As most people know Chanukah is seen very much in the vain of a Jewish Holy Holiday which this year begins today, 16 Dec. and ends 23 Dec. But should it be seen in this way? I think not.
Each night a candle is lit, one more than the previous night until all 8 candles are alight. The significance is to do with the time of the Second Temple and the re-dedication of the Temple at the time of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire for Jews but it can be seen as so much more I think.
By adding the number of candles lit during the 8 day period we get to 36 which in Hebrew is denoted by the letters Lamed and Vav which also mean the word Heart. The candles could be seen to signify the flame that burns in all our hearts, the flame of life so to speak. Within the light of life burns our hopes and desires, the essence of self but because it burns in all of us, Jew and Gentile we are all linked.
Chanukah; a festival for all of us to reaffirm our celebration of life through light.
The older you get, the more rules they’re gonna try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep on livin’ man, L-I-V-I-N!!!
Quote from dazed and confused.
Brilliant, just genius.
It will soon be Purim; a Jewish Festival of enjoyment and celebration. I wrote about this very same festival last year around the time I celebrated with friends in North Manchester, great fun. But what is Purim? What is the story?
Purim is the story of Esther and how she saved the Israelite people of Persia:
There once lived a King by the name of Achashverosh, who ruled over Persia in the third century, BCE.
The story begins with a grand feast that the King was throwing at his palace. Irreconcilable differences propelled the King to divorce and seek a new queen. In search of a new queen, the King commanded his men to travel throughout the kingdom in search of the loveliest of maidens so that he could view them and choose the most beautiful to be his wife and the new Queen.
Around this time there lived a gorgeous woman named Esther. She lived in a small province with her uncle Mordechai. She knew that being the Queen of Persia would be good for her people, so she prepared herself to be brought before the King.
Once the King saw Esther he stopped looking and she became the new Queen of Persia.
One day while passing by the palace gates, Mordechai overheard two guards plotting a revolution with the intent to kill King Achashverosh. Mordechai informed Esther, and the militants were captured and executed. Mordechai saved the King’s life.
The King had an advisor named Haman. This advisor was power hungry and conniving. Haman disliked the Israelites, especially Mordechai. When Haman would travel throughout the towns, he expected the people to bow down to him, as he was second in command to the King. Mordechai refused to bow.
In order to gain favor with the King and rid himself of Mordechai and his people, Haman devised a plan to kill them all. Haman used his sharp tongue and twisted the thoughts of Achashverosh, alleging that Mordechai’s people would cause a problem for the King and that the King should lend his seal to a petition to have them destroyed. The King authorized the genocide and letters were written and sent to all the provinces of Persia bearing the King’s seal.
When Mordechai caught word of this, he tore his clothes in mourning, dressed in a sackcloth and cried before the King’s gate.
When Esther was told about her uncle’s behavior she sent him new clothes, but he refused them. He sent her a message telling her to go to the King and plead for the lives of her people.
The law in Persia at that time was strict; no one was to approach the King unless they were summoned. To disobey was punishable by death. Esther sent word back to her uncle that the townspeople should fast for three days, she would do the same, and after the three days she would approach the King.
After three days, Esther went to the King who was so pleased to see her that he held out his scepter and asked her if he could grant her a request. Esther asked the King and Haman to join her in her quarters for a banquet that she would prepare on the following day.
As Haman left the Palace that evening he saw Mordechai. So full with hatred was he for Mordechai, that he resolved the next morning he would ask the King’s permission to hang Mordechai in a public spectacle on gallows fifty feet high.
That same night the King could not sleep and he asked to hear the daily chronicles, which recorded the events of the palace. There the King learned that Mordechai informed the King about a scheme to overthrow the kingdom and kill the King. Mordechai had saved the King’s life, but had not been rewarded for his loyalty.
When Haman arrived in the morning, the King asked Haman’s advice as to the appropriate manner to honor a person that has found great favor with the King. Haman, assuming that it was he who was to be honored, said that the man should be allowed to wear the King’s crown, the King’s clothes and should be led through town on the King’s horse, proclaiming that this man is favored by the King.
King Achashverosh accepted the idea and told Haman to give this honor to Mordechai. Enraged, Haman followed the King’s orders. That night was the banquet that Queen Esther had prepared for the King and Haman. The King was so pleased with her, that again he asked Esther if he could grant her a request. This time Queen Esther asked her husband to save her life, the life of her people, and her uncle, Mordechai, who the king had honored that day. The King was horrified that the life of his queen and his devoted Mordechai were threatened and demanded to know who was responsible for this. Esther replied that it was Haman.
Haman fell to his knees before the King and pleaded for his life, but the King ordered that Haman be hung on the very gallows that he had intended for Mordechai. Mordechai was then made the new advisor to the King.
