20 December 2011

Koreans Visit Ponevezh Yeshiva


It is by now fairly common knowledge that portions of the Talmud have been translated into Korean and are avidly studied in South Korea.
The fascination of Koreans with the Talmud is partly because of its values, and partly because they recognize that its study sharpens the intellect. But as the rav in this short film explains, the real value of Talmud study is changing oneself.

19 December 2011

A Tricorne for Every Vinegar

He was going to wrap the bottles in paper gift bags.

I thought they'd look better in frock coats, jabots, and tricornes.

18 December 2011


Tacoma is about 30 miles south of Seattle.

For years, we have been passing Tacoma on the way to and from Seattle.

MT had heard that Tacoma is a nice place and today we decided to visit Tacoma.

Because it's a long drive and daylight doesn't last very long, we didn't see a lot of Tacoma.

However, we saw enough to agree that it is a nice place.

Like everyplace else on the Pacific Northwest coast, it started its American life as a muddy beach dotted with hastily-constructed wood buildings that functioned as saloon, church, school, hotel, stable, post office, and city hall, with about one-third as many buildings as functions.

Lean individuals captured in daguerrotypes as relentlessly stern oversaw the government of fishermen, loggers, fur traders, itinerant peddlers, schoolmarms, and fancy persons.

A mill was constructed.  Then another.
Mill hands were housed in tiny bungalows arrayed along the streets sloping up from the Pacific.

Ship captains built big houses with verandas and widows' walks at the tops of the slopes.

The mud got paved.
The railroad came through.
The bungalows added lean-tos for kitchens and then indoor toilets.
Brick storefronts arrayed themselves on Main Street.
Lawyers came.

And then the whole thing just sort of mushroomed.

The City has invested heavily in preserving what remains of 19th century Tacoma.
There is a 5-mile long linear park between the Pacific and the railroad tracks, which run parallel to each other.
That's where we spent most of the day.

There are museums we did not get to and a really impressive Union Station with a broad dome ornamented with oxidized copper building-sized brooches.

The factory where Almond Roca was invented and where it is still made is in Tacoma.
MT stocked up on factory seconds.

We figure we need to go back when daylight lasts longer and see more.
Maybe cross the bridge and walk to Gig Harbor.

In Tacoma today it was cold and wet and all the tree branches were bare.
Just terribly atmospheric . . . like when the fog rolls off, those lean, stern guys will amble out of the woods wearing their leather pants and demand to know what we're doing in Tacoma.

Adventures in Metal Menora Making

A few years ago, I decided to make a menora for lighting with oil.
"Ah!" I said. "I'll do pysanky and make it out of eggshells."
"Sorry," said the Sages. "You may not make a menora out of eggshells."
("You are a very interesting person," said the halacha teacher. "I never needed that halacha before.")

The Sages said that a menora must be pretty, and that the prettiest material is silver.
So all my dormmates went out and bought tin menoras, and I went to my teacher's house and begged the foil lid of a disposable pan.
(My dormmates mistook it for a silver menora. Cool.)

I do not have a picture of that menora, but it looked almost exactly like this:

Menora the First
I shaped modeling clay ("Plastalina") into a log, scored it, glued down strips cut from the pan lid, poked in metal bells filled with Plastalina (clappers intact but invisible), and rammed the glass bulbs into the bells.
DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME, because it is forbidden to rely on miracles.
My menora lasted for eight nights, and at exactly half an hour after it had been lit on the eighth night of Chanuka, the bulbs swam out of the bells, overturned, and - thank G-d - extinguished themselves.
Thus I learned that Plastalina melts when it gets hot.

The next year, our dorm became a construction site, so I scavenged twists of wire used to hold scaffolding together, and tried to get the rust off by soaking them for four days in a cup full of Coca-Cola.
I think that is the only time in my life that I have ever bought Coca-Cola.
It didn't work. The wires still looked like construction junk. I didn't think that was what the Sages had in mind when they said metal is pretty. Back to Plan A.

