Family Meals

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It is not only the best meal of the week, it is often the only meal at which family members gather, talk, and eat together.

I came across this sentence last night as I was reading a book about Judaism by an American Jew. The author was obviously referring to the Friday Shabbat meal.

It reminded me of a conversation I had had a month earlier with a friend. During the holidays she had met a Belgian executive who had gone to the US on a business visit. He was there for several days and got invited to evening meals by several American colleagues. The thing that surprised him the most was that he shared a family meal in only home: that of an African-American family – who incidentally was also the only one where Grace was recited. I have no idea who the other families were.

In France family meals are an institution and if people cannot always eat lunch together they certainly try to do so for dinner. Those that do not are considered dysfunctional. In addition a lot of people do not have the TV on while eating. It is something I enjoyed as a child and still do now.

Is this totally different where you live or in your family?

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Sukkot Musings

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Sukkot is a very inspiring holiday. By reminding us of the fragility of what we take for granted, it humbles us and makes us aware of our blessings. While the weather has notably cooled down and is wet, I am grateful I have a warm and comfortable house.

At the same time I find it frustrating not to have a sukkah in the garden and wish I were more adventurous and would make up my mind to either buy one or build it myself. It is also frustrating to have to work and find a way of doing so while celebrating the holiday.

On the bright side, we are having a community dinner tomorrow and will eat in a large sukkah that a family donated a few years ago when they moved to Paris. I have made two honey cakes and hope that the weather will be decent.

A few days ago I received Hillel: If Not Now, When? by Rabbi Telushkin and have started to read it. I hope to find the time to write a review soon. I also plan to resume the parshah posts. I will however lack time this week since I have a busy week ahead – shopping on Tuesday after work and a meeting on Wednesday – and will only repost previous posts but I ambition to do better next week.

Post-Yom Kippur Musings

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I spent Yom Kippur in my local synagogue. Ours is a small community where it is very hard to have a minyian every week, which means that some years we have very few services. However the president always makes sure we have all the Yom Kippur services. One prayer leader is hired for the occasion and he is usually accompanied by another capable singer who can relay him.

This year we had more visitors than usual, which means that we had an average of 20 people all the time. One family invited relatives from Paris. Two people who live in the area booked a hotel room for the occasion so that they wouldn’t have to drive. One guy from Bolivia who is studying in Paris and who is doing an internship in a local firm attended all the services from beginning to end.

At the end we had the usual crowd of more than 60 people, thus making our small synagogue seem quite cramped. It was a mixed crowd of Sephardim and Ashkenazim, young and older folks, people from all waks of life and every degree of observance. Some people had moved or were now to old to attend but there were also new families.

All in all, it was a stimulating and invigorating experience that all the “usual” members described as unique. We hope that this will encourage more people to attend the Friday evening Shabbat services.

Sunday Musings

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– Our Swedish collegues and their students are arriving tonight. We are busy cleaning the house and cooking. I’ll probably test a few Pesach recipes on the teacher who will be staying with us as a rehearsal for the big days!

– Yesterday I read another essay from Conversations – the print journal of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals. It was written by Jeremy Rosen, a graduate of Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem and Cambridge University and now a Manhattan rabbi. Since it is online I urge you to read it; a very enlightning approach to Orthodoxy past and present.

– As Pesach is approaching and we are all feeling the strain of cleaning and cooking I have found two articles which have slightly altered my perception of the holidays. One was posted on The Jew and the Carrot while the other one was written by Mimi of Israeli Kitchen. I plan to prepare a mainly vegetarian – as in lots of vegetables – festival in an effort not to feel alienated by the pressure of overwhelming and costly preparations.

Jean Ferrat, a French singer, has just died. I suppose he isn’t well-known outside France, except maybe to those whose French teachers admired his poetical songs. Since his death, journalists have been repeating over and over again that his father was Jewish and “died in deportation” or that he “was deported to Auschwitz during the war, where he died.” I hate this .self-censored use of language. “Died in deportation” seems to imply bad luck, poor health or old age while like millions of other Jews Ferrat’s father was killed/assassinated by the Nazis.

Lacking Focus – Thursday Musings

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As much as I like the new classes I was assigned in September, I am finding it hard to keep up with the new load of work and find the right state of mind to do things for myself once the preps are ready.

What’s more, as if I didn’t have enough on my plate already, I have been asked for the third time since September to find material for exams. It was texts then, pictures (ads, paintings, photos, cartoons…) in January and podcasts (along with their scripts) now.

I seem to have spent ages listening to audio podcasts as well as watching videos from The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The South China Morning Post and other online media.

I have also learnt how to record and convert video files into mp3 files, although I still don’t know how to download from certain websites which protect their data – The Wall Street Journal for instance.

In the past few months, I seem to have spent so much time online trying to find new (and exciting?) material that when I have finished I am left with the feeling that most of my energy has been drained out of my mind and my body.

I would also like to go back to some serious Torah study of some sort but don’t quite know where to start. Anyone with bright ideas is welcome and will earn a point (or more) in my good book.

After Work Thursday Musings – Updated

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– The new cooktop will only be fitted next Tuesday. I now need to find Shabbat recipes that can be done in the oven or the microwave. It’ll probably be a fish dish.

