The CSW was a HUGE success, as always. I saw some fantastic student work! A couple of groups in Emil Brehm's class made terrific DVDs that included material from their community research *and* some really smart work with different genres (like commercials); one of Amy McBain's students made a fantastic PowerPoint with material from her observations in two different dance classes at EMU; Rin Flannery's students did fantastic genres based on their I-Search papers; one of Erin VanderWall's students made a *quilt* - a real quilt! - with various genres from her observation at a senior center ... it was amazing, as always! (I'm not even mentioning the incredible PVC pipe constructions that Michele Salmon's class made... or their matching t-shirts [Salmon's Fishies].) Incredible! Pictures coming soon. And video, too. I asked lots of the multi-media folks to get me copies of their stuff so we could load that on our coming soon, *new* FYWP web page. Steve Krause has just let me know that the PB wiki site for the FYWP is ready to roll... so now I just need to make stuff in it. Sure! Seriously, I'm thinking that maybe at least with the multimedia we can get some of what students do. We take photos, but they don't come even remotely close to capturing the energy in the event... it's just way too cool, too loud, too crowded, to show in a photograph.
So after I left the CSW - and after I found my accursed keys, which I had apparently left on a table and then spent forty minutes zooming around campus to try to find (only to locate them in the lost and found in the union), I went to our traditional first night of Passover seder with our friends Kathleen and Judith. It was terrific fun, as always (though I am currently suffering the after effects of eating too much charoset/matzoh/horseradish; too much matzoh ball soup; waaaaayyy too many macaroons). I love Passover - it's my absolute favorite holiday. There's the food, of course, which is quite important. But more than that, it really is a terrific springtime ritual. It feels like a time of new beginnings (which it's supposed to, of course). I also really, really like that it's something that's happening in roughly the same way in houses, apartments, tents, everything around the world, where there's no official leader, where people are building on a cultural tradition that is thousands of years old. It brings together everything I like about being Jewish.
Speaking of which (being Jewish, that is), I'm currently reading Philip Roth's The Plot Against America
, which is terrific. I haven't gotten through a Roth book since I read Goodbye, Columbus
when I was in high school, but this is a great book for a lot of reasons. It has a great description of the hard-to-grasp-if-you're-not-Jewish distinction between Jewish culture
and Jewish religion
, for one thing. Here it is!
Their (the Roth family, the main characters in the novel) being Jews didn't issue from the rabbinate or the synagogue or from their few formal religious practices.... Their being Jews didn't even issue from on high. To be sure, each Friday at sundown, when my mother (and touchingly, with the devotional delicacy she'd absorbed as a child from watching her own mother) lit the Sabbath candles, she invoked the Almighty by his Hebrew title but otherwise no one ever made mention of "Adonoy." These were Jews who needed no large terms of reference, no profession of faith or doctrinal creed, in order to be Jews, and they certainly needed no other language - they had one, their native tongue, whose vernacular expressiveness they wielded effortlessly and, whether at the card table or while making a sales pitch, with the easygoing command of the indigenous population. Neither was their being jews a mishap or an achievement to be "proud" of. What they were was what they couldn't get rid of -- what they couldn't even begin to want to get rid of. Their being Jews issued from their being themselves, as did their being American. It was as it was, in the nature of things, as fundamental as having arteries and veins, and they never manifested the slightest desire to change it or deny it, regardless of the consequences. (220)
What's very, very smart about this passage - and also very, very great for the book I'm working on (and will soon begin working a lot more on, after the school year ends) is that it speaks to the idea of "assimilation" (which is a concern that some more observant Jews have about less observant Jews), and to the idea that Judaism just _is_. It's in the DNA. The aforementioned new book of mine (which, as I think I mentioned in a previous post, is about affecting public policy discussions about writing and writer) begins with a chapter on working from principle, and there - very, very oddly for me, because I really don't write about "personal" stuff - I write about the principle of tikkun olam, or repairing/restoring/rebuilding the world, which is a principle that evolves from Talmudic readings of parts of the Torah (but actually first appeared in the Kabbalah. Long story here that I won't go into.) So this is going to mean writing about how I work this into my life, and into my work as a WPA and a teacher - which it does, but it's not something I'm used to talking about or explaining, really, to anyone but myself. So - it will be challenging in lots of ways, but it will be good challenging. The Plot Against America
is also very smart (to me, anyway - I'm not sure Roth meant this to be there, but I see it) about this idea of assimilation... I won't go into the plot details here (read the book!), but the main character (Philip Roth)'s brother Sandy rejects the family's life as assimilated/American Jews for some of the novel (I'm not done with it, so I can't say if it's for all of the book) and wants to give up all of his cultural experience to become "American." Anyway ... still chewing over this one, but it's a DARNED good book, and very useful for my own thinking.