Monday, August 30, 2010

My Little Vacation in the Galil

Rachel organized a small vacation for us in the Galil this weekend. We stayed at the tzimmer (B&B) Ohr Hashachar in Moshav Goren, which is in the Western Galil very close to the Lebanon border. This place costs a bit more than your typical SPNI field school, but it comes with wine and cookies, a jacuzzi for two, free cable TV, privacy, and quiet.

What it did not come with is breakfast or any other meal. We brought our own food for the weekend.

Salient events:

Stopped at Caesarea beach on the way up. I already knew, but let me tell you so that you know: the beach at 12:30 pm on a hot August day in Israel is no fun for sane people. While Rachel frolicked, I found an umbrella at a nearby wedding hall and sat there until security kicked me out.

I needed a minyan to say kaddish, and there is one at Goren. It is Sepharadic, however, which means a siddur with the prayers ordered very differently than how I am used to, as well as continuous chanting in an accented slur, so that I couldn't figure out what prayer they were saying, anyway. Somehow I managed to say kaddish at about the right times, but my kaddish is missing a number of words and phrases that their kaddish has, so I had to keep readjusting my timing to match the other kaddish-sayers. I was tenth man for the minyan on Sunday morning.

Saturday we walked around the forested Park Goren, with a view of Montfort Castle. The experience was occasionally interrupted by people riding dune buggies (they make the engines loud on those things on purpose), but otherwise pleasant. And all while managing to stay within 2000 amot of Goren.

Sunday we visited Kibbutz Hanita, which was Rachel's first home in Israel 24 years ago. She learned Hebrew there for six months and then moved to Jerusalem, and she hadn't been back since she left it. Hanita is right on the border with Lebanon. Hanita, like many other kibbutzim is on the verge of losing its identity as a kibbutz: members now own their own homes and cars, and pretty soon they'll simply be stockholders in the kibbutz industries (contact lenses and plastic coatings, as well as some agriculture).

Hanita's main interest to outsiders is its tower and stockade museum. It holds stories and artifacts about the founding of Hanita and other kibbutzim like it, as well as movies with astoundingly well-preserved video from the time (pre-state). Most impressive is a) how egalitarian we Israelis are and were, with women and men pitching in to do the hard labor, b) how much work so many people put in to the founding of this country, while today we (well, at least me) are a bunch of whiners, and c) how violent and unaccepting the Arabs were then and still are today about this new country that formed in their midst - all the land upon which Hanita was founded was legally purchased, but that didn't seem to matter.

Oops. Forgot to warn you about politics.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Poetry and the Road

We just hosted our initial "Word of the Week", a weekday evening meeting over poetry and wine, something I would like to do regularly far into the future. This week's word of the week was "transition", and all the poems had to be about the word. I read from an Emerson essay (paragraph 29). Next week's word (actually, it will be in a month from now) is "temptation".

Rachel and I will be away for the weekend, only to be heard from again Sunday afternoon when I drop by my work to clarify a few issues; we'll be passing by the office as we return, anyway.

Shabbat Shalom.


Session Report, in which I somehow lose Dominion twice

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Dominion/Intrigue/Seaside, Antike.

Earlier in the week, Rachel and I played Scrabble. She started off ahead, but I caught up and beat her some 340 to 310.

Board Game Blog World Roundup

New blogs, etc since my last posting ...

Board Game Dialog - Michael Schroeder, Niagara Falls, NY. Board game reviews and other posts.

Fun Board Games - Gary Sonnenberg, Waukesha, WI. Intro to board games posts. He also blogs at Googols of Games.

G*M*S Magazine - Paco Jean, Peacehaven, UK. Various articles about gaming, actively seeking other writers.

GameSalute - A number of people, including Dan Yarrington of Myriad Games. There is no information about them on the site, so I can't tell you more. They do video interviews and other news items. They also want to be an online destination, referral service, and networking hub for customers of brick-and-mortar game stores.

Games Champ - John Rowlinson, Manor Park, UK. A look at mostly mainstream board games.

GamingRetailer - Mark Cracco, South Bend, IN. A podcast about and for game retailers.

Giant Fire Breathing Robot - Andrew, Dylan, and co, San Francisco, CA. Games, podacst, and other geek stuff. Originally Tabletop Quality.

Guilt Free Games - Josh, David, JM, Jeff, Junelle, originally from NH. Board gaming.

Meepletown - Christian Wilson, Alabama. Board gaming.

Musings, Ramblings, and Things Left Unsaid - Alfred. Actually, I dropped this blog a few years ago when it went dormant, but it has picked up again. You have to ask for an invite to see it, however.

