Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Boaty McBoatface

Recently, Britain's National Research Council launched a public survey to name its newest polar research vessel. Overwhelmingly, the public chose the name Boaty McBoatface. Britain's Science Minister has announced this name will not be used, and the Council is reviewing other names from the survey for a more suitable name.

While I agree that Boaty McBoatface is a ridiculous name, it also has staying power. It's fun to say, and brings a smile to the face of anyone saying it. I bet even the Science Minister smiles when he says it, before putting on a stern face to go speak to the public.

This is why we have decided that Boaty McBoatface will be the new profanity in our home. Try it. Stub your toe? "Boaty McBoatface' You'll be smiling in no time. Lose your wallet? "BOATY MCBOATFACE!"  It'll still suck, but at least you'll have a moment of laughter.

Britain's new ship may not be called Boaty McBoatface, but the name will live on among its fans.

Shabbat Pesach- Reliving the Experience

Vayikra Moshe l'khol-ziknei Yisrael vayomer aleihem mi'sh'khu uk'chu lakhem tzon l'mish'p'choteikhem v'shachatu hapasach.
And Moshe called to all the elders and said to them, "Draw out and take for you a lamb for your families, and kill the Pesach [offering]. (Shemot 12:21)
Thus begins our reading for this first day of Pesach. Immediately preceding this reading is the commandment to observe the holiday of Pesach.
          And this day will be for you a memorial, and you will celebrate it as a feast to Adonai throughout your generations; you will celebrate it as an eternal ordinance.... In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening you will eat matzot until the twenty-first day of the month in the evening. Seven days there will be no leaven found in your houses....
Why is it that the parasha we read on the first day of Pesach is not the text that declares the day to us, but instead the story of the first Pesach? What is significant to us on this day is not that we observe Pesach each year, nor what God did for our ancestors. Rather, it is what God did for ME on that day. This is the command we observe at the Seder, to tell our children what God, the Eternal did for ME when God took ME out from slavery in Egypt. Had God not redeemed our ancestors, we might be slaves even today. Therefore, we read this as a reenactment of that first Pesach night, appreciating that which God did for each of us, protecting us on that night, and leading us from slavery in the morning. "It was a night of watching for Adonai, for bringing them out of the land of Egypt; this same night is a night of watching for Adonai for all the children of Israel throughout the generations."
Every other holiday our rituals act as remembrances or memorials to events, but on Pesach we relive the foundational event of the Jewish people and of each of our lives.
Hag sameach v'Shabbat shalom.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Kitty Blog #31, By Gandalf the Gray - A Glorious Sunrise

If you were up early this morning, you witnessed a glorious sunrise. It is proof that spring is finally here! I tried to share it with my people, but none of them would get up.  Jen & Sean actually barred me from their room.  I kept knocking (I can be very persistent when I want) until Sean came downstairs, but he didn't even glance outside, and then went back to bed.

I will never understand these people.  After all, they can always sleep later in the day.  (Yawn) Oh, time for my nap.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Shabbat Hagadol- Ridding Your Life of Chametz

Uva hakohein v'ra'ah v'hineih pasah hanega babayit tzara'at mam'eret hi babayit tamei hu.
And the priest will come and look, and, behold,the plague is spread in the house, it is a malignant leprosy in the house, it is impure. (Vayikra 14:44)
Today is Shabbat Hagadol, the Shabbat before Pesach. Traditionally, a rabbi would give a sermon only twice a year, the rest of the time reserved for teaching. Shabbat Hagadol is one of those times. The other is Shabbat Shuvah. Speaking during the High Holy Days makes sense. It is a time to ensure the congregation is in the right mindset for t'shuvah. So why is the other time Shabbat Hagadol? Maybe because it too is the start of a new year, a time when we refocus our thought and our actions. It is a time when we rid not only our homes, but our lives of hametz, of the sourness in our lives, for that is the true meaning of hametz, sourness.
In ancient times, bread was not leavened with yeast added to the dough, it was leavened with a sour. If you bake, you may know that a sour is a living thing. It must be fed and maintained. If maintained properly and kept in balance to the other ingredients, this sour can be used to produce wonderful baked goods. However, if the sour is allowed to grow unchecked, much like the tzara'at of our parasha, it takes over, producing rot and making the food inedible. So too can this happen within a person. Hametz, adds flavour to our lives. Without it life is bland and flat, but if we allow the hametz to take over, we may cease to maintain that which is necessary in our lives, throwing things out of balance. In every life there are ups and downs. There are times when we become too busy. The laundry piles up. Suddenly there are 2000 emails in your inbox. At these times we need to clean house, remove the hametz, return to the simple, and with that rebalance our lives.
Shabbat shalom and zissen Pesach

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Rosh Chodesh Nisan- Happy New Year

