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Aharon Varady

Aharon Varady

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, http://opensiddur.org

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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 noosphere – 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. Please comment or make a correction if you feel the urge to do so while reading.

About Me

Professionally, I am a planner, also sometimes called a community planner, city planner, urban planner, or in the UK, town planner. My main interests as a practicing planner are in preserving habitat and conserving open space through the planning and redevelopment of human settlements, creating recreational and wildlife corridors in urban greenways, and in general, applying innovative green solutions to traditional planning problems. I also like it when people recognize and appreciate the interesting cool things around them (aka environmental and cultural assets), because in general curious people make for vital neighborhoods and caring societies — and so to this end I have also written a neighborhood planning history. (More about that below.) Since Spring 2007, I’ve been a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, and I have a resume linked down below on the sidebar if my goals appeal to you and if you’re looking for some help.

Personally, 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. Having grown up Jewish, I use the lattice of Jewish tradition and the socially and environmentally responsible values of derekh eretz (courtesy and consideration) to advance these goals. Besides planning, I like to think about mythology, role playing games, magical realism, obscure symbolism, and other ephemera that reveal their relevance in mysterious epiphanies.

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. On and off-line, I direct the Open Siddur Project. I teach basic ecology and Jewish environmental wisdom, mainly to children, but occasionally to adults as well.

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 under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike open content license and is also available as a free (gratis) PDF download, but if you prefer a printed copy you can 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 in the Fall of 2005, I moved to Louisiana and worked to provide planning support for city, parish, and regional planning initiatives. At the end of 2008, I left Louisiana and returned to Philadelphia.

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 there 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. 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.


Omphalos is Greek for a navel or belly button. In a particular cosmology widespread throughout the ancient world, the omphalos represented the very center of creation, the first solid created, that first bit of earth spread out upon the primordial waters, the foundation stone of the earth, the divider that separated the waters above the heavens from the waters below the earth, as well as the plug that keeps the waters below from rising back up and flooding the entire world. Artifacts and polished stones representing this mythic concept were celebrated as omphalos stones. Mythic geographies mapped certain sacred spaces as the omphalos, ie. the center, of their world. 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. (Interestingly, some scholars believe that the original omphalos at Delphi to have been a venerated meteorite, just as the Black Stone is likely to be.) From at least late antiquity onwards, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was held to be the navel of the world according to Jews. According to a popular legend concerning the construction of the first temple in Jerusalem, the Even Shetiyah, or Foundation Stone, located at the base of the Temple also served to hold back the underground waters from reflooding and destroying the world. Jerusalem can also be seen depicted as the “navel of the world” in medieval mappa mundi. Isn’t this all fascinating?

This blog is, in a related way, 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. My omphalos also imports blog posts I’ve written over time at other sites, and shares images taken by my camera that I’ve used to illustrate my articles here.



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