Wednesday, July 21, 2010

... And A Bunch of Other Stuff

You may have wondered why I posted the seemingly random video of The Band. I was actually trying to achieve a bit of musical balance, after having put up the celldweller thing. Unfortunately, having celldweller, The Band, and the link to The Connells video in the comments in such close proximity caused a dangerous digital reaction. If you look closely, the edges of the blog are a bit charred. I promised the people at Blogger that I would be more careful in the future, but I had my fingers crossed. You know I'm prone to risky behavior.

And speaking of music.

Composers of music for children who grew up in the 60s or 70s are struggling with how to deal with the recharacterization of Pluto as a "dwarf planet" instead of the last of nine planets in our solar system. On Barenaked Ladies' extraordinary kids' album Snack Time, there is a song called "7 8 9," with this: "Seven ate nine! Once upon a time in our solar system/We couldn't make do without 9/But Pluto's not a planet now, so eight'll do fine."

The Nields' superlative Rock All Day/Rock All Night contains "Percy on Pluto," in which they explain: “Pluto’s not a planet anymore, you see it came up short/It’s really pretty tiny and its orbit’s way off course/You can’t really call it a planet anymore, but you can call it Planet Dwarf. ... It doesn’t really matter what you call it it’s the same/A rose is still a rose, after all, by any other name/And those of us who are little, we matter equally/In fact that’s why they passed the laws of mass and density.”

My favorite treatment of the Pluto Issue is on Here Comes Science by the incomparable They Might Be Giants. They run through the eight planets but also mention other bodies that often go unmentioned. This way, they can talk about Pluto and not have to go on about how it was once considered a planet but now it's not, yadda yadda, who cares, and just to make sure they've covered everything, they tack on "and a bunch of other stuff." Brilliant.



(I highly recommend all three albums, by the way. Unlike many kids' albums, these are chock full of genius and get better the more they are played.)

Okay, so, remember Passover? Right, you don't want to. Too bad. So I hosted a seder, and my family came, saw, and was suitably impressed. We used a haggadah that my mother found, which was supposed to help you do a shorter but more complete seder. We were test-driving it, and we only had one copy, so I read from it while others tried to follow along in another Haggadah. (I know, one isn't supposed to do it this way, but stay with me.)

As Mom had warned me, the language was a bit advanced for the young ones, so I sort of modified it as I went along. My mother-in-law exclaimed "wow! I've never heard this before!" which meant that, even though she had hosted and attended many a seder, she had never heard the story told quite this way. I believe I made it ... entertaining while simultaneously educational! The only grumble was from my oldest nephew, but he's 15 and that's sort of his job.

(Oh, and the food was good. When I have lots of money I will buy this seder plate. And kiddush cups for the kids. And a havdallah set. And a bunch of other stuff.)

The big people were also impressed with my children's chanting of the Four Questions in Hebrew (and Einstein's reading of them in English), which we had practiced at night before going to bed. Pumpkin is especially eager to learn things like this and then show everyone. When he hits religious school he will be far ahead. Meanwhile, Einstein's religious school report card was outstanding, and received a "Woo hoo!" comment from the director. Apparently, some genius absorption has been detected.

And speaking of holidays.

There was an event for little ones on Shavuot, but I did not take them, because I realized that it was really intended for the preschoolers from our shul's "Early Childhood Center," or ECC, who would not have school that day. I've been to ECC-sponsored things and found them to be cliquish; i.e., I felt loserlike because my child wasn't in the ECC. (It's also hard sometimes for a Mom with a job outside of the home, such as myself, to relate to those without, and since ECC is not a full-day program, many of those mothers are in that category. Wow, that sentence tried really hard to be "correct," didn't it? This is a complicated issue. We won't get into this now.) The bottom line is that my kids didn't really celebrate Shavuot. Also, as I had predicted, there were very few people at services. No one thinks Shavuot is important enough to take their kids out of school (my mother even told me not to, which is interesting, because during our public school years that's exactly what my parents did...).

