Log in

25 October 2016 @ 03:22 pm
I have other things to write about, too, but I've been meaning to post this for a while. I've read a few books over the past months that have some sort of Jewish content to them. Two had to do with Chabad Hassidim, one involved a Conservative synagogue, and one retold a Biblical story (so was sort of a Midrash). All of these are worth reading for different reasons:

Stephen Fried, The New Rabbi: Fried followed a large Conservative congregation in Philadelphia through their search for a new rabbi to replace their long-time leader who was retiring. There’s lots of local shul politics, as well as issues with the broader Conservative movement. I have to admit that a lot of why I found this interesting was because my father had been on the rabbi search committee at our synagogue back in my childhood. So it all sounded very familiar. It was also a good reminder of why I prefer more intimate congregations to the sort of large suburban synagogue written about here.

Stephanie Wellen Levine, Mystics, Mavericks and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey among Hasidic Girls: The author spent a lot of time getting to know teenage girls in the Lubavitch community and profiles several of them in this book. One of the key points is that the separation of the sexes in the community allows these girls to be loud and outspoken. Some are truly pious, but there are also girls who leave the community and, for example, go to strip clubs and experiment with marijuana. (There’s nothing said about them having sex, so one can only wonder.) I'll admit to being most impressed by the girl who ended up going to college and pursuing a pre-med program. Overall, this is a very interesting read.

Anita Diamont, The Red Tent This is a novel, in which Diamont reimagines the story of Jacob’s daughter, Dina. In the Bible, Dina is raped and her brothers avenge her. In this version, she enters into a voluntary relationship and is betrayed by her brothers, who are scheming for their own advantage. This leads her to go to Egypt, where she gives birth to a son and, eventually, reencounters her family. There are some decidedly heretical ideas in the book (mostly involving idol worship by the matriarchs), but it is an absorbing read. And it is worth thinking about different points of view on familiar stories.

Sue Fishkoff, The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubovitch The two things one finds all over the world are, of course, McDonald’s and Chabad. If you’re Jewish, the latter is a more significant institution, providing, say, a place to go to a Passover seder in Kathmandu. But they are also controversial, for a number of reasons. I will admit that I don’t like that they’re perceived as the face of Orthodox Judaism, versus, say, Young Israel. Fishkoff is generally positive about Chabad, but doesn’t shy away from noting the criticisms of the organization - especially the Messianist tendencies of a large number of their adherents (but not their senior leadership). She also points out that their emphasis on outreach can lead to fairly shallow services, geared towards beginners. Overall, I thought this was a fairly balanced and interesting book. I’m still too much of a Litvak rationalist to be drawn into any Hassidic group, but I thought this was a worthwhile read.
Tags: ,
21 October 2016 @ 11:40 am
Celebrity Death Watch: Gary Dubin was an actor who, among other things, voiced Toulouse in The Aristocats, a movie I am slightly embarrassed to admit how much I like. Peter Allen hosted the broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera. Robert Bateman was a songwriter, probably best known for "Please Mr. Postman." Ray William Clough was one of the founders of finite element analysis (a technique used in structural engineering, for those who are not as geeky as I am). Leo Baranek was an acoustic expert and one of the founders of Bolt, Beranek and Newman. Dario Fo was a playwright and Nobel laureate, with his most famous work being Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Edward Gorman write a lot of mysteries, as well as The Fine Art of Murder, which is a fine piece of critical writing. Valerie Hunter Gordon invented the world’s first disposable diaper, or, given she was British, nappy.

Bhumibol Adulyadej was the king of Thailand for over 70 years. He was actually born in the U.S., in Cambridge, Massachusetts to be precise. (His father was studying public health at Harvard.) His brother inherited the throne from their uncle at the age of 9, but was killed under circumstances worthy of a novel. (A couple of palace aides were convicted of regicide, but there seems to be some evidence that Bhumibol accidentally shot his brother.) I don’t pretend to understand Thai politics, which involved a number of coups over the years, but I do understand that the king was vastly popular. He did accomplish quite a lot economically, including a number of water and soil improvement projects. He held patents on a waste water aerator and on a couple of rainmaking techniques. He was also an accomplished jazz saxophonist. Overall, an interesting guy.

