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NEW YORK (RNS) Traditionalist Jews and tree-huggers alike are coming together for Birkat HaHammah, a Jewish holiday that falls only once every 28 years, marking the sun’s return to its original position at creation.
This year, the celebration takes place at sunrise April 8, followed by the start of Passover at sunset. The timing is a coincidence that won’t happen again until 2437; unlike major Jewish holidays, which run on a lunar cycle, the “blessing the sun” is based on the Julian calendar.
Still, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life has encouraged Jews to take advantage of the convergence, offering suggestions for tying the obscure observance with the major annual holiday.
Families can discuss the meaning of Birkat HaHammah during the traditional questions asked at the first Seder meal, and turn the pre-Passover ritual of ridding homes of leavened bread into a simultaneous search for light bulbs that can be replaced with energy-efficient models, said Liore Milgrom-Elcott, COEJL spokeswoman.
“We’re encouraging people to look for ways we waste energy along with the leavened bread,” she said. “We want them to really think about the sun and all that it can do for us.”
A few groups have come up with their own ideas: in Winston-Salem, N.C., Jews will gather outside Temple Emanuel at dawn to share their final taste of leavened bread for the week — bagels — and burn the leftovers while blessing the sun with songs and prayers.
Dozens of other Birkat HaHammah observances have been planned throughout North America and Israel, ranging from a sunrise meditation service at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Ill., to a Yeshiva University presentation last month in New York City by Rabbi J. David Bleich, author of “Bircas HaChammah: Blessing of the Sun-Renewal of Creation.”
COEJL has compiled a list of events and other information at Birkat HaHammah last fell on April 8, 1981; it will next fall on April 8, 2037.
“Twenty-eight years ago, we were ignorant of the environmental realities and energy realities that we were heading towards,” Milgrom-Elcott said. “We didn’t want to just let this opportunity slip and not have the chance again for another 28 years.”
By Nicole Neroulias
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission

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