18 February 2015

The Complete and Total Beginner's Introduction to Sewing: How Clothing Works.

(I'm going to ask the dressmaker in the family to look over this and make sure I got it right, but here it is for now.)

This post is about clothes.

26 January 2015

First Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge: a Paean to Flat-Felled Seams; or, What It's Like to Sew Fettuccine, and a Possible Pshat in a Little Poem by Sarah Schenirer

This year the HSF is the Historical Sew Monthly, which is a speed I can actually keep up with.
The motivation fits in nicely with my own sewing plans. So I'm in, way at the beginners' end of the HSFers.

The rest of this post is about clothes.

07 January 2015

35 by 35: A Bog Coat and Eustace Tilley

X, Bog Coat.

For Purim, my husband dressed as a Newspaper.
I made him a bog coat of tulle. Patterns don’t get much more basic than a bog coat. The tulle, to my surprise, behaved nicely.
Is it a good project for a beginner? The pattern is great. Tulle is hard to hold in place, but it hides mistakes nicely.

XI, Eustace Tilley.
I went as a New Yorker. Loops decided to be the Princess of Lemons again.
I wasn't planning to make Persimmon a costume – time was at a premium. Too bad, I said, because it would be too perfect if the child of a newspaper and a New Yorker went as The New Yorker. But I simply do not have time to make her a Eustace Tilley costume.
And then it occurred to me that we could even put the pacifier on a string instead of a monocle – and suddenly it was just too too perfect and I had to make it.

Image forthcoming if I ever get the camera to behave.

Color – maroon for the coat, turquoise for the vest, white for the collar: all cotton or polycotton scraps left over from former projects. As much as I loathe artifice in dress, I sewed them all together and it was a one-piece garment.
Pattern – I slapped a pair of her pajamas on the dining room table and traced them. I am chuffed that it looks and functions like a garment, though it pulls in the wrong places when the occupant wiggles.
I did not plan the construction at all – just worked blindly. 'Oh, I need a collar this shape – I guess I'll cut here and see if that works. Oh, it didn't, so what if I cut here?' I topstitched everything to save time and occasionally resorted to ladder-stitching (what you use to close up a stuffed animal after it's been stuffed, since you can't get to the wrong side anymore) because, not having the mind of an engineer, I see ladder-stitching as the answer to all problems.
Is it a good project for a beginner? No. I should really learn to drape and draft. But a baby costume is a great project for a beginner, because no one, least of all the intended victim, will ever notice the craftsmanship.

Experiments in Teaching Medieval Jewish History, Part III: Islamic Spain and North Africa

The Chosen Path is an ideal textbook. But our school doesn't have it, so I made my own.
Some sources I liked, some of which I shared with the girls:

