Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Drash

Shabbat Shalom!

In my parashah, Jacob journeys to Haran. On his way, he stops for the night and dreams of a stairway going from the ground to the heaven, with angels going up and down on it. In the morning, he creates a monument and names the area Beth El, or House of God. He continues on his journey, eventually he reaches Haran, and meets Laban and his daughters Leah, and Rachel.

Laban promises Jacob he can marry Rachel if he works for him for seven years. When those seven years are up, Laban tricks Jacob into marrying Leah. Laban tells Jacob that if he works for him for another seven years, he can have Rachel. Jacob agrees, and when the seven years are up Laban gives Jacob Rachel. Jacob fathers twelve children and continues to work for Laban for years.

Eventually, Jacob decides to return home. Laban agrees to split their herd, with Jacob taking the spotted and striped sheep and goats. But when Jacob’s herd starts to multiply rapidly, Laban’s sons suspect that Jacob cheated them. In fear, Jacob and his family flee, but Laban eventually catches up with them. They reconcile, and Jacob’s family continues to go their way.

One verse caught my eye in particular. When Jacob woke up from his dream, he said “God was in this place, and I did not know.”.
What does that mean? I grappled with this for a while, trying to extract wisdom, when it came to me.

I realized that what Jacob was trying to say was “I was surrounded by holiness, and I didn’t even know it”.

I think that he was in awe, because, he, like many others had the idea that God could only exist in the holiest of places, and when he opened his eyes, he was also opening his eyes to the Nsim Bchol Yom, Everyday Miracles.
He realized that holiness, or God, for that matter, is everywhere, even in the places we don’t expect. He said “How awe inspiring is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven”.

Now, on the surface, that can appear that Beth El was a sacred place, which might be true, but when I dug deeper, I saw it as proof that Jacob realized there was holiness in everything. He was able to see a newfound beauty by noticing that it was the work of God.

I have enough food, clean water, and other resources that make my life comfortable. An abundance of those things can make me take them for granted, and not realize how blessed I am to receive those things.
So many people have those things, but so many more people don’t. Estimates suggest that almost 800 million people globally are food insecure, 780 million without clean water, and some estimates show that there are over a billion humans living without adequate shelter.
This is such an overwhelming number, and it leaves many asking the same question “What can I do?”.

Last summer, I volunteered at an organization called Urban Gleaners. They take leftover food from restaurants, industrial kitchens, and caterers, and repackage and redistribute it to the hungry. All of the food they receive would’ve gone to waste, if they hadn’t stepped in and fed the hungry with it.
This relates to my Torah Portion, because, the food for the hungry is there, and we didn’t know. Hunger is an issue of distribution, not amount. According to the United Nations, every year ⅓ of food produced for human consumption is wasted. That’s why we need organizations like Urban Gleaners.
Imagine if we drastically reduced that number, and the food was able to go to the mouths of the hungry, instead of the trash.

My Torah portion has taught me to be more resourceful and seek change. It taught me that I can use the resources provided to me to a further extent then I thought was possible.
It also taught me that I have the ability and potential to make change in the world, even if I don’t know it.

Now that I am a Bar Mitzvah, I will try to carry that mindset with me. I will try fixing my broken stuff with homemade solutions, and try using everything that I already have, before buying more. But also, I will actively seek change, and stand up against injustice, because the ability to make change is with us,       

And we did not even know.

Shabbat Shalom. 


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Cat Therapy Missing In Home

When all is tallied, with columns for positive and negative, my kids will list foremost the complaint that I never allowed furry friends to populate our home. Guilty as charged.

If this is my main crime against humanity I get off easy.

Lucky for me others can provide the needed cat therapy, without me having to sneeze and cry habitually.

Above, the kid is holding Dr. Blum, a cat named for the doctor in Amsterdam who gave quality medical care to a nephew.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

This Is What 7th-grade Science Looks Like

This puts the notion that science is abstract and absent from daily life to rest.

I am proud of the kid, as well as the teachers, for doing good work.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Put Your Napkin On Your Lap! It Could Save Your Pants One Day

True story. Feel free to share with children of all ages.

 I toasted half a bagel before covering it with almond butter and jelly. Somehow I lost control of the eating process, dropping the bagel on my lap.