The Gulf: I went to see The Gulf at Signature Theatre on Saturday afternoon. This play, by Audrey Cefaly, has to do with a lesbian couple spending an afternoon on a boat. Kendra (played by Rachel Zameplli) just wants to spend her life fishing, watching football, and drinking beer. Betty (played by Maria Rizzo) wants Kendra to be more ambitious. It’s actually mostly incidental that the relationship here is between two women, which is a plus. Unfortunately, I found both of them fairly unlikeable, which is a big minus. Overall, I thought this was well-acted, but it didn’t really capture me.

Story Swap: Saturday night was the monthly story swap. Given the continuing hell of metro track work, I drove and was lucky enough to find a spot right in front of our host’s house. There were a few random neighbors there, who were friendly enough, but one did fall asleep and snore. I was pleased that a woman who I had heard tell at an open mike showed up and told a lovely African folktale. And Tim had a great Halloween twist on a Jewish folktale.

Sunday: I went out to brunch with a friend and then stopped by her house to meet her new kitten, who proved to be less sociable than she expected. Still, it was good to get out for low-key conversation and such.

Too Much Driving: I had meetings in far-flung locations this week, which meant driving at rush hour. Tuesday’s meeting, in darkest Maryland, was especially annoying, as I gave a lift to a colleague, who drives an electric car with insufficient range. It is bad enough when people eat in my car, but when they leave their trash on the floor mat instead of throwing it in the garbage bag, I am particularly peeved. Wednesday was annoying only because I-66 was absurdly slow, making me nervous about making my late afternoon meeting on time. It did work out and the meeting was a reasonably good one, though it created a bunch of follow-up work for me. But I was still glad to be back to my public transit commute on Thursday. And weekends are even better because, even if I do drive all over creation, there tends to be less traffic.
19 October 2016 @ 09:08 am
I have plenty of other things to write about, but I don't want to fall too far behind on these. As it is, I've already got the next box started. This box was almost all repeats, but there was one new snack.

Snack #1 – Chocolate Pretzel (repeat): I’ve gotten this a couple of times before and this mixture of lightly salted pretzel sticks and chocolate hazelnut dip (like Nutella) is still pretty awesome. At 140 calories and 8 grams of sugar, it’s not too nutritionally awful for a sweet treat. And it is amazingly delicious.

Snack #2 – Raspberry Coconut Muffin (repeat): Another sweet snack, with 140 calories and 11 grams of sugar, this consists of raspberry infused cranberries, almond slivers, amaretti drops, and coconut flakes. I have to admit I have never actually seen a raspberry coconut muffin, so I can’t say how convincingly this deconstructed snack tastes like one. What is interesting is how much the raspberry-infused cranberries taste like real raspberries. Overall, a very tasty combo.

Snack #3- Kettlecorn Kern Pops (repeat): These are partially popped corn kernels with a sweet and salty flavoring. The package says it has 150 calories, but the website says 130, which is more of a discrepancy than usual. I like the texture of these a lot, but I prefer the more savory flavors for crunchy snacks.

Snack #4- Protein Peanut Butter Dipper (new): This consists of peanut butter, with baked hemp sticks for dipping in it. It has 130 calories. The peanut butter is the good sort – unsalted, unsweetened – and the hemp sticks are also unsalted. This is a nice, high-protein snack, but it isn’t fundamentally any different from the freshly ground peanut butter I can get at Whole Foods or Wegman’s. I downgraded it from "like" to "try" just on the basis of not being exciting.

Snack #5 –Honey Drizzled Cashews (repeat): Yes, it has 15 grams of sugars, but 180 calories isn’t too bad for a serving of this sort of thing. That’s where portion control comes in very handy. This may be my favorite snack on the planet, or even in the whole solar system. (Though I hear they have wonderful snacks on Venus.) I suppose I could buy cashews with a honey glaze elsewhere, but I don’t since it’s best to save these as a rare treat. But what a treat they are. Yum!

