Sylvia Plath Day

October 27

…I do not want much of a present, anyway, this year.
After all I am alive only by accident.
I would have killed myself gladly that time any possible way…

from A Birthday Present, Sylvia Plath, 1962

There’s nothing like the poetry of Sylvia Plath to brighten up a birthday celebration. Today, October 27, is Sylvia Plath Day in Northampton, Massachusetts, where Plath attended Smith College. She was born on this day in 1932, and died thirty years later, on February 11, 1963.

Plath lost her father at an early age. She suffered from depression and mental illness, which she described in her semi-autobiographical work, The Bell Jar. The Bell Jar details the mental and emotional journey of college student Esther Greenwood, who interns at a New York fashion magazine. (Think “The Devil Wears Prada” without the catchy soundtrack and more electroshock therapy.)

At age 23, Plath married English poet Ted Hughes. Plath taught at her alma mater Smith before moving to England with Hughes. Her first poetry collection was published in 1960.

Smith suffered a miscarriage, but the couple later had two children, Nicholas and Frieda. Plath and Hughes separated in late 1962.

The following February, a month after the publication of The Bell Jar, Plath placed her head in the oven as her two young children lay sleeping in the next room.

…Sweetly, sweetly I breathe in,
Filling my veins with invisibles, with the million
Probable motes that tick the years off my life…

from A Birthday Present

Nearly two decades after her death, Plath became the first poet to win a posthumous Pulitzer Prize, for “The Collected Poems” published in 1981.

“I think that in today’s Prozac world and with depression often being glamorized as an intrinsic sign of artistic greatness, the real tragic dimensions of the disease get lost in the fervor. Sylvia may have thought her children would be better without her, who knows? From her poems and her journals, her writing indicates that she certainly loved her children and to say that her act was reprehensible belies an understanding of depression, which is not merely a case of the blues. It is a disease that overwhelms even the immeasurable love bonding a parent to a child…

“I assume that Sylvia Plath day is intended to celebrate her life and her talent. As a poet and an academic achiever, she is worthy of admiration. Her suicide is not to be admired but to be lamented.”


Angam Day – Nauru

October 26

Today the small island nation of Nauru celebrates Angam Day.

Angam means “jubilation” or “homecoming”. The jubilation doesn’t refer to any election, battle, revolution, legislation, or victory. It celebrates a birthday. It’s the birthday of a woman named Eidaruwo, who was born on October 26, 1932. But Angam Day doesn’t celebrate anything she did. In fact, it was first celebrated on the very day she was born.

For nearly all of its 3000 year history, Nauru’s remote location ensured its isolation, ever since Polynesian and Micronesian travelers first settled there. Contact with the West in the 19th century could not have come at a worse time. Not only was the country ripe for exploitation, the importation of guns and ammo exacerbated deadly tribal wars that devastated the island’s population.

The population of the island fell from 1,400 to 900 and didn’t recover. After World War I, an Australian study determined that the island’s population was so low that the race was in danger of dying out. Nauru would have to reach 1,500 in order to ensure healthy survival.

The mission to achieve 1,500 people united the island. It took many years, but on October 26, 1932 a baby girl named Eidaruwo was born. The whole island celebrated her birth, and they have celebrated the date as Angam Day ever since, except during World War II.

Today Nauru’s population is over 13,000, making it one of the most densely populated countries in the world. But during the 20th century, phosphate mining depleted the island’s natural resources.

Now the nation has a new mission: sustainability.


Armed Forces Day – Romania

October 25

“Over the centuries you will be remembered and praised, you, the officers and soldiers who have freed Transylvania.”

–General Gheorghe Avramescu, October 29, 1944

On this day in 1944 Romanian troops liberated Carei, the last German-occupied city in Romania. It is also the birthday of Romania’s last king, Michael I. (Pre-emptive answer: No, I don’t know why the there is a “I” if there won’t be a second.)

King Michael, or Mihai, became heir apparent of Romania at age 4 after his father Crown Prince Carol II abandoned his claim to the throne to elope with his mistress. When his grandfather, King Ferdinand died, the 6 year-old boy became king.

However in 1930, Carol II returned to the throne, becoming perhaps the only European king to have succeeded his own son.

In 1940, Carol II refused to go along with pro-Nazi Romanian leaders. He was forced to abdicate the throne for his son, 18 year-old Michael, who was expected to rule as a puppet monarch for a fascist Romanian government allied with Hitler.

There are conflicting stories of Michael’s motivations for turning against Germany in 1944. Some portray him as a hero whose daring fight against fascist leaders hastened the Nazi defeat, thus saving tens of thousands of lives. Others claim he was a pragmatist who had no choice but to switch once it became clear the Soviets were winning.

