Sunday, December 1, 2013


We reluctantly bought him an iPad for Chanukah. (Actually he will pay for most of it with money he has saved up.) But we haven't given it to him yet because he has been getting punished every night since the holiday started. (Yeah, yeah, positive reinforcement.)

Before I bought it I told Kinneret that one reason we should let him get it is so that we would have one more thing we could take away when he misbehaves. But he hasn't even gotten it yet and he's already lost it. Not a good start.

Off the Derech

Last year it was Star Wars. He had to have all the books, encyclopedias, Lego sets (we balked at the $400 Death Star), etc. He and his school friends had a had a Star Wars club. He stayed up nights learning Star Wars trivia. You can guess the theme for Purim. 

This year it is mythology. (It all started with Percy Jackson.) He even wants to learn Greek and Latin and he keeps asking me how much a plane ticket to Greece costs.

If he ever goes off the derech during the coming year I think it will be to classical paganism. In the meantime I just hope that he doesn't expect us to dress up as Persian deities for Purim.


Tonight Ora picked up the phone. She sounded just like David did when he was her age. Scary.

Parenting a la Rambam

When a little knowledge is dangerous . . .

David: Do you forgive me?
Me: Let's see if you do it again.
David: But do you forgive me?
Me: Rambam says that real teshuvah is when you don't do it again. So let's see what happens.
David: Rambam? But he's Sephardic. I don't get it, we don't follow him.

Of all the information I throw at him, this is what he remembers, and at this particular moment.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


David is going to a ball game tonight. He came down and asked me to break a twenty for two tens. The problem is I took his wallet away from him a few weeks ago. I asked him where he got the twenty. "It's from my emergency stash."
Every time I think I'm one step ahead of him . . .

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Why Public Schools Stink

David's school focuses heavily on preparing for standardized state tests. I'm told that the yeshivos don't have this type of emphasis, and I certainly don't remember such an emphasis from my own elementary school days. (Although this may be a factor of poor memory after so many years, a general indifference to standardized tests back then, or perhaps even then there was a difference between the public school and yeshiva approach?)

I didn't really think much about the tests until I attended a parent workshop last week in school. Wow, the word questions on the math test are hard. I've gone though Calc 2, calc-based statistics, two semesters of college physics (o.k, not in the most challenging college) and then various advanced statistics and medical math classes. And yet not only did I still have to concentrate really hard last week, but some questions still stumped me.

David is not the best reader and we need to keep on top of him to make sure does his reading comprehension and general reading homework. And that he does it properly. Yesterday I passed by the table as he was looking at the questions to the reading comprehension assignment and I asked him if really finished reading the passage so quickly. He said that he didn't read it yet and I started to get upset that he was already jumping to the questions without having read the passage. Then he explained to me that in school they learned to look at the questions first and then to read the passage and look for the answers (and underline them as they appear). 

I was very upset. I don't know anything about education or pedagogy, but this doesn't strike me as a something that will produce good and motivated readers. Rather, it instills in kids the message that the purpose of reading is only to answer the questions. The act of reading is lo lishma. And I'm not even sure if this tactic produces more correct answers, as I'm afraid that students my be speed scanning the passage and not find what is really the best answer anyway.

I don't want to give the wrong impression. I understand the need for standardized testing. It helps enforce universal standards and serves as a measure--even if only imperfectly--if students are meeting those standards. It helps gauge--even if only imperfectly--teacher quality and productivity. Of course all this is all the more important in public schools, where there needs to be some type of oversight--even if imperfect--for funding purposes. This is why the school staff from the principal downward are fixated on test scores; poor results can herald the closure of a school or the end of its funding. (Are yeshivos not so concerned about standardized testing as they don't really have much to loose?)

And hence I understand the curricular emphasis on mastering the goals that the standardized tests focus on, as well as the need to prepare students with various test-taking strategies and tricks.

