Blog: April 2007

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Shabbaton

This Shabbat was my congregation's annual retreat. I look forward to this every year. This year there were 30 of us (a few more than last year); we get a rural lodge and spend Shabbat singing, praying, studying, and talking. (And eating. I'm told it's genetically impossible for Jews to get together without lots of food. :-) )

My rabbi told us that anyone who wants an aliyah should tell him, so I did. I'm generally reluctant to ask for honors, but the Shabbaton is special to me (my first one was hours after my beit din), and -- this may sound quirky -- I almost never get to hear my Hebrew name. So I took the opportunity. (I used to get aliyot frequently at the weekday morning minyan, but now I lead that service so I don't. Which is as it should be.)

In the afternoon we studied a passage from Pirke Avot, Ben Zoma's "who is wise?" teaching. It goes roughly like this (primary sources not to hand): Who is wise? He who learns from everyone. Who is strong? He who conquers his urges. Who is rich? He who is content with his lot. Who is honored? He who honors others. (Each of these is supported with a passage from scripture.) This is one of my favorite passages from Pirke Avot, by the way.

The way we studied this was neat. After some introductory discussion, we split up into small groups. Within each group, we each talked about people in our lives who are wise, strong, rich, and honored. I got to hear some neat stories and I feel like I know a few people a little better now, and I presume others felt the same way about me. I enjoyed this.

During some free time in the afternoon I worked on the torah portion I'm reading in two weeks. I'm going to read, not chant -- it's the (lesser) tochecha, a passage full of rebukes, and it's customary to read it quickly and quietly. I'm not necessarily going to be quick or quiet, but I figured not chanting would be a change from my usual pattern and a nod in the direction of tradition. Besides, it's a long passage and I'll get more of it if I don't spend time learning the trope. This time, unlike the last time I tried this, I'm not having trouble seeing the phrasing in the text. Structurally it's pretty straightforward.

We did a lot of singing Friday night and at the meals. Several people lobbied me to join the choir; this is not uncommon. (After the last service the choir sang at, a few weeks ago, the director said "we need to get you in the choir". I said "would you like to know what I'd consider a carrot?" So now I'm supposed to send him some Salamone Rossi music to look at.) I was in the choir briefly several years ago and it wasn't a good fit, but I had a conversation with a current member at the retreat and it sounds like one of the biggest problems I had isn't there any more. So maybe.

Our cantorial soloist came this year (her first time). She wants me to join the band. :-) (We have a congregational band that plays at Mostly Musical Shabbat on the first Friday of each month.) The hammer dulcimer would be too much trouble for that (between having to make special arrangements to drop it off and pick it up, and the 45 minutes or so needed for performance-grade tuning, and the scheduling of that service). If their current drummer ever leaves I might do that, maybe. On the other hand, it looks like the bnad members don't get to really pray with kavanah, so this would clearly be a case of giving up my own worship to enhance others'. Which I'm willing to do at times, but I'd like to know that I actually am enhancing others'.

The directions to the campground (supplied by the campground) were full of errors. A couple years ago I annotated the directions on the way in and we gave that to the campground; I learned this weekend that I'm not the only one who's done that. None of it has been effective. The directions out were even worse; the low point was something like "go 15 miles and turn right at the sign for Such-and-Such Inn, near a church and a yellow arrows (sic)". There was no sign. There was no church. At 16 miles there was a caution-style yellow sign. That turned out to be it.

If we can get a street address for this place, next year it'll be Google Maps for us. And if there's not a street address, we should be able to get enough information to find something that looks like a campground on the satellite photos and work it out from there.

Qualities of a worship chair

I used to be the chair of my synagogue's worship committee. The incoming president and I were discussing candidates for the position. I have some fairly strong opinions about the requirements of the job, which I thought it was important to articulate. (If he disagrees, he'll want to take that into account.)

Caveat: My only experience is with one well-functioning congregation. Your mileage may vary. (I know I have at least one reader whose mileage definitely did.)