Snack #6 – Vanilla Almond Protein Granola Topper (repeat): This is a mixture of oat and barley granola, almond slivers, vanilla pumpkin seeds, and soy protein crispies. It has 150 calories and 6 grams of protein. It’s really more about crunch than flavor, but it does go nicely with a cup of vanilla skyr.

Snack #7 – Sesame Garlic Crunch (repeat): This mix of garlic sesame sticks, oat bran sesame sticks, and multigrain soy rice crackers has 140 calories. It’s got lots of crunch and good flavor, at least for those who, like me, like sesame and garlic. This is the sort of thing that benefits from portion control, because it would be easy for me to nibble mindlessly on these all day.

Snack #8 – Lemon Drizzle Flapjack (repeat): Graze flapjacks are among my favorite things and this is one of the best of them. It’s 250 calories, but it is also as much a meal replacement as it is a snack. And it is certainly a lot better than a bag of potato chips from the vending machine. Chewy and lemony – what more could I want out of a granola bar equivalent?
11 October 2016 @ 03:57 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Sir Neville Marriner was a conductor, probably best known for founding the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Bing Thom was the architect who designed, among other things, the Mead Center for Arena Stage here in Washington. Brock Yates was an automotive journalist and the creator of The Cannonball Run (both the actual race and the movie). Jacob Neusner was a Conservative Jewish scholar and notable the volume of his publications.

Oscar Brand was a folksinger and, more significantly, a popularizer of folk music on radio and recordings. He was one of the original organizers of the Newport Folk Festival. We had a couple of his record collections when I was growing up and they definitely contributed to forming my taste.

The Wild Party: I went to Baltimore on Saturday to see Iron Crow Theatre’s production of Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party, which a friend’s daughter had a part in. It’s an interesting show, based on a narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March. The same season Lippa’s adaptation played off-Broadway, Michael John LaChiusa had his version playing on Broadway and I’d be very interesting in seeing that version. Anyway, the story is very dark, with the abusive relationship between Queenie (ably played by Allison Bradbury) and Burrs (played by Justin Michael Mazzella, the only Equity member of the cast). I also want to add kudos to Valerie Holt as Madelaine True, who gets the comic relief in the song, "An Old-Fashioned Love Story." My major quibble is that Lippa’s music doesn’t completely fit the jazz age setting, but much of it is enjoyable despite that. All in all, it was well worth seeing.

JGSGW Meeting: Sunday was a Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington meeting. This month’s theme was "Ask the Experts." Unfortunately, the limited time meant that there wasn’t a huge amount of depth to the Q&A. So I can’t say that I learned anything much new. But the schmoozing is always worthwhile.

Another Genealogy Note: The New York City Marriage Index, recently made available due to the fine work of Reclaim the Records, has filled in a couple of odds and ends for me. There are actual certificates to obtain and some information still missing, but progress is progress, however slow.
06 October 2016 @ 03:30 pm
This is the time of year for transitions - between Rosh Hashanah and the government fiscal year. My company has a new president and CEO, as well, and I am reserving judgment on him. We had a strategic planning brainstorming session last week, at which I found myself wondering if I live on a different planet than everybody else.

As the election nears, I expect lots of senior people to resign, so nothing will get done for months. We have something we are trying to get done before then, which will be interesting because we are basically trying to do 6 months worth of work in a month. Except, of course, it isn't work per se. It's getting a bunch of people to sign off on an agreement and it should be doable if you find a way to keep the agreement from sitting on each person's desk for two weeks. The technical part - or, at least, the Geek to English translation - is easier than nagging people to review documents.

Bottom line is that my energy is focused in a couple of narrow channels. I will try to be more interesting soon.
30 September 2016 @ 02:23 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: The only death that crossed my radar this time out was that of Shimon Peres. He served a couple of terms as Prime Minister of Israel, as well as holding several other prominent political jobs there, notably Foreign Minister. I’d say his most significant accomplishment was the peace treaty with Jordan. But he also deserves a lot of credit for Israel being as much of a technologically advanced nation as it is. He also wrote poetry, but I am loathe to list that as an accomplishment for any politician after having heard praise for Stalin’s poetry at his house museum in Georgia.