Nerdaphernalia - Matt Sall, San Antonio, TX. Board gaming.

The Games of Rob Bartel - Rob Bartel, Edmonton, Canada. Blog and board game design discussion.

Wizard of Odds - Posts about calculating odds in games, mostly for poker.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review: Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation (2003, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen, directed by Sophia Copola) is one of the few movies that I can and will watch again and again.

With a deft few words and interactions, all adult and all so painfully realistic, Sophia manages to create that rare movie that appears to have taken almost no effort to create at all. People walk around, they experience, they feel, and they emote. Nothing much happens. And yet, the ground beneath the two protagonists shifts just enough to make you feel that something very special indeed happens.

Bill Murray plays Bob Harris, a celebrity who is in Japan for a week to endorse a whiskey and endure what he has to endure to make the millions of dollars that he makes. Between the shoots where he doesn't understand a word of what is said, he wanders around in a hotel that has robes and showers not designed for his size. He is unable to sleep.

Scarlett Johanssen plays Charlotte, wife to a celebrity photographer and also in Japan for a week. Her husband is away most of the time, and she also can't sleep. Having just graduated from college with a relatively useless philosophy degree, she is lost as to what she wants to do with her life.

Naturally, the two meet. They commiserate and reflect. They don't have an affair, but they cling to each other with a desperate need to have someone who understands them in this alien cultural landscape.

This could be a Bergman film, except it is more accessible, and perhaps less wide-ranging in scope. Everything, from the camera shots to the choice of music, just works.

A big bonus is that you can find the shooting script for the film online. The story and characters in the script are similar to those of the finished movie, but some major parts of the dialog in the script are different in the movie, and some of the scenes are reordered (the movie erroneously places one scene near the beginning that should have been placed later on, but it's not a big deal and you won't notice it unless you really look for it). Watching the film and reading the script is a double pleasure, since they are effectively two works of art revolving around the same theme, but sufficiently different so that each can be enjoyed on its own.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Condolence Phrase Frequency

The most popular condolence phrases was:
I'm sorry for your loss, or
I'm sorry to hear about your father
This came from most everyone, but more from Israelis and the religious.

The next most popular condolences were the traditional Jewish ones:
May God comfort you (among the mourners of Jerusalem and Zion) / may you be comforted,
May his memory be a blessing, or
Blessed be the true judge
One non-Jewish friend offered the first one of these to me.

In third place was the phrase:
Please accept my condolences / sympathies / commiserations
Strangely, only Jews offered this version. The last one was offered by one weird friend.

The least popular was:
My thoughts / prayers are with you
I thought this was going to be in second place, but I was wrong. This phrase was offered only by Americans: non-religious Jews or other friends (the "prayers" variant by religious Christians).

Oddly, no one offered this (apparently deprecated) form of condolence:
Our hearts go out to you during your time of sorrow
Nor any other form of heart, e.g. "you are in our hearts". Hearts appear to be passe.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Session Report, in which we play Age of Empries III for 3.5 hours

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Age of Empires III.

I think most other game groups have faster players than we do.

Earlier in the week I played a game of Gin Rummy with Tal, which I won.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Videos of the Hesped for My Father

By Rabbi Rattner, who led the kolel that my father attended for 12 years or so. The original video included a 16 minute introduction about the importance of a hesped in Jewish tradition; I cut that part out.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Shiva Impressions IV

Guess who has people bring him food and water, sits on the floor or a low place looking mournful, never cuts his hair or nails, and must be escorted when he leaves the house? That's right. My dog.

Shiva Dos

It's good to observe shiva in the home of the deceased, assuming the deceased had friends and neighbors who knew him or her. Not because "the spirit of the deceased hovers over his house" as is printed in some of the books, but because the visitors knew the deceased, not you. You want to hear stories, not questions, about the deceased; stories vary from person to person, while the same questions elicit the same answers until you're bored repeating them. Of course, it's good to be comforted by friends and neighbors who know you, too.

It's good to sit with two or mourners together, so that one can eat while the other fields visitors. When you're alone, if you get a continuous stream of visitors, you have to leave people milling about when you go eat.

It's good to publish the times that are appropriate for visitors, as well as a rest period during the afternoon or at mealtimes. Not that all of your visitors will pay attention to this. It's good to have a paper in front of you, turned to the visitors, with the correct mourner's greeting for those who don't remember it.

Don't sit all day; get up and walk around. You don't want a blood clot.

