Oct 30, 2013

People in the Street

Each city has a flavor.  There are things that distinguish it from other cities.  Nobody walks in LA.  In Atlanta, people (mostly men) feel it is impossible to run with a shirt on.  Jerusalemites park with half the car on the sidewalk.  In San Francisco, I have noticed a little idiosyncratic thing that pedestrians do.  They ignore the difference between sidewalk and street.  I don't mean everybody.  I don't mean all the time, but enough so that it is "a thing".

I acknowledge that there are things to legitimately do in the street in an urban area.  Cross streets.  Walk to the driver's door of your car.  Fetch a ball that has rolled into the stretch.  Hold a farmer's market. Run a marathon.  This post is about the OTHER times when people are in the street.

I noticed this happening awhile ago.  I've been here over a year after all.  I only started keeping track recently.  When I say that people ignore the difference between sidewalk and street, I mean that they walk to their cars in the street (more than the length of a couple of cars).  They wait for the bus or a friend in the street.  They play in the street.  The wander in the street.  They stroll and pick up quarters in the street.

It is seriously scary sometimes to see people act as if there are no cars.  It is seriously annoying when I stop my car for a pedestrian crossing...only to find out that no, the guy doesn't want to cross, he's just standing there because, you know, it is a nice place to stand.

As of this post, I have seen people in the street for apparently no good reason for 18 days in a row.  That is not including the skateboarders and the film crew filming them, the marathon or people crossing the street.  It is including the guy walking along the double yellow line, the guy who walked out of a crosswalk into the intersection to get a quarter while I was about to make a left turn into his head, the people who think that buses come faster if you stop them with your body and the people who wait for the DON'T WALK to turn to WALK while blocking cars from turning right by standing 5 or more feet into the crosswalk.

What do people in your city do?

Seaglass Haiku

Glistening Seaglass
Once a bottle, now a gem
Real pretty garbage

Oct 18, 2013

The sandwich theory of light

This morning in the car, my daughter asked me how rainbows are made.  I was driving, could not draw anything for her and had no access to the Interweb, so I winged an answer.  I told her about the need for sunlight and water droplets and the right angles.  Then I groped for the way to explain refraction.  What I ended up telling her was that sunlight is normally like a sandwich.  You know, bread, mustard, fake turkey, lettuce hummus, pickles, etc...whatever you want on it.  Then when the sunlight hits the water droplets it is like throwing the sandwich against a wall.  The parts of the sandwich fly out in slightly different directions.

She liked the answer, and I think she understands that sunlight is not really a sandwich.

Oct 17, 2013

People Watching, An Ethics Experiment in the Making?

So every week, my family walks on the sabbath to synagogue.  We don't drive.  At the end of services, we put our kids in the double stroller and walk over a mile to get home.  Inevitably, one or both of the kids falls asleep during the walk home.  Our flat in San Francisco has no porch and a steep set of stairs that is too high to consider lifting the filled stroller to our door.

If we take the kids out of the stroller, they wake up and don't get another nap that day.  Then *WE* don't get a nap either.  :(  So, we do the only reasonable thing when the weather permits it...we leave the sleeping kids in the stroller on the sidewalk next to a tree and watch them from the steps.

It is actually a nice experience.  A snack, a beer after the long walk, and book.  It is not a real chore to do it.
But over the months, I have noticed a funny phenomenon:  Most people don't stop and notice.  We have two adorable kids who usually slump down in that cute way that kids do when they sleep in a stroller. You might think that people walking by would stop and take a gander at my kids.

The funny thing is that the steps that I sit on have shadows and a gate so that to see me, you have to really look. This means that my kids seem to be abandoned/forgotten/unsupervised on the relatively busy sidewalk.

We have not taken notes on this because we don't write on the sabbath, but here are my observations for most typical days (estimated):

Out of every 50 pedestrians...
-1 will stop, look at the kids, search around until they see me on the steps and have an interaction with me.
-3 will see me first, nod to me, then see the kids and smile.
-5 will see the kids, look at them, never glance in my direction, and move on as if leaving sleeping kids by themselves on the street is no concern.
-1 will see the kids, walk on, then turn around 20 seconds later and come back looking for me.
-40 will walk on oblivious and sometimes making so much noise as to almost walk my kids.

I don't know if I am bothered more by the ones who walk on leaving the kids seemingly unattended or by the majority who don't notice a thing.

There has only once been a person who started to actually call for help before they saw me.  She was probably about 15 years old.  She thought it was really funny when she realized that I was there.

