Foto Friday – Coptic Churches

In honor of Coptic Christmas tomorrow, January 7, 2017, a few images from Coptic churches ~

Monastery of Paul the Anchorite in Egypt's Eastern Desert

Monastery of Paul the Anchorite in Egypt’s Eastern Desert

The Archangel Michael's Coptic Church, Aswan, Egypt

The Archangel Michael’s Coptic Church, Aswan, Egypt

Basilica of the Virgin Mary, Cairo, Egypt

Basilica of the Virgin Mary, Cairo, Egypt

Coptic Chapel in the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

Coptic Chapel in the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

St. Samaan Church, Mokattam Mountain, Cairo

St. Samaan Church, Mokattam Mountain, Cairo

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!

Wepet Renpet: Ancient Egyptian New Year

In Ancient Egypt, the New Year, Wepet Renpet (literally – the opening of the year), was based on the annual flooding of the Nile River, an earthly cycle which usually coincided with a heavenly cycle as well. In July, priests would watch for the reappearance of the star Sirius after a 70-day absence from view. The star’s return heralded the coming flood and reset the calendar for a new year. Ancients attributed flooding to the gods, but in reality it was due to heavy rains in the Ethiopian highlands.

The New Year was marked with community feasting and a mix of hope and fear. The annual flood left behind rich deposits of silt, which fertilized crops to feed the entire country. Just the right amount of flooding assured a fruitful harvest; too little could mean famine; too much could mean destruction. Flood levels varied from south to north, with higher levels in the south. On average, the river rose about 36 feet. Waters were fully receded in October; then planting began. Since the completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1970, the Nile in Egypt no longer floods.

Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas…

People have plenty of misconceptions about the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which this year starts Saturday at sundown. Here, according to a pair of Providence rabbis, are seven places to set the record straight.

It’s not that big a deal
The top myth about Hanukkah has to be its importance, said Rabbi Rachel Zerin of Temple Emanu-El in Providence. About half a dozen other holidays, such as Yom Kippur and Passover, she said, are much more important than Hanukkah for Jews. “In the scheme of Jewish holidays, it’s not a very significant one,” she said. Zerin said she thinks this became a popular idea because the eight-day holiday usually falls around Christmas.

Hanukkah is not the “Jewish Christmas”
Some people think Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas celebration, especially this year, because it begins on Christmas Eve. But the holiday changes every year, as it does not follow the solar Gregorian calendar used in the United States, but the lunar Jewish calendar. “Very often, Hanukkah can be well over by the time Christmas comes around,” Zerin said.

There are two story lines to Hanukkah, Zerin said. The first celebrates the Maccabean revolt, when the Jews overthrew the Greeks who had taken over the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and outlawed Judaism. The other story is of a miracle, she said. When the Jews entered the Temple after the revolt, it had been destroyed, and the menorah that is always supposed to be burning was no longer lit. Only one jar of purified olive oil was left to light the menorah. It should have only lasted one day, but it burned for eight days, until more oil could be purified, Zerin said. “That’s where we got the tradition of lighting the Hanukkah menorah,” she said, for eight days.

Latkes? Try jelly doughnuts
Potato latkes, or oil-fried potato pancakes, are an important treat on the Jewish holiday. That’s in part to celebrate the importance of oil on Hanukkah. But it’s not the only treat Jews have on the holiday. “In Israel, it’s actually more common to have doughnuts, especially jelly-filled doughnuts,” Zerin said. They’ve started to make their way to the United States, she said, and are sometimes seen here on holiday tables.

Dreidel is just a game after all
The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with Hebrew letters on each side, and is used to play games on Hanukkah. The letters are taken from the sentence in Hebrew, “Nes gadol hayah sham” — “a great miracle happened there.” The story goes that when the Jews were not allowed to practice their religion, they would meet and read Jewish texts secretly. If soldiers came along, they hid the texts and would take out the spinning tops to play, telling soldiers they were just gambling. “It’s not historically accurate, but that’s the myth,” Zerin said. The game was actually invented later, she said, and taken from a German gambling game that used a spinning top.

Presents aren’t a key to the holiday
On Hanukkah, many children today receive presents over the eight nights of the holiday, said Senior Rabbi Howard Voss-Altman of Temple Beth-El. “Giving presents is just a lovely thing to do,” he said. “It is, in part, so that our children don’t feel deprived of getting presents.” But another big part of the holiday is to give presents or charitable contribution to others, he said. Charity is central to Judaism, and “Hanukkah should be no different,” he added.

