Judaica Musings

We are happy to add another gifted blogger to our Guest Post section! :)

Today we are hosting Miriam Hendeles,  a mother of grown children, grandmother and mother-in-law. She blogs at Picturehttp://bubbyjoysandoys.com  about being a grandmother. At her website, http://miriamhendeles.com she discusses topics related to being a mother-in-law. Miriam is a music therapist who works with elderly in hospice care.

You are welcome to read “Judaica Musings” guest post by Miriam Hendeles.

Whenever I enter a Judaica store, I’m like a child in a toy store. Continue reading

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A New Start

We love guest posting idea! We are also excited to host popular bloggers on aJudaica.com blog. We will feature bloggers from all over the world, each sharing with us their area of specialty. 

This tradition begins today! :)

We’re happy to introduce Ruchi Koval, the mind and soul behind her own great blog www.outoftheorthobox.com and here are some of her thoughts about Rosh Hashanah:

Continue reading

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The View from Bnei Brak.

Today, it hit me. We are a country at war and one of the battle fronts is right here in my home town of Bnei Brak. I have lived through quite a few wars in Israel, starting with the Yom Kippur war in 1973. We were in the shelter for a brief few hours on Yom Kippur afternoon and later, a strict blackout was DavidStarenforced so that if the enemy flew overhead, he would not know where to drop the bombs. Continue reading

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From Mourning to Celebration

israeli flagSome say that we can only really appreciate the good after having experienced the bad. I’ve always had trouble with that theory- why can’t good just stand on its own? Do we only enjoy dessert because it comes after the broccoli? I, for one, enjoy dessert no matter what time of day it is.

Every year on Yom Hazikaron, Israeli Memorial Day, Israel in its entirety and the Zionist community across the world mourn for all of the Israeli soldiers who fell in battle, and all those killed in terrorist attacks. The entire country mourns together- the radios are filled with eulogies and memories of loved ones who perished, the television with stories of heroes who gave their lives for Israel, the schools spend the day at ceremonies commemorating those fallen. Twice- once the night before when the day officially starts, and once the next morning- a siren is sounded, and the entire country freezes in a moment of silence and remembrance.

And then night begins to fall and the mood does a sudden 180-degree turn- cheeks are wiped dry of tears and song and dance replace the silence of the precious day. It is Yom Ha’atzmaut- Israeli Independence Day- and now, instead of mourning, the entire country is in celebration. I always wondered- how can they transform so quickly? One minute in tears and the next waving flags and parading through the streets?

My Experience

Last year, I spent Yom Hazikaron on Mount Herzl- a mountain in Jerusalem where hundreds of fallen soldiers are buried. There, I walked amongst the graves and heard stories from their loved ones. There were sobs heard from every corner, families and friends leaning on each other’s shoulders, the religious in quiet prayers. By late afternoon I made my way over to a small courtyard where hundreds slowly gathered and evening came. We sang there songs of mourning and once night finally fell- almost like a miracle- we erupted in dance and song. The entire night was filled with festivities- dances and parades and celebratory singing was heard down every street. It was then that I understood that it is not that we can only appreciate the happiness because of the sadness, but that we only have that goodness because of the sadness that came before it. It is only because the soldiers heroically gave up their lives, that Israel is able to stand as a country as it does.

Yom Hazikaron Ceremonies

At many ceremonies on Yom Hazikaron, candles are lit in memory of those who died. Last year, volunteering in an elementary school in Israel, I was privileged to take part in one of the most powerful ceremonies I have ever seen. On Yom Hazikaron morning the entire school gathered in the auditorium where, in the center, stood ten or so students ranging in age. They performed a skit, led us in slow song. And then, a fifth grade student appeared. She stood by the microphone and began telling the story of her brother who was killed in the second Intifada. She then turned around and lit a candle- “In memory of my brother,” she said, and the entire school was in tears. She was lighting the candle because it represented her brother- he too shined, she told us. He too had a fire in him that lit up the world. And so, candles are lit around the world in memory of all of those who once shined.

