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

Monday, 30 April 2007

Life, As It Really Should Be

The atmosphere is one of total peace. Calm vibes soothe the air and I sit myself down and meditate on life. My hands are in total control of my emotions and they take on the ancient ritual of elevation and descent, fingers meeting together a few millimeters away from the front of my chest.

Silence.

Then the gong is struck. It is over.

No, I'm not smoking something I shouldn't be. I am simply describing the experience of meditating in the Beit Binah virtual community centre which can be found at the Second Life online site.

I've tasted the program before, but didn't realise how strong the Jewish presence had become. "We" have built online synagogues, a ritual bath (Mikve), a Holocaust museum, a Jewish Historical Museum and yes, even meditation rooms. Yesterday night, I found myself boogieing to silent music on a sunset beach in Ir Shalom, the rapidly developing and expanding Secret Island where we "New Jews" are getting on down. On the beach, noch.

I have joined a number of virtual Jewish groups and have made acquaintance with fellow Heebs from all over the world. Yesterday my new friend from Australia gave me a guided tour of his detailed and stunning design work. I had the opportunity to put a memorial candle by a beautifully scanned image of Liviu Librescu , the heroic lecturer gunned down at Virginia Tech, before marvelling at the beautifully designed buildings and architectural creations dominating the surrounding vista.

I know that some people would call me rather "sad" for getting involved in this very two dimensional existence, but I see it as just another way of meeting other Red Sea Pedestrians (isn't Life of Brian fab?) who are similarly looking to branch out across cyberspace to hook up and kibbitz with their brethren.

After all, how could real life compare with meeting a talking, life sized squirrels in a stunning synagogue on an island where money seems to no object in allowing people to create the perfect Jewish community.

If only real life were this much fun.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

The Shlockers Rock!

Dana, the girls and I went to a Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day) Shlock Rock concert and it was fab. We were rocking and rolling our socks off, whilst getting in a bit of a good ole Jewish spirituality at the same time.

I'll tell you something...we Jews certainly know how to have a good time and the band were excellent.

I'm a new fan.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Israel At 59 and The National Union of Journalosts


This one might have passed you by, but a few weeks ago, the hugely important and influential (British) National Union of Journalists (or Journalosts, as I have started calling them) felt the need to vote in a favour of boycotting all goods made in Israel.

This ludicrous and glib action (not least because our friends might as well pack up their Intel powered laptops, since they are being powered by Israeli contaminated microchips) has made them a laughing stock in the rest of the world. Not least, in the country they so abhor.


Happy Birthday then, Israel.


The Journalosts only proved how special a country Israel happens to be. I mean, if you're going to vote to boycott one single place in the world (apart from Darfur, Zimbabwe or Iran), why not choose Israel? After all, in 59 years, it has achieved the almost impossible. It has brought the desert to life, become a world leader in cutting-edge technology, gained the grudging respect of the Arab countries it has defeated time and time again - oh, and produced microchips for Intel.


Are your laptops picking this up, chaps?

Happy Birthday my love. We are so proud of you and we will be there whether or not others choose to throw their boycotts in your direction. You have been our heart and soul since the day our forefather Abraham walked into Canaan, with all the might that a seventy five year old man could muster and there is no way that we will ever, ever abandon you.

In terms of our love, respect and admiration for everything that you stand for, we outvote the journalosts by three thousand years - to one.

Yom Huledet Sameach, Eretz Nehederet.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

22,305

Twenty Two thousand, three hundred and five.

People usually equate Jews with numbers. Sooner or later, in most coversations between Jews, we will start to bring up numbers - whether we're talking about financial issues or simply comparing the number of children or grandchildren we have.

Numbers.

Jews.

You know, it is bizarre. The Torah has a big issue with people being counted as part of a group. We are specifically told not to count people, or give them a number because this process de-humanises them. In fact, the donation of the half-shekel by every single member of the Children of Israel in the desert is precisely as a result of needing to count the people without resorting to numbering them. In this way, the people who did the counting knew that one hundred shekels meant that there were one hundred members of a particular family.

