Sunday, August 28, 2005

Fringy Madness

Week before last, I went to Shabbos morning services at Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, and wrote a long rambly memo on it to myself, which got some happy conversation going. I noted that in the shul's literature it states that everyone is to cover their head, and adult Jews are to wear a tallis, but that both of these are optional for women over the age of twenty. I was confused, never having heard that twenty was the age at which women traditionally could decide whether to wear a tallis or not.

Anonymous from Netivot Shalom wrote:

"As for the women over 20 thing...the whole asking grown women to cover their heads was a huge shul issue a few years ago, with many older women saying that they hadn't grown up with it and DID not feel comfortable with it. The age 20 thing was supposed to be a generational compromise (to reflect that people who had grown up in the shul WOULD be comforable with it), and the age limit was supposed to increase a year every year...but I'm not sure that it has in practice. We've all been a bit distracted with the move to the new building.... "

Anonymous from Netivot Shalom 2 (married to the first Anonymous) wrote:

"For the age 20 thing, after the rabbi decided to require women to wear head coverings and tallesim, it was decided that they couldn't enforce this on older women who spent their whole lives without doing this. The compromise is that they took the age from the first year when the bat mitzvah girls were required to wear them and they've been increasing the cutoff age annually. In reality, most regularly attending women wear a head covering and a tallis except the rabbi's wife who I guess didn't agree with his decision."

The Balabusta, when she attends shul, (or when she davens at home), wears a tallis (the same tallis she got as a bat mitzvah gift from her parents). Having learned that yarmulkes are getting more, not less, aggravating for her as she gets older and wears her hair fluffier, she has abandoned them for a variety of hats, mostly black and floppy.

I grew up in a synagogue where a tallis on anyone was an oddity. I wore mine for my bat mitzvah, but it was never intended I should wear it to services at Emanu-El after that. I sometimes wore it to pray at home. It wasn't until I began to attend Conservative services as an adult that I began to wear it regularly to daven in public.

The Jewropean said...

"As an Orthodox reader, I am surprised the rabbi would actually force women to do this. Here, women are proud they aren't required to wear tallis and tefilin because their bodies are holier than men's. (If anyone wants a detailed explanation, I can post one).

I have never seen an Orthodox woman wear a tallis though, though different kinds of headcoverings are not uncommon. Many unmarried women choose to wear a had or a cap in shul, same for married women who don't wear a wig, and some even wear a hat in addition to a wig."

Alan Scott responded:

"As a different Ortho individual than Jewro, I'd just like to highlight that even according to us, halachically there is no actual prohibition on women choosing to take on the mitsva of tefilin, or tallit, or lulav, or musaf, etc.
And that "women are holier than men" thing *really* irks me. It's fluffy reverse sexism meant to mask real sexist attitudes some have against women. Next they're gonna tell us that Kohanim are less holy than Israelites, because of *their* extra mitsvot. There are much more reasonable, equitable understandings of obligational dimorphism out there."

And the Jewropean responded to THAT...

"alan scott,
I'd never say they're forbidden. Actually my choice of words "aren't required" was explicitely chosen in order not to exclure it as a volontary act.
And while the statement that women are more holy might annoy you, it is definitely implied by Chazal. It also is an explanation why women have less BINDING mitzvos.
I strongly reject any abuse though and especially using that statement as an excuse to prevent them from taking on voluntary mitzvos."

The idea that women's exemption from certain mitzvot is based on a superior feminine holiness definately annoys me, simply because it seems obvious that, gracious as it is, it's just not true. Not that women aren't holier--the Balabusta sees some evidence there ;)--but that historically speaking, it's not the reason for exemption.

But I am a third-wave Jewish feminist rabbinic school dropout with hat hair. I have a complicated relationship to exemption and tzitzit.

On the simplest level, I attend synagogues where the custom of the community is that women wear tallisim and yarmulkes-or-some-equivalent. Truly, I don't give it an enormous amount of thought. It's what people do, me too. I assume my daughters, if I should have some, will, although they could become old-school Reform or hard-core Chassidic for all I know. It's ordinary, in my neck of the woods, to compliment a Sisterhood macherette on a pretty tallis she picked up on a trip to Israel.

Now, back when I was applying to rabbinic schools, I had a very tense conversation about tefillin with JTS. They informed me that whether or not I was required to lay tefillin (which I don't, never have, although I sometimes think about it for several minutes at a time), would depend on the decision of their board. This made me intensely cranky. If they were going to obligate me, I wanted a decision made with some halachic solemnity, not a year-by-year whim of the board's. Didn't go to JTS, so it was never an issue. It was only later that I started to understand the compromise position the Conservative movement was taking around women and time-bound mitzvot--essentially that if you want to be a woman who gets such male privileges as smicha, you take on male obligations.

Now that is where the third-wave Jewish feminist with hat hair starts to pick at the threads of tradition and get cranky again. Because it makes sense, from one standpoint, and none at all from another. If we are going to admit that 1. Women have been exempted from time-bound mitzvot and their trappings and 2. Women have been excluded from crucial sources of authority in Jewish communities and that 3. Those two things are directly connected, then presumably if we change 2, we change 1. Right? Right.