Baseball: The Red Sox clinched the American League East. Yay! I am also reasonably pleased that the Nationals won the National League East. As for the wild card slots, I’d kind of like to see Detroit pull things out and beat out Toronto, just because the Tigers have some appealing history.

Quarterly Movies: Well, make that "movie," singular. The only movie I saw over the past few months was Seven Psychopaths. I chose it because it was written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Like pretty much all of McDonagh’s work, it is weird and violent, but funny. At any rate, it held my attention.

The Quarterly Goal Update: I didn’t make much of an attempt over the past few months, largely because I’ve been so swamped at work. My email inbox at work is ridiculous – back up over 6000 items. The only other thing I’ve made any actual progress on is dealing with papers, having handled about 2/3 of what had migrated to the bedroom floor.

Speaking of Paperwork: I went to pay my county property tax bill for my car on-line. And I discovered that they had changed my address to some address in a town I’d never heard of that isn’t even in the same county. I called and got it changed back, but the point is that they should notify people when there is an address change so they can verify that they did it. (Apparently, someone did it by phone and the clerk typed in the wrong property number.) The whole thing was bizarre and the security implications are scary.

New Years Rosh Hashanah is Monday and Tuesday, so let me pass along my wishes for a happy, healthy 5777. I will also pass along wishes for a happy fiscal year 2017 for all of my friends who have some sort of U.S. government affiliations.

Two, two, two new years in one.
30 September 2016 @ 12:08 pm
Three new snacks, including one of the brand new superfood items.

Snack #1 – Veggie Caesar (new): This is a mixture of sour cream & onion half-popped corn kernels, cheddar bruschetta, and edamame beans. It’s 120 calories. It’s tasty and crunchy, which is about what one wants from a savory snack. The half-popped corn kernels are particularly good. Graze has definitely mastered the whole sour cream and onion flavor thing. The bruschetta are a bit on the large side relative to the other ingredients, but that isn’t a big deal. Overall, I was pleased with this snack and upgraded it from "try" to "like."

Snack #2 – Lightly Salted Popping Corn (repeat): This is a 130 calorie bag of microwave popcorn, which makes a good serving size. It took about a minute and a half to pop in my microwave. There’s not really much to say about it beyond that. It's not too bad as far as sodium, goes, by the way. It’s 200 mg, which is the same as a comparable amount of Newman’s Own (the best commercial microwave popcorn I’ve found) and a lot less than most of the other brands out there.

Snack #3 – Soy Roasted Seeds (repeat): This is a mixture of roasted sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds with soy sauce. It’s 200 calories and 90 mg of sodium. Its real nutritional virtues are Vitamin E and protein. I’ll characterize this as innocuous. There’s nothing wrong with it and it’s a perfectly fine thing to snack on, but it’s neither unusual nor exciting.

Snack #4 - Sweet Rhubarb Jam (repeat): This mix of rhubarb slices, dried apple pieces, and dried cranberries has 100 calories, almost all due to the 20 grams of sugars. It’s really quite tasty and one of the best sweet snacks they offer. Before I started doing Graze, I had never eaten rhubarb, so I count it as a real discovery. I also hadn’t really eaten dried cranberries, so it’s quite a revelation how much I like them.

Snack #5 – Malaysian Laksa (repeat): This is one of the better Graze broths, but at 140 calories the most caloric of those (though still not at all bad). It has a strong coconut flavor, with notable mushroom undertones. It comes with a side snack of chili and lime cashes and coconut flakes. There’s a bit too much coconut in that, but it does provide some nice crunch to go with the broth.

Snack #6 – Natural Energy Nuts (new): This is a 230 calories mix of nuts – raw almonds, blanched almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts. There’s not a lot to say about that, as these are just plain nuts, not even salted. That’s fine with me, though not to everyone’s taste, of course. It’s not very exciting, but it is filling and high in protein.