But it really saddened me to watch David look through the passage for the answers rather than read it.
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(Click here to register as a bone marrow donor. Save a child's life.)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Zionism, the Haggadah and MO Hypocrisy

David and I are working our way through the Haggadah. While I was helping him translate Ha Lachman Anya we got up to le-shanah ha-ba'ah be-ar'a de-yisra'el. He asked me if this is a lie. I mumbled something about how we hope next year it will be different and pushed him along to the next sentence.

The truth is that for the past few years I've skipped that line during the Seder.
* * *
I treated myself to a brand new Shulchan Aruch set at the YU Seforim Sale. It is the medium sized Bahir edition. My wife thinks it should be illegal to sell books with such small print, but I'm not a heavy user and I do think the cripsness of the print overcomes the small size.

I was so excited when I opened up the box tonight and I figured I'd show it to David. We learned together the siman about the afikomen and I introduced him to navigating around the page. At one point he had a question that I couldn't answer and he suggested we check what Rashi says. I explained that even though some of the nosei kelim are printed in Rashi type, Rashi himself lived much earlier. He asked me to tell him about the authors of the glosses. (He is always particularly interested in who Sephardi and Ashkenazi.) The truth is I can't really identify most the personalities behind the glosses, so I gravitated to the Gra. I started telling him about Gaon Rabbeinu Eliyahu and his eyes opened wide. "He has the same last name as Moshe," he excitedly said. "Are they related?"

He also wanted to know if the Rama was upset that his own projected work was pre-empted by the Beis Yosef, and on the other hand if the mechaber was angry that the Rama had added his notes to the Shulchan Aruch. It's funny, but I never really thought about it. They were contemporaries, but was there any direct interaction between the two?

Illicit Nosh

Ora walked into the room and it was clear she had a snack in her mouth that she wasn't supposed to eat. We confronted her. I love how she simply raised her hands to cover her mouth, as if she thought that by doing this she could hide her crime.

We reminded her that she isn't allowed to take any nosh without asking us first. Then she lowered her hand from her mouth and asked us, with crumbs falling uncontrolably from her mouth, if she could have some now.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Meiron, Passover 1841

"Saphet [Safed] is ranked by the Jews, along with Hebron, Jerusalem, and Tiberias, as one of their holy cities. From every part of the continent of Europe, and from Africa, the Jews resort hither, to die and be buried beside their fathers. Of a population of six thousand, fifteen hundred are Jews. In a valley at a little distance, and visible from the town, are the white sepulchers of Meiron . . . This, too, is the resting-place of countless thousands of Israelites, some of whom lived before the Christian era; but the great majority like the present Jewish occupants of Saphet, have wandered hither from the most distant regions of the earth . . . The Jews from the town often resort to these tombs, passing amongst them; and beside the ashes of his fathers the voice of the living Israelite is often heard ascending in prayer. When Stephens was here, it happened to be the last day of unleavened bread. Towards evening, the whole Jewish population came forth on the roofs of their houses in gay and beautiful costumes, the women with their ornaments of gold and silver on their heads, to enjoy the delicious hour of twilight. When the shades of night gathered round the hill, and the gay spectacle had vanished, the voice of psalms, rising from the Jewish dwellings, fell solemnly on the ear of the traveler." 
(The Modern Judea, Compared with Ancient Prophecy. With Notes Illustrative of Biblical Subjects. By the Rev. James Aitken Wylie . . . New Edition [Glasgow and London: William Collins, 1851], p. 215).

