11 July 2017

The Place to Take Children in Portland that You Haven't Thought Of

I've had occasion recently to visit a couple of shiva houses and I've been thinking of King Solomon's statement (Koheles 7:2) that it's better to visit a house of mourning than one of feasting. I was kind of reluctant to visit the first one -- "I am going so the mourner can talk about the person who passed away but others there are going to make small talk, it's a long walk, it's raining, there's a lion in the road, do I HAVE TO??" and yes, yes I did, so I went; and I was glad I did; the mourner was telling stories about her mother, and what it is like when someone passes away, and what it's like for the family, and it was a meaningful experience for all of us.

Fast forward to a recent trip to Portland.
My mother proposed that we ride the tram that flies across the city on a cable, which was built ten years ago to transport hospital staff from one OHSU campus to another. The ride is a few minutes long and quite beautiful, and we all enjoyed it, although Loops thought it would be more like a roller coaster and said she thought it ought to bump a little more. You can see all the mountains, even Mt. Adams; and I noticed for the first time that Portland's Mt. Tabor closely resembles the original Har Tavor in Israel; and the area below the tram is the old turn-of-the-century Jewish neighborhood of Portland, which is nice to look down on; and if you, reader, are wondering along with everyone else who rides the tram what the big round building you passed on the OHSU tram is, I can tell you: it's a synagogue built by Jews from the Isle of Rhodes, still in occasional use and known affectionately to the community as "the beehive."

Once we got off the tram we stayed in the station for another cycle to watch how the mechanism works (I'm glad we rode it before I saw that the whole thing boils down to just three wires - it's very elegant) and then we discovered that a set of stairs leads down from the tram to other parts of the hospital.
The best banister to slide down in Portland is the one in the Hilton hotel downtown; the second banister disappeared in a remodeling years ago and the third (the Keller Auditorium) and fourth (the Arlene Schnitzer) are nothing too out of the common; so I am pleased to tell you that the new banisters up at the OHSU tram station are almost as good as the one at the Hilton, better than any other banisters in town for sliding down.

Should you be weighing the merits of taking children for a ride on the tram (and down the banisters), the factor you haven't considered is that the tram station was built as an addition to the Doernbecher children's hospital and that of all the wonderful things we did that morning (it's only early July but the salal berries up there are already ripe -- OH JOY), walking through a children's hospital en route was an unexpected but very important experience for my kids.

There are exhibits in the halls of art by the children in the hospital and their families. A thousand paper cranes... sneakers the children designed that were made by Nike... and installations in memory of others.
It's all very beautiful and well-designed (children's hospitals usually are) and it served as a good opening for conversation with Loops.

Highly recommended.

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for that is the end of every man, and the living shall lay it to his heart.בטוֹב לָלֶכֶת אֶל בֵּית אֵבֶל מִלֶּכֶת אֶל בֵּית מִשְׁתֶּה בַּאֲשֶׁר הוּא סוֹף כָּל הָאָדָם וְהַחַי יִתֵּן אֶל לִבּוֹ:

16 June 2017

35 by 35 no. 32: Frock Coat - !

32. Frock Coat.
This really deserves a post of its own, I'm so pleased with it.

One of the aesthetic perks of orthodox Judaism is that we've never entirely discarded the frock coat. Especially in Israel, many outstanding Torah scholars (and married men in the Ponovezh yeshiva) still wear them.

To me the acme of sewing is frock coats. They are tailored, lined, and beautiful; and to get a good one you employ all kinds of exotic techniques, e.g. ironwork -- shaping wool with an iron -- which is more sculpture than sewing. Sewing a frock coat is not even on my wish list.

Nevertheless, frock coats lately took on a certain urgency to me because of a discrepancy in children's clothing. It's not hard to find nice dresses for girls -- there will always be someone in the world selling full-skirted jumpers. But even formal little boy clothing almost always looks to me like loungewear - polo shirts and cargo pants, &c. So from the time we had a member of this family in need of little boy clothing (ahem! mazel tov), I have been thinking that this child REALLY needs either a smock or a frock coat; and since smocking is a delicate operation, I settled on a frock coat as the simpler project. Because in my head that makes sense.

