Simchat Torah 5761

Joy

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.

Frustration

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.

What do Steve Young and I have in common?

Today, I attended the general CTRE session in the morning — all of the speakers were excellent. We had one talk from Bernard Buigues on the
raising of the mammoth, and another from Jane Lapotaire (a renowned Shakespearean actress and President, The Friends of Shakespeare’s Globe) and Professor Andrew Gurr on Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre — both talks got standing ovations, which really impressed me; IBM audiences are not usually so moved.

Then Diane and I had lunch and she headed out to take a Montréal city tour, while Jeffrey and I went ice skating. All went swimmingly for a while, then something happened (I don’t know exactly what and probably never will, because whatever it was caused a small amount of retrograde amnesia), and the next thing I knew, I was on a bench with two people trying to help me decide if I wanted to take a taxi or an ambulance to the hospital. And I didn’t remember having being out cold on the ice for ten minutes, either.

The rest of the evening was spent at the hospital, waiting for my X-rays and CT scan to be read. To make a long story short, everything appears to be well, but I sure looked awful, and neither my shirt nor my glasses will ever be the same (actually, my shirt will never come home). And I missed the grand finale of CTRE, the circus.

So to answer the question: both of us have suffered concussions within the past year. And apparently neither of us is playing in the NFL this year, either.

Tomorrow, it’s back home, and Friday, it’s work. After stopping at the optician, that is….

Memorial Day Weekend

Saturday, Jeffrey went to a friend’s birthday party, while Diane and I saw “Having Our Say” at San Jose Rep. The play was excellent — the audience gave the cast a standing ovation, the first one I’d seen at the Rep for several years, and I thought it was well-deserved.

Sunday, I started the day with a trip to the Y to work out for the first time since going to Amsterdam (and boy, do I need it!), then we puttered around the house — I tried to replace the filter cartridges for the kitchen sink and failed (somehow, I screwed the sumps on more tightly than I can manage to unscrew them). I’m going to try again today — this should not be beyond my capabilities. After that, Diane went to the Y and Jeffrey and I went to the video store, where we bought a fine motion picture, Eegah. But by the time we got home, it was too late to watch it.

This morning, Jeffrey woke up early and watched Eegah (twice — once with the bots and once without). While he was watching for the second time, I installed the USB driver and TWAIN support for my camera so I could upload pictures to my underdesk machine instead of always having to use the laptop. And now we’re going to go do the Los Gatos year-round volksmarch and have lunch en route.

Well, I was close. We did the volksmarch (here are before and after photos as proof (you can tell that Diane is more attuned to long walks than Jeffrey is)), but we noshed instead of eating actual meals. Oh, well. And we passed an typical Los Gatos parking lot, full of Ferraris (we don’t own one) on the way.

Then we came home and puttered for a bit; eventually, some friends came over (bearing a USB hub, no less!) and we had dinner. They also helped unscrew the filter housing, and I was able to put it back together correctly this time, so we have filtered water again.

And after they left, we watched the first half-hour of Spaceballs, which is not in the best of taste, but is very funny (just what I expect from Mel Brooks). I hope Jeffrey doesn’t have too much homework tomorrow so we can finish the movie before it gets late fees.

It’s nice being in California in the spring!

Tomorrow, it’s back to the regular grind for a couple of days.

Last full day in Amsterdam

me at the mike (thumbnail)  I’m back in the conference center (and at the microphone) for the second (and last) day of the W3C AC meeting. We’ve had one lively discussion (on the future of the Web), but most of the meeting has been pretty predictable, which shows that W3C is maturing.

Lunchtime Escape

I think I’ve been travelling too long. I took one look at the lunch that the hotel had set up and I decided I needed to eat somewhere else! It’s not that the lunch looked bad, it’s that it looked to be rich, and last night’s dinner covered my need for rich food for some time to come.

I remembered having seen an Israeli felafel/shoarma shop near the Dam tram stop (about a ten-minute walk from the meeting) last night, and decided it would do nicely, so I set out. But when I got to the Royal Palace, I found the going rather slow — the grounds were blocked off, and there was a big security presence all around the Palace. And they were laying out the red carpet.

