End of Year Syndrom

rosebush.jpgIt is the end of the school year here. Two more weeks of school followed by three weeks of exams and we’ll be on holiday. Even though the end is near, it is a trying period.

The objects around me tell me the year is nearly over:

– My bag is broken (see previous post).

– My red felt tip pen has run out.

The students tell me the same, although not in so many words:

– They skip more and more lessons.

– They come back after several days of absence with no excuses and don’t see why I can’t be more understanding.

– If they are present, they consider they have reached “almost-hero” status and expect me not to make them work.

Even my body cries “enough”:

– My sleep has become erratic. Some nights I can’t sleep, others I oversleep.

– My stomach is unpredictable and demands junk food like pizzas and ice-creams (Häagen-Dazs to be precise) despite years of good habits.

– I crave for coffee and can’t resist temptation.

The list could go on and on. Meanwhile I guess I should just get ready for Shabbat and enjoy the 25 hours ahead.

The French High School System

arts.jpgAs the project on the Holocaust which I mentioned in another post was accepted on Tuesday, the next step is now to prepare for next year.

Before I go on and blog about what I plan to do, I’ll try to explain a bit more about the French education system so that the rest makes sense.

I teach in a Lycée. Lycées provide a three-year course of further secondary education for children between the ages of 15 and 18. The three years are called respectively: seconde, première and terminale.

In France when the students are in lycée, they can’t choose all their subjects. They choose between a variety of specialized “sections” or streams. In our school they can choose between five:

– Humanities (which include languages)

– Economics and Social Sciences

– Sciences

– Management Sciences and Technologies

– Health and Social Sciences

Each section has mandatory subjects (thus whatever your choice you have to do French, maths, at least one language, etc), compulsory subjects that go with your choice (for instance physics if you have opted for the science section) and optional subjects (another foreign language if you wish).

However within the mandatory subjects, the levels are different and depend on the stream. Thus students who have chosen Humanities are expected to reach a higher level in English than those who do Health and Social Science. Logically enough the English exam in the 3rd year will also differ.

We intend to have two different classes involved in the project. The students will all be in première but some will do Humanities wheras the others will have opted for Sciences. They will all study English and a number of them will also do German as their second foreign language while the others will study Spanish.

Cauliflower and Green Pea Curry

Cauliflower.JPGI tested this dish during my stay in Hong Kong in October but I think that the original recipe comes from an Australian cookbook.

Cauliflower and Green Pea Curry (dairy) (serves 4 people)

600g cauliflower florets

1 medium onion chopped finely

2 cloves garlic crushed

2 cm fresh ginger (10g), grated

2tbsp hot curry paste

¾ cup (180ml) cream

2 large tomatoes (440g) chopped coarsely

1 cup (120g) frozen peas

1 cup (280g) yogurt

3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced thinly

¼ cup finely chopped fresh coriander

Boil, steam or microwave cauliflower until just tender; drain.

Meanwhile, heat oil in large saucepan; cook onion, garlic and ginger, stirring until onion softens. Add paste; cook, stirring until mixture is fragrant.

Add cream; bring to a boil then reduce heat. Add cauliflower and tomato; simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add peas and yogurt; stir over low heat about 5 minutes or until peas are just cooked. Serve curry sprinkled with egg and coriander.

Teaching about the Shoah: Project

shoah.jpgA colleague, who teaches history and geography, asked me yesterday if I was willing to work on a Holocaust project with her.

We would share the same class (a group of 30 or so juniors). She’d teach them history and I English. In addition, once a week, and for half the school year, we’d be together with the students and they would work on a project related to the Shoah. Finally we hope to be able to take the class on a day-trip to Auschwitz.

We are presenting the project this afternoon and then again tonight in two different meetings and hope that it will be accepted.

Megillat Ruth

ruth.jpgThe Hebrew Bible or Tanakh falls into three parts: Torah, Neviim (Prophets) and Ketuvim (writings) hence the acronym TaNaKh. The Book of Ruth belongs to the third part. The Book of Ruth is part of Ketuvim; it is also one of the five Megillot, the five scrolls, a subcategory of Ketuvim.
Each scroll is associated with a Festival on which it is read.