Hearkening back to the 60's show, The Prisoner, the title character always uttered the immortal line "I am a person, not a number". We are all people not digits.

Sixty or so years ago, the Nazis decided to hurt us in the most cruel manner. Aside from ripping us away from our families, they branded us with numbers. I know that when I see a Survivor's number of his or her forarm, my blood freezes.

But what really bothers me about this tattoo? Is it because I understand, or empathise with what the person must have gone through in a concentration camp, or is it rather as a result of knowing how alien the concept of numbering Jewish people, is, to me and my brethren?

You are no doubt asking yourself why I am resorting to discussing numbers. In fact, how can I title this blog "22,305", when I admit to you that I am discussing the number of people killed since 1860, when the Jews first left the walls of Jerusalem and started rebuilding the land of Israel.

Twenty two thousand, three hundred and five lives have been given up in the defense of the land of Israel, over the last one hundred and forty seven years. These are ordinary people, not particularly special. They are like you and me. They have, however, been killed for one and only reason - because they were trying to re-establish an ancient and rich civilization in a land that time had long passed by.

Not all of those killed have been Jews. There have been Christians and Muslims who make up the figure, but it really doesn't matter, because people are not numbers and numbers are certainly not people.

So when I write "22,305" and I refer to these numbers as being the people who died in defense of the land, I hope that I get across the immaterial meaning of this figure. One single life list would have been too many. Will the number next year mean any less, even if it is Heaven Forbid significantly higher? Or will the lives of all the people killed have just the same meaning?

Irrespective of who they were or what religion they practised, tonight and tomorrow, in the Land of Israel and all around the world, people who care about humans and not numbers will mourn the loss of those who died because they had one thing in common.

And guess, what, it didn't involve any sort of number.

Marking Time

I've got a Year 7 and 8 parents evening on Wednesday and I've noticed that my marking has been slacking of late, so its a literal blitz on the folders today. I'm not complaining since I needed a bit of a kick up the backside to get my marking up-to-date....and there's nothing like an imminent parents evening to add the required pressure.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Should He Stay Or Should He Go?

I'm worn out.

The stress of whether or not I get a new job is wearing me down, leading me to the decision last night, that I would not leave my current school unless I had another one to go to. I know I wrote a little while ago that I was quitting whatever happened, but to be honest, I've been in that sort of situation before and the stress of wondering whether or not I'll have a job to go to, is just too much to bear. It is practically ripping me apart.

So, I've decided that the job hunt will go on, but not on the previous terms. I suppose my concern (and insecurity) comes from the lack of comeback from one of the schools I gave my application into last week. I know the closing date was only Monday, but I hadn't heard anything and so I called up this morning and was told that if I am offered an interview, I will be informed by next Friday at the earliest.

The realisation that I now don't have to resign by 31st May unless I have a new job in hand, has been most cathartic.

Life is just too damn short to worry about unknowns and I'm too bloody old to be getting myself into the same kind of mess that I went through five years ago.

I signed on to welfare once - and I will do anything to avoid going down that devastating road again.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

The Virginia Tech Minute

This morning I gathered my Year 10's together during form time and we stood for a full sixty seconds in total silence (something that the students usually find almost impossible to do but managed admirably at 8.45 am), thinking and reflecting on the aftermath of the inexplicable events that took place yesterday in Virginia.

I guess, that as teachers, we perhaps feel the tragedy of Virginia Tech and Columbine High differently to say, a solicitor or accountant. We educators live our lives surrounded by children, whether they be three or twenty three. A school, a university or even a nursery is the one place we trust to be - or would like to believe are - free of the the impurities so prevalent in the outside world. We are all about learning and developing the minds of young people. We don't expect remuneration for our efforts, only our pupil's success.

In my mind, teaching could be the most altruistic profession there is. Parents do something that is almost alien to their being. They entrust us with their most valuable possessions, if that's the right word to use, in the belief that we will fashion them into respectable, caring and responsible adults.

Behind the facade of being cool and rebellious, these young men and women are still really children. They have not yet taken on the responsibilities of the world. They don't have a mortgage to work off or a partner to support and the only thing expected from them is to work hard to achieve their qualifications.