Synagogues or hessed committees should keep a box with siddurs, kippot, a book on mourning customs, the sheet with the mourner's greeting, and a checklist of customs and items to remember during shiva, to be loaned out to mourners.

Shiva Impressions III

Each time I went to shul on shabbat I had to be reminded by a poke or a harumph tp join in with the mourner's kaddish. I know where they are in the services, but I never had to do with them, other than listening to them. I have to be prodded into realizing that I'm one of "them", now.

When I remind people of the things I can't do now, such as go to the movies or an upcoming Twelfth Night production, they nod sympathetically. However, they gasp when I tell them that I can't play games (during shiva, at least).

My Dad and Games

He used to play some friendly poker with the neighbors before I was born and when I was young. He used to play Bridge with my mom and other couples.

I began to visit the Nassau Community College computer center when I was very little (8 years old or younger) and he set me up on the PDP-11 VAX mainframe games of the time, which is when I learned to play Wumpus and Dungeo and similar games.

Mom and dad taught me Bridge when I was four, and he played with me many times until I was a teenager. After that it was my brothers and my mom and me, with dad joining in only when one of us was away. We played on shabbat and on our many camping trips.

I don't remember playing any other games with him, except MAYBE some occasional rummy and one D&D session we ran for my parents and their friends. I don't remember who taught me Chess and Checkers. I don't think I got him to play It's Alive; I might have gotten him to play some other new game, once.

He played less and less as the years went on. I think it was because he ended up getting into fights with Mom over Bridge, but it may simply have been that he preferred reading the newspaper.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Shiva Impressions II

No More Sorrow

The correct wording is "May God comfort you among all of the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." Many people add "May you know no more sorrow".

I'm not entirely sure how to interpret the last sentiment. I first thought that it meant that everyone in the entire world all should die soon and at the same time. Then I thought, maybe it means that I should die first.

Either way, I'm not sure it's a comfort.

Today I thought of a third possibility: I should suffer brain damage so that I can no longer experience sorrow.

Who's Comforting Whom?

The ideal comforter responds to your conversation, helps you talk about the departed, or tells you their fond memories of the departed. More than half of my visitors have been ideal. Some have been, uh, less than ideal.

One visitor type who is neither ideal nor specifically problematic is the one who doesn't know how to talk or respond, but simply stares at you. Luckily, other visitors have arrived whenever I had one of those.

How Long to Stay

I was told that one stays until one finds him/herself to be the longest visitor remaining and then new visitors arrive, unless the bereaved specifically indicates that you should stay longer. I now realize that this is because you will already have heard all the stories told by the bereaved, who is starting in on them for the nth time.

Another good time to leave is when the conversation lags for the fourth time and the bereaved is tapping his fingers on his chair and staring pointedly at you.

Words About My Father

A few words about my father, as painted by the ideal visitors:

People set their watches to the times my father arrived at shul for the past few decades. He rarely missed a davening, unless he was in the hospital or away, even during the over two years that he had liver cancer. He went up for an aliyah to the torah on the Thursday before he passed away.

Even the children in his community knew him, and he always had a smile for them. They were inspired by his thrice daily trek to and from shul. One ten year old boy wrote out how he felt about my father so that he could read it to us at the shiva.

My father helped found the early minyan in West Hempstead where I grew up. When he came to Beit Shemesh there was no synagogue yet organized, so he and my mom simply hosted the synagogue in their house for four years. One of the three minyans that they have in the shul on shabbat morning is, even now, referred to as the Berlinger minyan.

He spent the last 7 or 8 years at kollel every morning, and he loved it. He would never let anything go by; he had to understand it, and it had to make sense to him, or the shiur could not continue. He learned in chavruta nearly every shabbat afternoon.

My father grew up religious and stayed religious. He didn't always know what to do, but he always wanted it done properly. Whatever was proper, that was what had to be done, no excuses.

He was, in a word, determined.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Shiva Impressions


They were asked to do this, and in return for blasting the details over a loudspeaker in Har Nof for a half an hour, and putting up some signs in Har Nof, and near my house in Arnona, and two signs each in Beit Shemesh and Kochav Hashachar, they demanded from my mother 5,560 NIS (that's around $1,500). That included 1,200 NIS for Beit Shemesh, and 900 NIS for Kochav Hashachar.

In addition, they added to the bill (without asking us) the cost of a headstone at twice the going rate. We managed to knock that off the bill, and also to shame them down to 5,000 NIS. However, when the funeral hasn't happened yet is not the time you want to be arguing with someone about money, which I believe was their plan to begin with.

