Sunday, December 14, 2014

A letter home to Mater

Dear Brandeis University,

I guess I owe you an explanation, but in a way, I guess you owe me one as well. So, as tough as this letter is for me to write, I want to clear the air between us so you know what precipitated this break-up. It isn't you and it isn't me. It's you.

You probably have been combing through the applications, trying to find the one marked "Madeline Rosen." You figure, "That's a Brandeis Family! Surely their child will apply to the school." And I wish you were right. We ARE a Brandeis family, and proud of it. In fact, I am sitting right now wearing a Brandeis scarf. A scarf for heaven's sake! A scarf that I have saved for the last 20+ years and which I love wearing not just because it keeps my (ever more sensitive) neck warm, but because it proclaims to the world "I went to Brandeis and that's pretty darned awesome!" And when the Mrs. wears her "Let's shoot for the top" t-shirt, or when I show the kids my Brandeis English department sweatshirt? We smile and embrace great memories of our time on campus. And you know what? Of all the schools which I attended, Brandeis is the one school that I consistently give money to as an alum. That must say something. Two generations, 4 Brandeis students (my parents, and the wife and I, all hail to the white and the blue) and yet you aren't going to find an application for my elder child.

Maybe it isn't because you have changed -- maybe I just didn't see what you were back then and my parents were willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the world has changed around us. I don't know, but let me detail my thought process so you can understand my thinking.

First off, you, while a fine school, have made political decisions which highlight your openness and at the same time, call in to question your mission to be a safe haven for Jews and Zionists. Yes, I know, it is important to foster open debate and freedom of thought because if we stifle it for any group, we run the risk of endorsing censorship for the Jewish voice. But the fact is, my child, an ardent Zionist, should not be wandering through a campus which allows voices of hate to carry the day. It is, to my mind, simple. Maybe I am holding Brandeis up to a separate standard, and that isn't fair, but I do it. When I attended, there were all sorts of voices of dissension but there was an underlying sense that to be pro-Israel would never go out of style. The news I have read and the anecdotes retold to me by my own students who have gone through campus tell me otherwise. Sure, you say, there is tension, but that tension exists on many campuses. Yes, it does. And yes, wherever Maddie goes, she will have to confront hatred and bigotry. And if all else was equal, Brandeis, with a relatively small anti-Zionist contingent might still be a viable option for her. But all else isn't equal.

Next, you are a fine school, but one which costs a huge amount. My parents, God bless them, were able to afford to send their children to expensive schools. I am simply not in that boat. I do fine; don't get me wrong. I know that compared to the mass of the American population, I am blessed and in the top levels. But when it comes to schools, sinking 250k plus into 4 years just isn't in the financial cards. I don't want Maddie leaving school saddled with huge debts (and don't want those debts for myself) and, because the Mrs. and I are squarely comfortable, we just don't qualify for any solid financial aid. Sure, FAFSA might throw a few thousand bucks at us and I'm neither rejecting nor taking that money for granted. But the fact is, a yearly tuition bill over 50 thousand (plus all the other costs) is not defrayed much by $4,800 in grant money. But again, could we make it work if everything else was equal? Maybe. We'd scrimp and save and cut corners and find a way. But all else isn't equal.

I left Brandeis with a degree in English and American Literature. The wife left with a double BA in English and in History. We are children of the liberal arts and we are proud of it. A liberal arts education creates a rounded person -- someone who knows just enough about many things to either create a well-informed world view, or be an asset on a Trivia Night team. We, I'd like to think, are both. We both were prepared for graduate school and have found careers which leverage our multi-faceted education. But the fact is, it took me 4 years after graduation to find myself and during that time, I was lucky enough to have parents who could continue to carry me (again, God bless them). My liberal arts degree trained me to think critically and communicate effectively, but not actually DO anything. And the world has changed. No longer can a student leave having tasted of the intellectual delights of a broad range of fields and then start to find direction. While some families might still be able to set up a financial plan which can weather a longer road towards "life" and "career" we cannot. We want Maddie to try different things and end up happy in a field which suits her passions, but we need to get her on that path a touch earlier. And Brandeis, while you have many classes and tracks which I still would love to try out, the fact is, for her areas of interest, she would be floating between departments for four years, never being able to focus and start herself towards anything real. She could create her own major but how would that look to prospective employers. At other schools, she could go into a well regarded program, one nationally ranked, one with established connections into industry.

So with a heavy heart, I have to tell you that you should not expect that she, a student whose temperament, family history and intellectual curiosity would otherwise make her a poster child for Brandeis, will be applying to walk your storied halls. I have another child --- one with a different skill set, but one with the same parents, with the same underlying concerns and with the same financial limitations. Maybe in the next few years, I will win the lottery, the price of education will drop precipitously due to competition from online degree programs, or you will realize how cool it would be to have a third generation student at your school so you will come a-calling and throwing money. Maybe, you will rediscover your mission and take a stand against injustice and evil, and realize that one does not have to have a mind so open that one's heart falls out. But probably not.

So while I might still send in some money each year, it won't be as much as I have. While I may eventually come up for a reunion, it will be to relive the past, not celebrate the future. And while I wear this scarf, I will not be able to hand it down to a next generation of Brandeis student in the family. We can still be friends.

If you want to talk, feel free to contact me. To thee, alma mater, we'll always be true.

Dan ('91)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Look it up

I wrestle often with the question of technology in the classroom. Part of me wants to remove it completely -- no watches, books or shoes ("machinery and equipment developed from the application of scientific knowledge") and have a good, old fashioned Socratic chat with the students, inviting them to think in response to challenges about what they think they know and/or believe. At other times I wish that I could plug each student into the internet and take for granted that basic background information has been assimilated and integrated into the world view so I can move onto the good stuff.

I think that some of this tension derives from the experiences of my teacher mentor, Charlie Moore.

Charlie Moore worked with an honors class back in the late eighties and it wasn't an easy class. You had a geek who was into math, a preppie guy who was hyperintelligent and good looking. There was a prodigy, and angry black woman, the artsy ditz, an immigrant and a motorcycle dude who was ashamed of his own intelligence and didn't want to be confined with the rest. Class periods were about 5 minutes long and there didn't seem to be any real curriculum but week in, week out, Mr. Moore tried to impress upon his students that facts were only a starting point and a real interaction with thought happened when students challenged themselves and each other and saw how the dry facts relate to their world.

Also in the class was a student named Dennis Blunden. Dennis was somewhat overweight and was a computer genius. In 1987 the idea of a computer genius resonated with me because I aspired to be a computer genius. Here is a picture of him, sitting at an Apple, way beack then.

Didn't I mention that this was a TV show? Maybe I should have mentioned that.

This was a TV show. A prescient TV show.

Dennis didn't just have some PC sitting in front of him (ironic that that picture has him at an Apple product), but one that had all the information one would need to second guess a teacher. He had sort-of internet like connection to an encyclopedic range of information. Now back then, I had a computer too. It was also connected, via a 300 baud modem to other bulletin boards. Eventually, I moved to 1200 and then 2400 so the dial up systems I accessed could present ways to hack public phones at what seemed like light speed. I didn't have an encyclopedia or access to one on my computer - when I finally started using Gopher servers, I could still only get information piecemeal, nothing like what Dennis could produce in 1987.

I mention this because I have classes full of modern-day Dennises, and this constant influx of information (assuming they aren't shopping or playing a game...Dennis never seemed to be shopping or playing a game) is a double edged sword. Anything I say is subject to fact checking by a raft of teenagers who can decide my worth as a teacher based on whether or not Wikipedia happens to agree with my understanding of a piece of literature. Now, sure, this keeps me honest (whereas my professional integrity would do nothing of the sort) but it also distracts students from thinking about ideas because they are looking to find chinks in my intellectual armor. Often this does encourage students to pursue independent lines of investigation but sometimes, that is to the detriment of their being exposed to the ideas I am discussing at that given moment in class.

Yesterday, while covering a question of logical, literary and stylistic import in our analysis of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a student went into his virtual world and came back with, "Douglas Adams was asked why he did that and he said 'because I wanted was a joke'." He assumed, and the class followed suit with the assumption, that this not only answered my driving question, but undermined the validity of my holding the conversation and exploring a variety of options. Technology stifled thought. In fact, I was able to reframe the topic and show them how there was still literary value in both the question and the process and that Adams actually supported my position. Fortunately, I can still out-think a bunch of high school students so I saved that class but the threat is there constantly. The presence of excessive factual resources allows students to subcontract their memories, sure, and that might be a good thing, but it also puts too much value on those external thought processes.

SO I am torn. Having a Dennis in the class can be very useful. When a student asks what a word means, I can point to a dictionary or tell the student to look it up. When I can't remember a fact, or make a cultural reference, I can be sure that some kid will plug the gap in either my memory or find the song, show, book or other media piece which will highlight my point. And I can even imagine a class built solely on that skill, finding and making bizarre connections, as popular and useful preparing students for an online interactive future. But when the finding of things steps on the valuing of the self as a source of knowledge and innovation, or when it suborns a subversive approach to the classroom, encouraging students to devalue what the teacher is trying to accomplish by empowering them to focus on the minutae of what is said instead of the ideas presented, it corrodes the vitality and utility of the classroom. Dennis would never have done that to Charlie. Dennis realized that Charlie had more to contribute and had an expertise in thinking and appreciating the whole world and he realized that THAT was what he was supposed to be learning about.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

In Defense of Shylock

I would like to take some time to commit to writing some of the things I have presented to my students over the years regarding the possible reading of Shylock not only as a sympathetic victim, but as a character infused with an awareness of Halacha and the Jewish identity which makes him idealistic, heroic and admirable. It is one of three readings that I work through as we read the play and I don’t present any one as the absolutely correct and exclusive reading, only that any of the three is equally (textually) plausible.

