All that you have is your soul (Tracy Chapman).

Monday, 31 October 2005

Halloween UK Style.

When I was in New York, virtually every house I passed displayed a rather plump pumpkin (or five) outside the door. The shops were selling everything Halloweeny and the people (especially kids) couldn’t wait to get dressed up and enjoy the festivities associated with the “Eve of All Saints”. Gee, were I living in the US, I’d probably be there, trick ‘n’ treating with them.

In the UK, unfortunately, though Halloween has gradually become more americanised (i.e. people do something about it), it has taken on a far more sinister cloak (if you’ll excuse the pun).

Kids, usually from white trash families get a thrill from scaring the shit out of anyone who’s stupid enough to open the door - and if you decide not to answer the doorbell, you never know what might happen to your house. A friend of mine told me that some little brats put an opened egg into his letterbox, whilst his neighbour had a brick thrown through his front (glass) door.

I have gone to the lengths of removing the batteries from the doorbell and switched the porch light off. Despite this, I still heard some little brats telling each other that they “heard someone was there” when they approached my front door. I felt my heart miss a beat, at the fear of what they might decide to do.

I know that Halloween is meant to be about ghosts and goblins, but somehow, I never imagined that it would lead to an evening of genuine discomfort for the individuals who choose not to participate in this “celebration”.

Happy Halloween to our American Cousins. With all the spooking and witching, I still wish I was in your country this evening, instead of mine.

They're Back!

We arrived in Heathrow last night at around 8.30 local time.

After surviving (and I do not use the word lightly) a day at school, I am starting to seriously wonder whether I went away at all. My mind is definitely about 24 hours out of sync with the rest of me.

G-d bless Mondays.

Hurricane Wilma

Friday, 28 October 2005

Friday in Manhatten

This was the day I'd been really looking forward to - sharing Wondrous Manhatten with my eldest daughter.

We started off by going down to Battery Park (West Ferry) to see the Statue of Liberty. We ended up seeing quite a few of them! The real one however stood as gallant as ever, welcoming the world to this incredible country.

As Emma Lazarus famously writes (and this is inscribed on Lady Liberty herself):

"...Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Back on the Subway at the Staten Island Ferry station to 59th Street (#1 line). We got out at Columbus Circle and made our way to 59th Street and 5th via a lovely walk in Central Park to F.A.O. Schwartz (where else) - Dassi was truly enraptured...but not as much as when I took her around Tiffany's. The expression on her face - the wonder she exhibited whilst looking at the unearthly gems is already etched into the depths of my memory. To be there with her as she looked in increasing disbelief at each gemstone was to be at the dawn of creation. I have never been more in awe at being a parent.

The rest of the day pales in comparison. Lunch at Jerusalem 2 Pizza Parlour on 6th and Broadway, capped with the necessary spending at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square (and this was after I put back three DVD's too!) and a quick dash to Penn Station for the 3:03 back to Woodmere (via Jamaica).

I appreciate that the above description will make no sense at all to anyone who's never visited Manhatten. If however you have, I hope you've shared our journey and added some of your own memories of the island.

I've showed Dassi my little corner of New York.

Now, it's time to go home.

Thursday, 27 October 2005

My First USA Posting!

Greetings from Woodmere, Long Island ("or Lon Guyland" as pronounced by the Natives), NY.

We've had a fantastic time so far. We arrived on Sunday at JFK and were met by a cousin and then my parents. We went to the Woodbridge Beth Israel Cemetary to visit my Grandmother's newly erected tombstone, as well as pay respects to other members of the family.


The strangest thing happened when I was standing next to my beloved grandfather's grave. I was talking to him, when suddenly the sun appeared from nowhere and lit up the stone. I knew that there and then, he had answered me and we were one. It was an incredible moment which I shall never forget.

Dassi lightened the mood somewhat by going around, taking photographs of the families' stones and crowning the moment with a classic line: "I never knew that so much of our family tree was underground!"

We made our way to the Catskills mountains, staying in a resort called the Kutshers Country Club situated near Monticello. I have never seen the like of such a place - it was the size of a small country! We were fed incessantly, to the extent that I spent as much time as I could avoiding the mile long walk to the restaurant (Ok, I am exaggerating, but just a little).

Dassi made some new friends and had a grand time. I also met some really lovely people and we sat talking and shmoozing for most of the time. My only gripe was that the weather was a little cold but I suppose I shouldn't complain since we were in the mountains.

The drive down to NY was delightful, with the trees brimming in their full Fall spleandour, showing off colours I couldn't possibly try to describe. We passed places with names that are etched into my subconscious - West Point, Bethel (where Woodstock 1969 took place), Moncey and Yonkers.