The Star of David

One of the things that strikes me most about the contrast and transition between Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut is the Jewish star, the Star of David. At every Yom Hazikaron ceremony I have ever attended, there is somewhere a black and white Jewish star. When looking at it, one sees and feels a loss- as if the star itself is in mourning with its country. And then, only a few hours later, the same star is found what seems like to be everywhere, but this time its in a blue the color of the sky, and is paraded through the streets and is danced with and sung with and celebrated. It is almost like the star itself holds in it two different worlds- everything that Israel has lost, and also everything it has become.

The Entire Country?

There are also those who, instead of dancing in the streets on Yom Ha’atzmaut night, will be found in their homes like all other nights. Many ultra orthodox Jews do not celebrate the Jewish state. Though believing that ultimately Israel is the holiest country, they believe that the way to obtain it as a Jewish state is solely through the hand of God. And so, they see Israel today, having been established and willed by people (many of whom having been secular), as being illegitimate as a religious Jewish country. Because of this, you will not find them mourning on Yom Hazikaron, or celebrating on Yom Ha’atzmaut. They still wish for the security and establishment of Israel, but not in the way that it has been established now.

Without Tears

I hope that one day, we will not need the broccoli before the dessert, and Yom Ha’atzmaut will be able to be celebrated without the tears that come before it.

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Ways To Express Your Affection For Israel

For me, it was important to publicly display my commitment to the Promise Land both as a testimony to others and as a reminder to myself.

There are endless ways to for a person to express their affection for Israel both publicly and privately. Some people like to have an outward expression either as a discussion piece or simply as a way of meeting like-minded people. For others, having a constant reminder of Israel helps serve the commandment of never forgetting Jerusalem – on a personal level. I suggest choosing something that has particular meaning to you, none-the-less it is always helpful to have some suggestions.Old City Jerusalem Magnet

IDF Memorabilia: Wearing IDF memorabilia is a great way to show your solidarity with Israel, on a national level. One of the most common types of IDF memorabilia are olive green t-shirts with the emblem of the IDF printed in dark yellow in the center of the t-shirt. They can be found at almost any gift shop in Israel – especially in the old city of Jerusalem. Many tourists also buy dog tags. A dog tag is a nice way to constantly show demonstrate your affection for Israel as well as remember a personal trip to Israel by engraving the dog- tag with your trip date and purpose, and those with whom you travelled.

Key-Chains: Because Israel is a Jewish state, many people associate anything Jewish with Israel. Therefore you do not need to display the IDF symbol or the Israeli flag in order to express your affection for Israel. Anything with the Star of David or another Jewish symbol can send of that message both on a public note and certainly on a personal level. Personally, I have always loved key chains. Key chains are small and inexpensive, making excellent souvenirs and gifts from a visit to Israel.

They are also quite ubiquitous at gift shops, making them a great collector’s item. First of all, they can be hung almost anywhere. A key chain can be used for the most obvious purpose –to hold your keys. It’s nice to be able to think of Israel every time you walk into your home – especially if you are a Jew living in the Diaspora hoping to one make Israel your home! As a child I loved to hang key chains from the zippers on my backpack. My friend’s would constantly check to find a new addition to the collection. I especially loved the little yellow smiley face, donning a kippah and tzizit, given out as a party favor at my friend’s Israel-themed Bat Mitzvah. Lastly, a key chain can be hung on a nail as a decorative item in your home or from the mirror in your car.

Necklaces with Sand from the Holy Land: When I was in university I took a Hebrew class. One of the guys in my class was a Christian Israeli from the Christian quarter of the Jerusalem’s Old City. He expressed his passion for Israel very clearly. One day I noticed that he had a little glass tube around his neck with some sand in it – and I started noticing that he wore it every day. It looked like it was home made. After a few weeks I finally asked him what it was. He was elated that I had noticed and was eager to share. He began explaining that leaving Israel for university was a very difficult decision for him and his family.

Before he left his home for the last time he went to the playground that he had played in growing up and took a small amount of sand. He wore it around his neck as a reminder of who he was and where he came from. He told me that he had tied it in such a way that he couldn’t take it off without cutting it. His plan was to take it off only after he was back in Israel. The truth is that after I heard his story I noticed that there are many online sites that actually sell “Holy Land dirt.” This is another great way to express your affection for Israel.

In short there are endless ways to express your affection to Israel. Get creative!