I have the Laughing Moon pattern, #109, which came in very handy for understanding what shapes I needed and how to fit them together. A frock coat is really a beautifully constructed garment; there is a single pleat giving the whole thing its frockiness.

The victim was asleep. I laid a roll of tracing paper on him, hoped he was symmetrical (since I wasn't going to wake him up to get the measurements in back), and scribbled.

Lesson no. 1: Swedish tracing paper, which is almost a fabric itself, is a wonderful thing for drafting patterns for small children who think tracing paper is lunch.

Three Swedish tracing paper muslins later (Lesson no. 2: children are not symmetrical), I had a frock coat.
I left the back seam closed all the way down, since I thought tails might impede crawling. This is a problem roshei yeshiva tend not to have.
I used a single layer of cotton. We'll save ironwork for another lifetime, I think.
I sprinkled buttons all over it and off we went.

Of all my sewing projects so far, this might be my favorite. Frock coats are beautiful things. Frock coat construction is a beautiful feat of engineering. More than anything else, though, the entire time I was sewing, there floated through my mind the classes of my teachers in Israel who wear them -- Rabbi Orlowek, for instance.

Here are the HSF details:

The Challenge: To be honest, I didn't make this for an HSF challenge. It's just another foray into historical sewing. I'm sure no one ever dressed a baby in a frock coat.
Material: Navy blue cotton.
Pattern: Laughing Moon no. 109... sort of.
Year: The present, if you're Jewish (and an adult -- making a frock for a baby is just my idea of a good time), and 1870 or so, if you're not.
Notions: Ninety gazillion buttons.
How historically accurate is it? The shapes are all there but, you know, it's baby-sized and unlined and cotton. So... not very.
Hours to complete: about a week.
First worn: Purim. But he wore it every Shabbos after Purim until he outgrew it.
Total cost: just the buttons.

35 by 35 nos. 28-31: doll, doll, doll (do we see a pattern here) (no pun intended), skirt.

Sewing again

Today's discovery in the Wait, What? Dept.; also, Jewish utopian communities, farming and otherwise

"Jew Valley is a basin in Lake County, Oregon, in the United States.

Jew Valley was named for a colony of Jewish farmers who settled there in the early 20th century."
(Thanks Wikipedia)

Wait, what? I grew up in Oregon and I never heard of this.
Apparently the colony, founded by 25 families 'including a shochet,' experienced success for a few years before disbanding.

Speaking of utopian Jewish farming communities... there's a new one in the offing:

The "Frum Farm"

I spoke with the family behind it & it seems to be quite a serious endeavor.

Of course, to me one paradigmatic utopian Jewish community that I never got to see (born just slightly too young; nuts!) is Rav Bulman zt"l's kehilla in Migdal haEmek.
Here's one article that mentions it briefly: by Mrs. T. Katz.

And before that there was Frankfurt.
This is a wonderful, sparkling article about Frankfurt: Hermann Schwab's memoirs

15 December 2016

"A little Magritte on toast" and other stories

I just discovered that my friend's husband, Yoel Judowitz, who illustrates a lot of Jewish children's publications (Spotlight Magazine, and some books), has an art blog.

Here's the blog.

Of course, the first thing I have to link to is his animated painting of the Alter of Slabodka.

Alter of Slabodka painting

Anyone whose Torah is the Alter of Slabodka and whose Derech Eretz is little Japanese kawaii things is someone whose blog I have to link to, yes? Yes.

03 May 2016

Navi Class Goes Montessori: Ch. 5

One-week wrap-up. I like this idea. I want to stick with it after Pesach.
We will definitely have to slow down to one or two perakim a week; at the current rate some of the girls who dawdle over their work end up doing very little beyond the required assignments, which is not so exciting for them.

