Tuesday, December 06, 2005

rabbis may have hickeys

joined a new rabbis' internet forum the other day. it is inter-denominational, as it were. one of the posts opened up a can of worms in my breast ... it presented a number of situations, and asked what one's priorities would be - regarding self/family versus the temple.

a story (of which each rabbi has her/his own version):

the phone goes at 2 am. my mother picks up, and hands it over to my father (pre-cordless era). someone in the hospital is dying, and they need a rabbi - will he come? of course! 'is it a member?' my mother asks. 'no.' says my father. 'you are an idiot.' says my mother and off my father goes. he does not drive, and there is no public transport at that hour, so he takes a taxi. sadly, he is too late, and arrives to find the family in the midst of funeral arrangements. it becomes clear from the discussion that these are orthodox jews, and my father asks if they are members of a synagogue. 'of course!' comes the reply. 'may i ask why you did not call your rabbi?' says my father. 'we wouldn't dream of waking him up in the middle of the night!' he asks how they found his number, and they said it was listed in the yellow pages (there was a time when my father was, indeed, listed in the yellow pages. you could find his name under 'places of worship'. NOT going there ...). he asks if they would be kind enough to call a taxi for him. they tell him to ask the nurse. he arrives home and recounts the tale to my mother, who just looks at him and says, 'you are an idiot'.

and that, in microcosm, is the model so many of us have inherited.

as r. dreyfus always says, we are elected to serve. when, though, did it become servitude? and it is worse when you are single, i think, for you have no children to take to the dentist, or partner's business dinner to attend. since i have little family, and most of them are so far away, the issue has surfaced rarely for me. i still hope to find my own family - i wonder what may happen then?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

stormy weather piglet

stormy weather piglet
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
the thing is - battersea power station is not near battersea bridge at all. for some reason battersea power station is closer to chels*** bridge. battersea power station is one of my favourite buildings in london. here, piglet and i are pondering, as we look out from battersea bridge.

Monday, November 28, 2005

the family curse

having posted the pic of magic hat celebrating, not only have qpr lost 4 out of 5 games in november, but kevin did his hamstring on saturday and is out for a couple of weeks. i'm not quite sure, but i think noam sponsored part of his kit (boots?) this season in memory of ahf. previous sponsorees have been injured, dropped, sold or they retired. perish the thought but perhaps we should start following our rivals instead :-)

another great talent we used to have was that of breaking droughts. all we had to do was to put on a new pair of espadrilles and go out for a walk - rain would begin to fall as soon as we were far enough from shelter to ensure the total ruin of said shoes. my mother made it rain in palm springs. my favourite memory, though, is of a sultry summer night in manhattan. we were walking along 5th avenue in our little sundresses and lovely rope-soled shoes when the drops began to fall. mummy grabbed the baby and a cab, and left us with our father to walk back to the hotel. it rained so hard that it blasted the streets clean. we got that kind of soaked that it doesn't matter any more, and we took off our ruined footwear and danced along the pavement. we did the snoopy dance - utter joy. then daddy wanted to go into the doubleday bookstore, but we had to stand on the mat by the door because they said we were too wet to come in. it was a horsehair mat, and prickled my feet. cannot believe that must be over 30 years ago. ouch.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

away at home park

gallen has scored
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
after all the world cup qualifying shenanigans it is finally back to league play and qpr go down to plymouth on saturday. hoping to find similarly joyous pix of magic hat online soon after 5 pm uk time.

uuuuu rrrrr's

ps the thing is - a picture like this really makes me feel happy.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

magnificent aunts & aunties

in honour of the fact that i have recently discovered i am to become an aunt next spring, i present to you an arbitrary list of noted exemplars:

auntie beeb aka the bbc
auntie em
t.s.eliot's aunt helen
aunt jemima
aunt julia and the scriptwriter
paddington's aunt lucy (did you know that in peru his name, or possibly his uncle's name was pastuso?)
auntie mame
spiderman's aunt may
creating an edible version of a diabetic banana chocolate parfait - aunt runner

and last but not least my darling auntie dorrit!

yippee - phase two!

14 days gone by and today i am allowed to eat fruit again plus terribly healthy grainy breads and rice and pasta and cereal. the plumbers were here so i never made it to the supermarket to find the banana of my dreams. however, we did have a fascinating conversation about my boxing gloves:

'you box?'
'i have a friend who's going to teach me a bit.'
'know anything about boxing?'
'maybe a bit.'
'my grandfather was a famous boxer.'
'yeah? whatsis name?'
'rocky graziano. on my mother's side'
'yeah. i heard of him.'

like i said - fascinating. but i did have cereal for brunch, and was amazed how clearly i could taste the dried fruit in it.

nu - phase two is to be maintained until target weight is reached. my definition of phase two? learning to be on the diet without talking about it all the time to everyone:

'cannot eat that sorry i am on the south beach diet fish or insulin y'know said my doctor i mean i've been a vegetarian almost all my life but apparently the choice between my health or the health of a fish should be an easy one although i am still working on that issue with my therapist o no of course i don't mind if you eat a cookie right in front of me i am a mature adult i could eat one if i wanted it is just that i choose not to because that is the healthy thing to do no i am not crying at the sight of that cheesecake piece i am on the south beach diet you see so i am not allowed to look at that piece of pie because i am going to be healthy and pick up some celery instead did you know that you lose weight when you eat celery because it takes more calories to digest than are in it to start with so all you have to do is eat only celery of course the problem with that is that it is celery that you have to eat perhaps i could have a sip of that margerita no no i am strong and healthy and diabetic and on the south beach diet' etc ad nauseam

thank goodness qpr are playing again soon ... uuuuu rrrrr's

Thursday, November 10, 2005

south beach diet day whatever

did i mention that when i cooked my first fishy food all the smoke alarms in my flat kept going off? a tribute to the miracle perhaps?

i have now lost all desire to eat anything really. however, having paid for a new glucometer and test strips, and having found out that my insurance does not cover them, i am making bloody good use of said instruments. have to keep an eye out for low blood sugar levels, and then not buy peppermint patties for recovery purposes only :-)

not to mention that i forgot to weigh myself at the beginning, mainly because i do not possess a set of scales :-)

meanwhile, all anyone can talk to me about is food. how is the diet going? i have a great recipe for fake mashed potatoes/everything soup/lobster in only 20 minutes! when my friend/cousin/babysitter/ex/fencing team-mate tried the diet s/he lost loads of weight/hated it/grew a second head. have you tried liberian goat beans - i hear they make you less gassy than cauliflower and are much prized by menopausal korean women!

*sigh* and d. wonders why i seem to be watching so many comedy dvds at the moment (little britain 2nd series, not the nine o'clock news & catherine tate) ...

Friday, November 04, 2005

piglet at old faithful

piglet at old faithful
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
piglet and i were seated on the front bench waiting for old faithful to blow. i started talking with the little girl next to me, who was from some far-flung american state. "you have an accent!" she said to me. "no i don't," i replied, "you do!" "i do?" she said, and, with great joy, she ran over to her daddy calling out, "i have an accent! i have an accent!"

Thursday, November 03, 2005

south beach diet day 3

so here's the deal: after 30 odd years of being a vegetarian, although i only gave up fish about 12 years ago, my doctor says to me that my diabetes meds are maxed out and i should try the south beach diet since many of her diabetic patients have reduced their meds through doing it. but one cannot do it as a vegetarian. i just won't eat meat, but wavered a little about fish. then she gives me the choice: fish, or insulin. you'd think that this would be an easy choice. it is not an easy choice. apart from the fact that after passing for all these years, i might actually have to decide whether or not to be kosher (yes for now); there is also the guilt, the taboo, the principle, the loss of integrity. on the other hand, as my mother said - quatsch! (german for 'bollox!') fish aren't cuddly! in september, when i went home for the stone-setting, she made plaice for me my first night there, and insisted i try it. it tasted very fishy, and full of guilt & taboo. last month, when she came to visit me, i ordered salmon at every restaurant in which we ate, and a tuna melt at the diner. less guilt, but still some indigestion. gosh i do like salmon. i always have. it was one of the major reasons i decided i could be a rabbi, since in those days it was served in one form or another at every lifecycle occasion. meanwhile, i had not yet begun the diet.