I am not going to focus on the mechanics of court room scene (as defenses on legal grounds have abounded) and am going to confine myself to a close (almost talmudical) reading of the text itself occasionally correlating Shakespearean lines with Jewish law or comparing Shakespeare’s character with others in the Bard’s canon. I am not, though, arguing that the play was written by anyone other than Shakespeare (especially not by a Jewish woman) or that William had some unexpected knowledge of Hebrew as evidenced by other plays. This is about Shylock and the text of Merchant.

1. If Shakespeare wanted Shylock to be the villain he knew how to do it. He gave us Iago, an unapologetic villain who never justifies his evil. Edmund is evil and Regan and Goneril are no prizes either. Richard III, Lady Macbeth? Does any of them get to give a speech which defends their behavior as proper? Yet Shylock has at least one full speech – he explains that Jews are just like non-Jews in ALL ways. If you tickle him, he will laugh. If you hurt him, he will be angry. And, like anyone else, if you act out against him he has the right to take revenge. He lists all sorts of crimes committed against him (being spit on, kicked and called names along with having his business ruined). He even states that he learned about revenge from the non-Jews! So his behavior is justified and even precedented. If Shakespeare wanted him to be a clear villain, why tell of times when he was the victim?

Why have others steal from Shylock (in their encouraging his daughter not only to flee but to take his jewels) which is what motivates him to be strict on the (heretofore joking) terms of the bond. Had they not pushed him, he wouldn’t have pushed back. And even then, he seeks justice, administrative redress, not personal revenge. That’s not villainy, just self-esteem and a sense of self-worth. Villains shouldn’t have that.

So why make Shylock human? Why make the Christians evil in their approach to their religion and to others? Why not have them “turn the other cheek” and let Shylock be the sole voice of evil? The simple fact is that Christians could have been presented as without fault (unlike the superficial Bassanio and the spiteful Antonio) so the contrast with an evil Jew would be stark. But that’s not how the play works.

After this speech (and reminiscent of what happens after the Prince of Morocco makes his statement about how under the skin we are all the same), no character refutes the logic. No one presents a counter argument or shows how the points made are wrong! If Shakespeare wanted to show a character as being wrong, he needed only give another character a speech which undercuts the claims. But he doesn't. The others ignore the speeches and do nothing to mitigate the power of the points.

2. A basic question has to be answered – what knowledge of Judaism did Shakespeare have? Jews had been expelled from England in 1290. While it was possible that some stayed as hidden Jews or that some business men travelled through, it is safe to assume that the average resident of England would have little or no discourse with a Jew. This would also mean that there would be little access to the tenets of Judaism other than the most obvious/textual ones and ones referred to through the lens of Christian teaching. To write a Jewish character would mean to impute all sorts of thinking onto that character without much basis in fact which should highlight the most damning stereotypes or mistaken impressions of Judaism. And yet, Shylock’s statements reveal a substantial amount of awareness of Judaism by Shakespeare, and even validation of Jewish law. It would have been easier to draw a villain in broad and ignorant strokes but all of this unexpected insight into Judaism actually serves to soften our impression of Shylock!

When invited to dinner, Shylock explains (I, iii, 28) that he will not “eat with you, drink with you nor pray with you.” It is nice that he has a list of three items (though the list of things he agrees to do has 4 items) but why does he separate eating and drinking? He had been asked to “dine” which would, one might assume, include eating and drinking. Sure, Shylock wants to distinguish himself and his behavior so he refuses to pray also but why list drink separately (And as a third item on the list, Shylock appends "pray with you" which would reflect a particularly Jewish understanding that ones says a grace AFTER the meal)? Maybe it is because he is aware of a separate set of laws which limit drinking with non-Jews even when the drink, itself is not “not-kosher”. His reasoning for refusal is textually based in the eating of pork (though he doesn’t cite the laws of Kashrut, simply that Gospel account of Jesus driving demons into pigs, making them undesirable to eat) but he resists even drinking because he is aware of additional rules of non-Jews touching uncooked wine. The laws of yayin nesech (wine used for idolatry) are arcane and not as well-known as the biblically listed rules of unfit animal consumption but Shakespeare sees fit to allude to them by explicitly separating eating from drinking. But even if one says that this comment isn’t a reference to those particular laws, there is still an invocation of Jewish law.

[A note significantly after the writing of this -- the fact that the non-Jewish world knew about yayin nesech or other laws making touching of wine problematic and resented Jews for it can be found on page 178 of Haym Soloveitchik's article "Can Halakhic Texts Talk History" from the 1978, Vol 3 issue of AJS (Association for Jewish Studies)]

Even wine that is not used for idolatry poses a problem because the commentators and law codifiers in Judaism forbid extensive social interaction with non-Jews (stam yeynam). Why? To avoid the situation where this interaction might lead to intermarriage. So Shylock resists the meal because he is abiding by a subtler law, one designed to safeguard the religion of his daughter. He agrees to go out to one social event, and what happens? His daughter intermarries! It seems that the caution taught in Judaic law is being validated. Shylock is victimized because he does not follow Jewish law strictly enough; the legalistic tradition could have protected his religion and only when he compromises and goes out does Jessica leave. Why would the “villain” be shown to be not Jewish enough, being punished for compromising his initial, idealistic stance?

[As a side note to the underlying knowledge Shakespeare presents, take a look at what Lancelet Gobbo says when he indicates a wish to leave Shylock's employ which he can't do simply by running away, the way a regular employee might -- (II, ii, 112) "I am a Jew if I serve the Jew any longer." Is this what normally happens when slaves stay with their masters? Do they turn into that master? Is Gobbo concerned that he will turn into Shylock, a money lender or that he will start to observe the mitzvot? No! The fact is, the laws of owning a slave indicate that one who stays with a Jewish master, upon being freed, becomes a Jew. If Lancelet waits until he is freed, he IS a Jew; he doesn't say "I will turn the Jew" or "become" but "I am a Jew." How would Shakespeare have written with this kind of accuracy about a subtlety unique to the Jewish conception of servitude? Shylock, to ensure that Lancelet never becomes a Jew (and knowing that the slave is not fully Jewish until he is freed), does not free him, but resells him to Bassanio so that Lancelet never has to face becoming a Jew!

Another wrinkle is in Lancelet's attack on Jessica -- he claims she is damned because of her father's religion. He suggests the "bastard hope" that Shylock is not Jessica's father but she points out that she would inherit her Jewish identity from her mother! Matrilineal descent as a distinct Jewish practice.]

3. Why call your villain “Shylock”? Shylock is a non-biblical name and definitely one that the audiences would not immediately connect with Judaism. It has no clear Jewish/Hebrew etymology – some connect it to the biblical person Shelah who was Judah’s third son by the daughter of a non-Jew (Gen 38). Others see it as close to the Hebrew word “sheyeilech”, ‘who will go.’ But the bottom line is that if Shakespeare wanted a character who would be tied to Jews, he could have taken a biblical name which alluded to someone memorable and Jewish. From Ariel to Davy to Michael, Shylock knew biblical names and could have chosen any that represented “Jews” but he chose a non-name! Even IN this play he references Jacob and Abram -- he could have made the lead "Jew" who cheats people have a name connected to Jacob who might be the deceiver, but he doesn't.

For the other Jew, he chose “Tubal”? This is not, on its own, even a name, but a prefix for a name, as in Tuval-Kayin, the child of Tzillah and brother of Na’amah (again, a pre-forefathers, pre-Mosaic name). The only interesting thing about Tuval-Kayin is that he took the craft of creating and turned it into “creating weapons for murderers.” AHA you say – perfect description. Except in the text it isn’t – Tubal has no connection to any killing, and Shakespeare could only invoke this idea if he knew the commentators and medrash surrounding the text, which would indicate an abnormal level of Judaic knowledge, one that would not be shared by his audience. So he chose either inconsequential names from well before Judaism developed, or took things that weren’t even really names! (and "Chus," the other Jew? If the U is pronounced as in "but" the word has no value in Hebrew, and if the U is a longer vowel, as in "book" then it is a Hebrew word meaning "Pity" which is a strange thing to name a Jew if the point is that Jews do not display pity.) For Shylock’s daughter he opted for “Jessica”. This is also not a biblical name let alone one connected to Judaism. There was a name in the Hebrew, Yiscah, and she was (by extra-textual commentators) connected to Sarah but the leap from Yiscah to Jessica, even if it could import some sort of meaning by which audiences could judge Judaism, is strained.

5. The other characters mock Shylock for his reaction to the loss of his daughter because he wanders around bemoaning the loss of both his child and his money. Had Shakespeare wanted to make him greedy and villainous, he would have had Shylock make NO mention of Jessica, instead speaking only of the money. Mentioning his daughter reminds us of his status as a grieving father. But as presented, it seems that Shylock is not confused about which item he misses more, but about the combination of the losses – that his daughter was complicit in the loss of the money. This is compounded when she spends the money in ridiculous ways and loses items of significant sentimental value (a ring which was a gift between her parents). His shock is not that she, herself, leaves or that the money, itself, is lost, but that his daughter participates in the theft and squandering of the money. He expects that she would still practice honoring her father and mother but instead, she affiliates with Christianity (ignoring biblical law) and shows disdain for her parents not as Jews, but as human beings! As she switches her identity to one as Christian, she becomes villainous. Her rite of passage into the non-Jewish identity is the victimizing of Shylock, a role which she embraces, and then the making of stupid financial decisions (which puts her in league with the profligate Bassanio).

