24 August 2007

God in the Classroom? Never!

From today's New York Times:

About 400 students started classes at Ben Gamla [a new K-8 charter public school in Hollywood, Florida] this week amid caustic debate over whether a public school can teach Hebrew without touching Judaism and the unconstitutional side of the church-state divide. The conflict intensified Wednesday, when the Broward County School Board ordered Ben Gamla to suspend Hebrew lessons because its curriculum — the third proposed by the school — referred to a Web site that mentioned religion.

Opponents say that it is impossible to teach Hebrew — and aspects of Jewish culture — outside a religious context, and that Ben Gamla, billed as the nation’s first Hebrew-English charter school, violates one of its paramount legal and political boundaries.

Of those of you who went to public school, how many of you learned anything about Christianity? Maybe the Crusades, or the Protestant Reformation? How many of you sang a Christmas carol (or five) in the winter pageant, or learned to play "church music" (including just about anything by Bach) if you were in the school orchestra? Was there a Halloween parade? In your Spanish or French or Italian class, did you learn to say "Feliz Navidad" or "Joyeux Noel" or "Buon Natale?" In your world history course, did you learn about such "exotic" philosophies as Buddhism and Baha'ai? And, of course, were you asked to start each day with the God-inclusive Pledge of Allegiance?

Eleanor Sobel, a school board member who is among Ben Gamla’s most vocal critics, said making sure the school did not stray from constitutional rules would take a near-impossible level of supervision.

Okay, Ms. Sobel. I hope you're exerting just as much effort to take Christianity out of the rest of the public schools in your district. Don't forget to reschedule the "Winter Break" so it doesn't deliberately overlap with Christmas every year. We wouldn't want anyone thinking that our public schools endorse any given religion, and, besides, the semester ends in late January, which is a much more logical time for a school vacation.

Culture and religion and history and language are interwoven. We do our children a great disservice when we try to pretend otherwise. We don't need less exposure to religion in our public schools - we need broader exposure. Children should know that we commonly note numbers in "Arabic numerals" and that we have Muslim scholars to thank for much of our science and math. They should know about the pagan origins of Halloween/Samhain (bonus points if you distinguish among the various religions that are currently lumped under the pagan umbrella), and the Catholic "All Souls Day" spin-off. They should know that being "zen" doesn't jsut mean chilling out, and that "yoga" is more than an exercise class. A survey of world religions should not be limited to a couple of days of "...and this is what they do in other countries in December."

So, yeah, teach Israeli folk dancing to those public school kids, including the 17% whose parents' primary language is Spanish and the "handful" of black students, some of whom are bussed over to the school by their Baptist church.

You know what really gets me, though? This bit (if it's true):

Mr. Deutsch and Rabbi Siegel, a former Jewish day school director, said their critics were mostly defenders of Jewish day schools that stand to lose students and tuition money.

About 80% of the students at Ben Gamla are transfers from other public schools, not from Jewish day schools. Of the students who did transfer out of the day schools, I would not be surprised to discover that a significant portion of them were there not for the religious education, but only for the Hebrew language exposure, or perhaps a little bit of cultural support. Some secular Israelis who have moved to the U.S. choose to send their children to Jewish day schools for the sole purpose of having somewhat familiar surroundings for their children, who may not speak English very well at first, or who may not feel comfortable being inundated with Christmas! come December.

While I certainly understand the day schools' interest in retaining students, I find it morally repugnant that their leaders would seek to undermine an effort to bring exposure to Hebrew language and Jewish culture to a greater number of students - including non-Jewish students.

Allan Tuffs, the rabbi at Temple Beth El in Hollywood, said he, too, was worried about the school and what it could lead to. “Jews have thrived in America as in no other nation,” Rabbi Tuffs said, “in large measure due to this concept of separation of church and state.”

He added, “Once a Jewish school like Ben Gamla is established, you know that fundamentalist Christian groups throughout America will be lining up to replicate this model according to their religious tradition.”

Not so fast, my friend. They'll have to create their own language first.

23 August 2007

What's the matter, Colonel Sanders? CHICKEN?

My children are no longer vegetarians. Rafi, at least, seems to be very happy about it.

(Off the grill, of course!)

22 August 2007


Tonight Julian and I were discussing Moxie's post on consumer consciousness in purchasing children's toys. I suggested striving to avoid the Made-in-China-type stuff, not only for our kids' safety, but also to do our part to minimize worker exploitation and bad manufacturing practices. Not missing a beat, Julian asked if there are companies that would follow the carbon-neutral model by becoming "exploitation-neutral" - "We'll keep on exploiting our own workers, but we'll pay for those people over there to have a better life."

