Progress Report


2015 reading challenge januaryI’m almost finished with #7!

At first, I was dubious when my daughter invited me to join her in POPSUGAR’s 2015 Reading Challenge. The shift from skeptic to believer took less than an hour.

“You’re taking this so seriously,” she comments at dinner, after receiving several emails from me with links to lists of potential reads.

I have diligently copied titles for “a book more than 100 years old” and “a book that came out the year you were born.” She’s already decided to reread Harry Potter, but I have to do some research to find books published in 1966, and I must consult my high school friend about “a book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t.” Lisa has a better memory than I do; I only vaguely recall, with lingering anxiety, writing essays about Jude the Obscure and Heart of Darkness before finishing them.

“Too bad I can’t count this month’s book club selection, because I read it in December,” I tell her. “I’m skimming it to prepare for this week’s discussion.”

“I think you can count it,” she reassures me. “It’s not like you’re cheating on a test. This is just supposed to be fun!”

“It is fun,” I insist. I admit I’m taking it pretty seriously, too.

I’m not sure why I’m so serious about this challenge. I’m not especially competitive, nor am I a meticulous record-keeper, though I do enjoy a certain satisfaction at crossing off items on my to-do lists. An avid reader, I average a book per week, so the quantity isn’t particularly challenging.  While during the week I am usually swamped with work-related reading, on Friday evenings I curl up with a novel and the Sabbath truly becomes a “taste of the world to come,” as it’s known in rabbinic tradition.

The greater challenge, for me, lies in the variety of categories. This requires planning, since I usually stick to my favorite genres.  So I spent the better part of the first week of January engrossed in researching the categories, logging in to Goodreads repeatedly, scanning the Facebook walls of my bookworm friends to see what they’re reading.

I already knew that I love reading. Taking this challenge, I discovered that I also love thinking about reading. I relish anticipating the moment that I’ll sink into the comfy chair after Sabbath dinner ends, knowing that I’ll stay up too late reading a good book.

The highlight of my week was receiving an email from the library that “a book with antonyms in the title,” which I’d placed on reserve at the beginning of January, was finally available for pick-up! I expect to finish it this weekend and welcome the month of February ahead of schedule.


Ink Blots


It’s been two solid weeks of learning, teaching, professional development, curriculum development and preparation for an upcoming rabbi-in-residence weekend. Today, I stop to reflect before taking a ninety-minute certification test for the Interfaith Speakers Bureau (IFSB). I realize that I feel both exhilaration and dread.

It’s silly, I know, to be nervous about an open-book test on material that is within the scope of my expertise, ridiculous to allow my inner child’s test anxiety to resurface and interfere with my inner adult’s professional competence. But I can’t help it. While I’ve been almost completely occupied for two weeks by cramming new information and ideas into my brain, the back of my mind has allowed a mild preoccupation to creep in: can this middle-aged memory retain new information and ideas?

I am reminded of the words of Elisha ben Abuyah, a sage of the early Rabbinic period whose colleagues eventually shunned him for what they considered his heretical beliefs. One of his early statements, however, is preserved in Pirke Avot, a tractate of the Mishnah that contains aphorisms and ethical teachings of the first century rabbis:ink blots

“When a person studies as a child, to what may he be compared? To ink written on fresh paper.

When a person studies when he is old, to what may he be compared? To ink written on blotted paper.” (Avot 4:25)

This ancient teacher intuitively understood what experts of neuroscience now confirm about human memory: we have different channels and storage areas for memory, and often the lessons we learn in early childhood remain stored in our long term memory even as we have difficulty memorizing new facts.

I can still recite my street address that I learned when I was four or five years old, despite having moved from that home nearly four decades ago. But I can hardly remember what I read in yesterday’s newspaper, and in the last twenty four hours I’ve requested password retrieval from several online accounts that I visit every month to pay bills.

I can visualize Elisha ben Abuyah sitting at his desk, quill in hand, staring at an old parchment so dotted with ink splotches that fresh writing is absorbed and obscured. That is my brain—cluttered with telephone numbers and song lyrics from the 70’s, and several rabbinic adages learned in my youth—trying to discern what must be retrieved, whether anything can be purged.

To dispel the feeling of dread that impedes my studies, I summon a memory of the IFSB training session. Erasing the ink blots, I visualize this moment when Soumaya stretched one arm around me and Sucheta and the other in front of us, perfectly capturing the feeling of exhilaration that naturally accompanies sharing new ideas among friends.

isfb training web


February 2015 Workshops

prayer beads by vicki web size

Prayer Beads in Three Faiths

Thursday, February 5, 2015

10:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon

The Atlantic Institute (Istanbul Cultural Center)

591 N Main Street, Alpharetta

Meet Cathy Crosby of the Neshama Interfaith Center, Addie Schneider of Temple Kol Emeth & our friends at The Atlantic Institute for informal conversations about the use of prayer beads in Christianity, Islam & Judaism. Bring your own prayer beads or Jewish prayer shawl (talit) and share your personal customs during round-table discussions. Then we’ll make our own beads using polymer clay. Materials & refreshments provided; no previous art experience required.  Please register before January 31st to reserve your space.

Register for Prayer Bead Workshop: $25

Register with a Friend (20% discount): $40

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evil eye web

Mazel in the Morning

Thursday, February 19, 2015

9:30 a.m.

Crema Cafe

2458 Mount Vernon Road, Dunwoody

Celebrate the new moon (new month in lunar cycle), learn about symbols of luck in Jewish tradition, and create a good luck charm using polymer clay. Materials provided; no previous art experience is required. Space is limited to 10 participants.

Register for 2-hour workshop: $30

Register with a Friend (10% discount): $54