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Sunday, December 21, 2008

I just realized that I really miss science. Before I fell in love with teaching, I and many of my friends were sure I would end up in some field of science, like medicine or biochemical research or something. Science has always held a special fascination for me.

This semester I had to go back and take a core science class that I'd missed earlier. As the students to my right and left scribble notes about cellular functions, protein synthesis, and genetic mutations, I sit spellbound -- if not agape, then muttering "Incredible! O G-d, You are unbelievable!" I ponder the intricacies of the world's structures, so elegantly producing innumerable outcomes, and realize that no matter how much explaining you do, the bottom line is always a miracle.

That is what I miss about science.

I'm not sorry I put science aside to go into teaching. First of all, teaching allows me opportunities to transmit my passion to students while keeping up my own learning. Secondly, I don't think I have the patience for science. The more you discover, the more you realize how much is still unexplained. But still, it's nice to keep an eye on it.

I was so excited to find this video of R' Avigdor Miller's classic shmeuss about appreciating nature. Ever since becoming familiar with his works, I have always regretted not knowing about this gadol in his lifetime. Being able to see his face and hear his voice is a gift.

This lesson is particularly timely as Chanukah approaches. One of the key lessons of Chanukah is appreciating the "small" miracles of everyday life. The great miracles open our eyes to G-d's prescence, and then we can begin to see it in everything. This is one reason why we celebrate for eight days. The menorah had enough oil for the first day, so one could argue that the miracle began on the second day and we should only be celebrating seven days of Chanukah. However, the realization that HaShem is the one keeping the menorah burning makes us recognize that even the natural burning of oil is a miracle designed by HaShem and performed on a regular basis.

So as Chanukah nears and finals approach, take a deep breath and catch a miracle in action!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- Part VIII: Two Weeks

B"H with the help of many bloggers and other friends, my Team Lifeline fundraising goal has been reached! I have replaced all my links with various other ways of donating to Chai Lifeline. Sponsorships can still be made at

Special thanks to:
and, of course, Anonymous.
I couldn't have done it without you!
And now, for today's feature presentation:
When I got to Camp Simcha this summer, I was surprised to notice a beautiful new building gracing the southern hill. It was surprising because just a few weeks earlier, all I had seen there was a pile of sticks.

Two weeks later, as I dragged my duffel up the same hill, I was surprised to see that it had become a verdant lawn. It was surprising because just two weeks earlier, in the wake of the construction, it had been a sandy lot.

When I got to the top of the hill, I was surprised to see the dining room filled with lighthearted, giggling girls. It was surprising because just two weeks earlier, many of these had been insecure, disheartened young women.

When I entered the dining room, I was surprised to see these girls hugging and bonding like the closest of sisters. It was surprising because just two weeks earlier, most of these had been total strangers.

Camp Simcha is full of surprises.
Help make it happen by sponsoring the Linns in the TeamLifeline marathon! They're doing double time so they really need your support!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Just Wondering...

... why, when the economy fails, education is one of the first things to go.
Last week a public school teacher I know called in sick. Two weeks ago, standard operating procedure would be to call the subbing placement office and get someone to administer the teacher's carefully prepared emergency sub plans. Last week, due to budget cuts, there was no more money for subs. The class was split up into groups and dispersed among the other grades to do busywork in back of the classes. That's an entire school disrupted and 20 kids' day wasted.
It's not as if there's nothing else to cut. My proposal is here somewhere, but you will have to sit through my rant to get there. Sorry :-)
You may already know that I'm a teacher. An unemployed teacher. Why? Because the department of education is overstaffed. The teacher shortage is a myth. What's more, with the budget cuts firmly in place, schools are reluctant to hire highly qualified teachers because we cost more. Now, the union pay scale is a wonderful thing for ensuring that teachers don't get grossly underpaid, but this is where it backfires. Most of the people I know who are first getting their education degrees now have opted not to earn their master's degrees, even though they were originally planning to do so for professional development, because it would put them in a higher pay bracket before they've had a chance to make enough friends in high places. The higher pay for master teachers was originally instituted to encourage teachers to become more highly qualified. Whatever!
Despite this state of affairs, the department of education inexplicably continues to perpetuate the teacher shortage myth. Subway ads in prime locations wax sentimental about the joys of teaching in city schools. Adding insult to injury, Teaching Fellows continues to recruit career changers and pay for their graduate education and teacher certification. This means that instead of paying qualified teachers to do what they have always wanted and trained to do (on their own tab), they are paying unqualified people from a variety of other fields to teach kids and earn master's degrees of their own. Mind, these people would not pay for my master's degree, because I have always wanted to be an educator and this program is for career-changers.

OK, so why don't you punish people for their willingness to invest in the education of your children by making them struggle and pay for their certification while giving their jobs to people whose majors were in engineering or somesuch. Of course, if you do that you will have to provide them with mentors and support and all that, because after all they only had maybe twelve credits in education before they hit the classroom. You're also taking a gamble that they will cop out after the requisite two years (usually in your worst schools, a real turn-on), realizing that engineering really was their calling after all.
So here's your answer for keeping more money in education where it belongs.
First of all, cancel all those ridiculous subway ads, and give the space back to people who can afford it, like Bud Light. When demand for teaching jobs is high and supply is low, there is no need to advertise.
Secondly, cut funding for Teaching Fellows. You don't need to cut ALL of it, but a good lot can go. You don't need the teachers. You do need the money. So keep the money and let the career-changers pay at least some of their own way.
With the savings from the above, put qualified teachers in the schools that need them. This might cost money, but you do generally get what you pay for. I'm not saying all teachers in high salary steps are worth their salt, but for the most part they had to learn something to get there. You probably end up with more efficiency in the long run. And more achievement, because in education there are some concerns besides the money.
You know, I'd rather have a job and get a little less for it. Especially if it means that the money will be spent on education instead of subway ads. And that's just the one example I could think of offhand. There are innumerable other inefficiencies going on.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

EXTRA: Shidduch Crisis Explained!

Folks, you've been waiting a long time for this, but keep on reading because tonight the real reason behind the shidduch crisis will be explained to you. And I have a revelation for you: It's not because the boys are too picky. It's not because the girls are too picky. It's not the mothers, either, and it has nothing to do with the age gap.

You may be surprised to know that the Crisis was sown thousands of years ago, although it has first come to light in our generation as it grows to critical proportions. It began in last week's parsha and you have your own matriarch to blame. See, Leah was supposed to have a boy (says Rashi). A Boy! Is he handsome? Is he Available? No, no... she prayed some and had a girl instead. A Girl! Now, we've all heard that each of Yaakov's sons was born with a twin girl, creating a very well-balanced shidduch scenario for the Jewish nation. So the birth of this girl, who may also have come with a twin girl, threw off the entire equilibrium. We all know that the book of Bereishis is based on "Maaseh avos siman levanim" and sure enough, this deed of praying for an extra girl has echoed and amplified through the ages.

To take it further, just look in this week's parsha at what happened to Dina. The OTD Crisis has now been explained as well.

All kidding aside, now, I really have discovered another factor to blame for our shidduch difficulties:
There are boys. There are girls. There are people who are just right for each other.
... and no one is introducing them.

Seriously, the whole shadchan scenario is a myth perpetuated by Yiddish theater. I have been eligible for a while and actively seeking for over a year and I can't even get a shadchan to sneeze in my direction. I and various family members have called about 20 different shadchanim, every number we could get, and not one was interested in even hearing my name. Most were out of business, some were "specialists," some were wrong numbers, others were just rude.