According to future Soviet leader Nikita Khurshchev…

In 1944, as we approached Bessarabia and fighting broke out on its territory, and then as we approached the borders of Romania itself, it became evident that the pointer on the scale had tipped strongly in the direction of victory for our side…Then a coup occurred in Romania. The young King Michael took part it it…In Romania a situation took shape in which the sympathies of the people moved to the left, the authority of the Communist Party rose, and the king decided the Communists should participate in the new government that was being formed…The question of whether Romania would take the socialist path did not come up at the time.”

–Memoirs of Nikita Khruschchev

The U.S. awarded King Michael the Legion of Merit for his bravery, and the Soviets awarded him the Order of Victory. But proof that no good deed goes unpunished, the Romanian Communist government abolished the monarchy in January 1948 and forced Michael to leave the country. According to Khrushchev, Michael was told, “he could take everything with him that he considered necessary, but he had to leave his kingdom.”

In exile, he married Princess Anne of Bourbon-Parma with whom he raised 5 daughters in Switzerland. The former king worked for an aircraft company training European pilots to fly with American instruments.

The former king once said:

“Though many people think that not to be allowed back into your country is easier to bear than not to be allowed out of it, this is not true. The feeling of powerlessness and loss of liberty is associated with both.

Michael of Romania: The King and the Country

King Michael was invited to return briefly to Romania in 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

He is one of the last surviving heads of state from World War II.

October 25: Romanian Armed Forces Day

A Survivor: Romania’s Lucky Enough King

Memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev

Romanian Flag Day

United Nations Day

October 24

“Millions of tongues record thee, and anew
Their children’s lips shall echo them, and say—
‘Here where the sword united nations drew,
Our countrymen were warring on that day!”

–Lord George Gordon Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

In 2009 the UN turned 63, the same age its leading proponent was when he died in April 1945, a month shy of Germany’s surrender.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had spent his 63rd birthday (January 30, 1945) aboard the USS Quincy on route to meet Churchill and Stalin in the Crimea. Stalin had refused to travel far “on doctor’s orders”, so FDR, stricken with polio and two months from death, trekked halfway across the world. Churchill once said of Yalta, “We could not have found a worse place if we had spent ten years on research.”

At Yalta, Churchill and Roosevelt lost on the issue of future democratic elections in Soviet-controlled Poland. But they got one thing from Stalin. They settled the “veto issue” that had halted the negotiations of the formation of the “United Nations”, an international organization that would curb future territorial aggression.

[Previous to this, the term “United Nations” referred to an alliance of countries fighting against the Axis Powers in World War II. The January 1, 1942 Declaration by United Nations had stated that “Each Government pledges itself to employ its full resources, military or economic, against those members of the Tripartite Pact and its adherents with which such government is at war.“]

On April 12, 1945, hours after FDR’s death, the new VP Harry Truman was sworn in as President of the United States, inheriting a World War and an atomic bomb project so secret that the Soviets had known of its existence before he did. Truman’s first decision as President, immediately after taking the oath, was to carry on with the scheduled UN conference in San Francisco. “It was what Roosevelt wanted,” he said.

Two weeks later, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco to forge the Charter of the United Nations, based on negotiations between the US, UK, USSR and China.

Twenty five years earlier a similar organization, the League of Nations, had stumbled in its infancy when Woodrow Wilson, who had pushed the idea of the League of Nations to the rest of the world, failed to gain enough support from his own Congress to join it.

This time, with the hindsight of WWII, the U.S. Senate approved the charter, 89 to 2. On August 8, two days after Truman dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and one day before Nagasaki, the U.S. became the first country to submit its formal documents to the United Nations.

It was an ominous moment of gestation for a world peace organization, and a foretelling one. The power of all the countries of the world would be eclipsed by the atomic weapons of the two most powerful. And thus for most of its life, the UN’s influence was secondary to the Cold War tug-of-war between the U.S.-led NATO and the Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact.

Founding of UN
Founding of the U.N.

The UN first convened on October 24, now observed as United Nations Day.

Today, if there is one thing that unites all the contradictory and warring countries of the earth, it may be universal disappointment at the United Nations, seen as a tool of the U.S. by much of the West, and as a tool of the West by the rest of the world. While in the U.S., as conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly once told War Crimes Ambassador David Scheffer, “I’m not going to make an excuse for the U.S. government. Our intelligence agencies obviously have been troubled. But you are making an excuse for the United Nations, which I think is so impotent there isn’t enough Viagra in the world.”

Still, for all its faults, this year the United Nations is technically older than most governments on earth. That means over 100 nations have gained their independence since its formation, and most of these were subjugated colonies and satellites of the Big Five in charge. Even if the UN isn’t directly responsible for all these births, it has created a forum in which the countries of the earth are forced, for a brief moment, to see themselves through their neighbors’ eyes. And in a world this small, that may prove to be the most powerful negotiation tool of all.

