print stories as background in order to climb into the cultural and ethnical perspectives of the subject of the article and to investigate that perspective in light of today’s socio-political global issues. This will be helpful, in general, as providing means of better understanding the anecdotal actions of the other and helpful, in particular, in that it will grant us enhanced knowledge into how to respect the other be it as tourist or as fellow inhabitant of this world.
a print story on Hassidim and a contextual glimpse into the story with background connection to Jewish Poland; Buddha’s birthday and the lotus symbol; the recent witch massacre in the Congo and its roots to American slavery; the attempts of a fringe orthodox Jewish group in Israel to obliterate female faces from its magazines; and messages to Our Lady of Guadalupe and their connection to the Mexican-American experience.
The stories are approached in the following way: 1. The context is explained; 2. topicality is revealed, 3. The concrete / explicit message of the text is touched upon and, 4. The metaphorical or symbolic meaning of the text is uncovered via backgound / cultural source.
1. Chassidic parents Facing jail time
The article describes how Charedi Ashkenazi parents, of the Slonim Chassidic sect, refused to send their daughters to school with Sfardi girls (i.e. Of oriental extraction) “going so far as to have separate entrances and a dividing wall through the school’s courtyard.” Even after the courts ordered the school to remove the seperation, the Chassidic parents kept hundereds of children home from school (J.Weekly.com. (June 17, 2010)).
The liberal San Francisco that stresses tolerance towards and non-judgmentalism of all humans regardless of gender, religion, and sect would have a challenging time understanding this phenomena where Jews of the same religious background would keep their daughters from participating with other girls — of the same persuasion as they — to the extent that they erect physical boundaries.
One way in which this can be explained is by observing that, given the small land of Israel where Jews of so many different persuasions live so tightly together, traditional values and customs often get lost and disappear in the melee. The more right-wing the group the greater their concern about clinging to their customs and particular way of life. Chassidic parents in America form their own ghettos and are less concerned since America is a larger nation affording them greater opportunity to live apart and transmit their norms, but children in the claustrophobic dot of Israel, more easily in touch with others of different roots, can more easily relinquish their traditions.
We can go further into history, though, for a more profound understanding of the dynamics at play here. As per Mannheim (1936), ideas or cultural phenomenon are processes that emerge from the socio-historical rubric of the individual’s existence, therefore to properly an individual’s act one has to focus on the socio-historical conditions of its inception. The aggression, intolerance, closeness and similar behavior (typically, but erroneously, called fundamentalism) of certain Chassidic individuals and groups traces itself back to Counter-Reformation Poland. Post-Reformation Poland treated its Jews as a caste system (Hertz, 1988), spiraling off a pathological reaction where – in a typical manifestation of abuse — the victimized group boost itself by isolating itself, rejecting the other, and living its life and perceiving its fate in a constricted and pessimistic manner. These negative characteristics, amplified by the Holocaust, transmuted themselves to new lands where contra-traditionalist characteristics, such as violence, aggression, and intolerance soon generated. In my mind, this also explains the appearance of other manifestations of Chassidic groups originating from Poland such as attachment to some traditional Polish customs, paranoia towards alien others, and caustic attitude towards “chosenness” of religion and Jewish fate. The commonality of all of these characteristics is an underlying negativity that is actually seen more amongst Jews of Eastern European decent than amongst Oriental Jews or those from Central Europe, and originates from life history itself.
2. Buddha’s Birthday
Mushim (2010) of the Museng Temple talks about her recent celebration of the Buddha’s birthday in Seoul (Korea) and how Buddhists from various countries gathered in the parade to Jogye Temple carrying a single lotus lantern.
