Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Small but nice crowd.  My brother's up from the Bay Area.  Danny and Jessica, Susanna and Megan and Megan's dad Dave, Dennis and me.  Somehow I thought that added up to seven but it actually turned out to be 8.  Little ast minute adjustment there. 

Orange tablecloth a hit.  19 pound turkey (smaller than usual) took just over 3 hours to cook.  Like usual.  Plenty of food.  Not so much leftovers.  Especially because I want a leftover meal for five tomrorrow.  So I didn't give so much away.

Watched the Seahawk game, guess it's a wrap....

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Oral traditions

I've enjoyed this class on The Gospels at UW.  The class members mostly do  not speak up but when he breaks the class down into small groups, almost everybody has something to say.  After class I talked with him about the fine line that he has to walk keeping the scholarly discourse going examining things that these young students have been taught possibly in a doctrinaire manner.  I think they might feel disloyal or disrepsectful to their faith if they said anything especially in front of the class.

For example, he covered the Nativity traditions today.  When you look at the two gospels (Matthew and Luke)  that even have have accounts of Jesus' birth, they have two separate narratives that don't match up much at all.  Why would that be?  How can these two narratives be resolved?  Is it necessary.?  This story along with the imagery is strongly represented in popular culture.  Bethlehem, Jesus and Mary, the manger, the babe, the star, the magi, the animals.

When we talked in the small groups, the Mary as Virgin and other parts of the Nativity narrative.  Two of the students said with conviction "Jesus was born from Mary as a virgin birth."  I wondered, is that what made him divine?  The virgin birth thing.  We have readings of other births where the child is sired by gods.  To me, I am more impressed with the scene where John the Baptizer baptizes Jesus and God appears in the form of a Dove and thunders from the heavens that Jesus is his son and he is well pleased.  The students tried to grapple with this.

One thing that strikes me is the strength of the oral tradition.  The early church relied on oral traditions and these accounts, these gospels, are written later.  So these sacred texts somehow gives authority.  Even if they are contradictory and incomplete.  But think of religious observance today?  The oral tradition is still strong, the ritual, the hymns and singing, fellowship, reciting of prayers, sermons.  People still find this very satisfying, more so than just reading from the scriptures,

The whole Nativity scene, people love to act out the scene.  Christmas carols?  Huge!!  People love the imagery.  It doesn't matter a bit that the traditions are not consistently reflected in the scriptures.  People sometimes moan to me "Christmas has lost its meaning, we need to get back to the basics behind this holiday, the birth of Christ!."  And I wonder what they actually mean.

Monday, November 24, 2014

New Haven 1955

I'm cleaning out my main office; my brother's coming and I've got to make a little room.  Here's a big photo album from the 1950s.  Of course, I have to look at it and pick out a picture before I put it away.  I've used this album for the Glendora pictures.  I joined the Glendora Historical Society btw and get their mailings.  The place is part of the greater LA contiguous city in the San Gabriel Valley.  But somehow it had a small town feel to it when we visited last February.  The Historical Society emphasizes this, July 4 parade and the primo seats in front of the Historical Society which is the old firehouse.

This picture dates from that era but is clearly taken in New Haven, I'm guessing the summer of 1955.  When my mom was older, she swore that she took us to New Haven every summer.  Not true, maybe when I was little like this.  I remember a trip when I was in kindergarten, then one in 5th grade and that was it.  My parents made sure that my grandparents came regularly to visit.  I totally get that, it is very hard to travel with small children.  We didn't!

My mother (of the small waistline) on the left with me in front of her,  She's holding my brother who I am sure is going to take off the minute he can.  Her sister Ruth on the right, with my cousin Mary Ann (a few years older than me, eyes closed) and her son Malcolm (same age as me) on her lap.  Their mother, my grandmother Regina with glasses and big bow maybe kneeling behind us.  And the other lady?  I'm guessing it's my other grandmother Betty maybe come down from Boston.  I've asked Mary Ann (same one) she will know if it's somebody else.  But she's dressed as Betty would with the belted sundress with the understated pattern, matching jacket and the necklace. And she's looking at her grandchildren.