A lady read my mind, suggesting after the service that we start talking up Shavuot early on, and planning for it so it is in everyone's mind. This is the celebration of G-d giving us the Torah. What could be more important? So next year...

And speaking of synagogue attendance.

I have to give our shul points for deciding to allow people to officially pay their membership dues and religious school tuition on a monthly basis. It used to be that you had to call up and speak to the administrators and discuss the fact that you could not afford to shell out all that cash at once. I've received mailings about just going ahead and paying monthly installments without making any special arrangements. I think more people will join if they don't have to grovel.

I could do an entire post on how expensive it is to raise Jewish children, but I don't much want to. This part depresses me. When I was the age my children are now I was going to camp at the Jewish Community Center, but I can't afford to send my kids there. (It is even more expensive now than it normally would be, because, as I understand it, someone Madoff with much of the JCC's endowment.) There is a Chabad camp that operates nearby, so I may be able to swing a session there next summer. But I'll go cross-eyed if I try to focus on the funds required for a decent bar mitzvah, a high school Israel program, not to mention TWO kids in religious school next year. Then I'll start bumping into walls, which might cause me to break my house, or a fingernail. Can't have that.

In order to continue the attempt to establish, and eventually cement, my family's religious involvement, without getting depressed or anxious or having to iron my hands or whack my head I have to maintain a level of contentment with an unknowable future....

Okay, stop the presses. The end part of this blog post has been conveniently written for me by my son. I was bringing Einstein to camp on the morning of Tisha B'Av (The Ninth of Av, the 11th month in the Jewish calendar). On the car ride over, I reminded him about the Wall in Jerusalem, and explained that on this day far back in history, enemies of the Jews destroyed our Temple, and all that is left is that wall. (I wanted to keep it simple for him, but Tisha B'Av actually commemorates several tragedies that occurred--probably not so coincidentally--on this day.) This launched into a discussion of Jewish beliefs and holidays.

Among other questions, he asked why his cousins "switched to Christian" and whether they could switch back (he seemed to be thinking: why would anyone want to do that?). He asked me when it was going to be Passover so we could read from "the Play-Doh book" (referring to a children's haggadah we use that has claymation-type illustrations). We spoke a bit about the seder and what he liked about it (helping to set the table was one thing). I told him that Rosh Hashanah was coming up next, and he got very excited because he remembered the apples-dipped-in-honey tradition, probably his favorite holiday food thing. He said he liked Shabbat. He asked which holiday is the one where you look for three stars? That's actually havdallah, the end of Shabbat, I explained. (We haven't started doing havdallah, though I really want to. For some reason, we didn't do this growing up, but it's a nice ritual involving a cool-looking candle and b'samim--aromatic spices such as cloves. I think it is time to take Einstein to the Jewish Stuff Store and get us a havdallah set.) He said he likes being Jewish.

I'm supposed to say something here about how this one little boy has provided me a huge boatload of hope that is, by itself, a great force to secure us against future attempts at the destruction of our people. If any of you Very Smart and Talented Writers have the words to express that, have at it in the comments. Instead I'll just say that if I sometimes feel like Pluto, he is my dwarf planet Eris, and even way out here, we've got apples and honey, and a bunch of other stuff.

9 comments:

Shtuey said...

BTW, you're getting really good at this.

First, it's cool and rebellious to say Pluto is still a planet. Egg heads wearing pocket protectors who still use slide rules as their preferred method of picking up girls should be spending their time on far more important things like transwarp drive and transporters.