Although Mushim briefly alludes to the reason for the lantern being in the shape of the lotus as “represent[ing] our sincere aspiration to rise up out of the mud of delusion and become a bright light that can shine to all people who are suffering” and that “the lotus lantern also represents perfect awareness and the awakened mind,” the reasons are more complex
In the first period, before Buddhism became a civilized religion during the Asokan regime, when the religions was just starting to form and constituted diverse sects, Buddhist symbolism manifested the influence of local religious forms and the cults present in its environment. It, particularly, represented Hindu influences such as the Vedic and Brahman customs. The Wheel of Life, imported from Brahmanism, entered Buddhism, as did symbols of trees, and tree spirits, serpents, fertility goddesses, and reliquary mounds, all soon becoming part of Buddhist lore. There are many symbols of nature, and in order to refrain from portraying the Buddha in an intimate fashion — they were too close to him — the people resorted to characterizing him in naturalistic terms. Flowers are laid on the stupa or hung on the trees, the Bodhi Tree (under which the Buddha sat) was used as symbol, a wheel (the Wheel of Life), a circle under a tree, or lotus. Some of these forms — particularly the lotus and wheel – have remained popular representations of Buddhism. The Wheel represents Buddha’s First Sermon as well as the Wheel of life, whilst the lotus — more complex — denotes the tendency of the lotus to transcend its material beginnings. Grown from mud it extends beyond the water, thus Buddahood too is self-created out of the defilements of existence. Many Buddhists have reverted to increased use of the lotus today to demonstrate that despite their living in an increasingly global world that can detract them from their Buddhism, the lotus serves as reminder that Buddhism (as per the representation of the lotus) offers them “perfect awareness and the awakened mind” This is indeed what Mushim goes onto talk about (without relating it to the lotus, but Buddhist background understanding would connect its reference to the lotus) that “many Korean people take their culture for granted and forget that Oriental culture has much to offer the people of this world.” It is not materialism that counts — materialism can never satisfy — but rather Dharma, an innate acquisition of the fact that true satisfaction comes by obliterating the need for happiness / pleasure.
3. Witch hunt in Africa
In June 2001, villagers of Congo’s northeast province searched for witches within their village hacking to pieces anyone who was suspected of being one. The victims were first identified by tribal healers as being witches, then forced to admit that they allegedly engaged in the black arts. Three hundred villagers were killed in the first days of the witch paranoia followed by eight hundred in the ensuing weeks. Even thoguh the Ugandan army intervened, the jungles of Congo still remain a place where belief in witches and magic power survives. In fact, even the rebel fighters attribute part of their magic to witches, and one particularly accepted way of executing witches who are unfavorable to their desires is by burying them alive (Petraitis, 2003).
Young (2002), a native of Congo who studied in American universities explained in his dissertation the roots for Congolese belief in witchcraft. The Kongo region in West Central Africa served as passage for slaveholding societies in the American South, particularly in the Sea Island region of Georgia and South Carolina, and many were forcibly taken to America to work on plantations. As a way of surmounting the shackles and their deprivation, they formed stories, and many of these surrounded witches who would assault their oppressors. Many of the slaves returned to their homeland bringing their revitalized rituals back with them, and having been so internalized into their religious rituals as a way of transcending their suffering, they soon became part of the religious rituals back in the Congo.
The flight motif, that included witches who helped them escape, was used by the slaves in various ways as means to sublimate their oppression: it could be used as an imaginary way of escaping the lash, or gaining a temporary reprieve from plantation work, or fashioned in the form of a witch who would help them escape their sufferings. We find it, for instance, in the writings of Toni Morrison, Edwidge Danticat, and Nella Larson as replica of the folkloric tradition that developed during the era of slavery and the slave trade and in tales and folkloric myths that are common predominantly along the Georgia coast.
Flight — and particularly flight to Africa — enabled, oftentimes, via magic and witches served as a motif of vicarious relief, and the exaltation was, often, reinforced by concluding that the flight consequented in Africa. This notion endures in the tradition of the contemporary African, as is seen in their genuine belief in the ability of witches to both succor and destroy. The quoted article of the witch killings states a brute fact that occurred — and does occur still today in the African world. Young’s interpretation indicates how the phenomenon has causal roots in the American slave trade in the American South.