Or not. I sometimes have an uneasy feeling that when we do this, we are signing on to generations of spitefulness and condescension towards women's Judaism. There is an elaborate spiritual life and body of practical knowledge that developed in the absence of men's obligations and learning. My enthusiasm for it was largely slammed in rabbinic school. And of course, the basic concept of two classes of women seriously underlines the inequity that's there. All Conservative men are obligated to lay tefillin, even though most of them don't. If they want to go to rabbinic school they will. Simple. For can be a perfectly observant Jew and NOT lay tefillin, or you can be the kind of Jew who gets to be a rabbi, and obligate yourself to the REAL Jew's mitzvot. Erk. I see the logic. But I also see the nasty subtext.

Does this make any sense? I wear a tallis myself, but I bristle at the notion that rabbinic authority can override generations of tradition that state a woman does not need to. I don't like the idea that for women to be given respect and authority in the community they must prove they're good enough by doing things the guy way. At the same time, I'm aware of exactly how powerless Jewish women have historically been because they were exempted, excluded, and shut out from sources of Jewish knowledge and authority, and that all this talk about gender differences and women's superior holiness counts for less than nothing when a get is on the line. Why shouldn't I take for myself/obligate myself/just be another Jew out there...?

Anyway, I also didn't make it to Beth Abraham again, since I spent the night in San Francisco, and spent Shabbos morning drinking coffee and talking to my parents. Maybe next week, excpet I may be out of town. This is taking a while for me to do.

Tomorrow it all starts...

I skipped Beth Abraham...actually I didn't wake up until close to eleven on Shabbos. Getting up at 5:30 three days running after keeping summer hours wiped me out. I never actually got dressed at all on Saturday, I wore my jammies around the house and ate things with calories. It was extremely pleasant.

This morning, the gardeners arrived again. I'm kind of getting used to being awakened by the crunch of workboots on the gravel, and hushed conversations in Spanish about garden hoses.

Today I had to go to a memorial service in Alameda. This was for a lovely woman in her fifties who was the attendence secretary at the school I work at. She worked in the district for nineteen years. A nice lady. Warm, bubbly, like an aunt to all the kids...I had only been working at the school for four or five months when we learned she had pancreatic cancer and wouldn't be coming back to work. She died last Wednesday.

It was a warm, pretty, service. Her daughter and two sisters, husband, nephew, sister-in-law, and someone she had worked with for many years all spoke. Lots of tears, lots of stories. I learned that she was a trout fisher, and loved camping. I heard how her family left South Dakota--I suppose this must have been about 1960 or so--looking for work in California. Everyone was weepy.

Now I'm trying to get everything together for the first day of school, and I'll be thinking about her all day...I think we all will. We owe it to her to give the kids the best.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Back to School

I'm exhausted. Two days of professional development, back to the school building to pick up my class lists, and, well, they won't work. I'm going to have a tough couple of weeks while I teach disposable lessons and try to get us through the worst of it.

Basically, back in June, the counselor of the school and I carefully planned some great class lists, including current students and the incoming sixth graders. Then, over the summer, she quit. We have a new counselor and a new vice principal. My class lists are problematic as follows:

1. I have nine kids in one class, and seven in the other. This is ridiculous. I should be starting with at least fifteen in each group, possibly more than twenty-five.

2. Many kids who should be in my classes aren't. Presumably they were signed up for mainstream classes. (I teach ESL).

3. The kids who are in my classes are hopelessly jumbled according to skill level and cannot be taught together effectively.

4. None of the new sixth-graders have been put in my classes.

Monday is going to be very fun.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Yes! The Hummingbirds are FEEDING!

We've had three come by at once, although only one has fed at a time. I assume they can get to the syrup, since they spend a fair amount of time there, lower their heads repeatedly to the holes, and don't seem to be getting annoyed with the feeder.

They're brown. I should see if I can figure out what exact species they are. The hummingbird site said Northern California gets one type all year round. It would be cool if these would stay for the winter.

I need to get a stronger cord for the feeder. It seems to hold up, but the plastic is stretching, and although I realize they can fly, I worry about it falling while they're trying to drink. I'll see what we have in the garage that might substitute.

All riiiiiiiight.

I Have Livestock

I finally got around to filling the hummingbird feeder. It came with the house, hanging off a post of the back deck. Yesterday I took it into the kitchen and cleaned it off. Not easy. It was covered in cobwebs--and the Balabusta is arachnaphobic--and then I managed to get it open, and, well, it had not been cleaned before it was left. Whatever had been in it had congealed to a thick jelly-like amber substance--like evil honey--with some dead flies for variety. I managed to flush it out as best I could with hot water, filled the bottle with the recommended hummingbird formula--one part white cane sugar to four parts tapwater--and hung it up.

The main motive behind this was that some time ago I saw a hummingbird come by and inspect the feeder. It flew right up, made a couple of turns around it, checking it out, and seemed to register 'yup, still empty', as it flew away. I figured I should provide something. I'll have to see if they actually come though, and if they don't show an interest, I may have to get a new feeder. I don't know if they care about grungy. The website I looked at said they won't feed if the syrup has gone bad.

So far no visitors that I've seen, but I was out for much of the day.

