...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Saturday, June 28, 2008


This morning at P'nai Or there was an adult bar mitzvah (occasionally adults who didn't have the opportunity or the inclination to have a bar/bat mitzvah ceremony when they were twelve or thirteen study and prepare for one later in life). The service was so moving: the man's emotion at taking on the responsibility, his wife and teenage daughter's support, the ecstatic dancing during the Mi Chamocha. To me, it perfectly captured the Jewish Renewal mentality and approach to tradition; I wanted to bottle the experience and carry it with me to help describe Renewal to others.

The Torah portion this morning was Korach, from the book of Numbers--it's the story of a man named Korach and a couple of his friends who question why Moses and Aaron should have all the power. Are not all the children of Israel holy? God punishes Korach's rebellion and causes the earth to swallow him and his followers up. In his d'var Torah ("words of Torah," a sermon/speech about the portion) the bar mitzvah man shared some of his wrestling with the text; for him, as for me, it can seem that God is punishing Korach for raising a very legitimate complaint. Why should Moses and Aaron hold all the power? My feelings about the text reminded me of the way that I kind of always sided with Judas in one of the gospel stories: maybe that fine ointment should have been sold and the money donated to the poor. I know the traditional explanations of those verses, and the rabbi did some 'splaining about how the text indicates that Korach, like Judas in that gospel story, was pursuing his own glory and enrichment. Still, though.

Tomorrow I'm leaving for Ruach Ha'Aretz ("The Spirit of the Earth"), a Jewish Renewal retreat in Redmond, Oregon. I'm a mix of excited and nervous right now--nervous about dedicating pretty much a solid week to Jewish practice, prayer, and learning, and excited about, well, dedicating a solid week to Jewish practice, prayer, and learning! I don't think I'll have internet access while I'm there (the resort probably has wireless, but I'm leaving the computer in Portland) so the blog will take a little vacation as well (although with my recent lack of frequent updates, if I hadn't said anything about going out of town, you probably would not notice a difference.) I Hope everyone has a nice 4th!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Koko; symposium; good-bye; article; retreat; Shavuot; teaching

The first DVD that Daniel and I watched on our new computer was a French documentary from the 1970s about Koko the gorilla who learned sign language. (Yeah...Koko. That chimp's all right.) I really enjoyed it, both for its discussion of Koko and how I felt that it captured a particular moment in time, a zeitgeist, kind of of. There were many funny and touching moments and you couldn't help but be charmed by Koko and taken with Dr. Penny Patterson, the woman who worked with her. At one point Koko was kind of throwing a tantrum and kept dumping some papers out of a cardboard box, and Dr. Patterson was getting increasingly frustrated. "Koko, you are being a bad gorilla!" she said, as Koko stomped sulking to a corner of her enclosure. I turned to Daniel and said, "That was pretty much my morning."

Speaking of work, today another preschool teacher and I took the day off from the classroom to go to a symposium at the Opal School/Portland Children's Museum with our boss. The symposium began Thursday and goes until Saturday; I'm attending the latter two days only. The Opal School is a charter school connected with the Children's Museum that incorporates a Reggio Emilia-inspired approach to education. Different teachers and directors from the Opal School gave presentations about documentation of children's art, creativity and understanding, and the Reggio approach, and we had the chance to visit the classrooms of the Opal School. They were so beautiful and intentional--all the materials so well arranged, all the students' work so meaningfully documented--that I found myself both inspired and discouraged. Inspired, because it gave me some wonderful ideas for my classroom next year, and discouraged because I'm not there yet and I continually struggle with engaging children with special needs (ADHD, conditions on the autism spectrum, oppositional/defiant personalities, etc) with the Reggio approach. More and more I look forward to the beginning of the new school year, and to starting fresh with an almost entirely new group of students--not because the children themselves won't present some of the same challenges I'm having now, but because I feel much more confident, self-assured, and intentional as a teacher now than I did last September.

Today was my co-teacher Eduardo's last day with us--he's accepted a wonderful job opportunity elsewhere. We've been teaching together for over a year, and I will truly miss him. Since I was gone today at the symposium, yesterday we kind of made a day of it and took the kids for a picnic snack at the nearby municipal rose gardens. After snack, Cara, Eduardo, and I gave the kids some safety guidelines then just let them run around the garden and dip their hands into the fountain. The weather was beautiful, the roses were in bloom and I was filled with such a feeling of joy and peace.