4. Now you see them; now you don’t
In April 2009, two women were appointed to the Israeli cabinet. Limor Livnat and Sofa Landver were grouped with the rest of their 30-member cabinet for their inaugural photograph. The Yated Neeman (an extreme right-wing Jewish paper) digitally changed the picture by replacing them with men; the weekly Shah Tova (a paper with similar perspective) simply blacked the women out. A week later, campaign posters featuring the female candidate, Tzipi Livni, were defaced in ultra-orthodox neighborhoods in Israel (Huffington Post. (04/03/09)). The story made its way into global media such as the BBC and the Daily Mail who emphasized the sexual hostility of these people towards females.
I might also suggest the following: Original pictures showed the plunging necklines and uncovered hair of the two women. Biblical law would have proscribed modest dress (which precludes plunging necklines), and would have required that hair of married women be covered. Religiously observant men are forbidden to gaze at women dressed like this because it has the potential to objectify them and make them into sexual objects, rather than the human beings that we are supposed to be, and supposed to be respected for.
News articles of the time pointed out that the editors of the Yatted Neeman or the Shaa Tovah did not respond. The fact is that they might not have known how to formulate their reasoning to an apparently hostile and very different secular world, and might have been unable, even to themselves, to articulate their reasoning.
5. Our Lady of Guadeloupe
Some of the messages on this site may strike Western, largely irreligious people as idolatrous.
Mexican-American theologians such as Rodriguez (1994) state that, rather than this being perceived as idolatry, it is a way of relating the to the Lady in a phenomenological manner. Many Mexican-Americans, particularly females, see themselves as stigmatized by a majority culture, i.e. America as being naive, simple, illiterate, and superstitious. Rather than being understood as the complex individuals that they are, they see themselves as categorized and stereotyped just as Our Lady, too, is that she is misinterpreted and stereotyped as being a servile, suffering woman when she was, in fact, a bastion of strength who compelled an entire family to embrace genuine religion.
Fascinatingly, Our Lady is seen as a feminist to many Mexican -American females who, struggling with the different ness of two opposing cultures and frustrated with being pigeonholed into terms such as Latino and Chicano turn to Our Lady for succor. The very real way in which they identity with and relate to her can be seen from messages on this site such as.
thank you so much for yesterday, being able to attend mass for your Joseph and all the other things, the adoration…the happy times with my friend-help him tobe able t continue even when I am not well, to be my friend. help himplease, thank You Mother, we love and need youl, all of us, help us all today
20th of March 2011
Mama Mary, flowers for you as a sign of my gratitude. I love you so much love, dee
19th of March 2011
Hertz, A. 1988. The Jews in Polish Culture. NorthWestern Univ. Press, Evanston, Il.
Huffington Post. 04/03/09. ‘Israel: women photo shopped from Cabinet Picture to Cater to the Ultra-Orthodox’. Available at:
J.Weekly.com. June 17, 2010. ‘Chassidic parents facing jail time’. Available at: http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/58439/chassidic-parents-facing-jail-time
Keown, D. 1996. Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction, UK, Oxford Univ. Press Mannheim, K. 1936. Ideology and Utopia. Harcourt, USA.
Mushim, V. 2010. ‘Lotus Lanterns Unique to Korea Culture’, Buddhist News. Buddhism. Org. Available at: http://www.buddhism.org/board/read.cgi?board=WhatsNew&y_number=4
Ora Pro-Nobis. Available at: http://www.sancta.org/agrad1.html
Petraitis, R. 2003. The Witch Killers of Africa. Secular. Web. Available at: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_petraitis/witch_killers.html
Rodriguez J. 1994.Our Lady of Guadalupe: Faith and empowerment among Mexican-American women. University of Texas Press; Austin
Young, J.R. 2002. Rituals of Resistance: The Making of an African-Atlantic Religious Complex in Kongo and along the Sea Islands of the Slave South. Ph.D., Diss., University of California-Riverside.