Hachodesh hazeh lakhem rosh chodashim rishon hu lakhem l’choshei Hashanah.
This month is for you the beginning of months; it is the first of the months of the year for you. (Shemot 12:2)
Shana tova. Happy new year. Today is the first day of the year. While we celebrate Rosh Hashanah in the seventh month of the year, and count our years from then, The year begins in the spring, with Nisan. For most nowadays, the idea of multiple beginnings to the year seems completely foreign but for ancient peoples it was a common occurrence. It is much like celebrating the Queen's birthday on the last Monday before May 25 (at least in Canada. In Australia it's the second Monday in June. In the UK it is the first Saturday in June)
 There are four new years in the Jewish calendar: The first of Nissan is New Year for Kings and for festivals; the first of Elul is New Year for the cattle-tithe, according to R. Eliezer and R. Simeon, it is on the first of Tishri. The first of Tishri is new year's day, for ordinary years, and for sabbatical years and jubilees; and also for the planting of trees and for herbs. On the first day of Shevat is the New Year for trees, according to the school of Shammai; but the school of Hillel says it is on the fifteenth of the same month.
Each marks a special point in the year. For those involved in agriculture, knowing from when to count a new year for planting or for animals was vital. For records keeping, a new year in a monarch's role is important. Rosh Hashanah counts from the creation of the world. It is Earth's birthday. But seasons, and in the Jewish calendar, the year begins with the rebirth of spring.
In my home, we have plants year round. Most are house plants, adding to the decor and the air quality, but some are more practical. We try to keep herbs growing. We begin seeds during the winter to prolong the growing season. With the availability of grow lights, seed-starting soils, and fertilizers, planting and growing, even in colder climates, is no longer dependent upon the seasons. Heat and electricity reduce our dependence on the season for warmth and light. We no longer fear the cold and the dark.
And yet... There is a joy to spring, a lightness to our steps. There is a feeling of freedom as we unwrap ourselves from the layers of sweaters, winter coats, scarves, hats, and gloves. Warm weather clothing seems more colourful. Flowers begin to bloom, making the Earth's spring clothing more colourful as well.
As we begin to emerge from our monochromatic winter we also begin to shed the dark, drab, cold feelings for more welcoming, warm, and colourful smiles and greetings. Our congregational snowbirds return. We begin to plan our s'darim, sending out invitations to celebrate with family and friends. We open our doors to invite all inside.
As spring begins, Rav Sean, Jesse, Gavriel, and Keren invite all to share the season with us. On Shabbat afternoons we can be found walking in the park, playing ball, or even climbing trees. Come join us to celebrate this new year.
Shabbat shalom.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Kitty Blog #30, By Nora T. Cat - Food Frustrations

I do not  understand people sometimes. I know they can tell the difference between the various parts of chicken.  Why then can they not tell my food from Gandalf's? 

My heart goes out to Gandalf, poor guy. His diet is so regimented, while I have food regularly available. And, of course, I appreciate that his needs have woken our people up to the idea that I should also get something more than the dry food available to me at all times. And yes, I do sometimes eat Gandalf's food, but only to tease him. He gets something annoyed when I do it, how can I not? What kind of sister would I be if I let that opportunity pass by? 

Gandalf's food is okay, but it's still DIET! My food is so much yummier. Generally, Jen puts my food out without incident. However, a few times a month, I find Gandalf's food in my bowl. Two weeks ago, when Jennifer did that, I followed her around telling her exactly what I thought of Gandalf's food until she returned to my private eating area and fixed the problem. The foods have very distinctive smells and tastes. The cans are different colours. I simply cannot understand how these mistakes get made!

Even worse, last week, Sean forgot to feed me at all. I went to his room to tell him so, and he was asleep. He can sleep through a hurricane, so no amount of talking or yelling will do any good. Knowing he rises first, I left him a message in the bathroom. My messages are usually so effective. My people always know exactly what I mean! Unfortunately, Jen was still up, and removed it. Sad. But I've had the right food every night since, and fresh linens too. So it worked either way.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Snow Day April 4th, Reprise

April 4th should not be a snow day. April 4th should be away to begin cleaning out the garden. It should be a day to appreciate my bulbs starting to bloom. And so, today I cleaned up a section of my garden, clearing away old growth to expose the new shoots of my horse radish coming through the soil. I also lamented over my bulbs, sadly peeking through the snow, wilting in the cold.

Instead of planning my garden, or doing more cleaning, Keren, Gavi, and I spent an hour in a snowball fight, flinging masses of powdery snow at each other, and making a general mess of the snow and each other. All winter we've wanted to have some snow time, but there was never enough snow to do it, never snow sticky enough to build a snowman or pack into real snowballs. We haven't been tobogganing. We rarely ice skate. But today - today we spent real time playing in the snow. Afterward, we built a fire and made hot chocolate before getting back to work.

All in all a pretty good February day. Now I'm ready for April.

Purim Costume Madness

Every year I tell my family to choose their costumes rely. I need time to scour Value Village or sew. This stems from the year I was engaged. Sean's parents threw our engagement party on Purim. Anyone who knows is is nodding, smiling, and thinking, "How very appropriate." (Did I ever mention our cake topper was Lady and the Tramp? Oh well, a story for another day.) Anyway, it's not like Sean didn't know he'd need a costume. He helped make the invitations. So, the day arrives, and he has no costume. He looks through my parents' attic and finds a couple of lights, which he ties to a string, and drapes across his neck. Add a straw behind his ear as an antennae and a paper plate steering wheel, and, voila, he was a car. The worst designed costume ever! Plus the lights were heavy, and he had to take them off about 5 minutes into the party.