However, the order of genocide could not simply be revoked, so the King ordered that the Israelites be informed and armed to fight in their own defense. Due to their awareness of the kabbalistic tools of unity, the 72 Names of God, and their understanding of the cosmic cycles of the kabbalistic calendar, the Israelites of Persia triumphed over the Persian Army. They awakened the power of miracles available in the month of Adar/Pisces. And moreover, they were able to alter their destiny.
(Story c/o livingwisdom/kabbalah.com)
So what does this story tell us? what does it teach?
The story of Purim is a story that teaches that we must overcome one of our greatest enemies; doubt.
Esther could not affect the destiny of her people until she affected the cause of their impending calamity. By saying her people should fast for 72 hours and give succor to one-another she helped her people come together, to overcome the desire for self alone and awaken the energy of unity through the experience of sharing. The king armed them, they fought and overcame their impending doom.
For Jews the time of Purim is a time of celebration. If you go to a Jewish area wherever you find yourself, in whatever country you are you will almost certainly find a community in festive mood. Parties, cake, drink, face-painting for children and general merriment – a time of joy.
Doubt is an enemy of achievement an enemy of aspiration. Doubt of others is bad, but Doubt of yourself is worse. Be sure of yourself, know who and where you are in your life. Know who and where you would like to be in your life. Do not doubt yourself and go and achieve.
These are the lessons from Esther.
The march of technology in the medical arena means that life, or probably more accurately signs of life, can be preserved for quite some time. But this for me raises the question of do we value life as a series of electro-chemical impulses or do we value life for the qualities it might provide including the risk to life that we sometimes experience.
What kind of life do we value – biological or experiential?
Legal norms and values would appear firm that biological life should and must be preserved. That potentially we could be in a living death as it were kept ‘alive’ by machines and techniques external and alien. The cessation of our ability to breath and think seems no longer a barrier to being alive provided of course we live in one of those wealthy developed nations with the means to prolong life in a mechanical and medical way.
Almost if not every hospital in the land has the equipment and expertise to keep people alive in this way. Heartbeats and pulses are maintained whilst the loss of brain function goes unchecked. We do not have the technology to change the loss of brain function, and we pointedly refuse to accept that the body is dead so long as the machine does its job. Physicians fear the liability implications in deciding that flicking the switch is actually in the best interests of all concerned, not least the living dead who is in all probability way beyond an opinion on the matter. The very essence of cardio-pulmonary life becomes a grotesque excuse for the living as we knew them.
And still we are encouraged by those on the less than liberal right to think about the sanctity of life, how precious it is. Their assertions are not based on quality of life experience, suffering, the imminence of death itself or the burden on others and the wish of the person to either live on or die but more likely based on a religio-emotional response to the imminence of death, a fear no-less of death even by proxy.
So where do I stand on the matter?
Well I believe wholly in the sanctity of life, that the value of life exceeds all others, that no other value overrides the value of life except that of more life! But I am not in the life is created at conception camp, no, a life is a life when it can be viable.
I do not believe that all lives are equal on the other-hand. Those who are in fear of their life from another have the right to take the others life. Those who have practiced evil, encouraged evil and supported evil have no right to life (Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol-Pot…) and those who are functionally brain dead do not have a right to expect their bodies to be preserved in a vegetative state indefinitely.
However, it is more difficult than to give simple rules about what is a good life and what isn’t. Quality of life will be a different experience for everybody and it can be simply put that the value of life varies with the quality of life experienced. Whilst this is simple to articulate, in fact it is almost impossible to measure for another, its a personal thing. Nonetheless the concept that life may not be worth living goes hand in glove with the quality of life approach. Life can and must be divergent for the experience to be worth living.
Notwithstanding there are vast populations across the globe where simply having enough to eat is at the center of existence, we in the developed and broadly speaking sophisticated populations have choices. There are some among us who will live a simple life, no too exciting who will work hard and provide for their dependents and then there are those who want and strive for something with a bit more risk attached. I count myself in this latter group.
I am reminded of a film I watched some time ago in which a young man discovers that a life of work and reward for work was not actually what he was looking for. In it he is told of an old Arabic saying which goes along the lines of ‘throw your heart out in front of you and then run to catch it’.
Of course the trouble with this approach means that you have to run the risk, life might not work out as you’d like. If it were all to go wrong and some how I suffered a great accident during one of my adventures I’d like the machine turned on, my organs that are working harvested for the benefit of others and then the machine turned off.
I will be happy to expire one day, but not before I’ve had a life worth living!
I have been following with interest and repulsion in equal measure the Dieudonne saga in France, partly because I’m obsessed with France and partly because of my innate fear of all things fascist/right-wing/nazi and following the very public goal celebration in the UK by Nicolas Anelka recently.
Dieudonne shows have been cancelled in some parts of France but not without a public outcry from some sections of the society that this is an attack on freedom of speech or freedom of expression. But I find myself thinking as one who will willingly defend the right of freedom of speech even when I fundamentally disagree with the sentiments being expressed, that actually even a bad clown can make a mistake and may even break the laws of the land. Wearing a red nose or pretending to give humor never prevented anyone from committing a crime. If a thief steels a motorcycle he has committed a crime even when he does in an amusing way.