Also, we have cats in the back yard, I think the neighbors', who wander around, and squirrels. A couple of days ago we got a squirrel on the deck. He jumped into the pot with my sweet potato plant, and I thought he was going to try to eat it, but instead he buried something in the pot. Peanut sized and shaped.

I hope he won't mind that I'm watering it, whatever it was.

The boyfriend is almost well again, but kind of deaf.

And the parakeet needs more seed.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Shul Shidduch, Part One--Netivot Shalom

After a summer of sleeping late on Shabbos and thinking about what kind of East Bay shul I wanted, the Balabusta got up this morning and went so check out Netivot Shalom in Berkeley.

Looking at a new shul is kind of like a date, in more ways than one. I decided that since I really didn't know what people wore at NS, it would be a good idea to dress up a little. Then I decided that since I was going out on Shabbos, I should give my new clothes an outing, so I got out the new skirt and the turquoise sweater, and got spiffed up. I even put on a dab of makeup, and perfume. Then I decided I looked too conservative (as opposed to Conservative) for a Berkeley shul and layered on a couple of funky necklaces to take the edge off.

I wanted to get there right at the start of services, but was hindered in this because I forgot my BART ticket and had to get a new one. At one ticket machine: two middle-aged ladies in Berkeleyesque clothes who have evidently never used one before. They are operating the machine in a manner reminiscent of people feeding a goat at a petting zoo. (Thanks to my mom for this image.) One woman gives the other woman a dollar bill. The second woman feeds the bill to the machine. The machine eats it. The women exclaim about this. Then the second woman says, 'give me another dollar'. This is taking forever.

At the other machine: five or six middle-aged ladies, by dress and accent tourists from the Midwest. They, obviously, haven't used a BART ticket machine before, and are having to deal with all the details--it will only give you so much change, and each passenger must have a ticket, and etc. I hear the train leave, over my head. Okay, it's Shabbos, I will take it easy. I got there.

Here follow the pros and cons of Netivot Shalom. I will say that I will need to return at a later date, since they were having a large, well-attended Bat Mitzvah, and I may not have gotten a perfect impression. Basically, though:


It is easily accessible from my house, only about thirty-five minutes each way.

It's a pretty, modern building, with moveable chairs in the sanctuary.

I was not the only woman wearing a hat, there were several of us.

Even for a bat mitzvah day, it seemed very well attended.

The service is "traditional egalitarian", the way I like 'em.

They have a nice prayer for the United States in English, and a misheberach for Israeli and U.S. soldiers.

The bat mitzvah girls' friends were incorporated into the service--they got to come up and lead "Adon Olam", stuff like that. I thought it was cute.

They seem to have nice arrangements for children's care and activities during the service. This doesn't directly affect me, but it speaks to wanting women to be included in the life of the shul, and a good attitude about children. I've been to shuls that lacked both.

They do a snappy musaf. I have tried to learn to like musaf, but it just irks me.

They are slightly disorganized in a cute way. A hundred and fifty people, all trying to wash hands at once, and guy starts belting out a niggun, apparently spontaneously, trying to give everyone something to do while standing in line.

The oneg was AWESOME, but I think that may have been a bat-mitzvah related thing.


The building is just a little too moderne and gleaming to feel heimish. My San Francisco shul used to be a nightclub, and it's still just a big partitioned room with a stained glass skyline of Jerusalem installed at the front to make it pretty, and at least two shul's worth of memorial plaques.

No flags. I like the flags.

When they do Misheberach, they sing the Debbie Friedman version. Despite my Bay Area upbringing, I don't like davening set for the acoustic guitar. It annoys me.

They don't have MY cantor and rabbi there.

No one talked to me, although I think that may have been a bat-mitzvah issue too.

I like shuls where there's a hard-core group of old men in suits who know the davening in their sleep, pronounce it in Ashkenazes and keep stuff rolling. They didn't seem to be present at NS. I like places where there's a discreet bottle of slivovitz out for the old guys. I like places where they serve herring in cream sauce despite the fact the people my age can't handle it.

I found it a little hard to see and hear what was going on.

SUMMARY: Basically, it seems like a nice shul, but it didn't grab me immediately, so I'm going to go back a couple more times when they're not having a bat mitzvah, and check out some more places. I did determine that my generation priorities have changed. I used to check out a shul thinking "Will I have a profound spiritual experience here? Will I find my right path in life? Is that guy my intended, or maybe just a stalker creep?" Now I check out a shul thinking "Huh. Nice to see they have children's services..." Just thinking ahead.

THING I FOUND ODD: In the 'welcome to the shul' handout, they explain that everyone is asked to cover their head, but this is optional for women over 20. They also say that all adult Jews at the shul wear a tallis, but this is also optional for women over 20.

Why 20? Why make this official?

I realize that a lot of women don't do either of the above in Conservative shuls, for a lot of reasons. But it seemed like a strange thing to lay out in such detail. Also, does this mean little girls must wear a kippah until they're 20? Does this mean you must wear a tallis from bat mitzvah until 20, and then you're allowed to skip it? I did wonder. Since I do both, not an issue for me, though.

