What is Yom Kippur?

Yom Kippur is the most important date in the Jewish calendar, and even Jews who don’t celebrate other Jewish holidays will mark this one. It is the holiest day in the year in Judaism, and falls on the 10th day of the month of Tishri.

Yom Kippur translates as Day of Atonement and it is a day for represented for repenting sins. Atonement on this day is between Man and God only. Sins against other people have to be dealt with separately, and so the day before Yom Kippur is often spend asking for and giving forgiveness, and being charitable.

Jews have to fast on this day, beginning at sunset on the day before, and ending at sunset on the day itself. A festive meal is held before sunset on the previous day so that everybody eats well before the fast begins. Children under the age of 9 are not allowed to fast, and nor are women who have just given birth. In addition to this, it is not permitted to work; to wash or to wear perfumes, lotions or deodorant; or to wear leather.

The day is spent in prayer at the synagogue, and there is a communal confession of sin. The Ark, where the Torah is kept, remains open throughout the service, so people have to stand for the whole service. White is worn to symbolise purity.

Related posts: Sukkot     Hannukah

Islamic New Year

Islamic New Year is on the first day of the month of Muharram, which is the first month of the Islamic calendar. Muharram is one of four holy months in Islam. During this month all fighting is prohibited, but the celebrations are more cultural than religious. It commemorates Muhammad (pbuh) leaving Mecca and crossing the desert to Medina where he was more free to worship.

Like New Year in other cultures, it is a day for reflecting on the past and resolving to be better in the coming year.

Related posts: Layat al-Qadr   Ramadan

Transferable Skills in Dance

It’s almost time for another series of a well-known dance competition on the BBC, and as the celebrities have now been announced there will undoubtedly be the usual cries of, “It’s not fair – they’ve had dance training!” and, “It doesn’t matter – they’re trained in ballet / street / whatever and this is ballroom.”
So which camp is right? Is previous dance training an advantage or not? In my opinion the answer to the first question is, ” both,” and to the second, it’s a resounding, “Yes … And no!”
If we take the definition of dance as “movement to music” then anybody who has some dance experience will have an advantage. For starters, they are used to timing their movements to music, meaning they are less likely to go off time then somebody who has never danced before. It’s usually the chefs and newsreaders who get pulled up on their timing. Beginner dancers also tend to be a bit “steppy” speech – ie they take one step for each beat of the music – which can make their dancing look unfinished or jerky. Those who already have dance experience, regardless of the genre, understand that the music needs to be filled, and that movements need to flow seamlessly from one to the next.
In this respect, people who have had any sort of dance training have an advantage over a true non-dancer.
It’s also true though that different dance genres have different styles, so some people who have lots of dance experience may have to unlearn years of a particular technique. I remember watching a documentary about Deborah Bull of The Royal Ballet try her hand at different dance styles, and after years of having to keep her hips rigid for ballet, she really struggled to get them to move more freely for some of the other dance styles. For someone who has trained to a really high level in ballet, a dance like samba would almost certainly be a challenge.
So back to the burning question… Is previous dance experience in a different genre an advantage or not? I think a lot depends on the individual, and on the level of dance they have achieved. However if pushed I would come down on the side of any sort of dance training being an advantage.

R is for Romance languages

The most common Romance languages are Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian and Catalan. Other lesser-known ones include Occitan, Galician, Asturian, Sicilian, Corsican and Sardinian. In all there are about 35 living Romance languages. Sadly their name comes from the word Roman and not the word romantic.

The Romance languages are the ones that evolve from vulgar Latin. Vulgar here means common, ie the version of Latin actually spoken by the common people, compared to the classical Latin of the church and of the elite. Originally vulgar Latin and classical Latin were mutually intelligible, but over time vulgar Latin evolved into the various Romance languages and the people were no longer able to understand classical Latin.

Most Romance languages have lost some of the more difficult aspects of Latin, such as declensions and cases. Because of this they have a much stricter subject-verb-object word order, and they make more use of prepositions.

There are about 800 million speakers of Romance languages in the world and most of them are in Europe, Africa and the Americas. In Europe the places where Romance languages are spoken roughly equates to the boundaries of the Western Roman empire.

And to return to the statement in the first paragraph about the Romance coming from Roman and not romantic, there is a link between the words. Back in those days, “serious” literature was written in classical Latin. Popular tales, such as love stories, were written in the common (ie  Romance) language, and so they came to be called romances.

Related posts: Q is for Quechua   S is for…

International Left-handers’ Day

Monday 13th August is International Left-handers’ Day.

Only 10% of people are left-handed. This means that in general the world is geared up for right-handed people, and it means that sometimes left-handed people can feel inadequate through no fault of their own. For years my mum thought she couldn’t slice bread properly. It was always obvious when she’d been the last one to cut a slice off because the remaining loaf would look like it’d been attacked by a wild animal. Then one day we found a shop that sold left-handed knives… It turned out she could slice bread properly after all when she had the right tools for the job. After that we bought her a left-handed cake fork and she carried it everywhere with her because the one she was given in tea rooms always had the cutting bit on the wrong side.

Life isn’t just about bread and cake though. Our writing system is also more favourable to right-handers, and left-handed people often feel clumsy and awkward when they drag their hands through what they’ve just written, smudging it. To avoid this they often adopt a hook position when writing ie they place their hand above the line they are writing on and curve it round. Not only does this make it more difficult to control the pen resulting in writing just as messy as if they’ve smudged it, but it’s also uncomfortable and difficult to maintain for a long period. What’s the solution? First of all make sure they have plenty of space. Never put a left-handed person on the right hand side of the table or they’ll keep bumping into their neighbour. Then get them to adopt a ‘twist the paper not yourself” position. Get them to sit square onto the table. Then twist the book or paper clockwise to about a 45° angle. This way they can keep their wrists straight, as a right-handed person, would and they can see what they have written.

Other equipment that can be difficult for a lefty are scissors and rulers. Most people know that you can get left-handed scissors, but not many know that you can also get left-handed rulers where the numbers start at the other end for all those people who will automatically try to measure lines from the left.

There’s a brilliant online shop I found called www.anythinglefthanded.co.uk . Why not celebrate International Left-handers Day by buying a left-handed gift for the leftie in your life?