So, costume decisions MUST be made at least 2 weeks before Purim.

This year it fell apart. Come Purim no one had ideas. I, having been sick that week, planned on using one of the many costumes in our costume storage. (Yes, I have 2 large rubbermaid bins filled with costumes and props.) So I had the Cat in the Hat on Wednesday night and a great clown on Thursday.

Suddenly, with Megillah just hours off, everyone was scrambling. I took out the bins, spread everything out, and Sean just grabbed.

Gavi and Keren were harder. Who knew they were costume snobs. God forbid they wear something they've worn before! After some quick googling of easy costumes, I came up with the lumberjack from Monty Python. Keren's costume took until the very last minute, but, with lots of safety pins and a dress of mine, she became a beautiful Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's. In hindsight, I realize a disposable coffee cup and danish would have been better than the long cigarette holder, but the brain is slow when we're running late to Megillah reading.
 One more year, and Eema again works miracles in the costume department.

And, should you think that only I am the miracle worker, Sean arranged for Jesse to read Megillah in Halifax, just hours before the holiday started. Thank you the Chabad in Halifax. They really came through for him.

Until next year...

Snow Day - April 4th Edition

Time travel is real.

The average snowfall for Toronto is 2 inches (5 centimetres). The average number of days it snows in April - 2. Getting 10 centimetres of snow in April happens on .1 day in April. (According to current As we enter the fourth day of April, and the third day in a row of snow, with more snow throughout the week, one thing is clear to me - we've returned to February. 

February basically didn't happen this year. In February, we're supposed to average 8.7 days of snow, with average accumulations of 10.6 inches (27 centimetres). That's this week. The ghost of February has been lingering through March, just waiting for its chance. The lion of March gave no quarter, but April blinked. Thinking it would be a fun April Fool's Day joke, April let through a glimpse of February's ghost, and in it rushed.

Ha ha, the joke's on you April. We're taking a snow day. Someone wake me in May.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

DST Makes Me Stupid

So we're now a couple of weeks into Daylight Savings Time. I still have not adjusted. But it's worse. I'm not just tired. I'm actually getting stupid. Normally, I go through my day working, parenting, doing what I need to to do. Not now. I cannot focus. Pesach is coming, I'm planned nothing. I don't know who's coming. I simply can't think straight. Not only that, I'm clumsy. I drop things. I bump into stuff.
And I know I AM NOT ALONE!

I cannot understand how it is we continue to observe this ridiculous custom when so much science tells us it serves no purpose. We know more accidents occur. We know it causes problem. We know there are no benefits. (Don't tell me you like the light. Daylight is getting longer anyway. If you really like the light, lobby to have DST in the winter when we wake in the dark, and come home from school and work in the dark.)

And yet, it persists.


Friday, April 1, 2016

Shmini- Purification

Akh ma'yan uvor mikveih-mayim yiyeh tahor v'nogei'a b'nivlatam yitma.
However, a spring or cistern will be [stay] clean, but one who touches their carcass will be unclean. (Vayikra 11:36)
Sefer Vayikra is filled with all the laws dealing with Temple rites and the conditions surrounding them. Among those rites, the issues of purity and impurity, taharah and t'mei'ah, are of utmost importance. The laws of purity often appear to have a science of their own. Pure, holy objects and rituals make others impure. The flow of impurity follows its own rules, and contaminates all it touches.
There is one exception, naturally flowing water. There is something innately holy and pure about naturally flowing water that cannot be duplicated, not by tap water, nor by anything else.
Water is the most basic building block for life. We are created in water, and when we die we return to water. Without it, crops cannot grow. Without it, life ceases. Its discovery on other planets is cause for major celebration because it offers a possibility that we are not unique in the universe.  Yet too much water, or water at the wrong time or season kills. It is a universal solvent. It bores through rock. It creates energy.  Water is a powerful substance, and sacred in every religion.
Mikveh water, holy water, baptismal water, mayim achronim (literally last waters: a ritual washing after eating immediately before reciting Birkat Hamazon), water pouring ceremonies, rain dances, prayers for rain and dew, sacred rivers. D'varim compares teaching to rain, falling to nourish those who learn from it like rain nourishes the earth (32:2). The Talmud says, "There is no water except Torah (Baba Kama 17a). We are surrounded by sacred water and symbolism.
Free flowing, natural water, meaning not drawn by bucket or pipes, cannot be made impure. A lizard may fall into a mikveh, making it temporarily unclean, but is fine once the lizard is removed. The status of the water remains unchanged. Even the presence of a corpse cannot affect the water. The corpse must be removed, making those who touch it [the corpse] tamei, but once gone, the water remains unchanged.
As the only substance to be forever tahor, pure, it also purifies. Mikvayot are filled with naturally flowing water. The water serves as a safe space, a womb from which to be reborn and purified from all that makes us impure.
Shabbat shalom.