I think you could probably get a few yeshiva students to do it for free or for a few hundred NIS at most. This service should really be included free with the funeral costs, or as a gift from the state or city government.

In this day of Facebook and email, the entire endeavor was a complete waste of time, anyway. Maybe, maybe, one or two people who didn't already know heard about the funeral from a sign or from the blasting loudspeaker, but I hardly think it was worth that kind of money.

My father would have been blowing his top.


I'm gratified that so many people could come to the funeral on short notice (as Jewish funerals are). Thank you so much. Being Rosh Hodesh, there was no formal eulogy, but Rabbi Shenkolevsky from Nofei Aviv spoke some beautiful words, anyway.

I volunteered to do the final identification of my father before the burial, having not been at the hospital when he passed on. I didn't realize that seeing him in this manner would so emotionally affect me. It was like being punched in the head. Nevertheless, I think it was something I needed to experience.

Many people have expressed condolences and offered kindness, comfort, and food. Generosity abounds in our little Jewish neighborhoods. Many of the condolences came from my non-Jewish friends and acquaintances around the world.

I neglected to realize that sitting shiva with my aunt and mother would require me to hear them tell the same stories over and over again as each new visitor comes along, with the stories often changing as the day went on. I'm thinking of drawing up a FAQ.

The many kind words I hear about my father from friends, neighbors, and relatives is helping me sides to my father that I did not always get to see when he was alive. It is a blessing.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The 7 Types of People at Shabbat Dinner in the Hospital

An anonymous set of people donates catering to Ein Kerem each shabbat, so that all people who wish to may enjoy traditional shabbat meals in the hospital. You can eat the meals at the set up tables, which includes kiddush, singing, etc. Or you can take packaged meals back to your hospital room, if you prefer to eat together with someone who is bedridden (or for any other reason).

Seven types of people take advantage of these meals:

The first two types are chronic hospital visitors: 1) the chronically ill and 2) those relatives and friends who regularly visit them. In this category are people who don't know when they will get better, or know they will not get better, or know they will get worse, or who regularly visit the hospital for treatment.

It seems to me that chronic hospital visitors live in another world, a reality of daily and weekly hours devoted to themselves (or to their friends or relatives) that is not on the priority list for those of us lucky enough to not have to deal with it. It's an unreal thing to have a makom kavuah [1] in a hospital synagogue.

The second two types are accidental: 3) the temporarily ill and 4) those relatives and friends who are visiting them. If you broke a leg, or had your tonsils out, or similar, but you know that the situation is temporary, you don't have the same sense of unreality as do the chronically ill. You've only put life on hold for a few days.

The fifth type is also a temporary visitor: 5) a new parent. Unlike the previous four types, the hospital visit for someone who just gave birth, or whose spouse just gave birth, is a source of joy. At dinner, while other people are staring at their food, the new parent is handing out celebratory chickpeas and pouring chocolate liqueur.

The sixth type is 6) the hospital staff: doctors, nurses, helpers, cleaners, caterers, security guards, etc. The hospital experience is just a shift for them. All of the staff I met this shabbat were helpful and responsive.

The seventh type, who invisibly mix with the previous six, are 7) poor people who come to the hospital each week for a few free meals. Although, perhaps I should put those people into the first category: chronically ill.

Among many other things I read this shabbat was this fantastic piece in the New Yorker about the world of art forgery. The piece takes a dramatic turn midway.


[1] A regular place in which one sits.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Sitting With My Father in the Hospital

My father lies in a fetal position on the hospital bed. His skin is yellow and translucent, his hair and frame thin. He shivers. He moans sporadically, endlessly. Every few minutes, there is a problem: His chest hurts. The drip has stopped. The needle is leaking. His kippah has fallen off. Where is his siddur?

For the last few months, he's eaten less and less. Now he eats almost nothing. He is emaciated like a survivor.

When they thought he might have colon cancer, they took out his colon. Then they knew he had liver cancer, too metastasized to remove or replace. Or maybe he is just too old. That was two years ago.

I've been planning for my parents' 50th anniversary, which will be, God willing, on September 4. A dinner with the children, his sister, maybe grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. I want to make a reservation at a restaurant. Everyone says: let's see how he's doing a few days before.

Now I'm sitting with my father in the hospital, not allowed to say or write what everyone already knows.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Session Report, in which we try the game Nile and I tie with David at Magic

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Nile x 2, Tribune, Magic: the Gathering x 2, Steam, R-Eco, Race for the Galaxy.

I try the game Nile. Full review will eventually make it to Purple Pawn.