Tuesday, November 23, 2010
"New York is a great biking city," said Mike Sandmel last night while instructing me and and about a dozen undergraduates about NYU's fledgling pilot program to make a beachhead for bicycle sharing in NewYork City. From their blank-faced stares, I couldn't tell if the undergraduates believed Sandmel -- a junior at NYU's Gallatin school-- but I sure did. Since I last lived in New York a bit more than a decade ago, the City government has revolutionized bicycling in New York by installing bike lanes and, more importantly, by raising the consciousness of New York's famously aggressive drivers that they haveto share the rode with human-powered machines.
So, I was anxious to take out one of NYU's bikes for a free spin on these newly bicycle-friendly streets to see what it was like, which I did this afternoon. NYU's program isn't as high tech as Paris' famous bicycle sharing program and some programs at American universities, so there was no electronic card swiping system or anything like that. But like those higher-tech programs, NYU's bikes don't have to be returned at the same place you pick them up -- you can return them at any other NYU bike sharing location, all eight of which are located in the lobby of one of NYU's dorms.
So, that's where I started this afternoon. They gave me a helmet, a key to the bicycle's lock and told me where the bike -- one of NYU's current fleet of 30 Biria one-speed cruser bikes-- was parked. The bike took a little getting used to -- I'm more used to having 27 or so speeds, and, more importantly, the bike has coaster brakes, which means you stop by pushing backwards on the pedals. I kept trying to stop by squeezing the handle bars -- but this was a futile effort! But it was so exciting to be out on Manhattan streets in the beautiful fall weather. With no destination in mind, I headed east on 4th street, eventually ending up at the East River. There, I turned south along the water all the way to the lower tip of Manhattan -- where I got great views of both tourists and Miss LIberty herself -- and then turned back north along the West Side.
I was impressed by the quality of the bike signage on the way. On the southbound leg, there were signs for the turnoffs for both the Manhattan and the Brooklyn bridges. As I headed up Greenwich Street, there was a (bicycles') sign for the East Side, which directed me to head east on Clarkson and Carmine, which took me almost all the way back to NYU.
The NYU program is part of NYU's sustainability program. It's open to all NYU students, faculty and staff, and started this past summer on the initiative of students like Sandmel. He says he hopes to get a senior grant this year that would allow the fleet to expand to 60.
There's been some growing pains. While a bike has yet to be stolen (something that is inevitable in the nation's bike-stealing capital, says Sandmel), bike lights and bells have fallen victim to theft and weather. The single speed and the coaster brakes make for a very tough, low maintenance bike, however. The organizers had tried to set up a reservations system, but that didn't work -- people just didn't show up, said Sandmel.
It was such a thrill to be out in New York on two wheels, today. It really gave me a sense of freedom to be able to see Miss Liberty and all the other waterfront sights without having to make a large effort. I hope that someday New York will have a city-wide bike sharing program on the kind of scale Paris has, but I'm so glad to be a part of this little start NYU has made by setting up New York's first bike sharing program. Thanks to Sandmel and others who made this possible!
Sunday, October 03, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Here are a few more pics of my favorites:
The woman in the above shot was explaining to the cop what a Sukkah is.
It was a beautiful day to be able to take a short lunch break and see something extraordinary!
More shots of Sukkah City here.
Click on the below image for a full-size image of the flyer:
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Last semester was my introduction to social science research methods, especially the kind favored by researchers interested in social change -- ethnography and in-depth interviewing -- and I started to get excited about the idea of doing that kind of work studying a rabbinical school or chaplaincy training program.
This semester, it looks like I'm going back for a bit to my philosophical, theological and textual (as in Jewish text study) roots. I'm really excited about a Philosophy of Education class I'm taking with Rene Arcilla. In this class, it seems to me the prof wants to do something that is profoundly counter-cultural in today's results! results! results! focused culture (educational and otherwise) -- he wants us to consider not how philosophy might help us raise kids' text scores, but rather how education might be a part of how we approach life in general. That is, how education might help us make our lives (individually and collectively) more 'good' and more human. . . . For a guy committed to a faith tradition that sets up Torah study as a central spiritual value and practice, that's a pretty exciting approach. Arcilla wants us to read some classical philosophical texts touching on education -- Plato, Rousseau, Dewey -- and to do with them what I want students to be able to do with classical Jewish texts: make them our own.
