Sunday, April 29, 2007

Real life Noah's Ark

Someone has finally done it. Johan Huibers has built a replica of Tevat Noach (Noah's ark) complete with model animals and everything. OK, it is only half the size of the original, but that is still pretty impressive. I would certainly go to see it if I was anywhere near that part of the world!
Visitors have said: "It's past comprehension," Mary Louise Starosciak told the Associated Press. "I knew the story of Noah, but I had no idea the boat would have been so big."
I'm not sure how to do this in a classroom, but it shows the importance of trying to get students, adults and anyone to visualise things when you teach about them. Surely the story of Noach (and its inherent scientific problems) become more real when you see the thing - or at least hear about it as a real boat.
It is almost Shavuot. We are supposed to relive the Sinai experience every day. What was it like? Where did people stand? How high was the mountain? What did the people hear? When you stay up all night learning, think about Noach's ark in Holland and imagine what Kabbalat HaTorah was like.

This is the BBC report:

Dutchman's Noah's ark opens doors
The ark at Schagen
The ark is nearly three storeys high
A half-sized replica of the biblical Noah's Ark has been built by a Dutch man, complete with model animals.

Dutch creationist Johan Huibers built the ark as testament to his literal belief in the Bible.

The ark, in the town of Schagen, is 150 cubits long - half the length of Noah's - and three storeys high. A cubit was about 45cm (18in) long.

The ark opened its doors on Saturday, after almost two years' construction, most of it by Mr Huiber himself.

Gemilut Chasadim and Loving your Neighour as Yourself ran a link to an article by discussing the giving of aid, and how giving the wrong thing often makes a person feel good, even though it is not the right thing for the recipient at all. You can read the article here:
JBlog Central - The Jewish Blog Network | Killing them with kindness

We made a kiddush yesterday to celebrate the birth of our daughter, and while thinking of something to say I came up with the same idea. (BTW thank you to everyone who was able to come and help eat the kugel and everything else. And especially thanks to those who brought food or helped set up/ clear up. And especially, especially thanks to my mother-in-law for doing everything else).
Ariella was born on the second day of the Omer, and the middah for that day is gevurah shebechesed. This is a limitation of chesed. Pure chesed is giving without limits, without discrimination, without concern for what is best for the recipient. This led to the creation of the world, but it can also smother or destroy the recipient of that chesed, but making them dependent on others, or by giving them things that are dangerous or bad for them. This is the dilemma of every parent - when to say 'yes' and when to say 'no', when to fully be in control of everything the child does, and when to allow them independence.
The worst example of misplaced chesed is in yesterday's parsha (Kedoshim) when it refers to incest as chesed. This is a complete travesty of giving in a positive way (and is so shocking as a form of chesed that Rashi claims at first that it is an Aramaic word).
Gevurah provides boundaries, and allows for giving within a defined context. This is the real meaning of 'gemilut chasadim' - gemilut means 'weaning', it is chesed which doesn't overpower the recipient but gives them their own independence, and allows them to eventually wean themselves away from the giver. This is why the best form of charity is to provide someone with a means of earning a livelihood.
Perhaps this explains the difficulty in the phrase 'v'ahavta l're'acha kamocha' - all the commentaries ask how you can love someone 'as yourself'. The verse only needed to say 'you shall love your neighbour'. Most of the answers given explain the level of giving - how much you should give. But I think it also means that we must love our neighour but only in a way that allows them an independent existence. It must be 'like yourself' so that it doesn't become yourself. When the neighbour's life becomes your life you are no longer able to help them effectively.
To do proper chesed requires understanding what the person needs, and allowing them to develop the skills or whatever else they need to eventually be able to provide for their own needs. It is much more difficult than just giving, and doesn't alway make you feel so good, but it is the only way to really do gemilut chasadim to someone else.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Destress this Yom Ha'Atzma'ut

Happy Yom HaAtzma'ut. For those of you who are not familiar with the Israeli minhag, today is the day when you must have a barbecue with your family and friends, wave Israeli flags, watch the fireworks display, and most importantly go and bop people on the head with a squeaky hammer (like this one:)

For those of you who are in the celebratory mood, but have nobody to bop, or are stressed at being in front of the computer when you could be outside having a barbecue and celebrating there is an alternative.
Download this little programme which will let you hammer to your heart's content. Make sure you have the sound turned on. It is fun and a great stress reliever.
here is the link:

Enjoy. Happy Yom Ha'Atzma'ut

Monday, April 23, 2007

Every day

So tonight is Yom Ha'Atzma'ut. Apart from the usual annoyances of getting hit with squeaky plastic hammers and dealing with the smell and smoke from barbeques it is a time to reflect and think, take stock of Israel, me, and the connection between the two.
Of course in certain circles the big question is: whether to say Hallel or not, and with a bracha or not (and in other circles the question is whether to fast and wear sackcloth, but that team aren't reading this blog, nor do I have anything particularly to say to them, except 'get real!')
The truth is that a long time ago I realised that hallel is the red herring which allows people to avoid the real issues. There are halachic arguments to support both sides (or all the sides, for those who want to find creative compromises).
The real issue is how do we view Israel. By Israel I don't mean the politicians, or the civil servants, or the infrastructure providers, or even the people. But ISRAEL. What does Israel mean to me, to us, to the world?
Perhaps birthright, more than anything else, shows the importance of Israel from a Jewish perspective. There is a clear awareness and understanding by the organisers and particpants that Israel is and must be the focus of Jewish identity and awareness. Sure, those who are committed to Judaism and Jewishness can survive anywhere, but for the vast majority of unaffiliated Jews (and possibly the children of those who are surviving anywhere) Judaism means Israel, the State, the country, the political structure etc. etc.
How many hundreds of thousands of Jews throughout Israel and the rest of the world are primarily Jewish because of Israel. Even if it was just news item on the telly, or a trip to Eilat, or a video about Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
And it is not one day a year, but every day, that Israel, despite its many apparent failings on many levels, continues to act as a magnet and focus for world Jewry.
This is something that we should be saying Hallel about - not only once a year, but every day.
As King David said:
בְּכָל-יוֹם אֲבָרְכֶךָּ; וַאֲהַלְלָה שִׁמְךָ, לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד
Every day will I bless You; and I will praise Your name (through Hallel) for ever and ever. (Psalms 145; 2)

Happy Yom Ha'Atzma'ut - and please don't try to hit me with those squeaky things. Thanks.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Yom HaZikaron and Road Safety

This is a copy of my blog entry for I felt it was worth sharing here as well. Have a look at their website for a lot of excellent stuff about Judaism and Torah.

We are in between Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron (actually today should be Yom HaZikaron according to the calendar, but it was pushed off by one day to avoid chilul Shabbat – these Israelis think of everything! I’ll be in America or Britain they would have also made it tomorrow, but they would have called it a public holiday and had a 3 day weekend). These are both days on which we commemorate tragedies, both personal and national. The juxtaposition between the two days is almost certainly not accidental, but was designed by the ‘powers that be’ to contrast pre-State of Israel when the Jews were defenseless and murdered by the million and the State of Israeli whose army defends Jews. I’m not sure I agree with linking the holocaust and the State of Israel – it almost seems like a justification of the holocaust, or a form of ‘told you so’ from the Zionist enterprise.
But it does give me the opportunity to think about Israel, and those who have died in its defense. According to the Jerusalem Post 22,305 men and women have died defending Israel since 1860. In the past year 233 soldiers died. That is a huge number, and to think of all those families having to cope with the tragedy and continue with their lives is more than I can deal with. They all died al Kiddush Hashem, and we can only pray for them that their souls should be bound in the souls of eternal life.
According to the Jerusalem Post, last week Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi laid a flag on the grave of the last soldier to have died in the line of duty. - St.-Sgt. Matan Baskind. The sad thing is that I searched the web and couldn’t find any information about him, or even any report of his death.
I don’t wish to take anything away from the mourning of Yom Hazikaron, but I am so bothered by the next few words of the article. The even sadder thing is that the Jerusalem Post tells us that he was killed in a car accident two weeks ago! Israel has one of the highest rates of road fatalities of any country.
In 2006 there were 446 fatalities on the roads. That is almost twice as many as the number of soldiers who fell in battle in that year! And that was the lowest number for 40 years! That is truly something to mourn about. I don’t know how long it will be before we need a national memorial day for those who fell on the roads of Israel.
Of course everyone blames everything, it is nobodies fault, and nothing can be done to prevent it etc. I am not coming to write about lessons in road safety, or to criticise. In fact what I really wanted to say was a big ‘thank you’ to someone who I don’t know, and only spoke to once for a few minutes.
In general I try very hard to never cross the road against the traffic lights. I wait for the green man even when the road is deserted (who knows whether there may be a child watching who will think it is OK to cross against the lights – apart from the fact that it is illegal). Even though it bothers me every time that the lights are biased against pedestrians. At some intersections it takes two complete cycles of light changes to get across the road (you get to half way and have to wait again to get the rest of the way across).
So last week I was crossing the road, and there were two sets of lights (one for each half of the road). They both turned green, so I crossed. As I reached half way the light for that side of the road turned red. Since the cars were still stopped, and I had only missed it by a fraction of a second I continued across the road (if you weren’t paying close attention you would think I started crossing while it was still green).
When I reached the other side an elderly gentleman started berating me for crossing against the lights! And like a fool, instead of thanking him for caring, and for doing his bit to curb the death toll, I started explaining that it was really OK, and the light was basically green, and the cars were stopped, and it wasn’t dangerous (all true, but irrelevant). I wanted to take the chance now, since I’m not sure I’ll even see this man again, to thank him. Thank you for caring about my life and the lives of all the others on the road. Thank you for bothering to speak to me about it. Thank you for speaking up for what is right, even though nobody else wants to hear what you have to say.
May we all learn from his care and concern, and use extra caution on the roads. May this year be the last year that soldiers die in battle defending Israel. And may it be the end of road fatalities. Let us all care about ourselves and each other.
May all the families of those who died in Israel’s wars and all those who died on the roads be comforted amongst the other mourners for Zion and Jerusalem.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