Having discussed the problem with Shavuot I have come to the following conclusion. Shavuot which should be at least on equal footing, if not more important than Pesach, suffers from two things: 1) It occurs during the school year, which cannot be helped due to its place on the calendar (it is important to note that no date is mentioned in the Torah to specify when it should occur, just that it comes 49 days after Pesach...it's the only festival that is not specifically delineated by an actual date). 2) There is no ritual practice associated with the festival. There is no seder, no building of a temporary structure, no lighting of multi-branched candleabrum, etc. The best it gets is that we eat dairy. In order to rectify this I think that the counting of the omer (the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot for all those keeping score) should be used to pump up the momentous event of Hashem's appearing before the entire Israelite nation and giving us His Torah, which is a pretty spectacular thing in my book, and is much more tremendous than say...eating unleavened bread for 8 days and ending up constipated and deprived of beer.

We put a lot of emphasis on mourning the deaths of Rabbi Akiva's students, and less on preparing ourselves for marking this wholly and totally awesome and glorious moment (which we screwed up later with the golden calf, the sin of the spies, and all the other screw ups that eventually led to the Temples being destroyed...but that's besides the point).

Perhaps there should be some kind of food related event like a blintze cook off. I would judge the contest and the winner could drive me to the hospital to have my stomach pumped.

As far as brilliant writing on the hope provided to our people by this one little boy...it is as I have always said: the hope for our people lies not with our rabbinic leadership, who have many times succumbed to petty jealousies or the vanity of personal aggrandizement. Our rabbis are important. Our schools are vital, but it is our mothers that begin it for every Jewish child.

From the time of Sarah it has been our mothers that have had the clarity of vision to see what needed to be done, what influences were harmful, upon whom blessings should be bestowed. A child's love of Yahedut begins in the home. The fact that your little boy is embracing his Judaism is no doubt a source of hope for Klal Yisrael. Perhaps more importantly in this case it is a sign to his mother that she's doing a great job putting him on the derech.

The Calico Cat said...

well the pithy comment will pale in comparison to the previous one - but...

There was an event for little ones on Shavuot, but I did not take them, because I realized that it was really intended for the preschoolers from our shul's "Early Childhood Center," or ECC, who would not have school that day. I've been to ECC-sponsored things and found them to be cliquish; i.e., I felt loserlike because my child wasn't in the ECC. (It's also hard sometimes for a Mom with a job outside of the home, such as myself, to relate to those without, and since ECC is not a full-day program, many of those mothers are in that category.

you are so not alone... Meanwhile, since I take the week of Pesach off, I was able to go to that activity... I had never seen so much nepotism in mt whole life! Seriously.

Also they can quit sending me e-mails about the "Twos in training" program at the ECC that is held between 9:15 & 12:15 because I work...

Laurel Kornfeld said...

Pluto IS still a planet, and I urge all who write works for children on the solar system, whether songs, books, or toys, to not blindly accept the controversial demotion of Pluto, which represents only one side in an ongoing debate. Children deserve to hear both sides.

Only four percent of the IAU voted on this, and most are not planetary scientists. Their decision was immediately opposed in a formal petition by hundreds of professional astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. Stern and like-minded scientists favor a broader planet definition that includes any non-self-luminous spheroidal body in orbit around a star. The spherical part is important because objects become spherical when they attain a state known as hydrostatic equilibrium, meaning they are large enough for their own gravity to pull them into a round shape. This is a characteristic of planets and not of shapeless asteroids and Kuiper Belt Objects. Pluto meets this criterion and is therefore a planet. Under this definition, our solar system has 13 planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris.

You can find out more about why Pluto and all dwarf planets are planets at my Pluto Blog, http://laurele.livejournal.com and in a few months, in my new book "The Little Planet that Would Not Die: Pluto's Story."

12tequilas said...

I never imagined that my post would bring over a Pluto Genius. Welcome to the one and only (I think) Jewish astronomy blog, and congrats on the book.

Calico Cat, your comment is very valuable to me because I'm reassured that the whole ECC thing is not my imagination or unfair bias.

And Shtuey, you always say the right thing. That's because you're a great guy. Or at least you know how to make people think so :)

Laurel Kornfeld said...

I'm not so much a Pluto genius as a Plutophile, a person who loves the planet Pluto and has been inspired to learn everything I can about it and advocate for its planet status. FYI, Eris is a planet too.