Arcilla thinks of this, in part, as a task of translation -- the task of translating our world/lives into the language of these texts (to become "slightly bilingual," as he put it). The main task, he says, is to use these "historically distant" texts to help us examine our own perspective and assumptions. We should treat them as "messages in a bottle found on a beach" and not try and subject them to historical analysis, or try to read them in light of their historical contexts (something that might indeed be appropriate in a different class).
I'm looking forward to seeing how Arcilla does this, especially because it sounds so much like what I think the best Torah teaching is like. It has me thinking again about different directions or approaches for my own future dissertation work. It reminds me that much of my interest is rooted in the frustration I heard so often from other students in my rabbinical school career -- "why are we studying Talmud? What does this have to do with my future rabbinate?"
So often, the only answer teachers seemed to have was "trust me, it's important." A better answer, I think, is to say that Talmud study is about rabbinic/spiritual formation (and maybe, also, to be able to say something about how text study has formed you, the teacher). That is, it's about learning to think like its authors -- to think (and feel and teach) like a rabbi. But that, alone, is not a good enough answer. And maybe my research will be about putting some "flesh" on the mere bones of that answer -- of working on formulating a better theory (backed by evidence!) of how Talmud (and other Jewish text) study forms rabbis. What works and what doesn't -- and what kind of study forms the kind of rabbis we want to form (ones, I hope, who have some pastoral and emotional sensitivity and depth, in addition to being smart and well versed in the Jewish tradition). [My first Talmud teacher, Devora Steinmetz, has written a great article about some of these issues -- where she claims that Talmud study helps create people prepared to routinely deal with the most difficult questions, the ones where there is no clear wrong or right answer -- but I don't think it's electronically available.]
I was just thinking of all this while I was reading an article for a class I'm taking on Talmud Narratives with the world's premier scholar on Talmud stories, Jeffrey Rubenstein. In the article, Jacob Neusner discusses two famous rabbinic stories -- that of Honi the Circle maker (who audaciously demanded that God bring rain) and that of the escape of Yohanan ben Zakkai from the besieged Jerusalem to found the great rabbinic academy at Yavnah (where tradition tells us the first great document of rabbinic Judaism, the Mishna, was composed). Neusner's claim (once radical but now pretty much the conventional wisdom) is that these stories do not in any way depict actual historical events. They are written as didactic tales -- stories to make a point, to teach a lesson.
That alone didn't really get my attention. But what did was Neusner's further claim that the stories' intended audience is rabbis -- they "project a picture of what a rabbi should be, which is a master of Scripture and Torah."  That is, they are stories by rabbis, for rabbis.
I am excited about the days ahead!
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Friday, August 27, 2010
This green guy is one of the greatest enemies of the tomato plant -- the dreaded Tomato Hornworm, which can make incredible amounts of tomato foliage disappear in no time at all (although Minna claims the end result is a most beautiful moth that some treasure).
Thursday, August 19, 2010
So we took this week for a little bit of relaxation between the great busy-ness we have behind and before us. The first three days were a little bike tour of around 70 miles total mostly around Amish country. We went through French Creek State Park -- where we had to navigate around a bridge that was out! -- on the first day. It was beautiful there amid the rain, but the best part was on the next day when we went on only a short ride from Morgantown to New Holland. It took us through some incredible Amish country where we saw many people working their fields with horses. As we came over one rise, we saw what was a very confusing scene at first -- a man with a team of four large horses standing at the edge of a cornfield. There was a mechanical roar as well, though. Why, we asked ourselves, would this man choose to use horses if he thought it was ok to use a mechanical tractor as well? And then we saw it -- eight huge horses, shoulder-to-shoulder, coming straight towards us through the corn. Four were pulling the most incredible muscle-powered machine I have ever seen -- a mechanical combine harvesting the corn without the aid of any electrical or internal combustion motor -- and the other four were pulling the huge cart the harvested corn was going into. We also saw a couple harvesting tobacco by hand in a field and we bought watermelon and nectarines from the people who grew them: incredible sights -- testaments to the faith of others, really -- mere miles from our home and from the tough urban streets of Reading, streets where blood is spilled much too often and where faith is a much-needed support for many, especially in these hard economic times.
I am grateful to the Blessed Holy One for the many harvests we have been able to enjoy in these days, including these precious few days of rest, and the wonderful weather we had today for a bike ride to the beach with Minna's parents, and a nice swim there.