A small survey of married friends reveals that almost none met their husbands through a shadchan. The majority were introduced by relatives or close friends.

The question remains as to what should happen when one's relatives and friends, for whatever reason, are unable to procure prospective suitors. Without shadchanim, what are those from small families, small towns, different backgrounds, and friends who get married and drop off the planet supposed to do?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Small World

As I washed my face last night
It suddenly hit me:
Right now
As I follow my routine
Someone's life is on the line in Mumbai
And countless other things are happening
Around the globe
And next door.
It's a BIG world...

I took out my Tehillim
And prayed
For a brother and sister
I've never met.
And the world feels small and cozy

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


The school year was coming to an end and I celebrated a job well done by taking my students out for ice cream. As I watched David calmly make his selection, I had a rare flashback to September...

Hoping to start off the year on a positive note, I'd worked out an incentive plan that would have all the kids earning rewards within the first few days. Positive expectations are for the birds -- It took the most cooperative kid more than two weeks. (I quickly learned to use smaller increments, but you do need to stick to your word before you can safely change the plan...)

I made a big deal of letting David choose his reward, hoping to reinforce him as well as encourage the more behaviorally-challenged kids to catch up. But for some reason, David didn't seem so excited. His eyes kept darting away from my enticing array of colorful school supplies. Finally, they settled on me.

"Teacher," he pleaded earnestly, "which one should I take? The blue or the green?"
"You can have whichever one you want, David. You earned it."
"But which is nicer, Teacher?"
"They're both beautiful. Choose one that you like."
But David either didn't know what he liked or couldn't trust himself enough to choose it, even after I assured him that he could pick one at the time and earn the other the next week. After casting another frantic look around, he took the blue pencil back to his seat. Moments later...
"Teacher, I changed my mind. I want the green one."
It broke my heart (which was in tatters by June) but I knew what had to be done. David had to learn to respect his own decisions.
"David, you made a fine choice. You're going to enjoy the blue pencil and draw great pictures with it. I'm confident that you can earn another prize next week and add the green one to your collection."

He gave me another look of desperation, but I kept my face steady and prayed that he wouldn't get depressed over the incident. True to my word, he drew prolifically with the blue pencil and was proud of his prize as the other students looked on enviously.

"No! I want the chocolate kind of sprinkles. Thank you."
Never before had I been so delighted to spring for a sprinkle cone...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Forgive me

Forgive me
if I didn't sound
when you told me
your news.
I'm happy for you
I really am.
It's just that
last year
as I held your
close to me
I closed my eyes
for a moment
and dared to dream
that the next one
would be mine.
And you've just told me
that it won't be.
So forgive me
if I don't sound
I'm happy for you
I really am
and I'll smile
for you
But tonight, I know,
when I hang up the phone
when I can be alone
I'm first
going to cry
for me.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- Part VII

Since I can't share most of my camp photos, I figured at least this one I may as well put up...
That's the Chai Lifeline/Camp Simcha logo. In watermelon.

The Camp Simcha/Special kitchen staff does not only prepare fresh, yummy, nutritious food for the whole camp -- they also go out of their way to dream up any little touch that they think might make a kid smile... and whet their appetite!
This job goes beyond simple sustenance. Many of the campers are underweight or need constant nourishment to keep their struggling bodies going. However, their appetites are iffy due to various conditions or medications. As you've probably read in Miracle Ride, chemo can give people crazy cravings ... and some kids just miss their mommy's food. (In one episode, camp staff called a camper's mom in Israel for her daughter's favorite recipe...)

Whatever the situation, the Camp Simcha kitchen has it covered. Parents can rest assured at home, knowing that their child won't have any problem getting his or her dietary needs met.

Help keep the kitchen stocked!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- Part VI

Natasha comfortably slid onto the stool beside the pottery wheel. It was her fifth year in Camp Simcha, and she already knew the ropes. A workshop head joined her and began to offer her some ideas .
"Would you like to make a vase? A bowl?" She showed her some of the beautiful pieces that other campers had finished.
But Natasha already knew what she wanted.
"Candles," she said. "I will make candles for Shabbat."
So the "pot heads" helped her craft a perfect pair of ceramic candlesticks, possibly a first for them, too. And Natasha took them home, carefully wrapped, so that she could continue to light Shabbos candles as she'd done in camp.
Camp Simcha is not a kiruv camp. Kids from irreligious backgrounds are allowed to be themselves, no one tries to push yiddishkeit on anyone there. Nevertheless, being surrounded by so many mitzvos and so much ahavas Yisrael creates an indelible impression upon everyone who is privileged to walk the grounds. Sometimes it is more immediately visible, other times the impact is more subtle. It is there. For some, it's their only connection to practicing Jews.
Natasha did not have any religious education. She barely even spoke English. But she felt her counselors' love and caring so deeply that she wanted to become more like them. Realizing that all of her adored staff members wore skirts, she bought some extra skirts to bring to camp. Eventually she started wearing them more during the year as well. At meals, she asked her counselor to wash and say the blessing with her. And of course, every Shabbos she lit the candles.
She's not alone. Over my years on staff, I've seen many Jewish sparks aroused -- not through sermons or missionizing, but through fun, friendship, and caring. Ellaine made herself a siddur cover in leather shop, and found a transliterated siddur in the camp shul to grace with it. (Now she's called Elana -- in camp, at least). A teen who may, at home, be considered "on the fringe" herself leads a group of unaffiliated bunkmates in the bracha on the Shabbos candles. Girls in shorts and sleeveless tops walk through the campgrounds singing "Everybody wants Moshiach..." Sophie wished me a "Happy Rosh Hashana," though she probably never celebrated it herself. After participating in Menucha's bat mitzvah party in camp, Jenny decided she wanted a bat mitzva, too (and made herself a tallit for the occasion in arts 'n' crafts!)...
And Katie learned quickly that while no one had heard of her hometown, she could put herself on the "Jewish Geography" map by saying she lives "near Lakewood." ;-)

Please help support Camp Simcha and Simcha Special by sponsoring me in the Team Lifeline marathon!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Last year

Just re-linking to last year's Yom Kipur post, because I like it and don't want it to get lost in the retired blog.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- Part V

The sun had just set over the placcid lake [pictured above -- click to enlarge] on the last night of camp. Everyone sat around the main lawn, huddled together against the August chill, waiting for the evening's program to begin. Lori caught my eye and mouthed something. I knew what to do

On three, both of us, equally un-musical, belted out an opening line. By the time we finished, the singing spirit had spread across the crowd and a powerful voice filled the air as fireworks sparkled overhead.

Simcha magic, feel it in the air
Can't explain it, just know that it's there
Simcha magic, what a feeling,
it's hard to believe
I'm gonna take it home with me!

It wasn't until mid-winter that I discovered how powerful that moment had been. For both me and Lori, it was one of those long and lonely years, full of the kind of transitions that pull you away from familiarity and into uncharted places. But some nights, lying awake in bed on the other side of the country, Lori would think back to that magical moment in Camp Simcha. She would feel the power of being the one to set the tone (not her natural type) and the warmth of all those voices backing her up. At those times she knew that she had the power within her to stand up to all that life was throwing her way. She knew that wherever she was and whatever was going on, she had a whole family who would always be there, somewhere, for her.

14-year-old Lori couldn't articulate those feelings quite so simply. But I am pretty sure I understood exactly how she felt, because that moment did the same thing for me.