The worship chair is a liaison between congregants (singly and sometimes collectively) and the synagogue leadership -- usually the rabbi, but sometimes the cantor or director too. This means a few things. First, you have to have reasonable diplomatic skills; you will be seen as one of the faces of the rabbi. When a congregant comes to you with a stupid suggestion or an unreasonable demand, you need to find better words than "stupid" and "unreasonable". You might be tempted to take the easy way out in those cases and say "you should ask the rabbi", but if so you are not doing your job. When, for example, someone wants to know if his non-Jewish relative can have an aliya at the upcoming bar mitzvah, you know the answer already and you owe the congregant a reasonable response. Don't foist him off on the rabbi; he's already busy, and you add a delay. If he gets upset and wants to argue, that's different -- but if you can answer the question, explain the reasoning if required, and be compassionate with a possibly-upset congregant, you must do so.

The flip side of this is that sometimes you don't know and it's a reasonable question/idea, and then you have to make sure it gets to the right people regardless of your personal feelings about the issue. If you want to present your opinion on the subject, you must be clear that you are speaking as an individual and you will still relay the matter to the rabbi (or whomever). (Don't send everyone to the rabbi; most feedback is non-urgent and you should collect it for later discussion.)

All of this implies some expectation of knowledge and exposure. You don't have to be a rabbi, of course, but you do need to know in broad strokes how things are usually done here, and it would be helpful if you knew why. Ask the rabbi or a knowledgable layperson; people will be happy to teach you. You don't have to know everything, but you should want to learn and understand. And you should actually be here for worship most of the time: for your own education, so you have context for congregants' concerns, and because it looks bad if the worship chair never shows up to worship. (Bonus points if you have or develop the skills to lead a service on your own. That could be required someday.)

Then there's the other side of being a liaison. Sometimes the rabbi will bounce ideas off of you before he tries them out. The rabbi doesn't have the "just plain folks" access to the congregation that you do; you are their representative to him. You need to understand the issues, and you also need to have some sense of the pulse of the congregation (well, the subset that shows up). You're entitled to personal opinions; as the worship chair you have better access to the rabbi than many others, so this is a great opportunity for you to discuss your thoughts. But, as with the congregant, be clear on whether you're talking personally or based on how you think the broader congregation would react. Everyone who would accept this job has at least some personal agenda; that's normal, but never misrepresent it, to the rabbi or to the congregation.

You also need the standard administrative skills that any committee chair needs -- running meetings, tracking issues, making sure notices and minutes get distributed, working with the staff on the routine stuff like yahrzeit phone calls, and so on. That's mostly not specific to this committee, though; any chair needs those kinds of qualities.

I wish somebody had clued me in to some of this before I became worship chair. The improved access to the rabbi, in particular, came as a bit of a surprise, though it shouldn't have. I think I did a decent job, but if I'd known then what I know now I would have done better.

Alaric-con

Our friend Alaric recently turned 40, so he decided to celebrate by inviting bunches of people to his house for the weekend to play games. Hence, my dubbing of the event "Alaric-con". :-) (It's 11:30PM Sunday; Dani is still there.) It was fun.

For a birthday present we bought him Rum and Pirates, which our friend Ralph introduced us to last Sunday. We broke that out yesterday and had a five-player game. Four of us ended with scores of 52, 53, 54, and 55. Alas, the fifth scored somewhere around 75. None of the others had played before, but Char (who won) is very fast at picking up tactics. He failed to say "Arrrr!" upon winning, even though he had called for this earlier.

The concurrent game of Caylus was allegedly half an hour from finishing, so someone pulled out Category 5, a simple card game. This is almost certainly a much older game with the serial numbers filed off, just like the Dilbert card game is just the Great Dalmuti in disguise. Someone said this one goes back to the 60s, but I don't remember more.

That was ok for a while, but we weren't that into it and Caylus was taking longer than expected, so next we pulled out Tsuro. I've written about this game before. It's still very neat. (Is it true that it's mathematically impossible to place your tile so as to run two other people into each other? This was asserted, but I'm uncertain.)