this week i ran out of excuses. the fact that every single thing i love most to eat is now totally banned for 2 weeks - not naughty things, but all fruit, even healthy bread, and potatoes :-( - is utterly depressing. nevertheless, i had told so many people i was going to do it that i really had to have a go. so tuesday evening found me trolling through the supermarket, and filling my trolley with new and different things. an awful lot of green stuff, the kind i often buy a small amount of with the best intentions and then have to throw away when it goes brown and starts to become liquid. an awful lot of stuff that has to have something done to it - slicing, peeling, cooking - before it is palatable. an awful lot of ersatz stuff - i can't believe that i had to buy i can't believe it's not butter spray. i could not bear the sight of cottage cheese, but did buy my first pot of skim milk ricotta cheese. and, possibly for the first time in my life, i bought a fillet of salmon.

the next day was wednesday, and my first big test. in the afternoon, there are always piles of fresh, delicious bagels awaiting the students for snack before classes begin. i decided not to arrive until after the bagels were put away. nevertheless, it appeared that each child walking past me had hands filled with leftover halloween candy and a lollipop in each corner of its mouth. i began to practice with a batmitzvah student, and became convinced that someone was frying latkes in the synagogue kitchen. o dear - an olfactory hallucination. after class i ran home and inhaled the latest of several giant bowls of salad liberally drizzled with carb solutions dressing. i then returned for a committee meeting, and someone brought snacks: leftover halloween candy and cheese puffs and a bottle of wine. i am very grumpy.

today, it just seemed easier not to eat at all (except for a glass of skimmed milk in the morning to persuade my body it was being fed so it didn't lock down into starvation mode). and then ... all ye who know and love me please sit down and do not faint ... for dinner tonight i made myself broiled salmon with sauteed spinach and garlic. and there is salmon left for shabbat dinner tomorrow!

the only problem is the amount of washing-up i have to do. later ...

wish i'd said that!

talking to d on the phone she said for her being late was a chronic malady. i pretended to mishear and said, "melody?" she said, "no, that would be a late-motif!" bloody brilliant.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Friday, October 07, 2005

happy new year

a pulpit's eye view:

although we rarely have more than a minyan on a shabbat evening, the new year brings out the best in people and our sanctuary cannot contain the masses so we move to the methodist sanctuary instead. it is an extremely plain room, decorated only by a giant wooden cross hanging from the ceiling with spotlights on it so the two shadows create a trinity of crosses. luckily for me this is behind my pulpit so i do not have to look at it. the pjc-niks tell me it is 't' for torah.

there is no a/c in the church, and there is another spotlight on the pulpit. it is early october but the temperature is in the seventies and the humidity is high. i am wearing a robe, because i would rather sweat all over my simpsons in jerusalem t-shirt underneath it than ruin a fancy shirt. before we start i am meeting and greeting and young maddy says 'rabbi you are all sweaty'. during the service i do a pretty darn good impersonation of the wicked witch of the west. my new g/f is in the pews. she is a nephrologist. in the morning she brings me water. i think that saved me from fainting! upon request, a sort of fan was rigged up behind me (presumably to blow cool draughts of air up the stairs and under the hem of my robe?), but each reader that came up managed to kick the plug out of the whatchamacallit thingy that you stick it in. for those who wondered why i kept disappearing from the pulpit, i was bending down trying to plug the fan back in and then going down the stairs to turn the switch.

one of the tricks i have found useful is to take a large handkerchief (or in my case, a well-loved purple bandana), and spray it lightly with a lavender-scented cologne. it is very refreshing, and at the end of the service you may be a bit soggy, but you won't smell bad when you shake hands. that reminds me: one of the tricks they never taught us at rabbi school - take off your rings during the final hymn. my first rosh hashana i did not do that and had to shake a thousand hands and my fingers swelled up a lot. ow.

enough already with the whinging. a happy and healthy new year to you all!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

red square piglet

red square piglet
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
GUM is to the left, and waxy yellow lenin (before they cleaned him up) is to the right. piglet is front and centre.

i don't know ... it doesn't seem right to say anything at the moment when the horrors that so many far away face regularly are now snarling at us where we live.

or, to be more accurate, i haven't a clue what to say.

Monday, September 05, 2005


extensive list of web sites to follow the news and support relief efforts here.

i do not have television access and thus, perhaps, have missed the full impact of the pictures that have been shown. nevertheless, i am lost for words ... except for saying the misheberach for healing for all the victims and those who are working to save and help them. from our mouths to god's ears.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

unlucky in love

rather than wallow (any more) in an acute state of singledom, here is an account of the number one most humiliating moment in my sort-of-dating life so far:

when i was small, my mother told us that if we missed her when she went out to dinner, we should go to the coat cupboard, and sniff her perfume on the clothes in there, and then she wouldn't seem so far away.

when i was not small at all, yet blithely unaware of, well, anything much really, i was in tel aviv airport waiting on standby to get a flight home for rosh hashanah. although i'd only said goodbye to dbl a couple of hours ago, i was feeling an intense sense of loss rather beyond what was appropriate for a new best friend. anyway, i had an idea! dbl had a thing about drakkar noir aftershave. i would go into the duty-free shop, and squirt myself with a bit of drakkar noir from a tester, and then she wouldn't seem so far away.

when i entered the duty-free shop, a snooty woman looked down on me from behind the counter. 'may i help you?' she said snootily. ok i didn't look my best - 6 months without a haircut, black denim shorts, black basketball shirt, sneakers and baseball cap - but still i was a customer. once in the hilton hotel in manhattan, dressed much the same but with dark glasses on as well, i was sitting on a lovely sofa waiting to collect a plane ticket from the continental desk when an officious hotel security man said 'hey, ya bum, get offa that couch!'. i looked over the top of my shades and said in my best english accent, 'i beg your pardon?' 'gee, lady, i'm sorry!' he said, and left me alone, no longer a bum but now an eccentric englishwoman. israelis do not, of course, have the same reverence for an english accent. but i digress ...

'may i help you?' she said. 'no, thank you,' i replied, 'i'm just looking.' so i looked around, keeping an eye for the moment when she turned around so i could grab the tester and squirt myself. she, of course, was keeping an eye on me because i was a bum. we danced this dance for a while, and then my moment suddenly appeared: she turned away! quickly i grabbed the drakkar noir bottle, and squirted it on my face and neck. the trouble was - i got the shaving cream by mistake. the kind that expanded. and then, the saleslady turned back.

what did i do? what could i do? i wiped my face off with my hand, and walked out of the shop. *sigh*

Sunday, August 07, 2005

coming home

can it be? the football season has begun again. qpr did not lose, although the scum did win the charity shield, sorry the community shield as it is now called. the hull "fans" are lucky qpr are not millwall, for their chants of "town full of bombers, you're just a town full of bombers" were horrific.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

good morrow mistress ravaj

was somewhat disconcerted today after torah study. came out of the building and walked over to my car. there was a native american woman sitting on the kerb next to it. when she saw me she jumped up with the face of a kid caught out of bounds. i smiled at her and said something like "no no, sit down". she said, "no, i have to go to work," and trudged off in her flip-flops towards the garbage truck that had just pulled in behind me. as she passed me she said, "thank you, miss."

was i really that patronising? utterly not my intention. utterly the opposite intention. maybe that was what was so patronising?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

piglet pays homage

piglet pays homage
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
ferncliff cemetery in white plains, n.y., has a lot of famous people buried in it. from aaliyah to judy garland, thelonious monk to malcolm x (although his plaque is not where they say it is). piglet and i went for a walk there one sunny day before i left westchester county.

the lemoncake lady

last week was the first yahrzeit for my darling father. it is strange, because that is the marker in jewish tradition of the end of the mourning period, and the full return to life. in contrast to that, i feel like perhaps soon my mourning may really begin. the actual day was friday, and i took advantage of my position at the synagogue by using the drash time to acknowledge daddy. i told them i wanted to tell a story about my father, but that most were not suitable for this particular moment. i decided on the story about the lemoncake lady, which might appear to be about me, or about her; but was really about albert, or perhaps themselves.

i was standing in line outside the chapel after the funeral service. it was a bit like a large party, where all the people i'd known since i was a child were passing before me, and once i'd adjusted my vision for their being taller or shorter, thinner or fatter ... and darkened their hair, i recognised them all. a strange woman stood before me. "it's such a pity your father died," she said, " we were due to study together. never mind," she continued, "i'll have a word with him next week and we'll figure something out." a bit woo-woo, i thought to myself, smiled bravely and on she moved.

in the week that followed, my main memory is just of people all the time. e-mails and letters and flowers arriving constantly, and people everywhere. i drifted in and out, wearing jeans and my a-rod yankees t-shirt. i would go into the front room, talk a little, then return to the couch in daddy's study and go back to sleep. meanwhile, noam was running interference for mummy. so many wanted to visit, it ended up that they had to make appointments, so mummy could have some time to rest.