(Related: see here for Prof. Leiman on Lag ba-Omer.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Purim 2013

Ora kept on telling us that she didn't want "to go to the purim" because she was afraid of Haman. David tried to explain to her over and over that he's long dead, but she didn't understand. In the end she went and had blast during the megilah. I wish I could post a video of her going crazy to contibute her share of the noise to blot out Haman's name.
She was the cutest Yoda. Especially when she ran around the room waving her mini light saber and making the whoosh sound. (She also walks around sometimes chanting the "Imperial March," a.k.a Darth Vader's Theme.) The best part is that the costume is so practical for the rest of the year and is not just another one-time-use waste of money. She wore a Yoda winter hat, a brown shirt, grey boots and a white bath robe. (Ok, her school costume was Abby, for which we did have to shell out for one of those one-time-use costimes. Don't ask how we got into getting her two costumes.)
* * *
On Shabbat she came downstairs with a band-aid affixed to her belly. She explained that she put it on because her stomach hurt. (Why do kids have this fascination with band-aids. Perhaps I shouldn't feed it by getting them boxes of those cartoon character band-aids.)
* * *
She's so small and has not an ounce of body fat insulation, but I love it when she tells me she's cold and asks me to warm her up with a hug.
* * *
(Click here to register as a bone marrow donor. Save a child's life.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

First 100 Days

David's school marks the first one hundred days of each school year with classroom celebrations. Some teachers ask their students to make a project to mark the day. In first grade Kinneret and David pasted 100 cotton balls onto a shirt (cardboard cut-out on a hanger) and they marked it 100% cotton. It was very cute. But it wasn't really David's project.
I don't remember what David did last year, if he did anything at all.
This year he remembered only Sunday night that the following day was the one hundredth school day. He had originally planned to draw up a list of the one hundred most famous people, i.e., Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, all the presidents--I think he can actually name all of them--, etc. and paste their pictures on oak tag. (I don't remember what he called it, but back in the day I would have called it oak tag.) After much arguing we convinced him that it would take too much time to print out the one hundred pictures. He decided instead to make a list of one hundred musical instruments with pictures.(He loves the school's music program.) We tried to convince him that this too would take too long, but he wouldn't back down.
The final product was sloppy, to say the least, and I'm being really kind. (God save me if he ever reads this.) But he was really, really proud of it. And I was so proud of him. Many parents get too involved in doing their kids' projects for them. Growing up I certainly had my own share of projects that were the result of minimal input on my part. So whatever I thought of David's project objectively, I was so, so proud of him that he conceived of it and executed it on his own.
* * *
(Click here to register as a bone marrow donor. Save a child's life.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

ArtScroll English

I wanted to review some Lech Lecha with David during the break between mincha and maariv, but all I could find for him was an ArtScroll chumash. I told him I didn't want him using it lest he cheat and look at the English side. "But it doesn't matter," he said, "I don't understand the words ArtScroll uses."
(As an aside, it's cute when he doesn't know a word and looks in the targum or rashi, although I still can't tell if this is merely a procrastination measure.)
* * *
(Click here to register as a bone marrow donor. Save a child's life.)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Kosher Comes to Home Depot

Who would've though?
Normally I think this business is crazy, but I guess it cancelled out being greeted by Santa in a tool belt when I entered the store.
* * *
(Click here to register as a bone marrow donor. Save a child's life.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Two Cheers for Chabad (or, When the Missionaries Came Knocking)

When David started public school in first grade I decided not to sign him for the Chabad-run release time program that takes Jewish kids out of public school one hour a week. I admit that I'm not fond of Chabad for a number of reasons and this largely informed my decision. But I also knew that David would get nothing out of it and I didn't see a purpose in pulling him out school for it.

Last year I changed my mind. I don't remember exactly why I consented to send him to release time--and it may have followed on David's entreaties to go so he too could get prizes and extra nosh every Wednesday. I also decided that even though he wouldn't benefit knowledge-wise--he could probably even teach these classes--, it wouldn't kill him to be exclusively with Jewish kids for an hour and to have fun in a Jewish-themed environment.