Please support Camp Simcha and Simcha Special by sponsoring me in the Team Lifeline marathon!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

L'chaim -- To Life!

I want to share with you what is still my favorite piece of Yomim Nora'im perspective, no matter how many times I hear it. I don't even know what source to cite here, because I've heard this so many ways, but it is perfect every time.

We've all asked HaShem for life many times over the past week, and we will continue to do so until the books go back on the shelf on Hoshana Rabah. You know, the books -- in which the righteous are immediately inscribed for life, the evil go straight to death, and the rest, well, the rest wait and see.
At least, that's what they told you in grade school. But did you really buy it? People die during the Ten Days. Regular people. OK, maybe they weren't perfect, but... evil? So evil as to be inscribed for immediate death? And we know, too, that evil people have lived through multiple Yom Kippurs. Hitler, for example, lasted long enough.
So what is one to think, as you stand in shul and offer possibly your most heartfelt prayers: "G-d, I'm too young to die!"

What is life?
If life is a combination of biochemical processes, then indeed we have a conflict here between Hebrew-school legend and observable fact.
Perhaps life for a bacterium is a mere set of biochemical processes. However, Life for a Jew is so much more. Life is your neshama growing. Life is moving closer to HaShem.
And Life doesn't end when the body stops, either. Chazal say, "The righteous, even after they die, are considered alive. And the evil, even during their lifetime, are considered dead." Because life without spirituality is not Life. And a spiritual life never ends. The soul never dies.

Not only does this translation resolve the apparent conflict, it also takes much of the guesswork out of the judgement process. For who besides you can decide whether you will live in spirituality? It's not so much a matter of "Please don't kill me, G-d!" as "Sign me up for Life!" You can decide where you want to go. The Days of Awe aren't a time for you to be picked up like a piece of junk and tossed onto one pile or the other -- "keep or toss." They're a time of clarity, for you to remember what your options are and re-commit to Life. A time for you to come back, realize which of your past actions were veering off track, and to set yourself straight again.

Teshuva? Of course I regret those actions which took me further from Life!
Chatasi -- I erred. Like an arrow that misses its mark -- I meant well but went off-target.
I stumbled. I was on the right path but something got in my way that I hadn't anticipated. I'll be more careful now.
I went astray. I thought I could take a shortcut, or a scenic route, and still get to Life. Now I realize that it's been right here for me all along.

G-d, sign me up for Life! Because life without You is not Life at all.

Monday, September 29, 2008


Just checking in to wish you all a new year filled with the best of everything. May you be zoche to reach all of your lofty new-year goals this year!

Also, as I've gotten to know many of you better this year, the potential for accidental insults has risen dramatically... Please, please forgive me!

Even with all the judgement-day fear in the air, I'm so excited! This is one of my favorite times of year (I have a lot of them...) HaShem is so close and all He wants is for us to spend time appreciating Him. After the ten days, I feel so cleansed and ready to go into Sukkos, the yomtov of simcha, wholeheartedly. I love how the new year gives me a new chance to start over, hopefully starting from a better place than I was last year. So enjoy the yom tov, eat heartily, pray mightily, and emerge a better person!

(One thing that I find helps keep me positive is that at this time, I look back at the year as a whole. Not like a daily cheshbon hanefesh where you find all the little slips and trips -- when I look at the entire year a much rosier picture emerges of all I've accomplished. Try it!)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bas~Melech to Earth, come in please!

To the loyal readers out there, sorry for the long hiatus. This semester has hit me like a ton of bricks and temporarily disrupted my orbit of this Earth. I hope to return someday.

In other news, I have a cold. And I've realized something -- when I'm sick, life grinds to a halt. Now, granted, this is one really nasty cold. My head basically stopped working for a couple of days. So I called in to work sick, slept until noon, and cited Wikipedia as my only reference in all of my coursework. I turned off my phone because it hurt too much to talk, stopped counting calories and slurped shakes as fast as I could make them. I whined to anyone who would listen and did nothing around the house. So now I have work to make up, a dozen phone calls to return (I have never been this popular!), 5 pounds to lose, and a guilty conscience. (And I'm sitting here just blogging about it.)

All this reminded me of some friends I have who never feel as well as I do, yet they've made more of their lives than me even when I'm feeling great. Right, I'm back on the topic of my Simcha Special friends, because I can't get enough of them! Most live with chronic pain, many have breathing difficulties, limited mobility, and such, but they don't let that stop them. Wander into the beautiful library or beis midrash at camp, and you will find campers who rise in time to daven before breakfast every day. So many of the girls are full of smiles and bursting to share them with you. They never seem to be in too much of their own pain to think about others.

I think it's time I take a page out of their book and put aside my tissues to run a few laps around the block!

Please help give these kids a chance to live it up in Camp Simcha/Special by sponsoring me in the Team Lifeline marathon! Thank you, Apple, for your sponsorship.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- Part IV

Lifeguarding is hard work. Especially in a camp. How does one remain vigilant after spending hours outside in the summer heat? In Camp Simcha and Simcha Special, at least they have the benefit of making miracles daily.

Chemotherapy had bloated Leah's body beyond recognition. Movement was difficult for her; she almost never left her wheelchair, and talking, even smiling, was painful. To the casual observer, it would almost seem as if she could do... nothing.

Not in Camp Simcha.

We were surprised to see Leah accompany her bunk to the pool. But nothing could have prepared us for the transformation that happened after she was wheeled in one of the special pool chairs down the ramp (now where else have you seen a wheelchair-accessible swimming pool?) It was as if Leah's limbs had suddenly been released from the shackles that held them stiff all the time. Once in the water, she was able to move freely and even gracefully. For one hour, she was just like a regular, healthy kid!

The effects didn't end there, either. After drying off, Leah got to head back to the bunk with friends who saw that she, too, had talent. Friends who knew more than ever that she could be just like them. The kid who looked to "outsiders" like a silent lump in a chair had found her place to shine.

Though it may seem basic, the pool is actually a major part of the Simcha experience. Many campers, like Leah, are limited in their range of motion. In camp, they can come to the pool and break free of their uncooperative bodies every day. For various reasons, swimming is not usually accessible to many of the campers. However, with the medical team on call constantly and specially-trained staff, they can swim safely and securely.

Please help support Camp Simcha and Simcha Special by sponsoring me in the Team Lifeline marathon!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- Part III

Long before the first rays of summer warm the earth, before the countdown to vacation begins, before camp applications have even been mailed out... before school starts, a group of dedicated individuals are already planning the next summer in Camp Simcha.

It's no small feat. Anyone who's worked in camp administration, any camp, knows how much planning, creativity, and coordination goes into the summer program. Multiply that by the amount of medical concerns in Camp Simcha and you've got a task that can only be tackled by the greatest giants and the G-d they hang on to so tightly. Divide it by the budget and it might just border on impossible.

With the economy on a downslide, charitable organizations are some of the first to feel the burn. I sure don't envy the job of those who need to decide which sick child's dream to cut back on. But that was the very task the abovementioned individuals faced last winter as they pondered what made the biggest impact on the campers' Simcha experience.

The result they came up with after hours of discussions with the various people involved was somewhat surprising, if not entirely original: It's the little things that count. In fact, it turns out that one of the most memorable things about camp is the soda.

Throughout the beautiful Jack and Moishe Horn Campus, you will find about seven (IIRC) drink-vending machines. The price displayed on the LCD reads $0.00. Sure enough, one need only push a button to receive the desired beverage. Apparently, this phenomenon is way cooler than adults realize, because it's one of the first things that kids rave about when they come home. Thus it was decided that the soda would stay in the budget and some other, more glamorous activity would be cut.