i am called from my repose. the crazy lady is here - you have to keep her away from mummy. she is in the hall, and has a long, narrow cake tin with her. we take it to the kitchen, and i taste what is in the tin. it will never make it into the public domain. for the next hour we all stop by the kitchen and take just another tiny slice. it doesn't last long. it is the most delicious lemon cake we have ever tasted. later, i decide to call her the lemoncake lady because i don't want to remember her as one of the crazies.

we go into the dining room, and sit away from the others, and she begins to tell me her story. she is very jumpy, and ready to flee at any hint. she is well-groomed, well-spoken, clearly intelligent. she also speaks in a way that one would usually say this person is utterly bonkers. i listen to her story. a lot of it makes sense to me. i begin to think to myself that if i change the literal way she speaks into metaphor, she doesn't sound so mad. i read a book written by the rambam - she sits at a table with him and he talks to her and teaches her. different descriptions of a similar process, perhaps. my family keeps trying to rescue me, and the lemoncake lady twitches in her chair. i tell them i'll be back in a minute, and ask her to continue. it occurs to me that the reason she is here is because daddy listened to her. he took her seriously. it occurs to me that i should do the same. i do.

eventually she does leave. and i want to remember the lemoncake lady, because i want a way to remember how to be with someone where they are, and not always make them have to be where i am.

this is not, of course, exactly how i spoke on shabbat. i did note that this was a way my father continues to be with me and to teach me after his physical death. i did suggest that each of us has stories and people that may do the same for us. nice and rabbinical. and of course, after services, several people asked for the recipe.

Monday, July 04, 2005

happy bye bye to the brits day

culturally torn here because i am, of course, a u.s. citizen; but i am also daughter of a loyal brit and one who grew up there. add to this the fact that my father grew up in vicksburg where the 4th of july was not celebrated at all, and you may see how my mixed heritage might ravage my soul. meanwhile, my fear of loud explosive noises has me jumping around my flat as my neighbours demonstrate their independent spirit by making lots of loud explosive noises in a state where fireworks are illegal. since i do not eat anything that had eyes except potatoes, the scent of grilling animal flesh brings tears to my own eyes, and saliva to a mouth that responds to impulses more primeval than pc vegetarianism.

on the other hand, i did enjoy seeing 'bewitched' yesterday, although i think the cinema lost the reel with the last ten minutes on it. either that, or the producers just said "time's up!" and they stopped filming and began to run the credits. would like to see 'war of the worlds' except that tom cruise is being such an arse at the moment that i think it would be difficult to watch the character rather than seeing the face of the actor and thinking about his imo ridiculous public statements of recent weeks. i say that as someone who considers her life to have been saved a couple of times by anti-depressant meds. even rosie blogged her disagreement.

would it not be a blessing if people stopped waving the red white and blue ego, and peace broke out all over? that is something i can pray for:

god bless america, my home sweet home!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

jolly green piglet

jolly green piglet
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
driving west on interstate 90, a 50 ft high statue of the jolly green giant is visible from the road. blue earth, minnesota, looked like a ghost town; but there was a hut near the statue and inside was a little old lady selling postcards and souvenirs. note - she is not the best person to ask to take a picture of yourself with the giant. question: why is the giant wearing a black plastic garment over his normal clothing?

avodah zarah

just listening to some big band music on wmnr (when, of course, i should be preparing for the movers tomorrow). i was wishing i could play my clarinet like benny goodman or artie shaw. i heard the announcer highlight a number of other greats, mostly when they were just starting out as band members with a featured piece. then i started thinking about the other guys in the bands, who never got named, but were still part of the sound.

most of us don't do more than a couple of things to a high standard - it takes all the time and energy we already devote just to be competent, whether at something artistic, or scientific, or work-related, or life-related. it is all important, yet we don't seem to give ourselves credit for doing a job to the best of our ability. ok, glaringly obvious ... or is it? the talent/appeal of, the attention given to a louis armstrong, an angelina jolie, a mickey mantle ... sometimes i wonder where the line between appreciation and idolatry falls.

ok, not so preachy - let me just speak for myself. things like the clarinet - i know that if i spend more time on it i shall get better, and i derive great pleasure from listening to others who are the best in their field. the same with sport - even if i am not really into it like, say, basketball; i can still enjoy and appreciate someone like michael jordan in his prime. neither of these areas have much of an impact on my self-esteem. movie-stars, however, are another thing completely! great acting is one thing, like other talent, and i appreciate being made to think and being emotionally touched and being entertained. when i look, however, at ms. jolie, or catherine zeta-jones, or michelle pfeiffer (or halle berry) as catwoman, alongside the lust that their screen personae may evoke in me comes a strong sense of my own inadequacy. i would like a real person to feel like that about me, preferably someone to whom i am also attracted. but it doesn't end there. follow that thread and i seem to have attached to it all my relationship wishes and ideals. do many of us do that?

for me the key seems so bloody obvious - not a terribly good self image. i'll save the psychobabble for another time ... tonight i wonder what i get out of all the images of gorgeous women that may do me good, and what i should avoid! will have to think about that for a bit.

i feel there is something to be pursued re the concept of idolatry. find the empty space this worship is filling, and do sth else with it. also sth to do with an aspect of faith - no need to judge the value of my particular version of being made in the image of god, but trusting it has its place, and learning to feel good about my part of the whole. sounds good, eh?

a counsellor i saw in virginia gave me a mantra. she wrote it on a post-it note:

"i love and respect myself completely exactly as i am"

chris told me that no matter what i actually think, if i repeat this enough times for a very long time it will become a tape that runs in my head louder than some of the "i am fat and fat is ugly" types. lovely idea. the problem with this was that after i had put the post-it on my windscreen so i could read it in the car, i discovered that it scanned exactly to "blister in the sun" by the violent femmes. o well.

bored now.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

anne bancroft z"l

Most people will think first of the graduate and then of the miracle worker. love those films. and for me, the one bright spot of the travesty that was mel brooks' remake of my all-time favourite film 'to be or not to be' was at the beginning when ms. bancroft sings 'sweet georgia brown' in polish. my favourite film of hers, however, is 'garbo talks', where she plays a dying mother who idolises greta garbo & whose adult son tries to arrange a meeting in his version of make-a-wish foundation.

my anne bancroft story is a bit embarrassing. please note that at one time her hair was very very similar to that of my middle sister. nu - after a bit of a fight at home when our mother suggested my friend michael and i invite my sister to join us at the theatre that evening and said sister got somewhat hoity toity and flounced off, at the end of 'lettice & lovage' (we got amazing front stalls seats from the leicester square ticket office) we turned towards the exit and lo there was my sister standing in the aisle. i duly flounced up to her, grabbed her arm, and said "what the **** do you think you are doing here?!" anne bancroft turned to me with sort of a surprised look. 'o sorry, i thought you were my sister' i said lamely and ran away.

may she rest in peace.

piglet corn palace

piglet corn palace
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
am heading out to the mid-west to celebrate a landmark birthday for my favourite aunt (i absolutely adore her, but she does like me to note that she is my only aunt).

the thing about the mitchell corn palace is that the designs are made entirely from corncobs. the day we took this, however, there was a polka festival inside, and i rued the facts that i'd left my tape recorder in the car and that i could not find a polka skirt to suit my peasant frame.