She finally has a name!!! It took us a week, but we finally agreed on a name for our new baby/ daughter/ sister. And she is now called (drum roll please...)


She is named after my great Aunt (my father's mother's sister) who left Hungary before the Holocaust for New Jersey, with her husband Jules. They never had any children. Her full name was Arabella, but we always knew her as Ella. Hence Ariella.

The name is a female version of Ariel, which is taken from Yeshiya chapter 29 verse 1 (and 2) and is a name for Jerusalem. According to the king James authorised version the prophet says "Ariel, the city where David dwelt! add ye year to year"

הוֹי אֲרִיאֵל אֲרִיאֵל, קִרְיַת חָנָה דָוִד; סְפוּ שָׁנָה עַל-שָׁנָה, חַגִּים יִנְקֹפוּ.

Literally it means the lion of G-d, as used by Sylvia Plath in her poem of the same name:

Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.

God's lioness,
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees! ---The furrow

Splits and passes, sister to
The brown arc
Of the neck I cannot catch,

Shakespeare, in the Tempest, described Ariel as an airy spirit.

And finally, according to Proctor and Gamble Ariel provides 'longer lasting freshness'

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Suggested Names

Alit and the baby finally came home from the hospital last night (motzei yomtov). Alit spent the entire Pesach in hospital, apart from seder night. That is a long time! She is exhausted. Baruch Hashem everyone is well and there was no reason for them to have stayed so long, except that the hospital wanted to play things by the book and be over cautious.

As you can tell from the fact that I am still calling her 'the baby' we have not yet decided on a name. I just wanted to share with you some of the suggestions we have had (we are still open to sponsorship deals if anyone wants to 'name' a baby).

The suggestions ranged from the modern, such as Kineret, to the ultra-modern Shprintzeh Frumeh Freidle.
Then there were the topical names:
Since she was born during the omer someone suggested Sefira (and I suppose if she ever was ennobled she could be Countess Sefira)

Looking at the non-Jewish calendar (she was born on the Wednesday before Easter) there is always the option of Ashley Wendy, or the more generic Esther Bunny.
Somehow I don't think we'll go with those though.

The one name we are certainly not going to use is Hadassah, because although it is a beautiful name, we don't particularly want to remember the hospital experience. I know many people have had very positive experiences there, and if something goes wrong they have some of the best doctors there.

However, there were so many small things that were not done correctly (or not as correctly as they could have been done). I don't want to list them all, and I am not a doctor, so it could be that it is my ignorance, not their errors. There were also many wonderful nurses and doctors who did a fabulous job with a smile. However, the overall feeling we had was of a hospital who doesn't care about the patients as people, where there was little or no communication between shifts and between wards (e.g. between the baby ward and the mother ward), and no sensitivity to hormonal emotional mothers.

The only thing I will say specifically (and this was for me the final straw) is that the parking situation is designed to rip off the visitors. For example, there is a big sign saying that picking up or dropping off patients is free, if you exit within 20 minutes. You have to collect a ticket to show your time of arrival. However, even though there is a metal box with a big red button, there is no machine inside to print tickets. Therefore it is not possible to prove your time of arrival and they will charge you anyway when you leave. (I know that it is not a huge amount of money, but the parking attendant collecting the money told me 3 direct lies in the space of a minute - that there are 2 machines, that it only works with a car next to it, and that he has a record of it on his computer. - we are talking about an empty box, and I demonstrated that to him, but he still wouldn't let us out without paying).

