Zev News – March 2007


At the beginning of March, Marc and Jackie went to see Caddy, Caddy, Caddy, a Butoh dance performance where the music was written and produced by a friend of ours.  It was our first introduction to Butoh dance, which is definitely an acquired taste (See http://www.zenbutoh.com/history.htm.)  We were amazed by the strength and ability of the dancers, particularly Ugari, the lead.  If you go to see Butoh, we recommend that you expect the bizarre, and then you won’t be disappointed.


In sharp contrast, the next night was Purim.  But before I tell you about Purim, I have to tell you about the Temple’s high school religious school program.  The Temple’s regular religious school program is nominally for grades K-7, and the kids have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah somewhere during their 7th grade year.  This year, the Temple completely revised their program for post-Bar/Bat Mitzvah kids.  They call this program “the high school religious school program” (even though it starts in 8th grade, which is middle school) or “TAS High.”  The program is one day a week for two hours.  It consists of an hour of discussion on morality/ethics issues, followed by a 20 minute break for dinner and then 40 minutes of an elective.  Potential electives include art, drama, music, dance, etc.  Both the focus of the discussion and the elective change every 10 weeks.  Jonathan chose art for the first 10 weeks and drama for the second 10 weeks.  Unlike the Temple’s regular religious school program, we did not require Jonathan to attend TAS High.  He is taking Hebrew High, which meets from 4-6 on the same day as TAS High, so to do both makes Tuesday a long day with little time for homework.  But he wanted to do it, so who were we to say no?  Back to Purim.


At our Temple, the Purim service is usually halfway to a rock concert, with the rabbis and cantor dressing up as rock stars, and Rabbi Brown providing the melodies and lyrics of the songs, which are Purim-themed.  (Fortunately, this time Jackie remembered the ear plugs in her car and both she and Benjamin were able to stay in her seats for this service.)  Halfway through the service, a play takes the place of the traditional megilla reading.  The play’s actors have always been kids that are members of the Temple.  This year the Temple used the TAS High drama elective to put on the Purim play, which meant that Jonathan was in the Purim play. 


The drama elective kids did a great job.  They put on the story of Purim as a series of scenes from the story.  For each scene, they asked the audience for suggestions for a theme that they could use to set the scene in, pretending that they were doing the whole play as an improvisation.  They did scenes in settings like “slumber party,” “kindergarten playground,” “in the hood,” “pirates of the Carribean,” “cowboys” and “tea party.”  Most (but not all) of the audience figured out that it was not really improv when, for the “cowboy” scene, the entire cast came out decked in cowboy hats and bandanas.  One thing that the adults in charge did that we all appreciated was to make sure that no one spoke without a mike in his or her face and that kids really projected into the mike.  Thus, for the first time in all the years we’ve been watching Purim plays, you could really hear everything that was said. 


We had been surprised when Jonathan announced he had signed up for the drama elective, as he has never done anything remotely drama-ish before.  In the Purim play, he played the guard, which did not have a huge speaking part, but did appear in many of the scenes.  Jonathan had a blast!  And when the play was over, Benjamin said, “I want to do drama too!”  All the grandparents turned out for the play (we took up an entire row in the synagogue!)


The next day was the Purim carnival.  The Temple typically does a blood drive during the Carnival, and this year was no exception.  Marc and Jackie both signed up to donate, so rather than deal with tickets this year, they bought the kids wristbands so that they could go on all the rides and play all the games they wanted.  As usual, Jackie was rejected for not having enough iron (0.1 below the acceptable minimum to give blood.)  As the nurse said, “at least she’s not low on iron, just too low to give blood.”  The boys had a blast at the carnival.


The following weekend was “Let my people sing,” a 5-day “celebration of freedom, song, dance, and spirit.”  Between March 7 and March 11 there were 7 different events involving some of the biggest names in Jewish music.  Saturday morning, Debbie Friedman, one of the best Jewish folk music singer/songwriters ever, helped lead services at Temple Valley Beth Shalom.  Jackie went and although she timed it to get there half an hour early, she was dismayed to find that she was half an hour late, due to a misprint of the time services were to start.  Oh well.  Services were wonderful, including lots of singing and dancing in the aisles to Miriam’s Song. 


That night was our cousin Matthew’s Bar Mitzvah, so it was back to Temple for Jackie!  At that morning’s services, Jackie discovered that the Torah portion of the week was Ki Tesa, which will be Benjamin’s Torah portion when he becomes a Bar Mitzvah in 2010.  So the cousins will share Torah portions.  Matthew, as expected, did a great job reading torah and gave a nice speech. 