On a totally self-serving note, it is much more exciting for me to prepare lessons for this format: I like being able to tell stories and then throw a bunch of interesting things on the table and say, “Here, rummage through these.” I attended Montessori schools through 5th grade so this is what feels like school to my inner three-year-old.

One of the girls asked if we will do this next year. I think I prefer the unplanned mid-year switch: they spent half the year learning how to learn and now I can turn them loose to do it; and it is an exciting novelty. Maybe it will make more sense to incorporate some of this kind of open-ended learning into the whole year instead of a clear break in the middle. I will have a better idea after we've done it longer than a week!

Navi Class Goes Montessori: Ch. 4

Yesterday it rained, which in this climate always throws the students off. The sky turns grey, the air pressure climbs, and suddenly half the school is in the office asking to have its temperature taken because the students just do not know what hit them, only that everything is wrong somehow.

Navi class started off accordingly. Class was ok but the Disney animators took the day off.

The problem with the new program, which is also one of its strengths, is that the way I have it set up there is no escaping it: the students are literally surrounded by work; they can’t escape while they wait for the teacher to call on someone else. Some of the students work diligently for all 40 minutes and get their recreation in the Navi, which is what I want them all to learn to do; but I may have to build in some break time. We’ll see.

The other thing I have to evaluate is whether the activities have enough scaffolding for the youngest member of the class. My instinct is always to write for the highest grade in a group.

One thing I definitely should have done when I introduced the program was to go over the procedures six times and made them say it all back to me. I suspect that some are having trouble switching tack from waiting to be told what to do.

Today it didn’t rain and everything was fine. One of my administrators said she asked a girl what on earth is going on in Mrs. ---‘s class and the girl said it is cool and they like it.

The plan is to keep the program up until Pesach and then evaluate whether to continue to the end of the year. My principal was concerned that the program wouldn’t have enough momentum on its own and recommended that I introduce it as something special, a discreet unit: we are going to make a book about the next couple of perakim; you will do all this work and then we will comb-bind it and have a contest to see who has done the nicest job.

I was confident enough that the program was exciting that I did not bring up the contest idea; and one student already said she doesn’t want her work comb-bound; but the discreet-unit aspect means that we are trying to get through five perakim before Pesach, because to make a book about just the next two perakim was entirely arbitrary – it was perakim 11 and 12 in Shmuel Alef, a battle and a speech – I just couldn’t see it and I didn’t think the girls would either. So we are chugging along at a perek a day (!), every day starts with ten minutes of Storytime; and then they’ll have a couple of days to just work.

The urgent pace may be a boon rather than otherwise. I think the main challenge with this program is going to be creating enough energy in the classroom given how many girls, in an already small and relatively low-energy group, are sitting and working quietly on their own. I may start suggesting the social activities to the others.

One of the girls asked today whether I have seen the Totoro film and reminisced about how much she likes it, and I proposed that she go for the activity behind it and write up perek 14 as a graphic novel, and put Totoro in it if she likes. She elaborated on the scene, Totoro vs. the Philistines, and almost talked herself into it. I will be intrigued to see whether she takes up that idea – not only because I would love to read that manga but also because this is the girl who likes questions with a right answer, not creative exercises, and one of my challenges this year is getting her to see that even school subjects can be colorful and dramatic.

At any rate, the lesson for me in this exchange was that good things can come of having student-friendly pictures on the envelopes. We should have a higher proportion of Totoros to Renoirs. The pictures are what they are because it is not always easy to figure out what the students find absorbing; it is a question they will never answer directly (food! sleep! myself! sleep!) – it might serve well to have the students pose and take the pictures.

Navi Class Goes Montessori: Ch. 3

Here are the activities from which students can choose:

clicking on photos enlarges them

READING – My guided-reading worksheets. Mine are very open-ended, e.g. “you are Shaul in pasuk 16; what would you reply?” and “What is your favorite moment in this perek?” I don’t try to hit all the main points of a perek, only to highlight some fascinating details that students might miss if they read distractedly.
RABBI ALTERMAN’S QUESTIONS – are online here. They provide an excellent alternative to my sheets because they do hit all the main points of a perek, in a very straightforward who-what-when-where fashion.
Some of the girls have a really strong preference for one set of sheets or the other.
TRANSLATING – copy a pasuk out in Hebrew. List the shorashim and give the definition of each. Highlight each word punctuated with a zakef-katon, esnachta, or sof-pasuk. Finally, translate the pasuk into full English sentences. They have to do two of these per four-day week. Some of the girls with more advanced skills have been choosing to do extra.