After Caylus finished we shuffled people around. Dani really wanted to play a "quick game of Titan". He loves that game but usually has trouble getting people to play it, because it tends to be long -- "quick game" is sarcastic. So this time he got players, and -- sure enough -- he and one other player eliminated each other on turn #2! Quick game, yes, but not in the way he intended. :-)

I don't dislike Titan, but I'm not enthusiastic about it either. As armies expand it bogs down a lot unless people are very good at memorization (even for your own stuff, let alone others'). In a different context someone summed this up well for me: I'm not a big fan of games where I would do better if I kept written notes. That's not what makes games fun for me. I can generally track suits and the top cards in trick-based games like Hearts, but that's about as far as I'm interested in going.

As long as I'm digressing: Titan is one of those games with a bunch of different types of chits, which must all be taken out and stacked around the board at the start (and sorted and put away at the end). Most game manufacturers do not give you any help with this, so you end up buying plastic trays (if you're lucky and can find them) or bunches of tiny zipper bags. That's a hassle. Two games that get this right: Rum and Pirates comes with a plastic tray that is exactly suited for its pieces, including markers for each slot so you know what chits go there, and the Euro-Rails family of train games come with a plastic tray to hold the roughly two dozen types of tokens (plastic disks). It probably costs as much as an extra 50 cents for the game manufacturers to get that right; I wish more of them went to the effort.

During the Titan game, meanwhile, I recruited people for one of the crayon train games. Alaric owns Lunar Rails, but I thought that would be a little funky for people new to this class of games (we had two newcomers), so we played Iron Dragon instead. The game went more slowly that normal, in part because two people were learning it (and learning the map, and where goods come from), and in part because one of the players was trying to pay attention to other things at the same time. It was a fun game, though. Everyone had met the connection requirement when I won with 260, and one of the new players had about 225.

Dani, meanwhile, took the other early loser from Titan and a few other people who had just showed up and started a game of Talisman. I don't know how that game went (they were in another room). The basic game plays reasonably well in my opinion; I think each expansion set weakened the game. After a couple of hours they declared a winner rather than playing it out.

There were lots of other games going, and people were tracking them on a whiteboard. (Just games played, not the details.) I hope Alaric transcribes the complete list and shares it.

Today we went back and found Alaric setting up La Citta, which was new to all of us. This is a neat game, and I want to play again. Players build cities on a map, initially by placing centers and then by expanding to add farms (food), quarries (income), and various special buildings. Some buildings (like marketplaces and public baths) are required to grow beyond certain sizes; others help you dominate in one or more of three areas: education, culture, and health. During your turn you can take several actions -- like adding tiles to your cities, but also increasing farm production, adding population, and some other "meta-game-level" actions. After players take their actions the secret "vox populi" cards are revealed; these indicate which of those three areas the people are enamored of this turn. People leave cities with fewer points in those areas and emigrate to cities with more points, if they can. If you end up with insufficient population to cover all your tiles, you have to start removing buildings. One of my starting cities was down to two tiles at the end of the game; the other had more than a dozen people in it (and nine or ten tiles, I think).

During the game (too late, of course :-) ) I realized that sometimes you want to limit immigration, by delaying building of the markets and baths that support growth. Bad things happen if your farms can't keep up with your population.

While I thought I was getting whumped, in the end we were all within a few points of each other. I have ideas about what to do differently next time.

I went home after that, but Dani stayed and was hoping to get people to play American Megafauna, which he played at Origins last year. The idea (I haven't played yet) is that it's 250 million years ago and you're playing an evolving phylum. There are biomes with varying characteristics, and you have chances to modify your species' DNA. Specialization helps you dominate but makes you more susceptible to events like climate shifts; generalization makes you more durable but less likely to win out in a tight race for food. It sounds like an interesting game, but for another day.

I had fun, and when I left there was talk about when to do this again. (I don't think we have any round-number birthdays coming up in the next year, so people will need a different excuse.) They started Friday around dinnertime (Dani went then; I didn't), and Alaric took tomorrow off from work and said he didn't care how late things ran. He did get some sleep, but I'm not sure how much. :-)

Interviewed by Alienor

Interview parlor game: mostly SCA, some work and religion. Read moreā€¦

Bunny melt

Last Sunday was Easter, so today was Ralph and Lori's annual bunny melt and high tea. It was quite a bit of fun, I met some new people (coworkers?), and the food was spectacular. (It's a pity no one thought to take pictures before we started eating.)