Last week, I saw the same couple walk by THREE TIMES before they noticed the sleeping angels.  These people seemed especially oblivious and they spoke with voices that were unreasonably loud-- as if they were talking with someone across the street even though the were right next to each other.  After they finally noticed the kids, they never modulated their volume.

People are interesting.

Oct 8, 2013

I'm Back

Recently, my sister Julie asked me to blog again.  I have decided to try it again.  I know the teeming masses out there who follow my blog have been waiting on pins and needles to find out was has been going on in the world since I last posted.  Here is a not-so-exhaustive list of things that have happened since last time:

-My wife and I had a son.
-We lived in Atlanta for 3 years and then moved to San Francisco.
-I tried my hand at teaching high school...and decided that it was not my chosen profession.
-Our cat didn't die yet.
-Obama was re-elected.
-My wife and I started collecting sea glass.
-I tried Vietnamese food and did not like Pho.
-I got an iPhone--though I have not updated to iOS 7 yet.
-Many famous people died.

I'm sure some other things have happened, but I forget.

Jul 2, 2009

Moved to Atlanta

So it has been a long time since I was a regular poster on my blog.
I had a kid, got a job and became busy with life and Facebook.

I have now moved to Atlanta, GA where my wife is starting in a week as Congregation Shearith Israel's new assistant rabbi. (Between you, me and the Interweb, she's gonna be great.) The web address for the synagogue is shearithisrael.com.

After I get settled and start a routine, I hope to start up regular blogging again. It feels so weird to even be posting here.

By the way, they have fireflies in Atlanta! That's so cool to this Los Angeles native.

Dec 7, 2008

Nesya Losing at Fencing

No babies were harmed in the making of this film.

If you wish to contribute to her toy/training fund, please use the Amazon.com link on the lower left. A percentage of your purchase will go her learning how to beat her daddy with a whisk.

Jul 24, 2008

Jul 13, 2008


As someone who came to Judaism later in life (i.e. in high school), I have always had a different perspective on some aspects of the liturgy. One in particular is the part of the service called the Kaddish.

The kaddish is sanctification of God's name. There are different kinds of kaddish throughout the prayer service that serve different purposes...most of which I didn't not learn about and understand for many years after I started on my Jewish path. There is Kaddish D'Rabbanan (for after studying some rabbinic text), Mourner's Kaddish (said by people in various levels of mourning), Hatzi Kaddish (used as an internal bookmark to separate parts of the service), Kaddish Shalem (used as bookend at the beginning and end of the service) and few other kind of kaddish that are used on special occasions such as ending the study of a book of Talmud or at the gravesite.

Now, all of these variations on the kaddish have a thing in common: they are in Aramaic and not in Hebrew. This means a novice Jew who is trying to learn Hebrew will still have a hard time understanding what it says.

In my early years and to this day, I always see the mourner's kaddish as different from all the others (even when my untrained ear could not hear the difference).

During the Mourner's Kaddish, those who are mourning stand up and recite the kaddish. This is often an atonal and slower recitation because unlike the person who is leading the service the one saying mourner's kaddish is not likely to feel comfortable reading prayers out loud. If there are multiple mourners in the crowd, the pace of the mourner's kaddish is lowered to the lowest common denominator. Otherwise, the slowest mourner reading would feel self-conscious about reading. I have always liked this equalizing. It shows great consideration within the community.

As a person who went to Catholic school as a kid and who was not familiar with the Jewish liturgy, I remember being totally baffled by the standing and sitting and when to do either. It was never more so than when mourner's kaddish was being said. I was used to stand as a sign of respect for mourners. But the mourner's are standing whenever the mourner's kaddish is said. Was it better to stand and honor them, or sit and let them have the distinction of being mourners? In one sense, by allowing them to stand alone, the community is being informed that those standing are in mourning...which may color in a positive way the conversations one has with those people after the service.

But what if you find yourself standing right as mourner's kaddish starts? As someone who still thinks of standing for respect, sitting down during the mourner's kaddish feels like disrespect. I am always befuddled what to do at this point.

I should note that in almost 18 years of being Jewish (well, I was born Jewish, but 18 years since I started learning about Judaism) mourner's kaddish is the part of the service that people talk the least in. Many people sneak a few words to someone else next to them during the service. (e.g. a greeting, conveying a hello from someone else, asking who they are going to vote for, do they have a place for a shabbat meal...) This does not usually apply to the mourner's kaddish. I guess people feel that God, who gets to hear kaddish multiple times every day from millions of people, will be more understanding. Those saying mourner's kaddish may be the only one saying kaddish for the loved one who passed away.

One of the things that made me fall in love with Judaism was the way in which death and mourning is treated. After all these years, I still think so.