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My Personal Eshet Chayil

Every Friday night my husband sings me the ancient song of Eshet Chayil (Women of Valor) to me. While he is singing the same song that has been sung by Jewish men to their wives for generations, I always feel as though he himself composed the song just for me.Women_of_Valor_Board

Eshet Chayil is a twenty-two verse poem found in the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs. Traditionally, the poem is recited by married men to their wives upon returning home from synagogue on Friday evenings. The poem, which may have been composed by Abraham after his wife Sarah’s death, is a beautiful way for a man to express his love and gratitude for his wife. Over the years the term “Eshet Chayil” has taken on a more inclusive connotation. An exceptional woman is often given an honor called the “Eshet Chayil” award, for her work at home or in the community. As I have grown into a young woman, wife, and mother, I have truly come to appreciate my mother as my personal “Eshet Chayil”.

My personal Eshet Chayil: My mother was the oldest of three children born in New York City. Her mother, Lili, is a holocaust survivor, and when my mother was born she named her Keren which means light, because she shed a new light onto the world. I don’t know much about my mother’s early childhood, but from what I understand she was a tiny child with a very large personality. I whole-heartedly believe that this description is true, because I too have always been a tiny figure with a large personality, and my daughter is the same! One of the stories of my mother that I am particularly fond of happened when she was only in the sixth grade.

My mother was well liked by most of her peers. There was one girl in her class, Eve, who was a bit nerdy. Eve was not quite as fashionable as the other girls in the class and she often got made fun of. As Eve told the story – one day my mother invited Eve to her house after school. My mother called her and told her to make sure to pack a bag full of clothes. Eve was certain that my mother was going to play some trick on her, but she was so desperate for friends that she went along with the plan. Little did Eve know that my mother actually was trying to help her! When Eve got to my mother’s house, my mother explained that it hurt her so much to watch Eve get made fun of each morning at school. My mother suggested that for one whole week they trade clothing as a bit of an experiment.

Sure enough my mother gave Eve a weeks’ worth of outfits and took Eve’s bag of clothing in exchange. The next morning they each arrived to school in each other’s clothing. Within two days each girl in the class started pairing up with another girl in the class to do a clothing exchange. Suddenly Eve was pretty cool and even a trend setter! My favorite part of the story is that my mother told the whole class that it was Eve’s idea to trade clothes – she didn’t even take the credit!

When my mother was just nineteen she met my father and the two of them got married. Just twelve years later I was born, the forth and youngest child. Throughout my life my mother has always made it clear that as long as we worked hard she would always be proud of us. However, it became clear that to her, the most important thing was that we would treat all of our friends with kindness. When I was in fourth grade there was a girl in my class who was pretty popular. She had very nice clothing and a fancy car; however, she never invited anyone to her house to play. One Friday in school she asked me if I could come over to her house to play with her the following Sunday.

I agreed and she was delighted. Then, in a sort of odd way, she slipped me a piece of paper with her address. She told me not to show it to anyone other than my mother. When I got home I told my mother of my plans and showed her the paper. She gasped and explained that this girl lived in government funded housing. I then understood why she was embarrassed. On Sunday my mother took me over to her house to play. She told me that I should remember that she is not to be judged for the way she lives. That was the end of the story –or so I thought. Fifteen years later, that same girl called me to ask how she could get in touch with my mother to thank her. I gave her my mother’s number and asked her what she needed to thank her for. The girl explained that after that Sunday my mother had delivered Shabbat dinner to her family each and every Friday night. For a long time they didn’t know where the food was coming from but one day about ten years ago they waited up all night. At five am when no one was out my mother dropped off food for the whole family. I cried when I heard the story. My mother had never told anyone (but my father) of her generosity!

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Mystical Kabbalah Jewelry: The Seventy-Two Names Pendant

In recent years there has been a popular Kabbalah pendant being sold in Judaica stores. The pendant is often called “The Seventy-Two Names Pendant” and is reportedly engraved with seventy-two names of G-d. I am loathe to wear pieces of jewelry that are deeply meaningful if I don’t know why they are deeply meaningful so I decided to research the subject a little and what I found was quite fascinating…

Have you ever heard of a piece of Kabbalistic jewelry called “The Seventy-Two Names Pendant”?

