Sukkot and Ancestor Veneration

Now that we have passed the High Holidays and the Days of Awe, we are embarking upon another 7 day Jewish festival- the harvest festival Sukkot. Sukkot begins on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei- at the time of the full moon. Sukkot is a time to build huts and decorate them with fruits. It’s the time we dwell in these huts to remind ourselves of our agrarian roots and the temporary nature of the dwellings we lived in in the desert after the Exodus. 

Sukkot is so much more than this, however. It is also the time to venerate our ancestors. Just like the Celtic Samhain and the Mexican Day of the Dead, Sukkot is a time to honor and remember our ancestors. Building a sukkah and engaging in everyday activities within it is not enough. We also welcome ushpizin or guests, into our sukkah. Those guests are friends and relatives, but also, our ancestors.

Traditionally speaking we invite one of the seven patriarchs and matriarchs to dine with us each night of the festival. It is often common to also welcome our own ancestors to dwell with us as well. In order to welcome the ancestors it is customary to decorate the walls of the sukkah with photographs and other objects. We also place empty chairs for the spiritual ushpizin to sit in. Special prayers and blessings are recited for welcoming the souls of our departed ushpizin. When we decorate the sukkah and welcome our spiritual guests, we are basically building an ancestor altar (although modern Judaism would not even be aware of this). 

The custom of welcoming guests into our sukkah goes all the way back to our patriarch Abraham. It is well known that he would sit in his tent and welcome guests. His tent is said to have been open on all sides so that he could see travelers from whatever direction they came. When Abraham saw a traveler, that person would become his guest for a welcoming meal and respite from the road. 

Let us be like Abraham and make this Sukkot a lovely time of welcoming our ancestors as guests. They have been travelling a long and hard road after their passing. Let us welcome them into the cool shade of our sukkah for rest and a meal.  

Yom Kippur- A Day of Perfect Balance

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. It is the holiest day of the year in the Jewish calendar. It is the crown jewel of the High Holy Days. Yom Kippur is a day of personal and communal reflection. This year (2019), Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Tuesday October 8 and ends at sundown on Wednesday October 9. 

Like Rosh HaShanah 10 days earlier, the central themes of Yom Kippur are teshuva (turning from wrong) and repentance. Both holy days along with the time in between is a magical time of restoring order and balance to our lives. It is no wonder that Yom Kippur falls during the month ruled by Libra. Traditionally speaking, this is the day when G-d weighs our souls in the balance and determines our fate for the year. It is a solemn time, yes, but it is also a joyous time. If we properly prepare ourselves and observe the day,we will merit favor for another year. 

If done correctly, Yom Kippur is the conclusion of 40 days of soulful reflection. The month of Elul (the month preceding Tishrei when the High Holy Days occur) is a month of introspection and reflection. This is intensified on Rosh HaShanah when we come together as a community and publicly for prayer and introspection. Ten days later on Yom Kippur we come together once more for a final day of admitting our wrongdoings and seeking forgiveness. On this day, after 40 days of reflection, we again find balance in our lives. Our wrongs from the previous year break us, but on Yom Kippur we are able to be merged together again in wholeness. 

 

The Symbolism of Rosh Hashanah

Tonight marks the beginning of Rosh HaShanah. Known as the Jewish new year, the words literally translate to “head of the year.” Tonight we will flip our Hebrew calendars from 5779 to 5780. As we celebrate this holiday we undertake a number of symbolic rituals, prayers, and foods. 

Head of the Year

New moon. New month. New year. Rosh HaShanah is all this and more. The significance of the name “head of the year” is not without meaning. Like the head of our body, the head of the year directs everything else. Our year is determined by Rosh HaShanah. If we have a healthy and symbolic head of the year, the remainder of the year will fall into place. If, on the other hand, we don’t then we risk the remainder of the year not being up to where we want it to be. 

Crowning G-d King

During the Rosh HaShanah liturgy we hear about and pray for the coming messianic age. It doesn’t matter whether you view this as a time of a literal messiah or an age of perfection. We all yearn for the time when creation and humanity will be in harmony. We view Rosh HaShanah as a time to crown G-d as king. It is a time when our hope in the goodness of humanity is restored. 