Why am I telling you this now? Simply to help you understand that every little touch makes a difference. A soda can, at wholesale, costs about 70 cents. Each thrill that a kid gets from hearing one clunk out of a machine, ice cold on a sweltering summer day, costs 70 cents. For less than a buck, you can help a sick kid's dream come true. But why stop there? Why not make a hundred dreams come true? You don't need to wait to win the lottery and sponsor a building fund. Rest assured that whatever you can give will be stretched to the max, with teams of devoted people working to ensure that it is allocated in ways that will benefit the campers the most.

Please support Camp Simcha and Simcha Special by sponsoring me in the Team Lifeline marathon.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- Part II

When Sharon first came to Camp Simcha, she was a shy, frightened child. Little did the novice staff members realize what a sparkling personality she'd been just a few months earlier. Cancer had mercilessly stolen her confidence, self-esteem, energy... and her hair. She felt almost guilty for feeling this way, but at eleven years old, that mattered almost as much as the threat to her very life.

As one fabulous, fun-filled day followed another, Sharon slowly came out of her shell. She began to make friends with her bunkmates and allowed herself to let go and enjoy a variety of engaging activities. In Camp Simcha, it's normal to cover your head or have less hair, so Sharon felt a bit less self-conscious ... but still, while many campers began to hold their heads up proudly, Sharon's remained hidden beneath her bandanas. Even in the bunkhouse at night, where girls begin to feel comfortable and trust the privacy, Sharon would get under her blanket before slipping off her bandana, and sleep covered all night.

However, as strong as the effects of chemo and isolation, the Simcha Magic proved stronger. On the last day of camp, Sharon came by my office to display the headband she'd created in one of the crafts workshops ... on her own fuzzy head. Rumor had it she'd been walking around that way all day, garnering compliments on her new 'do.

Postscript: The next summer, Sharon returned to camp, golden locks framing her gaunt face. This time, she already knew to expect an atmosphere of love and acceptance, and did not have to warm up at all before diving headfirst into the camp experience ... and thus, not a moment of her last summer was wasted on lonely feelings of insecurity. The Simcha Magic carried her high until the very end.

Please support Camp Simcha and Simcha Special by sponsoring me in the Team Lifeline marathon!
Thanks ProfK, HalfShared, David Linn, and Juggling Frogs for your generous donations!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- See it. Hear it.

Here are two great, very real videos that were shown at previous Chai Lifeline dinners.

Another video (embedding disabled, sorry)

Support Chai Lifeline by sponsoring me in the Team Lifeline marathon!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Just wondering...

...why professors perpetuate the textbook conspiracy. What's in it for them?

Yes, it's that time of year again and I'm trying to sell my books. Only... I've just realized that for some it pays to just toss them in the recycling bin. After shipping and ebay commission, I'd be lucky to make a dime off of them.

OK, I can understand why the companies put out new books every year. They have to make a living somehow. But I am really annoyed at the professors who insist on assigning the newest versions. Rarely is there a significant difference between editions, and some things can't possibly have changed (medieval history? math?!) Why force your struggling students to buy spanking new books at $60 - $120 apiece when they'll be lucky to sell it for ten bucks next semester? Plus, they only devalue so quickly because the next semester, they're assigning a still newer edition.

It's highway robbery. Is there any way to stop it?

... just wondering.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- Part I

My mind was a fuzzy blank as I headed towards my first learning group in Simcha Special. It had seemed so simple when the smiling shiur head recruited me last night... but then I saw the topic and materials: Today's shiur was all about being happy with what you have.

I, a fortunate, healthy JAP, had always looked towards people like my new charges to remind myself that things could always be worse. How would I now address twenty adolescents, most of whom could not walk, eat, or even breathe without technological assistance, and make them feel lucky? I wanted to crawl into a hole and cry for all the pain contained within that one small room.
Feelings aside, it was time for shiur. I introduced myself and opened the discussion with a question: What makes you happy?

As the first few hands began to wave in the air, I nervously wondered what the replies might be. So many of the things a typical adolescent might answer were completely out of reach to these kids: funky shoes, pizza, and even, for some, friends.

My predictions turned out to be completely off-base as one girl after another offered:
"Coming to Camp Simcha Special makes me happy."
"I feel happy when my counselor calls me."
"Looking at my pictures from camp."
"Getting together with my bunkmates during the year."
"The pool!" (a place usually off-limits, as I may or may not explain in the future)
Others continued in this vein, with just a few deviations.

Never has it been clearer to me how Camp Simcha Special is truly a ray of sunshine when life seems so bleak. If this is one of the only things that makes these suffering kids happy, it is vital that we do everything in our power to help make it possible.

Support Camp Simcha and Camp Simcha Special by sponsoring me in the ING Miami Marathon.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- Intro

As you may know, I spent several summers volunteering at Camp Simcha and Simcha Special, the one-of-a-kind retreats for seriously ill Jewish children. The kids and staff are so amazing that every year I am inspired to go further in my efforts to join them in putting smiles back where they belong.

In fact, this year I've committed to go quite a few miles further than before -- I'll be joining Team Lifeline in the ING Miami half-marathon this January, iy"H. This way, not only do I go the distance for our kids, but I'm giving you all the opportunity to participate. I'll do the sweating, but please help out by sponsoring! To donate, follow the TeamLifeline link at the end of this post.
To help you understand what's so special about this cause, and in appreciation of your generosity, I am beginning a series of posts to give you an inside peek at the Camp Simcha experience. Every account is true in that it really happened, though I have altered identifying details and sometimes changed the point of view (i.e. don't assume that "I" is me)

One more note about identities... My TeamLifeline site is, of course, under my real name. Linking you to it was a difficult decision that I made only in the hope that it would enable many people to participate in this mitzvah. At this point, I'm OK with bloggers knowing who I am... sort-of... but I still don't want certain people to know that I blog. So please do not use my real name online or in conversations about blogging. I will be deleting the link after the marathon and resume trying to be an anonoblogger.

**Edit: Having reached my fundraising goal, with a lot of help from fellow bloggers and other friends, I am replacing my Team Lifeline link with a link to the regular Camp Simcha website. Please continue to help out; in trying times, organizations dependent on donations are hit hard!
You can enter a donation here.
Thanks in advance both for your generosity and for respecting my privacy.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Borrowed Post

Not that I have nothing of my own to say, but some things just beg to be shared.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


The beautiful
piece which
had been whole
and purely perfect
now lay
scattered slivers
on the hard
stone floor.

Sharp edges
gleam and glitter
scratches catch
an unseen light.

Insightful artists
brush aside the dust
pick up the pieces
and journey on
an uncharted

Artist's hands
move and do
but their work is shaped
by the personality
and destiny
of each

are anchored
into a
of whole.

From within the shards
of devastation
of art
Truly unique
it posseses
its own beauty.

Beauty altered
but not diminished.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Just wondering...

...why, with all the hunger and sickness and crises in this world, governments see fit to spend gadrillions of dollars on space missions that will not definitely result in practical benefits to humanity.

Do you know something about this? It's a muse I've had before... maybe I'm just missing something here... enlighten me in the comments, please.

(btw, note that I've added a new post tag Just Wondering. I'm hoping this will turn into a series and result in more of my thoughts being posted without waiting to be written up well.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Best Shadchanim Still Have Baby Teeth

Some claim that they (and you) are bound by the rules of the game.
Some pay attention to all the wrong things.
Some are discouraged and jaded by... well, see
ProfK's post.
Some simply lack the persistence to see you through all the hang-ups.