Thus The Song of Songs (Hebrew: Shir ha-Shirim; שיר השירים) is read on Pesach.

The Book of Lamentations (Hebrew: Eikhah or Kinnot; איכה) is read on the Ninth of Av.

Ecclesiastes (Hebrew: Kohelet; קהלת) is read on Sukkot.

The Book of Esther (Hebrew אסתר) is read on Purim.

As for The Book of Ruth (רות) it is read before the reading of the Torah on the morning of Shavuot.

The Talmud cites Samuel as the author (Baba Batra 14b), but Biblical scholars do not accept this tradition. Mainly because Samuel died before David became king, and the way in which the author writes the genealogy at the very end of the book (Ruth 4:17-22) implies that the lineage is well known and significant for the Jewish people.

It is likely that the author wrote the story after the time of King David, though it is difficult to date it precisely. The most common assertion is that the author’s goal was to promote the inclusion of foreigners, such as Ruth, in the Assembly of Israel in reaction to the condemnation of intermarriage by Ezra and Nehemiah.

There are at least six reasons why we read the Megillah of Ruth on Shavuot:

– The events occurred during the harvest season. Shavuot is the Harvest Festival. Thus we should remember that one of its names is the festival of reaping (Hebrew: Hag ha-Katsir חג הקציר)

– Ruth was a convert to Judaism. Conversion is an individual “Kabbalat HaTorah” and Shavuot is the festival which commemorates the giving of the Torah. The Torah makes clear that « Neither with you only (do I make this covenant), but with him that standeth here with us, and also with him that is not here with us this day » (Devarim 29:13-14). The Talmud understands the latter part of the verse as a clear reference to future generations of Jews, and to the future proselytes who would later accept Judaism (Shevouot 39a).

– The name “Ruth” has the numerical value of 606. At Har Sinai the Jewish People accepted 606 mitzvot, in addition to the seven Noachide Laws. One reason for our reading the Book of Ruth on this festival is because it gives us such an eloquent picture of the ger tzedek, the true proselyte. Shavuot is the “time of the giving of our Torah,” and when we received it, we too, like the ger tzedek, pledged to accept the Torah and fulfill its 613 mitzvot.

– Ruth the Moabite was permitted to marry Boaz despite the verse “A Moabite may not marry into the Congregation of HaShem” (Devarim 23:4). On the contrary based on a ruling of the Oral Law female Moabites and Amonites are excluded from the marriage-exclusion principle, because they had not participated in any way in the anti-Israel crimes, that is to say denying bread and water to the Jewish People when they wanted to travel through their territory on the way to the Land of Israel. One learns that we need both Written and Oral Torah; one cannot have the Written Torah without the Oral Torah or the Oral Torah without the Written Torah.

– King David was born and died on Shavuot. The Megillah of Ruth concludes with David’s lineage.

– To teach the greatness of Gemillut Chassadim, acts of loving-kindness. This is an importance theme throughout the Megillah. Thus our tradition often praises Ruth’s loyalty and devotion to Naomi.

The Book of Ruth is quite short, only four brief chapters. Here is an outline of its storyline:

– 1:1-5 Elimelech’s family leave Beit Lechem for Moav. His two sons marry Moabite women. The three men die.

– 1:5-22 Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, decides to go back to Beit Lechem. Ruth insists on going with her.

– 2:1-23 In accordance with the law of Peah, Ruth gleans in Boaz’s fields.

– 3:1-18 Following Naomi’s advice, Ruth tells Boaz that they are relatives.

– 4:1-12 Boaz convinces his cousin to renounce his right to marry Ruth.

– 4:13-22 Boaz marries Ruth. King David is one of their offspring.

This is only an introduction. For more on the Megillah, I suggest you read Leora’s blog. For the past few weeks we’ve studied the Book of Ruth together via emails. We both focused on the Book of Ruth, of course, and read Second Thoughts by Rabbi Levi Meier. However we decided to focus on different topics and each write two posts on the Megillah. In Leora’s first post, you’ll find insights on phrases and themes found the Megillah.

