Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The origins of Rush-a-homa

In light of all the excitement stirred up by the proposed Cordoba Religious Tolerance Center (AKA…The Ground Zero Mosque) being built on hallowed ground (the Burlington Coat Factory site), it might be a good time for all of us to learn a little bit about other religions. Usually that is qualified as “The World’s Great Faiths” and refers to the three children of Abraham: Judaism, Christianity and Islam – all of which trace themselves back to Ole Abe. But of course, that’s a Western POV, it leaves out religions that are even older like Zoroastrianism or Hinduism and even Buddhism a relative baby since it wasn’t until 642BC that the bouncing baby Buddha was born.

So since tonight marks the beginning of a major Jewish holiday let’s learn about that.

What follows, dear reader, is what a little Irish Catholic boy learned about Rosh Hashanah.

So Happy New Year’s Eve everyone!
Or Happy Yom Ha-Zikkaron!
Or, if you don’t want to be so Biblical* ---Happy Rosh Hashanah.

Rosh Hashanah, commonly referred to as the Jewish New Year, begins tonight at sundown. As mentioned in previous memos– the Jewish calendar adheres to the original concept of a day, that is, when daylight ends –so does the day and another begins just after sundown. And thus the Goyim mnemonic for this holiday: Rush-a-homa.

Actually at Sundown tonight the Jewish High Holy Days begin.
They start with Rosh Hashanah and stretch to Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement in October. These are the two Jewish Holy days that are strictly religious; they have nothing to do with historical events like Hanukah or Purim.

So tonight all the goyim in town will turn on their TV’s to watch the Jews gather in Times Square, pop open the Mogen David champagne and watch the Matzo Ball drop at midnight.

Won’t happen will it?
That’s because Rosh Hashanah may be a joyous holiday but it’s a bit more solemn than Dick Clarke’s Rockin’ Rosh Hashanah Bash.
There are similarities between the Jewish New Year and Jan One one.
Both are a time to make resolutions and be introspective. The difference is --folks don’t gather round their TVs on New Year’s Day to watch the JFL (Jewish Football League) play.

If there were a Matzo ball dropping in Times Square folks wouldn’t yell Happy New Year! They’d shout out L'shanah tovah "for a good year". If they were really old school they’d shout out the unedited version L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem" Which means May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year. I’m sure you’ll agree it’s not nearly as snappy as L’ Shanah Tovah.

If you want to shout out a L’ Shanah Tovah online you can send free Rosh Hashanah cards from

In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means, "head of the year" or "first of the year." The Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh) refers to the holiday as Yom Ha-Zikkaron (the day of remembrance) or Yom Teruah (the day of the sounding of the shofar). The shofar is that big spiral ram’s horn you’ve seen around, you can think of it as a Jewish New Year’s Eve noisemaker.

No work is permitted on Rosh Hashanah and most of the day should be spent in synagogue. A popular Rosh Hashanah custom is eating apples dipped in honey, a symbol of a wish for a sweet new year. Another you may see on the news is the casting off of sins (Tashlikh "casting off") where folks empty their pockets into the East or Hudson River, symbolically casting off their sins. Neither the Hudson River, the East River nor Tashlikh was mentioned in the Bible but it has become a very popular tradition.

So if you’ve sinned this year better get yee to the River before sundown tomorrow, even if you have a nasty Rosh Hashanah Hangover.


*Bible Study. You say Bible, I say Torah or more precisely Tanakh.

Bible is a Greek word derived from the name of the Phoenician city of Byblos where papyrus was made. The actual translation ---ta biblia, "the books."

Christians refer to the New Testament and the Old Testament as the Bible. To Jews, there is no "New Testament." Many Jews consider the New Testament kind of like the way Film lovers consider Godfather III --- an unnecessary sequel to a classic. What Christians refer to as the Old Testament is known as the Written Torah or the Tanakh. Torah refers to the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Moses was one righteous dude -- Five best selling books under his belt before there was such a thing as Barnes and Nobles or Oprah’s book Club, imagine that.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Wat up wit Labor Day?

The origins of the American May Day in September.

So Monday September 6th is Labor Day, a national holiday. It’s beloved by everyone but children who realize it means those School’s Open Drive Carefully signs aren’t too far behind. To most Americans it marks the end of summer and the beginning of football. It once had a much richer meaning and purpose. But like most holidays it has gradually lost its connection to its origins.

The first American Labor Day celebration was held in New York in 1882. It wasn’t a holiday, nor a government sanctioned celebration. Merely the first signs in America of a counter-revolution to the Industrial Revolution.

Four years later something much more important happened.

On May 1st, 1886, the American Federation of Labor declared a national strike to demand an eight-hour workday. At the time, six-day workweeks and 12-14 hour workdays were the norm.

There was a strike at the McCormick Reaper plant in Chicago. There were huge demonstrations. The Chicago police tried to break up a rally in Haymarket Square, a pipe bomb was thrown. The Police fired into the crowd wounding 200 and killing four protesters. Eight policemen were killed (most by friendly fire). Eight labor leaders were put on trial with absolutely no evidence they had any connection to the bombing. In fact, the prosecution admitted they hadn’t thrown the bomb. Despite that, four of them were executed and one committed suicide in prison.

The trial enraged labor groups; protests were held around the world. In 1889, the Socialist International declared May 1st a day of demonstrations, and since 1890 these have been held annually worldwide. The day came be called “May Day.”Labor advocates in the United States also pressed for a national holiday to recognize workers. By the 1890’s May First was already being celebrated in several states and was called “Labor Day”

But the Federal Government wasn’t about to celebrate a workers’ holiday.

They knew which side of the Labor-Management dispute they were on.

It wasn’t until 1925 that President Calvin Coolidge codified the stance with his famous statement: “The business of America is business.” But administrations before and since held that stance (Think of Ole Ronnie Reagan busting the Air Controller’s Union.)

Then In 1893 President Grover Cleveland sent 12,000 soldiers to Pullman, Illinois to break up a railroad strike. 13 strikers were killed. Enraged strikers went wilding. They destroyed a good deal of property and along with it Grover Cleveland’s image. Grover, in a bid to restore that tarnished image, declared a national holiday in honor of workers and rushed it through Congress where it was passed into law less than a week after the strike ended.

The date chosen for the holiday was in September. The reason wasn’t that it was the opener for the NFL. They wanted the holiday to stay far away on the calendar from the Socialist “May Day – Labor Day”

If you go on the U.S. Labor Department website there’s no mention of any of this interesting, bloody, political history. Just some blather about the contributions workers have made blah blah blah. I’m sure they know the history they’d just rather we all forgot it. Which more or less has happened.

Happy May Day in September folks.

As you burn a burger on the bbq this long weekend try and remember that a lot of people had to die for you to have the right to go to the beach and say to someone “My the summer went by so quickly.”