USE A MEFORASH MEFAREISH (thanks Matt)– what it sounds like. Identify the mefareish’s question, summarize the answer, explain how it affects your life. They can use an English or a Hebrew mefareish – they get a lot of Rashi, etc. work in their other kodesh classes.
MIDDOS – identify a midda at work in this perek, and what we can learn from the person’s example or what he could have done differently, and where this lesson manifests in your life. Optional: grab a partner and act out a skit showing correct behavior infused with this midda.
MI AMAR EL MI – also from Rabbi Alterman; the sheet is a list of Hebrew verses; identify who said what to whom.
PEREK-SPECIFIC EXERCISES – e.g. take a ruler and measure the distance given in this perek in cubits to see just how much space they were working in; or sit down and patiently untangle all the place names using a map – that sort of thing.

SCAVENGER HUNT – this time I listed, not funny little things like my Yishaya scavenger hunt from last year, but social situations and middos. Find them anywhere in the sefer.
I listed so many that I split them into two separate activities.
SCAVENGER HUNT BLANKS – you write the scavenger hunt for everyone else to use.
ASK THE NAVI – the name is somewhat tongue-in-cheek; this isn’t a goral haGra. Think of a question in your life. Read some of the sefer. What do you think is a Torah answer to your question? Did you see anything in the Navi that makes you think this?

GRAPHIC NOVEL – yes, that is Totoro on the envelope. Retell the perek as a graphic novel. Inside this envelope are a lot of blanks with pre-drawn speech bubbles for those who want them.
REWRITE FOR CHILDREN – retell the perek as a children’s story or as a play script. Extra-credit, rehearse and perform it for a younger grade.
OUTLINE – by parshiyos, not perakim.
GRAPHIC ORGANIZERS – lots of blanks to assist in making sense of the story or its ideas, cause & effect, etc.
TONE OF VOICE – choose a pasuk that includes someone speaking to someone else. Consider the character of both and the relationship between them. Practice aloud – with a partner if you like – until you hit upon a tone of voice that sounds feasible for this pasuk.

HOT POTATO – write a question about the Navi and pass it around the room; everyone has to write an answer.
GUIDED DISCUSSION – prepare and lead one for the class.
RECITATION – memorize and present a pasuk.
TEACH THE CLASS – what it sounds like. In the envelope are worksheets with the components of a lesson plan that they can use if they like.

DEBATE – prepare an argument and make your case. Extra-credit, get someone else to take the other side.
PRESENTATION – whatever you want it to be; just clear with the teacher first.
JEOPARDY, TABOO – for now the activity is to make these games, not to play them. This may change as the year goes on.
MAPPING – lots of maps in this envelope for reference. Make a map of Eretz Yisrael, listing certain basic elements and the places mentioned in this perek. After Pesach I want to put out a tub of play-dough for use here; some of the maps are topographical (also, a lot of the action in this sefer takes places on the Hill of Such-and-such; the topography is important).
PERSON – this is a pretty academic research project: choose a character and research him or her using certain resources.
PICTIONARY – what it sounds like.

MOOD RING – color-code each pasuk of this perek according to how you would have felt had you been there at the time.
ASKING QUESTIONS – just list questions you have about the perek.
WRITING FICTION – identify three themes or lessons of the perek and re-work them into a work of fiction.
PRODUCTION CONCEPT – how would you stage this perek? What color lighting, costumes, background music…?
SONG LYRICS – encapsulate the perek in song lyrics.
WRITE A THESIS – classic five-paragraph thesis paper. I’ll be surprised if anyone chooses this, but I wanted to make it available.