Next week is Beth Abraham.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Rabbi's Cat

I just finished _The Rabbi's Cat_ by Joann Sfar, which was just released in English. It's a graphic novel in three parts, narrated by a cat belonging to an Algerian rabbi during the early 1930s. I love Jewish comics art, so this was right up my alley.

The cat likes the rabbi, but adores his beautiful daughter Zlabya. Their relationship is complicated when the cat gains the power of speech (and turns out to be a liar and a freethinker, both of which upset the rabbi), and later, when Zlabya marries a young rabbi from Paris. The cat, the rabbi, and Zlabya all go through a certain amount of trauma and emotional upheaval during the book, but it ends on a hopeful, slightly offbeat note.

The book gives a sense of the pre-war Algerian community that feels alternately fanciful and realistic. The drawings are quirky and wonderful, and an endearing touch is the back-flap photo of the artist posing with his cat, who is clearly the model for the novel's narrator.

It's a little edgier than I expected from the reviews it's been getting, but I really liked it. Definately looking forward to the next installment.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Girls In Black Leather

I keep resolving to give up reading Heshy's blog. Heshy, for those of you who don't know him, is a very unsual man who keeps a very unusual blog. From Heshy I have learned that Jews are opposed to life on other planets, that Jews are forbidden to live in Manhattan, that Iran is a really great place with good morals, and that God is going to smite just about everyone pretty soon. (I'll provide a link when I can, my computer is being weird about Blogger right now.)

I keep resolving not to read the blog any more, because I really don't think I should, but it is extremely funny at times. I fell into temptation this evening, and discovered Heshy's detailed plan for bringing secular Israeli Jews to Heshy's version of Judaism. My favorite agenda item:

"Special crack-units of tall, highly intelligent young adult women who are well trained in Torah ideals, outfitted in all black (leather jackets & gloves, long skirts and stockings) are to target secular streets of Tel Aviv and Haifa dishing out steaming, hot portions of cholent from mobile crock pots into heavy-duty disposable black bowls with sturdy black forks"

People have suggested that the weather in Haifa and Tel Aviv may not be ideal for the proposed outfit. I'm just imagining the movie based on this. In my version, the Cholent Chicks (okay, it's not alliterative, I'm trying) ride motorcycles (with the Crock Pots mounted on the back), and zoom through the streets of Haifa, targeting secular Jews and feeding them. Our heroine, Gittel, becomes intrigued with a handsome, disheveled young Modern Orthodox type who has his own Crock Pot of dafina on his bike, and wears a crocheted yarmulke.

Will Gittel take off her leather jacket in the 95 degree heat?

Will dueling traditions of Jewish stew be able to make peace, or be doomed to fight to the end?

Will Avi put on a black hat in order to win his Harley-gunning love?

Will Heshy have to ride in on his own bike and rescue the dizzy damsel from the crocheted menace?

How much cholent does it take to bring someone back on the derech?

Can you tell the Balabusta watched "Chopper Chicks in Zombietown" last night?


Today I got back to basics: setting myself specific goals to get me out of my rut of not-getting-stuff-done.

So I cleaned the living room. I got into one of those zones where you just do a teeny bit at a time and accept that it's going to take all day, so I stopped myself and told myself I had an hour. I cleared off the little coffee table, and windexed the top of it. The floor is all picked up, except for a couple of boxes and the tops of the bookshelves. The dining room table (it's in the living room) gleams. The floorboards shine. I swiffered. It looks lovely. I had to stop myself from trying to interrupt progress by trying to do other rooms. The boyfriend was impressed. He's now settled down in the middle of gleaming, wrapped in a blanket and coughing.

Now, lunch. Then I'm going to run an errand.

Oh, and while putting lunch on the stove, I swiped a stain on the kitchen floor, and discovered in the process that what I thought was a scratch in the linoleum from moving the fridge is actually just a scrape mark of gunk. Comes off. Doesn't come RIGHT off, but comes off. I managed about half of it, will need stronger cleaner for the rest.

My work sent me a back-to-school letter. Should I be offended that my name wasn't mentioned in the list of teachers who did continuing education over the summer?

Monday, August 15, 2005

Crying Over The Chron

Our local paper, the San Francisco Chronicle, has been running this multi-part series about the disengagement. It's not particularly well-done, but today's was about a family who decided to leave Gaza rather than stay on, at the last minute, agreeing finally at five AM on Tisha B'Av. I started getting weepy on the BART.

I did dry up, slightly, when I got to the bit where the father of the family is described as having helped to build the settlement 'as a young, Zionist soldier'. I was briefly overcome with parallel inane descriptions. "Frank Levy participated in D-Day as a young, Federalist soldier" perhaps? Anyway. I did say it was not particularly well done.

Then I got into the New York times, and I got to the picture of the girls in jeans skirts draped in orange ribbons blocking a road, and I just sprung a leak.

I think I finally got to the emotional part of this.

I couldn't, yesterday. I went through the fast thinking that somehow this would start to seem more real, I would feel more about it, but it wasn't until today that it really hit. And it's confusing, on a deep, fundamental level.

I support the disengagement. I have a lot of trust in Sharon's judgement, and I believe this is the best plan for the forseeable future. I think we have to do this.