Lori suggested that this ritual meal needs a haggadah. I'll bet we can do something with that! This is the chocolate of affliction (leftovers at half price!); let all who are up to date on dental insurance come and eat. Ma nishtana: on most days we dip at most once but on this day we dip dozens of times; and on most days we eat our fruits plain but on this day we eat them with sugary goo. Four cups of tea is easy. I need to come up with something for the magid (the telling of the story). Err, that would require a story. :-)

In the evening some of us played a game that was new to me, Rum and Pirates. Each player (the game supports five) has a supply of pirates, which can be placed on the board to direct the active piece toward various special spaces. These spaces might provide victory points (or chances at same), or they might provide tools (such as money and free re-rolls of the die). The game is fun and not too complicated. According to the box it plays in 60-75 minutes; we took 90 but three of us had never played before. The game has a lot of parts (mostly chits), but -- unusual for such games these days -- it actually comes with a suitable plastic holder with the correct number of subdivisions. Most games give you a random assortment of compartments (or none at all) and you end up using zipper bags, which is a hassle if you have a lot of different types of pieces. Anyway, fun game; I'd definitely play again.

SCA: misguided intentions and bad policy (oy)

A few days ago the SCA corporate office announced a new (forthcoming) policy: because there have been problems, officers working with children and anyone running children's activities at an event must first pass a background check (details not yet provided). They're trying to weed out convicted sex offenders; I'm not sure what else they're trying to screen for.

Predictably, this has spawned a few threads on SCA discussion lists. One is about the concern that this will drive away prospective volunteers; it's an imposition (and who exactly is paying for it anyway?). Some people already complain that we don't do enough age-appropriate stuff for kids; I agree that this will make things worse in that regard. My suggestion, since the policy is about "children's activities", is to say we have no such thing: anyone is welcome to join us for coloring and nap time. That most adults won't be interested does not make it a children's activity on the books. (And why become an officer when you could just informally work with parents? There are no perks to being an officer.)

Another thread concerns parents and how if they were responsible and attentive and involved in their kids' lives, they wouldn't need to worry that the guy telling stories or teaching games is going to molest anyone. There are valid arguments on both sides (parents can't be everywhere all the time), and most SCA parents I know are reasonable, but I do wonder whether the requirement for background checks will make the irresponsible parents even more likely to dump their kids while they go off and party. Now the SCA has offered a promise that it's safe to do so. (I am very glad that a particularly problematic family has moved out of our group.)

But the thread that really gets under my skin is the "but think of the poor children!" one. A post tonight started off with this: If these background checks protect even one child in Aethelmearc from sexual molestion or rape, it is worth it. It then went on with emotional appeals about the badness of molestation and abuse. Um, no one is arguing that molestation and abuse are good.

To that person I say (and said): Try this logically-equivalent statement: "If outlawing all motor vehicles saves even one innocent victim from being killed by a reckless driver, it is worth it." Of course you wouldn't agree to that; while we want to minimize deaths due to reckless drivers, we recognize that there are other relevant factors, like the needs for commerce, transport to employment, and so on.

The world is not 100% safe. Any society (small "s") has to balance all of the legitimate needs of all of its members in trying to figure out where the best balance point is. Even if background checks were a silver bullet, you aren't done until you also address the problems they would impose.

(Aside: just this past week we had a local kidnapping case (adult and infant) that happened in front of a large grocery store in a well-trafficked area. Today's paper quoted a resident as saying that Giant Eagle needs to beef up its security so this can't happen again. Are you really ready to pay higher grocery costs to provide a guard stationed in front of the store? (Israelis, I don't mean you; yours is a different problem.))

I am not personally affected by the background-check rule. I'm not a parent (nor a kid :-) ), nor do I have any intention of being an officer in the SCA, nor am I inclined to run child-specific activities. But I think we're all harmed when bad "logic" drives policy. Proponents of more-restrictive policies need to support them with sound arguments, not appeals to emotion.