Mother’s Day in France

mom.jpgIt’s Mother’s Day in France today. Yes, we do have Mother’s Day too. It has in fact been an official day in the regular calendar since 1941, that is to say since Pétain instituted it. Eventhough he is considered a traitor and is part of a past France is not too proud of, the relevance of Mother’s Day has never been questioned.

In France the first official celebration, la Journée des mères, was held in Lyons in 1918 as a tribute to the mothers and wives who had lost a husband or a son during WW1. In 1929 this ceremony was adopted by the government and it became a fixed date in the calendar 12 years later. Mother’s Day falls on the last sunday of May, except if it coincides with Pentecost day, in which case it is shifted to the first Sunday of June.

The little girl on the left is my mother in 1941; she was two at the time. She is almost 70 now and is still as caring today as when she became a mom 44 years ago, although in lots of different ways obviously. She lost a son four years ago. Then between August and November 2007 she was part of a group of seven women (relatives and friends) who spent a week in turn with her youngest sister (a widow) who was dying from cancer.

Yet she is blessed with good health and energy, and for the past five years has been driving 35 miles every Thursday to study Ancient Greek with a group of people and a retired teacher. I suppose the challenge and the intellectual satisfaction she gets out of it, as well as a loving husband and two grandchildren, keep her going.

Getting Ready for Shavuot?

bikurims.jpgAsk anyone what the most important Jewish Holy Day is and you’ll probably get two different answers: Yom Kippur and Pesach.

Lots of people will actually mention Yom Kippur because of the many Jews for whom it is the only day they re-connect with their Jewish roots. In France we have a term for them, Kippur Jews.

Yet Jewish tradition would seem to indicate that Pesach is more important. Thus the sages say that we are obligated to remember every day that God took us out of Egypt. Jewish men do so by wearing Tefillin, a pair of black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with biblical verses which refer to this event when they pray in the morning. We all do so by reciting the Shema evening and morning or when we say the Birkat Hamazon after a meal and on numerous other occasions.

What about Shavuot? The Jewish holiday we celebrate on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, beginning in the evening of June 8th this year. In fact, if we look carefully at the Torah passages that we read during the morning prayer, we’ll see that we evoke Shavuot and the Book of Ruth (which we read on this Festival) every day too.

This excerpt is situated at the beginning of the morning prayer, after the blessings over the Torah. After these blessings (because we must not say a blessing in vain) we read three different passages from the Torah. One from the Written Torah and two from the Talmud (one from the Mishnah and the other one from the Gemara).

This is the Mishnah passage:
These are the things that have no measure: The Peah of the field, the first-fruits, the appearance [at the Temple in Jerusalem on Pilgrimage Festivals], acts of kindness, and the study of the Torah. (Peah 1:1)

In the Book of Ruth, it is thanks to the Peah that, at one point, Ruth and Naomi can survive.

– Shavuot was the first day on which individuals could bring the Bikkurim (first fruits) to the Temple in Jerusalem.

– Shavuot is one of the three Pilgrimage Festivals, Shalosh Regalim, when the Israelites living in ancient Israel and Judea would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. There they would participate in festivities and ritual worship in conjunction with the services of the kohanim (“priests”) at the Temple.

Acts of kindness is a major theme in the Book of Ruth.

– To prepare for Shavuot there is an ancient tradition of all-night Torah study when men and women attend classes on the first evening of the Festival until the early hours of the morning.

Feel you want to know more? Stay tuned and visit this blog as well as Leora’s blog for more insights on the Book of Ruth and its significance as from next week.

Any Ideas?

eliette.jpgOne of my closest friends wil be 37 next week and, as I’ll be staying with them for Shabbat next weekend, I’ll be there to celebrate her birthday.

Joëlle lives in Paris, teaches Classics and French, is married and the proud mother of two great girls. We met two years ago during a six-day seminar on the teaching of the Holocaust in junior and high schools. There were about 60 other teachers but we ended up sharing a lot of time together since, along with five other people, we ate lunch in the same kosher restaurant in the Jewish quarter of Paris (for some obscure reason the rest of the group ate in a different restaurant).

Now I need an idea for a present. There are always books, but even in that area I lack ideas. Can you help?