Tired of the classic shadchan scene?
Ever notice that kids pose none of those problems?

That's right, ladies and gents, the enterprising youths in your life could be the answer to your prayers.
Fortunately, I am blessed with quite a handful of children in my life. Intelligent, creative, persistent, adorable ones... with plenty of chutzpah. And they have the perfect boy for me... so they say.

The first few shidduchim they suggested had to get turned down for minor technical reasons -- namely, the suitors were either engaged already or waiting to graduate elementary school. But this one! This one is perfect. He knows how to play Sorry and Trouble; surely one can't ask for more.

As they sing his praises, there's a knock at the door. Dad opens it as we listen curiously from the den.
"Oh, hello Mr. Right!"
Not realizing that sound carries both ways, or maybe not caring, my pint-sized shadchan stage-whispers, "THAT'S HIM!!!"
Mr. Right goes on to explain how his hosts for Shabbos seem to have absconded, leaving him stranded for lunch, and Dad welcomes him in. He has unsuspectingly walked into a regular "bashow" (whatever that is.)

The menfolk sit down to talk Torah (ding! 1 point) while the women prepare lunch and the kids wait and watch with bated breath. Dad calls for kiddush and I find myself seated strategically opposite Mr. Right. Well, he doesn't look bad. Of course, as it was Shabbos, the only things we hear from each other for the next fifteen minutes or so are two amens apiece.
After hamotzie, I exit stage right to cut the fish while my dear little friend and aspiring shadchan helps mix a salad as he delicately makes conversation.

(The kid should be a head counselor -- he'll never have to worry when the megaphones malfunction.)

Seeing my hesitation (why do the witty comebacks only emerge when it's just too late to work?), his senior partner forges on.

Thoroughly pink by this time, I make a mental note to catch that kid and give him a little lesson in shidduch etiquette before re-entering the dining room. Meanwhile, I consider asking Mr. Right out for an evening, if only to make the kids shut up.

How's that for effective matchmaking?
Bonus: You don't even have to worry about tipping the shadchan. They'll be happy with a trip out for pizza or something.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Meet the Blo-- er, Author

The BasMelech Blog prides itself on providing you with the most up-to-date news (occasionally). However, this one had to wait -- I was too busy reading to blog. Or study. Or get ready for Shabbos. In fact, it was just as bad as the night I first found JACP's blog: Beneath all the requisite Artscroll mushiness, our beloved JACP laughs loud and clear, though tempered somewhat with age (now a ripe old 21, her status as a "little stinker" is in jeopardy).

But I'm getting ahead of myself. This news report is officially about the meet-the-author event to mark the debut of JACP's first (of several, I hope) published book, Miracle Ride. It could have been the best blogger meet of the year outside of SerandEz's home, except that some were early, some were late, all were rushing, and one was mobbed by fans.

For some, this would be the first meeting. Fortunately, at the last minute we figured out how we'd pick each other out in the crowd: JACP, the newcomer to IRL, would be the one sitting at a table signing books at a feverish pace. She, on the other hand, had no difficulty whatsoever in locating the rest of us. The conversation went something like this:

JACP: Hey! You must be the bloggers!
B4S: SHHHHHH! (Joined by Scraps and
Bas: Scary person -- how did you know?!
JACP: Dunno... well, the
way you were laughing...
Bas: Oh right, we must be the only ones with a
sense of humor here.

At that point I realized that we were probably supposed to put on a morbidly respectful air for the occasion of purchasing a book about cancer. Oh well, too late.

The overwhelming success of the book-signing event precluded my conducting an exclusive interview, which was really OK because the famous author had probably answered enough questions already for Gavriel Sanders, Nachum Segal, and her blog readers. Fortunately, the crowds parted just long enough for me ask the question that burned mightily in my mind:

The use of a pseudonym suggests that you do not want to be easily identified.
However, a book-signing is generally conducted by individuals seeking publicity.
How do you reconcile this paradox?

The reply, in short, involves money. While "Tzipi" originally intended to remain as anonymous as possible, having changed many of the details of her story for that purpose, others ultimately persuaded her to go the route that would likely result in the most books sold, getting the message out to a wide audience.

Don't worry too much about your lost anonymity, JACP. I happen to know that much of Brooklyn was talking about your book under your own name already a couple of nights before. In fact, they didn't even know the book's title, and might have had a hard time finding it by searching for your name (had not so many others known the truth as well). Fortunately, they were discussing it loud enough for me to intervene. You owe me one. :-P

What, you're still reading this? You nut! Go pick up Miracle Ride, you need a head start on it already because you won't be able to put it down anytime soon!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Beginning of the End

Five more weeks. I thought I'd never see the day...

It feels like June will never come, yet I know it lies in wait around the corner. It will pounce upon me, demanding not only finals and term papers, but this year also parent conferences, transitional planning meetings, progress reports, clean-ups, and goodbyes. And spring fever, of course. It will taunt me with unachieved goals, now lost forever in if only. It will clutch at my heart with fear of the future. I can already hear its tiptoeing steps, its bated breath...

So if any productive reflecting is to happen, it ought to be now.

If I had to pick one word to describe this year, it would have to be Full. Full of action. Full of frustration. Full of work. Full of people. Full of triumph. Full of heartbreak. Full of learning. Full of growing.

During this year I completed my transformation from student to teacher, though I realize now that I always have been and will be both.
I played a part in turning closed, defeated children into trusting, interactive personalities.
Although my students never ceased to frustrate me, I never ceased to love them... and I learned to like them, too. I feel like a quasi-mom.
I bit my tongue a thousand times and found strength in my silence.
I lost my patience once. Do I regret it? Maybe. But it showed two things: 1. I can slip up and things can still be OK afterward. 2. ONCE. (Now, BasMelech, don't count your chickens -- there are five more infuriating weeks left!) I guess I do have some patience, after all.
I gave more than I ever thought I had -- and found hidden reserves within me.
I learned a lot about who I am. And that's not as bad as I'd thought it would be.

The end is near.

As I handed in my resignation, I heard in my heart the clang of a heavy door slamming behind me. Why do I feel this sense of loss? I'm only gaining -- new opportunities, new life, about ten more hours each day... But you know me; I hate letting go... Or maybe it's fear of the unknown: What will next year's teachers do to these kids I've come to love so fiercely?

It's the end of a chapter, but the beginning of a new one. I'm definitely ready to close that exhausting chapter, but it wasn't all bad: As a result, the new one will be deeper, richer... and much better appreciated.

I hear the bolt slip into place with an ominous clunk. Accepting the finality, I look around and realize: I have not been locked into a forbidding prison, but thrust out into a wide world with many open doors.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On Parting

I may look dumb just smiling and nodding
but if I try to talk I'll only cry
After all the words that have been shared between us
at this time of truth I suddenly feel shy.

Maybe if you knew how much I'll miss you
if you knew how hard it is for me to leave
Then maybe you'd hold on a little tighter
and find just one more thing to say to me.

I know this parting moment has to happen
I only wish it wouldn't come so fast
The only thing to do is end it quickly --
it's the good times, not the pain, I wish would last.

Maybe if you knew how much I love you
if you knew how much it hurts to see you leave
Then perhaps you'd turn away a little slower
and leave a little more of you with me...

Monday, April 14, 2008


Get out your guitar and pick a tune (any one will do)...