I feel terrible for the people leaving. I feel for their losses, for what they built that won't continue, for how this has cut open their lives. I feel angry this has divided Jews from each other. I feel afraid for everyone involved. I can think of a thousand ways this could become even worse, very fast, in the next couple of days.

And I feel so proud of those teenage girls wearing orange headbands and standing hand in hand together to protect home that I'm crying. They're so beautiful, so strong, so full of emunah. I was overwhelmed.

My mother thinks this is NOT contradictory, and maybe she's right. Maybe it's just complicated.

May this be for the best, for all of us.

The Fella Is Sick, I Am Driving, Tisha B'Av Is Over, Target is Evil

The fella is sick, he's got what I had. Question from him: "How many times did you want to stab your own eardrums out?" I am feeding him Campbell's Vegetable Beef soup, and lots of tea. He is very miserable.

Yesterday, he slept most of the day, and roused around eight o'clock, disoriented and weak, and needing patent medicines. Couldn't find any of ours, except for the Sudafed, which wasn't what was needed. He won't touch liquid NyQuil. So I broke the fast with a peanut butter sandwich, eaten as I walked to Target to get medicines, since the local corner place closes at seven.

(Note, on Saturday we were with friends at an SCA event in Golden Gate Park. I left early to go carbo-load. A friend, Jewish, noticed my absence and asked the fella where I was. "Balabusta left to get ready for the holiday," says the fella. "Holiday?" our friend asks. "Yeah, you fast all day and feel lousy." "Oh, Tisha B'Av's tomorrow?" says our friend, proving the accuracy of the description.)

I arrive at Target (you gotta imagine that this is pronounced "Tar-zhay", since I always do), and discover with horror that although I can get throat drops, they've responded to recent governmental pressure by taking all products containing pseudoephedrine off the shelf. NO NyQuil. No cold caps at all, except for Coricidin's high blood pressure version, which lacks pseudoephedrine.

I curse the War on Patent Drugs. I consider making my way across San Pablo Avenue in the dark to get to the Walgreens, decide to go with the Coricidin and return home.

I mean, sheesh, people. Meth labs are bad. Feds are scary. I get it. But I had a sick boyfriend at home. All I want is ONE box of NyQuil caps.

I found the NyQuil caps this morning, right where I'd put them, under the bathroom sink in a Sterilite box.

This morning I went for my driving lesson. I was allowed to steer around a parking lot. Unfortunately I cried a little on the instructor before getting started, but this is a driving school that specializes in the tense and phobic, and he assured me he's used to it. I think I did good.

Then the Balabusta shopped for shoes. She's already got new work clothes, needed shoes. (Clothes shopping note--I was persuaded while clothes shopping to buy a pale turquoise sweater to compliment a fudge-and-turquoise skirt I loved. I have not worn pale blue or green next to my face since, er, middle school. I am slowly getting the hang of cold colors. It's kind of interesting.)

I HATE shoe shopping. Shoes are expensive, often uncomfortable, and it's hard to find flats. Love clothes shopping, HATE shoes. Finally I managed to get a pair of black pumps and some brown stitched loafers at the El Cerrito Plaza Ross For Less. The Ross on Market Street in San Francisco let me down. So did Shoe Pavilion, DSW or whatever it is, Nordstrom, Aldo, John Madden, and a couple other places. I hate shoe shopping. I need to start shoe shopping more OFTEN, so that when one pair of shoes dies I have another waiting in the wings, and don't get stressed out. As is, I usually have one pair of black work shoes I wear almost every day, and when they fall apart, I am desperate.

The boyfriend is propped up in front of the TV, drinking tea with honey.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Gardeners Came

So I'm lying in bed, around 9 A.M., thinking about doing the laundry, and preparing myself for a day when I get up and don't immediately make coffee. And I hear footsteps outside, and voices.

They sound as though they're crunching across the mega-gravel in the xeriscape out front of the house, but that doesn't make sense, and I convince myself it's the neighbors working on some yard project.

Then there are many crunching footsteps, some conversation in Spanish, and someone turns our front yard hose on, which causes the entire house's plumbing to thunder.

I put on a bathrobe and tiptoed out into the living room to check out the situation through the front door's peep grille.

The gardeners had arrived.

I'm just glad to see that they really exist. When we moved in, the deal was that we would pay an extra forty bucks a month, and the landlord would provide a gardener to come by once a month and keep the yards maintained. This suited us fine. The Balabusta is insanely busy, and the fella hates yard work. Good deal, we thought.

Then we saw neither hide nor hair of a gardener for--well, I guess we've been here six weeks? Anyway, today they arrived, unheralded, watered, clipped the tree out front, sprayed some weed killer around, and left.

We made no contact, since the fella and I were both too underdressed and baffled to actually try to speak to them. After a while I realized the noises had stopped, looked out again, and they were gone.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Teachers Behaving Badly

Third day of this textbook training I've been at. So far it is going, by my standards, really well. I'm learning more about how the program (which I've been teaching from for a year) is structured, and maybe more importantly, gaining some confidence. Most of this year I've felt awfully vulnerable in my classroom. I'm learning things that are validating some of my ideas and experiences, and will allow me to meet with my principal and say 'this is what will work, here's why, and I will do it'. I hope. Maybe. It's pretty cool. I just wish we didn't have homework.