And now, here we are in Woodmere and I type this whilst staying in the house of an old friend of my mother's, looking through the window at one such tree. Dassi is wide eyed and open mouthed, totally overwhelmed by what she's seen over the last four or so days. I can't believe that we've only been here since Sunday because it feels as though I've spent my entire life living in the States!

This is truly an incredible country and my love for everything American has only grown into genuine adoration. If my wife and kids were here right now, this would truly be paradise.

G-d bless America, land that I love. I wish I didn't have to leave!

Saturday, 22 October 2005

The Things We Do For Family

Without going into the reasons behind this “interesting” activity, yesterday evening, I had no option but to walk from my parents house to my home. I walked five miles and it took 90 minutes.

This evening, I drove along the same route.

I was home in 16 minutes.

Tomorrow morning, I will be flying to New York and the journey should take seven hours. Maybe next time, I’ll time myself to see how long it takes to swim it.

Thursday, 20 October 2005

In Case You Were Wondering...

Before you start holding victory celebrations, let me reassure you that I have not abandoned the blog – far from it. As many of you will be aware, our Nation has been blessed (is that the correct term?) with a glut of festivals that have been falling on weekdays over the last three weeks. Hence, I am finding very little time to both plan for school and indulge in my blog writing.

Added to this, I am on the verge of visiting the USA for a week. For those of you who are New Yorkers, please look up at the sky at around 10 am on Sunday morning as you might spot my American Airlines flight on it's way to JFK. If you do see my plane, please wave and I’ll make every effort to reciprocate.

On a more mundane note, I went back to school today and the kids were pretty horrendous (in a hyperactive sort of way), granted that they break up for the half-term holiday tomorrow but I don’t care because in three days…. hee hee hee hee!

Sunday, 16 October 2005

Teaching IT - Without IT

This is going to be an interesting teaching week. The network is down and the kids won’t be able to print, save work or use the internet.

I’m so glad I teach IT at times like these. Does anyone want me to give any maths lessons? (at least then, I’ll actually be teaching).

The Reluctant Handyman

Yesterday morning, I was sitting in the living room when I heard a ghastly sound emanating from the kitchen. I rushed in to see water pouring through the roof, gushing over the light in the utility room.

I rushed upstairs shouting like a madman and found the bathroom sink overflowing, blocked with tissue paper. The water was seeping into the floor above the kitchen. I emptied the sink, dried up the water and hoped from the best.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the light was making a fizzing sound. We switched if off and waited until after the end of Shabbat to sort things out. We didn’t have to wait that long. By the afternoon, one of the fuses had shorted and the situation did not look too good….

The guilty party?  Who do you think it could be?

I’ll give you a clue. She’s very short, charming and deadly. She’s also two years old.

Shira is the Queen of Mischief. She is adorable, edible and extraordinarily dangerous.

Something had to be done.

I decided that I had to put bolts on the two toilets and bathroom (let’s say that this is not the first time Mademoiselle has used these places to concoct her evil machinations) so this morning I went to the local warehouse and invested in some brass devices.

You may be surprised to read that when I was considered a career, I was never
faced with the option of either becoming a teacher or a handyman. I’d like to think that I’m a good teacher but a crap handyman and the evidence for this lies in the fact that I used my drill for the first time this year.

To cut a long story short, the bolts are up and working and I fully expect them to last about two weeks after which, I will knock on the door of my next door neighbour who is a builder and ask him to do the job properly.

As for Shira, I fear for the next bit of “fun” she decides to concoct. One thing I do know is that my drill will not see the light of day until the end of 2006.

…not if I’ve got anything to do with it.

Saturday, 15 October 2005

Today's Tuesday...Correct?

On the way to Synagogue this morning, I asked Michal what day it was. She replied “Tuesday”.

You might think that this is a bizarre response, but considering the fact that throughout this month, virtually every other day is either a festival or a Shabbat, her reasoning is totally understandable.

Usually, we go to Synagogue or shul as we call it, on a Shabbat morning. In the last two weeks, this has been extended to Tuesday and Wednesday (Rosh Hashanah) followed by Shabbat….Thursday (Yom Kippur) and today. This coming Tuesday and Wednesday, we will be celebrating the festival of Sukkot (and more shul) followed by Shabbat, three days later. Then, next Tuesday and Wednesday, we will celebrate the festivals of Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah on which we will attend shul once again. This will be followed three days later by another Shabbat.

If Michali is confused as to which day it is, she surely isn’t the only one. I have it on good authority that tomorrow is in fact Sunday. Then again, it could be Thursday, or Friday or even Monday.

I do know that I was in shul this morning, but I’ll be damned if I can remember why.