Creation of Adam & Eve

Rosh HaShanah has been said to be the birthday of the world- the day of creation. In reality, the earth was created six days ago, and humans were created on this day. Why the distinction? The creation of earth is wonderful and nice, but it doesn’t mean much if there are no people here to enjoy it. The Divine- in all glory- created man and woman in it’s image. With the creation of humanity we find meaning in the creation of the earth. 

Apples & Honey

One of the traditions related to Rosh HaShanah is to eat apples dipped in honey. The reason behind this is to set the intention for a good sweet new year. This is also the reason our challah is raisin studded for the holiday. Lots of sweet fruits are eaten to bring in a sweet new year. 

Tashlich

On the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah tashlich is observed. This ritual is performed by going to a body of water and throwing our “sins” away as we toss bread crumbs into the water. This is a symbolic ritual only. We are not literally throwing our sins away, and atonement does not come from the ritual. The symbolic act takes place through reading passages from Psalms and the prophet Micah (remembering that G-d will cast our sins into the depths of the sea) and tossing the bread as a symbol of our sins. This is one of my favorite Rosh HaShanah rituals. You can read more about it here

Shofar

The central commandment of Rosh HaShanah is to hear the Shofar blowing. If you can’t make it to services or don’t want to participate in any other rituals, this is the one to do. Hearing the blast of the ram’s horn is rather haunting. It is a shout of jubilation, a cry out to G-d, and a war cry. Despite all it’s usages, the sound is haunting. It stirs something deep within the soul. You feel it in your kishkes. The reasoning behind the command for a shofar is unclear (you can read about it here), but to be sure, this is the one thing you don’t want to miss. Want to hear it yourself? Take a listen below. 

 

Asherah Rising

Queen of Heaven beside her King

Sacred Tree beside the Temple

Female with Male

Two are One in Divine Harmony.

 

Raisin cakes baked for her

Libations of wine poured out

Women worshipped her

Knowing they were created in her image.

 

But man feared woman’s power

Afraid she would deny him

Could not let her shine

Refused to share the spotlight.

 

He tore down the Sacred Trees

Named her as an idol

Banished her name

Denied her very existence.

 

In all the years since

Woman has been subjugated

A plaything for man to control

Not even her own person.

 

Now Asherah is rising

Air, Fire, Water, Earth

Cyclones, fires, floods, quakes

The Elements are raging.

 

Divinity is broken

We are able to correct it

Restore the Queen to her King

For in this day, Asherah is rising!
~Chaya Levana

The Mezuzah as Amulet

Have you ever noticed that Jewish homes have a little box attached to the doorpost? It’s a slanted box on the outside of the home (and sometimes on doorposts of interior rooms).  This little box is called a mezuzah, and it’s one of the amulets that Jews have used throughout history to bring protection to themselves. (I have also written about another Jewish amulet- demon bowls.)

A mezuzah is a small box affixed to the doorpost of the home. It contains a scroll with text from the Torah, specifically Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21:

Hear, O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is One.

You shall love the L‑rd your G‑d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.

And it will be, if you will diligently obey My commandments which I enjoin upon you this day, to love the L‑rd Your G‑d and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, I will give rain for your land at the proper time, the early rain and the late rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be sated. Take care lest your heart be lured away, and you turn astray and worship alien gods and bow down to them. For then the L‑rd’s wrath will flare up against you, and He will close the heavens so that there will be no rain and the earth will not yield its produce, and you will swiftly perish from the good land which the L‑rd gives you. Therefore, place these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul, and bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be a reminder between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, to speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates-so that your days and the days of your children may be prolonged on the land which the L‑rd swore to your fathers to give to them for as long as the heavens are above the earth.

 

The outside of the mezuzah is usually affixed with the Hebrew letter shin which stands for Shaddai- one of the names of G-d. The name Shaddai is often on the reverse of the scroll. Sometimes, other names and charms were written on the scroll as well- names of angels, kabbalistic imagery, etc

Historically speaking, the mezuzah was used as an amulet and talisman, both warding off evil and attracting blessings to those within the home. As you can see from the text, having the scroll affixed to the doorpost was seen as a method for ensuring prosperity, fertility, and long life. Traditionally, the belief was that the scroll had to be deemed kosher for the the mezuzah to be effective. At various times, when negative things would happen, it would be blamed on the person not having a mezuzah on their doorpost, or that the mezuzah was ineffective due to its non-kosher status. Many times, a person was urged to have their mezuzah checked to ensure it remained kosher after negative things happened.  

