Okay, this is fascinating. I’ve been passing under Eruvin all my life, often multiple times a day, and I never knew they existed. That is most likely the case for you, too. The only reason I know about Eruvin now is that I stumbled across an article entitled, “There’s a Wire Above Manhattan That You’ve Probably Never Noticed. It’s 18 miles long.”

That got my attention. How can there be something that’s 18 miles long that goes unnoticed by people in such a densely populated city? I had to learn more.

It turns out that an eruv (which is the singular for eruvin) is a symbolic, ritual enclosure that one encounters in some Orthodox Jewish communities. These enclosures once consisted of walls or fences. Now they’re usually a wire or string between posts to create imaginary walls. In essence, they religiously enclose an area.

If you are inside this enclosure, there are things that you can do on Shabbat that are usually prohibited. This includes carrying things, which is considered work on the Sabbath. Imagine how difficult it would be to avoid carrying groceries or house keys or medication or children in public places one day a week. Imagine if you couldn’t use strollers or walkers or canes if you needed them.

So an eruv converts public places into private holy spaces. A Rabbi is tasked with inspecting these eruv every Thursday to make sure there are no gaps. It turns out that over 200 eruvin currently exist in the United States.

The Manhattan eruv, the largest, most expensive one in the world, costs 100,000 dollars a year to maintain. But it is worth it to the devout if it allows them increased functionality without fear of breaking Jewish law.

If you’re interested in seeing if there’s an eruv in your city, check out the list here. You can also see these eruvin on Google Maps. There are several in my city of Seattle.

I plan to look up more often to see if I can spot one. They frequently utilize utility poles, but the wires have to go across the top of a post (which sometimes requires a post to be attached to a pole) to be considered legitimate. It’s fascinating to think these eruvin have been hiding in plain sight all along.

By the way, I am not Jewish, so please accept my apologies for any inaccuracies in this post. It is not my intention to offend or mislead anyone. I just happen to find this subject interesting.


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If Thy Job Offends Thee…

I have got to stop listening to NPR on the way to work. Sometimes it makes me swerve. If you ever hear of me dying in a ball of fire on the freeway, please sue them on my behalf.

Yesterday, they spoke of the latest bit of brilliance from the Trump Administration. According to NPR, “The Department of HHS is adding a ‘Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom’ to protect doctors, nurses, and other health care workers who refuse to take part in some kinds of care because of moral or religious objections.”

I’m all for religious freedom. And that’s how Trump will spin this. As a way to prevent people from being discriminated against due to their faith.

Here’s the thing, though. (Yes, there’s always a thing.) I didn’t become a drug dealer, despite the financial benefits thereof, because it was against my morals. If my religion prevented me from opening a drawbridge, I’d have never become a bridgetender. Everyone in this country has always, always had the right NOT to take a job, except in times of slavery.

What you should not have a right to do, in my opinion, is take a job, expect to be compensated, and then refuse to do parts of it. If you’re against abortion, don’t work in an abortion clinic. If you can’t work on Sundays, then only take jobs that give you Sundays off. If you don’t want to do business with homosexuals, then, I don’t know, go off and live in a cave somewhere and live off berries and beetles.

Make no mistake. This draconian policy has nothing to do with religious freedom. First of all, the “Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom” is doublespeak that sounds like it came straight out of George Orwell’s 1984. It gives me the chills. But the intent behind it is even worse. It is a way to allow people to discriminate. It’s a way to make it harder for women to get birth control and choose what to do and not do with their bodies. It’s a way to refuse to treat homosexuals and their families. It’s a way to prevent people who are suffering needlessly and without hope from seeking succor in states where assisted suicide is legal.

I want every human being on this planet to have religious freedom. But I also want them to be proactive with their faith or lack thereof. If there’s a job that crosses the line for you, then DON’T TAKE IT. Simple.


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Faith Ain’t Reality

I admire people who have faith. Religious faith in particular is a quality that seems to have eluded me most of my life. I would truly love to be able to let go and let God, as the saying goes.

