Simchat Torah 5761


I had a wonderful morning today, attending Simchat Torah services with the members of the South Hampshire Reform Jewish Congregation. They’re a small congregation without a permanent location (they use the Southampton Orthodox shul about twice a month and move around the area the rest of the time to be closer to the widely-scattered membership; today, they were at a member’s home on Allington Lane, about 10 miles from Winchester) and without a full-time rabbi or cantor (in fact, I found out today that no UK Reform congregation has a cantor). But they do own two Torah scrolls, and today, that was what counted.

Wrapped in the Torah: Celebrating Simchat Torah with the South Hampshire Reform Jewish Congregation

I’d actually never been to Simchat Torah morning services before — I’d been to the evening service, where the congregation dances with the Torah and processes around the sanctuary; it’s a fun evening. Morning services are a bit different, since we actually read the last and first parts of the Torah, and to do that, we unroll the complete scroll and literally wrap ourselves in the Torah. Today, in the small space available, we wrapped ourselves three layers deep in the Torah, which was a bit of a logistical challenge, especially when it came time to reroll the scroll.

no vowels:

I was given the unexpected honor of being Katan Torah, that is, called to the Torah to “read” the final portion of Deuteronomy. I put “read” in quotes because, like many contemporary Jews, I can’t actually read the Torah itself (there are no vowels in the Torah, for one thing, as you can see above), but in practice, that’s not a problem — all I had to do was read the blessings before and after the Torah reading, and the service leader read the Torah (she’s an Israeli who now lives in England, so her Hebrew was more than up to the task). Some day, perhaps, I’ll take on the challenge of actually reading (chanting) a Torah portion at services at Shir Hadash — Diane does it once or twice a year — but so far, I have found being asked to give a drash (explanatory talk) on the portion (in English, of course) to be sufficiently daunting!

I took a lot more pictures while we were rerolling the scroll, so I’ve written a photoessay to help tell the story.


After leaving services, I started heading towards my hotel near Heathrow. We’d had a very light kiddush lunch at services, but I was hungry, so I stopped at a shopping center in Eastleigh for a more filling lunch. Parking was more of a challenge than I’d expected — fortunately, the parking lots here are “pay and display” rather than the “take a ticket” style which is common at home, so there’s no additional hassle leaving if you didn’t find a space. I succeeded in the second parking lot I tried; then I discovered that the one restaurant in the shopping center wasn’t very good. And I wasn’t successful at any of the other shopping I tried to do, either. But at least the parking was cheap.

Then I got on the M3 on my way to the hotel. All was well until I got off the highway, at which point I got thoroughly lost. I eventually found a place to park and called the hotel; they gave me directions, but unfortunately, their directions assumed I was starting from a different place than where I really was (I guess I told them the wrong thing!), and I got more lost; after a few more miles, I stumbled across a Sainsbury’s, parked, took out my map, and figured out where I was and where I had to be (I still have no idea how I got lost). Carrying a GPS is not very helpful if you have no way to cross-reference it to reality! But the UK mobile phone was quite useful; I’m glad I bought it.

But after the stop at Sainsbury’s, I was oriented, and found my way to the hotel in only a few more minutes. By this time, I was hungry again, but I didn’t want to eat in the hotel. So I walked out in search of the unknown. The first restaurant I saw was the McDonald’s in the Airport Bowl; I decided I could do better. A mile or so later, I found the next business district, which had an interesting-looking Indian restaurant…but it was closed. The Indian takeaway next door was open, though, and they had a couple of seats, so that’s where I ate (it was nice and spicy and filling, too!). Then I walked back to the hotel.

I spent the next 90 minutes trying to get connected to the network and failing. I had a hard time getting my computer plugged in to the wall, too — I still don’t have a UK power adapter, and the trick I used in Winchester to force the ground plug open enough to let an European plug go into the slot didn’t work here! The hotel found a UK adapter for me; I just have to remember to give it back to them, or I’ll be out 10 pounds (not a bad markup for something which costs about 2 pounds).

If you get to read this, I was successful at dialing in. That hasn’t been so easy this trip, either…half the time, the modems don’t successfully negotiate the connection.

Department of Silly Toys part 2

Perhaps my purchase of a mobile phone wasn’t so silly after all — I came down to the University of Southampton today, and it was quite convenient to be able to phone my host from the cab and make arrangements to be met as I arrived, instead of having to wait outside in the rain!