It's being taught by a young woman who is, compared to past people I've taken program trainings from, a genius and a mensch. She's non-saccharine, direct, and will even say "if some detail of the script or planning doesn't work for you, you are the teacher. Teach as seems best." (The usual reaction is "If you deviate from the script, the children will never learn anything. You are a moron. The script is LIFE.")

She has not yet used 'diverse' to mean 'not white', or said 'when teaching THESE CHILDREN it's important to...'

She explains research to us, rather than dismissing criticism with 'the research says so'.

Anyway, nice gal. Today I ended up eating lunch with a group that included the two women who talk and laugh between themselves right next to me all through the training. I joined them because some of 'em are in my district.

The group was not nice about the trainer lady.

I think I need to eat lunch with the positive people tomorrow.

The funny thing is that at my teacher induction program, I am usually one of the bad kids making noise--but that's because those are STUPID.

Of course, I'm also miffed because I said I was getting a real sense of what the program did, and how it worked, and another teacher said 'it's not really rocket science'.

Without going into all the reasons this past year was so hard for me--I still appreciate getting trained in the bloody program!

Teaching is a new career for me. It has a lot of advantages, and I think I can become good at it. But one thing I've noticed is that teachers can be some of the snarkiest most hostile people I know. We put other people down a lot. (Kids don't imagine this.) I don't want to become someone like that.

Better start tomorrow by picking the company I keep a tad better.

Monday, August 08, 2005

More Addendum....

"It's kind of like living with a caged animal in pain," he says. "You know, it paces back and forth, and growls a lot, and smells funny."


The fella has read the preceding post, and wishes the world to know that he has been wronged.

I detailed my pain, and neglected his. For five days he lived in fear of his life, as a psychotic maniac rushed around the house, moaning about her ears, pounding her fists on chairs, and threatening his physical and emotional well-being.

He only wanted to help, nurture and protect the Balabusta, and she was mean, cruel and vicious towards him. He is, quite possibly, scarred for life.

I Can Hear Clearly Now, The Pain Has Gone

Self indulgent complaint about having been sick to follow:

What started as a slight scratchy throat on Wednesday turned into, well, five very unpleasant days.

Normally when the Balabusta gets a cold, she has a sore throat for twenty-four hours, while her chest fills with gunk. Then she coughs and sneezes until the gunk is cleared. Then the cold is over.

On this occasion, the lungs were pretty much clear, and my eustachian tubes got the gunk.

Every time I swallowed, twin jabs of pain in my eardrums. Up and down in intensity, but hard enough at its worst to make me flinch each time. You know how many time you swallow in the course of, say, a minute? A lot of times. More times than you would think.

Advil, didn't work. Throat spray, suggested by the doctor who looked at me for two minutes on Saturday morning, didn't work. NyQuil worked because NyQuil knocked me cold for eight hours at a time, during which time I could not feel my ears. Instead I romped in fields full of golden autumn trees, and walked on ceilings, and argued with long-dead philosophers. They were great dreams. Then I would wake up and swallow.

I looked up middle ear pain. Apparently it's mostly found in babies. This did not make me feel better.

Last night I was nearly hysterical, because this had been going on for five days, and pain that's tolerable for a while gets hard to deal with over a long period of time, and today I HAD to go and spend six and a half hours at a training. No way to cancel unless I was actually in labor, or had surgery. I tried to go to sleep without the NyQuil because I had already taken the Sudafed. (One small blessing, I got to go on a patent-medicine spending spree behind this. I love buying boxes of pills to be taken four to six hours apart. And the nightime Sudafed was on sale.)

Slept shallowly, no more golden trees or philosophers, and woke up swallowing and swallowing desperately, and hurting more each time.

It was one AM. I had to get out of bed in five and a half hours, max. I wandered into the bathroom, took a slug of NyQuil and lay down to read until it kicked in.

Half an hour later, the pressure dropped. No pop, no warning, just swallowed and that time it didn't hurt like crazy. I have no idea why. I went to sleep. My ears are still slightly sore when I swallow, but they have not returned to flinch level, and I got through the day without drugs.

Healthy ears are the best.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Maybe the World's Best Potato

There is a farmer's market Tuesday and Saturday mornings at El Cerrito Plaza. Tuesday we went, and on a whim I picked up some big baking style potatos from one of the organic produce booths.

The guy weighed them and said 'seven dollars', which came out to about a buck thirty per potato, but I gulped and paid, and reminded myself to ask the price BEFORE bagging the produce next time. I also wondered what it WAS with these potatoes. Grown in gold dust or something?

Last night I didn't go to my mom's for Shabbos because my ears STILL hurt, but I got into action cooking a nice little meal at home. We had grilled chicken in the fridge, so that, and green peas, some black olives for nibbles, and what else does the boyfriend want on the side?

"Corn. Corn. Corn? Corn! Corn. Corn." (He's imitating the seagulls from Finding Nemo, in case you were wondering.) Okay, corn, and anything else?

"How about a baked potato?"

