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The Weekly Blab

Volume 7, Issue 6—September 20, 2012


Happy New Year…

Happy Rosh HaShana to everyone.  The Jewish New Year began on Sunday night (all holidays start at sunset), and is celebrated (outside of Israel) for two days, so it ended Tuesday night.  It’s the beginning of the high holy days, which also include Yom Kippur (September 25, the Day of Atonement), and then Sukkot (September 30-October 7, the Feast of Tabernacles).  The last day of Sukkot is called Hoshanah Rabbah (see below), followed by Shemini Atzeret (a separate holiday with somewhat different customs from the day before and after it).  The high holiday season ends with Simchat Torah (October 8).  Confused yet?

The big idea here is that on the high holy days, one’s fate is determined.  On Rosh Hashana, your fate is written, but any bad issues can be averted through prayer, charity, and the asking of forgiveness for one’s sins over the next few days (and so, I hope you will all forgive me for my sins).  On Yom Kippur (which involves a 24 hour fast), your fate is sealed—it can’t be changed any further.  On Hoshanah Rabbah, your fate is delivered—whatever is ultimately going to happen begins then. 

Sukkot is one of the three agricultural festival holidays when traditionally a pilgrimage to Jerusalem was made.  To commemorate the exodus from Egypt, you live in a temporary structure called a Sukka for a week.  One of the customs on Sukkot is to shake a lulav (a frond from a palm tree) while holding an etrog (a particular kind of citrus fruit).  If you want to see how far people go with their holidays, check out the Wikipedia entry (and references) for “etrog”, and you’ll read a fascinating story of people arguing which kinds of etrogs are acceptable for use on the holiday (and why some aren’t—it has to do with the fruit’s genetic purity, some interesting Botany here), the political fights that have occurred about the subject, and the fact that a perfectly formed etrog can cost more than a thousand dollars and is thought to bring luck as well as fertility to women wanting to become pregnant and an easier childbirth.  Often, the rind of the etrog is made into candy (or beer!) to be enjoyed on the last day of Sukkot.

As a kid, one thing you notice pretty quickly is that the high holidays are loooooong.  Services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are generally all-day affairs.  Sukkot is much more fun, getting to live and eat outdoors, and Simchat Torah (literally “the happiness of the Torah"—the five first books of the Bible) is the most fun of all the high holidays.  The service consists of reading the last part of the last book of the Torah (Deuteronomy), and then starting all over again by reading the first part of the first book of the Torah (Genesis).  You then get to march around the synagogue carrying the Torah scrolls and waving flags, and everyone throws candy to the children, to symbolize that the study of the Torah is sweet. 

The only holiday more fun than Simchat Torah is Purim (the story of Queen Esther), where the major requirements are to dress up in costumes, read the full story (called the Megilat Esther—this is where the expression “the whole megilla” comes from), make a lot of noise with a special noisemaking ratchet called a graggor, and to get so drunk that you can’t tell the difference between the name of the hero of the story (Mordechai) and the villain (Haman)—but that’s a whole other story.

Soon after the Jewish high holidays end comes the start of the Muslim Hajj (October 24, the pilgrimage to Mecca) and the holiday of Eid ul Adha (October 26, the Feast of Sacrifice), commemorating the sacrifice of Abraham’s son being averted.  Thus, may I hope to be the first to wish everyone a blessed Eid ul Adha.


And Speaking of the Holidays…

Bernice Nuhfer-Halten (SIS) sent me a link to an interesting web video about a Happy New Year greeting from the Jewish community of Tijuana, Mexico.  I’ve been to Mexico many times but I’ve never been to Tijuana, and I wasn’t aware that it had a Jewish community.  Apparently it does, with people having come there from South America, Eastern Europe, and a large contingent from Turkey.  Faithful readers of the BLAB will know why this is from an issue last year, where I wrote a little bit about a photography exhibit that was held in the Architecture Dept. sponsored by the Istanbul Center about the Jews of Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey.  They are known as Sephardic Jews (Sepharad is the Hebrew word for “Spain”) and speak a language very close to Castilian Spanish known as Ladino.  Thus, they had an easy time settling in Mexico because they already pretty much spoke the language.  Anyway, the video was pretty interesting, but imagine my surprise at 8:18 minutes into the video when they had a woman speaking to her daughter and looking through a photo album—the daughter is the spitting image of my aunt Shula, my mother’s younger sister.  No relation here that I know of, but the resemblance is uncanny.  At about 5:30 into the video, you can also hear about Margarita Cansino, a dancer in Tijuana in the ‘30’s, who went on to bigger things and changed her name to (drum roll please)...Rita Hayworth.  Thanks, Bernice!