Seriously, I want to do some kind of assessment of our global exploitation "footprint" and see what we can do to minimize it. I have no real chance of ever meeting my ideal - the cheap, cute clothes at Old Navy are just too tempting to pass up. And just two days ago I bought a couple of rubber duckies (from Target no less) that were made in China...and I didn't even bother to look at the packaging before tossing them into the stroller basket. Hell, we have half of the Tiny Love catalog sitting in our living room, thanks to their "buy one, get one free" program for parents of multiples. We certainly have our share of plastic toys, though we are trying to minimize the number of items that sing, vibrate, whistle, beep, flash, or otherwise contribute to auditory and visual pollution of the home. (I should note that we bought high chairs with big plastic toy attachments that flash and play music. Sue me, but sometimes the kids need to be in their high chairs without food, and I'm weak.)

Will have to chew this over. In the meantime, I am happy to note that DreamHost, which my husband went with to host online stuff for our synagogue, is both employee-owned and carbon-neutral/green. w00t!

(No, being carbon-neutral's not perfect, not when you accomplish it by paying for "carbon credits," but it's a step in the right direction, and DreamHost also goes to some length to reduce their negative environmental impact to begin with.)

21 August 2007

food update

This won't be a very good baby-led weaning blog if I don't actually write about the foods my kids are trying. As of this week, we have broken the "one new food every two or three days" rule, though we still are not offering complex mixed foods. The list of offered foods thusfar (I think in order):

  • sweet potato (boiled; steamed)

  • avocado

  • carrot (steamed)

  • zucchini (steamed; grilled)

  • banana

  • peas (boiled, in mesh feeder)

  • broccoli (steamed)

  • green grapes (in mesh feeder)

  • brown rice pasta

  • blueberries (in mesh feeder)

  • red bell pepper (raw, for gnawing)

  • eggplant (grilled)

  • watermelon

  • oatmeal (cut oats, not whole)

I feel like I must have left something out, but I can't think of anything just now. The grilled veggies are made with a bit of olive oil, and this past Sunday also had some black pepper sprinkled on before grilling. Grilled zucchini so far seems to be a favorite, either fresh off the grill (cooled slightly) or cold the next day. Watermelon is a hit with Rafi, not so much with Rita.

Pasta (offered four times) was met with almost no interest whatsoever, and I can't tell whether that's because the shape (rotini) was too small to pick up (didn't seem so) or because (as Julian theorizes) it's just too bland. Tomato sauce is out because we haven't yet offered tomatoes, which are somewhat allergenic, and sauteed veggies in oil seems like it would be too slippery...but I'm wondering whether a nut-free pesto would be a good pasta sauce. Maybe with some avocado for creaminess? They haven't had basil either, but this would be a good introduction.

General dexterity is improving - Rafi is quite adept at getting the right part of the mesh feeder into his mouth when he wants to, and both kids can usually manage to pick up spear-shaped foods and place them into their mouths (though they sometimes need us to hold up the slippery foods so they can grab them).

The oatmeal was a new food this morning, and I helped a bit by putting some onto spoons for each of them (from piles in sections of their trays) and letting them attack the spoons as they saw fit. Both aimed for the oatmeal directly with their hands as well, and Rita had a ball squishing it through her fingers. I must admit I tried the squishing thing as I was rinsing off the trays, and it's rather fun.

14 August 2007


English was not my father's first language. It was his fourth, in fact, after Farsi, Hebrew, and Arabic. Because of this, he had more than his share of linguistic quirks. I never really noticed them as a child, the way you don't really take note of your parents' accent or weird driving habits or total lack of fashion sense until you hit middle school or whatever and someone else points it out to you....at which point it starts to stick out like a sore thumb and becomes a never-ending source of embarrassment.

Two particular quirks hold fast in my memory. One was his use of the word "cautious." He must have learned "cautious" before "careful," because he almost never used the latter. "Be cautious!" he would say as I hopped onto a swing, dove into a pool, or went off to just about anywhere. It would burst out of his mouth even as a split-second warning, like when I was riding my bike or learning to drive. It just sounded odd, as these things go, far too formal a declaration when a simple "Careful!" or "Watch out!" would do.

The other one that sticks out for me is the way he communicated the concept of acting slowly. In Hebrew, one would say "le'at le'at," which translates literally as "slow slow." Different languages, different grammatical structure; it makes sense in Hebrew. But not in English. I'm not sure he even knew the word "slowly." Driving too fast? "Go slow-slow." Wolfing down dinner? "Come on. Eat slow-slow." And so on.

You may have noticed a few new lines in the Archives drop-down menu. Or, if you are subscribed to the Devarim feed, you probably have a bunch of new posts in your reader. I am importing posts from the original Devarim, working in little spurts. Slow-slow, it will all get done.

12 August 2007

New level of sleep deprivation

Julian and I just had an extended debate about whether or not I'd already taken the shower I intended to take before bed. I couldn't remember, and neither could he. In the end we had to go check to see whether the shower stall was wet.

It was.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think it's time to sleep.

So True

Tell me this hasn't happened to you.

05 August 2007

Grilling Success Story!

