Three Months Later

Wordle: ilana-davita

It’s already been three months since I resumed blogging after a four-month hiatus. In fact, in hindsight, the pause was a good idea which helped me focus on what I enjoy about writing this blog.

It is also five years since I started blogging altogether – in January 2007. I had of course no idea then that I’d still be writing and loving it five years down the road.

I now seem to have found a rhythm: two posts a week and an extra if I feel inspired. How do you organise your blogging time? Has it evolved since you started?

Just for fun, I have created a Wordle of the most read posts in the past 90 days. Click and enjoy!

To Trust or Not To Trust?


This morning I finished reading A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 2: Love Your Neighbor as Yourself by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, which I had started two weeks ago. It took me some time to read this book, not because it is hard or boring – quite the opposite in fact – but because it is quite thought-provoking and challenged some aspects of my life and beliefs in a very powerful way.

I haven’t blogged about it yet, apart from announcing its release a few months ago but it has inspired my latest parshah posts.

After this, I felt I would need something light and had purchased Hold Tight by Harlan Coben. I picked it up as it dealt with a topic I have studied several times with my students, namely the dangers of Internet for teenagers.

I usually use extracts from Now You See Me by Rochelle Krich and thought another thriller would be a good addition to my lesson. Harlan’s novel is a bit far-fetched but one thing I find interesting here is that it questions parental responsibility as regards what kids do on the Internet.

To get a fair idea of Harlan Coben’s view on this issue you can read The Under Cover Parent, an article he wrote for the New York Times in march 2008.

If you have the time, read it and let me know what you think as a parent or an educator.

Youngsters and the Digital Age


They may be Facebook or msn Messenger addicts but when it comes to using the Internet for school youngsters are not so efficient.

Since September our school is supposed to have entered the Information Age. In short, we put the students’ grades online either after each test or once a term, some teachers (not me) make their planners available to all parents, parents and teachers can check the Internet to see abstentees and absenteeism and we can be contacted via emails by students and parents alike.

Thinking that everyone was so familiar with these new tools, I decide to use them for two different purposes.

The first idea was to send an email to all the students involved in the exchange with a high school in Sweden. I needed to check if they had all established a contact with their penffriends. I therefore sent a group email to all the students concerned; all except one who had forgotten to provide his email address. I sent out one mail to 22 students three days ago and got 8 answers so far. Should I add that I had asked to answer as quickly as they could?

The second scheme was for them to send me an essay so that I could mark it during the holidays. After we had been working on schools in Britain and the United States, my students were supposed to send an interview to an American student (whose email address I had given them), write an article thanks to the answers and send me the article once it was written. They got the instructions two weeks ago, just before the start of our spring vacation.

It seemed plain and simpe, at least from my point of view. Obviously not from theirs. Some students thought I wanted the interview beforehand or maybe that it was the questions I was marking, some apparently thought I would send the interview, some wrote to say that they had sent the interview but haven’t sent the article yet while I haven’t heard from about half of them, not at all! I have the feeling that a regular article on paper would have involved fewer difficulties.

Any idea where I went wrong?

A Few Thoughts About Commenting


– Most people comment on new posts not old ones. Thus, because of the upcoming Koren siddur, my post on the subject is read several times a day but never commented. The same is true of my post about the movie Waltz with Bashir which has been read regularly for the last few weeks but never commented upon since July.

– Do you get many spams? I hardly get any and therefore it is rather easy to add comments on this blog provided you don’t include more than two or three links – the default setting I have chosen. However I sometimes wonder about a few people’s blogs where it is harder to comment than it was to go through the Berlin Wall before 1989. Admittedly Blogger has made the letters you are meant to enter easier to copy; you no longer feel like you are writing a coded message for an undercover spy yet some of these codes are still pretty (too) long.

– In addition, one of the Blogger options for commenting is not Mac-friendly and makes it impossible for me to comment. It is the feature where a small window pops up after the comment and asks you to copy some letters before you can publish your comment, not the most usual one with a bigger window on the left. I have sent a few mails to the bloggers concerned and apologize if I have forgotten to answer some of you who have commented on one of my posts and have the feeling I never visited them back. I did but couldn’t add my two cents.

Where Are You?



This simple innocuous query seems to have become one of the most asked questions since we have been using cell phones. Do we really need to know where our interlocutor is, what he/she is doing this very minute?

In his latest book Zeugma, rabbi Marc-Alain Ouaknin (associate professor at Bar-Ilan university) ponders on the two contemporary floods that are submerging us, namely the physical flood created by climate change and the psychological flood brought about by the the countless snippets of information we are bombarded with every day.

