Friday, April 25, 2008

Too Much Passover

I do not know about the rest of you but I am ‘Passovered out’. Okay, I admit to feeling as thought I had eaten enough matzah after the end of the first Seder. Things were very nice and very enjoyable. Still, I find working during Hol Ha’moed, the intermediate days, is very difficult.

Perhaps things would be just as difficult no matter what but it is the little things that I won’t do that make things more difficult. For instance, when I am teaching, I do not stop to get a cup of coffee before heading to class. When I have my late night class, I end up bringing food from home for lunch and dinner. Passover food tends to be quite heavy and takes a lot out of me.

I do enjoy the Holiday of Passover. I even enjoy the Passover foods. I just wish that I could eat them in addition to the other foods. Okay, so each year, for a week I can manage and I really do not complain, but this year it really seems to have taken its toll on my stomach and my overall mental approach. I find myself feeling more tired and just not energized.

So, to anyone else feeling like me, I say, “Hang in there. It is just another couple of days and you can do it!”

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Overseas Friends

I do not know how many of you are getting your phone lists ready but I know I am. Like many other people who celebrate the Jewish Holidays, I find that I call my Jewish friends a few times a year to wish them a ‘Good Yontif’.

I call friends and family before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I call them before (and after) Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. I also call them before Passover. As I said, I know a lot of people do this.

Of course, it can get to be expensive. Certainly calling most people inter and intra state is not bad and many of us have a phone plane where we can make all the calls we want for one set monthly fee. Unfortunately these plans do not include overseas calls.

I do have some friends in Israel and I like to call them as well. It is really the only times we speak (although we do correspond in other methods throughout the year). Still, if there is a way where the cost of these calls can be kept under control, it is certainly appreciated.

There are now prepaid phone cards to international locations, which might be able to help. Whether you are looking to for india phone cards, or to call Israel or another location, it might just be a way to save some money.

Passover Foods

It is amazing to see all the Kosher for Passover products you can find these days. I am not saying they are any good but you can find muffins, bagels and pizza that is all Kosher for Passover. Some of the products I definitely stay away from. Some I just have a problem with conceptually. For instance, we are not supposed to eat break on Passover so I do not want any Kosher for Passover bread (unless you consider Matzah to be such an item).

Matzah is not my favorite food. I have actually felt that Passover would be a wonderful Holiday if we could eat bread. Still, I do enjoy the Holiday and the foods. I think that for a week there are certain products we can do without. Moreover, the taste of a number of food items has been greatly improved.

I also am amazed to see the great variety of Kosher (and Kosher for Passover) wines. It used to be that all you could get was the disgustingly sweet wines. Actually, perhaps based on nothing but tradition, I like the taste of that. Still, with four cups of wine at the Seder, it is nice to know you can find all different types of wine.

Wishing you all (at least those who celebrate it) a Happy and Kosher Passover.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Making Friends

One of the things I enjoy about blogging is getting a chance to read comments that other people post in regard to my posts. This can actually be quite educational and can help improve the blog. It also gives you the opportunity to establish an on-line friendship with people who have the same interest as you.

There are actually sites where people can register to find people who have similar interests; where they can establish new friendships and see if they can find old friends as well. For instance, people may want to join 3gb community for such purposes.

My Favorite Sessions

As I am on break from teaching Hebrew school, I am taking some time to reflect on the computer lab sessions I have taught so far this year. I find reflection often helps me improve my lessons in the future. What I find most interesting is the computer lab session I have enjoyed the most have not necessarily been the ones that the students have enjoyed the most.

The kids enjoy the sessions where they can play games. I do try to work in some time each week to allow the students to play Jewish related computer games, but it is far from the focus. The students also like it when they can color on the computer. I do not find this surprising for the little ones but older students too enjoy coloring. Again, I do try to work this in fairly frequently, but it too is far from my favorite type of lesson.

I enjoy the educational sessions. There was one class where the students, who were studying jewish culture around the world, had to come into the lab and using their own links, or some that I provided, find out about a culture they had not yet studied and answer some question about that culture on a worksheet I designed.

I also liked the plans where the students had to research famous Jews but they had to find at least three ways the person did something to show his/her Jewishness. If they could not, they had to find a different person. Another class where the students had to find Jewish hate sites was also fascinating.

I guess it is true that education is (or at least can be) wasted on the young.

Thank You

In this day and age when so much is done on line and you can send greeting cards on line, I feel it means so much to get a hand written thank you not. I have always felt that way about Thank you cards. I remember when I worked at day camp one summer, it was customary for the parents to tip the counselors at the end of the summer. The camp recommended (keep in mind this was a number of years ago) between $20-$30. I remember feeling I would rather get a $25 tip and a Thank you card, with a hand written note, than a $30 tip. Okay, I am materialistic enough that I would rather a $30 tip and no card than a $20 tip, but the point is, money gets spent, Thank you Cards are a personalized item you can keep forever.