Menora the Second
I used Fimo instead of Plastalina - because Fimo (like Sculpey) hardens when it gets hot.
I added a string of beads with interesting reflective properties.

But, these two menoras were very fragile; and we decided we want something stronger this year. Also, my husband wanted to use more oil, so the lights would last longer, because in our neighborhood people stay out late.

Then it was Rosh Chodesh Adar, a day of something like metaphysical comedy. I had just returned from America, so the floor was strewn with suitcases and their contents, and with the other housework that had accumulated during the unpacking. The freezer had broken in my absence, so defrosted vegetables were dripping on all available counters and tables. Two workmen in muddy boots squeezed into our kitchen to fix the freezer.
And then the government called and said, "We are sending you someone to take pictures of your house."
Haha. Happy Adar to you, too.
"No, really. Can he come in three minutes?"
And he did. "Welcome," I said, "we are seeing how many people we can fit into this apartment at once."
And at that point I just had to laugh, because I am SO not in control of my life, it is funny.

Anyway, the workmen removed from our freezer this curious creature:

Ex Freezerus
 And it said,
"I want to be a Menora, Claudius. Make me a Menora."
So I did.

A Princess of Fire and Ice

But, before I could straighten, improve, and decorate it, we discovered that it is too long to pass by in the doorway.
I have one week to figure out how to make most of a freezer coil into a metal menora long enough to hold nine shot-glasses and strong enough to support them suspended in the doorway.
If anyone has a good idea, let's hear it!

11 December 2011


Crater Lake: (being)

S: Big!

Crater Lake: Yeah.

S: Blue! Very blue.

Crater Lake: Oh, come on. You can do better than that.

S: Umm... no, seriously, I thought you were the size of a postcard, since that's where I've always seen you. Ripply. Matte.

Crater Lake: (waiting)

S: Too bad I didn't bring dishes to immerse... oh, give me a minute. I'm out of practice.

Crater Lake: (waiting)

S: You're not helping.

Crater Lake: (waiting)

S: Jacob desired to dwell in tranquility.

Crater Lake: (caught off guard) What?

S: You were waiting for me to say something profound, and that was the first thing that came to mind.

Crater Lake: But what do you mean by it?

S: I guess... that you have no outlet. You aren't going anywhere. You have no challenges. You don't interact with the rest of Oregon. The area around you is a desert, and you sit here. Aren't you a bit ahead of the times, kicking back like this?

Crater Lake: Do I look like I'm doing something I shouldn't?

S: No. You look all right. Quite lovely, in fact. I guess... you remind me of the Chazon Ish, sitting sixty years in the back of the House of Study. To come see you people have to know you exist, or go out of their way to trip over you. Are you going to run into the sea one of these days?

Crater Lake: I don't think that far ahead.

S: Don't you feel a bit uncomfortable about being a lake?

Crater Lake: Not in the slightest. I love it.

S: I could never be a lake. That is SO not my way of doing things.

Crater Lake: Are you sure?

05 December 2011

Cute baby story of the week

My baby daughter has frequently watched me thread needles.

On Shabbos, she tried to buckle herself into her booster seat, but lacked the coordination to get the clasp into the buckle - so she put the clasp in her mouth, pulled it out, and tried again.

We have since caught her using the same needle-threading technique to fit the lid onto a marker.

A Visit to the Oregon Coast Aquarium

When there are no children in the house, it is easy to forget to visit zoos and aquaria and natural history museums.
And should you remember to go to one of those places, you have to adjust to not being preoccupied with who might be hungry, or sleepy, or needing the restroom, and with rushing to appreciate what a child has discovered.
You can take your time and free-associate.

When I had a child at home, we visited the Marine Science Center in Newport, on the Oregon Coast. This is a branch of the State University system, and has windowed enclosures where you can behold fish in something like their native habitat . . . and sea anemones and other animals that look like plants . . . and pet an octopus.

