen-See celebrates at his conversion service by reading the Jewish declaration of faith and other prayers. Photo credit: Provided.

Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan is a man of much faith. Three years ago, he left his Reform synagogue in Albany, Georgia, to take a rabbinic position that had sat vacant for more than three decades: the spiritual leader of Jews in Jamaica.

The rabbi, who is shorter in stature and just beginning to gray, says he has a vision, one that is rooted in more than 300 years of Jewish history on the island, but that aims toward a future that he hopes will “inspire brethren around the world.”

“My vision is to open up the synagogue and bring people in … to make Jamaican Judaism more accessible, more modern, more spiritual,” said Rabbi Kaplan during a recent meeting at an upscale hotel in Kingston. The city is home to the majority of Jamaica’s Jews and its only synagogue, Shaare Shalom, and Hillel Academy.

Shaare Shalom shul

A congregant meditates during the Friday night Shabbat service. Around 20 people come to prayer at Shaare Shalom on Friday nights. Photo credit: Maayan Jaffe.

A Friday night service at the combination Sephardic-Ashkenazi shul averages twenty people. In Kaplan’s mind, the approximately 400-seat shul, with its sand-covered floor, high beams and almost-majestic turquoise window coverings, could be full of spiritual seekers, converts, followers of Rastafarian faith who relate to the Jewish message, and lost Jews who are slowly returning to their religion. Many Jamaican Jews, he said, were long ago assimilated – likely intermarried – but they still have a Jewish spark.

The Jews of Jamaica arrived with Columbus in 1494. They were not practicing Jews at the time, having been given the choice by the Spanish government of converting to Catholicism or going into exile. These Jews were known as Conversos. Some managed to escape Spain for Jamaica, in search of religious freedom. While there are not good records from that time as a result of natural disasters, it is assumed that some tried to practice their faith on the island, albeit discreetly.

Over the course of the next decades, Conversos found their way out of Spain and Portugal to communities in Germany, England and the Netherlands. From there, over the next 150 years, they continued northeast to the Caribbean, including to Jamaica. The earliest known outwardly Jewish settlers made their homes in Port Royal after the capture of the Island by the English in 1655, and then in Spanish Town and Kingston. Pockets lived in smaller island towns, like Falmouth and Montego Bay.

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The Right keeps winning America, but here’s what we’re doing about it.

Dec4

by: on December 4th, 2014 | No Comments »

We’ve reached the eighth week of our Fall Fundraising Campaign and we’re nearing our goal. Help us reach even further today!
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As a reader of Tikkun Daily, we know you appreciate our unique voice and unflinching commentary, but did you know that your donations help create something even greater than just words on a page? For instance, Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives will be hosting a town hall meeting to strategize what our next steps are following the takeover of the Congress by the Right.

Help us work with you to manifest the positive transformation that we believe our society so desperately needs. We need your commitment to join us in making this vision a reality. Despite what the Right might want us to believe, this vision is not utopic, it’s possible as long as we join forces together, to uplift one another in our shared goal. You donations truly allow Tikkun and the NSP to serve as the connector between ourselves and our perception for a better future. Please support us in reaching our collective goal.


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Not All is Lost: A strategy conference after the Right takes Congress

Nov25

by: on November 25th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Too many people have responded to the victory of the Right by feeling powerless. “What can I do? They have the money, control the media, and the Democrats have no vision or strategy.” But there is something you can do, not alone, but with a movement that we are creating. The liberal and progressive forces have made some big mistakes – but we can change that, and we have a strategy for how to do that and how to Reclaim America. We need you to be part of it–and we need to learn from you as well, because we know we don’t have all the answers! We approach this task with humility but also with excitement about the possibility of forging a new direction. A direction that could rebuild our society on a whole new bottom line, appealing to many people who have not yet been moved by the conventional way liberals and progressives have advanced their message, and/or people who have liked one part of the message but don’t yet see the connections. We are here to show you there can be connections between the different movements for environmental sanity, social and economic justice, non-violence, human and civil rights, etc.!

Join us:

Rabbi Michael Lerner: editor of Tikkun, author ofThe Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right)

George Lakoff: Prof of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the UC Berkeley,author ofDon’t Think of an ElephantandMoral Politics

Mathew Fox: Liberation Theologian, Authorof Original Blessing, andThe Coming of the Cosmic Christ

Rebecca Kaplan:Oakland City Council President

Cat Zavis: Attorney, Executive Director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, mediator, and teacher of Empathic Communication

And more! (Our speakers will start the discussion, but the most important person to be there is YOU).

We will come together to develop strategy to Reclaim America and build The Caring Society – Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth.

YOU Are Invited to this:

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Radical Amazement is Here! And the Continuation of Our Drive

Nov20

by: Tikkun on November 20th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

This week we are extremely excited to present to you Radical Amazement, a free downloadable album with your donation or NSP membership. Radical Amazement is a collection of songs by a diverse array of artists, all with a message of love, kindness, and generosity. This is a unique album blending politics and spirituality across a multitude of genres, and you won’t want to miss out on this inspiring musical selection.