I have found, over the years, what works well for me is to keep a box of nice Thank you Cards on hand, in a safely stored area (hopefully I’ll be able to remember where I put them). Then, when I need one, I can easily get one, write the note immediately and get it out.

The personal touch goes a long way. So, if you are heading over to someone’s Seder for Passover, why not make sure you have a box of Thank You notes on hand.

Strawberry Shortcake

I love the way traditions get started and work their way into people’s religious ceremonies. Truth is I do enjoy ‘minhag’. Certainly this has kept our people alive and helped us maintain our identity. Still, not only can it be exhausting but if someone wants to change things up a little, it can be quite difficult, if not impossible.

My Mother-in-law’s birthday falls during Passover this year. For her, this is nothing new as they two frequently coincide. Growing up, her mother always made her a Kosher-for-Passover Strawberry Shortcake for the Seder to celebrate her birthday.

It so happens my niece (my Mother-in-law’s granddaughter) also has a birthday that falls around Passover. My wife found a recipe for a chocolate chip cake. She wanted to make that for the birthdays’. She was actually excited about trying a new recipe. (I too like new recipes but usually like to try them on myself first before making them for other people).

Guess what? When my wife told her mom about the recipe, her Mom asked (perhaps whined is a better word) for a Strawberry Shortcake? You know what that means? My wife is no longer making the chocolate chip cake for the birthdays, she is making a Strawberry Shortcake.

In the words of Tevye, “Tradition! Without it where would our people be?”

Monday, April 14, 2008

On Break!

I have the week off from teaching religious school. Actually, I have more than the week off. Since most of the Religious schools follow the regular schools and this is the week they have off for Spring break, I have it off too. Then, I get the next two Sundays off because of Passover. This means I only have to more Sundays to teach and it gives me time to do a nice job preparing the lessons, assuming I do not procrastinate, which is always a possibility.

As I think back on the lesson plans I put together and looking for websites to which I could bring the student, it occurs to me that the way a site is designed often has a lot to do with if and how I use it. I am looking for something that will catch my eye and is not difficult to navigate. I am also looking for something that will appeal to the particular age group I have coming into the computer lab that week.

Programming of the site is crucial. There have been times I have not used a site that I thought would be good because the layout was not effective. Some are quite professional, some may have a max web design, others are not so effective.

Cooking And Cleaning

As my wife and I prepare for the Seder and are busy cleaning the house and getting everything set, the parody of the song My Favorite Things, keeps going through my head.

A few years ago I actually put my own Passover Hagadah together. In addition to all the traditional parts, I included some extra readings, interpretations and silly ‘stuff’. Some of the silly stuff includes various songs.

As I said, this one is sung to the tune of My favorite Things. It starts:

“Cooking and cleaning and so many dishes; Out with the chametz, no pasta, no knishes;
Fish that’s gefilted, horseradish that stings; these are a few of our Passover things.”

There is, of course, more, but I do not have the words in front of me right now. What is amazing is how much material you can find on the internet for people of all ages. It actually is worth it to take a moment and go through the material and find one or two things that will make the Seder meaningful to you and your guests. Yes, it is a little extra work, although depending on how far you want to go, it does not have to be that much work. Still, it can help to make the Seder more meaningful to everyone who is there, children, adults, Jews and non-Jews alike.

Wishing everyone a Happy Passover!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Jewish Wisdom

I am currently reading a book about Jewish Wisdom with my son. The book deals with folklore (some may be accurate) about situation famous Jews have been in where there life has been in danger and how they were able to get out of the situation using peaceful methods.

My son has asked a seemingly innocent question about why these people could not just have called the police. Certainly you would think with all the law enforcement agencies, with the various images that are projected, often through what people wear, such as 5.11 gear that protections have always been offered to those in need.

I honestly hope that my son will still be this idealistic in another ten to twenty years.

You're Right And You're Right And You're Right Too

I recently read an opinion piece on line about the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. The author talked about what a moving experience it was and that the Museum was well done. Having been there, I agree. Still, I thought about an attitude my father, Z’’L used to have.

My father, who had taught college classes on the Holocaust and understood the importance of teaching the subject, also felt we needed to offer more. He objected to those people who would argue ‘We need to be Jewish because of all the suffering and persecution other Jews have endured.’ My father felt that was a terrible message to send. When Judaism has so much to offer, so much excitement, the best we can do is tell people to be Jewish because other people were persecuted. Is the message that maybe ‘You too can be persecuted?’

My Dad felt that when it came to the Holocaust, or any other chapter dealing with the Persecution of Jews, it should be taught, but it should only be one aspect. Museums that deal with this subject need to include exhibits about ‘Living Judaism’ and how it is practiced today and the fun and excitement it offers. He claimed that there were excellent examples of such Museums in New York City.