Friday, May 27, 2005

um, a bit of a dilemma

so off i went to the supermarket this afternoon ... hang on, just noticed a rainbow outside ... sorry, but i had to go out and look at it.

o yes ... the supermarket. outside the exit (which i had to pass to get to the entrance), two young women in matching sweatshirts were collecting for something. they saw me trying to read their sign (am trying hard not to accept that it may already be time for a new pair of glasses. what kind of life is this where chocolate, good english milk chocolate, can make you go blind?!). we began to chat, and as i listened to a story of rehabilitation from cocaine and alcohol abuse, i reached into my pocket thinking i should drop a dollar in the glass jar and go buy my hummus. as i am hearing about the 80k job and the lexus she used to have, i am realising that these are the edge-of-recycling jeans that are nicely frayed, not quite indecent, and have holes in all the pockets. as i am hearing that finding jesus christ has filled the emptiness in her heart i reach into my back pocket and discover that my wallet is still at home in the back pocket of the black jeans i just threw into the laundry basket. i apologise to the women and drive home to get money for groceries.

while i drove i thought about what i'd heard. on the one hand, a programme to get women off drugs that worked - what could be wrong with that? on the other hand, if that programme also promoted such things as the importance of persuading others who already had a religious allegiance that the love of christ is superior ... and/or intolerance of other diversity such as sexual orientation - then why should i give it any kind of financial support?

i returned with my wallet, and returned to the conversation. as the woman spoke, i felt like she had replaced one addiction with another. i decided to ask her my questions from the car. she told me that god loves everyone no matter what choices they have made. i asked her if she was comparing homosexuality to a cocaine habit and she said oh no, and her cousin is a lesbian and she adores her. as we spoke, i began to feel that her avowed tolerance was sincere. she told me she is now going to bible college to become a minister. i asked her if she had considered the possibility that others in her programme might not be as tolerant as she is, and she replied that she is very new at it all.

long story short - i asked for more to read about the programme, and was given a book written by its founder. i sat in the car park for about 30 minutes reading it. homosexuality is referred to as perverse and a sin. when i got to the bit where the author is praising god for saving a ftm transexual and turning her into a good xian woman i put the book down.

so i didn't give them any money. but i have been thinking this afternoon about what feels to me like a dilemma. is it simply a question of do the ends justify the means? is an addiction to religion any healthier than any other? ok, of course it doesn't lead you into the criminal activities of the world of drugs ... but why should damage to the soul be any less heinous than damage to the body? good luck to her that she turned her life around, but do i want her on a college campus targetting the questioning and the insecure (and the questioning and insecure jews)?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

piglet at the plaza

plaza piglet
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
i cannot remember if i have ever been inside the plaza hotel. i think i may have walked through it once, just to say i had been there. this piglet picture was from a day in new york when i decided i could only take pictures if i asked people first. not only that, but i had to ask them to hold the pig too. o it was hard to do. the hardest was the man on stilts outside fao schwarz - but that was more to do with trying to hand piglet to him. this is my favourite. as is the rote grutze the 2nd link notes will be served in the hotel at the end of the summer. mmmmm.

Monday, May 23, 2005

pyramid piglet

pyramid piglet
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
this is one of the few pix not taken by me. it exists courtesy of my sister m., who is the one who's been to egypt. i tried to go to egypt once, but it was the week israel was giving back the sinai and some right-wing extremist students had cemented themselves into a bunker in the desert protesting the handover so the border guards wouldn't let us in despite our hippy looks and smell.

NB piglet is sitting on top of the camel

10 things i've never done

apostablog tells us this is the blogging game of the week, and i'd rather have a go than get dressed and drive to white plains, so here are my first ten thoughts:

1. owned a pair of birkenstocks
2. paid to get into stamford bridge
3. eaten lobster
4. finished reading moby dick
5. slept outdoors overnight in a tent
6. voted republican
7. made a meringue from scratch
8. worn anything the colour mauve
9. changed a flat tyre
10. been in a mosh pit

alas, time to get dressed and drive to white plains.

Friday, May 20, 2005

delphine marcus z"l

cannot believe it - i was so excited to hear her again on the radio on wednesday evening. here is the obituary from wmnr:

Delphine Marcus, one of WMNR's most well-known and beloved broadcasters, died on Wednesday, May 18, 2005, after a long illness.

Remembering Delphine Marcus

Some of us knew her as a friend, some of us knew her as the soft, English-accented voice that came over the air waves on Wednesday and Friday evenings; but all of us felt her zest for life and her joy in bringing the music to her listeners. She was indeed a beautiful, vibrant, warm, funny, candid, and courageous woman, who fought long and hard against the awful disease that finally took her, and her spirit never wavered.

"We now have 14 minutes before 8 o'clock, and I do have tickets to give away." Delphine Marcus was a broadcaster at WMNR for more than 20 years. Her programs were heard every week, beginning with the inception of the classical format on Fine Arts Radio, and over the years she became very dear to her many admirers. So intimate and so personal were her style and presentation that many people felt a deep kinship with her, and her mailbox was always stuffed with fan letters.

With a highly diverse background that included having been raised among the gentry in England, and educated in France, Germany, and the Middle East, Delphine brought to her programming a unique variety of musical styles. But her adventurous and exotic life experiences add up to what many people only dream of doing.

At a very young age, Delphine Costelloe Scott-Young began dancing lessons that eventually led to an engagement with a ballet company in her native England. Acting was also an early pursuit which resulted in some minor roles in movies, and an exciting trip to Rome to act as stand-in for Elizabeth Taylor in the barge scene in Cleopatra.

Then it was on to study at the Sorbonne and at Heidelberg University, and eventually to Iran where she received a degree in Islamic art. While she was in the Middle East, there was an opportunity to spend a brief time living and traveling with the band of nomadic Arab tribespeople called Bedou. But this was only the beginning! Amid many other unusual and exciting adventures, Delphine took a glamorous job as an emissary for a large Western oil company in Libya. When the company offered her a sabbatical to America, she ended up settling here and marrying cartoonist Jerry Marcus, with whom she had two children. There are now three grandchildren who were indeed the center of her world.

Among the musical memories that Delphine Marcus shared with us, there are many worth sharing again:

"My first real musical memory was when I was about 5 years old--it was Christmas Day in England--a grey, sullen winter's day with a weak sun struggling unsuccessfully to shine. I was gazing out the window at the leafless trees and listening to my grandfather's recording of Beethoven's 7th Symphony (we always listened to music after dinner). Wagner called this symphony the 'Apotheosis of the dance.' I loved its joyfulness and as a child I would dance to it."

"It was my grandmother who introduced me to the movies. She was an ardent fan and would take me with her on different occasions. Her favorites were Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, and Clark Gable. I remember seeing Jeannette Macdonald and Nelson Eddy in Maytime with her and loving the music. My grandfather always said that if the film made my grandmother cry, then he was certain she had enjoyed it! It was my mother who took me to see Dangerous Moonlight, and I remember that day in London every time I hear Richard Addinsell's "Warsaw Concerto" (which was part of the score for the film), because when we came out of the cinema the air raid siren wailed its warning and we had to seek shelter from the bombs."

"I have the great luxury of being able to share my musical loves with you, the listener here at WMNR. What pleasure it brings me when you tell me how much you enjoyed a certain piece of music that you have just heard. I think we all can remember some event when music has played an important role in our lives. What would life be without music, and, of course, WMNR!"

Well-known and deeply admired by her listeners, Delphine presented programs that were always spontaneous, done without script or notes, and peppered with many of the recordings from her personal collection. Because she was such a world traveler, her fascination with music of all cultures permeated her programs and made them exciting and interesting. Many people looked forward to the mystery voice quiz and other special features that made her broadcasts so much more than just concerts.

Delphine Marcus will be greatly missed by those of us who knew her and those who knew only her voice, and although that voice is silent now, it won't be forgotten.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

w.c. whimsy

i don't know what you read when you're on the toilet. i cannot assume that you do read at those times. for those of us who do, however, there are the things we are already reading that we may bring in with us, e.g., a newspaper, a book we can't put down, something that must be studied for work or a test. there are also reading materials that stay in the bathroom for a while. i'm not so interested in the old magazines, although what they are may give new insight about one's host. i'm wondering what you think are good books to leave in there on purpose - for one's guests, and for oneself.

my current offerings:

Poems on the Underground
(a selection of the poems posted in london underground trains amid the ads in the carriages)

The Rough Guide to the Da Vinci Code

Tragically I was an Only Twin
(a collection of sketches from the career of peter cook. gut-wrenchingly funny, which seems kind of appropriate ... )

somebody left The Dance of Anger in there, but i think i should put it back on a shelf asap :-)

a favourite story about my father: one year for my birthday treat the whole family went to see victoria wood live, at the aldwych theatre. there were five of us - the four women, and my father, who was also possibly the only heterosexual male in the auditorium. the first-half monologue was a story wound around a tampon, and at the interval my little sister said, "poor daddy - i bet you didn't understand a word of that." "nonsense!" he replied stoutly, "when i am in the bathroom, I read everything!"

graceland piglet

graceland piglet
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
piglet fits right in here, doesn't he?! after taking this picture, i picked him up, put him back in my pocket, and headed back to the place where the bus picked people up to take them back to the car park. i was chased down the road by a security guard, who thought i had stolen piglet from the group at the grave. i had to show some of the pics in my digicam to prove i'd possessed him previously. her favourite was piglet rushmore.

back in the ussa

it's been a while, but i no longer have the excuse of jet-lag to stop me writing again. the visit to london ended as it began, with a memorial service. the second one was at the german embassy. my first time as a guest in an embassy. i was coming down with a cold, and when we got there my mother mentioned it to someone. a few minutes later, a butler appeared with a silver tray, upon which was a glass of hot (skimmed) milk, and a lovely china pot full of honey with a matching china spoon. it was delicious, and when i had finished, i put the glass down on a side table, whence it vanished not long afterwards. it's good to be a guest in an embassy.

now i am back, and need to find a new home to go with the new job. i have, therefore, been procrastinating magnificently. my genealogy research is coming along nicely, i have been scaring myself by reading political blogs and listening to air america radio, and i've bought the new su doko book put out by the london times. it is taboo for me to write in a book, even a paperback, but the lure of the logic is breaking me down. i tell myself it is important to exercise my brain, that mental fitness is as much of an antibody to aging as is physical fitness. now if someone will just invent a su doko equivalent for my heart ...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

memorial for hrhg

last night was the memorial service for my father at the synagogue. about 275 people managed to join us. noam, my mother, edward, philip and the bishop of oxford spoke. here is what i said ... started off with the beginning of my lev post from last month and added a few notes.