Since the book isn't done yet, if you're interested in reading more about the pro-Pluto arguments, check out Alan Boyle's book "The Case for Pluto."

I wouldn't be so sure that yours is the only Jewish astronomy blog. Mike Burstein of Brookline, MA, is a huge Pluto supporter, and the founder of the Society for the Preservation of Pluto as a Planet. He has a livejournal blog for the group. You can find out more at http://www.plutoisaplanet.org . Interestingly, Burstein is also an Orthodox Jew (I'm not though I've used Jewish references in my Pluto Blog) and a sciene fiction writer with a general blog that can be accessed at http://www.mabfan.com/

Laurel Kornfeld said...

I'm not so much a Pluto genius as a Plutophile, a person who loves the planet Pluto and has been inspired to learn everything I can about it and advocate for its planet status. FYI, Eris is a planet too.

Since the book isn't done yet, if you're interested in reading more about the pro-Pluto arguments, check out Alan Boyle's book "The Case for Pluto."

I wouldn't be so sure that yours is the only Jewish astronomy blog. Mike Burstein of Brookline, MA, is a huge Pluto supporter, and the founder of the Society for the Preservation of Pluto as a Planet. He has a livejournal blog for the group. You can find out more at http://www.plutoisaplanet.org . Interestingly, Burstein is also an Orthodox Jew (I'm not though I've used Jewish references in my Pluto Blog) and a sciene fiction writer with a general blog that can be accessed at http://www.mabfan.com/

12tequilas said...

"Genius" has a specialized meaning at this blog. Hence the name.

Of course I didn't mean I was the only Jewish person blogging about astronomy. That was meant to be funny; like I'd made up a new concept of "Jewish astronomy," but it fell flat. This has happened before.

It's nice to know folks haven't given up on Pluto. I definitely sensed that Barenaked Ladies etc. were not ready to just accept that stuff they'd learned as kids was wrong now.

They Might Be Giants's Here Comes Science album includes an older song called "Why Does the Sun Shine?" which is great on its own, but they added a sort of correction in the song "Why Does the Sun Really Shine?" in which they humorously admit they were not entirely accurate when they first declared that "the sun is a mass/of incandescent gas." It had been discovered that, in fact, "the sun is a miasma/of incandescent plasma." But instead of pulling the old song, they just wrote something else to go with it, and now we are informed.

cotopaxis said...

To Calico Cat: I've been to Pluto. It makes for a lousy vacation, regardless of its planetary status--too quiet and remote for my liking. I'll be going to Jupiter next year--I hear the storms are like nothing else in the solar system.

I echo almost all of Shtuey's comments on the importance of Jewish mothers--if not for mine, I wouldn't be who I am. It's not that our rabbis aren't important, it's that our identity is formed by those who show and demonstrate love every day, and nobody does that better when we're children than our mothers. So my kippah's off to you, 12tequilas, and I am super impressed.

On Shavuot I also agree with Shtuey. Ritual and symbolism is crucial to the success of a holiday, just as having a defined strategy is important to a diet or exercise program. Other holidays have the menorah, the Seder table, guilt (for YK), a sukkah, etc., but what does Shavuot have? Cheese? All night study session? I like Shtuey's suggestion for the blintze cook-off. I'll supply the Ipecac.

cotopaxis said...

It's been pointed out that I made a couple of mistakes. My comment about visiting Pluto should have been directed not to Calico Cat, but to the commenter who has so passionately learned about the distant planet(oid?) and disseminated knowledge about it. Yes, I can tell the difference between calico cats and doggy planet(oid)s.

The Ipecac is to help with Shtuey's stomach-pumping.

My only disagreement with Shtuey is that almost all the other major and even minor Jewish holidays occur during the school year: the High Holy Days, Shemini Atzeret, Sukkot, Hanukkah, Purim, Passover, etc. The weakness of Shavuot is much more because of its low use of symbols and ritual.