My name is Aharon Varady. Welcome to my home here on the Internet. This is a space I use to jot down thoughts and comments and ideas to be synthesized later. Less a personal journal of my life and psyche and more of a portal into a sort of personal noösphere – a meta-brain for storage and synthesis, a little space where I can work on articulating an insight and, through that exercise, process all sorts of ideas that I want to invest more time and study. You’re welcome to peruse it and to learn more about me. Please comment or contact me if you feel the urge to do so while reading.
I am a community planner (M.C.P.) and Jewish educator (M.A. J.Ed.) working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of Torah study. I am the founding director of the Open Siddur Project. My advocacy for the Free-Culture movement and for the adoption of Open Source strategies in the Jewish community has been written about in the Atlantic Magazine, Tablet, and Haaretz. I studied environmental planning, GIS, and planning history at DAAP/University of Cincinnati, and the intersection of theurgy, experiential education, and ecology at the Davidson School of Education/JTSA. I teach basic ecology and Jewish environmental wisdom, mainly to children, but occasionally to adults as well.
My major interests are in learning skills and teaching exercises that develop historical and ecological awareness, compassion for other creatures in their ecosystems, and creativity in expression. I see my work as advancing a humanist tradition within Judaism that envisions progress in universalist terms: the widespread adoption of animal welfare, environmental, and social policies that seek to moderate and curtail human predation and seek justice for the voiceless and vulnerable. Besides planning, I like to think, read, and write about mythology, roleplaying as improvisational praxis, magical realism, obscure symbolism, and other ephemera that reveal their relevance in mysterious epiphanies. I enjoy bicycling, canoe camping, cloud watching, hammock sailing, practicing the dérive while exploring new cities and towns, and learning more about urban planning, nature, and myth.
As a planning practitioner, I seek opportunities to preserve habitat and conserve open space through the planning and redevelopment of human settlements, creating recreational and wildlife corridors in urban greenways, and in general, to apply innovative green solutions to traditional planning problems. I’m happy to help people recognize and appreciate the environmental, historic and architectural assets under their noses. Curious people make for vital neighborhoods and caring societies — and so to this end I wrote a book on the planning history of a neighborhood in Cincinnati. (More about this book below.) In the spring of 2007, I joined the American Institute of Certified Planners. If my professional goals appeal to you and if you’re looking for someone creative and thoughtful on your team, I might be available to work with you.
I received my Masters degree in Community Planning from the University of Cincinnati in 2004. Following graduate school, I published a book based on the subject of my thesis, the planning and environmental history of a neighborhood of Cincinnati called Bond Hill. The book was published with an Open Content license and is also available gratis for download here (PDF, 50mb). (If you prefer a printed copy please purchase one from lulu.com.)
My first year after school, I served as a researcher and program assistant to Peter Harnik at the Center for City Park Excellence, a think tank of the Trust for Public Land in Washington, DC, that provides basic research on urban park systems. Following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I moved to Louisiana where for the next two and a half year I worked to provide planning support for city, parish, and regional planning initiatives.
Prior to my work in planning, I toiled as an open source computer programmer for a small Internet company in Philadelphia and computer tech support worker at the University of Pennsylvania. While in Philadelphia, I directed the Philadelphia Ambient Consortium, a community arts organization devoted to connecting artists and listeners of ambient, space, and other minimalist, mostly electronic, music.
In the last few years, I’ve been engrossed in Judaic Studies, studying experiential education and directing an open source digital humanities/craft project. At the Davidson Graduate School of Education at JTS, I studied the intersection of theurgy, experiential education, and ecology. I graduated with a Masters degree in Jewish education, in 2013. Currently, I reside in Cincinnati, Ohio with my cat, Dot.
Omphalos is Greek for a navel or belly button. Mythic geographies imagined certain geographic locations not only as sacred but as the locus or omphalos of their world. In a particular cosmology widespread throughout the ancient world, the omphalos represented the very center of creation, the foundation stone of the earth, the first solid earth from which land was spread out upon the primordial waters, the divider that separated the waters above the heavens from the waters below the earth, as well as the plug keeping the waters below from rising and flooding the entire world. Artifacts and polished stones representing this mythic concept were celebrated as omphalos stones. Each of the maoi, the gigantic stone heads carved from the volcanic rock of Easter Island, face towards the islands center or “navel of the world,” one of several possible translations for Rapa Nui, the name of the island according to its indigenous inhabitants. Delphi, the sacred city of the Greek world, held an omphalos stone. (The current omphalos stone on display in Delphi is an ancient copy of this original lost stone.) The Black Stone of the Kaaba in Mecca is another such stone. (Just as the Black Stone of Kaaba, some scholars believe that the original omphalos at Delphi to have been a venerated meteorite.) From at least late antiquity onwards, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was held by Jews to be the navel of the world. The ehven shetiyah, or Foundation Stone, located below the Temple’s altar was believed to hold back the underground waters from flooding and destroying the world. Jerusalem can also be seen depicted as an omphalos in the mappa mundi of medieval Christians. I find the study of worldviews and their cosmographies, fascinating.
I think of this blog as my omphalos since it is the central point for storing the ideas, observations, insights, and expressions that make themselves manifest when I contemplate my world from inside my head, which I guess in practice might be called navel gazing.