As part of Congregation Beth Ami’s day of Sharing and Learning I gave a presentation on Sunday, November 21, 2010 on “Jewish Life Online.” The flyer of the event said that I would
“share information on the most important websites today for connecting with your Jewish family and friends on-line, discovergin your heritage, and sites you can use to increase your family’s knowledge on all things Jewish.”
As I like acronyms I divided my presentation into four areas, one for each letter of the word “Life”: Learning, Information, Family, Entertainment. The slideshow contains 36 slides, including 20 screenshots and a cover page. You can download the presentation in PPT (5.7 MB) or PDF (2.8 MB) format. The handout has all the URLs (web addresses) mentioned in the presentation, but is much smaller. Its PDF version (38 kb) is best for printing on a double sided, letter size paper for folding, while the DOC/Word version (45 kb) works well on screen.
We had a good exchange and comments from the participants during the hour long session. When I mentioned that Congregation Beth Ami has a Facebook profile, with 105 “friends” right now, a participant raised the idea to create a LinkedIn group for Congregation Beth Ami. He is following up on that so it might come to reality. (LinkedIn is a social network site for professionals, focusing on career development and professional networks.) Another participant mentioned her own site: SacredHome.com. The site combines beauty and functionality, so I recommend it.
The video below contanis three songs from our joint Community Service of Thanksgiving with Church of the Roses on November 23, 2010. The songs included are “Sing to the Lord a New Song”, “Hava Nagila” starting at 2:34, and “Let All Things Now Living” starting at 6:31. I also included a picture of our amazing spread of refreshments at 8:13.
Four kids from Toronto help an Israeli agent and the local police to capture to capture criminals, members of an international smuggling ring. This is the short summary of Galila Ben-Uri‘s The Missing Crown. A slightly more verbose recap would include that the four boys are around the age of 8-12 and are orthodox Jews; that they are helped by their synagogue’s shammas, who teaches them Judaism; that the Israeli agent is chasing a family heirloom, a Torah crown that was stolen from his family and belonged to a famous synagogue in Tzfat.
The “crown” is one of the words I knew in Hebrew first, so it took me a second to realize what they are talking about. “Rimonim“, also meaning pomegranate, is the ornamental top that they put on the top of Torah scroll, made of precious metal. The one which is missing in this book is made of golden and has little bells on it, that are used to smuggle diamonds. The one on the picture here is from the Brooklyn Museum.
The fast paced story was mixing lots of actions(, including car chase, subway chase, fights), planning sessions, always accompanied with eating piles of dessert and family moments. The events described took place during a summer vacation, starting with the discovery of a suspicious house. This opening reminded me of a book I read several times as a kid “Vakáció a halott utcában” (“Vacation in the dead street”) by István Csukás, but then the rest of the content of the two books diverged.
Unfortunately I found the writing boring and repetitive. The same phrases kept popping up making me feel like I was reading an episode of a 60′s family sitcom. The kids in the book and the supposed readers were both treated as a little idiots and not as developing persons. The vocabulary of the book was mostly appropriate for th 8-10 year old crowd, but every once in a while a word appeared that surely would have required explanation for the age group. The author must have known this too, because the first few times he did weave into the conversation words that shed light on the meaning of the complicated words. Later he abandoned this useful habit.
I also had problems with some of the messages of the book. Using ice-cream as the only reward for good deeds is not something I want to follow, although I can see how that can motivate kids. The fact that there were no girls amongst the kids and the adult female characters were also just footnotes in the book reminded me why I could never embrace a non-egalitarian orthodox lifestyle. I kept hoping that the stories the shammas shared with the kids would be Biblical or from classical Rabbinic literature, instead he made up parables corresponding way too directly to the kids’ current situation and they were not very captivating.
I found that the plot was enjoyable, but the author’s style and message prevented me to be able to recommend the book wholeheartedly.
It’s so much fun to read a book to kids that moves their imagination. Margot Zemach‘s It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish Folk Tale was ideal in this regard. It starts off with a problem: there are too many people living in small house, the lack of personal space causes friction between the family members. The kids I read the story to came up with all sorts of ideas of how to solve the issue. Then the story moved onto the advices the man of the house got from the rabbi: bring in the animals one by one into the house.
Any (good) story that has more than one kind of animal in it can be a hit with kids. They sure made all the animals sounds as the story moved on. Some of them even figured out the ending: when you take out the animals the limited space will feel spacious and the atmosphere will be relaxed again. The kids in my audience stayed excited though and the book encouraged them to take it a record number of books from the library where we had our story time.
A disadvantage of readings a book to a group of kids, that not all of them could see the illustrations. In this case the colored in sketches were mostly lost on them. However they enjoyed the humor and by making them talk and think about the ending I made sure that the wisdom of the story wasn’t lost on them either. It was a good experience for all. It could have been much worse.