I'm coming home
with a suitcase full of dreams
and I always know
that even though you seem
so far away
you're right here at my side
every day
and there's no place I can hide

So I'm coming home
with a suitcase full of hope
because alone
there's no way I can cope
but next to you
I feel sheltered from all harm
so let me through
to embrace your waiting arms

Because I'm coming home
with a suitcase full of love
it's time to show
that I've been thinking of
this journey home
every day, all day long
wherever I roam
I've been singing this song:

I'm coming home...

Wishing all of Klal Yisrael a safe, healthy, kosher, peaceful, uplifting, joyous, beautiful, special yom tov!


Friday, April 11, 2008

BasMelech Braves Brooklyn

Yes, yes, I know. Well, too late -- should have told me that yesterday.

I knew I was in trouble when I saw the streets paved with strollers. I don't think I have ever seen so many strollers in one place outside of Buy-Buy Baby. Seems everyone and her children were out shopping today. One store very wisely had a stroller-sitter out front: a nice way to prevent them from cluttering up the store while keeping the babies safe. (They still haven't found a way to keep the streets navigable and door accessible, but one thing at a time...)

Anyway, I finally got into a store...

Someone told me that black is no longer the most "in" color.

I should have known that sounded too good to be true.
My first thought was that I'd wandered into a non-Jewish funeral by mistake.
The second was, "Hey, I didn't realize nuns also got their clothes here!"

There wasn't just black.
There was black-on-black.
Black with black trim.
Black lace on black on black.
Black on black with a side order of black,-hold-the-color-but-give-me-some-extra-black-to-go.

When I finally found something worth trying on, I was nearly blinded by the whiteness of the hanger. Can you believe it? White, at least, is coming back to Brooklyn. It's not color, but it's a start.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I didn't take it off the hanger until I reached the dressing clos-- er, rooms. Chasdei HaShem, there was one available right away. It took me a while to figure that out, though, because each one was so full of discarded clothes that it was difficult to tell whether there was actually a human in there. After all, they were all the same col -- er, black.

It seems I wasn't the only one who had that difficulty. During my visit to the dressing room, the curtain was pulled open more than once by unsuspecting customers ("Shaindy?...oops." "Is someone -- oh!") who received an impromptu lesson on alternative methods of locating empty spaces and friends ;-P.

After deciding that maybe I could get used to the black look, especially if it really is going out (heh?) and I wouldn't be identical to every girl in Brooklyn, I finally found what I was looking for: the price tag. My face promptly turned a lovely shade of green just perfect for offsetting the distinctive black tones of the outfit. Now, I don't go shopping often, so I may be out of touch with inflation rates. All I know is that my bank account hasn't inflated one bit.

Anyway, I think that's about enough tongue-in-cheek griping for one trip. Of course, there's more to tell but you'd probably stop reading about now. So let's cut to the finale, in which the valiant BasMelech emerges unscathed and empty-handed.

Interplanetary Science 103

In the first two lessons in this series, we discussed the different needs and desires of boys and girls. In this lesson, we will synthesize the previous findings and imagine them in action in a real-life scenario. To that end, I bring you


Few tools are more powerful and dangerous to a Teacher than the Secret.

The power of a Secret is that it enables one to evade issues of Pride and Fair. No one can cry "Foul!" if they don't know that the Fairness code has been breached. Thus, Fair and Nice can peacefully coexist. Similarly, Pride is a social measure; private matters are somewhat distanced from Pride and not as threatening. This is especially crucial for boys, because receiving Niceness can injure their Pride.

Yes, a Secret is a thing of beauty. But not forever. For the danger of Secrets, of course, is that they are spontaneously combustible. And nothing is as dangerous to a Secret as Friends.

Since boys need Pride above all, there is often a mutual understanding about Secrets: Don't blab mine and I won't blab yours. We all need our Pride; don't risk it.

However, a girl's basic need is Friends. One of the basic tenets of Friendship among young girls is that secrets are shared with Friends. If you know a secret, you have Friends. If you do not share your secret, you're not really my Friend. This is tragic.

Now of course, both boys and girls need both Friends and Pride. Therefore, the Teacher (and parent) must carefully consider the risk-benefit ratio of each Secret. The above analysis is meant only to clarify the various factors involved in making this weighty decision.

This concludes the beginner's series on Interplanetary Science. A more advanced course may be offered in a future semester as new findings arise, but this is the last of the planned installments.

Conversations in Klal

Though it may seem like I've been taking more long blogging breaks lately, the truth is that I've been blogging vicariously through ProfK over at Conversations in Klal. Despite being busier than I am what with all her Pesach-making and appliance-busting, she managed to post my thoughts before I could get a word in edgewise.

Read about Real Life here and here.

Then, if you so desire, read our gripe about the futile quest for perfection in shidduchim here. Since ProfK obviated the need for me to write a full post on the subject, I will just give you my abbreviated take here:
Many people are confused about the purpose of shidduch-seeking. The goal is not to figure out who is the most perfect single being on the planet. It is to find a compatible life partner. The criteria for this are different for different people. While one person may feel that he needs more financial support, another may prioritize intelligence. But when one gets carried away seeking perfection in all areas, one is doomed to failure.

As for ProfK's Brooklyn shopping episode, mine deserves its own post. Coming soon, if I get around to it...

Sunday, April 6, 2008

My Boy

He's my problem.
He's my issue I wake up to face every day.
He's my impossible challenge.
He's my headache.
He's my reason to count down to vacation.

I said
I'll be out for a few days next week.

He said
I'll miss you, teacher.

I said
I got you the best sub in town, and I'm leaving a surprise with her.

He said
When will you be back?

He's my angel.


Visual aid

Thanks, Rafi G, for posting this video clip depicting the story of our exodus from Egypt. I'd seen it before but still can't figure out how to embed it into a blog...

Technically speaking, it leaves something to be desired, but right now I'll take what I can get to get into the Pesach mode... no time to read Let My Nation Go this year :-(

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Globble up!

Before embarking on this mission, I did a bit of research to gain an understanding of what globbing actually is. While most of my findings were automatically chucked onto the geek shelf, I settled on the the definition most familiar to me:

Glob \ˈgläb\ v. : to do, perform, or create a glob [see glob, n.] c. 21st century

The origins of the noun glob are much murkier. Merriam-Webster postulates that it originated as a blend of globe and blob sometime during the 20th century. This author contests that glob more likely has its roots in the word globule, possibly combined with a misunderstanding of the meaning of blob: Whereas blob denotes an amorphous object, globs, like globules, are distinctly rounded forms. However, since globule itself shares origins with globe, we may excuse MW's imprecision in this case.

With that, I present you with the case of the Bulbous Blobs. Although the controls are somewhat clumsy, the puzzle is fun and addictive, akin to Rush Hour on a slant. If your frustration threshold is high today, you may wish to delve into some of the more maddening puzzles on the site as well (ConSlider is brilliant but barely possible). I am waiting to see these in manipulative form, as the satisfaction of dragging pieces with a mouse is limited.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Purim Torah Tag

I, Bas~Melech, do hereby tag the entire J-blogosphere to take up the following challenge:

Write one (1) original Purim Torah without deriding any Jew or Jewish sect/group (good-natured teasing permitted). As it is a bit late in the season to start this kind of game, post-Purim-Torahs are also welcome.

Bonus points will be awarded to anyone who can talmudically prove that blogging is a mitzvah.