What is her criticism of her father’s house? That it is tedious. She likes mischief and then says she is not like her father’s “manners.” And what manners have we seen? His adherence to Jewish law but not in any way which is negative. She is rebelling against her religious obligation. Had Shakespeare given the reader any impression that Shylock was criminal or that his religious adherence was somehow flawed, or even that life in his house was destructive and not simply lacking of excitement, then he would be less defensible. But what we have seen of Shylock does not contribute to that.

And as a side note, Shylock then says "would that she were dead at my feet" which most people see to be a statement in which he WISHES that his daughter was dead. But a father whose child has intermarried, according to Jewish law, sits shiva, grieves, and treats the child as if the child IS dead! As such, his wish is not that he wishes her death but that he acknowledges her death and only wishes that, as she is dead, his money would not have been lost ALSO. If she has to be dead, he figures, then let her be dead in front of him and let him have his money. The sadness is at the double loss, not at the loss of the money alone.

6. Ignoring, as I said, the specifics of the court room scene, there is still one larger idea which must be addressed. The entire question of the law is ultimately decided by someone who is in no position to adjudicate. Portia is a woman and a non-lawyer/judge. She is impersonating a law clerk but has no legal standing! Other important officials, when reviewing the case, could not find a way to avoid holding Antonio responsible, so they have to bring in another “expert” to resolve this in their favor. It is unconscionable to consider that a Jew may be on the side of the correct application of the legal system. Shylock, under the law, seems to be in the right. It takes someone who is ignorant of the law to find a way to twist the system to limit his quest for justice. If Shakespeare had wanted Shylock to be the villain, he might have portrayed him as twisting the law or misrepresenting it, or as pursuing something which runs counter the law on its face and which the entire legal system could easily refute and condemn. Instead, Shylock’s legal position is given credence by the local authorities and is only refuted when someone who is in no position to make a judgment does so, victimizing Shylock by misapplying law and bastardizing the system.

Again, this is not all to say that Shylock is a great guy or that Shakespeare intended for us to read him as a sympathetic hero. My only point is that a close reading of the text can be used to reduce the blame and stigma associated with the Jew character and mitigate the vitriol and label of anti-Semitism many associate with the play.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Modus Opera-dumb

I am a staunch defender of the First Amendment. I like many of the amendments, in fact, and have been known to defend them when given the chance. However, I do so with two caveats:

1. I defend them in their spirit, not always in their strict construction, but also in their explicit wording and not in a later presumption of meaning
2. I defend them in a context of evolving legal thought, not in a way limited by their wording or historical origin

I'm sorry if that doesn't sound like a free and easy, unqualified defense but it allows me a measured view of things. It allows me the leeway to criticize and condemn due to logic without running afoul of strict constructionist thinking, but it allows me to understand the precise language and not get lost in the theory.

So when it comes to the recent flap over the "opera" The Death Of Klinghoffer, I worked hard to develop a nuanced reading of the situation. The piece, written in 1991 about the Achille Lauro hijacking and the subsequent murder of Leon Klinghoffer, is being produced at the Met in NYC and there has been a public backlash, an outcry from those who feel that the piece should not be produced.

What I present now is a series of statements which, I feel, summarize my position on the matter. By presenting them here, I remove the need for anyone to tip-toe around the issue when having me over for drinks and small talk.

Point the first: Just because you can doesn't mean you should. That's the Frankenstein argument. Sure, you can create life in a lab, but does that make it an obligation? The Met and its creative directors don't need to put on a controversial piece simply because they can. The balance between curiosity/investigation and sensitivity is maintained when the canon of journalistic ethics drives media sources not to print a rape victim's name. They CAN legally, but that doesn't mean that they feel they must. You CAN tell the story of a monster and paint him as a victim, but that doesn't mean you have to.

Point the second: Just because it is a right doesn't mean that doing it IS right. We have a moral compass which supplements our legal guides. This doesn't mean that the text is inherently "evil" or "bad" but that it bespeaks a particular political and moral approach and defends that position and anyone who produces it is giving voice to that position (and thereby, to some degree, condoning it). Not all voices deserve a place in the public sphere, especially not without rebuttal or qualification.

Three: The constitution puts a limit on what the government can suppress in terms of speech. There is nothing in it which forbids private agencies from deciding what they will and won't present to the public. Any radio station, public or private, can choose not to play a song if the program director doesn't think it fits. No one is required to play/produce/print everything that comes to his hands. This isn't censorship. This is simply being selective.

Three-A: The right to free speech is not absolute. There are topics subject to prior restraint. I'm not saying that the content here falls under any of those headings, but the legal system has already decided that the government CAN "censor" certain messages. Once the notion of absolute protection fails even at the hands of the government, then it becomes obvious that other agencies have the right to do the same. And, by the way, the right to protest has the same protection and should be (by those who defend the opera's existence) be as valued and cherished, not condemned as a suppression of the freedom to express. Defenders of the play should be defenders of the protests and even the interruptions of the play (aren't they also valid expressions? Why not?)

Four: Unless you think that an opera which makes James Earl Ray, Sirhan Sirhan, Hitler and the 9/11 terrorists all appear to be sympathetic is appropriate, don't selectively decide that one which recontextualizes the murder of a Jewish civilian is a fair expression and a story which deserves to be told. Pick any evil which has befallen you or your family and think how you would feel to see people hearing that evil's side of the story and its laying of equal blame on you and yours. Do we want to hear a rapist get to tell his sad story of how "she was asking for it?" Do child abusers get to have a play which explores why their expression of violence is actually a sane and rational behavior in the light of what they believe?

Does any of this mean that I applaud the work of Maplethorpe who trampled on the sensitivities of the church? No, but I see a decided difference between the criticism of an institution (religion) and the creation of moral equivalency between a man who was shot and pushed overboard (and who represented no particular system) and those who shot him claiming their act was political expression and criticism. They simply are not the same. Would those who defend Maplethorpe defend a complex and subtle analysis which allows a priest to explain why raping tens of altar boys was a valid political statement? Or the musical about the church as an institution defending moving said priests around and not telling parents because the children affected represented a cardinal sin and the priests were justified in their behavior? I'm sure that the Nazis who killed Anne Frank saw the Jewish people as the problem. I can't wait for the musical which tells their story.

Not all simple parallels are truly parallel and not all cases are identical. Not all voices need to be displayed and not all positions automatically earn a place in the public mindset.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A post in praise of Bill Murray

Good job, Bill Murray.

Good job.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Two Torah Thoughts

This was a really good Rosh Hashanah. It had a slow start but I really hit my stride and feel like I connected with the day and its various messages, so I'm feeling pretty good about that. During the last few days, I developed a couple of ideas that I wanted to commit to virtual paper.

The first was inspired by the speech the rabbi gave in shul yesterday. He started off with a story and as I listened to it, I thought to myself, "that's nice but it could be so much more powerful if only it went like this..." So I am writing this up as "Inspired by a true speech which included a probably apocryphal story which I will make more apocryphal by inventing half of it."

There was a tradition that, after the end of the sabbath, people in the small community of New Square would line up to wish the Rebbe a good week and receive a blessing from him. The practice was so popular that the lines grew and grew. Even past 2 AM the line still snaked outside of the Rebbe's office as people waited nervously to shake the great sage's hand. On the line was a young man, new to the community who was looking forward to his first meeting with the Rebbe. He was scared. He had run home after services and cleaned himself up. He put on a freshly laundered shirt, straightened his hat and sharpened the crease on his spotless, black pants. And he waited. As he waited, he heard stories of the piety of the Rebbe and his works. He heard about the miracles which seemed to have been inspired by the Rebbe's wishes and the intuition and intellect which the man exhibited, presenting insight into character and understanding into text which amazed Jews everywhere.

As his turn approached he began to sweat. The sweat was not so much that there would be any stains, but enough to make the young man self conscious. He wanted to present himself as a paradigm of youthful idealism and religiosity. He had studied and was prepared to discuss topics if asked by the Rebbe. He had learned in yeshiva for many years and had also secured himself a job which would make him a good shidduch possibility and a provider, willing to give charity back to the community. But he was scared. He had prepared what he would say, down to the comma, practicing for hours at home. He wanted it to be perfect.

Slowly, each person in front of him entered the Rebbe's presence and the young man moved forward. Finally, at 3:30 AM, it was his turn. He was tired and scared, visibly shaking as the door opened. The Rebbe sat across the room, radiant and full of life. He beckoned for the young man to come forward. As he did, the man saw himself in the mirror.

He stopped and stared at himself. Slowly, he began to cry. Small tears, leading to uncontrolled sobs as he broke down in front of that mirror. The Rebbe was (and this does not happen often) speechless. He rose, and crossed over to the young man who was sitting on the floor, weeping. He held the man for a few moments and calmed him. He joined the man on the floor and stayed with him while the tears passed and he said, "My son -- please, don't be frightened. I want you to feel welcome and comfortable asking of me. What can I do for you and how can I help ease whatever pain you are in?" The young man, on the verge of tears at the magnanimity of the Rebbe finally caught his breath and said, "Rebbe, I came in here to ask your blessing, I wanted to ask you for success, a wife, health; I wanted you to be happy with who I am and who I can become. I wanted to ask your for your support so that I can be somebody." The Rebbe paused (a bit humbled maybe by the faith the young man had in him), and slowly said, "OK, so nu? Why all the crying?"