As a teacher, the idea that someone could enter the sanctity of a classroom and kill is more than just an anathema, it is the antithesis of everything that made me want to become a teacher.

It is for this reason that I shudder when I visualise the young man with his head full of hate, turning a temple of educational dreams into the mortuary that has today become the Virginia Tech.

This is why what happened yesterday was more than just the murder of the students. It was the contamination of one of the few remaining vestiges of purity, namely, school.

The Jerusalem Elvis

Did you see the programme on the Jerusalem Elvis last night?

The guy is obviously a fruitcake, as is his chach-chach wife. The son is definitely on something (and I'm not talking about deep fried peanut butter sandwiches either) and the whole programme was extremely funny, if not deeply disturbing at times.

I can't say that I was particularly impressed with the scenes where he is pictured praying, fully garbed with Tallit (prayer shawl) and Tefillin (Phylacteries) since I seriously wondered whether he was praying to G-d or Elvis (or both, which is even more worrying).

However, it was lovely though to see Israel and particularly the Kotel (The Western Wall).

As for you, Uri Geller....I honestly believed that you would have known better than to involve yourself with this bunch of seriously disturbed individuals.

Monday, 16 April 2007

The Parents, The Survivors And The Children

Looking over today's postings, I fear you might get the impression that I did not honour Holocaust Memorial Day in the correct spirit. Please know that this is not the case.

I have talked about the Holocaust and its effect on me, many times before on this site. As you know from the recent article by Jane Ulman, my mother was hidden during the war and so, in a way, I count myself as being the child of a survivor. I don't pretend that this puts me in the same league (if that is the correct terminology) as say, the progeny of someone who came out of Auschwitz or Belsen, but I do believe that my pride in being a Jew, as well as my strident opinions on Israel, do emerge as a result of my upbringing and the strong influence exerted upon me by my dear mother.

Am I affected by the Holocaust, or rather, am I more affected as a result of her experiences in the Shoah? I would say that the answer must be an emphatic yes to both counts. But do I see myself as the child of a survivor? I'm afraid that's the bit I don't really know or understand.

As harrowing as my mother's war experiences were, she still came out relatively unscathed, compared to the horrors endured by the less fortunate members of our nation who managed to make it through the camps. She was blessed to avoid seeing her direct family murdered before her eyes and also had the opportunity to enjoy a teenage life in the city where she was born after the war. However, you can't really compare this experience with someone who lost everything and everyone and who had no choice but to re-construct an existence from mere crumbs.

Yet, therein lies the paradox. My mother survived and bears the guilt of the survivors, which is something that cannot be expunged from the soul. If that is the mark that I carry forth within my psyche, then, yes, I am the child of a survivor.

I went through a period of wondering whether I was part of such a group and attended a seminar of the "second generation children" a number of years ago. It helped crystallize in my mind an understanding of how my mother's experiences had left their imprint on me. For the first time, I had an insight into her attitudes, albeit entwined with the nagging question of whether they had really shaped me to the extent that I had been led to believe.

I emerged from the conference with a clearer definition of how the Holocaust affected me and subsequently realised that I didn't feel comfortable thinking of myself as one of the members, if you will, of this "second generation" clique. Yet, I still think that something of my mother's experience has been passed down to me - although I still can't quite put my finger on what it is.

Which brings me to this very day when we have just witnessed the ghastly murder of those young college students in Virginia. Like many of the "six million", these poor victims will also never have the opportunity to populate the world with their descendants.

It is therefore truly heartbreaking that on the day we Jews commemorate the Holocaust and it's ongoing legacy of a lost future for so many dynasties, families in the USA are having to come to terms with the shattering realisation that their very own children will never be tomorrow's progenitors. These parents are today's survivors.

I don't think I've answered any of the questions I set out to tackle when I started this post, but one thing I can state without reservation is that bullets do more than just kill.

They eradicate the future, whether in 1945 or 2007. Will the young men and women who escaped the gunman also bear the guilt for surviving the massacre?

The scale of this event is infinitesimally smaller than the Holocaust, but on this day of remembrance, the resulting emotions and lifelong scars are all too familiar.

