Samhain and Sukkot

We arrived at my friend Sandra’s home, a small parade of women, each carrying a hollowed-out squash or pumpkin – in one case, a scooped-out sweet potato. When the first chill of autumn hits, I always think of the ancient Celtic tradition of Samhain, which was celebrated in late October to mark the transition from harvest to winter. A large bonfire burned in every village square. Each family arrived with a hollow winter vegetable, into which they placed an ember from the communal fire, likely the root of our tradition of making jack-o-lanterns. They carried these embers home to light their own hearth fires as winter began to close in. We were carrying on the beautiful ritual in our own style.


We gathered around a fire, poised between looming Samhain and just-finished Sukkot. The late-September Jewish festival recalls the forty years that the Jews spent wandering in the wilderness after being released from slavery in Egypt, when they lived in transitory shelters and ate manna that rained down from heaven. I first learned of Sukkot while I was in seminary in Atlanta in the 1990s, when for a week my Jewish neighbors hosted backyard parties in shelters they had temporarily created out of sheets of plywood and tree branches. Continue reading

Unoriginal Sin

When I first moved to North Carolina in 1992, I served for a year as a court advocate for survivors of domestic violence. Again and again I watched women gather their courage to take out restraining orders against violent partners—and then go back into abusive situations. Among them was a middle-aged woman whose husband had chained her naked to the doghouse in the backyard one night, and a young one whose boyfriend had raped her with a gun, threatening repeatedly to pull the trigger.national_week_of_action_-_oct_2016

Hearing their stories and witnessing the crumbling of their resolve to leave was heartbreaking. Most had been threatened with death if they tried to escape, and fear is a powerful motivator. So is economic insecurity. One woman explained what I knew was true for many: “I’d rather get beat up than worry about my kids starving on our own.”

That predatory male behavior and sexual assault have erupted in the forefront of our news in October, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, is a tragic irony. The statistics remain staggering. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), more than 10 million people in the U.S., most of them women, are physically abused by their partners each year. Every nine seconds in this country, a woman is assaulted or beaten. One in five women in the U.S. has been raped. Nationwide, an average of three women are killed every day by those who claim to love them.

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