In accordance with the variety of voices coming together to sing on this album, we’d like to highlight another aspect of Tikkun that makes its survival imperative: the wide range of writers we publish both in our magazine and on our blog. Tikkun and Tikkun Daily have expanded their writer base over the years, drawing in brilliant new young writers and increasing interfaith diversity.

By doing this, we can present multiple sides of an issue straight from an authentic source, we can pay homage to multiple traditions, holidays and events, and we can overall spread more awareness and educate one another of worlds outside our own. To further support this, we’re providing testimonials from two of our dear bloggers, Donna Schaper and Craig Wiesner.

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Of Martyrs and Murderers

Nov14

by: on November 14th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Students at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota, reenact the slaughter.

Who is a martyr? The question comes to mind twenty-five years after what has become known as “the Jesuit massacre” in El Salvador.

On November 16, 1989, an elite battalion of the Salvadoran military forced its way into the Jesuit residence at the University of Central America, or UCA, in San Salvador. Most of the soldiers had received counter-insurgency training in Georgia, at the U.S. Army School of the Americas. They proceeded to murder six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her teenage daughter.

Unlike the martyrs of ancient Christianity, these men were not killed simply because they professed the faith. They were targeted specifically for speaking out on behalf of the impoverished and against persecutions carried out by the U.S.-backed military. Still, in the view of many, they died for the faith no less than the martyrs of old.

This happens to be subject to dispute in some quarters. The argument has surfaced mostly in connection with the sainthood cause of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was gunned down by a paramilitary death squad while saying mass in the chapel of a cancer hospital in San Salvador in 1980.

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69% of Jews voted Democratic in the 2014 midterm elections

Nov7

by: Rebecca Shimoni Stoil on November 7th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Editor’s Note:

In this week’s elections, the majority of Jews once again voted for candidates advocating more progressive economic policies (higher taxes and more government support for the poor) – 69 percent according to one poll, 65 percent according to another.

Why did even wealthy and upper middle class Jews, whose own narrowly defined economic interests might better be served by tax cuts, lean progressive? Because the legacy of Jewish religious teachings, Jewish history, and Jewish culture all push Jews to side with the oppressed even at the expense of personal financial or other forms of sacrifice. Even the grandchildren of assimilated Jews carry with them the message of the Torah that we have a special obligation toha’ger (the stranger or “other”) and the Torah’s call to “love the stranger and remember that you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.”

I’ve acknowledged in my books Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation and Embracing Israel/Palestine that there is a counter-strand in the Jewish tradition – I call it “Settler Judaism.” These two strands often appear in tandem as though the editors of our holy books could not fully decide upon which of these two voices to confer legitimacy. It’s a dynamic apparent within most cultures throughout history. In the Jewish context, both strands alternate, and which gains legitimacy depends on many extrinsic factors. What’s remarkable is how strong the voice of caring for the “other” has remained given all the traumas of Jewish history and the pressures of a capitalist ethic pervading most aspects of contemporary capitalist society. It’s true that under conditions of perceived threat, many Jews find themselves unable to apply this message to the Palestinian people. But they nevertheless apply it to domestic politics in the U.S.

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How Storytelling Opens Hearts and Minds

Nov4

by: Isaac Luria on November 4th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Exodus 33: 13-14

 13 [Moses said], “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

 14 G-d replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

storytelling

Credit: Creative Commons/ Guido van Nispen

On a late Spring afternoon two years ago, I vividly remember watching my colleague Macky Alston hold a room of multifaith movement for justice activists spellbound when he recounted his remarkable religious journey. Macky had grown up religious, realized he was gay, and then worked his way back to Christianity.

While I listened, I felt myself grow jealous, wishing I had a compelling story like Macky’s. Then, I felt empty. I may have joined Macky at Auburn Seminary a year earlier, but I still didn’t have a great understanding of why I had taken this new job in progressive religion.

I knew the answer wasn’t simple. My journey was different, my story hidden from view.

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Ferguson for the weekend, anyone?

Oct8

by: on October 8th, 2014 | Comments Off

Originally published in The Huffington Post

ferguson protest hands up

Ferguson protestors raise hands in solidarity in Washington D.C. Credit: Creative Commons/ep_jhu

If you are one of tens of thousands of people who can’t stand to hear another story about another black man being shot by another policeman, you may want to go to Ferguson, Missouri this October 10-13. Your showing up may not stop the shooting(s), but at least it will let people know that you see. You hear. You notice.

If you can’t go to Ferguson or get to Ferguson, there’s nothing wrong with raising your hands in worship next weekend. Yup. Hands up. Hands over the head. Hands that know they know and know that others know and know that we know what we know. Congregations all over the country will wear a kind of hoodie this weekend. We will say that we know. We see.

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