Well, in recent years, this pendant has become very popular, partly due to the fact that large Kabbalah learning centers offer numerous products incorporating the seventy-two names and even teach meditations based on them. I have heard them mentioned more and more in recent years and never took too much notice but then I decided that it would probably be quite interesting to take a look at what this whole “seventy-two names” business is about.

Kabbalah Jewelry 72 Names Pendant by Golan JewelryWhat are the Seventy-Two Names?

It turns out that the seventy-two letter names are seventy-two names of G-d. I don’t find this surprising as a Jew because it is known in Judaism that there are several different names of G-d, including the four-lettered name that is printed in prayer books today but is pronounced differently to how it is written due to it being forbidden to be pronounced apart from by the High Priest in the Holy Temple on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. Seeing as, as of now, we have no Temple no-one should be uttering this name. Apart from that name there are various different names of G-d in the Bible and Prayerbook and it turns out that according to mystical Jewish teachings (known as Kabbalah) there is a forty-two lettered name, seventy-two three-lettered names (bingo!) and even a 216-letter name of G-d that is created by combining the seventy-two three-letter names.

What is the origin of the seventy-two three-lettered names of G-d?

Apparently, the seventy-two names of G-d are derived from a passage in the book of Exodus which talks about how when the Israelites left Egypt, were being pursued by the Egyptians and had come to the Red Sea, the angel of G-d and pillar of cloud that usually led the way went behind the camp and came between them and the Egyptians. Somehow the cloud, darkness and night all existed without one coming near the other. Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and G-d made the sea split so that there was dry land for the Israelites to walk upon.

The seventy-two names are derived from those verses in the following way-the first name is made up of the first Hebrew letter of verse 19, the first Hebrew letter of verse 20 and the first Hebrew letter of verse 21. The second name is made up of the second letter of each verse and so on.

This kind of play with the Bible is actually quite a common phenomenon in Kabbalah seeing as Kabbalists believe that the Torah is multi-layered and has both literal and hidden meanings.

How are the seventy-two names used?

Well, those versed in Kabbalah apparently know how to meditate on different names when they wish to awaken the power within a certain name. Seeing as there are those that say that Moses split the Red Sea using these seventy-two names it is understandable that the names contain certain powers that allowed him to overcome nature. I am certainly not versed in Kabbalah and do not know how to make use of the seventy-two names but having read up a little more on this subject I do find the concept of the pendant absolutely fascinating and quite awe-inducing. Continue reading

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Charity or Justice?

Bnei Brak Novelties

We recently moved to the city of Bnei Brak and there are many, many fascinating things about this city. I could tell you about the elderly Yemenite neighbors with their leathery, wrinkled faces who sit outside playing dominoes and clucking at the gleeful children who run by with their side locks bouncing in the sun. I could tell you

אPomegranate House Tzedakah Boxabout the stench of chickens that enveloped the city prior to the High Holidays due to the ancient Kapparot ritual that many religious Jews carry out so as to atone for the sins of the previous year. I could tell you about the beautiful sense of family-focused community that is so prevalent in the city, especially on Friday nights when families with five, six, seven, eight and more children walk together as they return home from their Friday night meal in the car-free streets.

Charity Boxes in all their Forms

Instead, I am going to talk about the charity boxes. Yes, really. I have noticed that it is hard to miss the charity boxes. There are at least five charity boxes attached to each bus stop in the city. There is a food donation box in front of most supermarkets that makes it easy for residents to pop a non-perishable food item in as they exit the supermarket with their weekly shopping. There are special charity boxes here that I have yet to see in any other city in Israel that are essentially glorified bollards that fill two roles- one to stop cars driving on to the sidewalks and the other to encourage passer-bys to give charity.

Bnei Brak Charity Boxes and what they Reflect

I find the countless charity boxes fascinating. Many are quick to point out that Bnei Brak is one of the poorest cities in Israel. This is not the point of my writing. I am quicker to point out that the unblemished sense of quality family-time here is unparallel to other places I have seen in Israel. I do not deny that there is much to improve in this city as in many cities. I choose to focus on the positive. Charity is an incredibly important aspect of Judaism and Bnei Brak, being a city known for its religious residents reflects this perfectly.