"i had a dream. it may not, however, have been a dream. i don't know, and it doesn't really matter. i thought it was real at the time, because i was sitting on the sofa in my office listening to my mobile. i heard a voice on the other end, and i knew it was him. "daddy!" i said. "no," he replied. i know his voice, i've heard it all my life. "albert?" "i am not albert," he said, "my name is lev." there was interference on the line, and he began to fade out. i tried to get his number, but wasn't quick enough. "we'll talk again," i heard him say. and then the book-keeper woke me up - i was sitting on the sofa in my office.

the thing is - i don't dream like that. i'm a bit of a smartarse, and am pretty sure that if this experience came from my subconscious, it would've been much more ... smart. "i am martin buber!" the voice would've said, and sent me to the bookshelves in search of 'i-thou'. i would then figure out the subtle meaning, ponder upon the concept of connection, and be pleased about how smart i am. but things are different now. albert is dead. and he said his name is lev. he named it all with that one word: heart. not my style at all. it was, however, a message for me.

heart. that says it all, which is good, because i haven't the faintest idea what to say to you. i keep thinking that maybe, if somehow i can channel him ... here's rabbi f. in the pulpit again ... softly spoken ... wise, funny ... similar expressions and gestures ... if i could channel him then i could console you. somehow, though, i don't think i should.

my colleague rabbi s. was talking with me the other day about losing a famous father and how at some point one has to stop trying to console his public and say 'hey, i lost my daddy'. i thought - what a kick albert would get hearing himself compared to isaac stern! she has a point, though.

so - forgive me if i am neither articulate, nor funny, nor wise tonight. i'm sad. i am also blessed. when my father died, we had nothing left unsaid nor undone. he had e-mailed me every day telling me how much he loved me and how proud of me he was and what a great rabbi i am and will be. i, too, rarely missed an opportunity to say the same to him.

what i miss is being able to talk about kevin gallen's goal on saturday, and if only the goalie hadn't tipped that shot onto the post in the last minute. i miss the little twitch in the corner of his mouth just before he says something he thinks is extremely funny. i miss his eyes shining with tears as gunga din falls at last. i miss his mischievous mind, and his joyful heart. most of all ... his hands ... just being able to hold hands ... walking along the street, sitting in front of the television ... not saying anything, just holding hands.

when it became my responsibility to deliver sermons on the high holydays, i would spend hours on the phone with my father across the atlantic. i did not want him to help me write them, but i did want to make sure that i wouldn't embarrass myself with flawed reasoning or mawkish sentimentality. he'd make suggestions, and i'd argue with them all. one day he suddenly said, "i have to go now." "but i'm not done yet!" i said, anxiously. "you don't need me anymore," he said, "you'll be fine." and off he went.

i so didn't want him to go, but he was right, i did just fine. and that's how it is for us tonight. and that's how it's going to be.

lev - heart

as long as i remember that while excellent sermons are extremely important, the key is b'chol l'vav'cha, u-v'chol nafsh'cha, u-v'chol me-odecha ... with all your heart and all your soul and all your might. like r. akiva, daddy used up every last bit of his heart, and if we will try to do the same with our own, then his memory will surely be for a blessing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

japan 1 - 0 canada

as the population of the world gets older and lonelier, japanese scientists have invented a cuddly seal companion to banish boredom and the blues. in canada, the hunting season has just begun, targeting the same baby harp seals upon which the japanese invention is modelled.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

pumpkin piglet

pumpkin piglet
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
the first daffodil lifted up its head in my front yard today. after months of dirty white and grey and brown skies and ground, it is briefly uplifting to see the colours. i am enjoying the flowers, and new grass growing, and a red mist covering the trees on the horizon as the leaves begin to bud.

this is an autumn picture of piglet, a week before hallowe'en in seattle. i hope you enjoy this colour!

the world is quiet here

... i wish. i am thinking about the difference between an oasis of peace, within which one may rest, relax and renew oneself; and the muffled, gritty silence one may find by burying one's head in the sand. shabbat, of course, is an ideal that could be the oasis. i worry, though, that i am burying my head in it, just to block out the anxiety that fills me just by looking at the outside world. in my wanderings today i came across a recent piece by william safire in the ny times about privacy. i began to read it, followed some links, realised once again that george orwell was a prophet, and rued turning down the job in bangor since i would've been a reasonable fleeing distance from the haven of eastern canada.

it's not that the profile of the_ravaj existing is so threatening. i imagine that reading it would be much like looking in a mirror - is that really what i look like? no way! the fuzzy edges disappear when one views the hard copy. the problem begins with the fuzzy ethical perspectives of commercial marketers and skis downhill at olympic pace to the dizzy depths of government snooping, manipulation,and interference. to read now that they appear to have joined forces is severely interfering with my digestion.

andrea dworkin z"l

just read the news that andrea dworkin has died. radical frizzy zaftig jewish feminist in overalls that she was, my mother was a bit worried that i would emulate her. by the time i was thirteen i'd already achieved all but the politics. my mother posted a photograph of her on the refrigerator door, stridently stout, as a diet aid. i think it made me wary of fervour for activism rather than for cranberry cheesecake.

many years later, walking along seventh avenue in park slope, i saw andrea dworkin sitting outside a cafe on the other side of the road. she didn't look like she was in a very good mood, so i only stared long enough to make sure it was really her so i could honestly say that i had seen her sitting outside a cafe in the slope. may she rest in peace.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

tomb of the unknown pig

tomb of the unknown pig
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
one of the earliest shots, from the late 1980's, taken in east berlin a couple of years before the wall came down. the chocolate tasted like sawdust, and people wanted to buy my u.s. army issue rucksack from my back. it was forbidden to photograph soldiers, but we managed to sneak this one.

o dear delphine

just cannot quite let go of this one. the pledge drive ends in a few hours and i called in again. apparently delphine is not just off sick, she has cancer. i had a lovely chat with the lady on the line, and made the pledge anyway with the wish for a full recovery ('thirty six dollars' say i, 'aha - double chai! says the pledge-taker), and she will let me know what's going on. meanwhile, i got my name read out on the radio, along with good wishes for my heroine!

o, and with regard to delphine's origins: she was born in devonshire, and grew up in a place in london called knightsbridge :-)

mashed potato piglet

mashed potato piglet
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
my grandmother's grandmother came from minsk, known as the potato capital of all the russias. i like to explain that this is whence i inherited my wide hips and low centre of gravity, the figure of a potato harvester. here, piglet views the devil's tower, made internationally famous by steven spielberg in a scene from 'close encounters of the third kind'.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

alas, poor delphine

the wmrn pledge weekend continues. i wasn't going to, but decided to call in and see if that woman ever passed on my request for delphine's autograph. the gentleman answering the telephone appeared rather perplexed, but when i mentioned the magic words "she said she'd leave a message for kurt", i was put through to kurt himself. apparently delphine has been off sick this week, but he said he would call her at home and ask if she would be prepared to give me her autograph. he took my cellphone number and said he'd call back within the hour. i am still waiting by my phone :-( wishing delphine a refua sheleima.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Thursday, April 07, 2005

darn it, delphine!

the connecticut public radio station is doing its spring fundraising, and asking for pledges. i have never called in a pledge, but this evening i dialled the number and offered them money if i could have a signed photograph of delphine marcus. the lady on the other end said probably not but she would leave a note for the station manager and i should call back tomorrow to see, although, she said again, she thought it quite unlikely.

emulating wolferl (tmi warning)

do i win a prize for pretentious post-title, or what?!