Sunday’s “Let my people sing” event was “the world’s largest Jewish sing-a-long” with “Julie Silver, Cantors and a 200+ voice choir.” The 200+ choir was composed of junior choirs from various Temples across the valley.  Since Benjamin is in our Temple’s junior choir, he was expected to be at the event, but we would have gone anyway.  Julie Silver is another icon in the world of Jewish folk music, and for two hours, she lead us in singing our hearts out.  It was wonderful.  We hope they do it every year. 


The following Saturday was Benjamin’s birthday.  Marc made cake for Benjamin’s 4th grade class Friday, cupcakes for his party Saturday, and white and dark chocolate mousse for the family celebration Sunday.  Fortunately, there was a special event at the Temple in lieu of regular religious school Sunday morning, so Marc was saved from having to bake yet another dessert for Benjamin’s religious school class! 


Benjamin actually woke up on his birthday at Grammy Blanche’s house.  This was because the day was also the date of Jonathan’s MathCounts State competition, for which he had to be in Irvine at 8:30 in the morning!  Of course, the nice thing about having to be in Irvine at 8:30 in the morning is that there’s no traffic getting there.  They had the two individual rounds, and then took a short break before starting the team round.  When we met up with Jonathan during the break he said, “The State questions are a LOT harder than the Regional questions!”  After the team round, we went to lunch with Jonathan’s friend Daniel and his family.   Then back to the competition to find out who was going to be in the countdown round.  But before they did the countdown round, they gave a lecture on – well Jackie and Marc don’t remember what the lecture was on, because both of them slept through it.  But better to fall asleep then, than in the car driving back! 


At the State competition, they had 16 kids in the countdown round rather than 10.  There were about 160 kids competing, so the top 10% were in the countdown round.  As expected, neither Jonathan, nor Daniel, nor any of the other Portola kids were in the countdown round, so once we determined this, we took off – we had a birthday party to host that night!  But we weren’t disappointed – we had the same attitude that we had for Jonathan’s soccer tournament – Just getting there was the real accomplishment, he didn’t have to win.


For Benjamin’s (10th) birthday party, Benjamin had a laser tag party, which everyone loved.  We were concerned that being a physical sort of party would deter some of the girls that were invited, and we were pleased that this did not seem to be the case.  There did seem to be somewhat of a theme to the gifts he received, which was “yucky stuff”  He got “Oh yikes” (a book about weird and gross stuff,) a kit on making 10 different kinds of slime and an ant farm.  


In Benjamin’s religious school class, they are studying life cycles this year, and the day after his birthday, they did a special event for the kids and their parents on weddings.  They talked about ketubas (the wedding contract) and had the kids make out “contracts” with their parents, making promises to each other.  Benjamin promised “to try new food without having to be persuaded.”  Jackie promised “to protect Benjamin even at the cost of her own life.”  The ideas and wording of both promises were Benjamin’s.  We were particularly impressed that he spelled “persuaded” correctly.  Next we made up cloth squares that were buttoned together to make a chuppah (wedding canopy.)  The event wrapped up with a mock wedding.  It was nicely done. 


After the religious school event was over, Marc took Benjamin to the Balboa Art Festival and Jackie ran off to an AAUW ice cream social for new members.  Then we all reconvened at our house and celebrated Benjamin’s birthday with the grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins.  It was a busy weekend. 


Every year, a week after Benjamin’s birthday Marc and Jackie celebrate their anniversary.  This year they celebrated with a trip to Las Vegas to see Spam-a-lot.  Jackie’s parents watched the boys, and they really went above and beyond the call of duty, since Jonathan needed to be driven to Chatsworth for a meeting with some classmates for a class project on Saturday and to Knapp park for a tree-planting project on Sunday and Benjamin needed to be driven to Temple for religious school on Sunday.  Jackie’s brother and sister-in-law got into the act, too, keeping an eye on the boys Saturday night while Jackie’s parents went to a concert.  Jackie really appreciates her family!


The get-away weekend started Friday night, when we and Marc dropped the boys off at her parent’s house and went out to dinner at Roy’s, their favorite restaurant.  The food was scrumptious, as always.  We spent the night at home and left for Las Vegas in the morning. 


First we went to the Wynn and picked up the tickets.  Then, we wandered around the Wynn shops.  One of the first stores we went into had a lot of sculptures and other art pieces.  We really liked many of the sculptures there, in particular two metal pieces, one of a standing horse, and another of a herd of antelope running and leaping.  We thought about buying one or the other, but we had just started looking at shops, so we decided to wait and se if maybe later we would see something we liked more.  So we went into more shops and then went over to our hotel (the Stratosphere) to check in.  We relaxed for a bit and then changed for the evening and went out to find dinner.  We went to the mall across the street from the Wynn and settled on a restaurant that advertised itself as having “tapas” (appetizers) and “paellas” (rice dishes.)  We decided just to order half a dozen tapas for dinner.  Boy were we glad we did!  They were soooo good.  Best of all were the dates wrapped in bacon.  We highly recommend this dish. 