Today we had some chicken cutlets, onions, and zucchini off of the grill (a charcoal kettle deal that debuted on Mother's Day). I left the salt and pepper off of the pieces of one of the smaller zucchini, and we offered wedges of that to the kids. Oh my, was that a hit. Rita only had about one and a half pieces, but that's a significant amount for her. Rafi must have gone through about half of a zucchini's worth of wedges - most of the skin and some bits of flesh were left me behind, but the greater part of everything we handed him made it into his mouth and down the hatch. There were flecks of grilled-blackened veggie all over his cheeks and nose, too. I guess we now know who really picked out that Mother's Day gift!

Oh yes - Rita is back on food now. On Friday I spoke to her pediatrician, who thinks the rash is just a superficial skin irritation caused by the food. After observing her eat a few times this weekend, Julian and I think it's actually caused by her polyester bibs, which she would rub against her cheeks and mouth. So at the grill-fest today we put her in a long-sleeved bib with a fleece front, thereby preventing the bib-rubbing. After a few days of that, we'll see how it affects things.

In other news, we also discovered today that Rafi can reach the spinning animals on the very top of the toy tree that came with his high chair. Two days ago they were out of reach, and now he can make them whirl like nobody's business. Awesome!

Sing it!

I was going to write a post like this in honor of World Breastfeeding Week, but since One Tired Ema wrote it already, and probably better than I would have, go read hers.

03 August 2007

A Blaringly Good Time Was Had By All

So, the sheva brachot went off without a hitch. It had been nearly a year and a half since we last hosted a gathering even approaching this size (just under thirty people, though our parties used to have closer to fifty), and I was worried we'd forgotten how to keep things going. There was much frantic last-minute cleaning, but we get our best cleaning done just before guests arrive. As do Gnomiand Mabfan, apparently. (They co-hosted with us and so spent the couple of hours before the event also frantically straightening up and arranging serving platters and checking things off lists.) We progressed from snacks to food to dessert at a decent rate, and after most of the guests left around 9:45 a few friends stuck around (along with the bride and groom of course) while we leisurely packed up the leftovers. Approximately half of every dish Gnomi or I made was left over, meaning we made just the right amount. The kids (pleasantly) surprised us by sleeping through the whole thing, from the first loud arrivals to the constant chatter to the joyful singing all the way to the drawn-out goodbyes. The only sticky part of the evening occurred when Julian noticed that one of the building's first-floor smoke detectors outside our door was making a funny beeping noise. "Just as long as it doesn't go off during the sheva brachot," I said.

You've heard the sage advice, I sure, to be careful what you wish for - because you just might get it. The alarm did not, in fact, go off during the sheva brachot,

It went off at just after four o'clock in the morning.

Now, if we hadn't had a solid week of near-daily false alarms last month,, this probably would have freaked me out far more than it did. Instead, my first thought upon waking was, Didn't they fix this stupid thing already? But, of course, you take these things seriously, so Julian and I grabbed the kids and headed outside, where we spent a pleasant fifteen or twenty minutes with our neighbors. Our overnight guests (the groom's parents) commented that we certainly know how to provide entertainment for company. A fire engine eventually showed up. The alarm, of course, was nothing, and we all shuffled back inside.

I did my best to get the kids back to bed by repeating the latter portions of their bedtime routine. Rafi fell back asleep by about 4:45, and I think we can expect him to stay that way until at least 7:00. Rita, on the other hand, is still awake. After repeated attempts to resettle her, we eventually decided to pull her into our room so that she wouldn't wake Rafi with her shrieking. She's tired, poor girl, but she has never been one to fall back asleep - even now when she wakes to nurse in the middle of the night.

The most frustrating part of it all is that we were on track for a good night's sleep for both kids. Rafi's only wake-up was at about 2:30 AM, and he went right back to sleep after nursing and having his diaper changed. With that kind of timing, we were probably going to avoid the two-wakeups pattern (once before 11 PM, one after 4 AM) he'd fallen into over the past week or so. Rita had not yet woken at all since bedtime, and for her that probably meant she was headed for a solid ten- or eleven-hour night. Not that I want my children to be up half the night, but it if we'd been having a night from hell anyway it would have been much easier to take this disruption in stride.

And I suppose now is as good a time as any to introduce Rita to early-morning blogging.

02 August 2007

food log: bananas

I gave Rafi very ripe banana this morning - sliced in half crosswise, peeled down one side of bottom half. He promptly stuck it in his mouth, sucked off a bit, and then squirted the rest of the banana out of its peel. After watching his fruitless (punny, huh?) attempts at getting the squishy stuff into his mouth, I started holding up chunks within lunging range and letting him bite or suck off bits. Then we repeated the process with the second half. All told I'd guess he actually consumed maybe 1/6 or 1/;8 of the banana...not bad!

01 August 2007

go figure

Five repetitions of "Al Kol Ele" - tired Rita is still lifting up her head and giggling at me.

One time through of "We're Not Gonna Nap Now" (with apologies to Twisted Sister) - Rita is halfway asleep.