Gila Almagor, the author of Under the Domim Tree, placed bits of her personal life into several characters in her first book, but most of them for the narrator, who tells the story in first person. Here are some of the basic elements that are autobiographical and define the character:
A mother who is collapsing mentally under the weight of what happened during the Shoah.
A father who was dead before the daughter was born.
A group home for orphans, that includes both sabras (people born in Israel) and refugees from Europe.
The book is a coming of age story for a group of young, mostly orphan, teens living in a children’s village in Israel. The story is set in 1953, just late enough after the war that some of the children remember segments of their life in Poland and some don’t. During the course of the novel at least four of them have to revisit (and face the darker parts of) their personal history in various ways. This process helps them heal on the long turn, but is painful in the short. What helps them the most is the friendship and solidarity with the other girls and boys.
The book is probably most enjoyed by young teen girls, after all a lot of the book is dealing with hopes, dreams and aspirations of that group. I enjoyed the mix of humor, the interpersonal and group dynamics, the inspiring strength of the young people mixed with their concerns that are often prematurely adult in their nature. The Domim Tree itself stands strong as a real place and a symbol of a solid point in the universe where they can pour their heart out. With their previously transient life and recurring nightmares they sure need something like this.
Hillel Schenker’s translation (from Hebrew to English) is adequate but I got the sense that the original Hebrew might have been more poetic. The content of the book certainly allows more colorful language, although I have to keep in mind the target audience’s age. As far as I know the book’s sequel (Summer of Aviya) hasn’t been translated to English. Interesting to note that the film version of the second book (1988) came out seven years before the film version of the first book (1995). The author who is one of the most well-known actors in Israel is playing in both, although not herself.
This is a recommended book for 12-15 year olds as they can learn about problems and problem solving, the value and advantages of friendships and the importance of being honest to yourself.
“Shabbos treats that grew” is a lovely little story about the unexpected outcomes of doing good deeds. Once you step on the road of paying attention to others and trying to help them the slippery slope of philanthropy may lead you increasing joy in the life of many other people. Particularly if the “pay it forward” principle gets involved, which is exactly what’s hapenning here.
The story in a nutshell: two siblings first help a kid who they notice at the store couldn’t get any treat for Shabbat, because her mother didn’t have enough money for it. Then they and their friends keep helping them with grocery, and eventually warm up the poor family’s morose landlord too. Who in turn opens up and will help the poor family even more. As you see, there are only positive characters in the book and the overall message is that helping others is a worthwhile mitzvah: it is the right thing to do, it brings you joy and it may even multiply itself in surprising directions.
The story was originally conceived by Mayer Bendet and was written for this book by Yaffa Leba Gottlieb. Miriam Lando‘s illustrations make the book lively and fun for kids who have been reading for a few years. As most pages have 5 to 15 lines of text it may not be the best for the youngest kids.
I didn’t grow up or ever lived as an orthodox Jew. Thus I am not intimately familiar with the details of the everyday life as depicted here. It is clearly set in an orthodox family and neighborhood I only encountered via literature and movies. For me this, being set in an exotic lifestyle in an regular suburb, felt slightly artificial. I assume that you are an orthodox Jew, living similarly to the people described in this book, there is no lingering surreal feeling. To me the drawing’s style enhanced this feeling. The design reminded me of the visual styles I saw in other “orthodox” publications (of other faiths) such as the Watchtower or many varieties of Bible stories for kids. I cannot pinpoint it, but they have all have a simplified, cleancut, worldview with erect, clearly black or white figures.
I loved the message of the story, but because it is not set in a world I live in, I felt alienated from its heroes.
If you thought just because “Berchick” means little bear in Yiddish a book by this title would be about a cub you’d be mistaken. It is about a newborn colt, who had thick fur when he was found next to her dead mare. He was found by the mother of the narrator (a young child) who promised on the spot to take care of the young creature.
These and the rest of the events are all set in Wyoming. Both the author, Esther Silverstein Blanc, and the illustrator, Tennessee Dixon grew up there. The loving care and attention to the details of the descriptive text and water paintings clearly reflect their affinity to the Great Plains region. I loved the paintings, but I regretted that only the cover one was in color, the rest was black and white. It set an unnecessarily melancholic tone for the mostly positive book.
The first half of the book, covering the younger years of the horse, the narrator and his siblings are truly idyllic and happy. The homesteader family doesn’t seem to have any problems; the horse is smart, friendly and splendid. Later, during the rough years, they have to move to town and sell the horse. As we learn at the end the horse eventually learns to live in the wild and that seems to support its manifest destiny.
I borrowed this book from our, Jewish, library, so I was expecting it to have some Jewish content. My expectation was met, but it wasn’t a particularly Jewish book, besides the name of the horse, the mention of the Talmud once and the use of the word “chochim” once it could have been about any family. Well, maybe the fact that the father’s fallback work was being a tailer was a hint. Otherwise thought it was just a book about a Midwest family, like many others.
