Tag Archives: Religion

Beccaria Legends

‘In my little town of Beccaria in the central Pennsylvania mountains, we had a little church, and it was the center of our “so-called religious and social life” and so whatever happened in that church would be pretty powerful for me, even through my high school years as I think back on it. But what was a little different in this Evangelical culture that I grew up in was that every summer there would be something called “Evangelism Week”. There were these men who may not have even ever gone to seminary or bible school… But they had a certain amount of skill, and they were Evangelists. For one week we would go to church every night and they would preach. That preaching was always fire and brimstone… It was always how everybody in Beccaria was sinful, was bad, was going to go to hell for sure… everything that might be fun, like square dancing… or never mind any other kind of dancing… listening to country western music or wearing lipstick or makeup of any kind… having your hair permed or going to the movies… which was our main form of entertainment… That was all work of the devil. The devil was a very real kind of figure… a mystical evil legend and thing that was just ready to pop out in this 300-person population town. It was very real to me and very powerful to everyone in Beccaria. This has definitely affected me my whole life. I’m a very dutiful and prim person because of these tales told of the devil each Evangelism week. In the families that were pious, their children were damaged by that, like my cousins. I didn’t think about it as mystical when I was a kid, but it really was. But we would go… we would sit at it every year… every summer through high school. They would preach to us these tales in the pulpit and they would be very explosive, dynamic, and loud when they acted out these stories. It was always legends about the devil, nothing about Jesus or the “good parts of Christianity.” To think that I am almost 90 years old… it haunts me still… it’s as vivid to me as anything… it was the dark side.’ – VB

VB would hear these tales of the devil each summer growing up from groups of men who came to her little town of Beccaria, Pennsylvania. It was tradition for her family, and even her own parents grew up attending the same Evangelism week. This single week each summer practically dictated the way VB decided to live her life and how she wanted to raise her own children. The influence these tales and legends about the devil had on her practically consumed her whole childhood, and even decades later, she still thinks about it. She reminisced on the fact that after this week, she would refuse to go to any more Saturday night square dances, and even skip out on the Sunday afternoon movie showings, out of fear of damnation. It would take months for this influence to wear off before she would even consider going out to have a moment of fun. VB gave an anecdote that these preachings had a generational impact, her parents, grandparents, and even her cousins al felt affected by Evangelism week. As stated in the paraphrase of her story, she lives a dutiful life, raising her children to do so as well. However, she recalls that when her daughter married a “fun-loving” man, it truly changed a lot of her own perspective on religion and the way lives should be lived… allowing her to accept the fun times and move past the idea of entertainment being sinful.

My initial understanding of this story told by VB was that she grew up in a very small religious town, and with the Evangelism week was an opportunity for the church to instill fear into the townspeople to control their behaviors. This follows the stereotypes that I grew up learning about small “middle of nowhere” towns such as Beccaria Pennsylvania. However, a lot of religious folklore was present in Beccaria with this local tradition and annual ritual for the community. As folklore does, it brought the community together, sharing the same ideas and beliefs to all that would listen. Additionally, this story told by VB shows how oral tradition can shape beliefs of the entire community who listened, something folklore has been known to do. Additionally, much folklore has gestures and is performed, and as VB recalls, the preachers served a fiery sermon with animated gestures, practically making it into a performance. This folklore allowed the residents of Beccaria to shape their way of lives and have a collective experience together. While folklore is usually thought of in the sense of fairytales and mythical legends, it often can be used in a fear-mongering sense as it is here. Not only has this folklore been passed down from VB’s ancestors, but VB continued to spread this oral tradition to her own family, even though she was far from her hometown of Beccaria, no longer attending the Evangelism week.