Here are a couple more pics of both the harvest and the ride -- and links to more pics of both:
Minna's parents (on left) riding by Long BeachFrom Bromberg beach ride 2010
Eggplants!From Harvest 2010 (August)
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
I don't know if I would go quite so far in my praises, but ever since Minna bought me the same camera -- the Canon Powershot S90 -- before we went to Israel in the spring (thanks, Minna!), I've really rediscovered the joy of photography with the help of this great little camera!
It's a bit on the big side for a point-and-shoot, and -- at around $350 -- it's on the more expensive side for this type of camera. But considering how close it comes to SLR quality in such a small package, I really think the price is a bargain.
If you want to know what it can do, just keep reading this blog -- almost every picture that I've posted in the last few months was taken with this camera.
[BTW, it was this New York Times column by David Pogue that turned me on to the S90.]
Tuesday, August 03, 2010
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Thanks, Harvey, for being willing to share your struggles with us!
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
This kind of spiritual sustenance is what can not only comfort us, but also inspire us to do things that would have seemed not only impossible, but even miraculous. I am reminded of how Nelson Mandela was able to find this kind of sustenance in another very short work, the Victorian poem Invictus -- something that helped him find not only the courage to survive decades of bitter imprisonment, but to be able to emerge from it unbroken: still able to love other human beings and unbelievably still able to move past anger to profound forgiveness and reconciliation. (Minna and I this week watched the brilliant Clint Eastwood movie of the same name, which documents one small part of what Mandela did after his imprisonment.)
Jews everywhere have been reclaiming the Book of Psalms as our own in recent years and finding comfort and wisdom within its ancient words, traditionally credited to King David. I am so grateful for this free contribution Schechter is making to this movement of reclaiming!
Thursday, July 22, 2010
|From Lunchtime harvest|
I'm so grateful to be able to have a garden this year!
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Thursday, July 15, 2010
This summer has in many ways been the realization of many long-deferred dreams for me. After years of living in dorm rooms and small apartments, I have moved into a house. In its small yard, I have been able to grow my first vegetable garden in some 20 years. Being able to pick a piece of produce off the vine and eat it, fresh, right away is part of a dream I had since college of living a little more right with the Earth, of being a little less of a petroleum-gorging machine trapped in the rat race of a technological civilization. A dream of living close to the things and places we interact with daily. This summer, I walk or bicycle to work every day and only actually get in a car a couple of times a week. I feel free from the hunger to acquire more material things. I feel a great peace.
The hospital only a few hundred yards away where I am working this summer, however -- with all its incredible technology for extending life (and all the pain and loss its inhabitants experience amid injury and illness) -- is a constant reminder that I am not leaving the material, or technological civilization, behind in any complete or permanent way. One day I, too, may need all those machines. One day I, too, may be struggling in a hospital dead. And one day I will die.
"Life is a narrow bridge," Rebbe Nachman of Bratlav taught us. "The most important thing is not to be afraid."
This summer I have been less afraid. I have been sustained by the realization of past dreams -- both my own and of others. But I am also sustained by my dreams of the future, by my own hopes to build a "forest" -- a forest that looks like it has always been there. My dreams there have to do with the education of rabbis as spiritual caregivers. It's a field that in some ways is very ancient, and in other, important ways, is only in its infancy. Come the fall, God willing, I will return to my doctoral studies and NYU and to my focus on pursuing future dreams. May it be the will of the Holy Blessed One that those dreams will yield rich fruit -- many pines where only one once stood. And may it be the Holy One's will that I will be able to find balance on that journey -- to be able to continue to enjoy the fruit of past dreams as I pursue the new ones.
Wednesday, July 07, 2010
It struck me that this film treats violence against women -- including two scenes depicting brutal rapes of the title character by a man appointed to protect her -- in a very different way than is typical of Hollywood films. In Hollywood, violence against women tends to be depicted in a sensationalist, almost fetishistic, way that seems to communicate a very troubling underlying message -- that women a) need to be careful, and b) they must stay in the protection of men (ie, they are not capable of protecting themselves).
It was refreshing to watch a film with such a different approach -- an approach that felt so much more true to life. In life, it is a terrible truth that many, maybe even most, women are victims of sexual violence in their lifetimes. This violence is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated by any decent society. It has to be stopped, and it is women themselves who are capable of taking the lead to stop it (a lead that men surely need to follow). And, so, in this film, we are offered the character of a strong, exceptionally talented woman who is capable of her own defense. She, tragically, like so many women, is victimized. We watch the rape scenes with only revulsion -- with no titillation. It hurts to watch them. We want to stop them.
