Chesed & Rochelle Krich

It’s been twenty years since I started teaching English. I’ve had countless pupils, aged 11-16 when I first started, aged 15-18 now. I’ve also known teaching reforms; reforms which affect the way we are supposed to teach. Some are useful, some not quite as much. Some are presented with modesty and hope, others with arrogance and scorn.

The new and current trend is task-centered teaching. To put it in a nutshell, the idea is to conceive a project which will end with a task for and by the students. The people behind this change believe that if the pupil is made to do something (usually practical) in the foreign language he/she is learning he/she will be more likely to remember what we try to teach them. Therefore I went to several training courses to refresh my practices.

As I was listening to the teachers who were presenting what they had been doing with their classes, an idea started to take shape in my mind. At the time I was rereading Rochelle Krich’s novels (the Jessie Drake and Molly Blum series), in the right order this time.

The project was to introduce the students to a few extracts from Now You See Me (Rochelle Krich’s latest novel to date) which deals with troubled teenage girls – one girl runs away with a man she met on the Internet – and to information about the dangers of the net. The final task would be for the students to conceive a leaflet aimed at parents and/or teenagers with safety tips.

I had discovered Rochelle Krich’s site and joined her mailing list. When I joined the list I got an answer from Rochelle thanking me for joining. I then thought it would be nice to write a short mail of introduction in reply. I also discovered that, prior to being an author, Rochelle Krich had been an English teacher so I imagined how wonderful it would be if my students could interview her by mail. I wrote to Rochelle and she kindly agreed to answer any questions my students would have.

When I first told my students we would email Rochelle, I am not sure they actually believed me. I handed out photocopies of the bookcovers of Rochelle’s novels so that they could discover who the main characters, themes and plots were. We then concentrated on Now You See Me and the some of issues involved in the novel. In the end they designed their leaflets and I reminded them that they would be writing to Rochele Krich. I clearly remember one girl saying: “So we’re really going to write to her! And she’ll answer us.”

With the help of our language assistant, this small group of nine (an unusually small number) came up with a list of 31 questions. These kids are nice but sometimes they despair me because of their poor level, however this time I was really amazed at the quality of their work and their perceptiveness. I then sent the questions to Rochelle who, of course, wrote back and congratulated the kids for their terrific questions.

When I gave out the answers to my students I could see they were concentrating on the text, trying to understand as much as possible without my help. They also commented that Rochelle seemed nice, passionate and that she must have a great sense of humor.

Later on, when I asked them for some feedback on this year’s work, they all mentioned this special project and the mail interview. But the most important for me was that they seemed proud and felt valued. I can’t thank Rochelle enough for this wonderful act of chesed (kindness).

P.S. You can email me (see the about page) if you would like me to send you the interview.

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I Have Done it Again!

For about three years I have been an on and off postal subscriber of The JC, that is to say the British Jewish weekly The Jewish Chronicle. The JC is famous for being the oldest continuously published Jewish newspaper in the world. It was first published in 1841 and is an independent paper which aims at catering for a wide spectrum of Jewish readers.

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I enjoy reading it on Saturdays but usually when my subscription is over I don’t subscribe again, just yet. I tend to hesitate, not sure whether I really want to read it again. One of the reasons being that sometimes I find it a bit empty while at other times I feeel the week is not long enough before I receive the next copy with yet more reading. Then, after a while, I miss it and go back online to renew my subscription.

This has happened again. For some time now clever JC has been sending a weekly newsletter which summarizes its contents. This is when I start regretting not receiving the paper any more. This week’s was no exception; all the more so as it detailed the paper’s makeover as from next week.

Guess what I did when I read it. Yes, I did go online and renewed my subscription!

Shabbat shalom!

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Every new school year I like to make my own grade book. I buy a fancy notebook, organize its contents (list of students, pages devoted to what we have done in class, etc) and then I decorate it. I usually search the postcards I have purchased or received during the year and select those that suit my mood at the time or go nicely with the colour of the notebook. Thus this year’s grade book has a postcard showing a full bookcase on the front and a postcard of Brooklyn bridge on the back. The former was bought in Budapest in August and the latter was sent to us by a cousin.

Yesterday, I came across a small packet with three postcards indside. I immediately recognized the brown paper and remembered where I had bought the cards, at the Paris Jewish museum after visiting an exhibition devoted to Roman Vishniac. And then I knew they would be on my grade book next September.

vishniac_roman_1992_1912.jpgRoman Vishniac was born outside Saint Petersburg in 1897. His family was quite well-off. As a child, Roman Vishniac was fascinated by photography. In 1918, his immediate family moved to Berlin because of anti-Semitism. Roman followed them and, shortly after arriving, married Luta (Leah) Bagg, who gave birth to two children. In the 1930s, after Hitler had come to power and as anti-Semitism was growing in Germany, Vishniac decided to travel to Eastern Europe, photographing the culture of poor Jews in mountainous villages and urban ghettos. He took thousands of pictures with a concealed Leica wrapped in a scarf at his forehead or a Rolleiflex, peeking out through an enlarged button hole of his coat. Vishniac captured tens of thousands of impoverished Jews on film, “[…] to preserve – in pictures, at least – a world that might soon cease to exist”.