Friday, 14 October 2005

The Inspection

The inspectors came and went and I found out the result this morning. To my absolute delight, the inspection has been an unqualified success and the school has been taken out of the special measures imposed upon it by the Government. There is a palpable sense of relief throughout the school both amongst the staff and the students.

Today has been declared a "day of celebration" and although the inspectors didn't visit me personally (which is probably why they did so well!!!), I am more than happy to join in the good cheer!

A good day indeed.

Thursday, 13 October 2005

Yom Kippur? When Was That?

The fast came, whizzed past and finished. I cannot, for the life of me explain where the 25 hours went to, but I do know that one minute I was standing listening to Kol Nidre (at the start of the fast on Wednesday night) and the next, I was listening to the Shofar at the end of Ne'ilah (on Thursday night).

I did spend the day in Synagogue and I am sure I fasted but maybe someone can explain how time can just evaporate?

Hope you all fasted well friends.

Hey - it's over!

The Inspector Cometh

From Saturday to Tuesday night, my life revolved around one thing and one thing only - preparing for the school inspection.

On Wednesday morning, I laid out my lesson plans and required data on one of the tables in my room, ready for reading. The Inspectors turned up at the school but they didn't come into any of my lessons. They continued their snooping today but I've been saved by the Yom Kippur festival. Instead of teaching, I've spent 25 hours fasting. There is a G-d!

I am breathing a sigh of relief, not because they didn't show but because the inspection is over. Let some light re-enter my life.

Pallywood

This footage is unbelievable.

Please think of it the next time you watch a report on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Monday, 10 October 2005

All Schooled Out

I’m stressed and I’m tired and I’m all schooled out. For the last forty eight hours, I have virtually been eating, drinking, breathing school – even when I’m at home. My evenings and days melt into one another as I prepare lesson plans, mark work and basically drive myself crazy thinking of how not to show myself up when  the inspectors poke their faces through my door.

This morning, I had a formal observation, linked to my NQT status. I had planned exactly what I wanted to do. My planning – and I can really say this honestly – was pretty strong. I went into the room and my mentor joined me to carry out the observation. My nerves played up and my starter fell apart. The kids didn’t understand what I was trying to get them to do and I found myself fluffing my demo by the second.

Thankfully, I realised my mistake and managed to sort things out, teaching the lesson to them in a different way (it wasn’t the easiest topic (i.e.) how to create a business card in Word) but the subsequent chat and criticism with my mentor, which I fully agreed with, only served to dent my confidence in my teaching ability. As a result, my next three lessons were absolute shit.

So here I am, at the end of another day. I’ve spent the last hour putting together a lesson that makes sense to me in my delirious state, but that I fear will fall apart the minute I try to give it to my difficult Year 8 class tomorrow afternoon.

I guess it’s time to go to bed and stop reflecting so much. I’m literally all schooled out in a way that I haven’t been before. They say that the NQT year is the hardest one of them all. Six weeks in and I damn well believe it.

Roll on America (thirteen days and counting) because right now I really need the break.

Sunday, 9 October 2005

Denton Says Hi

I’ve been meaning to tell you this for a while.

About a month ago, I got an email from Denton. Do you remember that I told you about some lady he was mixed up with? Well apparently, this was only the start of the story. Her name is Irene and she’s married to a guy called Victor Laszlo.

He’s got some sort of shady past and it turns out that Denton knew Irene from an affair they had a long time ago in Paris, long before she met Victor. Now Victor is involved in some sort of scam and she’s begging Denton to help them both out. The French Police are also involved as are Interpol.

It’s a messy business and Denton doesn’t know how he’s going to extricate himself from the sorry affair. He’s currently stuck in North Africa trying to sort the problem out. He spends a lot of time in a bar, listening to a really talented piano player.

Anyway, he asked me to send you his best wishes and apologies for not getting some posts submitted. If you have any advice for him, please feel free to send it through me.

John

Why? Why would anyone want to hurt John Lennon, born sixty five years ago today? What had he done to deserve leaving this earth at the criminally early age of 40?

I’ve often pondered what would have happened had John not been shot. Would he still be alive today or would he have succumbed like George? It just seems so unfair that this talented, far from perfect but oh so human individual left this earth in such a violent and still unexplainable way.

Today, I celebrate his birth and the fact that he was responsible for getting me through my troubled teenage-hood and giving me a hook to cling onto in so many dark moments.

Happy birthday John.
I miss you so much.

The Thursday Question

It took two weeks in coming, but someone finally answered my letter in the Jewish Chronicle. He basically took me to task for saying that Gaza belonged to the Palestinians, because historically it hadn’t etc etc etc. Besides the fact that I know the person who is quite brilliant fellow but also pretty eccentric (read as ‘one sandwich short of a picnic’, if you get my drift), my ego was far more elated to see my name published in the paper yet again within the space of two weeks! He can argue his point till the cows come home, but that still does nothing to convince me that Israel was wrong to leave the Synagogues intact, irrespective of how barbaric some Palestinians showed themselves to be.