We have to stop them.
Sunday, July 04, 2010
A week ago, I had cut this then-bushy basil plant back to next to nothing -- now it's starting to come back with these little new leaves!
Here's a pic of the whole plant:
And here's a pic of our Wapsipinicon peach, which yielded our very first tomato of the season, a few days ago. It's growing at a fantastic pace now, with lots of tomatoes all over it. A couple more had ripened over Shabbat, so after Shabbat was over, Minna (by flashlight!) harvested two. They were really delicious, much better than the first one had been, so I'm really looking forward to the rest of these ripening!
Happy 4th of July!
Did you notice the new upgrade on Google Docs, by the way? They seem to have added a whole host of new features to make it more like a traditional word processor like Microsoft Word (including things like a ruler at the top of the page).
That seems to hold the promise of being able to control the printed appearance of documents in a way that was not possible before. But to get all those new features, they seem to have taken away a number of ones that were my favorite things about Google Docs. You don't seem to be able to post directly to your blog, anymore. And there's no more "hide controls" (which freed up a lot of screen space) or "edit html." I hope, at least, that soon they will add a "view draft" feature or something to allow you to get some of that screen real estate back.
Google does address some of these concerns here. This is some of what they say:
What else is different?
You'll probably notice that some features from the older version of Google documents aren't available yet. Don't worry: we'll be adding a lot of them soon.
These features from the previous version of Google documents, however, won't be available in the new version:
- Offline document access via Google Gears
- Edit HTML
- Edit CSS
Keyboard shortcuts have also changed. Check the list of new keyboard shortcuts.You can continue to create documents in the older version, for now, by opting out of the new version. Simply go to your Google Docs Settings page, click the Editing tab, and deselect the option labeled "Create new text documents using the latest version of the document editor."
Want to continue creating docs in the old version of Google documents? Let us know why in the Google Docs help forum.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
This Israeli movie tells the improbable story of a wash-out from a weight loss club who forms his buddies into a Sumo wrestling team (with the help of his Japanese boss at a local sushi restaurant). Both of us enjoyed it, although afterward we debated how Israeli the movie really was. But we both agreed that there was something particularly Israeli about how the movie understood what large bodies are about. While it's true that Israelis can be just as cruel to overweight folks as Americans, in this country our prejudices about fat people are not only that they're ugly, but that they're incapable -- especially incapable of doing physical things. But in this movie, there seemed to be an assumption that large folks are capable of physical things, and that it was not some great leap for them to be training for a physical activity. One idea we had was that perhaps this assumption of physical capability was tied to compulsory national service. Whatever its roots, it was a refreshing cultural difference.
I recommend it!
Monday, June 28, 2010
|As the Psalmist says . . |
From First tomato (peach!), 2010
Sunday, June 27, 2010
I don't often write about movies I haven't actually seen, but when I heard a sound clip on NPR's Fresh Air from Winter's Bone -- a story of a teenage girl seeking her fugitive father so her family's house will not be taken in lieu of his bail -- I was taken back in time. While this voice was, on the one hand, very contemporary, it also took me back to 1880, and the voice of Charles Portis' own fictional girl teenager improbably pursuing a fugitive across dangerous territory in his 1968 novel True Grit (later made into a film that won John Wayne an Oscar). Both voices seemed somehow out of time, almost biblical in their plainness and spirit.
It had been decades since I read True Grit, so I searched the Web in search of excerpts. Reading the below from the opening pages of the novel (excerpted at the bottom of this NPR article here), I was surprised to find myself choked with tears. The narrator -- the teenager Mattie Ross -- is describing, in the plainest of words, how her father was killed by his drunken tenant while the two men were away on a business trip together. The tenant, Tom Chaney, felt he had been cheated at cards and had grabbed his rifle to go in search of the men he had gambled with. Mattie's father, without a weapon, went in pursuit of him in an effort to stop him. He did not get far before Tom Chaney turned on him without a word:
Tom Chaney raised his rifle and shot him in the forehead, killing him instantly. There was no more provocation than that and I tell it as it was told to me by the high sheriff of Sebastian County. Some people might say, well, what business was it of Frank Ross to meddle? My answer is this: he was trying to do that short devil a good turn. Chaney was a tenant and Papa felt responsibility. He was his brother’s keeper. Does that answer your question?