Of course, the bagel landed gooey side down. But because of the napkin-on-the-lap etiquette, my pants were not affected.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Harambe Makes Appearance In Spanish Class

The above is the oferenda the 12-year-old's class created in Spanish to commemorate the dead.

The kid was particularly proud to have found the picture of Harambe, the gorilla, to put on it.

Harambe was shot to death in 2016 by Cincinnatti Zoo employees when a three-year-old fell into his enclosure. A public debate ensued around the human-zoo issues, if Harambe needed to be shot, childcare in public places, and so on.

The kid even followed a human's Twitter feed for a time called Harambe Depot (@HarambeDepot). The tagline on the account: "I don't know why they shot me, I was doing a better job watching the ladies kid than she was."

The kid is media savvy, latching on to Harambe because the dead gorilla's fame has become so widespread. Or maybe not. The kid feels deeply the suffering of animals and the unfairness of the world. Hard to know.

Until clarification, I'll just be glad Harambe is commemorated alongside Curt Cobain, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Princess Diana.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Artemis In Wax

The kid as Artemis
The kid's school staged a "wax museum," where the students pretended to be wax figures that came to life to tell their tales.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Oregon Fall Photo Essay

In Oregon, everyone is officially a smartass.

No filter, a really spooky day in the moors  the park.

This is just weird. Why would my daughter's old, decrepit high school need a room for photography? Just use your phone for cryin' out loud!

This is the transgender flag in my daughter's high school. It uses the typical "boy" and "girl" colors to show acceptance for transgender people. 


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Mountain Snow!

I suppose the low temps are not as good as they could be, but the white stuff is falling!

I take skiing as a moral imperative.

Soggy as all get-out in the valley, but knowing the ski hills will open in a few weeks makes it all worthwhile.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Dad's Early International Experience Worries Kids

A few nights ago at dinner with the family, I got to tell how much fun it was to have friends from all over the world. Specifically, when I first moved to Taiwan after college I shared an apartment with two Chinese sisters and Richard from Surrey, UK.

Richard and I became friends and I enjoyed imitating his accent, as well as asking him everything I ever wanted to know about fish and chips, soccer hooliganism, the queen, Christmas pudding. He shared the satirical magazine Private Eye with me.

The kids were shocked I was so culturally inappropriate, being so obvious with my crass stereotypes and misconceptions.

I told them that once a level of trust has been established, curiosity and interest (as well as mockery) where a person comes from can be appreciated. They didn't buy it. True, I might have been overbearing more than a few times. Still, Richard was my friend and I recall many good times together.

Stephano from Italy, who called me Gigi because it sounded similar to saying "reporter" in Mandarin.
Mr. Kumada from Japan who read Vonnegut and wanted to know about the civil war. Yes, he is wearing my cowboy hat.
I lived in Taiwan for five years and so had the more profound cultural exchanges with my Chinese friends and the local people I worked with. I spoke Mandarin to some degree and invested myself to learning about the culture and history.

My sense of humor didn't translate all that easily into Chinese, so when I think of international high jinx, I am reminded of these characters above.

A culture fair at a local university.


Monday, November 6, 2017

Dad Unable To Conceal Cryptic Cultural References

As the daughter continues to explore music from my era, a feeling of bonding and understanding comes over me, soon to dissipate with the thought that I am undone.

Previously I could take lyrics and thoughts from the songs of my youth and pretend I just thought of such cool fusions of words. No more.

Most recently, the daughter began listening to Little Creatures, realizing I have been trying to hoot like David Byrne on "Stay Up Late" her entire life.

I should be happy she actually made the connection from my overused schtick to an excellent piece of music.

My musical exploration slowed down considerably after my college years, so I figure I have six months to go before I lose all relevance for the daughter.

I'm happy she's following the righteous path of good tunes, even if I can no longer point the way.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Favorite Hiding Spot No Longer Viable

Once a refuge from the real world, this hiding spot is no longer viable as the middle schooler is just too big.

The father (me) clucks his tongue at how quickly time passes, while the kid jumps to the couch to play Grand Theft Auto -- perhaps a virtual escape from reality.