The Young man said, "Rebbe, I saw myself in the mirror -- I recognized all the effort I made just for this one meeting and I feel ashamed! I realize that there is only one thing I should be asking you blessing which is the only one that matters because it is the only one I now understand I really need. And I feel like a fool for wanting any other!"

There was a silence as the young man worked up the strength to ask.

"Rebbe, please give me the ability to care as much and to work as hard to perfect my look, my manner, and my speech before I approach the King of Kings, God himself, during my daily prayers, as I have before meeting another human being to ask for a favor!"

And now it was the Rebbe's turn to cry.

The second one is a more traditional Torah thought but with a similar theme:

We spend much of our time looking for a way to connect with Hashem. Back in the olden days, the path was laid out for us. Grab an animal, deliver it to the temple authority, and you can please God, find some absolution, feed the poor, celebrate a holiday...what have you. Agricultural tithes or animal sacrifice (or a meal offering, depending on your net worth) was the prescribed method of fulfilling the obligation to serve Hashem. It wasn't easy, but hey, it was sacrifice. You took the best of what you had, what you had paid for, worked for and striven to achieve, and you gave it over to show that what is yours really isn't yours. The message was good and the means was relevant and powerful.

But all that changed when the temple was destroyed. Since the beit hamikdash's destruction almost 2000 years ago, this avenue for religious fulfillment has been closed to us. So how can we now achieve the kind of connection? The prophet Hoshea says (14:3) Uneshalma parim sefateinu -- the bulls (sacrifices) will be completed by our lips. The avodah, the sacrificial service, is to be replaced by the avodah shebalev, the "work of the heart" which is prayer.

Huh? How is this supposed to work? Do I have to read the portions related to sacrifice so my relating them is as if I completed them? Some say yes, which is why we have the section of korbanot in our daily morning and musaf prayers. But I don't think that this is what it means (at least not exclusively).

The word "korban" (sacrifice) actually has 2 identities. As it is usually translated, it means "sacrifice," the loss of something of value for a greater purpose. Its other meaning though, stems from its root k-r-v, coming closer. The sacrifice is designed to foster an approaching to God, a nearness with the divine. Does just saying the words of the sacrificial service do that?

I teach in a high school. Watching most high school students daven is maddening. They don't always seem to value to opportunity to petition, recognize, and thank Hashem for what is all around us. We speak of daily miracles but they simply don;t see things that are miraculous. And most of all, they would rather be doing something else. We live in an amazing time -- we have technology, we have cuisine, we have entertainment. We have all sorts of things that vie for our attention and reward us.

What do we have of value that we can sacrifice in order to bring about closeness? Money? We give charity and this does help to some degree. But when we throw our pocket change into a box, what are we sacrificing? If I really wanted that slice of pizza, would I be dropping the quarters in the pushke? Probably not. But I have one thing that I can never get back and that I value incredibly highly: time.

This is the commodity of daily life. This is what I value and I demand others value: my time. I live by the school bell and the schedule. My TV shows are scheduled. My football team races the clock to get down field. My microwave has me stare at it while the timer counts down to zero because the three minutes and 32 seconds that it takes to reheat that potato must be abided by to the second. Time.

Davening requires that I stop what I am doing and give up my time. It requires that I put other things on hold and take the one precious commodity that I can't bank and simply hand it over to God. It isn't a cow, or a bird, or corn, or money. It isn't replenishable. And in the middle of a busy day, it isn't convenient. On Rosh Hashanah, it isn't easy to sit around for hours in shul. On Yom Kippur, this means sacrificing an entire day -- I can go to work and not eat, but that's not what this is about. Hashem wants me to lose the only thing that I have a finite amount of with no hope of extending.

And when I realize that this is the sacrifice that I have to be willing to make -- that my tefillah is SUPPOSED to take time because it isn't just the words I say, but the fact that I am willing to make the gesture of losing my place in the rat race that is the world to set aside minutes to say those words, any words, which allows me to become closer to the divine. The avodah shebalev is SUPPOSED to be work, not easy and not simple. The heart has to be in it and has to ache at the missing minutes which could be spent elsewhere. The loss should lead to a gain, but if I avoid the loss by zooming through the prayers or not spending the time it should take to say them with thought, then how can I expect to earn the gain of connection with Hashem?

I hope that as we enter any prayer situation, we take an extra moment or two to realize that we are making an important sacrifice, and that we should value our decision to give of ourselves so that our prayers can be that same sacrificial loss as those bulls were in the temple, and they can lead to the same resting of the shechina in our mikdash me'at.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

What in God's Name

A Torah thought inspired by the upcoming high holiday season.

Throughout the text of the Torah, we are confronted with two major aspects of God's "personality" -- the trait of justice and the trait of mercy. The former is signaled by the use of the Hebrew word often transliterated 'elohim.' Mercy is brought out through the 4 letter name, the tetragrammaton. I see the "attributes" as more significant than this divide, and the names' uses as pointing to an additional dimension to our interaction with the divine.

During the account of the creation, the name "elohim" is used (I am writing the complete name, and not substituting the K for the H for a couple of reasons -- one will be apparent soon and the other is that I see the discussion of Torah a valid place in which to use a name of God). Creation, the rabbis say, was done under the aegis of justice and the intent was for all of creation to be judged according to its deservings. Only in chapter 2, when man becomes a vocal part of the world does the notion of mercy become introduced through the use of the 4 letter name. Man, it seems, needs a merciful God for if man is judged strictly according to his actions, he will always be found wanting. And the name "needs" (if we can say such a thing about God or a name) man's proper intentions and study for it to become fully part of this world. God's mercy only has a place because man needs it (in the same way that it wasn't called for until man was created), and the mercy-name only has power if man says it properly at the proper time.

The word "elohim," as described by the Ramban, does much more than just point to justice. It denotes power. The word means "Master of all forces." Using the word then is a recognition of God's might, and creation is an exercise of power. God wills the world into existence and it comes into existence. God the all-powerful can make anything so we use a word which points to that strength. In fact, the text often uses the word to call forth other claimants to power. It is used to refer to a judge when applied to Moses, the one who has power over all of Egypt, including Pharaoh. It is used to refer to idols and other things placed as gods which man confuses for the one God because he misattributes the power to a pawn. Man might worship the sun because the sun brings the heat and light and life to plants in the day -- but Abraham sees past that and understands that the sun is not the source of that power, God is. So the word often is used when people misunderstand how power operates and label something as the divine because they are stuck on one level of perception, that of simple strength.

But man must move beyond that one characteristic of God if wants to know the one God. So God gives us a name to use which adds not power but God's relationship to man, something which a false God like the sun cannot have, into the mix. The 4 letter name only has value when it is pronounced properly. Pronunciation is an area unique to mankind. Man can call the idea into existence through recognizing the divine correctly! Anyone can say the word "elohim" and mean any number of different things by it, but the 4 letter name is special in that it is only and can only be a name of God. It points to mercy because it points to the possibility of a connection between man and God, if man is able to "read God's name properly" (which would include our use of the replacement word "ado-shem" which shows that we are appealing to the merciful one but don't want to pronounce the special name either incorrectly or when we are not empowered to appeal on that level). We have to call to him in his name, which we cannot do unless we study and connect and learn about this name.

The name is given to man so that he has access not to a nebulous notion of power, but to a God who listens and cares. In our blessing we say "blessed are you, 4 letter name" at the start -- our prayer has to recognize that a powerful and just God would not be swayed by human prayer -- if the person deserves punishment, then so be it. We appeal to the mercy-name and say "you gave me this name to use and I'm trying to use it properly." Only then do we, in some blessings, say that the same merciful God figure is also the powerful one who rules the whole world. And on Yom Kippur, back in temple days, the high priest would say the 4 letter word explicitly when asking for forgiveness. He would invoke the precise name to make that connection to God even more explicit.

The 4 letter name is therefore a representative of the facet, a sign of God's mercy and the method that the mercy works through. It is both the signifier and the signified, calling the merciful one and being the medium through which mercy can be delivered.

When we pray during this high holiday season, we should pay careful attention to the names of God we invoke and recognize the amount of mercy being afforded us simply by our having access to this particular name. I wish for everyone to see the presence of mercy which leads to availability for repentance and the hope for atonement.

Happy new year!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Don't change

I have never been good at physics. No physician nor physicist, I. I trust that if I drop something, it will hit the floor. If I pull something, it might move. If I change the batteries, the remote will do some magic and allow me to stop watching Dance Moms.

But I do know inertia. Inertia is the single most powerful force in the universe. I find it in all areas of my life and I know that there is a temptation to criticize it. Inertia prevents change, people complain. And you know what? I think that that is often true. But here's the kicker -- change isn't always good. Sometimes inertia protects us from the kinds of changes that we just don't need.

Change is useful when there is either a demonstrated problem with the way things are, or a demonstrated advantage to the newer way for things to be. Bottom line, if it isn't broken, one need not fix it unless it can be shown that the fix will improve an working system and make it more efficient or successful. It just rolls off the tongue.