Many people claim that the mezuzah is not an amulet or talisman, but is simply an object used to fulfill a divine commandment. But, it can’t be argued that at times throughout history the object has been seen as having magical or mystical properties. The same goes for today- some do still view the mezuzah as an amulet. Whether or not a Jew believes the object has magical properties, the object is often placed, just as prescribed, kosher and on the doorpost. If the reason is to follow a divine commandment, I question why it is important to obey that command. Surely, a person gets something out of following an instruction- even if it is just feeling good about oneself. No matter how you look at it, the mezuzah does serve as an amulet in some way.

 

Demon Bowls

 

Magic bowls. Demon bowls. Incantation bowls. These bowls have gone by many names throughout the ages, but despite the various names, they all boil down to this: Judaism has a long history of magical practice (no matter how much some people want to deny it).

 

Magic bowls are pretty simple. They are a pottery bowl with an incantation written on them. The spell would generally start at the rim of the bowl and be written in a spiral around the outside of the bowl although sometimes the script was on the inside . Traditionally they were written in Hebrew or Aramaic and crafted by rabbis or magicians for their community members. But, they weren’t only crafted by or for Jews. Zoroastrians/Persians and Christians (as well as others) were customers for magic bowls

 

These bowls had many purposes. They could be used for healing or repelling demons. Lilith was a favorite for this. Many Jewish women would have a magic bowl for guarding against Lilith stealing her babies. Incantation bowls were also frequently used to call upon a deity for protection or guidance. In addition to the names of deities, the names of rabbis were also used within the incantations written on magic bowls. Many such bowls also included scripture as well as the names of angelic beings.

 

Once a person had commissioned and received a demon bowl, it was often buried, upside down, inside their home. The reason for burying the amulet upside down was to trap or bind the demon inside. Bowls were sometimes also buried right side up in order to attract something to the owner.

 

Magic bowls are just one example of magic in ancient Judaism. It’s easy to believe today that such things never existed, but they did. Magic has long been part of the history of Judaism.

Note: Image By Marie-Lan Nguyen (2011), CC BY 2.5

Passover and the Omer

Passover, one of the major festivals of Judaism, is a Spring holiday that commemorates the Hebrew slaves’ exodus from Egypt. The festival is a seven or eight day holiday that begins with a ritualized meal known as the Seder (order) and is marked by not eating any foods containing leavening agents.

The Seder is the star of the Passover celebration. This ritual includes the retelling of the exodus story along with ritual foods and items used to help in the retelling. A meal is shared, wine is drank, and everyone comes together to remember. But, while the remembering is of the exodus from Egyptian slavery, we also take the time to remember other forms of slavery and oppression that our people, and others, have experienced throughout history, or are experiencing today. Modern Seders often include newer ritual items, including Miriam’s cup to honor the contributions of women, oranges (for LGBTQ issues), potatoes (immigration), and many others You can read about several modern additions to the Seder plate here

Once the Seder is over, Passover has just begun. We continue to substitute matzah for bread to remember that our ancestors had to flee Egypt in such a hurry that they didn’t have time to wait for their bread to rise. Metaphysically speaking, leavening represents aras in our life that we need to work on. Some people refer to this as our sinful nature, but I think it is best to see it as our Shadow side- not something that must be eradicated, but darker aspects of our personality that need to be incorporated. We don’t abstain from bread and leavened food indefinitely (complete eradication), but for a time in order to better see what our life can and should be. We then incorporate these foods (our shadow) back into our full selves for a better, and more complete picture of who we truly are.

