All posts by Naomi Epstein

Hi! I teach English as a foreign language to deaf and hard of hearing students in Israel and am a national counselor in this field. http://visualisingideas.edublogs.org

Who Were You, Dora? Now the Bones are Quite Literally Crying Out…

Dora 1935

I’ve delayed writing this post for several weeks.

It’s really hard to write about.

I’ve been making every effort to focus on the LIFE that once was before all hell broke loose, but the bones are, quite literally, crying out their reminder of the DEATH.

This post is an unplanned postscript to the Saturday Series, in which I, with crowdsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in what was then Poland.  For further explanations about the series see the previous post here.

As I wrote in my posts,  my goal was (and continues to be) to find out as much as possible about Dora’s LIFE – the schools she went to, how she spent her time, what her neighborhood looked like and more. The LIFE she lived in Brest, Belarus (then Poland) before its violent end,  most likely on October 15, 1942,  aged 22, at nearby Bronnaya Gora.  Dora and her father were registered by the Nazis when entering the Brest Ghetto in November 1941, as you can see here. Dora’s name is on line four. Her father’s name is the one on the last line.  To read about the fate of those who entered that Ghetto, read here.

brest ghetto passport
Brest Ghetto registration

 

 

 

But was that Dora’s fate as well or was the following how her life ended?

In February of 2019, on a  construction site of an apartment block in Brest (Dora would have referred called it “Brisk”)  the remains of about one thousand murdered Jews was discovered, with bullet holes. Remains of people of all ages. The site is on the location of the Brest Ghetto. It seems that those who somehow managed to escape the massacre of October 15 were murdered here. This is a link to the BBC post which will give you more information, without pictures of the bones themselves – those can be found on other sites.

I can’t possibly answer and will not try to answer the question of whether or not Dora’s remains were there as well.

What I can do is repost Dora’s last letter here, dated August 25, 1940, when she was 20, years old, her dreams of going to university long gone.  It is fitting to reread her words.

Dora aged 15
Dora aged 15
Dora aged 15 in photo

“Dear Sister,

Your postcard procured us a great pleasure because we did not hope yet to get letters from you. Nearly a whole year passed that we did not correspond one with the other and has delightfully is that we can at last write one to the other. I forgot almost write English during the time, because I am not using it.  

What to me I have none news. As you know I did not succeed in life to this time. I must reconcile with that. The housework is very not interesting and I am busy day by day at house.

From Palestine we have not any letter. There is very unquietly. The father works at a state working place. He will also write you a letter the next days.

Write as soon as you will get this card. Let us hear good news one from the other and the rest family.

Your sincere Dora”

No good news came.

So very very sad.

From Quasimodo to “The Magic of Validation” – A Comment

Sad…
Naomi’s Photos

Watching the footage of the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris yesterday was really difficult – so very sad.

Like countless others, I found myself thinking of Quasimodo, the main character in Hugo’s famous book “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and of Walt Disney’s animated film, who spent his life living at the cathedral.

Quasimodo’s thoughts or feelings interested no one.  You might say his voice wasn’t heard. Speaking of hearing, you may recall that Quasimodo was deaf, a hearing loss caused by being in close proximity to the church bells on a permanent basis.

Deaf…hmmm… I can imagine Quasimodo being a student of mine… I would like to believe he would be “heard” in our classroom.

Hmmm…

Looking up…
Naomi’s Photos

Luckily, Jennifer Gonzalez channeled such thoughts of mine pertaining to alternate realities into the infinitely more practical realm of the classroom and staff room in her post “The Magic of Validation” (thanks to Adam Welcome for pointing the way!).

I mean actual reality. Gonzalez takes the somewhat abstract sounding concept of validation (which we’ve all heard about before) and breaks it down into sections, including why validating matters, how it is done and why we resist validating. Her examples could be taken from almost any classroom or staff room.

Schools are a place in which conflicts arise – diffusing conflicts before they escalate into unnecessarily explosive situations with “negative snowball side effects”  is a highly relevant skill.

We need to hear Gonzalez’s reminder, again and again (and spread the word!) that validating a colleague’s feelings does not mean you agree with his/her opinion and are now going to do everything her way. Validating a student’s opinion does not mean you have to be “touchy -feely“: “Okay, validation doesn’t have to look and sound like you’re in a therapist’s office. You can develop your own style. It can sound tough, it can be quick…” 

If Gonzalez can quote her gym teacher, I can quote my gym teacher too (I’m most certainly not doing CrossFit, by the way!): “I know this exercise is hard for you, Naomi. That’s exactly why it is important for you to keep doing it!”