He stresses and questions our need to feel in contact all the time via short text messages, Facebook, our blogs – I could add Twitter. He also points out to the standardization of our culture; people read the same free papers on the tube, consult the same news websites, watch the same tv shows, etc.

His worry is that soon we might no longer be able to confront our own selves, that we won’t be able to find the time to read and to create. Above all the Jewish teacher in him fears that we won’t be able to study. By studying he means, the existential approach that enables us to grasp the real meaning of a text, as it addresses itself to the individual interpreter.

To explain this approach, he quotes this famous text from the Midrash commenting on Deuteronomy 29:15:
It is not with you alone that I make this covenant, as well as this plea, but with whoever is present today with us in the presence of God . . . and with whoever is not here today with us.”

The existential attitude is based on the idea that every era must un derstand the text in its own way. The real meaning of a text, as it addresses itself to the interpreter, does not depend on accidental factors concerning the author and his original audience. Or, at least, these conditions do not exhaust its meaning.
And so one can state that the meaning of a text–if it is a great text–not just occasionally but always escapes its author.

(…) In fact, it is not the text that is understood, but the reader. He understands himself. To understand a text is, from the start, to apply it to ourselves. But this application does not diminish the text, for we know that the text can and must always be understood differently. (Marc-Alain Ouaknin)

As an avid reader I couldn’t help feeling challenged by those words. Do I read less because I blog more? The answer is certainly yes. Do I spend less time studying the way Ouaknin suggests? Maybe. What do you think?

These thoughts were inspired by a radio program I heard yesterday.

Virtual Beit Midrash



The Laws of Moadim
Instructor: Rav David Brofsky
Level: Intermediate

This course, on the laws of the holidays and fast days, provides both
background and practical applications. Each unit will commence with an
examination of the primary sources, tracing the halakha from the relevant
gemarot through the rishonim and acharonim. Year 1 will cover Rosh
Ha-Shana, Chanukka, Purim, the Fast Days, and Yom Kippur. Year 2 will cover
the three Regalim: Pesach, Sefirat Ha-Omer / Shavuot, and Sukkot.

New subscribers can register here.

Yom HaShoah

monument.jpgThe photos in today’s post were taken this morning in the cemetery of my hometown. Jewish presence in the region dates back to the Middle-Ages as the town is located near the Champagne fairs, which seems logical as numerous Jews were traders at the time. For instance, Moses ben Jacob of Coucy lived in this part of France.

However it is difficult to know exactly how big the community was and if they had a rabbi. We know for certain that such a community existed in the 19th century. They had a synagogue, a rabbi and a Talmud Torah for children. There is a strange photo in our shul which features German Jewish soldiers and officers sitting proudly in front of the town synagogue during the first world war.

The monument on the left was erected after the war in memory of the 102 Jews who were in the town at the time and were deported and exterminated. It has just been renovated and re-inaugurated by the town council, hence the flowers at the bottom of the monument.

I have chosen to focus on one family : the Apels as their story is quite poignant. The parents (and grand-parents?) along with one of the children were deported in 1942, as were most Jews living in France but who did not have French citizenship. The younger children must have been at school or in another place since they were not arrested with the rest of the family. An old lady, who was born here and was hidden in Dordogne during the war, told me that the children were taken care of by the local population although they remained in the family house. Unfortunately they were denounced and deported in July 1944 while the allies had already landed.



Unfortunately very little data remains and only three in the list have been identified and registered on the Yad Vashem Data Base.

Simon Apel was born in St Quentin in 1932. During the war he was deported with Transport 40 from Drancy to Auschwitz on 04/11/1942. Simon perished in the Shoah.

Joseph Apel was born in St Quentin in 1939. During the war he was deported with Transport 77 from Drancy to Auschwitz on 31/07/1944. Joseph perished in the Shoah.


Gisele Apel was born in St Quentin in 1938. During the war she was deported with Transport 77 from Drancy to Auschwitz on 31/07/1944. Gisele perished in the Shoah.

This information is based on a List of deportation from France found in the “Le Mémorial de la deportation des juifs de France”, Beate et Serge Klarsfeld, Paris 1978.



Other people’s blogs obviously mention the Shoah today. SuperRaizy mentions a beautiful story in Today’s New York Times about a Torah scroll that had been buried by the shamash (sexton) of a shul in Auschwitz.

You can find the story of the same Torah scroll, but from a personal point of view, on Cynthia’s blog.

A list of links on Yom HaShoah can be found on Leora’s blog.