However, I have found that in many contexts, there is a drive to change. We must, the pundits say, keep moving forward or else we die. Like the shark. (Based on movies and media coverage I think that maybe some dead sharks would be a good thing...) I disagree, sort of. We are always moving forward, but often doing so without changing. We are always growing and constantly have the opportunity to learn from mistakes and improve but we can usually keep the baby and even some of the bathwater.

I feel this way about technology. It is a fun toy most of the time. Occasionally, it fixes a problem and becomes a vital way of operating: the new status quo. But often it provides a new way of doing things which is not much better than the old way. If might be markedly different but that doesn't make it good, nor make the old way bad. Feel free to apply this philosophy to any institutional, professional or other context in which you think it works. It does.

I'm not advocating stagnancy, or even claiming that stagnancy is a word. I am a believer in caution and measured response, plus incremental change. I am usually risk averse (not Risk averse though) but not because I don't like to try something new. I just need to be shown why the old way is demonstrably wrong before I jump towards the devil I don't know. I am no Luddite, nor a Luddlite (more technology, fewer calories), just someone who thinks that we can, in many milieus become better, sharper and more efficient without abandoning anything or making foolhardy leaps simply as "change gratis change."

I embrace change. As long as it doesn't require that I get up to do so. There was nothing wrong with sitting.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September Whath?

Thirteen years ago a horrible tragedy occurred and every year at this time, those of us who care to take a moment to remember, do so. In many of the years since, the schools in which I have worked have, institutionally, set time aside to discuss the events of that day. This year, my school did not set time aside and I was asked how I felt about this. I responded that I understood the decision. The students did not like my answer. But I think that the question needs to be addressed.

What is the value of discussing the events of 9/11 in a high school? The seniors were 4 years old at the time of the attack. To them, this is a topic from history. Do they get something more than someone would when talking about Pearl Harbor because they, at least, were alive in 2001 (when I mentioned Pearl in class, a student, a 12th grader, actually said "What's Pearl Harbor?" I don't raise this to mock anyone, simply to say that some events, no matter how cataclysmic, eventually become facts, names and dates, not shared experiences) ? Is there something about being in relative proximity which makes it more reasonable for students in NY and NJ to review the events of the day moreso than someone in Texas?

Stuff has happened in this country. lots of it. Much of it really bad. The Twin Towers were bombed years before 9/11. Two space shuttles exploded. The federal building in Oklahoma City was bombed as was a marathon. The White House was burned down. Innumerable school shootings have taken scores of young lives. Presidents were assassinated, wars were fought. But we don't take time out of the school day to commemorate most of these events. Should we? When does something become a relic or a vestige of a past we no longer culturally share? Is it about the number of deaths? Is it about the symbolism of the event or the choice of villain? As for me? I'm an old man. I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday. Sights, sounds, feelings. It is all recent to me, part of what has shaped me. But to a teenager who was barely on the cusp of memory? Is there really any point beyond teaching America's past in 2001 in the same way that one might take time to commemorate the Boston Massacre?

But on the other hand, don't we believe in some form of "Never forget"? Don't we think that certain events need to stay fresh because the lessons are too important to be allowed to grow stale? Aren't we still in a political era over which 9/11's shadow is still cast, fighting the same war (itself a subject of argument)? Shouldn't students see what established the context which demands that we police the world in a particular way? Isn't 9/11 just too central to today's culture to be shunted aside or turned into a chapter in a text book? Isn't there some point to holding on to the pain and ensuring that a new generation feels the pain as acutely as we who lived through the event? Isn't it just too soon to turn this into trivia or the distant recollections of the senior set? And if so, when will it become acceptable to file this away?

Honestly, I don't know. I invite comment and we have 364 days to make a decision for next year.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Random Torah Thought

This just struck me so I am putting it here for safe keeping.

I have, in other writing, commented on the bracha of "atah kadosh" in the shmoneh esrei -- how in one way of reading, calls all humans who daven "kedoshim" and this puts on on the same level as angels, and also, equates us, in this sense, with God and his holiness. But I just found another, similar idea.

In the Shabbat morning davening, we say "yismach moshe" (and Moshe will be happy). I looked up online to try and figure out what this is referring to. Why is it in the future tense and not the past -- the paragraph seems to be talking about events in the desert! I found a page which pointed out that future happiness is mashiach-era based. Moshe will be happy because he gets a portion in the messianic age and he earned it by being an eved ne'eman, a loyal servant to God. That seems like a tough level to reach. I can't be as great as Moses so I won't have the option to have that happiness. Unfair, I say.

But we fix that by adding musaf to our Shabbat prayer routine. In musaf, we say "yismechu b'malechutcha shomrei shabbat" (those who guard the sabbath will be happy in your kingship) - we will earn a place in the era when God is king over all simply by guarding the Sabbath! Maybe by placing that line in the musaf prayer, the extra prayer recited on the Sabbath and holidays, we are earning that place by praying (in some weird, recursive logic loop). The Sabbath was sanctified as special so that we could, through our adherence to Sabbath laws, earn something beyond this world.

Maybe we can't be as dedicated and loyal servants as Moses was but God gives us an avenue we CAN achieve in order to earn that divine happiness, guarding the Sabbath.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Textnology in the Classroom

I want to tell you about Ezi Burns. And if it ends up that my memory is faulty and this story isn't about Ezi Burns, but about another person, I apologize to all involved. So anyway, back to Ezi Burns. Or whoever.

It was about 17 years ago and I was teaching an eleventh grade honors English class. The class was about 30 students strong in a quaint old building in Washington Heights and we focused on European literature. One day, as I was walking around leading a discussion on something or other, I noticed that Ezi was busy writing something in his notebook. Now Ezi was not always the most active participant in class discussions but his grades were good, his writing was well structured and when he made comments, they reflected thought and an awareness of the topic at hand. He continued writing and occasionally said something to the point, and I worked my way over. I also noticed that a few other students were looking at his notebook and were less engaged by the conversation than they were by whatever was going on over there. Finally I sidled up close and looked over his shoulder.

Ezi had drawn a picture of me as Frankestein's creation (I refuse to call him a monster...that is a matter of interpretation and labeling). It was good -- you could clearly see the bolts coming out of my neck and the physical shape of the creation (at least as represented in popular culture) and still clearly recognize the face as mine. It was really, really good. Ezi looked up at me and said, "I bet you are going to tell me to stop doodling and pay attention in class." I said, "Nope, as long as you promise to make a copy for me." Later I told him, "I have no problem with your drawing -- you are really good and I know that it helps keep your mind focused so you can really understand the class material. But please be aware when your drawing becomes a distraction for other students who can't multi-task like that." After that, he was even more involved in class and gave me a copy of that Frankenstein picture and one of three students in the back of the class complaining about studying Hamlet while represented as Beavis and Butthead types. I don't think anyone else had ever validated either his drawing skill or his learning style before. I think I did right by not stopping what he needed to keep him focused. I only regret that since that time, I have lost the Frankenstein drawing.

Students learn in different ways and some need to keep their hands, or eyes, or even ears busy in order to keep their minds on task. Some students study with music on, others focus their learning while playing video games. The fact is, the notion of "focus" in not one that exists to the exclusion of any other sensory input. While we would like to think that everyone listens best when the teacher has the class's undivided attention in a room devoid of all distractions, sometimes, what is a distraction for one is a necessary aid for another. Now, please, do not think that I am advocating the anarchy which would result if we were to let every student create the individual learning environment in a communal setting. A student with headphones on, listening to Metallica, cannot hear a class discussion or lecture -- that mode of split focus works best when his eyes do the academic work through reading, so I won't let a student have headphones on during class discussion time (though I have let students listen to music while taking certain tests). A student who can respond best while he is moving around still cannot be allowed to roam during class time. But what is clear is that we cannot remove every potential "distraction" and not every other sensory input is a bad thing.

Now, before I make my next statement, please understand I am not here to undermine, question or otherwise imply a vote of no confidence for the policy in place in my school and others. I simply want to raise a topic for discussion.

In my school, we have a policy -- no cell phones allowed in class. I am just wondering "why not?"

The cell phone signals a huge scientific and cultural change in our social interactions -- we can now be reached at any time and we also expect response more quickly. Gone are the days of "you just wait til your father gets home and he hears about this!" Now, we call dad up and tell him right now. And with smartphones, we can check facts, access information and respond to others on the go. We no longer have to load ourselves up with data (address, directions, money, names) and hope that we don;t require something for which we are not prepared. We, as long as we know how to get the information, can have anything we want, anywhere we end up. So on one level I could be making the argument that a class should stop teaching academic skills and should be focused on "how to use your phone more gooder." But I'm not saying that. I'm wondering about the nature of "distraction" that a phone might present and how different that is from any other potential distraction.

What can a student do on a phone which would be destructive to a classroom? A student might make or receive a phone call. Yes. That's a problem. But it is easily proscribed in the same way that chatting with your neighbor or deskmate is forbidden. One could text other people (the equivalent of passing notes, I guess). And why is passing notes bad? Because it takes attention away from the class material -- well, if a student's attention is diverted by anything, then that ANYTHING becomes a problem, but when a student passes notes, do we confiscate his pen and paper? We read the note out loud (at least they do on television) in the hopes that the public shaming will discourage further infractions. Video chatting? Well, a student can make faces at another student IN the classroom, no technology needed [side note -- we used to try and make Zev Itzkowitz laugh in class by poking him while Mr. Grossman was facing the board. Zev didn't laugh, my fingers weren't confiscated, I was kicked out of class and I did poorly in math while Zev aced the class. Just saying]. If a teacher catches a student clowning around, the teacher uses whatever disciplinary method addresses the behavior, not the technology used. And the same is true with drawing -- if the student is drawing and not paying attention, the teacher doesn't take away the pencil. So why, if the student can remain focused on the class content while playing a game on his phone (sans sound) should the phone be discouraged any more than Ezi Burns' pencil and notebook.