So, my advice is, if you are going to Hadassah Ein Kerem to pick up or drop of a patient - use your bike!

Hopefully we'll have a name by Thursday morning, so stay tuned.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Mazel Tov

With thanks to the Maker of Heaven and Earth
We wanted to announce to you all the birth
Of a new Sedley girl
Who has entered the worl'
May she fill us and the whole place with mirth.

As the daf yomi cycle moves from Mo'ed katan to Chagiga, from evel l'yom tov we are excited and delighted to announce the birth of a new baby girl, who has gone from her aveilus at leaving the womb, to bring us much yom tov (and chol hamo'ed) joy.
She was born last night (17th Nisan/ 4th April) and is the biggest of our babies so far (by quite a margin - she was 3.742 kg which is 8.25 lbs), and mother and baby are doing really well.
We have no idea yet what the name will be, so we are open to any suggetions (or offers).
May we all merit to share many simchas together.

David and Alit Sedley

PS Here is the link to a short video of her, taken a few minutes after she was born. Ignore the blue blanket - they ran out of pink, but quickly remedied the situation.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Burning chametz

Tomorrow morning (well, this morning actually - right now it is 3:30 am, but I'm not sure what time it will say when I post the blog or what time zone the blog is in) we will go outside and burn our chametz.
I know this is an important mitzvah, and encourage everyone to participate, but it can also be dangerous. There is actually a real fire involved !! (shock! horror!). Fire can be dangerous.
I was just looking at the yeshivaworld website. These are the rules for burning chametz in Monsey:

Monday April 2nd, 2007, Time: 6:30AM - 11:47AM. Location: Monsey Park & Ride/Drive-In Theater, Route 59. (The burning is for chometz only.) Children can visit the burn site only if accompanied by a responsible adult. Please wrap chometz in paper bags only. You will not be allowed to burn any chometz that is brought in plastic bags or aluminum foil. Accelerants will not be allowed. Plastic bottles, glass bottles and aerosol cans will not be permitted at the burn site.

There are several things that are slightly different than what they will be here in Yerusashalayim:
children - in monsey they must be accompanied by a responsible adult. Here they light the fire, stoke the fire, throw things in the fire, and sometimes even put out the fire at the end. And when I say children, I mean under 10. More than once I have been afraid to leave a bonfire because there were children poking at it with sticks, and no adults in sight! Hopefully this year will be different.
wrap chometz in paper bags! I don't think paper bags exist in this country, but if they did it would be a big improvement on the kinds of materials that people try and burn usually. The fire usually has all sorts of interesting (and probably carcinogenic) colours. Bread comes in a bag. So it must be a mitzvah to burn the bread and burn the bag, right? Hopefully this year will be different.
Accelerants will not be allowed - the truth is that with accelerants and other stuff people usually wait until lag ba'omer to really have fun with their fire. Burning chametz is just the 'warm up' (pun intended). At least burning chametz is a mitzvah. Hopefully this year will be different.
Plastic bottles, glass bottles and aerosol cans - I'm really hoping this year will be different over here

At the seder the kids will ask 4 questions about the differences between seder night and the rest of the year. I just hope and pray that the parents of those kids realise the importance of the mitzvah of burning chametz responsibly, and the even greater importance of the mitzvah of not putting life at risk. In 4 ways may this year be different than all other years.

Chag Sameach and happy, safe, burning

PS Don't get me wrong - I am as big a pyromaniac as the next bloke, but I don't want to risk anyone else's life or kids' life because of my irresponsibility.
PPS Apologies if this is too harsh. I am exhausted and still have lots to do. Just taking a short coffee/ blogging break.
Same to you too.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A more meaningful bedikat chametz

I had been meaning to write a final follow up to the kitten saga, with my 'Jerry Springer' thoughts on the matter. Perhaps I'll get a chance at some point. But right now I've discovered how to make bedikat chametz so much more meaningful - you can read what I wrote over here:
Check it out to also see why I haven't written a few more blogs than I would have wanted.
When everything is going crazy with erev Pesach, pregnant wife and sick kids it is always important to keep the priorities straight. And of course at the moment that means 'Do New Zealand have a chance in the cricket world cup'? (And if you are an American just imagine that cricket is a little bit like rounders, but with only one team getting the points at a time, and with a different shape bad, field, ball - oh yes, and with wickets everywhere as well)
Send me an e-mail if you like the chametz blog ( or leave a message.
Have a Chag Kasher v'Sameach and may you have an easier time getting rid of your chametz than I did.
David Sedley