--

There is a lot of good discussion in the comments (archive). To one person who challenged most of what I wrote, I replied:

Sorry, I substantially disagree with you.

It'd be pretty boring if everyone agreed with me all the time. :-)

Not (merely) because of the severity of the potential crime, but because of the utter non-existence of the rights violation this will entail.

I fear the rest of the iceberg. The next logical step is to require autocrats (of event that let children in) be cleared. A few steps down the line, it wouldn't shock me if people call for mere attendees at large events like Pennsic to be cleared. While on the one hand no one has a right to attend SCA events, there is a strong tradition of such events being open to all comers (who pay the gate fee and haven't been explicitly banished), and I think the society part of the SCA would be damaged if events could no longer function in that way.

(Redacted: tangent about who rightfully owns events, local groups or the corporation.)

No one has an inherent right to hold children's activities or conduct a tournament or cook a feast or run an event, but we do these things and we should look carefully when the corporation (that provides neither labor nor money for these events) imposes new rules. We already accept that new rules can be made (e.g. safety requirements for fighting), so that's not an argument in principle. I think this particular policy falls on the wrong side of the line between what protects the society and what protects certain individuals at the expense of an open society.

Suppose, instead, the corporation made a rule that all cooks have to have received certifiation from local boards of health, like cooks in restaurants do. That sounds reasonable, right? Food-safety is important. There are more feasters than children in the SCA, though granted the outcome of an incident is probably more likely to be acute and short-term. But if we're going to regulate kids' activities, regulating feasts doesn't seem out of line. Ok, no one has a right to cook feasts -- but what would our events be like if, say, half the cooks said "nah, too much bother" and wouldn't do it? We'd have fewer feasts, or the same number of feasts with more risk of burning out fewer people. Can we survive without feasts? Sure. Would we have as much fun? I'd say no.

An alternative approach is for people who are concerned about food safety to not eat feasts from cooks who haven't been vetted to whatever standards those people have. A similar approach could apply to children's activities: parents have the final say over whether their kids participate, and they should evaluate the situation and make their own decisions. I take your point about molesters setting out to dupe parents, so it is appropriate for the SCA to warn parents of this risk and provide information about the kinds of credentials they should look for. That's different from imposing a requirement.

The easiest way for a local group to deal with the new children's rule, unless they've got someone who's ready to go get the clearance, is to stop having children's activities. Now I'm fine with that, but I've heard a lot of parents say that this would lead to them not coming to as many events. So far, shrug -- except what if those parents are some of the people who help run things, or who are your friends and part of the reason you go to events?

There isn't a civil-liberties issue here, but I think if this isn't handled carefully (and it hasn't been so far), there is potential for real damage to the society. (Society = the people and activities, as distinct from the corporation.) If we're going to risk this kind of damage, there'd better be a sound argument for the policy, IMO.

(Discussion continued; see the original post or the archive link.)

Belief

"Everything is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven." Rabbi Chanina bar Chama, commenting on Deuteronomy 10:12.

One of Dani's relatives asked me a question during our visit. He wanted to know how an intelligent, rational, analytical person can believe in God. This was not hostile but inquisitive, so I didn't blow him off, but I did tell him I didn't think he would find my answer satisfying. "Try me", he said.

I believe in God because I have observed things about the world, and had experiences, for which I have found no explanation that is more satisfying.

I cannot prove to you that God exists, nor am I inclined to try. When people tried such proofs on me they were ineffective. At some level belief in God isn't rational -- yet I, a rational person, believe. You might argue that what I think I see is all in my head, some complex psychological effect. That's fine; you're free to believe that. If that were true, and I called that effect "belief in God" instead of whatever you think it is, and it resulted in me having a more satisfying life, does it matter?

Belief in God has to be personal; it cannot be meaningfully imposed from without. That's a big part of what's wrong with some fundamentalists: they seek to compel. That trick never works; you can compel behavior but not belief.