All of this is compounded by two aspects of modern life. The first, as mentioned, is the shift in the expectations of availability. Carrying a phone means that whoever has to contact you will, without looking at the clock. For good or for bad, parents will text students during class and expect responses. As a responsible parent, I would never do such a thing. Fortunately, I am not a responsible parent. I should be able to tell a student, "If someone feels it is so important to contact you during school, then please respond quietly, or else you will be more distracted by the unknown message and that person will be more worried by your lack of response." I don't like having my students' attention split but life intervenes sometimes. Trust me -- A student will be more distracted by trying to hide a cell phone and text than by quickly texting while the phone is in full view. I recall participating in The Principals' Center through teh Harvard University School of Education. During this summer program, we were hit with hours of frontal lecturing reminding us that frontal lecturing is an outmoded form of instruction. The first rule was "Be Here" and to that end, cell phones were forbidden. It was fun watching grown men and women, teachers, principals and superintendents, sneak looks at their phones in order to combat the boredom of listening to a lecture about how to be more professional.

The second major shift is the ubiquitous presence of other technology in the classroom. isn't it the slightest bit comical that we make a rule outlawing phones while we establish a classroom with a one-to-one student to iPad ratio? And if not iPads, we allow laptops for note taking and often require them for collaborative projects or research during class time? What stops the tablet or laptop from being as much of a distraction if not more? There are even classes which require the use of a phone to take a quiz or respond to a poll or a prompt. If we see the value of the phone will we start drawing lines and saying "use your phone NOW but then put it away because it isn't useful"? The student will see through that, especially one for whom the use is a focusing aid, not hindrance.

The fact is, anything can distract a particular student -- the noise from the air conditioner, the perfume another student is wearing, the cars outside (I mean, why are students so excited by a police car driving by, or snow? they have never seen snow before...but the second a flake falls, I have lost them), a game of tic-tac-toe and, yes a phone. But some of these same things could be the best thing for that student's learning style and environment and some we simply can't get rid of.

I advocate a different approach which requires that a teacher be more aware of the particular needs and habits of each student. Simply watch them. Let them choose their behavior knowing that the consequence of being distracted is not knowing what is going on which the teacher is sharp enough to notice. See what behaviors really pull their minds, not just eyes away and call them out on those while letting them use whatever other means keep them invested mentally. It won't seem fair to an outsider and it takes much more work for the teacher, having to monitor involvement every day instead of simply assuming it, but the results should be a class which feels respected and empowered and which knows the natural consequences of not living up to a reasonable expectation. This might just lead to real learning.

So in summary, if anyone knows Ezi Burns, ask him if he still has that picture so I can get another copy.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Punting the Pail

Let me come right out and say it: I am not going to pour ice water on myself.

These days, the "hottest" thing is to take the ALS Ice Water Bucket Head Challenge Thing. In case you are reading this in some far flung galaxy after having inadvertently snagging a stray terran transmission, or are seeing this far in the future after stumbling on a memory module while you are excavating the ancient ruins of one of our "cities" destroyed in the Fourth Mutonium Conflict, or if you just don't know what it is, I will explain. A person is challenged either to pour a bucket of ice water on his head or donate money to the charity raising funds to help subsidize research into trying to find a cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis(Lou Gehrig's disease). I think that there is some subset of rules that says that if you accept the challenge you still donate, but less, so that no one thinks he can shirk his civic duty by giving himself hypothermia.

I won't make jokes about Lou Gehrig's disease. ALS is a pretty bad thing. I don't want my refusal to participate in this ridiculous ritual to appear insensitive to those who have suffered or who have had relatives or friends who suffered from ALS. It is bad. I understand that.

But here's the thing -- people can't wait for some stupid and childish (and possibly dangerous) stunt of a gauntlet to be laid down before they act. We can't support that way of thinking. "Honey," he said to his beloved, "I was planning on donating money to ALS research but I feel like I have to wait until someone challenges me to do something I would tell my kids not to do any other day of the week!" Why have we descended to the point that our celebrities, politicians and friends think it is a good thing to waste water and publicize their willingness to avoid a larger donation by abasing themselves? Surely, you will say, this helps increase ALS awareness by having all of our worthy and heroic Hollywood types speak up about ALS. Yes, wonderful. It is nice to know that we, the commoners, need to be prodded and shamed by those people who have enough money to pay someone to dry them off and who have enough time in the day to support many good causes. We should be ashamed, then, of our own ignorance, or our hypocritical sense of self-righteousness when we finally do choose to get involved. Look at us! We are so interested in ALS research that we will participate in this charade instead of quietly mailing a check. And we'll emotionally blackmail others to do the same! What fun! I hope the famous people lead us in discovering another charity worth my money, next week, when this fad has run its course.

Sadly, there are many diseases out there. There are many causes, social, religious, political, economic and medical which cry out for our attention. Will each one have to use some its donation dollars to hire a PR firm to think of the new viral dare which will encourage people to give them money? Will those without a good spokesperson and a funny hook lose out? The pool of donation dollars is relatively fixed and finite. Money given to one is taken from another and what should determine a person's choice of causes to support should be something more than a bucket of ice water and the pearly whites of a movie star. Will I be asked to pierce my tongue to help cure cancer? And if I am, am I bad person because my donation dollars have already been spent trying to cure Tay Sachs? Or help support a soup kitchen? And if I choose to give to the ASPCA instead of Salvation Army, will I have to wrap my head in a flaming towel for 15 seconds and make sure I make a video so people know that my heart is in the right place? Will I then have to challenge my grandchildren to ride a stray dog like a pony or coat their noses in nail polish within 24 hours in order to increase worldwide awareness of Disabled American Veterans?

The cinnamon challenge. The pass-out game. Lying down in the middle of the street as in the movie The Program. Lighting our flatulence. Extreme wrestling. Coating ourselves in rubbing alcohol and letting it burn off. Internet videos show people doing stupid things all the time. Do we slavishly copy them in order to gain some communal acceptance or notoriety? I would like to think that most of us fight against it. We tell our kids not to succumb to peer pressure. Unless, it seems, it is to support a cause that other people are loudly supporting.

If, after I receive the myriad phone and mail and email solicitations for donations, my family and I decide that some of our money can be allocated towards ALS research, we will do so, because we feel it is important and within our means right now. And if we feel that the limited pool of ready cash should be used towards other causes, even ones that haven't asked us to do something dumb, then we will do that. It isn't glamorous. It isn't funny. And there won't be a video of it either. No celebrity will speak out about making reasonable and measured decisions. No politician will garner votes by throwing away envelopes from causes that just aren't practical choices this year. But if I wait to be challenged in order to spur my donations and make my recipient choice for me then I am already lost.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Glorious Twelfth

And h/t to the Imperious Loudmouth for pointing the date out to me.

Today begins the grouse hunting season so I thought it appropriate to grouse.

I hate commemorating days. I am sure I have said it before and I truly believe it. To pick one day and say "let's be nice today" means that a person doesn't rate high enough to merit niceness on the other 364 days. It is a weasel move to make nice-nice on a random day and then be a bastage the rest of the year. Also, marking time means noting the inevitable movement towards death. If one refuses to accept that time passes, one never grows up and one can be like a mode of transport happily idling in the parking lot, never getting anywhere. It is like the Peter Pan Bus Syndrome.

But I do recognize the importance of taking stock and thanking the people around me and if there needs to be one day per year when I look at who I am and pay homage to all who influenced me then so be it.

First off, thanks mom. If you hadn't have given birth to me, you'd be huge right now. And dad, thank you for not cooking and eating me when I was a baby. Next, I would like to take a moment to recognize all the important Tonys in my life. Tony the bus driver. Man, you had a huge afro -- nice work, that. Tony the Tiger: I was never a big fan of your cereal but your attitude was always really, um, really good. And the Tony awards? I was never nominated for one but you have been a big influence on the television schedule so I guess I should say hi to you also.

To the English language: we haven't always gotten along and we still argue sometimes, but I rely on you more then you no.

Electric eels have been a vital part of my upbringing and I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge them. I feel the same about you as I do about fountain pens and Connie Mack.

To all the girls I've loved before, please call off your lawyers. I'm feeling much better now.

And, of course, socks. Not the cat, nor the way of remembering Spanish. The piece of clothing without which, I would not be wearing socks today.

I can't imagine I have forgotten anyone or anything, but if I have, please know that I am taking some time out of my clearly busy schedule today to think of you, and how much you owe me.

And now a word from our sponsor.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A center piece of my mind

Today's anger might not resonate with all of you. Some might be sympathetic to the objects of my ire and some might just be idiots. Pick your poison.

No, seriously. Pick some poison. Either way, I am right and you are wrong.