have you ever accidentally clogged up someone else's loo by depositing in it something utterly natural but utterly too dense or large or stubborn to make it round the s-bend and out towards the haven of the sewers? i discussed this issue recently with a (close) friend, and we decided that if the host had any hostly feeling s/he would have an industrial-strength plunger somewhere in the bathroom; and if there was no such implement to be found then one might leave with a smidgeon less guilt.

luckily it was my own loo. luckily i had the plunger. i bought it at the katonah fair, striding jauntily down main street with it mounted on my shoulder like a ww1 rifle, waving gaily at congregants wandering through the paintings and pleas for supporting the library. unfortunately it did not work. i returned to the friendly gentlemen at the hardware store in katonah, hoping to be handed a magic potion i could pour into the bowl and liquidate the misguided blob. the young man gave me a bottle, and i was delighted. then his boss took it away. apparently it would have caused a chemical reaction that would have blown up the blob and the bowl and the bathroom. instead, i walked to my car with a long dangly pipe and spring contraption called a toilet auger. i was not, however, able to forsee how completely unable to use it i would be.

we skip over the next bit. suffice it to say that
a. the auger, wrapped in a full-length garbage bag, is now out on the kerb
b. i had a novel experience in the dark in the woods at the edge of the property
c. the next day i called the landlady to get the plumber round

the plumber just left. it took him 2 minutes to fix the problem, and cost $132 and change. as i watched him flushing a few times to make sure all was clear, i told him how when i went to sydney, australia a few years ago, the first thing i wanted to do when i got off the plane was to find a toilet to flush. i didn't need to explain. "i'd've done the same," he said, "how was it?" i told him i'd been terribly disappointed because my first toilet there was designed to have no swirl at all (the water came down from all around the bowl at the same time). o well. he is gone. and i, i am relieved!

Sunday, March 27, 2005

piglet rushmore

piglet rushmore
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
i couldn't wait any longer. this is my all-time favourite piglet pic (so far!). i kept trying to hold it back, until this blog was a bit more established. but it's like not using your favourite perfume so you don't use it up - tui tui tui you could die tomorrow and then you certainly wouldn't smell of bellodgia. this shot was an accident - how i discovered the prefocus button! it was the reason i drove from virginia to seattle - to get this: president, president, president, president, pig. v. pleased.

a colleague informs me ....

US Supreme Court established three important holdings:

1.. there is a right under the Constitution to refuse medical treatment. Does this include "life-sustaining" care? The US Supreme Court stopped short: "for the purposes of [the Cruzan] case," the Court "assume[d] that the US Constitution would grant a competent person a constitutionally protected right to refuse lifesaving hydration and nutrition."

2.. this right to refuse survives the patient's incompetence and can be exercised by an advanced directive or a surrogate decision maker.

3.. States may differ in regards to safeguards that they employ to ensure that withdrawal of treatment reflects the patient's wishes when the patient is unable to make treatment decisions. Every state is different on what courts will and will not accept.

the cruzan case was in 1990 i think, and was the first right-to-die case heard by the supreme court. so the law of the land allows one to refuse sustenance, and if one's wishes are clear, this shall be upheld even if one is totally and permanently incapacitated.

assuming that we believe mr. schiavo, and the courts have done that consistently, according to the law this is how it will be. end of story.

until we live in a theocracy, this is how it will be.
depending on whose theo it will be, i may be emigrating.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

turn turn turn

this is some stream of consciousness musing, or perhaps just a first page of exploration. the question under consideration? well, it began with the case of terri schiavo, who is likely to die in the next few days. on the one hand, i really need to think about how to respond to congregants asking me about the jewish position on such a subject. this means checking out the responsa, which look at jewish law, and attempt to present an ethical position. already, i am swimming in water deeper than any i've dipped into before (and o do i miss my daddy - no more can my first response be to ask him what he thinks and feels). definitions of law, and ethics, and morals ... and how they relate to each other. and that leads to the second part. frank rich wrote in the ny times today:

"At a time when government, culture, science, medicine and the rule of law are all under threat from an emboldened religious minority out to remake America according to its dogma"

the rights of the individual within the rules of the community. what is the best case scenario, i.e., individual views differ, and how does the community make a rule that all must obey, e.g., pro or anti abortion. in the usa, i thought the separation of church and state (synagogue, mosque, temple, etc ... let's not go there just now) was an inspired way to deal with some of those problems. i agree with mr. rich that there is a threat, but am currently at a loss regarding how to deal with it.

back then to the jewish teaching with regard to the current question whether or not terri schiavo should be allowed to die by removing the tubes that feed and hydrate her. i turn to the central conference of american rabbis responsa. before reading this, i had a pretty strong view that if someone has made it clear that if they are brain dead they do not wish to be kept alive, then their wish should be respected. as a chaplain working in a hospital, i have counselled patients interested in creating a living will/advance directive. I know (and just checked it again on the phone yesterday) that this is my mother's wish.

so here's a question: what shall i do when the responsum clearly indicates a position different to the one i currently hold? as a rabbi, a jew and a human, am i required to adapt my thinking? is this a kind of teshuva, where i must turn my stiff stiff neck?

the responsum begins with the affirmation of the inviolability of human life, that it belongs to god, that we have no right to take it and god has the final say in its disposal. we do not "own" our lives. thus, suicide and euthanasia are prohibited.

so what if someone is dying already? the rabbis say that they still deserve all appropriate care. what is appropriate? since the law states that it is forbidden to take any action that will hasten death, and if you do so then it is considered murder, then it would appear that sustenance is required, and pain relief a bit of a grey area since morphine for example may hasten death. but sustenance is required.

at this point, i begin to feel the stiffness of my neck. terri schiavo is not actually terminal. therefore, all the more so should she not have sustenance removed. but this has me agreeing with the bushes and all sorts of people whose beliefs i abhor. ow. my neck is sore.

but i am a reform jew ... and a rabbi ... is there not another way to interpret the teachings? the responsum states:

"As Reform Jews, of course, we consider ourselves free to ascribe "new" Jewish meanings to our texts, to depart from tradition when we think it necessary to secure an essential religious or moral value. In this case, though, we fail to see why we should do so. We see no good reason, first of all, to abandon the traditional Jewish teaching concerning the inestimable value of human life. If the doctrine of life's essential holiness means anything at all, it means that we must stand in reverence before the very fact of life, the gift of God that renders us human. And this reverence does not diminish as human strength declines, for the dying person still possesses life, a life stamped indelibly with the image of God until the moment of death. It is an awesome and awful responsibility we take upon ourselves when we determine to kill a human being, even when our intentions are good and merciful. Such an action is the ultimate arrogance, for it declares that we are masters over the one thing--life itself--that our faith has always taught must be protected against our all-too-human tendency to manipulate, to mutilate, and to destroy."

i do not want to agree with the demonstrators and the religious right and the bushes but ow my neck i don't wish to be arrogant either. note - i am not talking here about stopping treatment, turning off machines, etc. jewish law allows that one may remove an impediment from nature taking its course. i am trying to turn myself towards the acknowledgment that to remove nutrition is to starve someone to death.

i hope the link works, so you may read the rest of the responsum yourself. i am off to think some more, and to get a neck rub!

Friday, March 25, 2005

piglet opera house

piglet opera house
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
i have to say that when i first looked at the sydney opera house in real life, all i could do was laugh. nothing to do with the architecture ... it was just how i felt upon seeing such an icon in real life. it had been a long time since i had seen such a thing for the first time. blase european that i think i am, the eiffel tower, the brandenburg gate, the tower of london ... old friends.

how did i get to be standing there? i flew from d.c. to los angeles (no memory how i got to d.c. from the valley), had a quick sugar-free ice-cream with leslie and lanlan in the airport, then 15 hours to sydney. it wasn't so long since the herniated disc problems, and so i had asked for a seat at the back of the plane so i could stand behind it and stretch during the flight. i got the seat, which was right next to the toilets, so i think i got to know everyone on the plane by the end. when deb collected me, it was first thing in the morning. "what would you like to do?" she asked. "the opera house," i mumbled in my sleep-deprived grogginess, "must take piglet pic at opera house." here it is.

day after day after day

i am back from the first set of interviews. washington state was quite beautiful, although the dirty grey snow back east and the brown stubble slowly emerging from beneath it is not really much competition for cherry blossom on the trees and daffodils all over. i flew back last night, which meant i kind of missed purim. sweeties at the one congregation gave me a bag of hamantaschen (all mohn as well, since i'd ranted about my purist preference at some point during the interview). aaaaah, bless.