– So much for discipline; I started What I Talk About When I Talk About Running but find it very tedious. I have no time for boring books so I think I’ll switch to something else.

– A colleague lent me The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Although people have mixed feelings about this book, I think I’ll give it a go.

– I can also read The New Book of Israeli Food by Janna Gur which I received this week. I will tick the recipes which inspire me and start once the cooktop is fixed. The photos are stunning and since I love cookbooks this should be fun.

– Last night, on the wonderful French Jewish website Akadem (a non-denominational digtal campus), I heard a fasinating lecture about the divide between secular and religious Jews in Israel. The lecture was given by Marius Schattner a Franco-Israeli journalist who wrote a book on the subject. A secular Jew himself, he started by explaining that he had undertaken this task after his daughter became ultra-Orthodox. The lecture was very nuanced and made me want to buy his book.

– I definitely needed new glasses. So I went to the optician last week, chose them, underwent a number of tests and will eventually get them tomorrow. They’re my first pair with progressive bifocal lenses so wish me luck.

Death & Birth – Musings & Questions

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– My friend was buried on Tuesday. Two friends read addresses they had written; they were beautiful and, strangely enough, comforting. Then her nephew read a letter she had written a few weeks ago to be read during her funeral. Obviously this was very moving.

As my friend was Orthodox (as in Christian Orthodox) and since there is no Orthodox church in my hometown, the funeal wasn’t in a religious building. At the cemetery, however, a priest said a few words in Greek.

A few years ago I questioned my rabbi about attending a non-Jewish funeral. Living in a predominantly Christian culture, I felt the need for clarifications so that I knew how to deal with the funerals of the people who are dear to me. His advice helped me deal with the issue Do you attend the funeral of non-Jews? What are your limits?

– A friend of mine and his wife have just had a baby girl. They are waiting for the rabbi’s approval before she can be named. They have submitted a name, a double one in fact, and should get his answer pretty soon. Is anyone familiar with this custom?

Quick Tuesday Musings

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– I have just started a book about American Jews by Andre Kaspi, a French historian specializing in American history. This author claims that anti-Americanism and anti-semitism are often linked and wishes to debunk the different myths that prevail concerning Jews in the United States. It is a well-researched book and although I have only read about forty pages I have learnt a great deal about Jewish immigration to America, especially the early days.

– I had my two last class meetings for the term this evening. Class meetings are formal gatherings where all the teachers of a class meet to discuss the students’ performance and attitude. I can relax a bit as from now on my evenings will be less busy.

– Much as I have enjoyed teaching Business English since September, I find it is a lot of hard work. All the more so as I am constantly working on two different (and new to me) topics at the same time – corporate culture and consumption at present.

– A message for people who take part in memes and leave a comment: if you want me to visit back, please leave a valid url.

– Batya is hosting this week’s edition of Haveil Havalim

I Really Should Be Working

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– We have a face-to-face meeting with parents tonight and I am still wondering how I will find words that they might relay and that will have an impact on the students and improve the way they learn English.

– I have 30 papers to mark on a sales meeting between an American and three Japanese that turned sour for lack of understanding and sensitivity; wish me luck. The full article is here.

– It’s high time I booked my February flight to Hong Kong to visit my brother and his family but I can’t decide whether to fly with Cathay Pacific or Air France. Has anyone in the blogosphere ever traveled with Cathay Pacific?

– After two months as the proud and fascinated user of an Iphone I still marvel at all the things I now do on my phone. However it seems that some countries are far ahead of France when it comes to performing everyday tasks on their cell phones. Mobile payment is one of them. Are there things you wish you could do from your phone?

Thursday Musings

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– After reading a review of Day After Night by Phyllis I have decided to order the book. I have also just realized that Jewwishes reviewed it too last month.

– I got an email about Buy Nothing Day (which is scheduled to occur on a Saturday) as some French teachers seem to think it is great to teach our students about this (and why not). Interestingly enough though nobody on their site seems to realize that Judaism invented a weekly version about three thousand years ago and that millions of us still observe it today.

– As the head of the English Department in my school (a task which is not paid in this country), I wonder how I can communicate efficiently with my younger colleagues. Indeed they are aware that I send them emails but don’t seem to actually read them. They then ask me what I wrote and what they are supposed to do about a particular situation – our language assitant’s schedule being the latest example.

– Our language assistant, Abigail, has just arrived. She is from Southern England but studies French and English at Leeds University. She seems keen and friendly which will be a great asset for our students. It will also be nice for us teachers to have her around. Last year our assitant never turned up and never even told us she didn’t want the post. I only found out when I found her phone number (thanks to the Internet) and got in touch directly.

– Abigail didn’t take A levels, like most of her British peers, but took the International Baccalaureate instead. In addition to being tested in 6 subjects (one of which has to be a foreign language), a candidate must fulfill three “core requirements: Extended Esssay (something like or Project Work), Theory of Knowledge and CAS (Creativity, Action and Service). As an educator I like the idea of a rounded education based on both formal and more flexible learning and teaching.

Is this the kind of education you would have liked to have or something you would like for your children? Are you happy with what you were taught or what your kids learn?