Here it is, actually past due for me to get all Oprah on you and give you my 10 favorite things from 2014. This year was really hard to pick just 10 things, and immediately after I did the list more things came my way. So next year you may see some things that were featured on the site late this year. Enough about that, let’s get to the favoriting! (In no particular order of favorite-ness.)
1. “Among the Mermaids: Facts, Myths, and Enchantments from the Sirens of the Sea” by Varla Ventura. As someone who has always loved myths and stories about sirens and mermaids, “Among the Mermaids” was a definite stand out for the year. Not only did Ventura fill the book with lore and legends of merrows, mermaids, and sirens, but the resources section in the back lists books, movies, and shopping. Shopping! Want your mermaid tail?
2. “The Encyclopedia of Crystals” by Judy Hall. I love gemstones, rocks, and minerals. The end. Okay, not the end. This book makes learning more about crystals super easy. The stones are divided up by color, but also listed in alphabetical order in the crystal index in the front of the book, and of course there is a thorough index at the back of the book. Each entry has a fantastic image or two to help with identification and then they list: crystal system, chemistry, hardness, source, chakra, number, zodiac sign, planet, and what it’s beneficial for. After that there is a paragraph with historical and folkloric detail.
3. “The Daemon Tarot” by Ariana Osborne. Based on Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy’s “Dictionnaire Infernal”, this 69 card deck isn’t just a divinatory tool, but a piece of occult reference. Obviously it cannot be used exactly as a tarot deck, but thanks to a researched and well thought out companion book, you’ll be doing a single card draw or a six card spread in no time.
4. “The Witch’s Broom: The Craft, Lore & Magick of Broomsticks” by Deborah Blake. As one would suspect, there are oodles of nifty, witchy, bits of broom magic to be found in “The Witch’s Broom”. However, it’s the tons of stuff that you can appreciate whether you’re a witch or not that makes this book a favorite. You can learn how to make your own broom, how to decorate store bought brooms, there are get great gift ideas, and there is fun broom folklore and history.
5. “Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines” by Patricia Monaghan. Monaghan published the first encyclopedia of divine females in 1979, and that book has stayed in print in one form or another right up to today. The latest is newly expanded and features more than 1,000 heroines and goddesses from folklore, literature, and religion from around the world. It. Kicks. Ass.
6. “365 Tarot Spreads” by Sasha Graham. A different tarot spread for each day of the year. They’re unique and thought out. If you want a tarot workout in the New Year, get this book now!
7. “The Yoga of Cleaning” by Jennifer Carter Avgerinos. Weird, right? Nope. Avgerinos background as both a certified yoga instructor and having worked in the consumer packaged cleaning tools industry for the past several years indeed gives her a unique perspective on these two seemingly divergent topics. She brings them together in a way that, I swear, makes you want to clean.
8. “Sacred Objects, Sacred Space: Everyday Tools for the Modern-Day Witch” by Dayna Winters, Patricia Gardner, and Angela Kaufman. These are the ladies that wrote “Wicca: What’s the Real Deal?”, and just like with their first book they did a fantastic job a packing an incredible amount of information into an easily digestible amount of book. This trio discuss just about any object you can imagine being used in magic, along with the appropriate care and ways to craft your own or personalize it. They also cover every space in which magic can be worked. This is a must own.
9. “The Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences: How Understanding NDEs Can Help Us Live More Fully” by Dr. Penny Satori. There have dozens of books written about near-death experiences, however in my opinion this is the one we’ve been waiting for. Dr. Satori’s book is based off of the UK’s first long term prospective study of near-death experiences and she was awarded a PhD for her research in 2005. That’s right, it’s science. Although the research is grounded in science, Satori also includes many of her experiences from her 17 years as an intensive care nurse. This makes “The Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences” a compelling read.