Let me start by setting the record straight. Charity is an imperfect translation of the Jewish concept of “Tzeddakah”. Tzeddakah is a Hebrew word that has the Hebrew word “Tzedek” at its core. “Tzedek” means “justice”- not exactly the association that the word “charity” conjures up. In Judaism, the concept of helping others financially is not something that is done out of the goodness of one’s heart- it is a just act of making sure that all parts of society are cared for.

Tzeddakah in Judaism

As for the dry facts- ten percent is the recommended amount that a Jewish person should be giving- based on the verse in Deuteronomy (14:22), “You shall surely tithe all the seed of the crop that the field gives forth…”. Twenty per cent of one’s earnings is the maximum that a Jewish person is expected to give from his earnings- above that is too much.

Practically? In hundreds of thousands of Jewish homes there is a clear sense of giving on a day-to-day basis. Many Jewish people will put a few pennies in a charity box before praying (due to the verse in Psalms 17:15, “…I shall behold Your face in righteousness…” which is understood to mean doing justice- giving charity- before coming before G-d in prayer). Jewish women will put a few pennies in a charity box before ushering in the Sabbath day by lighting candles. Little children are encouraged to give money on coming across a needy person on the street.

Maimonides & the Eight Levels of Tzeddakah

On a wider scale, eight levels of Tzeddakah are outlined by Maimonides in his Mishneh Torah (code of Jewish Law) with the greatest level being described as supporting a other s by loaning him the money needed to get on his feet, entering a partnership with him, finding employment for him- anything in order to ensure that he is no longer dependent on others. The eight levels are fascinating and contain a great deal of wisdom that people follow until today- the Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” comes to mind here as Rambam noted all those centuries ago that the greatest justice one can do in society is help those in need to become independent and not teach them to be reliant on others.

Tzeddakah in other Religions

I was interested to take a glance at the practice of giving to others in other religions, keeping in mind that on many occasions, religions have a lot more common factors between them than differences.

Unsurprisingly, in Islam, giving to others is one of the five pillars upon which Islam is based, with an obligation of giving 2.5% of one’s income (the word for giving money is unsurprisingly close to the Hebrew word- “Zakat” due to the Semitic roots of both languages.

Christianity views charity as the greatest of three theological values and is valued as a reflection of the benevolent nature of god. Tithing is apparently a practice carried out by some but not all Christians.

Does One’s Financial Standing Affect One’s Giving? Apparently- but not how you’d expect…
Obviously, not only religious people help those in need- I believe that most human-beings have a natural tendency to want to help human beings who are in need. On a slight tangent- there was a fascinating piece in The Seattle Times in 2009 that presented an interesting bit of information- America’s poor are more generous than wealthy Americans- now that’s food for thought…

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Beautiful Wings Of?

I just happened upon the photography of Isaac Fichman and think his pieces are simply stunning. Each category is beautiful in its own right but for some reason I found myself drawn to the categories of dragonflies. There is something so fragile, so light, airy and summery about these creatures and Isaac managed to capture them incredibly well.

Some manage to capture them incredibly well. On stumbling across Isaac Fichman’s photos, I found myself drawn to his photographs of dragonflies. Such flighty creatures that it is wondrous that Isaac managed to catch them so beautifully. If you take a look at their wings they look so fragile one wonders what they’re made from. I wondered and then I researched and what follows are my findings…

Small Dragonfly Wing EarringsFirst of all, did you know that dragonflies have incredibly old roots? According to Dr. Dan Bickel, an entomologist (that is, one who studies insects in a scientific manner), they were around even before dinosaurs were and evolved in ways that allowed for them to survive.

Among their impressive abilities are their powerful eyes and ability to fly further, faster and higher than other insects, even reaching speeds as fast as 70km per hour!

Quite incredibly, dragonflies are able to propel themselves in all directions- up, down, forward, back and from side to side. They can also hover in midair.

Many of their special flying abilities are due to their special wings.

Dragonflies have two sets of wings that can be used together or separately.

Due to the two set of wings, the dragonfly flaps its wings about 30 beats per second (as opposed to, for example, the bee that flaps its wings about 300 times per second!)