Yom Hashoah 5767 - But Where Is The Vatican II

I see The Vatican has recanted on its absurb decision to boycott the ceremony at Yad Vashem and duly allowed its ambassador to attend.

I didn't know that my blogs extended into The Holy See!

Remember, Mother Is Always Right

My return to school today reminds me of the old joke about the young man who tells his mother that he refuses to go to school and that no matter what she says, he just won't go in.

After twenty minutes of argument, his mother says to him in burst of frustration:

"but Jack, you have to go in - you're the Headmaster".


Why does that joke ring so true this morning?

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Yom Hashoah 5767 - But Where Is The Vatican?

In Israel this evening and tomorrow, it is Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Memorial Day.

If you've read the news, there is a mighty unholy row going on between The Vatican and Israel over the controversial actions of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust.

I'm not going to comment on this "broyges" as we call it, because I really don't know enough to make a valued judgement. However, The Vatican's decision to boycott the annual ceremony at Yad Vashem doesn't impress me very much. I would have expected an institution like this to rise above politics and show its religious credentials vis-a-vis respecting the nature of the day (i.e. the extermination of six million Jews) and act accordingly.

Christians and Jews have not had an easy alliance over the millennia. I had hoped that now that we find ourselves the joint target of Islamic Fundamentalists, we would be able to stick together. However, the thing that really sticks in the craw is the knowledge that our enemies will use The Vatican's actions as yet another "proof" of their belief that we fabricated the Shoah.

This row could not have come at a worse time, being as it is, in the painful shadow of Ahmedinejad's "Holocaust" conference. If anything, The Vatican should be going out of its way to mark the commemoration, irrespective of what we think of their former Pope. This is indeed a time for steadfastness and support from our Christian brethren, not dissension.

I sit here wondering how long it will be, before that madman in Teheran picks up on The Vatican's appalling behaviour (in boycotting the ceremony) and uses it as yet another stick to beat us with.

So much for promoting Judaeo-Christian relations, eh?

Penny Dropping Time

In typical teacher's fashion (or maybe not), I've left it to the last day of the holidays to start planning for the next term.

Maybe its because I'm looking past these next few months to a rosier future?

I don't really know.

School starts again tomorrow and goes on for another five weeks until the next holiday - the last before the summer break. I can't believe how quickly this year has flown past. Is it me or do most teachers feel the same way? You get through the autumn drudge and then, after January, time seems to whizz along at a relativity-busting speed (eat your heart out, Albert!)

My main concern is getting a job before the end of the term, so that I can make the smooth transition into my next school (let's hope it's smooth). Then again, I've got loads of coursework marking coming up, not least from my Year 11's, who haven't quite realised that the handing-in deadline is literally around the corner.

It is definitely penny-dropping time for all of us.

Friday, 13 April 2007

The Difference

The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life.
One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education.
He argued, "What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided
his best option in life was to become a teacher?"
He reminded the other dinner guests what they say about teachers:
"Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."
To stress his point he said to another guest; "You're a teacher,
Bonnie. Be honest. What do you make?"

Bonnie, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness replied,
"You want to know what I make? (She paused for a second, then began...)
"Well, I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor.
I make kids sit through 40 minutes of class time when their parents
can't make them sit for 5 minutes without an I pod, Game Cube or movie rental...

You want to know what I make?" (She paused again and looked at each
and every person at the table.)
I make kids wonder.
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them have respect and take responsibility for their actions.
I teach them to write and then I make them write.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them show all their work in math.
I make my students from other countries learn everything they need
to know in English while preserving their unique cultural identity.
I make my classroom a place where all my students feel safe.
I make my students stand to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag,
because we live in the United States of America.
Finally, I make them understand that if they use the gifts they
were given, work hard, and follow their hearts, they can succeed in life.

(Bonnie paused one last time and then continued.)
"Then, when people try to judge me by what I make, I can hold my head up high and pay no attention because they are ignorant...
You want to know what I make?
I MAKE A DIFFERENCE...
What do you make?"