Snack #7 – Chia Coconut Cookie with Turmeric & Ginger Tea (new): This is one of Graze’s new superfoods snacks, so I was particularly excited to try it. The packet has two cookies and a teabag, with a calorie count of 120 and only 5 grams of sugar. The tea has turmeric, ginger, licorice, and rose petals and is fragrant, but fairly mild. I’d prefer somewhat more ginger, but that’s pretty much a general statement from me about life. As for the cookies, they taste very buttery, though there is obvious coconut flavor. They were good both on their own and dunked into the tea. Overall, I was impressed and I’m looking forward to trying more of Graze’s superfoods offerings.

Snack #8 – Peanut Butter & Jelly (repeat): This consists of salted peanuts, raspberry strings, and vanilla fudge. It’s 220 calories. It works best if you eat all of the components together. The raspberry strings are particularly good, assuming that one likes fruit leather type things.
26 September 2016 @ 02:58 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Bobby Breen was a child star of the late 1930’s and was one of the people depicted on the album cover of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Erwin Hahn was a physicist who was best known for his work on nuclear magnetic resonance. Jose Fernandez played baseball for the Miami Marlins, as well as having an inspirational personal story of his defection from Cuba. Arnold Palmer played golf and bears some responsibility for the particularly sickening non-alcoholic drink combining sweet iced tea and lemondade. Buckwheat Zydeco was a major figure in the Louisiana music scene. If you can listen to his music without dancing, you may be a zombie.

Non-celebrity Death Watch:Dunn Miller was a puzzle person. Her NPL nom was Loquacious. There’s an interesting obituary of her by Jon Carroll. I particularly recommend the last few paragraphs.

Naomi Feingold was one of my mother’s best friends. I thought they had been in school together, but her obituary says she was 4 years younger than Mom. She and her husband were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary by going on a safari in South Africa. Since she apparently died in Johannesburg, I hope they were on their way home and she got to see at least some of the grandeur of that beautiful country before her death.

Baseball: First, the Washington Nationals have clinched the National League East.

The Red Sox are 5 and a half games up on Toronto and their magic number is 2. They have been way hot lately, winning 11 straight games. I went to Thursday night’s game in Baltimore, which was very exciting. Orioles starter Chris Tillmnan only lasted 1 2/3 innings, giving up three runs. The O’s did tie it in the third, with a three-run homer by Trey Mancini, who just came up from the minors. But the Sox got a run in the fifth and Hanley Ramirez hit a homer in the 7th, so all was well.

By the way, I took the Marc train and stayed over. Because I was planning things last minute and there was some convention going on, the only nearby hotel I could get was the Holiday Inn Express at the Stadiums, which is marginally within walking distance. They do have a local shuttle, but it runs only hourly.

On the plus side, it is next to the Horseshoe Casino. I was hyper after the game, so not ready to go to sleep and that provided a way to kill an hour or so. I played a slot machine with a Big Bang Theory theme and won a little over a hundred bucks.

Used Bookstore Run: I did a used bookstore run this weekend. McKay’s took 27 of the 33 books I had brought in. I did use trade credit to come home with 14 new ones, including a Patrick Berry variety puzzle book. I was going to try bringing the rest to Reston Used Books, but there was some international festival going on by there and the normal parking was closed off. It was hardly worth it with so few, anyway. So I will hold on to those until a future run.
22 September 2016 @ 10:03 am
First, I had dinner recently with a cousin (one of the descendants of my great-grandfather’s brother). It was thoroughly delightful to meet her and talk about our family history. And about life in general.

Secondly, I’ve solved the SLANSKY mystery, via a google search, which turned up a Maryland court case. Sima SLANSKY was one of Mary LEHRMAN’s daughters, which explains why she was buried next to Mary. I hadn’t known about her, because she was mistakenly identified as Seymore in the 1920 census. What I found via google was the record of a bigamy case in Maryland. Jack SLANSKY married Sima LEHRMAN on 31 August 1940 in New York City and then married Juliet WARMACK in Hyattsville Maryland on 26 April 1946. He had actually gotten a divorce (against Sima’s will) in Reno, but the Maryland court said he had not legitimately established domicile in Nevada. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail. By the way, I also found further proof of who Sima was in the probate record for the will of Morris LEHRMAN, where Mary listed her two daughers, Sima and Athalia. It’s so nice to have a mystery solved, though there are always more. For example, why was Athalia also known as Timmy LEE? I also have reason to believe that Mary remarried after Morris died. So there is still more work to do on that branch.