10. Helderberg Mead. 2014 gets to be the year that I fell in love with Helderberg Mead. As Peter Voelker said when I interviewed him about Helderberg Meadworks, “Most mead that you can buy in the wine stores around here either tastes like a low alcohol honey syrup or a nice soft white wine. While there’s nothing wrong with that (I love a nice Vidal Blanc), HMW takes a different approach. We use techniques that would have been used many moons ago and produce a mead that has big, bold and feral qualities to it. We’ve adapted old world methods to modern day sanitation and palettes without catering to any particular group of consumers. This is mead as we think it should be. With that said, there are 2 major differences between HMWs mead and others. The first is our alcohol content, which has a range on the label of 15% to 16%. Our current “Burgundy Wax” batch is at the high side of that range. Most others are from 8% to 11%. The second difference is our use of oak aging. Back in the days before metals were commonly available, oak would have been the preferred storage vessel for nearly all drinks. We have taken this concept and applied it to our mead. The result is a powerful mead (shouldn’t all traditional mead be POWERFUL?) with a whiskey-like nose and great honey flavor without being overly sweet.”
Algae Farm Over Highway Eats Pollution
A French and Dutch design firm has created a prototype algae farm over a highway in Geneva, Switzerland. It eats the CO2 from car and truck exhaust, and could be used to produce biodiesel, green electricity, medication, cosmetics, or even food.
Interact With 3D Models of Space Vehicles Like Iron Man Would
Anyone else remember that scene in Iron Man where Tony Stark (billionaire, philanthropist, genius) is moving the holo projections around like they’re real-world objects, instead of cool bits of light in the air? NASA rocket scientists have developed an app (definitely iOS, possibly others) that uses the smartphone’s camera, a real-world reference marker, and superimposes a full 3D model of a variety of NASA vehicles and satellites into virtual space. Seriously, this is scifi-type future stuff, here. You can turn the “reference marker” (or printed piece of paper with the special pattern) and the 3D model of, say, the Mars Curiosity rover will move with it. You can zoom in on specific details simply by moving the phone closer to the virtual 3D model. The future is here, people.
Search your favorite app store for: “Spacecraft 3D”
Here’s a video, showing off the action:
Island Discovered in the Arctic
No, this isn’t a headline from 1894. No, it is not a story featuring a strange doctor, and his fetish for animal/human hybrids. Nor will there be dinosaurs. Probably. Russian military helicopter pilots, on a return from a supply mission saw an island in the Arctic ocean north of Tiksi (it’s in Siberia). It wasn’t on any maps. So why now? That area is normally covered with ice for much, if not all of the year, until recently. The low-lying island simply wasn’t visible before. Kinda cool that we’re still discovering islands.
Fire-breathing Robot Dragon
And … you already clicked the link, didn’t you? It’s a full-sized (e.g. Huge, for those Pathfinder/D&D folks out there) semi-autonomous walking dragon robot. That breathes fire.
Spiral Undersea City
Apparently some Japanese investors are planning on opening an underwater spiral sea-city by 2030.
Science and Music Combined
Into an awesome show of fire, water, and lightning. All real, no special effects.
Ancient Computer in LEGO
Remember the Antikythera mechanism? That weird series of gears found in a shipwreck, and dated to 1500 BCE? Scientists later figured out, using x-ray tomography, that the mechanism was designed to predict eclipses. And it does. With startling accuracy. Now see how that works, through the wonder of LEGO.
About John: John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).
Geek Credentials: RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee. Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993 Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983 His Blog:http://www.glenandtyler.com/
I suspect it comes as no surprise that my political inclinations are progressive, and thusly I found myself curious when given the opportunity to watch an advance screener of “The Joe Show”, a documentary about Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Would it celebrate him? With publicized appearances from known Arpaio supporters Ted Nugent and Steven Seagal it would seem like it. Yet even if it celebrated someone whose politics I felt certain no documentary could give me a warm fuzzy about, I couldn’t resist. I watched the Sarah Palin documentary “Undefeated”. I could handle whatever “The Joe Show” had in store.