I'm still not fond of Chabad, but I have to give credit where credit is due. The MO world is completely silent and apathetic when it comes to providing even the smallest morsels of chinuch to these kids. Why aren't YU, the OU, YI, local shuls, etc. involved in release time or other programming for unaffiliated public school kids? Who collapsed our wide tent? Why has institutional MO written off the rest of the Jewish world to Chabad? I know there are many non-Orthodox Jews who will always look to Chabad as representative of authentic Judaism, but surely there are also many to whom MO could better appeal with a common language, world view, etc.

Anyway, back to David. Last week (Chanukah) the Kinneret called me up one night and told me to hurry home because David's release time teachers were on the way to the house to bring jelly donuts. Shortly after I arrived home these two missionaries* knocked at the door and sat with us for fifteen minutes of story telling, dreidel games, etc. (*I can't think of a better designation for them missionaries, and I don't use the word here with any of its usual negative connotations.)

And then next week, during the school break, David is attending a Chabad winter camp for public school kids.

Most of this is 100% free. There is no nominal fee, or a regular fee that they waive upon request. Money never enters the equation. (Ok, there is very reasonable fee for the winter camp.)

So a shkoyach and two cheers for Chabad. For giving a damn.

Update: We were very impressed with the camp. Door-to-door transportation, hot breakfast and lunch, activities, sports and daily trips. (Capped with the requisite pilgrimage to 770, which thrilled David.) Four days of this for $90!?  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Baruch hasehm and . . . baruch hashem?

David needs a new winter coat. Baruch hashem we need to buy a coat for him. That's good news, for it means he is growing. He isn't the tank he was when he was a todler, but he is still on the taller side.

Ora doesn't need a new winter coat, or pretty much any new clothing. Everything from last year still seems to fit her. I guess baruch hashem for that too?

* * *
(Click here to register as a bone marrow donor. Save a child's life.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Make it Louder

It's funny how kids express themselves while they are still learning the language. Yesterday Ora was washing her hands and she asked Kinneret to make the water louder, i.e., to open the faucet more.
During the summer she used to ask me to turn the heat on. It took a while (and lots of back-and-forth bickering) until I finally realized that she was referring to the climate control system in general as "the heat."
She doesn't understand yet that heat and cold exist along a continuum. So when she complains that the bath water is too hot and I tell her I will make it colder, she responds that she doen't want cold water.
* * *
(Click here to register as a bone marrow donor. Save a child's life and tip the scales of Yom ha-Din in your favor.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

America's First Sofer

While researching the biography of Jacob Ezekiel Hyneman I came across a reference to his maternal great grandfather, Eleazar Joseph Israel (aka R. Isaac Eleazar b. Joseph Hacohen). Eleazar, a sofer stam (ritual scribe), immigrated to America from Amsterdam ca. 1810 along with his son and his son's family. He died in 1817 and was buried in the the Spruce St. Cemetery of Philadelphia's Cong. Mikveh Israel, but some time during the intervening years he donated to the congregation a Torah he had written. Although he may not have been the first sofer in America--I don't recall offhand either way--, I'm pretty sure (?) that he was the first to write Sifrei Torah and his scroll in Mikveh Israel was the first written by an American sofer. (Sifrei Torah were previously obtained from established congregations or from foreign sources, including mother congregations in London and Amsterdam.)

According to Sarna the image above (click on it to enlarge) may depict the interior of Mikveh Israel's mid-century synagogue; if true, then I imagine that one of the Sifrei Torah displayed in the open ark could be the one executed by Eleazar.

Two of Elazar's sons were also active religiously in the public sphere, one as a ba'al toke'a (shofar blower) and the other as a shamash (sexton), both in Miveh Israel

(Source here. For the record, the source isn't clear and it is possible that he wrote this scroll while yet in Amsterdam.)
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(Click here to register as a bone marrow donor. Save a child's life and tip the scales of Yom ha-Din in your favor.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Torture of Syrian Jews, 1840

Yesterday I read an article about the Jews of Egypt in which the basic impression conveyed is that they lived cheery lives until 1948 and only then did their problems start. In general this is the popular narrative of the Jews of Arab lands. Today I came across an inventory of the torture employed against the Jews of Damascus in 1840 in the wake of a blood libel.