More later….

Department of Silly Toys

I took a brief break from my conference today and went into Winchester for two purposes: first, to have a decent lunch (at which I was partially successful), and second, to buy a mobile phone for use in the UK. It’s gotten to be very difficult to find a pay phone here, and I’m going to be travelling this weekend to meet people, and it would be very useful to verify directions en route (I miss Microsoft Streets and Trips!), so I convinced myself I needed my own phone.

Fortunately, the UK mobile phone companies have gotten quite competitive, and they now offer prepaid phones at a cheap price (as low as GBP 40 (about $60)), and they don’t require buying much talk time in advance, and it doesn’t expire, so this seemed like a fairly reasonable experiment to try. Unfortunately, the only company which allows use of their prepaid phones elsewhere in Europe has bad coverage in some of the UK areas I would be in, so I chose an Orange phone. I can hope that they’ll offer international service before I really need it — my trip to Germany next week will be so well-managed by IBM that I’ll hardly have the opportunity to realize I’m in a different country (on a similar trip to Canada three years ago, I brought $20 Canadian with me and never spent a penny of it until I decided I wanted to buy a souvenir at the airport while waiting for my flight home).

I haven’t actually made any calls on the phone yet, but that’s a small detail, isn’t it?

Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care

It’s amazing how much nicer the world looks after a good night’s sleep. Even if IBM’s earnings report didn’t make Wall Street happy.

The conference continues apace; I am sneaking away to update this page (which is probably a tacky thing for the co-chair to do, now that I think of it). It’s very fulfilling to see people deeply engaged in energized conversations which, if we follow the pattern in previous years, will result in one or two actual projects coming to fruition.

More anon.

Useless Information Department

Federal Standard 1037C formally defines
“RJ” (as in RJ-11 and RJ-45) as “Registered Jack”. Just in case you needed to know.

3 o'clock, 4 o'clock, 5 o'clock….

Despite not having slept much on the plane over, I stayed up and mostly functional all day, and joined some of my friends for a wonderful dinner at the Wykeham Arms. I was feeling a bit tired during dinner (one guy kept waiting for me to fall down into my food!), so I thought I’d sleep well.

I turned on the television in time to watch the last half-hour of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” — this, of course, is the original version. The US version is extremely faithful to the original, except, of course, that pounds became dollars in the transition.

The host here, Chris Tarrant, seems a bit crueler to the contestants (and the audience) than Regis — I tuned in as a contestant used all three lifelines on one question (asking which of four US states did not border on the Gulf of Mexico — I’ve never seen any questions on the US edition asking about UK matters). After she agonized over the question and eventually gave her final answer, they broke for a series of commercials before revealing that she was right. Similarly, after the 125,000 pound question, which she also agonized over for a long time, he said, “You no longer have 64,000 pounds.” And then a long pause before telling her she had gotten the question right.

After that, I fell asleep quickly, only to wake up at 2:30am. It’s now 5:30, and I haven’t been able to get back to sleep, so I decided I may as well start the day officially by flipping my page.

The conference starts in a few hours; I hope to stay awake for it!

If it's October, this must be Hursley

Almost every October, IBM has an internal conference at our Hursley, England facility; I’m the permanent co-chair of the conference (it’s had different names, and there’s always a new crew from Hursley — they’re the people who actually do the work!). It’s October, it’s time for the WebAhead conference, and here I am.

Unfortunately, I left my Token Ring card in my hotel, so I’ve had to borrow a machine and I can’t show the picture I took (yet, anyway), so you’ll have to believe me when I say this is a very distinctive facility — the conference is in Hursley House, an old stately home which IBM took over in 1958 (it had previously been used by Vickers Aircraft).

More later if I can stay awake and if I can get connected from my hotel.

The Secret of the Red Carpet Club

This rather short entry comes to you from the domestic Red Carpet Club at SFO. For some reason, United decided to operate their London flight from the domestic terminal today, and so I’m here instead of the international club in the basement.

The place is crowded with disappointed 49ers fans, and I thought all of the data-capable phones were in use. So I went to the bar to drown my sorrow in a sparkling water (at the lack of phones, not the Niners’ loss), but the bartender said sparkling water was at the dispenser, not the bar (what can I say? I usually fly American, and they make me get the stuff at the bar) and took me there. While filling my glass, I looked around, and found a dozen unoccupied phones, so I was able to log on and flip my page after all.