Because belief in God has to be personal, I cannot offer a meaningful proof. Even if I share the specific effects I have seen (and I am not close enough to this relative to do so, which is why I thought he would find this unsatisfying), who's to say that what I see as significant will be significant to you?

I thought I was about the least-likely person on the planet to take a leap of faith. Yet, I did. And I landed on solid ground. That's not through my own doing, really; a lot of that had to do with being open to possibilities, being willing to look and listen and introspect.

He actually liked that answer, to my surprise. This then led to a discussion of the truth of torah, but I'll save that for another time.

Pesach

The trip to Toronto was relatively benign. As I mentioned earlier, we spent some of it helping the family fight a computer problem and some of it at the ROM (open on Mondays, for future reference). Dani's mother seems to have decided we're the charoset experts and asked us to make it; we wanted to do it there, so we also had to find a store for ingredients.

Nomenclature: to me "grocery store" and "supermarket" have become pretty much synonomous. If I mean the small mom-and-pop store, that's the "corner grocery" or the "mom-and-pop grocery". Giant Eagle is a grocery store. (There is a new class of humongous stores (that are to real supermarkets as real supermarkets are to corner groceries); I don't know what these mega-supermarkets (humongo-marts?) are called yet.) None of this is true for Torontonians, though. A friend had asked us to look for "kinder eggs" (novelty candy), and when I asked if they'd have those at grocery stores I was told to go to a supermarket instead.

The first seder was with Dani's father's family. This really feels like Dani's father's wife's family's seder; she has three children who usually come with their families, and Dani's sister (+ family), Dani, and I go, but it feels like "their seder" more than "our seder", if you know what I mean. Not complaining; just observing. (For context, Dani was already an adult when Dani's father and his wife got married, so she has never functioned as his stepmother. She is close to her own family but not to Dani and his sister.)

The children at this seder were better-behaved than in past years, which is good. They weren't engaging much, which is not good. They wouldn't sing the four questions (even as a group) unless adults sang along. Pity.

This is very much a "when do we eat?" seder. No one's interested in discussions, they skip a lot, and they read the remainder quickly. Now that I think back on it, I'm not sure we sang Dayeinu -- the only singing might have been Ma Nishtana (the four questions). Time to the meal was about half an hour, and they don't do the part after the meal.

We got to spend some time there visiting with Dani's father, which is good (haven't seen him in a while). They usually invite us over for a non-seder visit when we're there, but they didn't this time. I feel bad for Dani, who didn't really get to spend much time with his father.

(16 people, four of them kids. Two different paperback haggadot; mine was Birnbaum and I didn't see what the other was. Led by Dani's father; hosted by one of his wife's kids.)

The second seder was hosted by Dani's mother and led by his sister. This was a smaller group (9 people) and included two friends of Dani's mother. (One was Sudi's widow, so I was able to offer condolences.) They use a haggadah that Dani's sister assembled when her children were very young. Those children are now in college, but she made a passing comment that she thinks her haggadah works well on all levels (isn't dumbed down) so she's glad she doesn't have to revise it. I disagree, but I know when to keep my mouth shut. (It's also rather secular -- lots of "spring" and very little "God".)

But on the positive side: discussion was definitely encouraged, aided by one attendee with what appears to be a not-very-strong Jewish education and another who thinks I know everything (so we got some "I've always wondered" questions), and there was singing. I took a song sheet with four songs (three with sheet music); we did two. It's a start. (My goal is to get more Hebrew songs into the repertoire. If that pushes some of the Yiddish ones out, I won't be sad.)

Of those four songs, one was a deliberate tactical choice and it worked as intended. I took the text of Psalm 150 and taught them the melody we currently use in my synagogue. One of the other guests responded with "do you know this one?" and started to sing a different melody. (I did, and joined her.) This gave me an opening to say "do you know the Sufi one?" and sing that. (Yes, Sufi. Their melody, our text, I'm told.) (I know one more, but didn't bring it out.) So instead of this just being "Monica wants to do these songs", I was able to turn it into a broader musical exchange. This year was planting seeds; we'll see what sticks next year.