Here is a kasha to get you started, but feel free to improvise:
In the classic song, I'm a Little Teapot, verse 6 commands: "When I start to boil, take me out."
From what, exactly, does the little teapot wish to be taken out? Was it ever in something? One can also use the expression of "taking out" from under something, but the accepted custom is to boil teapots over a flame.
(Or perhaps she is begging for a date?)

You may also wish to explore the curious switching of the narrative: Whereas the singer claims to be a teapot, he or she then goes on to use verbs that would more likely pertain to the water or tea within a teapot: "When I... boil," "...pour me out."

I see endless possibilities here, but I'll give you a go at it first.
Now go tag all your friends -- the more, the merrier. And if you take up the challenge, please link us to your Purim Torah in the comments.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Interplanetary Science 102

In our previous lesson, I presented the fundamentals of boys' and girls' most basic needs. While all humans share these and other needs, those discussed are the most essential -- once satisfied, individuals can focus more attention on their wants. While children will see to it that their needs are met by hook or by crook, it is the murky area of their conflicting wants that can ensnare unsuspecting teachers. Therefore, I offer this tutorial.

Boys want life to be fair. If you can assure them that everything will be fair, you earn some respect. This can be difficult and requires much discipline, but it's quite logical and if you have any difficulties, boys will be glad to set you straight. However, you have probably realized by now that life is not fair. While this may seem like an insurmountable obstacle to a teacher of boys, rest assured that it, too, can be dealt with quite simply. Techniques will be discussed in the next lesson.

Girls want life to be nice. Though not as treacherous as "friends," "nice" can be frustrating in its own right. Mark my words and you will be spared disappointment in the future: Nice has no limit. You will never be "nice" enough.
Now, girls believe in fair, too. They will use this word hourly, on average. Do not be fooled. Girls do not want fair. I repeat: Girls do not want "fair." When a girl says "It's not fair!" she really means, "I want you to be nicer to me." If you play fair with girls, be prepared to ignore tears.

Lest you suspect me of taking a negative view of our dear children, let me assure you that both nice and fair have clear advantages. A child truly dedicated to one or the other principle will apply it in all situations, even if the beneficiary is not him- or herself. This can be a wonderful springboard for character development... as long as you lay off their needs, as discussed in the previous lesson and to be explained further in the future.

In our next installment: Techniques for making life look fair to your advantage, and how this relates to the needs of both populations.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Interplanetary Science 101

Before you yell, I ask you to look past the sexist stereotypes, appreciate good humor, and think about the truth. I also offer the requisite disclaimer: Yes, people are complex and cannot be entirely explained through generalized rules; however, G-d created species with certain characteristics that can be used to further our understanding of the specimens in our lives. Now, for our feature presentation:

Above you will find an excerpt from "A Tale of Two Brains," Mark Gungor's attempt to explain the differences between men and women. Below please find "A Tale of two Hearts," Bas-Melech's attempt to explain the difference between boys and girls, a subject necessary for every would-be teacher to master.

To facilitate their coexistence and the continuation of the human race, boys and girls do not have the same basic needs and wants. Therefore, they are not natural competitors. However, it is essential to recognize the differences so that they can be provided. We will begin with their needs.

Boys need pride. It's really very simple. You insult me, I punch you, now we all know who's stronger. (you can now proceed with the interrupted activity.) Note to teacher: Lay off his pride or he will fight you to the death. Yours. Every boy can succeed because he'll always be able to beat somebody. If you have a real weakling, chances are he's smarter than someone. If he's a dumb weakling, he'd better have a big brother, rich father, something. He'll be OK as long as he has his pride. That was easy -- this is why I teach boys.

Now let's talk about girls. Girls need friends. This is not something any teacher can provide. Don't even try -- if you mix into friends, trouble will surely ensue. Friends are difficult to provide because one of the requirements is that they have to be entirely voluntary and whole-hearted. Even if they are entirely voluntary and whole-hearted, there is almost no way to prove this, so a girl's quest for a true friend can go on forever. Even once some friends have been acquired, they can always be lost, so watch out. If a girl fears that she is losing a friend, her entire life is cast into turmoil.

Although much more can be extrapolated on this subject, this ends our brief introductory segment on the differing needs of boys and girls. In our next installment, we will discuss the oft-conflicting wants of boys and girls and how these interact with their needs. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


I remember noticing the change.
I don't remember when it happened.
I remember his somewhat better days.
I don't remember when he was really young and quick.
I remember feeling frightened:
I don't remember what it was that time --
A forgotten name?
A wobbly step?
I remember moments of relief:
I don't remember whether he'd won checkers or chess
but it proved that his mind was still here.
I remember how he cried
because my father introduced me
and he thought I was my namesake, his wife.
I remember bringing him dinner
I don't remember what was wrong
but he refused to eat, like a child.
I remember knowing that we'd lost him.
I don't remember whether that was before
or after
he died.

On the occasion of my grandfather's yahrtzeit.
(Written a few years ago)
He was a very special person who did a lot for the preservation of observant Judaism in America.
I never knew that person.

Monday, February 4, 2008


Just had a little idea... wonder if it would work.

Team Lifeline ran last week in Miami. The idea of running for a cause motivated a lot of people to get fit in a way that they may have pondered before, but didn't actually do. Hey, even I considered it...

So I was thinking, what if I could get people to sponsor my students' quiz grades? Maybe they'd actually start learning? And what about behavior? I'm starting a classroom economy this week, where they earn "money" for following rules and such. I could offer to donate "maaser" of their earnings in real money. We could have a big, clear bottle in the office (classroom doesn't lock) as our goal -- Every time the bottle fills, we can go to the bank to roll the coins and send a check to a different charity. The kids can see and feel that they're doing something real.

Anyone want to make an offer?

Friday, February 1, 2008

Elementary, dear Watson

OK, the poll is closed and now it's time to explain what it was all about.

Our friend, the former blogger Behind A Smile, noted that most of her American friends like the Sherlock Holmes series while her non-American friends are decidedly less enthusiastic. We decided to see whether this phenomenon is universal, or if it's just that Ms. Smile keeps odd company.

The first fact that the survey revealed is that there are twenty-one participating readers of this blog. Now that I have proof of your existence, I demand that you show yourselves. I like my readers. Don't be shy, you can comment just to say hello and tell me how much you love me :-)

The next shocking revelation was that nearly a third of those readers haven't read Sherlock Holmes. I recommend that you check it out. I find them both relaxing and stimulating, a rare combination made even more flavorful by the old-style English. You can borrow mine; the semester's getting underway and I don't have much time for pleasure reading anymore.

As for the original intent, while most of the American participants do, in fact, like Sherlock Holmes, the non-american participants were evenly split. Unfortunately, it seems that the vast majority of my readers are American, so the results of the study are inconclusive.

In closing, I give you this link to clarify the title of this post.

A moment in the life

I tend to agree with modern educational philosophy that supports making students think. I'm all for encouraging critical thinking instead of just cramming kids with information, validating their ideas, and all the rest. But the bottom line is, beneath all that hype, we teachers have an agenda. Or at least a curriculum of actual facts that we want our students to know.

At times, bridging the two -- the thinking and the information, that is -- requires the skill of a mental contortionist.