The network of veins running through the wings adds to the strength and flexibility of them and allows the dragonfly to cut and curve through the air with ease.

The vein structure in the wings is held together by a starch variation called chitin which appears as a thin, shiny film. Chitin makes up the exoskeletons of most insects.

Exoskeletons are external skeletons and are common among invertebrates- it is what leads to them being soft inside and hard outside- as opposed to human-beings.

The fact that the wings are smooth and bump-less leads to the gorgeous glassy and reflective effect of the chitin.

Interestingly enough, many other insects have glassy wings too but I suppose it is due to the larger surface space of the dragonfly’s wings that makes one notice it in particular in their case.

Out of 6000 species of dragonflies worldwide, there are many different varieties of wings, with not all of them appearing glassy- some are transparent whereas others are brightly colored- it is those with wings that lack pigment that have the glassy look about them.

Different wing patterns and colors are assumed to allow the insects to attract desired mates.

There you go, hope you learned something new about those incredible dragonfly wings because I certainly did! Next time you happen upon a dragonfly or even pause to admire the photographs that one can find of these beautiful creatures, you can truly appreciate the wings in a way that perhaps you couldn’t have before you knew these interesting tidbits.

Ajudaica presents many versions of birds and different small animals jewelry for everyone’s taste. To review related jewelry items, you are welcome to visit: http://www.ajudaica.com/category/668/Earrings_by_Adina_Plastelina/

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Frogs, Elephants And Hazelnuts Considered Symbols Of:

This custom is very old and continues on until today. On searching the internet for other fertility customs and symbols, I revealed that, unsurprisingly, there are a whole lot of different ones from all different places. Here is what I’v found on the subject:


 Fertility Sterling Silver Kabbalah PendantThe Celts in ancient Ireland believed that the Hazel tree was a particularly fertile being. They had the custom to carry them around in their pockets or to hang them in their homes as a symbol of fertility. Interestingly enough, studies actually show that the oils in hazelnuts help regulate insulin and blood sugar which can actually improve fertility.


Mistletoe spreads quickly due to its evolved ability to grow on branches of trees. It was believed, by Celtic Druids, that mistletoe is a bestowed of life and fertility. Oh, and the custom of kissing under Mistletoe at Xmas is due to the fact that it is considered an aphrodisiac- a substance that increases sexual desire.


According to Jewish tradition, the pomegranate was one of the species brought by the spies to Moses to show that the land of Canaan was fertile. Also in Feng Shui, the fruit is considered a symbol of fertility. Additional symbols can be found in Kabbalah, specific letter combination engraved on a silver pendant believed being helpfull in many cases. (See these pendants for example)

Lotus Flower

According to Hindu culture, the lotus flower is the highest symbol of fertility. It is, in their eyes, representative of purity due to the fact that it grows in muddy waters but remains untouched by the filth.


Squatting frogs are representative of giving birth to new life in South and Central America. Frogs were also linked to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and procreation, in Roman times. In addition, in ancient Egypt, loads of frogs descended on Egypt when the Nile flooded (Ten Plagues in the book of Exodus anyone?) and because the Egyptians were dependent on this flooding, the frogs came to symbolize fertility.


In India, terra-cotta elephants often feature in wedding ceremonies due to their long trunks being associated with rain which brings fertility to the fields. In China elephants are considered a symbol of pregnancy and it is common for a pair of elephants to be kept in the bedroom, on either side of the bed, facing the center of the room.


Fish are a fertility symbol in China due to the tons of eggs they produce- this is also the case in the Jewish religion. Feng Shui adherents believe that a double fish statue should be kept in the southwest corner of the bedroom.


According to the Celts, the moon is a fertility symbol due to its phases being very much like the menstrual cycle of women- both repeating themselves in a cycle of constant rebirth. I can’t help but compare, once again with my own religion, Judaism which also makes this comparison for the same reason!

Well, there you have it- a whole bunch of interesting fertility symbols from a whole bunch of different places and cultures. It is really interesting to see the emphasis placed on fertility by human-beings all over the world- after all, no matter what the culture, religion or nationality, all human-beings want to leave a part of them behind in this world…

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