I guess you can put me in the Teyve category of “You’re right and you’re right and you’re right too”. I think that perhaps the most powerful message that can be sent about the Holocaust is when a museum deals only with the Holocaust. Still, I think it is important that people today understand not only about the tragedies but about the joys of being Jewish. So, how can they both be right? In the words of Tevye, “You know, you’re right too!”

Seder Length

As the Passover Seder approaches, I have been spending time looking through the Haggadah and deciding what I want to add to the Seder and what I want to skip, and everything in between. Perhaps like many people running a Seder, I have a challenge in terms of how long I go as people will want to get to the meal. In addition, dealing with certain medical issues, it is imperative that some people eat at a particular time.

What has worked well for me over the years is to tell me when we start that we will be at the meal by a certain time, or in a certain amount of time, such as within an hour to an hour-and-a-half. When my son was younger, I used to ask him to help me by chiming like a grandfather clock every 15 minutes so I had an idea of where I was at. He did and it was a good way to keep a four or five year old interested in the service.

I am tempted to move the wall clock in our kitchen to the Seder area this year. It was a beautiful clock my parents had hanging in their kitchen which, after they passed away, I claimed for my own. It would be one way to still ‘have them at my Seder’. The problem with moving it now is, I think it will invite people to keep an eye on the time too closely. I think this year I’ll make the announcement about the time frame but I won’t do anything in terms of having visible clocks nearby. Those who want to track the time will just have to rely on their own watches and will hopefully do it nonchalantly.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Non-Jews At The Seder

As we are getting ready for Passover, it occurred to me that while we will be having a number of guests coming to our Seder, few people are Jewish. My Mother-in-law will be there, she is Jewish. My Brother-in-law will be there and he is Jewish also, although his wife is not and then, certainly according to Jewish Law, neither is their daughter. The remaining seven people are not Jewish.

From my wife’s perspective this is fine, if not great. It gives us the opportunity to share our practices with other people from other religions. I always enjoy sharing religion and culture with others and learning about their religion, but part of me also likes the idea of being able to experience Jewish experiences with other Jews.

Traditionally Passover is actually not considered the Jewish Holiday for inviting non-Jews; that distinction belongs to Rosh Hashanah as it is the birthday of the world, meaning a holiday for everyone to share. Still, in practice, Passover has become a traditional time to invite non-Jews.

As I said, I am pleased and proud to share the Seder table with people who are not Jewish. Still, to me, the Seder is not just an eating experience but a religious service and ceremony, a religious experience. As a result, I would enjoy sharing the Seder with others who felt that way, with others who would want to talk about their understandings of Passover, as discussion is very much a key element of the Seder.

For now I will enjoy sharing the Seder with those who are coming but for future years I would like to make sure that we have some individuals as well who understand Passover and are interested in talking about the Holiday and the Seder.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Coming Home Early

My son requested that I try to come home early today. Why did he want me home early? It was not to play or go outside or get him something. He wanted me home so we could go through the Haggadah and practice.

This, as far as I am concerned, indicated two things to me. The first is that Passover is rapidly approaching and it is definitely time to start getting ready. The second was how fortunate I am. Teaching at a religious school and seeing the attitude of school age children, it is quite rewarding that my son is interested in practicing, in reading the Haggadah. He has already informed me that he wants to lead various parts of the Seder.

So, it is time to dig out the Haggadahs (which is easier said than done since we moved into our house between last year’s Seder and the one that will be occurring this year and I am not sure where they are), and begin practicing the Four Questions and other parts of the Seder with my son. I am definitely looking forward to it and I love the fact that, for my son, the holiday is not just about Shulhan U’Ruach (The Seder meal) but about an entire religious experience.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Assessment Tests

Yesterday at the Hebrew school where I teach, the students were given an assessment test. It is basically the same test given to all the students in the school, third grade through sixth grade, to see what they know, what they have learned and their weaknesses.

I was helping out in one of the classrooms yesterday and I was talking with the teacher before class got started. She indicated that she thought this was poor timing for the test but understood that it has to be done within the next couple of weeks before the Passover break. She also indicated that she felt at one time it was too confusing and now it was watered down as they were only asking the students to identify 10 different letters to get a feel on how well they knew the entire Hebrew alphabet.

I came at this from a slightly different point of view. I asked the teacher if the test was going to tell her anything she did not already know about the students. She thought for a moment and acknowledged it would not. I understand the need for tests and assessments. I understand the need to have a measuring stick. Still, I think, in this case, where the teachers should know their kids, it is unnecessary.

I guess it does give the office a supposedly objective measure so they can check up on both students and teachers but I am not convinced, in this case, it is necessary or even a good thing.