It has to be comforting to think that there’s a higher power who has ultimate control. It must be liberating to not have to think you are the primary decision-maker in your own life, that the buck doesn’t stop here after all, that some cosmic being is on your side, and therefore a large amount of the responsibility belongs to someone or something else. It would be so nice to guess that your fate has already been mapped out for you. That there’s a plan. What a weight would be lifted from my shoulders! I’d also love to think that prayer could solve my problems.

I just can’t do it. I like facts. I want evidence. Proof. Otherwise, how is it different from believing in unicorns?

I wish there were unicorns. I’d love to see a unicorn. I’d love to live in a world where unicorns wandered the streets. But I live in the real world.

Here’s what gives me comfort: we’ve learned so much about the universe and how it works that it becomes increasingly easy to not rely on the great unknown to answer the decreasing number of unanswerable questions. We know what causes eclipses these days. Nothing is devouring the sun.

Now, the trick is to maintain a moral compass when you technically don’t answer to anyone other than yourself. Perhaps that’s the kind of faith I need to nurture: the concept that humans have the maturity to be capable of morality without oversight.

Wish me luck.


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MY Reason for the Season

I’m not a Christian, but I do celebrate Christmas. I like the nostalgia of it. I like the Christmas lights that warm up a cold winter’s night. I like the music. I like the decorations. I like the food (perhaps a bit too much). I like to see how excited children get on Christmas morning. I just skip over the religious aspects of the holiday. For me it’s just about love and family and memories and a distraction from the winter chill. I don’t think that means I’m going to hell.

And before I get a bunch of angry comments from Christians to Athiests, let’s remember that the Christmas tree is a throwback from Paganism, and Jesus was a Jew whose birthday was most likely nowhere near the winter solstice, so people have been modifying this holiday to suit their needs, beliefs and desires for ages.

The other day I was going through a box of ornaments that I’ve collected over the years. Each one has a story. I remember where I was when I got them all. I have some that were made by my grandmother or my mother or my grand nephews. Some of them remind me of my travels. Others proclaim my heritage or the things that I hold dear. One looks like one of my dogs.

All these things make me smile. If that’s the only thing I get out of the holiday, then I’m getting quite a bit indeed. Sorry if that offends you.

[Image credit:]


Despite the overwhelming weight of traditions as described in Fiddler on the Roof, I’ve always admired people who have them. Whether they be national or religious or cultural or simply family traditions, these customs help to bind each of us to a greater whole.

Coming from a fairly nomadic and rootless family, I don’t have very many of these habits to fall back on. But we do have a few. For example, we always shake the milk before pouring it. This came about because my grandfather was a dairy farmer. If you get raw milk directly from the cow, the cream tends to separate if you don’t shake it back up. So we shake the milk to this day even though it no longer needs it.

When we go to the movies, we always whisper “Previews are my favorite part” at the very beginning. I don’t know why, and it isn’t even always true, but we do it nonetheless.

And when traveling long distances by car, when we get close to our destination we say, “Smell the salt?” That’s because when my mother was a child they’d take family trips to Long Island, and they knew they were almost there when they started smelling the salt water.

And I’ve invented a few traditions of my own. Each year I’ll buy a Christmas ornament that reminds me of something from the past year. And I always make red, white and blue fruit salad (strawberries, green grapes, and blueberries) to eat while watching the Independence Day fireworks. And one I particularly like is the one where I blow all my worries and concerns over my shoulder whenever I cross a state line when I travel. Leave that stuff behind. Don’t take it on your trip. Like it or not, you can always pick it back up when you get home.

Customs. Habits, Rituals. Beliefs. They’re what connect us and define us. If you don’t have them, then make the effort to create your own and define yourself.


Image credit:

Transplanting your Roots

I have always envied people with familial roots–People who have lived in the same house or farm or town for generations, people with relatives right down the street, people with family plots in the local graveyard. Roots imply stability and history and solid foundations that the rest of us, of a more nomadic bent, simply do not have.

As much as I love to travel, experience different cultures, take in varied vistas, and eat new foods, there is something very comforting about coming home after a long trip to sleep in one’s own bed. Home sweet home. I can only imagine that this feeling is compounded when everything and everyone around your home place has been there your entire life.