So, the Seder is the time of remembering and celebrating our liberation from slavery. But, after being enslaved we are living with a slave mentality. That way of thinking colors every aspect of ourselves and doesn’t go away overnight simply by being liberated. Like the Hebrews in the exodus story, we need a period of retraining our brains and embracing a new way of thinking. Enter the Counting of the Omer. Traditionally this was a time to count the forty nine days between the barley and wheat offerings in the Tabernacle/Temple. The omer measure of barley was offered on the second day of Passover and the omer measure of wheat was offered fifty days later on Shavuot (thus the counting of 49 days or seven weeks).

This seven week period offered a time for the Hebrews to prepare themselves for becoming a nation. G-d gave the law to the Hebrews at Mt. Sinai on Shavuot. This is when they became a unified nation. The seven week period in between their liberation (Passover) and becoming nation (Shavuot) was the time that they changed spiritually. They had to see themselves not as slaves, but as a free people in order to become a nation. If they had remained in a slave mentality they would have remained an enslaved people- albeit no longer physically enslaved

Like the Hebrews, we need a time of inner transformation after our liberation. The seven weeks of the Omer offers us a time to examine seven different aspects of our lives. According to Kabbalah there are ten emanations in which the Divine reveals itself. The counting of the Omer takes seven of these emanations and assigns one to each of the seven weeks of the count. During that week we thoroughly examine every meaning of that aspect of Divinity and how to incorporate it into our lives.

By celebrating Passover and Counting the Omer we are able to commemorate our liberation from a literal slavery as well as a spiritual slavery. We then are able to take the time needed for inner transformation and shadow work to prepare in order to be truly free. Passover and the Omer are my favorite time of the year because I am able to remember that I am free from the enslavement of the expectations of others. I am free and able to live my life according to my own spiritual understanding. I am free to to embrace my Jewitchy self. And, I have a time each year in order to incorporate the memories from my past into my current and future self. As a result, I am a more complete and awake spiritual being. May the day come when I am truly a being of light.

 

Spring Fertility Celebrations

Last week I wrote about how witches and Jews (and other groups) are similar in that they are persecuted. In that blog I explained the Jewish holiday of Purim. You can read that post here. That was not the blog I intended to write last week, but it is what my heart needed to write. Well, honestly, the part about Purim was what I planned to write about, but the second half wasn’t. Today, I am sharing what I intended to write last week. I want to discuss the similarities between Purim and Ostara as well as a myriad of other holidays from various traditions. Below I have listed several holidays along with what they originally meant and how they are celebrated today. They are listed in order of when they occur in 2019. All but the last two occurred over this past week.

St. Patrick’s Day
Always celebrated on March 17, this day is the Feast Day of the Catholic Saint Patrick. While he was not Irish, St. Patrick was sent as a missionary to Ireland where he became famous for driving all of the snakes out of the country.. While many people see this as a myth, others see it as reality. In actuality, Ireland never had snakes, so in a literal sense, St. Patrick did not drive them from the land as they were never there. Others, however, say that the snakes St. Patrick drove out were not literal snakes, but were pagans and witches and that he was removing the Old Ways from Ireland in order to bring Catholicism in. Today the day is celebrated not as a religious holiday (except among Catholics), but as a form of Irish nationalism. The day is celebrated with wearing green, drinking, festivity, and general merriment. Many pagans and witches mark the day with green in order to celebrate nature and as a way to show St. Patrick that he didn’t succeed in removing them from Ireland.

Ostara
Ostara is the pagan celebration of the Spring Equinox, and as a result, always falls around March 21. It is a celebration of the fertility goddess Ostara. The day is celebrated with planting, nature walks, time outside, and various other rituals to welcome Spring. Symbols of the day include fertility imagery such as the rabbit and the egg. A festive meal is generally celebrated with eggs and early spring greens. 

Nooroz
Nooroz is the Persian New Year celebrated on the Spring Equinox. This holiday is preceded by a major Spring cleaning to ready the home for the celebration. Nooroz is celebrated with bonfires and a festive meal shared with friends and family. The meal includes various fertility symbols including eggs and spring greens. Many celebrants buy new clothes specifically for Nooroz so that they will look their best for the celebration. 