Too many to count?
Naomi’s Photos

Gonzalez doesn’t talk about the numbers of students in a class. I’m concerned that class size matters. How do my colleagues who teach classes of 40 students manage to make every student feel heard? Don’t ask me – I’m a teacher of Students with Special Needs, my classes are small! Perhaps part of the answer lies in this quote from the post “The thing to remember is that validation is not necessary in all interactions…

You see, people want to be heard. Despite rumors to the contrary, students and teachers are people too.

If only poor Quasimodo had the opportunity to be heard before it was too late …

 

 

 

Saturday’s Book: “Pompeii” by Robert Harris

The earth can move…
Naomi’s Photos

There may all sorts of luck in this world but I am certainly a “book – lucky” kind of person.

I’ve hit the jackpot again!

The book Pompeii was waiting for me in the “readers for readers” corner outside the local library. Slightly water damaged but otherwise in good condition.

It just so happens that I plan to be in Pompeii, Italy NEXT WEEK!

This is not an academic book nor a travel guide-book! Harris managed to create an “absolutely-can’t-put-down” book full of action, suspense, and surprising turns even though the end is clear and known in advance. That volcano is going to erupt and the author knows you know it.

But the people in the story don’t know it.

And the people seem very real indeed.

I’ve read a book by Harris before, he researches the history behind his fictional books meticulously. Harris brings to life the people, the sights, sounds, and smells (it seems many think stank in those days, despite the Roman baths!) of Pompeii in its heyday, In addition, the story is told from the point of view of “The Aquarius” – the title held by an engineer in charge of an aqueduct.  I feel as if I’ve been personally introduced to the awe-inspiring wonders of the Roman Empire’s water system. To think that rich citizens back then could have RUNNING WATER in their homes, some even had hot and cold taps (pipes led to their homes), a version of toilets and swimming pools in the FIRST CENTURY AD is mind-boggling when you think about running water around the world for the centuries that followed…

If all that wasn’t enough, I really enjoyed Harris’ use of language. The descriptions are rich and vivid.

In short – this was certainly a book to “get lost” in.

Great book!

Saturday’s Book: “Address Unknown” by Kressman Taylor

Just the two of us…
Naomi’s photos

A tiny book with a BIG punch!

Wow!

I found the slender little book ( I believe the English version is only 54 pages long!) in Hebrew among my late father’s books. As a rule, I don’t read books in Hebrew that were translated from English (or vice versa) but I am fascinated by literary uses of letters and I did it have it right there in my hand…

This book is interesting in so many ways.

It’s constructed as an exchange of letters between two best friends and business partners, who originally immigrated from Germany to the United States. One of the partners, Martin,  decides to return to Berlin with his family, in 1933, while his dear Jewish friend Max remains in San Francisco.  They need to correspond because of their shared business and they want to correspond because they miss each other.

Their early letters begin by letting us in on their shared background and strong connection.

But then the letters change. The rise of Nazism and all that goes with it comes into sharper and sharper relief through the letters as Martin adopts the rhetoric of the new movement and regime.

THEN something happens.

THEN the letters become something much more than letters!

I won’t spoil it for you. I read it in an hour and that’s because I read more slowly in Hebrew.

WOW!

Making a statement…
Naomi’s Photos

This little book is also very interesting because of its back story.

Kressman Taylor isn’t the real name of the author in the usual sense. The publishers of Story Magazine in 1938 thought that such a powerful tale and such an important message would be far less effective with a woman’s name on the byline. Therefore the name Katherin was scrapped and her maiden name and last name were used.

The story was an incredible sensation, reprinted by the Reader’s Digest and then published as a book.

Sadly, the book is every bit as important to read today as it was all those years ago.

Absolutely worth reading!

One Busy Teacher: Two Apps & A Book, for Efficiency & SANITY!

The endless problem of work-life-balance…
Naomi’s Photos

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that there is such a thing as having too many “helpful” apps.

It’s inefficient.

I’m not counting apps like ones that tell you when the next bus arrives, let you make an appointment for your doctor, record the names of students who are absent or pay for parking.