Thursday, 12 April 2007

New Teachers' Forum

I've set up a new group on Facebook for teachers (formal or informal) enabling them to leave comments and share good practice. You could even post jokes, as long as they are funny!

If this applies to you, please log on to www.facebook.com and search for "teachers" under the groups option in the left hand column.

This is the group logo to look out for:

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Scholastically Driven

I dropped Tali over at her friend A's house and had a few hours to kill, with just Shira at my side. I also had two rather important application forms to send off. It struck me that I could use the time (equipped with my trusty Tom Tom in tow) to drop the envelopes off to the individual schools and have an idea the kind of place I might end up teaching in.

Two hours, two schools and quite a number of miles under my belt later, I came home and now await the results of my endeavours.

Then again, I could go down the pessimistic route and wonder if I'll ever enter those establishments again.

Don't Judge A Book By It's Face

I'd been quite wary of sites like MySpace. I didn't see the point in people setting up theit sites and asking strangers to become their "friends". In my limited opinion, it smacked of social desperation.

And...I would have held onto the same beliefs had my friend M (listen carefully 007....) not introduced me to Facebook. It turns out that virtually everyone I know in the local Jewish community is either on it, or signing up to it - I just had to get involved in this one!

So, here we are, a couple of weeks later and I absolutely love the damn thing, if only because I can choose to protect my identity or page from anyone whom I don't want to have as a "friend" on the site. I am not sure if this is something one can do in MySpace.

Additionally, it seems to me that Facebook is aimed at a more mature audience (i.e. above 19), which is obviously something that I find hugely attractive.

Finally, the site allows me to import these blogs automatically so that I now have an even larger fan base.

Yes, Facebook fits my recipe and as a result, my pathetically inflated (and yes, desperate) ego is currently soaring.

The Pesach Change-Over Queen

I'm absolutely delighted to report that Pesach is finally over and the luscious, mouthwatering, to-die-for smell of fresh BREAD is pervading every corner of the newly re-chametized kitchen.

Last night, at the end of the festival, for the first time, Dassi helped us change over the Pesach crockery and equipment with the usual, everyday stuff - and she was first rate at her job. Her sterling help cut down our work-time by at least half, if not more, so that we were back to normal by 23.00 instead of the usual 01.30

I don't know why, but I seem to be the only person who found that this Pesach really dragged and I couldn't wait for it to end. I was OK without eating most things, but the hardest challenge was trying to get through the day without my beloved cereals! You will be delighted to read that this was remedied as soon as Dana, the super-heroine came home with a new consignment of groceries.

Pesach is truly over and although I enjoy it's presence, it's nice to get back into the normal routine of life.

Hail Dassi the Pesach Change-Over Queen!

Sunday, 8 April 2007

I Just Got Some...Satisfaction

I spent the morning filling out two application forms and there they are, on the bookcase, ready for taking to the Post Office on Wednesday, to be sent by recorded delivery to the schools. I feel really satisfied that I'm putting my ideas into action and in the process, opening up some new teaching opportunities.

The weather is beautiful and we are going to be going out this afternoon with some cousins. that The chag/festival is starting again this evening, but I feel so happy that I've got these applications out of the way, I can now enjoy the rest of the festival without fretting about filling them out.

They say that it's the little things you do that bring out the best feelings and right now, I am inclined to agree.

I saw two films last week too and they were Sunshine and Mr Bean's Holiday. Ordinarily, I would write up some reviews but I'm feeling relaxed, so I'll just give some general comments on both of the films:

Sunshine

2/3 of a good film until the sub-Alien type ending. Definitely worth seeing on the big screen for the incredible special effects and one's total immersion within the star that is our sun. If you can forgive the ropey storyline, go see, but don't expect to come out feeling too sunny (sorry).

Mr Bean's Holiday

This is a funny film that at times really brings out the laughs. I like the character and Rowan Atkinson is a pretty smart fellow, which helps. There are some genuinly funny moments and the ending is exactly the opposite to that of Sunshine, in terms of the oft-misused feel-good factor. This is undemanding entertainment, with flashes of brilliance every now and again.