United Nations: The First 50 Years – Stanley Meisler

Hungary – Republic Day

October 23

For three decades Hungarians were forbidden to mention the events that occurred on October 23, 1956.

After World War II, Hungary found itself increasingly under the thumb of the Soviet occupiers that had liberated the country from the Nazis. The Communist Party slowly replaced the democratically elected Hungarian government, and the Hungarian State Security Police “purged” thousands of political dissidents through relocation, imprisonment, and execution.

In 1955 Hungarians hoped their country might go the way of Austria, becoming a demilitarized, independent country. However, the Warsaw Pact of that year bound Hungary to the USSR and formed part of “the Iron Curtain”.

In Poland, public outcry at Soviet quashing of an uprising had led the Soviets to make concessions to Poland in October 1956. Hungarian students expressing solidarity with the Poles by holding a demonstration in Budapest at statue of Polish-Hungarian General Józef Bern. Students cut the Soviet coat of arms from the Hungarian flag and sang the old national song, Nemzeti dal, “We vow we will no longer remain slaves.”

According to reports, the crowd swelled from 20,000 people to as many as 200,000. By evening, the crowd had toppled the 10 meter tall statue of the recently-deceased Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and placed Hungarian flags in his boot. As the demonstrations multiplied and crowds grew unruly, Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest. But it was the much reviled Security Police that fired the first shots into the crowd.

News of the clashes in Budapest spread throughout the country. Protests and demonstrations broke across Hungary, followed by mob violence against the Security Police and full-scale revolution.

On the 28th of October, Soviets called for a ceasefire and Soviet forces withdrew from Budapest. A new national Hungarian government was proclaimed, led by Imre Nagy, with the intention of becoming a neutral multi-party democracy.

The joy was brief. On November 3, the infant government was invited to negotiate the withdrawal of Soviet forces. Arriving at the meeting point, the delegation was arrested. Soviet tanks attacked Budapest in “Operation Whirlwind”. By November 10, when the last rebels conceded defeat, 2,500 Hungarians and 722 Soviet troops were dead.

It would be a long road to freedom for the Hungarians. On October 23, 1989, just before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Republic of Hungary was proclaimed, and October 23 was declared a national holiday in memory of the short-lived government and the revolution that refused to be forgotten.

Simchat Torah

October 20-21, 2011

September 29 – October 1, 2010

October 10-11, 2009

Simchat Torah means “Rejoicing in the Torah.”

The Torah is comprised of the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Pentateuch. Portions are read in the synagogue throughout the year, from the first chapter of Genesis (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”) to the last chapter of Deuteronomy (“The Death of Moses”).


In Hebrew it’s called Bereshit, or “In the Beginning.”

Genesis is the “fun” book. Nearly all the Sunday school stories of the Torah hail from Genesis. This includes Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham (the patriarch of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) and Abe’s male line: his son Isaac, grandson Jacob, and great-grandson Joseph (the one with the amazing technicolor dreamcoat, if you’re into that kind of thing.)


In Hebrew it’s Shemot, or “Names.” But the Greeks added some pizzaz. The Exodus tells the story of Charlton Heston, or “Moses”, in Egypt. It includes the Ten Plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, and the Ten Commandments, which God gave Moses to civilize the ancient Hebrews when they were cow-worshippers in the desert. (And which Cecil B. DeMille reintroduced to Americans when they were flappers in ’20s.)

DeMilles Ten Commandments, 1923 version
DeMille's "Ten Commandments", 1923 version


The Levites were one of the twelve tribes of Israel, descended from Jacob. In Hebrew the book is Viyakra, “He Called”.

If you’ve ever read the Bible cover to cover (you have way too much free time on your hands, and) you know that Leviticus is where it starts to get wild, if not repetitive. Here, God gives one of his many gentle yet firm encouragements to follow his commands:

27 ” ‘If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, 28 then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. 29 You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. 30 I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you. 31 I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings. 32 I will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled. 33 I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins.

Leviticus 26

Leviticus also the book that gives us the legal precedent behind California Propositions:

Thou shall not lie with a man as thou lies with a woman.

Leviticus 18:22


In the Hebrew: Bamidbar, “In the Wilderness…”

Don’t let the Hebrew fool you. The name “Numbers” is more representative of how exciting it is. Numbers contains detailed census information about the twelve tribes during the forty years in the desert. But Numbers is also the source of alien-conspiracy theories since time immemorial:

15 On the day the tabernacle, the Tent of the Testimony, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire… 17 Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped… 21 Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. 22 Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out.

Numbers 9:15


Finally we get to Deuteronomy, or “Second Law.” A look back on the Laws of Moses before his death. In Hebrew it’s Devarim: “Things.”