Such apps are only used when they must be used and are otherwise ignored. There is absolutely no need to spend a lot of time configuring them and interacting with them.

Leave space!
Naomi’s Photos

I’m talking about the apps that will help you organize your life, provide alternative calendars, remember things, improve your diet, make sure you get enough exercise,  teach you mindfulness and bring joy to your life.

I’m not against these apps in any way – some are really good (and I most certainly haven’t tried them all!).

However, to do whatever it is they do, these apps need you to interact with them.  That takes time and energy (particularly if you use each one for only one purpose). Those are precious commodities particularly as lack of time and sufficient energy for the ongoing “work-life- balancing act” are what prompted installing the apps in the first place!

Therefore, in recent months I’ve been concentrating on the two free apps I’ve been using that complement each other, along with taking advantage of more of their features. In addition, I’ve found a book that does what an app won’t do for me.

It’s raining tasks!
Naomi’s Photos

Efficiency

Evernote – This app serves as my memory aid. It’s a sophisticated note-taking app with a search engine. When I get a text message from a teacher (as part of my counseling job) during a 10-minute break between classes that I teach, I can look up the code number of the exam she asked for quickly. When I get to the mall I can show the salesperson the picture of the exact ink cartridge we use for our printer – I added the picture directly to the app. Most of my recipes are stored on Evernote, with the handy web-clipper.

Toodledo – I use the free version of this app as my task manager and to keep checklists for repeated tasks (things related to school that I do several times a year, lists for trips and my exercise “homework” for the week).  My absolute favorite feature is adding a location to a task. When I get to school in the morning it reminds me of school-related tasks. Unless I specifically want to, I don’t see tasks I can only do at home.  When I’m home, I don’t need to be reminded of tests that must be photocopied! The app can also help you track habits, but I’m not using that feature at this time (see next section!).

Relax…
Naomi’s Photos

Sanity

I certainly feel a need to develop mindfulness. How can I be truly efficient if I’m doing one thing, thinking of 10 other things and then having to redo something due to the distraction?!!

And how about just being more relaxed?  Thankfully, life is good, but having two jobs, being a wife, a mom, and a daughter, trying to exercise more and spend time on my hobbies can get rather overwhelming.

Using an app to learn mindfulness doesn’t seem right. At least not for me.

Being mindful, at least the way I understand it to be, encourages spending some time “unplugged”, away from the stimulating tech. It bothers me to report to a device how mindful I’ve been.

And that’s just it. How do I measure exactly how mindful I’ve been? What if I’ve only don’t part of the suggested activity? Or didn’t really succeed as expected? Will it result in “breaking” the daisy chain or cause my imaginary tree to shrivel instead of thriving?

So stressful.

Like another task to add to my day.

The free downloadable book “30 ways to Mindfulness” by Rachael Roberts doesn’t add stress to my life.

Roberts is an EFL teacher, she understands how to write for teachers. Her tone is gentle, understanding and encouraging. There is an introduction and then a daily thing to try / to think about for 30 days.

Each evening I read only the part that relates to the next day. This is not a book to be read in one sitting!

Best of all, it’s a book.

I don’t report to it and it doesn’t judge me. I don’t have to measure how well I dealt with the tasks.

Some I haven’t done, others I’ve only partially done. A few suggestions I’ve been able to incorporate immediately. But I’ve thought about every single task/suggestion.

I think that’s worthwhile too. It feels that way.

I might start the book all over again when I’ve reached “Day 30”. Almost there!

One of my favorite blog posts by Rachael Roberts is “Managing to be mindful at work” (especially the last bit!). If you are interested in the free e-book, you will find info on that on the blog as well.

 

Saturday’s Books: Two Books I Simply Could Not Read

Displeased…
Naomi’s Photos

Two out of the three books I borrowed from the library are being returned only partially read. These are the books:

“Here I am” by Jonathan Safran Foer

I hated the book. Really.

I have read Foer’s book “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”  and I was moved by it and found it intriguing. That book took some time to get into and I remembered that when I began the book “Here I am”. Honestly, I was prepared to give the book a chance at least up to page 80 (there are 571 pages).  I was prepared for a slow beginning.

By page 43 I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt like screaming “Let me out”!