That's an idea. I could put them in the microwave. Let's see if the million-dollar-spuds are any good. I mean if they, are, I oughta use them for Shabbos anyway, right?

I baked two of them, and I have to report, they may be the best potato I've ever eaten. The boyfriend not so impressed, but he basically sees vegetables as staging grounds for margarine and salt anyway. The potatoes cooked to an even mealy consistency (this in the microwave, mind), with slightly crispy jackets and smooth, crumbly white interiors. I regretted not having sour cream, (the chicken), but with margarine they were simply superb. Gonna try one with sour cream tomorrow, maybe.

I don't know if I can really justify buying these things again, but they're really, really, good potatoes.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Speed of Prayer

There have been a number of blogversations going on about tefilah, tehillim, and other good things that start with a 't' sound, by AskShifra and on DovBear and other places, and, well, I'm thinkin' about it all.

First, the basics:

1. I was raised in a Very Reform Shul. (Insert suits, hearty summer-camp Zionism, rabbis in robes but no yarmulkes, an organ, German accents, and the absolute conviction that Yiddish was dead, dead as a doornail, and not a minute too soon. I'm getting nostalgic, but that's another post...)

2. We were taught to read Hebrew with Israeli pronunciation. We were told it was Sephardic. We were told it was better than the awful kind of Hebrew with all those s sounds some of us heard at home.

3. We were not taught to daven. We were not taught to DO much. One of my more baffling memories of childhood is the time the shul let Chabad come and try to get all of us kids in the religious school involved in a weird project featuring Beetle Bailey in tzitzit--I am NOT hallucinating, I still have the flyer somewhere--called the Army of Hashem. I know, they sound like a subplot from Frank Herbert's Dune books. They wanted the boys to wear tzitzit and the girls to light Shabbos candles (this I was already doing), and all of us to daven Modeh Ani. I cannot imagine why the shul agreed to this, or, perhaps more importantly, where they thought nine year old boys going to Temple Emanu-El were going to get tzitzit from. Or what their parents would do if they actually wore them.

4. Then I went to rabbinic school for a year after college.

Despite all of this, I actually can't read Hebrew. I mean, I can read words I understand, and sound others out, but I am horrifically slow. I joked on another blog recently that I regard saying tehillim as a sort of prayer filibuster. Listening to me read tehillim would lead anyone to heal anyone, just to make me stop sounding the words out already. (I have also been known to spend hours in the lady's room, hoping that someone else will have started to lead the Birkat by the time I emerge.)

This has been a long-standing barrier to one of my long-standing goals, which is to begin to daven the Amidah daily. The key problem I've run into each time I've begun is that I only know the first three or four brachot with any fluency, and then I have to read. Correction. Aaaaai. Haaaaaa-vuh. Toooooooooo. Ruh-eeeeeeee.........duh. It takes a terribly long time, and stomps any kavvanah I might bring to the process flat.

Today I discovered that at this site they actually have the Weekday Amidah transliterated. SCORE! I'm going to get a printout and work with this until I actually know the words well enough to start reading the Hebrew properly.

But I would love to get over this problem. Has anyone got ideas? I know the letters, I just can't seem to scan properly. I read English very fluently, can read Latin off the page, French, Spanish--what gives with the Hebrew? Has anyone found anything that speeds them up or gives them more confidence? My Hebrew is not good, but it is good enough that I can follow what's happening in Tanach most of the time. It's just SLOOOOOOOW.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Also, the boyfriend is one heck of a dessert designer. As I was finishing the last post he walked in and gave me a bowl of raspberries and blackberries from the farmer's market, smothered in strawberry-banana yoghurt.


The Insider's Guide To Judaism

I explained to my boyfriend that I had read something in "one of the Jewish blog world blogs". He asked, 'how many Jewish bloggers are there, anyway?'

Sometimes I realize, with a small shock, that I am his only window into Judaism. He is not one of these gentile guys who grew up in a town where half his buddies were bar mitzvahed, or dated Jewish girls in high school. The whole Jewish world, the history, lore, behavior and activities of all of us, (twelve or thirteen million?) are viewed by him pretty much only through me. It's kind of a strange feeling. What is not important to me he will not see. What I don't say, he doesn't know.

Sometimes what he sees is reflected back to me in ways that make me uncomfortable. I was chatting with him about the religious schools to which we will (I imagine) send Bubba and Jezebel, and waxing a little rhapsodic about the community they will have as children. And he said, "because the Jewish community has made you so happy?"

Well, there's that. He met me at what was close to the bottom of my relationship with the Jewish world. I wanted some things--a job, justification, my childhood sense of chavurah--more than I could begin to articulate, from 'the community', and I was not getting. I was bitter. I was nuts. I cried myself to sleep more nights than I care to remember because I could not figure out how to be Jewish in the way I wanted to be. Judaism, for him, is something that makes his girlfriend despair a lot. And remember, I am the whole show to him. I am (grin), the most observant Jew he knows.

He's seen other things--the joy I get from the holidays (and also the madness that Pesach produces). He's seen me develop a more comfortable relationship with a shul and a rabbi. But I think his initial impression was that it's hard to be a Jew. First impressions are lasting.