Joe Arpaio is the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. You may know him as “America’s Toughest Sheriff”. Sheriff Arpaio is nationally known, and in many cases internationally known, for having prisoners wear pink underwear, erecting Tent City (an outdoor tent prison), feeding prisoners food salvage, being overly enthusiastic about cracking down on illegal immigration, investigating the origins of President Obama’s birth, and more. Fortunately for the press, he loves media attention.
However “The Joe Show” was eight years in the making, and that means eight years of access to the Sheriff and Lisa Allen (the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Media Person), as well assorted constituents, activists, and supporters. It’s not surprising to think Arpaio would allow a documentary film to be made about him, and as the film starts it’s a very neutral experience. Basic background, friends and supporters.
Then things begin to turn. As I said, I already know my politics don’t mesh with Arpaio’s. I’m not down with Tent City, meals of food salvage, or the birthers. Yet with not living in Maricopa County I never went out of my way to follow what had been going on over there. I don’t want to do a big info dump on you here, because you should really just watch the documentary, but we’re talking about abuse of power, devastating failures to investigate sex crimes, and racial profiling. While it’s going on he just keeps getting re-elected. Apparently “The Joe Show” is just too entertaining for the voters of Maricopa County to let go.
Love him or hate him you’re not going to want to pass up on watching “The Joe Show”. It is a well-paced, entertaining, and eye-opening documentary.
In November, we explored how to derive meaning from dream fragments. This month we’re going to examine the moon phases and how they influence your dreams. We’re also going to examine how you can integrate moon phases when practicing dream incubation. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks believed dreams were of divine origin and that dreams carried messages from the gods to the dreamer. Supplicants sought out answers to mundane and spiritual questions through the practice of dream incubation. For instance, in ancient Egypt, a supplicant would enter into a temple featuring bedchambers; it was here the individual attempted to receive communications from the divine through dreams. The dreamer would focus on a specific question or desire in hopes he or she would receive guidance or prophetic messages from the gods.
The practice of dream incubation was (and remains) ritualistic, sometimes involving the act of fasting, wearing appropriate attire, and prayer to specific deities before sleeping. If the dreamer was uncertain about dream meaning upon waking, the supplicant would then seek out someone knowledgeable about dreams, like a priest or priestess, for assistance in decoding the meaning behind the messages received. With the understanding the moon influences your sleep quality and the type of dreams you have, you can consider tracking the moon cycle to learn more about your dreams and their meaning. You can also use the current phase of the moon in an effort to induce specific types of dreams. For more information on ancient dream incubation practices, see “The Fabric of Dreams: Dream Lore and Dream Interpretation, Ancient and Modern” by Katherine Taylor Kraig.
The belief the moon has an influence on human behavior is a long held and widespread belief, and you don’t have to be a magickal practitioner or astrologer to believe in the influential power of moon energies. In 1995, the University of New Orleans gave 325 individuals a questionnaire to discover how many people believed in the power of lunar influence on human behavior. Of the 325 people questioned, 43% believed behavior is influenced by the moon; the belief was held by people in the mental health occupation (more strongly than any other occupational group), including LPNs, master’s clinical psychologists, and social workers.**
The influence of the moon on behavior extends into individual sleep patterns and dreaming. Scientists are now discovering the role the moon has on sleep and dreams. In an article appearing on LiveScience it’s revealed the full moon can negatively affect a person’s sleep quality. The findings of the study were released in the July 2013 issue of Current Biology. Sleep researchers from the Switzerland-based Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel have found lunar cycles, even when unseen or when one is unaware of the moon’s current phase, influence one’s sleep patterns. The study reveals a person’s brain activity during deep sleep decreases by as much as 30% when the moon is full. A dreamer takes a longer period of time to fall asleep; the individual can lose up to 20 minutes of sleep on a night when the full moon appears. The individuals participating in the study also had lower levels of melatonin when the moon was at its peak.* In addition, a DailyMail article online reveals the findings of a British study conducted by Psychologist Richard Wiseman suggesting dreams are more bizarre right around the week of the full moon.***
The Phase of The Moon And Their Meaning
There are four phases of the moon: waxing, full, waning, and dark. Even when the moon is not visible, you can still work with the moon’s energies. You can document the moon phase in your dream journal and consider what your dream messages mean when compared to the current moon phase. Here are some of the basic meanings of each moon phase, and how they influence dream interpretations/work. You will also find some of the dream archetypes associated with the various moon phases. For more details about dream archetypes, see “The Esoteric Dream Book: Mastering the Magickal Symbolism of the Subconscious Mind” (Schiffer Publishing).