As people become more uprooted and relocate for work and families become more scattered, it is important to make extra efforts to preserve your connections. Wherever you may find yourself, you can always maintain ties by taking the time to observe traditions.

Traditions are intertwined with roots. Whether they are cultural or religious or simply something one’s family has always done, even if the reasons for these traditions have been lost over the years, these rituals help form a solid connection between you and the place that is at your very core. Traditions can be transported to new locations, and often take on increased significance with distance.

So light a candle, do a dance, cook a meal, or say a prayer. Carry your home within you.

roots4 Xavier Cortada

It’s World Hijab Day. Should I Care?

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a Muslim. I’m a Unitarian Universalist. But I have worn a hijab on two occasions. Since I am not a Hijabi (which is a woman who wears a hijab), and have not experienced what it is like to wear a head scarf day in and day out, I cannot speak to that part of the issue. I’ve never experienced the heightened respect nor the prejudice that this simple piece of fabric can evoke. But I am a woman, so I will speak in that capacity.

Women wear the hijab for many reasons. The purest of which, in my opinion, is the voluntary wearing of the hijab due to one’s religious belief. I have complete and utter respect for this choice. If a Catholic woman can hold a rosary, then a Muslim woman has the very same right to wear a hijab.

Other women simply wear it as a fashion statement. And I have to agree that there is something quite beautiful and even ethereal about a woman in a hijab. I imagine that it makes people look at you differently. Those without prejudice have to see you for you, and not be distracted by your exterior. That appeals to me greatly. I get so tired of constantly being compared to other women. In that scenario, someone is bound to be found wanting, and just as often as not, it is me. This can be quite draining. Unfortunately, prejudiced people will not see you for you at all. They ONLY see the scarf and make assumptions, quite often political ones, from there. This is not a reflection on the Hijabi. This is evidence of the ugliness in the prejudiced person’s soul. I firmly believe that a woman should have a right to wear whatever she chooses.

The two occasions when I wore a hijab were both during visits to mosques in Istanbul, Turkey. I did so happily, and out of respect. I was well aware that I was a visitor in a place of worship, and as such I had absolutely no problem complying with their rules of proper etiquette. I must say I was surprised at the instant difference I felt within myself. I was calmer, and I felt more reflective. I also felt more formally beautiful, which was a nice feeling indeed.

Barb in proper mosque attire Me at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.

Regrettably, there are also negative reasons for wearing a hijab. I was listening to a radio show called BBC’s World Have Your Say today, and the topic was World Hijab Day. Many women called in to discuss the positive reasons for wearing the head scarf, but a lady called in from Egypt who said that many women there wear the hijab in public simply to avoid sexual harassment. Some people do believe that men cannot control themselves and therefore the women must cover up. I find this to be tragic. I think it underestimates men and causes women to live in fear. In countries where the hijab is not common, you don’t regularly see women being attacked in the streets, so men can be civilized, especially in an atmosphere where respect is expected of them. In places where laws are not enforced, sadly, mob rule often takes over. That is the nature of humanity, and it’s heartbreaking to contemplate.

On the most extreme end of the spectrum you have women in fundamentalist areas, such as Iran, who are forced to wear the hijab. You can actually be jailed in Iran for not doing so. I think the Iranian government is making a very drastic mistake by doing this. Forcing something upon any person, man or woman, will simply encourage rebellion in their hearts. It will not make someone want to be a devout Muslim. It will simply engender depression, resentment, suicide and every other thing besides spirituality. In my opinion, in situations like these the beautiful and religious and modest hijab has been warped into a tool of control and imprisonment. It is the very opposite of faith and therefore the worst type of violation.

So, if I see you on the street and you are wearing a hijab, I must apologize in advance for staring at you. I’m not doing it for negative reasons. I’m not looking at you as a freak. In fact, I most likely think you’re beautiful. Chances are I’m just wondering about you and your motivations, and hoping, for your sake, that they are pure and positive and liberating, not dark and negative and repressing. I want only good things for you, and wish you well.

So should I care that it’s World Hijab Day? Yes, indeed, and for more reasons than one might imagine on the surface. This is a deep and complex issue that needs more exposure, if you’ll excuse the pun.