Yesterday, we aging parents visited a newer establishment in the same city: the Oregon Coast Aquarium, largely because I'd never been there.

When the season changes to one with longer days, we'll have to go back to Newport and visit both establishments, one after the other.
And instead of driving three-hours each way, we'll rent a musty oceanside cabin and see and smell more of the Coast.
We might even get up to Tillamook where we can buy a ten-pound loaf of kosher cheddar cheese.

I really like Newport.  You can walk among the piers and look at the fishing boats.  You can walk across the stupendous Yaquina Bay Bridge. You can visit the two marine life "museums" [mouseion – seat of the muses].  You can have the pleasure of finding a genuine fishing gear shop among the waterfront storefronts that over time have morphed from sources for nets and sailmaker's awls to sources of tasteless T-shirts and glass balls. You can sit in the sun at a waterfront cafe and listen to the sea lions barking. 

The Aquarium, being relatively new,  partakes of advanced ideas in display. For example, there is a manmade well of ocean and in the middle of that is an acrylic tunnel for humans to walk through.  So there you are with sharks and sturgeons and rockfish and rays swimming over you and under you and on both sides of you.
Since the fish require an undersea environment, they appear through the eight-inches of acrylic as dark figures in a dark darkness. You become acutely aware of, say, a leopard shark when it swims up to the tunnel and passes you on its way back to black.
Visitors like to take flash photos into this darkness.
I wonder if they get fabulous illuminations of iridescent fish scales and giant fish eyes, or murky renditions of acrylic lamina.

 I wandered from exhibit to exhibit, taking lots of time to study the anaconda and the iguanas and the jellyfish and the giant 13-foot Japanese crabs and the crabs that resemble piles of sand and the animals that look like plants and one thought kept resurfacing in my head: "God has quite a sense of humor".

The jellyfish exhibit, in particular, grabs you with the first printed sentence: 'A jellyfish has no lungs, no heart, and no brain.'
What they do have is four systems: a digestive system, a reproductive system, a defensive system, and a propulsion system.  That's it.
The absolute basics.

At the other end of the equipment scale is the iguana.
I find iguanas really unattractive but fascinating. They seem to have lots of spare parts  - frills around their heads and translucent pouches along their jaws and extremely complex legs and feet. I would like to keep an iguana to look at.
I wonder if they respond to humans  -  like Franklin, the domesticated turtle our friends have.
I believe iguanas are commonly kept as pets in Mexico  -  but I don't know that that implies that iguanas are personable.

I think my granddaughter  would be tickled pink if her granny kept an iguana . . .

 Torah says humans are paramount creations, with responsibility for and hence dominion over animals.  Not that we should bestride the world like so many colossi; but that we have powers of reflection and appreciation and compassion and invention to employ.

 It helps to visit jellyfish and piranhas to measure the differences between them and us.

The colorful little fish in the aquarium in the pediatrician's waiting room circle the waters with their mouths open, testing every mote of dust to see if it is food.
Is this reflex or fear of scarcity or true hunger or boredom?
Small fish troll for plankton, big fish for small fish, pirhanas for anything,  shore birds for eggs and garbage.
At the Oregon Aquarium, the signs on the exhibits and the film on marsh habitat and who eats whom confirm it's all about food.

 On fast days and when a season of yomtov surrounds a Shabbos and when I didn't want to eat because I was ill, I become acutely aware of how much it's all about food  -  growing it, buying it, preserving it, preparing it, consuming it, composting and cleaning up and putting away the dishes.
Most of every week, I'd guess.
Swimming in circles.

 On this road trip to Newport, look at what we have –admirable and despicable- that jellyfish haven't: airplanes and autos and signs with written language on them and concrete and heart attacks and emphysema and commerce and taxes.
 We swim in circles ever alert to food, but that's not all we do.

Mnēmē is the muse of memory.
I heartily recommend taking your adult self to aquatic and zoologic seats of the muses to visit Mnēmē, the mezuzah of human spirit.