But he meets me on the way. He works on Jewish for me--shooing me off to shul (why, he wants to know, can't I tell him WHEN the service starts?), and he can find lard in a grocery ingredient list faster than I can. For a man who, early in our courtship, forwarded me a Jewish joke he'd read and then asked me what a 'bubbe' was to clarify the punchline for himself--we've come far. Yesterday he snatched a marinade away from me in the grocery store and pointed out that it had cheese in it and couldn't be used for chicken. I'm tellin' ya!

He's getting the rules down. What I'd like to show him, more, is the 'ashreinu' part, the real joy and fun I get from Jewishness. Something to think of, as the chagim get closer.

Gasket Blown

So I hear back from the people who are running the training. Training I was going to was cancelled. If I did not receive notice, they're real sorry. Normally they send out both e-mail and mail notice.

NOTHING on other trainings they might have.

NOTHING about my district's money.



The Daily Half-Dozen

1. I have a sore throat. Not feeling particularly chipper.

2. The fella's tires need replacing. The van's in Richmond right now.

3. This is nothing new, but George Galloway is being his usual self, on steroids. The image of Jerusalem and Baghdad as beautiful girls crying out for help from the Arab world would impress me more if I didn't think he'd stolen it from one of Saddam's novels.

4. The training I'm supposed to go to next week still has not sent me anything. No materials, no confirmation, no time I'm supposed to show up. The last communication indicated that I should go to a particular Catholic high school in San Francisco, but NOTHING else.

5. I have a new driving lesson scheduled for Monday after this coming one.

6. The recyclers took our recycling! It's GONE...well, what I could fit in the bins. The fella and I danced with joy. It seems like a sign...of what I could not tell you.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Names Not To Call Children By

So there I am, typing away on a big SCA research project having to do with medieval Jewish names, and the fella happens to ask me what 'stein' means--so I tell him--and then he asks what "Frankenstein" means, and I say I don't know, and I chat on for a bit about the origins of German Jewish surnames.

Apropos of this, the fella declares that if he were to be asked to choose a family name, it would be "Schadenfreude".

I tell him that while he still has some lingering hope of persuading me to take his last name, making it "Schadenfreude" will kill that off right quick.

He says that that's okay, but he and the children will be Schadenfreude. The children, he declares happily, will be Bubba Schadenfreude and Jezebel Schadenfreude.

He has a recurrent interest in "Jezebel" as a name for a child of ours. I don't think he knows her story, he saw the name in a list of 'Biblical names not to give your baby'. He was briefly interested in "Cain" at about the same time.

I've said I will consider Jezebel as a middle name if her first name can be Yentl.

Yentl Jezebel Schadenfreude. Sounds presidential to ME.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Parakeet is Out

(This is not the parakeet, this is a stock photo. But the parakeet is also green.)

Our parakeet is another inheritance from the machetenim, and had spent his whole life in the old house, except for a few months in a pet store as a baby. The boyfriend drove him over in the van early on in the moving process, and we put his cage by the windows in the front room.

It must be strange for him. He's not used to so much light, and through the windows he can see all sorts of new things. I kept the cage shut until late last week when I opened it to see what he would do.

What he did was stay inside. I worried he would never come out again, but figured he might just need some time to work up the nerve.

Anyway, this evening he decided to get out and explore. He flew around the room several times, landed on various surfaces, sat on the boyfriend's finger, and eventually managed to get back to the top of his cage, where he is sitting and talking about the whole thing loudly.

I guess we're settled in.

Life in the 'Burbs

We went to OSH this morning, and purchased ant traps, also some clear caulk--I think sealing the cracks in the cabinetry will help--and some more Simple Green, plus Simple Green wipes. I have distributed the traps. I keep thinking how much harder this would be if I had children, or dogs, in the house.

The city of El Cerrito refused to take my recycling last week. It was left behind--two giant tubs of it, now turning yellow in the sun--with a snarky form note checked in many boxes to let us know the kinds of sins we had committed. Primarily, I think it is a shatnez issue--we had mixed paper and plastic in the same tub, and bundled paper IN plastic. Also we had included clamshell plastic packaging.

We had also practiced sorcery, settled in the land of Egypt, showed mercy to idolaters, offered peace to Ammon and Moab, made offerings without salt, sheared a dedicated beast, fed the Pesach offering to a ger toshav (since this is August, we had to thaw it out first), delayed payment of vows, barbecued and eaten the flesh of a stoned ox, added to the Written Law, and appointed a king not born an Israelite.

I think we can actually blame that last one on the Supreme Court, but by that time the recycling guy was just checking boxes with abandon.

The recyclers were pretty mad at us about all this sinning, and as I say, they left us with the recycling. A few days later I got a packet in the mail (three WEEKS after we signed on as new customers), explaining how their system works.

Basically, they will only take a few highly resellable kinds of items. No plastic bags. No clamshell containers. No milk cartons. No frozen food boxes. It has to be sorted. Plastic cannot be packaged in paper. Paper cannot be packaged in plastic. We cannot yoke an ox and a llama together when mowing the lawn, or they won't take our lawn clippings. These are the rules.

In San Francisco, you just dump all the recyclables into the recycle bin, and they sort it all out somewhere. Sigh...