i haven't really watched television since august. having been a complete junkie my whole life (i got my own tiny black and white portable for my batmitzvah, and my mother said i did not leave my room again for several years ... and that was when there were only 3 channels), i just never got round to getting cable service hooked up. strange things have happened since then - i have read a lot more books, and they were nothing to do with work. sometimes i go to bed before midnight and turn out the light and go to sleep. i have discovered delphine marcus on wmnr! nu - the hotel rooms i stayed in during the interviews all had tv with cable, and i did watch a bit now and then. i saw the movie 'matilda', which was fun, and most of the rest of the time the machine was on, i left it on cnn. do not like them, but they seemed preferable to the other alternatives i tested. thus, i am now an expert on the case of terri shiavo, if having heard about it afternoon, evening and morning may be a qualification. the main comment i remember is some viewer writing in to respond to the question: should the supreme court hear this case? the reply was: absolutely. after all, we have to ... day after day after day!

the blogosphere is overflowing with comments from all points of view. don't want to clog it up with another blog. simply, two issues for me: that of right to life/death, and the bush family's apparent ignorance of the separation of powers, e.g., government and judiciary, that are at the root of u.s. democracy. through maimon's blogspot, i floated around and landed on this quote from andrew sullivan's site:

"THE HYSTERIA MOUNTS: I'm beginning to wonder if the Republican party will soon oppose the whole concept of an independent judiciary. Just read William Bennett's screed in National Review. It contains the sentence: "It is a mistake to believe that the courts have the ultimate say as to what a constitution means." Bennett and his co-author argue that Jeb Bush should send in state troops to reinsert the feeding tube and break the law if necessary. Screw the science. Screw the court system. Screw the law. I disagree with Jonah that this is a minor spat with no long-term consequences. We are looking directly at the real face of contemporary Republicanism. Sane, moderate, thoughtful people are watching this circus and will not soon forget it."

where are the sane, moderate, thoughtful people? "if you're not with me, you're agin me!" seems to be the message of the moment: if you won't fight for this woman's life, then you must be an advocate for murder; and if you won't acknowledge that euthanasia is morally permissible, then you must be a right-wing religious nut. all er nuthin. one more quote i found interesting:

"QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Here's the question I ask of these right-to-lifers, including Vatican bishops: as we enter into Holy Week and we proclaim that death is not triumphant and that with the power of resurrection and the glory of Easter we have the triumph of Christ over death, what are they talking about by presenting death as an unmitigated evil? It doesn’t fit Christian context. Richard McCormick, who was the great Catholic moral theologian of the last 25 years, wrote a brilliant article in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1974 called "To Save or Let Die." He said there are two great heresies in our age (and heresy is a strong word in theology — these are false doctrines). One is that life is an absolute good and the other is that death is an absolute evil. We believe that life was created and is a good, but a limited good. Therefore the obligation to sustain it is a limited one. The parameters that mark off those limits are your capacities to function as a human." - Jesuit theologian Rev John J. Paris, on how the religious right is deploying heresy in its absolutism in the Terri Schiavo case. I couldn't agree more. What some of these people are about is not respect for life, but its fetishization."

again from andrew sullivan's page. not that one must die asap to get to the next level since it is going to be so much better, but for those with a strong belief in an afterlife in heaven with god, jesus and the angels, well ...

Thursday, March 17, 2005

piglet eiffel

piglet eiffel
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
trying to pack clothes for a two-interview trip is not fun. would rather consider the comment from the kotsker i think it was that abc showed me when we studied yesterday: do not put on a false face in front of the One who has no face - it is idolatry.

still working on the idolatry part in terms of understanding it. still working on not putting on a false face in terms of learning how to be real as much of the time as i can. love the concept that god has no face - that way no one person or group may claim that they are the only ones made in god's image.

so - off for a week for these interviews ... arrive back on purim, but late in the evening so i shall not be able to celebrate. decided it would not be a good idea to try and get on the plane dressed as a persian :-)

as for piglet eiffel ... the first of two or three fun shots from a trip to paris a couple of years ago. enjoy!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

loft piglet

loft piglet
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
big game for qpr tonight. i was so excited yesterday and settled down to follow it online. o dear. did better than john mcc who went all the way to acton station before he figured it out. if we win, we are actually back in playoff contention. not so far away from promotion, which would mean playing the manures and chelscums and being seen by americans on their cable tv. nice dream. and i may dream it until 4:45 pm est today! in honour of this, i post this shot of piglet at mecca, actually sitting in the loft upper tier, watching my beloved r's playing chesterfield i think it was. uuuuu rrrrr's

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

die dreidel die

still in a bit of denial, and psyching up for massive job interviews in the next couple of weeks, so more refuge in the past tonight, and the worst car story of all.

there is a demon that lives on interstate 81 just outside of syracuse, ny. the day my grandmother died, a sheet of water thrown up by a speeding semi sent me and a rented car slamming into the guard rail. i walked away, and my mother said that omi took my place. some years later, in almost the exact same spot, another 18-wheeler overtook me and, as it cut in front of me, clipped the corner of the car and sent me spinning into the concrete divider, the back of the corolla concertina-ed up against it. as i walked away from the wreck, i remember looking back and seeing red liquid seeping from the car and thinking wow - somebody shot my car! i was a little dazed. next i am in the back of an ambulance (wow - my first ambulance!) immobilised on a backboard with some guy asking me stupid questions like 'how old are you?' and 'what do you do?' 'i'm a rabbi,' i said. 'really?' he replied, 'ian, the driver, is jewish. i'm not, but i can sing the dreidel song!' and he did. for a long time. i was tied down, and could do nothing about it. had i mentioned that it was memorial day? several months before chanukah. to this day i cannot hear that song without breaking into a cold sweat. in fact, some years later when i took my second ride in an ambulance (toxic reaction to painkillers prescribed for an herniated disc), after the fuss was over janet had something interesting to tell me. apparently, the ambulance lady had told her that throughout the ride across the 'burg i kept pointing at her and hissing 'don't you DARE sing!'.

i've avoided i-81 by syracuse ever since

piglet blarney

piglet blarney
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
I cannot believe that this picture was taken fifteen years ago. i'd just passed my driving test and decided that i needed a holiday and the only way i could afford it would be to cover the england b football match against the republic in cork ... 2 qpr players were in the squad and so getting the pix in the programme would cover the cost of the trip. i just rooted out the travel diary from then. here's a bit about the first time i ever drove solo:

"i got a car i got a car HURRAH! (she got a car). a blue ford fiesta. With a choke (a what? took me 15 minutes to find it). now i understand why you should've been driving for at least a year (ed: before being allowed to rent a car).

so i got in the car, started it, they'd left it in gear so i hit the kerb ... secretly sure they knew i'd only just passed and were watching through the office window. i did the mature thing and banged my head against the steering wheel. i found the manual. i switched off the rear wipers. i found the choke YAAAAAY. but what do you do with it? so i went back and said it must've been freezing last night and the car was cold and if it were my car i'd be tough on it but cos it wasn't would they start it so they did and off i went!"

plus ca change, eh.

but this post is about the piglet pic ... what does the diary say about blarney castle?

re kissing the blarney stone: "you really have to hang down backwards with the little old man holding your waist and legs. It's not REALLY dangerous cos there are a couple of metal bars to stop you falling 80 feet but being upside-down with no glasses on and the stone being that little bit further than you think it's kinda nerve-wracking"

the hand you see belongs to an unfortunate woman named laura who wove in and out of the story of the trip.

Monday, March 14, 2005

empire state piglet

empire state piglet
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
a sad shot now, rather than the sentimental one it was originally. i like how piglet's ears are in line with the trade centre towers. a teeny dark spot to the right in the water is liberty island with the statue of course, and right at the front under piglet's left ear you can see the flatiron building.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

sugar windows

abs was not convinced that sugar glass windows existed outside the confines of my mind. i found some info via google:

* Sugar glass premiered in early action movies. Actors, instead of crashing painfully through real window glass, dove into large sheets of candy glass. When shattered, these softer and safer "windows" broke into large shards, giving an authentic broken glass effect. Today, stunt-movie windows are made of plastic and wax.

abs also worried about the shards. she was right about that. and i need to update my stunt-movie trivia!

a penthouse in egypt with a view of the river

breaking up is hard to do, let alone write about, let alone publish in cyberspace ... so it's time to change the subject (shout out to abs) slash return to denial here is an utterly random item about me and cars:

I guess it all started when i took the moped class instead of the simulated driving lesson as a post o-level bonus at school. Not that the bike lesson went all that well: inching along tentatively at about one foot per minute, I evoked a hitherto unseen aggression in our instructor. “Turn your wrists!” he shouted, “move it!” And I did. And I shot off out of the car park and onto brook green. I was heading straight for Hammersmith Broadway. I had no idea how to stop. Luckily the instructor grabbed a bike from another student, raced after me, and knocked me over onto some grass. Perhaps I am generally vehicularly-challenged. I am certainly ignorant, inexperienced and innocent when it comes to cars, bikes, all things with engines.