(Note to self: their haggadah doesn't include most of Hallel (only "B'tzeit Yisrael"), so bringing some of that along someday might be good.)

Because Dani's family is mostly athiests and agnostics (but they do seders), I tried to pick lighter-weight songs. The other one that we did was "Shiru l'Adonai shir chadash" (sing a new song unto God). I figured that songs about singing would be good in this family. This particular setting has a Hebrew chorus and an English verse; I later learned that one family member has no problem with praising God in Hebrew but won't do it in English. That took me by surprise; I'll have to remember that for the future.

Their haggadah contains several short songs that are written only in transliteration -- no Hebrew, no translation. (Having the Hebrew would help me puzzle out what they mean.) They sing these through (with a variety of subtly-different, concurrent melodies), once each, so if you don't already know the melody, the song's over about the time you're figuring it out. So bummer on both counts -- translation and singability. I assume this gets better over time.

Useful discovery: I am not the only person in that family who doesn't like the "Clementine" song. Unfortunately for me, Dani's sister does, and she was leading the seder. (She did it up with assigned parts, so it's really obvious if someone doesn't sing.) Two of her kids don't like it either.

I need to remember to take a copy of the festival kiddush with me next year. (Or maybe just bring a haggadah?) Their haggadah doesn't include it, but consensus formed very early ('round about candle-lighting) that I should be given stuff to chant. I don't have the festival kiddush memorized, though, needing it only a few times a year.

Hmm. I could bring another sheet to insert, with festival kiddush on one side and all the relevant brachot on the other. (You know, things like "...who has commanded us to eat matzah".) I was doing the brachot quietly on my own, but maybe they could be available to others who want them. And this way the texts would be available for seders we're not at, if that ever happens. Who knows -- there might be someone else who could do the festival kiddush given a copy of the text, and who the family would want to have do it. If not, they can leave the sheets in the bag with the extra haggadot.

Some Toronto bits

I'll write more about the visit (and particularly the seders) later, but in the meantime...

Overheard: in-laws are like the weather; everyone talks about it but nobody does anything about it. :-)

We stayed with my sister-in-law and her family. They have a computer in the family room that has come down with a bad case of trojan horses, so we tried to fix it for them. We couldn't, but we gave one of their daughters (always invoke the kid for computer problems :-) ) some specific research advice. However, it appears that this computer is a low priority for everyone. I will not be surprised if it's still afflicted on our next visit. (SIL's husband has his own computer and refuses to use a Windows machine; SIL reads email every few weeks; daughters are in school and use this one infrequently. The problems can only get worse; because it's not a high priority they aren't paying for anti-virus updates. Fortunately, this computer is turned off when not in use.)

When crossing the border into the US, we handed over our passports and the guard proceeded to ask several not-very-interesting-sounding questions. Dani noticed (I did not) that she swiped the passports immediately; I wonder if the questions were just to fill time until the "not on our terrorist lists" report came back.

Exchange rate: $1.00 US = $1.07 CDN. Whoa, when did that happen? I haven't been paying attention, but I thought it would be more like $1.30 CDN.

A five-pack of Toronto subway tokens costs less than four individually. So you can afford to buy five and throw one away, but of course you don't because that's wasteful, but what are the odds that we're going to have that token with us next time we would care? I think it's in the change pile now.

The ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) has some nifty stuff in its collection, but I don't know if I'll return. There were two things I found problematic, one general and one specific to me. The specific one is that in many exhibits, they put the little cards that tell you what you're looking at behind (and not close enough to) the glass, meaning I couldn't read them. I don't know why they do that. I might write and suggest that they make printed copies available for those with vision problems. (Yes, I could see the exhibits just fine; it was the darn cards that were problematic.)

The more general problem is that a lot of their write-ups are really, really sparse. Yeah, I'm kind of a research wonk, but I think most people want to know more than they're telling about many items. One example: there was a display of Japanese ceramics; all but one of the pots/dishes/vases had delicate floral designs. There was a lone pot with red stripes. I naturally wondered what was special about that one. Different region, time period, or technique? The entirety of the description was "red striped pot". Um, yeah, I got that on my own. :-)