Archive for September, 2009

With the Jewish holiday season right around the corner–the fun begins tomorrow night with Rosh Hashanah– for a while I’ve been meaning to put together a list of my favorite Jewish holidays, because they’re fun, kind of exotic (unless you’re actually Jewish or something), don’t require getting up early, and most importantly, they are hella tasty. L’chaim!

1. Passover

The Jews followed Joseph into Egypt, and it was cool for a while until the Pharaoh decided to enslave them. But then Moses came along and told the Pharaoh (probably Raamses II) to Let His People Go, God sent a bunch of plagues, and the Jews invented Matzoh right before walking through the Red Sea. All this so that thousands of years later, matzoh ball soup could exist. It’s mainly for this most delicious of all Jewish foods that Passover gets the top spot on the list, but I kind of love the whole thing. You get to drink four glasses of wine, which is Manischewitz if you’re doing anything right, before dinner and that ALWAYS makes food good. You get to mix horseradish with charoset, the Jewish interpretation of mortar.

I can see where it would be a drag if you went to a seder that was four hours long and entirely in Hebrew, but the reform Jews I party with never make me wait that long. Plus, unlike Yom Kippur, the mere hour of sitting and waiting for food makes the anticipation build to the perfect level, unlike not eating for 24 hours.

2. Chanukah

However you spell it, it means latkes. If you have never had a latke I weep for you; imagine mixing onion rings and french fries, then dipping them in sour cream, then chasing the whole thing with a jelly donut. Sound pretty good? Yes it does. It’s also the only Jewish holiday where I’ve ever set wrapping paper on fire in the living room. Hey, it’s the festival of lights.

3. Rosh Hashanah

Jewish new year means dipping apples in honey and then eating them, and also that the challah bread is round. Actually, for whatever (deeply symbolic I’m sure) reason, we usually get chocolate chip challah, which is pretty good. Plus the Hebrew part is short and you’re free to snack throughout.

4. Yom Kippur

I imagine this is down near the bottom of anyone’s list, because it’s the Jewish holiday that focuses on the opposite of eating. I did fast for the day once, though I had a normal life and didn’t have to go to Jewish services all day that day or anything, which I hear makes you even hungrier. The break fast food is usually just OK, relatively bland and light because after all these people haven’t eaten anything all day.

5. Purim

All I know about Purim is Hamentashen (and that it’s “Jewish Halloween”), and those are pretty good.

6. Sukkot

I celebrated this once. we sat in a tent and ate Domino’s pizza. Good, but it wasn’t any matzoh ball soup or latkes.

There you have it. A knowledgeable, culturally sensitive guide to which Jewish holiday invitations you should accept and which you should turn down.

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This post is about penance. Well, sort of, though that would imply that this is somehow punishment rather than something awesome. Last week at the local pub quiz, there was FINALLY a question about a saint–who is the patron saint of firefighters and chimney sweeps? Well, dear reader, I had absolutely no idea. Naturally this led to a bit of existential crisis (if I can’t even get a pub quiz question about a saint right WHAT AM I DOING?), but I got over it and looked up good old Saint Florian.

Unfortunately, it’s also appropriate because Los Angeles is on fire (again) right now*, and we could probably use all the help we can get.

Florian von Lorch lived around 300 CE, and all it seems like we really know about him is that he was fairly high-ranking in the Roman Army stationed in Noricum, which is now more or less where Austria is. I did find a source that went on and on about how he was part of the valiant firefighting unit in Noricum, but nothing else I can find backs that up much, though it’s some interesting stuff about how firefighting worked in Rome, which is that people had to pay firefighters to put out fires, and it turns out you can get a LOT of money out of people whose houses are burning down. It’s a libertarian’s wet hot dream.

Firefighter or no, Florian lived during the big Diocletianic Persecution, along with some other obscure saints, and was thus (wait for it) persecuted for being a Christian. What followed was pretty standard: first they were just going to set him on fire and be done with it, but he got excited about that idea (telling them he’d fly to heaven on the smoke), so they opted for the more labor-intensive flogging and spiking and ripping out his shoulder blades with hooks instead. Finally they tied a heavy stone around his neck and threw him into the river Enns.

Miraculously in one piece, his body floated up onto a rock downstream, and an eagle watched over it until a peasant woman named Valeria could have a vision and come get the body. Afraid of being persecuted herself, she covered it with twigs, leaves and braches and pretended that she was building a fence for her garden. While taking him to where her vision said he should be buried, her animals tired so God made them a spring, and they carried on. Finally he was buried where he’d asked, though he was moved into the abbey at the town nearby, and later still they sent some of his relics to Poland, because when it’s the middle ages and you want a king to be your friend, you send him some bits of your dead saint.

A whole bunch of healing miracles are attributed to him (including one case of crushed genitals), but the thing he’s known for isn’t really clear. He’s supposed to have extinguished an entire burning village by pouring a single pitcher of water on it, but I can’t find whether that happened before or after he died. How about I just go with my gut instinct, which is, “Story invented a few hundred years later and posthumously ascribed to the living Florian.” There, done. In fact that sentence will do anyone lots of good in the area of Obscure Saint Studies.

Florian is the saint of firefighters, chimney sweepers, Poland, and beer brewers, so you should buy a Polish firefighter a drink on May 4 and then use him to sweep the chimney.


*Thanks for asking, but no, the Illegiterati are not in any danger. Lots of other people are, though.

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