-Pictures of Islamic architecture from this place and time. Walking through one of those buildings with all the arches is like turning a kaleidoscope. I have seen the architecture of the Alhambra occasionally attributed to Shmuel haNaggid; at any rate, he seems to have been responsible for the building or restoration of much of it.
-There is a nice painting which imagines the court of Abd ar-Rahman III.
-Correspondence between Chisdai ibn Shaprut and the King of Kuzar. I made a mini-unit on Jews in out-of-the-way places – Yemen, India, China, Kurdistan, Kuzar – which I'm not sure I would do again. Most people just stick Kuzar into the unit on Spain, although Chisdai ibn Shaprut accomplished a great many more important things than this correspondence.
-Picture of Kuzari coin found in Viking plunder. (If you search for "Khazar coin" you can find a clearer picture.) I saw this in the Viking museum in Stockholm. Coins from Islamic lands have printed on them, in Arabic, the Islamic declaration of faith; this one, which was minted or re-minted in the kingdom of Kuzar, has one word different, so it says, “There is no god but G-d, and Moses is His prophet.”
-Shemuel HaNaggid by R' Asher Lehmann is a fun introduction to this era. I used the chapter entitled Cordoba.
-There is a wonderful handout floating around Neve that shows the seven “binyanim” of Hebrew grammar as seven multi-story buildings on a street, with good examples.
-Zemiros – Dror Yikra is by Dunash ibn Labrat; Ki Eshmera Shabbos, Tzam'a l'cha Nafshi, and that one with all the “kor”s in it for Shabbos Chanuka are by R' Avraham Ibn Ezra; Yom Shabbason (yona matza) is by R' Yehuda haLevi.
-Other poems by R' Shmuel HaNaggid, R' Yehuda haLevi, R' Shlomo ibn Gvirol, R' Moshe ibn Ezra (Nafshi ivisicha balaila). They can't go through life without having read Tzion halo tishali, which is kinna #36 on Tisha b'Av. (They said one of their previous teachers had them recite it every day.) The general favorite of the piyutim I gave them was Shachar avakeshcha by R' Shlomo ibn Gvirol. They also liked Elokai mishknosecha and Shalom l'cha yom hashevi'i by R' Yehuda haLevi. I had them pick some to write pastiches. I thought they would appreciate a piece of R' Shlomo ibn Gvirol's Ani ha'ish, which I remember liking as a high schooler; but it didn't grab them as it did me.
-Abu Ishaq's poetic attack on R' Shmuel haNaggid. Do I want to link to this? It's extremely nasty and does not deserve to be linked to. Here it is.
-Doubles: Poem in praise of R' Shmuel haNaggid by R' Yehuda haLevi. Part of a poem to R' Moshe ibn Ezra by R' Yehuda haLevi. Poetic correspondence between R' Avraham ibn Ezra and Rabbeinu Tam.
-The Ibn Ezra also has a poem about chess.
-The Kuzari, by R' Yehuda haLevi – paragraphs 11-43 in the first section. Before I gave it to them I asked them to answer, in writing, “What is Judaism?” – the Chaver's answer is very interesting (he comes from a completely different angle than the Emunos veDeos).
-Rif and Rabbeinu Chananel – I couldn't find what I really wanted, but there are lots of mussary Rabbeinu Chananels. (Also, somewhere he discusses a recent invention called a table fork.)
-Ri Migash – according to Rabbi Geometry, the most famous Ri Migash is on Bava Basra 45a.
-Chovos HaLevavos – I couldn't pick just one piece to give them :) Rabbi Geometry says that the most famous perek is Shaar HaBechina, and that people don't learn the first one.

If I had a different sort of class I would have taped arches all over the walls and had them come in costume one day and recline around* eating oranges and reciting piyutim, both original and from the sourcebook. I didn't think it would fly with this group.

*actually, I am not sure what people, let alone the Jews, sat on in Islamic Spain.

Florence Nightingale

What follows is based on a single biographer's account, not serious research.

Florence Nightingale was a fascinating lady: intensely depressed; she heard voices; she hallucinated; she determined that she had a calling in life but it took her a number of years to decide that that was nursing (which at the time was unheard of for an aristocratic lady, and for good reasons) and every time she determined to leave home to attend the nursing school in Germany, members of her family said, “Oh, how can you leave us! Bring me my smelling salts – I shall faint!” and she relented and stayed.

Meanwhile, she wrote to hospitals around Europe requesting information on medical care, and stored the papers in her room in her parents' house, taking particular delight in the statistics.

The man she wanted to marry proposed to her; but she turned him down in the idea that he would interfere with her nursing work. This at a time when she had neither received training in nursing nor done any.

She was miserable and kept hallucinating because she felt that she ought to be nursing but could not bring herself to do it.

Finally, when she was thirty, she took the initiative to leave home and go to nursing school.

When she came home from the school, she took charge of a London hospital; then the government heard about her expertise and sent her to the Crimea organize the military hospitals there.

When the Crimean War ended she came back to England and spent the rest of her life organizing British, Canadian, and American hospitals. She is evidently responsible for modern medical care as we know it.

Cecil Woodham-Smith says (in a different biography) that the Crimean War produced two geniuses: the engineer who designed the Russian defenses at Sebastopol, and Florence Nightingale.

I thought that was a very impressive story.

I think it's fascinating that she carried her life in a box for thirty years before finally taking the lid off, and then turned out to be a genius.

The moral I take out of the story of Florence Nightingale is: if you know what you should be doing, do it; don't wait thirty years...!

09 December 2014

Jewish scouting program!


It's not Girl Scouts... it is a Scouting-style program for girls with Torah & middos content as well as hands-on skills.

It's open to grown-ups also.

Check it out:

Moriya groups!