There was quite a disparity at that time between the class status and assets of my grandparents with my paternal grandparents very much better off.  Harvard, insurance executive, etc.  My maternal grandparents had nothing really.  But go back to when my grandmother was young and the situation would have been reversed.

UPDATE: I knew Mary Ann would know.  That's Aunt Dede in the middle.  Gertrude Baumann Kleiner,  My maternal grandfather's sister who was quite close with the family.  Makes  perfect sense.  More sense than Betty coming down from Boston.   She also thinks that the location was the back yard on Foote Street in Hamden.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Ilana mentioned this book by Stephen Bloom...Postville written in 2001.  The story about a group of Hasidic Lunbavitcher group from Brooklyn.who came to Iowa to buy up an abandoned slaughterhouse and turn it into one of the largest kosher slaughterhouses in the country.

Stephen Bloom, a Jew, was fascinated and went to Postville to see how this worked.  Not well, it turned out.  I'm only 3/4 through the book but I can see how it goes.  You have the agrarian Lutheran based community in Iowa who, at first welcome the new neghbors.  But the Hasidic Jews act so arrogant and outrageous.  The won't even make eye contact with the locals, they refuse to participate in mid-American ideals of hospitality.  Rude and noisy, they have no intention of blending in at all.  They stay in their insular community and show no respect to the community.

The real conflict for the author is that the Hasidic's bad behavior is generaalized to all of Judaism.  The resentment and anger of the locals turns into hostility to "Those Jews."  None of the local people who though they may do business (shoe store, real estate) with the Lubavitchers, they really have no idea what's going on with the Hasidic families.

The author goes to see members of the Hasidic community, even spends a shabbat weekend with one of the families with his seven year old son.Their ways are rude and rigid and they make it very clear that they refuse to compromise with the community at all.  They show no respect to their neighbors and have no intention to do so.  In some ways, the author is drawn in.

But he realizes that he really has to decide what side he's on and, if I'm right, he's going to find the Hasidic community too obnoxious with their arrogant behavior and bad faith to all members of the community.  They also refused to comply with any local ordinances.  The owners make it very clear that they are doing it THEIR WAY.

But things get worse after he writes the book.   Jeiwsh organizations start taking action about conditions in the slaughterhouse.  La migra (INS) raids and charges the workers with crimes as well as threatening deportment.  The owner ends up going to jail and the company (Agriprocessors) goes into bankruptcy.  I think another Jewish organization may have bought it.

But their behavior was too extreme and it really seems like they had it coming to them.

A picture about the opening a new Yeshiva in Postville.

I'll update this if needed when I finish the book.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Lost Grandmothers

I decided to use a personal photograph.  I've got boxes and boxes sorted by year.  And yes, I've put binders and other stuff on top of them.  Dennis often suggests that we 'do something' with the boxes but I won't do it.  And, yes, I also have all of the photo albums inherited from both sides of our families.

But the easiest one to get to was 1997-2000.  This picture caught my eye.

The lost grandmothers.  Picture labeled 1998

My daughter Ilana who would have been 12 or 13 at the time.  My parents or at least my mother have come to visit.  This picture undoubtedly taken at Alki Beach after buying a bunch of fish and chips from Spuds.  My mother loved to do that.  You can see Spuds in the background.

Ilana stands between two of her grandmothers, Lanaya and Claire.   Not such a great picture of her; maybe she wanted to be doing something else at that moment.  Lanaya would have been 72 here and was likely already feeling the effects of the dementia that would consume her.  She would die in 2007 after being in the nursing home for over 5 years.  Actually she died the night before Thanksgiving, maybe that's why I'm thinking of this as we head into that holiday. 

My mother, Claire, would have been 74 and still in good shape.  My father's health wouldn't start to fail until 2001 so things likely looked pretty good then.  She died in 2010 aged 85.

My kids at the time would have been 9, 12, 14, 16.  Whew, thinking about that, good but also hard times.  But we held together.

The more I think about it, the tireder I feel! 

Thanksgiving this year will be fine, just 7.

Not all grandmothers are lost...Grandma Anne is still happening.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Two pictures

Today I feature a picture that just caught my eye, two actually.