Daniel mentioned to me on Wednesday that this week's edition of the Willamette Week was a front page story on Alex and Brett Harris, the young men behind The Rebelution. I was pretty comically excited--I actually hooted--when I heard that, since I've long been interested in the Rebelution and Reformed Christian culture and theology. After their Portland Do Hard Things conference in the spring, I saw a kid walking around Pioneer Square in one of their T-shirts; I wanted to pull him aside and grill him about his theology and his understanding of what it means to be a rebelutionary. (I didn't, of course. But I wanted to!) You can ready the Willamette Week article here. I admit that after Daniel told me about the article, my immediate reaction was that they should have interviewed me, since I spent so much time on their forum when I was in college. (I think my exact, not-so-humble words were, "I know the most about the Rebelution of anyone who's not a rebelutionary.") But of course, Daniel was right that that was a somewhat illogical reaction, and not necessarily true. Anyways, the article was interesting and I really want to read the God's Harvard book about Patrick Henry College that the article mentioned.

Things have come together for me to be able to attend Ruach ha-Aretz, a nationwide Jewish Renewal retreat held this year in central Oregon, and I'm incredibly excited.

The other preschool teacher with whom I went to the symposium is a Seventh-Day Adventist, and during lunch we talked a bit about our different religious traditions. She asked about the process of conversion to Judaism, and I asked if Seventh-Day Adventists practice the gifts of the spirit (speaking in tongues, prophesy, healing, etc). The conversation came around to the holidays of Pentecost and Shavuot. Pentecost, of course, occurs fifty days after Easter ("pente") and commemorates the visitation of the Holy Spirit upon the assembled believers. Shavuot is like the Jewish counterpart, or the Jewish original from which the Christian holiday drew meaning. It occurs fifty days after Passover and commemorates the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai. It's traditional to stay up all night studying Torah on Shavuot. This year, I made it to about ten forty-five. Next year I hope to crack midnight!

A month or so ago I was out on the playground at the end of the day with a few remaining kids from my class, including four-year-old S. S often gets philosophical around 5:30 and goes into this kind of free-verse, prose-poetry way of speaking. "You're Teacher Jessica. You're a teacher. You go'ed to college to be a teacher," she said. Although I try to listen to the kids in conversation more than I speak, my initial urge was to correct her. But then I thought--"Huh, maybe." My degree wasn't in education, but in some way maybe I did go to college to be a teacher. I generally believe that wherever we are we are meant to be; there's possibility of growth and blessing in every place. That's absolutely been true for me in this job. S's comment came within a week or two of my one-year anniversary of teaching preschool. I still want to go to graduate school, but I'm also happy where I am, living in Portland, living with Daniel, learning Judaism, and teaching preschool.

Monday, June 09, 2008


I'm writing a blog post on my (I mean, "our") new computer! Daniel and I went in together to buy a refurbished MacBook...so shiny and beautiful. Buying it felt kind of illicit.

The thing about my old computer is that so many of the different things were broken--the DVD player, iTunes, iPhoto; I couldn't download anything new or upload songs to my iPod. It's exciting and weird to have a computer where everything actually works. (Plus, the Mac store was able to salvage my old hard drive, so hopefully I didn't lose any of my old papers or photos.)

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Loss and gain

On Friday evening there was a tragic accident and some coffee was spilled on my computer's keyboard. Since then the computer hasn't been able to switch on. Many tears were shed. I took it to the Mac Store by the Lloyd Center today, and the guy said that the cost of repairs would exceed the value of the machine, but that for about a hundred dollars they could try to recover the hard drive and "enclose" it for me. We'll try that and cross our fingers that all was not lost. Daniel and I are probably going to buy a new (or refurbished used) computer together. I'm sad about my old computer and I dearly hope that they can recover my files and pictures. I had that computer for five years; it got me through college and through my first post-college year. Well done, good and faithful servant!

Yesterday afternoon I was walking home from the bus stop and passed by this long, gorgeous coffee table with an inlaid wood design. "FREE!" a sign proclaimed. I never pass by free stuff, but this table was four or five feet long and too heavy to carry, so I started dragging it down the sidewalk. I was about two or three blocks from the apartment when a City of Portland utility worker stopped me and said, "Let me do you a favor." He put the coffee table in his City of Portland pickup and delivered it right to my front door. The kindness of strangers, you know?