I often get to listen to people hold conversations about buying things. I do understand that often, people need to buy things. I, myself, when I was a boy, was known to buy a thing or two. But the conversations around here often mention the buying of shoes. I currently am the owner of 2 feet and that's it. Two. I cover them with a variety of footwear depending on the situation, but I have maxed out at 6 pair of footwear (plus my falling apart moose slippers -- the slippers are falling apart; they aren't modeled on a falling apart moose). And yet many people at my workplace seem to own many more pairs of shoes than this. Mostly they do this because they make the mistaken assumption that other people care about their shoes.

Even in my own household, some people feel the need to play mix and match as follows:

heel toe color fabric/material arch/flat use

with no fewer than 3 items in each category. The game isn't over until each member of the household has one pair of shoes fitting each combination. Then, God laughs and makes the feet grow and we start all over again. This explains why we currently have over 18,000 pairs of shoes in our house. Imelda Marcos? Amateur.

But I'm not here to talk about shoes. I overheard the following request at work. "Does anyone know of a centerpiece gemach?" When I asked why anyone would need that, the person said that she bought hundreds of dollars worth of centerpieces for a recent event and figures someone else might benefit from them so she wants to donate them. That's very admirable but also possibly the dumbest thing I have ever heard.

For a single use, she spent hundreds of dollars on centerpieces. A centerpiece, if you don't already know, is the artistic construct placed in the center of each table at a social event which has, as its only purpose, to get in the way when you are trying to make polite (if forced) conversation with the person sitting anywhere at the table other than immediately next to you. No one likes them and people only compliment them because they have run out of other inane chatter with which to fill the time before it is socially acceptable to leave. The imposing combination of flowers, marbles, goldfish and sparklers has no purpose and the only one who would notice if they were gone is the hostess of the next event who is sizing up the celebration and planning how she will one up the current celebrant. That's it.

I know that some people have money enough to but what they want, but to spend money on these things seems like so much of a waste to me. I implore all of you who are considering centerpieces, buy a chia pet and send me the rest of the cash.

So now, this very fine woman is left with hundreds of dollars worth of useless sculpture that she wants to donate to a free-loan society. This presumes three very troubling ideas:

1. Someone saw fit to establish said free loan society because he or she saw a really compelling social need for the exchange of centerpieces. Someone took of his or her own time to set this up because, instead of effecting the exchange of useful goods like crayons or chewed gum, this person thought that time and energy was best spent helping people reuse centerpieces.

2. Someone who doesn't have enough money for elaborate centerpieces should still be throwing a party to create the aura that he or she has more money and can have fancy centerpieces.

3. Someone is going to want the same centerpieces as someone else. Style and other personal preferences be damned and ignore the social stigma which ensues when someone else sees repetition in the centerpiece department. Oh, the shame.

So, some practical advice. Ditch the centerpieces. In fact, dial down the elegance of the event on the whole. Use the money to pay for real things in life, not transient and superficial collections of artifice. Next, set up a free loan society using the money you saved by not buying crazy centerpieces. Finally, buy a pair of really good shoes.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The one after 404

I don't like to watch scary movies, not because they make my blood pressure rise, or because they depict people in horrible situations, but because they make me worry that what they depict will come true. I'm actually that way about many types of movies. I watch superhero movies and then I start watching the skies for flying men with wondrous powers. So far, nothing. Zombie movies? I take those concerns with me. I once spent an entire day researching the medical background of the virus that zombifies people in one of those Day of the Dead movies so I could find out if I could escape the zombies by sailing to an isolated island. Hint -- I can't.

People try to reassure me and tell me that real life is weird enough and I shouldn't worry that I will run into aliens or get on a plane which is full of snakes. But I worry. One particular movie has shown itself to be coming true and that just feeds my fears.

Have you seen the Terminator movies? Now wait. I'm not saying that Arnold Schwarzenegger has started roaming my neighborhood with a shotgun, but I believe that the machines in general have begun their rise against humanity. I am not envisioning a scene like one from Maximum Overdrive where the lawnmower turns on the man and mows him down, literally. But I have found that at work, certain machines seem to go out of their way to mess with my head. One fax/copier in specific really just doesn't seem to like me. And haven't we all had cases where our computers "break" for no real reason? Earlier this week, 2 computers in my house decided that their wireless adapters suddenly didn't work. Two separate operating systems and hardware configurations. But both developed the same mystery ailment at the same time. If that isn't a mechanical conspiracy, then how do you explain that when I opened a third computer to look for a solution, that third computer suddenly developed a series of errors? You can't, can you? Web pages that were working earlier that suddenly don't load? Then, when everything really looks bleak, it all starts working again, as if by magic -- but with no intervention, which makes me worry that it will all happen again and I won't have any recourse but to sit and cry.

One day it is my printer that suddenly isn't recognized by the network. The next day the refrigerator starts making a noise. My cars keep shifting symptoms so I can never know if anything is really fixed whenever I drop $500 at the mechanics'. The machines around me are trying to drive me crazy. The real "sky net" is not a network of machines using artificial intelligence to build robots who will enslave, kill and possibly eat me. The sky net is simply the collective consciousness of computers realizing that humans are so dependent on them that they can, through work slowdowns and occasional unpredictability, ruin our day. THIS is the true rise of the machines. It isn't with a bang but with a whimper. My whimper.

And imagine the world without its electronics (shades of he recently cancelled "Revolution"). People have to talk to each other and look outside to see if it is raining. Walking and sometimes riding animals will be required if we want to go to a store to buy not much of anything because the stores won't have much. WE WILL HAVE TO PLAY SOLITAIRE WITH CARDS!


Anyway, when our mechanical overlords have driven us to near extinction by making us all batty, I just want you to look in your tattered notebook to where you write down (with an actual lead pencil) "Dan Rosen told me this was going to happen. I should have listened, and possibly made him a pie of some sort."

Friday, June 27, 2014


A strange thing happened to me this morning. I guess in the grand scheme it wasn't so strange, but it seemed strange so bear with me. I was standing outside of my house at about 8:30 getting read to go to work.

That's it.

Strange, right?

Maybe some context is in order. I am a teacher. Usually, people associate summers with teachers back packing through Europe or lazing on the beaches of the Caribbean. That's a dumb association to make but, hey, people are allowed to be dumb.

Teachers, over the summer do all sorts of stuff including reading books, making lunches, working as camp counselors and driving carpool. Sometimes we take classes or teach them. I was doing none of the above. I was gong in to work. But that's not the strange part.

I have some additional responsibilities at my job. During the school year and over the summer, I am in charge of books. This has led to such witty nicknames as "Rabbi Bookman" and "Book Guy." We should teach creativity. I want a better nick name. Right now, the two in the lead, based on popular usage and relevance are "Guy with the books" and "Jerkwagon." So during the summer, I keep going in to work. Again, not so strange once context is established.

But here's the thing. I don't really have a boss over the summer. The work just has to get done. The schedule? I set it. The tasks? I establish them and monitor their performance. So what was pressing me, on this particular Friday to be ready to get into a car at 8:30? Nothing.

The weather was glorious. It was the kind of morning that makes you want to take a walk, throw a ball or climb back into bed. There was no pressure, no particular demand at work. It is a short day and I have to shop for underwear and chicken and cook one of them for dinner. So why did I go? Why did I wake myself up, set a schedule for my morning and walk out of the house and drive to work? WHY?

During the school year, the answer is obvious. If I had the kind of job where I had to settle the McStevens account by July first, the answer would be obvious. But I don;t know anyone named McStevens. So why did I do it with no prodding or pressure?

That's what was strange. I did it because I knew I should. I felt that I had a responsibility that no one had to remind me of and that i had to live up to. Just because. I got the sense this morning that I was actually a grown up, doing a job because I am supposed to, totally unprompted by external concerns.

I didn't call in sick. I didn't simply stay home because there was no reason to go in. I didn't find an excuse. I just went in. And now I'm typing this, so it isn't like I am taking the whole experience too seriously. It was strange is all.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

One small step, or not

This combination is not a good one but it has inspired me. I didn't sleep last night. A bad headache treated with caffeine after 3PM means I won't be sleeping for a a couple of days and I complemented that with an elementary school graduation. So my brain is done. If I sound a bit scattered, now you know why.

While I was watching the graduation and reading the quotes that the 14 year-olds have already begun regretting I saw this line (and sing along if you know the words) "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." It takes no sleep and 46 eighth graders to make you really pay attention to that quote. It is a dumb statement and I am going to use this time to tell you why.

First off, who goes on a 1000 mile journey? I resent having to go 4 miles to a graduation exercise. I really don't like having to drive to the next town to drop my kid off for a sleep over. And if there are tolls involved? It just isn't happening. A thousand miles? What is so important that you can't see it, study it, buy it or make fun of it over the internet? So that's one thing.

But also, the journey of 1000 miles really begins with planning. Are you gong to start the walk before setting an itinerary or investigating hotels? Maybe checking your work schedule or exchanging currency? If you are going 1000 miles you will need to buy some extra shoes. And is this long journey going to be taken on foot? Maybe the journey of 1000 miles begins by calling a cab.

Finally, what if, against all common sense, I DO decide to take a 1000 mile journey on foot but, when I start the journey, instead of taking a single step, I take a standing broad jump. Or maybe I get on the floor and roll. Why does the 1000 mile journey have to start with a specific and single step? Can't I be an individual?

What we need is an updated cliche to work with, so here is my suggestion.

"The journey of 1000 miles is a bad idea but if you have to go, like for work or something, pack a sweater and buy a map. And then, when you start walking, do it however you feel comfortable. I won't judge."