First, a picture from CNN of a farm in Switzerland in the middle of a flood.  Extreme weather everywhere (not here currently in Seattle, whew)  Their farm as an island surrounded by the powerful water taking even more power from the sky.  Truly we are vulnerable and thus thankful.

The second picture from NPR from today's Story Corps.  You might have all kinds of first impressions seeing these two men; men of color in the 30s.  These two were cook and janitor in an assisted living home.  The owners shut down, the staff left, abandoning 16 elderly disabled residents.

Except for these two, the cook and janitor

"There was about 16 residents left behind, and we had a conversation in the kitchen, 'What are we going to do?' " Rowland says.
"If we left, they wouldn't have nobody," the 34-year-old Alvarez says.
They took care of the residents around the clock for three days.  Giving out medications, keeping everybody clean, doing what needed to be done. The sheriff and fire department finally arrived and took over.

Heros.  A number of comments on the NPR site that invariably are snarky.  No snark here. All laudatory

My favorite:
are these guys married? total marriage material!
 Also what struck me was the modesty of their remarks as they told their story

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


I've learned a lot of new things in my gospel class though it has not made me a Christian out of me.  In some ways, the class is struggling, as many students do not want to volunteer their ideas.  The professor, quite experienced and senior, sometimes breaks the class into small groups.  In my experience, the students are much more willing to share their ideas and questions in these small groups.  I knew that today he wanted to really tackle the student essays due next week.  As an access student, I don't write the essay though maybe I could as I am the only access student in the class.  But, since I knew that he wanted to work on that and my comments would not help, I decided not to go.  Just for this morning.  I did read his slides that he prepared, though,.

I certainly have found the parables difficult.  The professor wants to stress this.

But one concept that he introduced early was Sophia, goddess of wisdom, a powerful diety, mostly of Greek origin with Hebrew roots.  But I had never heard of Sophia.  Certainly recent feminist theologies and observances incorporate Sophia.  But, whew, reading some of the conservative Christian sites, they do everything they can think of to discredit Sophia because only men count; only men can be divine.

Discrediting of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute likely an extension of this thinking.  Amazing how all of us internalize this idea of men being the only spokespeople of the divine.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


My old friend and college roommate JJ has been a follower of Yogananda for many years  She has talked about the Self Realization Fellowship and his teachings.

It might be too crass to dismiss him for his attractive appearance (the hair) and the southern California roots.  But now, that attracts me all the more.  Last spring, when I was down in Santa Cruz for the weekend, I attended their Sunday service.  JJ led the service (it was her turn) and besides the readings, they chanted and JJ played the harmonium.  I liked it.

I'm taking that gospels class at UW.  What surprises me about the parables is how a bit wacky many are.  I can't figure out the message from some of them.  Is it so many copying and versions and translations?  Do I have to listen to a lot of sermons to figure out the message?

JJ referred a book that Yogananda wrote about the parables.  It's thick and don't know if I'm going to get through it.  But I'll read as much as I can.

And somehow the southern California roots maybe ok, they may even be attractive.  Paramahansa Yogananda came from India and brought the yoga and meditation with him.

One positive aspect is their Seattle center is right nearby, just around the corner from where I live.  I drove by there today seeing if they were open.  On their website, they said that their center was only open certain times during the week.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Eastern Europe - Don't want to go there

Here are two videos that came to my attention yesterday.  First was from NPR showing three minutes of film taken by the author's grandfather on a vacation trip to his home village in Poland.  Jewish neighborhood 1938.  We know what will eventually happen but they don't.  In 1938, the Nazis had not yet invaded Poland so they may have seemed far away.  The actual video is from the Holocaust museum website.  I can't figure out how to embed it so you have to click on the link.

The second was from Reuters and youtube.  New video showing the immediate aftermath of the airliner that went down in Ukraine in July.  Shot down by somebody; likely the so called Russian separatists.

To me, there was an eery similarity.  Taken 76 years apart.  Different countries.  But somehow a lot the same.

Made me now want to go to Eastern Europe.  Though my paternal grandmother's family came from the Pale in Ukraine in the late 19th century.  And my paternal grandfather's family came about the same time from Poznan, western Poland or maybe eastern Prussia about that same time.