However, Dieudonne, the sinister clown seeks to further his obnoxious views through so called humor. By going on a tour, publishing dates and venues he is being provocative and foolish. The French have not prevented his freedom of expression but have prevented public discord and a potential for civil conflict. Dieudonne is not a victim, he has not suffered a crime against humanity, he has had his talentless show which trades on scandal and abuse brought to a close in the name of public safety.
Dieudonne only speaks to those who cling onto the unintelligible thought of anti-Semites, to them his act, if indeed that is what it is, is a source of humor. He therefore only speaks to a small but nonetheless nuisance minority of people. To this day there are conferences and a vast number of books which speak of the Nazi Holocaust, a permanent stain on modern society. To think that this could be a subject for humor frankly beggars belief.
The notion that the law can impose limits on public behavior to me is something which should and must be challenged frequently. But the exploitation of crimes against humanity for the humor of a very few is not an area I would recommend to anybody as a place to challenge accepted decencies. His act is a cynical insult for his own reward. His act is one of many which seeks to raise the infamous beast of anti-Semitic thought from the ashes of hate.
It is quite amazing to me to notice that resistance of Dieudonne and his like comes from all sides, both left and right leaning thought. Of course Dieudonne argues that he provides a refuge in humor from the Zionist, he may well do this but I ask what is Zionism in 2014?
Certainly 100 years ago when the thought was to make a Jewish state the idea was simple; to provide a state that all Jews from around the world could come to where safety was guaranteed. I recognize the visionary genius of Theodor Herzl without question. However, Zionism in 2014 may look as if it is all about the West Bank and Gaza but really is this so? I think Zionism today is the same as it ever was, especially when you consider the threats from Iran, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Hesbollah, Hammas…
If only Dieudonne could see the threats from without the ‘Zionist’ state maybe then he wouldn’t be such a sinister clown about it all.
To add to the anti-Semitic attacks which are frequent the need for humor at the expense of the dead is an insult. To do this at the expense of Holocaust dead is a crime!
I don’t believe the amnesty is a humanitarian act, its a PR stunt aimed at softening the image of the Russian Government and specifically Mr. Putin.
I would accept that the stunt the band pulled was ill-advised and that it was totally disrespectful in the extreme to those who feel the church has a place in their lives. But honestly, imprisonment for being a real pain in the backside? I ask was justice served by sending these women to prison? NO! it was revenge plain and simple. And now when it suits the governments purpose the women are released.
As a PR stunt I’d say its pretty blunt and unsophisticated – Russia government – try again cos we aint convinced!
Marsha Alyokhina (one of the jailed band members) spoke on Dozhd TV, saying she would have preferred to have stayed in prison, but had no option but to accepted the amnesty, calling it a “profanation.” Human rights activists were waiting to greet her as she came out of prison, with Alyokhina telling reporters she wanted to meet her band-mate Nadia Tolokonnikova before speaking to journalists.
Nadia Tolokonnikova is expected to be released imminently from a prison hospital, where she has been following a hunger strike.
The pair are freed under a controversial amnesty bill passed by the Russian parliament last week, which grants the release of 25,000 “vulnerable” inmates, those who are elderly, sick or pregnant. Both Pussy Riot members qualify because they are mothers of young children. Indeed?
Analysts believe that the amnesty, as well as the release of Russia’s most famous prisoner, the Kremlin critic and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khordokovsky, is an attempt to stem criticism of Russia’s justice system and human rights before the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. The Arctic 30 Greenpeace protesters are also free under the amnesty.
The third Pussy Riot protester, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was given a suspended sentence in October last year, because she had been thrown out of the cathedral before reaching the altar to perform.
Pussy Riot may not make great music or give fantastic performances but they are artist’s nonetheless. For anybody who disagrees look-up situationalism and dada as examples of what Pussy Riot do.
Good Luck Pussy Riot and all who go in their wake.
- Freed Pussy Riot member slams amnesty as ‘PR stunt’ (sbs.com.au)
- Freed Pussy Riot singer: ‘This is not an amnesty. It’s a PR stunt’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- Freed Pussy Riot member dismisses Putin’s amnesty as ‘PR stunt’ (irishtimes.com)
- Freed Pussy Riot member dismisses Putin’s amnesty as “PR stunt” (trust.org)
- Pussy Riot: The story so far (bbc.co.uk)
- Freed Pussy Riot member slams amnesty as ‘PR stunt’ (itv.com)
- Pussy Riot member freed in Russia (Forevervogue.com)
- Pussy Riot Member: Release Is PR Stunt (voanews.com)
- Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina released from prison following Russian government amnesty (independent.co.uk)
- Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina released from Russian jail (abc.net.au)