I see absolutely no reason to continue reading a book that makes me feel that way. There are so many books waiting to be read!

You’ll have to read a review of the book somewhere else.

“Family Matters” by Rohinton Mistry

This is an entirely different case from the previous book.

I read “A Fine Balance” by Mistry and enjoyed it. This book is well written with rich descriptions and is moving.

In fact, the way the book tugs at your emotions is at the heart of the problem.

The book focuses on a man in his late 80s, whose world closes in on him as he becomes able to do less and less. It’s a sad book.

At this point, I find myself unable to read about such a situation. It’s been half a year since my own father passed away, at the age of 86. While I can find very few similarities between my father’s life and the experiences of the character in the book, I found myself dreading reading.

Not good.

But it’s hardly the author’s fault and does not reflect on the book in any way.

Yet once again, you will have to read a review of this book somewhere else.

 

 

Saturday’s Book: “The Memory of Running” by McLarty

Drops of memory?
Naomi’s Photos

I rarely (or ever?) begin a book review post this way, but here goes:

The more I read this book the less enthusiastic I became.

Just to be clear, I was extremely enthusiastic about the book when I began. The writing is beautiful, the perspective of the young boy growing up in New England with a mentally ill sister is riveting.  The word “refreshing” comes to mind. The descriptions of nature and the town are lovely too.

However, as the book progresses (it’s 405 pages long)  it becomes more and more predictable. Once again there is that classic American pattern of running away from all your problems,  embarking on a road trip (preferably cross-country), without money and at the mercy of strangers,  and emerging as a new person.

If it only it were just that. I have enjoyed all kinds of “road trip” books/movies (the one about the old man who made the trip on a lawnmower would be my first example). But the main character becomes less believable as the book wears on.  Not to mention some other things.

The tale simply becomes repetitive. It’s an awfully long journey when you are crossing the United States on a bicycle…

And the ending was so predictable.

I’m not sorry I read it.

But the disparity between the first part and the rest of the book disappointed me.

 

Does Turning Words into Numbers Aid Retention of Vocabulary? An Experiment

Different representations of numbers

Once upon a time, there were telephones that had letters of the alphabet by each number.

Letters of the alphabet have numerical values too.

I even read about a method in which one turns telephone numbers into letters as a method for committing them to memory.

However, when I searched online for a connection between activities using words and numbers (as opposed to words and pictures) and vocabulary retention, the only result I encountered had to do with Rebuses and rebus puzzles, which are good for activating both sides of the brain.  Good to know!  Rebuses are fun but hard to make…

Frankly, I was looking for justification for adapting my “Magic E Telephone” SPEAKING activity (which was based on Teresa Bestwick’s “Minimal Pairs Telephone”) to a LET’S ENGAGE WITH VOCABULARY ACTIVITY.  There are several profoundly Deaf students who rarely use voice or speak at all, and rely completely on sign language for communication, in my 10th-grade class. They would feel excluded in a group activity involving speaking.

I wanted to find out if the students would still pay attention to the “Magic E” and if the adapted activity along with additional activities would help them remember the vocabulary items.

Here’s what I did:

I used the original 10 index cards and attached them to an existing activity board (little pockets for flashcards).

Above each word, there was a number, zero to nine.

I asked the students what the difference was between the words that look mostly similar (hat /hate). They all noticed the letter “e ”.  I explained about the Magic E and its effect on pronunciation but emphasized the fact that the addition of the “E” changes the meaning of the word.

I then divided the students into groups of three. Each group had three tasks:

  1. One student had to sign the word for each digit of his cell phone number. Student number two had to write down the numbers being signed so everyone could see if it matched. Student number three timed them and recorded the time. Then they switched roles.
The whiteboard was our scoreboard

You may be surprised, but it isn’t so simple to think of a number and then say a word or sign it without pointing! I found myself wanting to point to each word! It all goes slower than rattling off numbers. Try it!

2. Student number one presented student number two with a series of index cards. On each card, there was a “math problem” written in words, such as: “hat + hate = ?”  “hate X cape = ?” on one side.  The numerical solution was written on the other side.

Student number two had to solve the math equation by answering with a number.

Student number three recorded the time.  Then they switched roles.