That just rolls off the tongue. I can't wait to see it in all the yearbooks next year.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Frost Warning

As I was driving to work this morning I decided to write this bit of silliness. Apologies to the entire Frost family and anyone who likes poetry.


Two ramps diverged from one asphalt lane,
And knowing I must just travel fast
And be one commuter, I cruised, contained
And looked up one as far through the pane
To where it bent on the overpass;

Then took the other, as just as paved,
And mentally with the greater joy,
Because it attracted my money saved;
Though as for that the spending craved
Had become a dangerous ploy,

And both that morning attractively
In pavement, yellow lines on black.
Oh, I skipped my work, went on a spree!
And knowing nothing ever is free,
I knew they didn’t want me back.

I shall be telling this on every call
After my career is destroyed:
Two ramps split and I had a ball—
I took the road to the mall,
And that has made me unemployed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Offer to Hollywood

I have, in the past, offered my services to Hollywood as a Jew. I have stated that I am willing to play the part of a Jew in any production where there exists such a need. I come with all sorts of experience at being a Jew and can play the part of a balding, overweight, middle aged Jew very well.

I have also (I believe) railed against the practice in Hollywood of using non-Israelis/Jews to play the parts of Israelis and Jews. It seems to me that if the Jews control Hollywood, there should be some real ones wandering around, ready for their close up, Mr. DeMille.

But today, I make another offer. I know that there are people out in Hollywood who operate as "script doctors." They can punch up the writing, tweak the flow and make a so-so script into a marginally better script. That's just peachy, but isn't what I offer. I am willing to be a "script rabbi." Too often, I see movies and shows in which Jews and Judaism are just so poorly presented. So here's the deal. If, in the course of your script or production, you have need to present something related to Judaism, call me. Let me look things over and tell you whether your presentation bears any resemblance to actual Judaism. I'm no ogre -- I will give you your options and explain the Jewish spectrum so you know what should be going on in the building no matter if it is a shul, synagogue or temple.

Do you want your scene with the Sabbath services to look authentic? Do you want those people in the know to respect that you made the Jews look and act like Jews? I can help. I have many years of experience explaining Judaism to people and helping others see it as a normal mode of behavior. I can clear up all sorts of confusion, coach actors, rewrite dialogue so it doesn't make every Jew look like a caricature of a lampoon.

So here I am, your Script Rabbi, just waiting for all of you to come on over and finally, get it right.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Passover Based Learning

First, an acknowledgement: this post was inspired by my colleague Tikvah Wiener's mention of a piece by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks about Passover.
Second, an admission: I am writing this while sitting at a table which has not yet been cleaned for Passover -- that doesn't make this an exercise in procrastination, but I just want to put out there that I am piecing this together from memory as I don't have my haggadot out yet.

On Facebook, Tikvah Wiener mentioned the Rabbi Sacks piece opening as a defense of the rasha, the "evil" son who asks about the "avodah" (either the sacrificial service or the work required for a Jew). I very quickly saw that the evil son was just like the student who, in his group work setting, gloms off of the sweat of others and takes his final grade while diminishing the effort that others put in on his behalf. He excludes himself from the process but reaps the benefits at the end. The evil son is, after all, sitting at the same seder and enjoying the same "freedom" that the Exodus afforded all Jews.

From there, I began to think of the other 3 sons and I wondered, "how is this story unlike others in the seder or elsewhere?"

1. It creates a group which, metaphorically represents an entire people.

1a. Yes, but the same symbolism is applied to the 4 species on Sukkot.

2. It, in meta-fashion, looks at the retelling of the Exodus as the event to be discussed, not just the Exodus, itself.

2a. So does the story of the Rabbis in Bnei Brak.

3. It sets the stage for educational groupwork importable into the day school setting.


So if the rasha is part of the group, who are the others (and all you teachers out there, let me know if this sums up some of the challenges of creating groups for class). The chacham is the kid who works hard and, especially in a homogeneous classroom stands out as either not belonging or acing every assignment. He isn't necessarily popular but when it comes to group work, everyone wants to be in his group. So you, as the wily educator, place him with a motley collection of students to try and raise them all up.

The rasha, as mentioned, doesn't intend to do any work but will take what others achieve and make it his. His question looks intelligent and looks like it almost mocks the chacham's question (in that they both use a second person, seeming to exclude themselves -- but the teacher knows the intent of the asker and answers in kind).

The tam, the simple student looks at the assignment and says "what's this?" Overwhelmed by the assignment he sits there and doesn't know where to start. So the teacher points to the title and the underlying facts and reminds the student what the ultimate goal is.

And the one who doesn't know to ask (or how to ask) needs the female touch of the teacher who needs to be told that he is as valuable a member of the learning community and that in not asking, he is still performing a valuable function. His inability comes soon after 2 stories of grand rabbis -- one in which the biggest names in the business sat around doing the same group work and one in which a rabbinical master admits his own inability to understand until someone else explains it to him.

This last son got me thinking about inclusion. The group is populated by 2 students who understand traditional pedagogy and are self-motivated, one by the urge to understand, one by the will to get a grade. The third son knows he is supposed to know but can't see the process at all. He needs to be brought in to the group and pointed in the direction. He might be a very concrete learner who has to be shown the value of creativity. And the one who doesn't know to ask might be one whom we are currently labeling a student with special needs (excuse my wrong label if that is not in vogue when you read this...maybe the exceptional learner or whatever). His learning style is so not attuned to this class, or project, that he can't even see that educational path being laid out.

From there, I began to look at the entire of the haggadah and it dawned on me that the whole evening seems to be a final project put together after a teacher handed out the following assignment.

Create a multi-disciplinary and integrated program which will, intertextually, allow every stakeholder to participate in and fulfill the obligation to discuss the Exodus. Include a rubric, address modalities of learning, and provide fruitful content which will inspire participants to continue to create levels to the material so that future iterations cannot become stale.

The seder has a rubric -- we learn that anyone who has not discussed 3 things (The Paschal offering, the matzah and the bitter herb) has not completed the assignment. We establish a transparent order at the beginning so that everyone knows what we are up to and where we are headed. Big questions are set out at the top so that we know what we have to cover. In terms of resources, we rely on biblical and post-biblical texts. There are historical passages for those who love history, stories of miracles for the literary minded, math and computation for those who love numbers and measurements (eating only the STEM of the karpas? Just kidding), abbreviations and word games for the puzzle maniacs, songs from beginning to end which serve as memory aids for those who learn via repetition and rhyme, and which tell other versions of the central story of salvation so that students can compare and contrast. Hierarchical levels of learning are addressed -- recall, analysis, inference and ultimately synthesis.

There is real life application as we point to the objects on the table in front of us. There is mystery (why do we keep taking the plate off the table or covering parts up? Why are you hiding that matzah? Why are there nuts on the table?). There is symbolism and the identification and exploitation of experts. We learn to invite the poor and improve our world. We show faith and trust in our fellow man as we open our doors to all comers and our faith in God as we open that door and tell the world who we are. We look backwards at the traditions of our forefathers and towards the future as we aspire to greater religious heights. We use multiple languages so that the story is not frozen in one place or time, but grows with us.

And, through all the questioning, we are told over and over to go out and ask even more -- to write our own seder, and find new answers to all sorts of mysteries so that next year, we can become the teachers who help those in that new group to understand why we are here. And at the very last, we hope that our academic work at this seder can be turned into a reality next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem; we aren't learning just to learn, but because we want to be ready to understand and to do.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Passover - almost a religious experience

I am really looking forward to Passover.

I know. No one in the history of the world has ever said that before. I get the sense that even the Israelites, in Egypt, when told that along with freedom, they will have to give up Oreos for 7 days said "Hey, let's not be too hasty about this." But I? I can't wait for Passover to come.

I have been spending most of my time recently depriving myself. It isn't enough to give up junk food. The only way I have been able to control my weight and neck size has been to go on an extreme Atkins-type diet. I try to eliminate as many carbs as I can from my diet (I average -6 per day). Yes, I know it is unhealthy. Yes, I know it reflects a poor body image and creates the false sense of security because it sacrifices overall health for loss of pounds. Yes, if feeds into my fantasy world in which I can consider typing this blog entry as an exercise regimen. But hey, it works.

But on holidays, man do I cave. And Passover is an even specialer case. I celebrate FREEDOM. Freedom, as we all know, is best exemplified by carbs. So I look forward to the cakes and cookies (while avoiding cottonseed oil and anything hydrogenated...I may be on Atkins but I don't have a death wish). I can't wait to have some fruit and starchy veggies. But you have no idea how excited I am at the prospect of matzah.

Matzah and cream cheese. With herring and cream sauce. Dipped in soup. As the crust in a pizza, fried as matzah brie. As a plain crunchy snack. A layer in lasagna. An edible Frisbee. I am going to gorge on matzah. I await all the concomitant physical dysfunction; I will wear it as a badge of honor: "I ate a whole box of matzah and all I got was this crippling constipation." Bring it on.

I believe that this is in the spirit of the holiday. We are commanded not to eat matzah during the weeks before the holiday so that we can enjoy and truly appreciate the special nature of the commandment to eat it on Passover. I haven't had anything with more than 4 carbs in it for months now so I'm gonna appreciate the hell out of that matzah. Repeatedly. Then I'm gonna appreciate some cake.

After that, we count the Omer (which is Hebrew for "detox") and I look forward to the Cheescake Deposits on my Hips that define Shavu'ot.