Third, I combed through the 1910 census records for 24-26 Attorney Street, in hopes of finding the uncle that Chaim SCHWARTZBARD was going to. But there was not a single person with the first name Kalman and nobody with a last name that looked like LEWIDRA or ZEWIDRA or any SENIDRA or anything along those lines. But on Enoch Ber’s immigration record, he showed Chaim’s address as “c/o Jagoda” and there is a Meyer YAGODA at that address. That’s one of the jigsaw pieces that could be a bit of sky or a bit of ocean or could belong to a completely different puzzle.

Not news, but I really need to get all this much more organized.
19 September 2016 @ 03:01 pm
Yeah, nothing for days, then two posts in the same day. So it goes.

Celebrity Death Watch: Richard Whittington-Egan wrote true crime stories, including a couple of books about Jack the Ripper. Don Buchla was a major designer of electronic musical instruments. Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro was the president of Cape Verde for about a decade. W. P. Kinsella was a Canadian writer, whose most significant work was the novel Shoeless Joe, which was adopted into the movie, Field of Dreams. Charmian Carr was best known for playing Leisl in the movie version of The Sound of Music, but you may also remember that she played Ella in the Sondheim TV musical Evening Primrose. Edward Albee was a playwright. It was seeing a production of The Zoo Story in high school that made me realize I could enjoy seeing plays which I had found unreadable. He was, apparently, not afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Baseball: The Red Sox swept the Source of All Evil in the Universe! Yay! Now they’ve got 4 games against the Orioles, which will be a big deal since they are currently 3 games up on the O’s in the AL East. I am thinking I might go to either Wednesday or Thursday night’s game, especially if I can stay over in Baltimore to make the commute issue less annoying.

Starbucks Protest: When I was walking from the metro to go to The Grapevine, I noticed a woman picketing the Starbucks across the street. She was carrying a large sign, with the word "Obey" on it. And the "O" was filled in with the Starbucks logo. Anybody have any idea what that was about?

The Grapevine: This storytelling series at Busboys & Poets in Takoma started up again on Wednesday night. This month’s featured tellers were Heather Forest from New York and Chelise Fox, who is, apparently, local, despite my not having heard her before. There were also the usual open mike tellers, one of whom (Dominique) was a first timer and quite good. Chelise had a fine and complex tale about a contest between wit and luck for the success of a man. Heather’s stories were mostly ones I had heard her tell before, e.g. "The Squire’s Bride." Her most powerful piece was a personal one at the end of the program, about the deaths of her mother and father-in-law. Her telling, enhanced with music, is good, but I do bristle whenever I hear someone use the word "shero." I understand why one might not want to use "heroine," but, surely, there is some better word that doesn’t rely on a completely mistaken etymology?

Better Said Than Done: Finally, regarding my own storytelling, I was part of Saturday night’s Better Said Than Done benefit at the Walker Nature Center in Reston. My story was pretty marginally related to the theme, which was Wild Life, though I did have Barbie attacked by a (stuffed) tiger. Overall, my story went reasonably well, though the ending could have been tighter. Given how all over the map the material was on Monday, I think I did a reasonable job pulling it together. I should also mention that, for me, the highlight of the evening was Catherine’s story about the woes of being on a condo board that was trying to solve a problem with goose poop in their lake.

Travel Re-Planning: I was going to go to Laos in January, but decided that I want to take a longer trip than I could get away with then. Fortunately, Alaska Air makes it reasonably easy to cancel award tickets. You get your miles back pretty much right away, though it can take a bit longer to get your credit card company to refund your taxes.

I do, however, still want to avoid being here doing inauguration week. And I know that, what with Martin Luther King’s birthday being that Monday (which we don’t get as a holiday, but our government counterparts do), it will be a slow week at the office, making it an uncontroversial time to get away. I’ve got plenty of ideas for places to go, some of them odder than others. It will probably come down to where I can get a good fare to, as that can actually be a decent time for paid tickets.