I love photographs and I enjoy taking photos myself but I must admit that this exhibition was the most moving I had ever been to. Apparently Vishniac was criticized for the unprofessional quality of his work, nevertheless they made a profound impact on me. I still wonder how he could foresee the annihilation of millions of Jews and I marvel at the way he managed to capture this vanished world with such talent.

Low-carb Shabbat

I have been on a low-carb and low-fat diet for four weeks – the joys of being over fourty! I am only allowed bread (preferably brown) and cheese in the morning, At lunch meat or fish is fine as long as it is grilled, steamed or cooked in a pouch. The hardest meal is dinner. No carb, no meat and I must confess I don’t usually feel like eating fish in the evening. So dinner usually means a soup and/or a salad. Whenever I feel hungry I can drink a tomato juice or eat a diet (no-frills) yoghurt.

Now the bright side of this is that it works. It is a rather pleasant feeling to witness your weight go down as the days go by. The effort and the change of habits seem worthwhile. The dark side is trying to plan a joyful Shabbat while sticking to the diet.

I have started baking a different sort of bread and I bake two loaves which replace the lovely challot I used to make before I started this new regimen. I do not eat much of it, enough for the motzi blessing and of course I allow myself a little wine for kiddush. I make more salads than for a weekly meal, I cook fish or meat for Saturday but still I am not quite happy with this.

Even if I had never cooked tons of food for Shabbat, I used to make a cake and enjoyed meat in a sauce (with carb) for lunch. All this has gone for the time-being and I am not sure what to do to find new habits I’ll be happy to stick to and will look forward to eating and sharing in the near future. Any ideas anybody?

Shabbat shalom!

The Joys of Being a Teacher

Teaching is a hard job for a number of reasons. You choose a job with a view to sharing your love of a subject with other (usually younger) people and then reality hits you in the face.

It is not always easy to initiate a relationship with 30 teenagers who believe there are countless more interesting activities than sitting in your classroom and then keep it going as smoothly as possible for about 10 months. Fortunately it works most of the time but once in a while it is a failure.

What’s more you don’t get much feedback; students arrive at the school, stay for three years and then disappear, carrying on with their own lives.

Having said that, I’ve been very lucky this school year. I have been teaching six different groups and classes since september and they have all been rather pleasant to work with, not always as hard-working as I’d like them to be, but nevertheless mostly friendly and lacking hostility. This has meant a decent school year, not the sort of experience that makes you wish you had pursued a different career.

But the highlights came last week and the occasion was the class assessment of the contents of this year’s lessons. I usually question them on the 3 things they have enjoyed the most, the 3 things they have disliked the most and finally I ask them what they would have liked us to do that we did not do.

First I was glad to see them work and try to answer this mini questionnaire earnestly. They flickered through their notebooks and usually attempted to be thorough and constructive in their answers. I was also delighted to see that they had enjoyed the work we had done on Rochelle Krich’s novel, Now You See Me; in one group it came top of the list in every single student’s answer sheet.

When the lesson was over, a student came up to me and personally thanked me for the well-structured lessons which had helped him be more organized in his work. I then read the different anwer sheets and a girl explained how much she had just loved everything, ending her assessment with these words ‘Don’t change anything!’ Sometimes I just love them.

I Have Moved

Funnily enough, last Thursday, I prepared a post entitled ‘Blogger’s block’ on the LiveJournal platform I have on my computer yet however hard I tried there was no way I could post it. I then went online and tried again, in vain. Finally I contacted LiveJournal support but they have not been able to solve the problem so far and always answer my queries with standard formatted mails. Therefore, last night, I decided to move to WordPress.

You can still access my former blog until I have managed to import it. It seems to be possible but I am not an expert so I doubt it will be done very soon.

Blogger’s Block

Keeping a blog is quite recent for me; I posted for the first time at the end of January after about three months of blog reading, when I decided I would keep an online journal too. This was something very new as the last time I kept a personal diary was more than thirty years ago. Then obviously it was’t public.

At first I seemed to have time to post and material I wanted to write about. Meanwhile I went on visiting other blogs and still do so on a very regular basis. You can find some of the links on the right but the following are those I read most frequently:

Don’t Gel Too Soon – This blog was the one that got me hooked to blog reading. Cynthia had written a beautiful post on going kosher that was also published on the OU website as part of their Shabbat articles in their weekly newsletter. The funny thing is that the article does not mention the blog so I am not quite sure how I went from one to the other.

Treppenwitz – Probably the most famous Jewish blogger on the blogosphere. A great writer and a keen observer of human greatness and foibles.

West Bank Mama – A daily account of life in Israel by a passionate woman. I don’t always agree with her but I really appreciate her dedication.

Havdalah – A blog kept by an English teacher and who only recently went back to her Jewish roots, an account of a spiritual journey and adventure by an enthusiast.

Ra’anana Ramblings – Another blog written by an Israeli woman who once lived in the US and whose sense of humour I enjoy.

The Curious Jew – This blog I discovered only very recently. A Stern student writes very thorough and well-documented posts on various Jewish subjects, often dealing with Halakhah.

Now what does ‘blogger’s block’ have to do with this? The thing is that the more I read other people’s blogs the more I feel how inadequate my endeavour to keep something even remotely as interesting seems doomed to failure. Hence the block. I have the feeling anything I would like to write about is useless, futile and vain. Well, I suppose I should be glad to be reminded about humility, not my strongest point, but I’m not! Maybe I am learning though …