Coming Up…

Earlier this week, SPSU celebrated Constitution Day with an interesting talk by Carl Snook (SIS) on “Immigration Reform in the American Federal System:  The Supremacy Clause and State Immigration Enforcement”.  Carl talked about the history of immigration to the US, and some of the controversies about the issue today to a well-attended audience of about 100 students and faculty in the Design II auditorium.  Thanks, Carl!

There are several important and very cool events coming up this coming week that I think you’ll want to put on your calendars. 

First up, on Monday (Sept. 24) is a set of discussions, workshops, and a talk by Virginia Tech’s Prof. John Boyer, who is doing some very interesting (and out there) things involving online learning.  Boyer has a not-so-secret identity—the Plaid Avenger—so you know this will also be fun.  There will be a discussion on teaching methods at 9:00 AM (J-381), a workshop on “The Flipped Classroom” at 10:00 AM (J-151--note room change from previous email), another discussion on teaching methods at 1:30 PM (J-381), and a workshop on “Bringing the World into Your Classroom and Your Classroom into the World” at 2:30 PM (Q-303).  A reception will be given at 5:00 PM (Ballroom A—you’re all invited), and a talk on “Connecting to the Real World:  Why Engineers Need to be International in Outlook" will be given in the Student Theatre at 6:15 PM.  The day events are for faculty and staff, but the evening talk is for faculty, staff and students.  Please attend, and encourage your students to come as well.  Thanks go to Sam Conn for hooking me up with Prof. Boyer, an old friend of his.

On Tuesday (Sept. 25), our guest will be Dr. Laurence Michalak, a cultural anthropologist and former director of Center for Maghrib Studies in Tunis (CEMAT) as well as former vice chair of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.  He will be speaking on something quite timely: "Tunisia and the Arab Spring".  Dr. Michalak is the author of “Tunisia: Igniting Arab Democracy” for inclusion in A Diplomat’s Handbook for Democracy Development Support (3rd edition), and is one of the top American experts on these topics.  The talk will be at 6:00 PMin a room yet to be determined (I'll send out a followup email).  It’s part of the Cross-Cultural Conversations series, and it will obviously be great.  Thanks to Iraj Omidvar (ETCMA) for arranging this.

On Wednesday (Sept. 26), there will be a student panel from SIS, speaking on “The Popular Perception of the United States in Latin America and the role of the Peace Corps and Economic and Military Aid”.  This event is part of SPSU’s Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration, and will be at 12 noon in J-130.  The panel was organized by Tom Nisley (SIS).

Also on Wednesday, at 6:00 PM in the Student Center Theatre, will be an "Illustrated Indian Classical Dance/Demonstration Program (including display of costumes and jewelry)" by Ms. Sasikala Penumarthi of the Kuchipudi Dance Academy.  Ms. Penumarthi is an extremely accomplished dancer, and has appeared at venues around the world.  This event is also part of the Cross-Cultural Conversations series, and was arranged by Raj Sashti.

Whew!  I’m exhausted!


Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s questions all had to do with the word “pink”.   Our winner was Jennie Vitty-Rogers, with an extremely respectable 4.5 correct, only leaving the "Notch" off of Pinkham Notch.  A jazz CD is headed your way, Jennie.  Here are the correct answers:

  1. Feeling healthy.  In the pink.
  2. Theme song of these cartoons and movies was written by Henry Mancini.  The Pink Panther.
  3. Indicates support for breast cancer research.  Wearing a pink ribbon.
  4. Portland multi-genre musical group.  Pink Martini (check them out—they’re fabulous!)
  5. It separates the presidential range of mountains in New Hampshire.  Pinkham Notch.


This Week’s Trivia Challenge

This week’s questions all have to do with rivers.  First with the most takes the prize.  No looking up the answers now!

  1. Longest river in Georgia.
  2. Hit song from the Broadway musical “Show Boat”.
  3. Comedienne whose original last name was Molinsky.
  4. The Pittsburgh Pirates played there from 1970-2000.
  5. Colonel Bogey march.