Waxing: The waxing moon is the first phase in the moon cycle and is therefore associated with beginnings of all kinds. When you view the waxing moon in the sky, it is a crescent shape with the two points facing to the left. The waxing moon gradually increases until it reaches the full moon phase. This moon is therefore associated with abundance, growth, increases, expansion, gains, breakthroughs, and epiphanies. When you have questions about situations/relationships related to all of the latter-mentioned concepts, the ideal time to seek dream-time answers to your question is during the waxing moon phase. Archetypes associated with waxing moon energies include the Fool, Hunter/Huntress, Magician, Wanderer, Priest/Priestess, Healer/Wounded Healer, Weavers, Witch/Sorceress, Mentor, and the Prophet/Mystic.
Full: The waxing moon gradually moves into the full moon phase. Practitioners of magick consider the full moon as achieving the height of power and therefore hosting the most powerful energies of any moon phase. This phase of the moon is ideal for any type of question you want answers to in your dreams, whether the question relates to new beginnings or endings. The full moon is great for dream work related to mundane/spiritual growth, protection, healing, inner reflection, and self-empowerment. Bear in mind the findings that the full moon allows for dreams seeing more bizarre, thus such dreams are rich in metaphors and meaningful symbolism for interpretation. Thus, full moon phase is best for dreams where you are seeking deep, reflective, meaningful answers to your questions. Dream archetypes you can work with during this moon phase include the Judge, Critic, Magician, Hunter/Huntress, Superhumans, Priest/Priestess, Shaman, Healer/Wounded Healer, Weavers, Witch/Sorceress, Messengers, Prophet, Mystic, Father/Mother, and Divine Couple.
Waning Moon: The waning moon appears in the sky as a crescent shape with two points facing right. This phase of the moon is associated with endings of all kinds. As the moon diminishes in its power, the waning moon brings energies appropriate for banishings, clearings, and getting rid of bad habits/relationships/conditions. When entering into dream work during the waning moon, pose questions related to closure, maturation, completion, and the eradication of negative energies/conditions. Archetypes associated with the waning moon include the Magician, Ghosts, Weavers, Witch/Sorceress, Martyr, and Crone/Sage.
Dark Moon: The dark moon is not visible in the night sky, nevertheless its energies are still present. This moon is most ideal when you are looking to have dreams related to self or inner reflection. You can pose questions related to how to get rid of undesirable energies or influences in your life, or how you can improve the physical/spiritual self. Archetypes associated with the dark moon phase include the Devil/Trickster, Monsters, Anomalies, Ghosts, Shaman, Weavers, Witch/Sorceress, Messengers, Prophet/Mystic, and Crone/Sage.
Moon Phase Resources
You can often look up at the night sky and easily see what the current moon phase is, but if you are looking to be more precise with your dream/moon phase associations, there are several resources you can use when documenting moon phases in your dream journal.
Moonconnection.com offers a moon phase calendar tool. You can choose the month, year, and hemisphere before generating a calendar. The calendar is generated based on your time zone as well.
Calculatorcat.com features a widget you can add to any website. The tool gives you the current moon phase, the percentage of the moon being full, the current date, and the time based on your time zone.