I cannot tell you for sure why those words touched me so, but it brought to my awareness that I have been working very hard to be my fellow's keeper in recent weeks, as well as how dangerous such a path can be. But what really made me cry may not have been the fear; it may have been the realization of my determination -- no matter the risk -- to follow that very basic, implicit command that stands nearly at the very beginning of the Torah -- the command to not be like Cain. The command to indeed be the keeper of one's fellow. Even when it is very hard.
This week will see the Fast of Tammuz, a day commemorating the disaster that was the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans, an event that would be followed some three weeks later by the destruction of the Temple itself, a disaster that might have destroyed the Jews as a people, but did not. We were sustained by our faith, by the knowledge that our Torah is a Torah of righteousness and justice -- a Torah that demands we care for our fellow. And for the widow, the orphan and the stranger.
May it be the will of the Holy Blessed One that you, too, will be sustained by the Torah of truth and justice, and find true grit when you need it.
Up until about an hour ago, this poor guy was a very bushy, healthy-looking plant of basil. But, under the influence of this gardening video, I decided to prune it back almost to nothing -- all in the hope that I could slow down its growth, and thus extend its life.
I've been looking for ways to slow things down in my own life as well. I remember a couple of months ago, sitting on a couch with a fellow doctoral student at NYU and working on a project together. It was the first chance I ever had to really interact with this colleague, and I was surprised to find how
|The stalks from the three plants I pruned|
From Pruning (late June)
So, I hope not to give up this multi-tasking aspect of my life. But, over the last 12 months or so, it's been more like I had three full-time pursuits than just two and it's been quite a strain at times. Mostly, I feel incredibly proud of myself reflecting back on the last 12 months. I became a certified chaplain education (by being approved as an Associate Supervisor in the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education) -- something that I achieved in about as short a time (less than three years) as is theoretically possible. I started a new path as a researcher of education (as a doctoral student in the Education and Jewish studies program at NYU). I found the time to go to some key conferences and meetings, including the Jerusalem Spiritual Care Conference (that included a historic delegation of American CPE supervisors, seeking to give Israelis guidance on how to set up their own professional spiritual care certification and training) and the National Association of Jewish Chaplains conference in Boston (where I gave a workshop on personal Midrash). I also recently attended both the Network for Research in Jewish Education conference where I presented some of my work to other education professionals, and the Oraita spiritual retreat where I studied ancient Jewish sources relating to spiritual (and self-) care with other rabbis. And I continued to work as a CPE (clinical pastoral education) supervisor amid all this, as well as finding time and energy to keep growing my relationship with Minna and to be her partner while she embarked on her own multi-task of starting work as the spiritual leader of a congregation, while finishing her five-year path towards rabbinic ordination.
But I've, nonetheless, been glad to have the change-of-pace that is my summer work -- where I am focused on mostly one task (running a full-time unit of CPE, with my six students, all either seminarians or people who recently finished their seminary education).
|Here are the leaves that I picked from the stalks.|
From Pruning (late June)
So, for this summer I'm pruning myself back for a bit, trying to slow down some and focus in one area (as well as on things that are just fun and restorative, like gardening). My hope is that this pruning will yield not only immediate benefit (a more-rested, less-stressed Alan), but also will yield a richer harvest when I reenter the researcher/student part of my life when I return to NYU in the fall!
Getting back to my _real_ garden for a bit (ie, the one with plants and vegetables), I have some things I want to share beyond the pruning (by the way, if you're interested in learning how -- or if -- to prune tomatoes of their so-called "suckers", there's good info and a video here).
First, I was really excited to see our first flower on our eggplant, today, which means that there is some real hope of having our own crop of these most special of vegetables!
|From Pruning (late June)|
The excitement is because we've sometimes come close to losing hope for this plant. As you can see from the pics below, something is eating its leaves.
From Pruning (late June)
Here are a couple more pics showing the current state of progress:
|Looking up at two of our upside-down ones -- a cuke in foreground and a tomato behind|
From Pruning (late June)
|My hope is this one will grow enough that I can "train it" to the lattice of the fence (actually a door) here.|
From Pruning (late June)
|Peppers starting to yield!|
From Pruning (late June)
|And the cucumbers are starting to have their first flowers!|
From Pruning (late June)
|And they are climbing up the strings I gave them to the top of the fence!|
From Pruning (late June)