For example, a couple of years ago I asked one of my students if the little oilcan flashing on my dashboard meant anything important. "When was the last time you changed your oil?" she asked. "I have never changed my oil," I replied. "How many miles do you have on your car?" she asked. "About 36,000 I think." She became a whirlwind. It was my turn to learn. First of all, I had to learn how to open the bonnet of the car. I knew about the lever you pull inside, but had no idea that there was also a little button you had to press on the bonnet itself. "How could you go that many miles and never change your oil!" she cried. I told her that I had thought that the guys who did the annual state test on the car and told me what needed to be fixed would have told me to change the oil if it needed it. So I learned how to change my oil. Then I drove behind her to Jiffy Lube so the car could have an immediate check-up. I sat in the waiting-room, and a procession of weeping men paraded different parts of my car before me. "Look at this!" "Look what you did!" "How could you let this happen?!" It had almost as strong an effect on me as seeing the x-ray of the evil gums at the periodontist.

The thing is - how am I supposed to know this stuff? I can get you anywhere in London using the Tube without seeing a map, including which car to stand in to be nearest the exit. I can tell you all about Abraham and the idols; who won the FA cup most every year since ww2 ... the four-letter word for the entrance to a coal mine and all the words to ‘Gee Officer Krupke’ from West Side Story. When I lived in the Shenandoah Valley, all my friends rotated their own tyres, detailed the insides of the car, changed the batteries and designed space rockets. I panicked the other day because all the dashboard lights were out ...turns out that my energetic use of armorall wipes had turned a small dial to the left. I went to evil wal-mart to buy car wax, and came back with many terry towels and some Harry Potter lego. I have a masters degree in hebrew literature, and a plastic dashboard bobblehead diva that knows more about carburetors than I do.

We did grow up with a car. It belonged to the synagogue, and my mother was the only one allowed to drive it. My father taught her to drive in his strawberry-pink Nash Rambler with the rusted-out bottom through which you could check whether you were straying into the other lane. When we came to England, he just had to pass the sight test to get a license. “Can you read the number-plate on that car over there, sir?” they asked him. He replied, “there’s a car over there?”

My favourite car was ODH 197K. She was a purple ford cortina estate, and she loved us. She would wink at me through the chrome frame of the passenger window. In the end, she gave her life for us. Driving us home from a summer in the south of France, my mother felt something loose underneath her seat banging up and down. The french mechanic she consulted in Dijon said that to drive any further would cause the car to blow up. But ODH got us all the way to a hotel near Orly airport. We were tired and grateful. As the car was being unloaded, my father put the only copy of the manuscript he had written that summer in a safe place. Later, from the hotel room window, we watched him chasing pieces of white paper across the tarmac. The next day it took us 6 hours to get to Calais, but ODH got us there. We waited in line for the last hovercraft across the channel that evening. The loaders are mathematical wizards. They park the cars in a way that fits the most into the least amount of space. The hovercraft was nearly full, and the man in charge realised that two cars behind us would fit better than dear ODH. As he waved them towards the entry hatch, my father leapt out of the car and stood in their way. We got on. We reached Dover late in the evening, and there it was that ODH died. There was a rail strike going on, and no cars for hire, and as we headed to a small b&b with pink nylon sheets and kippers, I can still see the tow truck dragging her away.

piglet gates

piglet gates
Originally uploaded by ravaj.
on the one fine day amid sleet & slush & snow & storm i happened to be in the city and not too far from the park, so i went with the pig and the digital camera to see what all the fuss was about. everyone else had a camera too, and we were all checking out angles and waiting for the breeze to blow the curtainy bits into interesting shapes. at some point, i noticed the shadow, and thought 'aha!' haven't had a successful shadow pic of piglet yet. took several. was so pleased with myself that i did not notice the camera-strap hanging down over the lens. o foolish wench. i have managed to crop most of it out, but you can see a bit of it still bottom right. rather annoying. hopefully it hasn't spoilt the shot too much.

Saturday, March 12, 2005


It began with a dream. It may not, however, have been a dream. I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. I thought it was real at the time, because I was sitting on the sofa in my office listening to my cellphone. I heard a voice on the other end, and I knew it was him. “Daddy!” I said. “No,” he replied. I know his voice, I’ve heard it all my life. “Albert?” “I am not Albert,” he said, “my name is Lev.” There was interference on the line, as a text message tried to arrive, and he began to fade out. I tried to get his number, but wasn’t quick enough. “We’ll talk again,” I heard him say. And then Penny the book-keeper woke me up. I was on the sofa in my office.

The thing is, I don’t dream like that. I’m a bit of a smart-arse, and am pretty sure that if this experience came from my subconscious it would have been much more clever. “I am Martin Buber!” the voice would’ve said, and sent me to the bookshelves in search of I-Thou. I would then figure out the subtle meaning, ponder upon the concept of connection, and be pleased about how smart I am. But things are different now. Albert is dead. And he said his name is Lev. He named it all with that one word: Heart. Not my style at all. It was, however, a message for me.


I am a rabbi, and have been for almost ten years. My father, too, was a rabbi. I asked him now and then if he believed in God. He did. I wished I could believe like he did.

When I applied to rabbinical school, nobody asked if I believed in God. It was not until an elective in advanced homiletics in the fourth year that the question arose. Rabbi Malino had palsied hands and spoke quite slowly. One might think that taking his class would yield three easy credits. At the beginning of the first class he asked us: “How many of you believe in God?” We looked around at each other, uncertainly. We all raised our hands, haltingly. “Nu,” he continued, “what does that mean? What is God to you?” We sat in silence. One student spoke boldly: “God is my Rock!” she exclaimed. “And what does that mean?” the rabbi responded, “that you sit on Him?” The following week, more than half the students did not return to the class.

Now I sit at the table with the bar and bat mitzvah students. 150 students this year. 182 next year. I have thirty minutes to connect with each one, to suggest what it means to be a child of commandment in the world in which she lives. The conversation focusses on the potential and strength that she has, and what she may do with this power. “What is the purpose of the mitzvot?” I ask. “A lot of people think they are the Jewish rules telling the Jewish things that Jewish people do to be Jewish.” The student nods. “Actually,” I continue, “that’s not what it’s about at all. Actually,” I say, “they have one main purpose, and that is all. We pay attention to the commandments because they will teach us how to be a mensch. You know what is a mensch?” The student shakes her head. I ask the parent. She says, “a person you can count on.” I bang my fist on my chest. She continues, “a person with a good heart.” “Exactly!” I cry. “Look around at the people you know - in school, at camp, wherever you go. Some are good at math, and others stink at it. Some run really fast, and others can’t. Some are really musical, and others aren’t. You can always work hard to improve yourself, but there doesn’t seem to be any logical reason why some people get to be gifted and others do not.” The student nods again. “The thing is,” I say, “there is one thing that everybody gets the same. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are. It doesn’t matter what colour your skin is, or where you are born, or in which religion they bring you up. Everyone gets a heart. Everyone. And everyone gets the power to develop it into a good heart. You only lose that power if you let go of it. Tell me,” I say, “ do you know the difference between right and wrong?” “I think so,” she says. “Do you understand that there are consequences to your choices and your actions?” “Yes,” she says firmly. “Then you are ready,” I say. “It is time for you to accept the responsibility for the continuing development of your heart, to become a bat mitzvah, and a mensch.

I wish I had more time. If the next student doesn’t show up, perhaps we may go on to talk about God. What will I say? “Let’s talk about air!” I may say. “When you woke up this morning, were you glad to see the air was still there? Before you went to bed last night, did you worry in case the air would be gone in the morning?” I'll talk about how we know that without air we die, yet, unless we are underwater, or going into outer space, we assume that it will be there. We cannot see, nor smell, nor hear, nor taste, nor feel it; yet we know it is there and that our bodies live because of it. We do not question this. What then of our souls? Whoever decided that they don’t need nourishment and maintenance also, just like our bodies? A hebrew word for the soul is neshama. The same word also means breath. Could it be that God is to our souls like air is to our bodies? Our senses cannot detect God, yet without God our souls would be dead. Why do we question this?