FarmersAlmanac.com offers a moon phase calendar with images of the phase of the moon on each calendar day. You can also find out the exact times and dates of full moons and the name of each moon.
About Dayna Winters: Dayna Winters is a solitary Witch, author, and artist. She is the co-author of three books written with Patricia Gardner and Angela Kaufman including, “Wicca: What’s The Real Deal? Breaking Through the Misconceptions,” “Sacred Objects, Sacred Space: Everyday Tools for The Modern Day Witch,” and “The Esoteric Dream Book: Mastering the Magickal Symbolism of the Subconscious Mind”, all of which are published by Schiffer Publishing. You can find out more about Dayna and her work at her blog: http://daynawinters.blogspot.com/.
I received word about an iTunes app that I thought some of you might be interested in.
Penguin, creators of the popular “Poems by Heart” app, launches “Bible Verses by Heart”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: The Bible is the most important book for millions of Christians around the world, but it’s also a classic work of literature. Now, Penguin Random House is proud to launch “Bible Verses by Heart”, an app that will appeal not only to the faithful, but to those who view the Bible as literature and want to better understand the extent to which the “Good Book” permeates our culture and values.
Inspired by the successful” Poems by Heart from Penguin Classics” app—which has more than 30,000 active users a month, has been downloaded over 412,000 times, and is one of only six educational apps recognized as an “App Store Best of 2013”—“Bible Verses By Heart” is a beautiful, intuitive app designed to help readers memorize key passages from the Bible. Joel Fotinos, a licensed minister and the publisher of Tarcher Books, a Penguin Random House imprint, was hugely influential in determining the app’s 20 passages, which were gathered from the Old Testament, the New Testament, as well as Psalms and Proverbs.
“We wanted ‘Bible Verses by Heart’ to appeal not only to people who love the Bible and want to memorize key scriptures, but also to casual readers interested in knowing more about it—i.e., those who see the Bible referenced in literature, the news, and in popular culture, and would like a better understanding of the Bible’s verses, selections, and stories,” said Fotinos. “We narrowed down the selections to what I jokingly call “The Bible’s Greatest Hits” – meaning those passages that would have the greatest recognition and that fit within the guidelines we had set.”
Fotinos then ran the passages by a tough set of critics—a pair of nuns from a well-known Christian monastic community. The result: a collection that draws from five different translations and encompasses everything from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 and Genesis 1:1-2:3 to Psalm 40:1-17 (A Prayer for Help) and Judges 5:1-31 (Song of Deborah).
“Since these are poetic selections, we weren’t trying to create a ‘Cliff’s Notes’ version. Nor did we want to choose only inspiring verses,” said Fotinos. “Rather, we picked selections that would add to a person’s Bible literacy. When someone memorizes these passages, they gain a greater appreciation of how pervasive these verses are in our culture. Eventually we hope to record and include more selections from the Bible to keep this project expanding and evolving.”
“Bible Verses by Heart” is free to download, and comes with three free passages, with 21 more available for in-app purchase. As users progress through five stages of difficulty, they are rewarded with high scores and Game Center Achievements. They also have the ability to record and share their own recitals via email and SoundCloud. The app was designed and developed by inkle, who also designed “Poems by Heart from Penguin Classics”.
Now because I’m like this, and I know a bunch of you would be curious too, I checked with the public relations person for this project to find out exactly which Bibles these verses were coming from. As many of us know, that can make a real difference. It turns out it’s pretty diverse. “Bible Verses by Heart” uses passages from the King James Version, New King James Version, New American Standard, New Revised Standard Version, and the Contemporary English Version.
In 2007, I lived for a season in an off-grid permaculture cabin in North Carolina. No Name Creek gurgled through a lush forest, and I befriended the eclectic neighbors — organic farmers, biofuel brewers, eco-developers. I discovered a sustainable but imperiled way of life, and wrote about in my memoir “Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream”.