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(Click here to register as a bone marrow donor. Save a child's life and tip the scales of Yom ha-Din in your favor.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cash is King

I'm a big advocate for the primacy of cash gifts. There are exceptions, but this should be the general rule.

Well apparently David takes after me. Today is my birthday. I had to leave early this morning for a business trip, but a sleepy-eyed David made sure to give me a card as I was running out the door. The homemade card would have been nice on it's own merit, but when I opened it I smiled as a crisp ten-dollar bill fell into my palm. I guess that's my payback for encouraging him to collect bottles (see here). (As an aside, we sometimes wonder if he has more money than we do. Certainly whenever we are short on cash in the house we know we can always raid his wallet.)
* * *
Two notes on my birthday. First, today is a really crappy day to celebrate a birthday. In general I've never been into birthday celebrations for adults. Really, what is there to celebrate? But now I certainly don't want to celebrate on this date.

Secondly, the past few years I've been feeling older and older. Can I really be aging physically, mentally and psychologically faster than I am chronologically? And more and more frequently something happens that makes me realize how quickly the aging is occurring. There have been some bulwarks to this process that let me live in the past, such as my licenses. They have used the same recycled picture since my early twenties. The picture with the deep eyes, youthful features, darkened skin and full head of hair. The year in the birthday field didn't matter, as it was a just a small blur next that picture. More recently this picture has caused me some trouble, particularly with TSA officials at airports who request identification with a more recent picture. But is was still a good feeling to see that picture every time I had to pull a license out of my wallet for one reason or another.

But now it all changes. Because I waited too long to renew my license this year I had to appear in person at the DMV and the clerk made me take a new picture. Sigh.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Would You Rather . . .

(Gross bodily functions warning.)

For the past few months David has been very into questions of the nature of "would you rather . . . or . . .?" For example, would you rather drown in the ocean or in a volcano? Would you rather get hit by a car or have a house fall on you? Would you rather eat one hundred bees or one hundred centipedes? Actually a lot of these questions have to do with would you rather eat this or that? As you can imagine, often the grossness factor is quite high.

On that note I will note that David has been into jokes for a little while. He likes to tell them and he also has borrowed some joke books from the library. One joke he made up (I think)--pardon me--is what did the burp say to the fart? Answer: excuse me.

And now moving on from bodily functions to body parts. At one point we were at a birs mlia (transposed to avoid attracting comments) and I explained to David what they do to the baby. "Why," he asked, "is it too long?" (In this context there is one more question he once asked that I'm not going to post, but perhaps this cryptic comment will jog my memory in later years.)

Thank God he seems to be over his prank call stage. At first he started doing it when he was angry. He would call me repeatedly and keep on hanging up. Once, before he really figured out how to use the phone, he kept on pressing redial. Luckily the person on the receiving end was a colleague/friend (David W.)--especially since a few times David muttered a mild profanity (or was it shut up?) before hanging up.

And then there were the prank calls he made just for fun. Usually when I answered the phone I would humor him and let him get his jollies. Once, however, he actually had me going for a few seconds when he pretended that he was calling from the weather service to warn me that we need to evacuate because of a coming storm.

I don't want to leave Ora out of this post. One of the baby milestones is when they find their thumb. It is so cute to watch them as they try to get the tiny little thumb into the mouth. I remember when Ora found her thumb*, but also when her pointer found her nostril. Kinneret thought it was disgusting, but not nearly as disgusting as when after a few days the pointer followed up after the nose with the mouth. (*The truth is Ora didn't really suck her thumb that much back then, and now that she has started to suck her thumb more regularly as a two-and-a-half year old it isn't quite so cute.)

I apologize if I grossed you out or otherwise spoke inappropriately, but this blog is a record for my memories, both the touching ooh and ah types as well as the revolting ich and uch types.