Red Carpet: Laying out the red carpet for the Emperor of Japan.

I pushed through the crowd and eventually got to the restaurant (Benjamin Restaurant; I didn’t think it was as good as Maoz), where I found out that the security and red carpet were for the arrival of the Emperor of Japan for a state visit — for some reason, neither CNN nor USA Today had bothered to mention this, I guess because no Americans were involved and no bloodshed was expected.

Spidey: Spidey on the Fox Kids' tram  While at lunch, the Fox Kids’ Network tram drove by and I got a picture of it in the distance — click on Spidey if you’re interested.

After lunch, I headed back to the hotel; the direct route was still blocked, so I detoured around the “Oud Kirk” (Old Church). Suddenly, I discovered that I was in the Red Light District. My first clue was this sign. And a few meters on, there were a number of windows in active use. I continued walking, and about five minutes later, I was back at the Barbizon Palace, ready to continue with the meeting. Amsterdam is certainly a city of contrasts!

It’s over!

The meeting ended promptly at 5pm (much to my surprise); I went to dinner with Lorrie and Chuck Cranor of AT&T and Ari Schwartz of CDT at a restaurant whose name I didn’t think to note (not this one!). It was very unusual for Amsterdam — we had a salad, appetizers, and dinner in less than an hour! And it was tasty, too (I had swordfish). So even with a trip to Australian Homemade for ice cream, and missing a tram by seconds, I was still back in my room before 8pm. I thought about going to Boom Chicago, but decided I should pack instead — this was a good idea, since packing for the way home was decidedly non-trivial. I’ve accumulated quite a bit of stuff here in Amsterdam, most of which I want to bring home (I’m not sure about some of the paper given out at WWW9 and the meeting, though). But I got it done and even had time to watch the last half of the 1999 version of The Thomas Crown Affair.

Tomorrow morning, it’s time to go home! I’ve enjoyed Amsterdam, but I’m ready to be at home again.

Amsterdam pages: [15 May] | [17 May] | [18 May] | [19 May] | [20 May] | [21 May] | [22 May] | [23 May] | [25 May]

Amsterdam, the first day

I had an uneventful flight (I slept more than usual for a trans-Atlantic flight, which was nice…but probably only four hours, which is not really enough). But I got to Amsterdam too early; the hotel wasn’t ready for me. So I left my luggage and walked to Centraal Station to buy a train pass for my entire stay; then I took the tram down to the RAI convention center to register for WWW9, and that’s where I am as I type this.

But en route, I stopped for lunch, having an old Dutch favorite…

Falafel: (The Hebrew means "Falafel like in the land [of Israel]". Thanks to Yiftach Ravid for the translation!)

I also noticed that some of the least savory aspects of the global culture have reached Holland.

It’s a beautiful day in Amsterdam, making for very pleasant walking. And my path took me past the street of flower markets, which was very pretty.

I only wish I were wearing short sleeves — it’s probably 80 or so, so long sleeves are less than optimal (on the other hand, they’re keeping me from getting sunburned). I have a few pictures, but they’ll have to wait till I get back to my computer — this one doesn’t seem to have a PCMCIA slot. (Thanks to Rohit Kahre for loaning me his computer; it’s different enough that I’m going to stop editing now after getting one picture up. Macs may be easy, but I’m too imprinted on Windows….)

But now it’s 3:15pm here and my hotel room should be ready, so I’m going to blow off the tutorials here and head back to the room. More later, perhaps.

Later the same day…

I eventually got into my hotel room, where I discovered that the phone charges are rather high by my standards (roughly 40 cents/minute (US), topping out at $10/hour/call, or $1.75 to access AT&T, plus AT&T charges), so I don’t think I’ll be connecting up from the hotel very much!

I went to dinner with Rohit; we ate at Little Tel Aviv, which, of course, was a pizzeria. I declined the ham pizza in favor of mushroom, which was very good.

Little Tel Aviv

After that, I joined a private canal tour set up by Sally Khudairi of ZOTgroup.
I’ll post more pictures when I get a chance to edit them.

Amsterdam pages: [15 May] | [17 May] | [18 May] | [19 May] | [20 May] | [21 May] | [22 May] | [23 May] | [25 May]