Take this lesson, for example. We were learning about vaccines, and we'd already learned about how epidemics spread, so I was hoping that with a little pulling, I could get the kids to synthesize the two concepts:

Miss Melech: OK, so I understand now that it's a good idea for me to get shots so I don't get sick. But before I go to camp, they give me a form for my doctor to sign, saying that I got my vaccinations. Why should they care?
(Stated objective on lesson plan: Open-ended question gets kids to think critically.
Actual objective: Understand that if one person gets sick, it can spread to others, so it's in everyone's best interest for everyone to get stay healthy)

Kid: They don't want you to get sick.
MM: So? Why should they care if I get sick? It's my tough luck.
Kid: They won't pay for your medicine.
MM: Well, that's also my tough luck. Why should they care if I don't want shots? What happens when one person gets sick?
Kid: If they don't give you medicine, you could die.
MM: Chas v'shalom! But still, what difference does it make to other people if I get sick in camp?
Kid: They don't like making funerals.

Can you beat this logic?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Problematic Poster Puzzle

Couldn't find the picture I wanted for this post... been looking since Succos... but I'll do the writing anyway. So just picture a classic succah-poster of the Bais Hamikdash, ok?

Something always bothered me about those posters. I couldn't figure out what it was or why, but there was something wrong. Even the most beautifully illustrated pictures of the Bais Hamikdash never appealed to me.

Finally, while musing about the geula and the Bais Hamikdash one day, it dawned on me.
All the pictures show a building. A very beautiful building.
The Bais Hamikdash is not a building. And you're not allowed to look at it to enjoy its beauty.
The true beauty of the Bais Hamikdash is when it is filled with our prayers and service of HaShem.
Visualize in your mind the Bais Hamikdash rebuilt. Or in the past, before it was destroyed.
Picture the courtyard filled with Cohanim rushing about in perfect order to perform their duties.
Hear the Levites on the steps playing their music.
Smell the ketores and watch it rise in a straight pillar from the kodesh.
See the throngs of Bnei Yisrael coming towards the grand gates, leading animals for sacrifices, bearing gifts and tithes for the Cohanim. Hear them on the roads, trading wares, greeting friends they haven't seen since the last holiday, exchanging news, tending children.
Feel the excitement of coming close to HaShem, of doing the mitzvot of the Bais Hamikdash the way they are meant to be done.
Now where is all that in the posters?
I want to draw the Bais Hamikdash in all its glory -- the glory of its fullness, of the population filling it, of the activity all about it. Of Life.
The problem is, I'm not going to do it wrong. And I lack the knowledge to do it quite right.
Never mind the time!
So for now, I'll just continue to be disappointed until someone prints a livelier picture.
May we all merit to participate in the life of the Bais Hamikdash ASAP!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Rock the boat!

There. "The System" has now been explained to you.

Now what are you going to do about it?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A Day in the Early Life

Well, the personal glimpse didn't exactly garner a very enthusiastic response, but I'm doing another one anyway because I don't have another post cooking yet and I wouldn't want to abandon my li'l bloggy too long.
This one is from the history files, a short episode from my subbing experience in kindergarten.

My first lesson on the job was that in Bais Yaakov, at least in preschool, the fine line between English and Hebrew is never drawn. Now, I can communicate in Ivrit, but we are talking here about a completely different language. So, by the time I translated
"Mo-wuh, I need to go to the base-ha-kee-say."
it was already fairly obvious what the kid needed.
The kids were fairly innocent, a refreshing change from my usual clientele, and I didn't anticipate any discipline problems from these sweet little things who still believed that teachers are G-dlike. Little did I know...
There sure was a behavior problem in that class, and she was a real terror.

Every few minutes, during circle time, davening, free play, and even Shabbos party, I'd have a kid whining and tugging my sleeve:
"Morah, Ayala pinched me!"
"Ayala kicked me!"
"Morah, Ayala took my doll!"
"Ayala's not sitting nicely!"
By 10:00, I wondered what the kid was doing in a general ed classroom.
By 11, I wanted to send her home.
By 12, I vowed that if the teacher wasn't feeling better on Monday, I'd refuse to come if Ayala was going to be there.
The most disturbing part of it all was that I couldn't even identify the little perp. I mean, who'd think that 5-year-olds could be so sneaky?! As I began to pick up on the kids' names, I met an Atara and an Ayelet... but where was Ayala? I began to worry that she'd run away, but never fear -- within moments yet another little girl was on my knee, crying because Ayala had pulled her hair.
In exasperation, when her tears were dry, I said, "Now show me which girl did this to you!"
She turned her big, fearful eyes up to me and said,
"Oh no, Morah, we're not supposed to say loshon hara! Morah Rivky said that if we need to tell on someone, we should just say that...

I was floored.
Morah Rivky was back on Monday.
And now I teach middle school. :-)

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A Day in the Life...

Welcome to Miss Melech's class, where every person shines.

If you fail to see the humor here, then you are welcome to come take over for a day or three. By then you will probably be just desperate enough to appreciate it, while I will have recuperated enough to produce some more appealing literature.

The ~s indicate a fast-forward, usually past boring stuff.


Miss Melech: Gentlemen, recess is now over. Please sit down.
Sam: Oh yeah? Who asked you!
Nick: OK.
Miss Melech: Zack, you're our calendar monitor this week. You know what to do; go ahead.
MM: OK, what month is it now? It's not December anymore, it's...
Zack: mrthsndstkfl
MM: What?
Zack: more-need-sticky-this-tack-fall.
MM: Do you need some more fun-tak for that?
Zack: Yes.
MM: How do we ask? a full sentence would be nice.
Zack: Please?
Miss Melech: Last week we learned about Native Americans who live in the desert. Now we're going to learn about Native Americans from a different place: The Great Plains.
Sam: Oh yeah, teacher -- Who asked you?
MM: When I say plain, I don't mean an airplane. A plain is a type of place, the way deserts, forests, and oceans are different types of places. Both kinds of planes sound the same, but they're spelled differently.
Mark: My uncle went on a plane!
Sam: Well my father HAS a plane!
Mark: He goes on planes all the time!
Sam: It's the most expensive plane in the world!
Mark: Tomorrow I'm going to the airport to pick him up!
Sam: It costed a thousand -- no, ten thousand dollars!
MM: How interesting. Maybe we'll talk about airplanes a different day. Right now we're going to learn about a place called the plains.
Sam: Oh yeah, well who asked you?
MM: The book I just gave you has a lot of pictures of plains. Please open your book and take a look at them.
Sam: I don't have to. Books are stupid.
Nick: OK.
MM: Look at the pictures. What does a plain look like?
Joe: I know! I know!
MM: (Really? Oh, I mean--) Yes, Joe?
Joe: It's big and white and has lots of seats and seatbelts.
MM: OK, you're telling me about an airplane, right? Now please look at the pictures in this book. The place in the pictures is called a plain.
Joe: Oh.
Miss Melech: Nick, can you please open your book?
Nick: OK.
MM: Tell me what you see.
Nick: OK.
MM: (pause) Well, what do you see?
Nick: A picture.
MM: Tell me about the picture.
Nick: OK.
Mark: grrrrr
Miss Melech: Now we're going to read this story about the Plains Indians.
Nick: OK.
MM: Turn to the first page.
Nick: OK.
Mark: grrrrr
MM: Can you find the title of the book?
Nick: OK.
MM: Nick, please stop saying "OK" after everything I say.
Nick: OK.
Mark: ka-pow!
Miss Melech: Let's review. What kind of place is a plain?
blank stares
MM: What can you see on a plain?
blank stares
MM: OK, what can't you see on a plain?
blank stares
MM: Nick?
Nick: No trees!
MM: Very good! There are very few trees on a plain.
Joe: I get it!
MM: (beams) What is it, Joe?
Joe: An airplane also doesn't have trees! That's why it's called a plane!
MM: speechless