About this time, two years ago I wrote a post related to the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) from my perspective as an amateur biblical historian, and illustrated with dramatic images of the Negev Desert.

Spring, in London’s glorious Regent’s Park, bedecked with prunus blossom and daffodils (gouache on paper)

As made plain in that post, my interest in the origins of those and other Jewish / Hebrew / Israelite festivals is now purely of an academic nature – in the literal sense of the word. And in truth, I think it always has been, going all the way back to when, as a little boy, I sat and stood, dutifully at the side of my righteous Zaida (grandfather), in shul (synagogue) for hour-upon-hour in a state of abject boredom.

Summer was often a sandy beach in Israel – here with me and four friends at Ashkelon in 1981 (oil on canvas)

As I expressed in the introduction to my book on King Saul, I only survived the tedium by reading my Zaida’s Tanakh (Jewish Bible), which he permitted me to do rather than pray, as a kind of compromise, in the vain hope that I might one day see the light. Although, from a precocious age, I generally skipped through the supernatural stuff and miracles, which I always found unconvincing, I was excited by the narrative and the stories. By the time I was in my very early teens I became fascinated with the two books of Samuel in particular, sensing in them the grains of a history for the birth of the first nation of Israel.

Autumn (or in this context, more properly Fall) in North America, is a sight beyond compare – as here, in the Ouachita Forrest in Arkansas (enhanced photo)

My own writings on King Saul, and my novel about the Ark of the Covenant are my ultimate expressions of that continuing fascination and interest. So, in a way, I suppose I am indebted to those countless hours in synagogue and my forced intimacy with my Zaida’s Tanakh.

Winter was for many years a ski resort, most often in Italy, like here in the Apennines at Bormio (gouache on paper)

Despite my own acquired indifference to the many annual festivals of my people, I do sometimes miss the sense of the seasons they used to evoke. Pesach (Passover) for instance was always the herald of Spring, while Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and the close-ensuing Succot (Tabernacles) resonated with the feeling of Autumn and the approaching dark days of winter. This somewhat rambling post is thus intended as a seasonally inspired salutation to all my readers and followers, whatever your beliefs or none…


  1. Although my father died when I was only nine, I have a memory of him as a man who loved to celebrate; my sister, nine years older, confirmed this. So while I have similar views as you about religion, I still enjoy celebrating our holidays.

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    1. The problem with all the Jewish festivals, with the exception of the slightly more secular-based Hanukkah and Purim, is that they are deeply religious, both in their concepts and their associated ritual. While it’s true, reform Jews (Conservative I think in the States) have found ways to dilute the religiosity of the observances it remains impossible, for someone like me – for whom religious worship is an anathema – to partake in any meaningful way. In truth, I don’t miss it.

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      1. Although I have attended Jewish services in my youth when I explored them all, I have no sense of the holidays. Perhaps because of my youth, I like the music and pageantry of the Christian Christmas services even today – but usually only go to accompany more faithful relatives.

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  2. Summer was often a sandy beach in Israel – here with me and four friends at Ashkelon in 1981 (oil on canvas)… is this really a painting??…
    What an artist!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ana. Yes it is, although this very dark, poor quality photo is quite flattering!! I think I still have this painting somewhere at Finca Carmel. If I can find it I’ll show it you one day.


  3. I totally understand your feelings Ray. I think the thing with me, and many other secularised Jews from orthodox backgrounds, is that there isn’t really a half-way house. The best analogy I can come up with right now is that we’re like ex-carnivores who are now vegan. The idea of the odd burger or bacon rasher is out of the question. Continuing this construct, one could see the Liberal/Reform/Conservative Jews as vegetarians; still happy to eat the eggs of the religion while refusing all the excess animal protein, i.e. the orthodox strictures;
    And the majority of secular (not secularised) Jews, as fishatarians; for whom – very much like you and your attachment to elements of Christianity – the festivities of the religion provide a sense of community, reassurance and structure. Interestingly, the Liberal Jews I know are all equally as fervent believers in God as their orthodox brothers and sisters, it’s just that their faith is expressed in a modernised (they would add, rationalised) form. While, in stark contrast, many secular Jews have merely a shaky faith in God at best, yet retain a compulsion to conform to certain rituals and customs. While I’m sure this isn’t the case with you, I detect a surprisingly high level of superstition in this compulsion among secular Jews, whose fasting and attending synagogue on Yom Kippur for instance has a lot more to do with the hedging of bets than any feelings of piety.


    1. i love this description of the approaches to Judaism. I wasn’t aware of the the different sects until my husband to be asked me what ‘type’ I was!

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