The Story of the Prague Golem


AG: The story goes that a rabbi in Prague was fed up with the pogroms and violence against the Jews in their ghetto. He created a man out of clay and imbued him with the word “emet” to describe god and it became a fierce protector of the ghetto. It successfully fought off violent goyim for some time, but eventually turned on its creators, and went on a violent rampage against the ghetto. It was destroyed by scratching off the ‘e’ in “emet” changing god to “death”. The ghetto in Prague was a real place that existed for hundreds of years. The Jews there had once been slaughtered by the local population


AG: I’d definitely heard the word and the general concepts all over the media since I was a kid. “Golem” is a common association for any sort of creature made out of inorganic materials. I didn’t become more familiar with the specific legend until I played the video game “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”, which includes a scenario where the Jews of a Nazi concentration camp have built a golem, and you have to help them complete it. I studied it in more detail when I took an ancient to late middle ages Jewish history class in undergrad.


The story of the golem is prevalent throughout Jewish culture as a protector. While some Jewish people genuinely believe in the creation of the golem, the story more serves as a lesson of how only God can create life. This belief is reflected in other Abrahamic religions as well. In Islam, it is forbidden to draw faces due to a similar belief.


This informant shared a tradition their family follows due to their Jewish heritage. In the Jewish culture, it is very common to find a small piece of wood in the doorway of any home. This wood has an extremely important purpose as it is a symbol of blessings which sanctifies the house which it hangs on. A Mezuzah is a small, decorative piece which specifically hangs on the right of a doorframe from the perspective of the entrance of the home. Mezuzah actually means doorpiece in Hebrew, embodying the message that Jews proudly live in this home and are not afraid to show it. Mezuzahs have been around for thousands of years, connecting, protecting, and uniting Jews around the world. 

The Mezuzah tradition highlights a significant aspect of Jewish culture, deeply rooted in religious practice and family heritage. Usually the Mezuzah bears a parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah which serves as a symbol of blessings and sanctification for the home.  As individuals pass through the doorway adorned with a Mezuzah, they are reminded of their connection to God and their obligation to uphold the teachings of the Torah. The Mezuzah carries both spiritual and symbolic weight, embodying the Jewish people’s pride in their heritage and their commitment to living in accordance with their beliefs. Despite centuries of dispersion, Jewish communities worldwide have maintained the practice of affixing Mezuzah to their doorways preserving a tangible link to their shared heritage and faith.

Purim Jewish Religious Festival Celebration


Collector: “In your childhood, have you participated in any specific rituals or festivals?”

Informant: “I did a lot of Jewish religious holidays as a kid. During Purim at my temple — Temple Israel of West Hollywood— we eat different religious foods. There’s a cookie called the Hamantash which is like a triangle-shaped shortbread, filled with jelly. It’s so good. And then you have to do certain prayers and like community activities. The celebration is obviously like about one of the many genocides of the Jewish people, we overcame that, let’s party. And part of it has to do with this woman named Esther. Basically, she had to disguise herself as like, not being a Jew. So part of the ritual is to dress up in costume. So it’s like the Jewish Halloween!”


The informant is a female Jewish undergraduate student at the University of Southern California who grew up in Los Angeles. She regularly attends on-campus Jewish religious events at Hillel. 


Learning more about my friend’s religious traditions showed me how different my religious celebrations are in comparison. The costume ritual stood out to me the most. To make a Purim feel like a distinctly special day, inverted social rules are applied. People are expected to dress differently than in their everyday life. The Hamantash cookies were another tradition that piqued my interest. Indulging in this treat is reserved/associated with this special holiday. In my religion, I can’t recall any treats that have the same significance.

Madonna Della Cava Feast

“Growing up in Boston we had a lot of festivals, and a few jump to my mind–there’s an Italian feast that everyone goes to in late August, like in middle of the streets in Boston, and you can get Italian food and listen to live music! It’s great. It’s called the Madonna Della Cava Feast, and my whole neighborhood (the North End) is totally transformed during the festival. I think the festival coincides with one in Pietraperzia, Italy, which is cool because an immigrant community halfway across the world has this intimate thing in common with its roots!”


This conversation was conducted in person at a dining hall, and I transcribed as faithfully as possible our conversation into written form.


This also highlights how festivals can have a cultural element where even in another nation, similar aspects are celebrated. Boston has a significant Italian population, so this isn’t surprising, but it does illustrate how these immigrant/motherland communities might be closer than one may imagine, given that immigration to a new cultural context might induce changes in the way festivals are celebrated.