Don’t tell anyone about these phones — let’s keep it our secret, ok?

Do the Locomotion!

Time to sample some of the chocolate we acquired at the Silent Auction at the Walkathon, and then I guess I should consider packing for my trip tomorrow. I acquired a loaner suitcase and yet more clothing this afternoon, so I should be all set.

Walkathon 2000

Every October, Jeffrey’s school holds a Walkathon as a fundraiser.  Even though the goal is to make money for the school (it’s their single biggest income generator), they do a good job of making sure that everyone, especially the kids, has fun in the process.

This year is Jeffrey’s last year at Alta Vista, and so this was his (and our!) last Walkathon.  He woke up before 7am this morning, so we were more than ready to be at school in time for the 9am start. 

It’s just a few minutes before 9, and you can see all of the children ready to go. The arch of balloons is the start/finish line.

The starting gun has sounded (well, it was actually an announcement by the DJ), and they’re off!

Even though it’s a Walkathon, most kids start out running, including Jeffrey.

Jeffrey’s finished the first lap and is having his lap card punched. Every few laps, the kids get a treat or a ribbon.

The theme of the Walkathon this year was “Locomotion”, and so train gear was plentiful. After six laps, the kids got a small train whistle.

Here is Jeffrey with two of his friends (the boys, of course!). They stuck together throughout the Walkathon, just as they have since kindergarten. It’s just after lunch — they’re still going strong.

At the end of the day, the Walkathon chairs carry the start/finish line of balloons around the course for the last lap. All of the kids try to get ahead of it to get one last punch on their cards.

It’s the home stretch of the last lap, just about 3pm. Jeffrey’s still ready to go, I think!

Jeffrey has just finished the last lap (his 47th, for a distance of about 15 miles — I took my GPS out to measure a lap to be sure!).

A well-used lap card. Jeffrey had done 46 laps a few years ago, so I’m glad he was able to finish his Walkathon career with a personal best.

The party’s over…and what else can you do with a few dozen helium balloons but let them go?

Frantic preparation

I leave for Europe on Sunday, and tomorrow is Jeffrey’s Walkathon (school fundraiser), so time is beginning to feel compressed. 

But I just talked with a friend who was just diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and who will be starting a six-month course of chemo and radiation treatment next week — that’s a far less gentle way of having your priorities reordered than just needing to prepare for a trip!

Dress Casual

For most of my trip, my daily casual attire is going to be quite adequate (assuming I pack for the dead of winter — it’s going to be twenty degrees cooler there than it is here!), but we are having a dinner at the Mercedes-Benz Museum, for which a jacket is required.  The only jackets I have are part of a suit, and I didn’t really want to drag along suit pants which I wouldn’t wear the rest of the time, so yesterday, Diane and I zipped over to the local branch of the Men’s Wearhouse to buy a blazer.

That was easy and painless — they showed me four, I liked one, and I was done.  Then they asked what shirt I was going to wear with it, and I said “this one” (pointing to my trusty LL Bean buttondown).  They said that I could, of course, wear anything I liked, but suggested that my choice was less-than-optimal and wouldn’t I like to take a look at shirts which might be more consistent with the blazer?

Thirty minutes later, I walked out of the store with two mock turtlenecks, one tie, one shirt to go with the tie, and a receipt for two pairs of slacks and the blazer, to be picked up Saturday after they’d been altered.

I guess I’ll bring a bigger suitcase.

Technology — a fruitful source of new ways for things to go wrong

My Saab 9-5 has a sophisticated anti-theft system built-in, which extends to the special key and the remote opener.  One of our remotes developed a problem, and we were unable to use it to lock the car (the other functions worked fine, so I suspect it was a loose microswitch on the remote), so today, when I brought the car to the dealer, I brought the bad remote, too, and asked them to fix it.

I picked up the car a few hours later and the remote worked fine, so I gave it back to Diane.  Then when we were ready to go to services, I used my key and — the car wouldn’t start.  Instead, there was a message on the display:  “Key not recognized”.  I tried again, with the same result.  And I discovered that my remote was completely ignored, too.  But Diane’s remote and key work fine.  So I guess when the dealer replaced the remote, they also reprogrammed the car and Diane’s key to match the new remote, thereby disenfranchising my key, at least till I get back to the dealer to get it all fixed.

This sort of thing never happened when I owned a Pinto.