It’s not a menorah, it’s a Hanukkiyah
A menorah has seven branches with candles and it symbolizes creation, Voss-Altman said. It is often lit on the Sabbath, he added. But a Hanukkiyah, or Hanukkah menorah, is lit on the eight days of Hanukkah, and has nine branches. One of the candles helps light the others over the eight days, Voss-Altman said.

And finally …; the Hanukkah bush?
“There’s no such thing as a Hanukkah bush,” said Voss-Altman. People with “Christmas-tree envy,” came up with the Hanukkah bush, he said, but there is no religious tradition for a bush to celebrate the holiday. “That’s sort of a comedy thing,” he said, laughing. “There’s no bush for Hanukkah.”

Reprinted from Providence Journal.

Foto Friday – Merry Christmas!

Church of the Visitation, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Church of the Visitation, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Chora Museum, Istanbul

Chora Museum, Istanbul

Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Church of the Holy Sepulchre , Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Church of the Holy Sepulchre , Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Jerusalem Old City walls, photo by Dafna Tal, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Jerusalem Old City walls, photo by Dafna Tal, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Poetry Corner – Rumi on Ramadan fasting

There’s hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less.

If the soundboxes stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean with fasting,
every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears, and new energy makes you run
up the steps in front of you.
Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.

Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.
When you’re full of food and drink,
Satan sits where your spirit should,
an ugly metal statue in place of the Kaaba.
When you fast, good habits gather
like friends who want to help.
Fasting is Solomon’s ring.

Don’t give into some illusion and lose your power,
but even if you have, if you’ve lost all will and control,
they come back when you fast,
like soldiers appearing out of the ground,
pennants flying above them.

A table descends to your tents, Jesus’ table.
Expect to see it, when you fast,
this tablespread with other food,
better than the broth of cabbages.

Rumi, Ghazal 1739 from Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Festival of Light 2016, Jerusalem

image from iTravelJerusalem.com

image from iTravelJerusalem.com

Now in its 8th installment, the annual Jerusalem Festival of Lights is scheduled this year for May 25-June 2.

The festival takes place in Jerusalem’s Old City and last year drew 250,000 visitors during its week-long run. Local and international artists contribute light sculptures, sound and light displays, images and videos projected on walls, street performances, and stage acts.

image from iTravelJerusalem.com

image from iTravelJerusalem.com

Brilliant light and color playing against dark stone walls and penetrating the labyrinthine heart of the ancient city is magical. If you’re in town during the festival, don’t miss it! Lights are ablaze every night 8-11pm, except Friday. Entrance is free of charge.
Bring a light sweater.

image from iTravelJerusalem.com

image from iTravelJerusalem.com

Information below is copied from iTravelJerusalem.com and describes some of the highlights of this year’s festival:

Prince of the Lights
Created by French artist Damien Fontaine, this installation is inspired by the classic children’s book “The Little Prince” and tells the story of a prince destined to return light to the world.
Where: The Christian Information Center, The Armenian Patriarchate Street, Old City, Jerusalem

Photographia — Painting with Light
Martin Adin of Pyromania paints abstracts on the walls of the Old City.
Where: Near Jaffa Gate, Old City, Jerusalem

Colorful Origami
Childhood memories meet aesthetic design as Italian artists Gloria Ronchi and Claudio Behngi present dozens of handmade origami pieces colored with LED lights inside.
Where: The Armenian Patriarchate Street, Old City, Jerusalem

Pictures in Motion
The Jerusalem AVS group presents a stunning visual show featuring a robot dancing as the lights create the different seasons around it.
Where: Hurva Square, Old City, Jerusalem

Smell the Breeze! It’s Springtime in Egypt.

Today is Sham el Nessim, the Egyptian Spring festival celebrated for over 4,000 years. In Ancient Egypt, the festival was celebrated on or around the spring equinox, but at some point in the early Christian era, Egyptian Christians (Copts) moved the festival to the day after Orthodox Easter and it is celebrated on that day still, by all Egyptians, regardless of religion.

Sham el Nessim means “smell the breeze” and the day is marked with time spent outdoors in parks and on beaches and boats, enjoying picnics with family and friends. It’s traditional to eat Fesikh (fermented gray mullet), salted and smoked herring, spring onions and painted hard-boiled eggs. The foods all represent the fertility of the new season. The symbolism of eggs is obvious, spring onions represent new growth, and, for ancient Egyptians, fish symbolized rebirth.

The powerful smell of Fesikh is legendary. It seems logical to me that the smell has something to do with the outdoors eating, but I can’t get anyone to confirm that. The origins of these traditions are murky. If you’re in Egypt on Sham el Nessim, do join in the festivities, just be sure any Fesikh you eat comes from an experienced and reputable dealer. If not properly prepared, Fesikh can make you very sick and has even caused a few deaths.