Purim
Purim is a Jewish holiday that occurs in late winter or early Spring. It always falls on the same day on the Jewish calendar (Adar 14), however, because the Jewish calendar is lunar, the date varies on our solar Gregorian calendar. Purim commemorates the story of Queen Esther and the victory over Haman and the salvation of the Jewish people. When Esther learns that the Persian King- her husband- had consented to the murder of the Jews (her people) she decides to confront him. She fasts (dies to her flesh and descends within her spirit) for three days and then goes before him without being called for, risking her life to plead her case. The holiday is celebrated with raucous parties, drunkenness, costumes to hide ourselves, charity, and eating triangle shaped cookies known as hamantaschen (Haman’s ears) that have sometimes been seen as a representation of the vagina.

Holi
Holi is the Hindu festival celebrating the beginning of Spring. Because the Hindu calendar is lunar (like the Jewish calendar) the day does not always fall on the equinox which is a solar astrological marker. Because the Hindu and Jewish calendars are both lunar, Holi and Purim fall around the same time, often on the same day or within one day of each other. Holi is known as the festival of colors and is celebrated with vivid color pigments being thrown around. There are also bonfires and festive meals to mark the occasion. Holi is sometimes also referred to as the festival of love and is a time when people gather together and forget grievances they have with one another.

Passover
Like all Jewish holidays, Passover falls on the same lunar/Jewish date (Nissan 15), but moves dates on our Gregorian/solar calendar. Passover is a seven day festival commemorating the Hebrew slaves Exodus from Egypt. The holiday begins with a festive meal- known as a seder- which includes the retelling of the Exodus story. For seven days the festival is celebrated by not eating leavened bread. This is done in commemoration of the fleeing Hebrews who had to flee at a moment’s notice and did not have time for their bread to rise. At the seder, and for the following seven days, the only baked goods eaten are unleavened bread. The festive seder meal marking the beginning of Passover includes fertility symbology- eggs and early spring greens.

Easter
Easter is the Christian celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ. It is a moveable holiday- occurring on various dates each year, but the specific date is based on when the first full moon occurs after the Spring equinox. This holiday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus, his burial, three day descent into hell, and his resurrection and defeat over death. All of these taken together provide salvation for followers of Christ. In many instances, people buy and wear new clothes in order to look their best for Easter services. In addition to religious services that occur at sunrise in cemeteries, the day is often marked with non-Christian aspects taken from Ostara (rabbits, eggs) when the Catholic church forced conversions and took the pagan day and whitewashed it with their own celebration.

Here I have described seven spring holidays that revolve around or related to the Spring Equinox. These are merely seven- there are many more as most every culture has a celebration around this same time. I hope you are able to see that these celebrations are quite similar to one another, several of them having different figures representing the same theme (salvation) or even the same imagery (fertility symbols).

I find it interesting, but not surprising, that most of these festivals involve raucous celebration and merry-making, and that they each celebrate the fertility of Gaia- whether overtly or through their general meaning. It is no accident, really. We are coming out of the dark cold days of winter that mark a type of spiritual inner death. The Spring equinox is a time when not only the earth, but we, are reborn and face the warmer days of Spring and Summer. No matter what your culture or faith, I hope you celebrate a festival at this time of year, and that your celebrations be enlivening.

Purim, Witches, and Jews- Oh My!

This week Jews will be celebrating the minor holiday of Purim. I’ve spent some time this weekend preparing for the holiday, and I’ve done quite a bit of thinking. I’ve been thinking a lot about the similarities between Jews and witches. 

For those of you who don’t know, Purim is the holiday that celebrates and commemorates the events described in the biblical book of Esther. No matter what your religious views, I urge you to read this story if you haven’t done so. It’s relatively short- ten chapters- and is full of tons of intrigue: beauty pageants, murder plots, jealousy, revenge. You know, all the good stuff. 