My mind is also focused on other matters. This coming Wednesday and Thursday, the Government Inspectors will be visiting our school. G-d is truly on my side, since I won’t be in on Thursday, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they’ll be watching my lessons on Wednesday. This means that I have to get all my marking done as well as extensive lesson planning. I’m glad to report that I spent this evening achieving the first goal. After three and a half hours, I’ve got some serious marking to show off, but I guess the lesson planning will have to wait till the morning.

To complicate matters even more, I have a formal observation by my mentor first period Monday morning and I can’t afford to screw that one up, so this week will really get the most out of me. Come Wednesday evening and I’ve got 25 hours of fasting to contend with. The question is this – what’s worse… having the Inspectors in or spending my time in Synagogue on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar (i.e. Thursday)? Answers on a postcard by tomorrow please.

And how was your Saturday night?

Wednesday, 5 October 2005

Great Start To The New Year...NOT

Well, Rosh Hashanah is over and we had a lovely time. On both days, I helped to run the children's service. Yesterday, we had probably around eighty people in the room and it was a nightmare. The parents couldn't stop chatting whilst two of us were trying to run the service. I went in this morning, all flustered, with a mission to tell the parents that if they didn't shut up (or so to speak), I would stop the service...or if they wanted to talk, they could go out.

Fortunately though, I didn't have to make the address as far fewer parents showed up and the service was great. I blew the Shofar (the Ram's Horn) on both days, although I was happier with my performance this morning.

This afternoon, we were blessed with delightful guests who helped make the afternoon speed past.

So we had a great start to the New Year until....an almighty row with the wife spoiled it all, soon after the Festival had finished. I won't go into the gory details of the gargantuan disagreement, suffice to say that, as of writing, there is certainly very little peace in the Teacher's household. I sincerely hope this isn't a bad omen for the rest of the year, because if is, it's going to be a pretty crappy twelve months.

Going back to the positive however, the year did start off on a very positive note...

Sunday, 2 October 2005

The Elements of 5765

When the Jewish year of 5,765 (which we are about to leave tomorrow night) began 13 lunar months ago, who would have guessed that it was doomed to be one of the worst in living memory, in terms of the number of deaths caused by natural disaster.

The elements – water, wind and fire – featured strongly this year, destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Water

One horrific name: Tsunami.  Let us pause for a moment to think of those who either lost their lives on December 26th or whose continued existence on this earth will have been forever changed by what they experienced. May G-d give them some sort of comfort to survive the challenges they face every second of the day.

Wind

Two other unforgettable names: Katrina and Rita
We saw the effects of wind and rain on the unprepared cities of New Orleans and Biloxi. Nature wreaked her worst on vulnerable folk. Give thought to the families of those elderly people who lost their lives so unnecessarily, in the destroyed bus that was cruelly employed to save them. Had they stayed where they were, they would be here today.

Fire

London July 7th 2005. Bali October 1st 2005.
More deaths, this time at the hands of fellow human beings. More unnecessary carnage. More lives destroyed.

All this in the year 5,765.

In the Synagogues on Rosh Hashanah (The New Year) and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement, ten days after the New Year), we read a shattering prayer. It chronicles how, at this time of the year, G-d decides our fates.

“On Rosh Hashanah, it will be written and on the Fast of Yom Kippur, it will be sealed; how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created. Who will live and who will die? Who will die at his pre-destined time and who before his time?; who by water and who by fire….who by thirst and who by storm….who will live in harmony and who will be harried….who will enjoy tranquillity and who will suffer…who will be impoverished and who will be enriched….?”

“But repentance, prayer and charity will remove the evil decree.”

I read this passage now, thinking about the events that struck us over the last year and I find myself shaking. “Who by water and who by fire….who by storm?”. Obviously, we didn’t repent enough, we didn’t pray and we didn’t give enough charity and as a result of our selfish behaviour – our desire to destroy and disrespect the gift given to humanity by G-d - His earth wreaked her terrible revenge upon us.

We are at the dawn of a new year, 5766. May I wish you, whoever you are, wherever you are, a year of tranquillity, of health, happiness and fulfilment. Most of all, I pray from the depths of my soul that G-d never sends us another year like the one we’re about to leave.

Let us hope and pray that humanity is now facing a better dawn on earth than the sunset we saw over the last 13 months.

Shanah Tovah.
Happy New Year.

Peace. For G-d’s sake. Peace.

Sorry

I’m afraid that, as a result of spam on my last post, I have decided to add word verification to avoid a repeat performance. Apologies for the extra inconvenience.