Although t-shirts today proudly proclaim the wisdom of Leviticus 18:22, fewer espouse the need to follow to the letter of the law Deuteronomy 22:

13 If a man takes a wife and, after lying with her, dislikes her 14 and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,” 15 then the girl’s father and mother shall bring proof that she was a virgin to the town elders at the gate… Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, 18 and the elders shall take the man and punish him. 19 They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver…

20 If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, 21 she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death…

Although that would make a catchy t-shirt!


All told, the Hebrew Bible contains not ten but 613 Commandments. That’s right, Christians have it easy. Try remembering all these puppies.

Deuteronomy and the Torah end with the death of Moses, Judaism’s greatest prophet.

No one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

Deuteronomy 34:12

Assassination of Molchior Ndadaye

October 21

“The was no way to predict or prepare for Rwanda.”

Not exactly true. In 1993, a year prior to the Rwanda genocide, a nearly identical scenario occurred in Burundi.

After years of Tutsi rule, Hutu political parties united in their support to elect Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu, as President of Burundi. The Hutu parties succeeded, ousting the incumbent President Pierre Buyoya, a Tutsi, in the country’s first democratic election.

Ndadaye was 40 years old. He had grown up during the intense ethnic wars of 1972. He studied at the University of Rwanda and at the National Academy of Arts and Trades in France. He sought to bridge the ethnic divide in Burundi by appointing Tutsis to top governments posts, including that of Prime Minister. But less than three months from taking office a coup erupted to removed the ruling Hutu government. On October 21, 1993, under the guise of protection, Tutsi security forces escorted Ndadaye and top government officials to a secret location, and murdered them.

The coup ultimately failed, but the President’s death sparked passion and anger across the country, fueled by radio and other mass media. Hutus attacked Tutsis in mass, neighbor against neighbor. The weapon of choice, the machete. The Tutsi-led army retaliated by killing tens of thousands of Hutu men, women, and children. Before long, an estimated 100,000 Hutu and Tutsi Burundians lay dead.

And the world was none the wiser.

Despite the lessons learned from Burundi, the United Nations remained ill-equipped to combat the ethnic massacres in Rwanda the following year. In July 1994, a plane carrying both the Rwandan President and the new President of Burundi crashed, igniting the bloodiest massacre in modern times. In a matter of months, a million men, women, and children were slaughtered by their own neighbors.

The Burundi Civil War continued until 2005, taking the lives of over a quarter million Hutus and Tutsis.

The wounds are slow to heal. Burundi is one of the ten poorest countries in the world. Today its people remember the horrors of 1993 and the assassination of President Molchior Ndadaye.

Molchior Ndadaye
Molchior Ndadaye


October 20

When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the Land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.

Jomo Kenyatta

Jomo Kenyatta was a controversial figure, difficult to categorize, impossible to stop. He straddled the world of traditional Kenyan tribalism and European imperialism during the country’s most revolutionary years, and is considered Kenya’s founding father.

Kenyatta was born Kamau wa Negengi, a member of the Kikuyu people, on this day in 1894. His first contact with the West was at age 10, when a leg infection caused his family to seek help at the Church of Scotland mission. Kamau studied English and the Bible at the mission school and was baptized “John Peter.”

He found work at the Nairobi Public Works Department, and earned the nickname “Kenytta”, Kikuyu for the type of fancy belt he always wore. Kenyatta took an interest in local politics, joined the Kikuyu Central Association and edited a small newspaper.

In 1929, Kenyatta traveled to London to argue for Kenyan land interests.  He met with little success, but published an editorial in The Times.

Kenyatta studied at the London School and Economics and the Soviet Union’s Moscow State University, briefly joining the Communist Party. Despite his involvement in the Communist Party, later as leader of Kenya, he fought against nationalization of industry and agriculture, encouraging instead European investment in Kenya.

Jomo Kenyatta
Jomo Kenyatta

In 1952, the violent Mau Mau rebellion broke out against British rule. Kenyatta denied involvement in the Mau Mau attacks, but he was arrested and convicted by a British court in a highly publicized trial and sentenced to 7 years hard labor.

When Kenyans won the right to vote in 1960, Kenyatta was elected President while still in detention. He negotiated Kenya’s terms for independence from Britain, and became the independent nation’s first Prime Minister and President in 1963 and 1964, respectively. He died in 1978.

Kenyatta is controversial in Kenya even today. He pioneered a one-party political system, and though he greatly increased Kenya’s wealth during his presidential years, much of that wealth went directly to his family and cronies.

According to one blogger:

“If parliament sees it necessary that Kenyatta Day be retained because of historical significance, then I can only suggest that it be renamed Heroes Day or Wazalendo Day or whatever, but just not to name it to one individual who caused Kenya more harm than good in their life time.”