Shavuot 2014

Celebrating the giving of Torah:


Shavuot is a Jewish holiday which celebrates God’s giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. It is also known as the “Feast of Weeks.” It has connections to an ancient grain harvest festival and is one of three pilgrimage holidays celebrated in ancient Israel.

Shavuot is celebrated seven weeks after Passover, exactly fifty days after the first seder. For this reason, some Jews refer to the holiday as Pentecost. It is a two-day holiday, though in Israel it is only celebrated for one day. In the Jewish calendar, it begins at sundown on the 5th of the month of Sivan and lasts until night falls on the 7th of Sivan.

In 2014, Shavuot begins on June 3 and ends on June 5.

As Jewish kosher laws were part of the message included in the Torah, on Shavuot is is customary to eat dairy products. No work is done on this day. Holiday candles are lit, and some people stay up all night on the first evening reading the Torah.

Before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, Jews would bake two special loaves of bread from their first grain harvest and present them to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, the founder and director of the Shalom Center, wrote a Shavuot reflection in a blog for The Huffington Post that relates the harvest of the grain to the spiritual rewards reaped by reading the Torah:

How can we unify the earth-Shavuot of wheat harvest with the word-Shavuot of Torah?

One first vision of a tiny practice that could bring new power to Shavuot: Each household bakes two loaves of bread to bring to the communal reading of that Moment on the Mountain.

As we share the bread with each other, touching the loaves and touching the others who are touching the loaves, we share with each other, with our partner the Earth, and with our Highest Selves, the One:

From Earth we receive,
To the One we give:
Together we share,
And from this we live.



Bodies of 800 Babies, Long-Dead, Found in Septic Tank at Former Irish Home for Unwed Mothers

In the Washington Post:

In a town in western Ireland, where castle ruins pepper green landscapes, there’s a six-foot stone wall that once surrounded a place called the Home. Between 1925 and 1961, thousands of “fallen women” and their “illegitimate” children passed through the Home, run by the Bon Secours nuns in Tuam.

Many of the women, after paying a penance of indentured servitude for their out-of-wedlock pregnancy, left the Home for work and lives in other parts of Ireland and beyond. Some of their children were not so fortunate.

More than five decades after the Home was closed and destroyed — where a housing development and children’s playground now stands — what happened to nearly 800 of those abandoned children has now emerged: Their bodies were piled into a massive septic tank sitting in the back of the structure and forgotten, with neither gravestones nor coffins.

“The bones are still there,” local historian Catherine Corless, who uncovered the origins of the mass grave in a batch of never-before-released documents, told The Washington Post in a phone interview. “The children who died in the Home, this was them.”

The grim findings, which are being investigated by police, provide a glimpse into a particularly dark time for unmarried pregnant women in Ireland, where societal and religious mores stigmatized them. Without means to support themselves, women by the hundreds wound up at the Home. “When daughters became pregnant, they were ostracized completely,” Corless said. “Families would be afraid of neighbors finding out, because to get pregnant out of marriage was the worst thing on Earth. It was the worst crime a woman could commit, even though a lot of the time it had been because of a rape.”

According to documents Corless provided the Irish Mail on Sunday, malnutrition and neglect killed many of the children, while others died of measles, convulsions, TB, gastroenteritis and pneumonia. Infant mortality at the Home was staggeringly high. “If you look at the records, babies were dying two a week, but I’m still trying to figure out how they could [put the bodies in a septic tank],” Corless said. “Couldn’t they have afforded baby coffins?”

Rest here.



$1,000,000,000 To Boost US Military In Europe

Just in case you were not aware, NATO has some 28 member countries that are supposed to protect themselves against Russia.

The Wall Street Journal:

Warsaw—President Barack Obama said he would send more U.S. military equipment and increase joint exercises in Poland as he proposed a new $1 billion fund Tuesday to bolster European security.

The moves come as an extension of the White House campaign to reassure anxious Eastern European allies that the U.S. would act if what it sees as Russian aggression in Ukraine spreads to other parts of the region.

Mr. Obama also promised further deployments of American forces to Eastern Europe and said the proposed fund would pay for storing more military equipment and expanding exercises in Poland.

The fund—which the White House announced as Mr. Obama arrived in Poland at the start of a four-day visit to Europe—would require approval from Congress. It would pay for the increased military exercises and stepped-up U.S. presence in Europe, including further navy deployments to the Black and Baltic seas.

As Eastern European allies have grown fearful of Russia, the U.S. has sought to reassure them through an expanded series of exercises and deployments, including fighter jets and a company of about 150 soldiers in Poland.

Mr. Obama said shortly after arriving in Poland that European security is the “cornerstone of our own security and it is sacrosanct.”

“It is a commitment that is particularly important at this point in time,” Mr. Obama said in an airport hangar with U.S. and Polish troops.

Poland has been pushing for a larger deployment of U.S. forces as a deterrent after Russia moved to annex the Ukrainian region of Crimea and amid unrest in eastern Ukraine that the West accuses Russia of instigating. Russia denies starting the turmoil.

Polish President Bronisław Komorowski said the U.S. and Poland were “on the same page” and promised that his country would increase its military spending to 2% of its gross domestic product. The 2% GDP spending target is the official North Atlantic Treaty Organization standard, but few countries meet it.

A NATO military officer confirmed that most Russian troops have now pulled back from the Ukrainian border, a move the U.S. has said will help de-escalate tensions.

“Everyone is interested in developing as good a relationship with Russia as possible,” Mr. Komorowski said.

Mr. Obama agreed but insisted the U.S. wouldn’t be “sacrificing principle in pursuit of relations.”…

Russia didn’t immediately comment on the proposal, but officials have warned that any expansion of NATO military presence in Eastern Europe would constitute a threat to Russian security and lead the Kremlin to consider deploying more weapons of its own along its western borders. Russia has already been building up military forces in the Kaliningrad region, an enclave between Lithuania and Poland…

More here.