The end of the backflap of the book says this about the publisher, “Volcano Press is a woman-owned company, publishing women-oriented books that seek to enlighten, liberate and delight.” The company’s home page has more detailed information about their admirable mission and history. Having read the above I realized that in the center of the book was the relationship between the matriarch of the family and the horse. It was a strong and defining bond in both directions. I recommend reading the book to observe that, the peaceful drawings, and the description of a simple life.
Last week I introduced the latest issue of the American Jewish Archives Journal. Since then we received the new issue of Jewish Bible Quarterly, another great publication. The current issue, volume XXXVIII:4 (152) is for October-December 2010. Each of the articles listed below in the table of contents, is a short, eight to ten pages long treatise on a specific idea, expounding a biblical verse or two. The short summaries are my own.
Saving Zoar: How Did Lot Succeed? Gad Dishi
A comparison of the actions, words, personalities and circumstances of Abraham and Lot, explaining how they both managed to save others via different methods.
How Should We Understand Ecclesiastes 2:26? Aron Pinker
Analyzing traditional interpretations such as “poetic justice” or “divine arbitrariness”, but ultimately decides that ti was a added by a “pious glossator”.
“What Is It?” Interpreting Exodus 16:15 Zvi Ron
Trying to find the answer for the question whether the word “manna” is Hebrew or not.
The Mantle of the Matriarchs: Ruth 4:11-15 Alan T. Levenson
Using intra-biblical interpretation the author detail the connection between the peculiar Ruth verses and the Matriarchs and draws conclusions the realm of midrash, feminism and character development.
Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh Gerardo Sachs
Four, mutually exclusive, contradictory interpretive translations of the famous words with a focus on in Moses’ personal history.
Hot Pursuit Into Canaan Shubert Spero
Exploring and resolving the tension between the events described in Numbers 21:1-3 and Judges 1:16-18.
Tzefarde’a: Frogs or Crocodiles? Natan Slifkin
Expounding Ibn Ezra’s reasoning on how the second plague might have referred to crocodiles, but disproving the assumption.
The Three Tenses in the Kingdom of God: God of Israel or of the World Jacob Chinitz
“When Scripture uses past, present, and future with regard to God, does the choice have any particular theological meaning? Or do we have here representation of different aspects and variant temporal reflections in relation to a concept similar eschatological connotation embodied in the well-known phrase, the Kingdom of God?”
Book Review: The Dawn of Redemption: What the Books of Ruth and Yona Teach About Alienation, Despair and Return Mattan Erder
Book Review: Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary David Zucker
Finally a picturs to prove, that this journal can be enjoyed at any age.
Last Sunday, November 7, we had several activities to mark the three coinciding events. The next few sentences may seem complicated, but I wanted to make sure you have the whole background before I report on our events. Two of our lectures/discussions were organized around the Global Day of Jewish Learning. Our library is a member of the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL). AJL this year joined the “Library Snapshot Day” project, an advocacy initiative of the American Library Association (ALA). The California Library Association picked October 4 as the Library Snapshot Day in our state, but as we were closed that date we deiced to do it this Sunday, which was within the week long period of AJL’s recommendation of possible dates.
Our first planned event, a discussion with the older students of the religious school got postponed because of logistical reasons. The second one, story time with the second graders, started a little bit later than planned, because of their folk dancing class. The nine children and one madricha arrived to the library a few minutes after 11 AM and we read “It Could Always Be Worse” by Margot Zemach. They enjoyed the story and were active in the discussion about it, providing ideas how a situation could be worse or how the problem in the opening pages of the book could be solved. Six of the children borrowed books after the reading, one for each. We had four more visitors in the library till we closed at 12.30, not counting the teachers, all of them parents. Two of them borrowed a book each.
At 1 PM USY started its first social action/Tikkun Olam event of the year in the large classroom of the campus, they made brown bag lunches for the Kid Street Learning Center. At 2 PM, I joined them and lead a discussion under the title of “Is Facebook God?” Fortunately, as I suspected, they were all on Facebook so I didn’t have to introduce it to them. We took Maimonides 13 attributes of God and attempted to compare it to Facebook or at least discover connections to it. Most of the nine teens and their group leader seemed to enjoy the conversation which lasted about 45 minutes. At the end they were all keen to take home a copy of the handout (PDF, 105 kb) that listed the attributes and provided one Facebook related idea and a suggestion for each. Rick Concoff, the Chaverim director, also joined us for most of event. Here they are the happy teens, after the discussion, and before I left so they could go on to start planning their next event.
To close the day we had an other presentation at 7 PM, this time on “Jewish Learning Online“. We started a few minutes late as setting up the projector and copying the handouts took slightly longer than expected. The slide presentation (PDF, 1 MB) consisted of 18 slides, including the cover and 7 screenshots of websites. The handout (PDF, 65 kb) included all the URLs mentioned in the slideshow. The five people who showed up shared some of their favorite sites, particularly in the area that the presentation didn’t even attempt to cover: culture.