Alas, the book triggered angry questions. “It’s easy,” one Twelve by Twelve reader wrote, “to find minimalism, joy, connection to nature, and abundant time in a shack in the woods. But how the hell are the rest of us supposed to stay sane in our busy modern lives?” This question was the genesis of my new book: “New Slow City: Living Simply in the World’s Fastest City”.
I received — in fact — a hundred variations of this question after lectures and on radio interviews, and always answered by saying I was living 12 x 12 values… but in Queens, New York, the home to which I returned after my time in the cabin. But as each year passed, the reader’s doubt increasingly became my own as overwork, material clutter, and the lack of contact with nature — “civilization,” in short — brought me to a point of extreme unhappiness in Queens. Eventually, I too doubted it was possible to live 12 x 12 in a city, and I felt an urgent need to decamp far from urban life.
Not so fast. As I reached this point, my newlywed wife, Melissa, was offered an excellent job that demanded we stay put in New York City, and I suddenly had no choice but to figure out how to take what I’d learned in the 12 x 12 — about the Leisure Ethic, connecting to nature, and living simply — and somehow make it work in the real-world context of a marriage and two careers.
In an attempt to do this, Melissa and I embarked on an experiment. We sold or gave away 80 percent of our stuff, left our 1,600-square-foot Queens townhouse, crossed the Williamsburg Bridge, and moved into a tiny rental: a 340-square-foot “micro-apartment” — roughly two 12 x 12s — in downtown Manhattan.
Melissa and I approached our thimble of an apartment through the ideas of philosopher Thomas Merton, who called his stark monk’s chambers “the four walls of my new freedom.” We stowed a minimal kit of kitchenware, toiletries, clothing, and books as if equipping a houseboat’s trim hull. It was a refreshing purge; the apartment seems to expand with each tweak.
We began to feel our well-being rise in proportion to what’s been shed. A slim metal table in the kitchen welcomes the cutting board; jackets laze on his-and-her hooks; sandals snuggle in their micro-shoe-apartment beside the door.
Beyond this minimalist freedom, I discovered that being “Slow” is not at all Luddite. Slow means cultivating positive qualities — receptive, intuitive, reflective— instead of the fast qualities so common today: busy, agitated, acquisitive.
I began living and working smarter instead of faster. Borrowing from author and entrepreneur Tim Ferris, I spent my Slow Year practicing two principles at the same time: 80/20 and the Hodgkinson’s Principle.
The 80/20 principle says that we accomplish 80 percent of work results in just 20 percent of our time. Conversely, we more or less waste the other 80 percent of our time on a paltry 20 percent of the results.
Dutifully, I 80/20ed my life and find that the principle holds true. In one particular week, for example, I looked at all the potential work streams — in international consulting, writing, and speaking — that I could pursue, and distilled out that week’s most strategic one in terms of income-to-time-invested and my current level of enthusiasm: a high-end magazine article. Then I overlaid the Hodgkinson’s Principle. Hodgkinson’s says that work expands to fill the amount of time available to accomplish it.
Thus, having chosen the one most critical work activity, I corralled it into a tight timeframe, and found it works: I condensed what might have been five days of work into two!
This approach spawned “reverse weekends” for me, where I worked smarter for two-days and took five-day weekends. This is not a utopian idea. Even Carlos Slim, the world’s richest person, recently called for a 3-day work week and Google is increasingly experimenting in lowering hours and thus increasing employee creativity and efficiency.
Other Slow City tools my wife and I discovered in our year’s experiment are:
• Urban sanctuaries: Melissa and I began spending more and more time in natural and reflective places right in Manhattan, like Central Park’s Ramble and the tip of Pier 45.
• “Living at the third story”: I discovered I only need half my attention on the street level. As the rest of my focus rises up, I notice nut-brown oak branches and green leaves fluttering with white butterflies. An off-turquoise sky. Stretchy clouds. Ciao stress!