17 September 2014

Gadol portrait in BRIGHT COLORS

I just wanted to share this portrait of R' Elya Lopian by my friend Rebecca:


Maybe I am reading nonsense into it that she didn't intend... but:
The interest in a gadol portrait lies in the person. So most gadol portraits tend to be fairly black-and-white. Color in them is incidental.
My impression is that in this picture she has used the BRIGHT COLORS that I love to show the geshmak of the Torah that is in the person.
I just think that is SO SO SO cool.

06 July 2014

Don't Be a Menace to Elijah the Prophet While Worshipping Your Idols in the Hood

[Looking for feedback on this work in progress. Experimenting with "novelizing" segments of Tanach based on the understanding of Chazal and commentaries, to create quality Jewish "edutainment" and thereby increase Jewish awareness of genuine Torah information. Below is my first "installment" (in progress). Please comment!-Rafi Mollot]

"Choose for yourselves a bull!" Eliyahu called out to the crowd. Four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal had arrived in response to the challenge of the lone prophet of the One God.

"Prepare yours first, for you are many," Eliyahu instructed them, hardly concealing the tone of false deference, as though the Torah's appeal to give preference to a majority extended to these adversaries of the Torah.

"Call out in the name of your gods," Eliyahu continued, "but set no fire." Nearby, a crowd of thousands of Israelites had gathered upon the mount, the precipice of which held Eliyahu and his opponents in this contest to determine to whom the hearts of Israel should pledge their allegiance -- to the One God, or to Baal and his pantheon.

A rustle of voices emanated from the crowd of idolatrous prophets as a huddle of the leadership determined which of two similar cows to choose for their offering. After a brief murmur and shuffling of feet, a representative cadre of the prophets of Baal emerged from the mob and approached Eliyahu. Eliyahu stood back, gesturing toward the two bulls that stood dutifully and nobly together, awaiting their fate.

The Baalite group circled the pair of bulls, performing a careful perusal of the beasts with their eyes, assessing each creature's worthiness. One of the men put his hand out toward one bull, looking up as he did so to catch the gaze of his cohorts. They looked back toward him, understanding his gesture, and nodded their assent.

The man took hold of the rope dangling from the bull's halter and turned his back to Elijah, ready to proceed toward the waiting crowd of his fellows, and the men with him did likewise. He stepped forward, but as the rope grew taut, the bull, rather than follow, planted its hooves and resisted the prophet's pull. The prophet stopped, confused, and turned back to face the bull. He tugged again at the rope, more forcefully this time, but with the same result. The bull did not budge. A third, more forceful attempt, the prophet's face contorting in a reddish mix of frustration, indignation, and embarassment, could not overcome the bull's tenacity.

The Baalite prophet's companions, noticing the struggle, stopped to return to their friend's side. As the one pulled the rope, the others pushed at the animal's hind quarters, but to no avail.

Ashamed to look up at their opponent Eliyahu, they could nevertheless hear him stifle a chuckle. From his distant post, he stretched his arm forward warmly toward the second bull. As calmly and obediently as a faithful dog to its master of many years, the bull turned and trotted toward Eliyahu, allowing the prophet of God to caress its head and stroke its body as the animal drew itself up alongside the holy man.

A murmur came over the Israelite crowd as it witnessed the remarkable preference showed by the animals for the lone combatant.

But the matter was no wonder to Eliyahu. Given the choice of fates, to become an offering on the altar to the One True God, Creator, Sustainer and Master of the Universe, or to become the object of sacrifice to a false deity, and a disgrace to its Creator, what creature would choose the latter, or even go willingly if forced to do so?

The Baalites and their chosen beast remained locked in their contest of muscle and will. A second group of Baalite prophets dispatched themselves from the larger gathering to join their struggling cohorts. Taking up positions at all sides of the beast, they set upon it again, heaving with full force.

An audible crunch of gravel pierced the air as the bull, its breath heavy with resistance, began to slide forward, propelled by the combined force of its Baalite antagonists.

Desperate, the beast, letting out a mighty bellow, swung its horned head, throwing off those men restraining its front quarters. Upon seeing the ferocity of the beast aroused, those Baalites pushing at the animal's back acted instinctively, some swiftly retreating to avoid becoming victim to the animal's horns, others bracing the animal with even greater firmness. The latter group shortly regretted their bravery as the animal's hind hooves, propelled by the leverage granted the beast by its liberated front quarters, transformed them into projectiles.