The “word-math” cards

3. The same activity as before but the students answered with the word that the number denotes.

Initial Conclusions – Pros & Cons

  • We all had fun!
  • The students liked all the activities but they found the one with phone number more challenging and amusing and spent more time on that.
  • Students at different levels could play together.
  • One advanced student encountered the word “hope” in his text the next day. He asked if that was also a “magic E”!

BUT…

  • The cards were fixed in place – the location of the words served as a memory aid. Next time cards should be shuffled.
  • It seems a great deal of energy spent with very few vocabulary items learned, and not particularly important ones. It was more effective as a speaking exercise when the students repeatedly had to say the word.

At least everyone activated both sides of their brains and their bodies!

 

 

 

Saturday’s Book: “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” by Torday

Fishing Net
Naomi’s photos

Sometimes it’s feels good to read a book that is what it says it is (at least according to the blurb!) : “A feel good book with a bite”.

The book is easy to read and humorous. I have a soft spot for books written in the format of letters, with different characters moving the plot forward. I must admit I smiled while reading and finished it quite quickly.

There is a “bite” – some  commentary on politics and government. In addition, despite the fact that I remembered that this book had been  made into a romantic comedy film ( which I haven’t seen) the love story did not end up in the usual, expected way. I appreciated that.

Nonetheless, the “teacher in me” had to be hushed a few times while reading. Why couldn’t the vision they were trying to realize be to bring running water to every village? Improve access to Education and Health Care?

I know, I know. The book wouldn’t be as attractive or amusing. I get that.

But I do wish the author had omitted the “THE” before the name of the country “Yemen”! I have found explanations for the origins of such a form but it rankles…

The Joy of SIMPLE “Self-Check” Activities

A party of one…
Naomi’s Photos

There are all sorts of sophisticated self-check activities out there, ones that look stunning but seem to require artistic abilities that I don’t possess,  props one needs to get a hold of  (such as clear plastic covers of chocolate boxes) or are simply too time-consuming to create.

There are countless variations, such as using puzzle pieces and dominoes and many more. I truly admire these activities and their creators.

Such sophistication is simply not for me. Not anymore.

However,  I did want an effective self-check exercise that I could make on my own, one which I could sneak in a few words from the Band Two Word List that students need to practice.

Particularly one which I could prepare easily.

Scatter the cards on the table. Make sure the word START is face up.

Easy to prepare like the self-check activity involving two-sided index cards. A student begins with the card that says START, flips it over, matches it to its corresponding index card, flips that one over, and continues matching until he/she reaches the card that says THE END.  If the student flips over THE END  before all the cards have been matched then a mistake has been made, and he/she will have to backtrack.

Simple!

I learned of this activity many years ago from Tal Papo. I’m sure many of you are familiar with it!

In my learning center for Deaf and hard of hearing high school students, the students progress at different paces. That means that each student is ready for a review activity related to the story they have just completed at a different time.

In this particular case, the story in question is called “Thank You, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes.

I defined vocabulary items that are related to this story from the Band Two Word List, as you can see by clicking on the following link. https://quizlet.com/_63ru7n  In my previous post related to this story I defined words from Band Three Word List and the questions I created.

The word “description” ignited the idea for the activity.  The word “belong” fit in nicely too.  The vocabulary items “crime” and “pair” are also on the list.

Matching sentences DO NOT appear on the same index card!

Here are the corresponding sentences. Remember! The first sentence is written on the back of the card that says START! The words “THE END” appears on the back side of the card that has the last matching sentence. In other words, sentences that match do not appear on the same card!

START –

  • She was a large woman with a purse.    ** A description of Mrs. Jones.
  • It was heavy and had a long strap.  It was large.       ** A description of the purse that belonged to Mrs. Jones.
  • He looked as if he were fourteen or fifteen, frail and thin. His face was dirty.      ** A description of Roger.
  • In the corner, behind a screen, there was a gas plate and an icebox. There was a daybed too.      ** A description of the room that belonged to Mrs. Jones.
  • He tried to steal her purse.    ** A description of Roger’s crime.
  • A pair of blue suede _____________.      ** A description of the shoes Roger wanted to buy.
  • She picked him up and shook him until his teeth rattled. She kicked him too.      **A description of Mrs. Jones’ reaction when Roger tried to steal her purse.
  • She gave him ten dollars and then led him to the front door.         **A description of Mrs. Jones’ actions at the end of the story.
  • THE END

I hope you find it useful too!