If you're celebrating the seventh day of Passover, enjoy (it's the anniversary of the crossing of the Red Sea, don't you know?) and if you're not, have a good time and enjoy the spring weather, wherever you are.

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Friday, 6 April 2007

A Message For My Christian Vistors

Wishing you a Happy Easter in the belief that our shared values and goals make us who we are. May we both rejoice in each others festivals and continue to appreciate what brings us together in the present, as opposed to the factors which tragically divided us in the past.

With much love and respect.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Is 2007 the new 1938?

Am I the only one who feels pretty ambivolent about Iran's "magnanimous" gesture in letting the marines come home to the UK?

Let's be honest, Ahmadinejad, a tinpot ruler if ever there was one, has humiliated the once mighty Kingdom of the Disunited, in front of the world's media. His generous "gift" to the British people is nothing but an calculated and ultimately successful operation, whose sole purpose has been to cruelly mock Britain before the world's eyes.

As much as I am genuninly glad that these young soldiers have been returned to their families, I do wonder what price this country will pay for their return. Talking of which, I have yet to see Gilad Shalit and his co-soldiers being embraced into the bosoms of their mothers.

Will Ahmadinejad, in his oh so generous mood, give out more goodies to the our?

I doubt it.

When I heard the news that Il Presidente had released the soldiers in such a manner, my blood chilled. I immediately thought of the famous worthless paper held by Chamberlain in 1938 and wondered whether this "peace in our time" was only the precursor to a much more deadly outcome.

Hitler too pretended to play ball with the British and we all know where that led.

I was also not particularly impressed with an article I read this afternoon in a mass circulation newspaper, which questioned whether Iran was building nuclear weapons. If this weren't bad enough, the shmuck of a journalist then stated that if this were the case, that country would be justified in carrying on with their programme - for "defense purposes".

The famous Empire self-imploded many years ago...and when I see how criminally naive and stupid the British politicians, journalists and the general public are with regard to Iran, I fully understand why.

The After-Seders Speech

Three days into the festival and it's been lovely. I took the first seder night and by all accounts (he says humbly), it was lovely. We hosted the girls, my in-laws and Dana's aunt and uncle (my MIL's sister and her husband) who came all the way from Israel.

It has taken me ten years to fine tune my "seder groove" and pitch it exactly at the right level, with enough explanations to interest those present without hitting the very easily accessible overkill switch. A lovely addition this year though, was Michal's input as it was the first time she knew how to read the Hagaddah and therefore contributed like everyone else to the narrative.

The only fly in the ointment was my neighbour's house alarm which went off after the end of proceedings. He's a lovely guy (and he reads this site, so I want to REALLY embarrass him!) but his alarm seems to have a mind of its own and always insists on firing off whenever he's out of town, with yours truly ends up having to sort things out...we love you, A!

The second seder was a quieter affair which was fine as I was exhausted and welcomed an earlier night.

The food has been amazing and I'm not yet sick of matzot, so there's still hope for the next six days (groan).

Now, I can enjoy the holiday in the knowledge that I have more than a week of holiday and no more pesach cleaning to attend to (until the inevitable switch-over on Tuesday night).

Mo'adim Lesimchah!

Monday, 2 April 2007

Happy Passover

The start of Pesach is but a few hours away so I would like to wish you all a Chag Kasher Vesamayach (i.e. a very happy Passover)

May we all celebrate the festival together next year in Jerusalem!

Sunday, 1 April 2007

The April Fool

I wish I could think of a suitably mischievous April Fool's joke to play on you, but the truth is that I'm really too exhausted to bother.

It has been a long, long term and I've come to the decision that I will be leaving at the end of next term - hopefully with a job to go to. I know it sounds like a mad thing to do, but I'm seriously scared of staying on. If things don't get better there, both kids and teachers are going to get seriously hurt. And I mean "seriously". New job or not, I'm outta there in July.

Anyway, I'm taking it easy and applying for vacancies, which is not hard as they are coming up every few days.

You never know - I might be able to report some exciting news before the month is up.
It would be nice to add something more positive than my recent entries.

Passover is hurtling towards us and so my mind needs to be fixed on other things - aside from the violence that is permeating my daily working life.