• Technology fasting. We “fasted” from our gadgets for stints, disabling our phones and setting email to vacation mode. This helped quality of our relationship because we had more time focused on each other.
• Silent meals. Even in Manhattan’s fine restaurants, we’d sometimes eat in total silence, deeply savor the food, scents, soundscape, and visual beauty of the restaurant in a meditative manner.
Though not everyone will live twelve-by-twelve, all of us can ask: What’s my twelve by twelve? We can find the elusive contours of enough—and live there. Enough is the sweet spot between too little and too much. It starts with each of us creating space to slow down a little and ask the core questions, like: How do we find balance in a world that is changing more quickly than ever before in history? And how can we incubate a New Slow City that’s saner now and fit for the future?
About William Powers: Born and raised on Long Island, William Powers has worked for over a decade in development aid and conservation in Latin America, Africa, Native North America, and Washington, DC. He is a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and is on the adjunct faculty of New York University. A third generation New Yorker, Powers has also spent two decades exploring the American culture-of-speed and its alternatives in some fifty countries around the world. He has covered the subject in his four books and written about it in the Washington Post and the Atlantic. An expert on sustainable development, he is a freelance writer and speaker. More information at www.WilliamPowersBooks.com.
I learned of an interesting exhibit going on at the National Museum of Jewish American History that I thought was fun and interesting. Something that those of you in Philadelphia may want to check out this holiday season.
The history of Hanukkah and Christmas songs and the Jewish musicians, artists, and songwriters who wrote and performed them is the focus of the National Museum of American Jewish History’s newest installation, ‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah, opening November 4, 2014. The installation combines a cozy living room setting with modern technology to deliver a compelling story about the blending of the American and Jewish musical season, the soundtracks of religious holidays, and the musical standards we know today.
Featuring well-known artists such as Irving Berlin, Benny Goodman, Bob Dylan, the Ramones, and Lou Reed, as well as Christmas gems by the likes of Jewish salsa giant Larry Harlow, and Jewish stage and screen icons Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson, this multimedia installation will set to music American Jewish efforts to invent, re-invent, and celebrate a season marked by family, gift-giving, food traditions, and well-loved music—across multiple faiths.
“The Christmas music industry, as a quintessentially American enterprise, provided a way for Jewish songwriters, many of them immigrants or children of immigrants, to feel American. By showing how an outsider community can enter mainstream American culture, Christmas songs highlight a classic American Jewish narrative,” says Ivy Weingram, associate curator of NMAJH and co-curator of ‘Twas.
In a gallery styled as a cozy living room, visitors will be able to enjoy interactive song and video platforms, as well as images of holiday-related artifacts from the Museum’s collection of 30,000 objects, delivered on curated iPads accompanied by text and graphics of holiday celebrations. In addition to the audio visual component of the installation, visitors will have hands-on access to record albums, a wide selection of books on American popular music and Jewish history, and kids’ toys and books.
A ‘Twas-themed self-guided tour highlighting holiday-related objects in the permanent collection will also be available.
The installation is inspired by the critically-acclaimed 2012 music compilation produced by the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation, which draws on jazz, folk, rap, Latin, and Klezmer musical styles. “At the Idelsohn Society, our goal has always been re-examining the Jewish-American musical past in new contemporary contexts,” says Idelsohn co-founder, Josh Kun. “Collaborating with NMAJH offers a rare opportunity to do this in a premier Museum setting where these songs and their commentaries on Jewish life, identity, and ritual will take on new meanings with new publics.”
‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah will build on the cutting-edge interactive media for which the Museum has been widely recognized. This family-friendly, seasonal installation will run through March 1 and is designed to be enjoyed by visitors of all backgrounds.
For those of you who are interested, I have the “‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah” musical compilation CD in the “I Recommend” widget on the site here. It’s also available for download through Amazon.