But, if you don’t want to read it, allow me to give you a brief overview. The setting is ancient Persia, ruled by Xerxes and his queen: Vashti. Xerxes has a party that lasts a week and when everyone is drunk he demands that Vashti come out wearing her crown. Well, the thing is, he wanted to have her come and and wear only her crown. She refused. In an attempt to thwart other Persian wives from refusing their husbands, Xerxes has Vashti banished (perhaps even murdered). He then declares that there will be a type of beauty pageant to replace her. All the eligible virgins in the kingdom are either sent or kidnapped and brought to the palace where they endure 6 months of preparation. Then each young women has one night with the King and he chooses Esther to be his bride. Everyone else becomes part of his harem. Now, Esther is Jewish, but at the urging of her uncle Mordechai she has kept this secret. At the same time, Xerxes’ second in command, an evil man named Haman really hates the Jews. One day he is coming out of the palace and Mordechai, who is a scribe, refuses to bow down to him. This infuriates Haman who talks Xerxes into giving him his signet ring. This means that Haman has the right to make laws and seal them with the king’s ring at which point they can’t be undone. So, he gathers all the scribes and tells them that in one year everyone in the kingdom will rise up and murder the Jews. While all the other scribes are busy sending the message here and yon, Mordechai secretly goes to Queen Esther and tells her that now is the time to reveal that she is a Jew. Well, even the Queen can’t approach the King unless he sends for her, and he hasn’t. But, Esther decides that she will do it anyway. She goes before the King hoping he won’t kill her. He doesn’t and asks her what she wants. She invites him to a banquet- three actually- before revealing that she is a Jew and that Haman wants to kill them all. Xerxes is mad. In between all this Haman has built a gallows to hang Mordechai because he really hates him. Well, Xerxes is so mad that he has Haman killed on the gallows he built. Then, Xerxes promotes Mordechai to second in command and gives him the ring. Since Haman’s law can’t be undone, Mordechai makes a law that on the appointed day when everyone attacks the Jews, the Jews are allowed to fight back. And that’s what happens. The Jews win. There’s a big party. We recreate it every year. We eat little triangle shaped cookies called Hamantaschen which means Haman’s ears. The End. 

So, how are Jews and witches alike? Persecution. Both groups have been persecuted. Witches are persecuted for being in league with the Devil, and Jews have been accused of the same. Hate is such a strong emotion that goes way beyond being a simple emotion. Witches and Jews both have been murdered for existing. There are other groups who are persecuted as well, but, for the most part, that persecution isn’t predicated on religion or spirituality. Christians and Muslims both have been as well. Sadly, most of these four groups persecute each other. 

What I find fascinating is the history of Judaism that includes witchcraft and magic at it’s roots. Modern Judaism would balk at the thought that our religion has a basis in witchcraft, but I argue that we do. I won’t go into it here, but suffice it to say, many Jewish practices and beliefs are founded in magic. Perhaps witches and Jews should work together, reach across the divide and join hands in facing hate. Some of us already do. You can’t be Jewitch and hate part of yourself. 

Groundhogs, Saints, and Trees

The past few weeks have seen a turn of the wheel of the year. Many of us are still experiencing the depths of winter, but the earth is beginning to stir beneath the snow and frozen ground. 

This weekend saw the celebrations of Imbolc, St. Bridgid’s Day, and Groundhog Day. Each of these are different (yet related!) celebrations of the coming of spring. A few weeks ago in January, the Jewish celebration of Tu B’Shevat celebrated the same  thing. 

Tu B’Shveat, or the New Year of the Trees, falls on a different day of the Gregorian calendar each year. The name literally translates to the fifteenth of Shevat, which is the Hebrew day it falls on each year. This year (2019), the holiday was on January 20/21 and in 2020, it will be on February 9/10. 
In biblical times, Tu B’Shevat was a date on the calendar which marked the time when farmers were to take their fruit offerings to the temple in the fourth year after planting. In the 16th century, Kabbalists created a seder (festive meal followed in a certain order) to instruct followers about the meaning of the Tree of Life and the relationship between humans and the Ein Sof. During the rise of Zionism and the birth of the state of Israel, Tu B’Shevat became a time to plant trees in order to build the nation. Today, it is celebrated with seders and tree planting. Those of us who live in areas experiencing harsh winters can still celebrate by planting a tree inside and transplanting it later. 

No matter what spiritual tradition you follow, this time of year marks a turning. It is still winter, but late January and early February marks the midway point between Winter and Spring. Sap starts to rise in trees, the earliest flowers start to bloom. There is a general hope and promise of re-birth in the air. May the remaining days of winter pass quickly!