Spam-a-lot was a lot of fun (fun-a-lot?)  During the overture, before the show had even started, it became obvious that the people seated behind us were going to talk all the way through the show.  Now Jackie had recently seen a TV show about how people tend not to speak up when others are rude in public situations.  Emboldened by the memory of this show, Jackie turned around and asked, “You’re not going to talk though the entire show, are you?”  To our surprise, this was effective at reducing the amount of talking to a tolerable level, and they were able to enjoy the show.  Spam-a-lot was every bit as good as expected.  We noted with humor that everyone in the audience (which was huge) seemed have seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail (on which Spam-a-lot takes most of its humor.)  Marc was disappointed that the Vegas performance was shorter than the Broadway show and eliminated some of the songs, but Jackie did not knowing this and so did not experience any disappointment.


After the show we wandered around some more.  At one point Jackie saw a dress in a store window and decided to try it on.  As Jackie was changing, the salesclerk said to Marc, “You know your wife’s preferences – what other dresses might she like?” To which, Marc responded, “Well I thought I knew them, but then she came in here!”  Marc proved (yet again!) that he is a most unusual husband.  Jackie came out and looked at herself in the mirror and said, “This dress makes my butt look big.”  To which, Marc replied honestly, “Yes, it does.”  How many husbands would say that!  So Jackie didn’t buy the dress.  It looked great down to the waist, but then there was the part below the waist!


In the morning, the plan was to get up and drive back.  Once we were packed up, Jackie said, “What about that antelope sculpture?”  We had walked into dozens of stores, and hadn’t seen anything that we liked anywhere close to as much as we liked the things we had seen in that first shop.  So we went back to the Wynn and bought ourselves an anniversary present.  Unfortunately, this delayed our getting out of Las Vegas for about 2 hours!  But it was worth it.  The weekend was a fun way to celebrate our anniversary, and we came home with a lovely reminder of what a good time we had.


The following Thursday, Jackie tried to give blood again.  She has been rejected from giving blood every time she’s tried for years – usually because she’s slightly below the minimum iron level required for giving.  She’s been rejected so often she’s not sure why she keeps trying.  But lo and behold, this time she had plenty of iron!  It did take a long time for her to give the pint – even longer than usual.  Afterwards she felt fine, and she drank lots of water that day, as instructed.  But the next day she was having problems with dizziness if she stood too long.  So she drank lots more water and by the end of the day the problem had subsided.  We speculated that when she gave blood she was dehydrated, which is supported by the fact that it took her a long time to give blood.  We wonder if being dehydrated improved her iron level.  If so, the thing that enabled her to give blood then caused her problems afterwards.  Even so, she plans to be well hydrated the next time she tries to give.


On Saturday, we went to EATM’s Spring Spectacular.  EATM is the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at Moorpark College.  It’s also called “America’s Teaching Zoo.”  (See http://www.moorparkcollege.edu/~eatm/) They have a small zoo, which they use to train students to become exotic animal handlers.  Graduates typically go to work for zoos, animal parks, rescue operations, veterinarians, animal control, circuses, movie sets, etc.  EATM is open to the public every weekend, but each year they put on a fundraiser where they put on shows and give behind-the-scenes tours.  Ever since Marc bought “Kicked, Bitten and Scratched: Life and Lessons at the World's Premier School for Exotic Animal Trainers” and read it to Benjamin, Benjamin has been dying to go.  We invited cousin Kevin and his son Daniel to join us. 


Just past the entrance, there were tables set up for other organizations.  One of the organizations was one supporting the Channel Islands fox.  Now the Channel Islands fox is a fabulous story (http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/california/features/sci_overview.html..  Jackie had read about it in the Nature Conservancy magazine, and had read it to both Jonathan and Benjamin. So when the woman behind the table said, “Have you heard about the Channel Islands fox?” Jackie turned to Benjamin and said, “What do you know about the Channel Islands Fox?” and he rattled off the entire story.  That was fun! 


We toured the zoo, and Marc and Benjamin kept us entertained by giving us details they knew from the book.  We saw two shows and then paid for a behind-the-scenes tour.  We got to see lots of animals not normally visible to the public and got a chance to eat monkey chow, which is crunchy and vaguely banana flavored.  That was definitely worth it (seeing the animals, I mean – I would not pay extra to eat monkey chow.)  Ironically, the first animal we saw on the behind-the-scenes tour was a gopher snake on the ground before it slithered off into the brush to its home!  It was a fun day.


Hope your life is busy and fun!

Jackie, Marc, Jonathan and Benjamin