The now ferocious beast spun around and began a charge toward Eliyahu. A gasp engulfed the crowd of spectators. Any Baalite prophet who lay on the ground in the aftermath of the bull's assault quickly scrambled before being trampled by the raging beast.

Eliyahu stood his ground calmly as the speeding animal swiftly closed the distance between them. Within just several bounds of Eliyahu's post, the beast slowed its charge, and with a placid stride, approached the prophet with its head bowed.

Carefully avoiding injuring Eliyahu with its horns, the bull pressed its head against the Man of God, and, with tearful eyes, buried its face in his cloak. As though to comfort it, the second bull slid itself alongside the first, leaning its head upon its beastly brother in compassionate empathy.

Eliyahu squatted down, placing his hands on the cheeks of either animal. Looking into the eyes of the bull chosen by the prophets of Baal, Eliyahu whispered, "Go. You will both sanctify the name of God today."

The beast returned the prophet's gaze. With a deep breath and an understanding look that seemed to belie its animal nature, the bull raised itself on its haunches, and, holding its head high, began the march toward the Baalite camp with a regal stride. The prophets of Baal accompanied it alongside, unsure now who was leading whom.

(Based on I Kings 18 v. 25-26 and Rashi's comments there.)

19 March 2014

Experiments in Teaching Medieval Jewish History, Part II: Bavel (from 750)

The Chosen Path is an ideal textbook. But our school doesn't have it, so I made my own.
Here are some sources I liked (whether or not I shared them with the girls).
NB I have no idea what sort of sites I'm linking to here or whether they follow copyright law - I found all these sources in my house; I just looked up these links so the Gentle Reader can see them too.

-There's a very enlightening passage from the Meiri's introduction to Pirkei Avos about why the gaonim didn't write much.
-The Baghdad part of the Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela.
-The first voyage of Sinbad the Sailor and what I take to be its original source – the Gemara is a powerful mashal explaining Jewish history in galus. As for its peculiar appearance in Sinbad, well, I think this is  interesting even if no one else does.
-Story about R' Achai Gaon – in The Carlebach Haggadah. Since I didn't have time to find anything in the She'iltos itself.
-Story about R' Saadia Gaon – that one about doing teshuva every day for yesterday's understanding of Hashem.
-R' Saadia Gaon's ten explanations for shofar (these are included in The Book of Our Heritage, pp. 31-33)
-I gave them a random piece of Emunos ve'Deos part 5 from the hakdama, about how knowledge works, and part 6 from same, about the relation of mesora to knowledge. I call this random because I did not go through the Emunos ve'Deos to get a sense of it before picking these out.
-I also gave them a piyut by R' Saadia Gaon and had them write the next stanza. They all read their compositions aloud in class – it was rather a magic moment.
-Letter from Yitzchak bar Dorbolo  - amusing example of the shu”tim that got sent to the gaonim in Bavel.
-R' Sherira Gaon's letter describing Torah study in Bavel and asking for people to continue sending shu”tim and financial support. I don't know if this was part of the Iggeres or some other correspondence.
-I'm still looking for something by R' Hai Gaon. All I could find in my house was a poem.
-I don't think I have sufficient excuse to give them part of Tennyson's poem about Haroun al-Raschid...
-Maxfield Parrish's painting of medieval Arab pirates. Silly, but I love the colors. [they are not quite true in the link.]
-There are a lot of great passages on the Islamic lands in Bernard Lewis' anthology A Middle East Mosaic: Fragments of Life, Letters and History. Random House, Inc., 2001. I found some poetic treatises on government (I love that the Persians, Moors, &c. cannot write about the driest of political science without putting their thoughts into rhyme or fairy tales about owls) and descriptions of the markets where pirates sold their captives.
-The Pact of Omar. Why people share this when they get to Spain, instead of back in Bavel (which was also under Muslim rule), I have not figured out.
-Tamim Ansary's Destiny Disrupted is a very clear summary of Islamic history from Mohammed to the present. I didn't give the girls any passages from it, but I did draw on what I learned from reading it.
-Here's my theory on why people became Karaites.