Sunday, April 25, 2004

I'm taking a little break from study. I have a nice rhythm set up here -- I study, I break for housework, I study some more, I break for laundry, I study, I file, I study, I check my email. I think I'm getting the hang of Midrash, a little. (Probably those are famous last words.)

I have been using some new exercises that have done wonders for my orthopedic problems. I originally found out about the Egoscue method by accident (I saw a book in a used book store) but after a few weeks of doing it, I'm sold. I recommend it if you have what the Arthritis Foundation quaintly refers to as "twinges in the hinges". For me, it has been MUCH better than drugs.

I read an article today about Midrash by a French scholar named Bloch. He pointed out that the root behind the word has to do with "searching" -- in this case, searching for the meaning of the text. When we get frustrated with the difficult or confusing verses in the Torah, we're not alone. The rabbis were confused, too. They "drashed" out the meaning, and my sense is that they expected we'd still be doing it today.

Shavuah tov -- have a good week!

Monday, April 19, 2004

We were back in classes today, and it felt good to be studying again. I don't like studying by myself; sometimes it's necessary but it lacks the pleasures of sitting in a group or a pair, struggling over a text.

I cannot believe there are only 2 weeks of the term left; I feel like I've just begun to dig into the meat of these courses, especially the text courses, Bible, Midrash, and Commentaries.

In Bible, we learn to see beautiful subtleties in texts we thought we knew. In Midrash, I occasionally recognize something I've seen referenced elsewhere, but mostly it's completely fresh, and a little like reading science fiction: the minds and worlds of the rabbis are so removed from ours that it is easy to get lost. The amazing thing is that so much of what they discern in the texts is bright and beautiful and useful today.

And in Commentaries -- there I am such a beginner that half the time I'm not sure what's going on. I can read Rashi now, but making sense of Rashi will take a lifetime. Ramban I find more difficult, but interesting, and tonight my study partner and I read a little Ibn Ezra too -- I understood even less of it, but even his descriptions of grammar are redolent with rich images. Even when I don't understand, I feel like learning is seeping in around the edges of my mind.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Hello again! I had a wonderful Passover, first in Merced, then in Oakland, in Santa Cruz, and then back here in Los Angeles. I've had some computer difficulties, though, so posts will be erratic for a while.

I've listened to a lot of radio as I drove up and down the state. I listen to a little bit of everyone: NPR, Christian radio, Rush Limbaugh, you name it. I like to know what everyone is saying and thinking -- I think that we don't pay enough attention to one another in this country, and too many of our public figures preach only to the choir. Does Rush realize how unpersuasive he is when he talks insultingly about anyone who doesn't agree with him? Sure, the "dittoheads" like it, but even when I'm trying to understand where he's coming from, he makes it difficult to do so.

Christian radio is varied and rather interesting. I've listened to various takes on "The Passion of the Christ" (Catholic, Fundamentalist Christian, and others) and learned a lot about what it means to the people who have flocked to see it. I've heard information and misinformation, things I agreed with and things that tempted me to pull over and phone in to argue. (I didn't.) I'm not a Christian and I figure they are not my shows to call in to -- but it's a good way to separate my fantasies about what Christians are saying from what's really going out over the airwaves.

I like NPR, when I can get it. Those are the voices most familiar to me, and the programming has a smooth, soothing quality. They have lots of pieces about people and ideas that I didn't know about, which I like, but a certain sameness to much of their programming, which makes me sleepy after a while. Not a good thing on the freeways -- but as I said, I can't always get it, so my snooze-factor isn't an issue.

When I'm not in the car, and I have a high speed connection for the computer, I listen to lots of other stuff. I started listening to the radio via the computer in Jerusalem; I'd get homesick and tune in to NPR (those friendly, familiar voices) or the traffic reports from KCBS in San Francisco. (THAT's how homesick I was.) NPR's take on the Middle East annoyed me, but even on the worst days I could feel pleased that I wasn't stuck in traffic on an on-ramp to the Bay Bridge.

Lately I've been listening to It's the new left-wing talk radio station, available in some cities, and while the humor gets pretty snarky at times, it is lively and closer to my own political leanings than Rush. It has a muscular feel that NPR lacks -- some days I'd rather get mad about the news than soak in more sorrow about it -- certainly I'm never in danger of falling asleep. Al Franken gets most of the publicity about Air America, but there are some other folks on there I like better: Randi Rhodes and Lizz Winstead, for instance. They are not so famous, but they have great radio voices with interesting things to say.

For music, if you are running Windows, the coolest thing out there is a group of stations at with classical, rock, country, and folk music. The radio software is nice, although you have to look closely at the site to figure out what's going on (it's all in Czech.) Nothing to download if you have Windows -- just click and listen. It's also amusing to see articles in Czech about Bob Dylan, Shania Twain, and so on -- I can only recognize a few words, but for some reason it tickles me.

I love radio. Do you know of stations I should check out, online or in L.A., Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced, or Stockton? Email me at val355(at), if you do!